A Bit of Ireland

I moved on by bus again to Ireland and arrived in Dublin in the afternoon, did some exploring of the Trinity college and a garden with a statue of Oscar Wilde before heading home for a short home-stay at a friend of mine who happens to live in Ireland. He lives in a suburb of Dublin called Celbridge and that was my base for the last few days of my trip this summer. He was super kind and took a day off to show me some sights, the only downer was that it rained the entire time. All in all it was my only day in Ireland and Scotland with constant rain and thus I guess I can consider myself lucky, since it does happen to rain loads in both countries.

We drove out into the Irish mountains for a look out to a lake then went to Glendalough which has two things to offer, the ruins of a church and monastery which is from the 13th century and two more beautiful lakes. Despite the rain, we rounded the smaller lake and took a look at the bigger one.

Especially the bigger one is very scenic and even in the rain and mist it looked beautiful. After lunch at a very Irish pub, we drove on to the coast and in the wind and rain the Irish Sea was quite rough for its usually quiet standards. It looked great but we soon left the beach again due to high winds and lashing rain.

On my last day in Ireland, I went to Dublin again on my own and did the Guinness storehouse tour. I am not a beer drinker at all but it was interesting to see the storehouse which explains how Guinness is made and is being very modern and smartly arranged for a “museum” like that. Your entry price includes a pint of Guinness and I managed to drink a quarter of it, which is a personal beer drinking record of mine, hahaha.

Next I went to the Dublinia museum, which tells the history of the city of Dublin starting with a Viking settlement and ending with an exhibition of how archeologists work. The museum is right next to the Christ Church of Dublin which started to exist in this spot since almost a thousand years ago. It has a nice crypt with a strange highlight, a mummified cat and a rat. It appears that the cat was chasing the rat and both got caught in a organ pipe where they starved and died sometime around 1850. They mummified there and when the organ was repaired a hundred and fifty years later the tragic pair came to light.

I greatly enjoyed the Ireland trip which had just the right mix of nature sights and history. Apparently most Irish are okay with the north-east being not a part of their country, but thanks to the Brexit idiocy a lot of problems are ahead for the people in the region. At the moment there is a soft border and you can come and go from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland as you please. It is weird enough that you have pounds in the north and miles and when you drive into the south it’s suddenly Euro and kilometers. It remains to be seen how the British want to deal with the soft border after Brexit but in my humble opinion, as mentioned before, Brexit is the stupidest thing the British have ever done and the people of Ireland won’t have fun with its self-made disaster.

A Bit of Northern Ireland

I was very happy about my hotel choice in Belfast, the Holiday Inn, since it was right in the city center and only a few meters away from the bus tour pick up point and the bus stop to Dublin. The bus tour down to the Antrim coast was great and we had big luck with the weather, some rain before and after the major attractions and sunshine in between. The bus stopped at the Dark Hedges, a row of magnificent trees used for several movies and TV shows, the most famous of them being Game of Thrones. Much of Game of Thrones is shot in Ireland and there are entire bus tours themed around the series, which reminded me a lot of the bus tours through New Zealand back in the day when the Lord of the Rings hype was at its peak 😉

Next up was the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, where we had an hour and fifteen minutes of time and you needed them to get there and back due to a queue at the rope bridge, the coast is very beautiful and also a nesting place for seagulls.

After lunch in a Game of Thrones themed restaurant, the journey went on to the Giants Causeway, a formation of hexagonal rocks. There is one just like it in New Zealand too. They are formed by lava hitting the cold waters of the Atlantic or the southern pacific.

The rocks look fantastic but too many people were there. It’s a world heritage site and more or less the most popular destination in Northern Ireland. Last but not least the tour led to Dunluce castle ruins, which look quite spooky even from a distance.

All in all it was a great tour quite comparable to the Scottish Highlands trip. I did not see too much of Belfast, but then again, Belfast is the youngest city of Ireland and not spiked with ancient history. I regret a little bit that I had not enough time for the Titanic museum, but one can’t see everything 😉

From Scotland to Ireland

Instead of flying, I decided to use ground transport to get from Scotland to Ireland. I wanted to go by bus to the ferry port but those buses were fully booked and ended up going by train. The train journey was less stressful than expected, since it was Sunday morning and rather empty and the two transfers in Glasgow and a town called Ayr were less of a hustle than I had thought. However, arrived at the end point, a place called Stranraer, I faced troubles going the last ten miles or so around the bay to the ferry port in Cairnryan, which has no train access.

