Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Take yer HT and shove it up yer ML...

Only a computer dork would care...but I just realized that IE now properly recognizes and displays PNG images. That means it can handle transparent images. Earth shattering news? Hardly. But it is somewhat nice to see that the major browsers are slowly getting closer to actually following the rules that allow websites to be read.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Telling the tale...part three

Haven't been feeling much like tapping fingers on keyboard lately. But, in an effort to once again prove to myself that writer's block is nothing more than laziness, I'm going to wrap up my reader's digest version of my trip.

It wasn't all Danish countryside and bike rides to the shore. The main reason for my trip was to visit Steffi. We didn't have as much time as I would have liked, but we had fun anyway. It was nice to meet Rudiger and Steffi's little girl Lilly. We had a few walks and we all had some good times around the table with some nice food, wine and beer.

One of the best parts of the trip was having Lilly come in, jump on my bed and wake me up. She's a vivacious little girl and likes to play. We hit it off great and were instantly the bestest of pals. That picture of her up above is with her Mom...she's wearing a pair of my boxers that she dug out of my bag and decided would make an excellent dress. Who was I to argue?

At two and half, she speaks both German and English. It was adorable to hear her little, tiny voice pointing out flowers, birds and cows in both languages. It was a bit overwhelming to face that kind of energy when you're used to the quiet house of a single guy, but it was good to be taken out of my own selfish routines by the needed attentions of a little girl.

Oldenburg is a nice city. There's a cool old town area that's nice to walk around and where it's great to watch people. I spent a couple of hours in the city one evening when Steffi was teaching a Pilates class. I wandered, she taught, and later we met for a stroll to a cafe for a coffee.

I got to wander around again another night with Rudiger. We had a dinner in the cafe and a beer while we waited to meet Steffi. It was cool to get to talk to him a bit with no one else around. He's a really nice guy and it was nice to get to know him a bit. I really admire how Europeans seem to be able to shed the weird baggage that most Americans seem to carry around. I was friends with his wife - so, I was friends with him too. If there was any strangeness to it in Rudiger's mind, he never showed it. That's pretty rare.

One evening we all drove to a little beach area along a nearby river. It was a relaxing way to hang out. I was proud that I got one of the boat captains to give us a toot of his horn. There were several big boats heading up and down the river - to and from the harbor at the coast. Finally, after much effort, the last boat we saw as we were getting ready to go gave us a few blasts of his horn. The captain stepped out and gave us a wave and the crew joined in. Sometimes it takes a crazy American to get the Germans to step out of their routines - I think they secretly like us for it.

Also, got to spend a couple of nights in some big cities. Stayed overnight in Hamburg on the way back from Denmark. That was a night of debauchery - but, I'm single and have no one to explain myself to, I guess. Let's just say that a couple of gorgeous, young blondes may have ravaged me in a room above the Reeperbahn and the Prince cigarette afterward may have tasted outstanding in the tawdry glow of the neon lights streaming in the window. Or, maybe not...you decide.

Met a cool bartender in Hamburg. She was from Poland. Her boyfriend works on large ships as a welder, but times are tight for shipbuilders and he was out of work. Met a couple of cool guys at the same seedy little bar by the harbor. It was fun to talk politics and hear their veiwpoints.

Hamburg is a party town, filled with party people. It was fun...but a bit too much for me.

The next day, I saw a May Day parade starting and wandered down among the crowds of socialists, workers, and communists. There were quite a few people out - probably a few thousand. Signs, music, and slogans were all about.

It was a beautiful day, but I couldn't help but remember that it was traditionally the day that American specialists would gain the intelligence about the Soviet Union that we based much of our policy on - simply put, they would analyze photos of the May Day parade in Moscow and see who was sitting in the prime spots to see who was in and out of favor. Scarey to think that nuclear war literally hung in the balance.

Went to a good museum in Hamburg. Saw some great artwork. But sometimes museums just don't get me excited. This was one of those times.

On my way to Frankfurt to catch my plane home, I stopped in Koln for the night. Koln is a party town too...but in a classy way. It was beautiful and the people there were really nice. Met a couple of older guys who told me some good places to go that night and one gave me his email and said to email him next time I was coming to Koln and he would arrange some sightseeing and a bit of beer drinking with some friends. Another example of how open a lot of Europeans are.

Had one of the best pizzas ever in Koln, by the way. Who would have guessed? It was awesome and got me many offers of comradery as I carried it back through the streets to my hotel. It's easy to make friends in Koln...just go out drinking or carry a pizza through the streets - or both.

