Wednesday, 31 July 2013

They're watching YOU!

I'm having a nice quiet Vietnamese dinner in NV with my computer next to my seafood bowl and I'm reading Der Spiegel.  The Snowden thing.  Has someone given the poor sucker asylum?  I mean, come on, the crime this guy is guilty of is telling the truth.  According to my ethics standards there is nothing wrong with that ;-)

Anyhoo, the Spiegel article (referencing The Guardian), confirms what I always suspected:  If you write an e-mail, someone else can read it.  If you encrypt it, someone will read it SOONER, because of course they can use filters like "all e-mails encrypted using PGP".
So if you think you can be sneaky and encrypt your e-mail, not because you have something to hide, but because you think that it's bad manners reading other people's mail, think again. Because they think the other way around ;-)  And if you think your e-mail is encrypted SO WELL, think again again ;-)  Big Brother is here to stay, and I'd bet money he can break your encryption. So what to do if you actually believe in a 'right to privacy'?

My advice is: "Start believing in something else, something more obtainable ;-)" Sure you can send a regular snail mail letter, but after finding out what they can do with internet communication and how many analysts that does require, I wouldn't be surprised if they have the means to see through those paper envelopes too.

An old saying modified :  Just the fact that you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not reading your mail !

An RCMP Musical Ride (a tad on the cacophonous side)

The program included 2 crowd-warming acts:  A sunshine-coast cowgirl's riding troupe performed nice circles and patterns on the dried-up grass field, but the music was modern country at its worst, so I was just hoping for it to be over.  Country is one of the things my ears can not abide.  Yes, they are strange ears, because as usual, the bag pipes of the next warm-up, an Irish pipe and drum marching band, gave me goose bumps, and almost made me fall in step behind the band when they left.  Bagpipes always had that effect on me, almost like the view of ships leaving a harbour heading towards the horizon.
Then it was time for the RCMP Musical Ride. The riding was excellent, but the accompanying music would have made my grandmother cringe, who, like myself, would have expected more like the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.  But this ain't Vienna, I got used to the music and enjoyed the riding, even though the choreographed patterns were a bit hard to decipher if one sat at ground level at the side of the field.  Some pictures:

Picture-taking time

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Saki and the Sea Cavalcade

Denise and Hans yesterday welcomed the new exchange student from Japan. Until recently the ~15 year old girl was known under the code name of 'The new Yoko', referencing the name of last year's student. When she made her entrance it became clear that she would not be known under that name for long, because she's quite a character.  Last year I had Google Translate translate the phrase "Hans has a big belly" into Japanese.  When Yoko last year realized that this was actually what I had meant to say, she shyly giggled behind a raised hand.  Saki, on the other hand, just laughed outright and made reference to the blasphemous line repeatedly though the evening.
And this difference in personality also shows in these pictures taken together with Max:

I did not go to the actual parade (work got in the way again), but the next day we drove to the float-plane harbour in Sechelt. 
Let's hope they have enough fuel, eh Denise?

jelly fish
The same night Denise remembered the fireworks just in time. We got to Gibsons at 9:45 pm and witnessed a fireworks display that I would not have thought the small town of Gibsons was capable of (financially or logistically).

House boats in Gibson's harbour pre-fireworks


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Last chance to get directions to carry your bicycle across the viaduct in Morlaix

There was a post two or three weeks ago which included a very nice traverse of the steep valley in which Morlaix is located via the railway viaduct. This traverse included quite a few stairs, which were a bit of problem with a fully loaded bicycle.  I did point out that fact to the Google Map people, and I received an e-mail back from them in the last few days.

Your Google Maps problem report has been reviewed, and you were right!
We'll update the map soon and email you when you can see the change. 
Thanks for helping us to improve Google Maps! 