Stranraer and Cairnryan are tiny villages with NOTHING there. The ferry is basically made for people with cars. At the station in Stranraer is nothing. Not even a taxi booth. A family had booked a taxi and it came to pick them up and I asked the driver if he could help me to call another cab or whatever. After some back and forth he packed me into the car as well, which I was very grateful for. It was a bit ridiculous. You can see the ferry at the other side of the bay, but how to get there??? I was not aware of the tinyness of Stranraer 😉

I made it to the ferry port all right and was one of the very few people checking in by foot. I had a nice chat with an elderly security guard before they let me into the waiting room. The ferry is fairly big and was booked out to its capacity limit, I suppose. Thanks to a fine day one could see the coasts of Ireland and Scotland and also the Isle of Man and several other Scottish islands during the two and a half hour ride.

Arrived in Belfast things were a bit easier thanks to the size of the town and a public bus came to the port to pick up the few pedestrians without cars. Apart from the hustle to get to the ferry, it was a nice trip and I enjoyed my time on a large boat.

A Little Bit of Scotland

After two days with the family in Germany, I headed on to Scotland. I visited England several times to go to London, Brighton and to Bloodstock heavy metal festival, but so far I had not made it to Scotland yet. Arrived in Edinburgh by plane from Cologne I felt like arriving in Tokyo. The town was packed with people for the Edinburgh international festival that on top of everything celebrated its 70th birthday. Frankly, I had not even known about the festival before I arrived. I went to the Edinburgh castle in the afternoon of the arrival day and thus did everything I had wanted to do in Edinburgh and escaped the crowds into the hotel. 2017-08-09 15.15.16
That hotel wasn’t a real hotel but a brand new student dorm vacant over the summer and not lived in yet by students. The rooms and facilities were all brand new and thus it was a pleasant experience. I was to spend four nights in Scotland and had booked two tours with a tourist bus company. A two day tour to Inverness and back and a one day tour visiting Stirling castle and a distillery. The Inverness tour was great. We drove over the highlands, visited some castles and famous Loch Ness. I had deliberately chosen a small bus with only 16 passengers and there was a lovely crowd on board and the guide was great too.

The highlands are very beautiful and at times reminded me a bit of the Great Plains of Mongolia. However, the highlands are more rocky and the mountains are higher too. 2017-08-10 09.36.24
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In Inverness I stayed in a sweet little bed and breakfast and two American ladies from my bus stayed in the same place. We went out together for food and spent a few minutes in a pub with live music. On the way back to Edinburgh we visited Culloden battlefield and mysterious Neolithic stone circles followed by a whisky distillery. That one delivered mostly to big whisky brands where the stuff gets blended and wasn’t so super interesting to be honest.
The one day tour led me to Stirling Castle, which is where Mary Queen of Scotts was born and it lies beautifully on a hill with 360 degree views and it was well visited but less crowded than the Edinburgh castle.
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Over country roads we went to Loch Lomond which is ripe with sailing boats and a holiday destination. Last part of the day was “real” distillery, Glengoyne, still in private ownership and originally Scottish. I still am not a whisky fan, the stuff is too strong for me and I prefer my port wine, but it was interesting to learn how whisky is made.
Apart from the too full Edinburgh, which is a city of 700,000 people and not laid out for double that during festival times, I thoroughly enjoyed the Scotland trip and got what I wanted, some old castles and beautiful landscapes.

A word on politics. Both tour guides were Scottish and greatly in favor of Scotland leaving the U.K. and becoming their own country. The desire for independence from the U.K. was freshly renewed after the Brexit idiocy. The most recent vote for independence was held before Brexit happened and both Scotsman said they are dead sure that if the vote had been held after the Brexit decision, it would have looked different. I don’t know how representative those two guides are of course, but they both said that many of the 52% who voted to remain in the U.K. were scared by propaganda that the U.K. said “you guys cannot survive economically without us”. Now though the sentiment is even worse, since at least those two Scotsman think they cannot survive without the EU but can well survive without the U.K. Both were totally against Brexit and said that Brexit was the stupidest thing the British have ever done. I find myself agreeing with those two guides. Get out of the U.K., Scotland and remain in the EU!