Got up and looked at the Dom the next day. It's the gorgeous cathedral in the middle of town. Had some breakfast, took a shower and walked around a bit before catching the ICE to Frankfurt and my plane home. The ICE is fast and smooth and terribly cool. There's nothing like sitting in a first-class car in the front of the train, sipping a coffee from a real china cup and watching the country roll by. I love the trains in Europe.

The flight home was long...long...long...and I had to take a bus from Chicago to Milwaukee to avoid staying overnight...but I still managed to stop at my local pub when I got back. I'm nothing if not a trooper.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Telling the tale...part two

So, Wednesday found me in a new country and a whole new set of experiences to come. Per had met me at the station. As my journal tells me, it was something like this:

"Stepped from the train in Thisted and saw a concerned older man looking at the faces of people getting off at the station. I knew it was Per when I saw him look more closely at a man with facial hair. By then, I had walked around the bike racks with the ever present mob of bicycles and was able to call his name. A quick smile confirmed that it was indeed my host, Per."

We had the lovely dinner I mentioned last post and drove north to Bulbjerg. It's a hill on the coast that had a German bunker built on it during the war. The bunker is still there and it's a bit freaky to go inside it and feel the ghosts of the war there with you. There's only a long horizontal slit to look out of, but the view is pretty amazing.

Gulls of some North Atlantic variety nest on the cliffs below and we wandered down there to see them guarding their own little pieces of the white cliffs.

Then, we returned to Per's farmhouse. It's beautiful - low and white and sporting a thatched roof. It's very Scandinavian. He showed me my 'room,' which was really more an attached guest cottage than a room. It was originally a sheep barn, but now feels like a bed and breakfast.Very nice indeed.

We had some wine and conversation that night which was just the beginning of some interesting tales. Per is an interesting fellow who once did business across Europe, including the former East Germany. As a youngster, he met Karen Blixen who had a home nearby. He said he was always a little frightened of her because she always wore black and stayed mostly covered up. She was pale and sick at the time too - adding to her frightening look.

Thursday - "Today was a full day, but also not so full at all. It was simple and basic, but full of life."

Awoke at about 8 a.m. and fell back asleep until 9:30. Late for breakfast - the story of my life. Ate a nice European breakfast with bread, honey, jam, cheese, and coffee.

Rode the bike to Lild - the small fishing village by the water. Walked the rocky beach and found a piece of amber.

Came back and joined visiting family at lunch. They were all very nice and made me feel welcome.

Conversation, good food and some wine rounded out the day and I again went to bed content.

Friday - Did some sightseeing and then made our way down to Sonder Nissum - the small village where my Mother's brother is buried. He was shot down during the war. He was a pilot officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force and flew in a Lancaster bomber. He was only 21 when he died just months before the war ended in Europe.

Found the cemetery and the grave. There were several other Allied soldiers buried there as well - all next to each other in one part of the cemetery.

The Danish people do a beautiful job of maintaining and caring for their graves and they take great care of the soldiers' graves as well.

Came back by a different way and stopped at a shipwreck museum in Thorsminde - on the coast. Had another great meal at the restaurant there - St. George (it's named after a big British ship that wrecked there. Had a traditional Danish dinner of two pieces of fish - one boiled and one fried or baked and served on a piece of bread with a nice sauce and some asparagus hearts. Had some great Danish beer too. It was very good in the way only very fresh fish can taste.

Took the ferry on the way back. The air was brisk and the water was nice. The water here is still very cold - so the wind was chilly.

Went for a short bike ride when we returned - almost to the shore, but the ground was still too wet to make it all the way.

Came back and had dinner and then we all walked to see the sunset. Stood on a hill where you could just see the sea between the big dunes.

The day birds slowly went quiet as the sun sank into the water behind the hills, leaving the evening to the night creatures.

"There was mist rising from the small ponds and I learned there is a Danish expression for it that means 'the old woman is brewing beer.' It was a nice thought."

<more to come>

How to tell the tale?

There are so many different experiences, thoughts, sights and sounds to describe that there's really no way to do it...but to do it. So, the Reader's Digest summary it shall be.

Friday - Saturday - Flew from Milwaukee to Chicago to Frankfurt. That's a lot of flying if you've got a back that hurts. It's even longer if you have no patience for sitting in a cramped seat next to a fellow traveller who absolutely refuses to surrender any of the common armrest between you. So, I fidgeted a lot and got up and down quite a bit too...it was semi-sweet revenge.

