City of the Month: København

When I told a friend I was going to Copenhagen he smiled and said “4 words: Beautiful women on bikes.”

That was an understatement. The women are quite pretty (you know, if “beautiful” is your thing) and also quite often on bikes. But the men are just as happy and (presumably) good looking (especially if hipster is your thing.) I’ve never seen so many smiling happy people riding bikes. Something like 40000 people ride bikes every day. Denmark consistently ranks as the happiest country on earth, and sure that’s not something that is at all quantifiable but the eye test does reveal a lot of happy-looking people.

Walking around the city, I felt I could best describe the vibe as Edinburgh meets Melbourne. These are two of my favorite places, so that’s high praise from me. I saw a man walking a great dane and tried not to snigger too much. Some Koreans found me by a fountain and asked me to take a picture with them. I blew their minds by saying “hana dul set” as they took the photo. I visited Christiana (it’s much smaller than I expected and felt more like hippy towns in Southern Oregon than I would have guessed) and read a Dickens book on a bridge.

Like most European cities, Copenhagen has a dedicated pedestrian walkway, buskers galore, lots of parks, and gothic architecture. There are funky areas, especially in the Norebro area, and some good vegan restaurants. Microbrews and craft beers are readily available in the supermarkets. And, being Europe, history is everywhere. Copenhagen is the city of Hans Christian Anderson and the Little Mermaid, the city where Neils Bohr and his family are buried, the city where Søren Kierkegaard strode in thought as he wrote Fear and Trembling.

Sweden is minutes away, as are the two oldest functioning theme parks in the world (Bakken is free to get into–Tivoli, more centrally located, costs a chunk just to enter) and lots of fantastic museums. You can rent a bike (old-fashioned or crazy new electronic bikes) and there’s a beach for those rare hot summer days. And the Danish have such a virtue of comfort that they’ve co-opted the word hygge from the rest of Scandinavia to specifically mean a very cozy place.

Unlike Sweden and Norway, prices are a little more under control and you don’t have to take out a loan in order to get a beer (though don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite expensive by Yeti standards. You can find American craft beers like Widmer and Lagunitas on tap for about 12 bucks a pint, and Danish beer can be close to that.) With affordable beer (at the supermarkets), good food, and lots to do, I can see why the Danes are the happiest folks around (though I didn’t have the nerve to tell them that Norway is much prettier)!

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Yeti Raves: The Roskilde Festival

The Roskilde festival in Denmark–8 days of camping with 130,000 people– is one of those life events where what everyone says is true but you can’t understand the magnitude of the truth until you go through it yourself.

You Start Me Up

You Start Me Up

Things like:

The music doesn’t even matter.
It’s the best week of your life.
You’ll meet lifetime friends.
When you see a fence, pee on it.

We were an international Mashup camp of nearly 50 people–very few of us had ever met previous to the festival. We had people from 11 countries including Lithuania, Canada, Germany, Norway, Australia, Hungary, Denmark, the US, and the Netherlands.

Setting Up Camp

Somehow we all got along, wandering the grounds and making up games and drinking warm beers and blasting tunes and learning to twerk and swimming in the pond and just generally having the time of our lives. This was Monday through Wednesday.

Big Orange Tent

Big Orange Tent

Thursday the music began, with Outkast opening for the Rolling Stones. An amazing night, to be sure. One of our camp was so drunk that she’s still not even sure if she managed to see the Stones. Outkast was great as well. Back at camp we talked about how good the Stones sounded and drank Tuborg until the early hours of Friday morning.

The next day I saw Les Claypool and Damon Albarn, who brought out De La Soul for the encore to sing Feel Good Inc. Before the shows started we would hang out, wander around, play beersby (a frisby beer based game, where you try to knock off the opposing team’s beer can and protect your own). By saturday, people were leaving, with tents and sleeping bags and pads all just left behind. Tents were still full of food and beer and alcohol and it was fun raiding abandoned camp sites. I saw Major Lazer and Interpol and many other bands besides.

Beersby

Beersby

The headliner the last night was supposed to be Drake, but he dropped out and Jack White was added. For me, this is like running out of something smelly like olives and replacing them with something tasty like craisins. Seven Nation Army was about the best possible song to end the festival on. Before that, though, was Stevie Wonder and he was even better than I expected. He even covered the Beatles!

Random Waldo Debauchery

Random Waldo Debauchery

Some of my friends who live close to Roskilde told me that they live for the yearly week of the festival. Everything between festivals is just filler, just time to be passed before that too brief week of reality, just like Burning Man or even Dead shows. And after experiencing 8 days of friendship and music and madness, I fully agree.

Team Mashup Camp Flag

Team Mashup Camp Flag

Safe to say that whenever possible I will do all I can to return every year. The Roskilde Festival is even better than you think!

Yeti Hikes: Trolltunga

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One of the things I really wanted to see in Norway was Troll Tongue. A long sliver of rock in the fjords that is both beautiful and troll related, it was a must see. With that it mind, my friend Hanne planned out a trip there my first weekend.

