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senatorhung's pad
ramblings of an information troubleshooter

air travel - good and bad

permalink Wednesday, 01AUG2007:

my red eye flight from montreal to london was not quite the rest that i had expected. rather than giving everyone a chance to get some necessary shuteye, the 'service' included a meal at the beginning of the 7-hour flight and another at the end, sandwiching a pair of movies on the big screen. normally, i don't have any trouble sleeping on airplanes, but the screen flicker was just enough to keep me groggily awake. when i arrived in heathrow at 9 a.m., i had only gotten 3 or so hours of sleep - short even by my standards, and not the best way to ring in my first return to europe in almost a decade. after only a minor hiccup at immigration, i dragged myself to the european terminal to catch my connection to berlin. thankfully, i was able to catch up a little bit of sleep on that too-brief flight.

tegel airport was extremely efficient. i lounged on the plane until nearly everyone else had deplaned. the immigration gate was less than a dozen steps from the exit ramp and the baggage carousel was in sight, right behind. by the time i got my passport stamped, my bags were already there and i stepped around the corner right to the arrivals area where my brother was awaiting me. it took maybe 12 minutes from when i got off the plane to when i was on the road, ensconced in my brother's company-supplied mercedes-benz. the rest of the day saw me struggling to stay awake until i could collapse into my bed at the alcatraz hostel.

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bike freedom day

permalink Sunday, 05AUG2007:

today, rather than accompanying vance and my edmonton cousins to the potsdam palaces after a leisurely late brunch with what was left of the wedding party, i decided to rent a bike from the alcatraz hostel and spend the rest of the afternoon biking around berlin in the sun. it was a beautiful hot day and a couple of hours in, i had to take off my fedora to give my noggin some air. tho this may have increased my sunstroke potential, being able to bike around without a helmet was a neat change of pace.

i first took a trip thru downtown, stopping to check out some of the stalls lined up along the river on the isladn. most of the wares were touristy kitsch, but i also found one stall that had some really neat old books and i thought about buying a few as gifts. however, given weight restrictions on airplanes these days (and that i'd have to lug them to 3 more countries), i was able to dissuade myself from those impulse buys. from downtown, i went along the north side of the river, past the fancy-looking hauptbahnhof station, all the way to the far side of the massive tiergarten park. i stopped there to pick up a replacement bottle of water which i half-chugged before continuing on.

i then went looking for the major thoroughfare that went along the long axis of the park, but somehow lost my way and ended up way south, near kurfurstenstrasse station. i did come across a few secluded shady areas along a quiet canal that almost demanded that i pause, but i managed to resist their charms. the beaches that i had passed earlier had been packed, so it was neat to see that there were still many green places which could provide a quiet refuge from the crowds. anyway, i finally stopped to get my bearings when i spotted a woolworths store and decided to take a snapshot - i remember woolworths in canada before it went bust.

brandenburger tor (brandenburg gate)

my orientation restored, i biked over to the brandenburg gate and took the typical tourist snapshot before continuing on along the southside of the river, all the way to the locks which had turned back our boat trip yesterday. from there i headed back north towards the hostel, but was sidetracked by a ruin of a church near the klosterstrasse station. i took a few pics that i thought captured the dichotomy between the skeleton of the ruin and the skeleton of scaffolding of the new construction towering in the background.

image of church ruin with skyscraper construction
in background

happily satisfied with my day of exertions, i returned the bike to the hostel and took a quick shower before my rendezvous with the famille at macaronis, a pasta joint. i devoured a massive plate of pasta - every portion that they served was large, even by north american standards, thus actually ginormous by european standards. if you ever need to glutton yourself on pasta, do drop in to macaronis in berlin !

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potsdam palace at full speed

permalink Monday, 06AUG2007:

with bruce freed from post-wedding obligations, he decided to take our immediate family on the road to potsdam. since the direct way to potsdam was thru painfully slow city traffic, he took us out for a stroll on the autobahn, doing a 270 degree arc around the city in quicker time that the bird's-fly torture tour. he tested the car's top speed and was able to get it up over 230 km/hr without any hint of shaking or shimmer noticeable to his passengers. vance acted as the tour guide to the palaces, fresh from his visit there with our edmonton cousins only yesterday, advising us on how to travel in those over-sized slippers thru the old palace.

potsdam palace

this photo is looking north from the old palace - it must be some sort of guesthouse or something, but i like the symmetry of the shot with the contrails in the background. the arcing stairwells recalled to me the foyer scene from the matrix reloaded. the next photo is of the south side of the sansoussi palace.

sansoussi palace

we then moved on to the actual city of potsdam, which had been created in a dutch architecture style. this was done to keep the dutch artisans working on the construction of the palaces from becoming homesick. after touring thru the tourist shopping district, we snagged an ice cream and recovered from our exertions in a shady park.

family relaxing in potsdam city park

supper followed at mao thai where we were joined by our edmonton cousins along with jimmy, gerd, dorla, angelika and sasha. after stuffing ourselves there, we wandered down a few steps to a corner bar and topped up the evening with drinks and dessert. i had a decent chat with gerd about struggling with when to move on from situations that don't satisfy anymore and we joked about setting up an international 'had enough' club for put-out idealists.

