You mean Danish Pastries aren’t actually Danish?

Pastries galore
Pastries galore

Denmark. Home of pastries, wind and bikes. We were fortunate enough to have several days in Copenhagen after our time in Malmo and Lund. We literally took the train straight from Malmo across the Øresund Strait and a peaceful 45 minutes later we were in another country without any passport checks or custom hassles. Not too shabby at all. The view from the train of the massive windmills as we crossed the strait wasn’t too bad either.

Train time!
Train time!
Walking through Ørestad on our way to our hostel the first day
Walking through Ørestad on our way to our hostel the first day

Once we arrived in Copenhagen, we walked over to our hostel and lo and behold we passed yet another windmill on the way.

IMG_7716
Windmill with a funky looking building in the background
View from the soccer (football) field next to our hostel
View from the soccer (football) field next to our hostel

We got settled that afternoon at the hostel and then ended up exploring downtown for a place to eat. There are bikes everywhere in Copenhagen and a main reason that people bike is because it’s easy. Not because it’s healthier or more sustainable, but simply because it’s easier.

"Small" bike parking area
“Small” bike parking area

Biking started in Copenhagen in the 70s for a variety of reasons. It can be attributed to the fact that it’s a flat city (less than 90m difference from highest point to lowest throughout the city), parking is super expensive, there is limited car access in the inner city (which started due to not wanting to depend on oil after the oil crisis in the 1970s) and lastly, they build the infrastructure for it. There are bike lanes everywhere and limited traffic lights. The city puts bikes ahead of vehicles, something Victoria could learn from.

One of our bike excursions!
One of our bike excursions (it was a little wet and my buddy didn’t really like the rain, otherwise he’d be a bundle of joy and all smiles)

Anyways, we explored Copenhagen that evening and ran into some amazing street artists. I ended up buying a CD from one local music guy, had a “sitting” competition with another guy who was holding a wall squat but without the wall for what seemed like an eternity!

The musician I bought a CD from. Ok, he acknowledged that his roots weren't exactly local (mother from South America and father from North America), he was born and raised in Denmark.
The musician I bought a CD from. Ok, he acknowledged that his roots weren’t exactly local (mother from South America and father from North America), he was born and raised in Denmark.
Holding our squats. He won.
Holding our squats. He won.

We also ran into a Disney store and I found a great stuffed animal of my old friend, Dumbo. I liked him because we both had huge ears!

Dumbo and I!
Dumbo and I!

The next day we had a tour of the controversial Ørestad development, which was referred to as the Manhattan of Copenhagen. Essentially the area was designed to be a sustainable development with unique architecture in an unused area. The problem is that it’s not really sustainable and it’s quite the distance out of town and provides lots of parking – key aspects that other sustainable development projects go to great lengths to avoid.

While the development is certainly home to some amazing looking buildings, we heard that the choice of materials sometimes wasn’t the best and the buildings themselves didn’t really connect well with each other or the surrounding area. 

IMG_7762
The Mountain House – each apartment has it’s own little balcony.
IMG_7760
Some funky looking balconies
IMG_7795
Green roofs of the 8 House
IMG_7783
The 8 House – A building shaped in a figure 8 with a walking path along the exterior from the ground floor all the way to the top and back down!

Part of our research before this tour was a TED Talk by architect, Bjarke Ingels called Hedonistic Sustainability. I found this to be a truly inspring TED Talk for a number of reasons including making architecture more about improving life quality and also some of the projects he has undertaken. The one that struck me was an energy plant in Copenhagen that takes waste and turns into power. It’s a massive building so they ended up turning the top of it into a ski hill! Imagine skiing on top of a power plant! And the plant would also collect the CO2 that it emits and compress it until it has exactly 1 ton. Then it releases it in a circular ring that floats up to increase awareness of just how much CO2 humans are producing. Some great concepts in this talk by a brilliant mind.

Walking through the controversial development
Walking through the controversial development – it had a great large flat green space which I loved, but fell short in many other areas

If you’re curious for more detail than I am giving of these field school sessions, then head on over to the UVic Sustainability Field School website to check out our blog and read posts from different group members about our trip!

From there, we had a great chat with the Head of the Climate Unit for the City of Copenhagen. She outlined her two “simple” jobs:

  1. make Copenhagen carbon neutral by 2015
  2. Be as climate resilient as possible

She also gave us a quite in depth lecture on Copenhagen’s flood plan. Essentially, the city is digging up many of it’s streets so that water flows into the middle, rather than outside and also so that they are sloped to follow the natural flow of the water. We don’t have this problem as much in Canada, but here the cities are quite man-made with many canals and changes to natural waterways which can make havoc when heavy rains come in.

A canal in Copenhagen
A canal in Copenhagen

Our next stop was at Traestubben, an outdoor nature school. The site was an old derelict public washroom in a courtyard before being converted into a school with an amazing amount of wildlife around it.

IMG_7815
Former toilet house turned into nature school

These types of schools are necessary here because many European cities are surrounded by cultivated land and it’s hard to find any true nature without going really far away from city centres, something children can’t do that easily. So they bring nature in and make sure each class goes at least one week (nobody is at the school full-time, public and private schools make appointments to come spend time there with the educator, Felix).