Wacken 2017 Report

After three times you can start to call it a tradition to go to Wacken Open Air festival. Two British friends of mine and myself have been going to Wacken every other year in 2013, 2015 and now in 2017. The first Wacken was superb, nice weather, hot, only a bit of rain on the last day and a tiny bit of mud. Our second Wacken was mud-hell with constant rain a week before the festival, constant rain on the first day and knee-deep mud. 2017 Wacken greeted us with only a tiny bit of mud and spirits were high until a flash flood in the afternoon of the first day, which I would like to call Odin’s Wrath. Everyone got wet to to bones and the holy ground of Wacken turned into a mud battle equal to the one of 2015. 2017-08-04 10.13.41
Nevertheless it was a great festival, because it’s Wacken 😉 I wonder what makes Wacken special. I have been to quite a number of festivals by now, Artmania in Rumania, Sziget in Hungary, Nummirock in Finland, Brutal Assault in the Czech Republic, Bloodstock in the U.K., Vagos in Portugal, Loud Park in Japan and the 70.000 Tons of Metal on the high seas. The only two festivals that have this special flair and air about them are Wacken and the boat (70.000 Tons of Metal). They are, for one, both truly international festivals, on the boat as well as in Wacken there are people from all over the globe. There are people from Australia, North and South America, Asia, all over Europe. They are (almost) all happy to be there and that they can enjoy their favorite music together with like minded people. This Wacken or 70.000 Tons atmosphere is special and no life stream can compensate for it. You gotta be there to feel it.
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A small highlight for me was the Grave Digger gig, which was excellent, 2017-08-04 15.27.25
but the big highlight was seeing one of my favorite bands, Amon Amarth live for the very first time. Despite them being super popular, I managed to sneak into the first row at the left hand side of the stage and it was a blast to see them live from a first row for the first time. Tons of crowd surfing interrupted the experience, but hey, that’s part of an Amon Amarth gig.2017-08-05 20.38.47
I thoroughly enjoyed myself and am looking forward to my next time in Wacken. For me the next time will be already next year, since I cannot stand to not go to Wacken if my number one band Amorphis is playing there 😉 Unfortunately, my two British friends will not be able to join, but we already made a pact to go again in 2019. It will be weird to go to Wacken without the boys next year and I still have to figure out a hotel and a means of transport, but it’ll work out somehow 😉

The Road to Wacken and the Rest of Europe

In three days I’ll be on the road again and I’ll have a full program. At first there will be Wacken, baby, Wacken. That’s where the world’s biggest heavy metal festival happens. It’s a tiny town in German’s most northern state of Schleswig-Hollstein, just below Denmark, and once a year the population of the town swells from 5000 people to 85,000 people when the metal heads fly in. It will be my third time at the festival and I’m looking forward to it mightily.
I just hope the weather will be better than the incredible rain and mud battle from two years ago.
On I’ll go to visit my sister and my Dad for two days and then I will fly to Scotland, since I’ve never been to Scotland yet. I’ll go on two bus tours in Scotland visiting lochs and castles and whisky distilleries 😉
Then on goes the journey via ferry to Ireland. Two nights in Belfast and two nights in Dublin with more bus tours and castles and scenery.
I have decided on this trip rather than going to the World Science Fiction Convention in Finland, because frankly, the convention would only frustrate me. I’ve had enough of aloof agents and publishers and more or less frustrated authors running around begging for attention between a few established authors who get all the attention that the newcomers and nobodies would need. I still want more people to read my books, but I’ve had it with having to do things I don’t like doing for that.
My time is too precious to waste it with crap I don’t wanna do. I love going to places I haven’t been to yet. I wanted to go to Scotland since kinda forever and that seems to be a much much better thing to do than hanging around on a convention that will bring me zero joy.
The weather will be a challenge though! It’s been over thirty degrees for nearly every day in July in Yokohama and now I’m going to places where it’s barely twenty during the day. It feels weird to be packing warm clothing tomorrow 😉
So, beautiful cliffs, green meadows and whiskey, here I’ll come and relax my neck from the highly welcomed headbanging in Wacken before that. It will be a great pleasure to see Amon Amarth for the very first time! (Yeah, I know, unbelievable, but I’ve never seen them yet!) And I’ll see Grave Digger again and Alice Cooper and Powerwolf and and and. Raise your horns, metal heads and rejoice in the holy land of Wacken!

And Then There Were Three

I just received the proof copy of Jeronimo and all looks fine. So I pushed the publication button and the novel should be available on Amazon worldwide within the next few days.
The trio looks good! 🙂

For Jeronimo, the Keeper’s tower is actually in the center of the picture, but since the picture bends around the spine, just looking at the cover, the tower seems off center. But, I kind of like it because the centrist world of Jeronimo is about to be unbalanced mightily by the course of events 😉

The trio looks good from every angle and it also shows the mightiness of the Anatomy of Anarchy, which is a bit longer than its two brothers Dome Child and Jeronimo 😉

I’m already looking forward to add number four to the bunch – I’m writing it right now. The fourth Dome of Souls novel will be called “Red Angel 42”.

