Wednesday, 28 March 2012

More running and eating in Babelsberg

I went out for another run last night. Based on advice from a local Oracle researcher at the conference on Monday, I had modified my original plan, of skirting around the northern edge of Babelsberg, to instead head across a bridge and up to Klein Glenicke, and the Volkspark of the same name.

Like my previous run, my route took me along a shared cycling/pedestrian path flanked on one side by the shore of the lake and on the other by forest in the first early blooms of spring. I get the feeling that the Volkspark, like Park Babelsberg, had a few old buildings hidden away in the forest set back and up from the shore. Unlike my previous run, though, I was further from home, so I was a little loathe to take diversions. So I pretty much just stuck to the lakeside, stopping from time to time at the jetties or benches to take photos across the lake. There were a bunch of other cyclists (mostly) and runners (a few) out on the path, and I was in a pretty good mood.

In the end, I probably went a little further than I had planned. I had entertained the idea of stopping at a bar, Wirsthaus Moorlake, squirrelled away in a bay, but I felt good, so I ran on another kilometre or two to another bar at Pfaueninsel, a tiny little ferry stop for people going across to the castles on the island across the strait.

On my way home, I ran past the local soccer stadium, home of the Babelsberg club in the Bundesliga 3 (although possibly not for long). They had a match on against the oddly named Kickers Offenbach (which they went on to lose), and it was interesting to see the enthusiasm generated, in the form of giant flags and the full stadium, and to hear, in the guise of singing and, I suppose, the full stadium. There were police outside the stadium, too, which I guess is the flipside of the enthusiasm (although I'd argue that this is more characteristic of soccer enthusiasm than general sporting enthusiasm), but it was still nice to see.

After the run, I met up with Jacques and Max for dinner. We hit up what I guess is a typical German restaurant, and had pretty typical food, I guess: currywurst, schnitzel, and a giant plate of ribs for me, which almost certainly negated any health benefits of my 12km run, but was a great source of sticky pleasure while I was eating them :)

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

An evening in Potsdam

On Sunday night I arrived in Potsdam for the second of my four-week swing through Europe (with apologies to British separatists). So far, I have been impressed by how helpful everyone has been. On leaving the airport, I immediately struggled with my extremely weak grasp of German, trying and failing to buy a ticket on the bus. Fortunately, though, a German hostess helped me out, and I managed to navigate my way to Charlottenburg S-bahn and from there to Babelsberg and my hotel. After orienting myself, and not having colleagues to meet (for a change), I decided to head out for a run.

Babelsberg, it seems, and Potsdam more broadly, is surrounded by parks, forests and lakes. According to google maps (thank goodness for hotel wifi), the closest of these green and blue blobs to my hotel is Park Babelsberg, so it was in that direction that I set out, headphones in, and braced against the single-figure temperature.

I had probably run about 300 metres when I became aware of a man running beside me wearing business attire and waving. As I stopped, so did he, bent over puffing and panting to regain his breath, before rising and handing me the key to my hotel room. Apparently it had fallen from my pocket a while back, and he had been chasing me to return it. I think my lack of German made it difficult for him to tell me to be careful as sternly as he would have wanted, and it certainly made it difficult for me to be as effusive in my thanks as his good deed warranted.

Ed: At this point I would love to embed the map for the run, along with the pictures I took, but runkeeper's embeddable maps are broken at the moment. Anyway, it can be found at, including a few pictures.

I ran on, past the local football stadium and across into Park Babelsberg. Almost immediately I was greeted by what a naive Australian would call a castle, but which I suppose in reality is just one building amongst some kind of feudal estate. As I ran on I encountered more, and more various, buildings, in very good condition and with scatterings of people wandering around looking at them. I ran on, along the edge of the lake (the Tiefer See), past a bar serving cyclists watching the sunset over the lake, around to a small bridge near a university embedded into the forest.

Running back, I abandoned my simple and easily followed route, and just wandered amongst the little trails winding through the park, heading towards and around towers and stately homes at whim. By the time I got back, I had racked up 7 or 8km, which I was happy with, given how long I had gone without running.

After showering, I again headed out, in search of dinner. I wandered into an Italian restaurant near the hotel, and sat down. Throughout the meal, I answered the waiter's fairly predictable questions in stuttering, broken German. He obviously knew I didn't speak much, but he humoured me and allowed me to struggle on, which I liked. The food itself, some bruschetta followed by tagliatelle with a gorgonzola, spinach and walnut sauce, was pretty good. I made the mistake, though, of ordering Lambrusco on the strength that it was the only red wine I recognised. I should perhaps have considered that the basis for my recognition was more of notoriety than renown - it was a pretty ordinary excuse for wine, especially for my Australian palate. Nonetheless, I was pretty happy sitting there, as the other patrons chatted away in German and I stared contentedly out the window at the sleepy boulevard.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Oslo a go-go

My doubts about my visit to Oslo were quickly allayed by being in Oslo. The first few days of meetings were a little dry, but with enough interesting presentations, and more importantly enough opportunity to meet the people doing interesting things, to keep my attention. In between, I managed to get out to see a little of the town, principally in the evenings.

