Europe

A Danish Christmas carol

grey A Danish Christmas carol

The last two weeks has vanished in a blur of hearty Danish christmas winter food, cosy reunions and gleeful re-visitings of favourite Danish restaurants. I arrived at the Copenhagen Airport still wearing my Aussie shorts and sandals ‘ensemble’. With barely time to pass immigration and grab my bags I dashed through a blizzard to just catch my train. On the train I received many a sideways look, similar to those reserved for crazy men who stagger around bus stations mumbling to themselves.

grey A Danish Christmas carolYou may wonder why I commuted to Denmark alone. To get the cheapest flights available Jette and I came here separately from Melbourne. Still wearing my shorts I went to leave the train at Vejle (as agreed) but was met by a shivering Jette who pushed me back onboard with a haunted look.

On our extra little ride Jette explained the situation to me, “I got stuck in Bangkok for eight hours, a crying baby kept me awake on the last flight and now dad can’t pick us up due to the blizzard…he hopes to meet us at the next station…why are you still wearing shorts you freak?”

I managed a weird half laugh with tired, bloodshot eyes and told her about my commute and subsequent dash for the train.

“So this is a proper blizzard then?” I asked peering out the window.

“Yup, I just hope dad can meet us at the next stop…” Jette said with an exhausted sigh.
grey A Danish Christmas carol
grey A Danish Christmas carol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day is Christmas Eve. I am almost over my Jetlag and have enjoyed many longs walks in the snow with my camera. Having only ever seen snow on mountains it is a huge novelty to see streets, houses and cars, but especially twinkling Christmas trees, covered in the stuff. It lends a magical Hans Christian Andersen mood to everything.

Unlike Australians, Danes celebrate Christmas the night of the 24th. I have been practicing a few Danish Christmas carols for one very important tradition. Denmark has been inhabited since 12,500 BC. This is plenty long enough to develop many awkward traditions and I am about to embark on the most awkward. One tradition that Jette warned me about two years ago when we had Christmas in Bolivia

Surrounded by my Danish family (and with Jette explaining the menu) I enjoy a hearty Christmas dinner of duck, pork, potatoes (three mouthwatering types) and pickled vegetables. Before the presents can be dispensed someone gets the Christmas tree and carol sheets ready.
It is time.

Mum, dad, sisters, teenage brothers and nephews and I all form a circle around the tree and soon the carols begin. Everyone dances around the tree whilst holding hands and singing merrily. Everyone, that is, except for a chuckling Jette who stands outside the circle photographing the spectacle for posterity. Jette is proud of my efforts. I am sure to sing the versus I know loudly while giving my best shot at the ones that I don’t. Jette is stoked, we have just ticked item number #9 off her bucket-list.

grey A Danish Christmas carolI am not sure what I was expecting of my first Danish Christmas. Surely being so far away from my native Australia, things should have been majorly different, alien somehow. I am relived to report that Christmas in Denmark is very similar to Christmas in Australia…family, friends, too much food and just enjoying special people’s company. The way it should be. However, next year I will nail Rudolph in Dansk…

German autobahn fun

So last weekend I had some friends stay for the weekend. Brett and Laura are from Tasmania and wanted to see the ‘real’ Denmark. We did the obligatory visit to Legoland on Friday, cafes and bars on friday night but were a bit stuck for ideas for saturday. Brett asked how far Germany is and when I replied “Only a few hours” said “Why don’t we rent a fast car and just have some German autobahn fun. This is how I found myself last saturday piloting a near new Audi A4 at felony speeds on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Brett was egging me on in the front whilst Laura hid in the back and tried to remember to breathe…here is the video.

(Sorry for the protracted car elevator bit, it was a novelty for us Tasmanians!)

Brain eating, adrenaline zombies – BASE jumping switzerland

grey Brain eating, adrenaline zombies   BASE jumping switzerland

From my extensive youtube experience I had formed the impression that all BASE* jumpers and wing suit flyers were completely crazy demi-gods without any regard for personal safety, I mean they don’t even carry a reserve chute, no time to deploy one anyway. Standing ten feet tall with icy blue eyes they are devoid of fear and spend their days thirsting for the next adrenaline hit like a zombie thirsts for brains. Well, I have now had the pleasure of chatting with three BASE jumpers, they definitely don’t all have icy blue eyes, they were friendly people who were BASE jumping Switzerland style.

