Elbe paddle (day 9): Barby – Schönebeck – Magdeburg

Today: 38km | Total: 372km

Half of the journey is in the bag after today. It is also the end of my solo effort as Laura will be paddling with me from tomorrow (assuming transport works 🤔). My main focus that has emerged more and more is how to get through Hamburg harbour. The people i spoke to all question if it would be reasonable to do in an open canoe. Much to think about over the coming week. Is there a way around?

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Otherwise, it was a very hot yet short day as i am waiting for my 2nd paddle here in Magdeburg and covered a longer than planned stretch yesterday. Good progress in the morning, a look around Schönebeck (also dead quiet) & shopping (drinks + crushed ice) and a long rest in the shade to evade the afternoon heat.

I am staying at the grounds of SC Magdeburg with loads of professional paddlers (though mainly on training camp in Brandenburg right now). They paddled from the Czech border to Hamburg over two summers (2017/18), but did not paddle through Hamburg harbour. I have the place to myself basically. Sorted all gear and had a shower first time since Wittenberg (meanwhile Elbe shower that seems to add to my tan 🚿😒).

I have only been to Magdeburg once for the house-warming party of my sister. She studied here. Naturally, little sightseeing. Didn’t know they have such a huge dome here though i had heard about the Hundertwasserhaus. Cool. Generally, the first city in a while with people about including loads of immigrants.

Tomorrow 36 degrees are expected. OMG! Better just do swimming in the river. But i hope with amorcita on board the pace will pick up and we make good progress towards Tangermünde (though too far for one day).

So, now back to my Vietnamese dinner. Change in diet for tonight. 🥢 🍜 😋

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First (busy) week in Barcelona & an unexpected Nepal reunion

What a busy week in Barcelona! First week at school done (now on B1/intermediary level), an (unexpected) great night out with fellow mountaineers Blake & Rory, settling into the bustling Born neighbourhood around Arc de Triomf, a tour of Barrio Gotico, a visit to La Sagrada Familia & Park Guell as well as Montserrat, the Pyrenees & Girona/Figures (Salvador Dali). The latter three I will delve into separately. Let’s see what next week has on offer – still so much to see here.

First week at school – Camino Barcelona

I arrived more than tired in Barcelona on Monday morning owing to a late night in Berlin and a 6.20am flight. Anyway, straight from the airport to my oral language test. Turns out that despite the short night I managed to slip into the B1 / intermediary level. Usually this takes 8-10 weeks of full-time study vs. my 3w in Medellin, but I guess travel in Colombia and weekly Skype classes helped a lot.

The school, Camino Barcelona, is fun though my schedule is packed with 4h grammar focused classes in the morning and 2h of conversational class after lunch. Additionally, the Castellano Spanish spoken in most parts of Spain differs slightly in grammar (Latinos don’t use the 2nd person plural vosotros), pronunciation and several words itself. Homework is manageable and not as time intensive as was the case in Medellin, St. Petersburg or Amsterdam. It’s good fun and last week has been a real step forward, leaving me in much better shape to speak and comprehend the language. In particular the tenses have improved as well as my depth of vocab. The school also offers daily extracurricular activities though I have hitherto undertaken my own so far.

Settling into El Born barrio

I like the neighborhood in my temporary home. It’s called Born and is pretty central, close to the Arc de Triomf, the seaside in walking distance and with many bars and restaurants. School is only a few metro stops away in the barrio Eixample. I also visited Gracia, a seemingly student dominated area with way less tourists than beachside, as well as Sagrada Familia and barrio Gotico for sightseeing.

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Nepal reunion – Rory & Blake in town

It was always my plan to use my time here to catch up with Blake – the Australian Everest climber in my summit team who lives here with his wife & daughter. Just as I was messaging him that i had arrived on monday night, he returned a selfie of him & Rory. Turns out that Rory was here for a conference. Turning down an offer to go out was clearly not an option for the last time we met was when i came down from Lhotse while they headed up for their successful Everest mission. We hit the Born area (my neighborhood) for a drinks & chat before ultimately ending up in one of the beachfront clubs (well, Rory retired since he had to speak next day). great time altogether and Rory wasn’t shy to use it fully to promote his Everest book (Everest Diaries) featuring our efforts & loads of great pics. All profits go to child rescue Nepal and directly funds the construction of four schools for kids rescued out of harsh conditions.