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I set out with Hanne and her buddy Cato on a Friday afternoon. With bikes and tents and blankets and pillows and books and board games, we were a full Audi. And yet somehow we managed to pick up a German hitchhiker (wearing an inverted Friar Tuck haircut) and driving through ridiculously pretty scenery.

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I was jetlagged and tired but the views were absolutely captivating and I couldn’t look away. We drove through fjords, stopped at a stavkirke and a waterfall.

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We set up camp on the side of the road–it was still well light even after 11 pm. Our tents went up and we had a quick dinner.

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I had bought a small jar of “taco sauce” salsa and corn chips in a small town for only about 7 dollars–good deal in Norway!. I had some for dinner, where I noticed the salsa improbably decent–better than anything in Korea, for instance.

When I commented on the quality, Cato nodded. “Yes. We do Mexican food well here. In fact, every Friday is Mexican food night here.”

“Really?” I said, surprised. “That’s cool. Though I guess Tuesday would make more sense.”

Cato just looked at me in incomprehension.

“Taco Tuesday?” I prompted. Cato just shook his head.

Hanne, who lived in the US for some years, shook her head and said “No one ever understands me when I say this either.”

Two more friends showed up and we all got some sleep. The next morning we woke up, and after packing our tents, hopped on mountain bikes and then rode for 10 K or so on an awesome trail. Then we hopped off and hiked up for 10k more up loose boulders and past verdant green pools of snowmelt water.

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And then the fun began. Himmelsteigen, the stairway to heaven; a via ferrata that goes up sheer wall for 200 meters. I was actually quite nervous about this part as I’d never used climbing gear before, not to mention that lots of this part included hanging off a sheer rock wall.

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None of it was too hard though and we made our way to the top. Here we joined a small queue of jolly Norwegians to take our photos on the Troll tongue.

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And then it was a chilly wait on the top of the Stairway to Heaven while others finished climbing up, and a reverse via ferrata, hike, bike ride back to our tents, with a quick dip in one of the frozen pools.

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Stores stop selling beer at 6 pm on Saturday. Post hike, we raced down to get some. Everyone not driving shared a beer in the car as we drive to the cabin for the night. It’s quite common in Norway to have a winter cabin by a ski slope, and Hanne and Cato’s co-worker had invited us to stay the night. We were treated with the warmest of hospitality.

Our arrival was toasted with shots of Jaegermeister, followed somewhat later by a Danish version that is more bitter and even more like cough syrup. At dinner, the owner of the cabin brought out some local microbrews, including an IPA that was incredible. We stayed up way too late in the light of the midnight sun before crashing in a cozy bunkhouse.

Of everywhere I’ve been in the world, Trolltunga ranks really high as one of the best places I’ve ever been.

A Yeti Lands in Norway

Even though–or perhaps because–Norway feels closer to Oregon than anywhere I’ve been since New Zealand–it makes me feel uneasy. It’s the first place that feels new in a long time. It’s to walk on the mostly empty sidewalk past occasional people walking their dogs to the giant grocery store, even though it’s much more like walking to shopsmart than, say, crossing the street in Bangkok.

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Everything feels different. The air is so clean. I can drink really good water right out of the tap! People are walking dogs, but there are no strays anywhere. Some of the dogs are really big. The streets are clean and only the occasional car goes by. The houses often have grass roofs. Street names aren’t much easier to pronounce than in Thailand or Myanmar. It’s mid-June and it never gets close to dark. I look close enough to Norwegian that people speak to me as though I’m a local–and, jet-lagged as I am, it always takes me a couple of awkward seconds to realize they’re not speaking English.

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The grocery store isn’t as expensive as I thought. The prices are about the same as New Zealand prices without the sales. The personalized cokes have great names like Bjorn and Inga. Bread comes unsliced but there is a slicer in every store. Turnips are a popular snack here.

The greatest thing since ....   itself?

The greatest thing since …. itself?

I’m only in the suburb of Drammen for 1 day before we leave for the weekend to visit Trolltunga! But that’s the subject of the next post.

A Yeti Lands in Indonesia

Bali 2014

Bali 2014

Though I spent almost 6 weeks there, I can’t say that I loved Indonesia. (Keeping in mind that I only visited four of the reported 18,307 island that make up the archipelago.)

Things started off poorly, and I was stuck in the airport for several hours upon landing. Not the fault of anyone, but still it colored the experience. It only got worse with two nights in Kuta/Legain–“a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” you will not find. I even love backpacker ghettos–have defended Khao San and Thamel and Pham Ngu Lao and Pahar Ganj to many backpackers. But we’re talking 12 year girls offering their bodies, men selling not just hash and viagra but coke and crystal, whores on motorbikes grabbing at your body and begging you to come back to their rooms and, well, you get the idea.

So before long I was in Ubud, the cultural centre of Bali famous as an arts and crafts hub. I had high hopes here, and I did end up spending 3 weeks here. But it was over-expensive, full of dishonest people, touts and ripoff artists and just far less pleasant than similar cities like Luang Prabang or Chiang Mai.

