Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Atlanta, USA, Atlas Liberty Forum

April 2008

Sometime in February 2008, when Jo Kwong, VP for Institute Relations of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation (www.atlasnetwork.org) and Yiquiao Xu, Jo's indefatiguable officer for Asian relations, invited me to join the 8th Atlas Liberty Forum in Atlanta, I immediately answered YES! Atlas would provide me a travel grant or scholarship.

Atlanta is famous for the Atlanta Olympics in the 1980s I think, and the headquarters of CNN and Coca Cola are in Atlanta. It is also the birthplace of Martin Luther King.

The Atlas conference was held at Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, a big and sprawling hotel. But I stayed at Wyndham Gardens, a smaller hotel 2 blocks from Sheraton Atlanta. I met plenty of old and new friends during the conference, friends mostly from Asia and the US. A few friends from Europe, Africa and Latin America was also there. It's really refreshing to see them, talk with them how things are going in their respective countries and institutes.

Among the guys in the pictures here are: Jo Kwong, Mr. You of Japanese for Tax Reforms (JTR) and Hiroshi Yoshida (in the Atlas ice sculpture). Also Cindy Cirquitella, Whitney and Nicki, along with Mr. You again. And Franklin Cudjoe (Imani, Ghana), Colleen Dyble (Atlas) and Wan Saiful Wan Jan (Malaysia Think Tank).

I am very privileged to be among the good friends of Atlas. The networking support that they provide me and our think tank is really priceless.

Miesbach, Germany

November 2008

The Beil family -- Christian, his Filipina wife Astrid, and their 2 sons -- was very warm to me. Christian and his eldest son, Simon, met me at Munich central station. I came from Gummersbach, then Cologne that morning. The Inter City Express (ICE) train that I took from Mannheim to Munich (via Stuttgart, Olm, etc.) was very spacious and comfortable.

Astrid works full time in the house -- most household chores, taking care of 2 young boys. She grew up in the Philippines having a yaya/nanny, a house maid, and did not worry about cleaning the house, do the laundry, cook, etc. In Germany, she had to do everything, she was laughing while narrating those things to me.

Miesbach is a small town, but it is attracting plenty of migrants from Munich and other big cities. The beauty of Miesbach is that it is near the Bavarian Alps and the mountains and lakes nearby, it has a thriving commercial area, and it is just 50 kms from Munich. So that technically, it is between a big city (Munich) and big mountains (the Alps).

This was my 2nd visit to Miesbach, the first was in October 2003. So long as I have another opportunity to visit Germany again, and the Beils are still there, I will always go back to see and visit that beautiful town and its surrounding lakes, mountains, and the warm and friendly family.

Bavarian Alps, Germany

November 2008

I forgot to post my climb at a mountain in the Bavarian Alps. It was my first outdoor activity with Christian as the mountains are just less than half hour from his place. We climbed a mountain before we went to Salzburg the following day, then Kitzsteinhorn ski resort a day after Salzburg trip.

We started at around 900 meters above sea level, Christian parked his car, and we started the climb. It would be another mountain hiking after my last climb about 2 or 3 years, at Mt. Pinatubo via Tarlac in the Philippines. Though here we did not carry a backpack in this climb in the Alps, except for some water and bread for snacks, my legs and lungs were rusty. So after walking for more than an hour and reaching a plataeu, a farmer's house in the mountain at around 1,400 meters elevation, I wanted to quit. I wanted to ask Christian that we go back, as the summit is still about 200 meters higher and would take my rusty legs another 30 to 40 minutes climb. But I was ashamed to say the words, "I'm quitting, let's go back". So I pretended that I was still ok despite very tired.

When we reached the summit though, all the hardships and wobbly legs seemed to have disappered, the view at the top was great! We had a 360 degrees view of the nearby mountains, hills and the lowlands. The summit is about 1,600 meters above sea level, the towns below are at 700 meters, while the city of Munich even farther in the lowlwnds is at around 500 meters elevation.

When we came back to their house, I was tired but still happy with this conquest -- a conquest of my weakening lungs and wobbly spirit for mountaineering. We ended the day with a few rounds of locally-brewed beer, and rested for another trip the following day -- a visit to Salzburg, Austria.

