Preparing for Denmark Adventure

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I am visiting Denmark this summer. I found my hotel on Trip Advisor. Thanks to Rick Steves’ I am taking a bike tour in Copenhagen with Mike. My chum Susie from University is going to show me her Malmo, Sweden on June 6–the national holiday to celebrate being Swedish. I have printed the instructions to find hidden Giant sculptures around Copenhagen on a bike scavenger hunt.

I am excited that I am going to be able to see two more Scandinavian countries (after Norway in 2013). Originally I thought I’d get into the countryside and see more of Denmark. Then I realized that second half of my trip involves a lot of travel through England, so enjoying one city more thoroughly and staying in the same hotel is appealing.

I discovered Helen Russell’s humorous memoir Year of Living Danishly at Vroman’s bookstore in Pasadena. I read it to prepare for my trip. The culture in Denmark is similar to Norway in many respects. The author refers to Jante’s Law, which I experienced growing up with a Norwegian grandfather.

Aksel Sandemose outlines 10 rules for living Danishly in his novel, A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, known as Jante’s Law.

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than us
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than us
  5. You’re not to think you know more than us
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than us
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything
  8. You’re not to laugh at us
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything

cod bookSome people think it is synonymous with humility and essential to maintaining the egalitarian Scandinavian society. Some people think it is about enforcing conformity. In another memoir, In Cod We Trust, by Eric Dregni, about his family’s year in Norway, he observes, “These ten commandments may have begun as a morality tale of how not to act, but over time these rules were adopted to teach kids not to be self-important narcissists.”

I am curious to soak up as much of the culture as I can for the relatively short time I am there, and to find out more about Jante’s Law.

24 Hours in Pasadena

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View of Pasadena from above the Rose Bowl

Pasadena has transformed into the sexy trophy wife for the stodgy stockbroker. There are a lot of expensive bistros and fine dining and entertainment venues and hip loft apartments along the Metro Gold line. This is a stark contrast to the Pasadena I lived in from 1980-84 while commuting to USC. The Pasadena of the eighties had a dying old town and plenty of grubby areas where students and people of color lived. Then the downtown area still catered to the old money in Pasadena and San Marino with several large department stores. We house-sat a home above the Rose Bowl one year and got to know an older long married couple who invited us to their club with their wealthy Republican friends. Her hair was “set” each week and his coat and tie wasn’t new but screamed quality. That was the eighties.

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Sriracha is all the rage at restaurants in SoCal including this McDonalds on Lake Avenue where I found a large Diet Coke.

Their Pasadena still looked and socialized like the city of Julia Child’s youth. She grew up in Pasadena before World War II when the wealthy families built the large churches along Colorado Boulevard and the large homes above the Rose Bowl. Pasadena’s history makes it a more interesting place to visit, even as they tear down and build new or facelift the old.

Pasadena deserves to be a distinct place to visit, apart from Los Angeles. Besides the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, there is the Norton Simon Museum, Huntington Library and Gardens, Gamble House, Pasadena Playhouse and more. My 24 hours in Pasadena is also filled with meeting up with friends. The first night I met friends in Old Town at La Grande Orange Cafe and we dined outside in springtime. Ah Pasadena! The next day I met friends at Green Street Restaurant for breakfast, then Pete’s on Lake Avenue to grab coffee and walk a friend with her dogs, then lunch at a friend’s home above the Rose Bowl. I spent the late afternoon and evening faffing around downtown shopping at Vroman’s bookstore and dining on fancy pizza.

When I was a student resident I had to drive or walk everywhere. Now you can catch the Gold line to downtown. Pasadena’s one shortcoming is the lack of bike lanes. It is relatively flat and could be a great place to cycle. I like to stay at the Hilton Pasadena because of its central location and value. It makes a good home base for visiting Santa Anita Park or the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or Universal Studios.

 

I’d love to live in Pasadena today but it is just as out of reach as when I was a student. It is a great place to visit and I look forward to going back.

Huge Harry Potter Fan Visits Hogsmeade

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Hogwarts Express Conductor with Harry Potter enthusiasts

Last time I went to Universal Studios was around 1980. I don’t remember much except the tram ride including an encounter with the Jaws‘ great white shark and the Ten Commandments‘ parted Red Sea. For the next 30 years I thought “everyone should go once to see how fake everything is that looks so real on film.”