I’m now working on the Kindle conversion of Jeronimo. Let’s see how long that will take, since the process seems to be changed compared to a year ago. Well, it’ll work somehow!
In the meantime I’ll have a juka2 (I wish) and enjoy the ride.
Happy birthday, Jeronimo!

Twenty Years of the “Dome”

As long as twenty years ago, I had the first idea for the “Dome of Souls” series.
It all started with the world of Jeronimo, and twenty years on, the story will finally see the official day of light. It has changed a lot over those twenty years.
Here is the gorgeous cover by Katho Sensei.
Jeronimo started as a television series screenplay, became a role playing game for a few session, then continued as a screenplay.

After Jeronimo, I wrote (in screenplay format) it’s prequel The Anatomy of Anarchy, which saw the light of day last year, then I wrote two sequels, which are not yet published.
Next, I abandoned the whole series and switched from screenplays to novels. I wrote the pre-prequel of Jeronimo, the Dome Child and published it in 2011.
After Dome Child came out, I thought I was done with the Dome for good and turned to other stories, some of which have been published under my name, others under a pseudonym.
But then, in around 2014, the Dome bug bit me again. This story has been with me my entire adult life and it wanted to make its way out into the world. This time I stayed in chronological order and completely rewrote the Anatomy of Anarchy without even looking again at its old screenplay version. I highly enjoyed writing the Anatomy and it flowed very well. I published it exactly one year ago, then turned to the center piece, to the idea and world that started it all and I found rewriting Jeronimo to be a tough job. Maybe half of its original version was scrapped.
In the next few weeks, I’ll proudly publish the new Jeronimo, twenty years after its first version. Many of its characters feel almost like real people to me. I know them for twenty years! Most of all the protagonist of course, Jiroemon, or short Jiro. Jiro actually did not change too much from his original version, but the story around him changed quite massively over the course of time. He’s like my younger brother, kind of 😉

At the moment I am rewriting the Jeronimo sequel from scratch, which is also a tough exercise, since the Jeronimo sequels have to change a lot after the changes applied to Jeronimo. But I’m getting there, I think, 200 pages of the first Jeronimo sequel are already written. At the moment six Dome of Souls novels are concretely planned, three and a half are written. Considering writing time, I might be finished with the Dome of Souls series after twenty-five years. Well, only five more to go and twenty behind me.
Good luck out there in the big world, Jiro, I hope a few people read about you 😉
It truly does feel like I’m releasing my little brother who I cared for and nursed twenty long years out into the wild!
And when you read Jeronimo, you will finally find out why my homepage is called juka-productions, some ten years or so since it came into existence. 😉

More Movie Reviews

Loved it. The aging superhero whose every joint hurts was a new twist not seen before. I’m a huge Patrick Stewart fan and it was hard to see Xavier go. At times it was a bit of an overkill with all the suffering and hats off to Hugh Jackman for suffering through two hours of movie time 😉 The little girl was wonderfully annoying. So, if there are sequels in demand, here is your new set of x-men and x-girls. It was a mature movie for not only aging super heroes but also the audience who aged with them 😉 Great piece and a long lasting series has come to an end, maybe.

Guardians of the Galaxy II
Hm. It was fun, yes, and I enjoyed it, yes, and I even squeezed out a tear for Yondu, yes, but I kinda had expected more after the hype that the second guardians movie is supposed to be soooooo good. Hm. Yes, it was good, but it wasn’t epoch making. While Kurt Russel was great as the nasty Ego, the appearance of Sylvester Stallone totally threw me out of it. He just doesn’t belong into that universe! Lol. The wicked golden lady was fun though and I hope we will see more of her in the movies to come. Maybe I was also a bit “bored” by Gamora and Nebula reconciling. That made it so normal, so American, somehow, family is our greatest value and all that blah. It felt like: because they had to kill off Star Lords daddy, they needed to confirm the American family values via reconciling Nebula and Gamora. I found them hugging pretty damn lame. I was also annoyed by the pressing on the lacrimal glands for Yondu. The dude is a killer, who just wasted half of his former crew in the most brutal fashion and then they make you cry for him. I didn’t like that manipulative side of the second guardian movie. It was fun, yes, but not as fresh and mean as the first one, being watered down by too many traditional “values”.

