Monday, June 30, 2008

“Flying's a wonderful thing”

. . . that was the title of a short promotional video that was shown on my Malev Hungarian Airlines flight to Budapest this morning.

Although apparently produced by IATA, I hadn't seen it on any other airlines before - which is a pity because it contained one very thought-provoking message. And that was that although the world's airlines are responsible for two per cent of the world's carbon emissions, their activities account for eight per cent of the world's economic activity.

Those are interesting figures because the first is lower than I thought it would be and the second is higher. If the figures are right, there must be a lot of other industries where the percentage of carbon emissions produced is higher than their contribution to the world economy. I wonder if anyone has ever analysed the ratio between each industry’s percentage of carbon omissions and their percentage contribution to the world economy. It would make interesting reading and perhaps show which industries should be targeted most for carbon emission reductions.

The video also mentioned that airlines employed 32 million people around the globe – that was also a surprisingly high figure. I hope IATA are being honest in their counting and not inflating figures in an effort to justify their carbon emissions.

Duty free pornography

I was browsing in one of the duty free shops in Amsterdam's Schipol airport early this morning whilst waiting for a connecting flight to Budapest, when I noticed one of the aisles labeled 'Adult DVDs'.

I'd seen an 'adult shop' in a German airport before (hidden behind a red curtain) but this was the first time I had seen adult movies in an airport duty free shop. It made me wonder what the duty free allowances were in Holland (maybe 200 cigarettes, a litre of alcohol, one bottle of perfume and a pornographic DVD?)

It was also interesting to note that nobody seemed to be taking any interest in the adult movies. People were browsing all the latest digital gadgets, iPods, cameras, latest Hollywood movies (in the next aisle) and music CDs, but the adult DVDs aisle was empty.

Perhaps there is some truth in the argument that has been advanced by some sociologists that when you give people open access to pornography, they lose interest in it after a while.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

China ups the ante in Myanmar

I have always found it disturbing the extent to which China, India and Thailand (and to a lesser extent France and Singapore) permit business people from their countries to invest in Myanmar – thus supporting the brutal regime of the military junta there. Sometimes it is even the governments themselves that are doing the investing (and in the case of China, supplying military hardware).

Today I read two stories – one in the Asian Wall Street Journal and the other in the International Herald Tribune – that suggest that China is increasing its support to Myanmar, despite the military’s brutal suppression of human rights and their incompetent and inhumane response to the recent cyclone disaster that left over 130,000 people dead.

The AWSJ reported that China’s trade with Myanmar had doubled over the past five years to about US$2 billion annually – something China calls “constructive assistance.” No wonder the sanctions imposed by the West have had little impact. The story said that Chinese officials defended their engagement of Myanmar “because the nation doesn’t pose an international security threat.”

Or to put it another way: “To hell with human rights and human suffering – as long as they can’t attack other countries, then it is okay to exploit their resources (to keep the generals living in luxury) and supply them with guns to suppress the ordinary citizens.”

According to the AWSJ, Myanmar now has the largest army in south-east Asia with 400,000 soldiers and military hardware that includes 200 tanks, 50 fighter planes and 300 armoured personnel carriers – all supplied by China.

And perfect for putting down any uprisings of monks.

I thought some of the quotes in the story from Chinese industry spokesmen to be rather galling. Xiao Zongwei, a spokesman for Cnooc Ltd – one of China’s biggest oil companies – said: “A company is in business for profits, not for politics.” Yes, that may be the case, but when a company’s business helps unelected military juntas to keep their citizens in abject poverty, then they ought to rethink their rationale for doing business.

One other quote that did puzzle me though was a quote from a spokeswoman for the U.S. oil company Chevron. She said: “Chevron is maintaining investments in Myanmar assets for purely business reasons.” (Sounds like the Chinese talking). I thought Mr Bush had placed embargoes on U.S. companies investing in Myanmar – or perhaps that doesn’t apply to his oil and gas buddies?

Meanwhile, the IHT was carrying a story about the billions of dollars the military junta had spent in constructing its new capital city at Naypyidaw – complete with a zoo featuring white tigers, zebras, kangaroos and a penguin house (the penguins were donated by China and Thailand) which nobody could afford to visit. It seems ironic that the military is happy to spend thousand of dollars on air-conditioning to keep the penguins cold – but can’t provide basic electricity supplies to many of its ordinary (human) citizens.