Filmmaking has come a long way since then including the magic of the Harry Potter movies. Once while I was in Chicago I trekked to a special exhibit of Harry Potter movie props and videos explaining how they filmed the quidditch match, and so on. I loved it. The weird part is while the magical world of Harry Potter is completely imaginary, everything about the sets and props were very real. The knit sweaters and blankets were exquisite and I was inspired to knit my son a blanket like the one Mrs. Weasley made.

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Pumpkin Juice and Gilly Water for sale

I was in Los Angeles on other personal business but I decided to take the plunge to see the Harry Potter experience at Universal Studios in Hollywood. I didn’t want to go alone so I asked my son’s friend Glen. I know he’s as enthusiastic about the books as I am. He said yes immediately.

I went to the AAA website to check out any available discounts. I got the first of many rude price shocks: $105 per adult with a discount. How do families afford it? I looked at Costco and they had a $200 deal for a yearly pass; however, it is not a deal if you only plan to visit once. As I’m checking out of the site with the AAA passes and they ask if I want to pre-purchase my parking for $20. Oh yeah, the $105 doesn’t include parking!

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Glen at Hogsmeade entrance

Glen and I met outside the Hard Rock Cafe, which is in a shopping area outside the official amusement park. (Imagine an outlet mall on steroids.) All the facades are supersized–it’s a little Times Square, a little Vegas and completely boring. Does anyone really pay $20 to park and shop for Sketchers and go to the movies?

We managed to enter the gates minutes after the 10 a.m. opening. There were plenty of people joining us–many already in their Hogwarts robes. We went straight to Hogsmeade for the Harry Potter experience. Immediately we felt transported. The energy and the excitement is palpable. Glen and I looked and each other and we knew we were ready to get our Harry Potter-geek on. The conductor of Hogwarts Express was there to greet us, the whole place was just what you’d imagine Hogsmeade to be.

We moved on to Honeydukes candy shop and then on to more shops that combined movie sets and souvenir shops. Universal Studios does not miss an opportunity to sell you branded stuff. You can buy Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin and Gryffindor hoodies, quidditch shirts, socks and more. You can buy full robes and a quidditch broom ($300).

20170409_132542Friends had suggested we try the butterbeer. It froths like a rootbeer but is twice as sweet. The butterscotch flavor is delicious but I could only drink half of my $7.20 standard plastic cup of butterbeer (yes there is a souvenir option). I am used to the hyper-marketing that is ubiquitous in the USA, but I couldn’t help contrasting it with Hobbiton in New Zealand, where the real beer at the Green Dragon is complimentary and the only souvenirs are sold at the entrance/exit. Ah New Zealand.

We stood in line for about 40 minutes to enter Olivander’s Wand emporium. First we entered a small room lined with wand boxes and then we were invited into a larger room with a counter for wand fittings. The shopkeeper selected a small girl in Hogwarts robes to come forward. She was adorable in her excitement and awe. He proceeded to have her try 3 wands. With the first two the spells backfired. The third wand “chose” her. He called the girl’s family forward for a chat and the rest of us were ushered into the shop for fans to make their own purchases with cash or credit card. Part of me experienced some sympathy anxiety for parents who after shelling out wads of cash were going to feel considerable pressure to purchase a $50 wand for each of their children. Fortunately, Glen and I can afford to splurge and we each bought an interactive want so we could try out “spells” at designated spots around the park.

20170409_114837We ate lunch at the Three Broomsticks where we both ordered the fish and chips. It was tasty and filling and $20 for lunch. It was good to sit down briefly.

We experienced almost all of Hogsmeade and so that left us with the virtual ride and the roller coaster. I get motion sick quite easily so I knew the roller coaster was out. But I was curious to see the Hogwarts classrooms that are part of waiting in line for the virtual ride. Glen stowed our wands in a locker (stow everything you can!) and I breezed past the sign that says no pregnant women or people prone to motion sick. And hour later and we were ushered to our ride seats and locked in. I was optimistic for no good reason, within a minute I was starting to feel queasy. I shut my eyes for most of the ride. You’ll have to ask Glen for ride details. He was quite pleased. I was just relieved I didn’t actually throw up. I sat down gulping in fresh air for a few minutes before I was ambulatory.

We went back and did the shopping that we didn’t want to carry through the park. We stepped out of Hogsmeade and looked around at the rest of Universal Studios: Shrek 4D, something with zombies, an animal show, and then at each other. Interested? Nah. Me neither. Four hours in Hogsmeade and were were ready to leave. Was it worth it? Yes!

