Stockholm post conference

The Spanish look Spanish, the Germans look German but the Swedes don’t look Swedish!

I could live in Stockholm – in the summer! It is a remarkable city, impossible for me, at least, to do it justice – I shall try. It is far too simplistic to describe Stockholm as “Berlin” on water”. Yet the buildings have the same strong, stable, imperious presence. It is however, by contrast, a city physically untouched by the Second World War.

I am not sure if there is a name for the architectural style of the buildings? They are constructed of stone, pleasingly symmetrical, “robust, strong” yet elegant. Slate roofs and copper clade spires. IKEA is the last description that springs to mind – these buildings look and feel as though they are built to last a thousand years.

There is nothing “small” about the buildings or indeed the city other than the narrow cobblestone alleys between these masonic monoliths on the small island of the original city – a few hundred metres long as it is wide. These narrow alley ways are the only similarity with Spain!

As well as the sense that the city is a series of suburbs separated by water, there are two beautiful green national parks (south and north) – the lungs of the city – cool restful forests of oak trees some more than 500 years old dotted with fairy tale palaces and grand homes on vast green carpets and baroque gardens. A cycle paradise !

I swallowed my pride, prejudice and prowess in the name of price and rented a “girly” bike for two days. Exactly the same as Berlin but with a handle bar basket thrown in. Anyway if I was to get lost, I may as well do it slowly, although on this bike, definitely not gracefully – which I did (get lost that is).

In summary over the last 2 days I cycled around 3 of the islands that are part of Stockholm, walked around the medieval island that is the original city, then cycled the south and north national parks.

As to lost, it is such an inevitable daily scenario, that I shall not bore you with the details of the numerous episodes, as to reasons, sadly they defy logic or an explanation.

Every city or region visited to date invariably has an “iconic” product aimed squarely at the tourists. Yet I found it hard to pin down such an icon for Sweden! Eventually it became obvious in the seething cobblestones streets of the old city: Viking headgear! For both men and woman it involved a metal cap with horns. The female version added long canary yellow plaits. ( think Wagner! ) Would Pamela like one?

I was surprised to discover that as well, for the discerning tourist, one can participate in

An ABBA walking tour – why would you as Mr Lacey would retort!

A Stieg Larsson tour ( Girl with Dragon Tattoo)

A IKEA tour – they drop you at the door and you make your own way but they supply directions.

Whilst I am guilty of zealous use of the iPhone as my camera, I consider that I am observant and appreciative of the wonderfully unique culture, architecture and social milieu in which I am fortunate to be. The reason for this observation is that I am moderately irritated and depressed by a significant number of tourists who seem to constantly aim, click and record without really “seeing” what they are looking at. It is as though they feel they are so rushed with so little time to see everything or indeed anything, that they adopt the approach of looking at the passing world through the view finder, rationalising that they can “look” at the sights when they get home! Sigh!

Tomorrow I am taking a boat ride exploring the archipelago. But the onset of Autumn has reduced sailing times. It’s amazing but true that the “season” lasts at best 4 months! The weather has been faultless – cloudy crisp mornings then about noon , bright sun cloudy sky till about 5 when temp drops and wind becomes rather biting!

It’s less than an hour till the launch of the iPhone 5 ! Do I want one? Do I need one?

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Stockholm conference

Medical matters

This blog will chat about the first two days of the conference and finish with a description of a fascinating session I attended combining music and neurology. Those of you who have no interest in either medicine or music can skip this blog.

The medical sessions have been interesting and of variable standard. From first class to “dodgy”. Rather perennial topics, familiar to my professional colleagues, were presented including choice of drugs in epilepsy, the dilemma of inflammation of the brain in multiple sclerosis, numerous sessions on dementia and finally movement disorders including Parkinsons Disease. There was much discussion on issues with respect to treatment for the broad range of neurodegenerative diseases. When to start, what to use, side effects.

There is a persistent curiosity in the unusual psychological manifestations of Parkinson’s Disease such as pathological gambling, hyper-sexuality and “punding”. As I don’t exhibit ANY of these unique characteristics, I am reassured that I don’t have early PD. This information together with my intact sense of smell, continues to reassure me that I am rather boringly normal after all.

In case you are too frightened to ask, “punding” is an almost addictive desire to collect things. So if you have a display cabinet at home containing teaspoons, thimbles, tea towels, old glass butter dishes, old money boxes, china dolls or even pre-worn AFL shorts, then seek immediate help from a neurologist, if you find one actually working and not overseas.

If by chance you collect both dolls and used AFL player football shorts, I would be very happy to assess you myself upon my return from overseas. I will squeeze you in to my busy working day.

I was flabbergasted when a Scandinavian specialist argued that ALL patients referred for possible dementia should have an MRI scan and or other complex and expensive scans, and if normal, then follow up with serial scans! The economic burden would be on par with the Greek annual budget.

