Beard update 5 – Homecoming beard

A profile shot taken in my spiritual home, the Carlton Hotel. The beard has reached maturity, I feel, and now I confront the daunting and tantelising possibility of eventually achieving the “prospecter” look. In the second shot I can be seen with my beard bretheren Chad, championing the Aussie conquistidor.

More holiday blogs coming, I promise!

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Dip in credibilty

I won’t lie, we’re back in Perth now. Actually, that’s a lie, I’m on the road somewhere around Bunbury on my way to a weekend reality rehab retreat. I have noble intentions of completing the blog over the next few weeks though and it should be much easier to do on a computer (rather than my phone) and without the actual holiday getting in the way. Stay tuned.

The Ayers Rock of Germany

Horn-Bad Meinberg (Germany), 22-24/11/12: Yes! We made it to Horn-Bad Meinberg.

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Yes! After one wrong number, the taxi came.

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Yes! We made it to our cosy room.

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…and yes! It featured arts.

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As Nicole said, like a cross between Frank Sinatra and Steve Martin

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Note boobs have been marked incorrect

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See?

I had assumed that our friendly hosts at Hotel Waldschlößchen could, like many Germans, speak perfect Oxford English but spoke German to humour us but later decided that perhaps this was not the case. This presented us with a good opportunity to warm up our Deutsch in the field – Nicole being proficient and me able to ask “where is the [noun]?”, etc.

The hotel itself was quaint and cosy, befitting its location and featured a restaurant downstairs offering several variations on the theme of schnitzell.

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As it was relatively isolated, we also got breakfast there which, in what turned out to be typical German style, appeared to us more like lunch.

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Just as it appears: cold meats, cheeses and bread rolls

One advantage of this was that the matron would kindly pack our left-overs as lunch – perfect for long walks in the forest. Also, when we later switched back to cereal, my metabolism really missed the bready, meaty morning jump-start. However it does make you wonder whether bowel cancer is endemic here, given the near-absence of vegetables in the German diet… So here are some hard numbers. It turns out that Germany’s ranked 14th, well behind Australia at number 6, so they must be doing something right.

But I digest. Our visit to Horn-Bad Meinberg (HBMB hereafter) was not for the bread rolls but rather to visit their local attraction, the Externsteine (infrequently refered to as the Ayers Rock of Germany).

These large, rocky protrusions apparently attract around a million tourists each year although it seems that even within Germany the name draws more furrowed brows and puzzled head-scratches than validating “aaaahs”. The Externsteine has also been an important religious site for Pagans and Christians (it features evidence of both groups) and has also had nationalistic signicance, especially around WW2, when the Nazis attempted to prove that it was an important religious site in pre-Christian times in order to boost national pride (kind of “we were holy first” I think) – but with limited success. To this day it attracts neo-hippies and renneisance festival types (those that sup of the pig and drink of the wine from ye goblet), who like to dance at make merry on the site around important astrological dates, much to the chagrin of some of the locals.

It also makes for good photos. The approach was made on foot through pretty, autumnal forest in perfect walking conditions.

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There were rest points along the way where you could really kick back.

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No sign of the cocktail waiter though.

Then, after about 40 minutes, there was this:

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Front elevation

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Rear elevation

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Side elevation

Which led to this:

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As you can tell from these epic pics, there are stairs leading up to the top and a sadly closed bridge, built in the late 19th century. From up there one can take pretty autumn panoramas.

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It was all quite mystical, and the sureptitious whispers of nature were interupted only by the sound of the public employee with the leaf-blower across the lake.

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Hint: look next to blue truck

This man will always have a job.

Once we felt we’d absorbed as much of the Externsteine and its infotaining visitors center as we could, we went out to take in the sights and sounds of bustling HBMB.

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The bus wasn't running that day

It is a small, cute town attached to national forest with nothing in particular for tourists on drizzly winter days. There was however a future echo of our trip in this monument:

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…in that we would be visiting Metz, France in a few weeks time. As yet I haven’t been able to determine the significance of this memorial though.

