Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bavaria's Fraueninsel

A view of the Alps from Frauenchiemsee
There's a lake in Bavaria that's called the Bavarian Mediterranean Sea or das Bayerische Mittelmeer in German. We go there at least once a year. It's a popular destination for a day trip, and its real name is Chiemsee of course. I have no idea how it gained its comparison to the Mediterranean Sea. It's nowhere near as big as the Med. Maybe it's a mini-Med? It has islands and a few beaches but mostly promenades and traditional Bavarian houses with the Alps as a backdrop.

The lake is famous for a few reasons, but the two best known are the castle built by Bavaria's crazy King Ludwig II on the island Herrenchiemsee and the Fraueninsel, whose name is actually Frauenchiemsee but everyone in Bavaria calls the island die Fraueninsel.

I've lived in Bavaria so long that I couldn't really say whether I'd been to the Fraueninsel before our recent visit. I was sure I had been there, but as we walked around the island I had the odd feeling that I had never been here before. It's a beautiful, tiny island. It's the smallest community in Bavaria. The walk around it is about one kilometer. You can do it in about 30 minutes, but you should take it slowly. The restaurants and the shops on the Fraueninsel have been there for years and years, some for centuries. If you like smoked fish, this is your place. The island is also famous for pottery.

The monastery on the island has a long, interesting history. Founded in 782, it was most active from the 11th to the 15th century. Destroyed of course, as almost everything is, and then rebuilt in the 18th century, it's now run by around 30 nuns--although I saw only one.  And I should thank her for not chewing me out for taking the picture in the church (below). I really didn't see the sign telling me not to.

Wikipedia indicates that the government of the Fraueninsel is a theocracy. A sovereign municipality--the smallest in Bavaria, which makes me wonder how many "municipalities" there are in Bavaria. The island of course is part of the German social democratic system, but also governed independently.

The people on the island are Germans. The children play soccer under and around you. They ignore the tourists basically. I wonder what it would be like to grow up in such a small community that attracts so many tourists each year. Do the children feel like celebrities or goldfish? Or celebrity goldfish?

Like Phi Phi Island in Thailand and Mackinac Island in Michigan, Fruaenchiemsee is a car-free zone. There is hardly room on this island for cars anyway. If there weren't thousands and thousands of tourists scuttling about here, it would probably be the most peaceful place on earth.

Frauenchiemsee with the Alps in the background

Spring is probably not the best time to visit Chiemsee. The wind on the boat is biting, but as the sun comes out and warms us up, it's easier to take pictures. We usually go in summer when a chilly breeze is more welcome. If you're in Bavaria, a day trip to Chiemsee is a day well spent. A round trip on the boat that takes you to most places on the lake will cost around 9 euros.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Expat Author Interview with Marcus Speh

Marcus Speh Birkenkrahe
Image by Taffimai Metallumai
Marcus Speh Birkenkrahe's debut short fiction collection Thank you for Your Sperm is out now from MadHat Press! His short fiction, published widely both in print and online magazines, has been nominated and shortlisted for various awards and prizes. In 2013 his debut novel will be published by Folded Word Press. Marcus--who describes himself as "a particle physicist, professor, web head, father, former fencer and paratrooper, avatar, founder of the legendary Kaffe in Katmandu, book nut, storyteller and active member of several literary communities, most notably Fictionaut--lives in Berlin with his American wife, the artist Carlye Birkenkrahe, and their daughter Taffimai Metallumai.

IMBO: Welcome to I Must Be Off!, Marcus! Finally! Let’s talk about the expat in you. How long did you live in London and then Italy and then New Zealand? And what took you to these places?

Speh: Thanks. What shall I call you? IMBO? MBO? Sounds like Management Buy-Out. But I’m too old to worry about acronyms, and too ADD to stay with my own thoughts for too long. You ask so many questions! Let me answer them quickly to get the so-called facts out of the way: first I lived in Italy for four years (rather, I had an apartment in Munich, Germany and in Trieste, Italy, and commuted between the two); then I lived in London with my family for nine years; lastly, we moved to New Zealand where we stayed for one year. I notice that you didn’t mention LOVE in the English question: a mistake? Or do you actually believe German is the more romantic idiom? About the reasons for those moves: on the surface, I followed love to two of these places (Italy, UK; and earlier, Argentina), women were my visible motif. But deeper than that I used to be a nomadic character: even as a student, I made sure I’d leave Germany every year for a few months at least; even the Netherlands seemed more exotic and promising than boring old home. I’m still a little like that though I don’t like traveling much anymore, at least not without my family. Only lately I feel more settled and I’ve taken my eye off the travel-ball because writing has become such an important force in my life that everything else, or almost everything else, is subordinate to it. But most of our family live in the US, so we’ll still burn plenty of miles.

