He Did

Wednesday, June 15, 2011 20:52
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A while ago I post a poem.  I mentioned that I had intended for it to be a song, but because I lack any form of musical aptitude, I settled for it to only be a (rough and unpolished, because I was eager to get it up and did not want to brood over it too much) poem.

A friend of mine read the post and sent me an email with a large attachment.  When I opened up the attachment, I completely choked up and had to fight the tears.  He had sacrificed an afternoon of his life to create a composition about something which is very personal.  By far, this is one of the nicest things any friend has ever done for me.  You have my sincere thanks, Ludipan.

The file can be downloaded here.

(Note that you are free to download and listen, but not reproduce or alter, as the work remains the property of the respective copyright holders. :-P )

The Journey Home

Monday, June 13, 2011 23:08
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I awoke on the last day of my European adventure and was immediately clear headed and focussed.  I was in the small university town of Tübingen in southern Germany and had a plane to catch in the Netherlands that afternoon.  My day had been timed with military precision as a series of trains which I had to catch by www.oebb.at.  I got dressed and ready, threw my last few things in the suitcase and slipped out of the hotel while Tübingen was just starting to stirred from its slumber.

The experience would not be complete, however, without one last altercation with the ticket machine on a Tübingen bus.  Taking the bus to the train station, for the first time I required a one-way (and not a day-rider) ticket.  I followed the instructions on the machine, but then it spat out change!  My military precision planning had included counting and recounting the money which I needed to deposit into the machine.  I looked at the ticket and saw that I had gotten a children’s ticket!  Flustered, I sat down.  At the end of the line (which was the train station), I tried to explain to the bus driver and offered him the difference in cash.  Again he staunchly refused my money and told me not to worry about it.  So I did not.  I entered the train station, waited for my train, and left Tübingen behind me.

At Stuttgart, I changed trains and set off for Köln.  This was going to be a long train, so I read a little and dozed off a little, but always keeping a tinge alertness.  The speaker through which the train driver made his announcements was rubbish and I could not understand anything, although I realised that the announcements were made in English as well.  Additionally, I could not see the electronic sign which indicates the stops very well.  So I decided to simply “time” when I had to get off at Köln.  This was a mistake, however.  At roughly the arrival time (relative to the length of the entire journey), we approached a station.  I could not really read the sign, but I gathered my bags and quickly jumped off the train.  I soon realised, though, that this station was much too quite for one to belong to the bustling city of Köln.  I realised this too late, however, and train which I was on sped off.  I had gotten off at the wrong station.  I quickly checked the train timetables and saw that another train would be going to Köln in half-an-hour.  That would give me about 10 minutes to catch my train to Utrecht.  If I missed that train, however, the next one would only depart in two hours.  I did not do the math, but I was sure that would mean that I would miss my flight.  At this point, worry and panic started to set in, especially when I recalled that lesson I learned on the day that I left for Germany: trains in Germany tend to be late.  My heart was racing and the adrenaline was pumping, but there was nothing that I could do but wait.  Even when I got on the train I was desperate with its apparent slow pace, willing it faster.  I soon realised, though, how some of the confusion came about: the station where I got off was close to the station in Köln where I should have gotten off, thus explaining the “arrival time”.  Eventually the train stopped at the right station and I jumped off and ran as fast as my weighty luggage permitted.  Confusion set in once again when I realised that the train to Utrecht was departing from a different platform than the timetable indicated.  I rushed unto the train, hoping and praying that it was the correct one.  Soon the doors closed and it rolled off.  There was still confusion, but there were many people on the train and one person (whom I suspect was Turk) assured me that I was going the right way.  Exhausted I placed my bags on the ground and collapsed between them, as the seats all seemed reserved.  Eventually I did find a seat and was happy to be heading into the Netherlands.

The rest of the journey was, thankfully, less eventful.  At Utrecht I changed trains for Schiphol.  When I was safely at Schiphol, I relaxed, at a meal and wandered about the duty-free shops a bit, as I had a fair amount of time before I had to check in.  Soon I was on my way again to Britain and found myself appreciating the Brits again as the pilots again apologised and complained to the passengers about having to taxi down “the longest runway in history”.

At Heathrow I was again processed like a piece of meat on a conveyor belt.  This time it was a less aweful experience, however.  I think it was because there was low traffic and the security personnel seemed more at ease.  After I received my stamp of approval1, I again trolled the duty-free shops.  I had more time than the previous time I was there, and I remembered that there was something which had struck my fancy.  I picked up a gift for someone, and took the plunge and bought a small MP3 player for myself.  No, it is not an iPod Nano, but something exceedingly more awesome, as it can play back Ogg Vorbis files!  I now had time to kill before check-in opened and, as an impatient techie, I decided that I wanted to try out my new toy.  Unfortunately it was packages, like most other electronic devices of the like, in near impregnable hard plastic.  And, for obvious reasons, I did not have my knife with me.  Nor any other sharp object.  I also could not ask any of the other thousand people around me, as they also were “disarmed”.  And if I did try to ask them, I sure I would have slept in a prison cell that evening.  I shall spare you the excrusiating details, but using a pen, the plug of a pair of earphones (which I already had—the plug being the closest to a serrated edge that I had) and an electrical plug adapter, I managed to liberate my new toy. I then quickly disposed of the packaging, as the torn plastic which I ended up with was probably sharper than many pen knives are.

After we had taken off, I decided to give my new MP3 player a spin.  I found that it came with a handful of songs preloaded, so I decided to listened to them.  I had not set foot outside of Heathrow, and for all the grief the UK leg of my journey had given me before I had even left South Africa, I did not mind the fact.  But I found myself looking with fascination as we soared above the rolling, green British landscape littered with small towns, farmsteads and manors.  It was twilight and the sun was setting on this European adventure of mine.  Suddenly my MP3 player stirred Franc D’Ambrosio, who started singing “Oh Danny Boy”.  It was a poignant moment; Great Britain gave way to the cliffs along the French coast, and I sunk back into my seat.  I was going home.