My friend who I came to Switzerland to paraglide with sadly has to work the rest of the week due to a colleague hurting his back. The weather around St Gallen was not looking good for flying anyway so I have made my way to Interlaken, the spiritual home of BASE jumping and one of the closest towns to the famous Eiger north face. Fabio set me right with some local knowledge

“Don’t go to Interlaken, it is full of American and Korean tourists. Go to Lauterbrunnen instead, stay at the Hotel Horner. This is where all the BASE jumpers stay, cool guys, cheap rooms and they usually have space.”

grey Brain eating, adrenaline zombies   BASE jumping switzerland

So after a very relaxing four hours commuting on the ridiculously efficient Swiss railway system, watching cuckoo clock and chocolate factories slide by I lobbed into the Hotel Horner. Making my way to my room I had my first, and least successful, conversation with a real life BASE jumper. She was a tall, but not quite ten feet tall, French lady with blue eyes, not icy cold however, more like glacial runoff cold. She was packing a chute in the hallway. Thinking to myself;

“You are about to meet your first BASE jumper, try to seem a bit hardcore…” I tried an offhanded Hi.

She looked up and inspected my paraglider bag which, by the way, looks like an unwieldy snail’s carapace. I was somewhat intimidated under this silent gaze and started to babble.

“Have you just done a jump? About to go again then? Looks like fun hey…”

“Hello. Oooh a paraglider pilot, do you do tandems?”

“Hi, yeah, no, not yet. I am just learning and don’t have the experience to take passengers yet.”

 

This ended her interest in conversation!

Once is was clear that I would not be able to help her jump from a paraglider the French sounding lady summarily dismissed me by going back to packing her chute.

Okay, so now all the BASe jumpers I have personally met are single minded adrenaline junkies.
grey Brain eating, adrenaline zombies   BASE jumping switzerland

I settled into my room before going for a walk.

Strolling down the valley towards Trachsellauenen, which is flanked by 500 meter high cliffs, I had the sun on my back, a smile on my face and my mind was wandering. I heard a weird sound and looked up.

A silhouetted super-bat thing came screaming over the cliff top. Before I could get my camera out, the chute opened and he floated down to a nearby paddock. It is hard to describe just how incredibly fast the man was going. It seemed like he materialised out of thin air, the suit made a buzzing sound like a kite being flown in a hurricane. I sat drinking tea for the next two hours with my eyes scanning the cliffs. Even from my safe perch on the bench I got a buzz of adrenaline whenever a whooshing silhouette would materialise. I can only imagine the kind of adrenaline thrill these guys on top getting.

grey Brain eating, adrenaline zombies   BASE jumping switzerlandOn the bus back I got chatting to Dillon and Andrew, two very mellow Aussie jumpers. Both seemed like ordinary chaps they were wearing the obligatory Aussie-abroad uniform of board shorts, peaked cap and blue singlet. Asking them about their experience Dillon explained how he got into the sport;

“It is a weird thing mate. I started skydiving, loved it. Went into BASE jumping with a few goals and the definite promise to get in/get out, you know. Once I had ticked off my list, however, my mates and I started trying wing suits and currently my get in/get out mission is out the door. I want to go closer to the wall…you know.”

Exchange ‘BASE jumping’, ‘wingsuiting’ and ‘closer to the wall’ with ‘Marijuana’, ‘amphetamine’ and ‘heroin’ and you have the image which was in my mind. Top guys though and not completely insane, just passionate about a sport which is getting increasingly safe as the technology improves.

Now with the sun setting and dinner done I have just finished a beer with Andrew. He told me that nowadays he sets a limit of 3 jumps a day, just like his big wave surfing that has become more controlled. Andrew went on to explain that the last time he was here on holidays he had a 3 week jumping bender, 6-8 jumps a day. The whole time his hands were shaking uncontrollably and he was getting all kinds of weird nerve tinglings across his face and twitches. Maybe an overload of Adrenaline and cortisol? Who knows. Having met few jumpers, seen many jumps and looking around the pub right now I have a new theory.

I think that the only mad BASE jumper is the one doing it for the first time. After that you know what to expect and can set more realistic goal for the sport. The people around me are normal people with a love for a different kind of sport not brain eating adrenaline Zombies…well mostly, I am still unsure about that French girl.