IMBO: Then let’s get right to your writing. Your stories seem to flow from an unbound imagination. Have you really stopped traveling? Aren’t you now probing and plumbing and mining the depths of Marcus Speh?  

Speh: I’m not sure about that traveling thing. I’ve resisted traveling to a large extent over the past decade apart from trips to our US family, but traveling is a wonderful way to recharge those batteries of imagination, isn’t it. On the other hand, there’re these depths: and indeed, I’ve found that it is difficult to pursue anything deep and possibly painful, too, while distracting yourself with traveling. Travel costs so much energy! It’s dispersive rather than focusing. It precipitates change. It can be quite purging, too. But as you say, probing/plumbing/mining is what I’m trying more of these days. I find that the long form (anything upwards of 20,000 words) requires a different depth of attention and focus than the short form, which I’ve done a lot of these last few years. That “unbound imagination” sometimes seems to stand in my way: it needs to be tamed and channeled to keep the water in the riverbed. If you want to reach the ocean, that is, and I do.
"Returning to my homeland after such a long absence felt a little like coming back to a story rather than to my own past. It still feels like that at times."

IMBO: Did you begin writing in English when you lived in London, or did you start before? Is there a different Marcus Speh Birkenkrahe when you write in German? Do different languages open different doors?

Marcus Speh Birkenkrahe
Speh: I believe I began to write in English when I went to school in London in the late 1970s; much later, again in London, I wrote 300 English poems in one year, but they were no good. I stopped writing German in New Zealand in 2002. Both when I speak and when I write, I feel (and, I think, sound and read) like a different person. You can hear this in my podcastshere is an example — but I’m not sure how to describe the difference. I’m more playful in English and much less inhibited, not just off but also on the page. And I’m not just talking about the disregard for proper grammar…yes, different languages do open different doors in one’s mind. Somerset Maugham says «the French language tends to rhetoric, as the English to imagery», and German writing, I think, lends itself more easily to the expression of ideas: philosophy is both our bane and our burden. Whatever the true correspondence, each language resonates more strongly with another aspect of inner/outer reality, and I do feel that. I relate well to images, perhaps that’s why I write in English. Though the more immediate reason is that my American wife is my first muse and my first reader. But I’m (always and forever) seriously thinking about writing in German, and the energy is growing. In the last issue of Frieze, Vincenzo Latronico wrote compellingly about English as a literary Lingua Franca—this really is the language I wield, not the English you speak or write (as a native speaker). There probably hasn’t been a time in history when languages and literatures influenced each other so deeply and changed so quickly.

IMBO: Your English voice is pure gold. I’ve told you this so many times, but I’ll say it again. Gold. There. Is this really a different person, though? Aren’t we, at least in some way, the characters we create in, from and of ourselves?

Marcus Birkenkrahe in Second Life
Speh: Thank you! I’ve been asked to do voice work and I’d like to, in another life. I think identity is a true paradox. I’ve just begun some research work in the direction of “online identities”. This was originally motivated by my activity in 3D virtual worlds like “Second Life”, but I realised then my proclivity towards pseudonyms and identity changes, which are so much easier to facilitate online than in real life, with all those processes attached to fixing you in lifelong patterns both ancestral and accidental, both endogenic and exogenic. Without these processes of fixation, we wouldn’t know who we are—we might wake up as cockroaches any time; but it also engenders limitations, and I’ve never much liked limitations of any kind, I’m a tad ashamed to say. (That shame may be a remnant of my German personality.) This creation of characters off and on the page serves us well to overcome inbuilt and adopted limitations—it’s one of the great perks of being a writer, I think. And yes, we are all these people we imagine and project. I've just read a rather bitchy review of Dostoyevsky’s life and work by Somerset Maugham, who I reckon was a little scared by the depth of Dostoyevsky, but he demonstrates beautifully how most of the characters created by Dostoyevsky were actually him. It doesn’t destroy the pleasure of reading the novels at all. It made me wonder if there’s another way — put differently, if any writer can write convincingly about characters that don’t live inside him.  
Finnegan Flawnt

IMBO: What’s it like to return? Have the characters within you changed since coming home? Is Germany home?

