Monthly Archives: July 2016

Solarpunkster on Tour # 5 – Riding GIANT bicycles

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…no, not those ‘giants’! Right now, the bikes I ride are actually gigantic – they weigh little less than half my own body weight and are about as long as a car with a turning circle rivalling that of a council bus. Nonetheless, these gentle giants gather speed quickly, like a draft horse, and float along the pavement steadily. The pedal brake feels rather unfamiliar yet my spine is straight, my neck relaxed and my hair flowing in the Northern Sea breeze as Germany is no nanny state and helmet-wearing not law…we do have designated bike paths on most (busy) roads which are separated with a curb thought – while Germany might be no nanny state, cyclist safety is paramount, most likely why and also because there are so may of them.

So as I get on this Gentle step-through Giant and start riding down the road I can’t help but laugh with joy and slight giddiness. It’s impossible (in my books) to be unhappy while riding a bike. Bike riding is balm for the soul. And after riding a mountain bike on and off-road for the last six years, it’s pure joy to be back on a ‘Hollandrad’.

I get to the Chinese Restaurant way too quickly and then have to wait – I should have just cruised an extra round around the block. But so I have a few minutes to kill by meditating and watching the plentiful goldfish tank. A young boy, about 2 or 3 years old, joins me and my observations. Minutes pass, with no words exchanged. Every now and then he looks at me and I look back and smile before turning back to the tank. He does not return the smile, but stays standing there, watching the fish. Once he looks my up and down, in that curious, non-judgmental way kids stare at you. I’m in colourful hippy pants, a hoodie and Birkenstox and wonder if this experience will shape him somehow?

On the way home I turn a corner when Father Sun makes my breath stop. Hanging just above the horizon, his fiery orange brilliance mixes with my base happy giddiness and out comes gratitude once more. What a treat! Thank you, Universum – Danke, Merci und Gracias!

It’s the next day and I am hunting for food once more, but this time at the supermarket. As you can see, transporting 30 Euros worth of food by bike becomes a breeze with Mr Giant and his two baskets. Also the lunch time beers with my fave cuzzie sis have made me feel ready for some adventure…

 

Solarpunkster on Tour #4 – Airport musings @ Bangkok

VIP 2    VIP

I walk towards my gate (well, my flight’s gate) to make sure it exists. There it is, but there is a bunch of finely featured, ebony-skinned people sitting there who do not much look like they are off to Vienna. Not that I make assumptions easily, but it turns out that this is a flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. The next gate is full of sun-burned Europeans waiting for their flight to Frankfurt and I reflect how the boarding gates act as filters for the cultural currents flowing through the airport.

I walk a little ways as there are barely any seats here and as the gate is not yet open, I want to sit down to do some writing and capture. All the strands of language. All these different features in people.

And then I see him – the biggest mullet I have seen in a long time. It adorns an older man’s head and is long enough to throw a few waves down his neck. Impressive! His shirt is bright blue with some sort of cartoon character on it and I definitely judge him and his wife to be Aussies. But I don’t really feel like small (or deep or really any) talk right now and keep walking to an empty row of five seats.

I am also kind of hungry and not feeling as stuffed as usually after a nine-hour plane ride, so while writing down my airport musings, I savour my precious Vegan Superfood Bar (cacao and ginger nut). I had saved it for a special hungry occasion and judge it worth every one of the $5 I paid for it back in Brisbane (even made on the Gold Coast – nice!).

When I next look up, I see the mullet man again, on his own now, and looking kind of lost, standing there at the railing. Then I notice his blind man stick. He looks towards me and I look at him and I smile, acknowledge. He might not be completely blind, rather just vision impaired, and in any case his other senses will be much sharper than most people’s. After a minute he walks over and sits down near me, leaving two seats free between us. I say hello and he mumbles something back. He is shy! I like that. I still don’t really feel up to a conversation but my urge to connect, spread love, make him feel comfortable and shine some light into his life by way of my sunny nature, wins out this time.

