Monday, June 27, 2011

My first overseas trip: a year on- Mannheim

27/06/2010   Mannheim

Well, I escaped Milan. Many would cringe at this comment, see me as a traitor to my blood, but as my friend John rightly pointed out- Milan is full of business, ´want to be´ models and a high suicide rate. Don't get me worng, there are many beautiful buildings, the main train station for example is amazing and very grand. One thing I did notice was a lot of cigar smokers in Milan, what is with that?? Everyone knows they stink much worse than stinky cigarettes. So when someone smokes one, I wonder if it is a bit of a power thing- an ´I don´t care about you' kind of attitude. Anyway, if you have lots of money and like shopping come to Milan. I don´t have lots of money, but did buy a pair of shorts and 2 polo tops. The polo tops were purchased on a whim as I was shopping to buy a new biro/pen. Also, compliments of Milan I have one of this summer seasons MUST have items - a farmers tan.  One thing I did notice in my travels thus far is that when German's don't speak English, they have generally been apologetic about it..... which is odd... but feels nice... but the Italians, have generally just gotten annoyed, pulled faces and muttered away. Sometimes even just saying things loudly in front of you (some insult i am sure, based on the tone).

As much as I feel comfortable with the Italian language, and lifestyle, the Italians in Milan were impacting on me in a negative way. I started to pull faces and use my hands when people annoyed me... I think I even told a few people off !!! 

The train trip back through to Mannheim, was via Como, the alps, and Zurich, where I changed trains for Mannheim.. In total it was about a 7.5 hour trip and the sun shone all the way !!!!

I watched lovely lakes pass me, people on windsurfers, people swimming, people tending fields, shirts off ... It was a joyous scene. Randy Newman accompanied me out of Milan. His striped back vocals and piano ´the Randy Newman songbook Vol 1´ was the perfect antidote to Milan’s noisy clutter. His earthy vocals and sharp, witty and observational lyrics washed away the past few days. A selection of alternative/indie pop rock then played out over the sunshine washed views of the alps; Miike Snow´s ´animal´, Lisa Mitchells ´coin laundry´, Blue juice´s ´broken leg´, PHOENIX´s ´Liztomania´, all happy bright indie pop for this glorious day. I was left with the feeling that everything was ok in the world. The train took me past shimmering lakes, past houses that sat on almost vertical slopes and  small water falls  appeared and vanished and reappeared again. The town of Siskon appears, and it’s lake is so blue and so lovely that I had the urge to swim in it. Soon another lake at the town of Walchwil appears. Can these Swiss lakes be anymore beautiful? This trip through Switzerland,  with the changed weather shows me a much different aspect of this place and I love it. Soon though, I arrive at Zurich and Change trains for Mannheim.


Mannheim, ahh...I love it, I feel like I am at home... this town reminds me a bit of a cross between the relaxed atmosphere of a regional town back home like Ballarat, with the size of Melbourne. It lacks the skyscapers we have back home, but they have a famous water tower here and an 18th century palace! Obvioulsy I made sure I visited both places.

LIke everywhere else on my holiday, I have walked about a lot and of course gotten lost. Mannheim is such a beautiful and relaxed place. I had decided that on my return to the UK and before I headed off to the United States, I would go back to Portslade and stay with my mate D. I went to a phone and internet shop to organize the finer points with D and after the call I got to chatting with the man running the shop. I think he was from West Africa, but I cannot recall where exactly. He has been in Germany for 20 years now and sees the negative change in how migrants are viewed. Once supportive, but now not so much. After the Global Financial Crises it has been hard to find work in Germany, many people have said that the migrants should be returned back home and should not be in German jobs, while many Germans are unemployed. He said all of this to me in a low voice, so that others would not over hear us. He talked of the war in his country and the horror of it, his gratitude to be in Germany and to have a job (which he has worked very hard at). But there was a sadness in his voice. Even here in his new homeland of  twenty years he was being persecuted. He was still in a war zone of sorts, more psychological now- exclusion, whispers and intolerance. I reflected myself how this is not so different from back home, of how the Sudanese and Somalians are treated-- once it was the Greeks, Italians, Chinese, Vietnamese etc. I think about a Vietnamese girl I knew in high school who came over on a boat (yes, one of the ‘boat people’) and her story of pirates and rape.. such horror, and all as she tried to escape horror in her homeland. Upon arriving here she faces further horror through intolerance, hatred, violence and rejection etc. This man (who’s name I did not ask) talked about how too many people read the papers and watch the tv news without a critical eye, they just believe it all as ´fact´. He was such a nice man and has such sadness in his life. Despite the economic hardships, we all need to find inclusive outcomes and to think with open hearts. I wish him well and hope his situation changes. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to have met him and to have heard his story. I know that I am too western-focused at times and lives such as this man´s remind me of the ongoing horror and suffering we choose to be ignorant about. We hear about it, think how sad it is, and then we go off to the gym,
to meet a friend or loved one, to a cafe, to the new resturant that everyone is talking about and it is all quickly forgotten. 

