Sunday, July 31, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Today’s journey would be the longest of the three driving days this week. Left Cologne at 6.25am and other than a couple of short stops for refueling food and self, didn’t really notice much off the road until the outskirts of Hamburg nearly five hours later. Even then it was simply the surrounds of the New Elbe Tunnel, 3km of darkness under the Elbe River before it empties into the North Sea.
By this time I’d decided to foreswear the “85 euro route” via ferry, which my GPS now assured me would save perhaps 3 minutes off the alternate route. So we ploughed north through Schleswig-Holstein and into Denmark, turning east near Odense and then crossing the first looooong toll-bridge. Even before reaching the border the roads were starting to crowd with Danish campervans returning home like migratory birds who’d swarmed all over Europe during their annual vacations. I remember well getting stuck behind many of them on narrow roads in Ireland and Scotland, unable to get the attention of their drivers – do they have autopilots perhaps?
At some stage we stopped at a “Tulip” roadside services place perched on the edge of a cornfield. Munson at least got a good run-around on Danish soil, but the human refreshment offerings and ambience were of some old-fashioned high-school cafeteria.
It was nearly 4pm when we rounded the outskirts of Copenhagen for the Öresund Bridge to Sweden. After a truly dull but smooth journey, two potential hiccoughs came in quick succession. First of all, as soon as I got onto the bridge my fuel light came on. I’ve not tested the fuel reserve on this car, but I’ve been in vehicles where that light means you’ve got enough left to gracefully coast to the side of the road. I hoped that wouldn’t be the case in the middle of Europe’s longest road/rail bridge. I asked Brian the GPS to find the next fuel station so I would be ready to top-up on the other side of the toll-booths.
As it happened after paying my 40 euro crossing fee, a customs agent waved me over to ask if Munson had had his worm tablets. I had a mental d’oh at this point as I thought that this was only an issue in Norway. His vaccinations were not enough – he had to have had tablets within the past 10 days. I saved the situation by saying I had some worm tablets with me, so she watched me pop them down Munson’s throat and allowed me to continue but said I should have them (expensively!) administered and certified by a vet before crossing.
I went to get some fuel but realised at the last minute that the station was on a one-way road straight back across the bridge to Denmark. D’oh again. I spun around, found another station and continued on to Malmö.
That evening, as I stepped out onto the streets of Malmö with Gustav and his friends Magnus and Jesper to buy some Chinese take-away food, I saw a guy across the road armoured with a tin-foil helmet and clutching onto a plastic bucket. I was told that he must be a groom-to-be celebrating his last week of freedom. A few minutes later he came over and showed us the contents of his bucket: thousands of screws and bolts of varying dimensions and degrees of rustiness. We were to take one, no two! of these as a gift. I picked out a couple and pantomimed attaching them to my neck in the popular style of the Frankenstein monster. The friendly groom smiled and said “Yes! You are Einstein now”. Einstein indeed.
Friday, July 29, 2011
|Yesterday’s rain gave way to an overcast morning and by lunchtime quite a sunny but humid day. Our hotel was only a few minutes from a rail station, a short stretch of unattended platform hidden in a back street. I wasted a good fifteen minutes fighting with the ticket-machine, partly because it resisted many attempts to switch the touchscreen interface to English but mostly because it kept choking on my debit card. It kept reporting some issue in German ( multilingual machines never seem to be multilingual in telling you what you’ve done wrong) and fellow commuters who tried to assist simply shrugged their lack of understanding of the problem. I eventually dug up some euro coins and got our ticket into central Cologne. |
|Munson seemed happy with this train than he had been with the frequently bumpy London Underground lines, and sat quietly by my side for the twenty minute journey, occasionally checking the view or sniffing passengers who came to say hello. We surfaced at the Neumarkt station, and after checking my bearings located the Schildergasse, Cologne’s main shopping street, supposedly the busiest in Europe, blandly dominated by internationally identifiable shopfronts. I resisted the temptation to breakfast on berliners or any of the other sugary pastries weighing down the cafe counters by the thousand. I’m learning from farm-life to get some proper protein down the hatch at the start of the day to ensure a slow-burn through a long day. |
Properly fuelled, we turned north towards the big sightseeing draw for the day, Cologne Cathedral, whose huge mass and double spires were seen as we crossed the Rhine river on our train journey. Taking over 600 years to complete, it was briefly the world’s tallest structure in the 1880s until overtaken by the Washington Monument. Kölner Dom’s front façade is still the largest of any church. First seen on foot as it looms over the commercial centre, I’m reminded of the start of Star Wars as the gigantic cruiser passes overhead. The smog of industry and proximity to the central railway station haven’t been kind to the cathedral exterior, making it seem more forbidding than awe-inspiring: gothic horror in stone.