Celebrating Jane Austen in 2017

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Any year is a good year to celebrate Jane Austen. If you agree with this statement then you don’t need the 200th anniversary of her death to do a little Jane Austen inspired travel. The good news is that many places in southern England are using it as an excuse to offer plays, special exhibits and special events. If you have complete flexibility in your travel check out Hampshire county’s website.

janes-tombstoneI have a specific time in June when I will be in Hampshire county and Winchester, so I will be able to see three exhibits at the Winchester Cathedral where the novelist is buried:

  • The Mysterious Miss Austen
  • Jane’s Winchester: Malady and Medicine
  • Jane and the Alton Apothecary
  • The Jane Austen Story

My favorite is an ephemeral event called #RainJane.  “Explore the city of Winchester and be delighted as 12 of the writer’s quotes from her novels or correspondence magically appear various locations across Winchester city centre when it rains. Rediscover Austen’s words in Winchester, her final resting place, and re-experience their enduring relevance. Copies of the trail can be downloaded here or hard copies can be collected from Winchester Tourist Information Centre. Explore the city to find the quotes and share your images on social media with #RainJane. A carved wooden and wrought iron bench is placed in College Street in the Winchester College garden as a place to reflect upon a living wall of ivy showcasing one of Austen’s memorable quotes “Know your own happiness. Call it hope.”

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If you have flexibility, the week of March 13th there are a number of plays and other events scheduled in surrounding towns. It looks like fun. Events are scheduled at Steventon, Chawton, and Southampton.

England to far away for you? North America has two celebration for Janeites.

The largest Jane Austen event in North America will be in Louisville, Kentucky from July 14 to 16, 2017.  The theme this year is “Celebrating Jane Austen’s Legacy: 1775-1817.”

The Jane Austen Society of North America hosts the 2017 Annual General Meeting:  “Jane Austen in Paradise: Intimations of Immortality,” at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa October 6-8. Registration fills quickly in early summer, so become a member in good standing so you can take part.

 

“Penguin Professor” Must Read on Penguin Awareness Day

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When I was in Auckland in November, my friend Barbara and I dashed down to High Street to the incomparable Unity bookstore. I really didn’t have room in my luggage for more books–but when has that stopped me from browsing? I purchased a couple of books including a pocket-sized one called F*ck*ing Apostrophes for a friend. Then Barbara spied the Penguin Professor and knowing my interest pointed it out. Without even reading a paragraph to see if it was dull as toast or not, I purchased it and hauled it home.

I am thrilled to say it is a wonderful book. I learned new things about penguins and Antarctica. Each chapter begins with a brief Adelie penguin snapshot–from a penguins point of view. Then one of Lloyd Spencer Davis’ stories about his accidental penguin research career and then a profile of a colleague or mentor who deserves to share the title of “Penguin Professor.” Most of his adventures are set in Antarctica, so if that locale fascinates, you will find this book hugely satisfying even if you are not crazy for penguins.

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Wait! This post is to celebrate Penguin Awareness Day. Let me share some of the gems from his book. His early research in 1977 and early 80s helped to dispel the idea–at least within the science community–that penguins mate for life. They do not. Although he gives a good explanation of how this misinformation took hold in the popular imagination. Furthermore, the male Adelie penguins are not the initiators in the game of love: “Ultimately it is the females, however,that decide whom to mate with and whether a male can mount them. The fights observed within Adelie penguin colonies at that time of year had traditionally been seen-in the blokey way of science up to the 1960s and the women’s liberation movement–as males fighting with each other for access to females, as if the females were somehow the spoils of war. Our observations showed, to the contrary, that the fights were often female against female.” (p 116)

Spencer Davis is a good raconteur and the chapters fly by. He pays tribute to Bernard Stonehouse as his role model in popularizing science. Storytelling is a skill that seems to come naturally but actually takes practice and Spencer Davis has practiced. He also  introduced me to the Antarctic “classic” The Worst Journey in the World.

I highly recommend Professor Penguin. He has also authored an award-winning children’s book to raise awareness about penguins: The Plight of the Penguin.

