Is Christiania and Pusher Street Closed?

Christiania, one of Copenhagen’s most iconic tourist attractions, is on the cusp of a major makeover. The semi-autonomous “Free town” of Christiania sits nestled in the heart of central Copenhagen on an old military base and is most famous for Pusher Street and its Green Light District where Hash and Marijuana are openly sold despite being illegal in Denmark.  The story goes that a group of hippy squatters moved into the base in the 70s and took it over. Since it started Christiania has been largely left alone and currently serves as home to roughly 900 people living in a self governed democracy.

In recent years there has been increasing pressure for Christiania to re-integrate. In part, this has been due to an increase in crime tied to Christiania’s famous “Pusher Street” as the vendors have pivoted from casual and friendly sales by local residents, to gangs and outside groups eager to peddle harder wares and who have an inclination towards violence. Added semi-frequent raids by the Copenhagen police have only served to further the divide.

Over the last few years there has been an uneasy truce. Police would periodically raid Christiania, or set up stop-and-search stations in the nearby Christianshavn metro station, but would otherwise largely leave Christiania alone. The aim has been to focus on driving re-integration through economic and political means by working to normalize the free town, working with its leadership, without stripping away much of what has made the community special.

All of this changed August 31st when two police officers and a civilian were shot by an armed dealer mid-arrest. The dealer was later shot and killed. At the heart of Christiania and Pusher Street there has always been a simple unwritten rule: No guns and no violence. It is part of what has differentiated Christiania and made it stand out as an exciting and welcoming experiment. A casual hippie free town, that focuses on artistry, quirks and living daily life, Christiania has always been a safe place, full of families, and which served as a crossroads between people from all different backgrounds and trades from bankers to boat hands, CEOs to young children and their families.

Four Beaches to Visit in Copenhagen During Summer

Summer has arrived in Copenhagen and it is glorious! It may lack the scorching heat or consistent sunshine of more southern climates, but it brings with it a fragile northern beauty only made possibly by its contrast with Denmark’s long dark winters. Where other regions throughout the world take summer for granted, the Danes relish it and throw themselves into the country’s long summer days with near reckless abandon. Work grinds to a halt, the parks overflow with people, and the city’s open spaces are overwhelmed by a tidal wave of sun-burned, partially-clad Danes often found with a disposable BBQ, six pack of cold Carlsberg, and a beaming smile. This sight is usually set to the soundtrack of local Danish artists blasted from modified Christiania bikes with full speakers and sound systems (sometimes even a DJ turntable) jury-rigged precariously atop three standard bike wheels.

Turkey’s Riviera and the City of Bodrum

Bodrum Fortress and Harbor - Turkey

As the tepid water runs across my extended fingers in the bathroom in my small Pensiyon in Bodrum I find it a fitting parallel.  The shower head is in need of a soak with most of its nozzels obscured by calcium deposits. The water itself is slowly warming to the touch, though I can’t truly tell if it is just my flesh adjusting to the luke-warm water, or if hot water has finally made its way up to the third floor of the building and to my room.

Masts in Bodrum Harbor - Turkey

The room itself is unremarkable.  Despite a higher than normal number of errant black hairs on the sheets, it is clean enough.  After a sniff to confirm that the sheets are, in fact, freshly washed (they are), I settle in.  It’s nothing special – but then again, it’s a Pensiyon in a beach town.  That’s what you would expect. At 40 Turkish Lira a night, the private room with a small Queen sized bed is a decent alternative to the local hostel, which boasted one of the lowest ratings I’ve ever seen on HostelWorld and HostelBookers.  The bed is comfortable enough, though too short for me to sleep in it normally. Luckily, I’m not sharing the bed with anyone which allows me to sleep sprawled diagonally across it.

