Uzbekistan

A friend of mine told me last year that he and his family is planning a holiday in Uzbekistan, I thought about it for one second, asked if I could join, they said yes, so here I am.

Thats right, a country thats starts with U and is not the US. Situated in the middle of Asia, Uzbekistan is a former Soviet-Union state which received independence in 1990 and then went the way of many of these states, meaning they had a leader (Islam Karimow) who ruled the country with a hard hand, leaving little room for freedom of the person. If you want you may call these leaders dictators (I sure would), but keep in mind that this perspective is western-centric. But ok, this is no political text so here´s a fun fact about Uzbekistan: it is one of only two countries in the world which has no access to an ocean and is surrounded by countries which also have none, meaning you have to cross two borders to see some seawaves; the other country is Lichtenstein, which is even more unknown and solely exists to serve as a tax haven in the middle of Europe.

I flew from Berlin via Istanbul and my first conclusion from this trip is that I now officially dislike flying. I was never fond of it before but the waiting and sitting around airports and then being cramped into a can with hundreds of other people, it just annoys me. Sure, I can read a book or listen to music, but I can imagine a thousand more pleasant locations to do this. Also, everything is overpriced on airports. And yes, of course theres the environmental aspect (sorry Greta). Also tourists rate pretty low on my list of groups of people I feel comfortable among, somewhere between businessman (which is maybe the second most groups on airports and plans) and drunken football fans. Most of them are ok of course, minding their own business, some are even nice to talk to, but some are arrogant, selfish, with a me-comes-first attitude, these guys who always have to be first at check-in and then take forever to take their f… seats in the plane. I don want to hear their stories (but have to because of the cramped locations), I don´t care where they´re going to or coming from, I want to have them out of my sight, I don´t want to spend time in their vicinity. I´d rather take a one day trainride or a weeklong motorbike trip than a one hour flight. Of course, some locations can only be reached by plane in a reasonable time but next time, I´ll fly business class to have at least some peace and also to pay a more reasonable price, because flying in my opinion is way too cheap and by that I mean that it should cost 5 or 10 times as much (Hello Greta).

Ok, this will be the only ranting part of this text, I promise, just wanted to get it off my chest and it also fits my terrible mood at the end of the flight. So lets start with something useful, shall we.

Tashkent

I arrived at 3 in the morning and fortunately got picked up at the airport and brought to the hotel but then had trouble sleeping so half the day was lost. In the afternoon I joined on the tour through the city, we saw a huge food bazaar, where each foodgroup has its own area (bread, fruits,meat etc.), different smells every 20 metres, but compared to other bazaars I´ve seen much more relaxed. In general people here are kind of reserved, friendly, open, relaxed, haven´t seen any trouble or experienced any nuisance. I´d compare it with an eastern european city but Tashkent has its own touch.

So we took a stroll around town, next day too, visited the zoo (didn´t like that one but I´m not an expert and am also not fond of zoos) and I´m kind of impressed by Tashkent, large open streets, lots of green, buildings that combine the very old, the old and the modern.

Had a very interesting talk today about the history and current situation of Uzbeskistan, the stuff you´ll never learn from wikipedia etc.

The state of Uzbekistan exists since the middle of the 19th century, when all the Khanates. Khanates and Emirates have been the governmental structure till then, both meaning that there was a ruler who had its own small kingdom, the difference being that a Khan is a direct descendant from Dshingis Khan who apparently had a lot of wives and therefore countless of offspring and the males and their offspring were allowed to rule over their designated part of land. Emirs basically had the same power but were no descendants. And there were lots of wars between these kingdoms so I guess that the unification had kind of an relieving effect of the people, their culture, arts etc. A prominent person in the history of almost all central-asia is Timur Tamerlan who conquered a huge area. But ok, for more history, well you know where to find it.

Another interesting thing which got solved by the conversation is that although Uzbekistan has a 90% muslim population and you´d expect it to look like e.g. Iran, the city picture is a different one, I haven´t seen any mosque or a lot of people wearing typical cloth (it will be different in Samarkand and Buchara I think). This is because in the Soviet-Union religion was ‘prohibited’ and people had to perform their customs in secret. After the collapse of the SU in 1990 things were mostly kept as they are and the funding of prayer houses was still difficult to impossible. In Uzbekistan this has led to tensions and even very violent outbreaks in the Fergana Valley were fundamentalists have been opposing this and were trying to form their own state in the state with everything that muslim fundamentalism brings with it.

The most encouraging fact that I got to know though is that after Karimows death and the takeover of the new president Mirzioyew Uzbekistan has become or is on the fast way to democracy. Freedom of speech, freedom of art, economical freedom and so on are all more or less guaranteed. Uzbekistan is opening up to the whole world and does not restrict itself to doing business only with the Russians, the US, the EU or China alone, no, everybody is invited to come here, invest here, people here are curious to see what everybody has to offer. And I wager a bet here: In ten years from now on Usbekistan will be among the top 10 countries which have increased the status on the Human Development Index during this time.

Samarkand

So, on day three we took the train to Samarkand, an old silk road town and once capitol of Timurs empire. The silk road was an ancient trade route from China, India, Eastern Russia to the Near East and Europe and it lasted from way before BC till the 14th, 15th century. Trade was mostly one-directional, spices, fur and of course silk were trade for money and weapons (guess times never changed) but again I´m not an expert and you know where to find more information.

