Copenhagen – Embracing Technology, Exploiting Tourists

Recently we saw the phase-out of Denmark’s klippekort (Clip Cards).  These klippekort allowed commuters to get significantly discounted public transit tickets by purchasing bulk trips 10 at a time.  Like many systems around the world, on-site pricing for buses is higher than tickets purchased in advance.  This discourages people slowing down the loading/boarding process and encourages people to participate in transit programs. All of which is great. However, unlike other programs where the increased pricing is only applied to time-sensitive transit situations (eg: buses) – the Danish system charges the same high rate across the board regardless of if you’re purchasing a one-off ticket on a bus, from a kiosk, or at an automatic vending machine.

It typically costs you 24 DKK for a one-hour two zone ticket in Copenhagen. When calculated using a 10 ticket klippekort the adjusted price typically averaged out to 15 DKK or less. From a pricing standpoint, 24 DKK is quite an excessive price (even by Danish cost-scales) for a ticket, while 15 DKK may not be cheap but is still quite a bit more reasonable.

An Unexpected Introduction to Istanbul

Turkey-3676

I swallowed hard with an expression that was no doubt a mixture of delight and annoyance as I suppressed that small lump clawing its way up into my throat as the airplane descended the final few thousand feet before bouncing down onto the runway. The view out the window was unusual.  What I had initially thought to be part of the city’s sprawl clarified into a veritable armada of dozens of merchant vessels all anchored in line, waiting their turn to traverse the Bosphorus.

Before long the thick rubber tires of the Turkish Airways flight were rumbling along the tarmac soon to be replaced by the high pitched squeak of my shoes on the polished marble tiles of Ataturk International Airport.  Laden with my front and back packs – in total weighing just under 15kg – I wound my way through the airport’s serpentine complex of tunnels, halls, and checkpoints in search of the metro.  It was relatively late. My flight landed just after 9:30PM. Darkness had long since fallen.  I was experiencing that familiar feeling of slight anxiety over finding my way to my hostel, at night, through one of the world’s largest cities.  As usual, I hadn’t bothered to pick up a guide book or a map.  I softly chided myself and wondered – as I often do – if it had been a mistake.  No time to dwell, I eventually found a metro map and paused just long enough to trace my route and take a photo on my phone.  With a map to reference it was time to take the escalator down and into the nearly abandoned metro station.

I didn’t know what to expect.  In a conversation earlier on the flight I’d learned that contrary to the 8-13 million person population I had expected via Wikipedia, the locals all placed the actual figure closer to 19/20 Million.  Nearly double the size.  Guides, tweets, and other travelers had warned me that locals were friendly, but could also be obnoxiously pushy sales people and were prone to running scams.  I had a mental image of the Hollywood versions of the markets in Morocco or Mumbai, filled with in-your-face sales people, large throngs of humanity and more pick-pockets than tourists.    I was on my guard.  Shoulders rolled forward. Thumbs stuck in my front pockets.  I didn’t expect trouble, but I was also dead set on making sure I didn’t find any.

As I waited for the train on the largely deserted platform, I repeatedly checked the map trying to figure out which side would take me in the right direction.  Most metro systems are similar, but there are always subtle differences that take a while to figure out.  Is it a zone system or does it work on a per-line ticket basis?  Does the train stop at midnight or run 24 hours?  How are the signs laid out?  Do they announce stops on the train or do you have to watch each station carefully?  As I worked to figure out each of these key pieces of information, I eventually approached a lone man standing near me and asked to confirm that I was in the right spot, for the right line, in the correct direction.

Luckily he spoke English and was eager to strike up a conversation while we waited, answering my questions and gesturing that we should sit down.  The seats were in one of the darker parts of the station, towards the end of the metro line’s tracks. He chatted away cheerfully and asked me questions about my visit. He seemed friendly and open.  I wasn’t.  I was cautious and guarded, though still striving to be friendly.  But, I followed him the 10 steps or so to the benches and then stood making sure I had an easy route out and away if I needed it. I didn’t.  As we chatted more and I got a better read on him, I grew more comfortable and eventually sat down – still paying close attention to my surroundings.

Eventually the metro arrived and we boarded. He asked me again where I was going and I gave him the general station and route suggested to me by the hostel.  He asked what hostel.  I told him I didn’t remember.  My notes said to transfer a few stations in.  He suggested taking the metro with him to the end of the line, then walking about 150 meters to the tram and mentioned it would cut about 20 minutes off my trip.  I glanced at the metro map.  Both seemed to make sense.  He had been helpful and friendly so far – so I agreed.