‘Wow, an airport would be an interesting place when you can’t see well.’

‘Yes…’ he smiles now. Good. ‘Very confusing.’ he goes on after a moment, ‘And this place is so big.’

‘Yes, it is. And all these different languages you would pick up on the way…’

‘Yes!’ he nods.

The conversation is slow, a bit of work as he speaks so quietly, mumbly, but turns out his wife is from Northern Germany and they are visiting family near Hanover.

‘Oh great! I will chat more when she gets back. I want to get some more writing done.’

He smiles a “no worries” and we each get back to our bubbles.

Then an a-hole arrives.

Solarpunkster on Tour # 3 – Train tripping à la Metronomique

The ‘Metronom‘ regional trains in Northern Germany are an enormous pleasure to catch. I get excited whenever I get to ride in one of them. Gliding through the landscape at up to 160 km/h they are comfortable, smooth, quiet, electric, efficient and boast an amazing double-decker design that makes them super spacious, rather unlike a plane. Oh, and they are usually pretty good with running on time, too.

I sway gently as I walk towards the bathroom, in unison with the lady walking towards me. On the way back I check out the downstairs bike carriage (Fahrradwagen). Germans use their bicycles a lot, as a rather efficient mode of transport, often even in snowy winter weather. There are a few roadie bikers who are catching the train one way, then ride 60km back to their home town. There are some Holland bikes and a few trekking bikes with big pannier bags as Germany is criss-crossed with many beautiful “Radwanderwege”, specific bike paths for touring the country.

A man comes up to survey me on pricing and usage of the Metronom trains. We have a little chat and turns out he toured Australia and New Zealand 25 years ago with his youth orchestra, and then got to go to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 through his table tennis club. He works crazy hours in this survey job and is up to over 230 hours for the month! Sometimes he does 24 hour days but at least it’s well-paid. He does look worn out and I’m glad to hear he is about to have three weeks off.

Then we get to Cuxhaven (rather too quickly I find, it’s such a pleasure being chauffeured by this piece of great technology while chilling out and writing…), my third home, my birth place, the place where we spent oh so many good times when I was little.

As I stop on the side of the platform to take some photos I realise how many people there actually were on the train! It is summer holiday time here, and Cuxhaven lies on the Northern Sea and has been a holiday and spa town for centuries.

I get to the bus stop with a bunch of others and we wait less than five minutes. It’s a hybrid bus, too, and if there had not been a dozen tourists needing to buy tickets I would have loved to ask the driver some professional questions about this beast…

Inside there is a screen showing the next five stops – amazing to me as this is still not a thing in Brisbane’s bus fleet. On top of that the stops are announced via PA system, which has been the case in German buses and trains since before I first caught them nearly 30 years ago. What the hell, Australia? Lagging, much? It takes away so much anxiety for passengers knowing when their stops come up…definitely time for some action on that when I get back to my second home!

 

Solarpunkster on Tour #2 – Airport musings – Bangkok

uzbekistan air planeOff the plane in Bangkok. My suitcase/backpack transformer wheelie thing follows behind me like a loyal dog. It’s my first trip with one of these (thanks Casey!) as carry-on luggage and I am definitely in love. No yanking a backpack on and off for the umpteenth time, no sore shoulders, wheels that wheel smoother than velvet, easy access to all my gear…

An electric cart heads right for me as I’m cutting across to the bathroom. I stop and make eye contact with the driver – what is the right of way procedure here, please? – and she changes course and whizzes past me.

I have heaps of time, the flight to Vienna is right at the end of four screens of departures to all kinds of places. To Tashkent, for example. Did you have any idea that Uzbekistan has its own airline? Uzbekistan Airways! With really colourful planes!

