A flying visit to Sweden

It only takes 35 minutes on an Øresund train to cross from Copenhagen to the Triangeln station in Malmö (40 minutes if you continue to the ‘Central’ station), but the two cities feel very different. Copenhagen is full of interest and things to do (see my previous two posts) whereas Malmö just seems rather bland, as if it had been bombed and rebuilt as an efficient businesslike city. Obviously I’m being unfair, it’s a fine place to live, and economically dynamic – I was only there for two nights, and spent most of a day visiting the nearby town of Lund, which I have to say I found far more attractive.

 My first stop was the Malmöhus or Malmö Castle, just west of the centre, which now houses the city’s history, art and natural history museums. The town was founded in the mid-thirteenth century as a port for the bishopric of Lund, and grew fast due to its strategic location on the Øresund between present-day Denmark and Sweden, and its very profitable herring trade. The first castle was built in 1434 by Erik of Pomerania, king of the Kalmar Union (Denmark, Sweden and Norway), and it was rebuilt a century later (1536-42) by Christian III of Denmark, to serve not just as a fort but also as a residence for the county governor and occasionally for the king. The second half of the sixteenth century was its heyday, when Crown Prince Frederick and then King Christian IV spent a lot of time in their fine renaissance apartments; however from 1658 Sweden took control of this area and the fortifications were extended, resisting a Danish siege in 1767. It then fell into disrepair and served as a prison from 1828 to 1909; then the surrounding area became a park and eventually the northern wing of the castle was restored and opened as a museum in 1932, with more modern buildings on three sides of the courtyard inaugurated in 1937.

 You’ll start in the main museum building, facing the entry, where there’s an excellent aquarium,  with both local and tropical fish as well as tree-frogs, chameleons and snakes such as the green tree python and the Gaboon viper, as well as dioramas showing boar, bison and elk in their mocked-up habitats; the art galleries were closed when I visited. The history displays (a bit incoherent and mostly in Swedish only) are in the original north wing, where there also a couple of furnished rooms with royal portraits and a Gobelins tapestry (circa 1740); there’s also coverage of the episode just before the end of the Second World War, when volunteers drove white buses (there’s one in a glass box in front of the castle) to Germany to rescue 15,000 concentration camp survivors, of whom 2,000 were housed in the castle for some months. Incidentally, Malmö is likely to become the site of the Swedish Holocaust Museum. You can also wind your way across to the Cannon Tower, part of the seventeenth-century fortifications, with better coverage of the Danish-Swedish wars that ended in 1710.

 Immediately to the west are the Kommandanthuset café and the Banérskajen wharf, with herring boats and typical late nineteenth-century wooden houses, used to sell fish; in a modern building just beyond (and covered by the same ticket) is the Museum of Technology and Shipping. This feels like a real museum rather than random displays in a castle; highlights include the interior of the ferry Øresund, a small coastal submarine that you can go inside (in non-Covid times), a Saab Draken jet fighter, a Krauss narrow-gauge tank engine, and various cars and traction engines.

 The historic centre consists of two squares, the main Stor Torget, dominated by the Rådhus (City Hall), built in 1546, and just to the the southwest Lilla Torg, livelier with cafés and restaurants, and on its southern side the Form/Design Centre, with galleries that show off the best of Swedish design. Behind the Rådhus, St Petri is Malmö’s oldest church, dating from about 1319-80, and a fine example of Baltic Brick Gothic, perhaps modelled on the Marienkirche in Lübeck, which I’ll be writing about soon. It has a plain white interior with a simple vault and a splendid fifteen-metre-high altarpiece (dating from 1611) and funerary monuments. Don’t miss the murals in the so-called Krämare Chapel (the chapel of the vendors, built for the cloth merchants’ guild) – painted between the 1460s and the 1510s, and covering the ceiling and walls, they’re quite sophisticated and not at all like the naïf murals in the area’s village churches.

 I was also quite taken by St Paul’s church, just east of the centre, a hexagonal building built in 1882 that reminded me of Russian Orthodox churches of that period; it’s gay-friendly and swathed in rainbow flags.

There are two fine spaces for exhibitions of contemporary art: the (free) Konsthall just south of the centre, and the Moderna Museet just east of the centre, which was founded in 2009 (in a former power plant dating from 1901) as an outpost of the original Moderna Museet in Stockholm. If you go a little way west beyond the castle to the waterfront, there are good views of the Øresund bridge and the Turning Torso tower, now a symbol of the city, and there’s a sea-bathing pontoon, as in so many Danish cities, but that’s pretty much it for Malmö.

 Lovely little Lund

The small city of Lund is known both for its cathedral and its university, and it’s also the home of Tetrapak. It’s just 18km northeast of Malmö, with a direct cycle route that for some reason is not signposted from Malmö, despite being such a short and pleasant ride; in the other direction, there are signs from Lund, which may say something about the two towns’ relative sense of their own importance. Lund dates from the end of the tenth century, when it was defended by an earthen rampart with four gates; the Romanesque cathedral was built between around 1080 and 1145, and became the seat of the Archdiocese of the Nordic countries, founded in 1103. It was taken over by the Danish state in 1636, after the Reformation, and became rather dilapidated; in 1658 the region became part of Sweden, and in 1666 a university was established, to help in the Swedification of Skåne – at first teaching took place in the cathedral, but from 1688 the university took over the King’s House, just north of the cathedral, which had been built by King Frederik II in 1584.

 Although it’s been restored, the cathedral retains its Romanesque unity and would be worth a detour anywhere in Europe. Inside, there are some fine Romanesque stone carvings, especially in the crypt, wooden choir stalls (1361-79), and the splendid astronomical clock, installed around 1425, with two carved knights on top who clash their swords at noon and 15.00 daily, after which an organ plays the tune In Dulci Jubilo and the Three Kings and their servants emerge in procession. There’s also a neoByzantine mosaic in the apse, completed in 1927 by the painter Joakim Skovgaard.

 To the south of the cathedral is the very modern Cathedral Forum, opened in 2011 to house community facilities, visitor information, exhibitions and a fairtrade café. To the north is a park with the King’s House and, beyond, it, the modern university. Just northeast of the cathedral, the university’s Historical Museum has housed its archeological collections since 1918, and since 2003 it has been transformed and opened up to the public (with an English leaflet and summaries, at least). The finest Iron Age set of horse trappings yet found were excavated at the Sösdala Iron Age burial site, showing that this area had connections to the nomadic cultures of the steppes and the Black Sea area; there are also finds from the nearby Vätteryd and Frederiksberg burial sites and from Uppåkra, the largest Iron Age village in northern Europe. Then you might as well go to the top of the building and make your way down via the skeletons of an aurochs and other animals, casts of classical statues, coins and well displayed medieval carvings of Christ; a bridge leads across to the cathedral museum in the Chapter House, with the usual vestments and so on. There’s also an ethnographic hall, closed for remodelling until 2021.

The main building of Lund University

 A few hundred metres further to the northeast is Kulturen, another of the open-air museums of transplanted historic buildings that are common in Scandinavia, such as in Aarhus and the original Skansen in Stockholm. Not too far north are the Skissernas museum (Sketches Museum) or Museum of Artistic Process and Public Art, and the Livets museum (Museum of Life). The first is a unique collection that aims to illustrate the creative process from sketch to finished work, especially in the context of public art. The latter (run by Kulturen) is a museum of medical history, opened in 2012, that studies the human body and its diseases through both historical implements and modern technology.

 Just east of the centre, the university’s free Botanic Garden (moved in the 1880s from the park immediately north of the cathedral) is impressive, with beautiful gardens and greenhouses housing flora from nine climatic zones, as well as an attractive café.

 Finally, just south of the centre by the Saluhallen market, the Lunds Konsthall is another free space for exhibitions of contemporary art – something they do really well across Scandinavia.

 By chance, just a week ago, Lund’s first tram line opened, running from the railway station to the modern university/hospital area north of the city, and nowhere within sight of the historic centre. I left by a less modern form of transport, the ferry from Malmö to Travemünde, which has fairly basic passenger facilities, as it exists mainly for truck traffic; but it’s an interesting trip along a busy shipping lane. Travemünde is almost a suburb of Lübeck, which I’ll write about soon.

 The Swedish Covid-19 controversy

Libertarians (probably the same people who used to despise Sweden’s egalitarian high-tax social-democratic governments) seized on Sweden as a great example of the virtues of not locking down against Covid-19. Factually wrong, and with hindsight it didn’t work out at all well. There may not have been a full legal lockdown, but the government was very much relying on people behaving responsibly and not going out to mix in large numbers – and they didn’t go out, by and large, because the Swedes still trust experts and government, unlike other nations that have been led astray by populists and fake news. The major glitch in the initial stages was that care homes were left exposed to the coronavirus, and there was a high rate of infection and deaths there.

 In the longer run it turned out that Sweden’s death rate from Covid-19 was indeed higher than in countries that had locked down, and at the same time its economic downturn was greater, although the pay-off for not locking down was supposed to be less economic harm.

 When I was in Malmö in October, virtually no-one was wearing masks, even in buses and trains, which was the bare minimum everywhere else I went. Sweden was already a largely cash-free society, but I did absolutely everything by card and didn’t change any cash at all. The second wave of the pandemic arrived in October, soon after I left, and hospitals soon had to postpone non-emergency operations; the Skåne region, including Malmö and Lund, was forced to introduce various measures such as no alcohol being served after 22.00, public gatherings being limited to eight people, and switching to online teaching in schools. People were also urged to avoid public transport, gyms, libraries and busy shops, and to limit social interactions to single households. Much like everywhere else then.

 Reports revealed how badly things had gone wrong in the care homes, and in his Christmas message, the King admitted that the country had failed. The advocates of laissez-faire herd immunity are finally having to eat their words.

