#WorldBicycleDay – Staying-alive lessons from London roads…

2018 London Strava Heatmap - Ambjorn
2018 London Strava Heatmap

During my time in London (some seven years), I averaged some 5,000km a year on two wheels. Many thought I was crazy cycling in a megalopolis like London. Maybe.

In time for #WorldBicycleDay I thought I’d share how I stayed alive, because it is a wonderful city to see on two wheels.

London has changed immensely over the years. From very little cycling infrastructure to eight Super Highways, with two more due for completion this year. And three more being discussed beyond that.

Quiet Ways were also introduced (wonderful idea) – and of course the extensive bike share scheme, which the banks seem to take turns sponsoring – has been supplemented with new ‘dock-free’ entrants.

If you want to read (and perhaps help expand) a worthwhile brief history of cycling in London, then Wikipedia is, as ever, to hand. For now though, let’s get to those tips:

Staying-alive lessons from London roads…

Use the infrastructure

A kerb, bollards and whatever else can be had between you and other road users is a great thing. Get a map of the Super Highways, Quiet Ways and whatnot – and make good use of them.

 

And where that’s not available, try a back road – you’ll see things you’d never otherwise find.

And don’t forget about the tow paths. They’re wonderful really.

Today's path

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On the way back…

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Smile and wave

Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours LogoA San Francisco principle that applies in London too. Life is short, and anger always puts you in harms way. Eye contact matters, and a smile and a wave rarely goes amiss. And yes, those lorry drivers can be scary – but if you look at them as if you’re looking up to them (!) – they’ll be extra careful around you.

That said: best stay entirely clear of big roads with doubledecker buses and big lorries. And never attempt this special Ukrainian trick in London or indeed elsewhere:

#peletonformations: The Unexpected Ukranian David & Goliath Edition

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Get to know a good bike mechanic, or two

My favourites are:

Park your bike indoors at night

It’ll last longer (which means it’ll be safer to ride) – and it is less likely to go missing.

Illuminated ride

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Lock it when you park outdoors

And always use two or three locks… involving something immovable.

Double decker bike parking

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The following example from an insurance company poster might be an example of overdoing it though…

Mark & register your bike

Look out for the tents which are regularly dotted around town – where you can get your bike marked and registered by the Metropolitan Police / City of London Police.

And whilst you’re at it, respect red lights. They’re there to keep you – and others – alive.

My entourage earlier today

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Make good use of the parks

The air is cleaner there. And some of them have good spots for coffee too.

And you can find other ways of pedalling, if you need variety.

Time for #timelapse

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Divert regularly

Here are a range of ideas.

Redirect accordingly

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If it rains, persist

A few drops won’t kill you. Just remember that depending on the type of brakes you have, they might work differently than when dry.

Rainy Canary Wharf on the horizon #fromabove

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If it rains too much, get a cab…

Say, if you lose a pedal some 10km from home – as once happened to me during a bout of torrential rain. A good-humoured Black Cab driver will help you fit the bike in the back.

Note, there is no fog

Despite the reputation for pea soup fog, London’s air is clearer these days – (even if it might not be that clean). Despite this, many people, especially the spandex-clad alpha types, buy fog-grade strobe lights for the winter months.

Lights are good, blinding is bad

Strong lights could have the exact opposite effect of what you were hoping for. Be sure to point your lights down onto the road. You’ll be seen – but without blinding. In doubt? Park your bike with the lights some 20 meters away and then start walking towards it. If the strobe is uncomfortable to you, it is uncomfortable – and distracting – to others. You may also want to say to bicyclists that blind you (whilst smiling and waving): ‘there is no fog’.

The Highway Code – Rule 236

You MUST NOT use front or rear fog lights unless visibility is seriously reduced (see Rule 226) as they dazzle other road users […] You MUST switch them off when visibility improves.

Get informed & Speak up

Biking in the big city only gets better if you share your ideas (and concerns). Support the work of:

A few more to follow …

@londonair – for regular air quality updates

@lakerlikes – ‘Writing and talking, mainly about cycling    and others.

Most importantly though, get out there and pedal.

Happy #WorldBicycleDay.

