Dienstag, 1. Dezember 2009

We Vishnu a Merry Christmas!


Out of all the bands reuniting lately, Britain's KULA SHAKER were probably the most pleasant surprise. The 4-piece band, whose debut album "K" hit double platinum in 1995 and catapulted the band into the public eye, vanished just as quickly as they had appeared, and they have been sorely missed ever since. Surprisingly, 10 years later the band decided to give it another shot, and their 2007 album "STRANGEFOLK" was anything but a sell-out and showed the band stronger - and more relevant - than ever. In times of war, climate change, consumerism and economic crisis, the band does not only still sound great, but has something to SAY, and something to GIVE as well - if you take a look at their website www.kulashaker.org, where they hand out little virtual Christmas gifts for fans, and offer free downloads such as the hilarious and peculiar singles "Drink Tea (for the Love of God)" or "Baby Jesus", you can't help liking these guys. Their 4th album "PILGRIM'S PROGRESS" is due for early 2010, and I can't wait to listen to it... maybe I'll even go on a pilgrimage to Glastonbury to check them out live for the first time!

They've also inspired me to BUY LESS for Christmas this year, and get a little more creative instead: besides spreading a few glasses of self-made chutney among my family & close relatives, I've made a music CD compilation for several friends, including "artwork" & liner notes. The vintage record label DOC FRÄNK RECORDS decided to issue it as a limited edition with just 10 copies, and rumours have it that some of these rare copies have been shipped as far as South Australia! ;-)

For the cover, I've borrowed a KULA SHAKER Christmas gag, a picture of the Hindu God VISHNU, replacing Father Christmas and delivering several presents with his many arms... i imagine it must've been pretty tough for him to command his reindeers all the way to Australia, but on the other hand he's probably more accustomed to the hot climate than Santa Claus...

Anyway, I wish everyone a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a very HAPPY NEW YEAR 2010! May it bring you JOY, HOPE, and PROSPERITY, but above all, may it bring you LOVE. The good shit, the real stuff, the gold dust that makes it all worthwhile...

Hope to stay in touch,
Alex Lackner

And here's the tracklist for my 2009 Christmas sampler:

1. BLUE KING BROWN - Come and check your head
2. CALEXICO - Victor Jara's hands
3. FIREWATER - Too much (is never enough)
4. PEARL JAM - The Fixer
5. KULA SHAKER - Die for Love
6. GOMEZ - In our gun
7. NEW ORDER - Someone like you
8. KINGS OF CONVENIENCE - I'd rather dance with you
9. HOWIE BECK - Flashover
10. NADA SURF - Do it again
11. JIMMY EAT WORLD - Lucky Denver Mint
12. POWDERFINGER - Roll right by you
13. MIDNIGHT OIL - Tone Poem
14. EE - Pilotfish
15. SARAH HARMER - Tether
16. ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN - Burn for me
17. KULA SHAKER - Baby Jesus (Bonus Track)

Montag, 30. November 2009

Добро пожаловать к Вена!


Thanks to a pen-friendship initiated by a tennis colleague, i have the honour of welcoming Yulia Kraeva, a young lady from Moscow/Russia, in Vienna from December 31 until January 7. I always loved showing visitors around, and i haven't hit the tourist trail for quite a while, so I gladly took up the "duty" of being her tour guide. Since she'll be here for more than a week, and her hosts Heinz & Anna are pretty busy fostering their 4-months-old baby at the moment, i guess we'll have plenty of time to enjoy Vienna in all its diversity instead of just ticking off the most important sights. In a way, visits like these give you the opportunity to rediscover your hometown and appreciate the fact that you live here and not elsewhere. So I already took some time off work, and look forward to be spending a full week holiday - without even leaving the city.

As so many Russians - and Vienna tourists in general - Yulia is very interested in the classical music department and wants to see "the city of so many great composers". This gave me a reason to finally try out things I've never really cared about (but many people actually come here for) and i bought tickets for a classical music performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Beethoven's 9th symphony at the Konzerthaus) on January 1 and for a typical Viennese Operetta (Johann Strauss' "Fledermaus") at the opera on January 6. I'm really curious whether I'm gonna like it. I always thought of operas as an aquired taste, but merely being in this building for the first time should be reason enough to do it.

Apart from these 2 classical venues and the obvious trips around Ringstrasse, Innere Stadt, Schönbrunn & Belvedere I have also planned to see Orson Welles' black & white Viennese classic "The Third Man" at the Burg Cinema (followed by a ride on the ferris wheel of course), visit the Naschmarkt together, and include some interesting museum trips such as the Edvard Munch exhibition at the Leopold Museum or the Impressionism exhibition at the Albertina. Last, but not least, I've also added some recreational activites to our schedule, such as ice skating at the Wiener Eislaufverein (WEV) and relaxing at the only Turkish bath in Vienna, the Hamam at "Aux Gazelles"! I think it's a pretty good plan for 1 week, and I hope we get most of it done, without being under stress or not getting along. Communication might be a problem - i speak "njet" Russian, and her English needs improvement - but I think that might make it all the more entertaining for both of us! :-)

Samstag, 21. November 2009

Tennis Exhibition Essling vs. Ottakring


In Abwesenheit unseres Wahl-Australiers Stefan Podar durfte ich erstmals beim "The Group" Tennisdoppel teilnehmen, wodurch es zu einem Vergleichskampf Essling vs. Ottakring kam, welcher fairerweise auf neutralem Boden (in der MAXX23 Halle in Altmannsdorf) ausgetragen wurde.

Um ein möglichst ausgeglichenes Spiel zu gewährleisten, einigte man sich bereits im Vorfeld auf ein Duell Lackner/Petzelbauer gegen Pusam/Park. Dass es allerdings so spannend UND hochklassig werden würde, damit hatte wohl niemand gerechnet. Sämtliche Kontrahenten waren 100%ig fokussiert, was schon die Tatsache zeigte, dass Max Petzelbauer eine taktische Besprechung mit seinem Doppelpartner am Vorabend im Charlie P's ablehnte, um am Samstag körperlich voll fit zu sein...


Bereits der erste Satz war charakteristisch für das ganze Spiel: während die ehemaligen "Blondschöpfe" Lackner/Petzelbauer von Beginn an die Initiative übernahmen und konsequent den Weg ans Netz suchten, wurde man doch immer wieder vom Kampfgeist und quirligen Defensivspiel der koreanisch-wienerischen Paarung überrascht. Der Linkshänder Michi Pusam konnte einige spektakuläre Long-Line-Passierbälle anbringen, und schüchterte mit Schnurrbart, Fönwelle und geballter Faust seine Gegner auch optisch ein (siehe Foto). Sein Partner Stephan "The Chinese Cat" Park quittierte dies mit diabolischem Lacher und überzeugte mit katzenhafter Gewandtheit am Netz. Dank starker Aufschlagleistung (geschätzte Ass-Statistik 5:0) verwandelten die beiden ein 0:2 noch in ein 6:4.

