Monday, December 31, 2012

Out with the old

It's New Years Eve and top of today's agenda is washing .. we are almost out of clean(ish) clothes.  Tony has discovered a coin laundry a block & a half away with cafe's nearby... good news, saves schlepping half way across Munich with a couple of bags of smelly washing!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A madman & the masters

Seems that Sunday is a popular day to visit Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial … all shops etc are closed.  On a cold, clear, crisp but very windy morning we caught the train out to Dachau station and then a bus to the Camp. 

No words can do justice to a visit here so you’ll get this story in pictures.  Suffice to say that between 1933 and 1945 thousands and thousands of men (and a small number of women) suffered unspeakable acts of cruelty and degradation at the behest of a total madman.  Political prisoners, undesireables (gypsys, gays etc) international prisoners and Jews were transported to Dachau.  Thousands did not survive, most died of starvation or disease which compounded the terrible forced-labour conditions but for some, the gas chambers inflicted the ultimate punishment and the bodies were fed through the crematorium by the thousands.

Dachau was liberated on April 29th 1945.

We got back about 3pm, and once again it was too late to visit the Residenz, plus Tony ready for a rest (we’d walked heaps in the morning and I could tell by how he was walking that his leg was gatting sore) so Lauren & I decided to check out the Alte Pinakothek (Old Art Gallery).  Sunday entry is 1euro (bargain).  What a stunning collection.. Rembrant, Rubens, Rafael, Tintoretto, Holbein, Botticelli and many more.  I stupidly didn’t take the camera.. foolishly thinking I wouldn’t be able to take photos so why carry it!  Dumb!

Dozens of works by Rubens .. what a prolific painter that man was and so many fat little cherubs!

How do you pick a favourite?  … though the huge multi-panel work by Holbein depicting the birth of Christ (and wickedly the circumcision too!) comes pretty close.  We’ve never seen so many paintings of Christ in one place … lucky we didn’t burst into flames again!  The gallery closed at 6pm and they threw us out .. could easily have stayed another hour or more.

Dinner just round the corner from our hotel and then we hopped a tram for a quick ride.  It went up towards the Residenz (we had to be able to navigate our way back) and did a spot of window shopping along Maximilian Strasse  … anyone fancy a 200,000euro Rolex?  or maybe a mauve fur hat .. a snip at 980euro, or sparkly mens Prada shoes for 600 euro?

Tomorrow is New Years Eve (or Sylvester as it is called in Germany) … so Happy New Year to you all, may 2013 bring love, luck and laughter and be a year closer to a world without hate and violence.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The bubbly American and the Englischer Garten

A Walking tour is a great way to see some of the sights, get a better feel for the city you are in and to get some history and info about where you are.  We headed for the Hauptbahnhof at 10am to meet up with the Sandmans Walking Tour.  It’s a ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ type setup and was fantastic.  Our guide was an ex-pat American teacher who has lived/studied/taught in Munich for 3 years.  Full of funny stories and a great communicator, she led us on a 2.5hr tour of the main sights. 

Starting at the Neo Gothic New Town Hall with its Glockenspiel and then to the exceptionally beautiful Frauenskirche with its Devils Footprint.  Next stop was the new Synagogue the the Viktualienmarkt (City Market) with the big Maibau (Maypole is the closest translation) and the dozens of stalls selling all kinds of fresh food, fruit, cheese, meats etc as well as really beautiful florist stalls.  Off then, to Maximillianstrasse – the uber expensive shopping street where women wear real Louis Vutton scarves and probably D&G undies!  Round the corner from Jimmy Choo was the Residenz and the Field Marshal’s Hall and across the road to the amazing Theatinerkirche with its rococo interior.  We paid 10euro each and this was an absolute bargain!

Our original plan had been to do the walking tour in the morning and to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp in the afternoon, but by the time we finished the tour it was almost 1.30pm and we still had to stop for lunch.  Finding somewhere to sit and eat lunch in the centre of Munich is not easy… Germans either eat on the run or stand at little tables.  Conscious of Tony’s leg (we had walked a LOT) I wanted to find somewhere we could sit & have lunch.  We wasted the best part of an hour looking for somewhere … seems hundreds of others had been looking for the same thing and had beaten us to every available seat so we finally returned to the little café we had been to yesterday. 

By this stage it was too late to go to Dachau and really too late also to visit the Residenz (it needs about 3hours) so Lauren headed off do a spot of shopping and Tony & I headed for the Resizenz Garden and then the Englischer Garden.  This green space on the edge of the city centre is massive – something like 5km long and provides the good people of Munich somewhere to walk, sunbathe (in summer apparently you need to avoid the nude sunbathers) walk the dog and surf… yep, there is a part of the river with an artificial surf break.  We saw lots of dogs, lots of people but thankfully no surfers or nude sunbathers even though the weather was a balmy 10degrees!

So tomorrow we’ll visit Dachau in the morning and the Residenz in the afternoon. 

Swapping seats and the tide of humanity

Up in the dark again so we could leave the flat at 7.30am.  Everything fitted but it tested my packing skills and means we cannot buy anything else unless we buy another bag.  Grabbed a coffee and bread roll at the little bakery at the station and jumped on the train to Bensheim.  At Bensheim we connectd with the Frankfurt to Salzburg train that went via Munich. Seat selection is an art  have yet to master.  You can reserve seats or you can hop on and find a seat that has not been reserved.  The train was pretty full and since we needed 3 together it proved to be a bit of an ordeal.  We found a set of seats that were not reserved till Stuttgart and plonked ourselves down.  The train stopped at Heidelberg and Lauren noticed a couple of people get out of seats that were marked as being reserved from Frankfurt all the way through to Austria. She figured that if they were now empty, then the original person who reserved them was not on the train so we upped and moved.  Luckily we managed to stay put all the way through to Munich.