  1. Pro tip: I watched carefully the whole time, and NO-ONE checked my British direct airside transit visa.  At Cape Town International, my Schengen visa from my PREVIOUS trip was stamped.  Both times at Heathrow, I kept a close eye and no-one checked the visa when I handed over my passport: only my personal details and my plane tickets.  The Dutch also did not care.  I can show you the visa in my passport and the blank page opposite it: both are utterly devoid of any stamps.  Like the trains in the Netherlands and the busses in Germany, no-one cares.  So, when you next time have to transit through the UK, you could probably save R600 and just bargain on the fact that NO-ONE CARES. []

Heidelberg

Monday, June 13, 2011 18:05
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Having worked diligently during the week, my friend was able to take the Friday—my last full day in Germany—off and join me on my next adventure.  I was advised beforehand that I must go see Heidelberg, and my friend has not yet been there herself, so settled on going there.  For once I was not going to take the train or a bus: the cheapest (for my friend) was to take her car and drive there.  It was nice travelling on the Authobahnen again, even though I was not the one behind the wheel.  It just feels very natural accelerating and travelling at those uninhibited speeds which would make people in South Africa squirm.

All that I knew about Heibelberg, is that it is another German university town.  It is also the setting for the moving The Student Prince.  It was therefore another slight gamble, as we did not know what was there to see, but it paid off well.  Heidelberg is another town which caters for tourists and, as we drove into the down, my friend spotted the sign which directed us towards the castle.  Not having anything else on our itinerary, we decided that it would be a good place to start.

While also being being an old, well-preserved German university town, Heidelberg had a quite different feel to it.  Where Tübingen sprawls between forests over rolling hills, Heidelberg stretches down a long valley which has been carved out by the Neckar river.  We quickly spotted the castle when we arrived (where I literally had to walk into the gate in Tübingen to see it), but decided to walk around a bit first before we made the ascent up the hill.  We found what I suppose is the town square with a giant church rising up from the other end.  The square itself was filled with tourists, restaurant seating and stalls selling souvenirs.  We ate lunch and then I bought a couple of souvenirs (including a “Heidelberg” beer glass, in honour of the song “Drink, Drink, Drink” ;-) ), after which we decided to go into the church.  The church was drawing more tourists than the previous ones I had been in1.  It was another reformed church (the Holy Ghost Church) which seemed rather like a Roman Catholic church.  I spotted what looked like Japanese or Korean nuns, so I am not quite sure what there deal with the church is.  The inside of the church was ornate, yet seemed sparse.  After we had had a look around, a friend old lady manning the souvenir table convinced us to climb the tower by offering us student rates.  After a very long climb up a narrow, winding staircase (an experience which completely disorientates you), we suddenly emerged into the vast openness that hovers above the medieval town!  Below us red roofed buildings spread out like a quiet lake, with the people moving through the streets like the elusive fish swimming just beneath the surface.  The two of us stood awestruck for a few moments, just taking in the surreality of it all.

Next we decided to finally go to the castle.  It was a long climb up the hill, but with the (relative) gradual winding of the cobblestone walkway, I did not feel like I was climbing really, really high.  But when the walkway opened up, I saw that we had already climbed higher than we were in the church tower, yet we were still only at the base of the castle!  We went in, but did not explore the interior of the castle much.  We went into one building which must have been the cellar or kitchen, as the main attraction inside is what I guess is the largest barrel in the world: an ornate monstrosity which can hold a whopping 220000 litres!

Oddly, inside the castle is the Pharmacy museum.  We went inside, but it is not really my cup of tea (my friend nearly became a doctor, so I guess she enjoyed it more).  Finally we decided to go see the gardens of the castle.  Although a sign had said that the gardens were closed, we found no restrictions barring us.  Many other people were actually also enjoying parts of the garden, while other parts were eerily empty.  We managed to reach what I guess is the apex of the vista over Heidelberg (apart from what you can see if you actually climb the mountain that still jots out behind the castle).  Looking down, one can’t help but feel empowered and could suddenly empathise with the megalomania of those who peer out from their lofty towers.  Or perhaps it’s just me.

While it does not seem like we did a lot, what we did consumed the largest part of the day.  We descended back to street level and, after regaining our strength with sweet pastries, we set out again for “home”.  The day was not over yet, however, as the international students in my friend’s department had decided to have a get together, and we were invited.  Apparently someone had made some or other comment, and the Italian student had thrown down the gauntlet: she would make proper Italian pasta, and that could settle the score.  Whatever occasioned the evening, I was simply along for the ride and very chuffed with getting a real Italian meal!  It was a simple spaghetti dish, but very tasty!  Oh, how I long to go explore Italy…

It was an interesting gathering.  Being international students, there were varying degrees of competence in German, but most were fairly fluent.  Apart from one girl (who did not stay for the meal) who apparently could not speak German at all, everyone conversed in a lingua franca which was not English!  I listened with fascination and again could follow the thread of the conversation, but did not contribute much for lack of confidence (and, more importantly, vocabulary).  One thing that I was really pleased with myself about, is that I could distinguish accents.  The Italian girl spoke with a distinct Italian accent.  And it was not just the knowledge of where she came from that tipped me off: I noticed the typical Italian language “melody”.  You won’t hear a German speak like that!

Sometime after dinner, and before the movie night started, I bid my new acquaintances adieu and my friend dropped me off at the hotel.  I would have liked to stay, but the next day was going to be an early one; so early, that I had already checked out of the hotel earlier that day, as the desk would not be manned at the time when I had to leave.  Yes, the following day would see the start of my epic journey home.

  1. To be fair, the entire Heidelberg was crawling with tourists, unlike in Tübingen where you only occasionally spotted a couple []

Stuttgarter

Monday, June 13, 2011 12:20
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The evening of my last full day in Tübingen my friend and I ate at a nice little restaurant just off Neckarbrücke.  One of the things which we talked about was what I should go see the next day.  Before I left on my trip I had planned that I would go see some place other than Tübingen on the next day, but had never finalised the details.  Someone had told me that I should go see Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which sounds like a “living fossil” in terms of preserved medieval towns.  My friend also suggested Triberg and Freiburg, both of which are in the Schwarzwald.  These were thus tantalising options as well, as the Schwarzwald greatly intrigues me.  That evening I sat down in my hotel room to plan my journey with oebb.at.  I soon realised with a shock, however, that all of these options were out of the question.  While the distances were not great if you were to travel by car, by train it would have taken about 3 hours to travel anywhere.  And if you still had to get back, that would mean six hours stuck on a train!  It was simply out of the question.  It dawned on me that, given the constraints I was operating in, I only had one option: Stuttgart.  I quickly read up on attractions in Stuttgart from Wikipedia and jotted down where I would like to go.  And so, the next morning, I set off for Stuttgart.

