Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Wash-up

I started this in Cologne.. you'll see when/why and have added to it since getting home.  We had a fantastic trip ... spending heaps of time with Lauren, finally getting to meet Dagmar & Matthias after so many years of being email & more recently FB friends, catching up with Alissa again, having a cold Christmas, getting lots of snow etc.  Would I go again? ... in a heartbeat!

so from somehwere a few weeks ago...

Day 31.5
Michael gave us a USB stick but the laptop won’t take it.  We’re now sitting in a coin-laundry about 10 min from the flat doing some much needed washing.  Trouble is we’re a bit clueless getting these machines to work because all the instructions are in German and using a coin laundry is not something we’ve had much experience of!

So, rather than stand and watch the machines work (or not work as seems to be happening) I’m going to make a list of some of the more unusual things we’re seen, heard, experienced on this trip.

Strange and unexpected things we’ve seen:
·         Defibrillators on street corners … in Koblenz we came round a street corner and there attached to a shop wall was a defibrillator in its case….just in case!  We saw another one at Nuremberg.
·         Hobbit Gardens (well that’s what I’ve taken to calling them)  Many Germans live in apartment blocks so have no backyards.  All along the railway lines you see these little allotment gardens, complete with tiny summer houses (storage for chairs & tools etc).  These little gardens are usually all neatly lined out, some with veges, others with grass & kids swing sets.  They are really cool and there are hundreds of them in their own little ‘villages.’  They are also really cute when covered in snow.
·         Two young men doing their washing in the laundry tonight – 3 machine loads – 1 for what looked like shirts etc, another for other clothes (I was not really looking that closely!) and another with towels & sheets – they were pretty big loads … then they put the whole lot into the one dryer!  They are going to be reading their books for hours! (and feeding the machine 50c every 10 minutes)
·         Grog .. for sale in every supermarket, corner store etc and at ridiculous prices too! 
·         Beer + lemonade = shandy (or Radler as it’s called here) but seeing beer & Fanta or beer & coke on a drinks menu .. too weird!
·         Drinking beer at 8am & on trains (take yourself a picnic basket if you wish and just set it up in the passage if you can't get a seat)… even if it is considered a ‘pure’ food in Bavaria

Things we’ve loved:
·         German trains – they go on time (and on the rare occasion they have not, the delay is clearly indicated on the departure board), they are clean, warm and on the regional ones, there are toilets you do not have to pay for (really important for 50yr old bladders)
·         Railway stations with escalators or lifts .. many stations have a lift to each platform .. very handy with a gammy knee or luggage
·         German Christmas Decorations – every shop window has the most wonderful decorations, every single one is unique.  German families decorate their window ledges (so many houses have their front walls straight onto the very narrow streets) and they have pots of stuff by the door-step or in window boxes all done up for Xmas.  There are wreaths on doors and lights and decorations in windows or on balconies… fantastic!
·         Mk II for German Christmas Decorations … the wonderful glass ones, traditional decorations, glass balls, Santas (the ones my friend Dagmar has almost 150 of … including a naked Santa or two!) hand painted … they are beautiful and I wish I could bring back a shipping container full!
·         Bakeries … great place to have breakfast, bread rolls, pastries etc & coffee  usually for around 4 euro.  I’ve developed a taste for Late macchiato .. close to our Latte … several times we’ve ordered a latte (particularly in restaurants in Belgium) we’ve got espresso with whipped cream on top.
·         German cake shops … food porn!  And so pretty too!
·         Trams .. not only are they a great way to get around but the tram lines are a ready-made emergency services lane and ambulances & fire engines just get up onto the tram line and away they go.
·         The general respect for public property … the trains & trams are clean, we didn’t really see a lot of graffiti on trains, very little ‘scratching names’ on windows etc.  You can also leave you bike chained up (wherever – the station, outside your flat etc) and no-one pinches your front tyre…. And you can leave your ‘child seat’ on your bike and no-one pinches that either. And no-one wrecks your Christmas decorations either .. lots of planter boxes on window-sills all done up in their Xmas finery and all still perfectly intact even weeks after xmas.
·         Recycling plastic bottles happens at the supermarket .. they have a deposit scheme on bottles and when you feed your empties into the machine at the back of the supermarket you get a ‘voucher’ for the deposits on the bottles you’ve returned which you credit against your shopping.
·         German windows … so clever, double glazed to keep out the cold (obviously) but they have a double set of hinges … turn the handle up (vertical) and you can open the window about 5” at the top (hinge at the bottom/sill) to let in some fresh air.  Close the window and turn the handle to horizontal and you can open it like a casement window (now works from side hinges) flip a latch in the other window(they are often set in pairs) and you have two open windows.  Just brilliant and if I ever build another house I will certainly import these windows.
·         The shoes! … Tea (from school) did warn me …. And so many shoe shops!  Imelda heaven!
·         The Churches .. or more accurately all the Cathedrals. This dirty little heathen has a thing about church architecture and the Cathedrals in Germany are nothing short of spectacular.  Some are built on foundations well over 1000yrs old and have been added to and altered as the centuries have gone by.  Others are ‘rebuilds’ following massive damage in allied bombing raids during WW2.  Either way I loved them all.  A favourite?  That’s a hard one… The Cologne Dom rates pretty highly but I think the Aachen Dom might just pip it at the post – stunning mosaic interiors – utterly mindblowing.  Will try to put some photos up on FB.

Things we’ve not loved:
·         The Belgian rail system … but I have already written about that!
·         Paying for a pee… almost everywhere you go you have to pay to use the loo unless you are a customer of the shop.  Railway stations (the big stations like Munich or Berlin) it costs 1euro but the loos are spotlessly clean, have plenty of paper towel, the basins clean & dry. Prices generally ranged from 30c to 50c.
·         Railway stations without lifts and/or only up escalators … a pain in the bum when you have to get down to the platform with bags .. fortunately we have not encountered too many of these.
·         Descriptions on things in museums/galleries that are written only in German … OK I accept that lots of Germans go to museums but in major towns with a tourist industry, surely it wouldn’t take that long to type up a second description so everyone has a better chance of understanding what it is they are looking at. 
·         Traipsing gravel inside … sure I understand that putting gravel on footpaths deals with ice & snow but it is a king sized pain in the butt when this tiny little sharp gravel gets wedged into the ripples in your shoes and you drag it inside…. Aaargggh!
·         How incredibly hot some shops are … it’s close to zero outside and you need 5 layers of clothes + coat + hat + scarf + gloves.  You go inside and they’re heating it to what feels about 28 degrees so off comes all the gear and you carry it round, then as you leave, on it all goes again!  I’m sure they would save themselves a whole heap of cash on their heating bills if they ran it somewhere closer to 20 degrees. 
·         Not knowing that the apartment we rented in Cologne shared a common wall with a club!  It’s a private “Party Club” and on the Friday night they played god-awful doof-doof music till 3am.  Not sure if Michael didn’t know or conveniently ‘forgot’ to mention it in the not-entirely-accurate description of the flat.
·         Being raced through palaces (like Mad King Ludwig’s HerenChiemsee) by an un-interested guide and not being allowed to take photos.