Explore the Happiest City in the World: Wonderful Copenhagen

Denmark is consistently rated the happiest place in the world. Some of the reasons why: Steeped in rich history, Copenhagen offers a wide spectrum of architectural, cultural and urban delights, the best of modern design and food as culinary art form. The city has much to offer travelers within a short radius and new cheap airfares make a visit from the US very tempting. The laid-back artful city center is located just 25 minutes from the design infused Kastrup Airport, and is easily reached by a new efficient metro system.

Here are my favorite places you should not miss:

Nyhavn is a charming old canal lined with pastel colored houses, bars, restaurants and wooden schooners, great for people watching
  1. After a long transatlantic journey Nyhavn is reached by metro in just a few stops to Kongens Nytorv. A quaint canal, flanked with old wooden schooners and pastel colored 17th century historic houses, is lined with lively restaurants and bars. During summer and winter, -especially those long Nordic summer days where the sun barely sets-, this is the perfect place to stroll, people watch, eat, drink or embark on a harbor cruise. The Danes love to gather here and warmly welcome tourists. Some bars are open 24/7.
  2. Nyhavn is the perfect starting point to explore the city from the water: rest your feet and enjoy a 1 hour Harbor Cruise through idyllic canals, where guides will tell the history behind the most beautiful churches, castles, old historic buildings and new modern architectural delights. Guided tour: Dkr 80, free with Copenhagen Card. (3 Nyhavn, 1051 Copenhagen K, Tel: 45 32 96 30 00)
  3. Amalienborg Castle is where the royal family presides. On axis with the harbor and the impressive rococo-baroque Marble Church, four identical classical-baroque palace buildings frame a large octagonal square. Watch the Royal guards change guard shifts: every day you can follow the guards as they march from Rosenborg Castle through the streets of Copenhagen and end up at Amalienborg, where the changing guards take place at 12:00 noon. (Amalienborg Slotsplads 5, 1257 Copenhagen K)

    Rosenborg Castle in Kongens Have (courtesy Pinterest)
  4. Nearby Kongens Have (Royal Garden) with the renaissance Rosenborg Castle is a favorite park for locals. The castle houses the royal crown jewels, diamonds and tapestries. (Oester Voldgade 4A, 1350 Copenhagen K +45 33 15 3286)

    Rundetaarn was built as an 7 story equestrian ramp to King Chr. IVs observatory
  5. Walk up the seven floor high brick paved equestrian ramp of Rundetaarn, a 17th century tower built by King Christian IV as an astronomical observatory in the heart of the old Latin Quarter of Copenhagen. The brick paved spiral walk offers stunning architecture and breathtakingviews over the roofs of old latin Quarter of Copenhagen. (Koebmagergade 52A, 1150 Copenhagen K)

    Illums Bolighus is a mecca for modern design
  6. Denmark is world known as a design mecca. One place not to miss is Illums Bolighus, a retail store representing the ultimate in modern living, showcasing jewels of both Danish and international design, fashion and furniture innovation. (10 Amagertorv, 1160 Copenhagen K. )

    Danish smoerrebroed – open sandwiches – a culinary art (courtesy Pinterest)
  7. Copenhagen is a food lover’s dream destination. Noma is internationally acclaimed as one of the world’s best restaurants. Traditional Danish food is hearty and comforting, but Danish Smoerrebroed (the open sandwich translation does not do it justice) is now a vanishing art form. Beautifully decorated dark rye bread is ornamented with layers of decorated, at times pungent, meats, herrings or old cheeses. Try one of the few classic remaining old lunch café’s, my insider’s choice: Kanal Cafeen, an authentic place which oozes of old-time ambiance under the low ceilings a few steps down from the street level – or try their open air boat in the canal overlooking Christiansborg Castle. Smoerrebroed is best when paired with beer and Danish Aquavit. (Frederiksholm Kanal 18, Copenhagen K. Tel: +45 3311 5770. Reservations recommended)

    Koedbyen – a culinary and cultural mecca
  8. A new buzzing culinary and cultural mecca is Koedbyen (Meat-town), the Modernistic 1930’s meat packing district in Vesterbro. There is a certain rawness to the place and all the charisma from the old days is still authentically there, but now offers an array of rustic restaurants, underground clubs and bars. Butchers still arrive early in the morning, but the old halls and the square are now full of ambiance, food, art and music, offering a multitude of hip food venues and the hottest nightlife in town. The district consists of three separate areas: the white, the brown (oldest brick buildings) and the grey “Meat-City”, based on the buildings dominant colors. The square is packed with people on summer afternoons and evenings. The local food market is open Saturdays and the first Sunday of the month from spring through fall. Try Koedbyens Fiskebar with a simple Nordic design, long communal tables and couches. (Koedbyens Fiskebar, Flaesketorvet 100, Copenhagen V +45 3215 5656)