Our hotel is only a couple of blocks from the Hauptbahnhof (Main train station) but appears to be situated in Little Istanbul.  Clean & comfortable and they were able to change our room to one with a 3rd bed so Lauren can be with us rather than having to get another room.

We arrived about lunch time, checked in and then we wandered in towards ‘town’ and into the shopping strip.  Talk about crowds … David Jones on Boxing Day has nothing on this.. the plaza (Marienplatz) is probably about 50m wide and pedestrian only – it was literally wall to wall people as far as you could see… and to make matters worse they drive AND walk on the other side to us so navigating it proved to be a bit of a challenge. 

We just sort of wandered round, got ourselves orientated with the city had a late lunch at a little Café just round the corner from the main market.  Back at the hotel we checked emails etc .. there was a lovely one from Christof (Lauren’s host dad) letting her/us know that she had 2 weeks holidays rather than the couple of days we originally thought.  Seems she had been missing her parents more than she had let on and Christof & Nadja decided a couple of weeks of parent time was just what she needed.

Dinner in a little Schnitzel & Chicken House and a bit more of a wander .. much nicer now without the crowds. 

We also rang Tony’s dad and wished him a Happy 80th Birthday

Friday, December 28, 2012

Trains, Rain & Castles

Today is our last day based in Worms and the only place left on our list of ‘must see’ places was Koblenz and the little towns on the Rhine.  We headed out on a Lander ticket on the 8:55train to Mainz where we connected with the train going up the left bank.  We’d done a bit of investigating last night (thanks to the brochures Dagmar collected for us) and decided that Tony’s knee wouldn’t hold up to  Marksburg Castle and that it would be better to stop on the way up at a castle called Burg Reichenstein which is just downstream from Bingen (which is on the opposite bank to Rudesheim where we visited with Dagmar & Matthias just before Xmas).  Trouble is … no-one told the train driver and we sped through Trechtingshasusen at full steam.  A quick re-adjustment of plans and we got out at Oberwesel. 

What a pretty little town, dating from the 1100’s.  It is overlooked by Burg Schonburg and has a medieval wall along a good part of the Rhine frontage which you can climb up on and walk along.  The Haags Turm (Haags Tower)  built in the 1400’s, a Medieval Town Hall complete with Ratskeller (basement restaurant) and the very beautiful Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) are some of the many highlights.  Lots of beautiful little shops in the old part of town too. 

Back on the train to Koblenz, then a bus from the main railway station into the town proper.  We grabbed lunch at a cute little café called Muttis (Mothers) and then wandered down to Deutsches Eck (German Corner) where the Mosel River meets the Rhine.  Both were running very full after all the rain in the region in the last few weeks. There is a gigantic statue of Kaiser Wilhelm (the great) on horseback and another church, St Kastors Basillica near the point where the rivers meet.  We wandered back along the Mosel towards the Alstadt passing the ubiquitous river cruise boats and some lovely old buildings including the Alte Burg (12th century) and lots more churches. Another beautiful Liebfrauenkirche (1180AD) right in the middle of the old town had stunningly beautiful stained glass windows and a sign stuck near the door which translated as “Santa Free Zone”.. priceless! 

Since Lauren has joined us my photos have taken a decidedly ridiculous turn.  She and Tony now pose for ‘father & daughter’ photos each trying to make a more stupid face than the last one.  It took 4 attempts at Deutsches Eck before I could stop laughing and actually press the shutter button!

Having missed out on Burg Reichenstein on the way to Koblenz, we decided to stop on the way back at St Goar … noted as a pretty little town, that Lauren had visited in September and loved.  By the time we got there (trains are wonderful in Germany, they go on time, are warm, clean and have an on-board loo – but connections are not always kind to the time poor traveller) it was almost dark and it had started to rain.  Sadly we were all pretty under-whelmed.  It was easy enough to see how lovely it would be in good weather, and particularly in spring & summer, but on a cold wet mid-winters late afternoon, it was more miserable than beautiful.

We finally got back to Worms about 7.30pm.  Lauren had to go to an internet café to print out her ticket to Munich and Tony & I went to the little supermarket to get nibbles for the train tomorrow.  We stopped on the way home for a doner … Germany’s #1 fast food.  2.50euro and a meal in itself.
Cards & wine plus packing to leave finished off another memorable day.  Lauren will stay here tonight because we have to be out the door at 7.30am for our train.

Next stop Munich.

Chirstmas and 2nd Christmas

Woke late and wandered over to Laurens house about 9:45 to deliver pressies to the N&C and the boys.  Still relatively mild (maybe 6 or 7 degrees).  I stayed for a while and exchanged gifts with N & C and the boys dismantled their leggo.  Back here for breakfast with Lauren and then out for a walk.  Despite being quite mild (for Germany) the weather looked a bit ominous so we wore coats & took umbrellas.  As we headed off across the Festplatz (showground) towards the Rhine the wind got a bit stronger and by the time we were at the river it had started to rain.  A few silly photos by the Rhine and a look at the old Rhine bridge later it was raining hard enough to put up the umbrellas.  Sadly the umbrellas didn’t stay up long .. Lauren’s blew inside-out and then exploded into several bits very soon.  Time to head back!