Stuttgart, unlike Tübingen, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, or Heidelberg (which I would visit the following day) is a completely modern city.  Any hint of antiquity is a clever ruse and was built within the past 65 or so years.  The reason is that, unlike the aforementioned towns, Stuttgart was, as an industrial centre, of great strategic importance during the Second World War.  The German war effort relied heavily on it, and as such allied bombers levelled the city.  Having been rebuilt, the modern Stuttgart once again functions as a place of business and manufacturing.  And it was something that I noticed the moment I arrived.  A city like Amsterdam is a hub for tourists: every second person you walk past has a camera swinging around his neck.  There are signs, maps and tourist shops everywhere.  Even in Tübingen, which is not nearly as famous as Amsterdam, the locals are use to tourists.  Not so in Stuttgart.  It is a very clean, clinical city.  A city proper: a place to live and work, not a playground.  While in Amsterdam it can be irritating to have all the other tourists there (you know that, along with the rest, you are only being presented with a veneer which appeals to the masses of foreigners and are in fact disconnected from life in Amsterdam), you at least blend in and can find safety in numbers, even if the others are complete strangers.  With my camera dangling from my neck, I stuck out like a sore thumb in Stuttgart: a curiosity; the pink elephant in the room which no-one wants to point to, but which no-one also can help glancing at occasionally.  But I did not mind this, and rather enjoyed my day in the Big City.

In Amsterdam I had a map of the city in the back of a book which someone in South Africa had lent to me.  In Tübingen, I quickly acquired my own map, in addition to the maps which my friend had given me when she picked me up from the station.  But in Stuttgart I had no map.  I hesitated and nearly stopped to get one, but for some reason I thought that the three lists of Google Maps directions which I had would be sufficient.  I soon regretted not getting a map and then longingly thought how a man needs a map: something to trust, something to interpret and something to stubbornly hold fast to, even if he was wrong.

I had decided on three tourist attractions that I had wanted to see (Stuttgart does not offer many): the Mercedes Benz museum, the ___ and the ___.  For each of these I had a set of directions.  I decided to visit them in order of increasing distance from the train station.  That way, if one would take up a lot of time, I could skip what was left and head back to the station.  This would also mean that the Mercedes Benz museum would be last, as it is quite a distance from the train station.  How much of a distance I did not yet know.

I started on my way to my first stop, but a few turns later I realised that I was following the wrong set of directions: I was in fact on my way to the Mercedes Benz museum.  Oh well, might as well continue.  I am not a massive car nut, but I have always liked Mercedes Benz.  So much so, that I would happily skip past the Porsche museum to get there.  But the journey was a long and arduous one.  I first had to ascend a steep incline which would give me a great vista a part of the city.  Down in a valley I saw something shiny and thought, that must be it!  But it could not be, because it was too far off.  As I continued following the directions, however, I soon realised that the shiny building might very well be my destination.  Once I noticed the Porsche Arena, I knew that I must be close and I continued following the spinning Mercedes Benz signs mounted on top of the buildings.  Nearer I drew to the shiny building, nearer and nearer… and as I arrived, I realised that this was not yet my destination: it was the Mercedes Benz Arena, which is a soccer stadium!  I guessed that at this point I must at least be on Mercedesstraße and, having come this far, I was determined to see it through to the end1.  Eventually I found the actual museum: a curious structure which simply teases the car enthusiast to enter.  Outside a brand new SLS called out to all who passed by like a siren, and your were simply compelled to enter.  It had taken me quite a long time to actually reach the museum, so I was hesitant to buy a ticket and actually committing to the going through the eight-story exhibition.  Eventually I decided to gun it and bought a ticket.  I ascended to the top floor in a lift full of tourists and children (it seems like some French school had decided to show their pupils what proper cars look like).  The exhibition started in a small room with only one piece: a stuffed horse.  “Before the car, there was the horse.”  Then you know this is going to be a long exhibition.  But it was not very drawn out and done quite nice actually: each floor houses a main exhibition and a minor one.  The building spirals down and between floors there are walkways which have smaller displays along the wall, not necessarily Mercedes Benz related, but which provide historical context for the eras which you are moving between.  You simply can’t help but be drawn in and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I had spent quite a while in the museum as well, so I decided to hurry back towards the station.  If I was lucky, there might be time to stop at one of the museums closer to the station, but it would be tight.  Because I knew the route now, going back took much less time, but on the way I was overcome by hunger and tiredness, as I had been on the go since the morning and had not yet had lunch.  I stopped at what turned out to be a dodgy bar or pub run by Greeks or foreigners from a related geographic proximity.  I regained my strength with a hardy meal of pommes and beer and continued towards the station.  As I approached the vicinity of the station, however, my memory became cloudy and I soon found myself walking in circles.  My first attempt at asking someone for directions was pointless, as the shop owner did not know where the prominent landmark of the central train station was.  Eventually I found a used car salesman who was very helpful and directed me along a path which would, serendipitously, take me through a large park.  At this point there was no more time to visit any other attractions and I was going to miss the early train anyway, so I decided to take a relaxed stroll through the park.  As I entered the park, I could see the spinning Mercedes Benz sign which tops the station, so immediately I was relaxed, as my destination was in sight, al be it on the other side of the long park.  It was a very peaceful park and I discovered a replica of a Romanesque altar, as well as the façade of some grand build which is no more.  The other side of the park was littered with hippies, however, who were camping out a protesting something.  I don’t quite know the story, but apparently they want to add a platform to the train station and this has caused a massive outcry.  It is good to see that they don’t have to worry about things like poverty and AIDS and can spend their time campaigning more civilised causes.

The train station seems to have survived the allied bombings, as it still bears inscriptions of its dedication during the First World War.  It was a nice old building and I can maybe see why people don’t want it to be extended, but seriously, all that hoo-ha…

My trip to Stuttgart may not have been the most fruitful, but it certainly was adventurous.  Whether I would go there again to see what I missed out on is debatable, as there really are better destinations.  But again, given the constraints I was operating in, it was a very enriching experience.

I had only one full day in Germany left, and I was hoping that it was going to be magical.