The airport in Frankfurt very nice. It's easy to find your way around, pretty clean and the people working there are very nice and helpful. Caught a train right there at the airport and continued the long trek to northern Germany.

The train, a high-speed ICE, took me through Hannover and Bremen and on to Oldenburg. The girls in the the Hannover Hauptbahnfhoff are very cute...or at least a lot of them are. Believe me - I checked. Called Steffi along the way and told her my estimated arrival time and agreed to call when I got to Oldenburg.

Steffi and Rudiger picked me up at the station and took me to their home. Steffi's Dad was also in town, so it was nice to see him again. And I finally got to meet Lilly. She wasted no time in climbing all over me. Nothing wakes you up from travel stupor like a vibrant two-year old climbing on you, wanting attention.

Went for a walk with Steffi in the countryside, stayed up for a bit, and finally crashed into the soft mattress for some sleep.

Sunday - We all went for a walk on the moors, outside of Oldenburg. Yes, they really were moors. There were still trenches in the landscape where they used to cut peet to burn and build with. It was a beautiful day and a nice walk.

The beautiful weather stayed around for the entire two weeks I was in Europe. They're in the grips of an unusually nice spring this year - which sounds great, but is terrible for the farmers.

After the moor walk, we drove to the coast and had cake and coffee at a place by the water. That was the home of the giant penis in the sand. What beach is complete without a giant penis protruding from the sand?

Came home, had dinner and watched a Sting DVD while drinking some excellent German beer.

Monday - The jet lag hit me on Monday and I slept in until 1 p.m. Everyone worried that I had died in my sleep, but an occasional snore proved that I was still alive.

Went swimming with Steffi and Lilly. I haven't gone swimming in a pool in a long time. It was nice and warm...and not too crowded. Did a few laps.

Wandered around Oldenburg while Steffi taught a Pilates class in the city that evening. It was nice to just wander a bit. Used some of my bad German to get a coffee and to find batteries and a new bathing suit.

We met up later and had another round of coffee and some desert at a restaurant by the old church in the center of the old town.

Tuesday - Lazy day. Got up and had a great German breakfast - some cheese, some bread, some spread, and a bit of meat. The girls went for a long walk, so I went for a short walk around the neighborhood.

Bernhard built a fire in the fireplace on the patio at night and we sat around it with some nice red wine. There's something primal about a fire and combined with the wine it helped the conversation flow.

Wednesday - Got up early and B. took me to the train station in Oldenburg. He walked me up to the platform and was - I think - a bit impressed that I could get a schedule with all the stops and changes printed up at the ticket office.

Went to Bremen, then Hamburg, then onto Denmark. Switched trains once in Denmark on my way to the end of the line in Thisted.

Per, a friend of Steffi's, met me there with his daughter Nina and his German Shepard Heidi. We had a nice meal at a restaurant by the water, dining and while watching the boats and a couple of frolicking girls.

<More to come>

Monday, May 07, 2007

Trail to the Sea

This is the little double-track trail I took to the beach in Denmark. It went from Per's farmhouse to the little fishing village called Lild. It made for a nice bike ride through the forest and down to the sea.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Walking with dead Vikings

I've done a lot of things in my life, but I have never hung out with dead Vikings before. I have now.

We stopped at an old Viking cemetary in Denmark by the fjord. I know...how cool is it that I was able to say fjord in such a casual way - as if I've been wandering around them for years? Pretty neat, huh?

Anyway, back to the Vikings. They were pretty rough and tumble back in the day, but they're much quieter now. Perhaps it has something to do with being dead, but I like to think they've just mellowed a bit.

I'm sure you're probably thinking that I'm making up the whole Viking thing.

Maybe you're thinking, "Hah, I've caught you in your web of lies now Shawn...I saw that movie with the Vikings and they get sent off in flaming ships, not buried!"

Well, I can assure you that many off them did indeed get buried. I've seen it with my own eyes. Plus, the signs told me so - or they would have if I read Danish, but it was pretty obvious that they would have told me that all the little piles around the field with big rocks on top were Viking graves. They would have also let me know that the rocks were arranged in such a way as to represent a ship - or at to appear to be a shiplike rock to the trained and perceptive Viking eye.

It was really a neat place and made you think about how little we've actually changed in the last thousand years.

The thing about dead Vikings though, is that they don't really talk much. So, our conversations were a bit doomed from the beginning. It might have been the language barrier, or maybe they had a hard night the night before, or maybe it was just that they were - well - dead.

Despite that, I would definitely recommend going to hang out with some dead Vikings if ever you're in Denmark.