Travel

Amsterdam Trip

Posted in Travel on December 12th, 2010 by Becci – 1 Comment

This is a little overdue (as is an update about Kim’s Hong Kong visit!) but since it’s the end of term, I’m happy to procrastinate by uploading photos/rambling about visiting Amsterdam. We were only there for a short amount of time, but we hopefully compensated this by our endless wanderings around Amsterdam.

When we arrived, looking ruffled and tired, we saw this:

One of the endless canals

And we were instantly charmed. We were following an enjoyable 3-hour tour which took us around the big and the more quietly hidden away spots in Amsterdam, such as the floating flower market, hidden churches, local treats, and so on … all while telling us about the rich history of the city. At one point he took us to one small part of the famous Red Light District, pointing to this curious little sculpture on the floor:

Boobs!

It was left there one day a long time ago – right outside the local church – and nobody ever found out who installed it. The church predictably disliked and rejected this sculpture, but the citizens of Amsterdam took liking to it. When it was removed, there were many protests calling back for the famous hand-on-boob sculpture. And after, I imagine, much fighting and complaining, it was reinstalled back onto the pavement. Our tour guide eloquently explained that it was a symbol of the Red Light District: the hand is anonymous, representing a ‘no-judgement’ attitude to anybody who wishes to indulge in its business.

Tour guide: Who wants to rub the boobs?
Us: [silence]
Tour guide: Nobody?
[Kim bends down and rubs the sculpture, looking victorious]
Tour guide: Last week, one of the other tour guides told me how one of his tour participants decided to strip naked in this spot, rub his bum on the sculpture, jump in the canal just over there, swim a few rounds … until he was fished out by the Amsterdam police. Yeah, he was pretty stoned.

Ah, tourists.

Also, obligatory shot of the ‘condomerie’. You can see what I mean. Think of the ultimate souvenir from Amsterdam – the windmill condom:

Condomerie

After the tour, we decided to go to a cosy jazz bar, called ‘Alto Jazz Cafe‘. We managed to snag seats right at the front, sipping our orange juice leisurely as we listened to the fantastic jazz talents. I’ve put a few samples together if you wanted to listen:

Alto Jazz Cafe

We wandered back to our hotel at around 2AM in the morning with jazz tunes ringing in our ears.

The next day, we went to a few museums (including one very inspiring photography one):

Foam Museum

Wandered around the very enticing Christmas market:

Christmas Market

… bought a few treats including a giant marshmallow coated in chocolate (it was amazing):

Mmm. Marshmallow.

… and did some general, uncoordinated walking about:

Crooked Houses

Crooked houses in Amsterdam

'Coffee shop' in Amsterdam. Very shiny.


PRIDE stall right outside the church.

More live music! This time, it was rock music and we had a great time.

Rock

All things considered, this is a less verbose entry than I thought it would be, but I figure there are a few things that are better off explained through pictures or videos. Overall, I really liked Amsterdam and I hope to return someday (for longer, perhaps!).

And on a final endnote, thanks to Kim for doing the map reading while we were there. Couldn’t have done it without you.

Copenhagen (Part 2)

Posted in Travel on February 1st, 2010 by Becci – Be the first to comment

(Not that it particularly matters as they’re both disjointed and flow in no particular direction, but for chronology’s sake – read Copenhagen (Part 1) here first, if it piques your interest.)

After a long stint of not updating and people rolling their eyes and claiming “you’re never going to update on Copenhagen, are you?”, here it is. Hand-rolled and clumsily written, I’ve done it at last.

I had a flight back to the UK that afternoon (emissions offset!), and so we only had time to visit a place that was enthusiastically recommended to me by a kind volunteering partner at Klimaforum. She said: “Visit Christiania! It’s … something else entirely. Copenhagen’s worst kept secret.”

Here’s a nice shot of what I mean by Christiania:

Christiania

It’s easy to fall into misconceptions. Graffiti. Low-rise buildings with a ruffled look about them. Barrels with naked flames on the street with people huddling around them. No cars in sight. Sleepy cafes, sparsely decorated.

But I think it’s a place of rich history. Known as “Freetown Christiania”, it claims to be autonomous. According to the fascinating Wikipedia page, some portions of the law behind supervision have been transferred to the state (under the Christiania Law of 1989). There are some regulations and rules of Christiania, created independently of the government. Razi affectionately commented, later on, how such a place demonstrated how true democracy could potentially work. Major matters in Christiania were apparently decided by voting, and it enforced its own sanctions.