Turkish Butcher - Bodrum, Turkey

My room seems the perfect parallel for my time in Bodrum.  I go through phases where my opinion of the city is stone cold, then others where it warms slightly, and then the occasional moment, albeit brief and fleeting, where I am hot for the city and feel tempted to advocate it and the surrounding area.  It’s not really Bodrum’s fault.  As with oh-so-many relationships it’s more that we’re just not an ideal match and that my timing is off – in this case by a matter of a few days.

The Shipwreck - Bodrum, Turkey

This city and those on the rest of the peninsula are resort cities.  They consist of overpriced restaurants  gimmicky nick nack shops, sprawling harbors full of gorgeous yachts, specially designed tourist boats, and a smattering of local fishermen’s multi-colored one-man boats.  It has a smattering of pebble beaches that ring crystal clear water that is so inviting it’s easy to forget that summer hasn’t quite yet arrived. Unfortunately, this time of year the beaches are littered with old construction materials, debris, and unattractive flotsam.

Colorful Fishing Nets - Bodrum, Turkey

The challenge is, I don’t like resort cities.  I’m not an all inclusive resort type of guy.  I also don’t like gravel beaches. I grew up on the golden sand beaches of northern Mexico and am perpetually spoiled.  I go stir crazy if i’m supposed to just sit by the pool (or seaside), drink, eat, and do nothing.  I’m a history and stimulation junky.  I need old streets to explore, pristine natural beauty, and rich culture that smacks of authenticity – not postcard-poised tomfoolery.   As a result, all of Bodrum’s greatest assets are things that I’m disinterested in and apathetic about.

Boat Sailing Sea of Flowers - Bodrum, Turkey

When deciding to head to Bodrum, I failed to realize just how new the whole area is.  It’s a resort peninsula and it is fairly obvious that most of the construction has occurred in the last 30 years.  Even today there is heavy construction to be seen everywhere.  The hills are blighted by massive white and beige scars where new developments are being dynamited into the side of the hills.   The architecture that has been used and marks the area reflects modern Turkish design which revolves around ugly squares and rectangles.  It’s an odd mash up between old soviet architecture, the nightmarish cement architectural movements in the 60s and 70s and an almost Asian influence.   On the upside, the use of whitewash on almost all the buildings does help offset their lack of character. Yet, this is far from unusual.  It’s the same in heavy resort areas all around the Mediterranean and reminds me of parts of the Costa Del Sol in Spain. It’s also perfectly in line with what a lot of people want and are drawn to.  There’s a reason Bodrum is a huge tourist destination and for what it is, it really does have a lot going for it.

Sailing at Dusk

If you peruse a history book, you’ll find that Bodrum has a rich history spanning back thousands of years.  The city sprawls around the base of an impressive, and extremely attractive crusader castle which is highly unusual and the city’s defining landmark.  The streets in the city center are white marble and boast a fair amount of greenery.  They’re not unattractive, and have a clean feel to them.  There are even a few winding alleys and old side streets that cut between them and which tease of the historic city that Bodrum is built upon.  Yet, unlike Antalya which still boasts a fairly robust old city, Bodrum’s is more or less non-existent. Its main attractions can be seen in a matter of hours, and despite boasting the ruins of one of the ancient 7 wonders of the world, all that is left is a smattering of column chunks…most of the ruin was carted off by archaeologists and by the Crusaders who built the Castle.  Bodrum knows what it is, and seems to have committed to that identity fully focusing on the water and all that is connected to it.  There are a line of old windmills that overlook the city – the type of thing that the Greeks have leveraged to great success and which could be a not-insignificant tourist attraction.  Yet, only one of them is restored, and even that is in dilapidated shape.  The rest are more ruin than windmill and in such a sad state that they’re barely worth the visit, let alone a photograph.