However there is no sombre façade that can’t be enlivened by sticking a handsome malamute in front of it. In fact you can even improve many otherwise attractive structures in this manner.
|The default decorations in the cathedral square are an assortment of living statues, a painted Gandalf and Charlie Chaplin who rarely stood still, somehow defeating the point of their roles. It would have been great if “Gandalf” had stood before the cathedral doors and waved his staff around, declaring “None shall pass!” but a little too much to hope for on a weekday morning.|
|As we wandered around the city, no shop, arcade or cafe was closed to Munson – dogs were just unremarked companions for people going about their business. I did belatedly find that almost no place would accept credit or debit cards – if you didn’t have a special German debit card, it was cash only. I spent nearly an hour in one store buying some bits for my camera only to be rejected at the cashier, and I didn’t want to hit my daily cash withdrawal limit on non-essentials, so bought nothing but food and fuel during my stay. I belatedly realised why I couldn’t buy my train-ticket earlier – foreign plastic wasn’t accepted (even if from the eurozone). Rather surprising when even parking meters across Europe will often take any card and stores in Cologne were running huge sales to attract customers. |
|After lunch we walked a short distance along the Rhine, possibly the first time I’ve been by this river in all my years of travels. Munson got to rest his paws on some grassy stretches and I met two young Aussies, David and Melanie, Queenslanders like Munson, who were spending a few months in this city. |
We passed the home of the famous 4711 eau de cologne commemorating the street address of its maker. The original eau de cologne was developed by an Italian expat living in Cologne 300 years ago. It was a remarkable sensation for being the first successful attempt to blend many plant oils to get a completely new fragrance.
|On our last pass of the Schildergasse for the afternoon, we sat to watch some street musicians on cello, violin and drums playing rock music. Munson rolled onto his back to invite the crowd to a belly-rub, which made at least two of the musicians crack a smile mid-song. |
This has been Munson’s biggest day out for the year; he crashed out quickly on the train ride back to Vischeringstrasse. As we left the station, rain started, a sharp wind not far behind. Just after we reached shelter in the hotel, the sky really unleashed everything: torrential rain, Donner und Blitzen, Sturm und Drang. A perfectly timed exit from sightseeing.
I sat in the small hotel lobby for an hour or so, updating the previous days’ posts and pruning email. Munson made lovey-eyes at everyone entering or exiting the place, which was universally reciprocated. The duty manager came over to say hello to him occasionally: “he’s just a teddy bear isn’t he?”
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
As usual my week of packing meant thinking about what I’d pack for 6.5 days, emptying the fridge for 6.7 days and then throwing everything into a bag in the final 0.3 days. I’ve done this before.
My early night’s sleep was disturbed at 4.30am by Munson demanding my attention outside. I staggered out to the terrace and looked into the night without figuring what was going on. Maybe Munson was fidgety about all the car-packing. It wasn’t till the morning that I found that an animal (possibly a fox) had pulled up some of the tomato plants growing in a barrel near my kitchen door. The vegan predators have been scared off from the other house by Legend/Legume and made my garden the new target. So be it – I’m not going to be able to enjoy any of the fruits of my gardening over the next month or so.
Munson had a final romp with Legend. I wanted to record their comparative sizes now in anticipation of Legend’s growth in our absence.