  1. The reason why I was struggling was that the shoes which I wore were not ideal and that the distance simply is not meant to be covered on foot.  You are suppose to rather take a bus, but I was not up to figuring out how the Stuttgart bus system works, as it is a good deal more complex than the Tübingen bus system.  However, I made it and I am glad that I managed it! []

Schöne Tübingen

Saturday, June 4, 2011 23:06
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Finally, the continuation of the chronicles of my recent adventures in Europe.

So why would I want to visit Tübingen?  It certainly is not on the tip of tongues of most people when they have to suggest a travel holiday destination.  Tübingen is a small German university town, surely there are better alternatives?

The reason why I wanted to travel to Tübingen was because I have a friend who studies there.  Admittedly I did not know much about the town beyond what I listed here1.  I also simply wanted to spend more time in Germany, as the last time I was there, it was not for very long.  And it seemed like a good idea to connect with a friend who had “gone native”.  However, because I was visiting the town during the week during the semester, my friend obviously had commitments and duties at the university.  So after she picked me up from the train station, she took me to my hotel and then left for university; we would be able to catch up later in the day.

Because I arrived early at the hotel, I could not yet book in.  I could, however, leave my bags there safely and, in my not-refreshed state, set off to go explore Tübingen.  The evening before I had checked the walking route from the train station to my hotel on Google Maps (just to be sure) and noticed that one of the streets on the route was called Gartenstraße (Garden Street).  So, being on my own, I decided that that sounded nice and would start my exploration there.  Now, just a tip to other travelers: when Google warns you that the “walking route” feature of Google Maps is just a beta feature, they mean it.  I found where I wanted to be easily enough, however I had to walk along what was basically a mini highway.  I am sure that I stood out very much, clambering about on the grass slope through overhanging branches with my trust camera swinging from my side.  And, of course, I would stop periodically to take pictures.  Walking down Stuttgarter Straße is not an activity that you would find listed in any tour guide, but I did not mind doing it (at least not just the once), as already I was starting to gain insight and peering into “life in Tübingen”, rather than just going to all the tourist attractions.

I finally managed to get on to Gartenstraße and was very taken by it.  I had the choice of walking along either the street, or a foot path which runs next to the Neckar river.  I choose the latter and passed a few joggers, cyclists and dog lovers who clearly had nowhere better to be on a Tuesday morning.  And it was understandable, as it was quite peaceful.  I snapped pictures along the way until I got back to “civilisation”.  Then I snapped more pictures as I headed into the direction of what my friend had pointed out on our drive to the hotel as “Altstadt” (“Old Town”).  As the name implies, it is the old part of the town.  Not being an industrial town, Tübingen survived the Second World War unscathed and boasts an impressive quarter of cobblestone streets, “old German” houses and churches.  I turned unto the first street of the altstadt and bought a croissant to regain my strength.  I then continued and quickly found a towering church building in front of me.  This was the first of many pleasant surprise discoveries which I would make over the next two days.  The church definitely seemed Roman Catholic, with all its icons and memorials and the altar.  This surprised me, as I understood this part of Germany to have been Protestant.  I was in the Stiftskirche and I would later find out that it in fact was not a Roman Catholic church.  Although it was built as a Roman Catholic church, it was one of the first churches to adopt protestantism (and later reformism) and, as such, retained much of its Roman Catholic heritage.  The church was undergoing renovations and parts were sealed off.  After I had spent some time there, I walked around a bit in the altstadt and then discovered the botanical gardens.  After walking through it, I decided to head back to the hotel: I had been walking long and far in uncomfortable shoes.  When I got back, I took a shower, put on clean clothes and had a well deserved nap.

For lunch my friend came and fetched me at the hotel.  We decided go to the mensa, which is a university cafeteria type place.  There I had my first Schwäbische dish: Spätzle.  It is a type of pasta and I really liked it!  My friend then took me to go see where she studies and where she lives (which was basically on the other side of town).  After that, we went for a walk through the forest to the north of Tübingen.  It was an amazing experience to walk through a real German forest: once again there was a serenity to it all.  You are not alone (with towns so close to each other and people everywhere I doubt you are every really alone in that part of Europe), but there was a sense of isolation.  Something, which I suspect, many people there crave in their busy, modern lives.

My friend was taking me to Bebenhausen and I was surprised to suddenly find the small hamlet appear in the middle of the dense forest.  We looked around the monastery there a bit and then set off on our return, as my friend had to be at home at a specific time for the census (ah, the Germans).  Our route back took us partially through some grain fields, which I always enjoy.  After the census we made supper and I met friend’s flatmate and her boyfriend (?).  It was the first of two German dinnertime conversations which I sat in on.  I could follow the conversation, but did not feel comfortable enough with my German to contribute.  Tübingen is in the state of Baden-Württemberg, one which claims that its people can do anything, except speak high German.  The first part of the statement comes from the proud tradition of inventors, innovators and artists who came from the region.  The latter part refers to the distinct dialect which is spoken in the region.  And, as a high school student, I was of course instructed in pure high German.  This caused some concern.  Pronunciation was the most difficult 2, but generally I could follow the thread of the conversation well enough.

The next day I was on my own again during the day.  My first blunder for the day was that I missed breakfast at the hotel, so I would have to go into town to get something to eat.  My friend briefly explained to me how the buses work in Tübingen work, so I decided to to get a day rider ticket and pick up where I left off the day before.  The bus system seemed very similar to that of the Netherlands, but there were subtle differences.  In the Netherlands, you buy your tickets from the bus driver and then you are on your merry way.  In Tübingen, the bus drivers refuse to touch money: you must use the machine behind the driver’s seat.  When I approached the machine, I got a nasty surprise however: the machine only accepted coins and chip cards. I did not have enough money in coins, but I did in notes.  I did not have a chip card, only a regular credit card.  After digging out all my cents I confirmed that I did not have enough money in coins.  So I tried to my credit card, just in case.  The machine was too smart for me, however, and realised that my credit card did not have a chip.  It then decided not to give me my card back.  After a few panicked moments, I managed to get it out by using two coins to ply it out.  At this point we were nearing my destination and I was still riding without a ticket.  I decided to approach the other passengers for help.  Digging deep to the lesson on “Restaurants” which we had in high school, I latched on to what I remember the German word for “change” was.  I started asking the other passengers, but each refused me dryly.  At last I approached the driver (again), who asked if anyone on the bus spoke English.  One girl (probably a student), raised her hand (the only one on the bus).  I explained my situation to her and she was able to help me out with two €2 coins (all that she had) for one €5 note.  And so I managed to get my bus ticket just in time for no-one to really care or be bothered about it.  When I related this story to my friend that evening, she told me that the word which I used on the bus, Trinkgeld, means “tip”, not “change”.  So I was going around on the bus begging for money!  But all’s well that ends well.