We trudged through the rain back to Waldschlößchen, our eager sights set on a warm dining room, a Schnitzel dinner (which did not disappoint) and a good night’s sleep, since the morning promised another day of train travel which we were determined would this time be without incident.

Beard update 4 – Snot of the Arctic

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Near Kiruna, Sweden: So here’s what happens in a beard at around -30°C. Punny title aside, I think that the frost is mostly from the moisture in my breath. For the real polar explorer look I recommend the full balaclava and overalls (see below), but the beard presents better in this aspect.

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Base camp

How not to see Europe

The Netherlands / Germany, 22/11/12: …and the day got off to such a good start.

We were leaving Den Haag for our next destination, Horn-Bad Meinberg in Germany – a country hamlet nearish Hanover and about 6 hours on the train. We managed to get ourselves up and out in good time and after farewells to John & Marie, hopped onto our early tram to Den Haag HS station. We even had time to pick up some breakfast for the trip.

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Up til now, the Dutch train system had been great – punctual, plenty of info and kind to foreigners. Today, however, the displays were all down so we were forced to revert to the quaint practice of asking people in broken Dutch (or English if we were lucky) which train was ours.

Using this approach we managed to get to our first change point, Amersfoort. Flushed with the success of this approach, we next learned that our second train to Bünde was running late, so we anxiously watched a train leave our designated platform at the designated time, 85% sure that it wasn’t ours.

When the next train eventually arrived, the boards still down, we conducted a hasty vox pop and, through the malaise of crappy Dutchglish (editor’s note: Nicole has indicated that she is offended by this description), concluded with reasonable certainty that this train was indeed headed to Bünde. On we scrambled.

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Settling in for a glamourous cross-country voyage

This was to be a longish leg of the trip and the one that crossed the Dutch/German border, so when maybe 40 minutes in our train stopped somewhere called Zwolle and everyone got off we started to get concerned. After a minute or so of nervous waiting and some Dutch announcements over the train PA, it became clear that this train had terminated. Dang.

Hauling our gear onto the platform at our mystery destination, we assessed our options.

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The train information system was still not an option.

We found a conductor with some English and a hand-held device that provided answers. After some stern button-pressing and lively conference with another train person, she deduced that our best chance now would be to hop on another train to somewhere called Deventer, some way south and our nearest international station, and ask them what to do. So after a short wait we did just that.

Some time later and we were discussing options with the patient ticket lady in Deventer who plotted a new course for us that left shortly and would see us at our destination by about 5. Not too shabby, so back up to the platform we went.

Bear in mind that intercity trains usually arrive at the a few minutes early to give passengers a few frantic minutes to fight through the crowds and find their wagon. We certainly bore this in mind as we boarded the wrong train and headed in the wrong direction for 15 minutes. Double dang.

The good news was that getting a train back to Deventer was easy. The bad news was that we’d well and truly missed our intended train. Tails between legs and weary from hauling suitcases on and off trains, we slunk back to the Deventer ticket office where the slightly less patient ticket lady recharted our course, now departing in two hours time.

By this time I was growing tired and stressed and my own patience was wearing thin. Tourists til the end, however, we took this opportunity to explore Deventer. 90 minutes was just enough time to haul our luggage into a shopping street, look at some outdoors apparel shops, get abused by a homeless guy and then drag our luggage along with our sorry selves back to the station. Up yours, Deventer, I thought, struggling for something to blame for our predicament. I might have muttered it out loud once or twice as well.

So finally we’re on our way to our next connection point, and this time on Deutsche Bahn. At last! Swift, German efficiency – exactly what we needed to see us safely to our destination.

But, alas, the European rail network was not done with us yet. Somewhere on the way to Osnabrück, our train slowed and then stopped. Following 30 minutes of confused glances exchanged with other passengers, occasional slow forwards movement and garbled German announcements, it transpired that our train had in fact broken down. Another train was stopped just outside that could take us to Osnabrück, so again we heaved our luggage down and, along with the other human cargo, headed for the exits.

