Nyhavn Transported Through Time

Copenhagen’s picture-perfect old harbor is an enchanting sight to see even on the gloomiest of days.  Nyhavn (the New Harbor) as the old 17th century waterfront is called, is lined by popular cafes, a vibrant mixture of multi-hued historic buildings, and a floating of museum with historic sailing vessels moored along the harbor’s stone docks.  It’s a favorite spot among both tourists and locals alike for food, sightseeing, and a six pack of beer or bottle of wine to be enjoyed in the sun with friends.

However, this past spring Nyhavn was transformed. The metamorphosis was unlike anything I’ve seen during my four years in Copenhagen and, with a bit of celluloid magic, Nyhavn and all of its charm was transported back through time nearly 100 years. Pavement was replaced by gravel and cobble stones, the sails on the old wooden vessels were raised, the sound of wagons and fishmongers suddenly echoed off of the old stone walls and the modern world suddenly gave way a romanticized version of Copenhagen’s past.  As part of the filming of the movie, The Danish Girl, which is being directed by Tom Hooper and stars the likes of Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, and Eddie Redmayne, and in partnership with the city the majority of Nyhavn was transformed into a a detail-rich movie set.

Nude Austrian Saunas For Beginners

Intro To Austrian Saunas

There are moments in every person’s life where you pause and ask yourself…how did I end up right here, in this moment, at this point in time? For me, one such moment came in the form of a sweat covered, completely naked, Austrian man’s knee resting casually against my own in a lovely dry sauna in the small ski-town of Obergurgl.

It was my first international sauna experience and my first introduction to Austrian sauna culture.  To be frank, I had no idea what I was doing, or what to expect. The result? An absolutely hilarious experience full of culture shock, epiphanies, a whole lot of naked people, and what I think is a fantastic story.

This video is the latest in an ongoing series I’ve produced where I document some of my favorite travel stories.  The goal? To share them with you in roughly five minutes in the same way I’d tell them sitting around a table while sharing drinks at a bar.

So, without further delay – enjoy!

Oh, and for those of you who are wondering: It really was an amazing experience, and I’m now completely addicted to saunas and the Austrian approach. Stay tuned for Part II when things really heat up!

Don’t forget to view previous videos on my youtube channel and to subscribe to ensure you don’t miss out on future updates!

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – A Lazy Turkish Cat

Sunbathing Cat in Southern Turkey

I’ve always felt like we should look to cats for lifestyle inspiration.  After all, as a human walking through a back alley in a small Turkish town near the ruins of Myra it’s easy to notice a junk’d car and either ignore it, or grumble about it being ugly litter. For a cat, on the other hand, it’s a warm place to relax and enjoy the weather…and this wasn’t just any weather.  It was a small window of warmth and sunshine just after some of the worst weather Turkey had seen in more than 25 years.  So, when you find yourself out and about, remember to take some time to pause and bask in the warmth and beauty of the moment. After all, you never know when some annoying tourist (or other life challenge) is bound to amble by, decide they need a photo and rouse you from your blissful reverie!

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

How “Howdy” Has Made Me A Better Traveler – Considering Cultural Identifiers and Their Value

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Each time we interact with a stranger there’s a significant amount of uncertainty. When that interaction occurs between people from different backgrounds, cultures, and languages that level of unknown is magnified significantly. To convey our background and express ourselves while reducing that uncertainty we dress a certain way, talk a certain way, and when it comes to travel, we present ourselves a certain way.

It’s a common desire among travelers to fit in. This has significant advantages in the form of increased safety, added opportunity for cultural immersion, and the chance for increased experiential engagement. However, it also makes it significantly harder for you to communicate basic information about yourself to the strangers you have an active desire to communicate with.

While we will almost always be readily identifiable as a visitor to locals due to the brands we wear, the camera slung around our shoulder, or the day-backpack we’ve got strapped to our backs it is fairly easy to start to blend in, should you desire it. At which point you’ll notice your interactions begin to change, both with locals and other travelers.

So, where does “Howdy” come into this?

The moment you open your mouth and utter a word the people you’re interacting with will know that you’re an outsider. Often, what they’ll have trouble identifying is where you are from, and how to engage with you. Unless, that is, you decide to help them. As an American from the southwest, that’s where the word howdy enters my equation.

With one word, I can share a wealth of information with the person I’m striking up a conversation with. It tells them I’m probably from the USA, that I’m a native English speaker, that I’m ok with a slightly more casual interaction, and that I’m likely friendly. One word used at the very onset of the conversation creates and establishes a baseline of common information upon which we can build a more comfortable interaction and less awkward conversation.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you always use a cultural identifier, only that you consciously add one to your vocabulary.

Hostel Inn Tango City - Buenos Aires, Argentina

A Few Examples

The first time I realized the benefit of using a cultural identifier, howdy in this case, was during an off-season trip to the Greek island of Crete. I’d been on the road for 2+ months already, and was apparently dressing more like a European than an American. When combined with my international features I could have been from almost anywhere. Time and time again in stores, or when interacting with street vendors they would approach me and begin to work through a variety of languages. Most started with German, then switched to French, then often Italian before eventually growing slightly frustrated and defaulting to English. These were individuals I wanted to communicate with (otherwise a simple smile and shake of the head would have been sufficient), but with whom I was accidentally making communication significantly more difficult. The moment I started responding to their inquiry with the same smile, and a howdy we immediately began communicating more effectively.

Hostel common areas provide another excellent example. In these spaces there’s really only one well grounded assumption to be made – that the people you’re about to interact with could be from anywhere in the world. In these spaces the level of social uncertainty is magnified. While almost everyone is eager to socialize and interact, there’s a high level of uncertainty in the initial interaction. In these types of situations everyone is hungry for any hint that helps them relate and connect with the other people. Once again, this is a perfect chance to use a cultural identifier to help reduce uncertainty and build common ground.

A third is when locals or other tourists approach you with questions, which I find happens surprisingly often. These instances can be somewhat awkward, as you may or may not have a decent familiarity with the area or subject they’re asking about. They’ve approached you, a perfect stranger, with the assumption that you’re probably a local, and have already taken a social “risk”. One made more awkward if you don’t understand their inquiry, or if you have to ask them to re-state it. A process which can be accelerated, or avoided all together with a word or two right off the bat. The added benefit is that words like bonjour and howdy can be spoken immediately, even if the other person has already started to talk without being impolite.

Subtle Language Requests

To be fair, when you use a cultural identifier like howdy, you’re doing more than just expressing information about yourself. You’re also subtly inviting the other person to have the conversation in your native language. If you’d prefer to try and remain in the other person’s native language it may be worth considering what regional salute is suited to that language, or opening with your own cultural identifier and then adding a brief phrase in the local language. This tells them your native language, but then also indicates that you’re interested in continuing in their language.

Think about your interactions both while abroad, and with visitors in your home region. Where are you from? What words might you use to identify yourself? Can you think of a time when you used a cultural identifier, or perhaps did not and should have?

Affiliate link: Itching to learn a language? Consider picking Rosetta Stone Software up over on Amazon.

Can I Travel if I Don’t Know the Local Language?

Fresh Fishmarket - Cadiz, SpainGood Morning! Buon Giorno! Καλημέρα! Have you caught yourself dreaming about an international trip only to have that nagging voice in your head remind you that you don’t speak the local language? If you’re like many aspiring travelers I’ve talked to, you might eliminate destinations or entire trips because of language barriers. It causes uncertainty, especially in novice travelers, or those considering their first solo trip. It also can lead to the cancellation or re-direction of what would otherwise be incredible adventures.

Let me be blunt – it doesn’t matter. Knowing the language in (most) destinations is a nicety, one which will enrich your experience, but is anything but a necessity. Especially for a shorter, more casual trip, where you expect to travel for a week or two. I’ve traveled to 31 countries so far and spent more than 6 months on the road over the last 5 years. Even with all of that travel I’ve yet to have any major issues despite the fact that I only speak one and a half languages and use Google Translate on a regular basis to convert booking and information websites to English.

My native tongue is English which I supplement with terrible Spanish. I’m not talking, “Oh I’m fluent but I can’t write in Spanish”, I’m talking the leftover scraps of memory from Spanish classes my Freshman, Sophomore and Junior year of High School. I’m guessing that most of you have at least a tiny bit of Spanish or French under your belt. If not, don’t despair. There’s still hope.

The biggest roadblock to communicating internationally isn’t language…it’s fear. Fear of being lost and helpless, fear of being embarrassed and fear of making mistakes. The truth is everybody makes mistakes and nobody cares, heck the vast majority of people are just happy you tried. Lost and helpless? You’re more likely to get stepped on by an elephant.

When we are nervous our bodies start to mis-communicate. We become less expressive and more likely to avoid physical illustrations and gestures. Some 85% of communication is non-verbal. If you relax, accept that you’ll have a few confusing/awkward situations, put a warm smile on your face, and invest a little effort, you’re going to be able to communicate no matter where you are. Sure, you won’t be able to stop and ask to borrow some sugar, but you’ll still be able to engage, communicate and get around.

For good measure, make sure you always carry a small notepad and pen to write things down (eg: directions and the cost of items) or draw a picture of something you need. Also, don’t rule out continuing to talk and explain in English even after it has been established that you don’t understand the local tongue. While counter-intuitive, I observed this trick employed by locals while on the road. It recognizes that the essence of communication flows much more naturally when talking comfortably and leverages it. It gives people the opportunity to pick out words they may recognize, judge flow, tone, and makes it easier for you to gesture and engage. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating being an ‘ugly tourist’. Don’t be an individual who is exploring a country and assumes everyone should and must speak English.

There’s a huge difference in personal interactions when you are actively trying to communicate. While exploring a country without a knowledge of the local tongue make the added effort to learn ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, and ‘I’m sorry I don’t understand’. It’s always important to remember that it’s their country, their language, and, that YOU are a visitor in their home. Above all, if you follow a simple rule (don’t be a dick), you’ll find that the sky is the limit on human openness and hospitality.

Lastly, do your research and use your common sense. Do you need to know Italian for a trip to Rome and Florence in Italy? Probably not. Should you establish a more advanced understanding of the local language when preparing for a multi-month hiking trek across rural Brazil? Probably.

If you can practice a foreign language before (or during) your trip, jump on it! While the local language isn’t a requirement for travel, it is a huge factor in the richness. Basic communication will give you the warmth of a culture but it’s only through speaking the language that you can begin to truly understand and appreciate the depth.

Adventure and amazing people await. Don’t let baseless excuses hold you back. Get out there, meet amazing people, and learn about yourself as you discover new and amazing places. Who knows, you might even learn a fun word or two in the process!

Still not satisfied? Everyone I know speaks highly of Rosetta Stone’s line of language learning software.

*This post was originally published on GenJuice.com

Granada Part IV – The Alhambra

After wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I crawled out of my bunk bed, took a refreshing shower and then stumbled down to the hostel common area. There I chatted with a few friends I’d made over the previous two days. We checked our e-mail, recounted the previous evening’s adventures and then formed a small group. Today was dedicated to the Alhambra.

I’ve mentioned it before, but have yet to really explain what the Alhambra is.  The Alhambra is a large palatial fortress that sits on one of the hills in the heart of Granada.  The hill the fortress is on is directly opposite another slightly smaller hill which is home to the Albayzin.  The two are divided by a small stream which has cut a path along the base of both hills.  The Albayzin is the original Moorish city while the Alhambra houses a series of constructions including an ancient fortress, stunning palatial complex and amazing set of gardens.  The site has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site and has a rich and exciting history.  One of the things I found especially fascinating was that the Alhambra was one of the Moors last strongholds in Spain.  I was shocked to learn that the fortress actually didn’t fall until 1492 (same year as Columbus sailed). Quite the significant year for the Spanish!   I’ll let those interested read up on it via wikipedia.

Getting to the Alhambra is easy – but make no mistake, also a bit of an adventure.  There are two options: the first is paying 2 Euro and catching a bus from the square at the bottom of the hill just off of the Grand Villa which drops you off at the entrance to the Alhambra.  The second, and far more entertaining option, is to tackle the mountainside and hike your way to the entrance. Eager to see and experience as much as possible we elected for the latter.  The path shoots off from the square and slowly winds up past a series if vendors, hostels and restaurants all clinging to the side of the hill. Once at the entrance to the Alhambra site the city ends and you find yourself surrounded by lush vegetation and periodic water features.  The path goes from pavement to dirt and the real trek begins. The photo above is from about halfway up the path.  As you can see the benches indicate just how steep the climb is. Huffing away, legs pumping and with my injured knee bothering me, I limped my way up the path, pausing periodically to enjoy the beautiful golds, greens and reds of the trees lining the path.

The walk from hostel to the ticket booth for the Alhambra only took us 20 minutes and was well worth the knee strain. The weather was beautiful.  Gray, overcast, and crisp. Luckily the rain had contented itself with a brief morning shower before moving on.  The moisture in the air brought out all of the greens in the plants and the colors in the flowers and stonework, adding a certain vividness which was amazing to see.  Once at the top we paused briefly for a quick soda and snack. As we caught our breaths and relaxed I snapped the above shot of a local cat and two considerate tourists. With a smile on my face we set to the task of tackling the lines and picking up our tickets.

The Alhambra is a huge tourist attraction. As both a UNESCO world heritage site and major historical monument it draws large crowds, even in off season.  As a result ticketing can be difficult. To help preserve the feel of the site they’ve set up an interesting system with two main entrance times.  The first entrance period starts at 8:30AM and ends at 2PM. The second begins at 2PM and ends at 8PM.  Tickets sell out quickly so it’s important to book ahead or get there early.  Once you’ve purchased your ticket you’re assigned a second time window, for a tour of the palatial compound.  The tours are small and you only get one shot.  The palace is incredible and a must while visiting the fortress – so if you plan on visiting, make sure you know where you need to be at your designated time.

When you go to buy your tickets you have two options.  You can brave the ridiculously long line and buy from the ticket windows, or bypass most of the line and use the automatic machines located just past the ticket windows.  The machines look and are marked as a place for picking up web orders and advanced tickets, but also allow the purchase of tickets with a credit card.  Do yourself a favor and go with the machines – they’re not very different from the automatic ticket machines at some movie theaters.

Tickets in hand we made our way to one of the nearby benches, wiped off a few leftover rain drops and settled in.  We had a bit over an hour before 2PM when we would be allowed to enter the site. There were a number of friendly cats wandering around which kept as entertained as we exchanged travel stories and playfully teased each other. Hungry, I pulled out a tin of sardines and quickly set to a rather fishy, but satisfying snack.

The clock struck 2 and we were off. Through the gates and into the garden area of the Alhambra. Outside of the fortress proper the gardens are a sprawling mixture of beautiful buildings, amazing greenery and beautiful water features.  Our adventure started at a large, modern amphitheater which has been built near the entrance to the Gardens.  With it to our back we immediately found ourselves in an incredible garden maze (pictured above) with high walls and beautiful fountains.  Despite the late time of year (December) there were still blooming flowers everywhere.

Once through the maze we were greeted by beautifully terraced areas full of fruit trees and with large areas used for crops during summer months.  The photo above is down the hill from the garden area and is of the outer fortress wall and beginning of the palatial section.   The whole area is covered in orange trees all of which were heavily laden with fresh fruit.

Down a narrow walkway and through a small courtyard full of orange trees we entered the first building in the gardens.  With a fantastic view of the Alhambra proper, the building was covered in beautifully carved Moorish script.  The artistry and complexity of the stonework is positively awe inspiring. In many areas it seems as though every single exposed area is covered in intricate stonework.  Even the windows and ceilings are covered in carved stone or intricate wooden inlays.

The man hours and skilled craftsmanship required to create these buildings left me speechless.  As impressive as it all is, many of the areas also appeared to have been painted at one point in time.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it. As amazing as it was, it ended up being minor when compared to the sprawling palace located within the fortress.

The view out from the Gardens was amazing and I regularly found myself caught visualizing how it must have looked, felt and smelled 600 years ago. After taking the shot above I turned to my right and looked out across at the Albayzin.

Further along the hill and on the other side of the old city wall that surrounds the Albayzin, there is a series of gypsy caves.  These caves are carved into the soft limestone and are a famous landmark.  Some (like the Cave Bar I blogged about earlier) are heavily improved with electricity, bathrooms and the like.  Others are little more than rough-hewn caves.  One thing is constant, very few of the caves are actually owned and many operate on a co-op like system with travelers and gypsies contributing odd knickknacks and/or small improvements before moving on and leaving them for the next visitor.  You can see a number of the caves in the above photo.  The buildings at the bottom near the river are almost all caves with improved entrances, while those further up the hill are more basic/cruder in nature.  The cactus you can see covering parts of the hillside was originally used as a defensive measure, and now grows wild.

The Moors had a passion for water, one that shows in the construction and layout of the Alhambra and its gardens.  It’s almost impossible to go any distance within the sprawling compound without the sound of trickling water and a light feeling of humidity.  As we finished our tour of the Gardens we paused to collect a few of the stragglers that had fallen behind before backtracking to a fork in the path which led us down, across the moat and into the fortified section of the Alhambra.

Once on the far side of the moat we wrapped around the outer edge of the hilltop and left the lush vegetation of the garden area behind. The whole area was still green and populated by periodic water features but more manicured and open than the garden had been.  The first sight that greeted us was a series of reflecting pools with a more recent looking cathedral built in what I’d guess was 1600s styled architecture.

As we wound past the first cathedral we quickly came upon a second, far more impressive one. It’s hard to tell if it was originally a mosque or not, though I imagine it probably was.  Immediately next to it was a small bathhouse and museum which we explored.   Even the street had a small water feature running down it’s side. I still can’t fathom where all the water used to beautify the Alhambra comes from or how it finds its way up to the top of the hill.

From the main walkway we made our way into the Palace of Charles the V…a beautiful, large, square building with a massive circular central courtyard. Though most of the building was closed, one small section was open.  The open area had a series of interesting pieces of modern art, the most impressive of which was a large lion with flowing mane made completely out of old tires.  It was absolutely fantastic! Unfortunately, they were not allowing photos.  They also had a fun 3D room setup.  The 360 degree circular room had image boxes projected with various video clips which you could control and interact with through a pointer. The whole thing was 3D and a pretty cool interface.

As I finished exploring the Palace of Charles the Fifth my 4 o’clock tour of the palace was fast approaching.  However, I’ll leave my tour of the palaces, voyage into the old fortress and rest of the evening in Granada for a 2nd follow up post.  I’m afraid this one has gotten a bit long!

Stay tuned and remember you can view all of the photos included in this post and a large number of others via my online gallery!