Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mickey to the rescue

Back in June I acquired a new-to-me tractor. Since then it has done yeoman’s service in helping clear felled trees, repairing driveways, and generally moving heavy stuff about. But it hadn’t yet been put to its primary intended role which was for winter snow removal.

That changed last night when the first major storm of the year dumped upwards of 30 cm (12”) of the heavy white stuff, with lots of drifting, on our road and laneway. And I’m pleased to report that Mickey was well up to the task. In about 45 minutes I had cleared 1/2 kilometre of road plus both our and our neighbour’s driveways. And I had some fun doing it!

Snow blowing

Why Mickey? I’m not entirely sure why people name their vehicles but when they do there’s usually some connection to a person – alive or dead – who shares the name. I wasn’t going to call it anything until I saw this recent image of Mickey Rourke and it immediately reminded me of my tractor.

homeboy-splash    IMG_20141108_095303790_HDR

Now you have to admit there is an uncanny resemblance. So Mickey it is.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

I’m still here – honest!

I just realised the entire month of November has come and gone without a single posting. While I may not be the most prolific of posters I do try and get something up here on a semi-regular basis. In fact, not since May 2008 have I missed posting for an entire month.

Writers blockSo what happened? Who knows? It’s easy enough to lay the responsibility for my lack of loquaciousness on the dreaded “writer’s block” but I’m not so sure that’s entirely fair. No, it just seems that I was incredibly busy last month and posting took a back seat to everything else that was going on – which, in hindsight, really wasn’t very much at all. Sure, I went for a week’s golfing trip to Fort Lauderdale (hot and sunny – thank you!). And I was down with a cold for a few days. And… Okay, now I’m rationalizing. Suffice it to say dear readers (both of you) that I will endeavour to be more forthcoming with witty and brilliant content as 2014 drags inexorably to its eventual demise, to be replaced by a new year containing lots of good two-wheeled material.

In the meantime I will leave you with this, my contribution to Christmas decorations in the family abode.  It has blinking lights and plays a tinny Xmas song, but for totally unjustifiable reasons I wasn’t allowed to put the batteries in. No wonder I’m having trouble trying to summon up the Christmas spirit; there’s a Grinch in the house.

Xmas Santa

Monday, October 20, 2014

“I have too much money.”

That must have been the thought of the person (who shall remain anonymous) who just spent $1.35 MILLION to own this bike:

Captain-America-Bike-from-Easy-Rider

I know, I know, collectors will pay insane amounts for one-offs or vehicles with well documented histories, but this bike is different.

First of all it’s not the only copy floating around that purports to be THE bike that Fonda rode in Easy Rider. Rumours abound but apparently 2 were built for the movie. One was crashed at the end of the film and the other was stolen, along with both Dennis Hopper bikes – or so the story goes. This particular unit that was just sold is supposed to be the crashed bike, restored by Dan Haggerty of Grizzly Adams fame. But then so is a second bike, owned by Texan Gordon Granger and also authenticated by Haggerty. Clearly one is a replica, but which one?

Even Fonda doesn’t know what’s going on, being quoted as saying "There's a big rat stinking someplace in this."

So, $1.35 million for a bike with dubious credentials. Good deal or insanity?

I know which term I’d use (even if I had a ridiculous amount of money to throw away on toys – sorry, investments).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dresden

To anyone familiar with the Second World War the name Dresden conjures up images of the almost total destruction of the medieval city. On February 13 and 14, 1945 a massive Allied firebombing attack reduced the city centre to ruins and killed tens of thousands of civilians. 70 years later, the justification for that raid remains hotly debated.

One of the casualties of that attack was the Frauenkirche, a beautiful Baroque church built in the early 1700s. After the war the church remained little more than a pile of rubble until the fall of the GDR and the reunification of Germany in 1990. Then reconstruction efforts took off and the church was rebuilt with money raised internationally, including major contributions from those same Allied countries that caused its initial destruction. All told the reconstruction efforts cost €180 million (about $270 million) and took 12 years, completed in 2005.

I had read about the firebombing of Dresden and the reconstruction of the city and the church. It’s an amazing story of death, destruction, reconstruction, and rebirth, so when the opportunity presented itself on this trip I just had to see for myself.

I was not disappointed. The day we spent in Dresden was one of the highlights of the trip.

But first, to set the scene, this is what central Dresden looked like 70 years ago.

19450213_dresden_angriff_120_jpg

1945_Ruinenstrasse

GERMANY-HISTORY-WWII-BRITAIN-DRESDEN-FRAUENKIRCHETwo towers to the left are all that remained standing of the Frauenkirche.
(Photos from the Internet)

Today Dresden is a modern, dynamic city and a cultural and educational center. It is still undergoing a lot of reconstruction as much was left undone under Communist rule, but the downtown area especially is beautifully restored.


The Zwinger dates back to the early 1700’s when it was built as a palace. Totally destroyed, it was reconstructed under the Soviet military administration after the war.


Inner courtyard of the Zwinger. It’s a huge space.


Hard to see but that’s a lipstick kiss on the Cherub’s butt.


Large public square in the center of town with lots of cafes and eateries lining the square and adjoining side streets. Martin Luther holds a place of honour.


Taking afternoon tea in one of the cafes.


We were going to eat here but €15 for a hamburger was a bit pricey. Still, it was packed!


Just out taking some air. Saw several groups in period costumes. Not sure why.


The rebuilt Opera House. Unfortunately it was closed to the public as were many of the old buildings.


Saving the best for last – the rebuilt Frauenkirche. Dark stones are stones they were able to recover from the ruins and reuse back in their original locations. Note the two dark towers; these were the two towers left mostly standing.


Inside was simply beautiful.


Art work on the inner dome.


