Last weekend we have been visiting a friend in Amsterdam. It was my first visit to the city and in fact to the Netherlands, and it was a pleasant and interesting stay.
I’ve been surprised by how many buildings in the city centre lost their alignment, due to the instability of the soil underneath. I find amazing how the houses stay habitable and still look pretty and well-kept.
The weather was hot and dry, as in many places in Europe and around the world, and the vegetation was suffering a lot. The contrast with the greenhouses and gardens of the Hortus Botanicus was striking.
I even found time to sketch a bit, and chose three different windows from the houses around the square where we were stopping for a drink.
I’d like to come back to visit more landmarks and get a better picture of everyday life. If any of you have been to Amsterdam and surroundings and wish to share impressions and tips, I’d be very grateful!
Yesterday I went for a walk around lake Müggelsee in the south-east corner of Berlin. It was a wonderfully sunny day and I snapped a few pictures:
The highlight was the ferry trip, for all passengers 🙂 The walk around the lake was nice thanks to the tall trees which provided shade, even if they were also masking the view. It was a long walk, but also refreshing and very quiet. I plan to go to Müggelsee again and maybe rent a kayak to paddle around 🙂 Will keep you posted for sure!
Berlin is known for being a capital city with extensive green areas, both within the city and around it. Many wooded areas include waterways and lakes, and are beloved hiking destinations for Berliners and tourists.
A wonderful collection of hikes has been made available by the Berlin Forestry Commission, on the city’s website and in two books (as far as I know, only in German, but the level of German is not scary. Anyway, it is always possible to translate the webpages on the fly.). I have bought the books and regularly pick a destination for our weekend’s tours, and so far I have been very happy about the choice of trails, the thorough informations about landmarks along the path, and the reasonable length of each hike. I tend to make few pictures while I walk, so here are two pictures from Lake Tegel that I made some time ago:
I hope this tip will come handy for your next Berlin visit!
Some time ago I visited the Museum for Communication in Berlin, for the first time in many years that I live here. It was a pleasant experience: I was kept interested by the various ways in which the content was presented, the interactivity of the exhibition (especially in the first floor, with quizzes, robots, and various other funny art-like devices). I was not the only one having fun: there were two groups of children, who ran across the museum in detective suits, looking for specific items and solving riddles, following a tour designed by the museum. As children learn and remember by doing, I find that this kind of tour was a terrific idea to let them have fun and be active during the exploration of the museum.
There was definitely a lot to see! I was especially fascinated by the ceramic insulators display, and the lovely set of historical and iconic post-horns. Among the postal carriages there was an old Italian model from late 1800s that had “Impostazioni” written on the side – in modern Italian, “impostazioni” means “settings”, especially in the IT domain; at that time, it meant “items transmitted per post”. Funny and interesting find!
Outside the museum there are traffic lights, whose poles are completely covered by stickers. A closer look allows to recognise the museum stickers, which work as a ticket, and that one wears during the museum visit. Apparently, visitors who just exited the museum have taken the habit of peeling off the sticker and transferring it to the nearest pole. The whole looks both shabby and artistic:
That’s a museum I surely will recommend to friends who visit Berlin, and to anyone who hasn’t visited it yet 🙂
This weekend I have been at FOSDEM in Brussels, to meet the usual immense crowd of open source software enthusiasts:
… and to help with the management of the Geospatial devroom together with Johan Van de Vauw. I’ll write more about this in another post, because this one is dedicated to the way to and back from Brussels. The way back, especially, that took me and my friends back to Italy.
As I lived in Italy, my geeky friends and I used to rent a van and drive all the way up to FOSDEM. I taught them the route that my family travelled since I can remember, as I moved from Belgium to Italy at two years old. It felt like teaching them my migration route, and passing on our knowledge of the good rest spots, cheapest petrol stations and so on. I have moved to Germany four years ago and didn’t have the chance to travel that route anymore, therefore it was a special joy to drive back with my friends once again. I took pictures like mad, like a tourist, and I was moved to tears when I heard my friends talking about the places along the way with more confidence than myself.
We left FOSDEM on Sunday evening, headed south. We had dinner in Belgium and continued towards Luxembourg, surrounded by snow. Belgium’s highways are lit, an exception in Europe. We stopped at a hotel in Luxembourg for the night.