Barrio Gotico – great to see, harder to understand (in Spanish)

The gothic quarter is the historical center of the city with the imposing Barcelona cathedral in the center (Sagrada familia is just a Basilica since its not the seat of a Bishop). Here you can see the leftovers of the Roman times (city wall etc) and many medieval buildings. A lot of what you can see today is not originally medieval though, but has been restored in time for the 1929 international exhibition held in Barcelona. See here for all details. I joined a free tour of the area – in Spanish! That turned out to be a little a too much for my level, but was generally well organised.

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La Sagrada familia – a church I am happy to pay entry for …

The church is inextricably linked to Barcelona with its unusual style designed by one of Catalonia’s greatest – the modernist Antoni Gaudi (though he wasn’t the original creator of the idea, which was bookseller Josep Maria Bocabell after a Vatican visit in 1872). I usually refuse to pay entrance for any church, but here I make a distinction for the whole project is completely privately funded. By now some 70% have been completed and the aim is to have the external structures fully in place for the centenary of Gaudi in 2026. Mark it in your diaries – it will be beautiful. I will leave the details to wikipedia, but recommend a visit highly due to the unusual design and to lend support to the effort.

There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature. Therefore, buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners.

– Antoni Gaudi

Park Guell – great park, but (payable) core section not worthwhile

The park is one of the other big sights in Barcelona and also Gaudi designed under the instruction of Eusebi Guell. The park itself offers great views of the city and is very relaxing to take a stroll. What was disappointing though was the core section including essentially two ‘Brother Grimm’ like houses and seemingly thousands of tourists. Safe yourself the EUR7,50 entry fee and just take a walk.

London: Happy birthday Alex!

It was nice to be back for a little longer after my time in Amsterdam had come to an end. But it was busy. Alex’ 8th birthday, Champions league final, DIY job at Alex house (terrace done … yeah) and lots of tutoring in Russian, Spanish & Dutch and history classes (first up the Saxon’s history in England between 5AD and 9AD). So I managed just a few catch-ups with the local Maida Vale crowd and some friends. Now it’s time for Berlin, Barcelona, Ibiza and St. Petersburg before London has me back early July. 

Happy birthday Alexander: He was counting down the days to this important day and would tell me every morning how many days were left (literally the first thing he said when he woke up). He was also not shy to remind me how much he wanted to have a Nintendo Switch including writing messages into my language class book (just to make sure ;o). Well, he got one and was mega happy (less so the case for his mum). It’s a cool device and very practical for travelling and playing at home / via TV alike. An app lets you further control how much he plays. I also got him a life vest ahead of my Elbe river tour in summer, for which Alex would like to join for a few days. In the evening of his day I fulfilled another of his wishes – racket with mum & dad. He has truly become a racket lover. The party with his friends took place later, but was megacool. We visited the trampoline park Flip Out in Brent CrossFlip Out in Brent Cross with  13 other kids and let it bounce. Pizza & an excellent birthday cake as well as the mandatory party bags made for a great event. Thanks go to Rob for hosting us free of charge! 

DIY – terrace done: I left it a little late to order all the material I needed for the job and delays came on top. Still, I managed to build the new terrace in just two days and think it looks really neat. Alex loved to help out here and there and is really glad to have his outside playing area back. Same goes for his dog Charlie – who did’t hold off to baptise it with a good pee. Sadly, the plastering job inside has to wait for the special plaster to arrive … useless company, but then restoration plaster to avoid damp issues in the future is not so easy to come by here in England. Well, they can do it while i am away and then painting is next. 

Den Haag: Some facts & Escher museum

Den Haag was the next stop on my little Holland tour. It is a somewhat unusual Dutch city so far as it has no canals (but a lake in front of the parliament). I thought the city free tour was only average, but the Esher museum and the seafront were worthwhile visiting. After the tour I had a fun afternoon with Julia (from Darmstadt, but now in Berlin) enjoying the local food festival and, given she also blogs (see here), I got some handy tips.

What I learned about Den Haag

  • The Hague is the 3rd largest city in Holland with c1m population in the metropolitan area. It is home to the parliament and the royal palace though Amsterdam remains the constitutional capital.

 

  • Haagse Harry statue: It looks right out of a comic book and was designed by an artist who lived in the more artistic area of Den Haag (for locals there is a distinct separation of richer & not so rich people in the city).

 

  • There was a V1/2 base (German flying bomb) very close to the Hague in the Haagse Bos (the Hague forest). When the English tried to bomb the base, they got the target wrong and killed 600 people. The Hague was one of the most bombed places in WW2. This explains some of the more modern architecture in the city (similar to Rotterdam).
  • There was originally a synagogue in the city, but the few remaining jews couldn’t support it anymore. Then Turks squatted this synagogue in 70s and made it their building. Now two minarets have been added and its a mosque.
  • Seagull mania: Being close to the seaside, there are plenty of seagulls about. They are pretty aggressive in their endeavour for food and take apart rubbish bags (apparently not red/yellow bags) and steal food right out of people’s hands/mouths – so watch out when you snack here.