Only I couldn’t open the door. Must be that I’m tired, foreign and don’t understand these German doors, I reasoned, so stepped aside to let a native have a go. Same result. We can see our train outside, waiting to leave. We clambered to another door: no dice. What on earth is happening?? We’ll be found dead here next Spring.

Tortuous seconds and minutes passed as we remained trapped in our capsule, forced to stare at our salvation, like orphans outside Scrooge’s dining room. Finally, however, the doors relented and we ran another suitcase steeple chase to our new train.

A brief interrogation of our watches and some elementary mental algebra yielded the disquieting but predictable result: we would miss our next connection. The helpful and well-spoken German man in our carriage who suggested we call DB to complain did not really help us. In my mind I was wondering if we could survive the cold night on the streets.

But by now we were savvy enough and close enough to our target that we could improvise. On alighting in Osnabrück, Nicole selected another train that got us nearer to our destination and from there we were only a couple of hops from Horn-Bad Meinberg.

Mercifully, the remainder of the journey went relatively smoothly – if not quickly – leaving us shivering on a dark, empty platform at our one-horse destination at 8:30pm hoping for a taxi to arrive (it did). We realised too late that we had actually purchased a first class Eurail passes so could have at least been stressed out in comfort, but never-the-less I rationalised that by turning a 6 hour journey into 12 hours we really got good value out of our day pass.

Furthermore, it felt nice to be in Germany at last where even if we were lost, we at least had a better chance of communication. And salty Brezels.

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Desperate and hungry towards the end of our journey

Bonsoir Clermont-Ferrand

Spoiler alert: Just arrived tonight and had dinner with the Kim-Yuncken clan. Gonna pack in some quality time this week but who knows, might get some blogging done too.

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One last day in Den Haag

Den Haag (The Netherlands), 21/11/12: 24 hours left in Den Haag – time to take in some sights.

Starting in John & Marie’s apartment, I got to have a closer look at Marie’s recently acquired fortepiano, currently undergoing service but still playable.

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It’s a very groovy instrument. Piano-like sound but with a much lighter touch and of course the inverse white-black keyboard is quite stylish.

We headed into town and met John, Marie and Zoe for our dim sum banquet (mentioned previously) and the took to the galleries with touristic zeal.

First stop was the Mesdag Panorama. Back in the late 19th century, panorama paintings (that is large-scale, 360° paintings that surround the viewer) were the attraction de jour – as it was explained to us, they once occupied a similar place in the spectrum of entertainments that cinemas do today.

There was a Belgian company that commisioned panoramas around Europe, often in purpose-built buildings. Since it was a commercial enterprise and panorama’s are typically only viewed from a distance, they did not tend to employ renowned or established painters, but Mr Mesdag was an exception, making this panorama quite unique.

The other thing that makes the Mesdag Panorama unique is that it still exists in its original location – after the Belgian company went bust, Mesdag purchased the building containing his work and it has been preserved ever since.

To be honest, not knowing what to expect, I wasn’t super-excited to see it but once we emerged from up the stairs to the viewing platform we were quite struck. First of all, it’s big – 40m in diameter to be precise. Secondly, it is a beach and town scene as seen from a pagoda on a sand-dune (the viewing platform) so the room it filled with sand which hides the bottom edge of the canvas and the pagoda roof hides the top so it is seamless to the viewer. This, plus the natural lighting creates a convincing illusion of depth so that you can’t quite judge the distance of the wall. Only the absence of parallax as you move around betrays the effect (though this does give you a neat, woozy sensation).

The building hosts a regular gallery too, which was worth a slow, hands-clasped-behind-your-back stroll through.

Next stop was the museum of one of Den Haag’s favourite sons MC Escher, and here’s the proof:

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Hint: look just behind me

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I came here on my last visit but Nicole hadn’t been and it’s worth a second look. Besides originals of his well-known pieces it also features many less famous prints and some of his graphic design / poster work.