    Market halls at Israels Plads: artisan breads, flavorful cheeses and fresh markets
  9. The new Market Halls at Israels Plads are bustling with activity and house fresh market delights, cafes and eateries. Find healthy artisan bread, cheese caves with a mouthwatering selection of fragrant or stinky cheeses, fresh fish, meat and seasonal vegetables. (Frederiksborggade 21, 1360 Copenhagen K, 10AM-7PM)
    Fristaden Christiania: a social experiment at an old military fortification area (courtesy Pinterest)
    Christiania: a vibrant social experiment (courtesy Pinterest)

    Architectural experimentation in Christiania (courtesy Pinterest)
  10. As a social experiment, Freetown Christiania offers an insight into a self-proclaimed alternative society, a grass-root movement which is still independent of the Danish Government. An abandoned military barracks area was taken over by squatters in the late 60és –and was saved from speculative development. Old military barracks have been turned into café’s, bars, performance spaces and residences. Creativity and experimentation has always existed, as has illicit drugs. This area is raw and may not appeal to everyone. The main entrance is called Pusher Street, but drug sale is being combated by the police. A great place to eat is Spise Loppen in a casual old gunpowder warehouse with exposed old ceiling beams, a collective-run venue with global chefs and bright art. Get a creative meal at a decent price. Vegetarian choices. (Baadmandsstraede 43, 1407 Copenhagen K +45 3257 9558)

    Louisiana Art Museum
  11. If you have an extra day Louisiana Art Museum in Humlebaek is a delightful contemporary art museum with sprawling pavilions in a lush sculpture garden, which offers breathtaking views to the ocean. A place where modern art, lush gardens and ocean meets. About 40 minute train ride from centrum of Copenhagen to Humlebaek, and a 15 minute walk. A great museum café offers tasty selections of contemporary Danish food. (Gl. Strandvej 13, 3050 Humlebaek +45 4919 0719)

    Tivoli Gardens: an old-time entertainment park in the heart of Copenhagen (courtesy Pinterest)
  1. Finally, the Tivoli Gardens is the quintessential Danish experience, with a sense of quaint adventure. A historical amusement and pleasure park with Pantomime Theater, several free concert venues, expensive food, fun rides and beautiful gardens. Located across from the grand Central Station and the City Hall. A great place to stroll and have a fun time, open from Mid-April to End of September. (Vesterbrogade 3, 1630 Copenhagen V +45 3315 1001)

Author: Zia Hansen, born in Denmark and lived in Copenhagen for many years. Photos by Zia Hansen unless otherwise noted

Stunning America As Seen Only From The Air

Travelling by air always reveals amazing sights that tell a story about the world below. I confess to being a window seat addict. My favorite time of travel is mid afternoon in the wintertime as the sun is setting low in the horizon creating long shadows and stunning vibrant and painterly coloration.

Aerial Newberry Springs, CA
Aerial above Newberry Springs, CA: desert with traces of highways and irrigation

Sunny days are a treat, but even cloudy days provide amazing photo opportunities through the fluffy beautiful clouds and patches of land below.

In just 1 1/2 hours of travel time from Newport Beach in California en route to Salt lake City in Utah you can explore poetic coastlines, dense suburban urban areas, mountain ranges, dramatic desert landscapes and snow clad mountain ranges.

Aerial Newport Beach towards Huntington Beach
Aerial at Newport Beach towards Huntington Beach: endless white beaches and stunning coast line

Flying from John Wayne Airport in Newport Beach is always thrilling as the planes take off at a dramatic roar to quickly reach a high cruising altitude, then almost stilling the engines while flying above the stunning Back Bay areas and the charming Newport Marina, then quickly turning around above the ocean rendering stunning views of endless wide white beaches.

Cruising above seemingly endless suburban areas and packed freeways for 5 minutes to reach Riverside and the green hilly mountain ranges of Lake Arrowhead; suddenly the desert landscape takes over, a reminder of the dependency of irrigation in Southern California. Western America is so vast and empty, with only traces of life below.

Aerial at Ludlow, CA: sand dunes stretching seemingly endless
Aerial at Ludlow, CA: sand dunes stretching seemingly endless without a trace of life

Traces of roads crossing sand dunes with amazing windblown formations and bluish purple colors merging the yellow and red sand formations. Solar farms with their reflecting mirrors, dry lakes and old mining areas pop into view for just seconds.