I headed for the Stiftskirche again, as it is a pretty good landmark, and then north again through the narrow streets I had followed the day before when I ended up at the botanical gardens.  Taking a few turns, I found a few restaurants, but nothing which struck my fancy.  I could have returned to the shop where I had bought a croissant the day before, but I had decided that I rather want to find somewhere else than return to the same “safe” place every time.  As I was walking along, I came to another large church: the Johanneskirche.  It was not as grand as the Stiftskirche, but still imposing as it sat there as if slumbering.  From inside I could hear music coming, but the door was locked, so I moved on.  This part of the Altstad seemed quieter and I was keen to see what was around the next turn.  I found a small, almost obscure bakery which had some really good prices.  The quietness of this part of town was broken by the people who would frequently slip into this bakery and then emerge with delicious baked goods.  Clearly this place had the approval of the locals and I would later return there to get some breakfast.  I soon came across the Stadtsmuseum, which I decided to skip.  I then stumbled upon the town square.  It took me completely by surprise, but it would not be the last pleasant surprise of the day!  There was a market in the square and a large, milling crowd coming between the stalls.  At the other end of the square stood the imposing town hall 3.  Next to town hall came the sound of a man playing his accordion.  I even glimpsed a man in a monk’s robe manning one of the stalls. I walked around between the stalls a bit (which were mostly selling food like fresh produce) and then decided to take a break with a nice German beer.  After I had regained my strength, I set off again, with no idea what I would find next.  As I was heading in one direction, I passed a steep staircase leading up.  Intrigued, I decided to follow the stairs up.  I was not prepared for what I would find, as at the top to my right was the gate to the castle of Tübingen!  I was not even aware that there was a castle, as everywhere you go there are narrow streets which are flanked by tall buildings.  I then spent a good deal of time exploring the castle, which for already more than a hundred years has been part of the university.  My mind was blown and I could only imagine what it must be like to have your department and classes in a castle thatis hundreds of years old!  I ascended a couple of stair cases and finally reached the apex of Tübinge.  Where I stood, I could finally look down on the town: a sea of red roofs which creep over the rolling, wooded hills of the area.  I was in awe and it feels feeble to try and explain the experience.  It was serene at the top, with people lying around or sitting and reading: this was clearly a place to come to escape the hustle and bustle.  When I was done exploring, I descended a long set of stairs and decided to reward myself with an Italian style ice cream.  My last stop was the Jakobuskirche, another church, which was also closed, so there is not much to tell.

I headed back to the hotel and met my friend that evening for dinner.  I had my second proper Schwäbische dish: Maultaschen.  While it was really nice and I enjoyed it, I still maintain that it is simply ravioli (I love ravioli!), to the protestation of my friend.  I also discovered dunkel weissbier, the name of which I think is an oxymoron.  It was a great evening and I went to bed very happy with the day’s adventures.  I was especially pleased with how well things had worked out considering that I had done no planning beforehand.  My serendipitous discoveries were much more exciting than going to see places I had planned for!  Eventually I fell asleep amidst my excitment about what lay ahead on the next day, when I would journey beyond Tübingen.

  1. I also knew that the university itself was quite good and especially respected its theology and biblical studies departments. []
  2. I have previously been told that I have very good German pronunciation, but that was a few years ago and I admit that I slipped up much in this regard on the trip []
  3. On the side of the town hall there were carvings depicting scenes of a bygone era: a man ploughing a field, a woman harvesting grain, a man repairing a shoes, and a student sloughed over a desk.  There was also an engraving of St. George slaying the dragon; a popular motif which I had seen in the Stiftskirche as well. []

Republiekdag

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 20:45
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Dit was vanoggend onder my aandag gebring dat vandag Republiekdag in Suid-Afrika is.  Vyftig jaar gelede op hierdie dag het Suid-Afrika onafhanklikheid van die Britse monarg verklaar.  In die ou bedeling was 31 Mei ‘n vakansiedag gewees, maar deesdae is dit nie meer so nie.

Republiekwording was ‘n hoogtepunt vir die Afrikanervolk.  Vir die eerste keer sedert die tweede Anglo-Boere oorlog was die Afrikaner werklik onafhanklik: hulle kom hul eie trom slaan en bou na ‘n idilliese toekoms in die beloofte land.

Die vrede was egter altyd in gedrang gewees.  Ver weg het die Swart Gevaar gelê en gluur.  Die Afrikaners se grootste vrees was ‘n tipe Nag van die Lang Messe waar die Swart Gevaar sou opreis en al die Afrikaners (en ander wit mense in die land) sou uitmoor en verjaag.  Hierdie vrees was groot, en ‘n werklikheid vir die mense wat die verantwoordelikheid moes dra om die land te lei.  Vir 33 jaar het die Afrikaner met hierdie vrees saam gelewe.  In ‘n poging om die Swart Gevaar te tem het die regerings allerhande flou wette probeer inbring, maar die Swart Gevaar het bloot meer rusteloos geword.

33 jaar na republiekwording het die Afrikaner uiteindelik gebuig voor die Swart Gevaar.  Dit okasie was ‘n (relatiewe) vreedsame verkiesing waarin mense van alle rasse kon stem.  Daardie verkiesing het die grondslag gelê vir ‘n Nuwe Suid-Afrika; een waarin ons steeds leef en steeds aan bou, in samewerking.  Dit was ‘n tyd van opwinding en ‘n bietjie vrees, maar dit is altyd so as ‘n volk weet dat hulle op die drumpel van fundementele verandering staan.