We chatted about travel, women, and a taste of politics. All the while I stared out the windows taking in a late night view of Istanbul’s strange mishmash of modern, semi-modern, and ancient architecture.  While my concern over being robbed or mugged had subsided he seemed a bit too friendly and too helpful.  In retrospect, I have to say my perception and reality had been poisoned by the stories I had heard before my trip that biased my expectations.   My new concern was that he’d approach me for money or a tip in exchange for helping me get where I was going. An annoying routine I’ve run into all over the globe.  So, with this concern in mind, as we reached the end of the metro line, and he offered to show me along to the tram station/my hostel if I needed help I resisted saying I was fine and could find it/didn’t want to be an inconvenience.

He insisted on walking me to the tram station at the very least, told me we were in his neighborhood and asked if I wanted to get any food or a beer. I thank him and told him I’d eaten and needed to check into my hostel as soon as possible, as it was already nearly 11:30PM.  As we walked through the snow he gave me his number and told me to give him a call if I had any issues or wanted to connect for a tour around the city.

As we came up on the street tram he explained how it worked.  I expected that this was when he’d hit me up for some sort of tip, as he asked me one more time if I was comfortable finding my way the last leg to the hostel.  I nodded and thanked him graciously for all his help and the delightful conversation, and then fumbled in my pocket for one of the tram tokens I’d purchased at the airport. Before I could find it, and to my complete shock and surprise, he pulled out his metro pass and swiped it for me, and motioned for me to enter.  I was stunned.  Not only had I not been hassled and hit up for money, my first encounter with a local was friendly, engaging, and helpful in every way. I was grinning from ear to ear.

This wonderful experience confirmed once again why it is important to always travel with an open mind…to be friendly to the people you meet and evaluate each situation on its own merits. For my part, I’ll strive to pay his kindness forward and return the favor as I see other travelers struggling or in need of a helping hand.   Remember, you always hear horror stores about a destination, its people, or the experiences you might expect to encounter but, the reality is often vastly different.  For many of us, the nature of our experiences is based on a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Choose to give people the opportunity to surprise you, and quite often they will in wonderful ways.

The remainder of my trip to my hostel was uneventful.  I arrived a bit after midnight with a smile on my face and with my perception of what to expect from the Turks completely re-set and re-framed. Despite the snow falling outside, my mood was as bright as a summer day.  Istanbul and adventure called…but first, I needed a good night’s rest.

A Quick Metro Rant – Basic Information Everyone Seems to Have Forgotten

Photo by Stignygaard

Life is full of unspoken rules.  These rules can be hard to figure out if you’re an outsider. Yet, when followed they tend to drastically improve the flow and efficiency of group activities.  When violated, you not only risk drastically reducing the system’s efficiency, but also pissing off a large number of people in the process.  Here are a few general tips for improving your public transportation experience.

General Traffic Flow

Foot traffic typically follows the same basic rules (flow wise) as vehicle traffic.  While this isn’t particularly important in wide open spaces, when confined to stairways, on escalators and in other like-kind situations this becomes extremely important.  While left vs right varies from country to country you can typically figure out the appropriate place to walk by pausing briefly to observe locals.  A good rule of thumb tends to be that pedestrian traffic will mimic automotive traffic.  This is particularly important on stairways where one side is used for traffic heading up and the other is used for traffic heading down.

Escalators

These are perhaps one of the most rule centric areas of public transportation.  The cardinal rule of escalator traffic is that slow/stopped traffic should always stand to the right.  Yes, this holds true even if you’re in the middle of a conversation with a friend.  If you’re stationary or moving slowly on a moving walkway or escalator stand to the right, single file, while leaving space for people in a hurry to pass on your left. It’s just like the highway – the left lane is the passing late.  If you’re in it and not passing you’re a road hazard and can expect to get tailgater…or worse.  If your conversation can’t wait, then turn sidewise and have a discussion with the person in-front/behind you.  The only exception to this rule is when there’s a significant traffic backlog in which cases space use efficiency becomes more important.

Many metros, like those here in Copenhagen, have double escalators to handle the heavy flow.  In these instances both escalators may be transporting people in the same direction (up/down).  Keep in mind that both escalators are not the same.  The same traffic flow rules apply here.  If you’re not in a hurry then stick to the escalator to the right side. If you’re in a hurry or will be walking part of the time, then aim for the one on the left.

