Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is this me?

I found this self-assessing silliness on Ham Life . As you will find if you venture to this quiz site, the questions are not of the very scientific, serious kind, but fun. This is apparently me!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Die Mosel

We have just come back from a few days in the Mosel Valley, and what a beautiful, charming river valley that is. The winding river, those romantic castles and all those vineyards climbing the steep slopes! It is surely one of the most beautiful parts of Germany.

We entered the valley at the lower end, near Koblenz, at a little place called Kobern-Gondorf where Roman artifacts were discovered in the late 19th century. Then we headed for the very picturesque town of Cochem, but we felt obliged to visit one of the most spectacular castles on the way there, the Burg Eltz, which is still privately owned by the family von Eltz. They have quite a challenging walk to the shops, is all I can say!

After a meandering drive in the drizzly weather along the Mosel we found our hotel…

…which astonishingly enough was built 20 years before the town wall on the left, which, in its turn, was built by Kurfürst Balduin in 1352! The hotel was filled (read ‘cluttered’) with old paintings, hunting trophies and suchlike, and had a beautifully decorated Postbriefkasten mounted on the outside wall. Although staff were friendly, they charged us extra, quite disproportionately, for a two-hour extended stay due to illness and topped it up with charging us for an extra cup of tea for Ms S, who due to said illness had not been able to enjoy her breakfast. So much for being friendly! As for the kitchen, I have had better school dinners. So there, ha!

Cochem itself is a very picturesque little town with a pretty square, relaxing river promenade and the famous Reichsburg Cochem on a hilltop. The castle, which was originally built in the 11th century, was completely destroyed by French soldiers in 1869. The castle that stands today was rebuilt in the 19th century. From it you have some stunning views, and if you take the lift up to the nightly illuminated cross, you will have an impressive view of the castle itself, and if you walk even further up, you can take in both the cross, the castle and the whole of Cochem. Can you spot the cross? (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Next stop was Trier, allegedly the oldest town in Germany. To get there we chose to follow the somewhat slow road that intertwined with the river Mosel; first you’re on one side of the river, then you’re taken across a bridge to the other side, then back again, and so it goes on. We could see people harvesting those succulent grapes in the sunshine; could that be Spätlese, I wonder? Just like when we were in the Beaujolais district in the summer, we recognised place names that we normally see on wine labels. Magic!

Trier was founded in 16 BC by supposedly Emperor Augustus himself. In the 5th century the town was conquered and destroyed by Germanic tribes, but it still boasts a rich architectural heritage, and it was of course the birthplace of Karl Marx.

The Porta Nigra, the town gate, is the oldest German defensive structure; it stands today at the one end of the lively, pedestrianised town centre, so it really feels like entering the town when you walk through it. The fact that it is still standing, is quite a construction achievement, since they did not use any mortar, only iron rods to hold the massive stone blocks together.

Passing through the old gate you soon find yourself at the main market square, Hauptmarkt, where you will find the Petrusbrunnen (St Peter’s fountain), with St Peter and the Four Virtues, the Marktkreutz (Market cross), symbolising the right to hold markets and also Germany’s oldest pharmacy with records dating back to the 13th century. The present Löwenapotheke building is as young as from the 17th century though.

In our modern times we speak about carbon footprint, but now I understand better why the Romans were able to leave behind such long-lasting imprints on our culture. Hail Augustus!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Baby Whisperer

That’s what my wife called me the other day when she offered my services to our new neighbours. She did say that she would ask me, but how could I deny helping them? What would you have done? Our young couple and their two toddlers moved in recently and were just up and running when mum had to be admitted to hospital. The following day dad had one of his most important days of the year at work, and simply could not stay away. They knew nobody else, we had just had some initial conversations with them, but we were really strangers to each other. I am a teacher who has been vetted and gone through every possible police check in the UK, so they knew they could not get better reassurance as for the safety of their children. They had no alternative child care and must have felt absolutely desperate. Both sets of grandparents live in the UK, so stand-in granddad entered the scene.

Having had recent practice with my granddaughter I wasn’t worried how I would cope with the situation, but I was only concerned with how the little ones would perceive me. Being at home with mum normally, how would they react to a stranger in the house? Would they see me as an intruder in their lives? After a while I could forget all of my worries; they were as good as gold all day. We had met briefly the previous day and I had played a little with them in their garden, but that was all.

