October 17, 2005

Tourist

IMG_0667.JPGIt's been two weeks since I left Toronto for Germany, and since then I've had little time or inclination to write a blog entry. I've done some rather standard tourist things, like look at big churches and drink beers in overpriced tourist-oriented beer gardens. This is not interesting, I don't think. I've also had a whole host of wonderful experiences, many of whom involve people from all sorts of places other than Germany, and made wonderful new friends and been exposed to exciting ideas. It hasn't been boring.

So, I shall sum up a whole week in Bonn with only one anecdote. We - our group of people from all over the world - were staying in a youth hostel, in the Bonn suburb Venusberg. Venusberg is lovely and all, full of stately houses on a wooded hill. However, it is not exactly a convenient place if you are interested in things other than sitting in quiet gardens drinking tea, and thus we were rather fixated on the bus schedule. There is one bus, the 621, that goes directly past the youth hostel and downtown. On weekends, it runs twice an hour, except after a certain hour of the night, when it runs only once per hour. The last bus leaves downtown at 12:30. The doors of the youth hostel are locked at 1:00. Not exactly a delightful situation for people who are used to being in control of their own transportation, with apartments and houses of their own...

But, take the bus we must. So we did. A whole lot of us, to go to Bonn on Saturday night. Three of us split off from the larger group, seeking a quiet patio with beer and conversation. We ran into a large group of the others at the bus station, waiting for the 10:30 bus. The 10:30 bus never came - instead, an official-looking but rather belligerent sounding man stood where the bus should have been, and announced - in rather rapid German - that the 10:30 bus would not be appearing due to lack of personnel. We could wait for the 11:30, or we could take the 630, which runs "almost the same route". Note that we had neither route map, nor time to consult - the 630 was revving its engines. Of our group, I alone had access to this information, since I alone spoke German.

Impusively, I hopped onto the 630 - as did a good dozen others, since speaking German = knowing where one is going, presumably. The 630? Does not go anywhere near the youth hostel. It skirts the base of the Venusberg, before veering off into parts unknown. Rodolfo had a tourist map of Bonn, and we were studying it when we realized that the direction of the bus was about to go horribly wrong for us. A quick consultation with a local revealed that we had best get off *now* unless we wanted to be well south-east of our goal. So we did. En masse.

Now, we are in a quiet suburb, but not our quiet suburb, with a tourist map, one German speaking person, a good dozen non-German speakers, a handful of cell phones, and a compass (though I did not at that point know about the compass). I commandeered the map, and started navigating. Very soon, we had a choice: cut across the woods, which are criss-crossed by walking paths, or follow a busy road around and up. Andrei pointed out that it would be difficult to find our way through dark woods. Amir argued that the woods would be more of an adventure. The map said the distance was about the same. I, true to my nature, chose the "adventure" option, and merrily skipped off into the woods. The skipping, however, had to be abandoned rather quickly: it was a dark night, what starlight there might have been was blocked by the leafy canopy, and I needed to cautiously feel the path with my feet to see if I was even *on* the path. Consulting the map was no longer possible.

Amir immediately pulled out his cell phone, and lit the way with his LCD display. Several others did the same. On a very dark night, having a 2m radius weakly illuminated is much better than feeling one's way by the touch of feet. With some inner trepidation and outward bravado, I led the way deeper into the woods. My logic was, if we keep going up, we will get there. I didn't have access to any other decision support tools at the moment - Amir's GPS was out of batteries, and I did not know there was a compass. So we stumbled along, amidst cries of slow down from the rear of the pack. And eventually, I saw a street light in the distance, and my recollection of the map was that if the streetlight was due south of us, we would have found the way. I was not so sure we had found the way, and, when asked if we were in the right spot, said "how would I know when you forgot the compass?" to the enquirer. Only then did I discover that someone had a compass all along, that we were headed south - and that, consequently, we had guessed right. I was proud.

It wasn't until the next day, when Andrei, Eliezer, Rodolfo and I decided to walk the same paths in reverse that I realized just how much guesswork there had been, and how lucky we were. The woods are a veritable maze of paths, and in broad daylight we were stumped as to which route to follow several times. How we made our way through in the dark I'll never know. By the light of the cell phones, we found our way somehow.

IMG_0764.JPGAnd that was Bonn. It was a surprisingly fun city, but that could be more connected to the fun people I spent time with than the city itself. I will say, however, that in my mind it had been a rather dull government sort of town - and in reality, it was a lively, English-speaker friendly city with beautiful cafes and interesting restaurants. I liked it very much. And while there was not much time for touristing, I did some things that are likely on every tourist's list: I hopped on a train to go to Cologne and look at the vast Dom, the church you may be familiar with from beer coasters (and these I had plenty of opportunity to see, having consumed some quantities of Kölsch). I went to Beethoven Haus, and looked at Beethoven's hearing aids and listened to a simulation of what his own music must have sounded like to Beethoven at various stages of his hearing loss. I went on a boat cruise on the Rhine.

And that was as much of the week as I care to write about. After that, there was Saarbrücken with HP, and then there was a train ride to Wangen, and now Freiburg, and then there will be some more trains and back to Wangen and then back on a plane and home. But no real adventures to report on. I think it's time for an adventure, though. And, due in large part to the very cool new people I met, my list of places I want to go has become longer yet again.

Posted by Johanna at October 17, 2005 06:31 AM

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