Monday, December 31, 2012

Another year almost passé—güle güle, 2012!

View across the Bosporus toward the Asian part of Istanbul
OK, so my Turkish is a bit rusty since it's been exactly 35 years since my last visit here in the only capital of the world spanning two continents: Istanbul. Amazing what 35 years can do to a city that's closing in on three millennia. (Byzantion was founded in 658 B.C.) When I visited here the last time, in 1977, the city was a Moloch of honking and fume-spewing cars and especially cargo trucks, throngs of beggars, and outlandish (i.e., oriental) looking denizens. And now, it is a cosmopolitan metropolis that resembles many cities in the West, even while the labyrinthine bazaar, it's mosques, and all those itinerant street vendors hark back to the Istanbul that I learned to love back in the mid-70s.
Inside the magnificent Suleymaniye Mosque
Don't get me wrong: This is still a magnificently foreign place. But it's no longer alien, as it was when I came here the first time, in 1975. Those were the hippie days, when you hung out at the Pudding Shop not only for hashish but also to score a ride on the overland bus route to Kabul. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I never visited that mystic place that was later reduced to rubble first by the Ruskies, then our GIs. Istanbul back then was the point where West became East, where reason was replaced by the oriental dream.
Fishing from the Galata Bridge is still en vogue for the locals
Thirty-five years later, I find myself looking at progress: A vastly better public transportation system, the Galata Bridge no longer floating at the entrance of the Golden Horn but rather pillared in concrete, QR-codes in the Topkapi Sarayı so you can use your iPhone to instantly get information on the digressions of the late sultans.... Progress is also in how I arrived here—via aeroplane instead of a 50-hour train trip—and where Sabine and I are staying—the Double Tree Old Town versus a $10 flop-house down the street back in 1977 when my old girlfriend Dées and I spent three days and nights watching liters of rain water run down the walls of our love nest. How the times change.
Spices and teas ....
... and beheaded mannequins in the bazaar
It is New year's Eve, and after a second full day of sightseeing we are taking a break in our room before we go out to ring in the New Year among the hordes of tourists and those locals who undoubtedly will try to cause yet another great fire in the conflagration-prone history of the former Constantinople. We're here for a total of six nights, and this will be number three. It's still an amazing place, just very different from what it was like 35 years ago, and yet so much alike, too. Who knows what sights, sounds, smells, and emotions tonight's celebrations will offer us. What I DO know, though, is that I am mightily glad to have returned to one of my favorite cities in the world, after all those years. Yes, it is different, but I have changed, too.
The New Mosque, pre-fireworks on New Year's Eve
Happy New Year, to all of you who may read this!


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Another Christmas in Berlin

A Merry Christmas drink, Jürgen-style
Today is the second Christmas day in Germany, where not just one but rather three days mark the holiday: First is of course Christmas Eve, when traditionally gifts are exchanged after some last-minute frantic shopping in the morning; then comes the first Christmas day, on the 25th, when people sleep in, have a big dinner, and then walk off the pounds in the afternoon before indulging in coffee and cake; and finally there is the 26th, a second day that is often reserved for visits to friends or family. Since Christmas Eve also happens to be my father's birthday (he turned 81 two days ago) the holiday always held a slightly different meaning for us.
Last-minute shoppers on December 24
I've been in Berlin for five days now after arriving last Thursday, and this afternoon I'm going to leave by train for Dortmund to see Sabine and her smallish family. Five days in Berlin are enough, especially in the winter when things are wet and fairly filthy. Berlin can be attractive, but that's only in the summer, and when it's sunny. Nothing charming about it when the days are short and the weather undulates between snow and rain. Yuk.
Not enough to ski...
But it was a satisfying sojourn, and my dad enjoyed my being here. As a bonus, I got to do something I had always secretly wanted to do ever since I learned how people in the big city discard of their Christmas trees: They throw them out of their windows or off their balconies into the street! Our tree lasted all of 24 hours (decorated with the help of my nephew Jannick on the morning of the 24th and jettisoned on the 25th since dad would never have been able to hoist the thing over the balcony railing), and the only thing I regret is that I didn't produce a video of the plunge from the third-floor apartment.
Oh Tannenbaum, oh Tannenbaum ...
No worries: My brother acted as a spotter so no innocent by-walkers would be hurt. Have fun hurling your trees. Merry Christmas!


Saturday, December 15, 2012

The last race of the season!

So here we are, at the end of the season: one last race! I'm one more time in Waco, for the Outback Cyclocross Race, taking place this weekend, December 15 to 16. Yes, 2012. What a season it has been.

The run-up at the Outback Cyclocross Race in Waco
I'm grateful that race director Bryan Fawley (the original Cornfed) asked for my being here, and I am equally grateful that Bonnie Walker, our TX-USAC liaison, assigned me as Chief Referee. I am staying with my close friends Ian and Cath, and their cute 11-year-old Daria has given up her bed for me (and she even treated it with Fabreeze, so it smells good!). And 9-year-old Sophie is sitting next to me right now, watching Harry Potter in HD. The life that cycling has given me is so good. Oops, here come Elvis and Snowy, two white dog-things that are about as loving as Liz' Zia. So much human and canine love around me!

Since getting back from Mexico, life's been one blur: Working on the remodel, working on the house, working on the remodel, working on my fitness, working on the remodel, working on upcoming races, working on the remodel,.... aaaarghh! I am so looking forward to being done with the remodel and living the life of a normal retired dude.
Two of the finest, Matthew and Bonnie, and the Belgian Waffle truck
Next Wednesday  I'll be off to Europe for three weeks, or so. My upgrade cleared today, so it's going to be another pleasant experience. I'll see my dad, there'll be a chance to talk to Bux, and Sabine and I will spend some quality time, too—and take a side trip to Istanbul! And then it'll be 2013, and another year of racing is looming. The most exiting assiggnment landed in my in-box just three days ago: a 5-day stage race in Brazil. Yes, Brazil. To hell with the remodel, especially since I will have at least two races in January and February that'll keep me going.

So, what can I say other than wish you a very happy, happy Holiday Season? I wish I could mail you my Christmas letter, which I was ready to print out in multiple copies until I realized that I cannot—thanks to the remodel—find my last two years' X-mas correspondence, which means that I don't have addresses to mail my letters to. Damn.I was even prepared to pay the postage!

So here we go: Drive safely, love your family (or friends), and definitely do overeat. Please tune in for news from Germany and Turkey,