Discovering What Makes Scandinavians So Happy

On May 24, 2014, my fiancé, Andy, and I got married in New York City. A week later, we hopped on a plane with two carry-on suitcases and two one-way tickets to Paris. We had just pressed pause on our careers, sublet our apartment, and moved all of our things into storage. The only plan was to have no plans at all — and we ended up traveling for 394 days through 25 countries, stopping in nearly 100 destinations. Over the next few weeks, come along on this crazy journey to learn more about how we did it — packing, plotting, budgeting — and see some of the tens of thousands of photos we took along the way.

Our need to expedite our visa application process brought us from Vienna straight to Berlin. We skipped over the Czech Republic and Poland, and after 10 days in Germany, we only had two more weeks before we were heading back to France to meet up with our family. We decided to split that time between the cities of Copenhagen and Stockholm.
The train ride from Berlin to Copenhagen was an experience in itself. Once you reach the northern coast of Germany, the entire train pulls into a ferry boat and you cruise across the Baltic Sea to Denmark. Once across, the train hops right back on the tracks and carries on to Copenhagen. In the midst of this journey, I have a vivid memory of seeing an army of wind turbines rising out of the water.
Oh, the Danes. They’re eco-conscious, funny, attractive, friendly, and generally lovely humans. You want to hate them because they’re seemingly perfect, but you just love them. I know I’m making a massive generalization, but this holds true for my own Danish friends and pretty much every Dane I’ve ever met. And I don’t know what’s in the water over there, but everyone in Copenhagen is insanely that natural, understated, effortless kind of way. I already knew this, but I think I was more shocked to see the consistency in person.
If happy, friendly, chic people aren’t your thing, then you can still enjoy the incredible design and food scene thriving in Copenhagen. We couldn’t afford the world-renowned Noma restaurant, but treated ourselves to Nordic cuisine at Höst. We window-shopped with great restraint, because if you love Scandinavian design, stores like Hay are heaven.
In the big-picture sense, Denmark seems to have a few things really figured out. The Danes pay really high taxes, and in turn, they get universal health care, high minimum wages, months to years of paternity/maternity leave, and affordable education systems. This means that it’s really hard to get rich in Denmark, but not many people are going to be living in despair. And this social democracy seems to be working, because year after year, Denmark gets voted as the happiest country in the world. Add this all up and Copenhagen is a place that's hard not to love.

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