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Evil Jim

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October 7th, 2008

02:20 pm: Breaking news!
This just in: I'm bored.

So sacredspud & I are here in the Comfort Inn lobby killing time. We had to check out of our room at one o'clock but we don't need to be at the train station until three-thirty so there is some dead time until we should call a cab for Union Station.

The film festival has been an absolute blast. I didn't get to see absolutely everyhing I wanted (there was so much going on) but I enjoyed everything I went to. My luggage is much heavier, weighted down with frightening volumes of forbidden tomes (some signed by the author), but softer as well, padded with the unnecessary volume of new T-shirts. I'm allready planning to attend next year if at all possible & I'm pretty sure Colin is as well if things go well. Until then there are some films I'll be searching for upon return of home that I didn't get to see, as well as plenty of business card web addresses to investigate. And also the search for the infamous "Elwood." Very tempting, but perhaps I should just wait to see it next year.

Across the street from our hotel is a second-hand store we checked out with nothing better to do. I found a couple of old magazine ads matted & ready for framing along with issue #6 of From Beyond the Unknown comic book. The title of which coincidentally incorporates the titles of two stories by H.P. Lovecraft. The comic is unintentionally silly & quite entertaining. It would be fun to dramatize the stories using the original illustrations. A project I've had on the back burner since I inherited my grandfather's comic collection some years ago.

Being at the film fest has naturally given me some ideas of short films I'd like to create. It will be something to think on & work out during the long journey home. That, my stack of new books & my tired butt.

- E V I L O U T -

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September 30th, 2008

01:30 am: Banned Books Week: September 27–October 4, 2008
Celebrate Banned Books Week!

- E V I L O U T -

September 25th, 2008

06:10 am: Jerrrrk alert!!
Josh Brolin is a dick.


- E V I L O U T -

Current Mood: crushedcrushed
Current Music: Jailbreak / Fratelli Car Chase ~ Dave Grusin

September 22nd, 2008

10:10 am: Photo meme
The rules:
1. Take a picture of yourself right now.
2. Don't change your clothes, don't fix your hair...just take a picture.
3. Post that picture with NO editing.
4. Post these instructions with your picture.

Crappy Evil Crappy Evil
Just woke up. Feel like crap. Waiting for medication to kick in. Have 20 minutes before I gotta leave the house for errands.

- E V I L O U T -

September 17th, 2008

04:40 pm: Avast ye scurvy dogs! Talk Like a Pirate Day be approachin'!!
Ahoy me mateys! As the seas of the year grow dark & the skies fall red before the winter storms the day finally comes where we can celebrate in unison an event that draws us all together. Talk Like A Pirate Day! That day is approaching fast. It's this Friday, September 19th, & being a Friday it can easily be extended into Talk Like A Pirate Weekend. So celebrate early, celebrate hard & celebrate long. Just be sure to celebrate.

For your convenience, I have provided a very helpful instructional video, created by those brilliant minds at Loading Ready Run.

- E V I L O U T -

Current Mood: chipperHARRR!

September 6th, 2008

11:00 pm: Day 6 Lost in Dresden
September 6th Day 6 Lost in Dresden

Not a lot to document today, I think. Mainly due to the stress later in the day.

I had such a good time in Berlin so I was hesitant to go but I knew we still had most of a week left to go. The destination today was Dresden. I'll copy from the brochure:
Our journey today brings us to Dresden – known as "Florence on the Elbe". On our arrival an orientation tour shows us highlights of this astonishing Renaissance city including the Opera House & Zwinger Palace. Later, why not take an excursion into the Elbe Valley to visit the Bastei Belvedere?

The church "Hofkirche" and the castle.The first thing I noticed upon arriving is the gorgeous ancient architecture with all the columns & pillars & busts & sculpture & ornate detail set into every building more than 150 years old. There was a castle there right on the street that had an enclosed metal bridge over an alleyway right to the second floor of the Catholic church next door. It was said that since he was raised Lutheran but converted to Catholicism in order to marry, he wanted the bridge built so he wouldn't have to walk on the same ground as the Lutherans. Of course, the unofficial reason given is so he wouldn't have to walk all the way around, especially during the winter.

Further on was a new Lutheran church, recently rebuilt to resemble in exact detail the hundreds year old building that was destroyed in WWII. On the outside it looks just as it did back in the day, complete with fake aging of the stonework. The inside is very extravagant but feels a little more modern. I have a feeling they cut corners here & there, especially when I saw the veins in the "marble" were painted on. I was surprised to note there was no bloody, gory corpse of Christ hanging anywhere in the place. Something quite unusual to me. It was very pretty to look at but when I see structures like that I can't help but wonder how much good it could have benefited humanity had the cost of this building been spent on something useful like medicine. How many artificial hearts could that pile of money have installed? How many lives could have been saved (note: not "saved") through additional research into diseases? I heard a saying a while ago that fits perfectly: "The hands that help are better far than lips that pray." But anyway, like at the Cologne cathedral I snagged a candle as a souvenir & we moved on.

After the church there was an hour or two of free time before the next tour on foot. Dad & I walked around alone & found a couple postcards. He had a beer at Dresden 1900 & I chuckled at Ontario: Canadian Steakhouse. But as it grew closer to noon o'clock we headed back to the meeting place to begin the museum tour. We (thought we) found the place, waited, Noon came with the ringing of church bells all over & went. I didn't see our tour guide or anyone else in our group. So we began a frantic search of the area to find where we were supposed to be. We walked all around, retraced our steps, wandered this way & that, all the while our group was leaving us farther & farther behind in my mind.

