Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Croatia: Do you hate sand? - Part 1

View from Airbnb of the Old City of Dubrovnik

Croatia is the beach-country to avoid that pesky substance that permeates all. Here you only need the right footwear – watershoes – to get around the pebbles and rocks (and sometimes cliffs) that outline the beautiful, clear water of the Adriatic. With over 1,200 islands there’s no shortage of shoreline to explore – plenty of secluded areas if you wish, but you can also find the most beautiful (and thus popular) swimming spots.

As far as I can tell, there’s only one major blog out there that explores gay Croatia – so I’m glad to add to the body of LGBTQ knowledge of this must-see country. While the nation itself is impeded by a soviet past, its beauty and inherited historical artifacts ensure a thriving tourism industry that keeps the economy afloat. That’s typified in its prime tourist destination – and yes, a must see for us all: Dubrovnik.

Banje Beach, just outside Dubrovnik City Walls
If you’re coming from the US: My boyfriend and I wanted to make sure we still could enjoy gay Europe (and shopping!) so we booked our trip to Croatia through Spain. Flying the exquisite Dreamliner on Norwegian into Madrid, we then (after tapas and some late nights) took lower-cost, but not terrible, Iberia over to Dubrovnik. We dared to visit close to the busiest time, but things were manageable the last week in August. Spring and fall are quieter times, yet you won’t get as sufficiently hot beach weather. Airbnb cost us over $120 each night during this period, which was spacious and also provided an incredible view (but we earned that view each day walking up the hill). We could have paid more, but we were just above the popular Banje Beach.

Dubrovnik on approach
Pro-Tip: When flying into the city under normal conditions, if you sit on the left side (when facing forward, usually seat A) you’ll get to see the “Pearl of the Adriatic” as you land. Just keep in mind not to sit near the wing (like I did). And if you forgot to reserve specific seats on your flight, Iberia let us do it a few days before for just about $10 each.

After getting through customs, a cab into the city will cost you around $40 – or you can take the bus for around $8 (55 Kuna). We opted for the bus, which is great for the views – be sure to get seats on the left side again as the city peaks out on the daring mountainside drive. There is just one bus that drops off in the old city (the other goes to the bus station).

Bus to Dubrovnik Old Town
Airport warning: Know the exchange rate for Kuna to your currency. The ATMs provide exorbitant options making it look reasonable to take out hundreds or maybe event thousands of Kuna – as a way to confuse tourists. And of course, also remember to charge your card in the local currency. Note, when paying at times if you don’t have local currency they may take Euros or Dollars, but you’ll certainly lose out on the exchange rate.

We decided one should probably stay in Dubrovnik to see at least 3 sunsets – and if you’re an early bird perhaps a sunrise (not us!). It may be pretty – but that means crowds and inflated prices (without significant value) so longer is just not necessary.

View of Dubrovnik's Old City from Fort Lawrence
For the first, must-see sunset: walk atop the City Walls. Remember: your ticket also includes Fort Lovrijenac (or Lawrence) which you should do first about 2 hours to 90 minutes before sunset. Enjoy beautiful views across the entire city from the Fort (which really isn’t more than views) and for a good selfie (or a great picture if you find a friendly, talented photographer like we did).

The fort is just a few minutes walking to Pile Gate, where no later than 1 hour before sunset you should begin your city wall walk. Try to get to the eastern, taller side for sunset across the city in front of you (the walk happens only in the counter-clockwise direction). Whenever you do it, the spectacular views of the sea and old city are unrivaled.

FKK - Naturist Beach, Lokrum Island
Your second sunset should be spent upon return from Lokrum Island (the last ferry leaves at 7pm) or afterwards – because you need to spend the day here! Lokrum is beautiful, and you can even spend the day hiking to a monastery or fort. Bring food or snacks at least because food is expensive. Most importantly in August, the island offers great swimming, as well as the only gay (and naturist) beach in the area. The mind-set of the country doesn’t quite accept queer culture. However, one area where other European influence has broken through – critical since there are so many beaches – is in the area of FKK, Freikörperkultur or Free Body Culture, which means naturism/nudism. Thus, the nudist beaches also are often frequented by gays and all are welcomed there.

View from the sea of Lokrum Naturist "Beach"
However, the Lokrum beach is more than just for the nudist – it’s also for the exhibitionist! The beach is next to a stop on the tourism tour – a pretty cool cave you can jump in and swim to naked if you like (there are ladders to get out of the water). But know, tour boats as well as kayakers will pass your butt by. And of course, many won’t be afraid to just snap your picture too! I just smiled and waved – and one guy covered his bits and playfully yelled as he threw his hands in the air.

