Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A quiet day doing domestic stuff.

Up early to get Steph to the hospital on time.
There are a lot of roadworks (what is new) and so we need to make some significant detours.  It feels like it takes forever - can only imagine how poor Steph was feeling.

We come home and Michael walks up to the local Bäckerei and for a change, buys croissants. Croissants and coffee. Yummo.
When we get back, the men are here fitting the external venetians on the bottom floor windows. This, combined with the electrics that Tomas completed last weekend while we are away, the towel rails and the hanging of the paintings and photos by Felix and Steph brings more and more closure to the move into their home. Its looking good guys, really good.

Michael puts a load of washing on (the laundry is down in the basement).
I checked this morning. We can bring a total of 4.5 litres of alcohol home, but only 50 grams plus two open packets of tobacco / cigarettes. Poor Michael.
I'll be up to Edeka later in the week to buy some of both!!

We are heading back to the hospital as soon as the workers finish so we can be near for when Steph is discharged and she doesn't need to wait too long.  The children are visiting Oma and Opa and will come home Thursday or Friday morning - depending on how Steph does post surgery.

We make a short stop at the "Himmelsgarten" of the Landesgartenschau - the site that hosted the State Horticultural Show in Schwäbisch Gmünd in 2014. Michael climbed the 38.6m tower (of course) and got some pretty nice photos of the surrounding village and countryside. There are also some really pretty cows with lots of small calves nearby.

We eventually collect Steph about 2:30 pm and Michael takes a walk to the supermarket to get supplies for a stir-fry for dinner.  In fact, I'm about to go get it now.
Cya later guys.

Travelling almost the length of Germany

Yesterday was a huge travelling day.
Normally we avoid the autobahn's at all costs - in fact our Google Maps and GPS are permanently set to 'avoid motorways', but we needed to get from Hamburg in the far north back down to Steph at Schwäbisch Gmünd within the day.

Google Earth says it is 733 kms and will take 7 hrs and 7 minutes - but it does not compensate for the roadworks and their associated crawls.
We left Hamburg at 9:20 am and hit roadworks almost straight away. Once we were through the other side, the traffic thinned and knowing how many lots of roadworks that we hot going north and travelling across the north, when I get the chance, I let the Ford Focus have its head and open the speedup.  Not too many opportunities to hit 160 kph at home! 😉
Still, with the plentiful roadworks it takes us until 6:15 pm to get back to Schwäbisch Gmünd - a trip of 9 hours with two stops totalling less than an hour combined.

And today was the day that I had the camera in my handbag when I went to the loo and could get a photo of the self-cleaning toilets! When you flush, this mechanism comes out from the unit and the toilet seat rotates as it washes and squeegees 'dry' the seat.  If there is a queue and you go straight in, you need to remember to wipe the seat dry or you can end up with wet britches!! 

The scenery changes from the flat north through the rolling hills and soon we  are again travelling in the hillier areas of central to southern Germany.  We traverse areas of crops and then of course the vineyards with their crops hatching up and down the hillsides to make the most of the sun in their growing season.

The farmers are rushing to harvest and store their crops - the further south we get, the more has been reaped.  And with planned bad weather this weekend, I guess that they are also trying to beat the predicted rain from Thursday.

We are constantly amazed at the number of trucks that move cargo across Europe - given their great rail systems. And as we have experienced before, most of them are from Eastern Europe - they undercut the western Europe rates and still make a better living than in the east.  Thankfully, the worst of the traffic is travelling in the other direction for the entire journey.

There are walking paths a-plenty and good parking facilities provided also.  Every 10 kms there are rest areas complete with toilets and picnic tables. Basic, but there.  And at least every 50 kms there is a fuel station complete with eating house AND self-cleaning toilets that you pay 70€ cents.  You get a voucher for 50 € cents back to redeem on a purchase in the shop!

Closer to home we pass through tunnels through the hills, rather than winding roads over - a nice change.

And close to Schwäbisch Gmünd there is the tell-tale sign for the Besen - where the local vineyards can operate a restaurant on site for a couple of weeks so long as they sell food only that they grow on their property.