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It also sports some fancy chandeliers – a different one in each room.

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Tall shot of the foyer

By closing time at Escher it was time to get back to the apartment and get our affairs in order for an early start and long train trip the next day.

Thanks Den Haag and massive thanks to John, Marie & baby Zoe for having us!

AcTiViTy KoRnEr: Fabricate you own European cathedral!

History
Select from the following:
Originally a monastery/nunnery
Sacked by Vikings
Bishop placed his seat here in order to claim stored valuables
Designed by famous Italian architect
Destroyed by fire in the middle ages
Chapel later added by local prince/earl/burgher
Destroyed by Rome following disagreement with pope
Rebuilt by local prince/earl/burgher
Crypt contains dead prince/earl/burgher
Destroyed by fire in the 17th century
Shrine added later
Dome added later
Destroying by bombing during the second world war (mandatory)
Rebuilt in the 1960’s
Now receives n thousand visitors each year

Structure
Select from the following, indicating quantity of each:
Stained glass from middle ages depicting scenes from Bethlehem/Calgary/Revelations
Original stained glass saved from / destroyed by bombing during the second world war
Contains n organs
Paintings in dome/chapel/shrine featuring Mary mother of Christ / the disciples / scenes from the apocalypse and rapture
Figure of Christ on the cross front and centre (mandatory)
Gothic ornamentation/lattices around organ(s)/pulpit/balcony
Candles in shrine
Central motive of crown of thorns / holy ghost
Central columns made from n tonnes of stone
Elaborate stonework ornamentation and cornices
Structurally unusual / non-parallel design (post WWII reconstructions only)

Congratulations! You have now fabricated your own European cathedral and are ready to accept visitors and tour groups from all over the world.

Living the dream in Leiden

Leiden (the Netherlands), 20/11/12: On Tuesday we travelled to the neighbouring university town of Leiden to visit Vikki & Kyl, friends from Perth who upped stumps and relocated here a couple of years ago.

Like so many other places we’ve visited, Leiden is an old city with an interesting history. It once rivalled Amsterdam in terms of size but these days appears more modest, yet it has retained many of the qualities of a big Dutch city from centuries ago. In short, it’s a beautiful place to live.

Before we met with K&V, we did some light touristing of our own around Leiden.

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Not tilting at so much as reclining near windmills

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Gurning at canals

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According to the Nicole clock, it's about a quarter to 5. Not too far off the money actually.

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We got in there for a closer look too. Pretty interesting and, for me, pleasingly not very OH&S compliant. In a good wind those sails really move. I wonder how many tourists they claim each year? Very few I'd suggest.

We caught K&V after office hours and, to kick things off, got a bit of a tour of the dream they’re living.

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The back verandah. Great view of everyone else's back verandah's and vice versa.

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The local parish

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The local pet shop featured the usual bunnies and kitties but also African spiders, large tortoises, exotic reptiles and tropical birds. Quite awesome - no need for a local zoo. Almost certainly legit but still felt a little back-room.

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The view out the front window to the canal below. Freezing now but in summer, just open the place up. Bewdiful. Winter does have the advantage of pretty lights and, when it gets really cold, ice skating down the canal. Now THAT'S commuting.

Further to the pleasure of their company, we were also treated to a very nice Dutch dinner (previously documented) before heading back to Den Haag with the definite impression that this place offers a lifestyle choice that you could really get used to. Thanks Kyl & Vikki!

Beard update 3: Regal Germanic beard

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Exhibit A: Hornburg, Germany

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Exhibit B: Salzburg, Austria

Here we can see some movement through time. The first shot was about a week ago, the second yesterday. I think I am now over the line that divides unkempt and debonair, though who am I to say? The euro-hat/chin-fungus combo makes me look like I should be selling fruit on the streets of Paris. Exactly the look I’m going for.