Dad was getting really frustrated & finally had enough. We didn't have to actually be anywhere important until 2:30 so he asked me to take him back to the Dresden 1900 to rest while I ran off again in search of our group. I knew we would be noticed as missing from the noon o'clock museum tour & if I didn't find anyone by 2:30 when the bus left the area I knew we would be screwed. I traced our steps once again & hurried around in the open-air museum to see if I could spot them there somewhere. Eventually I decided to just find a phone & call our guide Ingrid on her cell since I had the number. Easier said than done. I could not find a single pay phone anywhere I looked. Not on the streets, not in a hotel or multi-story mall I found. This is when I started getting flustered. I finally went back to the tourist information building that I discovered on our first frantic search to ask where the nearest phone was. The attractive young woman procured a map & examined it for a couple minutes with a college before pointing out two locations several blocks away. I had to point out that I was running out of time & that it was a bit of an emergency & then she just turned around the phone on her desk. But my call to Ingrid wouldn't go through! She is from Austria & so is her phone number so my kind host at the Info building had to find another that would go through. So finally I called & explained to Ingrid what happened & where I was, she consulted with Heidi who knew the area better & I looked out the front of the building to see her waving across the street, ready with the 1:15 tour group. So while Dad & I were all alone wondering where we were supposed to be earlier, everyone else was a mere half block behind us. I was more relived I can say. I ran back to grab dad & we hurried on to the museum, none too late to start the next tour.

The museum was in a part of the castle I mentioned earlier & one of the optional tours, "Art treasures of Royal Dresden." I was a little too rushed & relieved to pay much attention to much of what our guide, Heidi, was saying, but when I did she was usually focusing on something less interesting than what I was reading on the plaques of whatever exhibit caught my eye. It was no matter anyway because halfway through the tour I tried adjusting the radio headset we each had to hear her & accidentally turned it off, thus resetting it & rendering it useless. Anyway there was plenty of rich stuff there. Elaborate pieces of intricate art. Mugs carved of ivory, jewel encrusted this or that. An animatronic warrior on horseback that would ride around on the table after dinner & shoot arrows to determine the next person to speak. I'll find a link to the museum later if I remember because not a lot sunk in after the hectic rush earlier, but the real attraction was the world's largest (& possibly only) green diamond. It's as big as the tip of my thumb & twice as valuable. It gets its clour from exposure to natural radioactivity. I suppose I'd better get more information on the museum because I know Mom would have loved it.

This is just a small gate leading outside from the huge inner courtyardAcross the street is the Zwinger Palace whose remaining outer wall & garden filled courtyard forms a magnificent part of the attraction.

The next optional excursion was to Moritzburg, quite literally a hunting lodge for rich weirdos. The large edifice has been partially restored due to damage during the war so the front exterior wall was made of poured concrete walls rather than traditional brick & mortar. The bricks then, were painted on, much like in a Richard Haas mural. It's a neat effect but rather diminishes the historical appearance of the building. The structure was big enough to be a small palace which is appropriate considering it was built for Prince Moritz. It's mostly empty tho', with period furniture in the rooms we toured which circled the building on one of the upper floors. I didn't find it very interesting so I hung back for most of the tour & enjoyed the padded benches. I did however appreciated the "Hall of Monsters," a gallery of nontypical deer antlers, some natural & some engineered that way. One in particular crested the huge doorway to the gallery. The tips of its antlers had been split somehow so they opened up like flower blossoms. In retrospect I think I would rather have gone to the hotel & hung out with some of our other travelers instead of these optionals, but they were all right. I'm just glad we made it back safe.

The hotel was one of the best by far, if only for the incredible view from our room. It seems everyone had a great view from wherever they were & we were all trading stories that night at dinner. Some saw terraced hills of multi-million dollar villas, others were above the glass enclosed of the swimming pool (enjoyed by nude bathers) & our room looked over the hill our hotel was situated upon & down toward the city. A couple blocks away was the steeple of an ancient church & beyond, many clay tiled rooftops all the way out to the hills on the horizon. That night while writing postcards at the desk in our room I spotted fireworks off in the distance. It was a beautiful display & lasted several minutes. We both enjoyed it & inquired locals about them but never found out what they were for.

Current Mood: relievedrelieved
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September 5th, 2008

11:00 pm: Day 5 Berlin sightseeing & at leisure
September 5th Day 5

Another day with relatively no free time to myself for writing. These tours let you see a hell of a lot in a very short period of time but they tend to burn me out quickly. I'm ready to take a break & go home for a day to veg out & catch up. If this keeps up I'm going to have to try to fill out yesterday & today's reports while on the bus. I may as well since I can't write out postcards while bumping around like that. Vacations would be so much easier if I could go along with them without feeling the need to chronicle events but that's rather difficult. At least I'm trying.

Reichstag  building - Berlin, GermanyThere were three optional tours today & we took them all. In retrospect I could have been fine with skipping the first two during the day but they're all paid for now so I may as well follow through. The first tour was "Berlin – Secret Past: Reichstag Dome & the Wall. The Reichstag is Germany's parliament building. When Hitler became chancellor in 1933 there was a fire there. Conveniently, this gave him an excuse to beef up security, have parliament accused, arrested & executed, & begin changing policies in order to start setting up his eventual dictatorship. Later during his fall, the building suffered more extensive damage as allied forces closed in on his reported location. There are many small blemishes in the original stone walls & columns, little squares about two to four square inches. These are bullet holes from the war that have been repaired. You see these throughout the city here & there. I can't say all of them are bullet holes but considering this is Berlin, I wouldn't be surprised.

Atop the Reichstag is a new glass dome, built in the 1990s to replace the original destroyed in the war. Inside is an enormous funnel of mirrors, strategically placed to reflect light down into the fully enclosed parliament room 360 days of the year (there wasn't room for 365.) Just inside the dome is a dual spiral staircase that winds all the way up to an observation deck at the top where you can see the entire city of Berlin. Point of note: this part of Germany is very flat but as you look out over the city you see a few strange hills. They seem out of place & that's because they are. The allied bombing & raiding of the city created a great deal of debris & rubble. What couldn't be salvaged or recycled was just piled up & built over, creating these hills, each from hundreds of thousands of tons of said rubble.