Ein ähnliches Bild bot sich im bitter umkämpften 2. Satz: Lackner/Petzelbauer gingen zunächst rasch 2:0 in Führung, doch Park/Pusam drehten erneut den Spieß um und standen bei 5:3 (Aufschlag Park) bereits kurz vor dem Sieg! Dank punktgenauer Lob-Returns von Petzelbauer und Lackner'schen Vollstreckerqualitäten am Netz konnte jedoch dem Chinesen der Aufschlag abgenommen und auf 4:5 verkürzt werden. Alex Lackner, mit dem neuen BABOLAT PURE DRIVE angetreten, machte es im darauffolgenden Game allerdings selbst am spannendsten, als er bei 30:0 Vorsprung zwei Doppelfehler beging, und sein Team damit nur 2 Punkte von der Niederlage trennten. Trotz tückischer, tiefer Slice-Returns von Park zog er den Kopf aber noch aus der Schlinge, und mit frischem Selbstvertrauen konnte danach auch eines der zahlreichen Marathon-Aufschlagspiele von Michi Pusam gewonnen werden. Dieses Break liess man sich nicht mehr nehmen, Max Petzelbauer servierte anschliessend trocken zum 7:5 aus.

Damit schien das Blatt gewendet - Park/Pusam wirkten etwas entnervt und ermüdet, und auch der starke 1. Aufschlag liess die beiden zusehends im Stich. Mit dem Auftrieb des gewonnenen 2. Satzes im Rücken, und unter der Devise "kurz und schmerzlos" spielten sich Petzelbauer/Lackner im entscheidenden 3. Durchgang schnell ein vorentscheidendes 5:1 heraus. Doch auch in dieser aussichtslosen Situation zeigte sich nochmal die Moral der Gegner, die dank eines starken Aufschlagsspiels von Pusam und einem Break gegen Petzelbauer nochmal auf 5:3 herankamen, bevor ein Break gegen Stephan Park der Schlacht nach knapp 2 Stunden ein Ende bereitete!

Erschöpft, aber durchwegs begeistert von der Qualität der Begegnung, versprach man einander schon bald Revanche - möglicherweise wird diese auf Sand stattfinden, was die beiden Verlierer noch gefährlicher machen könnte...

Bonmot des Tages:

Lackner: "Es ist meistens so, dass ein technisch stärkerer Spieler das Niveau des gesamten Spiels hebt, und sich dadurch auch alle anderen Spieler steigern! Ich spiele gegen technisch bessere Leute meist auch eine Klasse besser als gegen schwächere..."

Park: "Also haben wir dich quasi mitgezogen heut..."

Petzelbauer: "Jetzt is ma klar wieso wir sonst immer so scheisse gspielt haben - der Stuffi zieht uns alle runter!"

Und ich denke ich weiss auch, wer in der glühenden Sonne Australiens bereits Trainingseinheiten auf dem Tenniscourt einschiebt...

Sonntag, 25. Oktober 2009

Hochschwab

Der "1. Esslinger Herbstwandertag" wurde zwar nicht der von mir erhoffte und geplante Gruppenausflug (dafür war der Termin Ende Oktober auch zu spät, nach dem Kälteeinbruch vor 2 Wochen war den meisten die Lust vergangen), aber dafür ein echtes 2-Mann-Abenteuer! Eigentlich wollte ich die Wanderung ja schon aufs Frühjahr 2010 verschieben, aber nachdem die Wetterprognose für dieses Wochenende recht günstig schien, hab ich mich dann doch anders entschieden und glücklicherweise das Esslinger 2-Rad-Konditionswunder Bernhard "Börnie" Kornherr zum Mitmachen überreden können. Wie nicht anders erwartet, war er auch genau der Richtige für ein solches Unterfangen.

Wir starteten gestern, Samstag, um 10:00 in leichtem Nieselregen von Seewiesen (nahe Aflenz, Steiermark) auf 970 m Seehöhe und wurden schon bald von beträchtlichen Schneemengen überrascht, die unseren Aufstieg erschwerten. Um 12:30 erreichten wir ziemlich durchnässt die auf 1650 m gelegene Voisthaler Hütte und hielten eine 2-stündige Mittagspause um uns zu stärken und das weitere Vorgehen zu besprechen. Die Sicht war trüb und es schneite, und nachdem einige andere Wanderer beschlossen umzukehren, waren auch wir schon fast soweit. 4 Mitstreiter (2 Oberösterreicher und 2 Wiener) und die triste Vorstellung bereits am frühen Nachmittag wieder im Auto zu sitzen, bestärkten uns aber in dem Entschluss es doch zu versuchen, und so machten wir uns um 14:30 auf den Weg, und erreichten nach beschwerlichem Aufstieg durch teils hüfthohen Tiefschnee über den Graf-Meran-Steig gegen 16:30 das Schiestlhaus nahe dem Hochschwabgipfel, wo wir bei Nebel und -2° Celsius Aussentemperatur unser Quartier bezogen.


So gar nicht dem "urigen" Hüttenklischee entsprechend, punktet das Schiestlhaus (das erste "Passivhaus" in den Alpen!) mit Solarenergie-Kollektoren, eigenem Handymasten, modernen Stockbett-Schlaflagern, und einer komplett verglasten Frontseite inkl. grosser Terasse! Und natürlich mit dem jungen Hüttenwirt Christian, der seine Gäste mit feiner Küche und etwas "anderer" Hüttenmusik verwöhnt (statt DJ Ötzi läuft Ethno- und Balkanmusik). Kein Wunder dass man im Normalfall vorreservieren muss, aber da dies das letzte Wochenende vor Saisonschluss (und das Wetter ziemlich unwirtlich) war, hatten wir das Haus ziemlich für uns allein... und wurden am Sonntag mit herrlichem Bergwetter für den mühsamen Anstieg belohnt!

Gemeinsam mit unseren 4 "Bergkameraden" Klaus, Bernhard, Renate und Andreas gab es am Vorabend gutes Essen und Hüttengaudi im kleinen Rahmen, unterstützt durch mehrere Flaschen Gösser, ein paar Gläser Rotwein, und - auf Empfehlung des Chefs - ein paar Stamperln "Hirschbirne". Aufgrund der Zeitumstellung blieb uns zum Glück 1 Stunde mehr Zeit zum Ausnüchtern und so konnten wir nach einem ausgiebigen Frühstück den Gipfel in Angriff nehmen, und bereits um 9:30 den Rückweg Richtung Seewiesen antreten - diesmal allerdings auf dem Höhenweg über die "Aflenzer Staritzen", der uns (bei herrlichem Sonnenschein und ohne grössere Pausen) gut 5 Stunden lang, vorbei an einigen imposanten Gipfeln und Abbrüchen, durch das weltweit größte Gemseneinstandsgebiet führte.