Ok, two days in Samarkand and I´m really impressed now. It is kind of touristy but its not (yet) what another member of our group called ‘disneylandification’, like I´ve seen in other famous spots throughout the world (e.g. Vienna, Rome or some stuff in India). Theres a lot of history here, some impressive islamic architecture. We visited the Mausoleum of Timur and I got some background on him. He was and is the national hero of Usbekistan. Was, because he started his conquering in the late 14th and 15th century from Samarkand and attracted a lot of scientists, prophets and other important people to the area making it one of the cultural centres of the middle asian world. This heroification then took a sharp break after the Russian revolution in 1919 and later the founding of the Soviet-Union. It didn´t fit into the curriculum of the great Soviet-Empire to have local heroes. Only after the breakdown of the SU things changed and Karimov, then president of Usbekistan ‘used’ Timur as a national symbol to fill the void. Timur and his descendants surely left their mark and these can still be seen today.

We visited a museum about the old Samarkand today and I have to correct the history part a bit. Samarkand is actually a lot older. Its roots stem back to 500BC something and for the next 1,500 years it developed into an important and rich town on the silk road with mosques, state of the art houses, sewers etc. In the museum they displayed some ceramics, jewelery and even small glass phioles presumably used for perfume. In 1220 Dshingis Khan and his Horde came and burned the whole city down to the last brick, so heavily that the survivors decided to build the ‘new’ Samarkand in a different place. The ruins of the old town have only been excavated by archeologists in the 19th century. So, back in the 14th and 15th century Samarkand rose to new (in)fame by said Emir Timur Tamerlan who was was more or less a warlord known for his cruelty. It is said for example that he used to built pyramids with the heads of the people from the cities he conquered; when he conquered Baghdad this headcount was supposed to be 70,000… So, ok, the national hero of this country was actually a butcher. From the viewpoint of his people though, a patron of arts, architecture and culture.

So, we´re leaving Samarkand tomorrow, heading for a desert camp where we´ll stay for 3 days and where I hope to shot some night-sky pictures, the tripod is waiting for action. We´re having a great time so far with lots of impressions so its time for some small stuff.

Our traveling group.. We are 10 people, the schoolfriend of mine, his wife, their two kids, the father of the wife and another befriended couple of them also with two kids. The oldest of the kids is 4 years, so this is not the standard holiday, but rather like a funky kindergarten on tour with hilarious and funny moments and the pace is definitely set by the kids. And this is cool all round. Kids are stressful and sometimes I don´t want to be in the parents skin but I admire them. My biggest gain from this trip so far besides all the scenery has been the determination to have own kids. Not that I had it before but the thought has been strengthent somewhat.

Motorbikes.. I have only seen two motorbikes so far and no f… Vespas or motor-rollers, which is really strange. You normally see these everywhere in any big city around the world, especially in Asia, its just the most convenient way to get around fast, but here – no such thing.

Dogs.. Also I haven´t seen any dog, none. You also see at least some of these, either stray or as home animals. Strange.

Food.. The food is great here, lots of meat like in any former SU-state, all cooked well. I especially love Plow and Pelmeni, its Great, as Donald would put it.

Beer.. Ok somehow, the local Sarbast is a good one, the rest so nana.

Nightlife.. You´ll have to ask someone else. I spent the evenings at the hotel talking to my friend whom I see maybe once each year and the evenings when his kids are asleep is the only time he has a free head. Anyways, nightlife I can have back home.

Steppe

So we drove from Samarkand out through grassland and fields to reach our next destination: a jurt-campside far out in the bushlands.

The way was very scenic or at least what I would consider as such. I love being on the road and this very monotonous landscape has something epic, meditative and reminded me of Iceland and especially of Namibia.

On the way I learned from our driver that the ecological disaster of growing cotton has been turned down somewhat during the last years. In the SU Uzbekistan was famous for its huge production of cotton for which the agroengineers took huge amounts of water from the countries biggest two rivers (which led to the drying-out of the Aral Sea, check it out on wiki, its a f… shame) to turn this dry land into cotton fields. So, you see that man-made environmental disasters are not a new thing and are not only a thing of the western world, on the contrary, I´d even say that in communist or socialistic states the ecology is way lower on the political priority list, if not last, than in democratic countries. That is in my opinion due to the obvious fact that in such states its easier to pull through large monstrosities which bring economical gains at any cost (e.g. russian nuclear power plants, the Three Dam project in China or this river detouring here in Uzbekistan) but also because such undertakings are the easy way to even out an otherwise inefficient economical system. Also of course there is no democratic process where scientists or the people have a voice for constructive opposition.

Anyways. The camp was quite unspectacular (compared to Samarkand), more quiet and serene.

We took a small hike into the steppe where we spotted some small wildlife: desert foxes, rabbits, lizards, birds and even tortoises.

Each evening they put up a fire and a local musician performed some traditional songs. Quite interesting. Unfortunately one of the concepts of the owners seems to be to get visitors drunk so there was a bottle of vodka on each dinner table and the other guests made heavy use of it. So after the traditional music part there was disco with drunken people and I ha.. Ok, no ranting, I promised. My nighttime activity was set anyway to trying some star-sky photography and I am quite content with the result although I think theres room for improvement. And either I´m blind or unlucky but there was no milky way visible which would have produced more spectacular results. But hey, we´re born to learn and improve, so see you next time stars with better equipment [for the techies: The best lens for this would be a wide-angle or even better a fisheye with a high aperture rating, something like a 12mm/f1.8. My widest is only a 24mm/f4, so I can improve on that. For taking “static” star pictures you open up the aperture, raise the ISO and set time to max 15s, or even better use a tracking system, I can also improve on that. For “startrail” pictures like below, its the opposite, close the aperture, low ISO and time is the only limitation to the length of the trails. With the same amount of time, the further away from the north star, the longer the trails are.]