The IHT report said that “engineers from China, which has a relatively close relationship with Myanmar’s leadership, are helping to build a giant hydroelectric dam on the Paunglaung River that will offer a steady supply of electricity to the new capital.”

The paper also reported the estimated cost of the new capital – off limits to ordinary citizens – at around US$4-5 billion. That is an incredible amount in a country where the average income is 80 cents a day.

One other quote in the story that attracted my attention was a reference to the deployment of soldiers during the time they were needed for rescue operations in the delta region after the cyclone devastated the region. An army colonel was reported to have said: “We’ve had to withdraw army boys from humanitarian activities to protect the coast in case the French, British and Americans land.”

That quote said a lot about the paranoia and callousness of Myanmar’s military junta.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Spitting the dummy in Kedah

The other item that caught my eye was a very depressing news item. It was an announcement by the Chief Minister of the new Kedah state government, Azizan Abdul Razak, that it had decided to start logging the Pedu, Muda and Ahning water catchment areas in order to raise RM16 billion in revenue for the state’s coffers. He said the logging was necessary to cover increased expenditures caused by the recent increases in petrol prices, because the federal government had not delivered RM100 million in compensation for agreeing not to log the areas when the previous state government was in power.

What a short sighted decision.

He is in effect saying if you don’t compensate us, we’ll cut down all the trees to make lots of money for ourselves, and damn the environmental impact on Kedah and neighbouring states like Pahang and Penang that draw their water from the same catchment areas.

Azizan Abdul Razak is 68 years old, so by the time the adverse environmental impacts – such as pollution of the water supply and less rainfall over the catchment areas - start becoming apparent in about five years time, he will no doubt be retired and the problems will be someone else’s concern.

That is not only short sighted but irresponsible and contemptuous of the rights of future generations.

The announcement represents the first major decision affecting the environment made by the new PAS-led state government since it came to power in March.

There has been so much corruption exposed (like commissions going into the pockets of politicians) in states controlled by the Barisan Nasional in respect of the granting of logging concessions, this decision in Kedah does not suggest that the newly-led opposition states are going to demonstrate a better record.

A new definition of ‘on time’

I was browsing the local paper today and two items caught my eye. One was a full page advertisement by Air Asia promoting a new ‘On Time Guarantee’. According to the ad, Air Asia will provide you with a RM200 gift voucher “if we keep you waiting”.

However, underneath in smaller type are the words: “For flight delays exceeding 3 hours only”. And then when you read the fine print below that, you discover that it is “not applicable for delays due to circumstances beyond our control such as bad weather, air traffic control, airport closure or acts of God”.

Putting aside the issue of whether you would be in a position to challenge Air Asia saying that a flight delay was “due to circumstances beyond our control” (a common phrase that you hear when airlines announce flight delays) I was quite intrigued as to how Air Asia could get away with defining a flight that left three hours late as ‘on time’.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A hundred years of helicopter history

One of the items that I like to read in the International Herald Tribune each day is the ‘In Our Pages’ column on page 2 that features three stories from the paper 100, 75 and 50 years ago.

The stories make us realise just how much the world has advanced in such a relatively short period (although some stories make me think the world might be going backwards in some respects – but that’s another issue).

The story from 100 years ago that was featured today was titled: ‘1908 – New Kind of Plane Promised’ and reminded me just how much aviation has advanced in the past 100 years. The story read:

“Mr H Savage Landon, the explorer, has just returned to Paris from his estate in Italy. He has completed construction of his newest aeroplane and in a talk with a Herald correspondent yesterday said he hoped shortly to commence experiments with it in either England or France. He believes that his flying machine will be able to travel and remain in the air for the space of an hour and a half; though larger or more powerful models could be made to fly easily a practically unlimited distance. ‘One result of the special principle of my machine is that it will rise from the ground directly the machinery is set in motion, without any preliminary run along the ground. My machine has no resemblance to a bird,’ Mr Landon said.”