Beim Schluss-Abstieg über den "Gamssteig" nach Seewiesen mussten wir auch eindeutig anerkennen wie überlegen uns diese Tiere in punkto Trittsicherheit sind... dennoch war es für mich und Bernie ein wirklich gelungenes Wochenende: wir haben unter erschwerten Bedingungen einen tollen Berg bestiegen, ein paar nette Leute kennengelernt, und nebenbei noch eine ziemliche Bräune aufg'rissen! Und uns geschworen, dass es nicht unsere letzte Bergtour war...

Sonntag, 18. Oktober 2009

No Cangaroos in Ottakring

Von langer Hand geplant, hat der Ottakringer der Nation, Stefan Podar a.k.a. Pavel oder auch Stuffi die Insel der Seligen verlassen und ist für die nächsten... naja sagen wir mal 15 Monate, nach Australien - genauer gesagt Adelaide, South Australia - übersiedelt, um dort gemeinsam mit seiner besseren Hälfte Julia Habitzl den Masterlehrgang in "Sports Physiotherapy" zu absolvieren.

Zum Abschied sagte er nicht bloss leise Servus, sondern lud zu einer grossen Abschiedsfete inkl. Live-Musik in Gestalt von Mike Regan, Exilaustralier und Musiker in Wien. Bis in die frühen Morgenstunden wurde im Schwarzen Schaf (Wien 8., Lederergasse) der Musik gelauscht, getratscht und getrunken.

Mittlerweile haben sich die beiden bereits in Adelaide einquartiert, und während Julia erstmal 3 Monate in einem Englisch-Kurs büffelt und hoffentlich genug Aussie-Slang für eine erfolgreiche Alltags- (um nicht zu sagen: Haushalts-)Bewältigung aufschnappt, darf Stefan die Gegend erkunden und im Gegenzug dem interessierten Australier näherbringen was eine "Beutelschleuder" oder ein "16er Blech" ist. Im Dezember bekommen sie dann Besuch von Stefan's Schwester Uli, um gemeinsam das Outback (inkl. dem heiligen Berg Uluru, auch bekannt als Ayers Rock) zu erkunden, bevor es im Jänner mit dem Studien-Alltag losgeht - wobei ich mir den "Alltag" in South Australia recht entspannt vorstelle...

Ein Auslandsstudium in Australien war immer auch ein kleiner Traum von mir, kommt jedoch aus finanziellen und persönlichen Gründen nicht (mehr) in Frage (soll heissen: i bin afoch scho zu oid fiar solche Spompanadln*). Aber da ich Stefan in der Zwischenzeit in seiner Praxis im VSMC ersetzen, und hautnah seinen Berichterstattungen folgen darf, hab ich fast das Gefühl selbst ein bissl dabei zu sein. Und nachdem ich bereits 2002 den roten Kontinent bereist habe, und mir damals geschworen habe irgendwann wiederzukommen, bietet sich so auch die perfekte Gelegenheit, den beiden frischgebackenen Masters of Sports Physiotherapy im Jänner 2011 einen Besuch abzustatten, und mich mit ihnen auf die Suche nach der perfekten Welle zu machen! Denn so wie ich Stefan einst in Podersdorf etwas Windsurf-Nachhilfe gegeben hab, darf ich mir dann wohl von ihm Lektionen in Sachen Wellenreiten erwarten :-)

Bis dahin wünsch ich Julia viel Spass im Englischkurs und den beiden ein erfolgreiches und interessantes Studienjahr, und liefere hiermit gleich ein kleines Einstiegs-Quiz, in dem die beiden interaktiv unter Beweis stellen können, ob ihre grauen Zellen schon von der südaustralischen Sonne versengt wurden, oder ob sie immer noch "fit for Australia" sind!? Also, los gehts:

1. Was ist das giftigste Tier Australiens?

a) Funnel Web Spider
b) Box Jellyfish
c) Cane Toad
d) King Brown Snake
e) Redback Spider

2. Welche ist die giftigste Schlange Australiens?

a) King Brown Snake
b) Taipan Snake
c) Death Adder

3. Wie wird in Australien typischerweise eine attraktive junge Frau bezeichnet?

a) hot chick
b) fine sheila
c) nice bird

4. Welche ist die grösste Sandinsel der Welt, und demnach auch Australiens?

a) Fraser Island
b) Kangaroo Island
c) Thursday Island
d) Tasmania

5. Welcher ist der höchste Berg Australiens?

a) Ayers Rock, NT
b) Mt. Cosciusko, NSW
c) Frog Buttress, QLD
d) Mount Tambourine, QLD

6. Welcher der folgenden australischen Tennisspieler stammt nicht aus Adelaide?

a) Patrick Rafter
b) Lleyton Hewitt
c) Mark Woodforde

7. Welche Biersorte ist in einer Brauerei in Adelaide beheimatet?

a) XXXX ("Four X")
b) VB
c) Cooper's
d) Cascade
e) Foster's

8. Was meint der Australier, wenn er "my shout!" ruft?

a) "jetzand red' i!"
b) "Meine Güte!"
c) "die Runde geht auf mi!"
d) "Mei, schau!"

9. Welche ist die Stadt mit dem höchsten Pro-Kopf-Bierkonsum Australiens?

a) Perth, WA
b) Brisbane, QLD
c) Adelaide, SA
d) Sydney, NSW
e) Darwin, NT

10. Welche der folgenden bekannten Pop-Bands stammt nicht aus Australien?

a) INXS
b) Crowded House
c) Men at Work
d) Midnight Oil

11. Was ist ein/e "Billabong"?

a) ein Wurfgerät welches die Aborigines zur Jagd benutzt haben, ähnlich dem Boomerang
b) ein kleiner Teich oder Tümpel
c) eine eng anliegende, knapp bis über die Knie reichende (Surf-)Short, die der bekannten Marke zu ihrem Namen verhalf.

12. Ihr seid bei einem zünftigen australischen "Barbie" (Barbecue) im Nachbarsgarten eingeladen. Welches der folgenden - typisch australischen - Utensilien hat sich fälschlicherweise dorthin verirrt?

a) Stubbie Cooler
b) Esky
c) Mozzie repellant
d) Billy
e) Shiraz

Ich bitte Euch, Eure Antworten als Kommentar einzufügen, diese werden dann umgehend an Eure Studiengangsleiter weitergeleitet. "Googeln" ist klarerweise nicht erlaubt und wird von der University of South Australia mit einem sofortigen Verweis geahndet! Auch den Telefonjoker dürft ihr trotz Eures günstigen Provider-Deals mit "3" nicht in Anspruch nehmen! Zu gewinnen gibt es eine Flasche Cooper's Pale Ale! Alle sonstigen Leser dürfen natürlich auch gerne mitmachen (Mitarbeitern des Blogs ist jedoch die Teilnahme am Gewinnspiel untersagt).

Als weiterführende Australien-Lektüre empfehle ich abschliessend das Online-Magazin "DerPavel", welches ihr über meinen Link zum "The Group"-Blog in der Blogliste rechts oben direkt erreichen könnt. Also dann Pavel, keep us posted!