I cannot remember exactly, but there has been a long history of conflicts about the supposed tolerance of cannabis in that region and numerous episodes of governmental authorities trying to regain control of the region. Christiania stood for freedom, liberty and art: it was a focal point for gay activism, for example, and it was (at times) belligerent and bellicose to government authorities. But of course, the tensions have somewhat settled down into a comfortable status quo. We found it a lovely place to walk around and it was obviously one of the biggest tourist hotspots. There were small stalls selling Christiania merchandise and I suspect the massive thrusts of tourism to the area brings welcome profit.

Just outside Christiania.
Just outside Christiania.


The outer regions of Christiania.

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We had a quick walk around the area and encountered a formidable (?) looking building with very interesting looking chairs:

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We were tempted to put our own signature on one of the walls, but decided against it. It was a lovely little place though, even though everything was closed in that building that day.

At that time, there were also small, independent art exhibitions held in Christiania pertaining to the climate change summit. They were largely activist in nature, with some very striking models – almost caricature-like, even. Some of them seemed solemn in nature, while others grieved for a world already ‘lost’. Some seemed to gleam with a sense of hopefulness, depicting children holding hands together to protect the earth. A few of them were satirical in nature, criticizing the ‘greed’ of green capitalism with grasping hands and painted bank notes. All in all, an interesting viewing, even if I remembered only to take a few photos of them:

Forgive me, but my memory is quite fuzzy. I remember taking the long tube ride back to Copenhagen airport (after making a few wrong stops) and just hanging casually with Razi. The planeride back to the UK was pleasant enough, and it all left a sweet taste in my mouth. :)

If I were to give Copenhagen a flavour, it would be hot chilli with potatoes and leek. It would sound like a bamboo flute and smell like clovers. I really enjoyed it, and even though I arrived in Copenhagen with no real noble agenda, it was really interesting to taste the culture, meet amazing people and be part of such a well-organized academic forum. I liked the organic food and all the bitterly cold nights, even. I enjoyed speaking to the funky people on the bus, and I will remember those moments where we all held our baited breaths as the police stopped to examine our bus. I adored the confusing train ticket dispensers, that funny Cantonese-speaking restaurant owner, the crowds of protests, the strength and solidarity of it all … it was what Morshed would call a perfect ‘hippie-venture’. Also, I thank Razi and friends for accompanying me (or did I accompany them?) on this. Couldn’t have done it without you.

Next stop: Sahara! Just kidding. Somewhere a little closer – Edinburgh, maybe? ROAD TRIP!

Copenhagen Trip (Part 1)

Posted in Travel on December 16th, 2009 by Becci – 1 Comment

Taken on the bridge heading to Copenhagen
Taken on the bridge heading to Copenhagen.

How can I be swayed by something so trivial as personal failure?” – A line from a poem read on the coach on the way to Copenhagen.

I’m not really sure how to start this, other than the fact that I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to stay in Copenhagen for any longer. It was so interesting to meet many new people and do so many things in a short period of time: get stuck in a coach ride for 24+ hours (a few spent on border checks), walk somewhat lost around the north eastern parts of Copenhagen only to encounter a fellow Cantonese-speaking restaurant owner, volunteer at Klimaforum09, eat (free) 100% organic home-grown food, accidentally get on the wrong side of the police, wander aimlessly around the streets of Christiania, fumble clumsily at the confusing train/metro system at Copenhagen, huddle around a communal fire … all that and more, and it was only magnified by travelling with my dear friend Razi, whom without his excellent map reading skills I would still surely be in a ditch somewhere in Copenhagen (or trampled. I am completely serious about that).

I guess it would make the most sense to start from the beginning: Day 1.

We started off at Victoria Embankment where we caught a coach. I think it’s important to specify that our particular coach had mainstream media on it – Danish TV2, and some other main channels that were following the journey of the Climate Campers on the coach ride. This meant that there was a strong possibility of getting less hassle from border control, as having three different cameras pointed at you as you search the bus is – if not just subliminally – slightly unencouraging. But at this point, we were all anticipating the worst. We were clearly briefed by a legal observer as to what our rights are as we crossed borders from the UK (Terrorism Act 2006, right of silence etc.), to France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and then to Denmark. Denmark had tightened border security due to COP15, and if we were detained we would have to give our name, address and date of birth – but nothing else. We were given telephone numbers for legal teams assisting on border support and it was constantly expressed by our legal observer that regardless of our views on direct action, border control is not a good platform to express your viewpoint. There have been stories of people being turned away from the border for having vaguely suspicious items on them (or indeed, any items that could be construed as part of a plan for ‘direct action’, including brochures mentioning direct action). Three activists were turned away the day before, and many had their things confiscated. Nobody on the coach wanted the journey to be over even before it truly started. It probably didn’t help that our bus did actually have quite a few radical activists – a few people had chained themselves to a polluting power plant a few months back, some others are pending multiple law trials … but then again, these are the very people who would have wanted – more than anybody else – to get through border control