Assassin’s Creed
Let me say I found this movie watchable. I’ve never played the game and cannot judge whether it represents a fair image of the game. Michael Fassbinder is a cool guy though and managed to pull it off. Jeremy Irons is always lovely, especially as the bad guy. The movie won’t go down in the annals of history, but if you wanna switch off watching some action for two hours and pretty people, it’s fine.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I apologize to all Star Wars fans, but the movie bores me out of my mind. In my defense, I’m more of a Trekkie than a Star Wars fan. But come on, what was new about this movie? Nothing. It was a replay of “a new hope” kinda with other heroes and bad guys. The space battle was more or less the same that we have seen in previous Star Wars movies. The bad guys were copies of other bad guys from previous movies. I also found it disturbing that the movie was entirely humorless. Further, you knew at every instant what was going to happen next. While I’m interested in the continuation of the Luke Skywalker plot, this was just a complete remix of stuff we have seen before.

Movie Reviews

I watched Arrival twice, once on a plane, then in the theater. Arrival is great. A solid, intelligent sci-fi movie with cool space ships, nice mysterious aliens and interesting lead characters. Xenolinguistic is a fascinating topic which is too often neglected. Yes, not all aliens who might visit us in the future will speak English. 😉 The sentences as different circles is a clever and cool idea how to express language and I bet Ted Chiang, the original author, put a lot of effort into the Xenolinguistic aspect of his story. How to remember the future was another well spun aspect of the movie, which worked out logically to an amazing degree. Great movie. A must see for sci-fi fans.

Shin Gojira
We all know that the Japanese love their Godzilla 😉 It was only a question of time until also the Japanese would decide to do a remake of the story.
All in all, I think the Shin Gojira movie is pretty damn good, only one thing was awkward about it. It happens in 2016 kind of and it presumes that nobody ever heard of Godzilla. It’s a bit of a weird decision to deny the 70 years of Godzilla culture and to pretend this is a new invention. But that assumption was kinda necessary for how the film is structured. It’s designed as a documentary, focusing on the actions or non-actions of a fictitious government. Being true to its 1954 original, there are side kicks against the US. That Japan is only a half free state and that the US decides anything for them. What was new was that Godzilla mutated a couple of times. He’s been feeding on nuclear waste dumped into the ocean and comes ashore as a crawling thingy before he goes back into Tokyo bay for a while and mutates some more. Only in the end does he look like the familiar Godzilla. The US wants to solve the problem by dropping a thermonuclear bomb onto lovely Tokyo. The inventive Japanese, surrounding one young politician who organized a “nerd” think tank, however come up last minute with an idea to “freeze” Godzilla with a cooling agent. In the end the frozen giant stands around in town as a new monument.

Ms. Pellegrin’s home for peculiar children
In principle I like Tim Burton films, although his style is very repetitive. My favorite is and remains Beetlejuice and also Sleepy Hollow (solely because of Christopher Walken). While the style of the peculiar children is clearly Tim Burton, the story is a bit more sophisticated than much of his other stuff. I haven’t read the novel it’s based on but it looks like it’s a well done recreation. The abilities of the children are fresh and inventive, setting them nicely apart from super heroes or X-men characteristics, although the X-men abilities come close to what we have here. The bad guys are nicely done, too and Samuel L. Jackson as their leader is a worthy bad guy indeed. Those white glowing eyes are pretty damn scary. If you are into fantasy this is well worth watching, but I can also understand that a movie like this is not everyone’s taste.

No Kids, Single and Happy

I recently read an article about mothers who don’t like their job and how horrified people are when they get to know that some mothers are not thrilled about taking care of kids, cleaning and cooking, and being discriminated against in the workplace.
While I totally agree with that, there is another group of women “going against social norms” – women like me, who have no kids and are not married.

Whenever I meet someone new it’s only a matter of time until the question arises whether I have a Japanese husband, living in Japan for 17 years by now. The answer is “no”. What? You are not married? “No”. “Do you have kids?” (Implying maybe I’m divorced) “NO”. “What? No kids?” “NOOOO!”
People automatically presume that women over 40 are married and have kids and react like it’s a bloody miracle, awkward and odd, if you do not fit the norm.
I don’t give a shit about norms, but the odd looks and raised eyebrows are getting on my nerves.

I never wanted to have children, not for one minute in my life. Oh, how shocking. I didn’t want children when I was 15. I didn’t want children when I was 25. People used to say, “that will change”. I didn’t want children when I was 35 and now, beyond 40, I still don’t want children. What exactly is so weird or “unacceptable” about that? I am not married, because “the right one” never came along and I didn’t want to settle for anything below my standards just because society demands that you have a fucking husband.