Dienstag, 1. September 2009

Leaving Hate Behind

The following article by Pamela Bloom is taken from the newspaper "DER STANDARD", which publishes a choice of collected "NY Times" articles each Monday.


The modern world has given us a lot to cope with, but who really has the skills? The whirlwind of emotions caused by Scotland's release of the Lockerbie bomber has illuminated a common psychological problem. How de we move on from grief and rage? Loss is inevitable in life. But when the scale is huge - a terrorist attack like September 11, the breakdown of social justice as in Iraq or Rwanda - the rage and resentment left behind is often more cancerous than the event.

Is there a way to recover from extreme trauma that allows us to let go of the pain and reboot our lives? Many of the stories I collected for a book titled "Buddhist Acts of Compassion" point to a radical shift in perspective that could transform the way we deal with such issues, not to mention inspire profound social change. A slogan in Buddhism speaks to these moments: "Just like me." Just like me, others suffer. Just like me, others desire happiness.

Of course, it is excruciatingly difficult for a grieving mother to see any resemblance between herself and her child's murderer. But the exiled Dalai Lama, himself a victim of persecution, made no such distinctions when visiting Auschwitz for the first time. Speechless at the piles of tattered shoes left behind by the victims, he wrote: "I stopped and prayed - moved profoundly both for the victims and for the perpetrators of this calamity... And, in the knowledge that, just as we all have the capacity to act selflessly out of concern for others' well-being, so do we all have the potential to be murderers and torturers, I vowed to do all I could to ensure that nothing like this happened again."

Such saintlike sentiment may feel out of reach, but the teachings of Buddhism say it isn't. That's because when we drop our personal sense of self - the one that says "I'm right, you're wrong, go to hell" - what arises in its place is a wide open heart that excludes no one, not even one's persecutor. Buddhists say this heart is our true nature, not the one that is forever seeking "Kill Bill"-style revenge.

To discover that state of mind, start small. A beginner's prayer in Buddhism encourages you to wish happiness for all beings, not just the ones you approve of. If that feels impossible, start by extending good will to yourself. Eventually you extend it to those you care about, those you don't know, and finally those you can't stand. Imagine centuries-old bitter rivals doing this and breaking the cycle of revenge.

When suffering seems too deep to bear, Buddhism suggests dedicating your pain so all those hurting in the same way might be relieved. It's a form of meditation that has profoundly helped a friend of mine navigate through AIDS. And it's one that could help victims of terrorism discover a common bond that is healing.

If you think this approach is just mind games, think again. These are the very practices that have allowed Tibetan Buddhist nuns and monks to withstand years of torture. Especially for those in exile, these meditations have helped them forge new lives - with clarity, compassion and little or no rancor. Outer wars start from within, the Buddha taught. And as Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a Tibetan meditation master, once said: "As long as you do not change your mind, there will always be an enemy to harm you."


Pamela Bloom is the author of "The Power of Compassion: Stories that touch the heart, heal the soul and change the world", to be published in 2010. Send comments to intelligence@nytimes.com

Montag, 31. August 2009

Algeria, Appendix


... and that is my tiny chat algérien called Zizou, whom I found at the restrooms of Boumédienne International Aiport in Algiers! Or should I say, he found me? My vet told me it was a classic case of the pet picking its owner.
He suddenly sat there crying and shivering, when I was about to exit the men's toilet, while Said was waiting with my luggage in the check-in queue. I told the cleaning lady "Hey! Un chat!" but she just shrugged, so i picked up the little tiger, who immediately started purring. Just a few seconds later, I had already made up my mind and put him in a little laundry bag inside of my hand-luggage. The people in the check-in queue didn't bother, and - amazingly - the people at the luggage screening didn't notice. My hand luggage was scanned twice, in Algiers and in Paris, but none of the clerks discovered Zizou, who also didn't give himself away by crying, for God's sake. He seemed so relieved to be removed from that neon-bright and cold airport toilet, that the dark little nylon cave in my backpack must have made him feel like being back in utero! (he was only about 4 or maybe 5 weeks old when i found him) So except for a 1-hour-break on a Charles-de-Gaulle Airport toilet, he was sleeping in my backpack most of the time, and only taken out at the dinner table with my family later that night... who were very surprised, of course ;-)

He's spent his first 2 weeks in Vienna now, has already seen the vet, and is healthy and playful and growing fast. And as far as his characteristics go, I can definitely see some African blood boiling in him...

Samstag, 22. August 2009

Algeria, Part 2

It took me a while to settle down from the emotional rollercoaster ride that has been my 2nd week in Algeria, and to be able to write about it in retrospect. After I left Constantine, both minor catastrophes and small miracles seemed to happen to me alternatingly, in a twisting plot that could have made any movie writer envious, and that finally made this holiday the unforgettable trip I was hoping for.

I left to Biskra on Thursday, August 16, 2009 with a certain feeling and intuition that the highlights of my trip were still ahead of me. However, not even in my wildest dreams could I have predicted what would happen to me over the next (and last) 4 days in Algeria. I felt quite sick, and I knew I was on a tight budget (I had about 75 EUR left) but as it turned out, that was only the beginning...

I had split up with Salah, the brother of my pen-friend Hassina (with whom I had done most of the travelling up to that point), the previous night and decided to do the trip to Biskra on my own. He had been watching a soccer game with friends the previous night (Algeria beat Uruguay 1:0 in a friendly match, in case anybody cares) and i felt that by going on my own I was actually doing both of us a favor. Since meeting Hassina and her family in Ziama, he had been serving as my personal tour guide and companion, and although we got along fairly well, this was 1) not really planned and 2) a little difficult due to my lack in French and his lack in English skills. The fact that Hassina actually didn't travel around with me at all, was kind of disappointing, but i figured that maybe social customs in Algeria prevented her from doing this, and decided not to let this spoil my holiday. So I was even more keen on getting to Biskra, and hopefully seeing Timgad & the highlights of the Aurès mountains on the way.

That's why, when approaching the taxi stand in Constantine, I decided to rent a solo cab including a driver for the entire day (as recommended in my Bradt travel guide) since a normal collective taxi doesn't allow you to stop wherever you want. I knew I would be paying a lot more than for a normal, shared taxi ride - but I didn't want to miss out on some of the most spectacular sights of my trip. The taxi driver's name was Mansour, he was 45 years old, and bore a slight resemblance to Saddam Hussein. While he strapped my backpack on top of his taxi cab, my gut feeling already told me that I was in for a special ride!

