13 December 2008

Books 2008

For those who are interested, here come again a couple of nice books that I had the chance to read in 2008. This time with comments...

If it says on the label of your shampoo that it will enhance the glance of your hair by 63% is that really possible?
"Geekspeak" is written by a Scottish Pysicist who claims to be one of the world's biggest Geeks. He isn't able to just sit idle somewhere - wherever he is, his brain asks for answers: How much power does that wave over there in the ocean possibly have? How fast is that airplane flying over here? Are those chubby angels above the altar really able to take off with those tiny wings of theirs?
He explains how we are all able to calculate those and many more things with what we already know about the world... no need to consult the internet or ask experts. Actually, he tells you how to quickly calculate whether so-called-experts tell the truth or not...
So does shampoo enhance your glance by any chance?

Valley Of The Casbahs", a well written travel report by an American who, inspired by the great Explorer Thesiger, travels for several weeks by camel caravan through a layed back Morrocan valley. He offers insights into the nomadic lifestyle of the local population and how this traditional way of life changes in our modern times.

The absolute classic travel report by Mark Twain: "The Innocents Abroad". In 1867, in times long before mass tourism, frequent-flyer-miles, the World Wars and the conflict in the Middle-East, Mark Twain travels by paddle steamer on what is called the first ever "Leisure Excursion" from New York to Palestine. Very witty and full of interesting fact and stories.

"Longitude" researches the story of the simple watchmaker Hamilton who dedicated his life to making the most precise watch of its time. A watch that could travel on board a ship and so enable its navigators to determine their exact position at sea. In a hard and not always fair played competition against famous astronomers - long before our age of satellite navigation -he wins the race to solve one of the most important problems of his times. Captain Cook and other famous sea farers travelled with his original watches which are now on display in the Royal Observatory Museum in Greenwich.

In "Life of Pi" Yann Martel tells the touching and philosophical story of a young man who survives the sinking of a big cargo ship on its trip from India to America only to find himself in a liferaft with several large animals, amongst them a Hyiena and a Bengal Tiger!

Yes, it sounds a bit freaky to read a book with the subtitle "A guide to spritual enlightenment". But if one doesn't regard it as the ultimate wisdom (just as one shouldn't do with any, and particularily not with any religious book) then "The Power Of Now" reveals interesting thoughts about happiness, our concept of time and the way we live our axious and stressful lives today. And by the way, who is the freak - the one who is taking a deep breath and sees life a bit more relaxed or the one who isn't?

I read it again this year. And I probably read it again in 2009. "The Passion" is a story about love, hatred and what makes life worth living. Jeanette Winterson has the gift to put things into poetic language that I felt I always knew. They were somewhere inside of me but I just wasn't even able to put them into thoughts.

This book is translated from the original title: "A World Of My Own" by Robin John Knox. In 1959, he is the first person to ever sail around the world nonstop and single handed! What makes his trip so special is the fact that he is a simple commercial sailor while some of his competitors in the single-handed race around the world are millionaires who have special boats constructed for this purpose. He tries to acquire sponsors for his adventure but doesn't receive any positive feedback. So when time starts running out he just uses his slow, self-built wooden ship "Suhaili"... and wins!

And for all those who like a snack at the side when they're reading, or for those who prefer the movies, well for anybody... this here is the King, the Queen, the Prince and the Princess of potato chips!!! I found them (they found me?) first somewhere in Scotland. But now that I know them I find them all over the world. To quit smoking is easier than to stop eating before the pack is empty.

12 December 2008

The German Rivers - from Kassel to Basel

Beautiful Germany!
Ahhh, it just feels how the saying goes: "Manchmal sieht man den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht - Sometimes one doesn't see the forest because of all the trees."

Now I have lived here in middle Europe for the longest part of my life and I mostly went abroad to seek beautiful nature and exitement. What a fool I am - it's all been right in front of my doorstep! Ok, I agree, nothing beats the roughness of the Norwegian coastline. Nothing beats the thrill of standing next to large game in the Kenyan or Tanzanian savanna. Nothing beats the emptyness of Mongolia. But do we always need to beat a record just because we need a bit of recreation? By now, with all those cheap airline offers we fly half around the globe for a fucking weekend trip!!! We work in Bruxelles (ahem, they... at this point I do exclude myself) and fly home to Berlin, Barcelona and Belgrade to meet our partners on Saturdays. Hello?!

Some of my friends (I am sure some of yours, too) don't feel as if they are on a holiday if they don't get there in economy class. I must admit that I admire their simplicity: Visa card, E-ticket, security check, go to gate 23. Always the same stuff to pack: passport, bikini, aftersun lotion. A book in duty free along with a new pair of sunglasses. Towels are handed out at the bar next to the 4-star-all-inclusive pool. And how turquise the water is! And how cheap the cocktails! And how hot the sun! And how you can eat as many barbequed shrimps as you desire!

