Bavaria

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While sat in the emergency ward as Emmo was being examined, I let my eye wander into a neighbouring room where sat on the bed was my Bavarian stereotype. In his green lederhosen, cap, knee-length white socks and brown shoes, he was perched on the bed looking around nervously. He wasn’t comfortable there, maybe not with the questions and uncertainty and ultimately with this form of modern life. The hospital corridors screamed of cleanliness and passivity. It was a Thursday afternoon and all was creepy quiet.

While out riding with Em, she spotted a jump and like her character, took off immediately to get some air. Landing on her head via into a beautiful flip wasn’t part of the plan! I have to admit I laughed at first. Then we went to hospital where the doctors confirmed Emo had broken a bone at the top of her neck. A neck brace was immediately applied followd by two nights in hospital!

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I said they were odd….

I watched the Bavarian man leave well before that. He walked out directly, taking no chances they might recall him. I use this guy as an example of what I saw in Bavaria. The Bavarian Alps were replete of the stereotypes you come to expect with Oktoberfest. On weekends men dressed up in traditional clothing to drink. Women were spotted in maiden dress. Houses built of wooden slates and chip were irregularly but calmly spaced in clumps with a fence and a bell a church on the highest point and surrounded by open fields of long, thick grass mowed by the odd cow. Above the villages, the mountains followed a more regular output; grass-covered meadows, dense alpine forests and then weathered snow-capped peaks. To spend a week in this small town biking around, visiting castles, villages and lakes while drinking up the local, excellent and very cheap beer

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I had come down to the Alps to stay with Emilie who I’d met in New Zealand in 2008. After three days in drizzle and towering glass of Frankfurt (report up soon), the Alps opened up as I headed south. I got genuinely excited as they came onto the horizon. Em lives in Sonthofen, just two stops before the end of the local line which can go no further as the Alps escalate. Despite being almost pathologically afraid of villages, in perfectly glorious weather it was fantastic. Sonthofen and the surrounding vallies is stunning. This season was the perfect time to visit. The mountains retained snow. The fields were in daffodil bloom and the sun shone consistently and brilliantly.

While I started with a stereotype, there is other life in the Alps. Cars are driven and internet is accessible. You can even get a kebab made by a Turk in the small town square. I helped Michael out with an Irish night and went to a cute house gig which later descended into a wine-athon. We visited the famous Neuschwanstein Castle and nipped over towards Switzerland/Austria at Lake Constance. (I later when to Salzburg but more about that later).

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Germans are a curious bunch. My only other experiences involved about 6 trips to Berlin to sight-see and stay with Linden and Claudia. Like the idea of ‘the French’, Germans are a hugely diverse bunch. With a strong export-led economy, strong welfare and educational networks and deep-rooted connections to place, Germans are placid with their differences. There is an idea of being German even if it is not played out in traditional cultural references.

Bavaria is the oldest of the old school Germans and maybe their most unique. Riding in the Alps we’d see few people, a sprinkling of houses but glorious rafts of trees, meadows and ravines. Germany is a big country but with only 25% more people than the UK. Its cities are more moderate too. Its 5 largest cities totalled together are still smaller than London. They are a  representative of states rather than nations. After all, Germany was only united in 1871.

I liked Germany a lot. Its problems are moderate compared to Britain’s and moderated by an active state and a feeling of responsibility amongst its companies, states and people. The need to get it right is more important.
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Bavaria is pretty unique in my experience. Here we have a group who live in the mountains, appreciate and understand the food chain. We hear little of them for they don’t speak much. Isolation and permanence in the mountains and vallies leave them less interested in the world at large similar to the Alpine Swiss. Probably for the better.

Photos up on facebook tomorrow.

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Euro2012 Semi Final Preview

Before I get to this England and France are out.

England are out. Bulldog spirit and defending can only get you so far. We couldnt keep the ball. Rooney was out of touch, Carroll is raw, Young was poor, MIlner isn’t good enough. Gerrard played reasonably but can’t do it all by himself. The defence were the stars which says a lot. Lescott and Johnson proved themselves to be international class (if not world class), Terry was his usual body on the line and Cole is world class. The endless talk of Joe Hart beocming one of the best goalkeepers in the world sounds like media hype to me. Besides he is 26, not 20. Its about time.

For France the reasons are obvious. The defence is actually weak. Rami is never good enough at this level nor is Mexes in reality. Midfield is average but Benzema hits the goalkeeper all night long. He isnt a real goalscorer. He shows that at Madrid where he still doesnt score enough. Blanc gave up before kick off with that team and tactics. Poor show. The worst two game I have seen here involved France. Similarly with England in 2006 and 2010, it must be hugely frustrating for players to spend two years qualifying for a major event and then go out so pathetically.

I said before the tournament Spain would struggle and they have. Without Villa to put the ball home, they pass the ball all day and lack real incision and pace to get behind the opposition. A bigger blow is losing Puyol but there are few teams who can play with Spain so it doesn’t matter here. In a World Cup it would. Against the pace of Portugal, they will miss his organisational skills and leadership.

