Impressions from Iceland

August 6, 2013

Two weeks on an island in the making. Beautiful and stunning. More impressions here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laurasvs/sets/ Image

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July 16_South East Asia. Finally.

Many ununderstandable announcements later, I am at the airport in Bangkok.

I have a friend who doesn’t think traveling is a good way to understand the world and I have another friend who doesn’t approve of long-distance flights.
Personally, I think there’s no better way to understand life and the world we live in than to travel. And even though this wasn’t my first trip this year, it kind of felt like an important milestone. For more than ten years I’ve been saying I wanted to go to South East Asia. And after many adventures on other continents, I have finally bought that ticket. Not counting China (“China” is a complete overstatement, we just saw Beijing, Shanghai and some forgotten place at the Three-Gorges-Dam that might be flooded by now, where cows blocked the entrance to the airport), it’s my first time in Asia.

So here I am again, transiting at some airport, waiting to reach my next destination. Excited and tired. Looking forward to seeing new places, smelling new smells, eating weird food waking up not instantly knowing where I am.

July 17_Hanoi

Traffic
Motorcycles
Suicidal road crossings
A lake
Old ladies
Lunches on the sidewalks
Never a second of silence
Food, food everywhere
Sticky heat and mango lassis
Stir fries and honking
Coloured lampions and plastic clothes

July 18_Ha Long Bay

A Wednesday
A group tour
A bus full of backpacks
Leaving Hanoi through its crazy traffic
Four million people and 2.7 million motorbikes and I think I’ve seen them all
Over a river
And out
Rice fields
Buffaloes
Men and women
Pointy hats
Sun
Heat
Sweat dripping endlessly
Air con
Mountains in the distance
Then they come closer
And here they are, everything looks just like in all those books, on all those postcards, on everybody’s pictures
Picture-perfect Vietnam
The people, the boat, it’s a lot of laughing, over crap food, the disco ball, the prawns that stare at us. And then the pineapple is on fire.
The day was caving, kayaking, admiring, sitting in silence, jumping from the deck of the boat (high, I tell you, high. An adrenalin rush every time I stand at the edge, before jumping, and the fall is one second longer than my comfort zone usually allows when jumping into the water).
Conversations on other continents, buying furniture, traffic in Bali, noodle soup in Japan, tourists in Thailand, while they were trying to fish squids down there and the stars were shining over our heads up there
With all those illuminated boats in the bay
Another day gone by
Another conversation to remember
More thoughts thought

July 20_In between

Returning to the main land
After two days of jumping from boats, walking through caves, cycling on impossible bicycles to tiny villages, walking through the “jungle”, crossing too big spiders, bats and buffaloes, sweating a felt 243 l/hour, eating crap food (not the crab though – somehow nobody dared), sleeping on the most uncomfy boat bed ever, then in an air conditioned three star hotel, drinking mango juices, seeing casinos for the Chinese, scooters carrying four people, listening to terrible karaoke, swimming to a tiny island, walking up to a pagoda on top of one of the thousands of smaller and bigger islands, that look as if someone emptied a big bag of islands just off the coast of Vietnam, and after spending hours and hours driving through stunningly beautiful scenery
The driving by
The taking it all in
Your mind that starts to wander geographically
Some nightly conversations that take you places and times, somehow deepening your understanding of this world through somebody else’s experiences
And then the heat and the humidity
Stickiness and anticipation of more of this new place

On the road
Driving
On busses
Through people’s every day life
The woman with the green vegetables on her bike making her way through traffic – one of those cone hats on her head
That little boy riding a bike that is four sizes too big for him
The mother with the kid getting off the bus, heading home
It’s different and it’s the same in every country
People’s lives
Stuff being sold on the roadsides
Motorbikes construction materials coconuts
A normal Friday

On a train to Sapa
Everything is tiny, it feels like a tiny boat rather than a tiny train
Waiting
People rushing outside
It’s dark, train station yellowness. It started to rain.
Heading up North, to the border with China