Monday night I went down to the harbour for dinner with a couple of other people from the conference, which drove home both the expense but also the appeal of the Oslo waterfront.

Tuesday we had a dinner at a cultural museum on the curiously-named presque-île of Bygdøy, a strange affair whose central feature was the passing around the room of a bowl of beer, from which everyone drank.

Wednesday night found us at what seemed to be Norway's national construction industry awards night, an incredibly kitch affair with what could only be characterised as "cock rock", each category's nominees being ushered in by "We are the Champions" or similar. As it happened, this was the only English used for the night, and the combination of kitch music, plentiful wine, and the complete incomprehensibility of the dialogue made for a pretty good time at our table.

Friday saw an end to the official conference proceedings, leaving me to my own devices for a few days. I had arranged to stay with Franck and his family, and he also invited me in to SINTEF to give a presentation on Friday morning. I cobbled something together, and had a good time discussing the mix of MDE and BIM with Franck, Arnor and others in their group. In the afternoon, at Franck's recommendation, I took a T-bane to its terminus at Frognerseteren, high up in the hills above the harbour.

I imagine that in years less warm than this, there would have been more people up there using it as a base for cross-country skiing, as there were a handful of pretty little trails radiating out away from the train platform. Despite the facts that (a) the warm weather had made the trails simultaneously less than ideal for both skiing and walking, and (b) I was wearing town shoes rather than skis or even hiking boots, I was determined to see some scenery, and set out down a trail in the general direction of the appealingly named Tryvannstua. I wandered pretty randomly, to be honest, and learnt a lot about types of snow, specifically which types of glistening snow were slippery, or were likely to admit my wholly inappropriate shoes to wholly uncomfortable depths. In the end, I called a halt to proceedings and did an about-face what must have been only a few hundred metres short of Tryvannstua, but not having attained my randomly selected destination did not take away from my enjoyment of the surroundings. I suspect that had I been there a month earlier, on skis, or a month later, with leaves on the trees and flowers on the ground, it would have been more pleasant, but after a week in meeting rooms staring out windows, I certainly appreciated being outdoors.

On the way down the hill I stopped at Holmenkollen, site of Oslo's skijump, likely built for a long-past Winter Olympics, but looking a little forlorn without its coating of snow. Next door there was a track set up for some sort of nordic skiing sprint event, with lots of people walking around preparing TV gear, ticket offices and the like for the finals on the Saturday, while what I presume were the lesser skiers went down the hill attempting to qualify.

Friday night, Saturday and Sunday morning I spent with Franck, Valentine and their son Sacha, much as I did on my visit there last year. I really like hanging out with their little family, even if at times I feel like a bit of a third wheel, when Sacha plays up (I suspect sometimes for my benefit), or when real life just takes a hand. I hope that one day I'll be able to return the favour with some of my European friends, and share my life in Australia with them as well.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Jetlagged in Oslo

I find myself lying in bed at 5am in an Oslo hotel room, having been irretrievably awake for the past 4 hours. Normally when I travel (which isn't to suggest that I travel particularly often), I am fairly good with managing my body clock, but the last two nights have been less than optimal. So, I guess I'll blog.

This is a work trip, basically, and I'm really torn about whether I like the idea of it. On one hand, I get to catch up with lots of really good friends - Franck here in Oslo, Jacques in Potsdam, hopefully various people in Rennes, and Meg in London - but on the other hand, it comes at a fairly inconvenient time.

On a personal note, I finally finished the at-times tortuous process of buying an apartment, and moved my things in on Friday. By leaving so quickly, I'm deferring, and in some ways losing, the process of discovery that comes with moving to a new suburb - finding out where the good places are to eat, which spaces in the apartment I want to hang out in, what I like about it and what I don't. It was with some longing that I read reports from my family members who are doing some of this discovery on my behalf.

From a work point of view, its a mixed blessing. The 4 weeks preceding my departure had been truly insane, with my teaching, research and service commitments all ramping up at the same time, and I had been running around trying desperately to keep my head above water, in a way that really wasn't sustainable. I needed a break of some sort. Heading overseas allows some of those commitments - service, for example - to subside a little, but others, teaching in particular, are deceptive. Although I'm free of lecturing, lecturing really isn't the draining or stressful part of teaching, and I still have course coordination duties which are probably slightly harder in absentia.

This kind of equivocation about travel is new to me, and I'm not sure what to think of it.