Hardenbergia comptoniana

Our Hardenbergia comptoniana (also known as native wisteria, happy wanderer or in the US as lilac vine) was about to drop this leaf.

H. comptoniana (“Hardenbergia”) is a climbing vine native to WA. It is a member of the Fabaceae (pea) family and as such can grow in poor soil because it makes its own nitrogen. It grows quite vigorously in our crappy grey Bassendean sand and seems to thrive on neglect and drought. It has tough, leathery, dark green leaves that are similar in shape to a eucalyptus.

We have planted it at the base of a super six fence (the ubiquitous corrugated asbestos stuff that is a feature of every backyard established before the 90s). It has grown up and over and each spring treats us to prolific purple flowers. Despite having about 40 square cms of compacted sand between the concrete drive and the fence, it thrives.

It grows well in very poor, sandy soil, full sun and irregular waterings.

Given its toughness and determination, we’re considering planting it to screen our shed and more of the ugly fencing. Apparently it can be propagated by current year cuttings or by boiling the seed to break the hard coating. I’m going to try each method, and might even report back.

References:

http://anpsa.org.au/h-com.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardenbergia

Hardenbergia illustration by Edward Minchen (1862-1913), 1896

Hardenbergia monophylla, Edward Minchen 1896

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Magic

Arthur C Clark’s third law states that:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Also, as a consequence of Moore’s law:

Technological sophistication increases exponentially.

It would also be reasonable to assume that any single human has a finite limit to the amount of knowledge that can be gained in their lifetime.

Thus, with Technology advancing exponentially and our understanding of the world around us limited, more and more of our environment is beyond our grasp.

In other worlds, the world is getting more magical every day.

Blue banded bee

In the garden yesterday, we had an unusual visitor: a bee with blue stripes!

I’d never seen anything like it before. It was beautiful!

But what was it? Was this a mutant bee? A strange introduced species?

A little Googling came up with an answer: the blue banded bee. It is apparently a native Australian bee that lives a solitary life. However, it is apparently only distributed in tropical and subtropical regions – so why was it doing in Perth?

I ran inside, grabbed the camera and managed one semi-decent photo of it.

The blue banded bee doing his thing.

25-29 September: Berlin

26 September – Fat Tire Bike Tour

Like Paris, we had booked a tour for the first day in Berlin to get a feel for the place. This time, we were meeting up with the Fat Tire Bike crew behind Alexanderplatz.

On the way, we went to find a coffee. We still hadn’t forgotten the terrible coffee in Paris and were looking for something better. We found The Barn coffee shop, and it was everything we had hoped for.

The Fat Tire bikes

The Fat Tire guys have a good little set up in Alexanderplatz, with enormous number of bikes, a little shop and a toilet. Remember the first rule of travelling: always look out for (free) toilets.

The Fat Tire bikes are big cruisers, comfy and relaxed to ride. Even better: they have squeeky toys on the handle bars. Our guide, Francis, explained that this was for use when we encountered dogs. “It makes the dogs go crazy”, he explained, “and makes their owners go even crazier!”

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The tour took us the best part of the day, taking in the remains of the wall and sniper towers, Checkpoint Charlie, the site of the Humbolt book burning, the Reichstag (though we couldn’t go in as you need to give 48 hours notice), Brandenberg Gate, the site of Hitler’s bunker, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and finishing with beers at the Tiergarten biergarten.

27 September – Alternative tour of Berlin

Today we had booked New Europe‘s Alternative City Tour. To be honest, we weren’t impressed. We saw some pretty cool street art, which is what we were there for. We were showed some squats, art squats and the location of some clubs… half heartedly. Our guide, it seemed, had been spending too much time at his favourite club: Tresor. Through his obvious suffering, the one thing that he could drum up enthusiasm for was this particular club: the “reason [he was] still in Berlin”, the place to go for “really hard, heart recalibrating techno”, with “one, single strobe light that goes all night”.

Berlin street art - looks like a Banksy

28 September

We started the day at The Barn again. This time we ‘Perthed’. Perth is a pretty small place, but by some arcane mechanism, the probability of running into someone you know from Perth nears 1 the further you go from Perth. Hence, ‘Perthed’. As it turned out, the barista was a bloke I used to bodyboard with over ten years ago.

From there we were heading to a Berliner Underwelten tour of Berlin’s World War 2 air raid bunkers. It was awesome. It’s impossible not to feel the weight of history when you’re sitting 10m underground in a concrete room, on a wooden bench, with less than two hours worth of oxygen. For a history nerd like myself, more interested in the human experience than dates and names, this was nirvana.