Castle Peacock - Bodrum Castle, Turkey

And yet, I came to Bodrum largely for the sun and it has delivered. The moments I’ve enjoyed most here have been, perhaps unsurprisingly, when the sun was out.  The sunsets are beautiful, the food is delicious, and the water…well, the water is its own attraction, even if it is still too cold to swim.  I’ve entertained myself by day wandering the city, eating, and then relished the late-afternoons which I’ve spent at small beach-front cafes enjoying a beer, smoking my pipe, watching people, and the gradual shifting shades of Aegean sunsets watched against the backdrop of castles and sailboats.  It is a fantastic way to recover and recharge after Denmark’s long and dark winter. Forcing myself to slow down and to just relax also has its benefits.  It may bore me slightly, but it is no doubt good for me.  I can feel myself finally catching up on sleep, and that my mind is sorting through and planning things that have been pushed to the side as more pressing needs draw my attentions.  I’ve even managed to finish the latest Game of Thrones book and to do some recreational reading.

Bodrum Windmills - Turkey

At night the city’s fish market turns into an intertwined and charming combination of fresh fish stalls and chaotically organized restaurant tables overflowing with Turks, Russians and Germans.  The official tourist season started April 1st – the day after I departed – which meant that all of the secondary attractions (the hamams, some restaurants,  the ferry to Rhodes, etc.) were all shut down.  The city’s nightlife was also much less than I imagine it might be during high season.  Despite how quiet the town was, I did manage a day-trip to the nearby Island of Kos which was charming, if equally sleepy. At some point I’ll have to re-visit Bodrum during high season and with friends or a romantic partner in tow.  I suspect that if I do, I’ll enjoy the city in a whole new way.  So, Bodrum – I bid you farewell … until next time.

The Polar Bear Adventure: Part II

Dog Sledding in Churchill

Whoof. Woof. Wolf?  Our ears were bombarded by a chorus of dog sounds as we stepped out of our vehicle and onto pristine white snow at the Wapusk Dog sledding headquarters. The dogs knew we were there, they had heard us arrive and could no doubt smell our scent on the air.  It excited them, energized them, and they weren’t afraid to show it.  A run was coming – and like a typical house dog enmeshed in the intoxicating excitement over a walk or the chance to take a drive, these dogs were beside themselves with anticipation.

Dog Sledding in Churchill

As we made our way from our small bus into the small, warm two room structure that serves as office, gathering and de-thaw point I silently took stalk of our good luck.  Not only had the brutal wind from the day before subsided, but the low hanging clouds had dumped their snowy burden and given way to partially blue skies.  On the horizon, just over the trees we were able to spot an unusual northern phenomena – a sun dog – visible on clear and particularly cold days, these phenomena create what appear to be fake suns, with a halo effect as light is reflected off of the ice in the air.   After stopping to enjoy the view, I chuckled to myself.  What better omen to dog sled under than a  sun dog? Right?

Dog Sledding With Dave Daley

Smiling we piled into the small room and took our seats on the benches that lined two of the four sides.  The other two served as home to a wonderful wood stove, and a table full of hot tea, coco and biscuits. Our host, veteran dog sledder Dave Daley, dove straight into a fascinating introduction to dog sledding, how it works, some of the commands, and regional competitions. He elaborated on a musher’s relationship with his dogs, about some of the long trails which he had done, and which were available in the area. He also talked a bit about the Hudson Bay Quest, a race he had founded and which is a brutally difficult 200 mile long dog sled race through some of Manitoba’s most rural regions. It quickly became obvious that not only did Dave enjoy dog sledding, he lived it and breathed it.

Doggie Booties

When it comes to sports involving animals, I’m always a bit cautious.  Far too often the animals aren’t treated properly and are used, abused and disrespected.  I remember with particular distaste my first, and last trip to the horse tracks several years ago. The winning rider pushed his horse to hard, and failed to allow it to cool down. The end result?  The horse collapsed dead of a heart attack.  It was despicable.  After hearing Dave talk about his dogs, and watching him interact with them it quickly became clear that these animals are part of his family. He cares for them, watches out for them, respects them, and goes out of his way to treat them well.  While I’m sure there are dog sledders who mistreat their animals, Dave’s dogs were well fed, well cared for and well treated.  He and his team even went so far as to use dog slippers – small booties to protect the dog’s paws from sharp ice and the cold during a run.  Dave and his team were about as opposite as possible from the heartless and irresponsible horse jockey I saw years ago.  So, for those eager to try dog sledding, but who might have ethical concerns – Wapusk Adventures and Dave are a great option.

