Thursday, September 7, 2017

Everyone and everything was crying

Its always hard to leave loved ones and the end of this trip has been no different. We left Steph and Felix at 7:15 am on Thursday to begin the mammoth trip home.  

Tears all round.

Even the sky is crying. It is the first day of significant rain in our whole trip and for once, it feels justified and real.  We head up into the low cloud hanging over the Rechburg hill behind Straßdorf and into blinding rain and howling wind - a bit like someone wailing.

Over the top, it clears a little, although the going is still slower than normal in morning work traffic.

We are headed to Munich International Airport (Franz Josef Strauß) via Ulm. Somehow, this trip seems to take longer - as though something is holding us back a little.
The traffic while normal for a business day is heavy and we keep pushing on.
We get to Munich Airport at around 9:50 am.  Returning the rental car is an interesting experience here - you drive into a huge underground lot where all the company's cars are received together by an efficient band of  ipad toting young people. Quick checks all round for damage and mileage and a check of fuel and you are asked to "leave the keys in the ignition please" and off you go.

Michael sorts a luggage trolley as we have as much to bring home as we took over!Back through the car rental hall - thank goodness we are not trying to get a car today, there are hundreds of people in multiple queues.

We had discussed upgrading our return flights to business class to try to give us some more space and the hope of some sleep.  I had emailed Thai Airways, but they said it could only be done on the day at check-in. We have a little time to kill, as the check-in desk does not ope until 2.5 hours before departure (it is now 4 hours before). We find a cafe and have one last German meal for breakfast - Weisse Wurst mit Bretzel und Mustard. We added freshly squeezed orange juice to top it off - yummo.

Finally, the check-in counter is open. We walk up to the clerk and tell her we want to enquire about an upgrade to Business Class.  She tickets our economy seats and then sends us to her colleague for the purchase.  Just to make sure that we know how much it will cost, she takes out her mobile phone and calculates the two ticket prices and shows it to us. €2,990  ($4,470.23)  THEN she tells us that this is for the Munich to Bangkok sector only. Egads.  Still, we so need some sleep - neither of us slept well last night. The Clerk is just about to process the new tickets when I had a brainwave and I can't think why I didn't think of it before:
"Is the plane full?" I ask."No", she says "in fact there are about 100 empty seats".  
"Any chance that we can have a spare seat between us then," I ask.
She is very obliging - she gives us seats 40D and 40G which are the two aisle seats in the centre block, and blocks out the two seats between us - effectively giving us 4 seats!!  For free.
Way to go - a $4,470 saving!  

Feeling very pleased with ourselves, we head through security through a maze of walkways and corridors and get to passport control to find only 1.5 gates open. 1.5 because the second one is dealing with people in wheelchairs (any older Indian), families with babies or children, rabbis who refuse to queue like everyone else and the odd person who tries to jump the queue.  This was the most painful part of the process and it takes more than 40 minutes to snake our way through.  Michael stops to get nougat that we couldn't get in Schwäbisch Gmünd and, having coffee, we realise that we still have some unspent Euros. It is better to spend than to lose on the exchange, so we pool it and Michael goes to see what he wants to buy. Came back with a new watch for ME, and nothing for himself. Ahh, love! 💖

Needless to say, we had a comfortable flight and Michael even managed a few good zzzz's.  The service is fabulous and the trip uneventful.  Food was really tasty - complete with real cutlery. I had Chicken in Gravy with Potato and vegetables while Michael chose Pork and Beans with rice and an egg. We both had a small proscuitto salad, pretzel rolls, cheese and crackers and cake.

When we get to Bangkok, we need to transit to our next departure - along with at east half of our flight and many from other flights. One of the very good things about Bangkok Airport is that the signage is really clear in directing you where to go - AND it includes distances so you know how far to your destination!  And unlike our arrival where we had to walk so far, this time it is only 350 m to the transit security check point and then only 400 m to the next gate.  Then down to the gate that is not yet open.  

And the world is still crying. We came in to Bangkok through some pretty impressive storms that included lightening!