They will play Portugal who have finally woken up the the pace they possess. If everyone played to their level, they can really compete. Ronaldo has missed more than he’s scored but the rest need to put a shift in. Its a good thing to lose Postiga too. He’s not good enough. Portugal have the talent to win this if their centre midfield works as a unit.

Germany have the organisation to beat Spain, They too lack pace so the likely final will be a dour-ish affair. I am not convinced by the German centre backs or Boeteng. They have conceded 4 goals so far to average teams but midfield forward, they are a very good team, if not as creatively brilliant as many would say. Schweinsteiger is a German Spaniard (less skill but more presence) and a fine player. Gomez is a goalscorer. Klose will look redundant against the best. But Germany will win this.

Italy were good tonight but they lack real penetration. So many chances tonight and no goals. They are more mobile than in the past but lacking in quality traditionally associated with the Azzurri.The Germans should have too much for them especially after tonight’s game.

Predictions (assuming the teams are as expected)

Spain 0-1 Portugal (that’s right!)

Germany 2-0 Italy

How Reg Lost his Arm

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I’m sitting on the red-eye from New York back to Europe. The beautiful Singaporean stewardess is serving me reasonable pinot and the food was Thai curry. The plane is a superjumbo and for the first time in months I have the opportunity and inclination to write. As everyone sleeps and we chase to morning in Europe, I’m evaluating the last few months, content and nostalgic. My headphones encases music that links me to everyone I know or have known.

From Colombia starting and finishing with Gab and first and last weekends with Claudia to seeing old friends in almost surreal circumstances in Canada and the USA. I am forever grateful. The faces I saw particularly in Canada will stay with me forever. For the most recent I had seen any of them was 6 years ago. Bobbi who met me at the airport in Winnipeg I hadn’t seen for a few months under 10 years. Christine over 6 years. Ronnie and Debs the same. Ashley 7 years. And yet we slipped back in there like old times, rarely suffering an undeserved silence. In fact, all now had kids, were married and had a more moderated lifestyle and they all impressed me more. I will write more about Canada and the people there in another blog. Being well-fed was indeed heart-warming even if I do need to shed a few pounds this summer.

The USA was a more hectic time, staying in Greenwich Village, the most central and celebrated spot in Manhattan. I don’t know what Steve and Lucy pay for this ground floor flat but it must be small fortunes a month. I caught Rocky and Dave Gordon in Philly, Beau in Jersey, Ola in Midtown, two nights with Steve and one to be explained.

Last time in NYC was almost free thanks to some dodgy Russian and the American Red Cross. This time I enjoyed it more spending days wandering the streets and taking in the life of the greatest city in the world (sorry Pedro!). New York treated me to excellent weather but the sunshine is forever present in the vibrancy of the noise.

Colombia will get many blogs in the weeks to come concerning the people, culture and places. Its a beautiful spot, one I’ve wanted to visit for a long time and it didn’t let me down. So now I am heading to Germany to see more friends and sights in Frankfurt, with Em in the mountains and then back to the Balkans and maybe a few nearby places like the Ukraine etc

So that’s how Reg my memory stick monkey lost his arm. Travelling and savouring the sights and nights of friends reunited and friendship renewed. We did well. And are lucky even if Reg lost an arm in sacrifice. He knows though it was worth it. He’s still smiling.

I know I should…

I know I should have written more and I have so intended to but alas the streets have been calling me to wonder and wander and I’m busy planning the next stage. Ahh its gonna be so exciting.

So last night, before meeting Michele’s friend Astrid, Beau and I got tickets to see the New York Knicks basketball team when I am in New Jersey. Might even have a look at the Jersey Shore! I haven’t seen Beau since some good nights in Ljubljana in 2009. The night before Steve and I are seeing the Yankees in New York and the night before its to Philadelphia to do the Rocky Steps Dance and have dinner and drinks with Dave Gordon, a New York doctor we had some good nights with in Estonia. After all this I have a few days in New York with Steve and Lucy and hopefully catching up with Ola from Nottingham.

Then its off to Germany to see Viola, Michelle and Oscar before biking/boarding in the Alps with Emmo (and we’re gong to Liechtenstein) before I fly to the Balkans to meet Mirella in Serbia and maybe Elena from Nottingham if she makes it over. I’ll fly back from Dubrovnik via Macedonia to see friends and then straight back to the work I love. The summer and the autumn university return are sorted.

Before all this I’ll be in Canada for about 10 days before that staying with Ashley and Tommy, Debs and Ronnie at Niagara and their assorted little ones. Got a night in Toronto with the guys and a day wandering Ottawa and a date with destiny!

Alas just before this, I have a final weekend in Colombia, spending time with Gab and Natalia, Claudia tonight and maybe a music festival this weekend with MGMT and TV on the Radio. And on my last night Manu Chao is playing a huge free gig, just like he did 6 years ago in Mexico City.

Sorry for the list of stuff and to bore you with details. In the meantime, I’ll be working on my Spanish and some pieces about relationships here, Medallin and Bogota, the small colonial towns, craziness up north, coffee country and food! Its been an amazing time. Now off to get a present for someone…