Sunday, December 30, 2007

Communism and Tits

I'm going to start completely off topic here and just outright tell you all that I bought the Canon 20mm f2.8 ultrasonic lens. Now stop touching yourself in naughty ways while you think about it and read the rest of my blog.
Marty and Deanna where kind enough to drive us all the way from Brussels, Belgium to Krefeld Germany. Angie and I were kind enough to sleep the whole way...giving them some "alone time". We're nice like that.

Krefeld ended up being incredibly dodgy, or at least the area around the car park was. We had fun finding a staircase out of the basement that wasn't inhabited by semi-dead heroin users and eventually made it to the street by walking back the way that we drove in. At street level we came to the conclusion (judging by the general populace and their vacant eyed state) that we had, in fact, arrived at the heart of the Zombie apocalypse. Later we would discover that they were just Russian immigrants...not all that different really.

Since we had arrived earlier than we had planned, we decided to take the opportunity to search out a restaurant for lunch. MoneyPenny (the onboard GPS system in the BMW) had informed us that there was a nice place just around the corner from where we parked. This was a complete lie and instead we got lost in a town with nothing open. Eventually we found something that resembled a restaurant, but when Marty stuck his head in to check he got stared down by a bunch of scary old German men who had clearly been drinking since 8am. We proceeded to the Cafe & Bar Celona (witty name) for Schnitzel.

A few hours later and it was 2pm, time to meet up with my German friends, Olaf and Vicky. We found their flat without too much trouble and I got a big happy German hug which, in no way, smelled like Sauerkraut as I expected it to. We were introduced then to another artist's apartment, similar to our friends in Finland, but substantially more 60's influenced (as they are both Mods) and with fun slippery wooden floors. Olaf showed us some fun tricks for sliding across the entire length of the hallway. I fell down.

After some catching up, Olaf and Vicky piled us into their car to head to the nearby city of Duisburg, a factory city with some sort of amusement factory light show thing.

Wait, I have to describe the "car." This vehicle, as Olaf described it, is more of a philosophy than a car. With only 29 horsepower, I can begin to understand where he was coming from. Driving on the Autobahn at it's top speed of 100km/hr it seems to float, more or less, in the general direction where you point it. This floating requires constant attention to a complex array of knobs, dials, and switches, which I imagine without care, could lead to a complete loss of control and certain death as the car is no bigger than the 4 passengers it maintains. There is also a panel of unmarked lights which sporadically flash and flutter as the car seems to make an attempt to communicate with its limited vocabulary. It's all rather like Flight of the Navigator...but much more terrifying.

Somehow Angie managed to peacefully sleep through this whole proceeding as though she was being craddled in the arms of safety. I had been on those suicide buses in the sub-continent of India where drivers enjoy a mortality rate approximately on par with military convoy drivers, and felt no fear. But in this vehicle, this French "thing" which was commissioned to "travel on French country roads with a backseat full of eggs and milk and not break either the product, or the driver's bank, kept me awake like a nose-full of speed.

It did, however, successfully bring us to our destination and, admittedly, it was well worth the risk. Duisburg has prematurely begun to preserve its history. Here, they have closed off an old steel factory and adorned it with all sorts and arrays of neon lights. It's kind of like being on the set of a Zombie movie shoot. Here's an example of what a Zombie movie might be like there...

video

You may notice that anything said in German sounds like a Zombie hungry for brains...

After watching the sun set from the top of the slag furnace, we headed off back to the suicide car. Somehow we got lost on the way though, and discovered a visage of that stereotypical Germany factory that we all know. Walking around at night, aided in some places with placards of old photos, we were really able to capture the feeling of working a shit factory job. For those of your who are metallurgists out there, be thankful that these poor slobs managed to prove that automated operation of a steel factory is more efficient that burning off the soles of your feet on hot slag.

A quick drive and we were back in Krefeld with the night still ahead of us. Olaf, Vicky, Angie, a new friend Jo, and myself all piled into a cab and booked it to a local rock bar. Here we learned the joys of various beers, musics, and local youth. I also discovered that walking into the sharp edge of a bathroom door will:
a) solicit a surprising amount of blood
b) promote the purchasing of free beer from the nice fellow who threw the door open into your face, and...
c) give you a concussion that will keep you bed ridden the next day.

