Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Our family is well spread

Hotel Marjani where we stayed last night was remote - on the outskirts of Wennigsen with the only other enterprise that had any sort of life being McDonalds! And the kids in their souped up vroom vrooms also found it late at night. But thankfully, not for too long!

We both slept like logs. Last night we were both busy planning for the first week of September - Michael for his time on the Western Front sites and me for Paris with Hels. Gosh, today it is only 3 more sleeps for her - and i think that she is as excited as me!! There is so much to see and do in gay Paree - we'll have out work cut out for an exhausting 4 days methinks!!

Today will be a quieter day. Leaving Wennigsen for Köln, we don't plan to do too much and hope to arrive earlier in the afternoon. But not before we travel back the wa in came in for a couple of kilometres to have a look at a windmill we could see yesterday from the motorway. We can see it as soon as we turn on to the side road that I thought would leads us to it. This one is on private property and obviously not working - its sails are broken. Nevertheless, it is old and as astructure, still commands the landscape around it. Makes for some nice photographs as well! Later we pass others dating from the same period, that are still in use.

So we turn on Kate and head for the west. And despite our dislike of the motorways, today we are just wanting to get to its Köln and as the motorway option is a 3 hour trip and the non-motorway is a 5 hour trip we choose the former. Pity because the slower route would take us across a river - oh well, another day! Still, the day in a pleasant 23°C as we head out, so all is good in our world. We are making good time, travelling through some really scenic areas. This is still rural farming land, but there are more and more forested areas between the towns that are now a couple of kilometres apart.

We are back in the land of the steep tiled roofs - an indication that they can get quite heavy snowfalls here in the winter. The villages and towns seen from the distance and the isolation of the motorway present a postcard view. Wooded hills behind them, church steeples and terracotta tiles, large barns, fruit trees and the patchwork of farming lands - some harvested, others not - make it so. Its the sort of postcard view that you could have been sent in the 1950s with the tones in sepia before the advent of the digital camera.

We see castles and chateaux in the hills, but none really close enough to get a good photo. And then this monument comes in to view - or maybe I should say starts to come into view. It is MASSIVE. I mean REALLY really huge. So now the question is, do we leave the motorway to go have alook or not? In repsonse to my question, Michael says "If you want to" - huh! Thats all the encouragement I need! So away to the right down the exit I spin. At the bottom, I tap Kate looking for "Places of Interest near you - Tourist Attractions". This is a really handy in-built tool, with the only drawback being that it is in the local language. I never studied German, so it is a bit of a guess. I tap one and realise straight away once she computes the route that it is the wrong one - she wanted me to turn away from the monument that now towers above us high on the nearby hill. Ah, maybe this one as I tap Kaiser-Wilhelm-Denkmal an der Porta Westfalica - yep, thats it!

The Kaiser Wilhelm monument stands as big as the man himself, who benevolently holds his hand out over (part of) the area that he governed. He was known as Wilhelm the Great. And the monument is 88 m high with the statue standing under a canopy of sandstone. It was built in 1892 - 96 at the phenomenal cost of 830,000 goldmarks! In todays terms, 1 goldmark is equivalent to 9.86 euros!

And the setting is at the top of a graded forest walk up the last 350 m to the top of the hill. Nice and cool to walk up through, and when you get to the top - there the monument is, towering heavily above you. The views from the top courtyard around the former Prussian province of Westphalia are stupendous. Ah yes, over this land and much more I held power. Following the death of Kaiser Wilhelm an order went out through the country for monuments to be built and this one in Westphalia is the result of a competition. As a school group of young children arrive Michael hurries to get the last photos so we can head off before we are bothered by them! Ah, and the autumn colours are beginning to show - it will be lovely to see them considering that in Queensland most of our trees are evergreen!

Back on to the motoray and it turns out that we may as well have taken the longer non-Motorway route. The traffic is abominable. It seems that there are major roadworks around every other bend - most prevalently near the exits to major cities. EVERY DARN ONE OF THEM! We lose almost an hour to them over the course of the journey this afternoon. Road rage is unheard of though - I mean you could vent all you want, but you are still trapped on an eight lane divided road going no-where, slowly! So, we just leave the car in first and crawl along with the rest of the ants.

We arrived in Köln and finally find the Hotel Friends - Kate had initally directed us to another outer very rural suburb and we couldn't find anything resembling any sort of accommodation. Eventually we reach the correct area after travelling through the surrounding area of the ChemPark - yep, we are on the fringe of a large industrial complex where there are huge chemical plants. Names like Bayer and lots of power plants, phospphorus processors etc. We get checked in and then prepared to catch up with another of our ‘extended’ (read exchange student) family. We were off to Königswinter to visit Felicitas and meet the rest of her family for the first time.

It is a 40 minute drive to Königswinter from here - mostly back on the motorways. They criss-cross the country at huge clover leaf and peel away intersections that make anything we have back in Australia look puny and insignificant. There are many times when on a longish journey, that you switch from one to another to another again. As we come off the motorway into Königswinter, we are greeted by the view of the Schloß Drachenfels and the ruins of an earlier castle of the same name. We had fogotten that there was a castle here. The light is fading, and against the wan evening, they look amazing. And maybe even more amazing is the Hotel Petersburg on a facing hilltop. Check out the article for the story on this beauty - (thinking; hmmm wonder if we can stay there?)!

We turn down towards the river (The Rhine) and then up a narrow street to get to their house. It is amazingly beautiful and we think that maybe we should be staying here in Königswinter instead of Köln - its a bugger that we only have a year and have to make such choices :(

Felicitas and her mother Martina and father Matthias greet us warmly. Felicitas and her dad speak good English and her mum some English, but she understands more. With Felicitas translating we have a great night. A tour of their home also shows us how much work they have done since Gen was here - it is large by European standards and has lots of open airy spaces - so nice. The house itself dates back to the early 1800s.

HOME COOKING - can't beat it. While we love the great restaurant food we are having, there is nothing better that having a home-cooked meal in a family home. And the ladies have prepared a veritable feast. We have spinach quiche and one with sausage and cheese, tomato and mozzarella with the yummiest balsamic sauce, lots of fresh vege sticks (celery, khol rabi, carrot, spring onion, capsicum) with a variety of dips, a plate of cold meats that the Germans do so well, cheese and fruits and breads. Felicitas' good friend Bastion turns up later. Gen has met him when she was here all those years ago.

We drink bottle after bottle of their neighbour's white wine - gosh it is so easy to drink. Encouraged by Bastion, I even taste the local Köln beer Kölsch - and it really is not too bad at all - maybe I could get used to this one! Light in taste and not too bitter. We show them the latest photos of the family including the most-beautiful-little-girl-in-the-world, and photos of our house - we had not realised just how much work we have done to it since Felicitas left 6 years ago -my god, where has that time gone!

Finally, knowing that they all have to work tomorrow, we make our goodbyes just before 1 am promising to try to get back before we leave for home. Felicitas and Bastion are off to Tanzania on Saturday for two weeks to visit a good friend. I will pass on my brothers address to here in Ofcolaco in South Africa as well - they are looking to do a bit of travel in the area and have a real humanitarian take on life. Felicitas has just completed her dissertation for university - her studies are in the area of disabled children and her thesis is based around Thalidomide and needs. So now it is 2 am and I need to get some sleep. Believe it or not, Michael is already asleep and snoring soundly behind me. Goodnight!

No comments: