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Published: November 16th 2010
Just when you thought he had finally gone for good.....well, the house is another story, and I will be back there very soon....but, for those who came in late.....I was just over in Germany to see Kate and Stephan, Hi Kids, thanks for the lovely time.... we went off to Berlin, about which I might write more some day, the whole writing thing has deserted me again, a few notes here and there but largely very litle (?). Anyway, Germany, Aachen is such a lovely little city, so old and cute but now the winter is coming and I'm just as happy not to be there in the snow and ice and stuff, acres of pretty rough cobblestones over which the women totter on their high heels, I reckon if they can get around Aachen on high heels they could go anywhere anytime and look pretty good, and they do!
A side trip to Karlsruhe to see Gwen whom I met in PLC and Bonaire a few years back, Thanks for the wonderful hospitality Gwen! a day to Heidelberg all pretty speccy with wall to wall Americans, Japanese and brindled tourists, so chokkas I could hardly move. And all looking so north balwyn pre raphaelite style kitsch. The big old ruinous castle on the hill is way out there.
So, a couple of days in Berlin, my first time there and what a surprise, very strange and moving, beautiful, a little sinister, an air of restless energy v stolid, mechanical efficiency....great public transport and the best Thai restaurant in the world, big call! And Ampelman and the omnipresent WALL, such conflicting emotions and even more conflicting reactions, from uber iconic symbol of good v evil, to appallingly tacky souvenir crapola cum Disney theme park complete with faux authentic uniforms and passport stamps. And of course the fabi Trabis!
Next the long train to Krakow in Poland, quite an adventure in itself, and that's long in time, not length of train. It was an older model let's say. One big advantage of the older train is the ability to open the dunny window and sneak a smoke. And Krakow, my spellcheck keeps wanting to put karaoke? A whole different experience, lovely old city, lots of history, the big old castle, the big old square, the cleaner, newer bits of a rebuilding country, different food, new mega chic stores, friendly people but poverty only a few steps away, destitute beggars asking for food for their starving babies, imploring in the name of the christian god for help while slumped under the walls of huge, golden clad, filthy rich, opulent to nausea churches with no hint of christian charity, ah well it's always only been about power and control. outside of the city it's shit and derision, from the train, all across the country it looks like a dump, crumbling buildings, rubbish and a general air of desolation, overgrown railway sidings, rusting hulks of steam engines and carriages, grey brown falling down signal boxes even the little rural towns look sad.
And the long haul back. Funnily enough, the train from Krakow to Berlin was absolutely punctual but then chaos on the shmicko ICE getting from Berlin to Aachen, a couple of hours in and the train stops! They say we have hit a deer! So this fabulous, hi-speed, bullet train hits Bambi and dies! Did they forget to put a bull bar on the front? We limp in to a small, deserted station in the middle of nowhere....anyway, we got home. On several occasions I was surprised at the railways in Germany, trains delayed, cancelled and late! Just like regular countries.
Now for some cut and paste....
ON ASYLUM SEEKERS
In the past, I have naively thought the facts would bring an end to the fear mongering -- by explaining to people that we receive just a few thousand asylum seekers each year, and that they pose no threat to our way of life or sustainability. I want to explain that 99.99% of people who entered Australia last year, did so by plane; that Australia takes just 0.03% of the world’s refugees and displaced people; and that there are 76 countries that take more refugees than we do, based on wealth.
These days, I talk about a much simpler truth: the moral responsibilities that come with living in a free and democratic country, and what it means to be an Australian. This means we have a moral duty to act and show compassion to vulnerable, innocent people who are fleeing for their lives.
-- Founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Kon Karapanagiotidis
Just thought I'd throw this in, it seems to sum it up pretty well.
So, then Amsterdam, catching up with Ton and staying with his sister and bro-in-law at Ijmuiden on the coast, by the start of the canal and the great sea locks and barges, ships, ferries, all sorts of vessels gliding past, bicycling around the town, the dunes and the beach, old massive bunkers and fortifications from the war, great place.
Then over to the Old Dart, up to Edinburgh and a rentawreck to drive around the Scottish highlands, the distilleries, mountains, rivers, so sparsely populated, well, lots of barren isolation, for such a small country, but absolutely beautiful, huge thunder and lightning storms with blinding rain chasing me through gigantic glacial valleys, and then bursts of sunshine, quaint little villages on raging rivers, bunches of locks with manual gates, yachts pulled up with crew straining on the giant wooden levers to open the lock gates.
I picked up a young bloke hitching and took him all the way out to the coast, crikey, talk about rugged! He lives with his family on a small island just off shore. there wre several slate mines here but a hundrd years ago a huge storm swamped the mines and everyone left. possibly some of the slate was the ballast for gold ships that made much of early Melbourne roofs.
Then the train down to London and out to Whitstable on the coast, so pretty and old worldy, little cramped cottages but so cute, and a lovely stopover with Leslie and Beau.
