First Real Bike Ride When You’re Not Five

The touchscreen in front of me insists I’m from Azerbaijan. My best friend and I are standing in front of a column and trying to rent a city bike for me. Scores of them are standing there in the sunshine, waiting. It’s a beautiful summer day. Opportunities to just feed coins in to a slot if you want to get something are becoming fewer and fewer. I have to register an account with the bike company and I get increasingly foul-mouthed as the country list won’t budge. We try to download the app on our phones. After several attempts with three different devices in this digital age it works. The app then tells you what to do. There’s another touchscreen on the bike. Where? I locate it between the wheels, hidden underneath a metal lid with the bike number on it. After another series of pushing buttons, starting again, tugging on the lock the bike is finally mine.

It’s heavy, but this is somehow reassuring. Having asked most of my friends to push their bikes, I feel confident with this phase of the journey. We take a wide, shaded path, the tall leafy trees of the Hamburg Stadtpark meeting overhead. Everything is green and wonderful and the slightly grainy terrain underfoot immediately reminds me of my recent cycling course.

“The time has come, the walrus said.” With my first attempt to get on it feels like I’m trying to climb the Empire State Building, so we lower the saddle. To be on the safe side I let a few cyclists and walkers pass, and then off I go! The still present issue is getting both feet on the pedals and starting to cycle in time, but that works out quicker than I expected. Otherwise I just brake and try again. When I do get going, the beginning is sometimes still a bit wavy, but the width of the paths around us is perfect, and with me keeping a lookout for senior citizens, bike enthusiasts, dogs and children I feel confident.

The park with its almost 150 hectares is the best training ground for the first real bike ride outside of my course and my friend’s triumphant “You’re doing it!” makes the whole experience all the more enjoyable. We occasionally ride side by side and she warns me about upcoming turns. I make every curve, even if it doesn’t really feel like I know what I’m doing, but the (hopefully) elegant turns do wonders for my self-esteem. We can even chat, only I look straight ahead while doing it and keep a very firm grip on the handlebar.

This afternoon trip brings several profound discoveries with it. For example, even the smallest incline that you wouldn’t notice walking becomes immediately apparent when you’re on a bike. Duh. I sweat as I pedal harder, feeling like the wheels are sticking to the ground, and a few minutes later I’m amazed at the speed with which the bike is rolling along without me doing much. “We’re going very slightly downhill!” my friend calls. I can’t see it, but I can definitely feel it. Can I brake, can I brake?! Yes, I can brake! Gentle braking, slowing down in time, check! Successfully passing other people, check!

My Travel

Château de Vincennes in Paris

Paris is a delectably historical city that will never leave a weekend trip planner disappointed. I wanted to explore a castle within the city lines, perhaps lesser known than other French castles that come to mind. So after some research I found myself getting out of the metro Line 1 at the Château de Vincennes station and walking to the Château de Vincennes.

Arriving before noon, the grounds are almost deserted and the surrounding quiet easily transports one’s thoughts in to wondering about what it was like to walk here centuries ago. Though smaller and at first glance understandably more modest than the spacious splendour of the palace grounds in Versailles, the Château de Vincennes is steeped in history dating all the way back to the French kings of the 14th century.  Several kings were married and died at this Château. Perhaps a little known fact is that it counts among the best-preserved medieval castles in Europe.

Vincennes used to be a town and later became a suburb of Paris as the city expanded. In its early beginnings as a hunting lodge the castle was surrounded by forest. As you walk through the courtyard, the eye immediately registers the symmetry of the architectural layout, and the components that made the Chateau a small world onto itself, as medieval castles were apt to be. On the left stands the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes, with it’s vast interior and stained glass windows from the 16th century. The middle section of the grounds is currently not accessible to visitors, but if you proceed inside the donjon on the right, you will arrive at a good observation point and see two manors facing each other at opposite ends of a lawn. One was for Queen Anne of Austria and the other for Cardinal Mazarin, the successor of Cardinal Richelieu. I am feeling a strong urge to re-read a Alexandre Dumas novel.