Now, just a couple blocks down the street from the Reichstag is a building that stands on the spot where Hitler had his original bunker that would house him & Eva & a couple hundred other necessary people. He eventually decided that this wasn't good enough, especially as allies were getting closer by day so he had another one built. A secret bunker right across the street; gasproof, bombproof & underground. This is where he spent his last days & inevitably killed himself. It was never destroyed. It's still there & we drove right past. The Russians just covered it with sand & turned it into a parking lot. All that is visibly there is a historical marker with the story of the "Secret Bunker Myth." Misleading, because there are still crazies & neo-nazis that would want to treat those grounds as something special & march there or hold rallies or what not.

The Holocaust Memorial is not too far from the Reichstag & yes you read correctly. I was going to call it the Memorial to Irony since it was Germany after all that thought this genocide was a swell idea. But it was commissioned by the nation of Islam which makes more sense. It consists of rows & rows of thousands of blocks of rectangular blocks of concrete. They vary slightly in size & aren't spaced perfectly even which is supposed to give the viewer a sense of uneasiness. I would have liked to walk around in there to get a closer look at the whole area but the bus kept moving on.

The next destination was a bit less gloomy. We stopped at the largest section of the Berlin wall left standing. It's only a few KM long & still bears the original graffiti left by West Berliners. Of course, Berlin tolerates graffiti in general (which is obvious all over) so much more has been added to the wall since it's removal in 1990. (It was forbidden in East Berlin so since reunification they have apparently been making up for lost time.) A lot of the original artwork is beautiful & moving & I took many pictures. Unfortunately, we were given less time than the guide originally said so all too soon we were herded back on the bus.

The tour ended in the late morning but another one (also optional) began not long after. This was to Potsdam to see the former palace of Prussia's Fredrick the Great. His father was a pushy ass who wanted to make a man out of his son so he forced him to learn to fight & battle & all that macho stuff but Fredrick didn't like any of that. When he was still a child he even tried to escape the country with a friend of his. When he was caught his father threatened to disown him if he ever did that again. Then young Fredrick was forced to watch as his friend was beheaded. Later, after he rose to power & became ruler he declared that upon his passing he would never be buried near his father's grave. Unfortunately, due to politics that's exactly where his final resting place was set. Even when the graves were eventually moved (for reasons which I presently forget) they were placed together again. Until, later still, the graves were again moved, this time Fredrick finally got his wish, over 200 years later, to be buried by himself next to his 11 beloved hunting dogs.

We also toured the Cecilienhof, which witnessed the signing of the treaty by President Truman, Winston Churchill & Josef Stalin which dictated the fate of Germany following WWII. This building was also once owned by Fredrick the Great & contained a room which was modeled after the cabin of a cruise ship so his mistress could go there when she felt like "sailing." It also had the benefit of being seasick proof.

This tour ended about two o'clock giving us four hours to ourselves before the (also optional) Berlin by Night with drinking, fine dining, live music & a tour of the city after dark. Instead of going up to my room like a good boy to work on my journal or write a postcard to my mother I went out to see a couple of the sights given too little time the day before. Since they were reputed to be within walking distance I set off on foot in the direction indicated by a fellow tour member & promptly got lost. I kept seeing landmarks familiar from the constant bus riding through the area back & forth to the hotel but none seemed to be in the right place. I did find a neat old copper-roofed cathedral that I'd only seen from a distance and/or obscured by other buildings & get some good pictures of it. (Most of my vacation photos this time around are of neat old buildings.) But I decided to turn around & try to find my way back to someplace familiar & start again. It didn't take long before I saw that big statue in the middle of the street of a man on a horse on a pedestal that I knew I was in the right direction. I found the Underground Library again & finally got those photos I wanted, & also paid my respects to the tragic loss of human knowledge & humanity that burned in that square so long ago. Then I headed down another few blocks to the area that is quickly becoming my favourite in Berlin, the Brandenburg gate. It's so incredible & awe inspiring to me the history & significance of that place & is one of the sights I will remember most when reminiscing about this vacation.

The last event of the evening was the aforementioned Berlin by Night. We went to a local restaurant that, tho' small, seemed well equipped to handling large crowds. They had a limited but tasty menu for the event which included for our tour unlimited beverages (especially alcohol) so our crowd really had a good time. The live keyboardist & clarinetist that were barely audible when we first entered gradually captured everyone's spirits as they played more & more lively music, including a 30 minute medley of folk songs, both American, German & other. I was especially surprised to hear the Chicken Dance to which our tour guide Ingrid danced with a shy & quiet Australian fellow. It was a fantastic dinner & I was finally able to see the comradery & general good spirits that can flow through people in the right situations. It's times like these that return a little bit of my faith in humanity.

At eight thirty it was plenty dark, we'd all had our deserts & it was time to continue onward through the city. There was plenty to see out the windows but most of the entertainment was had on the bus itself as the somewhat less inhibited passengers told jokes, laughed it up & had a generally jovial time. It was a really good evening & some of my frustrations from earlier in the day had dropped away by the time we finally returned to our room for the night.

Now I must make a partial start on packing my bags to be ready to leave tomorrow morning for Dresdin. Highlights include the Moritzberg Castle.

- E V I L O U T -

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September 4th, 2008

11:00 pm: Day Hamburg to Berlin (West & East)
Day 4 Thursday Sept. 4th.

It was another long bus ride but not quite so long as it was to Hamburg. On our way to Berlin we watched a documentary (high tech bus!) on the history of the separation of Germany following WWII, the split of Berlin & subsequent reunification starting in 1990. It was very informative & moving. I remember hearing about the events when I was back in middle school but never truly appreciated their significance until now. Both the split & the reunification really messed up the country. They're still recovering from the latter because once they reformed the lousy economy of the East sapped that of the West. It will probably be at least another generation or two before their economy finally heals.