It´s our third day here as I´m writing this and today I took a day off, the others have gone swimming to a lake but I stayed here to relax, read, write, slowing down, this is a holiday after all, and tomorrow we´ll be going to Buchara, another city bustling with activity and stuff to do. Looking at the night-sky for hours and being in this monumental landscape gets me into a meditative mood and I´m loading my subconscious batteries. It´s impossible to write down all the things circulating in my head, but here´s some piece of philosophy:

During all my travels I realized many things and especially this one: We are all the same. Some are stubborn, some are angry, some are kind, some do bad things, there are egoist, there are helpful ones, we have different skin colors, are from all parts of this planets, some even seem outworldish, we believe in different gods, some believe in nothing, some are born into safety, most are born poor, some have to fight, some die young, others get old, some get fat, others stay sleek for several reasons – but these and countless more are only superficialities. Deep down inside we are all the same, we want to laugh, seek company, love, want to do something useful, raise kids, have a roof to sleep safe under, we share all those basic needs and wants. This sounds sentimental and esoteric and yes, it is, but in my eyes this is the fundamental glue that makes us human, that keeps us together and is for me, the starting point when thinking about humanity as a whole. It may not seem like it but we are all the same.

(just a quick disclaimer: This thought is inspired by Evan McGregor who elaborates on this during his trip around the world on a motorbike when he and his crew were making rest in a yurt camp in Mongolia as can be seen in the documentary “A long way round” which I love but which is very special. And ok, to be very open now, I have to admit that this was the only time I cried during a movie, I think he does too, because this is a fundamental truth coming to light, a divine moment and I am dead sure that I´m not the only one who feels this way.) Peace.

Buchara

Ok, last stage and after taking the tour around town today I already have enough. Buchara is, like Samarkand, an old silk-road merchant town and has seen less destruction and war during its 3,000 years of history than Samarkand or at least was rebuilt more often so that today here you see more intact impressive buildings (mostly mosques and madrasses (a madras is a quran school)) than in Samarkand, there is even a huge and beautiful minaret from the 12th century.

But anyways, the merchant character of the town seems to be the defining thing here and each and everywhere somebody is selling something and its also more touristy. There is more to see here than in Samarkand but honestly, the buildings (and the shops) are very generic and I can´t really remember which madras/mosques/caravansery/trade house was built by whom and when. Ok, the same accounts somehow for Samarkand but there the sights were more individual and the feel was much more laid back. Also in Buchara a lot of construction is taking place, even as I´m writing this there is noise from downstairs where they are cutting stones and its half past 6. Also our hotel room is small and dingy, the opposite of our spacious yurt. It has a nice rooftop though where I slept one night, the singing birds and the sun waking me up.

[small addendum: I´m two weeks back home now and my postcards haven´t arrived… I gave them to our hotel guy, he said it´d be no problem and now I´m really pissed… Especially because I found out an hour after I gave it to him that the post office was more or less around the corner. Ok, life is an ever-learning process: if you want to have sincerity about something then do it yourself… Anyways, I normally don´t tell names but in this case the bad stuff piles up: So please don´t go to Rizo Boutique when your in Buchara.]

But ok, I don´t want to complain but rather suck things in for 2 more days here.

The last 2 days in Buchara went as expected, took some more photos but the scorching sun did its best to make my head feel like chewing gum. I´m not built for this climate. And also sucking things in only goes smoothly if the sponge in the head is not saturated and in my case it was already dripping. But I won´t complain, everything went fine. The same can be said about the trainride and so I´m sitting at the airport now waiting 6 hours before my flight leaves, I need to time this better next time, but I cigarettes and cola will get me through.

Ok, final chapter. Time for some small stuff again.

Money.. The currency here is Sum and the exchange rate is something like 9,000 Sum for a Euro. So, if you want to be a millionaire you have to exchange 120€ and you´re set. Uzbekistan is a very cheap country, our meal bills for 10 people never exceeded 350,000 Sum and we ate good, pack of cigarettes is around 8,500, beer in a bar 15,000, entrance to sights about 10,000. Getting money here works only via Visa Card or exchange, I brought some Euros and Dollers here, exchanged these and got by fine.

Criminality.. I´d consider Uzbekistan to be a very safe country for travelling, but of course: not doing stupid things applies. I tend to be a bit on the naïve side on this, meaning I leave caution aside from time to time, but so far almost everything went fine (only had a real shitty situation in Namibia but thats a different story). Our host in Buchara told us that the punishment for even small criminal acts like pickpocketing are very, very severe (first time: fine, second time: prison) so I think this has an effect.

Language.. Local languages are Usbek, Kazakh, Tadsckik and everybody understands Russian. In our group I was the only non-russian speaker (even one of the kids could speak it) and honestly it would have been impossible for me to arrange things like they went and difficult to get around. It is possible but speaking russian is a major boost.

Every holiday has come to an end and its the perfect timing in this case. 2 weeks have been enough to see all the touristy sights, our desert stay could have been one day longer and Buchara one less but ok, thats complaining on a high level. I may need one week or more to digest everything, read some more history and yes, this text is still without photos and my counter is at 1,000 so I´ll need two or three evenings to wrap this up.

Before going on this trip and I also wrote it at the beginning, I thought that Uzbekistan is an unremarkable country and of course this is wrong, because this whole area here (I´d also include Tajikistan, Kirgisia and Kazaksthan) is full of history which is mostly unknown to us westerners and in parts also difficult to understand. History goes hand in hand with mentality, religion and mindsets of their people and there surely are differences (actually, according to my schoolfriend and travel companion who studied history the local history is also mostly unknown to western historians or, to put it better, ungraspable because of these mindset differences), despite the we´re-all-the-same. But again, I´m not an expert, an anthropologist could tell you more and in an understandable way.

