One month ago, I moved to Odense, Denmark with Ondra. We carried just a suitcase, a backpack, and a handbag each. I knew I was going to miss living in Czech Republic, but of course had to ignore it at first so as to be able to calmly transition, like adults should, into my new life.
Of course, I do not deny spending many moments in the Danish supermarket beer section screaming “WHAT IS THIS?!?!” about how all the half-decent beers start at 20 dkk, or 70 czk ($3.10). However, as I am a rational adult, all of the screaming was done internally. No reason to doubt my self-control.
Find a happy place. L: Taken at the High Line in NYC.
Admittedly, it’s difficult to stay sane in Denmark when you find out only after being here for a week that you have been embarrassing yourself pronouncing ODENSE like “Oh-den-seh” (as I’d imagine based on my now-ingrained Czech phonetics) instead of “Oon-sa.” Danish has kind of a ‘D isn’t that important a letter anyway; let’s just generally ignore it’ philosophy. More on the language in another post. 🙂
It took some time to sink in that we had started a new life – we went by train instead of flying, which usually gives a solid feeling of being transported. I savored every moment of the Czech countryside rolling by outside my window as the light slowly faded during our 14-hour trip. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself – let’s start part 1 of what I’ll miss from the 4 wonderful years I lived in my Central European second home.
10. Rolling Fields
You might be in Prague, Brno or Ostrava, but about 10 minutes after getting on a bus or train out of there, your window will be full of green grain or corn, yellow rapeseed, or just the rich brown of the soil being turned over. The fields are everywhere and endless. Czech Republic is a modern country, but I think one of the reasons that Czech Republic is now the world’s 21st happiest country (NOT TOO SHABBY!) is that no one has to go too far to be in nature or see greenery.
And if you lived in a small town like I did, the hike possibilities are endless too. There is no feeling like conquering those rolling hills, straining your muscles to get to the top of an incline, and seeing that opening through the trees into a beautiful, open green valley.
9. Collecting Freely Growing Things
Czech Republic is one of the major countries in the world for mushroom foraging. It’s a national tradition, but it’s not the only one. As my time in CZ continued, I started to realize how Czech seasons are defined by the fruits, vegetables, and general plant life available. Mushrooms? Autumn’s in full swing. Snowdrops? Throw off your winter jacket (soon!), it’s SPRING!
It’s very normal for Czechs living in the “countryside” to collect the walnuts that fall on the ground. Almost everyone I know has apple, plum and cherry trees and they are super prepared every year for juicing, slivovice-ing, and jam-making – often you will find them on a nature walk or otherwise in public, where it’s usually okay to take them. People walking in the woods safely identify forest strawberries (which actually taste like candy) and blueberries and pick them as a snack.
Here in Denmark I’ve seen walnuts on the ground and apple trees in the yards. Somehow I feel people will not be as friendly if I go over there and try to take some. However, some people put boxes of “Free Apples” on the sidewalk – that’s a start 🙂
Some people are all about their Coke or Pepsi. I, on the other hand, have never loved soda until I tasted Kofola.
This uniquely Czech limo (I have never understood how what seems like the word ‘lemonade’ deceptively means ‘soft drink’) was introduced on the market in 1960 as a reaction to “Capitalist” Coca-Cola. It was an alternative to the highly in-demand western soft drinks, but was different from them in its manufacture using KOFO sirup, which includes a secret combination of herbs. That’s what, for me, makes all the difference. Sure, it’s full of sugar. But it’s not a typical soda.
I never appreciated the power of a fizzy Kofola until I experienced the Czech habit of stopping for a cold one at the many hospody or pubs while out for a day hike. It’s so refreshing, and for me, stuck in my memory as signifying ~a truly good time.~
All right, so I sort of get Coke’s branding, annoying as it is.
7. Cheap, Efficient Public Transport
Sure, we all complain quite a bit about České dráhy, but despite the frequent delays and rude conductors, they are relatively cheap and reliable, and (eventually) get you where you want to go. (I mean, Czechs don’t consider it that cheap relative to their salaries, but I could never get over paying only $4 round-trip to Brno whereas the same time trip from my hometown to Manhattan would be $20.) It could take you 5 hours, but you can get from any point to any other point in Czech Republic by bus and train! And I’m the type of person that likes roughing it that way.
In Denmark, public transport is widely available but very expensive. This is why, on my trip to Copenhagen last year, I decided my next stop would be across the Øresund Straight to Sweden, since somehow taking an international ferry was cheaper than taking a train anywhere in Denmark to anywhere else in the country 🙂
Still, I’m loving my constant bike rides, which is how most students and other young people get around (the photo above shows a very SLOW day in biking to the local university). It’s going to take some training to get up my endurance, but it’s great exercise. I plan to do some biking all over Fyn, the island where Odense is located, because apparently you can get far here with an hour’s biking! It’s super flat here. In CZ it would be harder (but according to Ondra, way more fun), because of all the hills.
6. Being Able to Go Out for a Coffee or Beer Whenever I Want
At the risk of sounding spoiled, the lack of coffee shop-hopping I can do here because of how expensive it is really impacts my happiness. Going out and people-watching with a warm drink in front of me is just my thing! As anyone who knew me in my small Czech town knew, I was constantly going out for a coffee or sitting with a beer, any day of the week. It was so reasonable and great for socializing!
A typical coffee in Czech Republic sets you back $1-2, whereas in Odense the cheapest coffee I’ve seen, and I mean basic, bad coffee, is 25 dkk ($3.8 / 86 czk). They’ve got good coffee here – I remember how I cried internally with joy when I realized that filter coffee widely exists in Scandinavia – but you really pay for it. And don’t even think about getting cake with it. (Okay… I do anyway. BUT ONLY WHEN I’M TREATING MYSELF.)
According to Numbeo, Odense has the 27th highest cost of living index among the world’s cities, and one of the most expensive cappuccinos anywhere (the cheapest one you’ll get is 35 dkk, or $5.8 / 121 czk).
In Czech Republic I could afford to treat myself 2-3x a week… even cappuccinos. *cue world’s tiniest violin*
And don’t get me started on the beer. I plan to do a post tasting and rating Danish beers – despite the costs, I’ve already gotten started on this. But buying beer in the supermarket is expensive enough. The cheapest single beer I’ve seen is 4 dkk (14 czk / $.63) – seems okay even by Czech prices, right? But it’s a 12oz can, and the equivalent of American PBR or Coors.
(If you’re reading this as an American, you should know that this is unacceptable in modern Europe when good beer in Czech Republic can be had for 12 czk in supermarkets and 25 czk in pubs – more if you’re going for the ales. Ah, how I miss the days of complaining about spending 50 czk [$2.30] for an amazing craft IPA.) As I wrote above, if you want a good beer, you’re going to be starting at 20 dkk.
But in the bars?
Yesterday I paid 71 dkk ($11 / 245 czk) for a .75L beer. Yep – BIGGER than you can get in Czech Republic. And in New York, that would be a normal price, relatively. I had a very hard time explaining to Ondra last summer that yes, $7 is a completely okay price for .33L beer. Living here, I’m trying to adjust my mind back to US prices rather than Czech – when I mourn for Czech cost of living, that’s when it really hurts.
As you might expect, pre-gaming, like in the US, is a national pastime of the Danish students here. On the other hand, if I went to a Czech pub and managed to spend $11 on beer alone, that would be a really crazy night.
Takeaway: if you’re gonna pay to go out for drinks once in a while, you better enjoy the hell out of it.
Turns out, that’s my life philosophy anyway 🙂 I will survive.