The Chateau did not get to be the main royal residence it was intended to be, becoming overshadowed by Versailles, but it continued to exist and crop up during various historical events in France. Becoming a state prison in the 18th century, it also saw a fair share of notable names within its walls. One disturbing example includes Marquis de Sade.

The walk around the donjon leads to various rooms which are now empty, but the vivid desription boards conjure mental images, and just touching the century-old walls makes goosebumps crawl along your skin. Childhood memories of a favourite book about medieval castles come back as I register familiar points that lead to thinking what life was like for inhabitants of these structures: small, high-placed windows with wooden shutters, high ceilings, stone walls and narrow doorways.

A few minutes of careful ascending of the expected spiral staircase of the 52 meter tall donjon leads to the top, from where you see grounds and the city beyond, contrasting sharply with this almost intact remainder of history from centuries gone.

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Jurassic World

Chris Pratt’s character Owen Grady hurls himself in to the raptor paddock and strikes the pose inspiring zookeepers the world over. That’s when I sat up straighter and felt like I was going to enjoy this movie. The focus and intensity of that scene cemented it as one of my favourites from the film and I was probably a significant contributor to the number of views it has received on Youtube.

I had seen only Jurassic Park III  from the film series  and all I could remember was my dad telling me that Sam Neill starred in the earlier movies. No memories of the creatures, landscapes or characters. Considering the third movie was released in 2001, I was more than ready for a refresher course on a dinosaur-related blockbuster franchise.

Being practically a newbie in terms of Jurassic Park, I was not sure what to expect from Jurassic World, having found the movie trailer somewhat bland and not too explanatory in terms of the story, as well as reading (predictably) both good and bad reviews online.

In the end I had a spectacular time and experienced tremendous enjoyment from what felt like a revamped classic blockbuster experience with the Spielberg touch. Not being a film critic I was as usual disposed to be more curious than critical. The standout likeability of Owen Grady was a definite factor and I felt strongly that Chris Pratt filled out the role very nicely indeed. Except for that scene when Owen asks Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who’s trying to place a work-related request, with looming audience suspicions of their short dating history, “You wanna consult here, or in my bungalow?” Really? At least she just looks at him, wrinkles her nose, and says back, “That’s not funny.” “A little funny”, he chortles. So I calm down a bit when I see she can hold her own, and hope this is just a short demonstration of his primitive and unapologetic humour.

But shouldn’t I be concentrating on the dinosaurs? Well, if character stories are presented to me, I can’t help but pay attention. I also can’t help but pay attention to the pristine whiteness of Claire’s monochrome outfit as she moves about the park and premises. But it’s when things pick up on the dinosaur danger front and Owen tells Claire to do something about her “ridiculous shoes” that I yell, “Finally!” It’s exactly what I would tell a girlfriend if she had on heels and was about to trek through a South American jungle. Then again, Claire gets as grimy as the rest of them as events unfold.

I won’t go in to a discussion about Claire’s running around in heels throughout the entire movie, because I was already preoccupied with that distracting me from the dinosaurs and the main focal points of the story. But of course I discovered later that the internet was already ablaze with articles on the subject, as well as discussions on the heels being a feminist statement. To be honest, I was simply concerned with notions of realism and comfort. But as my friend sitting next to me thoughtfully pointed out, there were dinosaurs running around like a given thing, and one got frustrated with a woman wearing heels on jungle soil. Such is life, I suppose.

I couldn’t help feeling sorry about the killing mission in the film, once it’s clear that a genetic experiment got out of hand, as the creatures in the story are not ones that asked to be created this way or be part of a dinosaur safari, though they certainly have more than enough space to roam and live.

The dinosaurs were as impressive as I hoped they would be, snapping their jaws most convincingly and not looking like blown-up plastic toys. That underlined the familiar idea of humans dealing with the consequences of what they themselves relentlessly put in motion – pushing the boundaries of science for ultimately commercial purposes. “You just went and made a new dinosaur?” Owen asks Claire incredulously. “Yeah, it’s kind of what we do here”, she answers, with a touch of light sarcasm.