Finally, your other sunset should be spent (if you like being on the water, and enjoy a little physical activity) on a kayak tour! We opted for the AirBnB sunset tour but I think X Adventures may work as well. In any case, dozens of groups leave from the same location around the same time no matter what way you book a sunset tour – your trip is simply better if it’s a smaller group or with a better guide. See if you can find a reviewed guide – but, unless you’re going in mid August, you can probably book that day (it should be around $30). The groups follow a similar route – to the Bedhai Cave (for an included ham sandwich) and you can opt to go around Lokrum or just paddle into the sun to return. You set off in tandem kayaks, if you’re going solo you’ll be paired off or perhaps get your own if you are fit enough. Of course, you could also rent a boat with a skipper for a group and spend that sunset on the water that way too.
GAYographer and boyfriend Alex & Lokrum Island behind

We also did a day trip to the local Elaphiti Islands – which was just fine – and a great way to get out on the water as well. The tour boasted seeing a blue and a green cave. We probably overpaid. Don’t be fooled, every city on the Mediterannean has a “blue cave” so sure it’s fun to swim into these shore-line rock-formations, but not so unique. What’s nice is on one of the islands called Lopud there IS a sandy beach! One of the few – though it’s SO shallow that you have to wade far to actually swim. Here there is also a far (to the south, left if looking out to sea) FKK naturist spot if you so wish to erase those tan lines.

See you on the next island!
Finally, for dining in the Dubrovnik area don’t forget to consider restaurants like Veranda that are outside the city – you can easily uber. Prices are more reasonable, or comparable to city prices, with better food.

Find out where we headed next – as well as the destination we most treasured (and where we decided we’ll base our trip next time) next week in part 2.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Get Naked (or almost) in San Juan

We'll leave the (rainbow) light on for you :)
Looking for the quickest, warmest place to remove some clothing - where your US passport (or visa!) can still work? Come to San Juan! Plus, you will support the critical tourism industry that helps to fuel the economy of Puerto Rico - because while tourist areas are back - the broader island remains in rough shape! You can also come down and support a gay-owned guesthouse, Coqui Del Mar - conveniently located near to all of San Juan's landmarks (and a block from the beach!). Five years since my last blog - all the best reasons to go remain the same, despite Hurricane Maria - but I'll explain why its never been better to return to this beautiful Caribbean outpost.

Five years ago I focused on San Juan as the leading gay destination - and that has not changed - despite some progress in the region on LGBTIQ issues. Puerto Rico remains the most safe for us.

Still, the first reason to go to Puerto Rico - they are even holding the 2020 global tourism summit here! - is for the warmth and the beaches. Especially when its still cool up north - or cold - escaping to the Caribbean could not be easier (and cheap from major cities in the US). Just a block from the cozy Coqui Del Mar, is Ocean Park Beach, which is often considered San Juan's second queer or queer-friendly beach. The water could not be more perfect in terms of temperature - and the waves don't toss you too much. Word of warning - if you're trying to sneak a skinny dip - the water is pretty clear... technically there are no nude beaches in Puerto Rico (but I'm sure many informal ones!).

Condado Beach - the gay beach alongside Atlantic Beach Hotel
While you can walk - and some of the way along the beach - its even easier than it was before with uber as the best form of transport. Head over to the Condado, where the LGBTQ community congregates - especially on Sundays - to hang out on the beach, alongside the Atlantic Beach Hotel. Formerly an exclusively gay hotel - it no longer is (but the beach is!). And if you need a break from the sun - go over to the beautiful La Concha for a drink or food (or sneak a dip into their gorgeous pools!). I easily made friends with locals - as well as tourists down from DC. Gay boys from across the country come down to this beautiful get-away.

Fish tacos almost anywhere!
And as I noted, if you're looking to go with a group, single or with that special one (or 2), Coqui Del Mar offers the best location - along with 2 pools and a hot tub to relax after a long day! I'm so glad I had the pleasure to stay there with leading global LGBTQ travel blogger Travels of Adam just last month! The guesthouse not only offers its prime location - but its also 420 friendly! Legally you're able to have weed for medical purposes (but of course, that's not stopping anyone interested in this form of recreation). You also can book tours, enjoy classes on mojitos, and take bikes out for no extra charge. It's like your own small community on vacation - whether you want to make friends or just snuggle with your significant other(s).