I’d been trying to ring Ainsley all day and finally we got a FB message that the phone was down at home so we went over to Lauren’s to skype her. It was lovely to see & talk to her… but not so lovely to hear that the pool was green and the dog had needed a visit to the vet (and we owed Ainsley for a fairly substantial vet bill!).

Aside from a walk round the outside of the Medieval Town walls up to the Dom and the nearby Jewish cemetery (from 600AD) we have spent the day eating… cheese, cold meat, breads etc, drinking wine and playing three handed 500 (the card game).   Alissa came over in the evening and we played board games, talked and laughed over several glasses of wine till quite late. A very low-key Christmas.

Newspapers the next day lead with the news that it has been the WARMEST Christmas day since records began!

Day 10: 2nd Christmas
Once again it was still dark when we got up… it’s dark till well after 8am in Germany in the middle of winter!  Still no sign of Lauren at 10 and I wandered over & woke her up so we could all go into town in search of a bakery for breakfast.  Probably not going to be much open but we don’t really want to hang around the flat listening to Armed Forces radio (the only English language radio station we could find).  There’s a US base at Wiesbaden (just across the river from Mainz) and with them, their families & the need for an English language radio station.  Advertisements aimed at military families are nearly as weird as Aussie regional radio ads aimed at the farming community.

We’ve also decided to sign up for the German telecom wireless … it means we can pick up the internet from hotspots (like Maccas) and on the trains.  The lack of internet has been the only thing I would change about this flat.  So the laptop as well as the camera will now be accompanying us on all outings.

It's Christmas Day in the Morning

Today’s plans include a trip to Netto (the supermarket at the end of the street) for supplies.  I am taking a pavlova to Dagmar’s for dinner – not exactly sure how I am going to get it there on the train but I suspect the shoebox I brought the smocked xmas decorations over in may be re-assigned a role as cake tin. 

We also need to get our nibbles (ham, cheese, croissants etc) for tomorrow & stuff for Boxing Day.  And some beer for Tony & wine for Lauren & me and one or two last minute Christmas pressies.  We saw the Christmas markets being packed up last night on our way home so it will be a bit strange being in town without the little stalls everywhere. 

Our little Christmas tree looks very pretty in the corner, pressies underneath, decorations from all the different markets sparkling away happily.  It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas!  And out the window I can hear the bells of the Wormser Dom.

The Saga of the Pavlova.
We’ve been invited for Xmas Eve dinner with Dagmar, Matthias & Alissa in Nakenheim.  As you do, when invited for dinner you take something.  I figured I’d take a pavlova … nothing more traditional than Pav at Christmas.  We got the eggs, the sugar, there was a bowl in the cupboard and Lauren said they had a hand held beater.  No sweat!

So I wander over to get the mixer, she gives me a beater and 4 attachments/blade thingies.  I come home, juggle them round till I find those which are obviously a match, plug it in, switch it on… nothing.  I try the other attachments but they don’t fit either …. I go back to Lauren’s to see what’s going on, and return the hand held bit which appears not to want to go.  She gives me another hand held bit and another single beater (no mate for this one).  Back at the flat I try again … all the while the egg whites are sitting patiently in the bowl.  Once more… nothing… back I go and collect all the bits of anything that even remotely resembles a hand held electric beater. I try them all and nothing seems to want to go except the second beater and a single blade – trouble is that won’t whip anything, you need 2 blades to whip.  I’m almost ready to go into town and buy a cheap one.  I try everything again, every possible combination of mixer and attachments. Finally… holding the first mixer firmly round the middle (not by the handle) I can make it go. 

You beauty!... I whip away merrily … well maybe not merrily, more like sluggishly and the egg whites finally do their thing.  It’s painfully slow but moving in the right direction.  Time to add the sugar … and time for the beater to go on strike (or crap itself permanently, I don’t know) … maybe the mixture was too thick/heavy for this decrepit little beater.  Tony and I take turns to finish whipping it with a whisk from the drawer.  Oven heated, baking tray ready and in it goes 90 minutes after I cracked the first egg.  It better taste OK is all I can say… and what I bought that I think is fresh cream better not be drinking yogurt.  At least know the passionfruit (in a tin brought from home) and the kiwi fruit are going to be fine!

A Very  German Christmas.
A last quick trip to town (it’s about a 5 min walk from the flat to the centre of town) for a couple of last minute pressies and the afternoon soon goes.  Lauren arrived about 4.30pm and we stuffed around for a bit before heading to the station to get the train to Nackenheim for Christmas with Dagmar, Matthias & Alissa.  Now, German trains go on time, not 30 seconds later, there is no holding the train if the driver sees someone who looks like they want to catch their train – they go at the appointed time, and you guessed it, we missed the train.  The next one was in an hour!

When we got to Nackenheim, Alissa came to the station to ‘guide’ us to their place (the station has been re-built in a new position since Lauren was here in 2005 and she didn’t recognise enough for us to navigate our own way).  Walking into Dagmar & Matthias’ home is like walking into a Christmas wonderland… Dagmar is the Queen of Christmas decorating … I knew this but her tree took my breath away… it is the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen.  Picture (until I get actual pictures up) an 8’ tree decorated only with lights, little red baubles and glass santas … hundreds of them.  They have a conservatory on the back of the house and the tree and dinner table are there, beautifully set and the rest of the room is decked out in its celebration finery.  I thought I had heaps of decorations and went a bit over-board – I have nothing on Dagmar and the lounge room & conservatory were so beautiful.

