This semester, I am away from the Hilltop studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. Copenhagen is a cosmopolitan and thriving city; the people and the culture make it exceptionally easy to fall in love with the Danish — and Scandinavian — way of life.

For example, I have already taken to seeking out hygge wherever possible. The Danes love their hygge, a way of life that translates roughly to coziness. Hygge drives the Danish people to seek out comfy bars, homes and restaurants to brave the cold and darkness that often come with living in Scandinavia.

One thing that has entranced me about Copenhagen and Scandinavia since I arrived in mid-August is the intersection of history and modernity. Every street in this city is filled with old, wizened buildings that exhibit classic Scandinavian architecture right next to sleek monuments built using modern Scandinavian design. A walk along the Nyhavn canal, which features some of Copenhagen’s most colorful buildings, leading to a polished Danish theater on the waterfront, is evidence enough that Copenhagen is a city deeply connected with the past while pushing ever onwards into the future.

I have also made a weekend trip to Oslo in neighboring Norway to experience the culture of a different city, people and country. In much the same way as Copenhagen, Oslo is a city that thrives on the nexus of the past and the future. From its striking opera house, which allows visitors to walk on top of its slanted facade, to its late 14th-century Akershus Fortress guarding the entrance to its glistening coastline, Oslo has it all.

Oslo is also incredibly expensive; it is tied with Hong Kong for the honor — or perhaps, dishonor — of being the world’s most expensive city. When one walks through Oslo, it is not uncommon to see rows and rows of Teslas and other luxury cars dotting parking spaces in front of pockets of aged buildings containing the wisdom of a society that dates back thousands of years. If that does not represent the bond between the past and present, then I do not know what does.

A particular highlight of my visit to Oslo, and a lasting example of Scandinavia’s vast history existing alongside its march towards the future is the Viking Ship Museum featuring the beautifully preserved ninth-century Gokstad and Oseberg Viking ships.

Having taken a class last spring semester on the History of the Vikings, it was an awe-inspiring experience to be able to see two larger-than-life artifacts of the Viking Age in the region in which they were built. Furthermore, the ships themselves seem to embody the spirit of Oslo and Scandinavia itself; that these ships reside in the same city that has been ranked as the most expensive in the world reflects the interplay between being distinctly Scandinavian and existing in our current globalized society.

Perhaps most interesting to think about is how the lessons of Scandinavia’s history have informed this region’s development in recent years. When looking at the Viking ships, it is impossible not to see the influence of the rounded, sleek 1,000-year old hulls on the modern architecture of Oslo; the ritzy and unyieldingly modern neighborhood Aker Brygge right opposite the 14th-century Akershus Fortress similarly eschews the straight lines of traditional architecture in favor of shapes and slants that reflect the city’s ties to the sea and to its historical heritage. One has a hard time separating the past from the present in Oslo, and that has proven to be true for Copenhagen as well in my short time here thus far.

My time in Copenhagen and visit to Oslo has proven to me that Scandinavia has a distinctive approach to its history. While other countries and cities similarly focus extensively on their history and culture to guide their way forward, Paris and London come to mind, a walk through the streets of Copenhagen or Oslo proves to the traveler that these cities engage with the past in a truly beautiful way.

It is hard to put into words the differences between these locales and American metropolises; although I am a die-hard New Yorker and will never admit that New York is not the best city in the world, there is a certain character that sets Copenhagen and Oslo apart. Every walk down a new street in this city is another opportunity for me to engage with Scandinavian culture, and I cannot wait to see what else I learn from my travels through Copenhagen and the rest of Europe.

Grant Olson is a junior in the College. This is the first installment of Chronicles from Copenhagen

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