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Archive for April, 2009

Cover of ISBN: 0552135623Robert Goddard is one of the very few best seller author I am reading. My all time favorites are Closed Circle (1993) and Out Of The Sun (1996).  Conspiracy is at the core of many of his books. I enjoy very much his complex and (over-)structured plots, his way of recalling important historical events and twisting their root causes. Early to mid 20th century is a period that Robert Goddard obviously enjoys and he has a great ability to makes his readers dive back in it. Take No Farewell (1991), one of his early novels, was a disappointment though. The story takes place in the early years of the 20th century.

Geoffrey Staddon had never forgotten the house called Clouds Frome, his first important commission and the best thing he had ever done as an architect. Twelve years before the day in September 1923 when a paragraph in the newspaper made his blood run cold, he had turned his back on it for the last time, turned his back on the woman he loved, and who loved him. But when he read that Consuela Caswell had been charged with murder by poisoning he knew, with a certainty that defied the great divide of all those years, that she could not be guilty.
As the remorse and shame of his own betrayal of her came flooding back, he knew too that he could not let matters rest. And when she sent her own daughter to him, pleading for help, he knew that he must return at last to Clouds Frome and to the dark secret that it held.
For me, it is an elaborate story of a loser, blinded by his love, with a total lack of tact and a very average sense of deduction. He is helpless in his attempts to save the one he always loved. This book remains nonetheless a page turner as I hoped that after taking so many wrong turns, Staddon would in the end find the right course of action, but he never does… in the end he dies…
I am giving away this anti-climatic and lame end to take away all incentives to anyone who wants to read it. By far the worst novel by Goddard I have read so far.
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lanzarote-2421

We leave cold and rainy Vienna on March 27th and arrive in Arrecife (Lanzarote) some 9 hours later. Zoe (2) and Manon (4) have behaved like never before and the expected stress in the plane did not happen. We go first to AVIS to pick our VW-Caravelle bus. It did cost a bit more, but it was all worth it! Kids were happy and I was happy to put all luggage including the bike case inside. We make our short trip to the rented house. The first impression is great. Sixty year old stylish “Finca” with a nice terrace and pool. Rooms are charming and kitchen is functional.

The only problem so far: the weather. Cold and windy and 2 hours after our arrival, torrential rain. Hm, not exactly our idea of a vacation on the island.

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The next day is better. I ride my bike for the first time and discover the amazing landscape of Lanzarote. Very volcanic, very black, lava everywhere. On my first trip I discover the vineyards of Lanzarote and the bodegas (wine bars). The way they grow it is by digging a whole in a funnel shape in order to collect the dew and to protect the plant from the constant wind. On top of the funnel a small crescent wall is erected to further protect the plant against the wind. After the ride, I immediately propose to Isa to go have lunch with the kids at one of these Bodegas. And it was great. …lanzarote-204

Days 3: we discover the white sand beaches in the South of Lanzarote. The beach of Papageyo is beautiful and pretty well protected from the wind. Kids rediscover the joys of the beach and Isa and I relax….for about an hour before feeling that something is wrong with my stomach. We go home and the marathon between bed and bathroom begins. I leave day 4  without comment apart from the fact that it is Zoe’s birthday and Isabel is doing her best to organise a small celebration for her

Day5: I can stand up again and we decide to go for a short trip across Timanfaya (the volcan National Park). We all love it, adults because of the lunar landscapes, kids because of the dromedary ride we do in the Park.  We continue to meet the first edifice of the famous local architect, Cesar Manrique: El Jardin de Cactus. We did not know really what to expect, but what we saw was breathtaking. In a caldera shape of about 200m of circumference, a real cactus sanctuary with thousands of different cactus type spread elegantly on multiple levels and around elegantly shaped ponds. We decideto have lunch there before heading back home, with the firm idea to see more of Cesar Manrique’s creation on the Island

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Days 6: We do a day trip with the bus and discover the place where we will be staying the following week: the Club La Santa . I have time in the afternoon to hit the road again with my bike and do a short run after that. At last the real vacation feeling is getting in the inside of my body.

Day7: Back to the beach of Papagayo. A very warm and sunny day. We stay a couple of hours, just time enough to dig a big pool on the beach for the greatest joy of Manon and Zoe. We head back for lunch. I have time in the afternoon to hit the road again with my bike and do a short run after that. At last the real vacation feeling is getting inside my body.

