Hearty Welcomes & Salutations! Originally an action-packed travel blog from a globe-trotting Scotsman, An Ache for the Distance has, over the years, slowed down (I post less often), mellowed out (domestic life has found it's way way on here) and become more of an expat/photo blog. Take a look around, leave a comment and share the love if you like something.
Stuart Mathieson, Lübeck, Germany

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

India Preparation - Vaccinations

Hepatitis? Check. A & B? Check. Tetanus & Diptheria? Check. Typhus? Check. Pneumokokken? Check...wait, pneumo what?

A couple of weeks ago a friendly, smiling German doctor took great pleasure in ramming a giant pneumokokken filled vaccination into my arm, why? Because I told her I hadn't had one before. Why did I say this? Because I didn't know what it was.

Rather than admit ignorance to the plight of those suffering from pneumokokososity, I took another needle. Some time later after the pain disappeared, I thought it best to find out what I was now immune to.

An internet translation of the German word kokken was required. I think it would be fair to say that I'm not the only English speaker who, when faced with a word like kokken, would be curious to find out which part of the anatomy is now vaccinated. Alas, kokken translates in English as coccobacilli.

With this new found fact, I surmised that I might now be vaccinated against some form of Italian pasta, a variety not sold in Lidl. Wikipedia was needed.

This is what I found,

Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus, is gram-positive, alpha-hemolytic, bile-soluble aerotolerant anaerobe and a member of the genus Streptococcus. A significant human pathogenic bacterium, S. pneumoniae was recognized as a major cause of pneumonia in the late 19th century and is the subject of many humoral immunity studies....

The last words... Humoral immunity... That's chilling. Did a German doctor immunise me against humor, albeit only American humour with that spelling? Not possible, although Germans are famous for not having a sense of humour so it would make sense... Hmmmm...

In the end, I still couldn't find out exactly what I was vaccinated against. But, at least now I can sleep soundly at night knowing the word Kokken won't be on my gravestone...

Sunday, 29 August 2010

India Preparation - The Map

Twenty four days and counting. The excitement builds for both me and the German population. The bhajis, samosas and curries are tickling my toes and the prospect of having a city of devotees again no doubt tickles the city elders' toes in Hamburg town hall. Once they rid themselves of one Scottish critic, Hamburg will once again be a city where every citizen believes, in all seriousness, that it's the most beautiful city in the world...

Don't get me wrong, it's a nice city. But comparing Hamburg harbour with Sydney harbour leaves the former looking like Susan Boyle chewing on a wasp. Der Schönste Stadt der Welt? If you say so...

Anyhow, with only twenty four days to go, I found another reason to stumble into a book shop. I wanted a map. A map that I could take out on trains and look worldly with. A map I could track the trip with. A map that could fit in my pocket, a pocket map you might say. What I bought was something which could easily paper the wall of a medium sized slum hut. Why? Because I'm a man...

Whilst perusing the Asian map section I couldn't find anything on India. The sales assistant clearly noticed my famous concentration/constipation face and enquired if I needed any advice/laxatives. I mumbled the words "map" and "India" and magically, she found one for me. It was admittedly right in front of me but I was so thankful that I didn't bother looking at it, went straight to the till and handed over the euro equivalent of 100 bhajis/8 beers.

The result is that I now have a map which makes me look wordly in a more conquering way, rather than the cool traveller I'd hoped for...

Friday, 27 August 2010

Shantaram - India Preparation

Gregory David Robert's book Shantaram is definitely one way to learn about Indian mentality, culture and society. From the slums of Mumbai to ritzing with Bollywood's finest, Shantaram is all the more amazing for the fact that it's a true story. Plus, an Aussie speaking Hindi is in itself worth a read...


Tuesday, 24 August 2010

India Preparation

Travelling starts in the book shop. The first commitment you make to the trip is when you spill coffee onto the guidebook in the bookshop and are forced into finally buying it. A combination of Scottishness and backpacker penny pinching means I've normally read the book cover to cover before I'm forced into opening my wallet.

Although you can easily get most books second hand online, for some countries you have to splash out a little more to buy the most recent copy. If you don't believe me, try navigating your way around Shanghai with a 10 year old lonely planet. Streets move, buildings disappear and hostals are gobbled up by car parks...

For India, my savings took a little spanking as buying a new English copy in Hamburg costs approximately 100 bhajis more than it would in the UK. That's not slang for anything, it literally cost 100 bhajis more. According to the book a bhaji on the street should set me back about 6 rupees. That's big bunch of bhajis I'm missing out on... It also translates to the equivalent of 8 beers in a restaurant. A hefty amount for a Scot with an alcohol problem.

Von Travel Photography
Book Shopping

The next blow to the savings comes from the consulate. The visa photos, always a confidence booster, cost another 4 beers or 50 bhajis. The visa itself costs 500 bhajis or 40 beers and the consulate surcharge is another 135 bhajis or 10 beers. Which means before I've even set foot in the country I'm already 785 bhajis down. A shocking amount, even more shocking when translated into 62 beers...