Dogsledding in Churchill

After our intro to dog sledding we were introduced to the dogs and the kennel.  The first thing that surprised me was just how different the dogs were. These were not your picture perfect made-for-Hollywood pure bred huskies.  These were real sled dogs – a wonderful mixture of different mixes, most of which were obviously part huskie, but how much huskie was in each dog varied significantly.  Some looked like they had the subtle influence of wolf lineage, while others looked like they might have hints of Lab or German shepherd. Perhaps I’m easily impressed, but once again I found myself nodding in appreciation.  The dog’s diversity seemed to further re-affirm Dave’s relationship with his animals.  This wasn’t an exercise in glamour  or showman ship.  It was about the animals, about his relationship with them, and about the sport.

Future Sled Dog

As Dave’s team prepared two sleds, he introduced us to a number of puppies he was training. Though still only a few months old, it was clear that they were already forming a tight relationship with Dave. As he crouched in their kennel and discussed how important the bond between musher and dog was, they overwhelmed him. Licking him, nuzzling him, and flopping on their bellies in the hope of a quick scratch. Even at their young age, it was impressive how open they were to his touch. He could check their paws, their teeth, and their ears without the slightest sign of annoyance or resistance from the dogs.

Dog Sledding in Churchill

Then, when it was feeding time they went into an excited frenzy. Dave explained the importance of teaching them to eat quickly, and cooperatively before lowering the sawed off bottom of a bucket into the center of the kennel. On his command the dogs pounced on the bucket full of broth, 5-6 noses per bucket eagerly slurping down the food. The dogs didn’t growl, snap, or jostle each other. Instead as they ate they all rotated simultaneously in a clockwise motion. The end result was 5 dog butts moving in formation – not unlike synchronized swimmers putting on a show. Then, less than a minute later it was over. The dogs licked their chops, and we moved closer to our sleds. It was almost time.

Dog Sledding in Churchill

To our delight we learned that we were one of the first visits of the year who would get the chancel to sled on fresh snow. The previous day’s bitter cold had been worth it – instead of a wheeled sled, we’d be on a traditional sled.  Dave and his fellow mushers introduced us once again to the commands, and then talked a bit about the dog’s hierarchy.  Though it makes sense in retrospect, I was surprised to learn that the dogs are placed based on their behavior, training, experience, and place in the pack.     An experienced musher knows his dogs, and knows where they best operate.  At the front you have your lead dogs, followed in some cases by swing dogs, then your team dogs make up the majority of the pack, with two wheel dogs at the back. The heavier the weight of the sled, the more team dogs you add.  All of which makes perfect sense in retrospect, but still managed to elicit a bit of surprise at the time.

Dog Sledding in Churchill

It’s hard to convey just how excited the dogs were at the prospect of going sledding.  Their excitement was such that it was almost all the mushers could do to keep them still long enough to get tied into their harnesses.  Tails were a blur of fluffy flurry as they swept side to side, damp noses darting sharply left and right as the dogs socialized, interacted, and then alternatively tried to pull the sled forward by themselves.

Dog Sledding in Churchill

The sleds could handle two of us at at time, plus a driver.  Unfortunately (and quite understandably), we’d be helping stop and control the sled, but wouldn’t be doing any driving.  We teamed up, and then watched in breathless anticipation as the first two sleds silently slipped forward. The only real sounds to be heard; the excited squeaks and giggles of our fellow group members and the light sound of bootied paws digging into the snow.   As we waited for them to make their mile-long loop we danced around trying to keep warm. As a fun added bit of entertainment we would pause periodically to scoop up a hand full of dog food while raising our palms into the sky.  Ever vigilant small birds were watching and would swoop down to perch on our extended hands while they timidly gobbled down the dry dog food.