Speh: I feel a little exiled, as if I’ve never really returned, which is ridiculous since for all practical purposes I’m German and live a thoroughly German life except that I don’t speak German with my loved ones—I can’t even get my bilingual daughter to speak German with me. Returning to Germany ten years ago after a decade abroad was eerie. I had difficulties with all the usual issues foreigners struggle with, too: the endless complaining at a super-high level of sustenance; the lack of expression on German faces; the general sence of obedience mixed with irritability. But I was also happy to be home in some sense hard to define: Germany feels safe, solid and sensible; public transport is paradise. Once I enjoyed traveling to Weimar and sitting in Goethe’s house in a quiet corner while the guided tour noisily moved onward: there was a sense of the forbidden which I felt Goethe would have approved of. I liked going to London, Paris and Rome for the weekend. On a consulting job in Vienna I visited the Freud museum located in his former practice rooms, and I did group work in the festival room of Palais Lobkovitz where Beethoven’s Eroica symphony was first performed. The past seems littered with such flash memories: I expect over time they’ll turn into fiction just as everything turns into fiction eventually. Returning to my homeland after such a long absence felt a little like coming back to a story rather than to my own past. It still feels like that at times.

IMBO: It's always fascinating to hear you talk about your writing, Marcus. Thank you so much for stopping by, and I'm looking forward to breakfast again in Berlin--next time it's on me. 

I must be off,


Cover art by Carlye Birkenkrahe
Marcus Speh Birkenkrahe's first collection of short fiction, Thank You for Your Sperm, is available now. Read more about that HERE

You might also like THESE interviews.


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Other Mallorca -- Part III

Today William the Donkey Groomer has decided that we'll explore the region of Serra de Tramuntana, which was named a World Heritage Site in 2011. We cover a lot of ground too--dozens of miles even. You see, we have a hiking method called "Hiking on Four Wheels," which we employ on days after very long, strenuous hikes (when we've thrown our backs out or find it difficult to walk down stairs or even get out of bed, that sort of thing). There are thousands of cyclists on the road. Some bikers look pooped and panting before they even start up one of the many World Heritage site mountains.Goodness. Good luck to them.

"They are going to die. They are not even dressed right for cycling," William says, as if the right sports attire could save one from a heart attack.

We might be overlooking the obvious: that people who decide to drive through these mountains rather than bike or hike are probably the people in danger of heart attack.

Do you remember our failed attempts at reaching the cove "just beyond that mountain" from Part I of this story? Well, William has decided to surprise me (and then of course he tells me about his surprise, ruining said surprise) by driving to the cove that we couldn't be bothered to reach on foot.

"We can't drive directly to it. We'll have to walk a bit."

I'm excited. I'm conjuring romantic postcardworthy visions of a secluded, pristine paradise that can only be reached by "a bit" of walking. Yesterday's walk really did my back in, so I'll be walking a bit like an elderly man with osteoporosis.

We snake through the mountains, dodging cyclists and hikers. We argue. I'm trying to take pictures by hanging out the window; and William, whipping around curves at 90 mph, is not facilitating this at all. I could get better pictures if I were driving and hanging out the window with the camera. All the good shots are on his side.

"Let me drive." I try to climb over on his side of the car.

OK, I don't do this. Yes, yes: safety is more important than a great photograph. Here are a few of the bad ones I took from the passenger seat of the car with all the good stuff on the driver's side:

The cove? What a let down. It's called Cala Tuent, and pretty sure Tuent means Snoresville. It was pretty, but I'm glad we didn't hike six hours to reach it. I guess, though, it would appeal to a lot of tourists who are trying to get away from the commercialized side of Mallorca. There's a shabby little house near the water and not much of anything else here. The water is reported to be of excellent quality. And to our surprise, we were able to drive right up to the water's edge.

Did you know that Europeans brought the concept, or I suppose the habit, of sunbathing to the island of Mallorca? The people living on the island would never have lain in the sun on a beach. They used to beaches for picnics but started sunbathing only after the Europeans started spending their vacations there in the 1950s. I might have a bit of native Mallorcan in me. I hate lying in the sun.