Drug companies and Sponsors kiosks were similar to those in Australia. Interactive touch screens and iPads abounded! There was little objective scientific information easily obtained from the sophisticated marketing indeed naked commercialism of each booth.

I was amazed to see that many of the Sponsors booths which offered free coffee (barista style) displayed a laminated “warning” to those north American physicians that accepting such a trivial beverage, would require mandatory disclosure! How and why this disclosure should be done, was not specified.

The Afternoon drug company sponsored satellite meetings fairly blatantly pushed their newest wonder drug! Whilst I am critical of many aspects of medical practice in America, they are scrupulous about disclosure and at meetings such as this, held in the USA, all speakers will commence their presentation with a statement of disclosure.

I have babbled on far too long so the music session must become an encore to today’s blog!

Finally
$10 = 68 kroner !

Or to be more depressing

1 Kroner is about 15 cents ( on a good day!)

So how can I demonstrate that Sweden is bloody expensive? Easy ….
3 day bike hire (nothing flash- city tourer with flat handlebars)

590 kroner! ($85)

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Stockholm

I am living in the lap of unaccustomed luxury at the Sheraton Hotel Stockholm. My Adelaide travel agent explained that he had GREAT difficulty in finding a hotel for me and I assumed it was the demand in view of the medical conference. He explained that the only hotel he could find was the Sheraton at great expense! Oblivious to what he had exactly done on my behalf, it transpires that I am on the 7th floor in the Presidental Suite! I have a king size bed – PLEASE no predictable retorts. Breakfast is included and there is a lounge on the 7th floor that has a club room with food and facilities the equal of the Qantas Club! I have free food and drinks in the evening. It’s NOT really FREE when one considers the daily rate I am paying.

I have been for a Swedish spa and sauna on the first floor, in the evening after the conference and when I stand up and leave the sauna, I am VERY lightheaded, almost to the point of fainting, indeed it is an understatement to state that I feel more than a little queer. The reasons for this may be

a. Low blood pressure
b. High blood pressure
c. The Air France steward in the sauna with me
d. It’s not organic but a conversion reaction – a distinct possibility given that I have completed the Camino Trail
e. None of the above.

Now I know what it is to be a Cathay Pacific international pilot and have a “lay-over” in Paris or London or even Stockholm.

Stockholm is a city spread across 14 islands and is a cycling heaven. Once the conference is complete I will hire a bike and explore. Coming in to land on final approach it was breathtaking to see the multitude of small islands all quite green and scattered, yet close together, in the water!

The weather has been clear but with a definite bite to the air in the dusk and dawn. Good preparation for Ireland I suspect? The unit of currency is the Swedish Kroner – conversion about $1 = 6.5 Kroner. It’s still difficult to not feel that costs are very expensive when a coffee is 25 “of something”! Intuitively it seems $25!!

The thought has just struck me that possibly the financial centre of the brain is in the same area as the navigation centre? That surely would explain a lot?

Today is day 2 of the conference and I have been exceedingly ethical, indeed religious if I may be do bold, in my attendance. Which reminds me, I need to check to see if my wooden bedroom furniture suite has arrived from Rome.

I shall, in my next letter, turn to matters medical, but hopefully in a language that is, as your financial planner might state, “plain English”.


Graham

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Last day Berlin

My hotel

The Hotel Otto situated at Knesebackstrasse 10
d-10623 Berlin (www.hotelotto.com)

is a great place to stay when you visit Berlin. Its a 3 star establishment situated near public transport or a BRISK walk to the major things to see and do in Berlin.It is ideally situated in a suburb that is leafy, well to do with a vibrant street cafe scene and trendy shops – it has the feel of Norwood or Unley but without the CARS!

Moreover its not a ‘tourist’ orientated hotel as the breakfast crowd are locals. A good sign? How do I know ? Well I am the only one to speak English and for breakfast one can have any combination of fresh or tinned fruit so long as it is enveloped in a pancake, strudel or pastry. Optional ham and cheese as a side dish. Thankfully no CurryWurst!

Finally it is, for the disorientated, disorganised and compass challenged, a mere 20 minutes by the X09 bus from airport to a stop 200m from the hotel – not that 200m has not perplexed this peripatetic traveller before (that last sentence is not a double negative).

Financial hiccups! Predictably It appears that the Dept of Health pay office is not aware of my going and so no pay! Ominous if they cant sort it out before I get back! This despite filling in my Leave application twice and hand delivering it to the administration the month and again the week before I left.

Secondly on Tuesday had a message to phone the NAB card services , my VISA card had two debits for amounts of approximately 2800.00 give or take a few dollars! In other words more than 5600.00 dollars! I HAVE NO IDEA how this happened as I have not used it at any ATM or brought anything at shops using it and it has been in my safe keeping all the while. The NAB person told me that the amounts were to a company or site called ‘GO-DADDY’.