Not too much else to see as the autobahn has higher guard rails - can only imagine the carnage that would happen in a crash - and if you think that I was going fast, some traffic passed me doing twice my speed.  Didn't drive more than about 140 kph for most of the trip because at speeds higher than that, you can almost hear the car guzzling the fuel!

Totally done by the time we reach Steph and Felix.
We went back down the hill to the Hotel Krone for dinner last night. We go here because we can get traditional Schwäbian food.

Was delicious. Steph and I chose schnitzels, Felix had roast and Michael had the venison. All with potatoes or Spätzle - 'little sparrow' pasta.

Not a late night - we are tired and Steph is booked in for a medical procedure and must be at the hospital by 7:30 am. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Water and Eis

Hamburg is a major port city in northern Germany, and connected to the North Sea by the Elbe River. It's crossed by hundreds of canals, and also contains large areas of parkland. For more information check out

Markus works for Customs here at the port and was proud as punch to show us a copy of the local newspaper last night that highlighted the recent haul of 3.8 tonnes of cocaine with a street value of €800 million found in a container packed with BBQ brickettes.

This morning we all slept in a little later, children included! We shared a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, rolls and meats and cheeses and pickled cucumber and honey - strange but oh so good.  I'll make some when I get home. Today Markus and Inga have suggested that we all go by train into Hamburg (because with the present roadworks around the city, the traffic and parking will be a real problem) and spend the day near and on the Elbe River and visiting a new park for the children to play.  I gave Finn a couple of euros to buy his eis (ice-cream) today so he is excited.

We leave here about 12 noon with Michael and Markus walking the children to the station while Inga and I drove down.  It took all of 3 minutes in the car and perhaps 5 minutes more to walk. We parked very close to the station in a free area. The all day group ticket that covered the train and ferries (and buses if we wanted to use them) that covered all 6 of us cost less than €20!  Bargain.
At the main station, we come across the statue of the water carrier - a former Hamburg resident that carried water for a living.  Young children used to tease him and because he could not chase or smack them he would famously say "you can lick my a**e"!
Photo opportunity for Michael of course.

The train takes 30 minutes into the main station in Hamburg and we then change to a U-Bahn (Metro) train for a further 3 stops which puts us very close to this new playground. It is a combined playground and water park that friends had told them about - and Finn in particular just loved it here. We drank coffee while he played to his hearts delight in the water and sand and genuinely enjoyed ourselves too. Later we went to an ice-cream shop that Markus sometimes visits from work. You choose your ice cream and a number of toppings and they are then all mixed together.  We had vanilla ice-cream with cherry sauce, cornetto chips and white chocolate flakes - SO GOOD.  Finn bought his kinder (child) sized vanilla with cornetto flakes. Lena being a baby was just happy to be in the sun, well fed and being ogled at by us all.
We were all happy.  We are now sitting harbour-side and looking across to the ports where Markus works. He explains about the traffic light system of coding ships depending on their origin and some of the ways that drugs, or cigarettes, are hidden. Very interesting.

From here we then walked around to the other side of the harbour to catch a ferry up the Elbe. One ferry takes us half-way and before we board the next ferry to take us to the mouth of the river, we stop to have 'fish burgers'. 

This is Markus favourite and he chooses the Bismark - which is basically rollmops and pickled onions and peppers, I have the walnut bread with smoked salmon and cream cheese, Inga has the Thunfish toast and Michael ordered the Merlan fish (whiting) that was served warm.
We ordered frites for Finn, but most were eaten by the adults!

The Salmon was great, Michael enjoyed his Merlan and Inga said the Thunfish was great. But Markus, well, he relished that burger though none of the rest of us could stomach the thought of it.  We had lemon and mint water - but were badly disappointed after the amazing ones we had in Romania. 

We tried to catchup with another couchsurfer - Anya today who is also living in Hamburg, but her plans and ours just didn't mesh. Oh well, next visit!

We spent the afternoon on and off ferries and walking through parts of old Hamburg around the docks. Fascinating and really gorgeous architecture. We are waiting for the ferry to begin the trip home and I commented to Inga how lovely the light is at this time of the day when the shadows lengthen and the harsh rays of light are gone. Thinking it was about 5, we are horrified to find that it is now 6:40 pm.  No wonder the children are tiring (and me!)

