Saturday, 31 July 2010

Southern Discomfort

There aren't really that many things I'm that opinionated about. I'm supposed to be an "intellectual", but often have no clear conviction what books, movies etc. I actually prefer. And when it comes to clothes, furnishing and so on, I'm even less opinionated.

However, I do have rather clear opinions when the existential stuff is concerned - the things that give meaning to life. Such as the opposite sex. And not least music.

Although I grew up in the 70s, the music from that decade is actually the one I like the least. The 60s were a golden age, and the 80s are much better than their reputation. But the music from around 1968 and onwards is in my view a real bummer. I blame the hippies.

All afternoon I've listened to my neoghbour's musical preferences from an open window. It started bad, with Creedence Clearwater Revivals' "Have You Ever Seen The Rain", and went from bad to worse, with Nazareth and "Love Hurts". When "Living Next Door To Alice" followed, I hardly believed my ears. What kind of person was this, playing all my most hated ballads from the 70s?!

At that point I actually started betting with myself what could be the next tune. Rod Stewart's "Sailing"? Or maybe Bonnie Tyler with "It's A Heartache"? It turned out, however, that the guy now had decided to dedicate the afternoon entirely to Creedence. One by one, "Bad Moon Rising", "Rolling On The River" and "Down On The Corner" sounded from the open window. Finally, however, he went on to play The Wall in its entirety. And in all fairness, I don't hate Pink Floyd. I just dislike them strongly.

Sometimes I wonder how one actually knows what one knows. Even about things one's not interested in at all. When I hear names like Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band or Lynyrd Skynyrd, I don't know one single song title. But I still "know" that these are bands I definitely don't like, and which all can be categorized as "down to earth Southern rock'n'roll... (Even the term gives me a bad taste in my mouth... Ugh!)

I guess many may disagree with me. We all have different tastes (or in this case: distastes). But as I said, music is one of rather few topics about which I can be quite opinionated.

Monday, 26 July 2010

InterRail 2010

After my return from my InterRail trip through Central Europe, here's a little summary:

30 June - 4 July: Berlin, Germany

The first day I spent, according to tradition, just walking up and down the streets, in order to get a gist of the city's "nerve". I went along Kurfürstendamm, through Tiergarten, past the Reichstag and Brandenburger Tor, all the way to Alexanderplatz. It's always like that when I visit new places: I walk until my feet are sore. (But that doesn't matter as long as der kleine Laden um die Ecke sells lovely Orangina. In 1 litre bottles, even!)

The last time I visited Berlin, an ugly wall went through the city. It had disappeared since then, but entering the former East Berlin I still got some of the same old feeling. Some may remember the postcards you could get until quite recently, with photos of the local sights, apparently hand-(Techno)colored, all with car models from the 50s! Well, entering the eastern parts of Berlin I got a bit of the same feeling. The spirit from the GDR days was still in the air. The only thing missing was the blue Trabi's.

But there's still one reminiscence from the GDR era I kind of like: "der Ampelmann". As opposed to our western, stylized matchstick traffic light man, East Germany had a much more charming chap. He looked as if he was taken from some ultra-educational cartoon (and maybe he was, too). And you can still see him at several of Berlin's pedestrian crossings.

During these days I also got a chance to visit a couple of museums. Including the "Wall Museum" by the old Checkpoint Charlie. Lots of interesting information about the personal stories and fates associated to The Wall of Shame.

I also visited the "Museumsinsel" - an island (or rather an peninsula) containing several museums with cultural historical treasures from antiquity. Once again I was reminded of these names that tend to turn up when I'm out travelling and visiting the local museums (and then forget again): Schliemann, Champollion, Ventris, etc.

I really enjoyed Berlin. But after four days I started dreaming of German conjugations and dative forms, and realized I maybe ought to get somewhere I wouldn't even try to speak the native tongue... :-)

4 - 6 July: Prague, Czech Republic

Although I had four great and eventful days in Berlin, it still felt as if my InterRail travel really started when I entered the train transporting me southwards through eastern Germany.

When means of transport are concerned, I guess trains are my favourite. Planes may be more efficient, but they only bring you from A to B. On the way you're just sitting in a tin can high up in the air. Travelling by train, however, you're really on your way. You see cities, railway stations, sceneries and people's houses passing by. It's not hard to understand why the guys in Kraftwerk made musical homages to travels by train and car (but as far as I know never by plane...).

I was in Prague only a few years ago. Maybe that's why this visit didn't feel quite as new and exciting as the others. Charles Bridge was still there, and the Old Town was still nice. But I did enjoy sitting on the town square watching tourists applauding the astronomical clock's strikes every hour. Especially when I realized that the café would only serve their wine in large bottles.

However, Prague's nightlife may be not totally without its dangers. Fortunately, I soon realized I probably should avoid dark joints with red plush on the wall and one lightly dressed lady by the bar. (17 January 1968 I might have thought: "Hey, this seems like a nice place". But then I was born yesterday...)

6 - 9 July: Munich, Germany

After Prague I went on to Munich - a city characterized by Bavarian Gemütlichkeit... Of course I had to check out the city's famous beer houses and beer gardens, but ended up in the same Bierstube as all the other tourists. I have nothing against Japanese girls (on the contrary!), but they don't exactly give me a sense of genuine Münchener authenticity.

