Friday, 26 October 2012

And So It Goes

When I first started blogging about my European adventure I was on a plane over the Atlantic, winging my way to Germany. So it seems appropriate that I'm writing this as I begin my journey from Nuremberg back to Canada. At this moment I'm in the airport waiting on my first of three flights that will bring me home. I suspect that by the time I upload this post I'll be back on home soil.

The theme of my last several days her has been "The Last X". Virtually everything I've done for the past week or so has been done with a similar view: The last loaf of bread I need to buy, the last load of laundry I have to do, the last time I vacuum, the last time I'll eat Schauffele, etc., etc.. I mentioned this to my boss and he understandably told me to knock it off as I was making it sound like I was about to depart the earth altogether, rather than just leaving Europe. Fair enough. But the reality is that all of these day to day occurrences, from the mundane to the exotic, have defined my life here for the better part of the past 7 months.

As I wrote in my most recent post, it's been quite a ride. I can't say that I've enjoyed every moment from start to finish. But I will say that the experience is one that I am very glad to have had. My life would have been poorer without it and I am grateful to my employer for having given me the opportunity. I'm more grateful for Kate having encouraged me to take it on, in many ways the past 7 months have been harder on her than they have on me.

Thinking back it's very easy to evaluate my time here in terms of what I've seen and done. But looking deeper the whole experience of living on my own in a foreign country has really given me some quality time to reflect. It has given me a deeper understanding of what is really important. It has caused me to cherish the relationships that I have. It has made me realize how fortunate I am. Seven months after I started this adventure I feel like I know myself better than I have in quite some time.

On my last night in Nuremberg I made a point of stopping in at two of my favorite pubs/restaurants. Places where I've been getting not only great food and drink but perhaps more importantly, conversation and a sense of belonging. As I said my goodbyes at both places I received tokens of appreciation that made me feel that the relationships were more than simply those between proprietor/employee and customer but more so those of friends. As I said, I feel very fortunate.

Professionally there's a certain amount of uncertainty concerning my return. When I left it really wasn't clear what I'd be doing when I got back home. As one who is never truly comfortable with uncertainty I have to admit I have concerns. Far more importantly however, I'll be getting back to family and friends. Whatever the future holds I know everything is going to be great as long as I have them.

In order to truly complete this story I think I'll have to post once more regarding my transition back to "normal" life. Afterwards I hope I'll find something equally engaging to blog about. I'd love it if you came along with me.

And I absolutely must mention that my last meal in Germany, eaten in Nuremberg Airport, was sausages, a pretzel and a beer. And So It Goes indeed.


Thanks for reading,
Tom

Location:In Transit

Monday, 15 October 2012

Homestretch and Mixed Feelings

I can't believe it. In less than two weeks my work assignment in Nuremberg will be completed and I should be on my way back home for good. I can't wait. I've had enough of being on my own. I miss my stuff. I miss my children. I miss my friends. But most of all I miss my best friend for nearly 30 years. It's time for me to come home.
Since my last post I hit the highlight of the past 7 months. Kate came across and we did an 8-day self-guide cycling tour of Puglia, Italy with Randonnee Tours. First time in the region for us and we loved everything about it. I've said it many times and I'll say it again: If riding a bike is what you and your significant other love to do, there can be no better holiday experience than a bicycling vacation in Italy. With Kate's help I may do a more detailed post regarding our trip. Afterwards we came back and hung out in Nuremberg (with a one day trip to Munich for Oktoberfest!) and I got to show off my haunts, introduced Kate to a few of the people I've gotten to know over here and just really enjoyed her company. I guess that it's true what they say, absence really had made the heart grow fonder. I was so sorry to send her on her way back home when the vacation was over.
So, don't get me wrong. I have thoroughly enjoyed living and working in Europe this summer. What did I do? Well, among other things I:
- Attended the largest beer festival in Europe
- Competed in two Half Marathons in Germany
- Spectated at practice day for the German Touring Car Championship
- Toured the Medieval cities of Regensburg and Bamberg
- Attended the second largest beer festival in Europe
- Had a blast at the largest free World Music festival In Europe
- Watched the 3500 athlete Challenge Roth Iron distance triathlon
- Drove on the Autobahn at speeds that were reasonable and prudent
- Rode the heaviest share bicycles I ever hope to ride
- Cheered cyclists and triathletes racing through the Altstadt
- Refreshed long-dormant domestic skills
- Attended the largest City Street based beer festival in Europe
Sharp eyed readers may have picked out a theme. What can I tell you? It's Germany!
I will miss the foods, the beverages, my super sweet downtown apartment (I believe it's already rented out for next month), the public transportation system, the incredibly clean, safe streets and the orderly queues. But most of all I'll miss the people I came to know who made the place a little less "foreign" and who made me feel like I had a home here I Nuremberg.
But, all things come to an end and in this case the time is right. I'll try to get one last European post done before I head home. Until then,
Thanks for reading,
Tom

Location:Doha, Qatar

Friday, 7 September 2012

Punctuality - For Better and Worse

Is there any trait we associate with the Germany more than punctuality?

Maybe that's one of the reasons I find living here relatively easy. I'm someone who likes things to happen on time. It makes things easier to plan. It removes a certain amount of stress from my day to day situations. It's kind of how I was raised and it's become a part of who I am. Did I mention how much I appreciate the trains and buses here running exactly to schedule day in and day out?

If I may digress for a bit, it was pointed out to me that I haven't posted since my birthday. Over a month has passed and nada from me! How could that be? The short answer is that I was getting a bit burnt out on the blogging. I was also somewhat intimidated by a friend of the family whose travel blog was so incredibly well written it made me feel illiterate by comparison. But, as with many things, time is the great healer and I've decided to make a comeback. For better or worse. So I'm apologizing to my regular followers. All five of you.

Back to punctuality. I've been alone in the office a lot of this week. It's a fairly regular occurence in a small branch office, especially in the middle of vacation season. One morning I was charged with making sure a FedEx package got picked up. Unlike in North America the courier companies here don't have drop boxes on every other corner. Office pick-ups seem to be the norm and I was told this one would occur between 9 and 11am. No problem.

I rode a Share Bike to work that morning as has been my custom since June. I was running just a bit late but by pushing on the pedals really hard I could see I was going to make it to the office with several minutes to spare. So imagine my horror when I came 'round the corner at 8:56 only to see the FedEx truck waiting at the curb outside our building. Already carrying a bit of a sweat I went into full-blown triathlon mode and proceeded to do a fast transition (Triathletes - Be thankful that T2 doesn't generally require you to swipe a card and wait for your return to be registered by the system). I ran to the door, met the FedEx man, went well beyond the depth of my Tourist German language skills and the package was on its way. Taking a step back, what could possibly be more punctual than a FedEx pick-up in Germany.

Remember grocery shopping? I've adopted a more European style of frequent stops for fewer items so as not to overload my tiny refrigerator. Bread, fruit, cheese, yogourt, cereal are among the staples. And of course there's milk. Due to the vagaries of EU agricultural subsidies milk and dairy products are incredibly cheap here. Turnover is high and the best before dates are so laughably far in the future I got out of the habit of checking them. So imagine my dismay while making my morning latte earlier this week and several solid chunks toppled into my cup. Being a guy I of course had to taste test it (we're kind of stupid that way, WHY!).

Impossible! I was outraged. I had just bought that litre three days prior. But before I marched off to the grocery store for an argument (over a 60 eurocent litre of milk) I checked the best before date. Expired the day before. Curses!

Now admit it. In Canada we've been known to take a slightly "relaxed" attitude to "Best Before". Like the man says: "When yogourt goes bad, how can you tell?". Bread? Peanut butter? Quick look, sniff test, Good to Go! But in Germany, much like the trains and the package deliveries, THE MILK RUNS ON TIME. You have been warned. And sometimes, it seems, punctuality may not be a virtue after all.

Welcome back and thanks for reading,
Tom

Sunday, 5 August 2012

55 Today

I've tried to time my trips home so that they coincide with important triathlon training or racing dates. Thus far it's been quite successful. As a result I unfortunately missed Kate's birthday in May. Today the circle was made complete as I celebrated my 55th alone in Europe.

The day started off well. I slept in until 8am, had a simple breakfast and went for a long easy run. To be different I chose a route that I used from my previous apartment and haven't run since the beginning of June. It was nice, just over 9 miles in an hour and 20. It was quite humid but not too hot at that time of day. After stretching and showering I walked over to one of my usual outdoor restaurants for a chanterelle omelette which I was happy to wash down with a Hefeweizen (beer, Paul).

I have a meeting in Italy tomorrow morning so I flew to Milan late this afternoon. I'd been planning this for just under a week and had chosen a restaurant not far from the Novotel that got pretty good reviews on Trip Advisor. I like staying in Novotels but although the quality of food in their restaurants is OK, I find it very generic and unimaginative and not at all representative of the region in which the hotel is located. Not quite the birthday dinner I was looking forward to.

It was a longish walk to the restaurant and a few raindrops started to fall as I reached it - Closed on Sundays. I had to go back almost as far as I had come to get to the centre of town. As I walked the rain started to pick up and thunder and lightning closed in. As if by Divine Intervention a simple bus shelter appeared next to a roundabout just as the skies opened up. What was strange about this thunderstorm was that there was no perceptible movement of the clouds. The storm just seemed to sit on top of me in my bus shelter. My very own little dark cloud. I stayed in that shelter, open on three sides but with a roof, for about 20 minutes. Once the rain stopped, a very quick walk through the town of  Cardano al Campo (not one of Italy's garden spots) revealed only a couple of dodgy looking open eating spots. At that point I decided to cut my losses, walked back to the Novotel and had pretty much the dinner I had unsuccessfully tried to avoid.

I've had quite a few birthdays, 55 to be exact. Most of them have been very enjoyable. This year's didn't quite measure up. The amusing thing is that in all likelihood this is the one I will remember most vividly: Alone in a foreign country, away from friends and family, getting stuck in a thunderstorm and topping it off with a mediocre dinner. Next year I'd like to trade more memorable for more enjoyable. 

Happy birthday to me.
And thanks for reading,
Tom

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Music: The "World" Comes to Nuremberg


Main Stage at the Hauptmarkt at night
This weekend I had the pleasure of taking in one of the coolest and most enjoyable experiences to come to Nuremberg during the time I've been here. It's called Bardentreffen and it bills itself as Germany's largest free open air music festival. This year was the 37th annual edition and they estimate that 200,000 people took it in. I took a larger interest than I otherwise might have since the theme of this year's festival was "Canada in Concert". Hmm, how do you like that? The music from my homeland is World Music. I may have some thoughts on that in a future post but needless to say, as one member of a highly invisible minority I felt it was patriotic duty to take in as much of the festival as possible while paying special attention to the Canadian acts.
Looking down from the Alt Rathaus
The crowds move between stages
I can only liken the Bardentreffen to the Winnipeg Folk Festival but with a number of significant advantages. First of all there is no admission fee for any of the acts playing at any of the 8 main stages set up in the old city. Alcohol consumption is not "Allowed" or "Tolerated", it's an integral part of the experience. I saw no examples of public drunkenness, just a lot of people including families enjoying themselves. The fact that it is in the old city means that if the occasional shower happens (they did) or a torrential rain falls (it didn't), the festival ground doesn't turn into a quagmire. The whole area is easily accessed by Subway, Bus or bicycle and if like me you are lucky enough to live downtown, by foot. To walk between the two furthest venues would take me 15 minutes tops. And the crowning advantage? I could use my very own bathroom between sets! Top that Birds Hill Park.
Busking in the Street


One of the smaller stages
In between the main stages and all through the city there are buskers playing virtually any kind of music you can imagine. Many of the outdoor bars and restaurants had live musicians playing at their places as well. I'm not a music critic so I won't even try to go down that path. Just suffice to say that there is a wide variety of talent and abilities. At any given time the best music playing might have been on the street rather than on one of the main stages. You just decide what you think may sound promising and give a listen. If you like it, stick around, if not then move to the next one. Since you haven't invested any money there are no qualms about moving along if a particular band isn't floating your boat.