Anyway, Mannheim… It has a large Turkish section. I noticed that both here and in Munich, there were some racist attitudes towards the Turkish by the Germans. I will say that I checked out the Turkish area in Mannheim and had really yum food! Oh, and it was very reasonably priced! But that was where it happened… what you ask? 
The drama of the teeth.

In Milan I had a tooth that was a bit sore from time to time, and seemed to be getting worse. Whilst eating my cheap and yum Turkish food a completely different tooth broke!!! So off I went to the dental emergency place, where for € 85 they did a temp’ fix.  The dentist told me it will last the 3 weeks till I return home to Australia. The dental nurse looked a bit concerned, took me aside and told me not to wait more than a week.
Well… the next morning(Sunday), one of the temp fillings came off !! So I went to a proper dentist. They put another temp measure in place and gave the tooth that was sore in Milan a proper look. It was infected, so they cleaned it up (I think she said something about the nerves/roots???), put some medicine in there and put a temp filling back. I paid about € 240 and had to go back in a week to have it re-looked at and a permanent filling put in place if it has healed...YIKES !!! anyway as I will be in the UK by then, so my mate D will book a dentist for me in Portslade. I did have a dental check merely days before I left home! Still, things could be much worse...anyway, I am off to catch a train to Paris in less than an hour!

Next: Paris!

The water Tower:

Part of the old palace, now used as a university.

Flowers out the front of the Palace:

Sign directing people to the university and something about us Victorians doing something and die??!!! (Geez and there I was, a Victorian and thinking what a friendly town...)

The world cup saw the Germans 'waving their flag, after so many years of shame' (quoted from a tour guide in Berlin). It was lovely knowing this and seeing many flags on display where ever I went in Germany.

'Hauptbanhof'- main train station. One great word to learn in German, especially if you are traveling around.

Police Headquarters:

Sign on a parking meter that made me smile:

All the cool band's play Mannheim:

All the cool fashions are on Mannheim:

At the Hauptbanhof  you don't need to speak German to know: Which section of the platform (sections A-G) your carriage will arrive at, Check to see if you are near the dining cart (coloured red), Confirm you are in First class (coloured yellow) and most importantly, know which direction the train is travelling.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My first overseas trip: a year on- Milan

25/06/2010- Milan

The train From Como to Milan was, in true Italian style- LATE. Other passengers missed their connecting trains because of this, they obviously had not heard the news about Italian transport- it’s not to be trusted.  LOL...

Upon arriving in Milan, I decided not to waste anytime, dropped my luggage off at the hotel and walked to Il Duomo. In typical Matthew fashion, I got lost! However in doing so, I walked through a lovely city garden that had a small lake and had my first taste of ice cream since I had been overseas, it was brilliant! I somehow ended up in small, meandering lanes and came across a temporary discount clothing store!! SALE !!!  YAY!! So, I brought myself some new shorts. I had only brought one pair of shorts along on this trip and thought, Hmm a different colored pair would open up my wardrobe/outfit options…I am in Milan after all ! But still, No Il Duomo…After asking many people for directions and hearing; a destra !!, giro !!!, a sinistra etc... I became more confused and just followed their hand actions... After one false alarm, I eventually I found Il Duomo. It is simply beautiful and huge !!! I brought some rosary beads for my sisters back home and was informed I would need to have a priest bless them, apparently this was done at the confession booths...

Three Monsignors were on duty and the pews were full off old ladies waiting…Man !!! how many sins have these pious old ladies committed??? no disrespect, but I had to wait for at least 45  mins! These pious old ladies were in confession for ages!!!  The monsignor I saw, didn't speak English, so in my broken Italian, I told him these rosary beards were a gift for my sisters in Australia... he smiled, blessed them, and them wished me all the best… Hot and tired I walked back to the hotel and became lost again. At one point I felt so completely lost I just decided to follow a man on a bike who had the most happy and handsome face.. what the hell ??? Miraculously he led me in the right direction. God does work in mysterious ways !!!