Being back in Hanoi was sudden, loud and almost unbearable
The honking
The smells
The masses
The traffic
It is ever-buzzing
It never stops
Pausenlos
You don’t know where to turn your head
While you try to find your way around the crowded streets that all look the same, try to cross the street without being run over by a motorbike, a car, a tuk tuk, a bicycle
Almost impossible to find a moment of quietness
And everybody’s eating at all times, or so it seems, and everywhere. The streets are an extension of the houses. Open air living rooms to be shared with the whole city, its permanent and temporary by passers
Sitting on tiny plastic chairs in front of tiny plastic tables
On the side walks
On the corners
In the middle
Everything and everybody is always in the middle

Propaganda posters
Wars, agriculture, the people
History it was, history it is

Through dark streets
Where cables are rolled up at every corner into massive Wirrwarrs of black and every time you want to look up at the buildings, you get distracted by what is going on below in the streets. And what they sell in the shops (not that you can always tell)
And you learn that “smart shoes” are the “secret of man”. Glad to have figured this one out!

July 22_Sapa

Back in Sapa, after two day of hiking through breathtaking scenery
Rice terraces
Clouds
Old ladies with indigo blue hands who help the tourists jump from one slippery (or, as they say, slippy) rock to the next. We wear hiking shoes. They wear plastic sandals. Needless to say that they rock and we suck.
Balancing on the borders
Shoes in the mud
And they laugh continuously
About us, about our age, the fact that we’re from Germany and obviously, every time we slip.
Lovely ladies and lovely non-communications
Hanf-spinning
More buffaloes
And I (re-) discover four things:
The dirtier your shoes are, the better the hike was
Rice fields are not as fluffy as they seem from the distance (in fact, they’re not fluffy at all)
The stars are so much clearer when you’re in the mountains, far away from everything, with nothing around you
Rice wine starts to taste ok after the third shot

Stories of other travellers
Different realities
Children having children
White ducks in blue plastic bags
Little trails leading up and down and up
Morning dips in the river
A dinner with tricks
Clothes that never dry
Sleeping under mosquito nets
Crickets  that sound like frogs
To-do-lists in my head

Bordertowntristesse

Always interesting to see how other people in other parts of this planet live completely different lives
From mine. From theirs.

Sapa feels like Kathmandu. Not that I’ve been to Kathmandu yet. There’s also a Swiss ski resort-style hotel next door.
Just an impression

July 24_Hoi An

A terrible night train trip from Lao Cai to Hanoi and a changed flight from Hue to Danang due to a taifun later, we are finally a bit more de-jetlagged and have a view on the river. Hoi An.
Flexibility sometimes pays off
A free upgrade and little boats passing in front of our window
Hoi An is cute
Tiny. Not so tiny.
Busy
Colourful
Full of bicycles
Full of old ladies
Tailors
Small-town-feeling with a village-tendency

I went from low on sugar and high on Celine Dion/Mariah Carey (both involuntary) to low on energy and high on street impressions
The first “problem” was solved by eating some crunchy and yes, very yummie un-Vietnamese fries. The second wasn’t a problem and continues.

July 25_Still in Hoi An

A morning bicycle ride
Through an almost empty Hoi An
Public music from loudspeakers on every street corner
Then it stops and the town starts getting busy
Old houses and temples
A few drops of rain

In Vietnam, turning left with your bike on a cross road is a major risk to your life
However, you also cannot always only turn right, otherwise you go around in circles
We choose a mixture of being brave and standing still

A motorbike tour through the rural areas
Fast-passing impressions
Little kids holding out their hands for us to clap when driving past them
The wind in your face alters your thoughts
Breaks
Talks
Out-of-town impressions
Over adventurous and improvised bridges
Dirt all over you and the feeling of Fahrtwind on your skin long after you got off the bike