I never made it to the African food stand
and apparently it was my loss
I may not know who he is but I know
why he is smiling!
And then there are the food vendors. Well, this is Germany so count on at least one beer tent at every stage. Two or three at the more popular ones. Food vendors were also concentrated around the perimeter of the venues. Of course there are the ubiquitous grills with bratwurst and steak sandwiches and the usual Turkish fast foods. But there were also foods from India, Morocco, West Africa, South America, various parts of Asia and different German regional specialties as well. Cocktail bars, ice cream, crepe and candy vendors are also there in abundance so it's pretty certain everybody will find something they like to eat and/or drink. If not take your pick among any of the restaurants that also seemed to do very well during the festival. Yet another advantage to the urban setting.
I did have a few observations on the Canadian Content.


Lisa LeBlanc de
Nouveau Brunswick
Anyone from Europe or the US may have received a distorted impression of the prevalence of French in Canadian music and perhaps in Canada itself. I would say that well over half the Canadian acts were from Quebec or New Brunswick and performed in French. Having lived in Quebec for many years I think that's a good thing. Traditional French Canadian folk music really lends itself to the feel of this festival. I sometimes wondered why the performers thought that speaking broken English would be better than speaking French to a German audience. I guess English really is the unofficial second language here. They were very well received and the occasional German greeting or sentence really went a long way no matter how bad the grammar or the pronunciation. I really would have loved to have seen some traditional East Coast Music from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland or Prince Edward Island as well.


If Canada was the featured country you would not know it from the time slots they were given to perform in. Two nights in a row there were Canadian acts at 7pm at the largest stage in the Hauptmarkt (Main Market Square). There was an OK turnout for both but the really big crowds turned up for the shows around 9 pm. Most of the acts at that time were from Germany or elsewhere in Europe.

The headline Canadian act was scheduled to be Yukon Blonde from Canada's west coast. Although I know the name I'm not familiar with their music. They cancelled their appearance on relatively short notice and were replaced by Lisa Leblanc from New Brunswick. I thought she was a good performer with two excellent back up musicians. I just wasn't that knocked out by her songs.

Felix Award winning Nicolas Pellerin from Quebec
If you ever have the opportunity to see Nicolas Pellerin et les Grands Hurleurs or a band called Genticorum, do not miss them. They are both traditional Québécois folk trios with slightly different takes on a similar theme. They are also terrific entertainers. I promise you will not be disappointed.

I saw and did so much over the two and a half days that I could probably go on forever but I won't. I'd just say that the Bardentreffen is a wonderful festival and a great experience. I'm not sure I would fly over from Canada just to take it in but if you do happen to be in Europe at the time it's on I think it warrants a trip to Nuremberg. I think you'll like what you find.

Thanks for reading,
Tom

Saturday, 28 July 2012

When is a Triathlon Not a Triathlon?

I arrived back in Nuremberg on Thursday following a 10 day visit home. As always, it was wonderful to see friends and family. My sister in-law made her first ever visit from Quebec after 15 years that we've been here. Kate and I even went on a Dinner & A Movie date. I can't remember the last time that happened. Four Okanys saw The Dark Knight Rises in a span of three days.

But the highlight of the visit had to be the Kenora Borealis Triathlon, two days after my return from Europe. Ever since the Phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the Triple Threat Triathlon Club several years ago the team has used this race as a road trip to train a bit, take part in the race and do some great socializing. This year we scored big in the last category with more members and Significant Others than ever before at the pre-race dinner (team only) and the official post-race lunch. The dinner was particularly memorable as it spanned three generations and ages from newborn to.... well, a gentleman never tells and I don't actually know the precise answer so I'll leave it at that.

So, to the competition. Apart from the Noris Share Bikes I have zero opportunity to ride here. I run regularly and make somewhat sporadic visits to one of two local pools. In order not to embarrass myself on the bike several weeks ago I threw an offer down to my teammates. I would swim and run for one or preferably two relay teams if there was any interest. Boy, was there! I swam for a Sprint Team and ran for an Olympic. I like to think I even had some influence on the entry of two additional teams. This was my first time ever competing in a triathlon or duathlon as part of a relay team.

Let me start off by saying that I think relays do have a part to play in triathlon. Our family's first ever exposure to the sport was when Kate ran 10k as part of a team at the Mt Tremblant Olympic distance tri (There were no sprints then. Seriously). Before the advent of the Try-aTri I think this was how the majority of new triathletes got started. I suspect that a significant number still come in that way.

So how was my first exposure to triathlon relays from "the inside"? Well I really enjoyed the camaraderie. Getting the rest of the team members mentally prepared on race morning was fun. And I certainly felt like I had far fewer things to be concerned about. Goggles - check, swim cap - check, Speedo - Whew!(just checking). Good to go. And then after a very long wait make sure my running shoes, tri-shorts and top, sunglasses and hat are on, grab the timing chip, run to the turnaround and then come back to the finish chute making sure to cheer on all the TTTC folks I encounter. Job done. Time to pack up and go.

But, to be brutally honest, to me it's not triathlon. I missed that mental process in the last 100m of the swim where I start preparing for the start of the bike. I miss the transitions. I miss that feeling in the first few hundred meters of the run when I'm not sure my legs will be able to make the switch from cycling to running yet somehow they always do. I miss having to measure my efforts throughout the swim and bike in order to have a strong run and minimize that final time. And I miss racing head to head over the total distance knowing that my competitor and I have covered the same course under identical conditions with the winner being the best prepared and having the better executed race plan.

So yes, I will race a relay again if circumstances lead me that way. But it will always be a second choice. So next month at Riding Mountain, ready or not, I'll be racing the full Olympic distance race. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thanks for reading,
Tom

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Challenge Roth Triathlon - Observations

Marshalling the Swim Start
As one who considers himself a triathlete and a fan I could not pass up the chance to spectate at this year's Challenge Roth triathlon held this past Sunday. It is held in and around the town of Roth, Germany which is a 12 minute train ride from where I'm temporarily living in Nuremberg. So on Sunday I woke to my 4am alarm (much like many of the competitors I suspect) and headed off on a day-long adventure. I won't dwell too much on the transportation and logistic challenges presented to would be spectators, I'll just say that with the Start/T1, T2 and finish areas all being in different areas I would consider it mandatory to have a bicycle available as your prime means of transport. The distance between the start and T2 is approximately 10km. Fine if you're a competitor and your 180km ride happens to finish at a point other than where it started. Not as much fun if you're hoofing it alone with no one to transport your "gear bag" (water and snacks in my case).
From the T1 Exit. You can't quite makeout the crowd on top of the
bridge spanning the canal, 3 and 4 deep watching the start and swim