*BASE jumping is written in capitals as it is an acronym standing for Buildings, Aerial (as in radio aerials), Structure and Earth, the stuff they like to jump from. Hence a BASE from a paraglider is not actually a base jump but technically a skydive from an aircraft…yup, I am a nerd.

grey Brain eating, adrenaline zombies   BASE jumping switzerland

Three very cool statements

grey Three very cool statementsThis week I have heard three of the most cool statements I have ever heard:

Number 1: “Yes”

This is what Jette my brilliant girlfriend of two years said even before I finished a nervously delivered spiel which ended with “Will you marry me?” However, I will not expand on this snippet here. Despite being over the moon about the situation I believe that some moments are best left etched on the soul rather than recorded in a blog. In a word I am thrilled!

 

 

 

Number 2: “So, if the wind picks up and you get blown over the ridge just fly across the border to Austria and land by the river…do you have your passport with you?”

Fabio and I on top of Hoher Kasten preparing to launch in rather high wind. I asked what to do if I get too high and end up blown behind the ridge, this was his reply. It really tickled my fancy that I could quite possibly fly into a whole other country with my 12 kilogram paragliding kit.

We waited for about half an hour for the wind to drop but decided instead to go halfway down the 1794 meter high mountain for launch. This was a great choice as I felt far more comfortable launching lower in these gusty conditions. Conditions were at the upper level of comfortable given my experience. Lower down we enjoyed a half hour cruise in very buoyant air. Most of the way I had my big ears in but despite this it still took some time to descend. Big ears is when you tuck the outer wing tips in to reduce the lifty surface of the wing. This changes the flight characteristics of the wing and increases sink rate, it also looks cool! Sadly my Go-pro camera died before we launched so I have no videos of this amazing area, maybe tomorrow…

Number 3 : “Yeah I know the Eiger North face, I climbed it last year then BASE jumped off it…2 days up, 40 seconds down, it was nice”

Today the wind was far too strong to consider flying so we went out for lunch with one of Fabio’s friends. He dropped this bombshell when I told him my plans to visit the Eiger later in the week. I told him I wanted to go and simply gawk at this iconic climbing route and maybe drink a beer while imagining the climb and doing some projected, mental climbing.

The Eiger north face is a furious climb. Described time and again as a true rite of passage for ‘proper’ hard core climbers it rises 3000 meters above Grindelward, has claimed over sixty four lives and holds a fearsome reputation. The Germans call it Mordwand (Murder wall) which is a play on the German word for North Wall (Nordwand).

Here I was sitting across from a chap who has not only climbed it but BASE jumped from the top! My new idol then went on to casually describe the whole experience (without a hint of irony) as ‘Nice’.

Clearly I spent the rest of our lunch interrogating him about his experience climbing this face. He witnessed two roped up climbers tumble right past him to their deaths and slept on the knife edge top so that he could BASE jump early the following day in calm conditions. The ridge is the width of your average dinner table and has 2km sheer drop on one side and 3km on the other.

Truly you meet some cool people when traveling.

It was nice…Seriously.

 

grey Three very cool statements

 

Bye for now

Bye for now

So last year I spent 176 hours on a plane, that’s almost a full week breathing recycled farts and eating non-specific meat dishes.

Obviously I joined the Qantas frequent flyers program to reap the benefits of such expansive traveling. Recently I discovered that only a few hundred points showed on my statement so I sent and email to Qantas, then another, then called from Denmark (involving twenty minutes on hold to Australia which is not cheap). Anyway seven emails, three extended phone calls, three emails to LAN airlines and another phone call later, Qantas has coughed up 2520 points.  If I am lucky this should be enough for a taxi from Spurs to McDonalds in Devonport, it may even buy me a glass of water, no lemon or ice, when I go to Asia…Shucks thanks guys. I will definitely check the booking class next time I fly with them (nothing to do with business, first, economy etc apparently).

Thank you for your patience, I am now vented. Anyway, what has been happening? Quite a bit of Uni. I have been lazy and used my last few blogs to beta test my two Uni assignments, Arthur and I have finished all the climbing courses available and I have got my jollies playing with the bottle recycling machine at Bilka. Bilka is Denmark’s answer to Kmart.

Australian recycling involves leaving a plastic crate on the street overnight to collect flys and be picked over by possums and stray dogs. In the morning a man swinging ape-like from a fly blown truck grabs the crate, ensuring the whole street gets a good look at his sweaty hairy bum crack, and throws it into the back. The truck then takes the recycling to the municipal tip where it is dumped with all the other rubbish as recycling costs more than it pays. The citizens sleep easy knowing they are doing their bit for the, “Greenhouse, carbon warming” or whatever those mad scientists call it.