We had a wonderful meal –fondue with an assortment of meats and all sorts of goodies to accompany it – salad, bread, dipping sauces, pickles etc – lots of fun – fuelled no doubt by good wine, lots of laughs & great company.  My pavlova transported well in its shoe box and that just topped of the meal.

I’ve mentioned before, that Matthias is fascinated by old mechanical ‘things’ – projectors, music machines, model steam engines, valve radios etc and it turns out he has a collection worthy of a museum… including an Edison phonograph, another hand cranked phonograph that plays 78 records (Silent Night was a most appropriate choice when he proudly demonstrated it) and one that plays from those really old metal discs.  He also has old gas powered slide projectors … and little working steam engines .. a marvellous collection. 

We let several possible departure times slip by (we had checked out the train times carefully) but finally about 12:15am we had to call it quits because after that train, the next one was a 6am and we are both too old to pull an ‘all-nighter’ now.  Very reluctantly we said our good byes, got on the train and got back here to the flat about 1:15am to find that Santa had delivered something for Lauren.  Bed finally about 2:15am

So there you are… our German Christmas.. absolutely one we will never forget.

A Phonograph, Opals and Chocolate Apples

Another wonderful day with our own very special private tour guides.  In Germany everything (absolutely every shop except those near train stations) closes on Sundays – no supermarkets, no chemists, nothing!  So Dagmar had planned a visit to Rudesheim and a twilight Rhine Cruse.

We bought a Schones Wochenender (Happy Weekend) ticket which got 5 of us (Tony, me, Lauren, Dagmar & Matthias) as much train travel as we wanted for the whole day.  We got on in Worms, they joined us in Nakenheim (with an extra single ticket for Alissa), we changed trains in Weisbaden and headed for the little Rhine town of Rudesheim.  Thoroughly touristy but utterly charming, Rudesheim has the prettiest Christmas Markets and is the base for many short Rhine cruises through the Middle Rhine World Heritage Area.

First stop was a Wine Muesum housed in the Bromserburg Castle (built around 1000AD) – in the grounds were a collection of grape presses – dating from 1592 and an assorted collection of wine making equipment including a cart for moving wine barrels – Lauren couldn’t resist, picked it up by the handles and delivered the classic Python line “bring out your dead” … I guess you had to be there!

The Drosselgasse is a tiny little narrow street, very pretty but lined with shops selling tacky souvenirs to loud American or badly dressed Japanese tourists.  It does however, lead up into the town and the labyrinth that is the Rudesheim Christmas Markets.  I never knew there could be so many ways to decorate shop fronts and small wooden stalls – everywhere were lights and garlands of conifer (real) with baubles and stars and hessian snowmen and Christmas trees with ribbons and dried orange slices – all the while weaving through 16th century half timbered houses – just so pretty.

As has become a bit of a habit, I went looking for another Christmas decoration – I have bought one at every Christmas market.  Picture me browsing stands and stands glass ornaments, wooden ornaments, handmade lace ornaments when out of the corner of my eye I spy something totally out of place … a silver glass koala!  (I didn’t buy it). 

We spent a couple of hours wandering the markets, eating & drinking and just enjoying the festive atmosphere.  Matthias is an engineer by trade and has a fascination for things mechanical, old and in particular, old musical instruments.  He was keen for us to visit Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinet (Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet which in reality is the  Museum of Mechanical Musical Instruments) but seemed a little concerned that it may not “be to your taste.”  How wrong he was to have these thoughts because this museum was one of the most fascinating I’ve ever seen.  It is a collection of music ‘machines’ par excellence!  Dozens of 18th & 19th century contraptions which included an Edison phonograph, a music chair (sitting down on it activated the music) barrel organs, one that has 18 instruments (including a sax, a piano, xylophone,  drums etc), carnival music machines, pianolas, and one which had piano and 6 violins (made in about 1920 with very early pneumatics) housed in a castle built in the 1200’s. Some were electric others had to be wound and all were fascinating.  I can’t pick a highlight but pretty special was the tiny little music box with a Nightingale about ¾” high that sang and flapped its tiny wings – 300+ tiny pieces made by a watchmaker turned music-box maker housed in a 15th century private chapel with its original wall frescos.

A bit later, Dagmar was telling me that the Rudesheim market was supposed to be an ‘international’ Christmas market.. we’d seen a stall from Finland and started looking around for other nations.  We soon come across a London Bus, a stall from Mongolia (great food!) the good old US of A, a fellow selling Babushka dolls (Russia), Peru (alpaca scarves & jumpers). I almost fell over when I spotted an Aussie flag fluttering on the side of a little stall … closer investigation and it was a German bloke selling opal jewellery … fortunately very tasteful, modern opal jewellery, and thankfully nothing like the tacky stuff that is sold by the truckload to Japanese tourists in duty free shops at Sydney airport!

After this we wandered a bit more before heading down to the Rhine for the river cruise.  Can you imagine listening to Christmas Carols while cruising up the Rhine past villages like Bingan or Assmannshausen, and castles from the middle-ages clinging to the side of steep hills – it was just magical and I could not have wished for a lovelier way to spend Christmas Eve eve.