I made my own way and I’m proud of it. I live in a country of my choosing, I work in a huge company as a manager (the lowest management rank, but nevertheless), being thus among the 10% of employees who are managers. Out of those 10% there are 5% female managers. I have an interesting and challenging job and I like it (most the time ;-))

I do what I wanna do. I don’t need a husband to tell me what to do and what not. While there are occasional moments of loneliness, they are occasional and not worth mentioning. When I look at some of the marriages around me I am damn happy to have none of that shit going on. In parallel I am also a writer and even though only maybe a hundred people have read my books I love writing. I have 8 novels and 3 novellas out there and more will follow.

While surely many women find fulfillment in being a mother and wife, it ain’t what I get off on. Period.
Fellow humans, accept that people are different. Not every woman desperately wants a dude and kids. It is not “strange” to not be married and to not have children. Cheers!

From Russia with Love – Part 5

Ballet and Heavy Metal
When you are in Moscow, in my humble opinion you have to go to see ballet. To me Russia is the capital for ballet. I hadn’t planned anything for it and was not expecting to be able to see ballet, but a short check in the internet revealed that the Bolshoi had tickets available for a never before heard of ballet called “The Bright Stream”. So what the heck, ballet is ballet and it’s at the Bolshoi, so I ordered tickets, which were not too expensive (by Japanese standards anyway), just about 8000 yen.
Unfortunately the thing happened not in the “real” Bolshoi theater, but next door to it in a smaller theater. The “real” Bolshoi was occupied with an opera, La Traviata.
The Bright Stream turned out to be a rather unknown ballet of some Russian composer from the 1930ties and is “comical”, telling the story of a woman in an agricultural commune who once learned ballet before she married an agricultural student. He doesn’t even know she was a ballet dancer once. When a ballerina friend of hers comes to town, her husband is flirting around with her but the ballerina and the wife plot to show him what a formidable wife he has and reveal that she is a ballet dancer in a grand finale. There is a nice side plot with the ballerinas husband, who pretends being a woman to fool some other member of the agricultural commune. This was the funniest elements with a big guy wearing women’s clothes and dancing like a ballerina.
There was surely formidable dancing going on but the story and the costumes were a bit weird, evoking nostalgia for agricultural commune life, which surely wasn’t a walk in the park in the 1930ties. Well, it was interesting and I’ve been to the Bolshoi, seeing some real ballet.

Then something that is more down my lane, heavy metal!
I had tried to get a ticket online for the Moscow Amorphis gig, but everything was in Russian and I had given up on that. So I simply went to the venue which apparently opened at 4 pm each day once I had arrived in Moscow. Amorphis is not a super big band and they usually play in venues of around 1000 people or less on their tours. The Moscow venue Volta is one like that. It’s at a subway station a bit away from the city center and turned out to be in an old factory. It was a bit spooky to walk around there, but I found the entrance all right and there was even someone there as internet promised and sold me a ticket 🙂
Then came the day for the actual gig, on the last day of my stay in Russia.
Although everything was in Russian, I thought to have figured out the following. It said on the ticket start 19:00. I saw somewhere in the Internet something of 17:00 and interpreted that as doors open 17:00.
So I left the hotel at 17:00 and was there at 17:30 in front of closed doors. I was not the first one but only very few people were there. We waited and waited. I tried to ask the others waiting what’s going on, but no English. Sigh… it turned out we waited in the cold for a bloody 90 min until 19:00. Aaaaahhhhh… I was frozen solid by that time. 
Then they finally let us in through a cloak room and security, but I kept my coat, since I wanted to aim for the first row and was frozen solid… behind security another door to the venue, a closed door. They made us wait there for another thirty minutes, but at least it was warm. The people behind us were unfortunately quite pushy, squeezing us against the barricades, hmpf… I already thought maybe I give up on the first row under such circumstances. 
Then, finally door open and you had no choice but to run into the venue pushed from behind, thus, I made it into the first row, including an opportunity to hang the coat over the balustrade. 
Then more waiting. There was also a pre band and I got into a panic for a moment, when will this end and will there still be a subway running? I saw myself already stranded in the cold at night, speaking no Russian and not knowing how to get back to my hotel. So I tested again around me and hallelujah one guy spoke fairly good English and assured me the subway runs until 1 in the morning, we’ll be fine. 
Then we chatted a bit. Behind me was a big dude called Andrey who was pretty drunk and wanted to feed me whisky cola, lol. Then at 20:00 the gig started with an Italian pre band I never heard of before called Heretic’s Dream with a female vocal. They were nice but way too soft for my taste.
Then, finally at 21:00 it was Amorphis turn, uh. The crowd was quite normal, no surfing and only once there was a bit of a mosh pit behind us. Big Andrey kept squeezing me against the balustrade, but it was still okay. 
I was happy I had kept my coat, since there was a monstrous queue at the end of the fabulous gig which I didn’t have to wait out and was thus back in the hotel at 23:30.
The gig was excellent and a great closure to a fascinating and challenging trip to huge Russia.