The back story around Roth fascinates and delights me. I have no ill will towards the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) and their Ironman brand. In my experience Ironman puts on superb races and they create a wonderful experience not only for the athletes but also for their supporters, the volunteers and the spectators. Ironman has created a successful business model and for many reasons they should be commended. Read the history elsewhere but the race now known as Challenge Roth was for many years "Ironman Europe".  Over the years it developed a reputation for being one of the highlights of the triathlon season and a "Must Do" race. I think the attraction was a combination of the beautiful and fast course, the volunteers, the Teutonic efficiency with which the race is put on, the wildly enthusiastic fan support and the aura of Ironman. History leads to a very clear conclusion as to which factors most contribute to the events success and it's unique vibe.
Enjoying food and a beverage before the runners come by for their
first of two loops
Back in the early 2000s there was a divergence of views between WTC and the organizers. The race went from being Ironman Europe to Challenge Roth. Now there is one thing I do dislike about the WTC and that is their complete intolerance of events that compete with their Ironman branded races. As we have seen elsewhere in the world the WTC will use some heavy handed tactics, perhaps not to kill these competing races but certainly to diminish their size and status. Ironman Germany was created shortly after the break between WTC and the Roth organizers. It's normally held on the same day in the region around Frankfurt, roughly 200 km away.


Not normally given to hyperblole.
 In this case the banner fits.

So what's the difference between Challenge Roth and Ironman Germany? The latter has spots for the IM World Championships in Kona. Challenge Roth has everything else.This year Roth had to limit entries to 2900 individuals and 600 relay teams. That's nearly 5000 competitors for a long distance race only. The split has taken nothing away from this race. It turns out Roth's attraction had very little to do with the WTC and Ironman. It's all about the area and the amazing people that contribute to the atmosphere. One need look no further than the legenday Solarer Berg to see what I mean. Solarer Berg is approximately a 1.2km climb going out from the town of Hilpoltstein. Data says it averages about a 5% grade, not exactly Tour de France Cat 1 territory. But don't try telling that to the competitors or the estimated 25,000+ spectators cheering them on. DJs get the crowd whipped up and the athletes get cheered by name. At the lower level there are barriers and signboards to pound on. At the higher level the spectators fill the road, parting at the last moment to let the athletes pass, cheering, clapping, cowbelling, hornblowing, thundersticking, you name it.It's one of those"You had to be there"experiences. 

I was able to witness similar outpourings of enthusiasm at the Start/T1, Eckersmuehlen (Site of the cycling "Beer Mile"), T2 and the section of the marathon route through the old city of Roth. The race culminates in a temporarily erected bleacher stadium where every finisher is greeted by a deafening roar as they make their way down the red carpet. I would be re-miss if I neglected to mention that each of therese areas (except the start) contains at least one Biergarteen. So you won't forget which country you're in.
Solarer Berg - It's not just about the athletes and cheering them on.
One needs sustenance for an endurance event!
So is Challenge Roth a Must Do event for me? Does it make my Bucket List? My honest answer is "No". I'm really itching to have another go at IM Canada in Penticton and I'm already hearing great things about the upcoming IM Mt Tremblant not far from our former home in Montreal. I'd like these to be my next long distance races. But if our life circumstances are such that I/we are looking to travel overseas to race long course, Challenge Roth will be my first choice.

Thanks for reading,
Tom
Just how popular is pro Timo Bracht in these parts? Here's his Fan Bus.
In the finish arena there's a grandstand for his fan club. Timo finished second
to James Cunnama. If you asked a local today about Sunday's Men's race I
suspect they will tell you "Timo finished second to some South African guy" 

Monday, 9 July 2012

Challenge Roth - Nutrition Report

It's time for me to take my turn with the superstars of the triathlon world and share with you exactly what I consumed at yesterday's Challenge Roth long distance triathlon. I'm hoping many of you will be able to benefit from my nutrition strategies. Please feel free to ask any questions or make any suggestions in the Comments section.

Pre-Race Breakfast (Consumed at my apartment)
  • Flavoured yoghurt with 2 tbsp Muesli
  • 1 piece toast with slice of Swiss cheese
  • Nectarine
  • Black Coffee with sugar
Pre Race Snack (Consumed on Train/Bus to start)
  • 1 large salted pretzel purchased at Nuremberg train station
Water (Consumed Throughout)
  • 1 liter bottled still mineral water (sounds like too little but I felt the need to urinate throughout so it was probably about right)
Post Swim - Pre Bike
  • 1 Semmel roll with 2 grilled bratwurst. Mustard quantity hard to specify. Tricky squeeze bottle but definitely more than I trained with
During Bike
  • Approx 100gm salted roasted peanuts
  • 1 100gm pkg Ritter Sport Olympic Chocalate wafers. Contrary to the ads, although I found it "Square" and "Good" it wasn't all that "Practical". I guess Meatloaf was correct and Two Out of Three Ain't Bad.
  • 1 Banana
Pre-Run
  • 1 X 0.5 liter Radler
  • 1 X 0.5 liter Pyraser Helles
  • 1 Gyros Pita with Tzatziki
  • 1 Apple
It occurs to me that it might have been helpful to have mentioned at the beginning that I was spectating at this race. In retrospect perhaps I should have made that clear. I did spend between 3 and 4 hours of the day walking between various locations of the race site. Good news was that I didn't touch the Peanut M&Ms or Gummy Bears I had brought along. I'll have some more relevant information on Challenge Roth in one or more future posts. Until then,

Thanks for reading,
Tom

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Beer Garden Revealed

Summer has hit Bavaria in full swing. Like almost all of the buildings here my apartment isn't airconditioned. It's not normally a problem but some evenings the heat and humidity can be oppressive. My small balcony isn't quite usable due to the continuing rennovation to the building exterior. So what is a Canadian temporary resident to do on a hot summer evening? Time to explore the delightful German tradition of the beer garden ("Biergarten").

Not a Biergarten!
I can hear all of you Canadians and Americans already: "What is Tom on about now? We have beer gardens here! We've been going to them for years!".  Please allow me to elaborate.