Cala Tuent, Mallorca

Have you entered the first annual I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest? Check out the guidelines HERE.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type, the story of a man struggling with expectations. Available from Amazon Anything.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Other Mallorca -- Part II

Sóller, Mallorca (Spain)
We've decided to hike from Deiá to Sóller and back today. It won't be less than six hours. We park the car in Deiá, a town on a ridge with a few quaint restaurants, a tiny market, the requisite church and very limited parking. We've driven through the "town" before, so I know what to expect. The main street will be choked with gabbing locals, playing children and oncoming traffic. I wonder what the mortality rate is on this road. The motorcycles come through here like wildfire.

William the Donkey Groomer is standing--and staring--at the machine where you pay for parking (I know the word in German for this--Parkautomat--but have never seen one in English). He finally looks back at me--I'm still at the car, fussing with my jacket zipper--and gives me the shrug that means he doesn't understand the Spanish instructions on the machine.

"I only have two euros," I shout. "How much will it cost?"

He looks back at the machine, then gives me another shrug.

"I'll buy a drink from the market and get more!" I trot off to the market, which is tiny and filled with Deiáns buying their morning bread. I'm fourteenth in line, so in my mind I get out my camping gear, pitch a tent and start a chorus of Kumbaya. The woman at the counter is chatting with every person before and after the sale, which would be cheery if I weren't waiting in a queue--which I hate more than anything in the world. I understand everything she's saying even with my limited Spanish. It's all so bueno bueno bueno and smiles. I wait patiently, hoping I'll get some bueno bueno bueno too.

"Zwei zwanzig,"--two euros and twenty cents (which I would have understood in Spanish too)--she says as I show her my drink. No smile. No bueno. "Haben Sie es nicht kleiner?"--Don't you have anything smaller?--she asks when I show her my twenty euro note. (Please try to resist "smaller" jokes right now.)

Donkeys--not groomed by William, obviously

"Leider nicht," I say and smile. "Bueno," I whisper to myself.

When I return to the parking machine, my pocket bulging with coins, it turns out the machine won't let you pay more than two euros. And it says this in perfect English. I narrow my eyes at William the Donkey Groomer, who speaks perfect English though it's not his mother tongue.

"We can't park here," I say. "We'll be gone for at least six hours, and Deiá doesn't want us to park her longer than two."

I see in William's eyes that he's considering just paying two and hoping for the best. He enjoys tempting fate.

"You remember Gran Canaria, right?" I say. "Two hundred euros to get the car back and three hours standing around at the police station?"

"We'll park somewhere else," decides William. It's a good decision.

We turn down the road where the trail starts and find a free parking space twenty meters from where we could have started walking thirty minutes sooner if we'd read this blog post beforehand. Always drive to the where the trail starts. There's probably parking there.

The trail from Deiá to Sóller meanders up and down, in and out of olive groves. On this trail you're never quite free of the annoying motorcycle roar from the mountain roads, although as you near Sóller the noise lessens. After around two hours we happen upon a large manor house that serves guests coffee and cake. The aroma of butter and freshly baked cake wafts from the door of the manor.

"Go in and smell this," William says. "At least you can smell it."

I go in. It's heaven. To my right is a counter with eight cakes and tarts--all beautiful. They look and smell intoxicating.

Soller, Mallorca
"Would you like something?" A woman says, walking out of the kitchen.

How do I tell her that her cakes are poison, that I can't eat her gluten-laced cakes?

"Sin gluten?"

She squints at me, confused.

I smile, try to be adorable. "I can't eat wheat. Trigo."

"Oh," she says, like "Well, then go away."

When I didn't know I couldn't eat cake--a decade ago--I wasn't even much of a cake eater. It's much more interesting to smell the cake. I linger just a moment, my nose hovering above a tart layered with apples, before I go. Imaginary drool splats on the counter.

It takes us another hour to reach Sóller, where we try to reach one of the lighthouses. I have great intentions of getting a fantastic photo with all three lighthouses, but it turns out they aren't accessible. This is the best I can do:

Three lighthouses (one no longer in operation) in Sóller, Mallorca

If you are on Mallorca, Sóller is a must. The town has good restaurants and a good feel. It's so far away from Ballermann that you wouldn't guess they were on the same island. And that's what I like about Mallorca. You don't have to experience this place like every other tourist. You can choose. You can cycle if that's what you're into, and apparently spring is the best time. On Mallorca, you'll never cycle alone.