I guess Landon was talking about what we now know as a helicopter.

It does seem that it was around that time there were a lot of experiments going on with the earliest versions of the helicopter. Although the first drawings of helicopters date back to the 16th century when Leonardo Da Vinci produced drawing of machines that looked like helicopters, according to the helicopter history site,, it wasn’t until 1907 that a Frenchman made a helicopter fly for the first time – but that was only for a few seconds.

The website says: “After that, several models were produced by many designs but there were no more great advances until another French pioneer, Etienne Oehmichen, became the first to fly a helicopter a kilometre in a closed circuit in 1924. It was a historic flight taking 7 minutes and 40 seconds. Advances began to come fast and furious. By 1936, many of the problems had solutions and with the introduction of the German Focke-Wulf Fw 61, the first practical helicopter was a reality. Vertical flight was not a dream anymore.”

If Mr Landon was alive today, I am sure he would be amazed that we do indeed have flying machines that remain in the air for more than an hour and a half, although I must say that I prefer to travel on those that have to make a “preliminary run along the ground” rather than those that “rise from the ground directly the machinery is set in motion” because the latter have a tendency to fall directly to the ground more often that the former.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Keeping warm in Frankfurt’s Palmgarten

Today is the last day of my week’s leave and I’d decided to have a day in Frankfurt on my way home from the UK because despite having been through Frankfurt airport dozens of times in the past, and having used it as a transit point to catch trains to other parts of Germany, I’d never actually been into the city itself.

Frankfurt turned out to be not as interesting as Berlin or Bonn – the two German cities with which I am most familiar – but it was worth the stopover.

I took a train into Frankfurt from where I was staying. I’d booked a hotel at Kaiserlei in Offenbach – just to the east of the city – as the hotel rates were half that of Frankfurt city, but Kaiserlei was less than 15 minutes away by train.

It was a bright sunny day when I left the hotel in the morning, so I didn’t bother to bring a jacket, and it was a pleasant temperature as I walked around the city. I started at Konstablerwache, browsing around an open-air market in the square above the train station. I discovered that it was an ‘organic farmers market’ that is staged every Thursday and Saturday, featuring a mouth-watering display of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, breads and other produce.

I noticed the square was paved in black and white stones, arranged to form patterns on the ground, and all the white stones had people’s names engraved on them. I wondered what the significance of the names on the stones was. Could they be commemorating people who had died during World War II, or maybe they were just the names of people who had purchased a stone when the square was re-paved in more recent times?

Many of the market stalls were selling beer and wine, and despite it being only mid-morning, there were already many people clearly inebriated from too much alcohol. I bought some fresh strawberries and a couple of peaches from one of the stalls, and sat on a bench to enjoy them.

After finishing my healthy mid-morning snack, I headed south, exploring the streets off either side of Berliner Strasse, and ended up down on Mainkai where I found a café with some outside tables overlooking the river for lunch. They didn’t have an English menu, but I recognised ‘tortellini’ on a list of daily specials (I suppose it’s spelt the same in German as Italian), so I ordered that. It turned out to be a delicious pumpkin and spinach tortellini which was served with thin slices of grilled salmon and zucchini – a good choice as it turned out.

As I was enjoying an espresso after lunch, I could feel a cool breeze picking up and noticed the sky starting to cloud over. I wondered whether I should have brought a jacket after all.

I was planning to visit the Palmengarten in the afternoon as I’d seen a poster advertising their summer rose exhibition, so I walked to the Romer underground station and caught a train to Bockenheimer Warte – just four stops away.

The rose exhibition took the form of 30 or 40 garden beds planted with different varieties of roses in the middle of the gardens. It was a bright and colourful display.

By the time I finished looking at the rose exhibition, the sky had turned grey and the temperature had dropped at least five degrees. I was starting to feel cold. I headed for the palm house which was much warmer and spent the next hour or so dashing from one hot house to the other to keep warm as the temperature dropped outside.

None of the hot houses had any plants that I hadn’t seen before. Most were quite common varieties – although I did see one variety of cordyline in flower that I hadn’t seen before (I’d seen the cordyline but not the flower). It was however very relaxing sitting in the main palm house – it was almost like being a garden back home – and being mid-week there were very few people around.