I'm just hoping that it scars well enough that I will have a proper souvenir from this place.

Somehow, despite the head wound, heavy beer consumption (you will remember that beer is my enemy as it poisons me in ways that other alcohols cannot compare) Olaf and I managed to stay up until some ungodly hour on YouTube, laughing at the folly of those bamboozled by Sasha Cohen's gay Austrian Hairdressing character, Bruno. Oh, Bruno, those homophobes are such a neich neich.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Language Barriers and Gaps In Civility

Europe can be an expensive place to travel. This is especially true if you end up spending twice the time you anticipated...and neglected to bring your fake student ID (everything here is 30 - 50% off if you can prove you're a student...even food). Having generous family rent a car for 2 weeks to drive your around though, is substantially more economical. Here follows a road trip.

The drive there...and other places...and back:
Don't remember alot of it...as I slept through all the driving bit.

The locations!
Brugges, Belgium:
The first stop on a multi-day tour of the surrounding environ, Brugges proved to be the most beautiful location of the bunch (at least until we hit Bouillon on the way back from Paris...but I'll get to that).

We arrived just as the sun was gaining over the sea of red tile rooftops and made a direct line for the belfry of the nearest chapel. From our new vantage we watched the fog burn away and the beautifully preserved European heritage of Brugges slowly emerge. Behind us we appreciated the complex machinery that drove the massive clock and array of some 50 bells. The thought then struck us that, perhaps, the belfry wasn't the best place to "hang out" when said bells started to ring...we realised this at about noon, perhaps a little late; and so Brugges was enjoyed through a Cochlea shattering static for the remainder of the day.

Sometime after the static cleared (about when the sun started to set) we headed out for the infamous Brugges ice festival. I was feeling a bit skeptical about the event, since I assumed it was a just kiddie amusement park of carved ice monsters. Though this notion was quickly confirmed I finally came to realise that I'm just a kid at heart anyway. I honestly loved the Ice Festival, especially so when I discovered that the ice slide ended at the bar.

Aachen, Germany:
It was foretold that Aachen had the "most famous Christmas market in Germany" and so we packed ourselves into our tiny BMW with pockets anxiously bulging with Euros to spend. Unfortunately, thought it may have been the best in Germany, it fell well short of our expectations after having spent some evenings in Brussles market.

After a run through a museum that apparently boasted some clothes that Christ wore and stuff we headed off to find some wieners. Germany is famous for wieners, in case you didn't know. Anyway, we got to this wiener stand and ordered a Bratwurst (Brat Wiener) and asked if we could have some saurkraut (cabbage stuff to put on wieners) on our wieners. This upset the WienerMan and the following dialogue ensued:

Kaare&Marty: Um...do you have Saurkraut?
WienerMan: ...NO!
Kaare&Marty: Oh, um, like, we''ll pay extra for it...we just want some on our Bratwurst.
WienerMan(Nazi): No can have Saurkraut! Too cold! Maybe summer have HotDog Saurkrauten. Nein Saurkrauten!!!! *shakes wet hotdog from chaffing dish at us.
Kaare&Marty: *retreat.

Maybe we just went to the wrong wiener stand though. There's a good chance that we would have had more success at this one:

(wiener suit man)

Paris, France: So, embarrassing confession, it actually took the Eiffel Tower to really drive home that I was away from home. I had been trying so hard not to be a tourist that it really took the might of that ever-present tourism symbol to bring out the spirit of European romance for me. Of course, being on top of the tower looking down on the foggy city at night with no-one to romantically appreciate it with also made clear my distance from home. I guess I miss some people... We were fortunate enough to have an apartment from which we could drink wine, smoke French cigarettes and see the tower all night though, as it slowly desensitised us to "all that romance."

Paris though... Paris is.... Paris is WOW. That's the best I can do to describe it. Even in the dregs of winter it proved beautiful; and thanks to a recent campaign by the government, friendly as well. How could it not be though? The excesses that royalty took with this country promise that it will be breathtaking to even the most desensitised of backpackers and aristocrats. Versailles is big enough to house the entire population of Canada, the Louvre is big enough to house several Versailles, and the Parisian ego is big enough to swallow it all.

I love Paris.