I named him the "hotspots" I wanted to see: Timgad, Balcons de Ghoufi, and - on the way back - the spectacular El Kantara Gorge. With an early start, this tour can be done within 1 day, but since we left Constantine only at around 11 a.m. in hot conditions, I knew this wasn't an option. And since I wanted to spend one night in Biskra, the "Gate" to the Sahara, anway (I wanted to feel what it's like to be in 52° Celsius, hoping for the perfect place for HotYoga outdoors) I was extremely happy when Mansour suggested that we could spend the night in his taxi, and drive back to Constantine the next morning. I couldn't really afford to pay 35 EUR for a night at Hotel Zibane in Biskra anway. Mansour's initial price was 8.400 DZA, which is about 84 EUR and I told him right away that we'd have to settle for less. I had one last 50-EUR-note in my wallet, plus another 23 in Dinars, which I wanted to keep for some food and my final train ride from Constantine to Algiers on Saturday. I knew that as soon as I'd be back in Algiers, I would be safe - with my guide (or should I say, guardian angel?) Said Chitour taking care of me. I had always been in contact with him via SMS thanks to an Algerian SIM card, that I had put into an old mobile phone.


The money for Mansour was well-invested, because having a private chauffeur through the Aurès Mountains proved to be invaluable that Thursday. Mansour dropped me at Timgad at 1 pm, where I quickly toured the Roman ruins and took a picture of me under Trajan's Arch.


After a quick lunch we continued through the Aurès Mountains, habitat to some local Berber people called Chaoui, who speak neither French, nor Arabic, but a Berber language instead. We stopped several times to take pictures, take rests, and buy some fresh fruits and water supplies from the local people. And we got along great! Mansour's French was not much better than mine, so we communicated on "eye level"; i told him why I had come to Algeria, and how the trip had been so far. We laughed a lot, and Mansour had a way of turning his ignition key and producing a big blast from his exhaust pipe, which, he claimed, was "keeping the terrorists away". This was good news, since we had to take a slightly less frequented and potentially unsafe road, because as it turned out, Mansour had never actually seen the Balcons de Ghoufi himself! It was already mentioned in my travel guide that many people in Algeria don't even know this place, which is sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of Algeria - a massive gorge filled with hundreds of palmtrees and little houses clinging on to the steep ravine. Driving along the "circuit touristique" (a kind of lookout road on top of the gorge), the sight really does take your breath away, and Mansour stopped several times, clearly in awe of the place himself. And except for a handful of Algerians, we were the only tourists there!



From there, we had about 50 km left and after a little cool-down in the oasis of M'Chouneche, we arrived in Biskra in the early evening hours. And that was where my fortune turned... first, I discovered that I had apperently lost my portable phone in the oasis; then I dropped and broke my SLR camera; but the worst thing was the serious argument with Mansour that I suddenly found myself in! All the money I had didn't seem to be enough for him anymore, and he blamed me of fooling him in front of all the other taxi drivers at Biskra terminal, who were slowly gathering in a circle around us and listening to our discussion, as I helplessly tried to defend myself in ragged French. It was like going from heaven to hell in just 10 minutes, and when he finally took all my cash (except for maybe 15 EUR) and announced he would go back to Constantine alone, I was devastated. How should I spend 2 nights in Biskra and get back to Algiers with just 15 EUR?! I begged him to give me his address, so I could send him the remaining money, but he wanted none of it. He refused talking to me for the next hour, as we sat at a table, side by side, with him taking a nap after the long drive, and me counting my options. I already pictured myself spending the night on the dirt track of the taxi stand, on top of my backpack, half-sleeping and half-sick.

But when Mansour opened his eyes again, he patted me on the shoulder, told me that our argument "est déja oublié" ("already forgotten"), led me to a food stall on a street corner, and bought us chorba (spicy chickpea soup) for dinner. He even wandered the streets of Biskra with me afterwards, in search of a cheap hostel, which we indeed found - the "Auberge de Jeunesse 19 Mars Biskra". I had to spend 30 minutes at the local police station (again, Mansour drove me there) before it was confirmed that I could check in. The Biskra Youth Hostel charged only 1,50 EUR per night (!), was protected by a huge fence & a menacing guard-dog, and since the hostel is almost empty in summertime, I even had a room all by myself! I said goodbye to Mansour, checked in, had my first hot shower in 1 week (the temperatures in Biskra make it one of the more likely places for hot water in Algeria), and pulled a mattress and my cotton sleeping bag out on the marble terrace, to sleep under the stars. Finally (although not the way I expected) it was exactly the "cathartic experience" I had hoped for, although my body wasn't even up for HotYoga anymore. The sickness I had arrived with was now joined by diarrhea from the street meal (or tap water?), and I had to spend the better part of the next day in the hostel recovering. But despite the ugly cockroaches in the shabby restrooms I felt like in heaven, simply because i was safe.

The next day I returned to the oasis, to look for my mobile phone, which ended in an almost 4-hour-custody with the Algerian army because I hadn't taken my passport with me and couldn't prove my identity. I'll spare you the details, but in the end I was allowed to search for my mobile (which, of course, I didn't find) together with Youssouf (another funny taxi driver who spoke even less French, but wore fake Ray-Bans and tried to convince me to convert to Islam...), escorted by the Algerian Gendarmerie with their brand-new Nissan 4WD patrol cars, and guarded by their impressive rifles!

After spending another night on the marble terrace of the youth hostel I finally spent my last few Dinars on some fresh dates (Biskra produces the famous Deglet Nour, the finest dates in the country) and a bus ticket to Algiers on Saturday morning. Since I had absolutely no cash money left, I even got invited for a full lunch at some restaurant during a lunch stop somewhere on our way through the Hauts Plateaux (imagine someone giving you a free meal at Rosenberger because you ran out of money on the motorway)! And after the 9-hour bus ride, and earning a lot of curious looks from my fellow Algerian passengers, I finally arrived in Algiers Saturday afternoon, where Said picked me up and accomodated me in his house again. It felt great to be back there, and after a short rest, he took me to see the Monument in Algiers, buy a few postcards (that I hadn't even been able to afford in Biskra), and have a wonderful last dinner with his family, who listened with amusement to all my crazy stories. After spending a last night in the damp heat of Algiers, he took me to Boumediène Airport the next morning, where I boarded my plane at 10:30 a.m.

But there, fate had another incredible chapter to add to my "voyage fou"...

Mittwoch, 12. August 2009

Algerien, Teil 1



Nach genau einer Woche in Algerien finde ich nun erstmals die Zeit laenger im Netz zu surfen, und meine bisherigen Eindruecke ein wenig zu ordnen und zusammenzufassen. Diese Verschnaufpause kommt aus mehreren Gruenden gelegen: erstens fuehle ich mich gesundheitlich nicht auf der Hoehe und hab soeben 2 Aspirin eingeworfen, zweitens brauchte ich schon dringend mal einen Abend fuer mich alleine, und drittens befinde ich mich jetzt an einem Wendepunkt der Reise: ich habe mich heute von der feuchtwarmen Mittelmeerkueste verabschiedet und bin jetzt auf dem Weg ins Landesinnere; das heisst in Richtung Sahara.

Zu diesem Zweck hab ich mir heute ein Hotelzimmer in Constantine, der Hauptstadt Ost-Algeriens, geleistet. Constantine liegt etwa 160 km im Landesinneren und bietet sich als Ausgangspunkt geradezu an: die Stadt thront majestaetisch auf einem Hochplateau und wird von einer tiefen Schlucht durchzogen, ueber die mehrere spektakulaere Bruecken (nichts fuer schwache Nerven...) fuehren.

