Tuesday, 29 September 2009

I'm On The Road... Again!

Another week, another work meeting. Last week I was in Berlin, this week I'm in Lyon. After my stressful trip home last week I'm quite glad that instead of flying I'd decided to travel the entire way from Sheffield to Lyon via train. It's actually very easy -- Sheffield to London St. Pancras, St Pancras to Lille on the Eurostar and then Lille to Lyon.

I was hoping to get a photo of a Eurostar train for this posting but in the end I had to resort to using one from Wikipedia. The train is so long and you access the platform in the middle that all I saw in both directions, before boarding, the train was carriages.

I'm working all day tomorrow at IARC and then I travel home on Thursday afternoon. This leaves me Thursday morning when hopefully I'll get some time to walk around and see some of Lyon. Anyone reading this been to Lyon? If so any suggestions on what I should try and see?

Monday, 28 September 2009

Banking Reform

Next to the U-Bahn station at Spichernstra├če in Berlin there is a large investment bank. Outside the bank there is a sculpture. Given the way that banks have behaved in recent years I'm thinking that the statue is more than a little insulting to the average man on the street that used to trust the bank with their money.

Of course I could be wrong and the man being kicked off the ladder could be the banker but somehow I think it much more likely that the banker is doing the kicking.

I think that it's actually a really good sculpture I just think it should have been positioned somewhere else. If it truly reflects the mindset of the banking community then we definitely need to push for worldwide banking reform!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

The Brandenburg Gate, The Reichstag, and Checkpoint Charlie

Our short walk around Berlin moved from the Holocaust Museum to the Reichstag via the Brandenburg Gate. Unfortunately they were setting up for a political rally at the Brandenburg Gate and so it was difficult to really appreciate it, and certainly difficult to photograph.

In contrast the Reichstag was easy to photograph from the large square in front of it. We had intended to queue to enter the dome but even at almost 9 at night the queue was long and we decided to spend the time seeing other parts of Berlin instead.

From the Reichstag we walked past the British Embassy (which was well barricaded off and surrounded by lots of armed police) to Checkpoint Charlie. We finished the evening with beer and food (deer goulash) at Cafe Stresemann just a few yards from the checkpoint. A fantastic and educational evening!

I'm not even supposed to be here today!

"I'm not even supposed to be here today!" was my response to a question I got on the way home on Friday. I'd just boarded the plane and was asked what I'd been doing in Munich.

As you know I've been working in Berlin all week but found myself boarding a plane in Munich. What should have been a long but straightforward return journey to Manchester via Brussels became just a little more stressful and tiring.

We arrived at Berlin Tegel airport with plenty of time to spare, checked in and then waited for our plane to board. When boarding time arrived and the flight wasn't listed on the display at the gate we knew something was wrong. Apparently there was a strike at Brussels airport and while our plane had left Brussels on time no one knew what time it would be able to leave Berlin and head back. It quickly became clear that we weren't going to make our connecting flight.

Fortunately, the Lufthansa staff were great. We had decided that the only thing to do was wait and see what happened and then a staff member came across and told us that we had been transferred on to their Munich flight which was just about to depart so that they could make sure we got back to Manchester albeit a few hours later than planned.

In the end we arrived back in Manchester only an hour and a half later than expected so it could have been a whole lot worse.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Quietly Contemplating History

Berlin contains what has to be the biggest memorial I have ever seen. The Holocaust Memorial covers 19,000 square metres of prime Berlin real-estate and consists of 2711 differently sized concrete blocks and apparently doesn't actually represent anything in particular. I'm guessing if the memorial has any meaning it is that the huge scale of the memorial reflects the scale of the atrocities it remembers. At night wondering among the blocks is quite eerie but it was a good place to stand for a few minutes quietly contemplating history.

East Meets West

Last night a small group of us went on a walk around the centre of Berlin to see some of the more famous sites. It was a really clever idea as one of the complaints with work meetings is that we never really get the chance to see the places we visit as we are working all day long. We started at Potsdamer Platz which is an important public square and traffic intersection.

It's amazing to think that just 20 years ago I would likely have been shot at had I tried to get anywhere near the spot from which I took this photo last night -- standing with my left foot in East Berlin and my right foot in West Berlin.

Until November 9th 1989 the Berlin Wall was the main physical symbol of the Iron Curtain. In Potsdamer Platz (where I took the photo) it wouldn't be until the following weekend that the wall was breached and people could cross the wall at what had originally been a major road junction in Berlin.

As we walked around the centre of Berlin we kept crossing the line of the wall (a double strip of cobble stones to make it obvious where it used to be). Because of the way it moves around it isn't always clear if you are in the old East or West Berlin. We laughed about that at one point and that brought home just how much Europe, and Berlin in particular, started to change for the better 20 years ago.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Is It Safe To Sit Down?