You can have a restaurant with outdoor seating. You can define an area with a few pot plants and some plastic chain. You can serve Molson Canadian or Alexander Keith's on draft or in the bottle. But it's not a beer garden. Now with full disclosure and to be totally fair, what I just described certainly exists in Germany (well apart from the Molson's and the Keith's). Restaurants here will go so far as to call their outdoor seating area a Biergarten. But by now even I have figured out that those aren't the real deal.


My Local Biergarten

First of all the beer garden can't really be on a sidewalk in St James or on Sherbrooke Street. It has to be in a parklike setting, preferably with large old growth trees for shade (umbrellas will do in a pinch) and protection from the occasional bout of inclement weather. There has to be a play area for the kids. Seating is invariably long rows of communal tables and benches. No reservations, no "Please Wait to be Seated". Look for a likely looking empty spot, summon up your best German and ask your new neighbours if the space is free (I've never been told otherwise).


My preference is for Kartoffelsalaat
The food and drinks are self service. I'm still learning my way around the menus. For this reason it's very helpful to have a local to guide you the first time or two. I don't curently have that luxury but I'm doing the best I can. Last night I had the very aptly named "Grillfleisch" which translates as "Grill Meat". It was a kind of mystery cut of grilled pork. The preferred accompaniment appeared to be "Pommes" (french fries) but I'm a huge fan of the potato salad here and that's what I went with. Germans, much like Hungarians, don't appear to be huge fans of vegetables.

The feature attraction
So here's a key feature of a true Biergarten. They have to allow you to bring your own food. It's the law. Apparently the management of the best known beer garden in Germany, the Chinese Tower at the Englischer Garten in Munich tried to get that law changed. They were resoundingly denied. Germans, and Bavarians in particular, really appear to cherish this tradition. The flip side of that law is that you have to buy your drinks, exclusively beer, soft drinks or a popular combination of the two ("ein Radler") from the Biergarten. No one seems to have a problem with this. Now I have been told that beer is also available in half liters. It seems like an interesting concept but I personally can neither confirm nor deny that this is in fact the case. I will leave this research to someone else.

So once you're there, you're seated, you have your food and drink you just do whatever you feel like doing. Engage in a conversation, read the newspaper, do a crossword, check your Twitter or just enjoy the people watching. A word of warning: There will be tobacco smoke. I am continually amazed just how many smokers there are in this country. I frankly find it a bit disappointing. Consider it the price to pay for immersing yourself in another culture. At least you're outdoors.
The Chinese Tower Beer Garden in Munich. With 7000 seats
 it is the second largest beer garden in Germany

Just make sure you hang around the beer garden long enough for your apartment to cool off by the time you get home.

Thanks for reading,
Tom 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

A Happy Canada Day From Nuremberg! (With a Little Irish Help)

Well,
Much like the rest of my year, Canada Day 2012 hasn't quite gone according to plan. I blame the weather, it really didn't lend itself to the typical activities we associate with July 1 at home.

The prognosis was looking good. Friday and Saturday were incredibly hot and sunny, to the point of being uncomfortable. As I mentioned in my previous post I was looking forward to a fun filled day on the beach. That's still on my To Do list and I really would like to post about it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Yup, I had it all planned out. I'd wake up comfortably early, get in an hour or so workout at the outdoor pool, come back for brunch then chill out in the sun. That says Canada Day doesn't it?

Last night a cold front came through. Major thunderstorms and heavy rainfall. It's continued on and off all day, in fact it's still raining as I write this. I didn't know what it would take to close the pool but with thunderstorms and a 15 minute bike ride to get there I decided to abort that phase. The beach was looking unlikely too so I went into full Plan B mode: Do my laundry right away so as not to get stuck doing it in good weather. That proved to be absolutely the right thing to do. I was in and out in just over an hour.

Welcome Respite From The Rain
Fortunately brunch is an all weather activity. My chosen spot is a local Irish pub, O'Shea's. If the trees weren't in bloom I could almost see it from my balcony. They have a nice outdoor beer garden/terrace in addition to the pub itself. Outdoors wasn't an option today but fortunately I can be flexible in matters such as this. Can anything be more Canadian than eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, beans and toast? How about if we add a Guiness or two?


What's Not To Like?
 So I got to speaking with Evan the barman who's my newest best friend in Nuremberg. Evan hails from Offaly in the centre of Ireland and has been here for ten years. He asked me where I was from so of course I had to let him know it's Canada Day. Useful information for someone working in a very well known bar I should think. As a very gracious host he offered to buy me a Canadian Club in celebration of my day. As a gracious guest I accepted, of course. Does anyone in Canada actually drink CC? It's been a long time for me but surprisingly I enjoyed it. Unfortunately Evan insisted on buying me a second one. I really don't like to refuse hospitality offered so sincerely so against my better judgement I accepted and thanked him profusely.

The good news is that I have now doubled my knowledge of the Gaelic language. Previously I was limited to the standard toast: Sláinte (Health). I can now add to my repertoire the very useful: Póg mo thóin. Look it up.


Best Country In The World
  Following the almost inevitable proceeding nap I caught most of the Tour Stage 1 on Eurosport.com (no live TV coverage in Germany!) I'm ready to engage in the patriotic activity of watching Spain meet Italy in the Euro Cup soccer final. I may head out and grab a burger first but I expect I'll pair it with a soft drink or a milkshake.

Wherever you are I wish you all a Happy Canada Day, and
Thanks for reading,
Tom

Saturday, 30 June 2012

DTM Norisring 2012


Mercedes, Audi, BMW
All Three Manufacturers

This post is a bit of a diversion from the normal diet of domestic life, observations on the minutiae of day to day living, endurance sport training and how life in Europe and Germany differs from life in North America. Yesterday I decided to indulge in one of my other passions and take in a bit of history.
The Norisring is an auto racing track that gets set up on public roads near what is now the local football (soccer) stadium. The site has historic significance to the origins of the Nazi party and it has been used for racing since 1947. It gets set up for one weekend a year to host a round of the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) and this is it. It also includes races for Formula 3, Porsche GT3 Cup and VW Scirocco Cup.