Ok, now finally the last words, some advice if you also want to visit:

.. read into the history before you come here (if you´re interested in it of course). The sights here are not very well explained and the museums we visited are very basic to put it mildly. We had guides on our tour but the quality varied. So, if you don´t want to overwhelmed by facts, persons, historical dates take some time to get at least an overview (and thank me later)

.. best season to visit? Forget everything from May to August, the heat will be unbearable. Also, because of the continental climate, the winter can be really harsh. So, I guess March, April, September and October may be the best months but I´m not sure about rain periods.

.. language. As I wrote above, speaking russian helps a lot.

And before I forget, there are motorbikes and dogs in Uzbekistan. 🙂

South France by bike

I´ve been here before, 10 years ago, and it´s beautiful to see that nature hasn´t changed a bit. This is how Gorges du Verdon looked in 2008

and now

Different camera, different vehicle, still the same scar in the landscape carved out by the river over the millions of years. And who knows how it will look in another 10 or hundred millions years, will it be deeper, flatend by earthquakes or nuclear catastrophees, or maybe still be the same, serene, beautiful piece of land surrounded by two roads built by man… who knows? All I know is that I won´t be there to see it, none of us actually will. And honestly, it doesn´t matter pretty much. All I want to say is, that WE may change over ten year, pretty heavily sometimes, but for Mother Nature (or in the vicinity of this majestic landscape – Queen Nature) the lifespan of a human is just a fraction… Ahh, I´m babbling. Here´s the story:

My sister had quite an astonishing August, marriage at the beginning (where I was the official photographer, yay) and then giving birth to a beautiful daughter, named Sophia (meaning “Wisdom” in its latin origin) 10 days later; which means that I can call myself uncle officially from now on.

Anyways, busy schedules here and there, I only could see her now, 6 weeks later and decided to drive for a visit. Since I sold my car – reasons for this are multiple, the biggest being that I felt that a car makes me sluggish – I took my motorbike and, looking at my leftover free days at work, decided spontaneously to combine this with a trip to France.

Started on a Saturday, boring highway drive to Wiesbaden where my sister lives, Sunday continuing to Stuttgart where a friend of mine lives, also boring highway stuff, This was mainly because of bad weather, which brings up one of my rules for motorbike driving:

If there is shit weather, I take the fastest, easiest route possible.

Driving through rain, wind, cold is somehow satisfying when you arrive and may even has its beautiful moments (driving through a foggy forest with some rain is just gorgeous, believe me) but there no need to extend it. The stamina and concentration drain are not worth it. There are few exceptions but in general and especially on longer tours driving in shit weather just sucks.

Anyways, Monday I took the long haul from Stuttgart to Grenoble (where another friend of mine lives), 700kms, mostly land roads, 11 hours in the saddle and it was wonderful. Navigating, overtaking, gorgeous nature, city traffic, cigarette breaks at fuel stations, a bikers wonderland.

Next day, Tuesday that is, I drove to said Gorges du Verdon – for the Mappies among you: via Briancon

Lac-du-Pont-Serre

Dinge-Les-Baines – and this, hands up, was one of the best days I ever had on a bike. Such an ethereal landscape, such good conditioned roads, such a nice traffic (meaning very few ‘obstacles’ like trucks, slow-drivers, crazy maniacs) I´ve had very seldom in my career.

This brings me to two more rules:

First, if you have the time for a scenic route, take it, no discussions. (For those of you who still use printed maps, the scenic stuff has a green band beside the road

Second, but this is a bit specific: Overtake trucks whenever you can. The are sluggish monsters which take away your sight, move slow through towns and sometimes stink. Don´t get me wrong though, I feel somehow connected with truckers, we are both heroes of the road, but their vehicles are just…

Next day I took the southern route round the Gorgeous du Verdon

and then continued towards the jet-set area of Nice, Cannes, Saint-Tropez taking a small detour through the mountainous hinterlands where Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and their buddys take a stroll during their hard-earned free-time.

Again, very nice driving and I think I earned a 1000-serpentine-badge during that morning, but only the wooden one since neither my bike nor me are carved out for this – me, I´m too cowardly a driver for speedy bends and my bike may be perfect for anything else, but moving this heavy overpowered battlecruiser through tight curves is not what shes meant for.

Anyways. The sea road from Nice up to Toulon is really pretty

but I give that piece of driving a clear 3 out of 10 and that only because of the partially nice vistas. The traffic just sucks, no flow, just going slow, stopping, going slow, all with 30 degrees and in full gear. Also motorbikers dont seem to greet each other (usually you wave your left hand when another biker passed you); and the Vespa drivers are a nuisance (most of these have three wheels there, two at the front, which gives more stability, but is clearly made for elder people or wannabe-bikers, I don´t know). So, no nice time there, especially after the gorgeous vistas the day before.

Small sociological detour now. This area carries an aura of rich people, film stars etc. When looking around I mostly saw old people there, some wannabe-rich-types, few obviously rich guys (I saw some 6, 7 Ferraris or Lamborghinis, don´t nail me on the type, taking a tour but that was in the hinterlands.) And I asked myself where all the normal people are living. Even rich persons need plumber, need food, need their excrements taken care of and I don´t think that all their bakers, carpenters etc. are millionaires themselves. So, are there gated communities for the “poor”? Don´t think so. Also there are not really any cheap looking areas around, everything looks quite posh. So, to me there are only two possibilities: Normal people pay abhorrent rents which eat up most of their income leaving them without any possibility to ever taste the luxury they cater for each day and maybe not even being able to live a financially stable live. Or, the live so far away that they have to travel a lot, which ends up at the same plus would explain the traffic situation. Anyways, what I originally wanted to point out is that you either belong to the rich class or the poor class and there is no way to switch, the rich will see to it.

