Monday, April 23, 2012

Photo video compilations

Mom has been playing around with the photos lately and put together a few photo compilations into videos. They'll probably be blocked eventually because of copyright issues but they're still nice in the meantime.


Thursday, April 19, 2012


Back in Munich I convinced Ena to continue to neglect her work on her thesis and go with me to Slovenia for a couple days. The weather in Germany had been largely uncooperative and it only looked to be marginally better in Slovenia when we left but we decided, after some brainstorming and compromise, to drive to Slovenia in a borrowed car leaving Monday morning and returning Wed night. Definitely not long enough but it's only a few hours away from Munich so not too complicated a trip.
I drove. I love to drive and these motorways are so nice to drive. It was snowing while we were driving through Bavaria and rained through Austria but was only cloudy 5 hours later when we arrived in Bled, not far across the border of Slovenia. As a weird statistic, it's the first time I've ever driven myself into a new country the first time entering it.
Bled is one of the most famous and popular tourist destinations in Slovenia. It's a tiny town in the Julian Alps on the little Lake Bled. There's a castle overlooking the town and lake, and an island in the lake just big enough to build a church on, which is what they did. The lake is very popular for rowing and Bled has hosted the world rowing championships on several occassions.
We actually had no plans other than to see the amazing scenery that Slovenia is famous for and ended up basing ourselves in Bled for the 2 nights. As it turned out we were very lucky because we were told that there had recently been new snow in the mountains so some of the roads and passes were closed, giving us and excuse to take it easy and stay relatively close. But this meant that when we woke up the following morning to a cloudless blue sky, there were beautiful snow-capped peaks all around and, it being April, almost no tourists around to share it with. The pictures will have to do the describing for me this time. The one thing you can't see from the photos is how clear and clean the water looks.

Lake Bled and castle.

The island church at lake Bled.

From Bled we drove to Bohinj, another lake and group of villages 30km further into the mountains. I love the little village look and was very impressed with the amount of firewood storage they have to get them through what must be long cold winters. We also did a short hike to a waterfall as we didn't want to get too adventurous and go on one of the many longer hiking options.

On the way to Bohinj.


Lake Bohinj


Looking down on lake Bohinj

Love the little farming valleys.

The next day we drove down to Ljubljana, the capital for a quick visit, spending a couple hours walking around the old town before driving back to Munich. Slovenia is so pretty that I was expecting a little more from Ljubljana. It's a small capital city in a small country and despite being the wealthiest and best off of the ex-Yugoslav republics there were quite a few run down buildings and lots of graffiti even in the touristic old town area. I'm glad I went and we had a nice stroll along the river and up to the castle, but I wasn't inspired to spend more time there. I'll focus on new mountain valleys when I go back to Slovenia some day.

Ljubljana center.

Ljubljana river.

Overlooking Ljubljana.


Thursday, April 12, 2012


From Munich I got another rideshare ride north to Jena. It only took 3 hours because the driver was driving at 180km/h as his usual speed when he could and it also became my fastest ride ever when we hit about 220km/h. The crazy thing is it doesn't even really feel that fast.
I was picked up in Jena by Julie and her dad, Andreas. The intention was to stay with Julie at her family's home in Apolda, a small town of about 20,000 people in the formerly East German state of Thuringia for about a week and through the Easter holiday. I had met Julie in Brisbane when we'd both been staying there (she for a few months as well) but I hadn't expected such a warm reception from her parents, who were very excited to finally meet a friend she had made on her big trip down under.
As a bit of background, Julie is only 20, and her parents are 44-45 making me exactly halfway between their ages which was more than a little strange and I didn't always know which group I was supposed to be part of. She also has a 13 year old brother, Johannes.
Being from former East Germany her parents studied Russian (or are of Russian background) and not English but unlike most of the people I was introduced to during my time with Julie, her parents were actually willing to use their English and try to improve it. I was in a way like a live-in English tutor and we were constantly making language jokes. It was actually really nice to be taken care of and have some crazy parents around again. It made me miss my own.
For some reason the weather got colder and colder and I mistimed my return to Europe if I was trying to avoid all cold weather. When I arrived in Frankfurt it was 20C, by the time I left Munich it was 11C. In Apolda it went from about 10C and got progressively colder until it snowed on Easter weekend. I'm not prepared for those temperatures. When I left Holland I packed for Africa, not for freezing temperatures, so I ended up wearing Andreas' jumper, jacket and pants for most of my time in Apolda. It was actually colder in Germany this year for Easter than it was for Christmas.
While in Apolda I ended up seeing a lot more of the state of Thuringia than I had expected or even knew about. Most towns in the area I had never heard of and knew nothing of the local history. That was about to change as the holidays allowed her parents to get actively involved in guiding me to the important sites of the area on daily field trips.
Apolda itself, while only 20,000 people (and shrinking apparently) has a long history of its own being almost 900 years old. It's claim to fame is as the birthplace of the doberman breed and for casting church bells back in the day. For example the bells in the Cologne cathedral are from Apolda. So for dad and his obsession with campanology, Apolda is the place for him :)