Toe dit amptelik was dat daar ‘n nuwe regering verkies was, het die mense in beheer van die skool waar ek was besluit dat ons summier moet oorskakel en die “nuwe volkslied” by saalbyeenkomste moet sing.  Dit was ‘n klein, byna geïsoleerde dorpie wat 100% steun aan die vorige regerende party gegee het en niemand sou geweet het indien ons voortgehou het met die ou volkslied nie.  Maar uit beginsel is ons aangesê om die nuwe lied te sing.  Die probleem was egter dat, omdat die dorpie so klein, geïsoleerd en Afrikaans was, het niemand die woorde van die nuwe volkslied in die oorspronklike taal gehad nie: vir die eerste paar weke het ons dit slegs in Afrikaans gehad.  En só het ons die kenlied van die Swart Gevaar gesing soos ons die Nuwe Suid-Afrika binne gegaan het:

Seën ons Here God, seën Afrika,
Laat sy mag tot in die hemel reik,
Hoor ons as ons in gebede vra,
Seën ons in Afrika,
Kinders van Afrika.

Daal neer o Gees, Heilige Gees,
Daal neer o Gees, Heilige Gees,
Kom woon in ons,
Lei ons, O Heilige Gees.

Hou U hand o Heer oor Afrika,
Lei ons tot by eenheid en begrip,
Hoor ons as ons U om vrede vra,
Seën ons in Afrika,
Kinders van Afrika.

Seën ons Here God, seën Afrika,
Neem dan nou die boosheid van ons weg,
Maak ons van ons sonde ewig vry,
Seën ons in Afrika,
Kinders van Afrika.

Ek is trots ‘n Afrikaner en trots op my herkoms en geskiedenis.  Ek is ook trots ‘n Suid-Afrikaner wat saam bou en vooruit kyk na die toekoms; een van verdraagsaamheid, samewerking en vrede.

Note: My apologies for the break in continuity while relaying my recent travel experiences, but I believe the occasion warranted it.  I am working on the missing installments, so watch this space.

The Journey to Tübingen

Thursday, May 12, 2011 22:53
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I have not been writing updates this week, because I have not had the time to do so.  That is generally a good indication that a trip is going well and indeed I have been enjoying the German leg of my journey.  But before I elaborate on that, I have to tell about how I got here.

After my previous post, I left for Leiden Centraal train station.  Finally I got the opportunity to put my Eurail1 pass to use!  I activated it at Leiden Centraal and started my journey to Germany.  The first stop was Utrecht Centraal.  At this point I should confess that Monday was probably the most uncertain day of my trip, as I had no place to sleep.  If worst came to worst, I thought I could just spend it on a train station or wander the streets until dawn.  But my plan “A” was to book a seat on an over-night train.  To do this I actually had to reserve a place on the train (which is still much cheaper than a hotel).  With that done, I had to pass the four hours until the train departed.  Luckily I took a book along with me.  I did not want to leave the station as my luggage is very heavy to carry around.  And even if I could store it in a locker, I would only have had four hours to explore a city which I know nothing about.  So I waited patiently until I could board.  Because the distance is not really large enough to warrant a night-train, I would leave late from Utrecht Centraal and would arrive early at my destination.  I SMS’ed my friend who lives in Tübingen the time at which I would arrive and she replied that she would “try” to come and fetch me that early.

On the train I had a couchette, which is basically just a rundimentary (bunk)bed.  One compartment on the train has six couchettes, so it can get cramped very quickly, especially if everyone has big luggage bags.  When I arrived at my compartment, there was only one man there, so it seemed like it might not be too bad.  I noticed, however, that I would have trouble fitting into the space between my couchette and the one above me unless I was a piece of toast.  I set about trying to adjust the couchette to a decent height, but soon ran into trouble trying to figure out the mechanism.

“Sprichts du English?”
“Nein.  Italianisch, Deutsch.”
That is how I met Fabricio.  I had not even crossed the border to Germany and I already had to dig deep, deep to those three years in high school when I had German as a subject.  Fabricio works on ships (?), which means that he gets to travel quite a bit to different cities around Europe.  He is away from home most of the time, but such is the nature of the work.  He looks forward to going home, though.  He also has seen programmes about South Africa on the television.  Together we tried to figure out the problem with my bed, but he soon discovered that the level necessary for adjustment was kaput.  He went to fetch the conductor and showed him the broken lever.  The conductor then unlocked the next compartment and told me to choose a bed.  A compartment all to myself!  I felt sorry for having to leave Fabricio, But I would be changing trains before 5am, so I decided to go to bed (after watching a nice sunset from the train as the European landscape whizzed by).  Sleeping on a train is not so bad and I am sure that you can get use to it fairly quickly.  But as it was my first time, I was a bit of a light sleeper.  So I was awakened by the two or three other people who stole into the compartment after I was sleeping.  It might have gone unnoticed, where it not for the bumping against my couchette and the snoring2.  I awoke before we reached the station where I needed to change trains and got up and got ready.  (Only) when we stopped (did) I gather(ed) my bags and move(d) towards the door.  It was then that I discovered that I had not zipped up my luggage bag from the night before and some clothes fell out.  I scrambled to get everything back in and when I finally reached the door of the train, it was closed and the train started to move.  Luckily I could catch another train at the next station, but I would be delayed in arriving in Tübingen, obviously.  I let my friend know that I would be late and she was rather relieved that she would not have to get up quite so early.

That concludes the story for “the journey”.  It took longer to describe than I imaged it would, so you will have to wait until the next post to read about my experiences in Tübingen itself.

  1. There are several Eurail passes available to people outside of Europe.  The one which I chose allows you virtually unrestricted train travel between and in two European regions for a certain period of time.  It is a bit pricey, but gives you the peace of mind of not necessarily having to catch a certain train at a certain time at a certain place.  When I missed my stop to Tübingen, for example, I simply could get on another train without worry!  You need to book it well in advance, however, as the pass needs to be couriered to you.  Of course I did not do this and after a bit of a desperate rant on Twitter, Eurail contacted me and let me know that I could have the pass shipped to my hotel.  I chose this option (which made the pass even more expensive, unfortunately), but when I checked into the hotel my pass was already waiting there for me!  I am thoroughly impressed with their client-relations, which adds to the value of the pass itself as far as I am concerned! []
  2. I would later discover that it seems to be normal for Germans to snore very loudly. []

Nederlander

Monday, May 9, 2011 13:28
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Na vier dae in Nederland, dink ek dat dit net gepas is om vir ‘n slag weer iets in Afrikaans te skryf.  Dit is lekker om in ‘n vreemde land te wees en in ‘n “bekende” taal te kommunikeer (wat vanselfsprekend nie Engels is nie!).  Ek vind dat ek die Nederlanders beter verstaan as wat hulle my verstaan, maar ek skat dit is omdat ek weet om Nederlands te verwag, terwyl ek hulle omkant betrap wanneer ek Afrikaans praat.