Day8: We move to La Santa, They claim to be the N01 sport & active holiday resort in the world. I don’t know whether it is true but the place is just freaking amazing. Next to the accommodation centre, there is a 1.5km lagoon for swimming and windsurfing, a beautiful 50m outdoor Olympic pool with 8 lanes,a sport centre for squash, badminton, volleyball, basketball, etc.. huge areas reserved for aerobics, taichi, etc.. an athletic stadium next to about 10 tennis courts and beach volley courts as well as a boxing ring. You can simply do everything. It is also the mecca for triathletes. The club is the organiser of the Lanzarote Ironman, supposedly the toughest IM in the world.pool_stor_4cycling_low_big

Day 9-14: Basically Isa and I just split our times to play with the children while the other indulge in some sport activity. What I really liked was the organized bike tours. I am used to train alone and this was great for a change, especially the possibility of drafting on such a windy island.

As said above, we still find time to visit the other Manrique’s main landmarks on the Island, which include his house and designed natural cave system in the north of the Island, both again, breathtaking.

The weather in the second week has much improved and the time for all of us goes suddenly much too fast. Before we know it, we find ourselves packing and making it back to the airport we have to give back to super minibus.

We come back to Vienna in time for Easter. Spring is waiting for us 20-25 degrees and sunny. We spend the hole time gardening and organising BBQ parties with our friends.

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Red Square with the Gum lit like Harrods during the Season

I have not been to Russia for a long time. The last time I had planned to go was for a regional meeting in St-Petersburg, but some colleagues and I did not get the required visa from the Russian embassy.

As part of my handover, I decided not to go alone but with Maria, a team member. After obtaining this time a multiple entry visa valid for 11 months! (For which we had to do an AIDS/HIV test), we booked a return ticket from Vienna from Wednesday 18th to Friday 20th of March. I like Moscow but I do not like the journey; a three hour flight + 2 time zones + long custom queue + 1-2 hours taxi drive from the now international « Domodedovo » airport to the centrally located SAS Radisson hotel. The city is of course unique with its huge seven Stalin building (the most impressive being the Moscow university), but it is striking how similar in the end it is to a large American city. Elegant designed sky scrapers, dazzling night lightning on the side of some buildings, long trails of light made by car jams, etc….

I tell Maria to meet in the lobby at 19:00 to go to the Red Square. The name of Red Square derives neither from the colour of the bricks around it (moreover, in some periods Kremlin\’s walls and towers were whitewashed) nor from the link between the colour red and communism. Rather, the name came about because the Russian word красная (krasnaya) can mean either “red” or “beautiful” (the latter meaning is archaic). The word was originally applied (with the meaning “beautiful”) to Saint Basil Cathedral (actually, the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin) and was subsequently transferred to the nearby square. It is believed that the square acquired its current name (replacing the older Pozhar, or “burnt-out place”) in the 17th century. (Wikipedia) The first adventure from the hotel to square is going there with the underground. The central stations of the underground, of one of the most ancient subways in the world. Moscow is worth visiting already just because of it subway. The architecture and the original lighting are such a unique view.

Anyway, we arrive at the red square at dusk. Basically the best time to get there. And, ho wonder, it starts snowing. On the left the historical mall „Gum“ is lit like Harrods at Christmas, each of the bulb of Saint Basil are carefully lit as well as the huge red walls of the Kremlin on the right side of the square. The symbolism is clear. Grandeur, Power, Omnipresence. Not thinking about the historical past and barely looking at the Mausoleum of Lenin (this, for me, has always been an anomaly on this square), Maria and I take one picture after the other of each other having fun in front of one or the other building. Times have changed. 10 years ago, a policeman would have come to the tourist to tell him discretely but firmly to top having fun on the square.

To recover from the photo shooting we enter the mall. It is for me the most beautiful shopping centre in the world. Everything is overpriced compared to any western European city, but no one is forced to buy. We stop at a traditional tea room and order a bottle of soviet champagne. It is a « demi-sec », but over all quite pleasant. Maria orders a salted crepe and I get some amaretto. I enjoyed this moment in the Gum. It was a way to say goodbye to this city (I don’t think I will come anytime soon after having left Coca-Cola.)

We spend some time in the different fashion boutiques go out for a long walk on the pedestrian street of « Arbat » to end up in a modern mall close to the Hotel for a late sushi dinner.

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