And if the first flight was so good, this one was almost the opposite. I will be writing to Thai Airways and pointing out the very significant differences.  The plane is full - in fact I only see two empty seats.

Michael is beginning to look annoyed.  Now that we are on the way home, he just wants to GET home!

We are served breakfast, the same one that we had so recently had on the Munich - Bangkok sector - not a problem, not everyone has come from that flight. No pre-meal drink of water - yes, problem. Cheese omelette, potato cake, chicken sausage and tomato relish. Orange juice, diced fruit (the pineapple and pawpaw (which I don't normally like, were delish), croissant with impossible-to-open butter and jam.

Ten very long hours later - no water offered between meals - in fact no service at all, no working entertainment system, which meant that the lights were dimmed out as soon as breakfast was served - like by 10 am and the heating turned up. Talk about the sweats.  Being crammed,it is hard to sleep. Thankfully, I still had Felix's book and soon finished that.
Later in the flight we got to know three young Italians sitting next to and in front of us. They are coming to Australia for their working holiday year and we chat about their home and ours. They know about couchsurfing, so we expect them to visit us during the year!

Ten VERY LONG HOURS later, we touch down in Sydney.
Donna is meeting us - wonderful.  I sms her to let her know that we need to go through quarantine where, as expected, the painted eggs present a problem - they need to be dipped in some anti-bacterial solution and if we want to keep the egg carton that has protected them thus far, it will cost us $100 to have it treated.  It goes!
The officer is very obliging (although I witness two of her colleagues not as nice). She helps dry and wrap them and even gets us some bubble wrap to help protect them.

Finally, out to Donna and to be greeted with bear hugs. I think that we are all remembering our joint time in Europe all those years ago.
We get out to the car and are whizzed around to the Mecure only a couple of kms from the Airport. Although the waiter at their restaurant is closing, when the manager sees that there are a number of people wanting something to eat or drink, she makes him stay open.
We have a panini and a coffee and then head to the room.  Its now about 9:30 pm and neither of us have had any quality sleep for about 2 days.  we chat with Donna for a little longer and then head to bed.

Tomorrow, the last leg home and then we need to race home from Hervey Bay airport as Bella arrives at 1:30 pm.
Love to all - see you soon.

Another adventure done. 😢

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

All good things . . .

. . . come to those who wait, or come to an end.
Our six weeks whirlwind visit back to Germany has come to an end tonight. We celebrated our time here by cooking dinner for Steph, Felix and some of their extended family.

But not before we did some last minute touring and buying today.
Firstly Steph, Mathilda and I head out to buy meat and fruit and veges for dinner. We have decided on devils on horseback (my version: dates stuffed with goats cheese, wrapped in speck and oven baked) as an entree then roast beef with gravy, mixed roast vegetables (potatoes, butternut and jap pumpkins, carrots, spanish onions) and zucchini. We will finish with the Persian Love Cake.

The local butcher did a fabulous job of trimming the silverside roast of every bit of sinew and fat. Just over 3 kgs should feed the 13 of us and maybe have a bit left over for Steph's freezer.  And it did!
Back to Edeka and then home to cook.
Started off with the cake and then thanks to Steph's two ovens put on the roast!  
We had some lunch -  flammkuchen made by Steph (dough with fried ham, eschallots mixed in to creme fraiche and spread over and baked - BIG yum). Cake is out and the syrup applied so we then decided to head into town for one last visit.  

We had long looked at a church on the opposite ridge but had not yet had a chance to visit it. On quizzing Steph and Felix, they tell us that this the St Salvator Chapel site and that it is accessed by a not insignificant climb up the hill.
Michael heads off to explore while I wait below.  This pilgrimage site is a traditional crossroads with sculptures and chapel houses with life-size figures leading up to the St.Salvator pilgrimage site. 
The church sanctuary, the St. Salvator Chapel, was built by the church builder Caspar Vogt after 1617. He built existing cave grottoes into a lower and upper chapel.  All very dramatic Michael reports, but also very popular as I observe a number of groups exiting the route while I wait.
Michael also discovered a little carved man in his own little niche!

