Stuttgart – the return!

Stuttgart was a place I had to revisit for a number of reasons. Not least the vast forests that stretch for 10s of kms. It is always tempting to walk too far just to see what the next section brings. So many paths that branch off. I failed, though, to find my route from last year where the colours were stunning! This year I arrived two weeks earlier in the season. The best time I think is early November. But with the fear of crashing out of the EU on Oct31 I booked for those last few days before. Weather was OK, mostly cloudy. One thing that struck me: the absence of any wild animals, not a single bird. A strange subdued atmosphere, calm, that can become quite eerie when the light fades.


Still quite a few people about, some with dogs. More cyclists than before, causing a tinge of envy – you can get a sense of unlimited trails but of little progression, and occasionally the monotony. So I decided to try the narrow cross trails. Even along those you can encounter a mountainbiker, but I ended up on the more extreme gradients – and really felt the burn in my calves! Found myself on a wooded hill with no trail visible except on my phone map, thinking how without that I’d be starting to panic.


IMG_20191030_142259.jpgEventually I ended up near a station. So it may well have seemed logical to take a train back. But no, that would just have felt like a failure. I’d gotten into that mindset of seeing a way to navigate back. And back on the main path felt good, what makes using a GPS map enjoyable. Only: the hills, they take their toll!

Finally, in the hotel. That sense of relief and accomplishment. But my legs were near gone. And this wasn’t good news for my night-time plans,

Continue reading of my Euro adventures here from UK

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Hot in Dusseldorf!

Düsseldorf was hot. The kind of heat you have to submit to or it can drive you crazy. For me it nearly did.

Düsseldorf was hot. The kind of heat you have to submit to or it can drive you crazy. For me it nearly did.

Another record-breaking summer in Europe. This was climate change in action. I tried to offset my carbon when booking the flight and buying travel insurance. Well, it’s only an hour by plane from Stansted to Weeze, but until there is a decent rail link there’s no other option. Not the main airport – Weeze is tiny and it’s a long way from the city centre, about 80km. It hadn’t occurred to me there’d be two but Düsseldorf Weeze has a good train link and the airport was generally less aggravating than Düsseldorf international.

Return journey pic.IMG_20190828_151137

It did start well. I even got a free train journey, offered by a student I met at the airport who said she’d include me on her pass – which covered the replacement [for the bus] taxi. I must admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed, not only by her kindness but also her preternatural attractiveness (that is, not just physically). She was, though, with a man also in his early twenties, and there was another young traveller she made the same offer to. Not that I would ever have had a chance with her under any circumstance. Even in my dream she was completely unobtainable. Rightfully. I would have thought had I been her age on meeting her I’d have been totally tongue-tied, but here I was talking about the heatwave and discussing Euro travelling. When she removed the band and shook her blonde hair free I felt myself go weak at the knees. In her short denim shorts and vest she must have known the effect she had on men. But being such a warm night there seemed nothing inappropriate in that. I think there is something about the heat that intensifies feelings.

After an awkward parting, I made it to the hotel. Late check-in was ok: pick the key – actually a contactless fob – out of a safe, to open doors. It’s the future!

Next day a long walk in the heat through wide trailed woods. Good to shelter under the canopy of trees. What a contrast the weather made from last time.


A woman runner passed me. And very soon I heard her gasping for breath and groaning. Turned round to see her doubled over. She sounded in a desperate state. I was surprised not least because she looked like a professional athlete. Yet there was no way I could have ignored her. But when I asked her if she was all right suddenly she stood up straight, a slight look of surprise. After a few words of German she was very much ‘I’m fine.’ I offered her a drink but she assured me she was very near her friend who had a drink. The incident left me bemused. It seemed as if she had been exaggerating her state of exhaustion, that she wanted to catch my attention. But then once she got a good view of me – or at least knew I’m not German – had second thoughts. I felt embarrassed afterwards and took an alternative path and waited out on a bench. A troubling thought then: the situation could have been construed that I was trying to take advantage of her. Approaching a lone woman on an isolated path is not something I’d normally do. But if I hadn’t I’d have felt bad. The heat has strange effects.

Left it respectably late to buy my usual in Lidl. Then finally back to the hotel – a relief! The room was way too warm so I took a cool shower. Started drinking the booze from about 5:30, and eating, possibly too much of either. Large packets of snacks not designed for one person.

Then something happened that left me shocked and disturbed. Not so much that I fell asleep. It was more a total dreamless unconsciousness. I’d got through two thirds of the bottle, and it seemed as a result knocked myself out. I don’t remember anything after about 7pm. Woke up at around 3am. I’d lost a night – as if the time had never existed. What would have been a very important night. I wondered: was it too late? Maybe I should have wondered: could I have died? I did wonder: could that be what it’s like to be dead? Pointless thoughts. Dark thoughts. Nothing else but to go back to sleep and hope I can make up for my lost night.