The DTM is arguably the world's biggest touring car series and has huge importance for domestic manufacturers Audi, BMW and Mercedes Benz. The companies put a lot of money into promotion and the race teams themselves so as far as racing in Germany goes it's a really big deal with a mix of ex-F1 drivers, long-time touring car pros and up and coming drivers. I was a little surprised to learn that two Canadian drivers in their 20's are series regulars and are quite successful. Good for them

Canadian Bruno Spengler in his BMW

I decided to take Friday off and I went to check out free practice for all four series that are running this weekend. Tickets were available for a pretty reasonable price and all grandstands were open to everyone. I made good use of the opportunity to check out every vantage point on the track. It's quite famous for being a very short track with a seemingly simple layout - 2.3km long with three corners but requiring precision to go around quickly. I definitely established which would be the best places to watch the race itself. But the locals seem to know their racing and their track. All of the good seats had been sold out months in advance. I decided not to go back Sunday for the big race. But I was happy I went in spite of the almost unbelievable heat - mid 30s most of the day. It was so hot, in fact, that sections of the track started lifting and the F3 qualifying session at the end of the day had to be postponed until this morning. At last check it looks like they got it fixed up.

Tomorrow is Canada Day (Kanadas Tag!) and I've decided to visit the beach. You'll definitely want to see that post.

Thanks for reading,
Tom

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Sharing is Good; Your Mother Was Right

Two Wheeled Gratification
I've been out here bemoaning the lack of a bicycle(s) almost since day one. Last week I did something about it. No, I didn't do the usual Tom thing of buying another bike (I've considered it). I started taking part in the local bike sharing service called Norisbike. And I am digging it. Observe my sweet ride on the left. Sharp eyes may note that the bike itself is probably not UCI legal. The aerodynamic fairing covering the rear wheel is shaped similar to my aero helmet and likely provides a 2-3% reduction in the drag coefficient (wind tunnel results not yet available). Another triathlon inspired feature is the Bento style basket attached to the handlebar. It appears capable of holding 4 cases of Powerbars or Gels, a 20-pak of 0.5 liter beers or a full pork shoulder dinner complete with Kloss dumplings and red cabbage.  

Like a transition zone?
Some of you may be familiar with the bike sharing concept, it's very popular in Paris (Vélib’) and many other European cities. It was also recently introduced in Montreal (Bixi). Simply stated, for a very low price you pick the bike up from a station like this near where you need it, ride it to your destination and drop it off at a station (hopefully) close to it. As an example the station nearest my apartment is about 300meters away. I can see the one nearest to my office right now. I don't find it quite as well developed as the system in Paris, it's less automated and there aren't quite as many stations. But I love the concept and it suits my purposes very well. Door to door it's exactly the same amount of time whether I take the bike or the U-Bahn (Subway) and bus so I can afford to be very flexible using a bike whenever the spirit moves me and the conditions favour it.

The ironic thing about the well developed system of bike lanes in the city is that it's taking me a while to figure out exactly where to ride. Wherever there is red painted pavement whether it's on the road surface or a part of the sidewalk, that's where I'm supposed to be. But the red painted sections can end abruptly and there's not always an indication where to go. Sometimes the sidewalk sections are bi-directional, sometimes not. And it's not always reliable to do as the locals because they make a pretty liberal interpretation of the rules sometimes. I haven't been honked or yelled at yet in almost two weeks so I'm miles ahead of where I'd be at home.

One last comment on the bikes themselves. They're here for a long time, not a good time. I'm estimating one weighs as much as my three lightest bikes. For a good workout I recommend bench pressing one. Following a nuclear armageddon my prediction is that all that will remain are these bikes. And cockroaches. Maybe they'll even figure out how to ride them.

Thanks for reading (now over 2,000 total Page Views!),
Tom

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Urban Surfer

One of the things I really look forward to over here is seeing things I've never seen before. It's even more meaningful if it's something I've never heard of or my mind can't conceive. I had such an experience Sunday afternoon in Munich following my Half Marathon. I can't possibly express it better in words so I won't even attempt to.


This is happening on the edge of the Englischer Garten just a few meters from a major thoroughfare into the centre of the city. If you're questioning the use of wetsuits in summer that is apparently snowmelt coming from the Alps less than 100km away and it's cold. Which probably makes these guys look a bit extreme:


Now apparently this is completely illegal and there are signs all over which make that clear. In Bavaria however, the police are known to be very pragmatic in matters such as this. Surfing in this spot has been written up in the general media and it has become a kind of a tourist draw for participants and spectators. So as long as everyone behaves sensibly and no one gets seriously hurt the police seem happy to let people carry on.

On that subject I thought this photo was kind of interesting:


Maybe Eve Was Right All Along

Note the person on the left. In case it's not obvious there are concrete walls on both sides of the rushing water. This person was the only one smart enough to wear a helmet. She was also the only woman among the surfers. That probably says a lot.

Thanks for reading,
Tom



Location:Munich, Germany

Monday, 25 June 2012

Anyone For A Stadtlauf?

I'm over here in Nuremberg with no bicycle and haven't got myself to the local pool yet. How to satisfy that triathlete competitive urge? A road race, of course. And let's make it a destination race. And if I'm going to go somewhere, may as well make it worth my while, you know, go long or stay at home. So on Sunday I found myself in Munich for the 34th annual Stadtlauf ("City Run") Half Marathon. This is part of a series put on by a local major sporting goods chain and bills itself as the largest running series in Germany. They have divisions for Half, 10k, 5k Run, 5k Walk/Nordic Walk and 2k kids run. A check of the results shows 13,345 adults for all of the events. Half Marathon was the largest division with 5886 finishers (4310 Men/1576 Women).

I think the most interesting aspect for me was contrasting this event to events back home. So I'll try to summarize:
Pros  Large entry, Starting and finishing in the Marienplatz, probably the most iconic location in Munich, Beautiful course taking part mostly in the Englischer Garten a huge green space reminiscent of Central Park in NY, Route totally closed to vehicular traffic, Super reasonable entry fee including tech shirt and custom engraved finishers' medals, Plenty of post-race food and drink, Punctual as the German train system
Marienplatz Munich
Marienplatz Start/Finish
 
Englischer Garten
An Urban Oasis and Runners' Paradise



Cons Not enough porta-potties at the start, not enough waterstations on the course, waterstations not well set up or staffed, Everybody dressed the same!? Surprisingly little fan support on course, Post race beverage selection?!