Lloyd Spencer Davis: Professor Penguin (Random House New Zealand, 2014. 185 pages paperback, $__NZ) ISBN: 978-1-77553-725-0. This delightful book chronicles Professor Lloyd Spencer Davis’ adventures studying Adelie penguins in Antarctica. His storytelling abilities shine through combined memoir, light scientific information, and tribute to his penguin-expert colleagues. Available in USA as Kindle only for $16.99.

He has also authored a children’s book to raise awareness about climate change and how it is impacting penguins: The Plight of the Penguin.

Reading on the Go

Kafka’s statement, “A good book should be an axe for the frozen sea within us,” is actually something I read in David Whyte’s book The Heart Aroused whilst traveling.

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gratuitous photo of grandson reading! 

Many people travel to break open the confines of their perspective and cages of habit that can inhibit creativity. When people ask me to name times of my life when I felt most truly alive, I invariably think of times when I am abroad. So combine reading and travel and you have something powerful indeed.

First, there is reading to prepare for a trip. Before I went to Venice, Italy this year I read John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels. If I had not read this book I might not have prioritized Peggy Guggenheim’s exquisite museum. It also helped me gauge my expectations and I found myself liking Venice more for seeing it less romantically.

Second, there is reading while you are on the trip to better understand the people and culture. I am not talking about guidebooks, although they can be helpful. If you are in New Zealand, than any book by Barry Crump (whose short story inspired the wonderful movie The Hunt for the Wilderpeople) will help you understand any number of bastards* you will meet. To find those books you only need pop into an independent bookstore in the country you are visiting. My favorite in Auckland is the incomparable Unity bookstore. Or if you are going to a predominantly non-English speaking country, check out Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust To Go and take a few books with you.

Then there is reading to imagine that you are traveling when, in fact, you are not or cannot. This is the most important reading of all. In one of my favorite movies about CS Lewis, Shadowlands, Anthony Hopkins as Lewis tells a young student that we read so that know we are not alone. Yes, and we read so we don’t feel stuck. I am not brave enough to travel to the Middle East to visit the Christian holy sites, so I am reading James Martin, SJ’s Jesus, a Pilgrimage.

Finally, and perhaps best of all, we read to laugh. We laugh at cultural misunderstandings, travel mishaps, and more. The master of the travel book that will make you laugh is Bill Bryson. I laughed through The Road to Little Dribbling as I have through his other books.(The movie of A Walk in the Woods was wry and a good excuse to watch Robert Redford. Imagine being an author and having Robert Redford play you in a movie!)

What will you be reading in 2017?

*you will find “bastard” is not a shocking swear word in New Zealand, only mildly so.

Rediscovering Santa Barbara, Part I

IMG_0219Santa Barbara is a great place to visit but because it is awkward to get there from Sacramento I had not visited in years. Until UK Sarah selected it as our destination for our US adventure this year. It was an absolute joy from the food to the lodging to the variety of activities available. Then this is always a beach if you just want to veg.

The hardest part was navigating to and from LAX for the all important pick up and drop off to Air New Zealand. LA traffic. Need I expound?

It took us a little over 3 hours to drive north from our breakfast stop in Santa Monica. We were not in a hurry and the views are at times lovely. We were there before fire season thankfully. The sky was gray in the morning followed by a lovely blue in the afternoon. The temperature was perfect for walking in the botanic gardens and cycling along the waterfront.

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We stayed at the Harbor House Inn conveniently located with bicycles for guests.

We stayed at the Harbor House Inn and found it easy to walk almost everywhere we wanted to go or to use the guest cycles to pedal to the downtown shopping or along the shore. The first night we walked to the harbor and enjoyed amazing chowder and seafood at Brophy’s. The next morning we walked around the corner to the only remaining (and original) Sambo’s restaurant. I have so many memories of breakfast and lunch with my grandparents Olson at the Santa Rosa Sambos. I had to relive this experience. Nothing, and I mean nothing, has changed… menu, decor, and politically incorrect name.

On our first full day we checked out the Old Mission Santa Barbara somewhat of a misnomer since it is still an active Catholic church. It is a great way to get grounded in the history of Santa Barbara.

After a refreshing break at the Daily Grind, we visited the beautiful Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. The warm afternoon had us seeking the shadier walks and moving just a little slower. There is an interesting early water irrigation system and some beautiful old trees.

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You may also reach Santa Barbara by train. One of the other group of guests at our Inn had walked a couple of blocks from the train station with their luggage. Almost everything is walkable or biking distance from the Inn so it makes a completely viable car-free option.