Aerial at Mesquite Wilderness area: solar farms amid sandy valleys

Flying past Las Vegas and Lake Mead, the Mohave Desert is stunning and spectacular, its long shadows emphasizing the unruly geology. Valley of Fire with the intense red coloration quickly transitions into the lower Grand Canyon plateau, with its table mountains and jagged lines carved by rivers for thousands of years.

Aerial above dramatic arroyos tracing through the desert feeding Lake Mead National Park and Valley of Fire National Park
Sunset aerial above Eureka, CA: long shadows render an almost surreal landscape

Slowly the snow clad mountain ranges of Southern Utah appear with light fluffy layers of clouds, painted orange and pink by the setting sun. The Greater Salt Lake and Salton Sea are different geological sights, while the plane is preparing for landing, with the white mountain ranges as a backdrop.

Aerial approaching Salt Lake City with snow clad mountains as a stunning backdrop

Relax, enjoy and explore during your travel time being airborne.

Written by Zia Hansen. Photos by Zia Hansen



I love to travel and explore foreign countries and have traveled many countries alone.  As a single female traveler one of the most important aspects of each trip we take is where we stay during our travels.  I can speak of personal experience as I have had some really bad hotel experiences and unsafe locations have totally ruined my vacations for the first day, until I decide to forfeit my money paid upfront, in pursuit of finding more comforting, pleasurable and safe places to stay.

Today most of us spend hours searching online for the best possible accommodation based on location and price point.   Our accommodations are usually chosen based on authenticity, location, comfort, cost, and the way they reflect the local character.   However, even after hours of viewing alternatives, we sometimes end up with a bad choice which totally ruins our experience of a location.  The photos of the hotel and travel websites may look great or the reviews of the properties are good, but something glitches. Seemingly small things, such as the great looking pool in the center of the hotel property is under repair and workers start drilling at 7:00am in the morning, making your stay totally miserable, especially if you have had a long international travel and jetlag.  Or, you just needed that long peaceful weekend to distress alone, reading and writing.

30 years ago there were no travel websites, hotel reviews and smart phones.  The first time I arrived in Chicago 30 years ago I made 2 big mistakes.  First of all I had not made any hotel reservations ahead of time (I was traveling for 2 months with no fixed itineraries) – and I arrived in Chicago at 4:00AM in the morning.  I was from Europe and had no concept of American cities and the potential danger certain neighborhoods could pose.  The airport was dead at that time in the morning, no tourist information was available, and no car rentals were open.  What do you do?  I could not even get a map of Chicago in the airport.

I chose to take the metro, without knowing anything about the city.  Looking at the metro map it seemed that 6th Street would be near the center of town, and I decided this could be a good place to start my hotel search.  I was traveling in style, dressed in red crocodile lacquer heels, a black jumpsuit and a huge red suitcase on wheels.  I was travelling for 2 months through the USA for the first time in my life.  I arrived underground and had to carry my heavy suitcase up all the stairs from 3 levels below.   As I finally ventured up in street level I was horrified as I saw no city center; only a deserted old butcher house area-skid row-where homeless people are sleeping on the street amongst broken glass, rubble and garbage with the burned out ambers of the bonfires of the night.  Downtown could only be seen in the far, far horizon.  What do you do?  I could have ventured downstairs again to take the metro to a different stop, but I would still have no idea where to get off the train.

I decided my best option would be to start walking towards the far horizon of the luring lights of Downtown. I remembered the song “Woman in Red” and filled my mind with great energetic energy while I started walking over broken glass and rubble, careful not to get too close to any of the sleeping homeless people.  The wheels of my suitcase did however betray me with the clonking sound and numerous people were rubbing their eyes in disbelief.  Finally after an hour I see a bus and make it stop, but I still had no idea of where to go.  I figured First Street would be as central as I could get as my starting point and I remembered there was a YMCA on First Street, thinking this would be my saving grace.  I arrived around 6AM in the morning, but “Sorry Mam, everything is old out”…..Some elderly people were begging to stay another night as their welfare checks had not yet arrived.  Certainly they needed this roof more than I did.  I asked the reception if they could recommend any place to stay, but the answer was no.   Aimlessly I started wandering down the streets of Chicago, stopping at every hotel asking about any possible vacancies.  A huge convention in town had booked all hotels.  Downtrodden, my feet were blistering, and I desperately needed a shower after my red-eye flight and my long morning hike in heels.  All the hotels along the streets were fully booked, until I finally found a couple of dilapidated brownstone buildings, one of them Tokyo Hotel.  First I went into the adjacent hotel to ask for a room for 2 nights.  The receptionists giggled and told me this was for long term accommodation only…..on my way out I noticed a blue movie bar at the entrance, and although I naively did not know what that was, I sensed discomfort being a single female traveler.