We went through their whole, normal day without a tear or whine. They had breakfast, played inside, went for a walk in the double-buggy, listened to crows in the trees, saw some cows in a field, went to the playground with swings, slides etc, played in the garden, then quietly inside before midday nap (bottle, nappy change, a little cuddle, tuck in). They went to sleep without any fuss and woke up later with smiles on their faces. Some more play before lunch, which ended with the 18-month-old having a yogurt-covered face. How could I not let her practise eating with a spoon? Full tummies and happy faces. The 2 ½-year-old was quite happy staring at the TV screen with English children’s television, but when I asked him if he would like to go out and play in the garden, he went for his shoes and ran to the kitchen door.

So when dad came home from work in the afternoon, he was expecting to find me slumped across the sofa completely exhausted. He looked almost bemused at me when I reassured him I was fine. The children were happy, clean and nice-smelling. Then I helped dad getting them ready to go and see mum in hospital, and I was left with a very good feeling inside.

I hope nobody suggests I start a Rent-a-Granddad business; that would be too exhausting. But the odd, emergency baby-whispering is just about OK.

BTW – I have been a bad blogger lately, not enough time to write, and not even time to read other blogs. I have to do better!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Memory Lane

When my dad passed away a little over two years ago, he left behind a rather large collection of old slides. Many of them were from his trips abroad with my mother to do research for a number of travel guides that he kept on writing well into his seventies. That was at least the purpose of the trips he declared to the taxman to make the holiday cheaper; clever man! Others were your typical family slides from birthdays, holidays etc. My mother did not know what to do with them, but I had an idea. I wanted to transfer them to digital, i.e. jpegs, to store on a PC. I wanted to make sure they did not just sit in a dark cupboard forever.

So once when I visited my mother, I got the old projector out, selected the family photos and brought it all to Germany. When I got home I dug out my own old slides from “the dark cupboard” and took the whole lot, several hundreds of them, to a photo dealer. It would still be cheaper to let them do it than to buy the machine to convert them to digital myself, according to the guy in the shop.

So now I had a treasure of old slides on my PC, but some of them had not fared well over the years; there were scratches, cracks in the colours, dark spots, minute hairs, fluff and so on. This is where the newly acquired Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 (too long to say!) comes in handy. I have started working on some photos, cleaning them up by using mostly the Scratch Remover tool, with stunning effect.

I have also learned how to add watermarks to photos, so I thought I might do that with some of my most precious pictures. The first picture is of my dad when he was not yet forty, I believe. He is standing somewhere on the south coast of England, probably Bournemouth, where he taught English to summer students in the late fifties and early sixties. I think he looks really handsome in his cricket-inspired outfit, and those cool clip-on sunglasses!

The second picture is of yours truly in the late sixties. It was taken at Rödby ferry port in Denmark. My friend and I were on our way down to Frankfurt to surprise my two sisters. My younger sister had travelled to Frankfurt to meet our older sister who was an air-stewardess with Pan Am, and was stationed in Washington D.C. So my friend and I tossed a tent and a few things in the boot of his Ford Anglia (I think), which had a souped-up Ford Cortina GT engine under the bonnet. He had done a few other things to it, which I don’t remember, but was not overly concerned with the exterior. Looking at that picture now I think, was the car small, me big (183 cm) or was it just the angle?

Our first stop-over was Hamburg, where we obviously had to look at the Reeperbahn. There we were pulled into, literally, a bar of some sort, and then quickly thrown out when we said we did not have any money (to speak of). We only wanted to look at this sinful place and were not even used to drinking beer. Sweet innocence! I actually found the postcard I sent from Hamburg to my parents, among my dad’s belongings. OK, I’ll throw that into the blog as well then. I just might tell you later about our continued adventures in Germany. Auf Wiedersehen!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sweet & Sour

Well, first the sour bits; at the weekend I was pickpocket-ed in a restaurant, which meant I have had to cancel more than a handful of cards and change thirty-one passwords. Holy cow! All this because of possible information theft. I do not want to be too detailed since that might be taking a risk, but I can say that most of it was written in coded Swedish, even dialect, so there!. Now I have new, un-breakable passwords all across my internet activities. You know, when you sometimes enter a password for the first time and there is that indicator telling you how strong it is. I hit the very top, so I feel very confident about it now.

On a less soul-destroying level I had to sit through a dismal game of football yesterday. Liverpool were extremely poor against Marseille in the Champions League and lost at home 0-1. Some Liverpool players thought they had the win in a little sack before kick-off and forgot they actually had to go out there and earn it! Get your act together guys!

Here comes the sweet bit. After having enjoyed (a little too much perhaps) the Lufthansa Pilot game with a best place of 267th, I remembered a link to a game somebody sent me ages ago. I call it the Yeti and Penguin Game, not a particularly politically correct game for animal lovers, but, as you might guess, somewhat addictive, to use a British understatement. Just click a couple of times on the screen when it opens and you’ll figure out how to play it. And don’t tell me you didn’t bookmark it! ;-)