The video really made me want to visit the Brandenburg Gate. It's a beautiful structure completed in 1791 & commissioned by the King of Prussia, Fredrick William II as a sign of peace. It is the the only one left standing out of many that were originally entryways to Berlin. Time & again it has been used as a symbol for peace & unity. Kennedy made his famous "I am a Jelly Donut" speech there as well as Regan with "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Clinton spoke there about peace in post Cold War Europe & Obama was a block or so away, if not at the gate too, making some speech or another.

The bus stopped at Kaufhaus desWestens in Berlin, an upscale department store where we had lunch at the food court on the top floor & were let loose for a couple hours to explore the area. The Kurfürstendamm, West Berlin's most best-known street is home to a number of landmarks, which is why I suspect we stopped a that particular area for lunch. One such landmark is the Brigitte und Martin Matschinsky-Denninghoff Sculpture, a large metal tubular form (each part as big around as a tree-trunk) intertwining around itself with the halves never meeting. Another symbol of the once-divided country & city. Locals call it "the intestines."

Down the road is the Kaiser wilhelm Memorial Church, also known as "the hollow tooth." It looks just that & I got some fantastic vertical pan shots with my Game Boy Camera. Much of it was destroyed when we bombed the shit out of Berlin in 1943 &now only the lower 200 or so feet remain. It's been left as such as another reminder of the damage done during the war, much like the memorial in Hiroshima. It's pretty ragged & grim but rather astounding when you consider that it's still standing 60 years later. Inside is a touristy area when you can buy souvenirs & postcards & such. The original mosaics still cover the inside walls, ceiling & floor with some obvious repair work. A new modern church was built to replace this one for actual church stuff & it stands in two parts on either side. One is tall & skinny, presumably the bell tower. And the other is short & squat, probably the chapel. Both are completely covered in blue wrap-around stained glass tiles. It looks really neat but out of place so close next to the semi-ruins. One or the other would look better in the same spot but having them together is probably yet another symbol for the city rising from the ashes of war.

At the main intersection at the end of that block is a bizarre sculpture in an inexplicable combination of two automobiles & concrete stated by the artist as some sort of sexual representation. Even our tour guide didn't get it.

On the way back to the meeting place I saw some street dancers break dancing to Michael Jackson's music. I made Dad stop so I could stay & watch them for a while. It was a beautiful day & I got some great pictures. But alas, we had to move on.

We met back at the department store & got on the bus for our orientation of Berlin. A local guide joined us so Ingrid sat back with the rest of us while we listened to Ita give us the rundown on the city. We traveled through both East & West which is pretty messed up since less than 20 years ago you still had the whole Communist & Wall thing. Except for a few areas where some old, soulless cold-war era buildings remain & various lengths of the Wall still stand the city is pretty much one piece now. There are some city streets that have a double row of bricks embedded in the pavement running wherever the Wall originally stood. We crossed back & forth many times just in traveling from place to place.

Naturally we stopped at the Brandenburg Gate in our orientation. It was even more beautiful than in the videos, no doubt aided by the fact that it was privately refurbished in 2000 for $6 million. The area is foot traffic only, much like State Street. Also like State Street was a gaggle of sightseers, musicians & locals just there to hang out. A gentleman in East German Police garb at a table next to a display where you could get your photo taken with a soviet flag & woman in uniform was selling souvenir passport stamps. Here, you could legally have your Passport marked with any one of many significant areas of the country. Being currently in East Berlin & headed toward the gate where the borderline lay, I had mine stamped for exiting East Germany. (Those without passport handy could also take home a souvenir visa.)

A couple months prior back at home I found a neat little black bag at Ragstock. It had an important looking insignia & the word "SHUTZPOLIZEI" printed on the outer flap. I didn't know what it meant but it looked neat & I used it all the time back home. I brought it with me to Germany since it's much handier than dragging around my backpack when getting on & off the bus all day. The fellow at the East German checkpoint took special notice of it & asked some questions. Then came the shocker. Little did I realize I had brought back to Europe a (possibly vintage) East German Special Police bag! A rather fitting coincidence, but an even more extraordinary one was yet to come once we reached Munich.

Time was (as usual) limited but I had to go through the gate. I couldn't learn so much about it in one day & not get near it. I walked all the way through from East to West, took a great deal of photos, both colour & with the Game Boy, then use the video capture feature on my camera to record my walk back through. It wasn't nearly enough time but I took heart knowing that our hotel was said to be a 15 minute walk away. We were staying two nights in Berlin so I was pretty certain I would have time to return.

The bus paused again a couple blocks away at the Underground Library. Not so much a real library, it's a memorial on Bebel Platz to commemorate the Nazi-ordered book burning of May 10th, 1933. From a distance it just looks like a plate of glass embedded in the center of a cobbled courtyard. When you come nearer it becomes evident that it's a window looking down into an underground chamber. It's a square, white room lined completely with bookshelves. The shelves are all entirely empty. There is enough room to house 20 – 30,000 books, the estimated number that were burned that horrible day. I was particularly moved, & as I waiting on the spot for my turn to attempt a photograph of the memorial my mind whirled back in time to find myself standing amid a mountain of books topped with a pillar of flame & smoke as leaves of white curled to black & soared into the sky of that evil night. Foreign voices cheered & shouted as more bricks of knowledge & history were hurled at the pile.... My tour group had moved on, the bus was running. On our way to the hotel Ita quoted Heinrich Heine, "Those who burn books would also burn people."