My hosts Julie and her parents in front of Apolda's town hall.

Apolda's central square.

We also went back to Jena, 15km from Apolda. It's a bigger town and about 200 years ago had the largest and best university in Germany. Today it is known for it's planetarium and the Zeiss optics company which was founded there. For us it was the first day trip and a necessary one as Julie and I had to go shopping, her for shoes, me for socks...

Remains of the old fortifications in Jena.

On another day, Julie, her mom and I took the train to Erfurt, ½ hr away. Erfurt is the state capital and largest city of the region but at only 200,000 people it's no wonder most people haven't heard of it. It's the closest big city to the geographical center of Germany. It's a nice city though, and we were guided around the old center but Julie's mom who wanted to make sure we saw everything. There are of course the squares, a town hall, the big cathedrals and the remains more modern style fortress with it's barracks and bastions. There was a carnival going on in the main square ruining the view a bit but what can you do? The most famous attraction though is Kramerbrucke bridge over the river that has inhabited buildings and shops on it. On the bridge itself you'd have no idea that it was a bridge at all. It just looks like another street in the old town area of Erfurt but from the side it is clearly a bridge. I've been told it's the only one like it in northern Germany but I have no idea if that is true.

view of the Kramerbrucke bridge in Erfurt.

On the Kramerbrucke bridge.

View of Erfurt from the fortifications.

On another day we visited Wartburg castle in Eisenach. The town itself is the birthplace of the composer Bach but we focused on only the castle which is a UNESCO site. It looks great perched up on the hill overlooking the town. It was a huge German cultural centre back in the day but the most influencial thing it ever did was house Martin Luther for a short period when he was a wanted man after the Diet of Worms and was the site where Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German for the masses, the 2nd time in history it was translated into the local language and the first on mainland Europe. The whole Thuringia region is full of Martin Luther history as he lived or studied all over the region and the area was the heart of the Reformation movement.

Wartburg castle, Eisenach.



View from Wartburg of the countryside and the attached hotel.

I was also able to visit Weimar, the only place in the area that I'd actually heard of before. Weimar is also listed as a UNESCO site. It has a huge historical library, and a nice palace. It was also the site of the first signing of a democratic constitution for Germany (after WWI) resulting in the short lived Weimar Republic. It also advertises itself as the home of Goethe and Schiller, both famous German writers.

Weimar's park.

National theatre with statues of Goethe and Schiller.

The Weimar library.

At the end of Easter Julie had to return to her university in Halle, so I went with her and quickly saw that city as well. It's much bigger and has the ugliest city hall I've seen in Europe. Not the best claim to fame I know. Actually the whole city felt a lot more ghetto than most of the other places I've been to in Germany with quite a few run down buildings and graffiti everywhere. After a night in Halle I returned to Munich once again.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Video from Chad

Here is the first of what will hopefully be multiple videos of what James and I were doing in Chad. This one is about the Durrand cheese farm that I blogged about before. I am not in it, I was the cameraman. Hope you like it.