July 30_Phu Quok

Islanding
It’s raining. A lot. And a lot.
The waves are huge, the water bathtub temperature. Never felt the ocean so warm. It’s almost unnatural.
We get soaked but still try to see the island which, we find out, is made of potholes of all sizes and depths, once you leave the paved street that ends not far from our place
We see two rays of sun in three days and a beautiful small beach with white sand and turquoise water. In between two rain showers, we go into the water and pretend we’ve had nice weather all the time
On the way back, we buy pepper

At night, the rain falls heavily on our roof, it’s cosy and a bit too romantic and at times scary and oh so much
We leave a day earlier than planned and head to Ho Chi Minh City.
I prefer the old name, Saigon, though
It sounds so oriental, makes me think of times passed long ago, of explorers, adventures, farawayness. Travels to another world.

Once there, we visit the tunnels used during the war.
Impressive
Claustrophobic
An unbelievable will to survive under inhuman conditions
Tricks
Will power
Tragedy
Violence
We go in one of the tunnels, bending over, almost crawling, and exit again after 15m, hearts pumping, anxiety levels through the roof
How over years so many people could have l i v e d in these tunnels, I fail to imagine

Back in Saigon, Wednesday afternoon, a sudden heavy downpour
We seek shelter in the entrance of some communist building/agency/whatever, and we’re offered the stairs to sit down and wait
While watching the rain, we write our last postcards filled with rainy thoughts
It doesn’t stop. Just the intensity varies from minute to minute.
People’s paces get faster, everybody’s trying get somewhere. Fast.

August 2_Saigon-Phnom Penh-Siem Reap

Saigon – Phnom Penh
Two buses
13.5 hours
More rain
On-the-ground instead of in-the-air impressions
Huts
People
Floods soon
The colours change the later it gets
The journey seems endless, but then we arrive, in the dark

Angkor
Impressive left overs of times long passed, of power long faded
Beauty and symmetry
And nature that took over
Roots so strong to destroy carefully planned architecture
Ruining

A tuk tuk drives us from one temple to the other
In between, we walk, we bake, we get drenched
Monsooning
The masses of water falling from the sky are almost as impressive as the sights on the ground

The next day, we tuk tuk again, more temples, and a trip to the Tonle Sap Lake
The river leading to it winds, houses on stilts to the left and to the right
Life far above the ground
And closest to the water, once it raises
Hard to imagine
The lake is as big as an ocean, you can’t see the end
It’s brown and scary
But calm in its endlessness

We leave Siem Reap and go back to Phnom Penh
The city has a provincial feel, it’s laid back, it’s much more tranquil than Hanoi, people only honk when there’s an actual need
People dance in funny formations on the river front, at night
The food is delicious
The tuk tuk drivers insistent
The sun hot
The rain showers few

When Elena leaves, I start working
It is terribly difficult to switch from vacation mode to work mode, but c’est la vie, and I somehow manage
One meeting follows another, but then the weekend comes and I escape to Bangkok to meet Francesca and two of her friends, one from Rome, one from Seattle.

August 12_Wangkok – a short but intense weekend in Bangkok

We’re a funny mix and have a wonderful time.
The city is as kitsch as it gets
The Royal Palace and surroundings look like an oriental version of Disney Land
Gold. So much gold.
I fall in love with the pink taxis and thanks to my exquisite taste in taxi colours, we take almost only pink taxis the whole weekend.
We discuss the uselessness of blue M&Ms (always a great topic for a conversation) and go off to buy some (Thailand is on top of the list so far, only two blue M&Ms per package, or maybe we were just lucky, hard to say. I’d need to stay longer and buy more to have a reliable scientific basis).
We eat Bangkok’s wonderful street food (I manage to eat four pad thais in less than 48hrs. I think more would’ve been exaggerated), soak in the atmosphere in Chinatown on a Saturday night, wind our way through the masses.