We head for the station - about 200m Markus assures us.  Huh. Maybe as the crow flies. We actually walked about 2.5 kms!  Inga reminded me that when they travelled in Australia, Markus favourite saying was that it was "just around the corner" or "not far to walk" and it didn't seem to matter how far it was.  Told him later that his sense of distance was totally crap!!!

Still, it has been a great day.  We had planned crepes for dinner, but the consensus on the way home that delivered pizza was to be the order of the night!  Easy, quick and we could order it en-route so that we could eat soon after we get here.  Great idea as we are all knackered.

We got some great pics - I'll put some more up on FB.
Tired as now at 12:17am and needing to go to bed as we have a 7 - 8 hour drive back to Steph and Felix tomorrow.

So Inga and Markus have had their first couchsurfers (literally).
All worked out very well indeed.  Guess we will have to leave a very positive comment!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Off to Hamburg where our international family grows!

Inga and Markus had stayed with us as couchsurfers a number of times from 2010 to 2014. They are a really lovely couple that we have become very fond of. So when the decision was taken to attend Anne and Steve's wedding in northern Germany, we could not pass up the chance to dive across and meet the additions to their family - Finn now 2 and Lena, 3 months.  It was also a chance to meet Inga's parents with whom we had communicated following their crash in New Zealand.

Its too bad that we don't have a bit more time - Rich and Lou fly out this evening and are keen to try out that Michelin starred restaurant, but we really need to be on the road by noon in case the traffic is bad to Hamburg and Inga and Markus. And we skirt around the outskirts of Bremen - a city we have not yet visited. Oh well, next time!

Slept in until after 8, re-packed bags so we can just take the essentials in at Hamburg, and left to go to the aftermath breakfast at 9:45. There was no parking in the hotel lot when we got back here last night, but Michael went for a smoke walk later and found that someone had left, so we moved the car closer. Good one.

We head off to the Luethemuehle with Lou and Rich who got in about 1 am and were woken with the Liverpudlian revellers arriving back at the hotel to watch the boxing around 4 am. By 5 Rich had had enough and told them so!
They are flying out late this afternoon, but need to check out of the hotel at the same time as us. We throw all the luggage in the car (Gen, you are forgiven -you travel light compared to them!!) and when we get to the Luethemuehle there are heaps of others who are also carting luggage.

Anne Blythe (not the actress!) met us at the door. She looks remarkably together for a bride who will have got little sleep. She tells us the Steve and she managed to get to bed around 4 am, but that the last guests didn't leave the venue until 7 am!  Guess that they will be coming later to breakfast!!
Breakfast - OMG - what a breakfast. Remember that they are catering to to tastes and two cultures, so there was everything from cereal, fruits, yoghurt, croissants and pastries, scrambled eggs and bacon, boiled eggs and the usual spread of breads, rolls, cheeses, meats, and salad fare for the Germans (and us!)

We stayed until noon and then began to leave, saying goodbyes all round.  We have got to the car when Johannes comes running out - he wants a photo with us taken on his phone!
We manage to leave about 12:15 and head to the east. The next small town we drive through is Hinsbeck, bedecked in red and white bunting with ribbons tied on the street trees - we wonder whether there is a wedding or some other event, and then come across cyclists that appear to be in a race - also dressed in red and white - so guess that is our answer.

The trip planner tells us we have a drive of just over 4 hours so I send Inga a message saying to expect us around 5.  Got to stop doing that - it was 5:30 when we got here.  Made on stop for fuel and currywurst and then hit roadworks.
A group of bikers on trikes are motoring along - the only one we could get a clear photo of was the one who had raced on ahead and was now pulled over waiting for the rest of the gang.  And the rest stops are all named - Michael takes a particular liking to this one!

The country in the north is flat - there are no mountains and really no hills to talk of either. We are driving clear across the region of Neidersachsen. Solar energy is the order of the day and there are lots of properties (farms) where the roof of every building is covered in solar panels. We even pass one building whose roof is made of solar panels, but taken through the windscreen, the photo is not clear.

This region reminds me quite a bit of home. There are forests of pine trees - the wind must be strong here because many of them are bent from the prevailing winds, interspersed with wheat crops - okay, so we have sugar, they had wheat. And as we are further north, the crops are just coming to full ripeness and not yet harvested.