Copenhagen – soon to be sustainable

Copenhagen (København) is a great city and always the focus of much attention – but currently it’s being watched with particular interest because of its pledge to be carbon-neutral by 2025. It’s now the end of 2020 so that’s not much more than four years from now, but I’d say they’re in with a good chance of meeting the deadline.

 They’re very proud of the huge Royal Danish Opera House (actually opened back in 2005), in a regenerating area of former docklands, but I must say that, even as an opera-lover, I have my doubts – it may have perfect acoustics and be incredibly energy-efficient, with heat pumps, seawater cooling and a district heating scheme, but did it really have be so BIG? The amount of carbon embedded in its construction is boggling. Another huge project was the construction of an automated ring metro line that opened in 2019, but the environmental benefits of that are much clearer. A light rail line is under construction in the suburbs, with the first stretch (from Lundtofte Park in the north to Ishøj in the southwest) due to open in 2025. The Copenhill waste-to-energy plant (properly known as Amager Bakke), producing clean energy for 60,000 families while heating 120,000 homes, opened in 2019 and famously includes a rooftop green space, including an all-year ski and snowboard slope, as well as a climbing wall. As ever, the greatest benefits come from the cheapest and most low-tech options – insulation and cycling, of course. Since 2016 fifteen cycle/pedestrian bridges have been built across the city’s various waterways and railways, and a couple of them already carry 22,000 cyclists a day. More than a dozen supercykelsti (cycle superhighways, up to 25km long) have been created from the suburbs to the centre, and some city-centre streets have a ‘green wave’ at peak times, allowing people cycling at a fairly moderate pace to keep moving without red lights getting in the way. What’s more, cycling is a pleasurable experience here, with no sense that people are desperate to get past you. Cycle commuting has increased from 52% of residents in 2015 to 62% in 2019 – on an average day (yes, it’s a year-round activity) there are more cyclists in Copenhagen than in the entire United States. 

 The most exciting project under way at the moment is perhaps the development of the Carlsberg site, a US$3 billion project to turn the former brewery, just west of the city centre, into a highly sustainable and liveable quarter where half the area will be given over to residential buildings (much of it affordable), 35% to offices and shops and 15% to cultural, sporting and educational activities. In fact 15% of the buildings are listed structures, and some of them are full of character – and I’m not talking about the odd swastika, intended purely as an Indian symbol of prosperity and goodness – they’re on the famous Elephant Gate, but there are also some other spectacular gateways and even a lighthouse. It’s all due to be completed by 2024, in time for the 2025 carbon neutrality deadline; of course, all the new buildings are amazingly energy-efficient, but what seems even more impressive is that 96% of the materials from demolished buildings is being recycled. The visitor centre and shop (in the original brewery) are currently closed for a facelift, due to reopen in 2020, which I think will be 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

Carlsberg beer is pretty boring, but the story of the company is fascinating. It was founded by Jacob Christian Jacobsen (1811-87), who studied the new process of making bottom-fermented lager in Germany and in 1847 built a brewery alongside the new Copenhagen-Roskilde railway; making very consistent beer on an industrial scale was hugely profitable and in 1876 he decided to donate the entire business to the Royal Danish Academy, setting up the Carlsberg Foundation to fund research in science and the humanities. Having largely funded the restoration of Frederiksborg Castle (in the western suburbs) after a fire, he came up with the idea of a Museum of National History there, which opened in 1878. 

In 1871 he built a new brewery alongside the first one and leased it to his son Carl (1842-1914); in 1879 Carl set up his own brewery, Ny Carlsberg (New Carlsberg), and in 1902 handed that over to the foundation too (it owns a minimum of 51% of the business). He was more focussed on the arts than his father and had already created the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (meaning sculpture collection, although much more than that; at the brewery in 1881 then near the central station since 1897), the Danish Museum of Art and Design (1890) and the Royal Cast Collection (1895). He also paid for the statue of the Little Mermaid (from a HC Andersen story) in 1913. In 1921 the Carlsberg Foundation largely funded the Institute of Theoretical Physics, said to have been the birthplace of quantum mechanics, leading (among other things) to Michael Frayn’s brilliant play Copenhagen; it was headed by Niels Bohr, who from 1931 lived in JC Jacobsen’s old home.

 Surprisingly perhaps, being managed by the Royal Danish Academy has not stopped Carlsberg from becoming the world’s third largest brewing company; it took over Tuborg in 1970 (there’s a Tuborg Foundation too), Tetley in 1992, and Scottish & Newcastle, the UK’s largest brewer, in 2008 (with Heineken). The flagship beer, variously known as Carlsberg Lager, Carlsberg Beer and Carlsberg Pilsner, was created in 1904 by Carl Jacobsen; Special Brew, a stronger lager, is brewed only in Denmark and the UK (Northampton).

 Between the central station and the Carlsberg brewery, the meatpacking district (Kødbyen) was established in 1879, to remove the blood and guts from the old city – it’s now the heart of the city’s nighttime economy, with the hottest bars and clubs. Across the tracks, in an area still partially occupied by a locomotive depot, between the Carlsberg and Fisketorvet (Dybbølsbro and Havenholmen) stations (although only pedestrians and cyclists can take the direct route), is a largely unknown but rather alluring alternative: wooden railway sheds, disused for half a century, are being restored by green entrepreneurs as BaneGaarden – one shed houses an organic farmers market, one a streetfood hall, one a vegetarian restaurant and one a hall for community events. Others will eventually house a woodshop, a plant market and a hub for young entrepreneurs with a sustainable focus. There’s also a new school, student residences, some other shops and the DieselHouse museum, in a still-operational power station, which preserves diesel engines produced by Burmeister & Wain (founded in 1846, and now part of MAN). Their first engine, a single-cylinder model dating from 1904 and producing 40 HP, is started up on Thursday afternoons, while the largest, a monstrous 1,400 tonnes in weight and producing 22,500 HP, runs for about five minutes on two Sunday mornings a month – built in 1932, it generated power for the city until the late 1960s but was not finally disconnected from the grid until 2004.

Street food and more

 As in Amsterdam and Hamburg (not to mention the Sugar Factory site in Groningen, which I will get around to writing about at some point), there’s a former docks area which has been taken over by street food outlets, bakeries and microbreweries – here it’s Refshaleøen, on Papirøen (Paper Island) to the north of the self-governing hippy enclave of Christiania (and not far from Copenhill). The sustainable Amass restaurant came first (in 2013), using waste food and with an emphasis on pickling, followed by the Lille organic bakery and Broaden & Build organic brewery, known for hazy IPAs and mindwarping flavour combinations; unfortunately B&B failed to weather the first wave of Covid-19. The Reffen Street Food Market (aka Copenhagen Street Food) started in 2017 as shipping containers housing over fifty food trucks and stalls serving cuisines from around the planet and some just recently invented here; it has now expanded into the vast Werkstatt 167 hangar, creating the largest foodhall in Scandinavia.

 A totally different gastronomic experience (albeit one that I will probably never experience myself) is to be had here at Alchemist, where Rasmus Monk, a sort of mutant hybrid of Heston Blumenthal and Damien Hirst, offers a mind-blowing thirty-course set menu combined with optical illusions and theatrical political statements – he’s taken over the Royal Danish Theatre’s domed former set-building workshop, but seats just forty guests there.

 Copenhagen is of course known for its amazing range of restaurants, and the most famous was Noma, consistently voted the world’s best until René Redzepi decided at the end of 2016 to close it for a year. It reopened early in 2018 on a new ‘campus’ in a former fortified bastion southeast of Papirøen; in addition to the 42-seat restaurant and a private room, there’s a fermenting space, bakery, test kitchen, garden and greenhouses. In July 2020 a 31-year-old Singaporean, Kenneth Foong, was appointed head chef, and in November it was radically rebooted as – believe it or not – a burger joint. It’s a presumably temporary response to the world of Covid-19, with takeaways and no reservations, but with the same attention to organic sourcing and creative details as before. Eating in, burgers cost the equivalent of £17, plus £6 for chips.

 Incidentally, cycling out to Papirøen my eye was caught by the masting crane (Mastekranen), built in 1748–51 as part of the Royal Naval Shipyard (also easily visible across the water as you head north towards the Little Mermaid) – yes, it was used to lift masts in and out of warships.

 The city is also home to some amazing bakeries, some set up by Noma alumni, such as Juno the Bakery in Østerbro. In the city centre, I had a great brunch at Paludan Bogcafé (Book Café), where there’s fine food and coffee and also a beautiful bookshop with period ceiling-high shelves (although most people at the tables are consulting laptops and phones rather than books). At the rear of the central station, Jernbanecaffeen meaning literally Railway Café, is a delightfully unspoilt retro place where train drivers and conductors really do come in between shifts.

 I can’t say much about accommodation, as I stayed in a cheap CabInn hotel near the Fiskertorvet shopping centre and it was exactly what I wanted for the price. But – harking back to the Carlsberg development – the new Hotel Ottilia (named after Carl Jacobsen’s wife) has created a bit of a buzz with its industrial-chic styling and its rooftop restaurant. Similarly, Villa Copenhagen, which opened in July 2020 in the former central post office (dating from 1912), is a luxury hotel that’s also energy-efficient, full of sustainable materials, and makes a point of employing women and minorities and helping the homeless – very Copenhagen.

Cycling in Denmark (and nearby)

The centrepiece of my recent trip across northern Europe was to cycle up the Jutland peninsula, or most of the way. I think most touring cyclists follow the coastal roads, but I chose to go up the middle along the Haervej or Military Way, perhaps more accurately known in German as the Ochsenweg or Oxen Way – it’s an ancient droving road, used for moving cattle from the Danish pastures to the markets of Hamburg, and also by pilgrims. (The Haervej is now designated as part of EuroVelo route 3, running from Trondheim in Norway to Santiago de Compostella in Spain, about 5,200 km in all, so it can still serve as a pilgrimage route.) It may be 4,000 years old, but it’s hardly the Ridgeway; towards its southern end it’s still partly an unpaved road (with lots of ancient burial mounds nearby, as well as a few nineteenth-century bridges), but the rest of the route is largely on normal roads and tracks. (There’s also a walkers’ route, which takes a longer way round as a rule, to avoid traffic.) Accommodation is, of course, an issue when it comes to route planning (Jutland is a lot emptier than you might think, and also very expensive) – there are some free ‘hikers’ shelters’, literally just a wooden platform with a roof and three wooden walls and as a rule a fireplace, but you’ll need a proper bed, with washing and device-charging opportunities on alternate nights. I diverted quite a way northwest, to Grindsted, in search of a relatively affordable bed, which also allowed me to notch up quite a few kilometres on former railway lines, some well surfaced and some less so.

