Saturday, August 17, 2013

Another Chance for Usedom

Elli and Peet in Heringsdorf, Usedom
Recently, I dissed the Baltic Sea. I called it a 'make-do' sort of vacation spot. I pooh-poohed the smoked and pickled fish thing. I did. I haven't become a fan of smoked and/or pickled fish, but I have warmed up to Usedom.

But maybe it was because Usedom warmed up too. We had mostly excellent weather. And we were with good friends. On the first evening in Heringsdorf, we went back to the outdoor grill where we ate schlaslik (skewered and grilled pork, peppers and onions) and baked potatoes last year. What a treat it was to find Elli and Peet playing. These guys are entertaining in the most delightfully quirky ways. They play lots of oldies and country songs, have a good following and emanate goodness. They made our trip to Heringsdorf (on Usedom) worth it . . . times ten.



The second day on Usedom, we rented bikes for 5 euros each--for the whole day--and rode from Heringsdorf to Swinemünde in Poland. It was an active, fun and warm day. That said, there are too many bikes along the promenade. Thousands of bikes. Millions. It's like Beijing during rush hour, except that you occasionally smell smoked fish.

There are bike lanes and pedestrian walkways, but people tend to ignore these divisions. Little children are wandering around parentless on the bike path, and cyclists are whipping among pedestrians like it's an obstacle course on the pedestrian walkways. It's chaos. And this is Germany where Ordnung is spelled with a capital letter. OK, all German nouns are spelled with a capital letter, but still.

When the weather is good, as it was when we were there, the entire population of northern Germany and Poland throng to the beaches--because they know this thing called THE SUN won't last very long.

From holidaycheck.de
On our third day we visited Zinnowitz, known for its café that rises three storeys and charges too much for the luxury of height. The town also boasts unjustifiably a Tauchgondel, a container large enough to hold maybe twenty gullible people that lowers into the Baltic Sea...four measly meters. And actually, in the end you're only about one meter under the surface of the water--the murky alga-green water.

That's right. You're in this container, thinking you're going to see fish like in the aquarium in Singapore maybe. You are deluded: you're not going to find Nemo here.

As the container sinks beneath the water, the windows begin to glow green and the guide informs you that seeing sea life is rare in this tourist trap. He doesn't do a mwah-hah-hah laugh or anything, but you do feel a bit trapped. You feel even more trapped when the guide starts to pull up the blinds on the windows and tells you to put on your 3-D glasses . . . to watch a movie.

"Excuse me," you don't say. "Couldn't we have watched this movie, um, on dry land?"

"But this is much more fun, isn't it?" the guide doesn't say.

"No," you don't say, but you do shut up and watch the movie. The kid next to you keeps trying to touch the 3-D fish. This is cute.

Of course we lie when we rise back out of the murky sea. We say we had a splendid time in 'the depths'. We saw dolphins . . . and a merman. No, no. Not a mermaid, we say. That would be too cliché and common. We saw a merman. It was so worth the money. And they served ice cream with sprinkles in the shapes of fish . . . for free.

"How far did the Tauchgondel go down?" someone asks.

"Did you see that Jules Verne movie?"

"You went to the center of the Earth?!"

"The other movie."

"Oh," the person sighs, "Only 20,000 leagues?"

"We saw a merman."

She gets in the queue for the disappointment of her life. Seriously, don't pay for this. Don't pay for this even if your children are screaming and crying because they just have to do it. They really don't.

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

I must be off,
Christopher

_____________________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.  

 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Z is for Zillertal

Sexy Cow
For the last 18 years, I've been hearing Germans talk about where they renew their mental strength, where they recharge their batteries. For lots of Europeans--not just Germans--the place to do this is on a beach; but for lots of others, this place is the mountains. You're either one or the other, unless you're the sort of person who likes mountains that ram right out of the sea, I guess.

I'm not a cat or a dog person; I'm a cow person. I'm a Heidi-loving, yodeling mountain person, but I still don't understand the concept of recharging my batteries in them. I've just come back from six days of hiking in Zillertal (Austria), and I'm pooped. Have you been to Zillertal? If you're from the US, chances are you haven't. You've probably been to Salzburg for a couple of hours because it was easy to reach from Munich, but did you dig deeper into Austria? Did you have a Tiroler Gröstl--an enormous plate of fried potatoes with bacon bits, onions and a fried egg on top? No? Did you climb every mountain? And ford every stream? No?