Snow and highway lights
The next morning we were greeted by sun and cold.
We quickly drove through tiny Luxembourg and entered France, following first the directions to Metz and Thionville, passing alongside the “highway cathedral”, the Église Saint-Joseph et Saint-Louis, then following the signs for Strasbourg:
Approaching Strasbourg there was snow again. We passed under the wildlife bridge (apparently used only by hikers, instead of deer and other large mammals), and through forests, white with frozen snow.
We didn’t drive through Strasbourg, and took the road for Karlsruhe instead; we exited the highway and crossed the border with Germany at Gambsheim, over the Rhine. We had booked a table at the Rhinkaechle, but arrived a bit too early, so we walked around the mighty hydroelectrical dam and its fish pass, one of the two largest passes in Europe:
Towards the dam
Fish pass: the sequence of steps
After the meal and the required barge-spotting at the locks, we entered Germany and drove to Basel, where we would enter Switzerland:
Basel – the customs
Towards Luzern and Gotthard
The leitmotiv of Switzerland are the tunnels (the longest being Gotthard and Seelisberg) and the mountains:
Seelisberg Tunnel: 9.2km
Gotthard tunnel: 16.9km
We came out of the Gotthard tunnel to meet the blue twilight at Airolo, and drove uneventfully south until the border crossing at Stabio-Gaggiolo and finally Varese. The pictures came out increasingly blurred, and moreover it is a very familiar part of the road for me, so I didn’t take many.
Thanks to a comfortable car and change of drivers, we didn’t arrive too tired at our destination. It was great for the driver to have cruise-control, and for everyone a smooth ride at high speed.
I cherish this route and I’m happy to drive along it every now and then. For my friends it has become part of the FOSDEM experience, and the occasion for endless discoveries along the way (especially restaurants and industrial masterpieces). I thought about my affection for this route, that I felt stronger than the love of the places where I lived. And happier, too.
I found a few pictures from our last trip to Trentino and I thought about my strong feeling of belonging to that region. I lived there four years, and left with sorrow, as I quickly grew attached to its landscapes and peculiar history – human and natural, back to the dinosaurs and the ammonites in Trento’s pavements.
Every time I come back there, I feel an increasingly impatient joy when recognising mountain peaks, buildings, landmarks, and finally breathe again the many scents that were so familiar, and the overall freshness of the air. I definitely feel coming back home, then I feel puzzled because my home is currently somewhere else. Are they comparable? Will my current home ever become similarly familiar and yet remote, at the favour of some other corner of the Earth?
It’s hard to say. When I lived in South Africa I had the same feeling of home. I wonder how I would feel if I travelled back there.
Yesterday I finished reading “D’autres vies que la mienne” and took a moment to let the feelings sink. It was a moving book, that I read page by page as if I were listening to someone, letting their words decide the speed of narration. Carrère talks about the stories of members of his close family and of dear friends, as he wanted to portrait “other lives but his” in a direct and simple style. While reading, I felt taken very close to the people in the book, as if they were old friends. Carrère has a way of describing facts and perceptions that made me feel respectful while learning of very personal, often tragic, life events.
When I talked about the book to a friend, I realised that my feelings while reading looked much like the ones I had when reading “Kobane calling”, a comic book about Zerocalcare’s non-reportages in Rojava. Despite the apparent lightness of the chosen medium, the stories of the people he meets are portrayed as life-like as possible, hard and uncertain.
I felt that both authors opened me a direct connection to other people, in a way that these very people were the centre of attention – not the authors, nor me the reader. It would have been easy to bend these lives to make them more cinema-like, more appealing to my reader’s eyes; or to let the author show off their drawing/writing skills, or even to make use of the facts to squeeze out some general morals; I felt none of that. Both authors wanted to mention that their point of view was unescapably partial, and that they were humans as much as the people they portray in their narrations. I felt, together with them, the most sincere respect and admiration for people who bravely and modestly deal with the difficulties of their lives.
For a long time, humanity only dreamed of flying. I had the chance to grow up in a time where flying was possible, even if only as a luxury, and later witnessed the popularisation of flying. I definitely enjoy the current convenience of taking a plane to quickly crunch a few thousands kilometers and visit friends and family with much less planning than for a earth-bound trip, but I have been brought to think that the fascination of flying is pretty much gone.