In four days I made it to Viborg and then the next day to Aalborg, the historic northern termini of the Haervej, but I chose not to push on for a further couple of days to Skagen, the sandy northern tip of Jutland, to tick off the full 450km Jutland End-to-End. Although Skagen was known for its artists’ colony, drawn by the light and big skies, I was finding Jutland’s scenery a little dull and felt I needed to get to some cities if I was to actually learn anything about Denmark. At the time I didn’t know about the mink farms of northern Jutland, across the Limfjord from Aalborg, and the mutant version of the Covid-19 coronavirus they were incubating, not that it would have affected my choice.

My route
The route across the border

I actually started from Flensburg, the last town in Germany, where I can strongly recommend the Seemannsheim Hostel and in particular the excellent breakfast. The border crossing was on a short section of unpaved track in to Padborg, the first town in Denmark; then my route went through the Frøslev prison camp (in use 1944-5 and now a museum) and on authentic bits of unsurfaced route, quiet roads, and a good long grassy section in forest south of Kliplev. The wooden bell tower at Kliplev church claims to be one of the oldest in Denmark, dating from 1300, but I suspect it’s been renewed a few times. Beyond the Povlis Bro, a small bridge built in 1844, there’s a long unpaved stretch on which the only traffic was a fairly large milk tanker visiting several farms, then quiet roads continue past the villages of Hjordkaer, Rødekro, Øster Løgum, Hovlund Stationsby and Vedsted before reaching the town of Vojens, where I diverted slightly to a shelter in Maugstrup Plantage (plantation).

I joined the new railtrail here – ahead is a continuation that’s still under construction.
You’ve made it! 95 metres above sea level!

 On Day 2, quiet roads led to the Stursbøl Plantage, the town of Jels, and another historic bridge, the Frihedsbroen (Freedom Bridge) which marked the Danish-German border between 1864 and 1920; a little further north there’s actually a climb to a hotel and the Skibelund Krat, an open-air site where Danish nationalists from both sides of the border held patriotic meetings. It’s not much further to the town of Vejen, from where a good segregated cycleway leads alongside the road to Asbo and Baekke, where I turned off the EV3 to go via Vorbasse to Hejnsvig (partly on a busier road, but there was no problem and I was happy to make good progress). Quiet lanes took me to a railtrail that’s currently being extended further south from Grindsted, where I stayed the night. For most of Day 3 I followed another converted railway (of varying standards, mostly unpaved but good enough) to the northeast, rejoining EuroVelo3 at Funder; from here it climbs up a steep (for Denmark) hill to a junction with Route 11, which took me at speed down into Silkeborg. This is supposedly Denmark’s outdoor activities centre, with lakes, forests, and relatively high hills; I wouldn’t get too excited, but the youth hostel does have a lovely waterside setting, and there’s a decent museum.

 On Day 4 I returned (on a good roadside cycleway) up the hill to EuroVelo3 and then on minor roads to Hald, where you can either follow a railtrail for 10 km into Viborg or stick to EV3 which drops on a very rough bit of track to an attractive lake and manor house before joining the railtrail into town. Viborg is an attractive cathedral town (although the cathedral is a little way north of the centre) by another lake; however the cathedral was largely rebuilt in 1864-76 and is largely a copy of the one in Lund (Sweden), which I saw two weeks later. From here EV3 runs northeast but I headed north on a cycleway beside a main road, which wasn’t up to Dutch standards but still allowed good steady progress, to the village of Bjarregove and the Hvolris Iron Age village, where a reproduction long house doubles as a hikers’ shelter.

 On Day 5 I headed east to rejoin EV3 through Hvornum, but then came to a bridge over the railway that was being rebuilt for electrification work so had to find my own deviation northwards, taking a short cut on quiet roads via Brøndum and Hørby to rejoin EV3 at Døstrup. From Vebbestrup I should have taken a more direct route to the east of EV3 to Arden, after which the route (a bit rough in parts) passes through the Forest of Arden! Not I think the Shakespearean one, although of course Hamlet is set in Denmark. There’s potential for another shortish cut-off west of Skørping, after which EV3 runs relatively directly north, passing to the east of Svenstrup and Skalborg (having had to distinguish between three towns beginning with V on Day 1, the three towns beginning with S were less of a problem to my aged memory). The route into Aalborg is hardly a direct commuting link, but it gets you there soon enough.

 My route was almost entirely through pleasant agricultural country, dominated in southern Jutland by cows, corn (maize) and Christmas trees, as well as lots of wild rosehips, and by cows, potatoes and root vegetables in northern Jutland, which is slightly hillier but still easy riding. Roads are wide, smooth and little used, and EuroVelo3 is well signed, the only inconsistency being whether they show mileages as well as directions. Jutland is not heavily populated, but I could find supermarkets (if not village bakeries) frequently enough – I wouldn’t recommend doing the trip on a diet of nothing but Danish pastries, but it would certainly be possible, and enjoyable for a while at least.

Elsewhere in northern Europe
A cycle bridge in Copenhagen
Cycleway past Amsterdam Centraal station

I had already spent three days cycling from Hoek van Holland to Leiden, Haarlem and Amsterdam, and I also cycled from Roskilde to Copenhagen, from Malmö to Lund and back, from Berlin to Potsdam, and from Koblenz to Bonn, as well as using my bike around town every day. Copenhagen is generally touted as the world’s best cycling city, and that’s fair enough (they built seventeen bicycle bridges between 2006 and 2020), but Denmark as a whole is not as great for cycling as the Netherlands. On the other hand, for someone like me, constantly stopping to write notes, snap a photo, or just find out where on earth I am, cycling in the Netherlands is problematic because there’s constantly someone about to run into the back of me – in Denmark I didn’t usually have to signal and manoeuvre off the cycleway before I could draw breath. The same applied when I was a pedestrian – I was always getting caught out on Dutch cycleways while trying to take photos.

A nodal point near Den Haag

  Navigation is made easier in the Netherlands by a nodal system, with all the usual route signs but some at key junctions marked with a number and signs to other nearby numbered nodes – there are good maps at the nodal points and of course all the apps and online maps also show the nodal points. Belgium has a similar system, but Denmark and Germany don’t; in fact I was surprised that Bonn was not signed from Koblenz, or vice versa, despite its being a very obvious route along the Rhine – you have to follow signs for intermediate towns such as Andernach and Remagen. Even stranger, the route from Malmö to Lund is not signed (despite being a direct off-road route), but Malmö is signed from Lund. I quite liked the Dead End Except Cyclists signs used across northern Europe – they don’t comply with British regulations so we have to have an Except Cyclists plate beneath the standard Dead End sign – except that usually we don’t.

 In the Netherlands a road will usually have a one-way cycleway on each side of a road (although riding the wrong way for a short distance is acceptable), while in Denmark and especially Germany there’s more likely to be a two-way cycleway on one side of the road, which is adequate provision but not the best. In fact, Germany generally feels fairly similar to the UK from a cycling perspective – drivers are not particularly aware, and in most cities the idea of cycle provision is lines of white paint on the carriageway, with no physical separation. Dropped kerbs tend to be bodged ramps rather than properly planned infrastructure. I can’t speak for the Germans, but the Dutch and Scandinavians do not share the Anglo-Saxon obsession with not paying tax – they prefer to have decent infrastructure (for transport, health, education), which might also be linked to having proportional representation, often with coalition governments and a good degree of continuity rather than the to-and-fro system of undoing everything the previous government started.

A Danish roundabout

 There was some excitement recently in Cambridge when our first ‘Dutch roundabout’ opened (partly because it was absurdly expensive and late), with a cycle lane all the way round with priority over motor vehicles; in fact I found that the ‘Dutch roundabout’ is not as clearly defined as we thought and comes in various forms. Quite often it actually has a two-way cycle lane, but one that only goes halfway or three-quarters of the way around the roundabout. Where there’s no space for off-road cycleways in a built-up area, the Dutch will provide on-road lanes of a decent width and leave a central space which is wide enough for cars in one direction only – so to pass in the other direction, drivers have to negotiate and move into the cycling space where possible. This works with Dutch drivers, but I really don’t think British drivers could cope.

 I was surprised to see so many lycra roadies belting along on the Dutch cycleways – there are already scooters and mopeds on many Dutch cycleways, and adding fast road cyclists to the mix just builds annoyance and resentment – or maybe that’s just my reaction. I dare say they would be on the roads if Dutch law didn’t force them to use cycleways where provided. In the circumstances it seems weird that every one of them is convinced a helmet is part of the uniform, even though they’re not coming into conflict with cars except for the odd road crossing – what a triumph of marketing. I’m sure they don’t wear them when they’re out on their cheaper bikes around town.

 Road cyclists were also visible in Copenhagen, mainly going out in the early evening after finishing work, but much less so in the rest of Denmark (and the same applies to cargo bikes), and in Malmö they actually seemed to be commuting. They are very rare in Germany, for some reason.