One-man bomb shelter. Lonely...

Across the road was a park. In the flat city of Berlin, this park contained a decent sized hill. Rather than simply being an interesting piece of geography, the hill was in fact piled up rubble from the war. Originally the park had been flat and had housed a huge concrete flak tower. Unable to dynamite the reinforced concrete tower, they had filled it with rubble and piled up more rubble around it. Today, only the top could be seen poking out at the top of the hill.

Squirrel!!!

On the way back down, we spotted something we had been hoping to see the whole trip. Here, where nature had reclaimed a place of conflict, concrete and misery, lived a pair of stunning red squirrels.

Returning home, we tested the local street food speciality: curry wurst. Think hot dog; take the sausage out of the bun; drench the whole lot in ketchup and sprinkle with curry powder. My description might be iffy, but the result was tremendous. I managed to annihilate 4 of them that afternoon.

The next day we were flying to Split, bussing to Plitvice Lakes for a few nights of trekking and then down to Dubrovnik.

Berlin had been great fun. Being able to get  longnecks of awesome German beer for less than a Euro at the local shop was just the icing on the cake.

Promises

So according to the blog, I have just made it to Berlin. That was a few weeks ago. So what do you think happened:

  • I am lost somewhere deep in the Berlin underground
  • I discovered the rave scene and have not seen the light of day since
  • I got deported to a land without Internet
  • The dizzying heights of fame sucked me in and I am currently lounging in my mansion being fed grapes by beautiful women

Sadly, the truth is far more mundane. While we were away, I was promoted to Manager and on my return we got stuck into the projects we had on hold while we were away. Despite having the very best intentions, my life since the has been hectic and I have been neglecting you all.

I feel terrible about it, if that makes you feel better.

Hectic has its upside, though. I have a lot to write about:

  • Berlin
  • Dubrovnik
  • The veggie garden we are building
  • My lovely new Forester
  • Gear review of the Deuter Quantum 55 pack I took to Europe
  • Gear review of the Lifeproof iPhone case
  • And more that I can’t remember

All these things, dear readers, I promise you. Soon. At least, As soon as I can get around to it…

25 September: Frankfurt to Berlin

We woke up Sunday morning to find that everything was closed in Frankfurt. Bummer.

With no shops open, we had the choice of walking around or going to the zoo. We decided to go for a wander along the river, see what we could see and head in the general direction of the zoo.

Along the river, we found concrete table tennis tables next to a decent little skate park. What a brilliant idea! If only the shops were open, we could have bought a pair of paddles and a few ping pong balls and we’d be set.

Following the sound of bass thumping from somewhere in the distance, we stumbled across a fun run. We were suddenly surrounded by pink t-shirts and sneakers. We must have arrived before the event started, because there was not a drip of sweat to be seen, only stalls giving out charity information and selling cupcakes. Wait… what?

Deciding that this was about all we could do in Frankfurt (it is a very commercial city), we headed to the station and jumped on the next train to Berlin.  Berlin was our destination, and we had bought a seat reservation for 3pm (travelling on a EuRail pass) but without anything holding us in Frankfurt we took the opportunity to push things along.

Train travel is not nearly as tiring as plane travel. This was our discussion as we neared Berlin. We came up with a few reasons:

  • The seats are bigger, so your elbows aren’t pinned to your ribs
  • You can walk around more
  • There is a restaurant car!
  • The windows are huge, so you don’t feel so cramped
  • You can actually watch the scenery go by without giving yourself permanent neck damage

It took 4.5 hours to reach Berlin, but we were feeling reasonably fresh when we arrived. I had been on Google maps before hand and worked out the route from the nearest train station to the Baxpax Downtown Hostel, where we were staying.

First challenge, though, was the Berlin Hauptbahnhof. We were lost. Not only were we lost, we were lost inside the train station. There were four or five storeys and every time we followed the sign to the S-bahn platform, we ended up at the Brandenberger Tor line which has all of 3 station on it and heads off in the wrong direction. And each time we ended up there, we met the same confused looking lady. Mind you, she was wearing a race number and had just completed the Berlin marathon, she had earned her disorientation.

We had passed an info point on one of our earlier permutations of getting lost and headed back to figure this out. The bloke spoke good English, and pointed us to platform 15 to get the S-bahn to Freidrichstraβe. “Thanks, but can you explain to us how we are supposed to know to go to platform 15?” “You need platform 15.” “Yeah, but why?” “Platform 15”

Um… ok. At least he was right. Thanks to our scrawled directions and that handy little Buckingham Palace compass-keyring, we made it there on the first try. Things were looking up.

