Thursday, September 20, 2012

Karlsruhe and back to Alkmaar

I have more friends in Germany than anywhere else in Europe, but have a hard time getting around to visit them. This time, on our way back to Alkmaar to meet up with Savannah, Kees and the parents once again, Ena and I stopped in Karlsruhe to meet up with a pair of friends of mine that I'd also met in Brisbane. Will, one of the friends I'd met up with in Antwerp last year (with Jens, who lives in Antwerp) is doing his engineering undergrad in Karlsruhe and Chelsey, his British girlfriend is living with him there. I'd met and stayed with both of them in the same dorm for a couple months in Brisbane while I was working at Parmalat. It's a bit scary to think that my friends are Savannah's age (or younger) but somehow it works.
Will had no idea that we were coming. He was studying for his last final and I'd ended up talking to Chelsey first and we decided to surprise him and hopefully provide a little relief and distraction from the stress of non-stop study. The surprise worked quite well and he was happy to see us, but still had to study so for the most part Chelsey (who'd only been in Karlsruhe for a month or 2) ended being our guide for the 3 days we stayed.
Karlsruhe is probably a nice city but at the moment they are building an underground metro system to replace the current tram lines running thoughout the city so there is construction all over the place seriously detracting from the atmosphere. The German constitutional and appeals courts are located in Karlsruhe and were going to be a highlight for Ena but as it turned out the whole court building was completely covered in scaffolding as well and we could see nothing of it. However, the real purpose of my visit was not to sightsee but to visit with friends and so we spent quite a bit of time just hanging out on the lawn of the central palace playing cards, juggling or relaxing. The palace is pretty, especially when lit up at night and is the main central landmark of the town. All the old main streets in Karlsruhe then radiate outward from this central point and it's been suggested that this was the model used when later designing the layout of Washington D.C. I don't know anything about that but I guess there are enough similarities...


Playing cards on the lawn of the palace.

Karlsruhe Palace.

Chelsey also had a contact in the local zoo that could get the 4 of us in for free so we spent an afternoon hanging out there. It's unique in the sense that it's right in the middle of town and has a large “pond” that crosses the park with little boats running on a track from one end to the other. The boats were a gift from a sister city in England decades ago with the condition that they never be replaced so the original boats are still used, despite being outdated. There is a marker and line inside the zoo for the 49th parallel so for anyone that doesn't realize where in Europe a city like Vancouver lays, now you know. It's farther south than we usually think. I usually think of Vancouver as being at the same level as Paris, which is roughly correct, and speaking of France, Karlsruhe is only a few km from the border with France and although I was tempted to cross, in the end we didn't.

An oriental garden at the zoo.

The 49th parallel marker in the zoo.

I continued on to Holland the same way I arrived in Karlsruhe, by rideshare which remains the cheapest way to get around Germany and to neighbouring countries short of outright hitching. I only ended up staying in Holland for a week. Our friend Rhiis (think way back to Egypt and last year in Vegas) was on his own little holiday in Europe and stopped by for most of the week I was there. It was great to see him again and he and Kees being both musically inclined ended up getting us all to attempt to play Kees' drums (with very limited success) much to all our amusement. It was great to be able to spend time with him again, visiting the local sites again, though my knee kept me out of all the group bike rides. Alas, it was far too soon before I was the first to leave, so saying goodbye to Rhiis, Ena and my family I was once again back at Schipol airport, this time boarding a flight, homeward-bound via Iceland...


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