Eventually though (and by that I mean last minute, Christmas Eve), we had to head back for Belgium. This wasn't particularly a sad thing, as we've all come to love Brussels, but it was a bit something to leave the City of Romance. At least our feet were appreciative of the break from all the walking.

On the way back though, Marty took us on a detour to Boullion, Belgium.

Boullion, Belgium:
Boullion stands on the border of France and Belgium, in the axis of three intersecting valleys. It was originally started as something of a military stronghold since all maurading parties would have to push through this basin to get past. In true medieval fashion, they built a big badass castle in the middle to maintain their position. This castle was so well built that it's still standing there today...relatively unscathed, even after being used as headquarters during WWII.

There wasn't alot in the way of adventure worthy activities here, especially considering that everything was shutting down for Christmas. The castle was still open though so we did get an opportunity to properly explore it. After a thorough tour I feel confident saying that "living in a castle would really, really suck" It's cold, it leaks, and if you screw around with the boss, there's a legit dungeon in the basement carved out of bedrock with only one way in, an 8m drop. Sucks to living in a castle.

...

Anyway, Christmas was great. Everyone who missed out on a European Christmas...well, I'm sure that yours was at least adequate.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Magic Stuff

Melancholy Emo Entry:
I feel that I've lost that Christmas spirit. But I suppose that we all do over time. The magic of St. Nicholas, the smell of PineScent© on your family's fake tree, bobbles; all exhausted symbols of your childhood. Really, what magic is there in this season anymore, especially for the atheist?

Brussels, Belgium, 2007 Entry:
Christmas ****in' RULES!

After walking into a cold, dark and desolate, cobblestone floored town square (Grand Place) we began to wonder if we had made the trip here in vain. Temperatures had now dipped below 0 Celsius and it seemed that things were shutting down. Perhaps that woman on the plane here had been correct about this city; a political miasma with nothing beautiful to offer. Fortunately, she was just a dumb broad and didn't know what the hell she was talking about...

From behind we heard a horse drawn carriage bumping over the cobblestones into the square. The whole group turned simultaneously, searching for it's source. A 20,000 Watt stereo system proved to be it, and the sounds emanating from it quickly transformed into an epic opera, so powerful that we nearly had to shout to hear one another. I suppose that we could have moved away from the speakers a bit to rectify this. But we were spellbound.

Suddenly the main tower of Grand Place began pulsing with light. Some 8 stories of pre-Victorian architecture, previously hidden in the shadows yielded its secrets. No less than a gajillion multi-coloured Christmas lights, projectors, spotlights and indoor lamps danced along with the haunting tones of classical opera (well, it was actually the opera from that scene in the 5th Element). A massive spruce, previously no more than a basic Christmas tree, joined in; its lights moving in such it way it began to resembled a massive, landlocked anemone. Angie was likely terrified by this.



Numb from the cold and smiling like an E-tard, We were entirely swept up in that old Christmas spirit.



I couldn't have hoped for more, but more came! We carried on, perhaps moving just to stay warm, perhaps drawn by the wafting scent of gluhwine (mulled wine), I'm not sure. Through the Christmas night market with friend's and family, past a five piece brass band of Santa Clauses, through alleys filled with the smell of waffles and fresh doughnuts, around skating rinks and escargot stands. This was a Christmas dream! Even the creepy carousel and inflated 45m long monster thing were magical (in a ghost of Christmas future, where dinosaurs come back, kind of way...).

Belgium has restored my faith in the holiday season. Not working a retail job this time has probably helped, too.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

An Ecercise in Sleep Deprevation

I apologise for the severe lack of bloggery over the last few weeks, but every time I tried to make an entry I would get about two paragraphs in and realise that I was either writing erotica or a Tom Clancy plot line. I think I'm past that now. Here's a back dated entry...

Ryan Air, the love of my life; yellow and cramped like an airborne discount bin overflowing with merchandise. Mismatched with the stumbling subtitles of all those European tongues. As cheap and as safe as a $0.25 hooker. You just get the job done.

After neglecting (actually, we've never obeyed it since its initial purchase) the alarm clock yet again, we woke up on the floor of Jessica and Jan's apartment for the last time...at 1:00pm. This wasn't particularly dire since, ever though our flight was in Tampere (a city over 2 hours away) we had until 10pm to get there. So, we spent the afternoon raiding our good hosts' friedge and reading from their ample comic book collection.