Yes, these are Stalagmites on the floor ;-)

Was I really responsible for some kid working for Google France to be dispatched by Google Universal Headquarters with a bicycle from Paris to Morlaix to check out my story?  Lucky kid ;-)
So if you feel like traversing this viaduct, you will have bicycle way direction only for a limited time now.  After that, the biking directions will pick a different route, but you still can get map directions to cross this as a pedestrian ;-)

Now you see it; now you don't (or When your arms just aren't long enough anymore)

Particularly in the mornings it was that I found my arms lacking in length for holding things to read in a plane of focus of my aging eyes.  And if I tried to achieve the objective by the reverse method (leave object in a fixed position and move my eyes (i.e. step back)), the writing would invariably get too small to decipher.

First panicky thoughts of BLINDNESS gave way to the realization that I just have reached that time in my life when I need reading glasses.

Just another one of those annoying pieces of evidence that we're not any more special than our parent's or grandparent's generations. You know, those things we thought would never happen to us when we were 18 :Having to push the pants down on the hips so they can close below the gut, abandoning the concept of a hair line and just being happy we still have some at all, etc etc.  And here is that big one:  Reading Glasses !  Only truly ancient people needed those when I was little. A little research in my family showed that 46 seems to be more or less the age in my family when we have to abandon claims of superiority because you just can't really uphold those if you can't even read what you wrote on the palm of your hand to cover up that the fact that your memory is going ;-)

Very Special Thanks have to go to Denise (The owner of Stephens Creek Guesthouse ; I was corrupted with chocolate banana bread to mention this here ;-), who not only let me use her reading glasses to have a look at some of my watches (which led to the realization that I REALLY REALLY needed them, because all of a sudden I could see again ;-), but also provided me with the very valuable piece of information that reading glasses can be found in a dollar store for about 10 bucks, so that I no longer had an excuse not to get any as in the days when I thought I'd have to shell out $500 for them at an optician's store.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Air transit ( Back to the Grind)

The plane started boarding at the time it was supposed to leave.  Why?  Maybe the fact that boarding passes were checked at 4 or 5 check stops has to do with it.  Even though there were enough Air Transat employees free to run two lines to check boarding passes they agreed on running only one line, which obviously did not everyone into the gate area at the scheduled take-off time.  Things did not get any better when on the plane.  Pretty much all airlines have treats available in the kitchen for those passengers who either can not get enough food or people like me who use food on planes as a sleeping aid.  On the Air Transat flight to Frankfurt their hands were going to the cheese&cracker drawer the moment they saw me coming ;-)   Times have changed: "No, we don't have any. But we can sell you a Caramilk bar for $2. Or you can wait for snack time in one hour."  I made a point of telling them that "I'will wait for the snack as a matter of principle".  The snack was a piece of Pizza.  The particular variety was "tomatoes & cheese". Good thing they did not call it Margharita (Pizza with tomato sauce), because what they gave us had absolutely nothing to do with Pizza Margharita. Actually, it had nothing to do with Pizza either.  The dry piece of dough had some red stuff on it and some pale stuff that probably was the cheese.  If they had called it Focaccia bread, it would have been easier to believe. Never in my life have I complained that the food served on a flight did not meet any particular gourmet standard. But: Congratulations, Air Transat, that 'pizza' forces me to publicly question whether the stuff you served even meets the criteria to qualify as 'a meal'.

As for Vancouver:  In no town in the last 5 weeks, with the possible exception of Paris, was the feeling of 'crisp morning air' or 'fresh air' so absent at 6 am and in no town (except Paris again) was traffic so overwhelming at 7:15 am.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

FRA(nkfurt Airport) to YVR (whY Ve aRe?)

Incoyable!  In 2 hours I will sit in a plane heading to Vancouver, what a strange thought. And just the fact that it is a strange thought is even stranger ;-)

I checked my non-existent luggage in with Air Transat.  Today they had an extra step before you get to the counters: Someone checks your passports and asks you random questions to which I apparently gave the right answers. At least the OK sticker that was stuck on my passport seems to indicate though.  At the main counter I passed because I have a cigarette lighter in my pocket (instead of in my carry-on backpack), although I fail to understand the difference. You can't get anything out of your backpack in the plane or put anything in?