My day started on the wrong foot with a terrible sleep the night before. I have no idea what my problem was, I loved the hotel room and it wasn't noisy. I had been able to assemble the makings of a pre-race breakfast the day prior and got that in me 2 hours before the race start. Having completed all my morning ablutions I set off on the short walk to the start with about 45 minutes to go. Walking to the start in just my race clothing I was pretty comfortable which told me I'd be warm during the race. I got in the porta-potty line for one last chance with what I thought was plenty of time before the start.


There are at least two problems with starting a race in the dead centre of an urban area. First, the orgianizers are very limited as to how many potties they can put out and where they can go. The second is that you can't just discreetly sneak into a convenient wooded area and do what you need to do. In this respect, at this event the ladies and the gentlemen are on equal footing.

When I exited there was less than a minute until the official start of the first group (sub 1:30). The approximately 6000 starters were divided into four groups and to my horror I discovered I had walked straight into the back of group #4 - first timers and those with a predicted time greater than 2 hours. With my target of sub 1:45 and a race plan not to do any of my patented zigzagging in the early stages I sought to improve my positioning. I started by worming my way forward. At this point the first group had already left and I wasn't getting anywhere so I took drastic action. I used a break in the barriers to get to the outside in order to at least move forward into Group 3 (1:45-2:00). I could see the sign for Group 3 but could not see a break in the barriers that would get me back in. I had visions of having to jump the fence but just in the nick of time I spotted a break near the rear of Group 3. Rather than push my luck I entered the chute there and went to my race Plan B: Zigzagging through the crowd. We were off roughly 10 minutes after the "gun" (there was no gun).

I had had visions of taking in the experience and admiring the scenery but with the cobblestone streets, narrow first stages and me on a mission to work my way through the large crowd of slower runners I was focussed only on the space in front of me. Truth be told that is my natural racing attitude so it all felt quite familiar.

In North America we love our schwag tech t-shirts as a race souvenir. In Germany they have a different purpose. Say a parent and the kids want to come out and cheer on mum or dad for their race. It has all been made very simple. They just have to look out for the athlete in the orange shirt. The same one 13,344 other athletes are wearing! And it's not just a fashion statement. If you're not wearing the shirt you don't get in the start chute or the post race area. Different strokes for different volks. So much for representing Triple Threat with my tri-top.

I passed a shedload of people for the first 12k. Wasn't making a lot of friends with some of my passes but those few folks ought to try an open water swim. And what is is it about people with headphones! Wear them in training at your risk. Where them in a race, ignore people coming up faster from behind you and expect to be "moved". At least I stayed anonymous in my orange shirt. Interesting that the 1:55 and slower people all had them on. Up near 1:45 and faster pace, almost no one. Please consider that a speed tip. After 12k I was still passing a lot of people but by then I would occasionally get passed. And I would still find myself boxed in until 18k or so.

OK, water stations. I\ve been doing this long enough that I know I want water in a race every 15 minutes. More is better, especially on a hot day. When I looked at the course map I saw 3 water stations for the Half. Call it one every 40 minutes or so. I think that's bordering dangerous territory. And they are not well set up. Just paper cups being filled by two guys and placed on quite a short table. Some empty, some still full. Imagine playing the shell game while trying to run past at a 5min/k pace and dodging other people. I guess we're spoiled in North America as I didn't hear any complaints.

Final result was an official chip time of 1:41:51 and a gun time of 1:52. 929th overall and 25/214 in my age category. Plenty of very fit Germans. Interestingly I wasn't even first Canadian, only second out of 6. I'm normally quite tough on myself with race results but I reminded myself that 8 months ago I was riding in the back of an ambulance with 8 broken ribs,and a fractured scapula and clavicle. So I'm pretty happy with the result and extremely positive about the experience.

Post Race Area -
Dress Code Strictly Enforced
Except one thing. At 10:30 in the morning in downtown Munich on a hot sunny day, thirsty and wanting to celebrate our accomplishments we were presented with a cold alcohol-free beer. OK, I understand. We are athletes, they\re trying to make it a "family friendly" event and I'm sure the sponsor provides great support. But in Bavaria some things should be sacrosanct. The Hefeweizens following my post-race shower and nap were quite heavenly.

Thanks for reading,
Tom



Football - Nuremberg Style

This year there's definitely a bonus in rounding out my European experience. 2012 is a year for the quadrennial UEFA European Football Championship (EM-"Europameisterschaft"). Germany is one of the favoured teams and based on what I've seen and my admittedly limited appreciation for "The Beautiful Game" I think they (We?) have an excellent chance to win it all.

So in my current situation I have a number of options when it comes to taking in the tournament which is actually taking place in Poland and Ukraine. I imagine tickets are hard to come by, transportation is likely to be expensive and I left all of my interpreters back in Canada. So I've ruled out attending any live games. I can certainly sit in my wonderful flat and watch on TV alone but that's incredibly boring (my half dozen dedicated followers may recall my "no beer at home policy" which is still in effect) and a little bit pathetic. Another option which I found very effective during the Chelsea vs. FC Bayern Champions League final is to leave the TV off and the windows open. The cheers and groans emanating from neighbouring dwellings and businesses provide excellent insight into what is happening on the field.

I could possibly ask to tag along with one of my co-workers as they go to one of the local Biergartens or bars. I'm sure they'd let me come along if I asked but the reality is they have their own lives and their own friends and I wouldn't want them to feel obliged to entertain me during what is to them a super important event. Imagine bringing your Italian only speaking colleague to watch a Stanley Cup final at Earl's with your friends when the Jets are in it and you get the general idea.

I could go to one of the bars alone but since my German is still really weak I feel a bit self conscious. Someone could ask me something controversial, I may smile and nod and POW! We've got an international incident on our hands.


Rathaus Platz
 Fortunately the Germans are an ingenious lot. There are at least two large public areas within a 3 Wood shot of my apartment with giant screens, concessions and porta-potties. Problem solved. One of the areas is the Rathaus Platz next to the old city hall.


The other is the "Kick&Groove Park" located on a big green space called Woehrder Wiese. I've watched them setting this up for over 3 weeks now, it's a bit like the Ironman Village only much, much larger and with a lot more open space.

Portugal-Czech
Hello? Hello?
Thus far I've ventured to the K&G Park twice. The first was to watch the first quarter final match. I think there were 8 Portugal fans, about 12 disappointed Czechs, a handful of disinterested Germans enjoying a pleasant evening drinking beer on the lawn and two energetic radio DJ's futilely attempting to whip us into a frenzy. They would have had a better chance with two EMTs and a crash cart.