Enjoy! And stay safe.

 

Tips for the long-range traveller / vagabond

Travel Light (and don’t forget dry socks)

This is probably the most important advice of all. Do a fully-packed test walk before you go – say, along the Thames. If you can’t walk 10-15km easily without getting annoyed – then you’re carrying too much. Let go… let go… focus on essentials. For example, if you’re not wearing sandals: prioritise clean and dry socks – and leave the heavy flashlight behind. Makes a massive difference. Buy the best socks you can afford.

Add a little structure

Say, a sundowner. Life beyond work (if you’re vagabonding for real) can sometimes start feeling a bit messy; because there isn’t necessarily an organising principle. Well, stopping everything to watch the sunset every day (and raising a beverage to celebrate all that’s gone well) works a treat. Also a great time to talk about what has been difficult – before the dark sets in – and what you might do differently… if you want to super-advanced, add a diary / journal to that mix. See take note below…  

Triangulate, triangulate, triangulate

Even if you have a GPS in your phone, always be asking for directions. In my experience wonderful experiences flow from this – and you find places beyond the beaten path whilst you’re at it. That said – be wary of doing the ‘Lost Tourist’ look…

Take note

You’ll quickly lost track of where you’ve been / what you’ve done. A notebook, starring things on Google Maps, sending postcards, recording a voice or video note are all ways to do that. Pick an approach that works for you. I personally value the analogue the most.

Take time

Things take time, and you’ll be surprised how sometimes nothing seems to take twice as long. It is very easy to get exhausted travelling. Don’t rush. My rule for Africa is that you can only do one (1) thing per day. For example: get a visa sorted. Or run an errand. Or book a ticket. Yes, just one. And for I’d say that in South America it is much the same.

Black-Swan Avoidance / Hard-nosed advice

It is *unlikely* that you’ll need most of this – that said, when it is cheap to insure against mega-SNAFUs, it is makes sense to do it. Bit like bringing an umbrella…

Health

  • Always avoid the ice cubes… unless you can truly drown them in good quality alcohol 
  • Don’t get dehydrated …

Other SNAFUs – based on painful personal experiences

  • Avoid a single point of failure – have a Mastercard, Visa and Amex – from different banks
    • And hide a couple of $/€50 notes somewhere for that rainy day
    • And agree a protocol for whom can wire you money in an emergency – and how they should do it. Scams around this rare – but stressful for the relatives / friends when they happen! Easy to avoid with a simple protocol up front.
  • Scan your IDs and leave a copy
    • With relatives
    • On a your locked phone
    • And if you’re in a country for a long time, consider getting a notarised copy to carry instead of the original

If asked for your ID – always resist letting go of your documents. Either use a notarised copy as above / show originals through the window of the bus/car – or at least hold on tightly whilst they look. The exception is of course if you’re at a border crossing in which case you can’t hold on to the document. Or indeed inside a police station.  

If asked for a bribe… my approach is to wait the asker out. Most get bored… That said, that might not always work, especially if they have taken your passport. Either way – have a deep conversation with each other about how you might handle a situation like this. Feels less stressful when it then does happen (as it most likely will).

And do yourself a favour – buy the highest cover travel insurance – you’re extremely unlikely to need an evacuation. But if you do. You’ll be glad to have that airlift…

DO READ THE SMALL PRINT. For example – most won’t cover if you’re not wearing a seatbelt… and stuff like that. Best to know up front. Even if it never becomes relevant. And wear that seatbelt either way. 

Whichever company you go for, you want unlimited cover for the serious Black Swans: Medical Expenses and Repatriation. And a very very high number for Personal Liability. The price difference is marginal. The peace of mind isn’t.

If it all goes belly-up

As it has for me a few times – but also applies if detained or hospitalised:

  1. You’re not alone – even though you might feel like it in the moment – so reach out
  2. Let your respective consulates know that you are in trouble (even if their help might end up being limited). If your country does not have a consulate – go to a country that is an ally, say, EU or equivalent. 
  3. Don’t take any shit. Be firm. 