Then I considered the option that perhaps one of my straight male friends ( who would be cognisant of my credit card details – for example my accountant or financial planner) had been on some porn site for the older heterosexual male? Anyway quick action and the card is cancelled, new one issued and amounts credited.!

Museums

I have visited all those that I wanted to and observed all the others from the outside as well. As I had 4 hours to kill on Saturday (flight to Stockholm leaving 4.25 pm) I went to the museum of the GDR – the former East German State. A word of advice – avoid museums in Berlin on weekends the more so if it is raining, as it is today!

Have had a Bierenstuck for morning tea. Mandatory if I am travelling in Germany!

I am getting familiar with the excellent Berlin public transport on the very day I am leaving.

My single and overwhelming response to Berlin, is that I was constantly conscious of the fact that the awe inspiring buildings before me, apparently hundreds of years old, were rather beautiful reproductions, universally and lovingly restored over the last 80 years. This renewal activity continues frenetically to this day.

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A day with Aaron

Hannover and day with Aaron and his family.

At first I had assumed that it was so patently obvious that I was foreign, that on entering a shop I was greeted with an “Hul-lo” but it is increasingly apparent that this anglicized word is now almost universally used by the Germans to each other!

The tremendous influx of migrant workers has been predominately from Turkey and nowhere is it more obvious than the kebab shops!

Almost equal in number are the sidewalk “wurst” cafes, which reach new heights of culinary inventiveness in a “currywurst” sausage. Just as, on request, in Australia, your Baker’s Delight loaf can be hygienically mechanically sliced, so all wurst shops, without even asking your permission, submit your sausage to a mechanical, mathematically precise, division into bite size pieces. The extruded bits, in the off chance they may still be living, are finished off by drowning in a dollop of gravy and a heavy handed dusting of Keen’s curry powder and “Voila” a curry-wurst creation fit for a King!

Watching my intact sausage rapidly disappear into the metal cylinder and rapidly reappear at the other end, caused me to reflexly bend at the knees and wince!

The Berlin Tourist Booklet on “Museums of Berlin” lists a MUSEUM dedicated to the Wurst Sausage.

Yesterday during one of my numerous map reading pauses, a stranger approached me in the street and offered help – to my amazement he rather too quickly and almost too nonchalantly disclosed that he was a “surgeon”. I hasten to explain that I had not hinted in any way, at my profession. Spontaneously he described that he was Canadian with an Italian father. He based himself in Germany and for the past 9 years, flew where needed and when called, and his area of expertise was surgery: general as well as cardiac surgery and “transplants”!

He did not fit my concept of a surgeon, let alone a heart transplant one at that! He was rather unkempt, obese, long hair and almost nerdy. As we parted I thought “golly what ever he is taking its not working”! But to give him his credit, he is the ONLY human being in all of Germany to date that has precisely and expertly told me where to go!

Hannover

I took the train to Hannover to spend the day with Aaron. As we sped along in airline like comfort, the monitors displayed our speed which at times hovered around 200km/hr! I was suitably impressed until I learned at the Berlin Technological Museum, that such high speed trains, travelling at these speeds, were introduced as early as the 1980s!

The journey took 90 minutes.

Aaron is well and starts his Uni studies again in October. This being summer in the northern hemisphere, its the academic long holidays ( equivalent to our December/January). He is driving a bus for his Dad’s bus company. Once he returns to Uni his current plan is a Master degree in Geology/Hydrology. This will take 2 years and his plan is to complete the practical in 18 months then write it up finish it in Perth ( WA) and if it works out and he likes it back in Australia, he may well stay on to then do his PhD. I said I will keep a bike in the shed for him!

I had a delighful day without a hint of disorientation! Aaron and his family live in an Hobbit-like village a few km from the nearest town. It os very green with picturesque homes, barns that have been turned into homes and horse and donkeys and fields of corn and sugar beet, windmills … Aaron explained that the village,rather than dying and shrinking, is in fact thriving, as Hannoverians have their own ‘seachange’ and move out to the country.

I had an evening meal with his family and his mother is a delightful woman who loves to cook, so we had a special german treat called an “Onion Cake” . To describe it as an onion quiche would not do it justice. it was served with green salad and we had a sort of bubbly sweet wine!

Aaron’s younger brother, Sam, is leaving for Australia in 12 days! Plans a working holiday for 12 months! He is a real lie wire, an extrovert with the gift of the gab, and I am sure he will find his feet in Australia.

Friday is my day to visit a few more museums. Saturday I leave for Stockholm and a few days of medical conference. Don’t expect daily blogs!

