Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Where in the world …. ?

One of the reasons, among many, that I have been silent for a while is that the frau and I just spent 2 weeks in Germany. We escaped miserable spring weather here in Ontario and arrived in Frankfurt to sun and mid-20s temperatures, which stayed with us for the entire 2 weeks with the exception of 1 day of rain. And that was a driving day anyway, so nothing was lost.

The objective was to visit the “romantic Rhine” which is loosely described as the part of the Rhine between Frankfurt and Koblenz. Sloping hillsides covered with vineyards and spotted with medieval castles, it’s one of the more picturesque areas of Germany to visit, and we had wanted to do so for some time.

Of course we could have taken a river cruise, but for maximum flexibility we opted to drive. And as a result we saw more and got much further afield than we contemplated when initially planning the trip.

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It’s hard to overstate how beautiful this part of the lower Rhine is. It’s in the heart of wine country so vineyards cover every surface, some on slopes so steep that maintenance can be done by hand only (and, as one local put it, by people with one leg shorter than the other). As a major trading route during medieval times it also attracted many of the great houses of the time which built castles on its banks to both control the flow of goods but also to extract tolls from anyone using the river for commerce. Now those castles spot the hillsides as ruins or, in some cases, have been renovated as inns (one of which we stayed in) and hostels. And visiting the villages built around those castles 1000 years or so ago, seeing still-occupied buildings that are 7 or 8 times older than our country is, is simply amazing.

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It’s impossible to cover all the key points of a two-week trip in one blog post, but I will touch on a few significant items which, hopefully, might encourage you to visit this area one day. It is well worth it.

One of the highlights for me was to visit Remagen of “The Bridge at Remagen” fame. Though the film was highly fictionalised seeing the actual location, the remnants of the bridge, and visiting the associated museum brought to life an aspect of WW 2 history that had long interested me.

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You can’t visit Europe without also visiting cathedrals. Of the dozen or so we saw, by far the most impressive was the cathedral in Cologne. According to Wikipedia the Cologne Cathedral is the most visited landmark in Germany, and with good reason – it’s beautiful. An added benefit is that you can climb the tower, if you’re up to 533 steps up – and 533 down – a spiral staircase that will make you dizzy if you proceed too quickly. Of course we decided to climb, and we did get dizzy, but the views were worth the effort.

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From Cologne we left the Rhine and headed west to Aachen. Back circa 800 AD Aachen was Charlemagne’s preferred place of residence and as a result the two names have become almost synonymous. That’s not a period in history that’s of particular interest to me but the missus found it fascinating. And, to be fair, I quite enjoyed poking around in some of the ancient buildings and looking at religious relics that, supposedly, contained the actual bones of Charlemagne. Of course, hundreds of years later who knows whether the relics are in fact a part of his cranium, or his forearm, but the believers believe.

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While in Aachen I was looking at a roadmap and, purely by accident, noticed that our route to Luxembourg passed close by the town of Bastogne. The name meant little to my traveling companion but Bastogne was the epicentre, more or less, of some of the bloodiest fighting in WW2, aka the Battle of the Bulge. So we had to stop. And I’m glad we did. The Mardasson Memorial at Bastogne is beautiful, and the museum is a fascinating place where one could easily spend hours and hours looking at the exhibits.

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And as icing on the cake, we stayed in a little town near Bastogne called Hauffalize. Located in a small river valley this was probably the prettiest place we saw on the trip. It doesn’t get much more idyllic than this.

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And then we were on the road again to Luxembourg City, a city of traffic jams, impatient drivers, and a million (at least) tourists. But, again, the historical aspects were fascinating and the scenery was incredible. Luxembourg City is one of the 3 official capitals of the European Union and dates back to circa 900 AD. Much of the city walls and fortifications were built during the 10th and 11th centuries, again giving one the sense of treading the ground where history was made.

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Next stop, Trier. Founded in the 4th century BC, Trier is probably the oldest city in Germany. Arguably, it’s most famous artifact is the Porta Nigra, the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. Dating back to 200 AD the gate is still in remarkable condition, its name deriving from the darkened stone used in its construction.

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But to me the most impressive structure in Trier, and the one that left me most in awe on the entire trip, was the Basilica of Constantine. Built in 310 AD (complete with in-floor heating) as a Roman palace for Constantine, the building later became an Evangelical church, which it remains today. It comprises a massive single room, about 200’ long, 75’ wide, and 100’ high, imposing in its scale but also its simplicity. Standing in the centre of that room left me with a feeling I will not soon forget. It’s easy to see how a religious person might feel (as one did actually say to me there) God’s presence in such an edifice.

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Last stop, back to Frankfurt for a few days. We wanted to see the city but also we were going to meet up with Sonja and Roland of  Find Me On The Road fame. I’m not going to post a lot of Frankfurt pictures but suffice it to say Frankfurt is booming (in no small part to the anticipated financial fallout from Brexit) and we had a great time, including a lovely afternoon spent with Roland and Sonja who drove in from their home a a couple of hours away to spend some time with us.

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So that’s it, a (very) brief overview of a great trip.

By the numbers:
  • Kilometres traveled by car – 993
  • Kilometres travelled by foot (we like to walk)  - 170
  • Castles visited – 9
  • Churches/cathedrals visited – 15
  • Pictures taken – 1354
  • Harley Davidson dealers visited – 1
  • Socks lost – 1 (??)
  • German cakes/tortes consumed as mid-day snacks – too many.
Auf wiedersehen Germany. Until next time.

Monday, May 8, 2017

We are doomed.