Ok, that Marxian thought was not carved out very well, but its 10 oClock and I´m done in for today after 10 hours of riding.

One last thing though. The place where I´m at is called La Fenouiellere in the small town called Estezargues near Avignon. I spent a holiday here with my mother and my sister in 2001 and as far as I remember had a really good time back then. This is what the old remembrance part in the title refers to. But actually now I feel… nothing. 17 years is a long time… strange.

Ahh, Le Mont Ventoux, Le Geant de Provence. This mountain sits atop the Provence, a coastal, flat region, on the way to the more hilly and then mountainous regios to the northwest. The mountains measures 1.912m and is famous, infamous and legendary amongst cyclists.

Many battles of the Tour de France have been fought there and having cycled up this huge hill will earn you a badge. Maybe I´ll do that in coming years. Not going to be easy though, on a motorbike it took me 30 minutes more or less at slow cruising speed and always upwards, on and on through the forest first and then through a moon landscape, only with the sun firing at full speed. And if theres no sun, theres wind or rain or storm or snow. I think going up on a bicycle is a test of endurance and how far you can push your body, it a mind thing.

Next on the list was Gorges d´Ardeche

Compared to the Gorges du Verdon this gorge is less dramatic, but who am I to compare beauty..?

I continued on to Grenoble via the Vercors, a mountainous region which was one of the important centres of the Resistánce during WWII.

Spent another nice evening at Stephane´s place and then drove the next day back to Stuttgart, another 700kms roadtrip frenzy – was a good one if I remember correctly.

ps. I´m finishing this only half a year later (i´m a lazy bugger) so please excuse the short finish, I just wrote it now.

Why today? Because since today, it happened during the drive back from Easter at home, my machine has 50.000km on the clock, no small feat I think. And still running like a charm, like in all those 6 years ago.

Grenoble

Took a trip to Grenoble middle of September, all started with an anger and ended up with me owning something I never wanted, so here´s the story.

As I wrote in the Vienna text I wanted to do this by bike as preparation for the Athens trip and because taking long motorbike journeys is my preferred style of doing holidays. I planned the trip to be 4 and a half days long starting Friday after work driving to Stuttgart to stay overnight at a schoolfriends place and continue Saturday to France and return on Tuesday. So I decided to grease the chain of the bike on Thursday evening. Putting oil on the chain is something I too often neglect because I´m a lazy bugger, but actually it makes your bike running more smoothly especially in wet conditions. Ok, to do this you have to put the bike on the main stand to let the rear wheel run free and you have to put the gearbox into neutral – to check if its in neutral one can turn on the ignition shortly – easy peasy. I forgot to turn the ignition off however but said to myself ‘nah, can´t be that bad if it is on for 30 minutes’.

Next morning, me in full gear, everything packed, ready to roll, the bike won´t start – battery empty. For fucks sake Phil, damn you lazy ass. So I called my boss if he can take me to work and was already dwelling on a solution. So we went to a motor shop to buy a new battery, but it seems that every bike needs its special type of battery – next damn, my mood deteriorated even more. Then my boss asks me if I need a car for the trip and it took me 1 second to think about it before I asked him if he was serious (we´ve known each other for 5 months only and I mean he´s a nice and good guy but still, to have this trust in someone is a bit out of the ordinary. I´d have done the same by the way because I´m also a good and nice guy but would never expect this from others.) and since he was sincere it was agreed and my bad mood turned into enthusiasm and my mind started spinning about the different nature that the trip would take but also about the opportunities.

And since every vehicle that belongs to me needs a name, it was pretty much clear on first sight what this one would be called – Orca.

 

So before telling you about the journey here´s some philosophy about the differences between a car and a motorbike.

One of the very obvious advantages of a car is this:

  

You can carry heavy stuff like beer or wine and of course non-alcoholic stuff in ample quantities. I leave it open for guessing which was the the direction of travel.

Another advantage is that you can listen to music and believe me on this journey I made heavy use of this (all in all I spent 30 hours over 4 days and listened through some parts of my library and also to some Greek sagas so if you wanna know something about Ulysses or the war of Troy just ask. Although maybe don´t since I have forgotten most of it by now.). I tried to listen to music once on a motorbike with headphones but never again. The noise from the wind is too loud and you cannot change the volume of the music. Most importantly music is way too distracting, on a motorbike you need to hear whats going on around you, especially in cities, hearing is a very important sometimes life-saving sense on a bike.

And of course when its cold outside or raining, driving shelled is more comfortable. But as I said in the Vienna text, driving through rain has its advantages and I´m pretty much indifferent. But driving through rain for several hours or driving through some heavy downpour can be very, very dangerous. On this journey to Grenoble I had 4 or 5 torrential rain episodes where I was very relieved to sit in a car, on a motorbike this would have been unbearable.

Theres some minor stuff too like driving at high speeds is possible for a longer time, you´re able to drive with other people and have a chat, stopping at scenic views to take quick picture is easier.

But these advantages all get eaten up by the fact that driving a motorbike is way more direct, intense and closer to life as I would put it.

Besides that, cars are slow and sluggish, and when it comes to acceleration you have to come up with a sports car to beat a bike on the traffic lights or when overtaking. Nothing to get carried away I know, just observing the obvious.

Coming back to the trip, I decided to leave 4 am on Saturday to be at Stuttgart for breakfast and then decide if I´ll continue or stay for one day. I did the latter and spend a day at my friends family with their two kids, had some nice chats and watched football with the 5-year-old son, great.