Bike parking outside the nature school
Bike parking outside the nature school

After this small nature school visit, we biked over to Christiania, a dwelling in Copenhagen that is surrounded by nature and has a “hippy” feeling to it if you will. Here we learned about another nature school and the projects being undertaken by the staff at this school. Sustainability begins with education, and it was inspiring to see so many of these grassroots projects becoming successful and influencing so many young children.

Christiania (we weren't supposed to take photos in some places, but this part we were allowed)
Christiania (we weren’t supposed to take photos in some places, but this part we were allowed)

The last stop of this day was another outdoor school for children, but this one was a marine school in the harbour. 20 years ago the harbour in Copenhagen was a mess, but they are proud to say you can swim in it at any time of the year!

The marine school worked with public and private schools, much like the nature schools, to educate local children about the extensive waterways that surround their cities. They learn to fish, clean fish, clean the water, and much more. We saw first hand what one group had managed to pull from the river, just hours before.

IMG_7825
Garbage haul from the harbour shoreline

We were also lucky enough to have a quick harbour tour on a zodiac!

Zodiac tour!
Zodiac tour!
Beautiful view on a walk to dinner one evening
Beautiful view on a walk to dinner one evening

The next day, we were supposed to explore a rooftop garden, but personal matters came up for our host and he couldnt make it so we ended up having the day off. It worked out well for me as I was in bed sick with a brutal headache.

But do not fret as I was up and at again the very next morning and went off for a gorgeous morning run before our departure to Hamburg, Germany!

Morning run
Morning run

Oh, and the reason Danish pastries aren’t really Danish is because they were actually invented by some Austrians who were working in Denmark during a strike by Danish bakers. The Austrians didn’t know how to make the local desserts, so they stuck with what they knew and the locals loved them so much that they’re now world famous!

I’ll let you digest this little tidbit of information now, but keep your eyes peeled for the next post! 🙂

Yummmm
Yummmm
Advertisements

Iceland; Tough, Barren and Resilient

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I am currently writing this on a train through the countryside of Sweden on our way from Stockholm to Lund. Before Stockholm, we (the Northern Europe Sustainability Field School from UVic) were in Iceland and before that we were at home in Victoria learning about initiatives a little closer to home before coming out here.

A quick recap on our Victoria portion of the field school would be that we:

  • participated in a Homelessness Workshop run by the City of Victoria featuring Mark Lakeman and Andrew Heben, both of whom have done fantastic work done there combating homelessness through mini-home communities. This concept really spoke to me, but not just as a homelessness initiative (although in Medicine Hat, where homelessness was recently eradicated, housing costs $20,000/year whereas if someone lives on the streets it can cost the city up to $100,000/year), but also a potential idea for sustainable communities.
  • Had several guest lecturers including several UVic profs, and some Traveler in Your Own City folks who taught us that the best way to engage in a conversation is to smile, actively listen and ask good questions (avoid yes or no questions).
  • met with City Counsellor Ben Isitt, Senior City Planner Kristina Bouris and several other CRD employees who spoke of Victoria’s current situation and upcoming plans. For example, wIthin the next 20-30 years, Victoria is planning to expand it’s bike lanes and active transportation routes, improve it’s public transportation, create walkable urban villages and ultimately a more sustainable and resilient city. Mr. Isitt asked us to look at several things in Europe and these include; housing supply (and how much the state/municipality provides), (compact) urban design, active transportation and food systems (i.e. agricultural land development and support).
  • toured and helped out at Springwood Commons, a community garden project in Fernwood that is run by members of the community and is really an inspiring piece of work in Victoria.
  • toured Dockside Green, which is a sustainable development in Vic West and noted our observations and discussions for a larger scale project, Eco-Urbanism for Dr. Meg Holden.

    IMG_7017
    Views from the CRD Building (top) and from the top of a building in Dockside Green (bottom)

And then with that, we had concluded our Victoria portion of the field school! I then enjoyed a great May Long up island with family and friends, some whom I hadn’t seen in years! Eventually, Wednesday, May 20th rolled around and we headed out for our first international destination….Iceland!

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0153.
Blue Lagoon, Iceland #gopro

Our flight left Vancouver around 4pm and due to the time differences and the time differences we didn’t arrive in Iceland until about 6am the next morning (Iceland is 7 hours ahead of Victoria). Since we arrived so early and couldn’t check into our hotel until later in the day, we dove headfirst into the whole sustainability aspect of this field school and toured a Geothermal Power Plant. Some highlights from there would be that:

  • Iceland runs on nearly 100% renewable energy
  • They are firm believers in wasting nothing
  • They are closely connected to their land and effectively uses it for their own needs without disrupting Mother Nature’s ways
  • they are open to continuous learning and have indeed learned from original geothermal projects
Touring the Geothermal Power Plant in Iceland #gopro
Touring the Geothermal Power Plant in Iceland #gopro

 

Bus rides! #gopro
Bus rides! #gopro

Once we completed this tour, we drove over to the Blue Lagoon, a world famous geothermal spa. Let’s just say that soaking in a massive hot tub is the best thing to recover from a 7 hour red eye flight and up to 30 hours of no sleep for me at that point.