Back once again to the markets for some more food – soup, bratwurst, chocolate apples (think toffee apple with chocolate rather than toffee) before catching the train back home.  Another wonderful wonderful day!  Thankyou again Dagmar!

And who said the world’s weather was not getting stupid?...... there’s a digital readout of temperature/time etc near the Christmas Markets … it showed 4deg, 2 deg, 0 deg, but tonight coming back from the station….. 11 deg… practically tropical!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Blue Santa and the Riot Squad

Original plans had been to go to Koblenz and see the Rhine castles (Marksburg in particular) today but we’ve had 3 fully days of sightseeing and it was raining so we decided just to have a lazy morning and then go to Mannheim in the afternoon.

Nadja had told us the shopping there was great, and it was another Xmas market to visit to add to the decorations collection.  The train from Worms to Mannheim is quick and goe several times an hour so that was easy.  Our limited German now extends to recognising the sign that points to the city centre from the train station.

We got a coffee (and paid the 2euro deposit to keep the cup) and wandered through the markets in search of someone other than Kathe Wolfhart selling glass decorations.  I’ve been on the lookout for a Nutcracker that was not dressed in red and luck was with me.  I got a little blue nutcracker and a glass snowman with a purple hat. 

We rounded a corner in the markets and came face to face with Santa … dressed in blue and accompanied by a very pretty blonde angel.  Seems it wasn’t really Santa but a guy promoting a local mobile phone company!

Keen to check-out the shopping, we headed down into the shopping area.  Typical of German cities we have visited so far, the central strip is generally car-free (Mannheim has trams running along the street but no cars) and it is lined with lots of boutique style shops rather than big malls.  We found some more xmas stalls and grabbed a bite to eat and began to notice a build-up of police men wearing what was certainly riot gear… shin/leg guards, body armour and carrying helmets and batons.

Ignoring Tony’s suggestions otherwise, I asked one what was happening.  Seems there was some kind of demonstration by the local branch of the anarchist party.  The coppers were taking nothing by chance and there were hundreds of them lined up all along the street.  The march went by in a couple of minutes – a bit disappointing actually!

Back to Worms and by now it was raining, 4 degrees but too ‘warm’ to snow.. bugger!  Dinner at home with Lauren tonight … she was free till 7.30pm when her babysitting services were required as Nadja & Christoff were going out.  The benefits of renting a flat rather than staying in a hotel room are that you can cook your own curry, open a bottle of wine and entertain your daughter.

Oh, and we put up our Christmas tree.

Magical Mainz

I’ve been looking forward to today since final plans for this trip started to firm up.  Lauren arrived at our flat about 7:30 and we headed into town for breakfast and caught the train to Mainz at 8:55 as arranged with Dagmar.  The rain we’d had last night in Speyer and here in Worms had actually fallen as snow between here and Mainz and a heavy fog hung over the landscape all the way.  Dagmar & Matthias joined the train in Nakenheim and introductions were made.

Dagmar had planned our own tailor made walking tour of Mainz and the first stop was at the Romisches Theatre.  Excavations for the old Mainz Sud railway station had uncovered the remains of a Roman Theatre – hence the new name of the station.  From here it was up to the old medieval garrison on top of the hill and then down into the Alstadt.  Chock full of half timbered houses this pedestrian only part of town is stunning, made more – so with all the Christmas decorations everywhere.

Next was the Museum of ancient Shipbuilding – where the remains of 6 Roman boats found when excavating for building work are now restored and on display.  No photos were allowed but the old bits and the re-creations of the Roman fleet which plied the Rhine centuries ago were fantastic.

St Augustinerkirche was built right on the street, side by side with it’s neighbouring buildings.  Inside were a group of school kids (primary age) putting the finishing touches to their Christmas presentations.  The route into town passed the Kirchegarten (Cherry Garden) with it’s half timbered houses (the oldest of which was built in 1450 – and now the oldest of it’s kind in town)

High on my ‘must see’ list was St Stephans with the stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagal.  Installed in the late 70’s when Chagal was already in his 90’s these blue windows are jaw-droppingly beautiful. 

Back into town past the high school Dagmar had attended for ‘kaffe & kuchen’ (coffee & cake) in a lovely café with views over the Christmas markets and the side of St Martins Dom.  The third of the Imperial Cathedrals, the Dom is huge, stunning, amazing!  Built from 975AD (and burning down on the day of it’s consecration) and added to many times since. The cloistered garden to the side contains the headstones for each of  the  Bishops of Mainz who are buried in the crypt. 

Next stop was the Temple of Isis, … well not exactly the whole temple, but the foundations of this Roman temple which was discovered in 2000 when a new Hilton Hotel was being built.  The Hiltons were not happy that they had to stop work on the hotel while excavation and archaeological research took place.  A simple glass door in the middle of a shopping centre leads down to an amazing display of Roman artefacts including fruit from sacrifices, jewellery and tomb ornaments.

Next stop was the Schillerplatz and the amazing Carnival Fountain and then up to the Kupferberg Museum.  Home of German Sekt (sparkling wine) brewing from the 1850’s, the Kupferberg tours are a delight.  Down underground through 6 storeys of wine cellars (including several from Roman times that were used as air raid shelters during the war) passing a collection of historical crystal & glass sekt classes ending up with an hour long tasting class/session!  A sparkling red, rose and three whites … and no I didn’t drink a full glass of each.

