Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Not So Many Years Ago.

It was just before Christmas, 21st of December to be precise, not so many years ago. And the streets of a whole country were swarmed by an exuberant, hopeful and passionate crowd, a people that was ready to break the chains of many a decade. It became the inspiration for many and the whole world watched the brave paying with their own blood.

A lot has changed in the meantime, I do not know how much these hopes were fulfilled and I find that people tend to forget easily. But it wasn't that long ago and Bucharest's corners certainly bear witness to that.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas Everybody!

When In Venice.

Spending less than a day in Venice might work two ways. If you fall in love with the canals, bridges and their  romantic appeal it will be too hard to leave. But if you don't, it's a hell of a maze to escape from! And I hate to say that I fit into the second group. I'm not complaining, it's beautiful, loaded with history and there's literally a turn in every corner for the adventurous feet, but I still missed the point. Oh well, can't like everything, right?

Monday, 20 December 2010

"Hunting Zebras"*.

Only 30 minutes outside of Munich lies the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. The place of the first Concentration Camp of the Nazi regime, opened within months of seizing power in 1933, and eventually serving as the prototype of the huge expansion of the C.C. network after 1937-8 throughout the Reich and occupied territories. It was the beginning of an unimaginable plan of incarceration, forced labour, torture and eventual extermination of more than 2 million political opponents, POWs, homosexuals, "asocials" and "workshy", Jews, Roma and Sinti and "special prisoners".

It would be impossible to do it justice in a few lines here, even to attempt condensing the feeling of walking under the gate, around the (reconstructed) barracks, inside the Crematorium and the infamous Bunker. The spotless snow blanketing over the compound gave it an even more profound sense of desolation and otherworldliness. More importantly, I found myself utterly unprepared for such an experience despite my homework. And unfortunately there are more than a few more such sites to be visited to get an order of magnitude of the genocide.
* "Hunting Zebras" was the euphemism used by the SS while hunting down and executing the escaped (stripe-suited) prisoners during the infamous "Death Marches", the forced marches of thousands of emaciated Camp prisoners out of the soon-to-be abandoned Concentration Camps at the final stages of WW2.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Snow, Gluewein and Friends.

I found myself in Munich to see two good friends from warmer climates and I finally met the snow I was so longing for. The city was blanketed, frozen and cheerful. Munich is all about the markets at Christmas. Fruits, sweets and sausages, toys, pottery and decorations. The streets were surprisingly busy for such a cold weather and the chiming church bells were giving the rhythm. It sound kind of corny, I know, but when you're there you sort of tune in. It's hard not to.
But the whole point of the visit was Norbet and Monica. The mulled wine was flowing and every part of the body was wooden stiff. Except the face of course, kept warm from the constant smiling, laughing and joy of being with people we love.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

By The Lake.

With a warm chocolate, a freezing walk, a bag of roasted chestnuts, a friendly chat, a birthday dinner, a smiling baby, the bright sun in the eyes and the snow in the distance, a catch-up, a so-long ...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Next Stop.

On the other hand, Barcelona was much more cool, less pretentious and seriously laid back. You'd be hard pressed to imagine that we're so close to the old man and his sledge. I did not spot a single Christmas tree and the street vendors were busy shouting their usual football badges, flowers, puppets and celebrity pencil drawings. The shop windows are a designer-shoes extravaganza, the tourists numb in their pic-fever, the cranes busy as ever over the unfinished church and the locals cool as cucumbers. For me, a kebab at lunch time with a friend from Bahia was the best hour of the day. Sounds lame but hey, friends are above shoes and sightseeing right? Right?

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Reindeer Everywhere!

The overnight train from Lisbon to Madrid was lovely. The jerky dancing on the rails, the on-off process with endless stops and the firm little bed made the trip seamless. And what I loved most were the rubbery canned mushrooms, pink tubes impersonating sausages and yellowy jelly with the smell of eggs. The black liquid wasn't bad either. I'd do it again.

But Madrid in December I'm not so sure. The city is marvellous, but there was only one word in my head: Queues! The bank-holiday did not help I suppose, the almost cannibalistic tourists around the museums were less than funny, the always frenetic shopping safari of the season a further hindrance and the once-a-year opening of the parliament to the public was verging on the ridiculous. But the thing that really baffled me was an old lady, Doña Manolita. The Christmas national lottery comes under that name I believe and the queueing for one of her magic tickets were the surprise of the year for me.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the city is dressed for the festive season, a bit over the top maybe, and half the population wears silly Reindeer caps. I bought two!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Drowned in Lisbon.

Lisbon was the next stop. A city that I loved the first time round and the one that I wouldn't get the chance to enjoy on this trip. The weather was appalling and the steep, narrow cobble-streets are lethal traps. The spirits were still high of course, especially at the cafe with the apt name "A Brasileira". I hadn't seen someone holding an umbrella underneath one of these huge table umbrellas, just to have a smoke and a coffee in the cataclysm. And I thought I was serious with my C&C.
Anyway, the main point is that by now a plan was devised. A long detour around Europe by train solely. Ok, and one bus and one ferry. From the Atlantic to the Ionian Sea and then a flight (the only one) to Christmas. 

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Praia da Ilha de Faro.

On the south-west side of Faro, right next to the airport and across the lagoon where the people in boots hunt for their crabs, lies a long long stretch of land. The several kilometers of sand dunes, bushes and manicured villas, seemingly abandoned wooden huts with their paint flaking off from the ocean winds and lonesome dedicated runners sketch a somber but beautiful scenery.
Somewhere in that narrow sandy snake though, a little fishing village is tucked away. Hidden by the dunes on the sea-facing side and spreading its boats on the sheltered lagoon, with a barely one meter wide concrete pathway dissecting it, this is a place where people love, work and live. The houses are not designed by architects, an octopus is hanging among clothes on the line, the dogs are brave but need no warning signs and the people on the porches share a laugh and a greeting. The empty beach suits it well but where would it stand among the planes buzzing hourly and the sunbathing army?

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Sand Dunes and Umbrellas.

Down in the Algarve, in the south of Portugal and the beautiful, kilometer-long sand dunes at the foot of the Atlantic get a regular beating from the daily storms. And the men in boots are picking their crabs in the endless pools.
When the rest of Europe is freezing I cannot complain really. On the contrary, I found the time here slowing down and some cool mental oxygen reinvigorating. The rains as well seem to have washed out a lot of the recent frustrations and restored some freshness. More soon.