Setting off at 9am on the dot, Brian (Blessed, the voice of my TomTom) predicted a 4.00pm arrival at Ken & Walt’s house. I tried to avoid the motorway for the start of the journey – it detours a bit towards Toulouse and doesn’t save any time for those who are heading in the general direction of Paris. It also neatly bypasses the toll-road – those euros can really add up on a long journey.
So we drove through Agen, and then through very pretty countryside until we hit Perigeaux’s lunchtime traffic snarl at noon (on the dot as it happened). We pulled over in Limoges for lunch and for Munson to empty himself, and I reset Brian to calculate our time based on taking the motorway for most of the remaining journey. That allowed me to email Ken with a 4.30 ETA. Surprisingly, even with road delays, stopping to fill up the car and rubber-necking at chateaux we pulled into their drive.
Ken and Walt are the first bloggers I’ve followed and subsequently met since I got back to Australia a few years back. So there is that curious feeling of cybernetic pen-pals finally meeting , although with blogging you are each “broadcasting” into space and hoping to find intelligent life and then interacting through our comment threads. So despite meeting face to face for the first time, we have a long familiarity with each other’s lives and you zip past a lot of chit chat into deep conversation.
Munson met Callie the collie and they had a bit of a romp together in the nearby vineyards. I’m already missing the ones we had on the farm, as they break up the landscape of pastures and allow deer and other animals to approach the houses.
A fantastic dinner ( please refer to all the cooking entries in their blogs) and then an early night.
Monday, July 25, 2011
We’re about to set off for Sweden, where we’ll be for about a 10-12 days, after which it’s a dash across to the UK to begin our 14 day hike along Offa’s Dyke, taking us up to the last week of August.
Yesterday I started to program some of the stops into my TomTom and got a little shock. It turned out that the “map of Europe” that came included with it didn’t include anything east of Belgium/France/Switzerland/Italy. Whereas my old Garmin came with “the works”, I couldn’t program in my stops in Germany, Denmark and Sweden.
So 50 quid later and hours of downloading and fiddling around to get everything on my device. Even then it turns out that the TomTom which is less than a year old has skimped on memory capacity so it can’t actually hold the entirety of Europe and I have to pick zones of countries to stick on the device. It means I can never plan a road-trip across Europe because there is no zone that will allow that. Rebuilding the device’s map each time is a horribly time-consuming procedure while it slowly removes the old zones (and helpfully deletes all my destination history and favourites grrrrrr) and puts the new zones on. Really poor stuff TomTom!
So after that unplanned diversion, I’ve got most of our overnight stops booked and entered into the wretched device, but have had to do some extra route-planning for the crossing of Denmark, to balance time and cost.
On Friday I’ll be driving from Germany to Sweden, and there’s several ways to do this coming from my direction. All the roads lead past Hamburg, so I’ve condensed the map to just show the Hamburg-Malmö options.
The quickest route is the central one (dark blue line) which incorporates a short ferry journey from Puttgarden-Rødby costing at least €85. Now that route is only 30-40 minutes faster than the more circuitous land-based route to the west, which made me ask what the benefit is for many drivers. I checked to see if there were road-tolls – yes, there’s a €31 charge for crossing the Storebælt bridge, but even with added fuel-costs, it’s still about half the cost of the ferry.
Once I get to Copenhagen, I still have to cross the Öresund bridge to Sweden, and that’s a further €40.
A third option is to get a ferry from Rostock in Germany to Trelleborg in Sweden (the red line), which is €165 but is a 6 hour crossing with very limited boarding slots.
For completeness, I’ve also included the longer Rostock-Gedser ferry journey (purple line) that Bondi and I took from Copenhagen to Berlin. At €124 it’s no bargain, and one notices that adding the Öresund bridge toll takes the price up to be the same as the Trelleborg ferry.