Die Stadt selbst hat eine lange und wechselhafte Geschichte vorzuweisen und sowohl die Mittelmeerkueste, das Aures-Gebirge mit den beruehmten roemischen Ruinen von Timgad, als auch Biskra (das Tor zur Sahara) sind in nur wenigen Stunden Fahrzeit erreichbar. Und genau dorthin moechte ich morgen - nach Biskra, wo zur Zeit Temperaturen um 50 °C an der Tagesordnung sind. Selbst die Einheimischen hielten das fuer eine verwegene Idee (der August ist der heisseste Monat und eigentlich wird eher der Herbst oder Winter als Reisezeit empfohlen) aber man kommt ja nicht alle Tage in die Sahara (und schon gar nicht nach Algerien) also moechte ich unbedingt noch Sahara-Luft schnuppern, und eine Nacht in Biskra verbringen, bevor es dann am Samstag mit dem Express-Zug in 6 Stunden zurueck nach Algier geht, wo mein Reisefuehrer (und in vielerlei Hinsicht meine engste Vertrauensperson waehrend dieses Urlaubs) Said Chitour hoffentlich wieder auf mich wartet. Ich kann von Glueck reden, ihn kurz vor der Reise im Internet "aufgetrieben" zu haben; er hat mich schon bei meiner Ankunft am Flughafen in Algier herzlich empfangen, grosszuegig bei sich einquartiert und mir mit seinen guten Englischkenntnissen den Einstieg in das doch sehr fremdartige Land enorm erleichtert. Mit ihm hatte ich am 2. Tag auch den perfekten Guide fuer die faszinierende Kasbah von Algiers und die roemischen Ruinen von Tipaza. In die Kasbah haette ich mich alleine wohl gar nicht getraut, und es wird auch nicht empfohlen - die verwinkelte Altstadt ist ein Armenviertel und gleichzeitig ein Labyrinth mit vielen "dead ends"...


Auch in Tipaza waren Said's Erklärungen Gold wert. Waehrend zahlreiche einheimische Touristen nur von Steinhaufen zu Steinhaufen zu wandern schienen, liess er mit seinen Ausfuehrungen die Stadt regelrecht vor dem geistigen Auge wiederauferstehen. Besonders hab ich mich auch ueber das Albert-Camus-Denkmal in Tipaza gefreut: dessen Roman "Der Fremde" hab ich naemlich zu Schulzeiten gelesen - es war mein erster Eindruck von dem Land, und die Stimmung die das Buch transportiert, kommt der Realitaet erstaunlich nahe.


Eigentlich heisst es ja dass, wer einmal seinen Fuss nach Algerien setzt, immer wieder dorthin zurueckkehrt. Aber so interessant und faszinierend ich das Land auch finde: nach nur einer Woche freu ich mich schon auf mein vertrautes Zuhause und die mir vertraute Kultur. Ich verbringe hier zweifelsohne einen sehr interessanten, abwechslungsreichen und hoechst ungewoehnlichen Urlaub. Said hatte mir bereits vorweg eroeffnet dass es absolut unueblich ist, von einer Familie nach Algerien eingeladen zu werden, vor allem wenn es sich dabei um eine Internet-Brieffreundin, und noch dazu aus der als konservativ geltenden Stadt Constantine handelt. Und er sollte Recht behalten - unmittelbar vor meinem Abflug wollte sie die ganze Sache kurzfristig per email abblasen; dies konnte ich zwar verhindern, aber unmittelbar nach unserem Treffen am 8. August im Badeort Ziama Mansouriah bekam ich gleich einen arabischen Decknamen (Skandar, das Aequivalent zu Alexander) und allerlei Alibis umgehaengt, wieso ich mich bei Ihnen aufhalte. Ausserdem wurde ich danach die meiste Zeit mit ihrem Bruder "auf Achse" geschickt, den Rest der Familie sah ich meist nur zum Fruehstueck und Abendessen wieder... welches aber stets ausgezeichnet war. Generell schien die Familie recht reserviert, es gab keine "herzliche" Gastfreundschaft im engeren Sinne - dafuer aber auch keine "falschen Herzlichkeiten" - die Gastfreundschaft beschraenkte sich eher auf praktische Dinge. Ich wurde immer ordentlich bekocht, auf kleinere Dinge (Bustickets etc) eingeladen, und ganz allgemein hatte ich das Gefuehl dass man immer ein Auge auf mich hatte - oft mehr als mir lieb war.

So nett das Quartier fuer algerische Verhaeltnisse auch war - mit dem durchschnittlichen oesterreichischen Urlaubsbungalow hatte es immer noch herzlich wenig gemeinsam. In einem eher schaebigen Viertel, in unmittelbarer Naehe einer Militaerkaserne gelegen, gab es haeufig Stromausfaelle und nur zu bestimmten Zeiten Fliesswasser; die abendliche Dusche wurde aber zum Glueck immer von der Mutter in einem Wasserkanister fuer uns aufgehoben. Dasselbe galt fuer die Toilettenspuelung; gluecklicherweise bin ich von groeberen Magen/Darm-Problemen verschont geblieben... was aber jede Wohnung in Algerien zu besitzen scheint (und sei sie auch noch so schaebig), ist eine Satellitenschuessel, meist sogar gleich mehrere davon. In den grossen Staedten bieten die paraboluebersaehten Wohnbloecke ein Fotomotiv der besonderen Art. Sie sind so haesslich, dass es schon fast an abstrakte Kunst grenzt. Allerdings ist es ziemlich traurig sich vorzustellen wie in jeder dieser winzigen Wohnungen eine Generation vor ihren Fernsehschirmen hockt, sich von franzoesischen Sendern berieseln laesst, und von einem besseren Leben traeumt.

Waehrend des 4taegigen Aufenthaltes mit der Familie konnte ich die Kuestenstadt Bejaia, sowie einige Straende in der Umgebung (Les Aftisses, Tichy, Rochet Noir) erkunden - und dabei wurde mir klar wieso man nicht unbedingt zum Baden nach Algerien kommt. So schoen die Kueste zwischen Jijel und Bejaia auch sein mag - die touristische Infrastruktur ist rueckstaendig, die Straende sind ueberfuellt mit Einheimischen (an verschleierte Frauen am Badestrand kann ich mich einfach nicht gewoehnen), die Verschmutzung ist mehr als bedenklich, und dazu kommen noch die laestigen Verkehrsstaus an der schmalen Kuestenstrasse. Ich fuehlte mich oft unangenehm an den Film "Gomorrha" erinnert, den ich letztes Jahr im Kino gesehen habe - ein Film ueber ueber die sueditalienische Mafia, und tatsaechlich ist dieser Kuestenstreifen Algeriens ja nahe zu Sizilien gelegen, und erinnert in vielerlei Hinsicht daran.