I think we all held our collective breaths as the border control came abroad after taking our passports and suddenly – unexpectedly – asked: “Who likes Liverpool?” A hand shot up and the he pointed to the man who put up his hand “OK, Mr. Liverpool, we’ll search you first.” He then pointed to the back row of the bus and said “You guys too.” There was an appreciative laugh throughout the bus, but we scrambled and pressed ourselves at the windows as we saw the policeman pat them down and look through their bags. One man (who was not searched) admitted to having a Swiss Army Knife on him (and this is compliant with knife standards in Denmark, such as how it cannot be lockable and cannot be opened with only one hand) – but he was allowed to keep it. A few people on the bus felt that while the border control seemed friendly enough, felt like he was asserting his authority in an unacceptable and arrogant way. Overall, it took a total of maybe just over an hour for our particular bus to be checked, but we noted it was exceptionally fast and very smoothly done. We sped past the other coaches and rode our way successfully to Copenhagen.

It was well into the night when we arrived at Copenhagen. We arrived in the emergency convergence center where people could crash on the floor if they had no other accommodation. However we had to get to Jægersborg as we had planned to stay with Razi’s friend, Peter, who kindly allowed us to take over his couch and his floor. We walked around first, quite lost, for a while until we asked a kindly Cantonese-speaking woman where the nearest train station was. We eventually found it, but our first encounter with the train system in Copenhagen was not a sweet one. A few very lovely strangers explained how the clipping system worked after we puzzled over the ticket machine for a fair few ten minutes, and getting to Jægersborg was (strangely enough) problem-free. We met up with Peter and after dropping off our things, we headed to København H. The venue for Klimaforum was split up into the actual academic talks with all their polished grandeur, while the other part seemed to exist for activists and volunteers to get free/cheap food and drink, or attend the more radical meetings of the moment. We walked around the volunteer areas amidst the soup kitchens and cafes; we saw people playing flutes and strumming guitars, reciting poetry and huddling around campfires. I really liked the atmosphere of the place.

Soup kitchen

Soup kitchen


100% organic food

One showing at the Klimaforum venue:

I volunteered at the information point for the duration of the evening. It was a little difficult as I had no working knowledge of Copenhagen itself and all the events that were going on at Klimaforum were also news to me as well. But over time (and much nagging) I found out what was going on when, where the internet cafés were, where accommodation could be found, where all the parties were at, where the protests were happening, and so on – I really enjoyed it, not to mention the wonderful people I had the privilege of working with.

Razi and I … we tried to get an early night. I’m still not sure if we did, but we arrived home maybe just before 1AM. Razi set his alarm clock for 7:30 in the morning (ha), as I intended to work an early shift the next day.

Day 2: Hit The Production

We woke up late so we decided to head straight to the demonstration/protest at Østerport. I should probably make it clear that I don’t hold radical beliefs nor am I particularly an ‘activist’ in that belligerent sense – I largely attended this particular protest because we had missed the ‘family friendly’ one before (with over 100,000 people walking the streets) due our late arrival at Copenhagen, and I thought it would be interesting to see this one in any case. This protest was organized by more radical members and was in a direct action booklet advocating social justice. And because I am quite lazy, I won’t say too much on this subject. I compiled video clips I managed to take at the protest and I put them all in a shoddily-made Youtube video:

Along with a few pictures that I hope will speak more than a thousand words.

Protesters were told to sit down on the floor.

To be detained.

What I will mention, however: it had potential to be pretty messy. I remember us being shoved incessantly into the corner (where, incidentally, there was no opening) as the police tried to get us away from the protestors, but they didn’t know there was nowhere to move. So I was pressed against the rear of the car until Razi shouted out “there’s no room to leave!” – only until then did the shoving relax. We were told to leave the other end, in which case I was only glad to oblige, but the policeman was roughly pulling and pushing people away one by one. I was pulled aggressively out as my leg came into (painful) contact with the person behind me. In retrospect I should have probably fallen over and made a big deal over it, but nevermind.

After that very tiring and cold event, I volunteered more at the Klimaforum – my role that night was more of a bin-emptier and a signpost more than anything substantial, but it was still really fun to meet interesting people I was volunteering with. Not to mention: free cake and tea at the volunteers cafe! I think I am overenthusiastic about little things.


(Hm. Day 3 will come some other time … too tired at the moment)