Dog Sledding in Churchill

Then, my time arrived.  I’m not really sure what I expected; It to be uneven perhaps? To bounce along over the snow, to be loud and for the pull of each dog’s forward motion to bring with it a fresh jerk and lurch lugging the sled across the snow?  The experience was nothing of the sort.  At our musher’s command, I stepped up and off of the drag plate, used as a brake and to hold the sled still.  One foot on either ski, hands on the rail in front of me – the dogs sprung forward into action.  We didn’t lurch, so much as we slipped forward.  The sled creaking ever so slightly as we glided atop the snow-turned ice.   The dogs themselves loped along casually seemingly almost oblivious to the three bodies and large wooden cart they were lugging behind them.

Dog Sledding in Churchill

Within moments we were up to speed, the freezing cold wind crashing against our bodies desperately trying to freeze our noses and eyes on contact.  Slight tears slipped from the sides of my eyes in response – an involuntary bodily reaction to the wind and cold.  I was amazed at just how casual and in control the dogs were.  It reminded me of my ballroom dancing – at first it is overwhelming and there is no time between steps.  Each new move is all consuming but then, when you grow accustomed to the pace and the speed you discover that you have luls and gaps in the flow where you can relax or style.  It was the same for the dogs, who would periodically dart slightly to the side to scoop up a mouthful of snow, or in the case of one of our wheel dogs, play the role of Casanova pausing to flirt and sniff the dog beside him.

Dog Sledding in Churchill

It is easy to see how one could quickly become addicted to dog sledding.  The peace and tranquility of it was intoxicating and we were only on a brief loop on a rural road.  Threading through a forest, surrounded by the Canadian wilds, I can only image is a truly magical experience.   As our sled slid back into camp and we disembarked, I found myself itching for another loop or two.  I’ll definitely do it again in the future when the opportunity presents itself.   We rounded our the afternoon defrosting in front of the wood fire and listening to Dave’s stories.  A wonderful conclusion to a great experience.

Part Three of this series features my time out on the Tundra with wild Polar Bears.  Make sure to stay tuned and to read Part I which talks about Churchill, logistics, and pricing.

This dog sledding experience was booked through Frontiers North Adventures.  The photos in this post were taken on a  Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – A Flower in Bloom in Oslo

Oslo Cultural Museum - Oslo, Norway

Norway has a reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful destinations.  The majestic fjords, stunning waterfalls, and inspiring vistas of massive snow capped mountains have come to define the country.  Yet, there is an added richness that goes beyond that – small details which add to Norway’s charm and make it an ideal destination for a variety of other reasons.  This photo captures one of those charming aspects. Taken on the outskirts of Oslo at the Museum of Cultural History, this photograph features a beautiful flower in bloom along an old wooden fence in front of a traditional Norwegian farmhouse.   The museum, which has a large out door component, is home to wonderful old Norwegian buildings, horse drawn carriages, and cultural performers playing traditional music.  It is well worth a visit!

When you think of Norway, what image or memory comes to mind?

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos?  View past travel pictures here.

Two New Salsa Videos

Howdy all! As a quick sidetrack from my Spain blogs this post includes two freshly recorded videos from this past weekend. What of? Why social Salsa dancing of course!

While each Salsa club is completely different the following videos were recorded at Paragon Dance Studio’s Sunday Night Salsa Function in Tempe, Arizona which trades the conventional restaurant/night club backdrop for plenty of space and a top notch dance floor. Make sure to select the HQ option when viewing both videos & remember – I love your questions! Have one? Post it in a comment response to this post and I’ll get back to you promptly!

Elektra & I Dancing:

Debbie & I Dancing:

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