Tomorrow Part III of The Other Mallorca.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author if Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Available from Amazon Anything.    

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Other Mallorca -- Part I

The West Coast of Mallorca (Majorca)
What do you think of when you think of Mallorca? If you're from North America or Asia, you probably never think of Mallorca at all--or you might think I'm referring to a bad whale, or maybe a whale that likes to go to the mall? While you'd get lots of "ridiculous points" for both of these, you wouldn't get the cigar. Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands. It belongs to Spain but is often jokingly called the 17th German Federal State. The name actually refers to the island's size in comparison to the other islands in the archipelago: major (big).

Ballermann 6 (on the playa de Palma) has become so well known for its German Schlager parties in the enormous German beerhalls that the Germanization of Mallorca is hardly ignorable. Don't get me wrong: these places are great fun if you 1. know the songs and 2. um, like the songs. They're catchy and sometimes a bit dirty and of course 99% in German. I know some of the songs, so I'm almost in the group of people who like them. I've always thought the world would be a better place if we'd all--and I mean all of us--would just stop fighting and enjoy a bit of light entertainment together.

The snack bar at Ballermann 6
The problem with Ballermann is that, alongside all this lighthearted entertainment--it has become (or maybe it always was) incredibly trashy. There are prostitutes on many corners at night and scary types milling around looking for . . . a fight? drugs? Who knows. You walk fast and try not to make eye-contact. We were smarter this time. We stayed on the main street. The last time we were on Mallorca, in February, we walked home from one of the beerhalls down a back street and were practically roughed up by two prostitutes who didn't want to take NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS for an answer. 

The beach is overrun with shirtless groups of young, not-exactly-fit men celebrating something or other by drinking massive amounts of alcohol and shouting their favorite songs, which are booming from their own boombox. And these songs are never the songs you like. This is almost as bad as being hardsold by a hooker.

When William the Donkey Groomer and I go to Mallorca, we spend our days hiking. Check out THIS SITE for lots more information about the Camina per Mallorca. This trip is no different even though the weather forecast is a blatant lie. It's at least 10 degrees colder than predicted, but we are nothing if not rugged.

"We need another towel," I say, coming out of our hotel bathroom with a bath towel around my neck. "I'm going to use this one as a scarf. Do you think it looks rugged enough?"

"No." William the Donkey Groomer doesn't look up. "You look like Lara from Dr. Zhivago."

"Just over that mountain."
So we set out on our first hike without my towel scarf (I rely on Will's outdoor fashion sense despite the fact that I think Lara was pretty rugged in Dr. Zhivago). Once we get going, it's not that cold. It's that awkward temperature that keeps making you want to take off your jacket; but then, soaked in sweat and freezing, you put it back on and marinate in your sweat. Stupid jacket. We've decided today to walk to the cove that we were too lazy to walk to last time we were on Mallorca.

"It's too far," Willam the Donkey Groomer says after we've walked for at least three hours already.

"It's just over that mountain."

"Thank you, Sir Edmund Hillary."



We turn around. The hike ends up being six hours of steep ups and downs, so I'm not bothered. But I hate not finishing what I start. Hiking to me is about reaching the destination. Blech on the notion that the journey is the destination. I've said it before, but here it is again: The goal is the goal. The path to the goal will be rocky, steep and cold--with no towel scarf--but you'll feel great once you've done what you said you were going to do. I'm not sure if I've said all that before, but there you go.

More tomorrow on The Other Mallorca.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type, about a man struggling with expectations. Available from Amazon.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Eight Days in the Canary Islands -- Day 8

Auditorio de Tenerife "Adán Martín" -- the Symbol of Tenerife and the Canary Islands
We've survived the high seas. Overnight, we have sailed into the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, where our journey began. We have eaten our last meal on the ship and we have seen our last show. We have trod--now we're getting dramatic--our last kilometer on the treadmill and exuded our last drop of sweat in the sauna. We are done.

"Our flight is not until five o'clock this evening, so I have hired a car and we shall expore the island." Alexander the Pool Shark trots off to get the car.

"Really?" I call after him. "Are you sure you don't want to sit peacefully at the airport for six hours . . . and check our emails?" But he's gone.