Continuing an airport tradition started on my way to Brest, I am sitting in an airport restaurant behind a glass of Rose, while the Flammkuchen (Alsatian type, naturally) should arrive shortly.  Telekom now gives you 30 minutes of free internet access while in the airport. What was wrong with one hour? Can I get another half hour free by providing a different e-mail address? Will I get .lots of junk mail?  The answer, my friend, the answer is bl ..... ;-)
After the Flammkuchen arrives, I realize that I had the smoked salmon variety at Cologne airport. Something new again. (No picture was taken; I'm too hungry) And so much for "naturally" ;-)

Before I left, I said Good Bye to Johann, an about 22 year old cat living in Frankfurt. I already had said Good Bye last October, but Johann surprised me by still being alive when I returned this time. However,in today's world the life of an ancient cat also depends on the willingness of the owner to make that final phone call to the vet.  All this is bringing back intense memories of Jacques, and I just hope Johann is not or not too miserable.  If someone would play Neil Young's 'Down by the River' now, I'd start balling.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

C'est vrai? C'est ça? C'est tout? Incroyable!

Sitting in Frankfurt with my morning coffee at 6 am I just received an e-mail with the words "Hard to believe your trip is coming to the end, but u did so much", which takes the words right out of my mouth or hits the nail of my slightly confused thoughts right on the head.  The state of the last 5 weeks, namely of waking up some place that I just explored yesterday and maybe the day before, and heading off to another place that I've never seen before is coming to an end. The room I just booked in Vancouver, I have stayed in many times before and there probably won't be any surprises waiting. In retrospect I must admit that I love that state of journeying into the unknown and I'm dreading being without it, even though before I would have been intimidated by the thought.

I'm glad I left the bike in France; there is a reason to go back; and to go back soon. But the location of the bike has opened new possibilities for new trips that I would never even have thought of otherwise.

There is also my belief that I've learned and changed a bit during the last 5 weeks. So even if I'm heading back to 'same-old' land today, it might not be, just because it won't be exactly the same person experiencing it ;-)

I'm too young for river cruises (Abandon Ship! Abandon Ship!)

The cruise starts at 9 am and will get me to Bingen at 1 pm.   I’m all excited, as evident from these pictures:

At 10 am I am falling asleep. How many quaint villages and castles can one get excited about?  Some of the churches look like they were all made from the identical model set.  At 10:20 I abandon Ship in St Goar.   Just in time: about 100 English-speaking kids get on board.

The road signs say that Bingen is 28 km away. How could the boat possibly take 2.5 hours to get there?  I start cycling.  For an hour, when I reach Bacharach, the boat falls more and more behind as the river narrows and becomes difficult to navigate.  Pictures of the Lorelei and my previous boat:

 Want to collect way-fees from boats?  Build a castle in the middle of the river ;-) Kaub

I reach Bacharach at 11:30 and decide to go for lunch.  After a while I find a place with outside sitting that’s not exposed to the sun (Somehow sunshine and polluted air don’t mix; my skin starts itching). Lunch is yummy and not expensive. While the restaurant outside sitting area was deserted when I arrived, it is occupied to the last seat with a part of a bus load of tourists only 5 minutes later.  Well, fortunately not occupied; my table is only occupied by me; in German it is reasonably common that people just sit down at ‘your’ table when everything is occupied.

Bacharach has a train station and I will try to get to Bingen (or Frankfurt directly) by train. Try to is right.  I wait ½ hour for the train that takes 15 minutes to get me to Bingen.  There I wait another whole hour for a train that takes one hour to take me to Niederrad, where in turn I wait 15 minutes for the train that takes 10 minutes to take me to the final train station. 

