Sunday, 3 December 2017

Learning German: Pass the Fernsprechteilnehmerverzeichnis, please

Here in Germany, the joke goes, "If you can speak three languages, you're trilingual. If you speak two languages, you're bilingual. And if you speak one language, you're American."

During my first few months in Germany I was able to fight off the idea that I fit into that joke somewhere. Ugly Americans who can only talk to those people who can answer back with some variant of "Whutcha gonna do now?" were another, lazier breed, I could always convince myself.

After all, I'd completely memorized my beginners' "German for Travellers" tape, a personal feat which I rated right up there with reading "Shogun" all the way through. I could tell any customs official "I have nothing to declare," ask my way to the opera and count all the way to 17, all with hardly a hesitation. But, after four months of living in Hamburg, I was surprised one day to learn that the "WC" over the public toilets had absolutely nothing to do with "Welcome Cabbies."

Moved into action, I decided to do something revolutionary: to actually study German and really learn to speak it. For me, the Typical Overseas American, this really was revolutionary. Besides the cassette tape, the only German I knew came from old World War II movies and consisted exclusively of "Achtung!," "mach schnell," and "prosit."

Making it even harder, I've always been one of those people with an almost non-existent grasp of grammar, in any language. My mind differentiates only vaguely between an adverb and a vinyl bowling bag.

Still, I was determined. I went out and bought a stack of grammar books with people in lederhosen yodelling from the covers: the kind of psychological trick designed to sweeten the shock of stumbling into the endless jungle of gerunds, preterites, subjunctives and other verbal tow-away zones.

On page two I learned that German words can be not only masculine and feminine, but also neutral. On page five I found out there were 16 ways to say "the." On page seven, the 12 possibilities for the word "a" came trotting out onto the field, and I was well into my second beer.

The demoralization went on, page after page, beer after beer. Intricate tables of adjective endings, half-explained descriptions of the six or so random ways to form plurals. The endless verb-form lists: 16 totally different pronunciations just for the verb "have." That's something English takes care of with just "have, has and had."

Independently and quite unprepared I had stumbled upon the First Principle of Learning German: "It's hard." Incredibly hard. Unbelievably hard. An entirely random language with every useless complication built in with the same German thoroughness and inventiveness that have brought the world the printing press and the Audi Quattro.

I explored ever deeper, trekking through the grammatical Sahara of gender, the place where most newcomers check out of Hotel German. I learned more about sexual relationships than I had ever experienced in any singles bar.

And I began to see patterns: how the whole key to understanding German lies in how it combines lots of small words to create whole new ones, much like the 10 possible numbers and 26 letters used on license plates create millions of combinations.

I learned that an advantage is a "before-piece," that an envelope is an "around-hit," an elevator is an "up-train," a telescope a "far-pipe."

Words developed jungle-like, syllable by syllable, until it was no longer humanly possible to follow a clear path from beginning to end. A record cleaner became a baffling "Schallplattenreinigungsgerät." A phone book turned into an incomprehensible "Fernsprechteilnehmerverzeichnis."

Then I marched ahead into the jumble of German word order, which turns sentences like "We will have to let her do it" into "We become it she make let must." The punchline to a joke in "Stern" magazine was "Already times what of (or from) deersback in creamsauce heard (or belong)?"

Maybe now you're expecting a self-pitying confession that I finally just gave up, finding a better use of my free time, like learning to write Documentary Letters of Credit or programming in Java. Something simple.

But no. The grammar books quickly began collecting a thick dust blanket, and I chose instead a steady diet of German TV versions of "Simpsons" and "Sesame Street," "Peanuts" books and "Donald Duck." It was easy and fun. And now I speak German.

That same American pop culture that's so lazy about disciplining its citizens in scholarly research provided the key. People only learn best in short, fun, interesting doses, which is what American culture is all about.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Tenerife, Playa de las Americas Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 14.2 km (8.8 miles) but you can shorten it by starting further north, terrain: a few small hills, gain 63m

NOTE: Do this route in the mornings when its cooler and the other tourists haven't started filling the promenade. Make sure you're back home by about 9:30 a.m.

Anyone staying in the tourist resorts of Tenerife's Playa de Las Américas area knows how busy and urban the whole place feels. So if you're looking to get away from the chaos to a bit more quiet and nature, just head north. The farther north you get, the more nature you'll find, and fewer people.

This route follows the beach promenade as far as it goes, 7 kilometers north to La Caleta from Los Cristianos. But you could begin wherever you are staying: Los Cristianos, Playa de Las Américas, San Eugenio, Torviscas or Costa Adeje.
Camisón in Los Cristianos
The official start of this route is at Playa del Camisón in Los Cristianos, at the La Palapa Beach Club. Los Cristianos has a double beach promenade: one close to the sand and another a bit further back, where most people walk. It's your choice.

So, just turn west, with the water to your left side, and keep on running until the sidewalk ends at La Caleta!

At first, you'll go by a surfing beach, El Cabezo Grande, before the trail heads northwards.
Surfers at a surf school at Playa de Las Américas
There are more surfing beaches at Playa de Las Américas, where the promenade, called Calle Francisco Fumero, is lined with cafés and shops.

