All entries for Wednesday 10 October 2007

October 10, 2007

Travels 2007 Part III: Germany

Germany 2007 1Getting to Izzy's village took about 7hrs. She's another country bumpkin - after spending the summer in the middle of nowhere in Surrey I was quite used to it! My ticket to get from Liege to Koeln cost €17. My Intercity train ticket from Koeln to Bielefeld strangely cost  more at €37! Still cheaper than UK prices I guess. 

So far on my trip I everything had been quite easy. Phone calls, text and multimedia messages work everywhere and I'd paid for everything in Finland/Denmark/Belgium with the universal Mastercard (only suffering a 3% exchange spread). But in Germany, they don't take cards in half they places you normally use it. (And I'm not talking about using in the I'm-going-to-take-the-piss-and-buy-a-newspaper in cost-cutters use). This I found quite strange, as I had managed to get everywhere without pulling any cash out.  Oh and say for instance you have a internal bank account, you can't pull cash out of any ATM, you have to find your own bank's ATM!

That aside Germany was quite clean and smart. I wasn't too tired after my Thalys and intercity trains, so Izzy took me out to meet her friends in Bielefeld. Sitting in a typical modern Café Bar, there were 3 plasmas showing sports on one, news on the other and on the third one... a WWII documentary! Not a good impression to give me on my first visit there! Sebastien apologised and said "this is not what we watch everyday!"

Izzy tried to dig out some embarrassing stories about herself that her friends could tell me, but unfortunately, it turns out she's a bit of a goody-two-shoes. So I naturally had to tell them about the time we embarassed her by bawled out the German National Anthem on the Warwick Piazza! Eventually I went straight to the source: Izzy's mum, and asked for all the baby photos!

Despite being on holiday, I was still programmed to get very early 7AM BST and monday was no different. Izzy and I met up with Nina (her best friend since primary school) and we went off to see some touristy things in the local areas such as the Hermannsdenkmal and the Externsteine which are both near to Detmold. That day was finished off with more continental: sit-in-the-sun-eating-ice-cream-in-a-trendy-cafe fashion. 

Germany 2007 2Germany 2007 Externsteine

Tuesday was the day trip to Cologne. Corinna (my old erasmus flatmate from from first year) met up with Izzy and I there. First port of call was the Chocolate Museum. That was great. Then we went to the Cathederal. Lotte had warned me about the "ugly with black stones" Cathederal, but when I first saw it, it was beastly, but I strangely found its vulgarity appealing. Much like those Stuttgart vulgarmobiles with "63 AMG" written on the back. Ugly as hell, but strangely you offer it some respect. We walked around most of Cologne's shopping places when my tour guides Izzy and Corinna revealed they didn't know what else we could do. So we spontaneously hopped on the next train to Bonn.

Germany 2007 13Bonn was the old capital and is very small. The university seems to be quite an important part of it. One of the highlights was Beethoven's house. This museum contains some excellent letters that he wrote to the King of England and a large digital archive of his music.

Getting our way back to the Guetersloh from Bonn took a long time. You forget how BIG Germany really is. So long day trips are not always as easy to do.

Wednesday was a good day. Firstly Izzy received her acceptance letter from Hannover Uni to read medicine! It was nice that I could be around for that. We then went off to an Enginerd's Mecca. The Heinz Nixdorf Museum - the world's largest computer museum. Documenting the past 2000+ years of computers. From a etchings in a stone to the enigma machine, to mechanical calculators to Cray machines, it had pretty much all of it. Unfortunately for me, most of the descriptions and wall plaques were in German. And deciphering German geek language into English isn't easy!

Germany 2007 17Thursday was my last day. Izzy, Jonas, Nina and I drove for about 2hrs to Bremen. I read the folk story about the "Bremen Town Musicians" where a donkey, dog, cat and cockerel team up to become some muscians, but to our amusement, the online translator decided to refer them as the ass, hound, cat and cock. (Cue sniggering). Yeah, we're still 17 years old!

Fortunately the motorways around the quiet northern countryside area were generally derestricted. It turns out they like to cruise at 150km/h (just so that they don't use up too much fuel) which I think isn't that much faster that what you see people doing in the UK. Still on 2-lane motorways with lorries doing 90-100km/h pulling out, I still wonder if destriction should be allowed at all. But when the country is so big they do need it, and they are sensible enough.

Bremen should have been my first oppourtunity to see a "Rathaus" (that word you had to use in soooo many sentences during year 7 and 8 German classes), but unfortunately it closed when I wanted to go there. Bremen is a medium sized city and it has a nice character in the old places. Jonas and I marched up to the top of the Cathederal but that turned out to be a bit of a dissapointment. Unfortunately every shopping district in every city in europe is the same. You have a H&M, Carphone Warehouse, Subway etc etc. So in some ways if you've seen Watford, you'll have seen 25% of all other cities in the world. I was fortunately able to locate "Bohnanza" the card game, which has become a special past time amongst some old Warwick friends (its definitely better than poker night). At about 6pm, they drove me to Bremen airport (really small - 8 gates?) to fly back home to England.

I was fairly sad about leaving Germany. Not only that I wouldn't see Izzy for a while as she's permenantly back in Germany now, but the fact I had to return to working! (I complain too much).  Many thanks to Izzy, her family, her friends, and of course Jonas.

