I’m standing tonight in the kitchen of an apartment in Copenhagen, in the Islands Brygge section of the city, rented from a stranger through Airbnb. I didn’t meet her; she left the keys in a locked box outside of the apartment, which is, itself, outside of the center of the city. I’ve liked that detail quite a bit; this is a walkable and friendly place, even in poor weather.
From this third floor – fourth, if you’re used to the American system of counting apartment-building floors – I can see the water, the street far below, the courtyard shared by residents. I haven’t been down there; though there are picnic tables, it is winter, and I haven’t eaten outside. If I’d chosen to, I would have selected a café with heaters nearby and blankets waiting for the express purpose of cozying.
This is a lovely, lovely apartment, and as rain pours down outside on a chilly evening in this Denmark town, I am sad to know I’ll not see it again, but grateful for its hospitality, and for the experience of having known it these past few days.
I’ve used Airbnb several times now, and have been disappointed only once, and even then only mildly. The system amazes me; the trust that it takes to welcome strangers into your home – which, truth be told, is not something that I’ve done, having only rented from others – is enormous, and I don’t take it lightly.
Stepping into someone else’s flat for even the shortest of stays is a different kind of travel. It isn’t better or worse than staying in hotels, which have their own seduction and comfort; it’s just different. Unlocking a door that holds a whole world of possibilities, that includes not only the convenience of a kitchen and the space of a living room but also the instant community of a neighborhood itself and the feeling of connection that comes along with it, allows me to fully imagine living a different life.
For the last two hours, for instance, I’ve been lying on my host’s couch, reading a book I devoured long ago and had forgotten before finding it again on her mixed English-Danish bookshelf. I don’t know much about the woman who’s rented out her apartment, but I like the mugs I’ve used for tea over the last few days and I really like the way she’s decorated for Christmas, and I wonder if we’d be friends. The question is moot; we won’t meet, and for that reason, friendship is not a possibility, but I have a sense that if ever she contacted me and said she was headed to Northern California, I’d invite her to stay, for free, in the guest bedroom.
In lieu of that, it’s the apartment itself that becomes an acquaintance of whom I am quite fond. I’ll remember this little corner of the earth as the backdrop against which Christmas 2015 unfolded, where I lit candles and stayed up late and slept in, where I learned the nuances of the tiny bathroom and the tricky lock, where I put my small collection of groceries and where I struggled to identify spices, with their lengthy Danish names and all those extra letters.
How wonderful, to walk through someone else’s life for a few days, as if it was my own, and find out in the end that perhaps those two things are not so far apart.
Tomorrow, it’s on to Paris, to another adventure in someone else’s apartment, again someone I’ll not meet, but who hopefully I will be better off for having known, in this small, sweet way.