Wednesday, 30 May 2012

On Being Careful What You Wish For

I think there is an old joke that goes along the lines of this post but the facts recounted here really did happen to me.

This morning I set off running North from Dr. Koenig's flat (my home for 2 more days). It's not one of my regular routes but I've been that way before. It gets rural surprisingly quickly. You start running past small vegetable farms as soon as you pass by the main take-off and approach path of Nuremberg Airport.

As it was before 6am and farm workers are "early to bed, early to rise" types I ran past a crew just getting ready to start their shift. I was sort of curious to see what they were about to do but as my training partners know, I don't slow my pace for (almost) anything. Fortunately I was on an out and back so I saw them on my return. It should have been obvious from the field, they were harvesting white asparagus.
The earth heaps should have been a giveaway

For the benefit of those who haven't visited Germany, Switzerland or the Netherlands in springtime I'll just say that asparagus is "A Big Deal" here. I won't say it's my absolute favourite but it is very good, it's a local specialty and they do a really good job of preparing it. I've only had it a couple of times since I got here and it will be gone soon (remember McRibs?) so I thought to myself "it would be great if we had asparagus on the cafeteria menu today". Fast forward to 12:30. Yes! Steamed white asparagus (in way more butter than I would use) with a couple of slices of nice smoked pork. All for less than 6 Euro.

Once the enjoyment had faded away it occurred to me I was now facing one of those logal/ethical/philosophical situations that Psych undergraduates so enjoy dealing with. Like the one about the young woman who meets a guy at her mother's funeral (If you know a psych student ask her).

The way I see it tomorrow I have two options:
1) Alter my running route to take me past one or (preferably) several armored cars picking up or delivering large sums of cash or
2) Run past the exact same asparagus field (maybe a few rows over) and wish for those same large sums of cash
Please leave a comment if you'd like to vote or if you have yet another option or if you'd care to send me large sums of cash.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

What Makes a Day Good?

I had a great day at work today. I don't often say that these days. So what made it good? Probably a little less than you imagine.

I think if you're even half way engaged in your job you start every day with certain things you hope and expect to accomplish. If you're like me and Kate and virtually all of the people I work and socialize with, those hopes and plans go out the window as soon as you arrive at your desk. Actually with laptops, VPNs, smartphones and the like your plans probably went out the window even before you got to work. Life in the 21st century.

Yesterday was a "Bank Holiday" here in Germany. Pentecost. For a country with so many religious holidays they sure drink a lot of beer. Apparently they are not mutually exclusive. But I digress. Yet again.

So today was Tuesday but for me it was really a Monday. I had a substantial list of tasks, at least a couple of which were anticipated to be quite challenging. I thoroughly expected to get distracted by emails and phone calls and went in with a mindset to do what I could. And then a very strange thing happened. I made progress. Normally difficult personalities proved to be cooperative. I got easy access to information I expected to struggle with. Oh sure, unexpected items came my way but I knocked them off as soon as they came up. Maybe I was in the "Problem Solving" zone. And by the end of the day I had completed every task I had set for myself. Every one. I even collected a couple of compliments. Unglaublich!

It was only after I had boarded my bus home that I realized what I had done. I was already happy but then I realized why. So I say again it doesn't necessarily take a lot to make a day "Good". What I will take away from this experience is to take more satisfaction from the things I do achieve and try to be less bummed by the things I don't. Become more of a "Glass half full" kind of guy as my friend Ryan would say. We'll see.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, 26 May 2012

My Week "Abroad"

One of the attractions of my temporary European assignment was the opportunity to visit a region of the world I had never seen before. My employer secured a project in Doha, Qatar and as the local Program Manager it's mine to manage. So, early last week I left Germany on the Qatar Airways flight for my first ever visit to the Middle East.

I think that Qatar was a great introduction to the region. I consider it one of the more moderate countries in the area. As a North American I felt very safe and with a few amusing exceptions it was very easy to do business there. But make no mistake about it. You are constantly aware that you are in a different place. So here are a few observations:
  • It's trite to say it but Doha is hot. Unbelievably hot. And I didn't see anything like the worst. I believe we had a high of 43 when we were there. The previous week it apparently hit 53. It's only going to get hotter for the next month or two. The experience is hard to describe. I've been in Phoenix in summer and that didn't even come close. I liken it to severe winter cold at home. You move as quickly as you can from the air conditioned hotel lobby to the air conditioned car and then to the air conditioned office. Repeat in reverse at the end of the day. Evening temps dropped to the mid 30s which was a major relief. I can't imagine what life must have been like for the country's original inhabitants before the appearance of air conditioning.
  • Construction is everywhere to an extent I have never really witnessed before. I remember thinking similar thoughts in Sydney prior to the 2000 Olympics but again this was another level altogether. Unfortunately the abundance of construction combined with the hot dry climate created a perpetual dust haze in the air. In the course of 4+ days I never had a clear view of anything in any direction. I was told the air quality is not always like this.