Deshalb freue ich mich jetzt umso mehr auf den abschliessenden Hoehepunkt meiner Reise - das Landesinnere, und die Abgeschiedenheit und Ruhe der Wueste. Bereits waehrend der etwa 2stuendigen Taxifahrt nach Constantine war deutlich zu merken wie sich die Vegetation, Temperatur, und gleichzeitig auch die eigene Stimmung veraendert.
Nachdem ich die Nacht zuvor eher unfreiwillig mit einem Haufen Algeriern campen "durfte", war mein Koerper heute ausgelaugt und meine Stimmung echt am Tiefpunkt angelangt. Aber bereits waehrend der Fahrt empfand ich den warmen und trockenen Sahara-Wind extrem angenehm - es fuehlte sich an als ob jemand einen heissen Foen durchs offene Fenster hereinhaelt, und der Entspannungs-Effekt war aehnlich dem beim Betreten eines Yoga HotRooms... und natuerlich hab ich morgen meine Matte mit im Gepaeck - denn wo, wenn nicht in Biskra, ist der perfekte Ort fuer "HotYoga" im Freien?

Montag, 27. Juli 2009

On y va... en Algérie!

I'm thrilled to announce that my trip to Algeria (something that seemed nothing but a crazy idea a few months ago) is not only becoming reality, but is already in its final planning stages and about to start very soon. Since the tickets are already paid, the visa is finally issued, and my backpack's in the corner ready to be stuffed, i think that my mother (who was convinced from the beginning that I would get hijacked) really has to be worried now.

For those of you who don't know where Algeria is, you can find out on the little map below. It is located in Central Northern Africa, sandwiched between Morocco and Tunisia, and although it is actually the 2nd biggest country in Africa (and N° 11 in the world!), not too many people know a lot about it.

This is, in part, due to political and social difficulties the country had to go through ever since it seperated from its former colonial emperor France in 1962, making it unattractive to the average tourist (for the adventurous, Algeria was always interesting). Although, on the surface, Republique Algérienne seemed to improve quickly after its independence, and (thanks to their wealth in petrol) develop into one of the most advanced nations on the African continent, things were boiling underneath the surface (high youth unemployment, cultural and ethnic diversity among the population, corruption & censorship employed by the government), and this boiling pot finally exploded with the unexpected win of the Islamists Party (FIS) during the first real elections in 1991. The reigning government could not accept that defeat and "cancelled" (!) the elections, which started a cruel decade of civil war between Islamic fundamentalists and the Algerian army, with more than 100.000 victims, often innocent women & children, across the country. The capital Algiers, formerly known as La Blanche ("the white city") turned into La Rouge, a city becoming known for its violence: slit throats, car bombs and other cruel assassinations became a daily routine, as Europe and even the neighbour countries were watching helplessly in shock. The Islamic Fundamentalists often picked the country's cultural & intellectual elite (writers, journalists, musicians etc.) as their prime victims, and the government responded with corporal punishment, deportation camps, and merciless special forces to pursue and punish the terrorists.
A few years ago, after the government promised to grant amnesty to former terrorists that decide to call it quits, the conflicting parties agreed upon a kind of cease-fire ("politics of reconciliation") and the situation has slowly improved since. Although Algeria cannot be called a normal and safe tourist destination, the government tries everything to attract and protect foreign travellers. This was apparent a few years ago, when an Austrian couple got hijacked by terrorists in the Tunisian border area and got released later after intervention by the Austrian & Algerian governments. However, not everyone was so lucky: just a few months ago a British citizen was found decapitated after the British government had refused to cooperate with terrorists. In both cases, "Al-Khaida in Maghreb" claimed responsibility for the abductions.
I am hoping that none of this will become an issue for me, and I'm trying to prepare myself as good as possible, so nobody (not my parents, not the Austrian government) has to worry or pay ransom for me ;-)

So what is there to see? First of all, Algeria is a huge country, and therefore one cannot expect to see everything in one trip (unless someone would have a LOT of time at his hands). The main attractions are the Mediterranean coastline, with its lush beaches and towering Tell-Atlas mountains not far behind, which bear countless traces of all the civilizations that landed in Algeria at some point (Romans, Arabs, French...). For example, Timgad (a place I intend to visit) has one of the best preserved Roman Ruins in the world, which are listed on the UN world heritage list! This northern region of Algeria is also home to most Algerian cities and the majority of the population.
The biggest attraction, however, is probably the SAHARA, the greatest desert in the world. It covers several African countries and out of all of them, Algeria owns the biggest piece of the cake. The Sahara covers 90% of Algeria's landmass, yet only a small percentage of the population. But contrary to popular belief, it is not just all dunes, dates & camels, but actually a very diverse landscape. In the south there is even a volcanic mountain range called "Hoggar", that is scarcely populated by the legendary nomadic "Touareg" tribe, and famous for the most spectacular sunrise of the entire Sahara. However, without a 4WD car and plenty of water supplies, there is no need to even think about going there, which is why I will not be able to see it. But I am planning to at least go to Biskra, a town up north which is called the "Gate to the Sahara". So stay tuned as I will try to post travel reports & pictures if possible, or at least sum up the trip afterwards.

Sonntag, 5. Juli 2009

33 years, 30 hot days & 30 cool people

I had many reasons to celebrate my 33rd birthday on July 1, 2009 - the most obvious was the anniversary itself (especially since i hadn't done anything on my 30th), but another reason was the completion of the Bikram Yoga 30-day challenge the day before. So I decided to throw a party under the "33 years, 30 hot days" moniker. As it turned out, exactly 30 people showed up - so looking back, the party should have been labelled "33 years, 30 hot days, and 30 cool people"! Thanks again to everybody who came to celebrate, or wanted to come but couldn't make it.


There were a few more reasons to celebrate this year. One of them is a new job contract which I signed the day after my birthday - I will start working as a freelance physiotherapist in a nice practice in the 9th disctrict, close to Votivkirche. A friend of mine, who embarks on his Master Studies to Adelaide/Australia very soon, suggested me as his replacement, and this came as the right opportunity at just the right time. I will start working there this fall, on October 1. For those of you who are interested to know more, or would like to recommend our practice, please have a look at our website: http://www.vsmc.at/.

Another thing to look forward to is my upcoming "voyage fou" to Algeria in August, which I am approaching with a mixed bag of emotions: 30% yearning, 30% curiosity, 30% excitement and 10% fear (sounds like the perfect recipe for a holiday to me...)! I will stay for 10 days, am blessed to have a local person for company and guide expertise, and expect to see a little bit of everything: the capital Algiers, the Mediterranean coastline with its beaches and ancient ruins, and even a little bit of the Sahara desert. What more can you ask for?

Finally, the last reason for celebrating came about during my party - at about 9:30 pm, just when my friend Mike Regan had started playing some live music in the garden, I slipped on the floor in my appartment, crushing onto the heating radiator with my right orbita. I ended up with 2 cuts below the eyebrow (and a big shiner for a couple of days) but I think I was lucky that I didn't crack my head open!