 However the big issue in the Netherlands at the moment is the advent of ‘speed pedelecs’, electrically assisted bikes that are able to cruise at 45km/h rather than the 25km/h of regular pedelecs. E-bikes account for 42% of bikes sold in the Netherlands (and over 50% by value) and are expected to be over 50% of sales soon, as opposed to 4% in the UK. In 2019 65 people were killed riding e-bikes in the Netherlands, almost all of them for some reason men over 65 riding speed pedelecs, and just after I left the country it was announced that a 4km stretch of cycleway near Schiphol airport had been fitted with electronic devices that automatically slow e-bikes (presumably only those fitted with corresponding devices) when they approach junction or enter built-up areas. If the trial is successful, this will be rolled out across the country. I did notice that ‘close passing’ (car-to-bike and bike-to-bike) is pretty common in the Netherlands and doesn’t seem to bother people – but there’s not much of a safety margin. It didn’t greatly concern me, but it’s one of the things that puts a lot of people in the UK off cycling on roads.

 Incidentally, I was riding a Dahon Speed TR, a touring folder, I think, rather than a folding tourer. I’ve had a Brompton for some years, which is great for train travel but doesn’t really carry luggage – the Dahon will carry standard panniers and rides well all day long (it has the full 21 gears), but it is a bit heavy and too big for luggage racks on trains and so on. Virtually every train I used had loads of space for bikes so it was no problem (generally you need a cycle ticket, unless the bike is folded). It’s a compromise, of course, but one that I was happy with.

Back in Britain – what a shock! Why can’t we just fund our infrastructure properly?
A new road/cycle bridge in Haarlem, the Netherlands
km599 of the Rhine, north of Koblenz

 

Lancaster and Carlisle

 

Lancaster Castle
Rather Scottish? – the Judges’ Lodgings

Between the two parts of my cycling trip in Yorkshire I spent time in Lancaster and Cumbria, though not exactly the Lake District. Lancaster is a city I’ve always liked, though it’s a shame the university is out of the centre and so self-contained, though it does give the place a bit of a cultural lift. It’s pretty lively on a Saturday night but not as bad as Carlisle. There’s something about the colour of the stone that reminds me of Edinburgh – I always wonder if people live in tenements here. I was struck by the Baronial architecture of what is now the White Cross Business Park, opposite the Royal Lancaster Infirmary – it turns out to have been Storey’s Mill, built as a cotton mill in 1854-80 and restored in 1987, rather than a misplaced Highland chieftain’s castle. Clearly it shares some history with The Storey, built in 1887-91 as the Storey Institute and now a centre for the creative industries, with office space, a performing arts venue, ‘contemporary eatery’ the Printroom Cafe & Bar, and a tourist information centre. It was all closed when I was there but has since re-opened.

 In the absence of the Printroom, I ate at Aquila, where a wood-fired oven pumps out authentically Neapolitan pizza, mostly vegetarian and using carefully sourced ingredients such as San Marzano tomatoes, n’duja, walnut and gorgonzola. It’s a real barebones place, essentially a takeaway with a few stools. I also liked the look (in very different ways) of The Borough, a bar and restaurant with rooms on Dalton Square, and Single Step, a wholefoods co-op. For breakfast, Filbert’s Bakery is on King Street, next to the attractive Holm Coffee, with scandi-style open sandwiches and pastries.

Lancaster is lucky to have both an attractive canalside area and a riverfront with a lot of potential – the Maritime Museum is down there in the former Custom House (1764) on St George’s Quay, flanked by largely disused warehouses that are ideal for conversion to loft apartments or indeed a hostel. All the city’s museums are currently closed due to Covid-19, which is a bit of a double whammy as the county of Lancashire was so badly hit by austerity cuts in 2016 that it had to mothball five museums including the Museum of Lancashire in Preston and the Judges’ Lodgings in Lancaster.

 From Lancaster it’s a very easy cycle ride north along the Lancaster Canal towpath (dead level, with no locks) to Carnforth, once a major railway junction that no longer has platforms on the West Coast Main Line to Glasgow, so that it is served only by regional trains from Manchester and Lancaster to Barrow-in-Furness and from Leeds to Morecambe. But of course it’s really famous as the location of the greatest railway film, David Lean’s Brief Encounter – this was based on a short play by Noël Coward, Still Life, and I was the production manager of the play on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the early 1980s, with Hugh Grant and Imogen Stubbs. The excellent Heritage Centre on the southbound platform has the film showing on a continuous loop, a David Lean exhibition, lots of railway material including a 1940s ticket office, and above all the Refreshment Room where Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson had their desperately repressed cups of tea – the Heritage Centre is now partly open, but the Refreshment Room remains closed. But despair not, the northwest’s first micropub, The Snug is in the main station building (built by Sir William Tite in 1846).

 From Carnforth I continued north on quiet lanes to Kendal – the Lancaster Canal used to continue all the way to Kendal but has been severed by road-building in various places; nevertheless parts of it remain as a footpath, with the original bridges in place, and the final couple of miles into Kendal are now a useful cycleway. I spent a couple of nights in Kendal (which I’ve written about separately), and then took a train up to Carlisle, which strikes me as a blunt northern city, with a strong military tradition and not many students to dilute the bluntness. My previous visit was on a Saturday night, which was lively… and this time my hotel was on the same street as not one but two Wetherspoons pubs, a Brewdog and a Walkabout (as well as Timmy’s Always Vegan!). They like to go out for a drink – and there are also lots of Italian restaurants, which were heaving on a Tuesday night thanks to the Eat Out to Help Out post-lockdown promotion. And there are lots of barbers too, presumably a preliminary to going out drinking.

 But this was also the only place on my recent trip where the museum was open as usual (without pre-booking, although with limited hours), and I was also happy to visit the castle even if I did have to book online. The Tullie House Museum covers local history from 450 million years ago (when Cumbria was part of the continent of Avalonia and the neighbouring bit of Scotland was in Laurentia) but really goes to town on the Romans, who arrived in AD 72. Hadrian came here in 122 and built his wall by 128; at the time 10% of the Roman army was stationed in Britain (just 4% of the empire’s area). In 208 Septimius Severus also came here and repaired the wall, and made Carlisle a civitas (as opposed to a military base) before dying in York in 211. As author of various guides to Romania, I’ve long been aware that it was Dacian (ie Romanian) auxiliaries who garrisoned forts such as Birdoswald – one always wonders how they coped with the weather.

 Later history was largely concerned with the border with Scotland, agreed in 1222 and formally fixed by the Treaty of York in 1237; however there were plenty of battles between England and Scotland, including Robert the Bruce being driven back from Carlisle in 1315. However I hadn’t realised that the Reivers, who rampaged around the lawless border area from the late thirteenth to the early seventeenth century, mainly stealing cattle, were totally indiscriminate in terms of national allegiances – anyone was fair game. Still, it was the union of the English and Scottish crowns in 1603 that finally led to the imposition of law and order in the borderlands.

 Industrial history focusses mainly on the railways, with no fewer than seven independent routes meeting here (surprisingly six are still open, with only the Waverley line to Edinburgh having closed); from 1876 they all used Citadel station, designed by Sir William Tite, who claimed this was the first Gothic Revival station, being designed to sit alongside the Citadel, built by Henry VIII in 1541 and modified in 1810 to house law courts. The citadel, at the south end of the old city centre, is not to be confused with the castle, at the north end (in between there’s the cathedral and just a few attractive old buildings on the north side of the main square or, strictly speaking, triangle). Night Mail (the documentary film of an Auden poem, with music by Britten) plays on a loop at Tullie House – however, it starts when the train is already north of Carlisle (This is the night mail crossing the Border, Bringing the cheque and the postal order), and they miss a trick by not mentioning TS Eliot’s Skimbleshanks (from Practical Cats), who was also on the Night Mail (You were sleeping all the while he was busy at Carlisle). Living in Cambridge, I was interested to learn (from Wikipedia, not Tullie House) that Night Mail was premiered at the opening of the Cambridge Arts Theatre in 1936.

 Carlisle Castle, founded by William Rufus in 1092, claims to be the most besieged place in the British Isles, notably enduring a nine-month siege in 1644-5, when it was more or less the only Royalist stronghold in northern England after the battle of Marston Moor. It was the base of the Border Regiment, formed in 1881 by the merger of the 34th Cumberland and 55th Westmoreland Regiments (dating from 1702 and 1755 respectively); in 1959 they merged with the King’s Own Royal Regiment and became the King’s Own Border Regiment, and the army finally vacated the castle. It’s open to visitors, but there’s not a lot to see at the moment apart from Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life, ie the Border Regiment museum, which does a good job of condensing a lot of history into a manageable form. My grandmother’s brother, killed at Ypres in October 1914, was in the Border Regiment for some reason – the other branches of my family have gravitated to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Marines and the Royal Navy.

[I’ve now discovered that his younger brother (who I met) was also in the Border Regiment, survived the Somme, and was in charge of training troops here at Carlisle Castle in World War II.]

I found the cathedral relatively plain, but with some very attractive features, notably the East Window, completed by 1350 in the Flowing Decorated Gothic style –  it’s the largest and most complex example in England. There are also fine misericords and wooden screens, and four sets of unusual painted panels on the rear of the choir stalls, dating from 1485–90.

For those interested in beer and the history of the English pub, Carlisle is of interest because its pubs and brewery were nationalised in 1916, to prevent workers in the huge ammunition factories just north at Gretna from going to work drunk or hungover, by banning ‘treating’ or buying rounds of drinks (until 1919) and by paying managers a set wage to remove the incentive to sell more drinks. Astonishingly, they were not returned to the private sector until 1973!

More thoughts on travel and Covid-19

Across the world countries are moving towards ending their lockdowns and returning to something closer to normal life – even the UK, which is in no fit state, is inching in that direction. Although international travel remains virtually impossible for at least another month, the ways in which countries are beginning to open up for their citizens and residents do give some clues to what the new normal will look like.