  • The level of service in the hotels and restaurants puts most North American and European countries to shame. The only comparable experience I can recall was Hong Kong in the mid 80's. I had better not get used to it.
  • The variety and quality of food in restaurants - at least what was available to foreigners - was just outstanding. I deliberately steered towards "Middle Eastern" establishments. But here is a little perspective. In one concentrated area of restaurants on the waterfront we had a choice of Lebanese, Armenian, Turkish, Moroccan and Egyptian in addition to some more westernized (and Far Eastern) places. I think that saying "Middle Eastern" there is like lumping French, Spanish, Italian, German, Polish, Dutch, Hungarian, Portugese and Belgian together and calling the result "European" cuisine. I loved the food.
  • We stayed in one of the few major luxury hotels that doesn't serve any alcohol. Most do. Standalone restaurants generally do not. I didn't have a drink from the time I left until I returned to Germany. Honestly, I didn't really miss it. And also, honestly, I really enjoyed the beer I had with dinner once I got back to Nuremberg.
  • I think there is a reason why I don't know of any world class Qatari triathletes. For me, in those temperatures, running outside was not an option. I saw no bicyclists at all. I think the texting drivers have taken care of the few remaining ones that may have survived the heat. Luckily the hotel had an excellent fitness facility with top of the line treadmills. I got two runs in which was probably a minimum given how good the food was.
  • In case you're interested the price of gasoline works out to about $0.20/liter. It's not posted on the signs because apparently it's not all that important.
I'm going to be changing apartments later this week and I'm super stoked about it. Maybe more in my next post.

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, 17 May 2012

A Little More Klezmer

Back in Germany after a great week at home. It went so fast and I did so much, what to blog about now? OK, the Generals and Admirals version:
  • 28th Anniversary dinner with Kate that was made extra special when our friends Ken and Heather (caterers extraordinaire!) tipped off the restaurant without our knowledge. We were spoiled rotten. Ausgezeichnet!
  • Swam 5 mornings of the available 6
  • Triple Threat Triathlon training camp in Pinawa. Another great weekend with the team.
  • Four bike rides,Four runs
  • Caught up with the guys
  • Sent flowers to my Mother for her Day and spoke to her on the phone
  • Haircut, dentist and physio who told me I am 90-95% recovered
As soon as I got back to Germany I immediately set off for Bergamo, Italy again. I was reintroduced to Autobahn driving after 15 years - definitely not for the faint of heart but good to get out of one's system. But still the question loomed: What should my first return blog post be about?

Thank God for the CBC. They reminded me that there can only be one answer. And it's these guys.

You know how when you travel you should always bring your tunes? Say for the case where someone is no longer on the flight "for whatever reason" according to the Captain. Then they have to go looking for his bag. And you sit. Maybe for two hours. Well next time I recommend you have the foresight to bring "Toronto's only Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-Party-Punk Super-Band" They're called The Lemon Bucket Orkestra and they were on their way to Bucharest where they were invited to play at the International Romany Music Festival. They told the plane they had raised enough money to buy all their air tickets by busking for a month. So maybe the rest of us are in the wrong line of work. The YouTube Video is good but it doesn't do the moment justice. These guys played for half an hour and I must say, they are very good at what they do. If you hunt around you'll find more clips. Now, if only Steve Jobs was still alive maybe he could have gotten them to fit in your shirt pocket.
Here's a link to the CBC News story
Oh, yeah. I missed my connecting flight to Nuremberg and had to wait in Frankfurt an extra two hours which screwed up my evening big time. The "concert" was my only compensation. It didn't cost Air Canada a dime, airline management didn't have a clue it was happening and the musicians were actually a source of revenue. Sigh.