I sit and watch all the people leaving the ship. I've never seen most of them. There were, after all, 3000 of them on board. Their suitcases number in the 1000s too. We've carried ours with us because we'd planned to tread a few more kilometers on the treadmills before breakfast. Very good intentions indeed.

When Alexander the Pool Shark finally arrives with the car, we set off in the direction of a tourist spot called Las Americas.

"What does Las Americas mean?" Alexander asks me because I am known for my talent for languages.

"Are you kidding?" And for my adorable sarcasm.

"You don't have to be mean to me."

"I don't have to."

Instead of explaining how plurals work in Spanish, I turn on the radio and start singing. Las Americas is a beach resort area with an incredibly long promenade that is wheelchair accessible. As we walk and walk and walk and walk--this thing is longer than the Copacabana--we hear lots of British voices, lots of Italians and lots of Russians. More and more Alexander and I are mistaken for Russians.

"Dobre," someone says. I turn. Why, I don't know. Maybe I am Russian. It's one of those guys outside a restaurant who tries to get you to sit down and eat. "Dobre dobre." So this is the only word he knows.

"We are looking more and more Russian these days," says Alexander the Pool Shark.



"No, Da means yes in Russian."

"We will now stop at McDonald's and buy you something to eat on the plane."

"Will we really?"

"Yes, We will buy you a gluten-free double cheeseburger so that you will not starve on the five-hour flight back to Germany."

"I don't think I'll starve."

"You will starve."

"The gluten-free double cheeeburger will be cold and nasty by the time we're on the plane."

"It will not." And this settles it.

We then pay a visit to the volcano that created this place: Teide, or Mount Teide, the highest peak in Spain and the third highest volcano in the world. Sadly, it's dormant now, the last eruption being in 1909. Still, it's a popular tourist destination.

We've packed a lot into the day. Here are a few more impressions of the city Santa Cruz . . .

Unlike Fuerteventura or Gran Canaria, Tenerife is worth another visit or three. The gluten-free double cheeseburger, on the other hand, is really nasty and cold by the time I eat it on the plane, but I eat it because I'm starving. When Alexander the Pool Shark is right, he's right.

To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to U is for Usedom.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire) about a man struggling with expectations. Available from Amazon Anything.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Eight Days in the Canary Islands -- Day 7

The Green 'lake' at Il Golfo (not a volcano)
"Volcanoes," I say and before Alexander the Pool Shark can ask what I mean by this, I say, "Volcanoes" again. I really want to see an active volcano. I've seen lots of volcanoes, and yes obviously--if you've noticed my picture in the header of I Must Be Off!--I've even stood on an active one. I'm that rugged.

I've been interested in Lanzarote ever since one of my students told me how volcanic it is. You know, if you've followed my blog for very long, that I'm not so keen on knowing much about a place before I explore it. I want to feel like a rugged explorer exploring the rugged volcanic landscape as ruggedly as I can.

("Do we want to pay 20 euros extra for air-conditioning in the car?" Alexander asks.

"Of course we do.")

But occasionally for purely pedagogical reasons, I ask my students to tell me about their holidays. This particular student always goes to Lanzarote "because of the volcanoes." So I'm hooked.

Here is some nformation I know now but certainly did not before I ruggedly explored the island (all paraphrased from Wikipedia, give me a break):

1. "The first recorded name for the island was Insula de Lanzarotus Marocelus, after the Genoese navigator Lancelotto Malocello, from which the modern name is derived. The island's name in the native language was Titerro(y)gatra, which may mean 'the red mountains'." -- I suspected this last part only because "rot" means "red" in German, which is nonsense since German tourists did not conquer the island until 1983.

2. Lanzarote has 213 km of coastline, of which 10 km is sand, 16.5 km is beach, and the remainder is rocky. --Wikipedia makes the kilomters plural despite the fact that units of measurement like distance and time are normally considered to be singular. I can vouch for the rocky part, though. And also windy and rugged.

No matter what this looks like, the smooth part in the foreground is NOT an asphalt path for tourists.

3. The biggest eruptions happened in 1730 and 1736, long before the Germano-anglo tourist conquest. The Canary Islands are apparently the by-product of the American and African continental plates drifting apart--like the children of a very nasty divorce. Yes, we're also drifting away from Wikipedia--because it's boring.