I was hoping that the weather would improve, but it didn’t, and it started to drizzle with rain. In the end I decided to make a dash for the underground station. Fortunately the drizzle was reasonably light, and I didn’t get very wet, but I was feeling quite cold. I told myself off that I shouldn’t have gone out for the day without a jacket. Living in the tropics I get so used to never carrying a jacket – unless I am going to a restaurant where I know the air-conditioning is going to be cold – that I forget when traveling to temperate climates how much the weather can change in the course of a day.

I should have known better, but it seems to be a lesson never learned.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Feeling poorly in Purbeck

Oh dear, I thought I felt the flu coming on last night, and this morning it really hit me. I could hardly make it through breakfast without coughing and sneezing, and I was running a fever. This on the very day that I was planning a long walk along the south Purbeck coast. I really didn’t feel much like doing anything but staying in bed, but the ‘rules’ of the B&B were that rooms had to be vacated between 10 am and 3 pm for cleaning – so I decided to head over to Lulworth Cove and rest there. I was feeling so weak that I couldn’t do much more than sit on the grass on the side of the hill for most of the day. I found a nice spot behind some artists who were painting landscapes of the cove. At least I had a good view whilst I sat there going through a box of tissues.

After a few hours I realised I was getting sunburnt. I thought it crazy that living in the tropics, the only place I get sunburnt this year was in England! But there was no shade around anywhere, so I retired to one of the cafés in the village for an hour and had a café latte (which surprisingly was very good – much better than the coffee you expect to find in these touristy places).

There were a lot of school kids on geography field excursions in the village – it reminded me of the days that I used to come here on school trips.

Back in my schooldays this part of the so-called Jurassic Coast wasn’t so ‘famous’, but since it was awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 2001, it’s become a lot more well known. The Jurassic Coast stretches from Old Harry Rocks north of Swanage Bay, where the rocks are 65 million years old, west to Orcombe Point in East Devon, where the rocks are 250 million years old. I’d love to be able to walk the whole 95 mile length of the Jurassic Coast one day, but I don’t know whether I will ever have time.

There was a bit of excitement after lunch when an ambulance raced into the village with sirens blaring. It drove up to the back of the car park where a rescue helicopter landed shortly after. The ambulance personnel then transferred a patient to the helicopter and it took off again in a cloud of dust. I don’t know whether it was a road accident victim or someone injured climbing on the cliffs, but it all happened very quickly and very efficiently.

By mid-afternoon I was not feeling any better, but decided I needed to at least walk to Durdle Door before going back to the B&B. There was a 1-2 kilometre path along the top of the cliffs from Lulworth Cove, which normally would have been quite an easy walk (you can see the path in the picture above behind the helicopter), but I was coughing so much whenever I started walking, I thought it better to drive to a caravan park near Durdle Door and then walk from there (that was less than half a kilometre).

Durdle Door – a natural rock arch - is known as the most photographed place in Dorset, so the challenge was to find a POV that was not identical to everyone else’s. I spotted some wild flowers near the top of the cliff overlooking Durdle Door, so I thought I could frame a shot with those in the foreground and create a slightly different composition. However, when I got to the flowers I discovered that they had been placed there in bottles – I guess to commemorate someone who had fallen off the cliff there. Anyhow, they still added some colour to the foreground so I took some shots – taking care not to go too close to the edge of the cliff (it was a sheer drop two metres in front of where I was standing).

As it was a bit cooler now, it was very pleasant sitting up on top of the cliffs overlooking Durdle Door. A group of school kids came by and sat not far from me whilst their teacher gave them a lecture of the geology of the area – and how coastal arches eventually turn into stacks. The cliffs of the Jurassic Coast expose about 185 million years of geological formations, so that why it is so popular with geology and geomorphology teachers.

The scenery along this part of the coast is really quite magnificent, so even though I wasn’t feeling well, I was able to get a few very nice landscape photos:

Although I wasn’t feeling well from the flu, I guess the soldiers in the picture below weren’t feeling that great either because they were running up and down the hills with what looked like 50 kgs on their backs (I wondered whether it was part of their training or whether they were being punished for something).