But of course, you'll also need to try out the local cuisine - mofongo and really anything with fish or plantains! La Casita Blanca was a quick ride from the Coqui -- Even Buzzfeed agrees that Puerto Rico has the best food. We truly enjoyed the all the dishes - especially fish tacos - and amazing drinks. Plus they even have to-go liquor! - these kid-like drink boxes don't exist back in the contiguous 48. I found my favorite to be the Rum Punch :)

To-go liquor pouches
are perfect for the beach
If you're also looking to make this a full-on gaycation, you can also explore the bars. Check the websites, but the gay bars are semi close to the general party square called La Placita in Santruce. For a local (str8) start to the evening (late, around 10 or 11pm) with live music, dance with the locals at Taberna Los Vazquez and get yourself one of the best-made mojitos in the world! When the live music ends – head over to Tia Maria's, a classic gay dive and after cross the street to chill on the roof of the gay-friendly Santos Rooftop. Then everyone will eventually end up at Circo though it never seems to get too busy, despite its the space. Maybe it was less busy when I was there because most were making a friend a bit quicker, in the dark corners at SX bar around the corner from Circo. For a more local divey scene (and this cool rainbow) check out closer into the city at El Cojo.

But you won't even need to go far to find the party if you stay at Coqui Del Mar for Pride weekend May 31-June 3 because they will hold a completely clothing optional weekend - and also hold parties many of the evenings. Enjoy a Pride that's not your typical one here in the US - and show your solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community in San Juan.

Hope to see you there! You might even see a rainbow on your way...

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Straight-friendly Survival Guide to China

This incomplete rainbow in Beijing is a perfect symbol - China
has a lot to do to achieve equality (also note the pollution!)
For those of us who don’t speak Chinese, skipped Chinese history, think your local Chinese food is authentic (it’s NOT!) -- and perhaps never aspired to rule the Kingdom of Rice - as King or Queen -- visiting China might be off of your radar. But you must consider that China is basically the size of the US, with as many different cultures and ethnicities inside. Despite erasing the identities of many - and outright destroying some - the Chinese State media often calls attention to this wide diversity (at least they realize they should!). This reason alone is why you should consider making the trip - there’s so much incredible food, unique culture, along with boundless natural beauty in this big country.

But if you don’t have time to memorize the 3,000 Chinese characters needed to adequately read, write and get around - let alone the 50,000 that exist - the following list will help you immensely with your trip to China.
Destination nightclub in Beijing - definitely the most gay spot
in the country.
The first thing of course is to at least know some simple phrases, and of course Thank you. Like people of all cultures, Chinese folks appreciate when you can speak some of their own language. Knowing a few phrases (with the right pronunciation and tone) will get you heaps of praise. You can always start on Duolingo.

Be forewarned, being LGBT in China still has its challenges - and one of the main ones is a lack of places to meet up. Beijing has Destination and a couple smaller venues like Red Dog that provide places to socialize. Chengdu is considered by many to be a gay Mecca of China - but even there gay life is led by the expat community. Every city has some gay bar - or gay friendly space - but often they get shut down.