  • Across the city you’ll find many storks – a symbol of Den Haag that stands for prosperity (and children).
  • Stay normal rule: apparently very important for locals is to stay normal. Hence, it is not difficult to spot people like the PM having a coffee in an ordinary cafe.
  • Language: With 60% foreign students and mot people well versed in English, there is a growing debate about what happens with the Dutch language. I have to add here, that Dutch people all too easily switch to english even for foreigners that are trying to learn their language – so give us a chance & be patient.
  • The Hague is home to the first mall in Europe, which looks similar to the one in Milan & Brussels. The origin is closely related to the chaperone rule whereby young ladies required supervision when they leave their house. Having everything under one roof provided a certain freedom for those upper class chicks.

 

  • Bike orphans & battle with drivers: As in any Dutch city there are loads of bikes. Currently there is a big debate raging between bikers and car drivers. The former provide for 65% of the city’s movement yet the cars get 10x the space. Bike parking is pretty organised and should you leave your bike in an area not being a dedicated parking space it might get picked up. There are in total c100,000 bike orphans in the city – picked up bikes that are not claimed by their owners.
  • The Hague has arguably the smallest city park I have ever seen ;o) In total less than 1sqm. Locals would love to have a bigger one, as the stone that heavily features in construction here heats up in summer adding 10 degrees extra at times. Well, you can always head to the beach though – something most other cities don’t offer.

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  • Pharmacy anecdote: We stopped by an old pharmacy that retains much of its antique past. There is a joker figure above the entrance. This  symbols ‘de jaaper’ (the jawner). He would travel with the doctor and if you don’t trust your medicine, he would try it for you so as to proof it doesn’t kill you.

 

  • Fahrenheit (1686-1736) is buried here in the Kloosterkerk.
  • Polderen: A term that I first came across in my waterland tour (see here). It basically means to debate a problem with all parties involved to find a solution. The origin is from the polder/water management where people realised that only if decisions are taken together a good outcome can be achieved since drainage of fields is interconnected.

 

Esher museum – graphic & twisted art

Esher was a Dutch graphic artist that made mathematically inspired woodcuts & lithographs including many ‘impossible’ pictures (like illusions). A few samples below. The museum was EUR10 to get in and is not covered by the museums card, but worth it.

 

 

Nijmegen hike & a brief visit to Germany

Today I travelled some 90min south-eastwards to Nijmegen. Partly to see the oldest city of Holland (more than 2,000y – competing for that title with Maastricht & Voorburg), but mainly to go hiking nearby through forests, villages and the Rhine embankment (or Waal in Dutch). The sun wasn’t too hot today making for a pleasant 23km relatively easy stroll including a well deserved German lunch & beer just over the border in Zyfflich (what a fitting name for ascension day celebrations).

I arrived just after 11am in Nijmegen central from where I took a bus further east of the city, as I had read about some decent hiking there along the N70. Initially it was pretty much all forest. It was fun to be out in the fresh air, listen to music and some Russian audio class. After less than an hour I reached the town of Beek, which still remembers to date how it was liberated by US troops. After Beek you get pretty close to the German border. Only during a phone conversation did I realise that today was ascension of christ day – a day we traditionally celebrate in Saxony by going for a walk with friends (call it an open air pub crawl). So I quickly made a decision to treat myself to a German meal & beer (sorry Holland, but German beer remains the best).

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Halfway of todays hike I got to a village called Zyffich – best name possible for such a day the German speakers will agree. They even had life music there … everything cheesy you can imagine including Roland Kaiser’s “Joana” (couldn’t help myself but to put it on while writing this). After an asparagus soup and a Königs Pilsner I continued back towards Nijmegen. You cross picturesque villages, grasslands, cattle & sheep (and again a fresh milk machine!) and as you get back to Nijmegen – the mighty Rhine & large bridges.

I ended up spending little time in Nijmegen itself. The inner city has some older buildings around the main market place, which was nice. But no appetite today to head to a museum etc. History around here is rich though and dates back to the Roman times (under its first name Oppidum Batavorum) who erected a military camp in the city’s current place in the 1st century BC. It was in particular important for the Roman empire after they lost to the Germans in the Teuteburger Forest (9AD) after which the Rhine remained the ultimate border and Nijmegen was further strengthened on this backdrop.

Well, enough history now. It was fun going for a hike again.