However, Danish recycling machines are a wonder of modern scientific creativity. I am surprised that Intrepid tours to Denmark don’t include a visit to use these amazing contraptions. My theme of Denmark being very clean and ordered extends to the recycling machines, they are glistening clean with blinking lights and a soft female robot voice telling you to “Insert bottles now, please” Even the machines here show good manners behind the soft electric hum of progress.

They look like a vending machine with one hole for 1.25L bottles and one for cans. Most drinks sold in Denmark have an extra tax added on the bottle plastic. This tax is redeemed at these awesome machines. You simply feed the bottle in and get you money back, while sticking your nose to the hole to see what happens if you are a curious geek. I inserted the bottle (as I did this I was kind of hoping the sultry voice would say something like “Yeah, give me that bottle baby”) and couldn’t resist a peek.

Peeking through the hole with eager anticipation as Jette casually tried to distance herself I saw three conveyor belts roll the bottle about to read the barcode. The machine took the bottle through to a back room via a small tunnel lit with red lasers, much like a CAT scan machine. You may not believe me but just as the bottle tumbled away out of view I spotted an Oompa-loompa working behind the scenes. He caught the bottle, while singing;

“Oompa-Loompa bottley-doo, I have a Danish refund for you”

He squashed the bottle and put it in a crate to be sent off for recycling. Once we had fed the machine with all our bottles the friendly robot said “One moment please, calculating refund” Then to my immense joy the machine spits out a ticket which we can exchange for either money or a discount at Bilka. I love machines, if this writing gig does not work out I may just join the bottle collectors in town, I will be working in the fresh air AND get to play with these machines. One of the bottle collectors is a smelly looking Chinese woman who wanders Aarhus with her trolley collecting bottles. I figure she has either substituted a gambling addiction with a bottle machine one or she is in love with the Oompa-loompa, which I can appreciate. Bottle-lady shows up at outdoor concerts and sunny parks, she tears bottles away from hapless vacationer’s as they take their last sip and scuttles away to these reverse pokie machine to collect her bounty. This women, amongst others, combined with the population’s general cleanliness leaves Aarhus spotlessly neat and free of detritus.

Anyway enough about bottles. I have only decided yesterday to raise the bar on my Nepal mission. Initially I planned to climb to camp four to watch my mate Mal fly off the summit with his speedflyer then go down. My training has progressed nicely so I have added an extra three bottles of Oxygen to my bag, just in case I feel good enough at camp four to try for a summit. This both excites and scares me more than I can describe. I have no idea how I will perform at such extreme altitudes and cold but having been to 6000 meters a few times I figure it would be a shame to pass the opportunity to at least try.

My training for the climb has involved swimming and indoor climbing. Arthur, my very agreeable climbing partner, and I have just progressed to lead climbing. This is where the rope follows you up and you clip it in as you climb. Before we had the rope already attached to an anchor at the top. The problem with lead climbing, and the fun, is that it is necessary to clip the rope into anchor points along the wall as you progress. This involves stopping at a point where almost two metres of rope is untethered, holding on with one hand and pulling and clipping the rope with the other. Basically we both try to push ourselves and have taken some ripper falls.

Initially I did not trust Arthur to stop me, it is nothing personal, just that he is lighter than me and tends to get airborne when I take a decent fall. This added element of technicality increases both the challenge and fun. Last night however we added a third element of fun to indoor climbing, that is the top belay. One person, say me, leads to the top of a route and clips a separate strap into the anchor. This holds me independent of the rope. I then belay Arthur (pull in rope and catch a fall) up, Arthur then clips in at the top next to me. Space is at a premium and a few times we have found ourselves inadvertently playing footsies or bumping each other around. Once both of us are anchored to the top we untie from the rope, which takes huge amounts of trust in the thin strap, and take turns abseiling down again. We collect the clips from the wall as we descend. It is marvelous stuff. “Just hanging out at the gym” as Arthur once put it. At the time we were dangling from our straps twelve metres off the ground, playing with our knots and shiny clippy things.

Well, sorry to end on a diary-type boring blog but that will be it for my Danish stories until mid-November. If you have made it this far, thanks and I will speak to you from Jakarta.

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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