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the dublin tourist post

permalink Wednesday, 08AUG2007:

despite my worrying, the london transfer between heathrow and gatwick yesterday went farily smoothly. i got thru the immigration checkin very quickly with my filled-out landing card and found my way to the bus depot. i was a tad concerned when the coach that i boarded began to meander thru the verdant countryside, making all sorts of turns and switchbacks after clearing the heathrow terminals. at one point, the bus actually stopped behind a tractor that was waiting for a one-vehicle width lane to clear before turning off. in the end, i found out that there had been a major accident on the freeway, and the snaky route thru the scenic countryside had only added 10 minutes or so to the scheduled arrival time. thus, i made it to gatwick airport with enough time to make my connecting flight to dublin.

when i checked into the hostel, 5 of my 7 room-mates were from Japan, in town for a bicycle courier competition. the front desk clerk was ultra-friendly, and it turned out that he has a yen for canadian musicians, playing rush, joni mitchell and neil young on the p.a. system at various points during my stay. i didn't do much my first evening, just went and got a meal and then did a bit of sight-seeing prep at an internet cafe, where unlike my brother vance's experiences in paris where internet cafes charged him an obscene 6 euros an hour, the dublin cafes charged a much more tourist-friendly rate of only 1 euro per hour.

today, i did a walking tour of downtown dublin. i attempted to board one of the 'city tour' buses, but was advised by the driver that the 7-day 'rambler' pass that i had picked up exiting from the airport was only good for the regular dublin city buses. since i hadn't stopped in to the dublin city bus office, i didn't have any of the route info so was leery of just hopping on and off, in case i got taken to a far end of the county unawares. so, walking was the order of the day. wandering thru the temple bar district, i almost stumbled into the grafton street tourist trap before swerving quickly away towards dublin castle, built in 1204, which was much more to my taste.

dublin castle

on the site of the castle was the chester beatty library which was hosting a visiting exhibition of leonardo's codex. attempting to avoid those crowds, i took in the library's own collection of biblical parchments and also its materials on islamic and buddhists religions. like the potsdam palace, no photos were allowed, so i can't share any of the treats that i saw in there, but if you have any reverence for old books, you should make some time to take in this collection if you are in dublin. having re-watched 'in the name of the rose' just before travelling over the pond, seeing those surviving scraps of parchment was very awe-inspiring.

dublin tram arches

after pausing at the park by st. patrick's cathedral, i moved on and encountered some aged arches that had been built over and around by a newer building, i paused to take some snapshots. this prompted a security guard to rush out after noticing me on his cctv. when i explained that i was a tourist and not the real estate agent that he had imagined, he gladly took a few minutes to explain how the old arches once supported the main tram station that was demolished in the 1970's (stupidly, in his opinion). he explained that the new tramlines are only a few years old and that the vaults underneath the arches had been used to store valuables. the property owners are hoping to convert the slots into commercial fronts, which i thought might work very nicely.

view from dublin tram arch

hunting for the canadian embassy, i was advised that it had moved only a month ago to a new location farther west. i discovered a street called 'leeson street' and wondered if my old engineering buddy (hey steve !) had ever been there. i finally located the canadian embassy on the north end of wilton terrace along the grand canal, but was advised that there were only offices on-site and nothing to see. i wandered north for a block and ran across the st. stephens church, built in 1824.

st. stephens church in dublin

i found myself a mere block and a half away from the fitzwilliam card club that i had found on the internet. with no smoking, no booze and complimentary food, this was an ideal setting for me to park myself and play some poker. i signed up for the re-buy tourney that started at 9 p.m. and managed to make the final table after 3 hours, finishing in 8th place out of a field of 38 players to recover the cost of my buy-in. while playing, i chatted with an engineer from england who was working on the site prep for the upcoming metro project. they were actually doing borehole seismic with the time-tested signal source of slamming a good old hammer on an iron plate.

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