After settling in at the hotel we got ready for the optional extra outing on a scenic drive to the green outskirts of the city, which were used as the Royal Hunting grounds in centuries past. Today it's an exclusive residential district & where we found our chalet-style restaurant for a formal dinner on traditional German specialties. Our dining choices were decided hours before while still on the bus to Berlin. This is because one of the dishes requires four hours preparation time. Guess what I ordered.
Drinks were unlimited & some of the group took full advantage of this. Not really spectacular considering I only drank water from the pitchers on the tables or "Coke Light."

There were four choices from our special menu. Dad ordered trout which was stated to excellent. Being a rather fancy dinner Dad vowed not to use his fingers or suck on the bones but the meat was so tender it just scraped right off cleanly with a fork. Mine was the same, tho' I didn't order the trout. I had the dish that took four hours to prepare. I ordered the pig knuckle!

I'd never had pig knuckle before. I wasn't even sure which part of the pig it was from -- tho' presumably some part of the leg or feet, which conjured up images of jars at the grocery crammed horrifyingly full with pickled pig's parts. -- The server set it down before me & all I could do was stare. It was just a plate with a blob of rolling pink flesh. The mashed turnips & sauerkraut was served in a dish on the side, presumably so the hideous mass could rhythmically undulate with that much more freedom. It takes so long to prepare because it is boiled for four hours to make the meat so soft & tender. This makes it a bloated, gelatinous misshapen.... um, food item, which I was currently preparing myself to eat. It looked like an enormous water-filled ear. I wish I had taken a picture of the thing because it was really just magnificent. No! I wish I had recorded video of it to share with everyone back home. Maybe I can find something on YouTube later. Anyway, not to be put off I dug right in & the first bite conformed what I knew all along. It was pork. Delicious pork. It was better than any Easter dinner or ham sammich I had ever had. I never knew meat could be so soft; it was nearly a liquid. In fact, it was hardly meat at all & more of a tasty pork pudding! I declared this aloud to my dining companions who were trying to distract themselves with their own meals. (There were only like three people in our group that had ordered pig knuckle & they were currently seated at other tables.) Dad was happy enough to try some & enjoyed it. He even ordered a half pig knuckle with cracklins one night in Munich. There was quite a bit of knuckle so I didn't finish my side of kraut & turnips, but if I find a place locally that serves pig knuckle as good as the one I had there I'm treating friends!

- E V I L O U T -

Current Mood: chipperchipper
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September 3rd, 2008

09:40 pm: Day 3: Cologne to Hamburg
Ich bien ein Hamburger!

That's not what President Kennedy said when he was touring Germany but it's what the residents of Hamburg wanted him to say when he traveled to their city sometime after his famous speech in Berlin. Hamburg is where we went today & from where I am currently writing. A large part of today was simply driving from Cologne to Hamburg. Check your map & you'll see what I mean. It took about six hours drive time. Time enough at last to finish the excellent book, World War Z by Max Brooks. But that's another story.

Since the bus was delayed due to traffic we skipped stopping at our hotel to settle in & went straight to the center of town where we had our late lunch. It was in a food court type area with lots of little restaurants surrounding a narrow central eating area with tall tables & no chairs. All the convenience & variety of a mall food court with none of the tackiness. I was determined to get a hamburger while in Hamburg but was suddenly distracted by the delicious looking selection of grilled brats & sausages cooking at the frankfurter stand. The lady there was very helpful & I have to commend her customer service in both speed & quality. She also spoke perfect English. "Boiled or grilled? Spicy or not spicy? Garlic or no garlic? Mustard, ketchup? Potato salad with yogurt, vinegar or mayonnaise?" Once we got to her we were in & out of line in a couple minutes.

There wasn't much time to ourself after lunch because we had opted to take the side tour & cruise that afternoon so Dad & I didn't go much farther than around the block & up a couple of streets to get some pictures, especially of this huge, ornate copper roofed building at the end of the square opposite from where we ate. I don't know the building's name or purpose but I'm betting it's historic & civic. I have plenty of photos so I can identify it later if I remember.

I found a subway entrance so we ventured down the three flors to the tracks. There were no turnstiles or guards so I don't know how people pay to ride the mass transit system. I do know that the platform we found was loaded with ads for Converse Chucks, which I happened to be wearing at the time. Of course by then it was nearly time to meet back on the bus so we rushed back, stopping only to pick up a Hamburg ball cap for Dad since he inexplicably did not bring one on this trip.

The optional side tour began with a trip through Hamburg's Red Light district. And yes, I do mean that sort of Red Light district. Evidently prostitution is legal here. It's government regulated & the prostitutes pay taxes. There is still crime & problems with pimps & mafia types, but the average citizen isn't afraid to walk the streets at night. Which, by the way, is the only time the hookers are allowed to go out looking for business & only in certain areas. Naturally enough there is also a myriad of sex shops in that area. A whole string of the all down one of the streets we traveled. Sex toys & clothes & topless clubs with explicit advertising right on the street. It was definitely an eye-opener.

The cruise, unfortunately, was somewhat less interesting. Since the city is located where the river Elbe meets with rivers Alster & Bille there is a lot of water traffic. Huge shipping containers docked & loading, preparing for voyages to the rest of the world. Other ships in floating dry docks for repairs or renovations. One we saw was being cut in half so it could be elongated. All this was interesting to me in that I used to work with & unload shipping containers, but the majority of the tour was spent driving by these carriers & ships like them so my attention just drifted along. I also couldn't hear our guide through the PA since I was on the stern outside of the cabin & just about everything was drowned out by the roar of the diesel engines. I was much more interested in the warehouse district we drove through. Blocks & blocks of huge buildings surrounded by water. They said that Hamburg has more bridges than Venice. Of course, they also have more Germans than Venice so take what you will from the significance of that comparison. The buildings were really neat. Even those that weren't ornate usually still had interesting architecture beyond the merely functional. I remember lots of red brick buildings separated by narrow alleyways that our captain steered us through with the precision of a tour bus driver. It seems incredible that he didn't hit anything during those sharp turns.