Left on Sunday for the haul to Grenoble, easy peasy, music-listening highway action. Arrived in the evening to have a chat and try some wine. I´m not the big wine expert and am quite determined on the grapes, I basically only drink red wine from Gamay grapes (Beaujolais) or heavy stuff like Syrah or Spanish Tinto, white wine only in summer and the mostly mixed with lemon water. Since I´m German I prefer beer anyway.

Side note: Just today I was thinking about my top 3 beverages, on place 3 we have beer, place 2 is occupied by milk and the winner (with distance) is, well, water. There is no better liquid on this planet than pure, plain water. To add another, a bit morbid anecdote, I tried distilled water once (thats pure H2O without minerals) and if you ever want to taste nothingness this is what you have to drink. So whoever says that tab or mineral water tastes like nothing is wrong. Well, not too far off maybe. Word of caution though: Dont drink more than maybe 50 or 100 ml of distilled water, this shit can kill you, you´ll dry out from the inside (has to do with osmosis in your ingestines).

Man, I´m drifting away. But basically the rest goes like this: I arrived in the evening at my friends place near Grenoble. He lives together with his wife and three kids in a house constantly under construction, theres always something to do. I feel the same about my flat – each year it grips me and then I start to refurbish the kitchen or paint the bathroom.

Next day I took the Orca for a ride to the Gorges d´Ardeche, a mini mini version of the Grand Canyon. The ride took me through the Vercours mountains, a historically important place (in WW2 the Resistancé formed there or at least provided formidable opposition against the German invaders) and a beautiful and scenic place to drive through as is basically everything that stretches from Grenoble to the south – South France with its ethereal scenic landscape is one of my favorite spots for just driving through and being there.

Anyways, next day I left at 9 am and drove the whole 1,000 kms back to Jena in one ride and arrived midnight. I decided to take the road in France, not the highway. Takes much longer but is way more scenic and this trip was all about driving through beautiful landscapes, letting the mind flow and drift and put eyecandy into the brain.

So here are some pictures from the trip

  

 

 

    

 

 

Vienna

Took a four day trip to Vienna beginning of August. The occasion was that my grandma had her 80th birthday this year and each year she visits an Open-Air-Operette south of Vienna and this year my mother, sister, aunt and uncle decided to join her. I went there by motorbike, 600 kms each way through the Eastern Czech Republic. So, the first part will be a motorbike story, if you don´t want to read (which I don´t recommend) scroll own to till to the first pic and you´ll be fine.

This was my first big drive since two years (the way to Vienna took me 10 hours, the way back 9) and I really enjoyed it, was one of the best things I´ve done this year. Going on a motorbike tour requires you to be at your best, it requires you to function at a very high level for a long time, keep up your concentration, have the skills, endure the weather, make decisions with little time and those are the things I enjoy, this is where I work best (and I´d even say where I excel) and which rewards me with (sometimes unbelievable) highs and experiences. Sure, not all rides are fun, sometimes its just about reaching the goal and push through the shit and on one shitty ride I almost lost my life but most of the tours were very good to extraordinary.

The two rides to Vienna and back were of the latter kind although it was raining at the beginning of each for two hours. So lets talk about rain first. Driving through rain sucks a bit, mostly because it drains your stamina faster. You need an extra bit of concentration especially on curvy roads, you have to drive slower (which is also a good thing because you drive more carefully), of course you´ll get soaked sooner or later and after arriving you´ll need more rest. I´m ambivalent with these conditions though, I like nice weather more thats for sure, but that extra toughness I need to show, pushing the limits – I enjoy that. And there are only few more beautiful sights than a misty forest with a wet road which looks like a mirror and the rain dripping into small ponds, just beauty. Anyways, motorbike driving is an outdoor activity and theres no sense complaining about the weather, if you want it easy drive a car or bus or don´t go at all.

Ok, after two hours of rain the weather got better, on the way back I even had sunshine half the way, and compared to my driving style throughout the last years I was driving faster and better, the skill I acquired is clearly showing. The biggest difference is that my style is more fluent and faster. Minor changes are that I take no prisoners when overtaking (in the past I was more hesitant when there was something slow ahead of me. These days I make decisions faster, am taking a bit more risk, am more decisive), my orientation and map-reading is better and my whole mindset is more evolved. I´m also more laid back when driving through villages (I don´t speed through towns only on road or highways) or having an obstacle in front of me which I can´t overtake on the fly, I just keep my distance and wait for the right occasion. But ok, all in all, I hope I never get stopped by the police because most of the time I´m driving more than is allowed, overtake where it´s not allowed (but safe), my driving style is defensive and doing no harm to anyone, but sometimes outside of the law.

This year I have two more tours coming, one to Grenoble which will be 1000 kms each direction and one to Athens which will be real test with 2500 kms each direction, most of it boring highway through Croatia and Serbia though.

Vienna I found to be overwhelming, flocks of people, classical architecture all over the place, bustling nightlife, everything expensive. I´m not sure about this city, not my favorite travel destination I know that much. I went there in 2009 on a bicycle tour so this was my second visit and this year was the more intensive visit but still, I enjoyed Kiev more for example. Still it is a nice city to stroll around, enjoy some architecture, visit cafes and see lots of people. I visited the Albertina, an art gallery which I think is one of the best. The Hall of the Muses is clearly a highlight, 10 marble statues of intense beauty, first time I saw this I imagined that if I were to become an artist later this life I´d try to create something like this; then I could go to the grave without worries. Just joking.

