Friday, March 20, 2015

Seen from Copenhagen

the Copenhagen GoBike -- with GPS and battery power -- no thanks!

This 3-speed rental bike was more my cup of tea!

The King and I, Copenhagen
In Copenhagen I stayed at a budget hotel called Wakeup Copenhagen. It was somewhat spartan, but clean and comfortable, and they had bikes to rent. What more could I ask?

For 115 Danish krone ($22) I could -- and did -- rent a bike for the entire day. I did this two days in a row and spent most of the time from 9:00 to 5:00 riding around and exploring the city.

The bike lanes of Copenhagen are amazing, not least because of their simplicity. Most of them are nothing more than a raised section of pavement running between the traffic lanes and the pedestrian sidewalks. Every major road I encountered had this type of bike lane. The smaller roads had either painted lanes or simply "share the road" type markings. 

just me and the Little Mermaid (and a few tourists!)

I was surprised to see how many cyclists wear helmets, as I had been led to believe that virtually no one did. I was also surprised to see how little concession was made to the cold wind and the rain. I wore jeans and a sweater, a warm jacket and scarf, and wool gloves, but other people were riding with bare hands, or with only thin nylons covering their legs.

St. Paul's Church

The Marble Church

Seen from Stockholm

on the way to Gamla Stan, Stockholm
I spent my one-week break between sessions far from home -- in Stockholm and Copenhagen, to be precise. I started out in Stockholm and stayed there for three days, then took the train to Copenhagen, where I spent the last three days. 

[The above photo was sort of forced on me. A young Polish girl stopped me and asked me to take her photo with this weird dog-like creature, and then insisted on returning the favour.]

A friend of mine, on hearing my plans, objected, saying, "But isn't it winter over there, too?" And yes, technically it was. But as the flowers and green grass will attest, in practical terms it was already spring. Temperatures were consistently above zero, although there were times when the wind and rain meant it felt pretty cold. But overall, it was a wonderful break, especially when I saw that it was -25 back home!

Linnaeus Statue in Humlegården Park, Stockholm
I rented a bike in both cities. In Stockholm I had some trouble finding a place to rent one. There were a couple of bike shops not far from my hotel, but both of them said they didn't rent bikes. The one guy told me that in summer I would be able to rent a bike "on the street" but that didn't help me much in March. 
Walking to Gamla Stan
After some searching on Google, however, I found Gamla Stans Cykel, in Gamla Stan, the Old Town. I highly recommend this place! 
Gamla Stans Cykel
The staff were friendly and the price was right: in a city where prices are generally quite high, for a measly 100 kroner (~$15) I rented a 3-speed bike complete with lock, basket --and coaster brakes. I hadn't ridden this sort of bike since I was about 10 or 11, but after some tentative experimentation, it all came back, and soon I was sailing around the island of Södermalm
Cycling in Södermalm
This area of Stockholm is supposed to be the coolest neighbourhood in Europe, but I didn't really see much of it, just circled the perimeter, as it were. There is a multi-use path that follows the shore, so I rode on that. Along the way I took a couple of wrong turns so I did unnecessarily ride up a few hills, see a few of the interior streets and stand on a lift bridge; and I even met a few of the locals, who gave me helpful directions, but further exploration will have to wait till next time I am over there.
Gamla Stan square

One of the big attractions in the Gamla Stan (Old Town) area of Stockholm is the Nobel Museum. I liked the exhibit about this man, Amartya Sen, who conducted his prize-deserving research by cycling from village to village in West Bengal.  

bike lane along a canal, Stockholm
Bicycle parking at the Stockholm Court House

This is my kind of church-goer!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

nothing more changeable than the weather

There's nothing more changeable than the weather. 
So true these last few weeks.
Monday started out cold -- really cold. Although I dressed for the stated -17 with wind chill of -23, I arrived at work with numb fingers and toes. By the afternoon it had warmed up to -5 and I was quite comfy on the ride back to the car. 

The rest of the week was much warmer, but that brings other problems, namely unpleasant riding conditions on the icy, snowy multi-use trails. On Thursday the trail was so bad after work that I took the steep uphill trail out of the ravine to Churchill Crescent in Glenora and rode on 102 Avenue and Stony Plain Road to the bridge leading to Crestwood. From there I tried to ride on the 100 Avenue multi-use trail, but that was so bad that after a few blocks I opted for the road. The roads have a lot of gravel and numerous large puddles, but it's better than ploughing through thick slush.

No matter what the riding conditions, however, I am always happy to be on my bike instead of in a car or on the bus.