Back into the city proper.  Past the 'Spongebob Squarepants' building - the Gold and Silver Forum that doesn't try to meld into the surrounding building types!

Over the past six weeks we have been past a Jewellery store very regularly. And for the better part of those six weeks, I have been admiring a particular necklace and debating with myself whether I (i) need it or (ii) want it enough to buy it.
Well, today I did!!
Went into Delta Schmuckgestaltung  and asked to see it.  The jeweller was on hand to tell me about it -including that it is two necklaces, not one.  "Really", I said, "they look so good together".  Her reply?  "Yes - I thought so too when I put them in the window!"  Martina Peter-Eckle has been a jeweller for more than 30 years and trained here in Schwäbisch Gmünd. The City has a history of gold and silver smithing for jewellery that dates back to medieval times.  Martina is thrilled that some of her work is travelling home to Australia with us.  She also gives us complimentary key-rings - a really lovely touch.
So a few euros poorer, but very happy with my double purchase, we leave to stock up on Hussell nougat to bring home.  Sorry guys - they are out of the one I wanted - will try at the airport.

Back to Stephs about 4 pm and I adjust the roasting meat temp and prep the vegetables and get them into the other oven.  Cake now cold enough to ice.  Gravy made.  All ready to go.

The family arrives just before 6 pm.
Felix's dad Dieter, Steph's aunt Olga and uncle Rudi, Steph's cousin Ulli, her husband Andy and their twins Mara and Anneka.  We remember them as the 8 year old little girls we met last visit - they are now confident young women of 17!

Dinner was a huge success and Michael is finishing packing the suitcases as I write.

Steph and Felix have done a great job of renovating an old home into a modern living space for an active family. It was lovely cooking in a very up-to-date kitchen too!

Tomorrow morning we will leave by 7:30 am to drive to Munich and board our Thai Airways flight home. Wonder how much an upgrade to Business might cost? Will ask in the morning.
A couple of long days ahead before we are home.

Hope you have enjoyed travelling with us!

Monday, September 4, 2017

There's a little place called Ludwigsburg

Ludwigsburg is about an hour from Schwäbisch Gmünd. Well, it is normally, IF there are no
roadworks and IF there are no Umleitung (detours) and IF those Umleitung don't confuse you and you set off in the wrong direction!  En-route to our destination, we came across a familiar logo - yes, the local Rotary Club in Schwäbisch Gmünd is also passionate about ending polio!
Anyway, today we decided to visit the Ludwigsburg Residential Palace. Steph had taken Mum and I when we visited here in 2006, but Michael had never seen it - and it really is worth the seeing.

The first palace on the site was constructed from 1704 onwards. It was intended as a hunting lodge for Duke Eberhard Ludwig. In 1718, however, when Ludwigsburg became the Duke’s principal place of residence, he sought a more fitting reflection of his power and prestige. The impressive structure was completed in 1733. Today, it is one of the few Baroque buildings to have survived the tumultuous history of the last centuries almost unscathed. This truly palatial complex stands out not just for its impressive size, but also for its sumptuous interiors. It also features a unique blend of three quite different architectural styles: Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassicism.

BUT that is not all.
The Ludwigsburg Residential Palace sits in some of the most impressive gardens you will ever see. 

Even before you get to the entrance, the floral displays lining the outer fences and walls bring anticipation of what we might find inside.
Surrounding the palace on three sides is the massive, 32 hectares Blooming Baroque garden, or in German, "Blühendes Barock." 

Our entrance tickets at €18 each is one of the more expensive entrance tickets we have had to buy over the last six weeks - BUT, I know it will be worth it!
Just the view of the Palace from the entrance gates is mind blowing.  It is huge with stunning gardens, water features and statuary - all before you get in!  The cottage garden beds lining the walk from the entrance gate into the grounds feature stunning dahlias - Dad's favourite flowers.