Quick 6 things before you go:
    At the gate for my flight, Delta nearly
    turned me away; my visa was printed
     a little off, making it look expired!
  • US Citizens (and nearly everyone else) need a visa before entry. You will have to go to your nearest consulate to submit paperwork. Be sure everything is filled out properly! And you’ll need a destination (hotel name) where you’re headed in China (even if you don’t yet have a reservation). As a tourist, you will likely be able to get a 10 year visa - good for multiple entries if you want to return for a visit over the next 10 years.
  • Download VPNs (computer and phone). These operate outside of the “Chinese Firewall” to protect your communications as well as enable access to Instagram, Facebook, and all Google platforms, news sites, and anything politically sensitive (although it appears if you’re just using data on your US cell plan, you may be able access these sites). I used Express VPN which worked well - also there’s a 30-day money back guarantee with most VPNs - so you can use it for your trip and cancel afterwards. Remember: You’ll have to contact customer support to get a refund, but this just takes a few minutes online.
  • Download WeChat app on your phone and create the handle and name you’ll use to meet anyone and everyone in China. WeChat is the Facebook/Venmo/Messenger App of China. China is mostly a cashless society now, because with WeChat you also pay for everything via QR code, but you need a Chinese bank account to be able to do this (apparently, that’s not hard to get but doesn’t seem necessary for a weeks long adventure). Warning: The Chinese Government also reads your WeChat (and thus may access your phone through it, who knows!) - don’t send anything you don’t want them to read - and definitely don’t send information of a political, organizing nature to anyone here (this includes LGBT related statements).
    DiDi is China's Lyft/Uber - it has
    in-app translation so you can
    communicate with drivers.
  • Download DiDi (on your phone) - the Uber/Lyft of China. Especially with the fact that Chinese cabbies don’t speak any English (and will be hard-pressed to recognize destinations on your Google Maps) this app is gold. It offers translated communications with your driver. Using an app also helps because often at night cabs overcharge customers in major tourist destinations. The tough part can be getting the destination correctly loaded (usually copied in Chinese characters from a friend) or you can use landmarks nearby where you want to go.
Side Note: When I arrived in China, the government had just “punished” the app (and all of us!) because a DiDi driver allegedly raped 2 women who he picked up. So, for a week between the hours of 11pm and 5am there was no way to get a car (perfect since this is the most vulnerable time for anyone, especially foreigners who are faced with overpaying for gypsy cabs). So (like anything) you might run into problems, but for the most part DiDi saves you! And you can also ensure a nicer car by paying about $0.50 more (DiDi Express).
  • Add a Chinese Keyboard to your phone (pretty easy through settings). Although you may not be able to use this keyboard, if you find yourself in a bind, others can help send messages or enter the characters you need for a destination or communication with someone else. I also used it to send basic phrases to people (they appreciate you knowing their language, of course).
  • Get a translation scanning app. Websites list Pleco - but I just used Google Scanner (I got lazy) - for scanning Chinese Characters in real time. It’s pretty cool to wave your phone in front of a sign and see english show up on your phone!
You will find that often - even in hotel lobbies - Chinese attendants are using Google Translate to ensure they are properly communicating with guests.

When you arrive:
Always carry tissues! And do eat yummy
waffles and ice cream.
  • Buy Tissues (cheaper in China of course!) - for 2 important reasons: 1) Restaurants often do not have napkins and 2) especially if you like using this privately in the bathroom; there is NO TOILET PAPER in public restrooms (and often when using facilities at restaurants). Plus, you’ll have an experience with the squatter toilet if you decide to poo in public restrooms. Don’t sit down on it. You’d be sitting on the ground! You squat to poop in China - and a lot of the Eastern world. But Western-style toilets (like those in our bathrooms) are ubiquitous in hotels and many western establishments. Just don’t expect to have a nice long sit on the toilet. 
  • Have lots of patience. In China, things often take longer - there are just millions of people in any one place so you must consider that. Traffic is often horrendous - and subways can be challenging during rush periods. Just be patient with people - and also remember that it wasn’t too long ago that these people had to literally fight for everything - even to eat - just to survive (a Chinese person mentioned this to me). They often are unbelievably generous and kind - but in passing they may cut you off, que in crazy ways, and of course, charge you (a foreigner; “farang”) a foreign price for everything.
    Nothing like a busy subway train in Guangzhou!
  • Triple check destinations and meeting points. Often names and things sound the same so just pay extra attention to where you are going and when - this will cut down on more than half of the miscommunications you will inevitably have. And of course, allow for extra time to take the subway the wrong direction - or if the DiDi/cab didn’t understand your destination.
  • Keep your ticket. Will you be taking a bullet train? Or any train around? For some reason, you need your ticket to both get in and out (Keep it like your DC Metro card). And you also must pick up your tickets, so you should arrive at least 45 - even 1 hour - before your train departure to make sure you can get your ticket, get into the building (like airline security) and get to your gate.
  • Carry cash. There are a lot of banks that are useless to you in China - often the specific ones definitely don’t serve foreign cards. But “Bank of China” seems to work and is around a lot. Sometimes, when you arrive at the airport, there’s one ATM where you’ll see all the foreigners congregating. That’ll be your sure sign. Also, don’t forget your card! Chinese (and often many foreign ATMs) will wait until after you get your cash, to release your card - unlike US banks which make sure you have your card before you run off with the cash (I’ve done this at least twice - thankfully once in an airport where some other foreigner noticed and yelled after me!). 
Small gay bars provide entertainment!
  • Be wary of random strangers wanting to meet and practice their english or take you to a fake “tea house.” Like all tourist destinations, China has its scammers. I experienced (and even fought back) against a group that I met in 2013. You can read that crazy full story in 3 parts here. But suffice it to say, don’t follow a random, seemingly friendly Chinese person into an establishment. They are likely looking to scam you out of some cash.
  • Be sure to meet LGBT people where they are in coming out. Chinese gay guys are often in the closet to their family as well as to even their closest friends (or at least in part). So just be understanding. Not unlike other places, It’s typical to ask and discuss whether you’re a “0,” “0.5,” or “1” - a fun code for bottom, verse, or top, respectively. In China, gay socialization for many is in a place where its challenging to have relationships; few LGBT people can be out to their parents - so sometimes talk goes right to sex. Don’t immediately expect them to be comfortable holding hands in public, for example. However, it depends on each individual. Many can be adamant about who they are -- it’s clearly tough to be openly LGBT in China. The government is watching and reading your WeChat! And if you’re a foreigner that gets too involved in organizing locally, Public Security forces might come knocking on your door.
Flyer for my event in Guangzhou
I visited Guangzhou in September, the weekend after what was supposed to be a number of celebrations for Pride at different venues. However, the authorities heard about it - and they came after a westerner who played some role in managing the event, and threatened them with deportation if all of the events were not cancelled. Also, in Guangzhou, a number of gay bars had just been shut down.