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Sin Cities (Kindle/app UK)

Sin Cities (Kindle/app US)



Stuttgart is not the cheapest city to stay in Germany. Yet it has so much to offer, something I did not fully appreciate on my first visit two years earlier. Firstly, the walk in mid November. Although the trees had variously lost their flame and yellow leaves there was still enough of the wondrous majesty of a seemingly endless forest. 


The weather was perfect, at least for one day. Passed a number of people, either walking alone, in a couple, some joggers. No dog walkers (which makes a nice change from the UK). Never quite sure if I should say hello/guten targ. The few times I did it was barely a mumble. There’s no reason why these passing encounters should be awkward, but many of them were. I always am listening to something, in this case it was 5live streamed – as I find it difficult to break links with my home country; comforting when you’re alone, even though the discussion was mostly centred around Brexit (that nagging and seemingly unresolvable issue of 2018). Well, it’s no surprise that German 4G is exemplary even deep in the woods.


I kept going for miles and miles until eventually I reached some arbitrary point (at the bottom of a hill) where I decided it was time to turn back. Afterwards it seems ridiculous not to have kept some track of my distance. But this is something I never do. Maybe to know will only make me feel more tired.


Had to think about the following night. The following night was when it was going to happen. I had to keep something in the tank. Did not want to feel like last time, where I was just too knackered. Stopped off at Aldi for essential supplies, including a 70cl bottle of my usual, trying not to care about the mature woman cashier’s probable disapproval. Fact is, I don’t hope for a warm greeting at these budget places; the staff are surely not paid enough to be friendly.

The night didn’t go quite to plan…

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Cologne, Pt 3: the days after…


Cologne in a warm sunny June is invariably going to seem like a fine place to holiday – and so the 5 mile walk to my next hotel in Marsdorf, despite being loaded with luggage, was pleasant. I sensed the serenity of others.  Even motorists were careful to slow near pedestrian areas. This felt like such a contrast to the freneticism of neighboring Düsseldorf – though that was well into the autumn.

And so I continued on, along the canal paths and peripheral tree-lined routes, stopping at a bench. There were two close together with few people passing so it didn’t occur to me that anybody would want to sit on one. But as I got up to leave a woman stopped, off her bike, to sit on the adjacent bench. I was listening to music on earbuds so wasn’t sure I heard her say hello to me. But anyway said hello to her and she responded in kind. Well, as I’d already got up to leave I did the predictable thing and kept to that plan. So had I missed the one opportunity to meet my ideal partner? That’s the question that stuck with me, just the vague possibility that I had. Assuming she was German there might have been a language barrier. I’ve got passed the stage where small talk – especially when it is limited by the language barrier – serves any use. No, if I’d been bold enough (aided by a good amount of my leftover vodka) maybe I’d have cut to the chase. After all it was fairly obvious I’m single, with all my luggage. She seemed about my age or a bit younger. And here I am typing this (first draft) in my hotel with its twin bed, wondering if I could have dared to tell her where I’d be staying, give her my phone number. Could I have chanced she’d have been that desperately in need of someone? Would I have seemed desperate or just so smitten that I’d be prepared to risk a knockback? I’m not the gambling type – I don’t believe in trying my luck such as it often seems lacking. And yet sometimes it feels there is such a thing as fate that deals a useful hand. Now rapidly approaching middle age, I don’t feel these opportunities will in future be so forthcoming. So: what if? Always the question, isn’t it, that bugs most of us; that lack of courage, of decisiveness. I should have got passed the fear of embarrassment by this stage of my life. People think there is a way to game the odds by using dating sites/apps, but my fear has always been the check-list credential comparisons, subject to which I’d fall short, I feel. Maybe that’s just my cynical outsider view. I’m sure most women, like men, have ideals but are prepared to compromise. After all, isn’t that what deep and meaningful relationships are about? Well perhaps I’m not really qualified to answer such a question….

Final day, the weather was sunny, just bordering on hot. Way too early just to head back to the airport.

I stepped off a tram – the only way to get back from Marsdorf – at Köln Lindenthal Melaten. I didn’t actually plan or know that it was a cemetery until stepping through an opened gate. There a network of paths leading through grand iconographically religious graves, rich in flowers bordered profusely with trees. It was almost overwhelming. The beauty, the serenity – for the grieving, for the dead, but maybe more than just by design.