Last night Germany played Greece. It was impossible to recognize this as the same place I had been to the previous evening. Simply getting into the park in time for the opening kick was tough. EVERYone gets a pat down on the way in. Even skinny Canadians with nowhere to hide anything. I would have asked what they were looking for but a) I'm not sure I would have understood the answer and b) it would have slowed the queue even further and there's another international incident.

A Little More Life When
The home Team Plays
The scene is familiar to sports fans everywhere. Painted faces, national jerseys with the name and number of the wearer's favorite player and a few (very few) very attractive interpretations of the German flag as an article of women's clothing. And beer.

Now let me give you a warning. When the first German goal was scored about 3 minutes in, about 3 people ahead of me a full liter of beer went straight up into the air and fell where it wanted to go. Offside, the goal was disallowed. At this point that liter of beer and many just like it do not find their way back into the glass. Moral of the story: Bring an umbrella or a towel and know the rules before you toss your libation into the air.

Germany advanced to the semi-finals which take place this Thursday against England or Italy. I won't be mentioning the war.

Right now I'm in Munich getting ready for the Stadtlauf Half Marathon Sunday morning. I hope to have something worthwhile to report on that.

Thanks for reading,
Tom

For My Hungarian Followers:
Happily Ati moved a lot more Langos on the
night Germany played!


Thursday, 21 June 2012

Home Is Where You'd Hang Your Hat If You Could Find It

When I make my one week in five visits back home I generally take a break from blogging. I can't legitimately claim that I don't have time to do it, I think it's more a case of running out of thoughts to put into words. In any case I returned to Nuremberg this past Tuesday following about 10 days back home.
Home. Interesting concept. I was very fortunate to interact with so many friends during my visit. A significant number wished me a "Good Trip" referring to my return to Germany. And internally I invariably had the same initial thought: "THIS is my trip", that is to say Nuremberg is my temporary residence so when I go "Home" to Canada, that is when I'm on a trip. It's easy to see why I might think that way. I spend roughly 80% of my time over here. Since I have clothes and other things in two locations I can now very comfortably travel overseas with just a small amount of hand luggage. So why would anyone wish me a good trip?
The answer is obvious, at least to anyone other than myself. Home isn't defined by where you spend most of your time. It's not defined by where your blue blazer, raincoat and running shoes are. And no, it's not defined by where your hat is hanging although, truth be told, I have hats hanging in (at least) two countries. As I mentioned I was able to get together with a lot of friends when I was back in Canada. Circumstances varied but it was always a case of getting together with groups of people, engaging in conversations, relating experiences since we had last seen one another, maybe sharing a meal and invariably having a lot of laughs, all with people I care about and who care about me. Wherever those people are, that's where home is.
Next time I'll try to be a little more informative, a little funnier and a little less sentimental. Until then,
Thanks for reading,
Tom
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Hail to the Champion

The web log (blog) is by its very nature a self-indulgent exercise. This one is for sure. But every so often the blog needs to be about someone else. Last month I posted about Sarah Anne Brault and her remarkable success in the ITU World Cup.
Today I'd like to recognize the President of our triathlon team, mother of my children and my best friend for nearly 30 years. Kate never blows her own horn so allow me to step in on her behalf.
Last month Kate won the award for Best Overall Female (Long Distance) in the Gord's Tuesday Duathlon series. The series ran over 5 Tuesday nights in May at Birds Hill Park and Kate raced four times. Some of you may be aware that she celebrated a milestone birthday last week. So she's racing against women half her age and basically handing them their @$$'s (oh, and some of the men too by the way). She does this while working full time, managing our household, running the Triple Threat Triathlon Club and finding every article I've misplaced.
Kate has big racing plans this year and possibly even bigger in 2013. This year's big goals are Canadian Nationals in Edmonton and IM Calgary 70.3. Last year at Nationals in Kelowna she missed the podium by one spot. This year I expect her to break through at both the Olympic and 70.3 distances. If you plan to race against her you'd best bring your A game because it looks like she'll be bringing hers. I'll have the opportunity to see her compete in Kenora in July and I am looking forward to that.
So, teammates, relatives, competitors and friends please take a minute to recognize Kate's remarkable achievements (did I mention she beat her Half Marathon goal by just over a minute?) and give her some encouragement as she prepares for this year's big races and next year's mystery event. May her achievements inspire you to dig that little bit deeper when you are training and racing. I certainly had a little more spring in my step during my rainy 6.5 miles this morning. So you see, it really is all about me after all ;o).

Thanks for reading,
Tom

Saturday, 2 June 2012

A New Home in Nuremberg

As promised, yesterday was moving day for me over here in Germany. I was quite comfortable in Dr. Koenig's flat. It was in the city but it was still a 30 minute walk or a 10 minute tram ride from the Altstadt (Old City) where it's all going on. I just found that made the evenings a little dull. So Jutta our office administrator worked with the same rental office and found me this fabulous new place right in the centre of town.

Living Room. A TV over the desk is coming
It's a brand new rennovation and I'm the first tennant. It's on the first floor (one above ground level) so less of a climb than my old place on the third. It's a little bit smaller but it's a lot brighter. The rennovation of the building is still ongoing so there is scaffolding on the building front and back. My little balcony may not see use until after I'm gone.
Tiny kitchen but that's a dishwasher!

I can't begin to tell you just how happy I am with this place, both the location and the accommodation. Some areas make me think of living on a boat or a train, mainly the little kitchen and the bathroom. Once again, hot water was not to be taken for granted I had to find the electrical panel (it's out in the hall), identify the breaker and switch it on. My reward was a fine shower after my long run. Celebrate the small victories.

The kitchen comes complete with a dishwasher (gasp!) and something called a Tchibo pod coffee maker. This is a very modern device that is capable of making the most beautiful looking cup of hot brown water you have ever laid eyes on. But nothing you'd want to drink. Fortunately I come equipped to deal with that but that will be the subject of another post.


Without question my favourite feature of the place has to be the picture of Holly Golightly. An apartment with a good location, comfortable, bright, functional and even Audrey Hepburn. What's not to like?

Thanks for reading,
Tom