We went to this operette which was cancelled at half time because of bad weather – it was raining, of course. So, this was a trip where the rain spoiled the three most interesting parts of it, the two drives and the event for which we came. Still, I wasn´t too disappointed by the cancellation, an operette is basically a mixture of an opera and a theater piece, you have a story which is partly performed with dialogues and you have music pieces which are sung in a difficult to understand way. Definetly not my piece of cake, this was most certainly my first and last endeavor into this kind of performance.

The evenings I spent mostly talking with my sister and her boyfriend, one evening we went to the Hard-Rock-Cafe, my first (and maybe also my last) visit, its basically an expensive pub full of tourists, but a good way to get a party or some other night activity started, you´ll find lots of like-minded people there. I canceled this part though because I was to done from sightseeing and walking around.

The drive back started with rain as mentioned but nevertheless was a pretty nice one and I´m looking forward to the next motorbike frenzy which will take me to Grenoble where I´ll visit an old friend of mine. Next time I will maybe have some pictures of the bike and tell you a bit more about this beauty.

Kiew

I went to Kiew, capitol of the Ukraine, for a week. A friend of mine was visiting his mother-in-law (lets call her Tamara) together with his wive and daugther and he asked me one evening over a beer whether I want to visit and I had to think about it for maybe two breaths and it was clear – of course I´d do this. But believe me, I had few concerns which of course stem from the political situation but also because of some prejudices I have about former-russian states. I visited Kazakstan in 2011 and pretty much enjoyed it there. There was a wedding going on and we had some adventures in the steppe and endless forests in the north, 4 friends together on a journey. But still, if I should choose which countries I want to visit, former Russia would rate pretty low. Thank god that since my India adventure I don´t have any concerns or fears or bad expectations when it comes to traveling to anywhere – you can throw the gloomiest or scariest looking travel proposal at me and there is chance that I´ll agree, but I´d never say never on the first sight. And this was the case here to some degree but basically it was a no-brainer, thats why I needed only two breaths.

Anyways. I decided to go by train. There is a night train going from Warsaw to Kiew and since I don´t like flying I decided to took it, going from Jena to Berlin, from Berlin to Warsaw, then to Kiew. One day in the train, for two times and I can tell you that it was a very serene, reviving, educational and peaceful experience, a very good thing to do.

                                    

           

           

Once in Kiew my friend picked me up at the crowded train station and we drove 45 minutes with the Metro (which has only three lines) and the Marchutka, small buses with 15 or so seats but with 30 passengers. Transport in Kiew is multi-modal, theres the Metro (fastest), Bus, Martchutka and Tram (slowest) and everythings is dirt cheap, at least for a Westerner, for the Metro you´ll pay around 25 Euro-Cents, the rest is even cheaper. In general the Ukraine is a country where you´ll get around on a stringshoe budget, pack of cigarettes – 1 Euro, beer in a pub – less than a Euro up to maybe 2, transport – see above, vegetables, food on the street – just cheap. But ok, the income is pretty low so thats no surprise.
So we went to have a rich breakfast at Tamaras flat which ended with some liquor since it was my arrival and my first time. I usually don´t drink before noon but hey.

           

                                      

We then went downtown to do some sightseeing and this was quite overwhelming. We went to the artisans quarter, visited Maidan, strolled along the Kreshatnyk boulevard, saw the Rada (parliament) and the Lobanowsky stadium.

                                                               

          

          

                                     

             

            

                                       

              

            

                                             

I guess we walked 100km more or less in weather conditions which I´m definetly not built for, 30 humid degrees with an occasional rain shower in between.
Kiew is a city where you´ll find history on every corner, I´ve never seen a city with so much of a different and long history than Kiev; Rome or Athens maybe, but ok, I´d consider myself only average-travelled. Anyways, In Kiew you´ll find churches, statues or gravestones of warriors, monuments reminding of perils or reminders of of great people of art. But Kiew is still a former soviet city which can be seen on the outskirts where 13-story buildings cover the horizon. I was a guest in one of these for two nights but I got the feeling that it hasn´t been worse or was even nicer than living in one of these areas here in Jena (There are two of those huge socialist-high-story-apartment districts here and I lived in the worse one for half a year during my student time and don´t have many good but some bad memories on this one.). In Kiew even these areas have some flair, each building look a bit different, theres much green and space between them, you´ll find playgrounds for children and small cosy markets, and a nice atmosphere, I never felt insecure there, which basically accounts for the whole journey – no bad shit, no dingy places (ok, we didn´t try to find them), no situations of concern.

Second day was a bit different. We went to a park and met a friend who lives in Kiew since two years to have a chat and some Kwas (delicious bread drink). Afterwards we went to an art exhibition in the Pinshuk Art Gallery which was free of charge (Pinkshuk is the son of Kutschma, a former president, and could be considered an oligarch. So he has lots of money and decided to spend part of it to give the people free art. Make your own decision on this.) and hosted works of Ai Weiwei, Damien Hirst, contemporary Ukrainian artists and as a highlight a performance by Irina Abramowitsch titled “Generator” in which you have to participate to experience it (put on some ear- and eyeblinds and then enter a room with other paricipants. Then you can do whatever you want, walk around, sit, run against the wall or collide with others, for minutes or hours.) – cool experience. The day ended in a bar at the river promenade where we met some friends of my friend, had some beers and talked. Information-wise this was the most productive day.