I returned to the caravan park up on top of the cliffs and had an apple cider before heading back to the B&B. It had not been a pleasant day with all my coughing and sneezing (at least I was not bothering anyone being outdoors) but the beautiful scenery of the Jurassic Coast had made it a little more bearable.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Corfe Castle by day and night

Today I headed down to Purbeck in Dorset to do some walking along the Jurassic Coast. I had booked a bed and breakfast place near Corfe Castle on the Internet before leaving Kuala Lumpur. It was only 40 pounds a night including breakfast – so I wasn’t expecting very much – but it turned out to be very comfortable and the breakfast was excellent. The place was called Kingston Country Courtyard and it was on the B3069 just outside Kingston Village, to the south-east of Corfe Castle. I had a ‘garden room’ in an old wing, but it was well furnished and had a roomy ensuite bathroom. The only problem with it was that it was close to the road, but after dark there was very little traffic along that road, so it didn’t disturb my sleep much.

The B&B was right out in the country on its own and had a nice view across the Purbeck countryside to Corfe Castle:

In the evening I drove down to Swanage and had a meal at one of the cafes along the beachfront. It was very pleasant sitting in the breeze looking out over the bay, but I was starting to feel like I was coming down with the flu, so didn’t stay too long once it started getting cooler.

On the way back to Kingston I stopped to get another shot of Corfe Castle from the A351 just as the sun was setting.

One of the problems with trying to photograph anything in southern England when touring by car is that there is hardly anywhere that you can stop along the roads. Most of the country roads are only wide enough for two cars to pass (and even then, on some of them that is a squeeze) and whenever you do find a place to pull off, it invariably has ‘no stopping’ or ‘emergency only’ signs. I managed to get the shot above by pulling into someone’s gate, hoping they wouldn’t shoo me away.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The strange people of Brighton

I drove over to Brighton today to have lunch with Karin and Damien, and Kathy and Graham. Brighton has a reputation of being one of the worst places in Britain to find a parking spot, so I parked near a sports stadium on the north side of the city and took a bus into the centre. I was a little late for lunch because our bus got held up in a traffic jam caused by a couple of hundred cyclists riding naked through the city centre. I’d heard that Brighton was home to some strange people, but this was the first time that I had come across people riding starkers.

Some of them had briefs or bikinis on, but most were completely naked. I didn’t get a good view from my bus (the picture below was taken from a distance through the bus window with my BlackBerry – hence the rather poor technical quality) but Karin who had a closer view told me that some of them didn’t have bodies that ought to be seen in public.

I have no idea why they were riding naked – perhaps it was a charity bike ride or maybe they were just protesting about something. It was a sunny day but not that warm – evidenced by the fact that most of the people on the beach had all their clothes on – so I guess the bike riders would have found it a bit chilly between their legs.

I noticed one couple completely wrapped up in a blanket on the beach. The blanket was moving gently from side to side, but I decided not to go too close to see what they were doing.

We had a relaxing lunch next to the beach near the carousel, and were well looked after by an attractive Polish waitress who reminded me of a girlfriend that I once had in Sopot. (I should have taken a picture of her but then Karin might have reported me).

Whilst relaxing over our drinks after lunch, I noticed quite a lot of the people in the crowd walking past were wearing outfits that have no colour in them – just black, white and grey (for example, see the girls walking past the carousel in the picture below – none of them are wearing anything with any colour). Is that the latest fashion in the UK?

After lunch we met up with one of Kathy’s friends – a fortune teller – on the other side of the pier and I spent a few minutes browsing some of the souvenir shops nearby. I noticed they were selling car stickers that probably would be banned in most Asian countries:

After that we strolled up to the Lanes, which is Brighton’s historic quarter, and found a few more strange people there (strange at least in terms of what they were wearing):

I spotted these four strange looking people at the top of the Lanes:

They were all smiling at me. I wonder who they are.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Learning about nut-free airlines

I flew from Frankfurt to Southampton this morning on Flybe. It was only a Dash 8 turboprop, so even though the flight was nearly full, the number of passengers disembarking at Southampton was about 60-70 and I was through passport control in less than 10 minutes. The bags were ready to pick almost immediately, so it only took about 15 minutes in total to go from the plane to the car rental desk. What a change from the hassle of entering the UK through Heathrow. Sometimes it takes 15 minutes just to taxi to the gate there – let alone the time it takes to walk to the baggage collection area. You’d be lucky to get through Heathrow in under an hour – and that’s not counting any extra time that is spent in the air in holding patterns due to air traffic congestion. I made a mental note to try and use regional airports more often when entering the UK.