Then the Hispeed train under the Channel, the whole concept suddenly hit me as we dove into the absolute blackness of the tunnel. I hadn't really thought about it I suppose but now, here we were, plunging down to the bottom of the ocean and across to France, some memory of a problem last year crossed my mind, vague pictures of stranded passengers, it all seemed like a distant problem then, but now, here I am, pretty scary thought but too late. Jajaja. Then 20 mins later bursting out into the French countryside. Funny, but it all looks the same!
Brussels, Amsterdam again then back to Aachen and eventually time to head off, Singapore and Hanoi.
Notes from early days Hanoi....
It is sort of strange here, but I'm getting into the swing of it, now have my own little postie bike, 150 cc's of throbbing musclebike, neck-snapping acceleration and all that, the brakes are hazardously weak so I'm not going too fast, in fact, that is the saving grace here, nothing moves very fast! There are about 5 million of these motorbikes in Hanoi I reckon, and 6.5 million people! It is totally chaotic, and for the locals, it's the same as just walking, so they don't look where they are going, chat to each other, talk and text all the time on cell phones, carry huge loads, and just go wherever they want to go, no notice of traffic lights, to turn left you just head into the oncoming traffic, scary at first but then you get used to it and the cars and trucks and buses and trishaws and pushbikes and pedestrians struggle along in this sea of little motos they flow like water. Generally I stick besides a local to turn left or cross intersections but at any time at all along your way some little kamikaze two stroke cowboy, or it may even be a 104 year old woman, will suddenly spear across the road at you or suddenly fly out of a side street, totally with abandon and no concept of the rest of the traffic.
Dental work. I had a broken tooth, a big back molar and went to a local dentist. Now I'm in the middle of some serious tooth work. Three big molars pulled and implants screwed in, three regular teeth crowned and a return date next march to get two more crowns and the implants finished, all the big 8 back teeth rock solid and bullet proof, and so cheap!
For all the gory details, and they are pretty gory, but it is all really fascinating, yeah, yeah, I can send the dental diaries separately to those of you interested. Suffice to say so far, so good!
A week at the beach, Hoi An calls. The lovely old resort hotel, all lush tropical growth dividing residential blocks along the river from the central reception, restaurant and bars. A huge verandahed area for eating, drinking or just relaxing, I stagger off to one of the two swimming pools or across the road to the ocean beach.
First thing in the morning I walked a few kms up the beach, a few early walkers and occasional swimmers braving the thumping surf, the tail end of the typhoon out in the china sea was still affecting us. On the way back I braved the water, much to the horror of the hotel lifeguards whom I suspect could not swim in a bath tub. The currents were enormous and the waves just dumping hard so the water was full of sand and quite treacherous. I stayed for 15 mins and then retreated to the freshwater shower and then back for breakfast.
Always such a huge spread, fresh fruits, juices, cold meats and cheeses, hot pots with soups, fried rice, all sorts of eggs and bacons, tomatoes, vegetables, cereals and grains, dozens of breads and one slow toaster, endless supplies of butter and jams and a guy at the cooker making omelettes or eggs anyway to order.
The fleeting health benefits of the early morning walk and swim were soon negated by the next hour and a half at the breakfast table. But did it taste good!! Yes!
On down to Nha Trang and some time with DJ and Hanh and baby Jessica, so cute, I was happy to do some babysit time. And another family wedding up country, a day in the country first, the Fireball express train for a couple of hours, settle into the unbelievably garish hotel, even by Vietnamese standard this was over the top garish! Then onto the fishing boat and clunky clunk, the fabulous, reliable throb of a one pot diesel, way out to the island 4 hours or so, in amongst the fish farms to a deserted sandy beach with clear water for a swim, back to a hidden and super strange couple of huts on another beach, a type of restaurant, they only had crab and fish they said so the girls took over the kitchen, so bizarrely funny and so typical of the attitude, abilities and aptitude of the women here. A short time later and they bring out plates of rice, salads, fish for the cook pots on the table, beer on ice, then a massive plate of crabs, it was just amazing. Back on the boat.
Next day the wedding. The procession, I was honoured, as a real old fart, to carry a plate of fruit and flowers, off in the mini vans to the brides family on the fringe of the city, they are chicken herders and recently had chicken rustlers get off with a bunch of prime chooks, and it's raining, so we are marching down to the ranch, flooded streets, everybody frocked up to the nines, tables of younger people already pretty tanked, in the back the elders of the families going thru the time old routines of gift exchanges and jewelry, every few minutes they would stand back and drag me in to take these most personal photos, I was feeling a bit intrusive but they insist. By way of explanation, I was asked to be official photographer as I had a camera! And the wedding photos are really, really important. So DJ and I are snapping away all day long, at the next stop and then at the big reception, more unbelievably tacky smaltzy kitcshy but everyone has such a good time. Click, click, smile, smile. The bride and/or groom would call me constantly, one more photo, they would have one or two family, as they grouped up more would arrive and join in, before too long there's a group of 30 people, fantastic.
Now it's back to real time. Monday, back to Oz tomorrow. It feels like I've been away for a year!
And no photos Im afraid, this bloody iPad is not all it's cracked up to be, if you're thinking of getting one, take a good look first!
And, if anyone is going to be out Tulla way on Wed morning about 7am????? let me know I could use a lift! Thanks!
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