On the other hand, there were a lot of great veggie restaurants, the rice fields made for pleasant ambles, and the scattered temples beyond beautiful.

Bali Temples

Bali Temples

After Ubud I visited Amed, which was by far my favorite place in Indonesia. It’s on the verge of becoming overdeveloped (hotels are being built everywhere) but it remains quiet and full of charm. There are great black sand beaches and really fantastic snorkelling, beautiful coastline just made to drive a moto around, and above it all looms Mt. Agung, a striking volcano. Amed is a great little town and if I go back to Indonesia I’ll spend more time here for sure.

Amed Bay

Amed Bay

The next stop was for a visa extension in Mataram, the capital of Lombok and city of half-a-million people but you’d never guess it was half that. It feels like a small town, with very few foreign tourists, and highlighted by a mall full of knock-off electronics and people smoking everywhere. It felt safe, to me, but I was warned both by the dude selling sweet potatoes and a clerk at 7-11 to “be careful” at night, so perhaps there is a dark side. There isn’t much to do here (apart from renewing your visa) but nearby is the jewel of Lombok tourism.

Senggigi is considered the tourist hub of all Lombok, and it’s a good base to climb Mount Rinjani. (Which I did not climb, as it was quite expensive, and none of the people I talked to thought it was worth it.) It was off-season when I was there, but it was really quiet and quite small and uneventful. It’s also the gateway to the infamous Gili islands.

Of the tree islands, I chose Gili T kind of for no reason. It is pretty, and there are loads of conveniences like Irish bars and you can walk around the entire island in an hour. It well deserves its fame. But it’s far smaller and less pretty than, say, Ko Phagnan or Langkawi. And … again, it’s quite expensive and fairly low-level hedonistic.

Gili T

Gili T

The food was mostly fantastic, with lots of vegan options almost everywhere. If it is possible to die from eating too much tempeh I would not be here to write this now. Big meals were possible for a few dollars, and things like peanut sauce and spinach and green beans were available everywhere.

Nasi Campur

Nasi Campur

In short, although there is a lot to like about Bali and Lombok and the Gillis, they are undeservedly more expensive and more touristic than similar areas in SE Asia. I don’t think I’ll be back anytime soon, but for those traveling as couples or friends (on a more generous budget than mine) a great time is still possible.

Annapurna Base Camp – Day 5 Himalaya to Pokhara

I was on the trail by 6:30 and I just walked all day. The climb up from Bamboo wasn’t as hard as I’d feared.  The one up into Chomrong was worse, but after some small breather breaks I stopped at the top and scarfed a piece of apple pie.

Back in the Valley

Back in the Valley

From there, I considered stopping at the town with hot springs, but it wasn’t even noon and so on I pressed.

Hard Day at Work

Hard Day at Work

Somewhat to my surprise, I was in Pokhara by 7 pm that night.  Got a room at the Kiwi guesthouse and was back in time to see the New Year’s parade the next day.

Baby goats

Baby goats

In all, I love the AC and was glad to have finally done it.  I had the time and energy and probably should have down the circuit as well, but this was a nice little coda hike to the big one in March.

Annapurna Base Camp – Day 4 MBC to EBC to Himalaya

Some janky extra charges put yesterday at a 2000 rupee day, very expensive for a trail day.  But I was super warm all night.  I woke up at 5:30, stepped outside and carefully considered my options, then dove back under my covers for another 45 minutes.

I was out by 6:30, leaving my backpack and only bringing a bottle of water.  At that hour, I had the trail largely to myself and I made good time, getting to ABC in less than an hour.

The views were very nice–a little underwhelming after EBC, sure, but quite lovely.  Met up with some BBC musicians I had met the last night and walked down with them for some time.  Cool to have new people to talk to, and they had lots of great stories.  Plus I hadn’t had a chance to charge my toons for days so with no audiobooks or music I have to entertain myself the old-fashioned way–actual human interaction.

It usually rained or snowed by 4, with it beginning around noon yesterday.  But today it started snowing at 10 am, while we were still at MBC.  (I would later learn that 2000 rupees–20 bucks–went missing from an inside pocket–but I didn’t think to check.)  The snow was coming down and while hiking kept me warm, I didn’t really have a waterproof jacket.  My thermals were good but also my pjs and I didn’t want them to get wet.

Stopped for lunch in the same town I ate in yesterday and met the UK/Irish and Filipino trekkers from day 1.  They were stopped for the day and still on their way up, so after a brief catchup I said goodbye and headed out into what had become a white-out snowstorm.

I walked down as far as the town of Himalaya, but it was snowing hard and foggy and even the trail was hard to find at times.  Few people were out, and those that were weren’t only wearing a light windbreaker.  Rumors of no beds in the next couple towns helped me decide and I got a room with a Polish couple and a cool lit major linguist from the south of England.

Best of all, met an American scifi fan from Houston who was in Nepal for a grand total of 8 days.  Great night of chats but all of us were in bed by 8.