Walking from Germany to Austria

Land borders are very peculiar things. It makes you wonder what happened before people decided to draw a line and divide the land. Before long, the border starts telling its own story. Take the North Korea-South Korea border for example: decades of heavy military presence from both sides turned it into no-man’s-land. Without human intervention, wildlife flourished and endangered species were unintentionally preserved. Even in the most unlikely places, life finds a way.

But today, I am going to write about the time I walked from Germany to Austria. One of my favourite things about the EU is the lack of border controls between most member states. You don’t have to stop your car and take out your passport, but there is no romance to crossing the border by cars, trains and planes—one blink and it’s gone. So I decided to walk by the river Lech from one country to another and pretended that I was as free as an ancient nomad.

Freedom of movement is only part of its appeal; the border I crossed also stands for the post-war promise of unity. Sadly, the coronavirus brought some border restrictions back. And how did people respond to that? A few months ago, a German resident extended his fishing rod to the neighbouring French town and ‘caught’ some bread from France. #madlad but I would do that too because um, French bread.

Back in simpler times (last year), I arrived at the river Lech’s German side one evening and decided to have a good night’s sleep first. Priorities!

Starting the new day with cherry trees in bloom

Let them eat cake: fuelling up for the walk

Brown insisted on coming along because he hoped to meet some new bears. The river sprang from the Austrian Alps, descending and widening on its way to the plains of Germany, where settlements like this can be found. Why does this sound like Geography homework…

Closer to its source, the river was narrower and wilder. The gathering grey clouds cast a magnificent shadow and coaxed the river into revealing its jade-like colours.

As there was no border marker on the river, Brown and I decided to cut across the woods to find a border marker by the road. As he wished, Brown befriended a wooden bear on the way.

The border! The drizzle made the faraway mountains misty.

After crossing the border thrice (it stopped drizzling about a minute later and I turned back to get some sunlit shots), I rejoined nature once more and found this lovely meadow to spend the afternoon.

Muse at Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol

I finally left my house after 3 months.

Ever since the pandemic escalated, I have been living the Box Life. I sleep in a big box and wake up to my colleagues in a 13″ box. My food is left in a box by my doorstep and my friends are in a 5″ box. This is partly due to vulnerable habitants in my box and partly due to my tendency to live in my head.

When the time came for me to fulfil my civic duty of voting, I stepped out into the wild wild world… or is it a planet-sized box, running on an operating system that has been invaded by the COVID-19 virus? I wouldn’t be surprised at this, having spent my childhood watching The Matrix, my teens reading books like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and my university days earning a Philosophy degree (first lesson: Descartes).

This short trip out of my house reminded me that a wider world exists, and it includes this website! I thought it was high time to write something and what would be more apt than this situation’s exact opposite? The last time I was in a proper crowd, it was a stadium concert where people stood shoulder to shoulder, row after row. Impossible! It must be fantasy, for everything that happened before 2020 seems to be a distant half-remembered dream.

Last summer, I saw my favourite band for the 6th time, and I fear it could be the last. The pandemic ebbs and flows, showing no signs of relenting. In this photo, you can see my watch tanline, fresh from Cornwall. With hiking as a hobby and a beach near me, my watch tanline was a constant. But after 3 months of Box Life, this tanline is no more and I also lost a stone (~6kg/14lbs). Essentially, I look like Gollum now HAHAHA

I once again made it to the front row, where you have both an unobstructed view and first dibs when the stewards start handing out water near the end. Wait, why am I extolling the benefits of queueing early? There is nothing left to queue for anymore. Even if there was, the practice of sharing water with strangers—or anyone at all—is not coming back.

A selfie with the gathering crowd

(Normally I don’t wear makeup, to the point where different people at different times asked me the same question, ‘Have you ever worn makeup in your life?’ I would always reply, ‘I wear eye makeup to rock concerts.’ It is my only makeup skill, unless you count applying lipbalm during winter haha. I spent two hours on this and of course, I absent-mindedly rubbed my eyes after this photo. If you used liquid eyeliner before, you know what that means…)

They brought the brass in for ‘Pressure’, which made this ex-trumpet player here very happy!

One of the best things about long summer days is this—gigs with epic sunsets! Matt was playing the solo in ‘The Dark Side’ here, how ironic.

Clip of ‘Thought Contagion’

Murph the Robot appeared with the opening riff of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. Its massive mechanical jaw and arm moved up and down through the metal medley, as if it would catch and gobble the band members up anytime. Yes, Muse can get very theatrical (they threw a guitar into the sea at Cannes). When I saw them at the O2 during the Drones tour, an inflatable airship fell into the crowd. Madness!

Confetti during ‘Mercy’! I got a lot of these on my hair, but that was nothing compared to the walking Christmas tree. Yeah on the way out of the stadium, this chap picked up all the confetti and completely covered himself with that, lol.

At the end of the gig, a crew member passed me this setlist, with the duct tape intact. Nice! :D I know some fans complain that their setlists are basically the greatest hits these days, which is quite inevitable when a band is long-lived. While I can’t argue against that (when I first saw them in 2007, they played ‘Bliss’ and ‘Soldier’s Poem’), I still enjoyed every show of theirs. After all, they won a dozen Best Live Act awards with virtuosity and showmanship that are increasingly rare with touring musicians. Most of all, there is nothing like the camaraderie with thousands of fellow fans, all the more precious in these isolated times.