While I didn’t experience any harassment by the authorities while I visited - I didn’t stay very long anywhere I went. The US Consulate in Guangzhou held a speaking event where I discussed where I work at OutRight Action International - it was well attended. However, I’ve heard that often colleges dissuade students (even threatening removal of their scholarships!) from attending events like these and Chinese authorities record when Chinese citizens visit foreign embassies. They are very wary of anything that could be a “foreign influence” even though outside support is sometimes desperately needed by local LGBT NGOs.

Typical gay bar in China - filled with tables and a big stage!

Often gay bars don’t have much space for socialization. You come with a group of friends, sit around a table and play dice, and order essentially what we would call bottle service. For the establishment, this probably works well as you are forced to order a round of beers or a bottle of liquor. But you wouldn’t just come out alone -- so challenging for a guy visiting alone! Still, clearly as a foreigner, you’re often desired at these spaces (and at clubs) because you’re expected to have more money to spend (even if you don’t) and clubs see an expat community as validation for locals to believe it's a happening place. Still, what's cool about most small gay venues, is that they have almost continual entertainment - drag queens or sexy male dancers.
Terracotta Warriors near Xi'an

Side Note: While walking to one of those gay bars in Xi'an, I passed by a big straight club called “Area 51” (which was a pretty cool space, admittedly) and one of the promoters still asked me to come in. I told him I would look around. He got my WeChat and essentially schemed to get me to come back the next night - telling me he had a bunch of gay friends who would join me a table. When I arrived, there was no one else, and he expected me to buy a bottle ($80 USD) for the one poor gay guy he eventually found (only after I asked where his alleged gay friends were). He just happened to find him on the street; he was from Thailand. We got along, but he said he had to leave shortly after arriving - so a total bust of a night (remember the bullet above about being too naive with people).
7th annual Great Wall China AIDS Walk 2018
always held in mid-September

Despite challenges and often unavoidable miscommunications when you don't speak the language, visiting China can be an incredible experience - there's so much yummy food - the people connect with will be very very friendly - and don't forget the many sights of China. The Terracotta Warriors (outside Xi'an) are amazing - you watch archeologists putting the pieces back together before your very eyes. And the Pandas (in Chengdu) are super cute and amusing to watch. And especially after rainfall, the air clears of pollution like this incredible day we had participating in the 7th annual Great Wall China AIDS walk outside of Beijing. One daring individual even chose to do it in heels!

Great Wall China AIDS Walk - in heels!