 Museums and art galleries are reopening in cities like Berlin, Zurich and Antwerp, but it’s clear that the experience will be very constrained and lacking the freedom that we have taken for granted. After booking online (or possibly making a contactless payment, which is of course key to the new normal), you’ll have a timed entry slot before using hand sanitiser and donning a face mask, then following a one-way system, with the doors jammed open so no-one has to touch them, and you won’t be allowed to linger in front of works that especially speak to you. All at a distance of at least 1.5m metres from other people – in Britain we seem to be specifying two metres, which is probably wiser but may be even less practicable than the rest of the farrago. There’ll be no maps or leaflets, no audio guides, and no groups of school kids or tourists (at last, a positive!).

 China is leading the way in developing more sophisticated new systems, but only for those already resident in the country – you apparently now walk through temperature scanners all the time, to enter the metro or shopping centres, and barely notice them, much like metal detectors. People also have a ‘health pass’ on their mobile phones with a QR code that links to their name and ID number and gives a red or green reading depending on whether they’ve been in proximity with an infected person; if it’s red, they can’t go into shops and restaurants for 14 days. If you do get into a restaurant, there’s mass sanitising, and widely spaced tables, of course, with no more than three people (oddly) at each. So some kind of going out is possible – but as you may know, I have an interest (both emotional and financial) in British pubs, and their future looks far more complicated, until we have effective widespread vaccination. With restricted numbers and table service only, it’s hard to see how they can either be much fun or indeed survive financially.

 The most difficult aspect of travel, and the last to resume, will be long-haul intercontinental flying – quite apart from needing to allow four hours to check in and get through the airport, what with all the social distancing, facial recognition and contactless temperature checking and sanitation (of passengers and luggage) that will be required (and probably no lounges, no carry-on luggage, no inflight mags and no in-flight catering either) there will also need to be a system of immunity passports, perhaps requiring blood tests at the airport itself. Even then if you arrive with a raised temperature you risk being sent back, or at best quarantined for two weeks – just in time for your flight home. And the air fares will have to be higher, to cope with extra sanitation requirements (and the increased time needed to clean planes between flights) and the lower seating densities. But airlines have billions of [insert unit of currency] worth of planes doing nothing, so are desperate to start flying one way or another.

 Travel within a continent or region should be a bit less complicated, probably with less onerous health requirements – free travel zones are planned between Australia and New Zealand; Vietnam and Thailand; and between the three Baltic states, and new quarantine laws won’t apply to travel between Britain and France, or Britain and Ireland. One might expect the same to apply eventually between the United States and Canada (but not Mexico, I fear).

 However the easiest option for most of us and for quite a while will be domestic travel – even without the hassle of airports, visas and test certificates, I won’t want to be getting on a plane any time soon, as someone who picks up a bug whenever he flies anyway. Trains are also confined spaces with dry air which helps the transmission of viruses, but you’re less likely to find them fully occupied, apart from peak-hour commuter services into major cities. Really, the most stress-free option will be cycling and camping, but by and large that will require a train journey to get to the starting point.

 Cities across Europe (which currently doesn’t include British cities, apart from one seafront road in Brighton) are creating ‘pop-up’ cycle lanes with cones and paint – Paris, Berlin and Milan are leading the way, with hundreds of kilometres of safe new routes. This is to deal with two issues – first, that people don’t want to be on buses and trains at the moment and so are likely to use cars when they go back to work, unless they can be persuaded to cycle, and secondly that people are trying to walk but there just isn’t space to keep a safe distance from other people on the pavements (what with the queues outside shops as well) so there needs to be space to step into the carriageway. Shared-use paths, where cyclists are encouraged to use the footways too, make things far worse, so the more that cyclists can be persuaded to use the carriageway the better. Here in Cambridge cyclists are tending to use the carriageway and leave the off-road cycleways and shared-use paths for pedestrians, but that may change as cars return. E-bikes are going to be part of the solution, although the supply chain may dry up for a while – get your orders in now. Electric skateboards and similar monstrosities are also bound to grow in number and will have to be catered for.

Georgia leads the way

Georgia, which has done a great job so far in keeping Covid-19 to a minimum, is now racing to be the first country to open up to international tourism again. I have an interest in Georgia, of course, and my colleague Claire is planning to be there this summer to research a new edition. That will be an interesting experience, to say the least!

 Domestic tourism is to be permitted again from 15 June and international tourism from 1 July, dependent on creating ‘safe corridors’ at the borders and presumably on specific air links, though I don’t know what that will involve. In addition to the mere 10 deaths thus far from Covid-19, the government is also touting its ‘enormous experience’ in quarantining over 19,000 people (in 83 hotels).

 In fact Greece also hopes to open up for tourism on 1 July, although  it’s not at all sure that bars and restaurants will be open – so inclusive resorts, yachts and agrotourism will be fine, but other holidays may be frustrating. Other countries are also beginning to open up, one way or another – mostly for internal travel, with quarantine (14 days, not the full 40 as in Venice when the term was first coined) as a rule for international arrivals. But Austria, for instance, offers two alternatives, allowing visitors to either show a certificate of a negative coronavirus test within the last four days, or pay €190 for an on-the-spot test. Hong Kong Airport has introduced full-body disinfectation booths (nasty chemicals in a confined space? I’m not keen). London’s Heathrow Airport is talking of contactless procedures such as ultraviolet sanitation and thermal screening, which is fact fits perfectly with the British government’s hands-off approach thus far – they are now talking of quarantining arriving passengers, roughly three months too late, while about 18 million people have apparently entered the UK without any form of check. Just one of the reasons why Covid-19 is cutting such a swathe through the British population.

We need to talk about testing

The only solution to this crisis, the only way to get back to anything like a normal life, is the development of a vaccine and its global deployment. It’s not 100% certain that will happen as all, and until it does there will be new outbreaks and new lockdowns, and happy relaxed travel is going to be difficult to achieve. We also need much better antiviral treatments for those infected with the new coronavirus, but that alone won’t solve the problem.

 In the meantime, we have two types of tests. A PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test looks for genetic traces of the virus and is fairly reliable but only detects a current infection; it’s a robotic process which is already carried out on a huge scale by drug discovery companies, so it’s been easy to ramp up for the new coronavirus. On the other hand, antibody or serological tests pick up evidence of someone having been previously exposed to the virus as well, but produce a lot of both false negatives and false positives (due to similarities to other coronaviruses such as the common cold). There’s a huge number of new testing kits being produced for this new virus, and testing the test kits is in itself a huge challenge. The British government went ahead and bought four million fingerprick testing kits from China, at a cost of £16 million, before finding they weren’t good enough. The best options at the moment will require a blood sample and lab analysis, which will be much slower and more expensive. One great unknown is whether having been infected gives some kind of immunity, and for how long, which might allow governments to issue, and accept, ‘immunity passports’. It’s possible that you need to be seriously affected to achieve any kind of immunity while those who’ve been slightly unwell or indeed asymptomatic will not ‘benefit’ at all. In any case, don’t expect immunity passports any time soon, so quarantine is going to be required for travel to many countries.

 Just to be clear, this is not a disease that you want to risk catching. It’s becoming clear that the virus can affect not only the lungs but pretty much any of our organs, including the nervous system; many people who survive it will be left with chronic kidney and heart problems and never return to normal lives. It’s possible to die from a cytokine storm, when the immune system doesn’t recognise what it’s fighting and goes into overdrive. What’s more, the virus can disappear while the system goes on struggling for a month or more, so that some people need hospitalisation even though they test negative for the virus. Stay home, stay safe remains the best advice.

Skopje – beyond surreal

Rebecca West would be appalled. I spent the first three months of the year reading her Black Lamb and Grey Falcon – well, I did do quite a bit of work too, but it really is a monster of a book, over 1,100 pages (originally in two volumes), and one of the great travel books. Actually a large part of it is taken up with musings on the roots of fascism (it was published in 1941), the history of ideas and human nature, but it’s also a detailed account of three journeys through Yugoslavia (except for Slovenia, which she may have seen as too civilised for her tastes). In any case, she makes it clear that Macedonia was her favourite part of Yugoslavia, because of the beautiful souls of the people, largely a side-effect of centuries of mis-government by the Ottoman Turks and brutalisation by anyone else who got a chance, notably the Bulgarians, Greeks and Albanians.

It’s a serious book, but there are some very funny bits, notably this description of what she calls ‘one of the most hideous buildings in the whole of Europe’, right in the centre of Skopje – ‘of turnip-coloured cement, like a cross between a fish-kettle and a mausoleum, say the tomb of a very large cod’. This was the Officers’ Club, embodying the domination of the mainly Serb army, and particularly offensive to the Muslim population as they’d torn down the beautiful fifteenth-century Karlizade or Burmali mosque in 1925 to make room for it. It was badly damaged in the massive earthquake of 1963 and left unrepaired, although after the break-up of

Yugoslavia the city’s Muslims campaigned for the mosque to be rebuilt. In 2013 a Greek company was given permission to rebuild it as a hotel, also providing a new office for the mayor and a wedding hall. As of April 2019 there’s not much sign of progress.

In fact West would be spinning in her grave if she had any idea of the further architectural desecration wrought upon the long-suffering city of Skopje in the last few years – the notorious Skopje 2014 project has seen some of the world’s ugliest and most grandiose buildings constructed along the city centre’s riverfront. Beyond kitsch, beyond surreal, beyond Ceaușescu’s most fevered dreams, they’re simply appalling – I’ll just let my photos below do the talking. One might think they were trying to create a European Las Vegas if there were any casinos, and if Batumi hadn’t got there first. The city was largely flattened in a massive earthquake in 1963 and rebuilt in communist concrete – one can understand a reaction against that, but this was not the way to go.

What’s more they are decorated with and surrounded by an incredible array of statues – they’re not all awful, but their sheer number is exhausting. I thought Bratislava’s riverfront exemplified the Central European love of public statuary, but this is on another level. I hate to think how many hospitals all this could have paid for. Not only that, but the city also has a fleet of red double-decker buses that look like the illicit lovechild of a London Routemaster and a Tonka Truck. And not one but two ‘galleons’ set on concrete blocks in the river. On the other hand, there’s a large traffic-free area and plenty of cycling, so they must be fundamentally good people.