For much of the run -- especially after Puerto Colon -- you'll have a choice of running along any of one-, two- or even three levels of promenades, or even head through the beach sand. It doesn't really matter which level you take, there are frequent steps to switch levels as you please.

After Playa de las Americas, Calle Francisco Rumero ends when it comes to a channelized, dry river, the Barranco del Rey. The promenade turns to the right to take you to Avenida Rafael Lluvina (unless you want to run straight onto the sand beach).
Typical promenade scene at Troya
Continue northwards past Playa de Troya along the wide sidewalk next to the avenue, past the notorious Monkey Beach Club, then follow the pedestrian promenade back down to the beach at Playa de Troya.

Now you're running past sand again, until Playa del Bobo ends, then comes a scenic stretch where the promenade rises up above some rocky cliffs with cool beach clubs built into the rocks.
Las Rocas Beach Club
The only dumb part of the run is coming up next: the two-block area around Puerto Colón, where you have to run next to a road and past a parking lot for the port. The promenade runs into Avenida de Colón, with a bit of harbor traffic, where you continue northwards.

When running along the avenue, you'll be up high, above the level of the port and beaches. When you cross over a street that rises up the hill below you, take the stairs down to the lower level at the sign  for "Centro Commercial Puerto Colón". This will take you down to the boat docks.
Approaching Puerto Colón: take those steps to the right!
You'll then run past the docks and come out to the red-paved promenade of Playa la Pinta.
At the harbor
You're now coming into Torviscas, where you'll have a choice of levels to run on, past Playa de Torviscas and Playa de Fañabé. The north end of Fañabé is where the beaches start getting nicer and more natural.
Fañabé and the rocks
The promenades join together to go up high over more cliffs.

NOTE: my favorite way to go in Fañabé is to run down to the sand and then continue over the rock ledges below Fañabé Beach Club. You'll have to slow down in a few dangerous spots, so watch out! And a few homeless people live under the rock ledges, so women might not want to run alone down there.

When you round the Fañabé Beach Club -- either above on the promenade or down on the rocks -- you'll have a great view of El Castillo del Duque, a stone mansion built out on top of the next rock outcropping. It's owned by local celebrities. 
Castillo del Duque as seen from Fañabé rocks
The whole area seems nicer, more upscale and exclusive from now on. No more English pubs and chips shops. There's a little mojito stand right there. It makes me wish I'd brought enough money for a cocktail!
Time for a mojito break, right?
Again, you can either follow the promenade past the mansion, or run on the rocks below it along the water at Las Toscas.

Either way, you'll now come to the area's best beach, Playa del Duque. It's lined with exclusive resorts and shops.
Playa del Duque
At the Riu Palace resort, they are constructing a new beach, which is interesting to watch.
Beach under construction
Then comes another dry river, the Barranco del Agua, at the Sheraton resort. This is lined by a somewhat weird sight: the pebble beach, where people have set up hundreds of little stone pyramids.
The pebble beach, with Las Palomas in the background
You now have to run around the back of another rock formation the circular Las Palomas (the pigeons).

There is just one more resort, the H10 Costa Adeje, then the promenade ends at Playa de La Enramada, just before La Caleta.
Enramada: end of the promenade
La Caleta is in the process of being extended way back into the hinterland, but it still has a bit of the feel of a little fishing village, with winding little lanes going down to waterfront houses built out onto the rocks. So you might want to continue and take a look, but there is no more pedestrian way to follow.

So that's it, time to turn around and head home. You get to enjoy it all from the other direction now. Enjoy!

Monday, 13 November 2017

London Brentford Thames Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 9.7 km (6 miles), terrain: flat

London Running Routes:
Best London Running Routes: Overview
Docklands-LimehouseRegent's Canal and Camden Town  
Hampstead Heath  
3-Parks Route: Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James' Park  
Regent's Park  
Hyde Park   

Heathrow Harmondsworth Moor  

Richmond Park
Notting Hill
Victoria Park 
Wimbledon Common Trail Run
Royal Docks/ExCeL Route 
Kew / Brentford Thames Run 
For more running routes, see Route List. 

The Thames riverside in London is lined by a chain of fascinating neighborhoods, most with a uniquely British feel. They range along the whole river, from the wide industrial horizons of the tidal surge in the east, at Woolwich, to the meandering, tree-lined mellowness in Richmond and Kingston in the west, with relaxed swans gliding past houseboats hung with window-boxes.

This route follows the Thames in the west, out past Hammersmith and Chiswick. On the one side is resurgent neighborhood of Brentford, where the smaller River Brent flows into the Thames. On the other side is elegant Kew with its famous Kew Gardens, one of the most impressive botanical gardens in the world. 
Houses along Kew Green
NOTE: Originally, I wanted this to be a Kew Gardens run, but then I saw the £16 entrance fee, and I decided to run behind the gardens, along the Thames instead. Kew Gardens is a wonderful spot, though, so make sure you get there sometime when you will have enough time to enjoy it.