The second evening in Munich, however, I participated in a four-hour "Beer Challenge", which was basically an arranged pub to pub tour. Judging from the other participants this would be more appropriate for Torgny's InterRail tour 1990 than ditto 2010. But it was a nice change enjoying one's Augustiner Edelstoff in the company of other, fun people.

9 - 11 July: Zürich, Switzerland

Big city holidays are great. But after having visited Berlin, Prague and Munich I was starting to reach a saturation point for museums, pubs and cafés. Instead I was now ready for beautiful sceneries.

Consequently, it seems my next destination - Switzerland - was quite appropriate. On the tenth day of my European tour the train arrived at Zürich Hauptbahnhof.

Zürich seemed like an ok city, but I had problems detecting any obvious sights. So, on my second day I decided to use my InterRail pass for what it was worth.

I initially wanted to see all of Switzerland. The country isn't that big, but still offers lots of different sceneries. And no less than four official languages. Being a language geek I was tempted to visit all the language areas during my stay. "The great language journey - in little Switzerland".

However, I realized this might be a bit too ambitious for a one-day trip. Instead I went to the neighbouring city Luzern, whose Renaissance architecture offered much more character than Zürich, and then went on to Interlaken, with a great view of the alpine Jungfrau massive from its (extremely touristified) avenue. Maybe not die ganze Schweiz. But at least das Herz der Schweiz.

Still, the greatest Swiss experience was the travel itself. We passed deep woods, little villages and grand alpine sceneries. What impressed me the most, however, was all the lakes (the kind that English Romantics tend to drown in). Usually I think lakes are rather dull, but the Swiss ones had a peculiar azure colour. I don't know how they do it. (The only thing I regret from this stay, is not having a dip in any of them.)

11 - 13 July: Vienna, Austria

After Zürich I decided to pay a visit to Vienna, resulting in a long journey through all of Austria (via the Tirol city Innsbruck and Mozart's native town Salzburg). But since the journey involved many scenic experiences on the way, this didn't matter much. (As an extra bonus the trip also included another country I've never visited before - Liechtenstein. The travel through the principality took about five minutes...)

In Vienna I admired St Stephen's Cathedral, had my Sachertorte and walked along the Danube canal.

Usually I'm no fan of romantic comedies. But a personal favourite will always be "Before Sunrise" (1995), in which Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, after meeting at a train to Vienna, decide to spend their next hours on a nocturnal walk through the streets of the city.

This film reminds me of what it was like being 23. You could meet a girl on a train and spontaneously decide to get off with her at the next station. During my walk along Vienna's landmarks I almost imagined myself starring in this movie. The only thing missing was the pretty, French girl.

After Vienna there was a long and rather tedious stretch westwards, but the Rhine valley presented more scenic surroundings, with slopes covered with grapevines and castles on every hill. In Koblenz I had to change to a local train towards the Mosel valley, but I didn't mind. As I've said before, I prefer trains to planes. (And this has nothing to do with aerophobia. I just think planes are cold, cramped and clinical.) Of the same reason I like local trains even more than express trains. They make you feel you're really on your way.

15 - 16 July, Luxembourg City

Exactly thirty years ago my family went on a legendary car ride through the north-western part of Europe. During the last week of this summer's InterRail travel I decided to repeat this trip - albeit in reverse.

My first stop was Luxembourg. Until then most of my destinations had belonged to the Germanophonic part of Europe. Luxembourg City, however, turned out to be more characterized by French. Frankly, I'd hoped to hear some interesting phrases in lëtzebuergesch, but apparently the capital wasn't the best location for such observations. Luxembourg-Ville wasn't that big, but it had a nice and characteristic Old Town with narrow, paved alleys.

16 - 18 July: Bruges, Belgium

The next day I took the train through the beautiful Belgian Ardennes and eventually reached the Medieval town of Bruges. Of some reason I found the 17th Century buildings even nicer now than when I visited the town as a 12-year-old.

Belgium isn't that big, so I decided to visit some of the neighbouring towns as well. After almost three weeks in Central Europe I was starting to feel an urge for the ocean, so I went to Oostende, enjoying the sea air and the sandy beach. Afterwards I visited Gent, a city filled with litter and holes. I didn't care much about it, and soon returned to my base in Bruges.

18 - 22 July: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

My InterRail pass was running out, but there was still one more place I had to see. 18 July I arrived in Amsterdam. This place is really something else, with its canals, house boats, flower boxes and bicycle terrorists. Ever since my first visit in 1980 I've liked the Netherlands. The Dutch are in many ways quite similar to us Norwegians (and also have some additional social intelligence).

During the stay I visited the Rijksmuseum and the Artis Zoo. I also made the wise choice of purchasing a 24-hour pass for hopping on and off various canalboat routes. The best way to experience Amsterdam is probably by the canals.

After four days in Amsterdam it was finally time to return home. It had been an eventful journey (and I really recommend InterRail!). THANK YOU, EUROPE!

But I must admit it feels great sleeping in one's own bed once again. :-)