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.

The Giant’s House Finally!

I have visited Akaroa three times and finally I was able to see The Giant’s House. It seems it is more famous with foreign visitors than with Kiwis. None of my friends from New Zealand–even those who love Akaroa–had heard of it. This sculpture garden is an eccentric treasure.

I admire people with vision who develop the skills to execute it so masterfully. I am such a gadfly in my interests, I cannot imagine sticking with a project 17 years, let alone staying with it still. Josie Martin combines her love of horticulture with her artistic expression through painting and mosaic sculptures to create a truly original garden on the hill.

Someone in the village told us that she offered to create mosaic sculptures for the town of Akaroa, but the town council said no. She turned the no into a Yes! Yes! Yes! The hours are limited because she manages it herself. On the day we visited we paid the artist $20 each to visit her garden and gallery. We could stay until closing. We made sure to return and thank Jose for the experience.

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One of several ceramic self-portraits of the artist in the gallery.

I am so glad I finally got to see the Giant’s House. Find out more at Trip Advisor. (#1 of 27 things to do in Akaroa.)

Travel Theme: Glow

We did not go looking for a glowworm adventure. We were just looking for a place to stay near Tauranga on the North Island of New Zealand. The Mount Tutu Ecosanctuary popped up on Trip Advisor and my friend UK Sarah agreed that it sounded like a fun base camp for our girls road trip. Upon arrival our hosts Tim and Debbie Short explained that tours of the native bush and a night time glowworm adventure were part of our package. We said yes to both.

Tim Short guiding us on bush walk at Mount Tutu Ecosanctuary

Tim Short guiding us on bush walk at Mount Tutu Ecosanctuary

Tim led the bush walk in the morning after breakfast. I am glad that we did this first so we could see the kind of woods that we would be walking in at night. Our host’s enthusiasm was infectious and we found ourselves asking lots of questions about the trees, flora and birds that we discovered once we softened our eyes. When I am in New Zealand I am usually looking out to sea for penguins, seals, and albatross. Tim’s guidance really helped me appreciate the beauty of interior New Zealand.

After dark we returned to the dining area where Tim outfitted us for our glowworm adventure. We put on our headlamps and spent a little time getting accustomed to walking in the dark with and without our headlamps. UK Sarah and I both got a little giggly as it was a little bit scary and a little bit exciting.

Tim led us to the woods and down into a small ravine where the creek has carved steep banks about as high as my 5’3″ head. On this dry evening the creek was gently burbling.  It did not seem long before Tim asked us to stop and turn off our headlamps.

The utter darkness revealed the magical beauty of the glowworm. The trees blocked our view of the starry heavens, but this was like another constellation on the creek bank. I was filled with awe. And delight.

The little girl who delighted in lightning bugs on an evening in Iowa long ago reawakened. After a time of appreciation I began to get curious about how glowworms “work”.  In the Te Ara encyclopedia it explains: “In New Zealand and Australia, glow-worms are the larvae (maggots) of a special kind of fly known as a fungus gnat. Fungus gnats look rather like mosquitoes, and most feed on mushrooms and other fungi. However, a small group of fungus gnats are carnivores, and the worm-like larvae of these species use their glowing lights to attract small flying insects into a snare of sticky threads. One species, Arachnocampa luminosa, is found throughout New Zealand, and others occur in Australia.”

What other kinds of species attract prey using sticky threads? Spiders! Not long after our eyes grew accustomed to the dark and the glowworms, we began to see darker shadows on the creek banks. Really big spiders! The scare factor went up a few notches and it made the experience that much more thrilling.

Eventually we were ready to head back to the lodge. We were not able to capture the glowworms with our cameras and so we began to savor the experience to make lasting memories. Experts say that heightened emotions make memories stick. We will not forget this adventure.

A lot of visitors go to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves to see the glowworms. But I do not do caves and so my cursor never lingered over this option. I am so thankful Tim and Debbie are willing to share their glowworms with us, and to lovingly preserve the ecosystem around them so the glowworms might continue to thrive.

Tim and Debbie Short with their three daughters have been managing these 16 acres of preserve for 25 years. We stayed in a separate guest house where the philosophy behind the decor seems to be “more is more”.  Debbie and Tim have given over a part of their home for the guest dining area and have a library of books to help identify the abundant bird life all around. They are generous souls and we felt the tranquility of the Ecosanctuary permeated our stay.

Our road trip began in Auckland, New Zealand. We drove to Tauranga, stopping at Hobbiton in Matamata (fun to say) for a pint of ale at the Green Dragon. We spent a full day in Tauranga, with a morning bush walk, a bit of shopping in town and a hike around the Mound, and some sightseeing, then back to the EcoSanctuary for our glowworm adventure. The next day we drove to Rotorua and checked out the hot springs and the museum before heading back to Auckland. It was just the right balance of driving and varied activity. It almost goes without saying that everything was beautiful–it is New Zealand.

Blog post inspired by Where’s my Backpack? http://wheresmybackpack.com/2014/04/25/glow/