Disclaimer: The GAYographer visited China in 2013 and recently in September 2018 as part of a US government-funded exchange under the auspices of the US-China Commission. His primary goal during this time was to meet with LGBT activists for an exchange of non-profit best practices. All of the views and information expressed here are his personal views and do not in any way reflect OutRight Action International, the US-China Commission, or the US government. You can reach out to him for more information by clicking here.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Puerto Vallarta: Best Beach for New Year's

Mexicans bring the fun!
The scene is palm-tree adorned, sandy beaches - where the sun sets in the west, late into the evening, over beautiful mountains – providing the perfect light for those beach pics. Plus you’ll find all your favorite latin foods – and demasiado tacos (who doesn’t like tacos?). Yet what sets the “Fire-Island” or more apt, “Rehoboth of Mexico” apart is its fun loving (and looking for fun) people. Whether it’s Mexican families from all over meeting together for the holidays or packs of friends from Guadalajara – they are smiling, open and ready to share in the celebration of the New Year. And share they will with tourists from the DF to DC, Los Angeles to London, and Vancouver to Venezuela all ready for fun and relaxation. Puerto Vallarta provides an escape – and its Zona Romantica provides a gay ghetto bursting with boys from all of the Americas’ biggest cities (and even Europe!).

I’m writing this after my second trip to PV for New Years – and I don’t plan to stop going. One major motivation is getting to a beach to escape the cold – and of course United’s direct flight from Newark this time of year helps! Sitting on a beach nearly naked is simply no my go-to option now. And I’m also overjoyed to plant that fleeting new year’s kiss on a cute Mexican of the moment. But one major help is also that this trip, once the flight is booked (as early as possible) can be very inexpensive. Both of my adventures fully cost about $1000 each (all inclusive) for nearly a week each – if you go with a friend or a group this is very doable.

You can even bring your drone...
Be warned – the old-city infrastructure isn’t perfect. Stairs are often misaligned and mis-measured – and if you stay up from the gay beach (with some incredible views) plan to ascend to get home. Your best bet is to book early on AirBnB – but be warned sometimes there’s only one set of keys and often in Mexico you’re locked in without those keys! Be sure to clarify with your hosts and know what to expect (this goes the same with groups in hotels!). If you’re going all-out (or a daddy is paying) for sure stay at Mantamar – but I like visiting Mexico to be in Mexico – and practice my Spanish – so I prefer keeping a more local company, at least focusing some time away from los gringos. It’s best if you remember and expect to be going to a dusty beach town – because the old part is the most fun – unless you really want more secluded resort life up to the north of the city center.

Sunset brings the best light to the gay beach...
Nothing can be better than stepping off a plane from the frozen north – to tropical heat – and thinking about the polar vortex you’re escaping – as you sip mojitos on the sand. Of course, it all comes down to who you’re with – but in Puerto Vallarta – you can always easily find friends. If you don’t want to practice your Spanish with the locals, there are people from all over the world in town to enjoy the weather too. But it’s always fun to do the trip as part of a group, as you all compliment each other – and plan activities you can opt-in or out of. 

Of course, I’m the social director/party planner – always seeking out the best group to hang with and the best party to attend. That’s why you should keep tabs on my weekly news brief - subscribe to GAYography

Though I have to admit, for daytime, I’m a beach bum – happy to spend each day laying in the sand, so I don’t need extra activities to fill the day. Of course, at the beach you can ride the “banana,” try your luck on the precarious-looking parasail, take out a jet-ski – or do the gay (very gringo) booze cruise. I choose to just float in the water – and sometimes ride the waves in. My activities include drinking, socializing, and maybe even doing a little work on the sand. But of course, there are Art Galleries, a fair number of museums, horseback-riding in the mountains, even zip-lining and just walking along the Malecon.

Dancing on platforms at CC's!
When you want to go out at night – you have a plethora of differing venues. Of course, its always fun to hang out street-side at Flamingo – with it’s fruity drinks and blaring music, you will be forced into the fun-zone. Amigos is the more local Mexican scene – along with Paco’s as the Mexican dance club – with Drag shows in Spanish and English depending on the time (12:30 and 3:30am). CCs is the more upscale dance club where you’ll find everyone – from circuit queens rolling to Mexi-twinks and their girlfriends. My favorite spot is the bar along the street at CCs – and when it’s really crowded you can always just hang outside on the street. For view with a small group of friends, head into La Noche – I never stand downstairs for the shows, but I go up to the roof for the nighttime vista across the dilapidated, but energized old town, including a view kitty-corner of the Sauna.