Anyway I had a great time during my 10 day trip on the continent. It wasn't that relaxing but at least I got to do a lot within the small timeframe I had before going back to Uni. Lotte's and Izzy's mums are excellent cooks, and I was very well taken care of all the time. Must do it again sometime! Roadtrip summer 2008 anyone?

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Travels 2007 Part II: Belgium

Belgium 2007 3

Wednesday 19th October 2007

By the time I got to Brussels at 5pm, I was pretty sick and tired of air travel already. I read all the papers that were in Anglais, and wrote so many essays into MMS's and sent them home, but I was still bored. The great thing about being on T-Mobile UK Flext was that when you're in the EU, you can send MMS's out of your allowance (SMS's cost more). I think I ended up sending about 150 messages home from Finland/Denmark/Belgium/Germany. So no one was safe from my spamming! :D

During the flight I read an article in the FT about Belgium's potential splitting up (due to lack of government for 100+ days), so when I arrived and greeted Lotte I asked

Am I in "Belgium" or the "Independent State of Brussels?"

To which she assured me that Belgium was still a country. The general British/French/German media protrayed the situation as a country on the brink of a civil war. Much to the amusement of the people who live there. I was there for 5 days, and not once did I see a Flemish person beat up a Wallonian - although I did see a restauranteur start a fight with another restauranteur, but that was probably business related (and french from the manner in which they fought). 

By the time I got to Lotte's hometown which was about 1.5hrs of more travelling, I was well and truely wrecked. Lotte's mum had made a lovely meat loaf, which unfortunately at the time I didn't feel like eating. The hospitality was excellent: I had two rooms to choose from! And Lotte's dog 'Swift' is  the cutest and smallest dog I've ever seen. We quickly bonded and within an hour or so I was already cradling her.

Belgium 2007 1 - Leuven - (C) Nathaniel Ho 2007

The next morning (Thursday) we walked around a lake in the local village thinking we would have a quiet day for me to rest, but then we spontaneously decided to see Eline in Leuven. Leuven is as you know, the home of the Stella Artois brewery and subsequently the biggest student city. Its a very pretty city and is largely dominated by the university and students. Its like an Oxford for instance, but smaller, and much more cleaner! Unfortunately throughout my stay I didn't actually try a proper Belgian Stella (I don't like the version we get in the UK) - nor a Belgian kebab (which John swears by). It was pretty much a lazy day spent walking around, eating pancakes and having novelty beers such as a "Kwak".

Belgium 2007 7 - Royal Palace Brussels - (C) Nathaniel Ho 2007

Friday was the day trip to Brussels. The clouds on the continent finally disapeared to reveal clear blue skies and hot sunshine (nice change to rainy 12degC Finland earlier in the week!). We walked around the normal touristy places, the cathederal, mannekepis to name but a few. Unfortunately I went to the Royal Palace one week too late. A great museum they have is the Musical Instrument museum, which was really interesting. Particularly from an inventive perspective, it was interesting to see guitars with 3 sets of strings and a concave piano for instance. The day passed in quite a relaxed manner, and a lazy dinner out in characteristic narrow street that was laced with restaurant tables finished off a great day.

Saturday was the proper day of relaxing. A short browse around local the town Hasselt and the local village allowed me to buy a nice stash of Belgian chocs to take home and to do more continental coffee drinking in cafe bars. It was nice to do some lazy activities after 11 weeks of office work. I discovered what a real Brussels waffle looked like:

Belgium 2007 11

So on Sunday it was time to say goodbye to Lotte and her family before hopping the train over to Germany. Thanks very much Lotte, I had a great time visiting you, your family, friends and Belgium again!

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Travels 2007 Part I: Finland Work Trip

Lake next to the Vanajanlinna

After working hard at Nokia for 11 weeks I was lucky enough to be taken along to the annual team conference in Finland mid-September. Basically we were in a hotel for 2 days for presentations and to get to know our colleagues around the world. Basically there were a lot of presentations to let us know what direction the roadmaps were heading and how we should align ourselves to it.

At the end of the first day we had outdoor activities. It was typical Finnish (and English) raining weather and about 12deg. Still, we were all out putting on the green, laser clay pigeon shooting and kayaking. The evening was finished off with excellent dinner and chilling baking in the sauna with the bosses and colleagues whilst consuming a few cold beers. Oh and of course a dip in the freezing cold lake afterwards- wouldn't be Finland if i didn't!

It was a great last day at work and it was really good to know the people in my department and the sister departments a lot better. The next day I got a nice thank you and farewell from everyone. I left the conference early for Brussels to see Lotte and to being my travels. Unfortunately I didn't get to see much of Finland at all, so I will have to return again some day!

Helsinki is a small city so i managed bump into a Warwick friend at the boarding gate which was a pleasant suprise. We flew on the same connecting flight to Copenhagen, which allowed us to catch up and compare notes on the summer.

I had 1hr 40mins to kill at Copenhagen which wasn't enough time to pop outdoors and an annoyingly long time indoors in a really small airport. Browsing round the shops I saw a sweater for 200 Danish Kroner, and I didn't what the exchange rate was. So I worked out the GBP:Danish Kroner exchange rate solely on the price I paid for a sandwich and coke on the plane. 45 Kroner = €6 = approx £4.50! Right! The exchange rate is approx 10:1 - I can afford that purchase! Turns out I was quite close to the real value of 10.5.

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