Flybe is one of those low cost airlines where you buy your food and drink on board. I noted on its menu that it was promoting itself as “a nut-free airline”.
A nut-free airline? What on earth is that? This was the first time I had come across an airline promoting itself as nut-free.

I did a google search for nut-free airlines and discovered an article in the New York Times that was published in May 1998. It read:

“NOW that cigarettes have been largely banished from the friendly skies, airlines have a new health threat to contend with: peanuts.

“Served up by the thousands in tidy little packages, peanuts have long been the prevailing airborne snack. But lately, airlines have been fielding calls from anxious people who ask that peanuts be banned from their flights.

“The problem is that about two million Americans are allergic to peanuts or other nuts. Reactions can be touched off by eating them or by even casual contact with their residue. In severe reactions, people can go into shock and die. An estimated 5 percent of all reactions are fatal, with 125 deaths a year, allergists say.

“So it is a small problem for the airlines - but just the right size to befuddle them.

“The big fear among allergic passengers is that a child will find and eat some peanuts, or that peanut dust circulating and re-circulating in the close confines of a cabin will cause a fatal reaction. Most parents recognize that the airlines can't eliminate every peanut from all flights; they are asking simply that the airlines not serve any while they're aboard.”

And the article went on about lobbying efforts that some organisations were undertaking to have airlines ban peanuts from their planes.

So it looks like that after 10 years of lobbying, at least one airline has now declared itself as nut-free. That might also explain why I have seen some other airlines change from peanuts to almonds or cashew nuts over the past few years (that puzzled me at the time because most airlines where making changes to reduce costs, but changing from peanuts to almonds or cashews would have increased their costs).

I learned from my googling that ‘anaphylaxis’ is the word that is used for reactions to nuts which, if severe enough, can be life-threatening. It was a new word for me. Although I had heard of people being allergic to nuts, I didn’t realise that just being in contact with them can cause death. Although the number of people who die each year is quite small (although the NYT article suggested it causes 125 deaths a year, another site that I read said it was only three per year in the U.S.) – that in itself seems to have generated quite a lot of controversy over whether banning nuts on planes is an over-reaction.

Another opinion that I read online said that there was just as much chance of being run over by a bus in the airport parking lot than dying from a nut allergy on a flight, so airlines shouldn’t over-react to the lobbying that anaphylaxis support groups were conducting. Several other sites made a similar point saying there were many more everyday risks that provided greater dangers than nut allergies.

Apparently in the U.S. there is now a requirement that if a passenger notifies the airline of a nut allergy, they have to provide a nut-free zone around where the passenger is seated (to include the row in front and the row behind). One of the opinion articles that I read pointed out that other people are allergic to almonds, brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hazel nuts, pistachio nuts, walnuts, pecan nuts, coconut, sesame seed, poppy seed, sunflower seed, and pine kernels – so do you ban all those as well?

And someone else said that as some people are allergic to latex, should you ban condoms from being carried on flights? Maybe that last suggestion was tongue-in-cheek, but illustrates that there has to be a point where you reach a compromise.

Nuts are a healthy snack, and I would have enjoyed having a packet on my Flybe flight (the only alternatives were less healthy snacks like Pringles, Mars bars, eccles cakes, chocolate muffins or flapjacks). It doesn’t worry me if I can’t get peanuts – but I would like to be able to eat other types of nuts. However I would be prepared to accept a situation where an airline didn’t serve any nuts on a flight where a passenger had advised in advance that they suffered from a severe nut allergy. That seems to be a fair compromise taking account of the rights of people with nut allergies to have a risk-free flight, and the rights of people without nut allergies to enjoy a healthy range of foods when they are flying. Banning all nuts from all flights seems to be an over-reaction.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The art of Longenburg’s U-bahn station

On the way back to Bonn, I got off at Longenburg station for a while to take some photographs of the modern art decorating the walls of this station. I’d spotted it on the way out to Konigswinter, but hadn’t been quick enough to get off the tram before the doors closed. I’d seen a couple of other stations with some modern art on the walls on the underground sections of the U-bahn, but this was the only above-ground station that I saw like this.