Boarding Trains/Subway Cars

For some inexplicable reason most of us can’t help but rush to board public transportation when it arrives.  I know I’m guilty of this as well.  Unfortunately, this usually results in a traffic jam as people end up so focused on boarding that they fail to let the people trying to get off of the train/tram/etc. disembark.

When the train/subway arrives people waiting to board should wait to either side of the door(s) leaving a path for departing passengers. It is especially important that you do not stand/line up directly in-front of the door.  Only when the final passengers disembark is it acceptable to start making your way on board.  Just because there’s an open space immediately in front of the doors doesn’t mean you “lucked out” and get to be first in line.

Mothers, the Elderly, Injured and Disabled

While people seem to remember that eating with their mouths full is impolite, it appears that proper etiquette on public transportation is a whole different matter.  We all love to find that coveted seat on the bus or subway.  It sucks to give it up, but let’s keep things in context.  When you see a mother carrying a young child, an older person, someone on crutches or similarly injured, or the disabled don’t wait for them to ask, don’t ignore them, and definitely don’t shrug it off as their tough luck.  Do your best to give them your seat, or at the very least offer it.  There’s a spectrum here. The younger you are and the better shape you’re in, the more important it is that you’re the first one to offer up your seat.  Think of it as a competition.  Besides, it’ll feel good knowing you’ve made someone’s day a bit easier and that you’ve done a good deed.

These rules vary slightly from culture to culture and are more prevalent in most western countries. It’s worth noting that most of these rules don’t apply in a lot of major Asian cities where it tends to be far more cutthroat and physical. Be mindful of your destination and take an extra minute or two to figure out how the system works.  While there’s no one to force you to follow the rules discussed in this post, don’t be surprised at the stray elbows and brusque treatment you may find if you don’t.

Are there rules I missed or do you have stories about where a rule violation went wrong?  Please tell us a bit about them!

Beer, Subways and Hedgehogs

The Canal - Copenhagen, Denmark

A quick update – things have been pretty hectic here. I started classes last week and was delighted to find that most of the reading was engaging, relevant, and genuinely interesting. Both of my professors seem to be friendly, supportive, and engaging.  All in all a promising start.

On the other side of things I’m still waiting for my Visa to come through.  Danish immigration services have given me inaccurate information several times so far slowing down the process. Frustrating. I’m hoping that I finally fixed the last issue and will get my Visa and CPR (basically your Danish drivers license/social security card) later this week.  Not having a CPR has been absolutely brutal as it’s required for everything – from signing up for a bank account to registering for a cell phone plan.  Housing is also an absolute nightmare here with virtually no support from the University. I’m still looking, but find that anything near the city center typically gets snapped up in a matter of hours.  Definitely a change of pace from what I was familiar with in Phoenix.

BUT, I’m sure you’re wondering what hedgehogs have to do with this article right?

Last night I was heading home from a friend’s birthday party at about 4:30AM.  After a night spent chatting with new friends I made my way to the Christianshavn metro station dodging past the bums sleeping at the entrance and preparing to hop on the escalators that would carry me the 2-3 stories down to the metro line. As I neared the escalator a marginally sober Danish woman in her 40s? approached me in a flurry telling me she needed my help with an animal (first in Danish and then in English).  Initially thinking she was just a weird drunk I was a bit hesitant at first, but I quickly noticed a small spiny critter sitting huddled on the 3rd step down on the now halted escalator.

She had a large sweater with which she was trying to move the little guy, but given his spines, and her fear of him she ended up jumping up and down/back more than actually moving him.  After getting over my disbelief at drunkenly running into a hedgehog randomly in the middle of a metro station at 5AM in the heart of Copenhagen I tried to figure out how to help the little guy.  Though unsure his chances were much better up-top I felt fairly certain that the odds for the little guy surviving the night, and passing drunks in the metro station were significantly worse.  I gingerly took the sweater and slowly scooped up hedgehog as he bristled, talking to him soothingly and trying to calm him before carrying him up, and out of the metro.  All the while trying to remember if hedgehogs had the ability to shoot spines like a porcupine, and hoping that he continued to be fairly docile despite being carried.  Luckily I avoided getting poked, stabbed or shot with a quill and was able to walk him a ways along the canal and down by some trees and bushes before releasing him.