Hang on… did I just say ‘precious’? #becomingGollum

Paris part 2

Hello everyone!

As promised, this is part 2 of my pre-COVID visit to Paris last year. While it is safe to assume that any travel posts since the Paris part 1 post would be pre-COVID, it is safer to carry a disclaimer. That said, let us get on to the content. I shall attempt to be less wordy hehe.

I took my bear out for a walk in the Buttes Chaumont Park. With its inner-city-edge location and elevation, I thought it would be like Hampstead Heath but the vibe was so different—it was so… French? People were having the quintessential picnic of baguette, camembert, wine and the ever-present cigarette. I cannot recall seeing a neon-clad jogger there. Yeah it was cultural differences in action alright.

Looking at this idyllic sight, can you believe that Buttes Chaumont Park functioned as a landfill centuries ago? Thankfully, that is all in the past. It is now a proper park with excellent horticulture and architecture. Pictured here is another view of the park: a miniature temple perched on top of an ex-quarry, accessible by an Eiffel-designed bridge.

Ah the innocent times of yore, where we dined shoulder to shoulder with our friends and thought nothing of it… since the light was so beautiful that day, I decided on two things:

  1. Highlight the light using black and white photography with a spot of colour (idea from Sin City)
  2. Make full use of the light by going to see the sculptures at the Louvre museum

Yes, I went back to the Louvre again. This always happens to me I go on spontaneous trips; I just keep going back to the same places. When J and I first visited London together, we did not plan much being typical teenagers—our main point was to watch Coldplay at Wembley. So we spent the rest of our time playing guitar in Kensington Gardens, riding aimlessly on double-deckers and sitting around Piccadilly Circus almost every night… and it was great! The best part was, when we had a little reunion in London three years later, we ended up at Piccadilly Circus again hahaha!

How about you? Do you like your trips to be planned or spontaneous? For me, it depends on many factors. It makes sense to maximise your time on a quick trip or short winter days. Purpose also plays a part—if you just want to relax and have a good time, then there is no point in checking places off the list. People are also another factor; flexibility is inversely proportionate to the size of the party. Friends who travelled with me know I surveyed everyone in advance about their needs/wants and scheduled accordingly. It was mad but fair. That said, without such factors, I prefer an even mix of both. While some planning is essential to catch your flight on time, too much of it would be too rigid and would risk the ‘I need a post-holiday holiday’ syndrome.

Back at the Louvre! I once saw the Egyptian pyramids from the plane and luckily they were not made of glass—that would have been blinding. I like the refraction on the other building though. Also, this photograph always makes me want to sing alt-J’s ‘Tessellate’.

Best of both worlds: indoor comfort with outdoor light

Marly horse by Antoine Coysevox

What a handsome steed! It graced the entrance of the Champs-Élysées during the French Revolution.

La seine by Antoine Coysevox

There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
—Leonard Cohen

Compagne de Diane by Anselme Flamen

The light was so glorious, even the sculptures could not bear it. Pardonnes-moi, je rigole. #jokes #sorrynotsorry This sculpture came with a bird atop her raised hand but the bird is long gone, sharing the fate of many broken sculpture parts. Still, that does not take away the liveliness of the sculpture. Chip by chip, the sculptor revealed the spirited nymph that hid underneath a once-lifeless lump of rock. Ah the marvel of the sculptor’s touch—how else can the wind move through unmoving stone?

Snail bread! It does not contain snails; it was named escargot because it looks like one. This delicate raisin bread is nostalgia in a bite. It is to me what madeleines were to Proust (in a wholesome way). When I was a child, my mother would always get this whenever we went to the café and let the lazy afternoon drift by… time was so soft then.

I’m probably gonna get stick for this, but foie gras is one of my favourite food and the one here at Le Comptoir de la Gastronomie absolutely hit the spot! As the industry’s controversial practice is partly influenced by demand strength, I try to eat it only once in a while. That’s all, please don’t attack me :s

Sea salt caramel crêpe at Breizh. While its fame is justified, I actually prefer my local crêperie. Yeah talk about going half the world away in search of something that was right in front of you… sigh when are restaurants going to open for dining in? I miss having kir Breton at Entre Nous.

Surprisingly, I took time amid all the gluttony for some classic sightseeing. 130 ans (130 years) was illuminated on the Eiffel Tower‘s first level, an expression of its long survival against many odds. Before the tower was built, it already had to face the artists that protested against it. Even after the tower was built, it was condemned to be scrap metal after 20 years—its communication functions eventually saved it from that sad fate. After occupying France, Hitler posed for a photograph with the tower (worth googling). He allegedly ordered it to be demolished but the memoirs of his chief architect, Albert Speer, suggested otherwise. According to Speer, Hitler said,

In the past I have often considered whether we would not have to destroy Paris… But when we are finished in Berlin, Paris will only be a shadow. So why should we destroy it?

In a twisted way, the tower was safe again. Good night, my friends. I hope this tale of triumph would strengthen you in these trying times.