On Wednesday as I was heading into MacKinnon Ravine, I spotted a guy standing beside his little SUV fastening a bike helmet. I was a bit slow on the uptake, but as I started downhill I realized that he must be doing the same thing as me -- parking and riding. I promised myself that the next time I saw him I would stop for a chat.
 Well, the next morning I saw his SUV parked in the same place, but he was apparently already on his way. And then as I was riding up the hill to Ezio Faraone Park, I saw a guy ahead of me walking his bike. I passed him and as I did so I thought the helmet looked familiar: I was pretty sure he was the Park-and-Ride guy. So when I reached the top, I waited for him and asked. 
Sure enough. He lives in Devon and has been parking-and-riding for the last 25 years! 
That made my day.

On Friday I had to go to HQ at 118 Avenue and 82 Street. I parked in Crestwood and rode the rest of the way. I think I can honestly say that the MacKinnon Ravine trail was the worst it's been in my four years of riding. Not only is there thick ice, but the ice is deeply rutted and pitted with tire and foot marks. I may be a coward, but I simply could not bring myself to try to ride and ended up walking my bike for a couple hundred meters. The River Valley section was also quite icy, but manageable, and some spots were even quite good. 

Then I came to Rossdale. The trail there was sheer ice. I rode for a awhile in fear and trepidation, but when I wiped out, I decided I'd rather risk my life on the downtown streets than down in the valley. Spotting a set of stairs, I crossed the road. I wasn't sure exactly where I'd be when I reached the top, but I told myself that anything had to be an improvement on the icy trails below.

It was not an easy climb to the top. There was a short flight of stairs, followed by a landing. Then a long flight of stairs, and another landing. 
When I reached this landing, I groaned inwardly, but the young woman who reached the top shortly afterward groaned audibly. I laughed and told her that I knew the feeling. 
The next flight of stairs was even longer than the one we had just finished and it looked incredibly steep. But I put my shoulder to the wheel, so to speak, and made it to the top without having a heart attack or even getting too out of breath.
From there I rode in the street to the LRT trail, which goes almost all the way to my destination.

For the ride back to the car, I didn't bother with the River Valley, but just rode on 103/104 Avenue and Stony Plain Road. It was not too bad; the roads are quite clear and traffic wasn't very heavy, so I made pretty good time. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

winter winding down?

Now that it's the middle of February, I think we can safely that winter is winding down.

It doesn't always seem that way; during the last two weeks we have had two snowfalls of more than 10 cm each. One was on Thursday the 5th, and there was ample warning, so I parked in Glenora and walked to work, down through the ravine and up Victoria Park hill. It was a beautiful start to the day -- not too cold and so pretty. 

It snowed all day, making the trek home an adventure. About halfway down Victoria Park hill, all of a sudden there were no more footprints. Mine were the first. And the snow was deep. I trudged along, feeling like I was never going to make it to the bottom. Down in the ravine, the situation was the same -- no other prints. Actually, there was one tire track -- yes, someone had ridden a bike down there, and not a fat bike either. Visibility was limited and I almost missed the point where I had to turn right and head uphill back to my car. This was one time I was very thankful not to have to go to work on Friday!

The next big snowfall was last Friday night. I looked at the weather forecast before going to bed and saw that we were due for 2-4 cm of snow. Woke up the next day to see about 10-15 cm. It was nice that it happened on the weekend; I didn't have to drive anywhere and didn't even ride my bike. I did go out walking, ploughing my way through the deep snow and sloshing through puddles and slush. Today is colder and again it's snowing, but I still maintain that winter is on its way out.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

using music to teach ESL

This is hardly original with me, but I have a feeling every ESL instructor who tries it feels the same way I do -- amazed and thrilled at what great teaching tools popular songs can be.

In recent months I have used songs of various types for teaching pronunciation, parts of speech, vocabulary, grammar, and more.

Last week it was I've Never Been to Spain, by Three Dog Night, for practice with the present perfect tense and compound sentences.

On Thursday we listened to the song and discussed the use of the present perfect. Then  on Monday, we listened again and I gave a writing assignment: Write your own "I've never been to..., but I ..." sentence, and go on to explain a little bit about it. 

My example was, "I've never been to Denmark, but I like to play with Lego." I reminisced about my childhood Lego collection, the special chest of drawers my dad built to store it, and the endless hours I spent building castles and houses, people and cars. I  told about how sorry I was that my parents sold the Lego when they sold their house. My own sons and their love for Lego came next, followed by a lesson learned: don't sell the Lego!

Some of my students are very well educated and literate, so they wrote at length. Others wrote 3 or 4 sentences. But all the compositions were superb, each one unique. One student has never been to India, but she loves Indian food; while one of the men has never been to Italy but loves Italian food and told the story of taking his girlfriend -- now his wife -- to an Italian restaurant on their first date.