The side tour took a little over an hour, then we were picked up by the bus & rest of the tour-goers & continued onward to an orientation of the city. There isn't much remarkable stuff to report as the bulk of the day was spent on the bus, but I believe tomorrow we head to Berlin, & I am a Jellydonut!

E V I L O U T -

P.S. Someone remind me to talk about the two-way windows & the pay toilets while I'm still out here.

Current Location: Hamburg, Germany
Current Music: Burnt Weenie Sandwich (album)

September 2nd, 2008

10:24 pm: From Frankfurt to Cologne
Day 2 Ride on the Rhine & Cologne cathedral

Today began very early. Today began at five AM! I'm never awake at five AM to start a day. End it, sure; I'm a night owl but five o'clock it was today. It helped that I crashed & burned about seven or eight o'clock the night before. I'd been awake 26+ hours after all. The wake up call wasn't officially until six but Dad's alarm went early & I figured I may as well start then. It definitely helped having that extra time to pack.

Breakfast was a buffet in the hotel, which is how I prefer them, tho' I don't normally have shrimp or pickled herring, or raw pork for that matter. I did find the scrambled eggs & bacon in the next room & enjoyed a variety of new (to me) & traditional breakfastery.

We left on the bus at 7:15 sharp for our first destination. Again, like Japan, our tour guide Ingrid hardly stopped talking the entire drive there, giving us a not-so brief history of Germany & listing off the particular hardships suffered by Germans in present day. She described Germany's involvement in both world wars but did some eggshell tiptoeing on the subject of Hitler. It was a pretty depressing ride & I kept wishing she would just step down & let people ask questions since there were obviously many. Unfortunately she already seems to have a series of lectures worked out for every ride.

Our first stop was in St. Goar where we boarded the Loreley Cruise Line triple-decker boat to ride up the lovely Rhine river (after making three U-turns to pick up some late passengers & then return on its way.) The Rhine is like Europe's version of the Mississippi with its importance in shipping & transportation. It's also set in a deep river valley (the part we traveled at least) with cliffs overhead where orchards & vineyards are planted on swatches of steep terraced land. Imagine picking grapes at a 50 degree angle. There are also quite a few castles up on those cliffs which were the highlight of the trip for me. Being a robber-baron back in the day certainly paid well.

Also up on the Rhine is the infamous Loreley, the legend of the young nude maiden whom sailors saw up on a clifftop at a particularly sharp bend in the river, who was combing her long, blond hair. Naturally the sailors would get distracted & ram their boats into the rocks. Surely a testament for the ages, either of the wickedness of women or the stupidity of men.

The Rhine cruise departed in Boppard where we then drove past bonn, Beethoven's birthplace on our way to Cologne. The first part of that drive was much the same as driving through the black hills of South Dakota with narrow, twisting roads scaling dreadfully steep hillsides. I don't see how it was possible to get such a huge bus up those roads but however it happened, it happened & we made it back onto the Autobahn without dying in a fiery wreck.

En route to the next city our guide had us sign up for any optional excursions we may be interested in. There were nearly a dozen to choose from & for an additional cost allowed us to explore other parts of the country & culture. These will be during what would normally be scheduled free time so no events will have to be sacrificed for others. Dad signed us up for ALL of them, citing how he wanted to get the most out of our trip. I'm sure we will, but this may mean I'll have less time to chronicle our journeys. My entries may be much abbreviated but I'll try to get down as much as I can.

The next stop was the city of Cologne, also on the Rhine. The feature attraction is the incredible gothic cathedral therein. Constructed from the 1200s to 1800s it stands as a monument to art & architecture for millennia, and also how bloody wealthy the Catholic church is. There's so much detail crammed into & onto every available space on the outside of the building that it's difficult to look at without some sense of awe. It towers over everything for blocks around & the centuries of soot & pollution encrusted to its exterior give an antiquing effect to the intricate detail all about, making it even more gothic & dark & beautiful.

We had about three hours of free time to ourselves in Cologne & I think most of it with Dad & me was spent in the cathedral. We went around the main floor where most of the tourists were & spent plenty of time gawking at the vaulted ceilings & stained glass windows (all stored safely in a salt mine during WWII) & especially for me, the freaking huge pipe organ hanging over the main nave near the center of the cathedral. I obviously don't know my way around churches so most of the purpose of its layout was a mystery to me, but I still marveled at the detail & artistry that went into every inch of the place. About the only thing that isn't done to the nines in that place is the vaulted ceiling, which is painted a plain white. I guess that's still to come.

Off behind the gift shop on the ground floor is a narrow circular stairwell. For 2.5 Euros you could climb the spiral staircase up & up. We did. There are 509 steps to traverse, counterclockwise & on bowl shaped risers that may have once been flat but gradually worn away through several centuries of foot traffic. The space is narrow, barely wide enough for two people to stand abreast & as you ascend the ceiling gradually nears your head. As soon as you pass under the arched entrance you see graffiti on the walls. Nearly every free space is covered with names, dates & messages from other people who have climbed these stairs. All the way up you see "I was here" & its equivalent variations in many languages, over & over again. The oldest message I found was dated 1980. The youngest was this year & I wouldn't doubt that a new one was written today. There's plenty of space left. Aside from the graffiti the climb reminded me much of the trip to the top of the state capitol dome I made in 2004. Cramped quarters & many stairs spiraling upward to infinity, occasionally passing by a slitted window where you could briefly see just how many stories you had ascended. The windows were regularly spaced but opened out upon seemingly random views like behind a statue or particularly scrolly bit of decoration. Not all were convenient but most were appreciated as those that were open let in the cool afternoon air from the overcast day. The stairs led up to a couple of side areas, one being the bell tower where the seven enormous bells hung, ready for striking, & the other a wide open circular room with a high celing & surrounding, you guessed it, more stairs. This zigzag staircase led up the final score of meters to the top. The uppermost point you could get without climbing out on the roof. This conical room was partially open to the air due to the decorative cutouts in the stone. The room tapered to a point at the top & was the highest point in the right-hand tower. There is a walkway outside it, fenced in to prevent people from falling out & others from adding to the graffiti adorning the gargoyles & various other stone decorations. Top of the world, ma!

