05 June 2011

4-day Weekend

It is now Sunday afternoon and my weekend began last Thursday. This public holiday was some sort of religious thing and at the same time Germany's version of Father's day. Which means that all the males, not only fathers, are out getting plastered, and in this enlightened age most of the chicks are too. Luckily for everybody the weather has finally become what I came over here hoping for: hot and sunny! Which makes for better pictures of the city, like the Weser river below which on such a nice day looks somewhat blue, when in reality it is quite a murky brown colour. I made sure to take a stroll through the city centre to take the classic tourist shots of what this small city has to offer - so below the river you see a statue of Roland, who he was I don't know but he is the town protector. Apparently if the statue falls so will the town - which is why they have a replacement squirreled away somewhere for just in case! He stands beside the Rathaus, the town hall, which is really a very nice brick building, a photo doesn't really do it justice.

On the Friday I took a train to Hamburg - it turns out Berlin is far too far away, 5 hours by train! Hamburg is a 45 minute train ride away and has a zoo, the main attraction factor in my travel considerations. Before, the zoo, a brief look at the city was in order. Only a brief one though because I am quite bored of cities. So like all the others this city has a Rathaus, a nice enough looking building but nothing overly spectacular.

There were many churches but my favourite was a realy dark gothic-y looking one, called the St Nikolai. It was all carvings and big windows, lots of arches and a really tall spire. There was an elevator to go up in but really there is not much point, it would be the same old view of a huge sprawling city. Hamburg is on a harbour so maybe there would have been a nice enough view, with a bit of ocean and boats, but really I just wanted to go to the zoo!

The Hamburg Zoo is a good size, it is not too big and easy to see in just an afternoon at a leisurely pace. Some of the enclosures are really nice and the great thing about this time of year is that there are baby animals! First stop was the elephants, there were two small ones and about a half dozen adults. Best thing is that they were all lined up at the edge of the enclosure, reaching over with their trunks to take food from peoples hands. I had not bothered to get any of the specieal food that is sold for them, but if you put your hand out they would have a sniff anyways. I have not before been to a zoo where the elephants are allowed to reach over and touch the visitors.

So my next stop was the tiger enclosure, where we were lucky to see anything because the tiger was sleeping away the heat of the day. So fortunately he had a shady spot in view of all of us spectators and the extreme zoom of my camera means that I can take a nice photo even when the animal is far away. Of course I would much prefer to go on some sort of safari and see such things in the wild but for now there doesn't seem much chance of that happening so I will take what I can get.

Like every zoo there were a lot of random animals that are nothing overly new and exciting but it's still nice to see them anyway. There was a big pond with some interesting birds like pelicans and then perfectly ordinary birds like ducks and geese. But the geese had babies so that makes them far more exciting. One of the goose babies was pretty keen to take a nibble of any fingers offered to it as well. There were chickens, just running about loose outside of the enclosures. I'm not sure why. There were some wild turkeys, also outside of the enclosures, making an awful racket. And there were a couple of peacocks also making an awful racket, but at least peacocks have beautiful colours to make up for it.

There were not so many primates, which is okay because they're really not that exciting. The orangutangs were mostly sitting or sleeping, the baboons were doing the same. Except for the little baby baboons which were running around making a nuisance of themselves. The wall that you look over to see down into the baboon enclosure was unfortunately a little high for me and I could not look directly down, to where the young animals were hiding in the shade, but that's okay because the little ones were moving to fast to capture on camera anyway.

Funnily enough, this zoo also had guinea pigs and rabbits. The little houses you see below actually are little, a tiny little neighbourhood for tiny little animals to live in. One small neighbourhood for the guinea pigs and another for the rabbits.

I had read on the internet that this zoo had polar bears, but this is acutally not quite true. There will be a big artic enclosure, with polar bears in a habitat where they have water and can swim which is apparently quite rare in the world of zoos. But this exhibit won't be open till next year. Sad, but there were other bears, and two cubs, so that made up for it. The bear cubs were playing and the mother was ignoring them and wallowing in the water, to cool off I guess. Then she got out and went for a wander, and next thing you know she turns abruptly and races full tilt towards the side of the enclosure and all the people standing there watching! Despite the obvious fact that the animals cannot get out it is still rather freaky to see a large bear running full tilt in your direction. Of course, that was the same direction as the water and she obviously had just decided that it was too hot to get out of the water after all, and wanted to go back in.

The last major attraction (in my opinion at least) of the zoo was the lion. Also sleeping, which is unsurprising considering the heat. But you might have noticed the use of the singular there, and also with the tiger? Maybe they have more and the other animals were just sleeping elsewhere but it didn't really seem like it. So I guess some of their animals are a bit lonely. I would say that is the one down-side of this zoo, but in saying that it was only a small zoo so they probably don't have much choice about it.

On the upside the enclosures were all really good. There were some small artificial rocky mountains for animals like Thar. Which in my opinion are not that interesting themselves, they are just a type of goat or sheep, but the ecological story of such an animal is really interesting. In their native Himalayas they are endangered, on the brink of extinction, with programmes attempting to bring back their population. But in the exact same area is some sort of wildcat that is also endangered and they also want to save. Unfortunately the cat is a predator and likes to eat the Thar. Then there is the fact that after being introduced to NZ they got completely out of hand on our hills and mountains and we have programmes in place to cull the animals. Wouldn't it be so nice a solution if we could just ship them all out of NZ and back to the Himalayas? Of course you would have to catch them first, then transport them, then deal with genetic drift from such a long separation of populations and such things. But in theory at least it sounds like a good idea.

So after a long day at the zoo, in very hot weather, the plan for Saturday was the beach. There is a place on the Baltic Sea called Cuxhaven, about an hour and a half away by train. It's called a city, although the people who are actually from here would call such a small place a town or a village. It's quiet, and was not what I expected. The beach is long and flat and the ocean is very shallow - the tide receded to leave a huge stretch of mudflats and apparently there is an island that at low tide can be reached just by walking. There was no impressive vista, not golden sands or blue water, and it was rather windy. In retrospect the wind was actually quite a big problem I think, because it made it seem so much cooler, thus possibly providing an excuse for how I managed to lie in the sun reading my book for far too long, forgetting to put sunscreen on the back of my legs. At the time, it was not too hot and I thought nothing of it. Big mistake. Still, eventually I went for a swim, though it is not really a swim when the water remains knee-deep for a kilometre or so. But it was warm, which I was so not expecting. It is one thing in a country like the UAE but the ocean being warm in Germany? Near the shore it was really a bit like a bath. There was parasailing somewhere down the beach so the sky was full of colourful parasails.

After leaving the beach I began to realise how sunburnt I was. It got worse and worse - it's very difficult to sit on a train when the backs of your legs are sunburnt. I have not been so burnt since I was scuba-diving in Oman. And this is worse because I had a much better excuse then, I really didn't realise I would get burnt, we seemed to be so far under the water. This time I was just engrossed in a book. My legs are so bright red and it hurst to bend my knees, and to sit down! It is still very hot outside, it's about 30 degrees, but I have spent the whole day inside (not that it's much cooler in here). It is a little cloudy now and there are sun-showers. It is supposed to thunderstorm but I don't think it will. Tomorrow work begins again and I hope my sunburn has eased a bit or I will be very uncomfortable -  nevertheless I really have to get motivated and get some results, try to ignore the beautiful weather outside, give the sunburn time to heal. Then bring on the next long weekend!

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