You should. Austria, or at least the west part of Austria, is like an accordion of Alps, each valley prettier, quainter and more expensive than the next (unless you go backwards, I guess; then each valley would be less pretty and less quaint and cheaper--yay!--than the next). All the houses are straight out of The Sound of Music, and there are little girls singing 'Do-Re-Mi' EVERYWHERE. It's truly freaky.

OK, though freaky, most of that last part is not true, but there is an awful lot of traditional music being played by smiley men in lederhosen. And there are the ever-present cows. We stayed in a little miss-it-and-hit-a-cow-if-you-blink town called Gerlos. It's way up in the mountains and takes around nine pop songs to reach from the autobahn--many more if there's been a motorcycle accident. And there are many.

Waltraud waiting for the bus in Gerlos, Austria
I'd like to think of Gerlos as the Little India of Austria. Cows are certainly sacred here. They roam the streets freely and poop wherever they want. Gerlos is theirs; we are mere visitors. But they do high-tail it out of your way if you honk.

View from our pension in Gerlos
We should have stayed in another town. Every time we set off for our hike in the mornings, we had to drive back down that stupid mountain. I say 'stupid' affectionately. I am a mountain person after all. If you're planning to go hiking in Austria, take into consideration where you'd like to hike first, and then book your pension/hotel nearby. Maps may be deceiving. It may take you twelve or even twenty pop songs to reach the next town if you have to drive up and down a mountain--behind cyclists, ever-present cows and motorcycle accidents--to get there. We--and when I say 'we', you know I mean Alberto the Spanish Barber's Consultant--didn't plan very well this time. 'Our' planning was crap.

You'll spend less money on petrol if you stay close to the mountain you want to slog up--but not down. We pass so many people on the way up who obviously did not walk up the mountain. How do we know this? They smell really pretty and are wearing the wrong shoes. You should never walk down the mountain unless the path is relatively flat. If the path is steep going up, you'll be doing your knees no favors by walking back down. Take the ski lift back down. It will set you back around 12 euros per person, but your knees will pay you back later.

Most of the enclosed ski lifts operate during the summer months, but you'll be disappointed to find that some of the larger ones run only in the winter months, when this part of Austria is booming. In summer, the chair lifts only work for the cows. They ride them up from the valley when they're done annoying the drivers in Gerlos.

Xavier, Inga and Trudy boarding the chair lift, on their way back to the valley
 
Sadly, I'm finished hiking until September unless Alberto the Spanish Barber's Consultant forces me to go hiking tomorrow. He claims his batteries are still half empty. I'd like to think mine are half full. I'd also like to think that lounging around the house tomorrow, writing, reading and daydreaming about cows will also charge my batteries. How do you recharge your batteries?

While you're thinking about this, here are a few more pictures of the grandly quaint place I've just visited:




This line of cars has stopped to let cows cross the road.

Today, I'm starting a contest for vicarious travelers: I Must Be Off! A-Z. All you have to do is follow the links at the bottom of the A-Z posts and leave a comment on each post (one that lets me know you read the post, please). The first three readers to do this will receive Dorothee Lang and Smitha Murthy's book Worlds Apart, an excellent travel book about India, China and life's lessons through travel. 

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

I must be off,
Christopher

________________________________________________________

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Guest Reader at SmokeLong Quarterly

Hi, sweet IMBO readers!
You may know me solely as the adorable, self-deprecating curator of this here travel blog, but if you gently scrape a couple of layers off, you'll see there's more to the man behind the gas mask. Besides being a writer of (mostly) quirky short fiction, I'm also an editor--the managing editor of Metazen, a daily literary ezine that publishes potential literature. The Guardian has called us a 'mainstay' in the Alt Lit community.

Occasionally, I guest edit for other magazines. SmokeLong Quarterly is one of my favorites. They've included my story 'When Chase Prays Chocolate' in their Best of the First Ten Years anthology--due out very very soon. I'm thrilled to be in this book of incredible fiction and truly mind-blowing authors.

This week--starting August 5--I'm the guest reader at SmokeLong. I'll be choosing one story for SmokeLong Weekly, and this story will also be included in the quarterly.

If you write brief fiction (under 1000 words) and want to submit, go to the SmokeLong submissions page and follow the guidelines. The reading is blind, so make sure you remove your name from the story before submitting.

I must be off,
Christopher

______________________________________________


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.