 

 

 

The Ukraine is in a precarious situation, parts of the country are occupied by separatists and informally under Russian control (thats not the official version though). Huge parts are agricultural and could be considered underdeveloped, going to the rural part and also what I saw from the train was like traveling back in time 20 to 30 years. But the youth clearly has arrived in the western lifestyle without losing that Eastern European charm though. And I´m not sure which way the Ukraine will take in the next month or years and I heard different opinions on this. One was that the occupied parts should be given to the Russians to have some kind of peace, but honestly whats next? First, Russia would not accept this since it would mean to acknowledge the fact that they have been officially involved and second Putin would then never accept that the rest of the Ukraine leans towards the West. In my opinion Putins wants the Ukraine to be a buffer state against Europe and the NATO so one solution might be that the Ukraine buries its dream of becoming a Western state and decides to become something like a Switzerland of the East, being neutral and open for both worlds and avoids having foreign military in their country. And I think that sooner or later the people will vote for a president who is neither pro-Russian (they chased Janukowitsch away in 2014, see Maidan protests) nor pro European but rather modestly nationalistic with the best interest for the Ukraine in mind. The war in the east is a war the Ukraine cannot win, it is draining the manpower and people will be more and more tired of the ongoing conflict.

On day three we went to the Lavra, birthplace of Eastern Orthodoxy they say. It is a complex the size of a village with 10 or so opulent churches next to each other and some famous caves where monks settled down in the 10th century to, well, found a religion. We visited parts of the caves, it was crowded, dark and no photos allowed. If you´re religious then this would be something for you.

 

 

Later that day we drove with the train to Tamaras house in the countryside some 80 kms west of Kiev, check Fastiv on Google. Was a two hour trainride (for 35 cents), train was cramped but I enjoyed the ride. Again, although the train was full there was no hassle, no loud idiots, even the drunkards behaved.
We stayed in the small village for two days, there was a lake to swim, a lot of time to write and draw and let the mind wander. One day some friends of the family came over and we had Shashlyk, couple of beers and talks. Talking to the people was different because only few people spoke english, we tried with translating but its not the same and fucking difficult to get a talk going and we left it be after two or three sentences; it felt a bit sad, I´d have loved to talk more.

 

 

 

 

 

On day 5 we took the train back to Kiev, another ride through town back to Tamaras, had a shower, lunch, prepared some postcards, another ride to the train station and thats it, almost. I boarded the train, got into my routine of reading, sleeping, watching the landscape drift by, listening to music and waiting for the border. We stood at the border for 3 hours or so. First, thats because the rail is wider in the Ukraine so all the wagons have to be lifted and fitting wheels have to be assembled which goes with a lot of noise and is quite spooky actually.

            

But more importantly the Ukraine-Poland border is an outer EU border and the Polish border guys are very, very thorough and took the whole train apart looking for smuggled cigarettes and I think I saw them carrying a waste bag full of them. Strange experience and I felt a bit uncomfortable. Thank god I had two hours to switch trains in Warsaw which have been melted down to one hour because of the border action.
Anyways, in Warsaw it was raining so I didn´t leave the station but rather had half a liter of coffee and a sandwich in the local Starbucks (my first time at Starbucks. Coffee was ok, especially after only 4 hours of sleep).

 

So I boarded the train to Berlin, met a cool guy there and we talked our way through. Arrived there, boarded the train to Jena, no hassle, no shit from Warsaw on, easy going.

Athens

Capitol of Greece. I went there two times, 2014 with friends on a motorbike trip, 2017 with a schoolmate in his car, both beautiful trips.

The colored pictures are from the first trip, the b/w ones from the second visit.

 

Views from the Akropolis

Syntagma place

Paintings

Sometimes, when in the right mood, I paint.

Pictures are sorted, newest first.

Inner spheres

top: The friend within – energetic and creative

middle: The sun within – it burns

bottom: The enemy within – subtle darkness

Geburtstag – Birthday

I recently turned 40 and besides books and all some friends gifted me 10 canvas and some brushes. Downside for them is that they have to take the paintings 🙂 So, heres the first one, obviously titled birthday.

The moor you know

I go to lots of small concerts and soemtimes the music hangs in my head for quite some time after. As was the case with the band Big Business. And this time I decided to put things on canvas. Its also inspired by Lovecraft whom I read at that time.

Continuity

Schneesturm – Snowstorm

Ausbruch Trilogie – Breakout trilogy

This is the last of the 2017 trilogies. Painted these in August and September and used only colours. Basically I planned it this way, starting with only black in the first triloogy, then using two colours and using more in the last one. I´m really contempt with these and now it´s time for the next ideas.

Ketten – Chains

Eskalation – Escalation

Raubtier – Predator

Asteroid

I don’t like it. Painted it over a period of two months, a stroke or circle here and there once in a while and messed it up. Time for the next one.

Eins & Zwei – One & Two (Trilogy)

The second trilogy in 2017 painted from March to June using only red and blue (except in the Lone Wolf one). This deals with the endeavours that two persons can expereince when they meet.

Einzelgänger – Lone wolf

creation

Zwei – Two

Konfrontation – Confrontation

Die Dunklen – The dark trilogy

The first trilogy in 2017 painted on three consecutive days middle of February. This was a very emotional time for me and I had to get rid of some dark emotions. And you know what – it felt much better afterwards, seeing darkness brought to light.

Vergessen – Forgetting

video

Leere – Emptiness

video

Vergeltung – Vengeance

video

„I don´t want to die“

Theres a story to that one.

Was driving home from Greece with my motorbike, 2000 kms. South of Zagreb at halftime after 12 hours of continuous driving, at 3AM, with rain pouring down since hours, gusts from the right, alone in the darkness, hoping for the next fuel station, motel whatever, trucks dangerously overtaking me, I only felt one thing: I don´t want to die.

I´ll never ever do such a thing again. Hard-boiled attitude aside, fear of death sucks.

Poseidon

Untitled

Infinity