After resting at the hotel, I headed out for dinner at a trattoria, wondered into a dodgy part of town and was harassed by some female prostitutes looking for clients, YIKES!!! Didn’t they get the memo??? Back at the hotel afterwards, I was exchanging soccer scores with my brother (he was watching the Australian match and I was watching the German one).

My second day in Milan saw me return to Il duomo to climb to the top (well… actually I  took a lift up) and took in the lovely views. Sitting on the roof I wrote in my book and looked out over Milan. I later met my Dad's cousin for lunch, passed on my sisters regards...on his advice I walked to Castleo Sforzesco, which was huge and impressive. Milan is huge and filled with so many lovely buildings. During my stay the weather was quite warm (about 30 degrees), but there was no real breeze to bring any relief. 

now.... the train strikes.. well it had to happen, they are infamous after all. !!!

I was off to book a train to go to Lyon in France on my last day and after joining a HUGE queue at the train station booking office.....I eventually arrive at the counter and was told that the French are on strike for 2 days (today and tomorrow), but Italy is running as normal,  so I asked to book a ticket to Torino. The agent said there was no need to reserve a ticket and just come back here tomorrow at 11.15am at the platform and jump on the train. He then waived me off. It was obvious he did not want to talk to me anymore. I was going to book accommodation, but something said to hold off.... anyway... so after my huge day of walking, I happened to pass a booking office for DB ! The German train service !!  YAY!! they rock my world with their organisation, politeness and after I had showered and thought about what I might do next.... thinking that if France is still on strike come Sunday.. and I have already booked my Paris accommodation, I should get as close to Paris as possible, so that I can take a bus if the trains are still on I go to the DB (Deutsche Bahn) centre and they tell me that tomorrow the Italian trains are also on strike  LOL... good thing i didn't book accommodation in Torrino!!

At this point in time  I want to get the hell out of Italy ASAP, but don't want to waste the nights accommodation I have already paid for at the hotel I am at..  LOL! Tight butt I know !!! Anyway, I have booked to go to Mannheim (in Germany) tomorrow via Zurich.. its about a 7 hour trip... and will bring me closer to Paris to catch a bus in need.... Despite the Italian train strike going on, the lady at DB double checked and was really positive that this train will leave tomorrow. We had looked at another one, that left earlier, but she wasn't confident about that particular train. So, it looks like I am going back to wonderful Germany !!!

Next- Mannheim 

Stumbling into a lovely park:

The city's beautiful buildings:

Dated 1772!!!

The main train station:

History is everywhere:

Il Duomo:

On the roof of Il Duomo:

Classy and expensive shopping:

Castleo Sforzesco:

The castle has a map of the old city of Milan:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My first overseas trip: a year on- Lake Como

Lake Como  23/06/2010

Hello all..
I had such high expectations for lake Como and they have been surpassed !!! I cannot describe how beautiful it is here and to do the place justice.

I left Zurich on a cold and grey morning. The train trip was lovely through the Alps or mountains, I have no idea! Because of the weather, clouds hung low, hugging the ground. Every now and then there were moments where I was given a glimpse of snow covered peaks. Those brief moments were amazing!!
The discman was on, Smog's Lp 'Knock Knock', played its alt country/ alt rock loveliness. Bill Callahan sings 'lets move to the country, just you and me', and the train passes postcard perfect houses which lay in valleys, by lakes, or on the side of mountains. Yes!, lets move here,  just you and me! The train seemed to be travelling at great heights and there were times that trucks and cars were far below and looking very, very tiny. There were occasions where I was a little scared, especially as the train tilted to one side and I saw the steep rocky drop. But then the music distracted me from my fears. Caribou's lp 'Swim' plays. It is electronica that worked in the grey air that seemed to cover us….then... as we seem to reach the Italian side of Switzerland something amazing happens. The clouds part and the sun comes out !!!

It is as if the country of my fathers birth, knows I am coming and comes out to greet me, to welcome me in its arms. The views become more amazing and the sunshine through the window is warm. It is the first lot of sunshine I have seen in more than a week!!!. To the left of the train, water cascades down a mountain side, forming a series of small waterfalls... simply magnificent !!!.. The grey and the wet of Munich and Zurich are behind me.. Italy comes forth to kiss me welcome on both cheeks!!
The old city is lovely. I walk the narrow streets and sit at a cafĂ©. I watch people walk by. They ride their bikes past and constantly stop and chat. It is so relaxed and sociable, such an indescribable atmosphere. After a while, I walk about and come across The dome of Como. It is a lovely church. I buy a set of rosary beads for my sister and go to the confession booth and ask the priest to bless them !!. He kindly does so and my little Italian is enough to say Mille grazie Padre. I keep going to say Danke!! But I am not in Germany anymore.