Back to the Christmas markets to find another xmas decoration (this time a tiny silver cuckoo clock) and a glass santa for Dagmar (she collects ‘santa’ decorations). Matthias hunted out a really cool restaurant (I think it was called the Augustinerkeller) and we ate downstairs in a vaulted cellar.  Lauren was totally thrilled to have a big chunk of red meat, and I tasted my first Radler (a German shandy).

Dagmar & Matthias were a joy to spend the day with … amazing people who we just ‘clicked’ with.

Frost and Fireworks

A thick frost but clear skies greeted us this morning – pale watery winter sun but a welcome change because we have not seen blue sky or sun since we arrived. Everyone here scrapes the ice off their windscreen – and every car seems to be equipped with a paint scraper for the job (though Lauren tells me it’s a windscreen scraper – it sure looked like a paint scraper to me!)  Dagmar had sent a parcel for us… she is such a gem .. inside a “Welcome to Germany” pack  - a collection of maps &  sightseeing brochures and some chocolates & lebkuchen.  We had a late breakfast with Lauren at the Stadtcafe (proper breakfast with scrambled eggs) and did a bit of shopping before she went ‘back to work’ (to walk the dog for 2 hrs) at mid-day. 

Rugged up against the cold (it was 2 degrees) we caught a 2.15pm train to Speyer – about 40min south-east of Worms and home of the World Heritage listed KaiserDom (Kings Cathedral).  Our lander ticket gave us the return train trip from Worms to Speyer as well as all local transport in Speyer (for all 3 of us) so we jumped on a bus from the train station to Posteplatz which is the start of the pedestrian only shopping precinct leading to the Dom. 

Speyer is a really beautiful city, much of which escaped the devastation of WW2.  Lovely old buildings, cobbled streets, and beautifully decorated shop-fronts lining the streets.  Dozens of Christmas trees (with decorations by the local primary school kids, the paper ones laminated as protection against the rain), xmas lights and lots of cut conifer and red ribbons everywhere.

Despite living in Germany for 6 months, Lauren had managed not to be wearing enough layers of clothes so she & Tony went in search of another jumper for her and I managed to order 2 coffees & a hot chocolate at a little café.  Warmed and clothed we headed down past the Christmas markets to the Dom.  It was by now getting on towards 4pm and although it was light enough to see inside the cathedral, it was not light enough to take photos that come anywhere near doing the place justice.  It is amazing!  Lauren wondered why she,  the dirty little heathen didn’t instantly burst into flame on entering, Tony made lots of blasphemous jokes and we escaped unharmed an hour later.  It really is a magnificent building and to see it on a bright sunny day when there is light streaming in through the windows would be incredible.

After the Dom we headed for a proper investigation of the Xmas markets, stopping on the way to buy a Bratwurst and then another glass ornament for my collection.  It had started to rain by now, so after some more market wandering, and in need of finding somewhere dry dinner seemed the sensible thing to do.  Schnitzels all round and as we were leaving, the lady in the restaurant mentioned there were to be fireworks at the Old Town Gate at 7.30pm.  Even without being told we would soon have figured something was going on as a sea of umbrellas came walking down the road.  They were pretty spectacular going off over and along the front of the Medieval Town Gate… even if we were standing in the rain.

Train back to Worms and a nightcap at the Stadtcafe rounded out another thoroughly enjoyable day.  We’re meeting Dagmar on the 8.55am train to Mainz tomorrow (she’ll get on the train at Nakenheim) … looking forward to finally meeting her and seeing where Lauren spent 2 months in 2005.

Day 3 Heidelberg

Our body clocks are obviously still not on German time because last night we both woke at 3am.  Fortunately we managed to go back to sleep fairly quickly but were wide awake again at 6am.  It’s still pitch dark still but the town is awake and the traffic on the road is increasing. 

An 8:12am train to Heidelberg changing at Mannheim saw us arrive in Heidelberg just on 9am.  We bought a Heidelberg card which covers all public transport in the city plus entry to the Castle and a ride on the funicular railway up to the castle.

Hauptstrasse is the main pedestrian walkway through the old town.  Every-where you look are old buildings, churches and spaced along the whole way are half a dozen Christmas markets with stalls selling assorted decorations, gluhwein, wurst, chocolate etc.  We did the ‘walking route’ and passed by the Old University, (including the Old Armory built in 1510 which now houses the university canteen) and the Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Ghost built around 1400) before taking the funicular railway up to the Schloss (castle)

Despite the very cloudy weather (thankfully no rain) the view was amazing.  The built between 1400 and 1600, Schloss was partially destroyed by the French in the late 1600’s and had further damage inflicted when it was hit by lightning in the late 1700’s.  Some parts are in great condition, other bits are just ruins and much work seems to be going on to stablise some parts.  We checked out the Apothecary Museum and the Great Wine cask  (holds over 200,000 litres) as well as the gardens above the castle itself.

Back down into town for a late lunch and some more wandering around the town.  I stumbled on the Kathy Wohlfahrt Christmas Shop and added a little German glass snowman tree decoration to my collection.  This is a very famous group of all-year-round Christmas shops and the range of stuff was astonishing, though predominantly in traditional red & green.