It’s short, but I got so inspired, can’t pin it down to a specific place, conversation or moment, but this weekend sure left an impression
And the feeling that there is so much more to explore in this country

I hop on a plane, again, after two delays and more than six hours spent at the airport
I meet an Australian guy (they’re all called Paul, I still need to figure out why this is) who’s been living in Papua New Guinea for 16 years, a civil engineer who builds roads. He said I should visit the country, now that it’s still rather unspoilt. I put it on my list-of-places-to-see-before-I-die.
It’s past 1am when we take a taxi into town. Empty streets. That time between yesterday and tomorrow. Phnom Penh has me back.
The next two days of work consist of trying to keep my eyes open and not to yawn too often during our meetings.

I am looking forward to Rome. Sleeping in my own bed. Eating Roman pizza. Pasta. Italian coffee (yeah yeah, I have my Italian side). Within three days of my arrival, four friends will arrive at my place and stay with me for a while. Can’t wait to catch up.

But I will also miss South East Asia. Those places where it is socially acceptable to walk around in pyjamas any time of the day. The mangoes. The food in general. The road trips, the new sights, new impressions, conversations with people you’ve known for years and conversations with people you will never meet again. And with people you are not sure yet if you will or will not see again.
Life is so full of surprises.
And you never come back from a trip the same as you were when you left. The miles you have travelled, the things you have done, smells smelled, smiles smiled, crises overcome, words spoken, plans made in your head, decisions taken.
Anticipated craziness, sometimes. Completely surprising moments that shake you almost physically.
The wind in your face, the moments of quietness, when there’s nobody but you in the universe, even if you’re stuck in traffic.
The aaahs! in your eyes, unspoken impressions and silent moments of happiness
The realisation that everything is just fine. And some things are even great, and some even better.
I will miss eating with chop sticks and waking up in the morning not knowing where I am.

This entire trip was amazing, and I will have to digest it bit by bit. I hope my “normal”  life won’t have me back too soon. Although my prediction is tomorrow.

(Pictures will follow!)

BerliNotes

October 6, 2011

Berlin is newer than last time. Loud. Colourful. With lots of U- and S-Bahnen, busses, people.
Nobody stands out.
You don’t know where to start and you don’t know where you’ll end. And the more you find out, the more you understand.
Saturday might be too early.

Berlin. Clear skies. Almost too blue.

It’s about last September conversations on trees.
Thoughts on Newton. The one with the camera. Not the one with the stars.
Thoughts on neighbourhoods in big cities.
Sometimes, you come back to a place after many years, and it’s the place that has changed. And maybe so have you, but that doesn’t matter so much.

Newton was a revelation. He struck me, for the first time, although he stands for everything in photography I don’t admire – planning, composing, accessorising. Bad taste, but the fashion of the 1980s weren’t his fault. He was a genius in what he did. His pictures have something incredibly terrible and wonderfully timeless. If you manage to look beyond all the naked bodies of those women – something that’s admittedly easier said than done, as they are, umm, very much in your face – you discover stories of places and past times, of a life lived all over the world, seen and created impressions, of sun, of indoors, of shine, of moments and poses, von Einfällen und Zufällen.

ParisBerlin

I walk through this immense city, directionless
I take busses with unknown destinations, I have time
It’s buzzing, one floor down
Tourists, cameras, smiles, maps
And it feels weird, as it’s my own country, my own capital, unknown place

And the sky is almost too blue

Smaller than I remembered it. But with a gigantic Seifenblase in front, this time.

Hamburger Bahnhof, a museum now
Beautiful setting
But modern art
Rarely do I like what I see when I go to an exhibition of modern art. Yet, I continue going cause sometimes you just have to stop and stare. And then you discover some weird beauty, some lines that make sense, something you don’t understand, something you can’t grasp. Then it’s all as weird as life itself, and when you leave the museum, you still don’t really like modern art, but again, you didn’t come in vain. It’s like with the penguins.
In the end, what I think is that Kunst ist, was irgendjemandem gefällt. And that doesn’t always have to be me.

Walking. Between the French and the German

EnteringExiting

MADNESS. The Wall.

Good question.

And now, well, now I feel a bit like moving to Berlin.

One step to Berlin