The trip down was much easier & we still had time to check out the restored Roman archway (AD 50) on the courtyard just outside the cathedral & stop for lunch at a little cafe a block or two away. After a complete circuit of the outside of the cathedral it was time to get back on the bus & go to the hotel.

The welcome dinner was this evening & fine dining was in the air as we all had plenty of opportunity to visit & get to know each other. Tomorrow takes us to Hamburg. Hopefully I'll have more later. Right now I just want to shower & sleep. It's nearly 10:30 after all. ~_^

- E V I L O U T -

Note: Yesterday's entry can be viewed here

Current Location: Cologne, Germany
Current Music: "Wish You Were Here pt 1" ~ Pink Floyd

September 1st, 2008

11:00 pm: Flight & Arrival in Frankfurt
September 1st Day one Frankfurt & Offenbach

Things have gone ok so far. We got to the Park & Ride with plenty of time to spare. The Van Galder bus got us to O'Hare with plenty of time to spare, & the flight into Frankfurt was fairly uneventful.

On the flight across the ocean we sat pretty much at the back of the plane, constantly deafened by the roar of the engines. I had earplugs & got some decent resting time – you know, that pleasant feeling of closing your eyes, clearing your mind & letting yourself drift – but haven't actually slept yet. The plane seats were just too small. I could get my legs comfortable but there would always be strain somewhere else like my neck or an arm. I'll sleep like the dead tonite, but now that we've finally made it to the Sheritan Offenbach alive & well & settled in I feel like I could drift off at any moment. Which explains why my current recollections are probably going to sound random & disjointed. But I'm running with it. So be prepared.

I mentioned the flight was uneventful, but there were still a couple points of note: a young man & an adult sat behind us on the flight over. The fellow had normal attire but the young man was dressed very specifically. Black pants with some odd light coloured strings hanging here & there in a seemingly specific manner. A white shirt under a black coat. A black beanie. (A Jewish-type beanie. I know the name but can't spell it so it's just “beanie” for now) And a black, wide brimmed hat. I presume he's Jewish but I don't know what kind. Extremist of some sort I'd guess considering the complete attire. Now, I didn't obsessively monitor this young man but since I don't understand his culture a couple things struck me as odd so I am merely listing them here out of curiosity. I'll read up a bit more once I return home.

Twice during the journey across the ocean he got up to retrieve his coat & wide brimmed hat (he wore the beanie throughout most of the trip but the hat would go over this) & return to his seat. He would then read from a book in some middle-eastern script while rocking back & forth. I only noticed this during the second time but he also held some sort of plastic block to his forehead with straps tying around the back of his head. This pushed his hat further back on his head making the entire ordeal look extremely odd. I found it rather amusing that during this he would occasionally glance out the window & get distracted by the view, thus halting his rocking. He'd eventually catch himself & the process would begin again. I never made it obvious I was looking since I, too, spent a great deal of time staring out the window, but I did chuckle a bit inside.

I tried to nap quite a bit once we'd settled in but after a long while gave up, especially since it was dawn again outside. It's an odd feeling that is, seeing it's one AM by your watch & watching the sun rise. Travel can really mess you up. Anyway, when I finally resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't get any real sleep for a while I noticed that I could see daylight outside & devoted myself to leaning over my sleeping father to peer out the window. I saw a vast, white landscape slowly appearing through the hazy early light. It was a flat, nearly featureless plane which looked too strange to be real. My first thought was of ice! but I knew we wouldn't be that far north toward the arctic circle. Still, the fissures here & there & the endless white as far as I could see spoke only of the great frozen north. It was beautiful & eerie, & it held my gaze until I finally decided to get my damned glasses to finally figure out what it was. Well it still looked like ice but I figured I was wrong. Clouds have many moods & forms & that's probably what this unusual landscape was. I returned to my book & would check back later to find the truth. *

Sometime later I saw on the video screens that their stateside television programming had ceased & returned to the current flight progress which included current time in our departure & arrival cities & a map with a handy line of our flight so far. Ireland was fast approaching so I put down my book & returned to the window.

The first thing I noticed about Ireland was how irregular the fields were. In the Midwest they're large & square, covering vast acreages of land. What I saw below me was much the opposite. Fields were small & irregular, growing either a great variety of crops, as evidenced by the colour. Instead of clearing all of the land to make way for the fields they seem to have followed more of the lay of the land for what they needed. Also sprouting here & there were many small windfarms of anywhere from six to twelve windmills each. It's a trick of perspective but the land appeared much closer since the windmills are so huge.

Landing was delayed slightly which inevitably threw a wrench into the plans. The plane had no gate ready so they wheeled stairways up to the exits & we took a bus into the terminal. After customs & luggage I was so disoriented that I didn't know where to go. The tour brochure said to meet at a predesignated “Meeting Point” at the airport which I did eventually find but it was long after the last designated tour bus departure. So after exchanging our American money we took a 30 euro cab ride 15km to the hotel.

We settled in for a bit, spread out on the beds, I showered & tried to pretend that it was one thirty in the afternoon instead of six o'clock in the morning. I began the first half of the first day of this travelogue, interrupted only by the welcome drink & tour orientation scheduled at 3:30.