When I had booked the room, they had no twin/double rooms available. I had the choice of either splitting us up into male/female dorm beds of paying for an extra person and scoring a three bed apartment all to ourselves. Booyakasha! It paid off. We were able to make lunches and a few dinners at home and easily paid off the extra €30 per night. On the downside, from the bedroom window we looked straight at the Ernst & Young building. There is no escape from Uncle Ernie’s relentless grip.

We made a little mission to find a supermarket, which ended up being directly under the train station we had arrived at and we find king brown (500ml) bottles of delicious German beer for 85c Euro. We also bought cheeses and dark german bread for the following day’s lunch. Win all round!

And, conquering the hostel’s laundry facilities, we had clean clothes for the first time in over a week.

24 September: Castles on The Rhine

Breakfast was provided at the hostel, and what do you know, they had museli, yoghurt and bananas! We nicked some bananas for lunch and headed across the road for the train. To get to the Rhine, we had to transfer in Mainz. The DeutcheBahn website, will help you put together a journey from point to point and tell you which trains to catch. What sets it apart is that it tells you which platforms each train leaves from. This, and the fact that the German trains are punctual, means that a 5 minute interchange is entirely possible. Anything over 20 mins between trains is a waste of time. However, this morning a signalling fault had the train running 10 mins behind schedule and we would only have 3 mins to get to the next train in a station we were not familiar with. Well, we made it in 3 mins. Unbeknownst to us, the train had made up the time during the trip and had arrived on time. So we had time to catch our breath for the next 10 mins before our train left the station.

We alighted at a town called Bingen am Rhein at the stadt (city) stop rather than the main station (always called the hauptbahnhof or hbf). From there, we strolled to the Köln Düsseldorfer (KD) jetty and jumped on the cruise up the Rhine. The KD cruise was free with the Eurail pass, so we were pretty stoked. It was cold though. Not fresh, cold. A chilly headwind was blowing and mist was rising from the river. We had to keep jumping between the deck and the enclosed area to stay warm.

The Rhine is dotted with castles every few kilometres. Each seems to be in sight of the others and each sits on the top of a hill. Originally, they were built to protect the toll stations that leeched money from the traders on the river. The poor traders must have forked out a lot of cash to travel on the river, given the number of castles. We headed north in the direction of Koblenz.

We jumped off the ferry at a little town called Bacharach. I had heard that it was nice, so we went to explore. It was a perfect little medieval town with shopfronts enclosing the narrow, cobbled streets. We walked down little alleys and garden paths, with tiny stone bridges crossing the stream.

Back on the ferry and we continued north to St Gaur. Here, the largest of the Central Rhine castles sits in ruins. Rheinfels castle was an enormous complex that once survived a 15 month siege! Today it is a ruin, having fallen to the French in the age of cannon fire and subsequently been blown up and used as a quarry. We spent a few hours wandering the ruins. They have an English information sheet with a self guided tour. We followed it around and explored. This is a real castle. Some up the river are 19th century recreations of what the Romantics thought a castle should be. This was the real deal. Even with a map we got lost in the rings of walls and courtyards. Good luck to anyone trying to attack. Everywhere we looked, we were faced with arrow slits; above us were battlements and murder holes. It really was huge.

We got back to the pier, but the ferries were going to take a very long time to get to the next castle that I wanted to see, so we crossed the river on a barge (there are no bridges across the Rhine for some reason) and caught the train up the river to Braubach. By this time it was after 5pm. The shops were closing as we walked through the town and we walked up the path to Marksberg Castle. I mentioned earlier that the castles all sit on top of hills. We were pretty knackered and the sun was getting low. We arrived at the castle, but they had closed. Only the restaurant was open and that seemed to be only for a private function. Disappointed, we wandered back to the train. The trip back to Frankfurt was to hours and we arrived there about 9. We headed straight to Urban Kitchen, a trendy café that we had spotted the previous day for dinner. Their Frankfurt Pizza was delicious, but their Greek Vege Burger was to die for. It was a huge slab of feta, grilled eggplant, cucumber and tzatziki. Genius!

Back at the hostel, I decided we’d better book the rest of our accommodation and figure out the plan for Berlin. The next day we would explore Frankfurt a bit more and then head to berlin in the afternoon.