Exploring Copenhagen and Brussels

In June I went to Copenhagen to cover the 2014 Euroscience Open Forum, where many of Europe’s foremost scientists get together to share their discoveries. I’d been to the Danish capital once before, in December 2009, to cover a major UN climate conference. The memories that stand out from that trip are navigating a giant and confusing convention center, trudging up seven floors to my rented room in improper footwear, twilight at 3:30 p.m., and lots of cold and snow.

So I have to say I liked Copenhagen better in summer, when it stays light until past 11. I stayed in a residential neighborhood just a short bus ride from downtown, and this time my conference was in the former grounds of the Carlsberg Brewery, which is a tourist attraction in its own right.  Carlsberg doesn’t brew that beer on site anymore, but they do have a microbrewery, which I visited one night (and tried their product, Jacobsen). I got some great NatGeo stories from the conference, including new findings on the mysterious bog mummies of Northern Europe, and had a little bit of free time to explore.

copenhagen bike tourFor instance I took a bike tour through the city, which stopped at some of the highlights like Nyhavn (a 17th-century port where the fairytale writer Hans Christian Anderson lived), the famous Little Mermaid statue, and the Christiansborg Palace, the “White House” of Denmark (see above).

The food didn’t disappoint, either—I had some fabulous fish, and the pastries… Let’s just say I would never eat breakfast at home if I lived in Denmark! Every coffee shop has this incredible array of baked goods, not the anemic and slightly stale offerings you get at our coffee chains. copenhagen coffee After my conference ended I flew to Brussels for the weekend, which I’d never visited during all my adventures in Western Europe. I happened to be there during one of the World Cup games, which had turned downtown into a fracas full of young people with the Belgian flag painted on their cheeks. Probably my favorite activity was wandering in all of the chocolate shops.

Belgium chocolate shop

Even if I was stuffed to the gills I couldn’t resist just wandering through the shops, breathing in the sweetness and admiring the wares. I bought more chocolate than was probably necessary (I found myself justifying the need for more every few hours), but it was worth it. I took another bike tour in Brussels, which took me out of downtown and to some of the other parts of the city, including the very business-like neighborhood where the EU does its business, and a famous place that sells French fries, or frites (verdict, a little too thick for me).

I also loved the Magritte Museum. I didn’t know much about the surrealist painter before I visited, but I was fascinated by his history—his mom drowned herself when he was young—and how that influenced how he looked at the world. Some of his paintings were so absurdist but welcoming at the same time, like you wouldn’t mind stepping into that odd world and leaving the current one, if only for a little while. I suppose that’s why he made his paintings—to escape the reality of the world where he had lost his mother. (See my complete album on Flickr here.)

Brussels at night

Now that I’ve been to Belgium, I’d like to visit more of Eastern Europe—Croatia, maybe—and Norway and Finland. There is always a trip to plan! In a few weeks I’m heading to Alaska to go on a National Geographic tour. Very much looking forward to that! I’ve been to Alaska before, for a journalism fellowship, but I went north of Fairbanks, to the Arctic. This time I’ll be flying into Fairbanks and then going south, to explore Denali, Anchorage, and Prince William Sound. I’m sure I’ll have many a story after that trip!

‘Til next time!