So Denmark is definitely not a cheap country to cross, and keep in mind that it’s not like buying a highway sticker for Switzerland which covers you for a year – this is just a single one-way fare! The Vikings no longer need to plunder other lands; a few domestic water-crossings is all they need provide and the world comes to them!
My first plan was to travel onwards to the UK taking the Esbjerg-Harwich ferry (you can see Esbjerg in the top left of the map above), so I’ll be up for €71 to cross Denmark west to east in two weeks. Ouch.
However, I’ve found that the requirement for a cabin booking pushes that cost to €385 and it only travels every second day, so I may just swap that for another roadtrip via Dunkerque - keeping in mind I have to go through the veterinary fuss for Munson 24-48 hours before crossing the Channel. Ouch damn ouch.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
The flyer for the Courrensan fête this weekend advertises a dinner of “demoiselles des canards grillées”. The folks at the big house weren’t sure exactly what a “demoiselle” was in this context as the dictionaries just identify it as a young lady or bridesmaid.
In culinary parlance, it’s really just a fancy Gascon term for the carcass of a duck or goose. I guess a half duck is a demi-demoiselle, right down to morceaux des hemisemidemi-demoiselles. In any case, it’s not a shrink-wrapped frozen Daffy Duck.
When I did a search of images on Google to show them, I got a funny surprise: one of the first examples was a picture from this blog of Munson sniffing a duck carcass I’d bought for him almost exactly a year ago.
If demoiselle looks familiar to English speakers, it’s because it’s the substantive piece of Mademoiselle, the counterpart of Miss in English. If you look at each of the familiar titles, it’s a pattern of gendered possessive + identification, to whit:
Plurals use the formula mes + : mesdames, mesdemoiselles, messieurs etc
Knowing the formula helps when you get stuck on the spelling!
Demoiselle is also the the French word for damselfly (a cousin of the dragonfly) and for the damselfish (a cousin of Nemo the clownfish).
Vranken distillers also have a brand of Demoiselle champagnes, and their website uses a trio of flittering damselflies as decoration.
|So, how were the actual demoiselles des canards grillées? |
Everyone had two large portions delivered onto their plates from large foil-lined crates – not so much damsels as ugly stepsisters in my reading of the story. It’s a bit like eating crab since there’s not much meat left on any portion; all the substantial cuts of meat have been removed , and you just have to attack it with mouth and fingers. Hoeing into these large burnt-looking objects with tatters of flesh made me think I’d crash-landed in the Andes. It tastes OK but a few of us had to ask for extra pieces from the servers roving the salle des fêtes.
|A longtime local told of some new residents to the area had turned up to a fête on their first night, and reported that they’d been served some poor burnt creatures that had been run over by a tractor. It wasn’t hard to guess what that was. |
This is peasant food, the avian equivalent of pork spare-ribs albeit with a lower flesh:bone ratio. As the remains stacked up on the tables it struck me that I’ve never made so much effort eating something and it still looked like it did when it was put in front of me. Not much difference between the before and after pictures. How often do you pick up something and realise you’ve already eaten it? Now try to picture Julia Child with a flamethrower preparing a banquet of these poor ducks…
Monday, July 18, 2011
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Chris was keen to get out and do some long-exposure photography under the full-moon – what better subject than sunflowers? I found a road on the outskirts of Vic-Fezensac that placed us between some large fields, and Chris set up his camera about a half hour before midnight. Unfortunately the moon was quickly obscured by clouds so we had to resort to “light painting” – using a torch to sweep over the field of view, or illuminate specific sections by tracing backwards and forwards over it.
The above field of sunflowers was photographed on a long exposure with me holding the camera in my hands, whereas I’ve borrowed Chris’ tripod for the shot below.
The tree above has been “painted” by tracing over the main limbs and some of the foliage for about a minute. The flowers and night-sky are just illuminated by what remains of the moon’s presence. It’s a weird blend of night and shadowless day.
The results from Chris’ grown-up camera equipment are much more successful (much like his efforts during our walking days in Wales last year):
You can find some of Chris’ other sunflower compositions from this week in his Flickr photostream.