This route begins at Kew Bridge, and then heads upriver to the west, heading out along one shore of the Thames, then returning on the other shore. There is a lot of variety: with nature, islands, houseboats, shipwrecks, canals, old shipyards and warehouses, a dam, parks and a big palace, Syon House.
Looking upriver along the route from Kew Bridge
So if you're ready to discover another cool corner of this great city, let's head off to Kew Bridge on South Circular Road. There is a nearby South Western Railway station and a couple of bus lines to get you there.

Cross the bridge to the south side, where Kew begins. Now, turn right to head west along the tree-lined riverside path.

NOTE: The pleasant neighborhood of Kew is worth running through, too, just south of the bridge. Go discover it sometime!
The start of the trail
Now run upstream along the Thames, first passing a group of houseboats. The wooded island of Brentford Ait lies in the middle of the river here.

The brick wall of Kew Gardens lines the way to our left. Unfortunately, we won't get any good views of the gardens from here, but the Thames itself is entertaining enough.

Most of this half of the run is full of nature, with woods lining both sides of the river.

After we pass Kew Gardens, at about the 2.5-km mark, it looks as if we're running along a narrow causeway, with water to both sides. This is the beginning of the golf course, which stretches off to the east.

The river now curves southwards and takes you by another wooded island, Isleworth Eyot. It kind of reminds me of Tom Sawyer country.
The obelisk in the Old Deer Park
You'll soon see a dam coming into view, Richmond Lock. That's where we'll cross the river and head back. Next to the dam on the left is a big meadow, the Old Deer Park, with its obelisk near the river trail.

Richmond begins right after that next bridge ahead, Twickenham Bridge, but that's part of the Richmond Park Run (try it!).

So let's go up the stairs to take the arched footbridge above the dam to Isleworth on the other side.
Richmond Lock
On the other side of the river, stay on the riverside trail, running westwards as we pass the 4-km mark. In a few hundred meters, it will turn left, away from the river, to go around a new, walled-in development. You'll come to Richmond Road, where you follow it northwards along the tall brick wall through Isleworth .
Beginning of trail in Isleworth
The road makes a sharp turn to the left at a little roundabout, then a little square follows a few steps later. Turn right at that square to continue northwards along North Street.
Crossing Isleworth Common
In just a few steps, we'll come to an open green square, the Isleworth Village Common. Cut diagonally across the square on the path towards the arched gate through the little shopping center. On the other side, you'll come to Church Street at the 5-km mark.
Start of Church Street
Continue northwards along the street, and we're now back at the river.

You'll pass a boat's ramp at All Saints Church, and then Church Street turns left to leave the river.
Along Church Street
In a hundred meters, you'll come to the entrance of the next highlight of the run: Syon Park. Turn right onto Park Road to go through the iron gates into this private residence belonging to the Duke of Northumberland. The house and lands are open to the public, and lots of visitors go there for a tour, and a Hilton Hotel is located across from the palace.
Syon Park meadows
The land used to be an abbey, and before that it was the site of a Roman village. Each year, a archaeological dig uncovers more of the site.

There are wide meadows at the beginning, then you'll pass Syon House, the duke's London home, at the 6-km mark. Keep going straight along the road, with the Hilton Hotel parking lot along the left side.
Syon House
The road will eventually exit the park at London Road, a pretty busy road which soon becomes Brentford's High Street. Turn right onto London Road.

But this road is a bit too loud for my taste, so when we cross the bridge over the River Brent, take the steps down to the right, leading to the tow path along the canal-like river.

NOTE: If you want to explore some more, you can also run the other direction, upriver along the Brent, past a quickly redeveloping area with some huge corporate headquarters.
The River Brent, from the High Street bridge
Heading eastwards along the Brent, you'll pass a long line of narrowboats and other houseboats at the 7-km mark. When you come to an old railroad trestle, turn right to go under the trestle and then back up the few steps over the dike to rejoin the tow-path. The tow-paths were used by men and horses in previous days to pull barges along the river.

Just before you come to a little harbor basin, the tow-path switches sides: you have to cross a narrow footbridge to the south side, then continue along the Brent until the next bridge.

Now turn left to cross the bridge along Dock Road, and head north away from the river. Dock Road will take you back to Brentford High Street in just a hundred meters, heading by some industrial businesses.
In Watermans Park
Back at busy Brentford High Street, turn right and continue eastwards. You'll see the huge brick water tower at the London Museum of Water and Steam farther down the road, near the end at Kew Bridge. The museum is located in a Victorian-era steam-powered pumping station, and the tower was used to keep the water pressure constant.

After passing Ealing Road and a McDonald's, you'll see Watermans Park to your right side, along the river. Run down into the park to continue running directly along the water.

There are some sunken boats along the waterfront here, across from Brentford Ait.
Cool old sunken steamship
The trail ends at the east end of the park, where you have to rejoin High Street again, for just a hundred meters. But you can get back to the river at the next little street on the right side.

Back along the quiet riverside, just keep running the few steps back to Kew Bridge, passing more houseboats and riverside pubs until you arrive at the old brick bridge.

There you are, another great London run!