Book Cover: Africa for the hitchhiker -  by Fin Biering-Sørensen and Torben Jørgensen - published 1974 by Bramsen & HjortA short bookshelf for the easy-going vagabond through to intrepid traveller

You can find more eclectic books on travel here.

Maps for the intrepid

And if you’re intrepid and into mapping, then Stanfords. But thread below might also be of interest. You can go to the red bits if it is for work (rather than vagabonding). Just think very carefully, make sure you have a very good reason (say, a World Health Organisation project in Somaliland). And if the latter is the case, then these are your people for pro advice before you and whilst you are there: ngosafety.org/

Anyway, that thread as promised courtesy of Marcel Dirsus who is worth following either way:

 

Books, Cafés and Art in Athens – a few ideas

By no means a complete list; a mere collection of tried and tested ideas…

Books

Πατάκης / Bookstore Patakis

goo.gl/maps/VNLv7w52hoG2
Massive selection in Greek, small selection on other languages – worth a browse.

Booktique

goo.gl/maps/jiKhQgEr3r22
Small select selection of books in a variety of languages – as well as cards and other paraphernalia. Great service – and gift wrap.

Οίκος Ανοχής Σκέψης / Free Thinking Zone

goo.gl/maps/SnEyJfRqM632
Interesting selection of books and other publications, including the quirky.

Οίκος Ανοχής Σκέψης means ‘House of Thought Tolerance’. Worth a browse.

Cafés

Mokka

goo.gl/maps/k6oDBxigcSz
Possibly the best place in Athens for a traditional Greek coffee. An absolute joy. And watch the world go by in the market quarter.

Bartesera

goo.gl/maps/dmQkAEeCCGT2
Nice little tri-part hideaway. Very close to Syntagma Sq. Try the homemade lemonade. Kick back, make some notes…

Poems ‘n Crimes Art Bar & Café

2018 08 21 Poems & Crimes Athens - TS Eliot Quote @michaelambjorn goo.gl/maps/BHyXW8PHpfG2
Café / bookshop in Monastiraki – get an coffee and sit out the back. Plot.

Art

National Museum of Contemporary Art

Εθνικό Μουσείο Σύγχρονης Τέχνης – ΕΜΣΤ
goo.gl/maps/LoUv7ngzVRn
Beautiful space in an old brewery. Changing exhibitions – and an amazing view from the rooftop, including of Pnyka (look it up).

The Art Foundation

goo.gl/maps/oK8ciRfo6M72

Gallery / hip bar. Worth a brief stop. Maybe wear black.

The Museum of Cycladic Art

Μουσείο Κυκλαδικής Τέχνης
goo.gl/maps/VNmC5iwYw6u

Blast form the 3000 bc past.

The Onassis Cultural Centre

Shipping a range of activities – including some visual arts. Tasting-menu joint on the top floor (Hytra).

Enjoy – and what would you add?

Where to read, write & think in Copenhagen

Visiting Copenhagen for a few days? Say, for a conference – but also have some time to read, write and think?

Here are some ideas…

First, sort out the stationery

Viking 1914

Pencil manufacturers turned suppliers for the creative class. You won’t regret a visit to this well-assorted shop on Store Kongensgade. And there’s a reasonable espresso stop across the road.

Stelling

An old favourite on Amager Torv. And Nikolaj Kunsthal is nearby if you need a moment of inspiration.

Markers N Pens

New(ish) kid on the block a bit further afield – specifically Jægersgade – in a hip part of town.

Two great cafés

Paludan Bog & Cafe

Wonderful bookstore which also has a nice café – it is on Fiolstræde right near the university.

Democratic Coffee

In an extension of the central library on Krystalgadewhich brings us to…

Three, four (or five) interesting libraries

Hovedbiblioteket / The Main Library

Four floors of books, newspapers and other resources. And don’t be afraid to ask a librarian if you need help. They’re friendly people. On Krystalgade as mentioned above.

Den Sorte Diamant  / The Black Diamond

Architecturally striking extension to the Royal Library. Need some help navigating it? Why not take a tour… And perhaps also visit the National Museum of Photography when you’re there. Or get a bite to eat at Søren K and enjoy the view.

