Breaking into Copenhagen

I arrived late on a Monday night and then I took the train early to Malmo, Sweden on Tuesday, so my first full day in Copenhagen was Wednesday and I had not yet seen anything besides the train station and a pastry shop. I had reserved a spot with BikeMike Tours after hearing about it from Rick Steves. After witnessing just a little of the bike traffic, I was glad I booked a tour and would have a guide for my first foray into the city.

Copenhagen is a 1000 years old and committed to keeping their streets cobbled and their footprint much the same. It was not designed for cars. Yet it is a dynamic, economically vibrant place. Bicycles allow them to move people without sacrificing the quality of life that their history offers. The cycling culture is such that people ride everywhere in all weather and with cargo bikes if they have children or a load. As one fellow tour rider from the USA noted, “No one is wearing lycra bike shorts or riding a fancy bike.” It is part of the fabric of life and very utilitarian.

I digress, I want to tell you about this fabulous tour.

Mike is a bit gruff when you first meet him at the shop. His website can also be offputting to some:

i am not just another #$@%&*! bike tour guide. I am bike mike.

I appreciated that he was being very forthright about what his tour was and was not. What it is: an exciting tour of the city at a good pace with a guide who LOVES Copenhagen and Denmark. I ride my bike as my main source of transportation and I “kissed” the curb; my bike went down but thankfully I did not. So the city cobbles and curbs can be challenging especially to riders from the USA. It is so worth the risk.

I arrived feeling very jet-lagged and hoped that the fresh air and exercise would revive me. There were about 18 of us in the group with a mix of Europeans and Americans. Mike leads the way and expects you to follow, and we did. People in my group did a great job of keeping up.

Mike does stop often to share information about this beautiful city and its culture. He is unabashedly proud of their socialist welfare state and the monarchy. He is a real enthusiast and he will infect you with a love of Copenhagen.

He also gave good tips on restaurants along the way. Although his description of a typical Danish lunch–open faced sandwiches of pickled herring followed by a shot of snaps (schnapps)–sounded like a fast track to a nap!

He said we would ride through whatever weather came our way just like a local. However, when a particularly nasty bit of rain and wind came through he let us grab a coffee at the national theater and then ride on. This added an hour to our tour but no one complained.

In fact, we were all full of good will toward one another at the end. The tour was well worth the DKK 299 in cash.

I also learned about these really groovy Danish locks that fit onto your bike as a permanent fixture. Mike uses them as do most people in Copenhagen. I walked across the street to the bike shop and bought 2 to use at home.

Bluff, NZ: End of the World?

IMG_5113Well, obviously no. Stewart Island is visible and the South Pole is 4,810 kilometers away. Once upon a time, if you were traveling on a ship from Scotland, Ireland or England, it felt like the end of the world.

One morning around 10 a.m. I enjoyed a coffee and piece of cake at Land’s End restaurant and inn at Stirling Point, at the southernmost tip of South Island, New Zealand. Cake and my own thoughts at Lands End

At the moment the sea is rough and a shower just passed through. Last night in nearby Invercargill it hailed–laying a temporary white carpet  on the parking lot. Now I am second guessing myself. Am I being sensible or a wuss for not getting on a small plane and spending the day on Stewart Island? (I do not even consider the ferry. Read Trip Advisor–it is all compliments for the crew putting up with passengers vomiting all round.) I tell myself, given I will be cycling 27 miles the next day, I cannot afford to get seasick or airsick. And the helicopter service relocated to Stewart Island and I could not reach them via the website.

So I sit by the window and enjoy a flat white and watch as a procession of people drive up to Stirling Point and take selfies with the sign. What pose shall I strike?

In the 2014 edition of The Best American Travel Writing, editor Paul Theroux sneers, “…in general what they call travel is in most cases a superior and safe holiday.” As I gaze at the sea and its white caps, the “open” sign flapping the in the wind, I am tormenting myself. Am I on a safe holiday or am I an adventurer?  The previous morning I was sitting on a drenched beach with the rain dripping off my nose onto my camera, patiently waiting for a Fiordland penguin to emerge from the rainforest. The following day I plan to set off from Clyde to mountain bike 150 kilometers to Middlemarch (over 4 days). Today I choose to conserve financial and physical resources and have a second flat white and slice of lemon cake.

The people who are posing at the end of the world: are they tourists or travelers? I prefer not to judge. Instead I smile at their choice of pose.

Bluff, the tip of South Island, New Zealand

Dining New Zealand Style

This lamb burger with bacon and avocado inspired much photography.
This lamb burger with bacon and avocado inspired much photography.

There is a lot to love about dining in New Zealand. Fresh, local food is easy to find. Gluten free is catered to, although the regular breads are phenomenal so I am happy I am not sensitive to gluten. The eggs are all free range and some of the yolks are so yellow as to be neon orange from a diet of greens. The dairy products are among the best in the world. (I ran the gauntlet of US customs to bring home Edam cheese.) The beef and lamb are yummy because they are grass-fed. The wine, the bacon, the honey… obviously I could go on and on.

This lamb dish was delicious and beautiful.
This lamb dish was delicious and beautiful.

The food in New Zealand is not cheap. Even when you factor in the exchange rate (lowers price to Americans and Brits), and tax is included in your bill, and tipping is not customary, food is more expensive than in the United States. There are no 99 cent deals on any menus. Step out of the mindset of quantity over quality, “value” equals mass, and embrace the idea of high quality, tasty food served in just enough quantities.

Cafe Kohi on Tamaki Drive on a summer day.
Cafe Kohi on Tamaki Drive on a summer day.

Then enjoy dining outdoors whenever possible. And treat yourself to dessert.

The coffee is also an art form. Is it the milk that makes the flat white so special? Or the coffee? I could write a whole post just on coffee, however a young American living in Auckland has done such a good job I am going to refer you to Sedona Wilson’s blog post. Good on you Sedona for capturing the magic of a coffee in New Zealand.

P.S. Hokey Pokey is a Kiwi specialty and means it contains honeycomb.

Chocolate and Hokey Pokey ice cream tastes great at top of gondola in Queenstown
Chocolate and Hokey Pokey ice cream tastes great at top of gondola in Queenstown

Postcard: Wellington

The cliche, windy Wellington, played out. Hurricane force gusts of wind buffeted us as we walked home from dining out. However, Wellington is not so easily dismissed. As the capital city, it has many paradoxes–just like New Zealand. They celebrate Katherine Mansfield for largely inventing the modern short story–something she did while living in Europe. 

Tribute to NZ native Katherine Mansfield in Wellington cbd

Wellington hosts some wildly creative people, including WETA studios and the World of Wearable Art–and the national government. They have a beautiful botanical garden with a lush history of plants–and a freeway that rips right through the heart of the city. It makes for a stimulating place to visit. There is no shortage of great coffee and restaurants.  Just be sure to carry a waterproof jacket. And best not to watch your plane land in the airport (eyes shut tight!).The capitol building in Wellington is nicknamed the "Beehive".