One thing is for certain – Copenhagen continues to shock and entertain me.

For now – I’m off to the next adventure!

Oslo Norway – Vikings, Embassies and Old Friends

Viking Ship Museum - Oslo, Norway

The ride to the airport was uneventful. For 6 Euro, a shuttle service picked me up at my hostel proving the anxiety that I’d had over catching an early morning bus on a quiet Sunday unnecessary.

As the shuttle meandered its way through Dublin I noted how empty the streets were.  After a full weekend the city was finally at rest, recuperating and preparing for a new week.  The airport itself was fairly quiet, which was a relief.

The line to check my bag was short, as was the line through security, which left me ample time to find a bite of food before winding my way towards my gate.

The flight to Oslo was brief.  To be honest, I slept most of it – between jetlag and the late night I’d had the previous evening, I was in desperate need of a nap!

Rygge Airport is located some 40 km south of Oslo.  A small airport, we were the only plane present.  This was convenient given the size of the airport’s one runway, which we had to taxi back up after landing before we were able to get to the gates.

From there a bus shuttled us all to Oslo, where we went our separate ways.   After a quick pause to get my bearings, I set to the task of finding my way to Hildur’s place.  She’d given me an address and general directions, but getting oriented, judging landmarks, and weighing distances is never an easy thing when experiencing a new city/culture for the first time.

In short order I found the subway, figured out what ticket I needed and after a few missteps was headed in the right direction.  Before long I reached the National Theater stop and headed toward the surface.  Candidly, as the escalator dragged me towards the surface, I felt a bit like a groundhog leaving its hole.

Embassy Row - Oslo, Norway

I emerged in the middle of a beautiful greenbelt surrounded by old buildings that borrowed from French and German architecture – creating a unique mixture of the two. Then, with map in hand, I slowly spun about before guessing which direction I needed to go. Unfortunately, it ended up being up hill…toward a large palatial building in the midst of a giant park.  It was, as I would later learn, the royal residence.

The day was beautiful; warm with a few clouds in the sky.  Needless to say it was anything but what I’d expected.  In typical European form a lot of the locals were out enjoying the weather.  Most stripped down to swimming suits, sprawled out in the park, sunbathing, picnicking or barbecuing. It made for a welcome sight.

Feeling fairly confident that I was following my directions correctly, I wound through the park and up a side street before turning onto the street where I hoped to Hildur’s apartment.  To my surprise, I quickly realized I was walking down Ambassadorial Row.  Most of the buildings had unique architecture representing their home country and a diverse mixture of national flags flying from beautifully manicured front lawns.  Thrown into the mix were a few private residences, coffee shops, and B&Bs.

Ambassador's Row - Oslo, Norway

Before long I found the right address and tentatively made my way to the door. There I was stumped.  Unfortunately, while I had her number, I didn’t have a phone or her apartment number.  This was even more challenging because the buzzer had some 8+ last names, none of which I recognized.  Torn between randomly hitting the buzzer’s until I got the right one or backtracking and finding a phone – I made one attempt, then opted for the latter…Which came in the form of a small Korean convenience store where I borrowed the phone and picked up what turned out to be orange-flavored water.

A few rings and a quick conversation later, I was back on my way down Ambassadorial Row.   This time, with the right last name in hand I was quickly buzzed in and made my way up the winding staircase.  Reaching the top I re-connected with Hildur, an old college friend who I’d met a few years earlier while she studied as ASU.  We quickly caught up before striking out for a quick bite to eat and tour of the immediate area.

She explained, to my surprise, that one of the cheaper local foods was Sushi of all things and promised we’d try it at some point during my stay.  For the sake of convenience and price, however, we made a quick pause at McDonalds before heading to the park where I met up with one of her best friends/roommates and another mutual friend who was visiting from the west coast.

We spent an hour or so relaxing in the sun, enjoying the park, catching up, and getting to know each other before heading back to the apartment for a beer and to watch the evening’s world cup match.

After the game it was nap time.  Still fighting jet lag, I crashed out for an hour or two before waking up in time for a delicious home cooked meal.  Shortly after dinner Hildur’s boyfriend Sten got in. He had volunteered to give me a grand tour of Oslo the following morning.  We all spent the rest of the evening catching up, getting acquainted and sharing stories before turning in early – the following day promised to be a full one.

With the sun still up, I crawled into bed, pulled the covers over my head and slipped into delightful dreams of new adventures and far off lands.  It was 1 am.