My road came to an unexpected halt on November 9, 2010.

That morning, I was bicycling to work when a garbage truck turned across a city bike lane. I was in that bike lane.

A team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my left leg. My body and life were forever changed.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

As I learned to walk again, I measured my recovery in steps and then miles. Over time that journey grew into something more -- a way of being in the world, wherever I go.

I am a person of ability and disability. I travel in the space between. These are my postcards.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Hygge Cure

Mile Marker 7975:

Some people make a packing list.  I make an anxiety list.

Last spring, when Natalie and I bought our airline tickets, Copenhagen in November seemed like a fantastic idea.  It was the land of Christmas markets, castles, and this mysterious thing called hygge.

The problem is... November.  
If you've been reading this blog,
you know November and I go way back.

No matter how many miles I go, this time of year always puts me on edge.   With distance comes perspective, sure, but I've had some bumps in the road this year -- and they've left me uncertain about the steps ahead.

This journey to Denmark will span 2 flights and 21 hours  -- over a night and an ocean -- with a long airport layover in between.

What if I have abdominal pain?  What if I need to go to the hospital when we're 40,000 feet up?  

In the weeks leading up to the trip, my anxiety is in overdrive.  I have trouble catching my breath, especially in the car or bus, when I'm in between places, not here nor there.

I am grateful to be healthy right now.  I'm thankful to be able to travel.  I'm just not sure how I'll make it from Point A to Point B.

I should have known.   I'd figure it out along the way.

Mile Marker 7989:

It's dark when we arrive, and dark again the next morning.

The first thing I notice are tiny gold lights strung along the balcony of our apartment.  They're supposed to fade with sunrise, but every time we look outside, they're lit.  Denmark gets less than 8 hours of daylight this time of year, and most of it is tucked behind clouds.

All the better for hygge.

Go ahead.  Try it.  Hoo-gaHyoo-gah.


What is hygge?

It's something like coziness and comfort.  But that's not all.  You'll know it when you feel it.

At Mile 7,989, hygge is just what the doctor ordered.  Anxiety doesn't stand a chance with hygge around.

Just try to feel stressed when you're sipping gløgg!

Or surrounded by twinkling lights.

Or watching kids in snow onesies.

Or smelling hyacinths in the winter.

And that's just our first day!

Mile Marker 7994:

The next day, Natalie and I take a cooking class.  We learn to make teboller (tea buns), sourdough bread, rye starter, knotted cinnamon rolls called kanelsnurrer, and a twisted pastry called frosnappere.  Then we sit down to a freshly-baked breakfast with our classmates.

Baking (and eating) with friends is definitely hygge!

Later that day we tour the Royal Danish Library, known as "The Black Diamond."  It's surprisingly crowded with locals!

Gathering places are very hygge!

Our guide tells us the floors of the library are made of natural stone that's soft on the feet and absorbs sound.  Unfortunately it's not so durable.  "The stones need to be replaced every 10 years," he says cheerfully, "but that's okay because the builder replaces them for free!"

Looking on the bright side?  That's a hygge mindset :)

BTW, books are hygge too!

Mile Marker 8000: 

Bikes = Hygge...

...and they're everywhere!

Bike lanes.  Bike signals.  Bike baskets.  Bike helmets.   Despite the dreary weather, Copenhagen is a bike town.

We see bikes pedaled by business people, teenagers, taxi drivers, and parents with kids bouncing along on their way to school.  (A cold ride, but remember, they're wearing snow onesies!)

Bikes mean quiet streets, fresh air, exercise, and endorphins -- and they outnumber cars in Copenhagen.  Here's to bike hygge!

Happy Mile 8,000

Mile Marker 8005: 

Hygge casts a magic spell over our week.

One "night" when the sun sets at 3:52 PM, we wander along the damp cobblestones and stumble on to a sign for a secret tea room.  We enter an unmarked apartment building and ascend a flight of wooden stairs.  We're not sure what we'll find, but we're feeling the hygge..., cozy, and up for adventure!

Opening that door is like walking into a snow globe.  We're greeted by ornately set tables, holiday lights, and steaming pots of caramel rooibos and chai tea.  Also gingersnaps -- on the house.

Now that's hygge!

Mile Marker 8010: 

One gray morning we ride a train to the quaint, harbor-side town of Helsingør.

Where there's hygge around every corner.

It's a misty 40 degrees, perfect for a picnic on the dock.  We feel like real Danes!

Dining in scarves is very hygge!

Next, we warm up inside Kronborg Slot (a.k.a. Kronborg Castle), home of King Frederick II and inspiration for Elsinore in Hamlet.  We walk the Queen's Promenade -- just 80 steps end to end -- where the Queen and her ladies exercised so they wouldn't ruin their shoes outside.

Walking with friends (royal or not)
is always hygge!

Later, back at the train station, we're confused about which train to board.  It's pitch dark, nearly 5 PM, and there aren't many people around.  Luckily there's a café (because you know... hygge).

When we ask the barista for directions, he smiles and puts down his bar rag.  Then he steps out from behind the counter and escorts us out to the train tracks.  He guides us through the Danish schedule board, translating each line.

The kindness of strangers?   That's hygge too.

Mile Marker 8018: 

Throughout the week, the meaning of hygge sinks in.   We fall into its rhythm, savoring each step -- and sip -- along the way.   Wherever we go, hygge seems to be a way of life.

Free hot chocolate refills at La Glace --
because no one should feel rushed :)

As we leave our fifth and final Christmas Market, it occurs to me.

You can't buy hygge.  You have to create it for yourself.

Mile Marker 8022: 

Our last morning in Copenhagen, we rise in the darkness to walk the streets of Vesterbro one more time.  In 5 short days, this neighborhood has come to feel like home.

It's 8 AM.  The sun hasn't risen yet, and judging by the steady rain, it might not make an appearance all day.

But despite the weather, there's an upbeat mood in the air.  We pass bikers on their way to work, kids in snow onesies heading to school, and a crew decking the lampposts in strings of holiday lights.  No one seems bothered by the rain at all.

We arrive at Café Trold for an early breakfast -- and one last dose of hygge.

A mega dose!

In an hour, we'll drag our luggage a quarter-mile along the wet sidewalk to Copenhagen Central Station where we'll catch a train to the airport and begin the long journey home.

But I'll worry about that later. 

Hygge isn't about getting from Point A to Point B.  It's about being.  Here.  Now.

And that means finding peace in the moment.

Wherever you are.

Need some hygge?  Hang in there.

We're bringing it home.  It's easy to transport, and we're pretty sure we can sneak it though U.S. Customs.

Hygge may not cure everything, but it definitely takes the edge off.

Best of all, there's plenty to go around!

Here's to health, happiness, and HYGGE
in the days ahead!

P.S.  For more fun facts on hygge (or to give your life a hygge makeover), check out Meik Wiking's The Little Book of Hygge!

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