It starts to get dark about 4pm so we wandered back to the tram/bus interchange and got a bus back to the train station.  Given that Worms has been un-co-operative in terms of evening meals, we decided to eat in Heidelberg and had a schnitzel at a restaurant next to the railway station before heading back to Worms about 6.30. 

We met up with Lauren at the xmas markets for some gluwein & a bratwurst.  I realise now that the quality of gluewin is entirely dependant on the quality of the the red wine used to make it.  Sometimes they obviously just use cheap red plonk, because this was probably the worst gluewin I’ve tasted.

Tomorrow we’re planning on heading to Speyer in the afternoon to have a look round there and a visit to the Xmas markets.  Lauren is free after 2pm so we’ll head off then.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Christmas Tree & the waiter from Azerbaijan

Day 2 A Christmas Tree & the waiter from Azerbaijan

And we thought we’d escaped jet lag … wrong!  We both woke about 2am … obviously not the appropriate time for holidayers to be getting out of bed so I took my quilt out onto the lounge to read for a bit and made a cup of tea… coffee at 2am was probably not going to be a good idea.  I read for a bit and returned to sleep pretty soon.   Woke again about 7.15 and soon after, Lauren arrived with fresh bread rolls for breakfast.

Her dog walking duties called so I joined her on a half hour walk down to the Rhine and back.  She tried to tell me it wasn’t particularly exciting, but I did point out that I’d seen the mighty Mekong, iconic river of SE Asia, so why not the Rhine – Europe’s most famous waterway.  It was running high and fast and this seemed to be cause for concern since there had been no snow melt yet. 

The life of an au pair is a strange one, they work in a world of permanent split shifts, so her day can include breakfast duties with two small boys somewhere between 6 and 7.30, dog walking duties – early, middle of the day, late in the afternoon, night walks etc as well as assorted domestic chores – ny combination of the above - seemingly it’s a beck and call thing.

Today she was ‘off’ in the morning so we went in search of a Christmas tree and some internet.  Now before you all think – ‘stupid women, just get one of those internet stick things from the phone shop’ … my trusty little DET laptop doesn’t take them – the department of education (in their infinite wisdom) has decided that teaching staff cannot be trusted with additional programs, equipment and the USB modems are top of the list of ‘blocked’ devices.  The kids have probably already figured out how to bypass this on their laptops but alas, I have not so I need to find somewhere with wireless internet that I can access.

Off we went in search of internet access .. and it was not to be found at Maccas.  They have a wireless hotspot but it’s a sign up and pay for it variety.  Next stop a Christmas Decoration shop that was mouth-wateringly amazing.  I started my German xmas deco collection with considerable restraint! 

Next stop the supermarket for some more provisions .. do you have any idea what ‘coconut milk’ translates to in German or what the tin even looks like?  No, me either so we spent a while scouring the shelves for it.  Lauren is missing both red meat and any food more exciting than quiche (don’t get her started on the eating habits of her host family!) and will have a home cooked curry with us tomorrow night.  Provisions sorted… oh and much to her disgust, I found some tinsel … what’s a Christmas tree without tinsel!

Now for the tree.. no such thing as a cheap plastic tree, nor for that matter a table-top sized cut tree in the several Xmas Tree compounds we passed so we headed for the next best thing .. the German equivalent of Bunnings.  Sure enough we found a 1.3m tree al bagged (in a plastic mesh tube) ready to go for 9.99euro.  Tony carried it home on his shoulder and I so wish I had thought to take a photo!  Lauren’s going to get us a bucket/pot tomorrow so for now it is just lying all bound up on our loungeroom floor.  We asked her if the boys would like to come and help decorate it but it seems that German Xmas tree regulations forbid this.  The tree ‘appears’ magically decorated each Xmas Eve afternoon in your home – done by the ‘Christchild’ and asking the boys to help would be tantamount to telling them Santa doesn’t exist.

We have been invited for ‘drinks’ with Nadja and Christoff after dinner so we head off in search of dinner.  Search being the operative word, Worms is a lovely city, there are about a dozen shoe shops, 8 or 9 chemist shops, 6 perfume shops, 15 donor (kebab) stalls/stands/shops but it has this stunning lack of restaurants.  There are no ‘pubs’ as we know them serving food either.  We finally found a Greek restaurant where we thought we could recognise enough food items on their menu in the window to get a meal.

A very helpful little waiter stumbled through the menu in very broken English, but between us we managed to order.  Chatting (if that is any where close to an approximation of how the conversation went) with him it turns out we had Azerbaijani waiter, (who also spoke Russian and Croatian) serving in a Greek Restaurant in a Germany … you can’t get much stranger than that.

Oh but you can … lost somehow in translation, we had in fact been invited to dinner at Nadja & Christoff’s  and arrived to a fully laid and stocked table!  It turns out it didn’t matter too much and we enjoyed a night of laughs, and good company before calling it quite about 11pm when the need for sleep came crashing up on us again.

Tomorrow we’re going to Heidelberg.

What Day is it?

Day 1, day 1 ½ , … it’s been about 39 hours long so I don’t remember …
We always knew this would be a bit of a crazy start to our trip since we were basically flying from Sydnay to Frankfurt in one go.  Sydney to Singapore was on good old QF1, the first leg of the iconic Sydney to London.  What a pleasant surprise Qantas was, great seats (I had preselected via our Lufthansa booking) excellent food, plenty of drinks etc, a massive choice of in flight entertainment and all done with a smile.