It’s 500 meters to the transfer desk which is probably where I need to go. I bumble along, unhurried, looking around, absorbing the place and ignoring the travelators spanning Suvarnabhumi’s looooong corridors. In the midst of 30 hours of mostly cramped sitting I am very happy to use my legs for a bit (especially because it’s so enjoyable to walk my wheelie thingy…really, I can’t believe I am now one of ‘those’ people…).

I keep walking past chattering travel groups in matching shirts and flags, excited toddlers (who are way past their bed time) getting chased around by their parents and narrowly avoid a pile of spew. The guy at the health desk looks bored, checking his phone (no one is interested in the facts on ebola, zika and co at this time of night), the ladies at the money exchange are chatting and drinking tea.

Then the transfer desk sign tells me to do a U-turn?! Oh right, just around the travelator and into the doorway and another security check. I realise that I won’t be able to take my freshly filled water bottle, so I take a break and ex about half a liter in under 30 seconds. Feels great, plus you really can’t drink enough on a day like this, especially if there is plenty of time before boarding.

Then the old game again – shoes off, belt off, pull apart the hand luggage, step into the very futuristic looking body scanner, arms up…. I don’t care. After all it is a privilege to be here. I just smile 🙂 and thank them all.

Even when my toothpaste gets confiscated…it’s almost empty and the tube only 10mls over the magical 100ml limit, a fact that the Brisbane staff either didn’t pick up on or just assumed that ‘She’ll be right’. I don’t argue. No point. More smiles. I know I broke the rules there… I just thought, if I can take an empty water bottle, surely I can take a near-empty tube of toothpaste? But I stand corrected. At least I had just brushed my teeth. He’s just doing his job. Just keeping us all safe. At least my water bottle can stay with me. And my faithful transformer wheelie thingy.

Solarpunkster on Tour # 1 – Airport musings – Bangkok

IMG_20160721_015652Whenever I step foot in an airport as a traveller, I get the niggling feeling that I might like to write a book about them someday…I kind of enjoy hanging around at airports, can’t bring myself to complain (much) about those largely empty and uneventful hours spent in transit, on uncomfortable seats or hard floors or dusty carpets that make you cough when you get too close while doing some stretches to alleviate your aching butt and body. There is just something about airports that makes me feel … comfortable I guess, maybe even at peace. Possibly it is because everybody is on their best behaviour. Tolerance levels are increased during transit, because at the airport we all kinda have to get along. At the airport we are all the same – we are all travellers.

As travellers we all share the same odd dead time in transit where there is nothing much to do but eating, reading, chatting, watching movies or people, using free WiFi, walking around more or less aimlessly, enjoying the comfort of a normal toilet (unless you are stuck at an airport with squat toilets…) shopping (if you are into that…) and trying to nap. [Actually that’s quite a lot of things to do but we are in transit and likely tired and grumpy and not feeling like doing many (if any) of those things. Either way, airports only offer a limited range of really basic stuff to do.]

During transit we share the same space, the seats and toilets, we all hurry up and wait in numerous queues, go through the same security measures where we take off our belts, shoes and bulky jumpers, pack and unpack our hand luggage various times, have water bottles and toothpaste confiscated and put up our hands (in the air like we just don’t care) while we get body scanned. We all get confused, rushed and sometimes panicked while figuring out where to go next. And then we are all crammed into the same planes, where we are looked after by the same crew, eating the same food, sharing extremely limited space and air while flying across our home planet Earth, which we all share also.

Again and again it strikes me as an absolute marvel how this eclectic mix of cultural currents flows through the place. Gratitude lingers as I pick up strands of conversation in dozens of languages, sometimes familiar but mostly unintelligible (to me) and exotic.

The Solarpunkster sits, stands and walks around, constantly observing and taking in the different looks, styles of dress, sounds and vibes, quietly wishing that she had the means to find out everyone’s story.

At times I feel almost breathless – there are so many of us here, on our way to somewhere, and I wonder how many of us realise how incredibly fortunate we are to be part of the upper class (in a relative, global sense) that is able and allowed and rich enough to travel by plane…