Eventually we gathered the energy to clean the kitchen, pack up, and go. We proceeded directly(with the utmost confidence) to the wrong tram line and quickly found ourselves lost, alone and in the dark. Not a problem though, as our trusty map directed us from one street (simply named, hutnikaaskylsanuomi (sp?)) to another and eventually to the train station. A cute Finnish girl even stopped to help us...they're just so friendly!

At the train station in Tampere, while in limbo for the transit to the airport, we had an encounter with an odd little troll-man. Ah, how authentic, I thought, those stories of Trolls and Gnomes my Scandinavian grandmother used to read me were not all fable! Soberingly though, he turned out to be a drunken American activist. This was difficult to discern at first, since, in an attempt to ask us where the RyanAir transit would stop, he used some combination of languages which we should henceforth refer to as Slavbalticfinicelandicgermanican (to expound that, "Slavic-Baltic-Finnish-Icelandic-Germanic-American-Tainttongue").

Apparently, he was some lifetime anarchist who never got the point (not even after he started to lose his hair) and fed-up with America's lack of desire to convert to a commune and that his home, New Orleans, got a bit wet, decided to move to Europe to work illegally. In a short period of time we comprised the story of his 2 years past as a European tour not better described than by the term "dodgy."

We spent the next few hours trying to avoid his bizzare attempts at conversation and were nearly successful when he caused a ruckus in airport security via a heated argument with a Russian model that he no doubt outed for looking "less than not slutty". Eventually we found our seats on the plane and I settled in to read a great book which I then would forget on the plane 3 hours later.

After disembarking from the plane, we hurried to beat the line to customs. In true British fashion though, customs was a good 3km from the plane and involved navigating a labyrinth of depressing corridors, elevators, and appropriate elevator musak. Following this, we were shuttled along an underground tram system that looked as though it was built around the model of so many nuclear testing facilities. Angie discovered that the seats were lined with something that felt like 1000s of hypodermic needles pointed upward.

About 30 minutes later we arrived at British Border Control, a place normally populated with vicious hose-beasts. This time, however, we were offered passage by a surprisingly nice (and even pretty, which is highly unusual for Britain) blonde, 20-something. Moments before approaching the gate though, our American "friend" caught up with us in the queue.

"Do I have to tell them you're lying to get ahead of me or what?" he offered.

I very nearly bludgeoned him to death with my Nalgene bottle, It was fortunate for him that a very proper British signpost cautioned against such things. God save the queen, for she saved this poor soul.

Now 2am Finnish time, or 12am UK time, and a long damn time past bed time either way, we scored return tickets to Oxford on a National Express Coach.

The goal: Hang out with my old flatmate from China, Nick.

The challenge: Try to sleep on a British coach for the next 4 hours.

The obstacles obstructing said goal: The deceptively torturous seats that adorn National Express Coach Lines. Picture a torture device where you have to balance you tail bone and associated anatomy on a crowsnest of rebar neatly presented as a "luxury" seat. Said "luxury" seat is also wrapped in something that resembles leather and promotes the same pooling of sweat about your bottom as would leather. Further details include a driver mumbling incoherently, in a Northerner accent, the names of each stop in a city you've never been to, nor have a map of.

By 4am, we had finally arrived in Oxford. This gave us ample time to kill, walking around the city, trying to find a doorway to curl up in a take a nap. In our delirious, sleep deprived state, we soon found ourselves lost somewhere between a castle and a river, neither of which we could sleep in. Fortunately we found a crackhead mumbling to himself to offer us directions.

Finally, after wandering around for an hour or so with 20kg of baggage each, we found our bus terminal again and collapsed under an overhang to wait out the opening of the nearest source of coffee.



...

At the point of originally writing this I had been up for about 20 hours. I would be up for another 17 after that before actually getting any sleep. Somewhere in there my friend's dad showed me a hand cranked pipe organ thingy that blew my friggin' mind. I also ate a Kebab.

...

Hm...my notes in my journal here on my lap say something about "Mario Testino" I think that he's a portrait photographer. Scope him out if you get a chance. I just did, and it was great.