As a passenger, I’m sad to have only minimal contact with the pilots. I consider that flying a plane remains a challenging task, no matter how much technology increasingly assists it. I barely get to know their names, for sure not before boarding the plane. When I see the crew of a plane, in uniform, walking with their luggage in the airport halls or on the tarmac, I get a sudden feeling of sympathy and respect, but what I see is that most people nearby barely take notice. When I fly, I try to guess the pilots’ actions at takeoff and landing. These moments are for me interesting and unique, and I give them all my attention. I love to see the flaps being moved one by one during taxing or right before takeoff, it makes me imagine the plane as a huge bird who checks if all its feathers are OK before flight. And videos like this one, recorded during storm Xavier, make me remember how all flying machines, including the larger ones, are at the mercy of bad weather conditions, and only a great combination of pilot’s skills and equipment solidity can ensure safe flights. I shiver every time I notice how the whole plane bends under the wind gusts and dangerously bounces on the runway.
It is easy to get comfortable in my bubble, sleeping, eating, reading, watching a movie, and forget that I am flying over the Earth, over cities, mountains and lakes. I giggle when people eagerly scan the landscape from their window, then point to something, getting suddenly excited for recognising a place they always see from the ground. Too bad that I notice that less and less often! I remember keeping my friend Madi awake for almost a whole 12-hour flight, especially when we passed over Iceland and Canada. During the longest and most magnificent sunset I ever saw, we flew over ice-bergs, broken pack, firm immaculate ice-shelves, sea, and sometimes, tiny as a toy, a cargo ship. How could we sleep when there was such a view?
I smile when I see kids enjoying the flight as a proper adventure. I try to keep that view myself, and refuse to board a plane as unimpressed as I would board a bus. Humanity has always dreamed about flying! Commercial planes are offering me the most accessible pair of wings that I can currently get, let me keep celebrating it 🙂
I just finished reading this book. First of all, I’m quite proud of having been able to read it all without looking at the dictionary!
I picked it up in my library, attracted by the wilderness and remoteness of the Halligen, small islands in the North Sea, near the coasts of Germany and Denmark. The story of the city-dweller who leaves the busy streets for a remote, natural environment invariably fascinates every human heart.
Katja Just’s journey from Munich to Hooge is however not so close to a dream. She had hard times, not only because of the trying living conditions on the island, but, according to my impression, the deeper cause was her approach to those hardships. She does an amazing journey of introspection and acceptance, of herself, of the life on Hooge, that is unique and brave. This makes me think that just following her example and move to Hooge myself would not necessarily be a good decision: my starting point and my mindset are different. Nevertheless, the lessons I wish to learn from her experience are:
observe, assuming that the information is out there and deserves to be noticed
learn more about myself through the analysis of my reactions – being honest and open, rather than intolerant to my weaknesses
be ready to stand for my ideas, firmly and politely
I hope there will be soon an English translation, so that more readers can have access to the book. I’ll update the post accordingly.
Last week I traveled to Rome with a small group of friends. It was my first time in Rome and I was very curious. I was a bit afraid of finding too many tourists and too many cars, but it was actually not so crowded (except for a few monuments). We had a pleasant week walking around, admiring Rome’s historical heritage, and not last, eating delicious food 🙂
As we arrived to our apartment, we were greeted by the calls and low flybys of many parakeets, which settled since years in the nearby park, as well as in several green areas of Rome. My friends didn’t care much about the birds, but I did, as my way of getting familiar with a new place by inspecting its plants and animals.
I didn’t make pictures at the famous locations, because I preferred to give my attention to the place than to my camera. There are plenty of good pictures of Rome’s landmarks already 🙂
I noticed the forest of old-style TV antennas on roofs and took several pictures of them. I later realised they reminded me of the cover of Calvino’s “Le città invisibili” – a book that I love and keep re-reading.
I was unhappy with the visit to the Cappella Sistina, because there was a thick crowd and it was noisy. I am glad to have had access to it, and I guess that it would be hard to limit the number of people inside without creating endless queues outside. I wonder if there is any time when the Cappella Sistina is not as crowded as that.
We left Rome with a lot of places still to see (not surprising!) and we plan to come back maybe in spring, when the weather is already warm, but the vegetation is greener and flowers abound. I already look forward for this second trip!