From Nuremberg I wish you a joyous Christi Himmelfahrt Feiertag, which Kate deduced is Ascension Day (It's also Father's Day here). And thanks for reading.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

First Times and Comebacks

And probably not at all what you're thinking

I'm closing in on age 55. I consider myself fortunate to have seen and done a lot of things in my first 54 years. Maybe I've seen and done it all. Yeah, right! I do have a certain amount of curiosity in me and I think that to some degree we all seek out new experiences, hopefully for the entire time we stay on the planet.

As an example, earlier this year Kate and I spent a week in Maui, our first ever visit to the Hawaiian Islands. It was a terrific experience and one I'm sure we will repeat in some fashion. Last week in Milan I was also able to experience a first: one far less significant and far less pleasant.

On my Euro sojourn I am making it a point to run as much as possible. Unlike swimming and biking it's very accessible and requires little in the way of special equipment. Late night's notwithstanding, the best time to run is in the early morning. So last Thursday I set off around 6:30am in a totally foreign city. And it went fine.

When I got back to my hotel I made use of the in-room coffee maker as I was looking for something wet, caffeinated and containing some calories post-run. The coffee was instant, not a serious problem, the best coffee in the world was only a few steps in any direction as soon as I had showered and dressed. But there was something about the sugar. They hadn't put enough in the envelope. The texture seemed "off". I took a sip.

For the first time ever and thanks to my 54 year old eyes, I was drinking coffee with artificial sweetener. It's horrible. Far too sweet and with that bitter aftertaste. And the worst part? I was getting none of the calories I had been seeking in the first place. In hindsight I should have just poured it down the drain and started over. But that's not how I'm wired. I regard it as my manly duty to consume every culinary error I make. These serve as reminders never to make those errors again. That night I laid out the packets for the following morning using my reading glasses. No further problems. I just can't believe people use that stuff by choice.

Which brings me to comebacks. Kate will not believe this but earlier this week at my apartment the dust bunnies were visible to the naked eye. My naked eyes in fact. So I hauled out the vacuum cleaner and gave the place a once over. I can't say how long it's been sine I've vacuumed but I have a sense that Kate could ballpark it with some accuracy. The good news is that unlike my unsuccessful bathroom cleaning incident a couple of weeks back, the results of last night's cleaning were self-evident. It appears this will become another one of my Germany rituals.

Thanks for reading,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Happy Labour Day... Aus Deutschland!

Many of you may be aware that May 1 is a holiday in much of Europe. I believe that in Spain and Greece it is marked by protests and demonstrations. Here in Germany, so far as I can tell, it is marked by grilling meat and leaving town.
Our office was closed so my day was pretty much my own. The weather has been spectacular every day since I got back from Italy. Today has been sunny, dry and sort of mid 20'sC. Just about ideal for everything. I woke up at my leisure around 7, had a light breakfast and after that settled went for my run.
I now have a number of routes to choose from. Since today was about speed rather than distance I elected to go to Marienberg, a park not far from here. It's about a 15 minute easy jog to and from my place. Once there I ran a half hour of hard tempo - 7:00-7:20 pace. I admit, I was totally showing off. At that pace I was passing all of the runners and I passed more bicycles than passed me.
After the run I fixed myself a generous brunch. Then it was off to the laundromat. I should say that I have now found the laundry room in my apartment complex. To the best of my reasoning I believe that mid 20th century criminals were sentenced to wash clothes there. I opted for my usual laundromat half a kilometer down the street. It's bright, it's clean, it accepts paper money, it even has its own web site and Facebook page! You can be friends with my Waschsalon.
I must say I now have it all worked out when it comes to laundry. Got my machines, got my tunes. My friend Charmaine gave me a book of NYT Sunday crossword puzzles and I was totally crushing this one. Good times. I wish to point out that I showered before I headed off to do laundry, a courtesy not necessarily extended by all of the patrons.
Laundry done I went off to the Old City in search of dinner. In honour of Labour Day I chose sausages grilled by someone else, Sauerkraut and Wheat Beer. All eaten out doors at a typical spot: the Goldenes Posthorn. Family (and Paul) will not be surprised to learn that sausages, beer and sauerkraut provoke a similar reaction on both sides of the Atlantic.
Afterwards I treated myself to Gelato (3 flavours) and took the subway home. Then I started a Blog Post. Which brings me to right now. I hope you had as good a May 1 as I did.

Three more sleeps until I head home.
Thanks for reading.