Then I stepped into Tokyo Hotel next door.  The carpet was tattered, the place was run-down, but, yes, they did have a room.  The receptionist had stared me up and down, with her perforated acne scarred face, which felt uncomfortable, but I really needed a room.  “It’s $29 per night.  The room is non-refundable”. Ok, I grabbed the key and stepped into the elevator, which must have been one of the first elevators ever built in Chicago as an old man grey faced man on a stool in the corner of the elevator was pulling old chains, brackets and bolts. Finally the ramshackle lift reached my floor level: “Jump, Mam”.  It turned out I had to jump across a 12”gap and 8 “up to reach my floor.

Finally I reached my room, which only could be described as a “slimy”, tattered room.  As expected, the lock did not work….My heart was beating so fast, sweat running down my back in anxiety, what to do? I pulled an old tattered armchair in front of the door and loaded it up with my heavy suitcase while letting the hot water fill my bathtub.  Time to think – what were my options?  Being an architect I really wanted to explore the great architecture of Chicago and decided to take a risk and explore the city all day, hopefully sleeping soundly at night.  Chicago is an architecture lover’s dream.  I had a fabulous time exploring until I met with a famous architect I had previously met at the American Institute in Rome, and he asked me where I was staying.  Ashamed of my non-prestigious accommodations I hesitated, but he insisted I tell him: Tokyo Hotel. “Oh, no”, he told me! “You must get out of there, no matter what! That place is notorious for prostitution, crime and drugs.”

Shocked, but also grateful that this famous architect truly seemed to care about me, I started my journey back to the hotel.  I stopped at a motel nearby which I had visited earlier that morning, but it was still fully occupied.  When I shared my story to the 2 female receptionists they were horrified and told me they would cancel one of their reservations and give me a room across from the reception where I could be safe.  I was so grateful for the kindness of these 2 women.  30 years later I am still grateful for their extremely kindness.  Now I still had to go back to Tokyo Hotel to get my belongings. While waiting in a long line at the reception desk I overheard an old man complaining about his room service last night: he did not like her….The old lady reminded me of the no-refund policy, but I scurried off to my room to get my belongings almost tumbling over the rolled up worn-out carpets, thinking my life is worth so much more than the $29….and slept peacefully at the nearby hotel the next 2 nights.

After this experience I learned a hard-earned lesson: as a single female traveler safety comes first, no matter how central the location is.  Do your research ahead of time and at least book your first hotel night in advance when visiting a new city.  During the first day of exploration you can always find a better place to stay, if needed, after seeing the place in person.

I just researched Tokyo Hotel online and wish I had found this information 30 years ago:

Per Wikipedia: The Tokyo Hotel, located at 19 E. Ohio Street, was a hotel in the North Loop of Chicago. Designed by architect Ralph C. Harris, it is 15 stories tall, and has 150 rooms. It opened in 1927 as the Devonshire Hotel. Before it closed in 2013, the Tokyo was not aimed at tourists, but rather longer-term residents, and earned a reputation for being home to “prostitution and criminal activity.”[1]

Written by Zia Hansen




Bangkok city center
Bangkok Central Business District by sunset



Singapore Central Business District by night



Singapore so lush and green, tropical, clean and orderly.  Well planned. Life is easy, although most work hard and efficient.  Houses are coated in fresh paint, in myriads of fresh pastels, crisp and fresh. 

Geylang Singapore

Shophouses offer a wonderful natural architecture for the tropical weather in Singapore

Lotus pond at the Sands in Singapore

Lush lotus pond at the Sands in Singapore

The city is safe, clean and very tropical.  Almost daily tropical rain makes everything exceptionally lush, green, hot, humid and very tropical.  You can leave your purse on the street and still have a good chance of finding it hours later.  It is safe to walk at all times of the day even as a single woman. Mosquitoes are abated monthly, yet the tropical paradise can offer sightings of flying Timorous Beasties. 