Von Travel Photography
Visa Photos

In addition to these statistics, in exactly one month, every taxi driver in New Delhi will be trying to take the piss to get a few extra rupees, fake touts will be conning Ghandi out of my wallet and I'll be paying twice as much for most things, just because I'm white. However, the most shocking aspect of it all, I can't wait....

Von Travel Photography

Sunday, 15 August 2010

An Unexpected Toilet Stop

A few weeks ago I found myself stuck in 20km's worth of Autobahn traffic performing some unusual crossed legged clutch manoeuvres. Morning coffee and battering rain had put into action every possible bodily function on my brain's „don't piss yourself“ list and left me wishing Renault had installed an automobile equivalent of a bedpan. Alas, they hadn't, they don't and likely never will. As such, my bladder drove me onto the hard shoulder, past a kilometre worth of patient, cursing German drivers and off the Autobahn in the direction of Kaltenkirchen, north of Hamburg. I soon found myself on a country road and began desperately looking for a suitable petrol station, cafe or bush where I could relieve nature's call. A sign appeared to my left, „KZ Gedenkstätte.“ As a former history student and someone bursting for a piss, a concentration camp memorial seemed like a perfect place to stop.

I parked the car in the waterlogged carpark. The rain had stopped and after an hour stuck in traffic, the crisp, clean air was a welcome relief. Hopping over puddles, I made my way towards a large portakabin with an open door. Just before entering, I was stopped in my tracks by a overly enthusiatic „Hallo!“ from a man off to the right. I matched his enthusiasm with my urgent request for a toilet, whereby he escorted me to a cupboard inside the portakabin. There was a moment of confusion as he switched on the light and leaflet laden shelves came into view. Was my German pronounciation really that bad? However, after fumbling with a previously unseen handle, a side door opened into a small WC and I was allowed my moment of relief...

Rejuvenated, I stumbled past the boxes in the cupboard, through another door and into a small exhibition room detailing the history of the camp. The man with the enthusiastic Hallo was enthusiastically awaiting me. As the sole visitor and user of his not so public toilet, I felt an obligation, despite my bad German, to try and speak to him. It turned out to be a good decision. He explained that the camp had only been operational for the final 9 months of the war, having originally been established to provide a workforce for a nearby airfield. The original runway was too short for the newly developed jet fighters and so a supply of free labour was needed. The SS duely obliged and prisoners were sent from the Neuengamme camp south of Hamburg. He explained that the exact number of prisoners to pass through the camp was difficult to pinpoint but that between 500 to 700 lost there lives there. Largely Russians, Poles & French, they died of hunger, disease and exhaustion. However, in Holocaust terms, Kaltenkirchen is a small fish in a big pond.

After politely pretending to read the German language information boards, I headed out to see the remains of the camp itself. Before the war, Kaltenkirchen had seen the Nazi's take 95% of the vote and the area was a National Socialist hotspot. As such, the populace didn't take too much interest in the camp during the war and especially not afterwards. In the 1970's it was completely torn down, nature was given free reign and the memories were buried away. In spite of this this I learnt from Herr Enthusiasm that an association is working to remember to various Holocaust sites around Schleswig Holstein including Ladelund, Husum and Ahrensbök.

The Kaltenkirchen result, white fencing outlines where the barracks once stood and towering pine trees cover the whole camp. I found myself being guided from tree to tree by information plaques marking areas where barracks, officers quarters and solitary confinement once were. The whole camp I covered in less than 10 minutes before I ended up in what was the parade ground. Here, daily role calls were held, sometimes hours long in wind, rain, cold and snow. A punishing daily ordeal for undernourished and inadequately dressed prisoners. Now, the only thing standing is a single stone pillar. Upon which, the words of a poem spiral round forcing several loops of the stone in order to read the entirety. I gave up trying to translate after the 5th loop and instead made my way back to the car with a spinning head.

I negotiated the puddles again and got back behind the wheel. I put the radio on but couldn't listen to it. My head was awash with thoughts and still twirling from pillar. I couldn't drive away. Instead I sat motionless in the car in a slight state of shock. All I'd wanted was a toilet...

Ashes of Birkenau, Stephan Hermlin (The Poem on the Turning Stone)

Die an die Hoffnung glauben, Sehen die Birken grün,
Wenn die Schatten der Tauben Über die Asche fliehn:
Lied des Todes, verklungen,
Das jäh dem Leben gleicht:
Schwer wie Erinnerungen
Und wie Vergessen leicht

Drawings from the Ahrensbök site.
Jean Deknibber drew these images of the death march from Auschwitz, which passed through Ahrensbök.

Von Travel Photography

Von Travel Photography