I was completely sober at the time. Had I been drinking, maybe it would have all been too much. It felt like something profound was trying to break through to my slightly hungover psyche, and I thought if I let it I would just break down. Only the sporadic presence of other people – visitors and grounds staff – kept me on an even keel, it seemed.


Stepping out onto a main street surrounded by students brought me back to a normal state of vigilance. Had to find somewhere for lunch, so I went back through the park I’d become familiar with. It was crowded. When I found a metal picnic bench it was too near a path – a feeling of being noticed as the loner. Eventually found a similar bench near an empty playground. Lots of people nearby, a gathering of five or more who seemed more my age. I started on the leftover vodka, listened to an Unexplained podcast, hearing about phenomena most people have hardly time to consider but enough time to dismiss.


More relaxed now I could head back to the station. It still felt too early. Evening flights are cheaper, but it always feels like there’s so much time to kill. I never understand why most holiday travellers drag along those wheelie cases. Surely they must be restrictive. Or is there somewhere safe they leave them on that final day?

At Cologne (Köln Bonn) airport I predictably set off their version of a body-scanner, more of an arch than a chamber. This time I was only wearing shorts and a t-shirt; hardly anything metal other than a zip and button (although it could be the alien implant). Still the guy there didn’t bother with the full pat-down.

Once through I didn’t think I had a whole lot of time, and started to hurry to the gate. I needn’t have worried. A storm was forecast to approach. And about twenty minutes before the flight was due to depart, the first flash of lightning. People had already been standing in line. Then came the delay announcements. Then came the thunder. These departure areas are well soundproofed for obvious reasons, but when the storm came overhead, it was loud enough, near after the flashes of forked lightning to know that this was a serious storm! No time was given for estimated departure. People began to disperse. The storm was right overhead, with no sign of moving away. I imagined someone joking: “Is this divine punishment for one of us who has sinned?” The mind wanders with so much time. Ever waited for an indefinitely delayed flight? You feel like your sanity is becoming increasingly fragile.

Away after nearly 3hrs delay, the relief and even happiness of other passengers was palpable. Except I was faced with the sobering prospect of a long and difficult journey home. There were more delays, disruptions. To be honest, I really felt I was losing it by the time I got back to London. But I made it home eventually.

On reflection, it was a holiday I will remember fondly. I’m sure one day I’d be tempted to go back. But perhaps I should resist that temptation.

Edited version from Sin Cities: an alternative explanation of Europe, by Aiden Rykat.

Cologne, pt2

Cologne (Köln), part 1

Sin Cities (Amazon Kindle UK)      Sin Cities (Amazon US)


Cologne, pt2



First day I was tired. Too hot, not enough sleep in a hotel without air-conditioning. Yet the town, especially near the water, was ok. Not the humidity you often get in Britain. Had that been so I would have truly felt unsafe to be out in the town. As it was I felt liable to some mishap. Maybe chancing a crossing, not seeing a car in time. Or more likely a bike, swerving round a corner. Something you learn to be more vigilant of in continental Europe. But funnily enough I witnessed a cyclist trying to chance a red crossing and being hooted at. And then there’s that schadenfreude and a release of tension after the shock of seeing another transgressing the seemingly orderliness of a German city, as everyone else appears to be so careful. There was one road, though, were the crossing was red but the traffic had stopped. I needed to cross but hesitated. When it turned green I started crossing, but now cars were turning towards me as if the lights were out of phase. It’s a dilemma: keep to the rules or judge safety by what is or not approaching. Generally motorists allow for this.


I stopped at Aldi for the requisite vodka. The assistant said guten targ. I always feel there’s no point greeting in the native language if you’re not able to continue in it. With his hipster beard he looked in any case like the type who could speak good English.

Anyway a sense of relief to get back safely to the hotel ready to start on the drink. Well, I was hoping for further relief that night. Before that – as it was only about 3 or 4pm local – a chance to get some sleep. Had a few units of vodka but it still took a while to drift off but was surprised to have managed almost two hours. I often find taking more than a ten minute nap in the day not the best for mental sharpness, unless – as in this case – I was feeling totally knackered and not fit to have been out anywhere. Well, I was never expecting to be mentally sharp that night, given the level of drinking I was embarking on, but there’s drunk and there’s stupidly blind drunk – and I’ve made the mistake of being the latter too many times.