Well, yes, this is different. The European waterways. Muscle power. What a bore. It is certainly more interesting to excercise during Kieser Training sessions. And who wants to get to Dresden and Prague along the river Elbe? Or to Paris and LeHavre along the Seine? Budapest along the Danube? Or to Bordeaux, Valencia, Sevilla, Belgrade, Florence, Pisa or Marseille?

However, for all those jet-setters who are kind of bored with the way all 4-star-luxury hotels look the same, worse, all their guests (including you...) or who feel that lately their CO2 footprint starts looking obese; there is a new paradise to be discovered, unveiled, explored: your home country.

These friendly little books show just a little selection of fantastic trips along Europe's rivers! From the source to the delta or the opposite way, be assured that you will have an experience that will not forget for along time: small wooden bridges over little trickling streams, birds nesting and hunting along the shore, small side roads and singletracks through a moist, rich senting forest, cozy little huts on the roadside to seek shelter from the occasional rain, beautiful old town centres, churches, monasteries, waterfalls, gorges... NATURE! There are plenty of restaurants, camping sites and hostels along the way (you can even make pre-bookings on the internet). There are bicycle shops and other cyclists to ask for help with a flat or other technical issues, and there are plenty exciting and interesting things to see and learn not only for kids but also for adults. There are grottoes, castles, beaches and fantasy forests everywhere. You just have to go and get them!
Within the range of a couple of hundred kilometers of your hometown you will find a big river that goes through pretty exciting places. The Danube, the Elbe, the Neckar, the Altmuehl, the Rhone, the Seine, the Dordogne, the Po, the Rhine, the Themse, the Shannon, and so many more.

The downside is: there are no overpriced duty-free stores. So you will have to get your book and your shades in a real shop. You might have to hop on a train and enjoy the view. You also have to live without the excitement of a security check each and every time you change planes (but they don't take away the Swiss Army Knife and the lighter in your hand luggage!). And you will not receive any additional frequent flyer miles. (If you have already had this thought - please stop reading my blog.)

From Kassel (where I visited the Rohloff factory) I first follow the river Fulda southwards. Riding along the course of a river is perfect when you don't feel like a champion. A river usually isn't flowing over a lot of hills. It goes pretty smooth. And if you are lucky it goes downhill - all the way to the ocean.

It is mid November now, the weather is getting pretty cold. At night the temperature drops almost to zero. When I am lucky I stay overnight in small wooden shelters or on the terrace of a fishing club. I have only my summer sleepingbag and so I freeze a bit if I don't eat enough for dinner. That's why I usually make a big pot of stew in the evenings. Fresh vegetables, potatoes, carrottes, turnip, celery, onions, cabbage and a bit of meat - mhhhhh. Eating something hot as well as drinking sufficiently makes a big change during the night.
The mornings are beautiful! Drops of dew on the grass, mist in the forests and the fields. There are still some flocks of migrating birds flying south. And those who stay for the winter sing for breakfast. Once in a while I pass a bird-watching-tower, wooden platforms near a lake or nature reserve that permit observing animals without disturbing them much. I see herons, falcons, eagles, swans, wild geese, countless ravens and lots of small stuff that I don't know the names of.

At the river Kinzig (Kinzigtalsperre) I make the first 10.000km of this trip around the globe. Hang on, that's a quarter or the world circumference and I just made it from Berlin to Frankfurt?! Whatever - I've just cycled through Sweden, Finland, Norway, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. Satisfied I sit down, light a cigarette and enjoy the scenery.

Along small roads with very little traffic I continue my way south. I cross the river Main and cycle through the Odenwald to Mannheim where I visit an old friend from highschool. Then I follow the river Neckar to Stuttgart and see some friends from university. Many times I cross big bridges over the busy (famous or infamous?!) German Autobahn. Thousands - no - millions of people are in a rush to get to work and back home. Thousands more spend their time working on the Autobahn as truck drivers, highway patrol and repairmen. I remember how I used to feel the haste on these roads; always in a hurry to arrive, always looking at the speed-meter and the numerous warning signs at the road side. Always pissed off at the roadworks for slowing down the traffic or at someone else speeding. Always impatiently looking for the next gas station, and barely ever enjoying the ride.

Now, another couple of quiet side roads along the river Lauchert and the Danube finally bring me to the Hochrhein-valley (river Rhine) and to the Swiss border where I arrive at my mother's. The Danube is absolutely lovely! In this part there are steep gorges, lots of castles and traditional Fachwerk architecture - a real pleasure and a great tip for a family trip. If you wish you can follow this very long river all the way to the black sea. Romania!

In the small town of Wehr I arrive in late November, just in time to celebrate my mother's birthday. The day after my arrival it starts storming and snowing heaviliy. Not a good time to cross the Alps in Switzerland. My two months'
detour for Medecins Sans Frontieres to India now takes its toll. And so what? I decide to spend Christmas and with it the entire winter once more at my brother's in northern Norway. If snow then lots of it! Plus Husky dogs :)