We landed in Singapore at 10.30pm Singapore time and really only had time to get our Lufthansa boarding passes, and go to the loo.  Changi airport is huge, enormous, massive!

The Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt left on time and we were lucky enough to have no-one sitting beside us so I didn’t have to share the armrest with a  anyone.  We departed Changi just after midnight local time (3am body time) and got fed before the cabin lights were turned out.  I got a couple of hours but I don’t think Tony got much.

We landed in Frankfurt a bit ahead of the 6am scheduled arrival time and then walked, and walked, and walked to the immigration counters.  No-one in the line, a smiling young blonde german chap asked us how long we wanted to stay, stamped our passports and we walked some more to the baggage claim.  Our bags were among the first off so we grabbed them and headed for customs.  The red “something to declare” line was closed up, so despite having food, beer etc to declare we went to the green line… and straight through – no-one there to ask anything.  In under half an hour we had landed, de-planed, gone through immigration collected our bags and exited the airport.

We got German sim card for the phone and had a coffee while we rang Christoff & Nadja’s and tried to figure out what train we needed to catch.  In true German efficiency, the train station was directly under the airport arrivals so we found the ticket machine, punched in Worms as our destination, got our ticket and waited the 7 minutes for the next train that went in our direction.   Our only blunder was to get off one stop before our designated change in Mainz, but the driver heard me asking Tony if we had got off at the right place, stuck her head out her window and told us we were a stop too early and happily opened the train doors for us to get back on again.

The German rail system is amazing and we hopped off the train at Mainz Romanisches Theatre station, changed platforms (via lifts thank god) and straight onto the next train to Worms.  Lauren was waiting for us just off the platform ready to take us to the flat we are renting for our 10 days here.  We stopped for breakfast on the way, walked through the still quiet Christmas markets and negotiated cobblestone streets, the medieval walls round the old town and soon arrived at her house. 

The apartment we’re renting is about 50yards from her place, and is owned by a friend of C&N.  Manfred is a master craftsman and the furniture, fittings (drawer & door handles etc) and decorative items are all his own work.  It’s lovely and light, warm and has everything you could need.

Trying to follow the rules about jet-lag and travelling to far off lands in different time zones, we unpacked, had another cupper and headed out to explore Worms with her rather than collapse into bed for some very much needed sleep.  Bracing is probably the best term to describe the weather, and any need for sleep soon evaporated in the chilly 5 degrees.

The Worms Dom (St Peters) is huge, built of a red sandstone and stands majestically at the edge of the Alstadt (town centre).  This is the cathedral where Martin Luther began his scrap with the Catholic church which ultimately led to excommunication.  Apart from the rococo alter it is quite austere but still amazing when you consider it was built in the 12th century – older than anything man made in Australia. 

The need for sleep finally caught up with us, and Lauren had to be ‘back at work’ so we came back, had a 2hr combat nap and headed out again about 5.30pm for a wander through the night markets and some dinner.  It’s just after 9pm and sleep beckons again.

Didn’t have internet access today – not sure where & when I will be able to get it … hopefully I can get this posted to the blog tomorrow (Tuesday… I think)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I'm dreaming of a white christmas... in Germany

6:00pm Friday 14th December ...(don't know why it is showing as Thursday in the date line)
School has finished for me, the pile of stuff to take grows daily on the bed in the spare room, the list of 'still to do' jobs is getting smaller and I feel like a kid waiting for Santa... Sunday can't come quick enough. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Countdown to Germany

All set now for our Christmas trip to Germany.  Leave Sydney on 16th December ... I feel like a kid waiting for Christmas ... hang-on, I'm a big kid waiting for Christmas, a white one!
We're renting an apartment on Worms (pronounced Vorms for all you aussies) just up the street from where Lauren is living/working.  Lots of day trips planned, lots of Christmas Markets to visit, Christmas Eve dinner with Dagmar & Matthias then off on our round trip of Germany on 28th December.  First stop Munich.

counting the sleeps!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bugger, bugger, bugger!

Seems we are destined not to get a decent visit to Cambodia.  Everything was planned, air tickets booked & paid for, accommodation sorted & Tony goes off to play indoor cricket with the boys from work.
Innocent looking slip & fall and he's having surgery for a smashed knee-cap and in hospital for a week.  There goes our trip! I'm playing nurse, taxi driver and the whole bit!

Full leg cast has now been replaced with a full length brace - no bending for 6 weeks & then the fun begins ... rehab is not going to be fun.

Lauren is going to Germany for a year starting in June so we're busy planning 5 weeks at Xmas.  A white Xmas with Dagmar & Matteus in Mainz then a big lazy lap of Germany including NYE in Salzburg (expensive hotel to compensate for the lost Cambodia trip!) and a side trip to Ypres to see some WW1 memorials. 
He is absolutely NOT going to be doing anything more energetic than playing scrabble between now & then!  But first.. we have to get through the 6 weeks for the knee to heal and then the rehab.  Our goal is for him to be walking without crutches or a walking stick by the end of November.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

New trip to plan

After cutting short our visit last year, we've decided to return to Cambodia.  We'll be flying out of Sydney on Good Friday and will be in Siem Reap for Khmer New Year.  Very much looking forward to another visit.  Lots of people we know go to places like Bali or Fiji for their annual holidays - for us Cambodia is the place that calls us every time.  5 nights each in Phnom Penh & SR and then on to Bangkok for a spot of shopping.