All in all, it was a highly successful set of lessons based on a song from my youth. 

Afterwards, however, I realized that I had missed a great opportunity: 
I've never been to Finland, but I ride my bike in winter!

Friday, January 16, 2015

back to work

I've had a bit of a rocky start this session. The first Monday, January 5th, I drove because I had 3 large bags of books and other stuff I wanted to bring with me. The load included some books I had  borrowed almost 3 years ago, so I thought it was time to bring them back! That day also happened to be really cold -- maybe -35C with windchill -0- but even so I was frustrated at being behind the wheel. It took me almost 90 minutes to drive the 30 km from home to downtown, a combined result of snowy, icy roads and the detour for the bridge construction on 102 Avenue. 

The next day I was happy to be back on the bike. However, it had snowed a fair bit and I wasn't sure about trail conditions, so I decided to try something new. I parked in Glenora and rode from there. I took Stony Plain Road and the bike trail that runs behind Original Joes, ending up on the contra-flow bike lane and 100 Avenue. It wasn't bad, but when I came back to the car after work, I noticed that there is an entrance to the trail system just up the street from the place I had parked. Just as I took that in I was hailed by a guy who came out of one of the houses; he asked whether I was lost. I replied in the negative, telling him that I had parked there and ridden downtown. "You're good!" was his response, and he then went on to tell me about the entrance to the trail system, adding that the city is good about clearing the trails. 

So, on Wednesday I parked there again and rode down down down into the River Valley. It was pretty scary -- riding in the dark on a new, very steep trail, with a deep ravine on my right and no guardrail (and on top of it all, I'd forgotten my phone), but I made it to the bottom safe and sound, and from there it was but a short ride to the Faraone Park trail crosswalk. In all it was a much shorter ride than my usual 8.6 km, but it was fun to try something new, and it's good to know that on really cold days I have that option. On Thursday I took my usual route and arrived at work cold but happy.

Well, then the next Monday, January 12th, I arrived at my parking spot only to discover that I'd forgotten my helmet. I briefly considered bare-headed riding, but it was -24 C and I was afraid I'd arrive at work with no ears. I didn't have a hat in the car. I was rather annoyed with myself, but decided to simply be thankful that I am allowed to park for free as long as it is only occasionally, and I drove. These two days of driving have made me more thankful than ever that I can ride my bike, and I stuck a spare helmet (along with a hat, extra gloves, and a scarf) in the car so that I will never find myself in that situation again!

The weather warmed up dramatically for the rest of the week, so I enjoyed 3 days of absolutely delightful bicycle commutes through MacKinnon Ravine and the River Valley. The trails are ploughed and smooth, and I even had a couple of dog-walkers whom I pass every morning tell me that they are impressed with me! There is also a friendly guy who walks along the Railtown Trail and gives me a big smile whenever he sees me. Little things like this contribute to a great start to the workday! 

This graphic, spotted on Twitter, says it all!

this grandma rides her bike in the winter

I recently read this article about winter cycling.

The whole article is interesting, but what really caught my attention was this quote from Tom Babin's book Frostbike, in regard to Oulu, Finland:
But what really opened my eyes was being at the grocery store and seeing a grandma come out with a bag of groceries and pop it into her basket and ride off into the snow. You never see that in Canada.
Well, I hate to contradict the expert, but... on a visit to the small prairie city of Spruce Grove on a Friday or Saturday during the winter you just might see a grandma come out of the grocery store with a bag of groceries -- or two or three -- and pop them into her panniers and ride off into the snow. That grandma would be me, doing my part to normalize the idea of winter biking.

the full-to-bursting panniers
True, at first glance you might not realize that I am a grandma. I don 't have grey permed hair and a bulging midsection. I don't wear aprons. I don't even have very many wrinkles. But I do have two little grand-daughters, so that makes me a granny. 

And I ride my bike in winter. 

I ride about 17 km each day for work, and on my days off I use my bike to do all my errands around town -- grocery shopping, library, you name it. 

If it's warm, like today, I add on some extra riding on the trails in the woods.
If it's minus 30-ish, like it was earlier this month, I bundle up and sometimes make my ride a little shorter. 
But I ride almost every day. 

Why do I ride in the winter? I don't do it with the goal of normalizing the idea of winter biking; I don't do it to save money on transportation; I don't do it to make other people feel lazy -- I do it because it's fun and I love it! 
It makes me feel strong and tough and fit and happy. What other reason could I need?

I am Canadian and I am a grandma who rides her bike in winter!