From Russia with Love – Part 4

World War II…
I am German, I live in Japan. Two nations which have (luckily) lost in the Second World War. The consequence of that though is that any kind of Victory Day celebrations have never been on my radar screen. There was a vague memory of the European part of the war ending some time in May buried in my mind, but since I’m in Japan for so long, the real end of the Second World War has become August for me when Japan capitulated after two atomic bombs. So when I planned this trip to Russia any V-day considerations were none existent. I grouped the trip around Japan’s Golden Week holidays and that Amorphis gig I wanted to catch. Also the first two days in St. Petersburg did not reveal any V-day indications. It was only when I stepped out of the Hermitage after an entire day there and tanks had appeared on the square before the Hermitage that V-day rolled massively into my line of thought.
Next posters sprang up everywhere and the mysterious orange and black striped ribbon, which is coming from the ribbon of St. George, as you can read here.
The state TV had then aplenty of Second World War themed stuff going on, and the news were full of it, too. V-day hampered my attempts to see the Red Square in Moscow. Military presence everywhere. Wow.
A smart man whom I had for a teacher in some process consultancy related seminars, told me the following (I don’t know his source for the information and of course it is a model that simplifies reality). Western European cultures and interestingly also the Chinese and Japanese cultures have the tendency to consider the past as not so super important, the present is soso important, but we are future oriented and the future is very important to us. In the Thai and Indian cultures the tendency is small past, small future, but big present. And in Russia it’s a big past, a soso present and a small future.
And yes, from my two weeks in Russia I can fully confirm that the past is an extremely important thing in Russia. Of course there are patriotic tendencies and politics to consider as well, but it does not all seem state induced, there seems to be a genuine interest in the topic.
There were tons of movies, new and old, on Russian TV where someone wore a Second World War or later a soviet uniform.
Nobody forces you to wear the orange black ribbon but many people do, well I’m not so sure about peer pressure here, of course. I seem to pass off as Russian when walking the street and a young man offered me a ribbon, which I kindly declined in English.
It was amazing to see the enormous presence of military in general and the Second World War in Russian life. Of course my impression is a bit deformed, since I arrived just in time for all the V-day stuff, but there are in general many more uniformed people in the cities than in any other country I’ve been to so far.
Here three pics from my “scared selfie” series that I took half for fun mostly in St. Petersburg where I “got close” to a lot of military equipment.
In Moscow then, I had the ambition to see some of the actual parade, but the thankfully English speaking hotel staff said spontaneously upon my question, where is the best spot to see the parade: The TV.
She was right. On V-day, 9th of May, I switched on the TV in the morning and even from TV footage it was clear that no humble mortal would be getting anywhere near the parade. Only the dignitaries sat on the few seats of the makeshift stalls at the Red Square.
I watched most of it on TV until I got bored and left to do some sightseeing. In the afternoon, after the parade was over, a second part of the festivities took place, common folk walked the streets in a procession down the main road to the Red Square and then dissipated. (the best thing in this pic is the pigeon ;-))
Most of the people carried pictures of their ancestors who either fought in or lost their lives in the Second World War. I tried to join the procession but found myself thoroughly fenced off and I did not have the required papers (or bribes?) to be let through at some access points where people negotiated with guards for entrance. I am not sure if all of this was organized, I doubt it. It looked like most people participated in this procession because they wanted to. Stuff concluded with fireworks at the Kremlin. They happened at 22:00 and were short. I saw them on TV as well, since it was too bloody cold for my taste to venture out. Anyway, a day later the show was over, the Red Square was finally accessible and things returned to normal. It was interesting to see all this hustle about a day whose celebration I wasn’t even aware of.