The Museum of Macedonia

The bazaar area has kept its dignity and its authenticity, and is what most visitors most enjoy here; just above, the Mustapha Pasha mosque (built in 1492) is the most interesting of the city’s mosques. Large chunks of the city’s museums are currently closed awaiting restoration, with just a few rooms displaying a fraction of their collections. It has to be said that the modernist communist architecture of the Museum of Macedonia and the Museum of Contemporary Art actually looks pretty good compared to the monstrosities down by the river, while others are beautifully housed in former baths and markets. The M of M has a propagandist display on how the Macedonians of northern Greece were driven out in the 1940s, and a good ethnology display with a huge array of traditional costumes as well as pots, pans and farming implements, which show that Macedonia is part of the cultural continuum of central Europe that I’m familiar with from working for so many years in Romania, Poland, Slovakia and elsewhere (see my recent post on Bratislava). I also went to the City Museum (with some good Roman relics and a room on the 1963 earthquake), the National Gallery (in fifteenth-century baths that make a great space for temporary shows), the Museum of Contemporary Art (also largely empty – part of the impressive worldwide response to the earthquake was to create this museum and donate a Picasso, a Calder and other art works, but these are not currently on display), and I also popped swiftly into the Mother Teresa Centre (she was born here) – the M of M costs about £1.30, the rest are free. I’m informed that the Archeology Museum has lots of Neolithic and Bronze Age relics and a particularly good collections of ancient coins, all well displayed – but the building is a nightmare.

It’s said that Pristina is Europe’s ugliest capital – it’ll be interesting to see how it compares to Skopje.

Time for a beer

One plus is that you can find a decent pint in a couple of places, courtesy of Pivnica Temov aka Old Town Brewery, founded in 2009, who now have a couple of outlets, the original slightly ramshackle place at the top of the old town,and a lively bar right on the main Macedonia Square. They do IPA and a double IPA, stout (I think they spell it staut), porter and weissbier, all unfiltered and unpasteurised and using only the four basic ingredients of barley, hops, yeast and water. My limited sampling indicated it was just fine, and the food was good too.

Then I want home by a different way and found a load more laughable statuary jumbled together – it’s too much for anyone to take in.

What’s in a name?

The long-running fight with Greece over the country’s name has finally been resolved, and it is now officially North Macedonia – an admission that South Macedonia exists and is part of Greece (and a small East Macedonia also exists and is part of Bulgaria). Perhaps Upper Macedonia would have been better, along the lines of Upper Hungary, which is now Slovakia. It’s annoyed some nationalists, but really the country couldn’t go on for ever as FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). The particularly huge statue of Alexander the Great (the second most famous Macedonian after Mother Teresa, and she was ethnically Albanian) is still officially called Warrior on Horseback to avoid ruffling Greek sensibilities (and the national flag was also changed to placate the Greeks).

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Archeological Museum
The Public Prosecutor and Financial Police
Statues on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Let’s squeeze in some more statues
Statues on the National Theatre
A ‘galleon’ and another view of the Officers’ Club
The ‘Warrior on Horseback’

Dundee, Perth and around

 

Although there’s plenty of culture and so on in Dundee (but see below for an update), we were actually there to cycle. First stop was Perth, which might have made a better base if only it had a backpacker’s hostel (there’s a hostel at Perth College which is only open from mid-June until the end of August). It seems a sort of Scottish Truro, with an old-money feel to it and a high-brow cultural profile – in particular at the Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre. I was especially struck by the line-up of performers in the Perth Piano Sundays series – the likes of Peter Donohoe, Jeremy Denk, Viktoria Postnikova – nae bad! Just a few days after getting home, a Radio 3 announcer praised the wood-panelled Perth Concert Hall as one of the great spaces for chamber music in the UK. Neither Perth nor Truro is forced by the presence of a university to be cool and relevant. You could argue that Dundee is to Perth as Glasgow is to Edinburgh – a brasher younger sibling that’s trying to cast off an industrial past and become a cultural hub, largely through riverside regeneration – and it’s doing fine, of course, but with a more street/youth profile.

The Perth Museum is fairly small but well presented, covering geology, natural history, prehistory and actual history. Perthshire has a rich store of prehistoric remains, with about 70 stone circles and later henges and hillforts. There’s also the Carpow longboat, about 3000 years old, so not as ancient as the Ferriby Boats. I had no idea that the Romans had made it up here and even started building Rome’s earliest frontier system (before the Antonine and Hadrian’s Walls further south in Scotland, and also the Limes Danubianus past Bratislava) along the Gask Ridge southwest from Perth – I must try to retrace it some time.

Nor did I know that William the Conqueror (Billy the Conk, as he’s known on The History of England podcast) came to Forteviot, near Perth, in 1072, when King Malcolm accepted him as his overlord – but he must have had his fingers crossed, because within a decade he was raiding England again. Perth became known as ‘a capital’ of Scotland, due to the royal court frequently staying here and the presence of Scone Abbey, where the King of Scots was crowned, just across the river; like Dundee, it became a Royal Burgh in the early 12th century. After this local history went a bit quiet until the nineteenth century, when the railway arrived and hotels started serving local drinks – Arthur Bell, John Dewar, and Matthew Gloag became known for their whiskies, and Sandemans imported port. In 1819 there were 44 distilleries here, the last closing in 2016. General Accident was founded here in 1885 and had its headquarters here for 113 years – it evolved into Aviva, which is based, inevitably, in London, but reintroduced the General Accident brand in 2013.

There’s also a bit of art here, notably two sculpture rotundas and two big Lawrence portraits and a Raeburn of the fiddler Niel Gow. There was also a temporary show about Margaret Morris (1891-1980), who created modern dance (a la Isadora Duncan) in Britain – she married the Scottish Colourist painter John Duncan Fergusson, whose parents were from Perthshire and who regarded the Perthshire Highlands as his spiritual home – many of his works and also her archive are held at the Fergusson Gallery, a former watertower nearby at the corner of Tay St and Marshall Place – this apparently sees few visitors, so there’s talk of relocating the collection.

Incidentally, we did have a scone in Scone, and a cuppa in Cupar.

Saint Andrews

I’ve been to St Andrews a couple of times before and didn’t linger this time – but I couldn’t help noticing that there are a lot of ruined churches, that the golf obsession is under control and largely confined to the west side of town near the Royal & Ancient, and that even though there are plenty of visitors there are quite a lot of cafés (and all the bike shops) which don’t open on a Sunday. It has more museums than I remembered, but the nicely named MUSA (Museum of the University of St Andrews) is closed for a refurb. There also seemed to be rather a lot of visible lesbians around this time, which was definitely not the case in Dundee or Perth (and was news to my friends who studied there a couple of decades ago).

Broughty Ferry

There’s a pleasant cycle route up the coast northeast from Dundee (now that they’ve sorted out the section past the docks) to Broughty Ferry and on (between railway and golf links) to Carnoustie, where I stayed on my last visit. Broughty Ferry is a more salubrious suburb of Dundee, with decent pubs (see below) and cafés, including (since 1897) the excellent Goodfellow & Steven bakery and tea rooms. Broughty Ferry castle was closed for toilet refurbishment when we passed through, but houses a free museum; guarding the mouth of the Tay since 1496, it sticks out like a rotten tooth from far away.

Problematic pubs

A really good pub takes a bit of finding in Dundee, I’m sorry to say. The Dundonians do like a drink, and there are plenty of pubs in the centre that are always full and noisy, but the main problem is that they’re not interested in live (real) ale – there are rows of gas-pressure dispensers promising IPAs and so on, as well as regular lagers, and frankly they taste much the same – pretty flat. The range of malt whiskies was fairly generic, too. Early in 2018 a real ale pub, the Copper Still, opened in the centre, but by the end of the year it had closed. As you’d expect, the university area, just west of the centre, has some more interesting options, notably the Speedwell, known mainly for its fabulous 1903 interior (there’s an interesting partition with a swinging door between two bar areas) – it has just three well-hidden real ales among a forest of gas dispensers, but the Deuchars was fine and the company was cheery.

Tickety Boo’s, at 51 Commercial St, has a fine interior too, with original stained glass, and is one of the nicest options in the centre, although it’s a bit small and short of seating. Even more than elsewhere, many of the pubs in the centre of Dundee are former banks – there’s the Bank Bar, a former TSB branch at 7 Union St (which usually has four real ales on tap as well as gins and food), not to be confused with the Old Bank Bar at 34 Reform St, The Trades House at 40 Nethergate (with wonderful stained glass and an engraved mirror) or The Counting House at 67 Reform St (once a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland, opened in 1856). The last is a Wetherspoons, run by a Europhobic nutter, but it’s attractively restored and has decent enough (and cheap) beers, notably from Stewart’s in Edinburgh. Wetherspoons also run Jolly’s Hotel in Broughty Ferry and the Capital Asset in Perth (neither of which we sampled).

The best option in Broughty Ferry is the Fisherman’s Tavern, which has been in the Good Beer Guide since 1975 (except for 2013, whoops) – like The Trades House, it’s owned by Belhaven, which generally means a better than average pub.

In Perth, the Green Room (good for live music too), the Greyfriars Bar and the Kirkside Bar are the best real ale pubs, but actually the ideal would be to go a little way north to Moulin, a suburb of Pitlochry, where the Moulin Brewery has been building a great reputation since 1995 (Inveralmond isn’t bad either, but they’ve only been going since 1997, so what would they know?). The multinational craft beer monster that is Brewdog (founded in Aberdeen) also has pubs (or ‘bars’) in Dundee and Perth, if that’s your thing. I just noticed yesterday that Brewdog will be opening a pub here in Cambridge soon – good news, if you take the view that any new pub expands the market for real ale and good beer.