We wander from garden to garden eagerly drinking in the sites and reveling in beautiful symmetry, gorgeous fountains and stunning statues.  The Rose Garden, like all the gardens is 'walled' within a hedge.  You step into it and immediately are hit with the scent of thousands of roses - it was such a sensory delight.  Will have to let the gardeners back home that take care of the Maryborough Rose Gardens know - too bad I could not capture the scent to share with them.  I really think that the hedge held the scents in!

We wander in and out, making our way to the Garden Cafe where we dined under the canopy of trees with me having the last of the wurst for our trip. Tomorrow, we begin the preparations for our departure for home!  We had the most amazing freshly squeezed orange juice that had all the taste of the fruit grown on the site - and this rivaled even the magnificent juice we get from the oranges from Gayndah back home.   Funny thing was, that even though there we plenty of the wasps around - they didn't wan't that orange juice - just all the sugary carbonated drinks others were drinking around us. Just as well, because they were not getting any of mine! Coffee and cake followed before we resumed our explorations.

As we walked back through a grove of trees under-planted by beds of tuberous begonias, I could't believe the size of the blossoms. To show you the scale, I got Michael to put his Akubra hat in front of the bed - huge, aren't they! 
And at the moment, the gardens are hosting two very special events - one is an impressive display of sand sculptures - including one by the Australian sand sculptor - Kevin Crawford - but the more interesting display is the annual (largest in the world) Pumpkin Festival in the Lower East Garden.
And I mean large.
There are literally thousands of  pumpkins lining the walkways to the exhibit - yes, literally, thousands - I can count more that 700 just in one view!
This year, the theme is Rome and the exhibits all relate to that theme.  Take a look at some of the amazing displays.

There was Asterix fighting a Roman and his side-kick Obelisk nearby,  two gladiators fighting, the Roman 'turtle' that famous Roman army formation invented by Julius Caesar, a charioteer, an Aquaduct and King Neptune complete with a lightning bolt!

On the return to the stunning parterre garden, Michael picked up a couple of pumpkins - a Butternut and something akin to a Jap - to roast for the family dinner tomorrow night!

Once we had done with the gardens and the special displays, we headed in to the Palace itself and joined the last tour of the day. Well, for a while, WE were the last tour for the day and our elderly but informative guide began our tour in perfect English. Unfortunately for us, a German family came in and as the tour was advertised as a German speaking tour, he had to revert. But with the consent of the others, he doubled up, delivering his interesting commentary in both languages. Was a little absent minded - more than once, he told us something in English then relayed it in German, only to then repeat the same in English again!

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take the camera inside, but to describe it in brief:

  • 432 rooms
  • largest chandelier weighs 48 ton (a full tour of people standing below it and all clapping at the same time can make this chandelier 'sing')
  • there are series of three staircases - the king's/queen's, the knight's and the servants
  • the knights hall now houses a chapel where for €180 you can be married or have your child baptised.  This was where the King knighted the members he appointed to his Order of the Golden Eagle
  • Eberhard Ludwig, Duke of Württemberg, who commissioned the construction was a big man - 210 cm and 200 kgs!  You should see the size of his throne!  The future kings of Württemberg in turn ignored and restored and further developed the Palace
  • the mirror room once had mirrors on the floors as well as the walls and ceilings, but when tours of the Palace commenced in 1906, the ladies complained and so the mirrors on the floor were removed (think about it).  Mirrors were a sign of wealth and to have one mirror was special.  The Palace has 147 in this room alone.
We finally left the Palace after 6 pm and as I was worried that some of the internal gates might have been closed (parts of it shut at 5 pm), we had to return to the car the long way around the exterior of the Palace compound via the streets of Ludwigsburg. My feet are absolutely killing me now.  We have walked about 10kms!

We program Google Maps to direct us back to Schwäbisch Gmünd, only to have it advise us that due to heavy traffic there are long delays. Do we want to take an alternate route to save 25 minutes?   Bloody oath we do!

We stop off at Edeka (a supermarket) so I can buy some drinks to bring home as they are cheaper than duty free.  Finally reach the house a few minutes before 8 pm. Knackered, but happy!