KAKD

That acronym unfolds (into English) as The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation – they have a library, exhibitions space and an interesting events programme. You can find them it on Danneskiold-Samsøes Allé.

The Design Museum’s Library2017 Design Museum Denmark - Library Reading Room

The largest collection of books, posters and materials related to design – in the Nordics. And a nice reading room too. As illustrated…

Find it on Bredgade (10 min from Viking 1914).

The Old University Library

Now this one is a bit trickier – the oldest of the lot. Dates back to 1482 – and it used to be open to the public. Sadly does not seem to be the case anymore, but you can peek through the windows from Fiolstræde (and then go for a coffee at Paludan).

And the odd one out

The Palm Garden at Glyptoteket – entrance from Dantes Plads – not a bad place to quietly gather your thoughts.

And if you decide to stick around Copenhagen long-term, then here’s a list of co-working spaces. Enjoy! And let me know if you find some great places to add to the list.

Thanks for extra input and suggestions from Vicki Therkildsen.

Timeless ideas for Xmas in London

Walk along South Bank – and stop at the new Tate building for the view

There’s usually an pop-up xmas market up near Royal Festival Hall – and then keep going and explore four distinct fixtures:

  • Borough Market – where the well-to-do middle-class hangs out. That said, Monmouth is hard to beat. And if you have time, the bread baking courses are fun. Also, some of the fishmongers have a fire-sale just before 5pm on a Saturday. 
  • Flat Iron Sq – the newcomer to the area – mix of food etc. Also, Gentlemen Baristas are gentlemen (and a have a secret roof terrace). And sometimes you can hear music students across the street practice. Which is nice.
  • Mercato Metropolitano – slightly older than Flat Iron – and a bit further away – still worth a visit.
  • Maltby St. – only open on the weekends – the original break-out … Rope Walk is a tight but fun alley of interestingness. And you can taste Jensen Gin straight from the still… And on the other side of the railway tracks you have the Beer Mile.

More waterside walking – East London edition

Walk along the River Lee – and stop for pizza (and beer) at The White Building – or keep going and have a riverside coffee at Stour Space … and if you have salmon eaters with you, stop at Forman’s. For it is good.

Or if you ventured down the Hertford Union Canal, then make a side visit to the Pavilion in Victoria Park. Decent coffee.

Secret Sq. and an old mansion house

Have lunch at the co-operatively run vegetarian/vegan Bonnington Cafe – cash only… and then stop at Italo (across the street) before heading down to Brunswick House for a browse from cellar to top floor – (and have a drink in the bar at the end).

Books, nuts and cheese in Piccadilly and a proper martini in St James

Stop by the quirky Maison Assouline, then Hatchards (and the big Waterstones in-between if you must). Gorge on nuts and Greek Coffee at Carpo – and cheese at Paxton & Whitfield – and Nordic baked goods at Ole & Steen. And there’s a little wine-bar in Fortnum’s whilst you wait for others to finish their shopping  – whether upstairs or in one of the nearby historic Arcades.

And then ask lots of questions about wine – and buy a bottle – at BBR. Then repair to the frankly bizarre backstreet Duke’s Bar for a Martini. Remember: Only One.  

Great places in Aarhus for…

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Espresso

Great Coffee – exceptional – and run by an incredibly knowledgeable chap – take the time to have a chat
Klostergade 32 H, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

Bill’s Coffee – nice little cafe with a take-out window to the street
Vestergade 58, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

Street Coffee – (one of several – all good)
Vestergade 52, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

Art & Books

DOKK1 – beautiful library, great place to work – and enjoy harbour views
Hack Kampmanns Pl. 2, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

AROS – modern are and a 360 view of Aarhus
Aros Allé 2, 8000 Aarhus, Denmark

Løve’s Bog- og VinCafé – wonderful and atmospheric cafe and bookshop
Nørregade 32, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

Antikvariatet Aabenhus – eclectic 2nd hand bookshop
Paradisgade 14, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

Co-working

Lynfabrikken – also has good espresso
Vestergade 49, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

Vegan & Vegetarian

Mikuna – excellent chilli in a small cafe setting
Frederiks Allé 96, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

Café Gaya
Vestergade 43, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark

Streetscape…

 

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