I'm in Berlin this week with work. Hopefully I'll get to see a few of the sights while I'm here but so far the most startling thing I've seen is the warning on the toilet in my hotel room.

I'm not sure how close I want to get to that toilet!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Keep Heading West

What constitutes the UK mainland? One definition (that many delivery companies use) would be anywhere you can drive to without needing to take a ferry. Under that definition Skye, although clearly an island, is part of the UK mainland. That means that the most westerly point of the mainland is to be found on Skye and not on Ardnamurchan as I'd always thought (in my defense when I went to the most westerly tip of Ardnamurchan the Skye bridge hadn't been built).

The most westerly point on Skye is Neist Point and we made the short walk from the car park out to the coast. Of course the view west from the very edge of Skye would be just sea so I stopped a few yards short to take a slightly more interesting photo.
I didn't build up the little stack of rocks just to add something to the photo it was already there. In fact there are so many stacks of rock the trick would have been trying to take a photo without including one. Here is the view looking back eastwards and as you can see someone has been very busy.
Apparently they get built up every year and then the first winter storm arrives they all vanish.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Fairy Pools

Having been shown around Trotternish on our first full day on Skye, we moved south into the Cuillins on the second day to do a walk in Coire na Creiche. The walk follows the river, which has cut fairy pools (circular pits made by the river spinning pebbles around which drill into the rock) into the rock giving fantastic scenery. On a nice day I'm sure it would be spectacular, but with the low clouds and rain it was magnificent.

The walk requires crossing a stream at two different points. A few days before we had arrived on Skye the Mountain Rescue service had been called out to help a party who had got stuck out by the fairy pools. There had been about 2 inches of rain in just a few hours and the streams had become impassable. Not wanting to be rescued we had checked both crossings (they are both close to the car park) on the way out to make sure we could get back. There was a lot of water but both were easily crossable. It then rained, a lot. We stayed mostly dry given that we were well prepared with waterproofs (my new Gore-Tex jacket worked perfectly) but the rivers started to fill up. By the time we got back to the crossing the stream was quite a torrent. One of the crossings was impassable and so we had to detour to the other one. We got across but there was an awful lot more water than when we had set out. Another hour of rain and we might well have been stuck.

We then drove to the Sligachan to fully dry out while sipping a nice cold beer.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Trotternish Mosaic

On our trip around Trotternish I've so far shown you The Storr, the Diatomite works, Kilt Rock and the Singing Fence, and the view from the car park for walking the Quiraing. There is of course an awful lot more to see. Rather than boring everyone silly with lots and lots of posts on the same subject I'll finish talking about Trotternish by showing you a selection of other photos we took that day.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The View from the Car Park

The view from most car parks is usually pretty dull. Even in the middle of the highlands of Scotland car parks are often situated out of the way or hidden among trees. There are, however, some notable exceptions. For instance here is the view from the car park you would use to walk the Quiraing on Skye.
The view is looking almost directly west towards Staffin Bay and takes in the Qiraing on the left, all the way around to Loch Leurn na Luirginn, Loch Cleat and the crags of Dun Dubh on the right. I think you will agree that it's quite the view!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Kilt Rock and the Singing Fence

The third photo opportunity on our whistle-stop tour of Trotternish was the Kilt Rock viewpoint.

From the viewpoint the most impressive sight is actually the waterfall which was all the more impressive given that it had rained almost non-stop for all of August.

Kilt Rock is actually the rock formation at the back of the photo. It is apparently called Kilt Rock as the columns look like the pleats in a kilt. I'm not entirely convinced myself but it was a lovely spot in which to stand and enjoy the view and listen to the fence sing.

To stop people leaning out too far while looking at the waterfall and to stop them being blown away when it's windy a fence has been erected along the edge of the cliff. For some reason the tubular metal fence contains a number of small holes. The holes combined with the gaps between the rails and a strong wind make the fence sing!

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Diatomite

The next stop on our trip around the Trotternish peninsula of Skye was the Diatomite works at Inver Tote. Diatomite (known locally as Cailc) was discovered at Loch Cuithir in 1886. By 1889 the Skye Diatomite Company was extracting Diatomite from the loch and transporting it via railway to drying sheds at Inver Tote. The remains of the sheds can still be seen today although the railway has long since gone.
For those of you who, like me, have never heard of Diatomite before, I'm told that it is a whitish clay like deposit of microscopic shells. It has a number of industrial uses but it is probably best known as the additive used to make nitroglycerin stable giving rise to the patented product -- dynamite. If you want more details then the Wikipedia page is quite informative.