View from the Frauenkirche dome looking along the Elbe.

I would have liked to spend more than a day there but our schedule was such that wasn’t possible. But I am certainly happy that we included Dresden in our itinerary.

(If you’re interested in knowing more the book Dresden by Frederick Taylor gives a largely unbiased history of Dresden and the events leading up to and during the bombing in February 1945. Also, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is partially based on his experience as a POW in Dresden during the firebomb attack.)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

It’s a Small World … in Hamburg

Anyone who has ever been to any of the Disney properties has, no doubt, the ‘It’s a Small World’ theme song forever embedded in their brain. (And I’ll apologize right now for invoking an earworm that will take you days to remove.)

From Paris we drove to Hannover, Germany and spent some time with distant relatives there. But I couldn’t wait to get to Hamburg to cross off another bucket list item.

I had first heard of Miniature Wonderland (or Miniatur Wunderland in local speak) several years ago through one of those gotta-check-this-out email blasts. It seemed these 2 guys had built a model railroad layout that was so big it occupied the better part of an old warehouse in Hamburg. Model railroading is not a hobby that I ever pursued other than having a childhood train on an oval track (Who didn’t back then?), but it was always lurking just below the surface. So right then and there I decided I wanted to see it some day, and this was the day.

With no address other than Hamburg, a Mapquest search provided all the info I needed to drive there from Luneburg, where we were staying. Except it turned out that “there” was a shopping center, miles kilometers from the correct location. Fortunately it contained a travel office with a very helpful agent who directed us to the right U-Bahn (subway line) to get there, advising that would be easier than trying to drive. A few stops later we arrived, this time at the right spot, on the harbour front, beside the Hamburg Dungeon (which we did not visit).

Miniatur

Started in 2000 the Miniatur Wunderland layout now occupies 13,000 square metres (140,000 square feet) of space over 3 floors. There are 8 themed worlds, 930 trains running, 1270 signals, 215,000 figures, 330,000 lights. You get the idea – it’s big and elaborate and very popular.

The whole thing is run by 46 computers out of a control centre that looks like a space launch is underway. An estimate of the construction time to date is 580,000 hours and they are not finished. Plans are in place to almost double the floor space with 4 new themed worlds being added in the next couple of years.

One of the most recent additions was the model airport. Knuffingen Airport took 6 years and about $5 million to build. It has to be seen in action, so here’s a short video.

The entire display goes through a night-day-night cycle every hour or so, so some of the photos are ‘night-time’ shots and others are taken during the ‘day’. The level of detail is unbelievable and there are little gems here and there that the very observant viewer might find, but that most people would miss. I only found two of probably dozens in the various tableaus.

So here, to whet your appetite, are some Miniatur Wunderland scenes.


A car-bicycle accident.


Las Vegas by day.


Las Vegas by night.


One of many cityscapes. This is a detailed copy of an area of Hamburg.


Scuba diving cows. One of the little hidden jokes.


Winter mining in Scandinavia.


At the beach.


Parking lot at the airport.


Approaching the airport at night.


Vehicle tunnel.


New layout under construction.

 
Finally, the control centre from where everything is run.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Ah Paris, je t’aime.

Never having been to Paris before I wasn’t too sure what to expect but I was looking forward to the experience.

Our visit got off to a rocky start when our accommodations were changed at the last minute and we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport without a place to stay. But we got that sorted out (more or less – it’s a long, long story that is continuing) in a couple of hours and then we had a place to drop our bags so we could start to explore.

And explore we did.

When we travel we like to walk the cities we visit, and Paris is a great walking city. Over the next 6 days we left a lot of shoe rubber on the cobblestones as we toured all the traditional venues like the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Champs-Elysees, Left Bank, Right Bank, Versailles, the Louvre – it’s a long, long list. We also visited some not so common places like the Catacombs where the bones of millions of Parisians are stacked like so much cordwood.

But the best entertainment, by far, was to simply sit in a sidewalk cafe at an intersection and watch the traffic flow. At every stop light motorcycles, scooters and bicycles would all work their way to the front of the line. As the light was about to change there would be a great revving of engines. Then a green light would trigger a Formula 1 type start with trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, and the odd pedestrian caught off the sidewalk in the mix. Pure madness but fascinating to watch. And most amazingly, in the entire week we never saw an accident.

So what do I think of Paris having been there? Fantastic! I loved it and would happily return if the opportunity presents itself.

Here are but a few of the pictures from Paris, some of which you may not see in the tourist brochures.


Waiting for the flag to drop.


For my Vespa riding friends.


In front of one of many scooter dealerships.


New glass floor in the Eiffel Tower. For scale, those are people in the upper right corner.


Looking up the Seine. Love locks on the Pont des Arts in front of the Louvre.


Just plain ugly.


Kind of seedy actually. Didn’t bother with a show.


Rear side of Notre Dame. Beautiful.


Fashionable footwear for bicycling. Pretty common.


One of the gardens at Versailles.


l’Arc de Triomphe from la Defense


Aw, can we cuddle?


Probably a good story behind this.


Scooters, scooters everywhere.


A nice looking street of apartments.


Obviously accidents DO happen.

 
Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris’ largest graveyard.


Excluding the Catacombs, of course.


Some of the bone stackers got quite creative.


The Louvre courtyard. Only part of 1 wing showing; it’s HUGE.

 
Finally got to see the Mona Lisa, along with all her groupies.


Why it’s not a good idea just to lock the front wheel.


Futuristic vehicle in the Toyota showroom on Champs-Elysees. You have never seen car dealerships like these!


Trying on the Renault Twizy, a 2-seater electric car, for size. A bit tight.


The Eiffel Tower really dominates the skyline.


Why you shouldn’t park your delivery van on the street overnight.