Tropical canonball tree in Singapore

Tropical beauty: Canonball tree in Singpore

Pavements are straight, orderly and clean for the most part, no black gum spotting, no spitting’s.  Only the red mud from daily rain tracks into your front door.  Transportation is efficient and cars are limited through permits that are so expensive that most people’s dream of owning personal cars will remain a very distant dream.  Public transportation on the other hand is efficient and well planned.  Air quality is good, except for neighboring countries’ uncontrollable wild fires. Covered roof structures will provide shelter against the almost daily sudden down-pour.  Noise is limited to the roars of Ferraris and Lamborghinis trying to rev-up before the next traffic light: No chance to ever reach the maximum engine possibilities on the small island-or chirping exotic birds and expressive utterings from tropical frogs.  Old traditional shop houses are juxtaposed by new slender mid-or massive high-rise condo towers, HDB government subsidized housing blocks or crisp white or pastel colored carefully restored colonial buildings.


IMG_5590 [573556]

Old colonial shophouses are overpowered by huge HDB apartment buildings at Duxton Hill

Bangkok on the other hand is unruly, and has a dirty urban grit.  Diversity and difference are key differentiators for Bangkok.  The city is unplanned and chaotic, with a large amount of imperfection.  Bangkok forces  and allows people to live without plans.  Chaos and a large degree of randomness is everywhere.  Old wooden shacks are flanked by office buildings or condo towers.

Riverfront in Bangkok  

Old shack houses at the main river, Chao Phraya in Bangkok

Tucked away in side alleys you can find gems and oasis of restaurants and cafes, if only you know how to get there, have a car and a GPS to get there.  It is almost impossible to walk, squashed between cars, Tuk-Tuks, motor bikes, street vendors and utility poles with dangerous infernos of electrical wires hanging overhead, dimly lit or not lit at all at nighttime.  Walkways are uneven, tiles are broken and under seemingly constant repair-in-progress, dirty and haphazard, aligned with the fumes of street food vendors’ temptations of fried fish, bananas, sausages, plastic bags of fresh cut colorful fruits, peppered by exhaust.  The city is grey and trees are far and few in-between.

Erawan shrine
Erawan shrine in Bangkok, cornered by the BTS skytrain

Well-kept street temples and offerings of yellow and fragrant flowers, incense, fresh coconuts and orange juice for good fortune provide a poetic juxtaposition to the dirty urban fabric of unpainted buildings, graffiti littered fences and the double-stacked ugly concrete structures of time saving and quite efficient sky trains.

Offering alter in Bangkok for hungry spirits
Offering street alter in Bangkok for hungry spirits

When in Bangkok try to live close to the BTS or be prepared to spend the next hour or hours grid-locked behind your personal car’s or taxi’s steering wheel.  Personal freedom means having your own car, but sacrificing your time and patience.  Grid-lock is everywhere, seemingly at all times of the day

Bangkok transportation

Gridlock seemingly everywhere and at any time of day in Bangkok


Juxtaposition between colonial building and new condo towers in Bangkok

Food are the favorite hobby in both cities and joyful sharing of sumptuous meals are favorite pastimes in both cities.  In Singapore Chicken-rice or chili-crab is the all-time favorite national food, in Bangkok crispy fried street food, spicy curry dishes or chili flavored mango salad.  Shopping is becoming a second hobby for both cities.  New malls with ice skating rinks are alluring both Bangkok shoppers to become their new destination and pastime.  Singapore offers almost nonstop shopping, mall after mall after mall seemingly competing with the same high end luxury items.

Offering alter in Bangkok for hungry spirits
Offering alter in Bangkok for hungry spirits

Streetfood in Bangkok

Streetfood in Bangkok

Street signs in Bangkok are an inferno, competing for massage, yoga or snatch-thief warnings. Slippers are scattered in front of buildings indicative of a favorite luxury, taking time for a cheap Thai massage or foot massage treatment on-the-go.  Every Thai I have met is smiling, welcoming and love to enjoy life.  When asking a Thai what he or she loves to do: party is a good answer.  Singaporeans are more reserved and offer less facial expressions.  When asking a Singaporean what their hobby is, the standard answer is: eating and shopping.  Street signs are offering luxury lifestyle or food.

Shopping at Orchard Road in Singapore

Each city has so much to offer in such different ways.  

In Bangkok you need to discover pockets of art and sub-culture dispersed in seemingly unlikely places, hidden in small soi’s but a rich underground culture and appreciation of design and creativity is spreading roots; design and creativity is becoming a national differentiator.  Thailand is becoming the first country in Asia to come up with the idea of establishing design as a national agenda.  Creative freedom as differentiator. In Singapore life is very organized, efficient, a bit uptight, yet you can find pockets of alternative museums and galleries, especially in some of the old colonial military barracks. Art is more controlled, as is life, where only groups of people up to 5 are allowed to gather in the streets.

Written by Zia Hansen. Photos by Zia Hansen