Update

As promised at the start – an update on Dundee’s cultural offering – the West Ward Works on Guthrie Street, where the Beano and Dandy annuals were printed, is to be redeveloped into a hub for designers, artists and other creative workers and companies, and will house a comic museum and spaces for live performances and exhibitions.
And it seems that an e-bike sharing scheme will open in July (2019) – presumably using charging stations rather than the dockless model that has become so popular recently for non-electric bike-sharing schemes.

Belgium – it’s not just beer and bikes

(but that’s a good start, say Rob and Nigel). We were an odd trio of cyclists, me on a fairly heavy town bike rented in Bruges, Rob (who’s previously featured in accounts of cycling in Taiwan and Yorkshire) on his folder and Nigel on a carbon-fibre Audax bike that he’d have liked to sleep with at night, but it worked very well – partly because the infrastructure is so good and there’s a positive Dutch-style cycling culture. This meant that even where the cycle tracks weren’t perfect we could still feel safe and keep rolling along because we were confident that drivers would give way, in a way that they certainly wouldn’t in the UK. The infrastructure felt like a slightly cheaper version of the Dutch gold standard, ie even the best segregated tracks were only three metres wide, not enough for cyclists to overtake in each direction simultaneously. Watch out for the Omleiding signs – if they say that a cycle route is closed for construction and you should follow a diversion, just do it – there really won’t be a way for cyclists to sneak past.

 

Renting a bike worked fine for a trip involving 50-60km a day at most, and that largely along wide canal towpaths and the like. It was a sit-up-and-beg (or sit-up-and-look-around) bike with seven gears that I called my momentum machine – pretty good in a straight line but not particularly manoeuvrable (similar to the Vélib bikes I rode in Paris a few days later); it was better on the all-too-common cobbles than the folder, but still not comfortable. Apparently (according to an article Rob once wrote), Dutch-style sit-up-and-beg bikes are great for women for certain anatomical reasons, but I don’t know why men would bother with them. There’s no denying the women look great, though, as they sail past with legs fully extended. My bike didn’t feel as if it had a long-distance saddle (or maybe I just don’t have a long-distance bottom), but I’d be happy to rent one for a week again – you should bring your own panniers, as in Taiwan (probably a good rule anywhere), and a U-lock.

We went from Brugge (the local name for Bruges…) to Gent (the local name for Ghent or Gand), Antwerp, Mechelen and Leuven, over three easy days of cycling, and it was delightful, following canals and railway lines, with windmills, grebes and storks, lots of grannies on e-bikes whizzing past us and other elderly couples pottering along slowly on their elderly bikes. The excellent new routes alongside the railways to the southwest and south of Antwerp are branded Fietsostrada, as in autostrada (F4 and F1 respectively) – in Britain we might call it a Bikebahn. There wasn’t much time for museums and art, so I filled in a few gaps when I returned my bike (by train – €5 for a bike ticket) to Brugge.

Luckily there was plenty of time for beer, with the odd lunchtime/afternoon refresher, and more detailed research in the evenings. Everything you’ve heard about Belgian beer is (probably) true – there’s an amazing variety, and it’s all stronger than we’re used to in Britain. You’ll be given a beer menu organised by type and/or region, but the first page will probably list a few draught options (van’t vat), which will be the local mainstays. If you want a refreshing pils after a warm days cycling (and yes, we did drink Stella Artois, though only within a kilometre or so of its brewery in Leuven) it will be cheap, but the more interesting beers cost a bit more, at about €4 for a 33cl bottle. Interestingly, there seems to be no link between alcoholic strength and price.

The easiest option tended to be a blond, ie a pale ale but with more strength and character than in Britain (ie they don’t just throw in lots of hops); other choices are amber, red, brown, wheat beers and the famous Belgian fruit beers. Some are abbey or Trappist beers, which should be fuller and smoother, but there’s no guarantee of that. Then there are the real local specialities, lambic and gueuze – lambic is made using only natural windborne yeasts just southwest of Brussels, and it’s remarkably sour, so it may have fruit added, be matured in the barrel for up to three years, or be blended to produce a gueuze.

Every beer is served in its own specific marked glass – although the system fell apart on our very last drink together, when Rob’s exotic peach beer came with a bog-standard Chimay glass.

Likewise, everything you’ve heard about Brugge being full of tourists and Gent being the undiscovered but more authentic and exciting alternative is true – we were all blown away by the canals and towers of Gent, and by the feeling that it was a real working city rather than just a tourist honey-pot.

Museum refurbs

In the cathedral of St Bavo in Gent the wonderful and very important (in terms of the development of northern European art) altarpiece of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by the Van Eyck brothers is being restored panel by panel, but the missing ones have been replaced by photographs that are so good you really wouldn’t know (and the bottom left-hand panel, the Just Judges, is in any case a reproduction, the original having been stolen in 1934). At the Fine Arts Museum you can watch the restoration work through a glass screen – it’s just been announced, having removed layers of paint added in earlier ‘restorations’, that the lamb has a much sterner expression than was thought (in addition a 1951 restoration effort had left it looking as if it had four ears). In June 2020 a new visitor centre will open to show it off properly.

Various big museum projects will be coming to fruition in 2019, it seems. In Brugge the Gruuthusemuseum is closed for renovation until May 2019 and in Antwerp the Fine Arts Museum is closed while they build new galleries in the central courtyard – it looks as if it’ll reopen in 2019, but until then many of their treasures are visible in other venues across the city. In Leuven the Treasury in the chancel of St Peter’s church, famous for its two paintings by Dietric Bouts and a copy of Roger van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross, is closed until September 2019 – but the treasures are on view in the chapels off the nave. In addition, the Caermersklooster or former Carmelite monastery in Gent will open in January 2019 as the Kunsthal Gent, run by local art groups.

On the other hand, a new city museum opened in 2018 in Mechelen, in the Hof van Busleyden, once home of Hiëronymus van Busleyden, a friend of Erasmus. It tells the town’s history from the Burgundian period, when it was pretty much the capital of northern Europe, to the present day, and also displays art and shows how the law was applied to art between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries.

 

On the cycling front, the Wielermuseum or Cycling Museum in Roeselar has just reopened, after a three-year closure, as Koers, which means Race – not really what we do, but still it might be interesting.

Boston and Portland compared (public transport and cycling)

This is an article that I wrote for the Cambridge Cycle Campaign’s newsletter that I thought I should post here (with a few added photos), as I’ve recently posted separate pieces on Boston and Portland – if you’re not interested in public transport and cycling, read no further.

Boston and Portland compared

Editing Tom Culver’s article on San Luis Obispo, I was reminded that I was in North America over the New Year and by chance experienced what seem to be among the best and the worst US cities for cycling. On the cool, liberal West Coast (well, close to it) Portland, Oregon is doing a good job of boosting both cycling and public transport use with a continuing programme of infrastructure improvements. But on the East Coast, Boston, Massachusetts seems stuck in a primitive mindset, not just preferring cars to bikes, but also assuming that public transport users simply want to travel in to the central business district and go home again.

Boston – sticking with the old

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA, known as ‘the T’) transit system looks fairly good on paper, or on a map, with subway and ‘commuter rail’ lines covering a wide area, but timetabling and ticketing are very poor, and the trains are old and unattractive. The subway and buses provide a decent all-day service, but the commuter trains basically run into the city in the mornings and out in the afternoons (although other American cities are far more extreme cases) with virtually no service in the evenings or at weekends. Modern cities need frequent services all day every day, and not just to the central business district. They also need a fare system that encourages multiple trips and off-peak travel – in Boston a single ticket costs $2.25—$2.75 and a day pass costs a stonking $12, which is basically telling people they’re not wanted beyond the basic commute (weekly and monthly passes are a better deal, though). A day pass should cost little more than two singles. In November 2017 a contract was signed with Cubic and John Laing to introduce a new smart fares system, so this may be sorted out in the 2020s. The T does at least carry bikes outside the peak times on most routes, and more secure cycle parking is being provided at stations.

Cycling is more or less invisible in Boston (less so in Cambridge, home to Harvard and MIT), and facilities in the city centre are largely limited to white paint on the roads, along with a good riverside route. Notoriously, from 1991 to 2006 Boston spent $24 billion (almost ten times the original budget, and it was eight years late too) on the Big Dig, the project to put I-93 – the Interstate highway through the heart of Boston – into a tunnel and didn’t even manage to put a cycleway on top where the highway used to be. In fact there’s still a dual-carriageway there with a linear park, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, in the middle, i.e. patches of grass and a footpath between the cross-roads, and signs telling cyclists to use the on-road lanes. There’s a bike-sharing scheme but the docking stations seem few and far between, and there’s no dockless sharing scheme yet. Ofo Bikes launched in September 2017 in nearby Worcester and Revere, but can’t operate in Boston or Cambridge because the operator of the bike-sharing scheme there has an exclusive contract until 2022.

Boston’s Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. [Source: Wikipedia Commons. Author: Hellogrenway. This image file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.]
It’s true that some decent segregated infrastructure is being provided in Cambridge and the suburbs, and the city authorities are beginning to make the right noises, but it’s a dreadfully slow and sclerotic process.

Boston drivers are much pushier than those on the West Coast, honking and cutting up pedestrians on crossings; at these crossings, lights change to Don’t Walk ridiculously early, and change to Walk ridiculously late, legitimising bad behaviour by drivers; the result is that pedestrians tend to ignore them. In central Portland, in contrast, I was impressed by how short the traffic light phases were at intersections, disadvantaging drivers but meaning that pedestrians were happy to wait the relatively short time till the green phase. (This was less the case slightly further from the centre.)

Portland – trying something new

In the 1960s the I-5 Interstate highway was rammed along the east bank of the Willamette River through Portland, but since then Portland has worked consistently to create a sustainable city, and not just in terms of public transport. It had the first electric trolley system in the US which opened in 1907. This closed in 1950, but then in 1986 the first Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) light rail line opened, the first half of what is now a 33-mile east-west route. There are now six routes, including one to the airport, and it’s a popular, modern regional express system (and it carries bikes). In 1975 the Transit Mall was created, two parallel one-way streets in the city centre largely reserved for buses (and from 2009 light rail); also in 1975, the Fareless Square was introduced, a larger downtown area in which travel was free (this was abolished in 2012).