Kitzsteinhorn ski resort, Austria

November 2008

The pinnacle of tour given to me by Christian, is a visit to a glacier in Austria! Upon hearing the word "glacier", my ears clapped like those wide ears of an elephant. I see only glaciers in the movies and tv documentaries, for me to see a real glacier will be a great treat of my life!

Christian brought me to Kitzsteinhorn ski resort, in northern Austria not far from the mountainous areas of Bavaria, Germany. He said it's more than 3,000 meters above sea level, and there are thick snow there.

It's nearly 2 hours from Christian's place in Miesbach, we passed by small towns and winding roads. At first the scene were those of rocky mountains, no vegetation or snow. As we approach the area, snowy mountains began to appear. I was grinning already.

The jump-off point is about 900 meters above sea level already. There's a big and wide parking space for hundreds of cars. The fee in the afternoon, after 2pm, is lower by about Euro 5 compared to morning fees. From the base, we have to take 3 cable rides to reach the top.

The first cable ride was from 900+ meters to around 1,450 meters elevation. There were plenty of cable cars moving, and there are a few pockets of snow on the ground. The second cable ride was from around 1,450 to about 2,500 meters elevation. Here the snow was thicker and plentier. The third cable ride, the cars are big, could take up to 15 people, probably more, and there's a cable car operator riding with us.

I wore 5 layers of clothing, including a winter jacket that Christian lent me. Also a winter glove, but I was only wearing a maong jeans, and a pair of subber shoes! To compensate for my thin rubber shoes, well it's my walking and jogging shoes actually, I wore 2 layers of thick socks.

Upon reaching the landing at the end of the cable ride, it says, "Felhaus Kitzsteinhorn 3,029 m"! Oh my, oh my! I pondered, we climbed Mt. Apo, the Philippines' highest mountain at around 2,990 meters elevation, for 10 hours in 1994, when our legs and lungs were still a lot younger and stronger. Here, I reached more than 3,000 meters and I did not even hike!

But I felt weak at the top, maybe I was hungry and thirsty, I was just tired or sleepy, I didn't know. So we immediately ate our snacks. I got full, but I still felt a bit dizzy. I realized it was the thin air at the top! I moved slowly as I was gasping for some air. I think I was able to adjust to the thin air after about 20 minutes. My pictures at the top though, belied that I was gasping for some air, really awesome feeling to be in a glacier, in a high mountain and all snow around you.

I repeatedly thanked Christian for bringing me to a glacier. It was a great "farewell trip" as I was flying back to Manila the next day. I ponder, I am very lucky to have a friend like him, plus his Filipina wife and 2 handsome sons.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Salzburg, Austria

November 2008

My German friend, Christian Beil, brought me and his family to Salzburg, Austria. It was my first time to set foot in Austria! When I visited them in their place in October 2003, we were supposed to go to Salzburg too, but his son, Simon, got sick. So I ended up visiting a German public hospital, which was also a first time for me. I was so fascinated because the hospital was very clean, spacious, and has only a few patients, unlike public hospitals in the Philippines which are always crowded.

Salzburg is probably 100 kms. from Christian's place in Miesbach, Germany. But driving at probably 90-100 kph average speed, the place can be reached in a little more than 1 hour. We passed by the Innbruck exit. And when we reached the Germany-Austria border, I saw the marker, wow, I finally set foot in Austria!

The houses before Salzburg city proper seem smaller and less beautiful compared to average houses in Germany. I thought maybe the standard of living in Austria is lower than in Germany.

When we reached Salzburg's commercial center, we entered a parking lot inside a huge rock! Wow, they bore through this rock to create a multi-level parking!

The main commercial and tourist area is a narrow road, only for pedestrians, no cars allowed.

We passed by Mozart's house. With Christian, his 2 sons Simon and his younger brother.

Salzburg's famous attraction is the "Fort of Salzburg", a huge structure on top of a tall hill. The lift was not working on the day that we visited it, so we have to walk looooonggg uphill. I was wearing my leather shoes, not my rubber shoes, because I thought that Salzburg visit was just a walking tour of a flat, commercial area. So my feet were punished that day!

But the view at the top was really nice. The city proper, the cathedral, the river, the forest land from afar, small castles and other structures.

It was a long, tiring but memorable visit in one of Austria's great cities.