A while ago I saw this image on line. My first thought was, “Hey, that guy’s wearing my shop jeans!”. Those would be the ones the missus won’t allow me to wear into town, and only grudgingly allows me to wear in the shop. My philosophy is, with a pair of jeans like that who cares how often they get washed. Right? It’s all about saving the environment – fewer washes, less electricity used, less detergents going into the groundwater. And, probably most important, less effort on my part.

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Anyway… It turns out that no one actually absconded with my grubbies because this was an ad for Nordstrom’s Barracuda Straight-Legged Jeans. According to the ad copy, these jeans “embody rugged, Americana workwear that's seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you're not afraid to get down and dirty.”

Except you are afraid to get down and dirty, else you wouldn’t have to pay $400 for a pair of jeans. And if you did actually get down and dirty your $50 a pair jeans would look just like this in a couple of hours.

Nope. If you buy and wear these (and many have as Nordstrom’s is apparently “sold out” of them) you’re a poser, a wannabe, someone who is probably still living in your Mom’s basement.  Which, now that I think about it, is the only good reason to fork over that kind of cash – to convince your Mom that you really are going to work every day and not to the local Starbuck’s where you sit and play with your laptop all day while nursing a grande frappacino latte with soy milk, comparing ruggedness quotients with tattooed baristas.

Unbelievable.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The day the rally came to town

We live next to a 10 kilometer stretch of dirt laughingly called California Road. Clearly it’s nowhere near California, nor is it anywhere near being what one would consider to be a road. It is sort of maintained during the summer months by fixing the washouts caused by the spring runoff and beaver dams. The township will sometimes run a grader along it, and every few years there might be a load or two of gravel dumped on it to fill the larger potholes and gullies. But that’s it. The sign says “Drive at your own risk” when it should more precisely say “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”.

All of which made it a perfect venue for one leg of this year’s Lanark Highlands Forest Rally. Sponsored by the Motorsport Club of Ottawa this is the 9th running of this particular rally, and the first year that California Road has been one of the sections. So, of course, we had to walk over and check it out.

We didn’t get there early enough to walk out to what should have been a couple of great vantage points, but that’s probably just as well as we would have been stuck there until they were finished with the section (about 4 hours). And since it was 0 degrees and windy with on and off blizzard conditions (Yes, this was today – May 7!) we would have frozen.

But a little cross-country hike through the woods did get us to a spot not too far from the start where we saw a bit of the action.



Monday, April 17, 2017

It takes a special kind of idiot…

“Just put it in your checked bag.”
“You sure?”
“It’ll be fine.”

Image Of Mock IED Seized At Pearson Airport Released By US Customs

Just came across this story of a passenger flying out of Toronto to the US who thought having this in his checked baggage would be okay.

Apparently the device is an alarm clock designed to look like a bomb, complete with fake sticks of dynamite, and lots of twisty wiring (aesthetics are important). A quick glance would tell you that the circuitry is far too complicated to be just a simple device to make something go boom, but still, what was he thinking in this day and age when every tube of toothpaste is considered a mortal threat?

The owner has been charged with mischief, because stupidity isn’t actually illegal - yet.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

My edumacation wern’t to good.

“Ya i have the seats to took them off so I wouldn't loose them on their way to there new home in my attic for restore”

Okay, I know I’m a pedant when it comes to basic grammar, spelling, and punctuation but recently it seems that the race to the bottom is accelerating. Either that or internet bloggers and commenters have, of recent, become emulators of James Joyce’s Ulysses in style and structure. Then again, perhaps not; Joyce could at least spell. (Modern variant: “Joyce cud at leest spel.”)

I can appreciate that English can be difficult for newcomers to learn and master, but when your name is Joe Smith and you hail from Pittsburgh (or Tampa, or Toronto), I expect it’s your first language that you are butchering, not your second.

Now some would argue that if “people understand what I mean” anyway why does it matter? Or the claim is made that languages evolve over time, new words get added, old words get dropped, and punctuation standards change (vis current discussions over the use of the Oxford comma) so this is just a natural evolution, possibly hastened by the need to compress ideas into 140 characters or less, entered on a very tiny smartphone keyboard/pad. That’s true, to a degree, but the proper use of any language offers a precision to our communications that is too easily lost when it strays too far from its normative path.

There is no shortage of internet memes that use humour to illustrate the misunderstandings that are possible when basic linguistic rules aren’t followed, but there are also more serious consequences.

Julia Layton expresses the importance of spelling in How Stuff Works: “As adults, our spelling affects the perception of our intelligence and credibility (emphasis mine). Fair or not, many people in the professional world are going to toss that resume aside without even finding out what your child's "job experiance" entails. To people looking to hire someone smart and detail-oriented, to people reading and grading college essays, to people deciding whether or not to take a serious blog post seriously, spelling counts.

And nowhere is the precision of language more critical than in the law, a perfect example being this case where millions of dollars hinge on a single comma. http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/comma-lawsuit-dairy-truckers-1.4034234

Finally there is simply the matter of pride. Why would you want to present yourself to the world as a person who is barely literate?

Unless, of course, you are.

The Huffington Post reports, “According to a study conducted in late April by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read.”

And according to some surveys, Canada offers no beacon of hope when it comes to basic literacy either, with “Four out of ten Canadian adults have[ing] literacy skills too low to be fully competent in most jobs in our modern economy.”

When graduates of the education systems of two of the richest countries in the world produce rubbish like the lead-in quote it’s no wonder the west is losing its global competitive advantage at such a stunning rate. It is depressing in the extreme.