Love at first sight...
If you’re looking to relax – in different ways - Spartacus Sauna will surprise you, it’s not very big – so lines are long on wild nights like New Years – but it is clean and modern-looking (a contrast with the look of the building). Of course, it may be more fun to take that special guy home with you – but sometimes there are no other options for you and a local boy who has limited time (and is with his friends…). For a fun quickie (or a romantic walk) there is also the beach – but there are often guards about and it is a little too quiet. Whatever you do, don’t lose your wallet or phone in the sand (both happened to friends of mine; yes, you’re going to get a little messy)!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Copenhagen: Blondes & Bikes

Copenhagen: Blondes & Bikes

View from the Round Tower
This beautiful city on the water is home to the happiest people on earth – which makes sense given Tivoli, an amusement park in the city center! With great food, beautiful boys, and even the city square named for LGBT equality, Copenhagen provides much for the gay (as well as not gay) traveler – but don’t come without being ready to part with some cash.

I visited Copenhagen just for one weekday (and weeks later, a few hours on a layover). With incredible luck, my day was a Tuesday with an annual celebration that ensured late-night partying: high school graduation! Of course, in the US this would have meant house parties – but here, where the drinking age is 16 and you can drink openly on the street (remember happiest people…) meant an exuberant evening until at least 4am.

Can you tell what his custom
message is?
Here, high school graduates (and some from specialty schools) wear special caps – rounded (usually white) hats with a custom message or your name on the back. Of course, you can only really wear these hats around graduation time – they are a one-time-thing – but it’s a sort of rite of passage – so the city was filled with these youngsters, including, of course, each gay bar.
These Swans are in protect mode!

My local friend walked me through the maze of shopping streets in the center – he also pointed out the “lakes” dotting the city center where I found these incredible swans on my return trip. Also we were too late to go up the Round Tower - I saved for my layover – the best view of the whole city. As we walked, we ran into graduates with their hats – and more than some shouting - “The right hat is red” (Den rigtige hue er rød) – because the national high school uses red – other schools and vocations are not. Finally, our destination was yummy dinner along Rainbow Square – recently renamed to commemorate LGBT equality - eating outside (it was almost warm enough as the sun set) at Oscar Bar & Café.

G-A-Y Club Copenhagen (weekends only)
Oscar Bar & Cafe
Then it was time to bar hop. What surprised me most was that these bars were the smokiest I’ve observed in Europe (well, at least since Prague) – the law allows smoking in bars of a certain small size – but it appears exact size that now only can financially exist, at least on a Tuesday. Sadly I missed the gay club G-A-Y - open only on weekends.

Gay Street - Studiestraede
The most unique, chill bar is the Jailhouse – located on the main LGBT-filled street, Studiestraede. More of a bear-friendly bar, its simply a non-pretentious gay bar – where friendly tourists and locals chatted us up. All the kids were at Cosy, smoking and dancing up a storm. For this celebratory weeknight – everyone seemed to end up at Never Mind, where I enjoyed a private mirrored bathroom – and met a couple out for one of the boys’ graduation celebration.

Book your accommodations early – even I held out thinking I would just grab a hostel, but that cost $40 for a bunk in an 8 person room. Of course, I only slept a couple of hours – after walking home from Never Mind as the sun was rising. But I stoped into the room early on long enough to catch a conversation with a Thai guy traveling across Europe. Sadly, I didn’t use the free drink on the rooftop bar at the Generator.

Real castles from this roller-coaster
While the world’s oldest amusement park isn’t in Copenhagen (it’s called Bakken just 10 km north!), but the second oldest is Tivoli and opened in 1843 – right in what’s now the city center! My return layover included a few afternoon hours here. What struck me most about this locale: they didn’t need to build a fake castle nearby for scenery (a la Disney); real castles nearby date to the 1600s. There is one decent roller-coaster, a drop and of course swings that take you very high – but otherwise, the rides are for young kids. Still the park is more about sitting on the green, enjoying a wine, taking in a concert and watching the world go by.

Nyhavn Street/Docks
Tivoli Tourist Note: Whatever you do, don’t be fooled into partaking in the “virtual” roller-coaster – they give you a headset that blinds you to the beautiful sights – as you watch a virtual reality chasing a dragon – that’s about as good video quality as a Nintendo 64 game. Enjoy the beautiful sights you wind rapidly through the park – it’s a quick ride, but the best one I could find.
At least I got a pic with the hat...

Finally don’t forget to get your picture at the docks at Nyhavn street – where beautiful alternating colors stand out against the (typically) grey skies. Also, for new cheap (and not so cheap) eats visit the Meatpacking District – where I ate a great burger and wandered around at this hipster zone that’s revitalizing.

Copenhagen’s beautiful architecture, friendly people, and ease of life will attract you back – I didn’t get my white cap, so I’ll have to be back in June next time!