My first night in Como I ate at a Trattoria. The food was nice, and the lady serving me was great, she reminded me of my Zia Carmen! She kindly corrected the Italian I attempted to use and when I ordered my coffee and dessert together she chastised me, letting me know that dessert comes first, then after that I order and have coffee !!! For some reason I am finding that everyone is talking to me in Italian and when i reply in english or say I don't understand,  they just repeat what they have said, but louder and with arms swinging about more aggressively!!  I have no idea why they would think that would make me understand  LOL...
I am using a quick guide for basic Italian that was given to me by a client, amongst a few other books, as a going away gift from where I worked. Very lovely and thoughtful of this kind lady!

The next day, I took a ferry to Bellagio. It was one hour trip there and 2 hours on the way back. The trip on Lake Como was so lovely. Just when I thought 'oh this is really nice', the Alps come into view... WOW!!!!  Slightly capped with snow they became the lakes own backdrop. I can see why George Clooney is said to have a house on the lake. It is stunning.... Upon arriving at Bellagio, I walked up and down many steep steps, looked at the local shops and then headed off out of town searching for a restaurant that my dad's cousin had recommended. After what seemed ages, I asked a local for help and they said i still had about 20-30 mins walking to go!! Bugger!!, So I headed back and stopped off at a hotel I had passed earlier that had a terrace restaurant overlooking the lake.. Ah, Clear Blue Skies, warm day, glass of crisp white wine in hand and a gentle cooling breeze set the scene as I looked out over the lake. Being a little removed from the town of Bellagio, the area was quiet. The silence was broken only by the sound of birds chirping and locals chatting. After a while I headed back to Como and to a pizzeria for dinner.

I know I mentioned bike riding earlier, but what struck me about Como was that so many people rode bicycles, older people, younger people, dressed up people. One lady I spotted had her high heels on! Whilst in Como I had been going to the same internet cafe and having an espresso whilst checking my mail. The owner was an older Italian man, who had a permanent expression like you had just insulted him…anyway, on my first visit I asked to use the internet and then casually asked them to bring me an espresso as well (I’ll pay when I am done). This shocked the Asian lady working there and she looked to the owner quite fearfully… he gave my a thorough check out... and then gave me the nod of approval  LOL. Since then I ordered espresso when checking my emails and had no problems. On my last night in Como I took a picture of the Asian lady and Italian owner. The lady was excited and I think the owner was a little as well... On my last morning in Como as I quickly checked my emails before catching the train to Milan, the owner actually gave me a bit of a smile as he said boungiorno.  Wow! I think I was now ‘in’ with the locals!! shame I was leaving !!!

If I lived overseas... I might live in Germany, but would certainly holiday in Como, one of the loveliest places on earth!

Next Milan!

 The wide streets of Como:

The mostly Narrow Streets of Como:

 And the pink carpeted streets of Como-Just for me?: 

Como, The old city:

 Looking out across from Como at the very steep tram track/cable car!

 On Lake Como- taken from the boat:



Next: Milan!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My first overseas trip: a year on- Zurich

21/06/2010  Zurich
Zurich… wow…not only is it expensive, but they don't use the euro... instead they use Swiss franc. I found out when I arrived and tried to pay at a bar with Euro’s… because there was a minimum credit card spend I stayed and had dinner.... Again I am ahead of myself….

Lets begin where we left off- Munich. For some unknown reason, as I left Munich’s main train station, I decided to listen to a just purchased, 'best of Bach' cd. The grandness of 'Gloria in excelsis deo' sent me off and onwards to Zurich. It was as if Germany itself had organised this farewell gesture. A smile filled me from within and beamed out for all to see, for I had loved Germany and was grateful for the kindness and hospitality the Germans had shown me. Bach’s trumpets which heralded my departure from Munich soon gave way to subtly played strings as the residences along the side of the train tracks gave way to agricultural fields. Blankets of green floated by, almost in time to the violins and cellos. I saw a few wild flowers and poppies. And the rain which had been heavy, thinned to a drizzle.

I dreamily gazed out of my window taking in the countryside. An hour passed and the train was now passing older looking townships and the rain became heavier. The clouds seemed to be almost touching the ground and for some reason I was reminded of what I thought Scotland would be like- grey skies, green fields and rain. I was now inspired to play Belle and Sebastian’s LP 'Tigermilk'. For no other reason except that they are from Glasgow, Scotland. Their fey pop somehow makes the day seem brighter. Stuart Murdoch sings  'do something pretty while you can'. I love this line, but can't help but think... forget the superficiality of pretty... instead let life be a series of beautiful moments.... do something beautiful while you can… something beautiful, something done out of love and without expectation.

