Western Europe

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Whizzing About

The architecture found in this place is enthralling, and the mood of the city changes according to the volatile weather. There are places in Hamburg pretty enough to visit multiple times – Blankenese, Altona, St. Georg and the Schanzenviertel being some of them – of which I have done a fair bit by harassing store-keepers with my grammar errors and abysmal pronunciation. The days slowly fall into a routine – until the discovery of a half-a-century-old bicycle that sits in the open garage opened a world of speed (next to the car of course) and exhilarating freedom that I have so intensely missed. There is a curious thrill present in...

A Slow Reacquaintance

A confession: I have mixed feelings about the first week of the course. Some participants appear to be caricatures. The Spaniard Jose M. (or rather Catalan – as he hails from Barcelona) in my class breathes alarmingly heavily, and looks like an emaciated, unkempt, unshaven, skinny and wavy-haired version of Cesc Fabregas. He speaks in a lackadaisical manner, but with amazing pronunciation, and developed a skin allergy on the third day. The American Jakob S. speaks too fast with a Texan drawl. The Spaniard Maria T. from Cadiz, in contrast, looks like a full-bodied flamenco dancer. The retired Dutchman Willem U. appears to be always red-faced, and has brought his...

Hamburg for Beginners

The 5-hour long journey to suburban Hamburg (Othmarschen) proved painful in the heat that seemed to follow me from Heidelberg, but was repaid in full by the hospitality of my host – HD, a divorced architect with an easy-going personality, 2 sons and a fat grey-brown cat (named Mollo), with a penchant for everything organic, even toothpaste. It seems thus, that my apprehensions about a repressed, curfew-loving and jail-oriented Gestapo-like person were for nothing. After a time spent orienting myself, I did find Othmarschen is indeed a pretty and peaceful place; a walk in the heavily tree-lined lanes along some impressive houses is nothing other than pleasant. For the umpteenth...

Peace with a Price

A half-hour bus journey took us to Neckargemünd where P’s car was parked in order to escape Heidelberg’s exorbitant parking rates. A quick drive around the region brought us to the hilltop town of Dilsberg, where unfairly spectacular views of the hills could be found in one’s backyard. Originally a roman settlement, and now a village with regularly held medieval festivals and plays in the ruins of the citadel, we walked its undulating perimeter in a half-hour in the scorching heat. P took us through winding roads at a rather alarming speed mostly on 4th gear without gearing down on her 8-year old VW golf, whizzing past warning signs drawn...

The Exasperating City

An attempt to wash clothes and hang them out to dry on the balcony was interrupted by P’s neighbour, an aged couple whose constant quarrels mirror the melodramatic Korean dramas. The shifty-eyed man spoke in a choked manner, accused me of eating pizza the night before, lectured me about the necessity of owning beautiful plants to put along the balcony (as his wife had done), before finally ending the conversation with the phrase “I’d like to get to know you better”. P and I lowered the shades on the balcony not long after. I cannot seem to stop taking photos of Heidelberg much to my own annoyance, as such an...

The Fly-ing Welcome

The toilet-sized flies are annoying, particularly in summer. They flit in and out, announcing their arrival with loud, stereophonic buzzes. The smaller ones are green, with spindly legs, seem to have a penchant for landing in my drink. I go berserk the moment they land on my skin. A flying welcome to Heidelberg. I landed in a clinically silent Frankfurt Terminal 2, only to find out that the real action takes place (the trains and the buses to Strasbourg/Mannheim/Heidelberg) in Terminal 1. So I rushed to Terminal 1, expecting to catch the Lufthansa Shuttle to Heidelberg, only to find that it was not the big bus that I expected, but a...

The Grand Old Dame

So it was then – TC was sick, but we still made it to Venice by the hair’s breadth after waiting foolishly at a bus-stop for several buses that were re-routed in the past 2 days we were in Florence. Just as an old dame’s refusal to acknowledge the decline of her façade and dominance via the painful way of plastic reconstruction, so has Venice has found new life most unfortunately in her status as a tourist sell-out. The atmosphere of elegant decay is nonetheless enjoyable (pleasurable even!) and as far as I know or have read, no one dislikes Venice despite its simulation of its past glory. Venice rides high on...

Under the Tuscan Sun/rain/wind

Day trips to Siena and Fiesole (bundled up with short excursions in town, and an extended amount of walking time) have been overwhelming, rewarding and tiring. In short, they have worn TC and me out. The last I heard, TC was suffering from a mysterious ailment that he terms as ‘the flu’. 24 -48 hours later with a wham-bam headache, sore throat (TC also says that is probably not caused by his snoring) and a fickle head that decides on a whim when to function, we are still awaiting the verdict on his recovery. Fabled for its legendary romantic location, Tuscany is expected to evoke emotions buried deep with the urbanite. TC,...

En Route to Firenze

The day dawned equally dreary and cold on an early Sunday morning in Milan as I made the short trek down to the main train station at the unholy hour of 7am in the morning – made really no difference actually, since I was jet-lagged anyway. And in typical Italian fashion, there was a small traffic melee taking place with some honking, poor driving and bad temper in the Piazza near the train station. “Ah, the Italian temperament,” remarked TC, wondering as well how more drab it could get when the 2.5 hr train journey consisted of misty industrial scenes that seemed to characterise the region of Lombardy. But Florence surprised us. It was very much alive on Sunday, bustling with fake-goods...

Taking the Material Seriously

I wonder if therein lies some sort of irony when a city agrees with you about its drab and rather dire state. Touted as one of the most affluent cities in Italy, Milan’s cityscape does not do any justice to their financial standing in Europe yet undoubtedly remains a haven for fashionistas by fashionistas, where haute couture and looking good reign over opium. Crowds throng a centre that boasts rows and rows of designer brands outlets with their mannequins decked in exorbitantly priced clothes in the window display for moneyed tourists and locals to buy and mediocre ones to envy. I arrived in Milan more dazed than anything after a...