In 2001 the Portland Streetcar system began operation with smaller, lighter cars running on more tightly curved tracks. A north-south line through downtown (parallel to the Transit Mall) was extended in 2005-7 to the South Waterfront regeneration area, and in 2012 the new Loop line was opened. This is a massive extension to the east of the Willamette River that uses the modern Tilikum Crossing bridge, opened in 2015, that carries light rail and streetcars as well as pedestrian and cycle paths, but with no access for cars and trucks – a major statement in the USA.

It’s not quite a turn-up-and-go service, with streetcars every 15 minutes, but they’re more frequent on the shared section downtown. The details have been well thought out, with intersections where cars in all directions have red lights so that the streetcars can cut through on the wrong side of the road; in some places doors also open on the ‘wrong’ side. Although MAX and the Streetcar are owned by separate municipal bodies they (and the buses) are operated by TriMet and tickets are valid on all systems. All in all, it’s a good example of how public transport can bring organic growth to the city centre and especially to regeneration districts (even though it’s become hipster central, Portland still has plenty of formerly industrial areas to be developed as residential property).

It’s also worth mentioning the Portland Aerial Tram, a cable-car which opened in 2006 linking two parts of the Oregon Health & Science University (the city’s largest employer) in the South Waterfront district.

In the early 1990s Portland had a Yellow Bike Project, providing free community bikes (just as Cambridge (UK) did around the same time), and it also turned out to be comically disastrous, lasting just three years before the bikes fell apart or were stolen or dumped in the river. However it did, for better or for worse, fix cycling in the Portland mindset, and since 1999 Portland has invested heavily in bicycle infrastructure. By 2009 traffic fatalities in Portland had declined six times faster than the national rate. In 2016 a modern app-powered bikesharing system opened, sponsored by Portland-based Nike – it’s called Biketown, pronounced Bike, not Bikey as in Nike. One interesting aspect is that you can lock bikes for a brief stop and unlock them again with the same PIN.

Another interesting innovation is mini-sharrow markings at traffic lights to show where the magnetic sensors are, so cyclists don’t just sit like lemons until a car arrives. Helmets are only mandatory for under-16s, but there’s strong pressure from the city to wear one.

Traffic on the century-old Hawthorne Bridge increased by 20% between 1991 and 2008 – but only 1% of that was cars, the rest being cycles; the bridge would have had to be replaced otherwise, at great expense. There’s now a cycle counter here, showing that 5,000 cyclists a day cross the bridge on an average weekday, which I think is pretty good, although in London, about 5,000 cyclists cross Blackfriars Bridge in the morning peak alone.

Clearly Portland provides a better model for us in Cambridge to follow, with its cycle-friendly bridges rather than car-clogged tunnels, but I’d hope that Boston is also paying attention and able to move in a more sustainable direction.

The road above Boston’s Big Dig tunnel, with cycle facilities of a sort…
The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, above Boston’s Big Dig tunnel – they created a meaningless bit of park and tell cyclists to use the roads.
The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, above Boston’s Big Dig tunnel – the sign says that they don’t clear the snow in winter.

 

Sharrow and bike-sharing station, Portland OR.
Cycleway on the Tilikum Crossing, Portland OR.
Cycleway to the Tilikum Crossing, Portland OR.
Cycleway and rapid transit stop, Portland OR.

Vancouver, moving on

It felt like the end of an era when I left Vancouver BC – nothing to do with me personally, but because the city’s three-term mayor Gregor Robertson had announced that he would be standing down after ten years in office. Still absurdly young and good-looking (he was a proto-Justin Trudeau, and like him is known just by his first name), he presided over an era in which Vancouver became known as one of the planet’s most desirable places to live, with its amazing sea-and-skiing setting, its lively culture, its innovative bars and restaurants, its wealth of cycle lanes… But being perpetually atop the world liveability rankings does mean that the whole world wants to move there, and housing in Vancouver has become absurdly expensive, partly because a lot of wealthy Chinese in particular have invested in grand homes which are then often left empty. In 2017 the city introduced a tax on empty houses, and the province of British Columbia introduced a 15% tax on non-residents buying property. Meanwhile, the federal government has just increased the annual immigration rate from 280,000 a year to 340,000 by 2020, and the Metro Vancouver area is expected to see between 1 million and 1.2 million new residents over the next 30 years.

Not surprisingly there’s a homelessness crisis – Robertson pledged to end it, but soon found that the mild winter climate, among other things, meant that Canada’s homeless will just keep on moving west. This is linked with the opioid addiction crisis that is sweeping North America (to the bafflement of the rest of the world), and the fact that the provincial and federal governments were controlled for much of his time in office by unsympathetic right-wing parties (thankfully now removed). The Downtown Eastside district, very close to the city centre and yes, just to the east, has been associated with drugs for a long time, and is now being ravaged by the opioid crisis; between January and September 2017 over 1100 people died of suspected overdoses in British Columbia (mainly in the Vancouver area and Vancouver island), and the synthetic opioid Fentanyl was involved in 83% of those deaths.

But there’s no denying that something special has been created here – ‘Vancouverism’ is ‘characterized by a large population living in the city centre with mixed-use developments, …significant reliance on mass public transit, creation and maintenance of green park spaces, and preserving view corridors’. In other words, a city where people don’t feel the need to travel by car and live in the suburbs (it’s also very multicultural, but that’s another matter). So it’s no surprise that public transport is busy and expanding – frequencies and service hours are being increased on buses (including the B-Line express routes), the SeaBus ferry to North Vancouver (now every ten minutes at peak times) and the Skytrain automated metro. Now that Skytrain has reached the airport (though with a stonking add-on fare) the next priority has to be to serve UBC, the university that’s the size of a separate town on the coast southwest of the city, which is reached by frequent but overcrowded buses. Skytrain’s Millennium Line (which currently dead-ends in the middle of some railway yards at VCC/Clark) is to be extended west along Broadway as far as Arbutus St (in trendy Kitsilano), less than halfway to UBC, perhaps by 2024. The existing Skytrain lines are largely elevated, apart from some old railway routes, but this extension will largely be in tunnel, and thus much more expensive. There’s an aspiration to eventually push the Skytrain all the way to UBC, but that’s a long way off.

Vancouver’s equivalent to London’s Oyster Card is the Compass Card, introduced in 2015; after some teething problems, it’s working well, and allows hassle-free transfers and much cheaper fares than for cash.

Another aspect of Robertson’s legacy (omitted from the definition of ‘Vancouverism’ above) is a huge expansion in cycle facilities – the ten years to 2016 saw a rise in Greater Vancouver’s cycle-commuting rate from 1.7% to 2.3%, and in the city itself the rate is 6.1%. Hardly Dutch levels, but pretty good by North American standards. There’s also a high level of leisure cycling – the one-way loop around Stanley Park is legendary, and by June 2018 a new route should follow the coast from the Burrard Bridge through Kitsilano (‘Kits’) to Jericho Beach, giving a total of 28km of safe cycling from the downtown Convention Centre much of the way to UBC. Incidentally, the pedestrian/cycle promenade around the Convention Centre has some excellent panels with fascinating nuggets of historical information; you also get one of the quintessential Vancouver views here, with the cruise terminal to the right, the mountains and ski slopes of North Vancouver ahead, and Stanley Park and Coal Harbour (where the seaplanes and the V2V fast ferry mentioned in this post dock) to the left.


The cycle route to Jericho Beach mentioned above passes through Vanier Park, where the Museum of Vancouver has been revitalised in recent years. Like most of the Pacific North West museums, it now gives the First Nations their rightful place in local history, helped by recent research that’s revealed much more about their civilisations. It’s important to remember that, thanks to the plentiful salmon runs, these peoples had a much easier life than those inland, allowing them the leisure to develop a rich artistic culture, characterised by their ‘formline’ style of decoration on carvings and textiles. But it’s less well known that artistic production really exploded in scale after the arrival of Europeans created a retail market for the first time. Totem poles used to be pretty temporary constructions, their natural rotting and collapsing being part of the memorial process, but now far more are being made and they’re being preserved. What’s more, new crafts developed, such as argillite carving in Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands), and Salish basket weaving (previously the Salish people had just made hats). The best-known example, though not represented here, is Cape Dorset printmaking, which was created out of the blue in the 1950s when a government administrator in Baffin Island brought in materials and encouraged the Inuit people to discover their creativity.

The museum also has good coverage of the 1960s, when a popular uprising blocked a very destructive plan to build freeways through Gastown and Chinatown, linking to a third crossing to North Vancouver, when all the politicians were initially in favour. In 1972 a new party called TEAM (The Electors Action Movement) took control of the city council, eventually leading to Vision Vancouver and Gregor Robertson, which is where we started. Oh, and in 1969 a little pressure group called Greenpeace was formed in a Vancouver living room.

I don’t have a lot to say about food and drink here, but the current food fad is poké, a rice and fish bowl combo from Japan via Hawai’i which I don’t find very interesting (because I don’t eat meat or fish, and rice often doesn’t agree with me). I’d have been far more interested in sampling the many good local beers, but didn’t get around to it. Canada’s first microbrewery was founded at the Troller Bay pub in Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver, back in 1982 when nothing but industrial lagers were available; it closed down around 2000, but only after spawning other very successful outfits such as Spinnakers and Hoyne Brewing (both in Victoria), Howe Sound Brewing (in Squamish) and Strange Fellows Brewing Company (in Vancouver). In 2013 the Troller Ale House opened close to the original pub, serving the original Troller Bay Ale as well as offerings from local craft breweries.  Of course, every bar in the city now carries a range of interesting beers and ciders, not to mention gins.