The part of the Blue Lagoon that isn't used by people
The part of the Blue Lagoon that isn’t used by people #gopro
Dr. Cam Owens, our awesome professor enjoying the Blue Lagoon!
Dr. Cam Owens, our awesome professor enjoying the Blue Lagoon! #gopro

From the Blue Lagoon we headed to our hotel in Reykjavik and got settled by walking around the city. As we were driving in though, we noticed that there were hardly any trees and later learned that earlier generations of the area had cut them all down. Fortunately, reforestation efforts were underway. Once we got into the city we were free to explore and explore we did.

Some of the colourful buildings in Reykjavik
Some of the colourful buildings in Reykjavik
A gorgeous cathedral in the city centre that had spectacular views from the top
A gorgeous cathedral in the city centre that had spectacular views from the top #gopro
Just one angle from the panoramic vista from the top of the cathedral
Just one angle from the panoramic vista from the top of the cathedral

Reykjavik is a young city, with a bustling main drag and surrounded by ocean or gorgeous mountains. It is not for the faint of heart when it comes to finances, however, as a typical meal from a decent restaurant would cost you north of $30. Even a burger could be $10 or more alone! Fun fact: $1 CAD = ~110 Icelandic Krona. But renting a bike wasnt’ too expensive so a friend and I rented some and biked all around the city for an afternoon and a had a blast!

Biking through the city #gopro
Biking through the city #gopro

We were fortunate enough to meet with the creators of the “Iceland Green Map”, an incredible initiative that works to connect residents with nature. The project struggles to get funding as many of these similar things do, but it’s amazing to see what dedication and hard work can do as the awareness the couple (Gunna and her partner, neither of whom are trained as environmentalists) has spread is huge.

View from my morning run along the coast in the city one day
View from my morning run along the coast in the city one day

We then spent two full days on a bus touring different parts of the island nation. The first day we went up the coast to the Snaelfessness (SPELLING?) Penisula and toured a sweet little Volcano Museum that a world renowned geologist spoke to us in!

The Peninsula itself was quite amazing with a beautiful coastline, fishing villages scattered throughout and volcanoes running rampant in the area (not literally, an eruption was not about to happen).

GoPro selfie on the top of a cliff near a little fishing village
GoPro selfie on the top of a cliff near a little fishing village #gopro
GoPro selfie with the village in the background
GoPro selfie with the village in the background #gopro

We even had a chance to climb up a volcano!

Selfie on top of a volcano #gopro
Selfie on top of a volcano #gopro

The next day, we did the famous Golden Circle tour of some of Iceland’s iconic landmarks. We had the same great guide from the day before, a gentleman named Arni. Arni was a great soul and he taught us:

  • Icelanders can be a bit reserved at first, but often open up quickly once you’re in
  • Iceland is in a similar situation to Canada with regards to governments – both of us want ours gone and Iceland is undergoing general strikes in the near future
  • lullabies in Icelandic are works of art as he proved it by singing one to us
  • transportation and food security are two of Iceland’s largest sustainability difficulties
  • how to talk to Icelandic men and women in a bar (simply say ya ya!)

And much, much more. Arni guided us to the famous Thingvellir World Heritage Site first and we saw an amazing waterfall.

Thingvellir Waterfall #gopro
Thingvellir Waterfall #gopro
Such a gorgeous spot #gopro
Such a gorgeous spot #gopro

Thingvellir was an amazing spot and it was easy to see why it became home to the world’s first national parliament!

Arni teaching us about Thingvellir
Arni teaching us about Thingvellir #gopro

Thingvellir was also home to one of the world’s premier dive sites due to it’s surrounding crystal clear waters!

The clear waters of Thingvellier - visibility is over 100ft! #gopro
The clear waters of Thingvellier – visibility is over 100ft! #gopro

Thingvellir literally felt like a magical place but the day was just beginning as we then headed over to the OG Geyser – Geysir in Iceland. Such a sight to witness the amazing power that the Earth has.

Up it goes! #gopro
Up it goes! #gopro

And last but not least, we toured the Gullfoss Waterfall – Iceland’s 2nd largest and once again we were blown away by the power of Mother Nature!

Overlooking the falls
Overlooking the falls #gopro
Last group selfie in Iceland! #gopro
Last group selfie in Iceland! #gopro

And with that, our time in Iceland came to an end. We enjoyed one more night in Reykjavik and then flew out early the next morning to Stockholm, Sweden! More on that next time, but let it be know that Icelandic people are  tough and resilient, traits that can be connected to their tough, barren and resilient landscape and the strong connections that they’ve made with Mother Nature. After all, Mother knows best.

Mother Nature in her finest form at Thingvellir #gopro
Mother Nature in her finest form at Thingvellir #gopro
Thingvellir #gopro
Thingvellir #gopro

PS All photos are either shot with my GoPro Hero4 Black or my iPhone 5s.