Geïnspireer deur ‘n vriend wat onlangs in Nederland was se avonture, het ek besluit om die dag ‘n fiets te huur en na ‘n buurdorp te ry.  Eers moes ek dit fietsslot baasraak: dit is effektief, maar nie soos enige fietsslot wat ek al gesien het nie!  Ek neem toe dit pad na Lisse vanaf my hotel in Noordwijkerhout.  Alhoewel die stereotipiese Nederlandse fiets oud en gedaan lyk, is dit baie gepas vir sy doel.  Dit is baie kalmerend om langs kanale en velde te ry en net af-en-toe ‘n motor te hoor of iemand anders verby te steek.  Dit is definitief ‘n baie goeie manier om rond te reis!  Ek het gewens dat ons so ‘n kultuur in Suid-Afrika kon hê, maar toe besef dat daar twee hoofredes is waarom ons dit nie het nie.  Eerstens is baie van Suid-Afrika (veral in die Kaap) nie so plat soos wat die hele ganse Nederland is nie.  As ‘n mens in Stellenbosch fiets ry, byvoorbeeld, kan jy maklik in ‘n kort roete meer klim as wat die hoogste punt in Nederland (wat slegs 322.7m is) is!  Tweedens, het ons nie so baie kleiner dorpies wat so naby aan mekaar is nie.  ’n Gewone persoon gaan gedaan wees as hulle, byvoorbeeld, van Kraaifontein af na Stellenbosch moet ry, laat staan van Bellville of Durbanville af!

Daar was slegs een rede waarom ek Lisse toe wou gaan: ek wou ‘n Nederlandse kerkdiens gaan bywoon.  Noordwijkerhout het nie enige kerke wat my belangstelling gewek het nie, maar in Lisse was daar een wat ek wou gaan bywoon.  Ek het mooi voor die tyd die roete na Lisse neergeskryf en toe byna onmiddellik “verdwaal”.  Ek het toe maar op instink gery en vir mense langs die pad gevra.  Uiteindelik het ek het die kerk betyds gehaal: op Afrika tyd.  Ek was 10 minute laat, maar betyds vir die diens self.  Die diens het my baie herinner aan die tradisionele NG Kerke in Suid-Afrika.  Ek kon die meeste van die diens volg en die predikant het parallelle getrek tussen Christus se verhoudig met Petrus en die van ‘n ma en haar kinders (dit was Moedersdag gewees).  Net soos Petrus vir Jesus verraai het, kan kinders ‘n ma in die steek laat.  Maar net soos Jesus vir Petrus gebid het, moet ma’s vir hul kinders bid as dié besluit het om hul geloof te laat vaar.  Dit was ‘n baie bemoedigende en relavante preek in moderne Nederland.  Ek het na die diens uitgevind dat die kerk sedert 2006 nie ‘n permanent dominee het nie.  En van die ouer dames het met my kom gesels en dit het geblyk dat sy deels in Suid-Afrika groot geword het en het met baie goeie Afrikaans gepraat.  Sy was laas in 2004 daar gewees (na byna 30 of 40 jaar) en kon nie glo hoe die land verander het nie.  Nadat ek met nog ‘n paar ander mense gesels het en ‘n paar fotos geneem het, het ek die pad terug na die hotel toe ingeslaan.  En ek moes omtrent jaag, want as ek betyds terug by die hotel kon wees, sou ek net half-tarief hoe te betaal.  Ek het dit wel betyds gemaak ek kon ‘n hele paar fotos langs die pad neem.  In die geheel was daardie uitstappie een van my aangenaamste Nederlandse ondervindinge gewees.

Die middag het ek weer ‘n paar aanbiedings by die konferensie bygewoon en toe die afsluitingspraatjie.  Daarna het ons as ‘n groep uitgegaan na Keukenhof.  Keukenhof is ‘n groot, wêreld bekende tuin.  Dit was baie meer as wat ek verwag het en daar is baie blomme, bome en grasperke om jouself in te verlustig.  Ongelukkig het ons toergids redelik vinnig geloop en dit was moeilik om by te hou.  Woorde kan nie Keukenhof voldoende beskryf nie, so ek gaan nie probeer nie.  Maar dit is definitief iets om te oorweeg wanneer jy Nederland besoek.

Na Keukenhof het ons na die strand gegaan en daar aandete geniet.  Ons was vermaak deur ‘n lewendige Kubaanse musiekopvoering terwyl die skugterheid van die mense verdwyn het.  Die restaurant het geprut van tientalle mense van verskillende nasionaliteite begin gesels, deel en ontdek het.  Baie jolig.  Uiteindelik het ‘n uitbarsting van reën ons teruggedryf na ons busse toe en toe na die hotel toe.

Ek is tans uit die hotel geboek en gaan nou my reis na Duitsland begin.

NS Ek vra omverskoning as die skryfstyl ‘n bietjie droog was, maar ek is tans ‘n bietjie moeg en gretig om in die pad te val.  Ek hoop om op ‘n ander keer hiervoor op te maak.

Amsterdam Conquered

Monday, May 9, 2011 12:41
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On Saturday I went to Amsterdam.  I had fond memories of the city from the last time when I was here and I wanted to go see some sights which I did not get around to the last time.  So when the other conference attendees shuffled off to the day’s sessions after another fantastic breakfast, I slipped off to the bus stop.

After more-or-less retracing my steps1 for getting to the hotel, I managed to wind up at Amsterdam Centraal.  Stepping out of the train station into the bustling city was a sharp contrast from the peaceful countryside which I had just come from.  Standing in the middle of all those people rushing by, I had a sense of freedom: on my own, I could go at my own pace and where I wanted.  The city lay ahead waiting to be explore.  No, more than waited: it beckoned the travel to enter and be engulfed.