Panzer!!! and a few other mechanical things thrown in for good measure

3 September 2017
Weekends tend to be more laid back here - just like at home.
Mathilda had a sleepover for a friends birthday last night, so this morning, Felix and Niklas headed together as father and son to the Backerii for our breakfast fare - this time croissants, pretzels and rolls.  Served with Apricot jam from Romania, rosehip jam (which is lovely as it is not so sweet - anyone at home got any rosehips I can make jam with??), Fruits of the Forest and the ever present Nutella.

About 10:30 the young one arrives home with excited news of staying up until midnight and all the 'special stuff' they did.  Now comes the decision for the day - to swim or not to swim?

The indoor pools here in Schwäbisch Gmünd are closed at the moment, but it is 'known' that the 'nearby' pool at Schorndorf is open.  So off Felix and the little ones go!  Steph will take the opportunity to have a bit of a rest and Michael and I are off to the Panzer Show at Seifertshofen today.  

Well, Michael is off to the Show, I'll read a book while he attends - I have NO interest in seeing panzers, tractors or any other mechanical beast. Steph and Felix have lent me a novel in English - Silence of the Grave - by an Icelandic author - a murder mystery in the genre of Patricia Cornwell - so I sit in the car, in the last of the summer sun and read.

Coming through the town of Eschach near our destination, we know we are on the right route.  Love how the Germans (and the French) use their roundabouts as artistic display areas!  As we get closer to the venue, we are starting to wonder whether it has finished early as there is a procession of tractors leaving - turns out, the tractor pull was done!
We park in a recently harvested corn field -maybe the tractors have run over the field first, but those 12 inches of remaining stalks claw very hard at the underneath of the car.

Michael sets off.  I lay the seat back and then hope that the idiot flying the helicopter doing joy flights doesn't come crashing down on me - he is doing some badass crazy moves for a helicopter.

The show finishes at 3 pm and by 2:30 pm Michael is back at the car.

The main event was the tank display where 5 tanks paraded through the muddy arena in front of an enthusiastic crowd,displaying their power and manouverability. They powered up, sped past, came to screaming stops and climber over the remains of vehicles smashed under wheels and tracks.

The event also included that tractor pull that we missed, static displays of war weaponry and might, aircraft and non-military farming and recreational vehicles. Michael was perturbed at the fact that with the aircraft in particular, the crowds were allowed to climb all over them and even in to the cockpits.

He reckons that the Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum could teach these guys a thing or two about storing and displaying exhibits!
There was also the obligatory 'flea market' with bric-a-brac that included military memorabilia and a working forge.
We headed back the 15 kms to Schwäbisch Gmünd, coming in to the City from the opposite ridge. It really is such a pretty City. Steph had told us of an old church that was near the tunnel that now carries the autobahn traffic under rather than through the City. Today brings us right past it, so around the next roundabout I go and we head back to take a look.

St Leonhard's no longer appears to be used, but it is a stunning example of church architecture. There is mention of the current church as early as 1345, although in its current baroque form it dates to the mid 1700's.  The main link for this church is the adjoining cemetery - Leonhardsfriedhof - the earliest headstone we found was dated 1696 although the earliest recorded funeral is 1477.  In 1542, the plague hit and the cemetery was enlarged and in 1622, it was enlarged again.  After WWII, the cemetery could not be further expanded and a new cemetery was opened.  Leonhardsfriedhof is characterised by its mature trees, garden bed graves and military plots.

Near it stands the Herrgottsruhkapelle, a chapel that we think must be akin to our very own Mortuary Chapel back home. 

Coffee and apfel strudel in Schwäbisch Gmündfor afternoon tea - now THAT is a strudel - look at all those layers of apple! before heading for 'home' to Xaver-Bader Straße and barbeque for dinner.
Chevappi, steaks, 'kebab' (thin strips of meat laid with ham and pinwheel rolled on to skewers), barbequed corn, eggplant and garlic bread all balanced with a salad on the back patio in the last of the summer twilight.
Life is good!