I keep thinking about how I have relied on the kindness of strangers and the innate goodness within people. I have been blessed on my trip and unlike Blanch from ‘a street car named desire’, I have not been led off to an institution for the unwell... but instead led onward to life and beauty....When I have felt alone, music has been my companion...Ah music…. Two Aussie muso's were played next on my 4 hour trip to Zurich. Bob Evan's 'Goodnight Bull Creek!'  and then Lisa Mitchell's LP 'Wonder'. Lisa’s shimmering track 'Clean white love' plays out over Swiss fields filled with cows and a few deer- yes, I have arrived in Switzerland.

It was 11 degrees and the rain was bucketing down when I arrived at the main station in Zurich. Though my hotel wasn’t far, I was drenched when I arrived there. I think the rain may have ruined my favorite Campers! (Hmm a good reason to buy more shoes!) I quickly discovered that I am staying in gay part of the old town. So after the rain ceased. I changed and went out, visiting 5 bars in one evening. Suffice to say I had way too much to drink! At one bar I met a gay male hustler from Manchester –U.K. He was a very angry young man. We chatted and he told me his story and how he is searching for his purpose in life. I do wish him well. As I made to leave the bar he did cheekily ask me to get him a beer, which I didn't. I think my reply was an annoyed 'Mate, I'm on holidays!' I have no idea what that meant or why I said ‘mate’!

The next bar I went to was tiny (most of the bars were the size of a small-medium sized room back home. I shyly wrote some thoughts down in a book at the bar. The campy and friendly barman made fun of me in a language I didn’t understand. The others in the bar laughed and it was infectious, I quickly found myself laughing along with them. Very surreal! As I put my book away a Swiss man struck up a conversation His name was Stephen. He is an amazing man, 40, has a Phd in biology, has been unemployed for a year and is looking for associate professor, or professor work. We chatted for ages about so many things from Indigenous rights (where we both felt that ‘we’ as a culture have a responsibility to work towards self determination for indigenous groups), we talked of politics, banking, globalisation and capitalism (we both shared the view that ‘we’ all have a responsibility to ensure that all people have a certain and decent standard of living and the opportunity to fulfill their potential if they choose to do so).. we went to a few other bars...chatted more and I left him at some bar at about 2am… I needed to go back to the hotel and get some sleep!!!! Tomorrow I had plans oh, and I wanted to make the most of my ‘included buffet breakfast’, which operated from 7am-10am !!!  One less meal to buy in this expensive city!

 Sundays in Zurich… well.. I soon realized that there isn’t much to do because most of the shops are closed. Walking was going to be limited because of the weather- grey, overcast and intermittent rain. I decided to brave it and set off for lake Zurich.. Ummm except I headed off in the opposite direction... walked for a very long while and when I asked for directions, I was so far away from the lake that the person laughed. I smiled...lost again !!!  LOL. I had walked through some really interesting suburban areas.. and walked back..albeit a slightly different way.  I then found the lake. It was just around the bend from when my hotel was. I went on a 4 hour boat trip (2 hours to Rapperswil and then the 2 hour return trip). I had dinner onboard and brought a ticket for first class, which meant sitting upstairs with a better view... it was lovely.... if we had clear skies I would imagine one would see the alps.. but I saw hills, sketches of mountains and clouds that reached down and dragged themselves along the ground.. Still, it was lovely...

I had purchased a couple of German cd's from a shop in Zurich. ‘Die Artze’ had accompanied me along the streets of Zurich. The German punk rock was energetic and the perfect antidote to the quiet and empty streets. While I was on the cruise, the more indie/pop/rock of Toctronic's lp- 'Schall and Wahn' filled my ears- lovely stuff which reminded me a little of British sea power!!

What a day.. I am exhausted. I decide to have an early-ish night, after the soccer of course! After all, it is the world cup!  LOL. Again I exchanged SMS’s with my brother as he watched the games live in South Africa…

This morning I awaken feeling that I am more than ready to leave Zurich ....Next Como!!

The trip in and out of Zurich, as seen from the train :

 Writing down my thoughts:

Some rough planning:

 How high up are we?
 A lot of steep streets on my side of the river:

Todays exchange rate suggets that these cassettes cost around $18 each (Aussie dollars). Who even buys cassettes these days?

The water fountains ran continuously, unlike the ones back home.

In case your dog needs a drink:

Getting lost in the streets of Zurich:

Along the river:

Layers or levels of housing?:

On the cruise- the views along the lake: