Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Joy of Academic Travel, part 2

When academics (other people too maybe, I wouldn't know) travel, many of them spend their time in foreign places doing all those cultural things like visiting museums and art galleries. I've even heard some brag about the number of "shows" they went to in London or New York. Not me. I don't waste my time on that stuff. Me, I follow my own 4 "S" rule of travel: soak-up sounds, sights and smells. That's done by simple wandering, usually (but not always) with a map in my pocket (safely out of view, safely stored for a quick glance while walking).

Being as I am in Copenhagen, I followed my normal pattern. I've been here three times before, as best I can remember, so I've wandered a good part of the main city before. When Lucas and I were here, we did parts I wouldn't have normally wandered to, like Tivoli Gardens, so I have experienced the city in a variety of ways. I do conclude that most of Copenhagen is pretty weak on smells (certainly compared to the urine and vomit of London) and sounds are pretty limited other than the odd siren, it seems. Yesterday I wandered to Christiania. I'd been down that way before -- the jaunt took me past some churches with amazing architecture (a spire with dragons wrapped around it; a spire with an external spiral staircase going up it), sights that had attracted me before (always from the outside only) -- but I've never quite got this far previously. Christiania is a part of Copenhagen that "broke away" in the '70s and became an independent free-living/thinking enclave. Today it looks somewhat anarchist in character -- graffiti blending with brightly coloured buildings, litter fairly frequent, the cobblestones getting ever more uneven, dirt tracks functioning as roads -- but its eclectic buildings (shades of Hornby Island in an urban setting!) certainly set it apart. Hard not to observe too, of course, were carts along the street displaying their wares -- chunks of hash of a variety of kinds and colours (not that I stopped to ask, naturally, being of the "not wanting to look like a tourist" kind of guy; the local tourist pamphlets helpfully contextualized the visit before I got there), all openly for sale. And what were those little seedlings I spied over in a corner in one commercial square? I'm not sure but I do wonder.

Seeing the nature of the merchandise, it suddenly dawned on me why there were large "no photography" symbols scattered around the area in assorted odd places. I was glad I hadn't pulled out my phone to snap a few pics for this blog: my Danish just isn't up to explaining myself.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Joy of Academic Travel

I'm sitting in Ibsens Hotel in Copenhagen on a slightly dreary day, having arrived last night from Victoria via London. The trip over here was uneventful, if somewhat boring because I had been to London just three weeks ago and the movies on the plane had changed only slightly and the vegetarian (non-dairy) special meal was absolutely identical to what I had on my previous trip, right down to the very white bun-wrapped-in-plastic and grape jelly for breakfast. Not that I fly expecting to relish the food particularly but sometimes the element of surprise makes it worthwhile. Anyway, I made it here, even taking the Metro from the airport and figuring out the ticket machine (okay, so the help menu was in English but the credit card pad for paying was all in Danish) -- not that anyone checked the ticket and, unlike London, one doesn't even have to surrender the ticket at the end of the trip.

Ibsens Hotel is nice in that European way of hotels: relatively spartan and small rooms, even though I requested to upgrade to a more spacious room (which, apparently, I got, cost unknown right now). There are few of the "trimmings" that one comes to expect in North American-style hotels -- things like a coffee maker, kleenex, and face soap are missing, and it appears one must go to the "luggage room" to use an ironing board to take the wrinkles out of one's shirts. Still, the breakfasts are amazing (although I failed to find any Nutella which seems a prominent memory from my previous trip here and something Lucas particularly enjoyed on the occasion he was here with me). Ibsens seems to be the place the University of Copenhagen uses regularly: I met a fellow academic at breakfast today whom I finally placed (after he told me his name twice) as someone I had met in New Zealand when I was there in August; he's here lecturing at the University, I'm here for a conference sponsored by the University.

One of the real joys of academic travel for me is having the opportunity to go for a run in the morning before the meetings start (or, as with today, on one's "tourist days" that are allocated for catching up with jet lag or simply for procuring a reduction in the price of the plane ticket by staying a sufficient number of days). My earlier trip to London this month was disappointing in terms of running because I don't find downtown London a viable place to run (although I did see a few brave souls out). Copenhagen, on the other hand, is wonderful for running. The hotel is quite close to the lakes and also the botanical gardens and, while there are a few traffic lights to cross which sometimes force me to stop (something I don't respond well to), for the most part it's very pleasant trail running with passages under the road in some critical places so as to allow me to keep up my pace. The nice thing about running when away is that it all feels so relaxed, such a pleasure, such a privilege. Time seems a lot less pressing when away (not that there aren't papers to read for the conference, writing projects that I swore I would do when here, emails to keep up with) and it feels as if I could run all day (if only my body would allow). I felt so good when I got back this morning, even proud of being able to feel so good afterward, and I spent several minutes in the shower plotting out my schedule for the next few days so as to make sure my run would fit in (and so I wouldn't miss those breakfasts!). The conference itself is at a retreat centre, somewhere outside Copenhagen as far as I can tell, next to a forest (perfect!). Unfortunately, the schedule has us starting at 830 am on Thursday with breakfast at 730! Well, another of the joys of academic travel is jet lag, of course, so it's likely that I'll be up nice and early that day anyway, ready for a pre-breakfast run! Let's just hope there's coffee in the room there or it could be a real challenge.