I had already been promised that I'd feel "somewhat reborn" after a 30-day Yoga Challenge, but this incident gave a whole new meaning to that promise...





Oh yeah, I promised to write a few words about the Challenge itself. Well, simply put, it was a great experience. It wasn't easy, and took dedication & time management, but in the end it was all the more rewarding. Besides whipping myself back into shape, losing 4 kilograms in just 4 weeks, i noticed the big effects the daily practice had on my eating & sleeping habits, mental attitude, and general well-being. After all, Yoga is a holistic practice that affects the entire body (including the brain!), starting on a cellular level, and changing it from inside out. And that's what happens (I guess Obama saw it coming): You change. I know it might sound weird, but as soon as you start practising Yoga, you're somehow not the same person anymore.

Of course there were highs and lows during the challenge, but I hardly ever had a day where I didn't feel like going, because I knew I would always feel better afterwards (which I did). I admit I broke the alcohol rule 3 times (to have a beer for dinner), but on the other hand I imposed a few more "rules" upon myself - no fastfood, no TV, 1 warm meal each day, and lots of fruits & vegetables (I never had so many in 1 month!). Through that, my whole digestion seemed to change as well, which was nothing less than miraculous - my stomach suddenly reacted very sensible to certain (unhealthy) things that I could have eaten without a problem before.

What this challenge also proved to me is that you really can (and should) do your Hatha Yoga on a daily basis, more or less. The challenge naturally makes you implement Yoga into your daily routine, just as brushing your teeth or taking your daily shower. And since your body tells you that it's good for you, you wanna keep on doing it. So I am hoping for my eye to heal quickly, because I can't wait to get back into the Hotroom again! Namaste.

Mittwoch, 3. Juni 2009

Eddie is here!

Gestern bin ich zum 2. Mal "Onkel Alex" geworden - Angela's Sohn Eddie (ein kleiner Tribut an Pearl-Jam-Sänger Eddie Vedder, aber auch ein sehr hübscher Burschennamen, wie ich finde) ist überpünktlich - eigentlich war mit Verspätung gerechnet worden - am 2. Juni um ca. 21:00 Uhr in Gross-Enzersdorf auf die Welt gekommen!

Da Angela sich für eine Hausgeburt entschieden hatte (2 Hebammen unterstützten sie dabei), konnte Töchterchen Lana (im August 3 Jahre alt) also gleich zuhause ihren kleinen Bruder in Empfang nehmen. Ich gratulieren Angela & Hudson ganz herzlich zur Geburt, jetzt ist die Kleinfamilie perfekt! (sofern das letzte Wort da schon gesprochen ist...)

Sonntag, 31. Mai 2009

Bikram Yoga


I've been trying to get into Yoga before (twice, to be exact) and - although I've always seen the benefits of it - I could never quite keep it going. On one hand, I've never liked being tied down to a regular "weekly" class on a certain day; on the other hand I'd always found it hard to establish a regular practice routine at home.

This has changed since I discovered Bikram Yoga a few weeks ago, which - to me - offers everything that previous Yoga classes were lacking, and more. I had heard that "Hot Yoga" was very popular in the US, but - although the idea of practising Yoga in a heated room made sense to me - I thought of it as just another American marketing trick to make more money out of the health/fitness/spirituality boom. After all, this boom is still ongoing, and Yoga instructors worldwide have without a doubt benefited from it over the last few decades.

What I didn't know was that there's actually one guy standing behind the concept of "Hot Yoga". That guy is Bikram Choudhuri, who was born in Calcutta, won the prestigious National India Yoga Competition at the age of 13, and later emigrated to the USA to invent "his" kind of Yoga - Bikram Yoga - and sell it all over the country by franchise. Meanwhile, there are more than 1.700 Bikram Yoga studios worldwide, so this form of Yoga is probably one of the most - if not the most - commercially successful. However, I wasn't aware of all this, let alone the fact that the first Austrian Bikram Yoga Studio opened its doors in Vienna around 3 years ago.

Bikram Choudhuri may be a somewhat controversial figure in the US Yoga scene (he lives in Hollywood/L.A., owns several vintage cars, and is known for critisizing other Yoga methods, often in a rude way), but after reading his inspiring & entertaining book (it is called "Bikram Yoga", as you might have guessed) I am convinced that this guy is more than just a smart businessman. I think he is what Americans would call the real deal, and that he can allow himself to be controversial, because his method speaks for itself, and anyone who will try Bikram Yoga will find that out for him/herself, just as I did.

One of the things that surprised me in his book was his advice on how often you should practice Bikram Yoga. I thought he would recommend 2-3 times a week (which should bring him enough customers and keep his studios from becoming overcrowded at the same time), but he insists that "you must practise your Hatha Yoga every day!" (Hatha Yoga, by the way, is a general term for any kind of physical Yoga, such as Bikram Yoga.) This left me a bit puzzled, or rather, frustrated. After all, who can afford the time & money to go to a Yoga studio every day? But at the same time, I was also intrigued and - after taking a few "introductory" classes (which were nothing less than fantastic, by the way) - I decided to participate in a "Bikram Yoga Challenge", which is offered at our studio in June. That is 30 consecutive days of Yoga. You can choose any class you want, but you have to come each day.

So, from tomorrow on, I will be in a 38°C heated room for 90 minutes each day, practising the signature Bikram Yoga "sequence", which consists of 26 asanas (postures) and 2 pranayamas (breathing exercises). Thus, according to Adam Riese, the next 4 weeks will consist of 30 hours of working (in my regular job) and 10,5 hours of working out at the Bikram Yoga College in Vienna. However, Yoga is far more than a "workout", and I am very curious and eager to find out where this experience will take me.

One of Bikram's most beloved quotes is: "There's only one way - the right way. And the right way is the hard way". I like this quote, because it may well be applied to many other things than Yoga, and since I wanna do the challenge the right way, I will also avoid any alcohol, nicotine, caffeine or similar substances for the next 30 days. Since I'm neither a smoker, nor a regular drinker, nor a coffee addict, I think this will probably be the easiest part for me. A lot easier than the exercise itself, that's for sure.

After finishing the challenge, I will try to sum up my experience in words, and in the meantime I can only encourage you to buy a "Yoga Virgin Card" for approx. 10 EUR at your nearest Bikram Yoga Studio, and try it out for yourself.

Samstag, 23. Mai 2009

Hello & a warm welcome!

I know what they say... Blogs are like assholes - everybody has one.
Now I am proud/embarrassed to say: I have one, too!
Welcome to my... blog!

I know that I'm far behind the trend, but I guess this is a good thing. As far as my title goes: I'll try to spare the world from unnessecary "litter" and keep my postings to a bare minimum.

(Un)fortunately that's all I can say about this blog at the moment, except that there might be postings in other languages as well, preferrably in German.

For anyone who is still interested to have an occasional look: thank you, and I hope you'll find it interesting!