This post is an extract from Sin Cities

Sin Cities (US)

Cologne (Köln), part 1

Whenever I approach security at airports I get nervous. It’s not that I (knowingly) have anything to hide that will set off the alarm, or trigger a positive on the body-scanner, it’s just that it tends to happen anyway – as if I have an alien implant near my nether regions that had been inserted during some memory-erased abduction. Even at Stansted, where security is not quite at the paranoid levels of Gatwick or previously-mentioned German airports, I was stopped, recalled. Here we go again, I thought. Admittedly, though, I’d made the classic error of not removing my belt before the metal detector. So, belt removed along with shoes I gingerly entered the bodyscanner, then after the scan completed I noticing the woman supervisor give a muted sigh. I never get used to the pat-downs, and perhaps never will, frankly, when they’re done by a man – who I’m sure does not particularly like having to do them. I remonstrated, pointlessly of course. He pointed out on a graphic where the machine had detected this hidden alien implant, or whatever it was that’s undetectable by hand or visual inspection (though at least it didn’t get to that stage). I did actually consider the other possibility – that the bodyscanners are not as accurate as the manufacturer or airport authority claim them to be. But given how often they have gone off (it happened at Cologne) perhaps I should stick with the alien implant theory. After all, if they really were so inaccurate and unreliable there’d be more complaints, resulting in the damn things being recalled. Right?

After an only slightly delayed flight I reached the airport train station, where I was possibly robbed of an airport-priced bottle of orange drink from my rucksack holder by someone speaking to me very fast in a language I didn’t recognise. He sounded in a desperate state so would have anyway been welcome to the drink.

I should have known this but, in my tired and slightly stressed state, I didn’t feel certain. I nevertheless got on the train, asking the first passenger I passed. “This the train for Cologne central, isn’t it?” He didn’t understand the question but, fairly sure I was on the right train, I said “It’s OK. Don’t worry.” But it turns out the locals tend not to use the Anglicised name but know it as Köln, which perhaps explains why it’s difficult to find on a large-scale map, compared to neighbouring Düsseldorf. Anyway there was the automated announcement that it was the next stop, but then the guy approached me after the driver had made an announcement that the train announcement was wrong, to give me the English version. Confused? I was for a moment. People hate to have failed to be of help, as I regret putting someone in that position to fail, and so here was a chance to resolve that mutual unease. But then the driver repeated in English, so neither of us had needed to say anything in the first place. I just had a case of first-journey dubiety.

I exited Köln Hbf into a very warm early June night.

The old (central) town is not known for being cheap, but I got a reasonably priced hotel it seemed. Requested a late check-in, got a set of instructions that even the proprietor admitted seemed complicated. Standing outside the hotel, I was confronted with three unmarked buttons and two intercoms. I stared at them thinking it must be obvious which one to press, and that in my tired state I just wasn’t seeing it. A familiar scenario though. But amazingly the door buzzed open. My presence was detected.
He gave me the option: the large room with outside facilities, or small with en-suite. I chose the small room. On entering I wondered if I should have asked for specifics. Perhaps there are people of restricted growth who might have felt comforted in such extraordinarily small dimensions.

Still, I’d made it. The town that held so much promise!

An extract from Sin Cities: an alternative exploration of Europe.  SC US


Late September into October. After the heady months of spring & summer when things can get out of control, when you feel more pressure to have that great holiday, this seemed the best time to take risks. Well, calculated risks rather than reckless ones. Anyway…

Extract from Sin Cities:

….Well, I had planned it for the second night. A night after a long day I tried to fill with a walk along the canal. The weather was good – about 18°C with hazy sun. That part of Hamburg is not the best place for sight-seeing, but the river walk is well-pedestrianized for more miles/kilometres than most could cover in a day. In the daytime the town centre was packed with tourists and had a sense of urgency, like most urban areas, but there’s something particular about Germany. Crossing roads can be chaotic and risky if you don’t keep strictly to the pedestrian crossings. One thing noticeably different to the UK: people there take more care crossing roads. Not that I’m claiming German drivers are more reckless, I guess they’re better at optimizing their journey times. One thing that can be unnerving is how some drivers regard the requirement to stop at a green crossing as discretionary; if they think there is no one crossing in their immediate path then why waste time waiting? Go figure! Not that Hamburg is by any stretch the worst for that; the dense network of roads in Düsseldorf can really test your nerves.

VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

A daytime jaunt felt like justification before the second objective: buying the booze. Well, that was a no-brainer. Vodka is the best for maximum intoxication with minimum consequences (in relative alcohol terms). It all seemed fairly straightforward. You start out with a fixed plan. But things often get complicated when the drink is involved even though, initially, back at the hotel, it seemed simple: get drunk, shower, go out on the town. The town contains The Reeperbahn – a notorious district for prostitution. But also – I didn’t realise in my naivete – for crime. Or maybe, in fairness, I just got unlucky. I certainly got careless.

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