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Random thoughts

Random thoughts from Berlin

Before I chat about the expedition to Potsdam, a few unrelated observations and comments.

A clever and funny iPhone spoof suggesting that the next iPhone was designed with the look and feel of a unique SLR camera whose sole purpose was to take spontaneous food shots! Google it! It’s sadly true even for me!

As I wander by foot and cycle around Berlin I am in awe of the architecture. Berlin itself is one huge inspiring city cathedral. Furthermore I am constantly reminded that all but 70 years ago, Berlin was like the ancient ruins of castles and cathedrals, razed to the ground by relentless allied bombing. Each building I stand before or meander through, has been loving and meticulously restored to its former glory! It is fantastic in the figurative and literal sense. Black and white pictures attest to the utter devastation and desolation of each building after the war.

Despite one’s expectation that the cost of living and prices would be more in Germany, compared to Spain, this is not the case. As judged by a coffee and croissant or any similar snack, at least in Barcelona, these were as costly if not occasionally, more so in Spain! I know you retort- they saw me coming!

I am sitting in the lounge at Berlin central station waiting to travel to Hanover for the day to meet Aaron ( German guy stayed in adelaide). On the TV there is news on launch of new Nokia smart phone running Windows 8. Why do all new technology launches involve a man with a head mic, jeans and black top ( shirt or skivvy) who paces up and down holding the aforementioned device in his hand, the screen of which is back projected? As far as I can recall all new product launches involving Microsoft, have been defined with glitches, crashes and frozen screens.

Finally for the benefit of my techno nerds , the Apple versus Samsung saga has muddied the waters somewhat.

The iPhone and iPad run a distinctive and presumably unique operating system, iOS – version 6 due for release soon.

The Apple Mac computers all run a version of UNIX – it is the same core code that forms the basis of Linux ( open source) and …. Android! This is the mobile version of Unix, developed by Google and running on almost all other smart phones. So underneath it all, the Apple Mac range, Linux, Ubuntu, all run a flavour of Unix and in a simplistic way android phones!

Now off my soap box and onwards to Potsdam.

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Potsdam

And so to my day in Potsdam.

Reassured that the bicycle route would be Germanic in signage – lots of “atchung” and “verboten” and pictures of a cycle, I set off in light rain, first stop the Berlin Olympic stadium. It was painless although a singular lack of signage, did not pass unnoticed on my part . A rising sense of apprehensive anxiety was, to some extent, allayed by a dedicated cycle path with stencilled stylised images of a bike. Who knows where it was going but hundreds of Germans were all going in the same direction, not to Russia surely?

At last, road signs directed me to the “olympicstadiumplatz”.

The 1936 Berlin summer Olympic stadium and complex is, how can I say it, not unexpectedly, germanic! The main stadium is grey granite, “powerful, bold, taunt and unconquerable “! Big thick square columns.

Adjacent is another arena whose design and layout evokes the ancient Greek Olympiad site. Wondrous feeling. Again I keep thinking of the thousands who filled these sporting spaces – the pomp, pageantry and not forgetting circumstance, as Herr Hitler opened the games. I have a fascinating sense of history at such times that is all the more relevant when I am acutely aware that my father’s generation was part of that history.

Around the perimeter of the main stadium were sculptures, in the same grey granite, of past german olympic champions ( only males of course) , looking not surprisingly “powerful, bold, taunt and unconquerable”! They were completely naked, not that I particularly noticed.

As the Olympic complex was not precisely on the main cycle route from France to Russia, here my daily dose of disorientation slowly engulfed me.

Within the space of 15 minutes I was forced to ask 4 Germans in succession, directions – 2 had no idea, the 3rd tried to send me back the way I came, the last was the local postman who knew most but not quite enough. SO … You can ridicule me about MY deficiency but when 4 apparent “locals” can’t even read a map or have no idea about where a road is ( turned out it was but a few hundred metres away) , amongst my convoluted mixed emotions, there was one other, none other than my old friend: “schadenfreude”!

Potsdam is quite something. The town and surrounds reminded me of an Austrian like setting without the Alps. The whole region is an UNESCO World heritage site. Wide cobblestones streets, pedestrian traffic only and somewhat touristy with respect to shops but the parks and gardens and palaces built by Kaiser Wilheim the umpteenth and his sons and heirs, again are mind boggling. There is an analogy here between religion,cathedrals and Kings and Queens and their palaces, but I am not sure what it is!

I cycled there following a lake on my right and returned, by a twist of useful disorientation, by an unintended different route, through the Grunewald forest on a dedicated cycle and walking road! A fortuitous “wrong turn”‘ .

Then spent a few hours in the evening trying to find a specific shopping complex, to no avail. Took the metro back to my hotel and collapsed onto bed.

Thursday I shall take a train to Hannover to spend the day with Aaron and his family

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