From Russia with Love – Part 3

Part 3: History before World War II
There is aplenty.
Russia has a long and rich history and a lot of stuff is preserved in excellent condition. I have never seen such a flawless object as the church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg. It is perfect. As simple as that. St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow is great too, but there you see repairs that have been done over time, whilst there is no sign of any such repair on the Savior church. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg is bursting with beautiful old stuff, the State History Museum, the Armory of the Kremlin, the Pushkin museum in Moscow as well. The Kremlin and the Red Square are one amazing complex. The only thing comparable in size and grandeur I have seen so far is the Forbidden City of Beijing. Seeing all that glory leaves also a kind of a bad taste though, if the divide between rich and poor is so big today, then just how big has it been a few hundred years ago when the Tsars built their monsters of grandeur on the sweat, blood and tears of the common folk. That’s true everywhere of course, but it expressed itself very intensely to me in Russia. Kind of, no wonder the people revolted and killed of their nobility.
I was quite delighted that you can actually get into the Kremlin. After all it’s also a working institution in contrast to for example the Forbidden City. Of course there is security at every corner, but the armory is right next to the Kremlin grand palace where Mr. Putin might just be present. Many people prefer St. Petersburg over Moscow I heard, but I cannot say so. For me both cities were quite equal concerning the “wow” effect. Though admittedly, if there wasn’t the Kremlin and the Red Square, Moscow would loose to St. Petersburg.
Here my personal ankings of the major sites I saw in both cities.

St. Petersburg:
The Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood
The Hermitage
St. Isaacs
Peter and Paul Fortress complex
Menshikov palace
Kazan cathedral

Red Square
The Kremlin (cathedral square)
St. Basil’s cathedral
The Kremlin armory
State history museum
Cathedral of Christ the Savior
GUM department store
IMG_1145 2IMG_1243
The Pushkin Museum of fine art

From Russia with Love – Part 2

Part 2: Everyday life in Russia
No Russian? Basically you are screwed. I have hardly ever been in a country yet where they speak so little English. Amazingly you somehow get by also without speaking the language.
One word in advance, I felt quite safe during my entire stay in Russia. There was not one hairy situation. Which, however might also be due to the horrendous amount of security everywhere. There must be millions of people employed in security jobs. Every department store, every subway station, every museum has metal detectors and security guards. You just gotta accept that and comply nicely with a smile and if you do you might even get a smile back and one guard at Kitay-Gorod subway station, my home base in Moscow, saying his only English words to me, “take care and good bye”. They are just people too and might look scary but if you are nice to them, they are mostly nice to you as well. There are also police men walking through town all the time. Blue uniforms, police, green = military. They are everywhere. The train ride from Moscow to St. Petersburg and back was very important to put things into perspective. While downtown Moscow and St. Petersburg are shiny and pretty, offering one culture world heritage site after the next, the country side is so sad.
The ride takes four hours by bullet train and the almost completely flat landscape consists of four things, birch and fir trees, mud, villages, run down factories.
Whatever the 143 million Russian eat, is it not growing between St. Petersburg and Moscow. I saw maybe ten potato fields and that’s it. I saw not a single cow, sheep, pig, not one animal during the whole 600 km between the two cities. The factories are all old and completely run down or in ruins.
The houses in the muddy villages without asphalt streets, accessible only via mud roads, are more shacks than houses and most look old and cold. I wonder if they have decent plumbing and running water. They seem to have electricity. It is cold in this country for maybe eight or nine out of twelve months. While it was and exceptional 25 degrees on the day of my arrival, the weather was dismal temperature-wise during the remaining entire two weeks. It was never over ten degrees Celsius and it snowed twice in Moscow while I was there. I was super happy for having brought my winter coat. I really really needed it.
I don’t know what the people living in these shacks between Moscow and St. Petersburg do for a living, it can’t be farming. In the big cities, outside of the old and shiny city centers are huge mostly old and ugly concrete blocks where the people live who work in the city and its factories. One thought lingered when I rode through the country side and that is, when I have to be poor I pray I’ll be poor in a country where it’s warm!
Some praise though for the subway systems of St. Petersburg as well as Moscow. The trains are old but are frequent, I’ve seen no delays, they are safe and used by “normal” folk also at night. People are sleeping in the subway, which I always interpret as a good sign of safety, there are kids around. Even if everything is in Cyrillic, you can still somehow read it and figure out where to go. I didn’t get lost once in the subways. You can get to basically all the major attractions via the subway in both cities and I didn’t try out the buses.
In supermarkets they have mostly European stuff that I am quite familiar with, they even have a lot of German branded products. Food is bread and potato based. I relied on food courts and fast food I must admit though, unable to order anything or read a menu in a restaurant, I needed food where I can point at.
To conclude, you get by without Russian, but it needs some patience and modesty on the traveler’s behalf and I don’t recommend Russia to inexperienced travelers. The supermarket staff is astonishingly friendly though and count the Rubels correctly out of your hand with a smile at the poor foreigner who has no clue. I wonder though what they will do next year with all the foreigners who will come for the soccer World Cup 😉