Monday, 15 July 2013

Preparing to head up--river on a white boat

The combination of drifting and planning works well.  Breakfast in Hotel Guenther in Boppard starts at 7:30 am (NOT at 7:29; this is Germany!). At 9:00 am a ship of the Koeln-Duesseldorfer fleet will leave from its mooring point right in front of the hotel and will take me through the Rhine valley (right by the Lorelei) to Bingen, where I should arrive at 13:00. At 13:47 I will board a train at Bingen Bahnhof (900 meters from where the ship arrives) and will arrive at Moerfelden-Walldorf at 15:07.

The Godesburg, my ride

Right now I'm sitting at breakfast (with a view of the Rhine and the promenade that was thoroughly cleaned at 6:30), reading in Wikipedia the story of Lorelei as told/invented by Heinrich Heine in 1924, while something Mozarty is playing on the streets outside or at low volume out of the heating ducts; I'm really not sure. These little towns along the Rhine all perform a well-rehearsed play. And judging by the MANY tourists speaking German, French, English, Spanish, Italian, and languages I don't understand or recognize, the play is performed well. Many ships will carry people by Lorelei today and maybe someone even hired a young woman with long blond hair to sit on top of that rock and comb her hair while humming or singing enchanting songs.   I'm not quite sure what brings all these Rhine tourists here (if not for Saint Malo, I would have been one of them ;-). While the natural surroundings are quite nice, there are boxes of PINK Geraniums EVERYWHERE, which are starting to drive me bonkers, because you can't take a picture of the river Rhine without them in it. And I have walked under enough grape vines artificially arranged over the streets and between houses now to last me a lifetime.
La vie en rose (sunrise with pink Geraniums)

On the road again II (Bad Godesberg to Boppard by train & bike)

After lunch at Die Bastei I walk to the bike to catch a train to Koblenz, from where I will cycle to Boppard.
To unlock the bike I stick the key into the lock and turn it. But not the whole key is turning, only the part in my fingers. The part in the lock broke off from the part in my fingers and is not turning. I stare at the broken key in my fingers. Oh Great!  What now?  I race back up into the restaurant.
The waiter in the restaurant points out the window at workers of the City of Bonn watering flower beds "Maybe they have a tool".
Race back down. "We only have hedge scissors for wood; they won't work!"
But he brings them. And they're the ones with the loong handles.  I insist that they will work and almost until the last strand of wire he denies the possibility.  He learned how to cut bicycles locks and I have a rideable bicycle ;-)  He is outraged at even the idea of accepting my tip!  "I don't want that!" he says, doesn't take it, and proceeds to wish me a good voyage and waves when I ride off.  Nice!

The train ride to Koblenz is uneventful and then look for the Rhine again to cycle the 23 km to Boppard, a city I know nothing about ;-)

Good cycle paths (except where they are cobble-stoned)

Rhine country

Castle country

Wine country


Bad Godesberg (Memories of Bernd Koenig)

I’m sitting in the river-front restaurant Die Bastei in Bad Godesberg. The last time I was here was 40 years ago with my dad and I had ordered a Wiener Schnitzel upon which I had put waaaay too much lemon juice. The Wiener Schnitzel is no longer on the menu ;-(  On the way here from the train station I stumbled upon a street sign of a street that my dad used to live on at the time: Kronprinzenstrasse (Crown Prince Street).
The river Rhein at Bad Godesberg
All I remember about that apartment of my dad is that it was tiny and that he owned a musket (those things you load with powder and a stick ), which he proceeded to do one time and then he took a shot at a Pfennig balanced on the edge of a loudspeaker hanging on the wall.  Tiny room; firing a musket (the Pfennig survived unharmed if I remember correctly), but you can imagine that this ~7-year old was IMPRESSED.  Impressed enough to remember all this ;-)  On the other hand:  I guess I can’t be blamed for my wackiness: It’s obviously inherited!

Anyhoo, lunch at Die Bastei is OK (I was hoping for a Wiener Schnitzel) and the view is fabulous:
Die Bastei

A paddle wheeler !