Nearly every wall of Longenburg station has been painted by different artists. Some of the art has been spoiled by graffiti vandals, as can be seen in the first picture below, but most of it is standing up quite well to the elements (natural and human). It certainly brightens the station up and gives some local artists (I’m assuming they were locals) an opportunity to show off their artistic skills. There seemed to be a few aspiring Picassos amongst them.

A (half) day trip to the Drachenfels

I was supposed to be on leave today, but I was asked to attend a last-minute meeting in Bonn in the afternoon, so had to cut my planned day trip to the Drachenfels back to half a day. I made an early start so that I would be back soon after lunch, but the weather did not look very promising. After three sunny days in Bonn, I awoke this morning to overcast skies and a light drizzle.

I took a tram to Konigswinter. When I got there the drizzle had eased off but it was still very overcast. As I only had the morning free, I decided to take the cog railway up to the top and walk down (the lazy option), but it turned out that it didn’t take that long (it was only a couple of kilometres) and I could probably have easily done the hike both ways well before lunch.

The cog railway is Germany’s oldest such railway having been built in 1883. It started using a steam engine (which must have been quite a feat given that the inclines are as much as 22 per cent) but today it uses electric trams. I grabbed a seat behind the driver and conductor and shot the photograph below as we approached the halfway point where the line divides to allow the up and down trains to pass.

When we got to the top I found that visibility was not very good, but I could see the Rhine through the mist. On a clear day the view must be quite impressive.

There was a group of teenagers at the top on what appeared to be a school trip. I am not sure if they walked up or came up on an earlier train. I suspect they didn’t walk because some of them looked like they were dressed more for a night out clubbing than a hiking trip (see girl on the left in photo below).

I started the hike down and it was easy walking. The overcast skies made it pleasantly cool and there was a well made path through the green forest.

A short way down I was able to get quite a good shot of the Drachenburg castle (below), but it would have made a much better photograph if it had been a sunny day.

The overcast weather didn’t stop me getting some good shots of the many rhododendrons growing alongside the path near the castle. Rhododendrons are one of my favourite flowering shrubs, but as we can’t grow them in the tropics, I can only appreciate them when visiting temperate climates.

Not far from the Drachenburg castle I passed these beehives which had faces of people stuck to the front (the bees entered the hives through their mouths). George W. Bush was on one of them. I think the one of the left in the photo below is supposed to be Osama bin Laden, but I can’t recognise the other two (although the one on the right is vaguely familiar).

Near the beehives was a statue carved out of wood which looked like a man carrying a dead man over his shoulder. A bit gruesome I thought – I have no idea what it represents. (That is the cog railway train heading down in the background).

Not far from the Drachenburg castle the pathway runs alongside the railway track, so I was able to get this good shot of one of the trains coming up.

A bit further down (about the halfway mark I think) there were 4-5 beer gardens and wine bars on the side of the road overlooking the Rhine – I guess on a sunny weekend this would be a popular spot to relax over a drink and take in the views.

By this stage the track had become a road, and there were people living alongside the road – quite a nice place to live I thought – but I bet the real estate is expensive. (Postscript added two days later: Note the 20 per cent incline sign in the photograph below. I didn’t realise how much walking down a 20 per cent incline affects your calf muscles – I could hardly walk two days later – I think I would have been better off walking up and taking the train down).

At the bottom there was one of the old steam trains on display:

From the bottom it was less than ten minutes walk to the pedestrian mall in the middle of Konigswinter where I was able to find a café for lunch before heading back to Bonn for my meeting.

It was a enjoyable morning out. In hindsight, I don’t think I would have needed a day to hike up and down Drachenfels, but I did see a few other hiking tracks heading over towards Petersberg, so I guess you could make it a full day by hiking some of those.