4. From our air-conditioned car, I keep seeing stone arcs in the fields. I wonder if any other explorer has noticed this before, so I wiki it. It turns out they have. These fields are actually vineyards: "Single vines are planted in pits 4–5 m wide and 2–3 m deep, with small stone walls around each pit. This agricultural technique is designed to harvest rainfall and overnight dew and to protect the plants from the winds. The vineyards are part of the World Heritage Site as well as other sites on the island."

5. The national parks are kind of expensive to enter. And we are cheap (although Wikipedia does not confirm this).

"Thirty euros is too much for volcanoes," says Alexander the (cheap) Pool Shark.

"But how will I sell myself as rugged and explorative if we don't at least drive to within a kilometer of a volcano?"

Salinas de Janubio
"Do you have thirty euros?"

I dig in my pockets. I have 65 cents, a used toothpick (but only one tip) and a throat lozenge (I've been feeling a bit poorly). "Toothpick?"

So I don't get to see the active volcano on Lanzarote; I'm not even sure there are active volcanoes on Lanzarote. Just a second. Ah. In the National Park Timanfaya, there is indeed some action. Apparently--"apparently" since half a toothpick wasn't good enough for Alexander--"the surface temperature in the core ranges from 100 to 600 °C at the depth of 13 metres (43 ft)."

"Could we turn up the air-conditioning just a bit?" I ask.

We drive back to the port, board our hotel/entertainment factory and head directly to the gym because we are rugged. The farewell party is tonight, so we'll all be expected to be on deck in fashionable coats. It's an emotional event with lots of hugging and exchanging of emails. Not. I don't know these people. I haven't spent one minute sunbathing at the pool or chatting with people at dinner. Three thousand people on this ship and not one new--lasting, meaningful, passionate--friendship. What a relief!

Tomorrow Day Eight of my Eight Days in the Canary Islands.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type, the story of a man struggling with expectations. Available from Amazon Anything. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Travel Theme: Benches

For years I've been a tad preoccupied with The Bench--as a place for reflection, a place to rest from a long walk, a place to watch the world. I've taken hundreds of bench photos. In response to Ailsa's challenge at Where's My Backpack, here are a few of my favorites . . .

One of my favorite pictures of all the thousands of pictures I've taken. The light coming through the trees in this Croatian courtyard has always amazed me. It was so quiet here. While the rest of the village was buzzing with life, this secluded spot was still.

Hiking in British Columbia. A bench like this at the top of a hill is a welcome sight.

Stanley Park in Vancouver. I'm not sure if you can see how hot it is. Everything--the flowers and the grass--looks so cool, but it was blistering hot that day.

Actually it was cooler here on the Copacabana. This guy will probably still be sitting there if you decide to visit Rio de Janeiro. The Copacabana is cleaner than it used to be. It's always worth a visit. And if you can be there during the Basanova concerts, you're really lucky.

A bench overlooking Achensee in Austria. That's the very touristy but pretty village of Pertisau, the yellow from the trees, in the background. It's a nice, long walk around the lake.

This is a very practical sort of bench in the Roman ruins at Ephesus in modernday Turkey. The men of the city used to gather here to shoot the shit, as it were. There were no dividing walls between them. That would have obstructed conversation--and I'm told there was quite a lot of conversation here.

The middle one is me. I'm sitting on a bench in the ruins of Lycia, the birthplace of Saint Nicholaus in Turkey.
I wonder if someone is saving this bench for themselves with these beer bottles in this Berlin Park.

Nothing spectacular here, but it's one of my favorite places: The King Edward Memorial Park on The Thames Path in London. This park is in danger of being ripped up to build the Super Sewer that London needs pretty badly. The signs on those trees are protests against the new sewage system.

A guest bench! 'Ceci est un banc' by Paola Fornari (, Tory Island, Donegal, August 2012.
Also a bench along the Thames Path in London, very close to London Bridge. Lovely and artistic, but I prefer a bench with a back--because mine needs one.

New York City in February. It was a cool but sunny day. This lonely bench in Central Park looked more like a piece of art than a place to sit.
And this is my favorite bench pic of the last few years. OK, it's technically not a bench, but there is room for multiple behinds, and you can keep fit while you're resting--if that makes any sense at all.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), the story of a man struggling with expectations. Available from Amazon Anything.