We met our guide for the journey, Ingrid, an friendly Austrian, who explained the basics of the tour, what sort of accommodations to expect & who to go to for questions. Then began a brief tour of Frankfurt which centered largely on their financial district & the enormous & banks. Allied forces bombed the shit out of Frankfurt during WWII so there really wasn't much left of the old city afterward. They rebuilt through the following decades & successfully reconstructed many areas to look as they had before the war. But not everything was destroyed. A building here & there remained unscathed after the bombing & many were kept since then to preserve their historic importance. So you will have these centuries old gothic cathedrals across the street from enormous, modern designed shiny skyscrapers. It's an odd contrast & one that keeps you on your toes.

We dined while out & about too. I wanted to go to this sausage place that Ingrid recommended. There was a good variety there but I had to have a frankfurter, being in Frankfurt & all. It was delicious, & served with a variety of potato salad & a healthy dollup of mustard. However, to drink I ordered a applevein (I'm sure I've butchered the spelling) which Dad assured me to be the apple cider that had also been mentioned. It was not. It was actually a very strong apple wine which I couldn't finish, however thirsty I was. Heh. Like Japan, the first alcoholic drink I had in the country was accidental.

The room was nice enough. I probably don't need to go into detail about it but I made a note about it this morning as I was rushing to try to finish this entry. There is also a note about “street” which I don't follow either. Anyway, I'm over a day late as I finish this so I had better get started on Tuesday's (today's) entry.

- E V I L O U T -

*It really was just clouds.

Current Location: Frankfurt, Germany
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: "Wish You Were Here pt 1" ~ Pink Floyd

August 31st, 2008

11:50 am: Farewell
My ride to the bus station will be here in about 10 minutes. Then the long drive to the airport, followed by the long wait for the departure time, & then the long flight across the ocean. Even discounting troubles like finding the right gate & checking luggage, I'm not looking forward to this part of the journey. Anyway....


~ E V I L O U T ~

Current Mood: sadlonesome
Current Music: A favourtie track from Castlevania IV from the other room

August 29th, 2008

12:00 am: Pre German Panic

It's come to that time in preparations for a trip where I don't know what to do next. I'm half-packed but need to collect some other things before I can put more stuff in the suitcase. The clothes are the easy part. It's everything else that makes things complex. Finding & charging the right rechargeable batteries for the camera. Wiping the memory card for said camera & hoping the batteries didn't get mixed in with the old set that gradually drains themselves when not in use. Deciding what little toys to bring to keep myself entertained on the flight & endless bus rides. Running to the store when I realize I've forgotten something (like socks. Will do that tomorrow.) Fiddly stuff. And on top of all that, I'm lazy.

Hopefully I'll have more time tomorrow. Today my new laptop computer arrived & I've been devoting a lot of time to setting that up & downloading necessary applications. It also uses Windows Vista which I have never used before & spent a couple hours swearing at while attempting to a few simple tasks. Thankfully I was able to revert it to "Windows Classic" mode so it's much easier to find what I'm looking for. I could write up a list of things that are annoying me right now but I'm still learning & I'll eventually get used to most of them. With luck, German wi-fi will be the same as here so I can blog as I go. At the very least, I have a portable word processor that can record my thoughts much faster than a standard pen or pencil.

The next two days are largely going to be spent packing. Not that I'm bringing several steamer trunks along, just that certain items take more time to organize & bring together than others.

I've already decided to bring a book of Lovecraft & a newer purchase, World War Z by Max Brooks, recommended to me by matt_william. (And a fine recommendation it is.) I'm enjoying the latter so much that I find I'm switching back & forth with it & The Whisperer in Darkness. I'm usually not a two-book-at-a-time kind of guy (unless one of them has a lot of pictures in it) but it's been working out so far.

Also working well is the diet. I've been on it a little more than a month & am showing consistent results. I'm already predicting the trip to Germany to be a setback since you don't travel the world just to eat salads, but I'll be back in two weeks, at it as hard as ever to catch up on whatever ground I've lost.

Mmmm. My mouth is already watering for that delicious juicy bratwurst.

In other news, I'm gaming again. (exclamation point, exclamation point) D&D with the old group (or one of them) just like the good old days. It may be too early to be optimistic but at present it looks like we may be able to keep this up regularly for a while. Possibly once or twice a month. I'll have to sneak Chad a copy of the Call of Cthulhu D20 rules so he can get some ideas (bwa ha ha.) Even if it's D&D CoC it will be much better than that crappy CoC game last year that was canceled while I was en route to the first meeting because the DM got a girlfriend. Anyway, even if it is a 70 mile drive north just to game I'm not complaining anymore because my friends up there are finishing their basement to look like the interior of a castle & dungeon just for gaming. Complete with bar.

What else? ... Got a couple more prints framed, finally. One was put into an old frame laviorli gave me when she moved out of town & it fits perfectly. If people ever come over again they'll see. I still have my "Economic Stimulus" check unopened & unspent. I've been thinking for a long time what to do with it. Naturally the best idea is to plunk it in the Credit Union, CD or Savings Bond, but I may just put it toward getting my Time Bandits map framed right. Otherwise it would cost more than I'm comfortable with were I to pay straight out of pocket. Still not entirely sure yet. It'll stay in the envelope for now.

The other day while at wal-mart I saw 8 Wiis in the electronics section just sitting there on a rack. What's up with that?

For those still with us, the Highway 18 outdoor theater is showing a triple feature this weekend for Labor Day. It doesn't say anything about a "Dusk 'til Dawn" special like last year (which was a blast) but it's nice to see they're still doing something special, whether I can be there or not.

Also going to be missed is the Cooksville Thresheree. I don't hit it every year but I do still attend from time to time. Hmm. Looks like I missed out on the Bristol Ren Faire too. Crap.

Anyway, before I sign out, a special happy early birthday to jeklnskinsgrl as I will be unavailable that weekend for any festivities. Have a cool 22.

- E V I L O U T -

Current Music: Darwinia soundtrack
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