My first stop was the Rijksmuseum, almost on the other side of the town.  Previously I was not very interested in it, but I was convinced to go look at the treasures inside.  And, like the name indicates, it does hold treasures: treasures bought and hoarded as a small affiliation of provinces grew into a might empire: not so much by military might or terror as by acumen, daring and shrewdness.  The Dutch bought, bartered and traded their way into the history books.  And such is evidenced by the Rijksmuseum, which chronicles the history of the Dutch Republic.  Silverware, china, richly decorated dressers and intricate doll houses (with genuine miniature silverware and everything made to perfect proportion) were just some of the examples of the standard of living the wealthy elite enjoyed.  One thing which really impressed me was a wooden cradle, probably of eastern origin, which was crafted with great skill and which incorporated ivory.  You then move on to the paintings.  First a few which depicted the Dutch dominance in their colonies.  Then the paintings of the masters started.  Not being an art expert, I was greatly impressed with the work of Rembrandt, but also some of the others.  A prospering society is one in which art flourishes, and this was evidenced in the paintings.  Not only the fact that they existed, but also their subject matter: it was not cheap to commission a painting, but the elite could not resist in indulging.  So each of the paintings has some history associated with it: a wealthy merchant, a nobleman, an ambassador.  The exhibition climaxes with The Nightwatch, which truly is a massive, and impressive, painting.  Whether you are an art lover or not, it is difficult to leave the Rijksmuseum and not be touched or moved in some way by what you have seen.

I spent a little more time in the Rijksmuseum than I had planned, but it was good time.  I had a few places that I wanted to visit, so I set out to go and find them.  At this point I started to get a bit lost and frustrated.  It was getting late and I still had only been to one place.  Eventually I got on the track again, in the process stumbling upon and visiting a cathedral.  I was actually on my way to Begijnhof: an old sanctuary reserved for young women who lived like nuns, but did not take their vows.  They were allowed to stay there in exchange for helping the poor and infirm in the community.  The picture which had been painted to me about Begijnhof was one of a calm and serene retreat.  But when I found it, it was by the line of people wanting to go in.  There was not even a line at the Rijksmuseum, which is much more famous!  Inside were dozens of people milling about, seemingly aimlessly.  It was like they did not know what they were there to see or to find.  Granted, I did not know what it would be like inside myself, but was at least anticipating some calm.  I followed some people and slipped into the chapel.  Inside were nearly as many people milling about as outside, all ignoring the “For Prayer Only” sign.  I was upset by this, until I glanced into the next room where a man was manning what was basically a souvenir shop.  Slightly disgruntled, I left.

The next part of my journey took me past some nice buildings.  I managed to find the Royal Palace, which was fairly impressive, but closed to the public that day.  Across the street from it was Nieuwe Kerk, which, as far as I could tell, only sported a gift shop.  I then managed to find Oude Kerk, which was hosting a photography exhibiting which I did not have the time to visit.

And there was the Red Light District.  The previous time when I was in Amsterdam I did not have a desire to see it.  But this time I was urged (again) to go have a look.  Not to satisfy some lustful curiosity, but for the sake of experience in this infamous part of Amsterdam.  I wanted to look in the faces of the prostitutes and see what was there: what was the motivation to sell your body in shop windows like pieces of meat.

The first thing which struck me was the women who where there: not the prostitutes, the tourists.  They were gathered in front of the Condomerie, laughing and giggling.  They were also elsewhere and at one point it seemed like there were more women there than men.  What were they there to see?  Did they secretly want to have a gander at what a life which they did not choose (even if they easily could) would have been like?

Late Saturday afternoons in the Red Light District are either very slow for business, or very good, as many windows were drawn closed.  Those windows which were open held women which were less provocatively dressed than I thought: nothings worse than any magazine stand one would walk past in the shops.  Perhaps things are more risqué at night.  The women honestly reminded me of mannequins.  They could honestly have been automatons, looping actions of winking and pursing their lips.  And I hoped that they could have been dolls instead of women dressed like dolls.  But what betrayed them as human, was their quick eye and intuition.  If they caught you looking at them, they beaconed for you; invited you.  Despite my original observation of the number of women wandering the Red Light District, I found myself at one point wandering down a very narrow street, with windows on both sides, that was completely filled by men.  They might well have only been there for a “look”, but their fat grins betrayed that their interest in the Red Light District was different from that of the curious women.  As for the prostitutes, there was little I could learn.  They very good at selling themselves, hiding any pain or shame (if there is any).  But two may have slipped a bit: perhaps the rings around the eyes were not make-up, but a reason for going on…

The Red Light District did not seem to be a very large area (or else I missed most of it).  I was surprised to soon find myself in the Amsterdam Chinatown, which was a fresh change of scenery.  But signs indicating that “children should be accompanied” still marked the dark alleyways which led back into the Red Light District.  Disgruntled, I headed back to the train station to go back to the hotel.  On my way I heard the bells of the Oude Kerk ringing merrily.  I looked up at the structure which cast its shadow impotently on the Red Light District and walked away sullen and somber.  Amidst the contrasts which I had seen that day, I was reminded of when Jeremy Clarkson described the Dutch in the series “Meeting the Neighbours” as definable.  I headed to the train station with more confusion than with which I went.  On my way I stopped for a beer at a little bar.  It did not have drunken youths cheering some sort of sports event, but had friendly and quiet elderly patrons.  On a chair was a lazy ginger cat, and I felt at home.  After my brief stop, I took the train and the busses back to the hotel, where I quickly passed out from exhaustion.

The day before, I spoke to a man from America who said that he had been enough in Amsterdam and did not want to go there anymore.  I understand that now, as Amsterdam only has so many major tourist attractions which it markets.  Once you have seen them, what remains of this small city?  Once you have spent your money in it and had your pleasure in it, what is there to go back to?  But I shall not take a view which is too dim.  Every city has two sides: that which is marketed, and that what is real.  What are the hundreds of little cafes, nearly hidden below street level, like?  What is life like in those buildings which line the streets and which a tourist simply thinks of as ambiance?  Suddenly a whole new world appears, one of more substance than the thin veneer painted for the tourists.  I hope to one day return and learn more about the real Amsterdam.  But for now, there are other places which need to be perused.

  1. I was delayed for a half-an-hour because the one bus simply ignored me.  Only at the end of the day would I learn that you actually have to signal for them to stop. []

Checking in from (CSEDU 2011)

Sunday, May 8, 2011 23:24
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Greetings from a wet Noordwijkerhout.

Have had a couple of rather full days.  I am still alive and breathing.  Tomorrow should be a little slower, so I hope to catch up with the updates then.