We again hit roadworks around Bremen - a city we have not yet had the chance to explore - another visit maybe; and the trip in to Hamburg is slower with yet more roadworks. Its about now that Optus decides that we have had enough international roaming and cuts off internet access.  Not sure what made me do it, but when we stopped, I downloaded the directions from Google Maps offline. At least we can follow those - and despite the many roadworks we make it to Inga and Markus' home first try!

It was so nice to see them again and meet their little family.  Finn is shy at first, but a toy whale soon has him making friends with us. Baby Lena is now 3 months and really happily comes to me.  We also get to meet in person Inga's Mum Anne and her father Rainer who we had been in touch with when Inga and Markus came to us after a crash in New Zealand. It was like old times chatting and sharing cakes made by Anne - including the most divine Portugese Egg Tarts - she has promised me the recipe.

We share lasagne cooked by Markus for dinner and then head to bed on their couch - yes, we have come full circle.  

Off to Hamburg tomorrow.  See you afterwards.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Weddings in Germany

Weddings anywhere are special.
In Germany, they tend to be rather extended events and Anne and Steve have planned a three day extravaganza.
The itinerary reads:
  • Friday - Letsch - the getting to know everyone
  • Saturday - Wedding Ceremony and Celebration
  • Sunday - Frühstück - German Breakfast - the Aftermath

We are ensconced in the Hotel Stadt Lobberich where the Friday night party happened.  The wedding and the breakfast are about a 10 minute drive away at Lüthemühle - a guest house come horse farm.

Anne and Steve have kindly prepared information booklets for their guests and this comes in very handy when deciding what to do to have a look around this morning. Firstly, we head to a small cafe around the corner for brunch - Anne tells us that Lobberich has a real breakfast culture and that many cafes serve it until 11 am. I ordered the Mittleres Frühstück (Medium breakfast) while Michael ordered the Gourmetfrühstück (Gourmet breakfast). Michael's was definitely enough for two people - Michael and Michael of course, and he still had room to polish the balance of mine off. They were huge. I enjoyed his Prosecco, he enjoyed half of my breakfast!
We walked it all off afterwards. I bought a coin purse and transferred my coins from a little gift bag, finally, strolled through town taking a few pics. Michael called by one of the local supermarkets for more water for the car. We drank all we had yesterday in the crawl!

Lobberich is the largest small town in the Nettetal region (population just under 14,000), but still boasts some local points of worthy note:

  • the beautiful late Victorian Katholic Pfaffkirche St Sebastian
  • A former Burg (castle) that dates back to 1700 and now houses a Michelin Starred Restaurant
  • gigantic sequoia trees in the local parks and a nearby Sequoia Farm where they are cultivated and researched
  • An active horse community
  • some stunning examples of local architecture sitting very comfortably within a new community

We get ready for the wedding in a sticky heat that sees Michael put on his shirt, take his shirt off, dry off, talc up and put his shirt back on. Anne and Steve have stipulated that their wedding is a no tie event, so thankfully, he can dispense with that. Still, he is very warm and his shirt is already quite damp.
I contemplate whether I will tempt fate with makeup, and decide that I will at least start out wearing some. I have a new outfit so it is worth the effort. 

Last night we had met and spent some time with two of Anne and Steve's neighbours from St Ives just outside Cambridge. Lou and Rich and Kim and Keith are lovely and we enjoyed a few drinks and a good number of laughs with them. As we leave to drive over to the wedding venue, Lou, Rich and Keith are waiting for a taxi that doesn't eventuate, so we all squeeze into the Ford Focus (actually it really wasn't all that bad). Kim had gone over earlier to help put the finishing touches to the venue setup and to help Anne get ready.

There is also a contingent of young Australians that Anne and Steve met while working in Griffith who are now England based - so the Aussies were pretty well represented! One heads home soon while Lochie and Karen have only recently arrived and are moving to Edinburgh soon.

The venue is lovely. It is primarily a horse stud I think and they have developed a restaurant and guest house as well. We are welcomed with the first of many drinks and walk around the restaurant to identify where we are sitting. Wow, with the neighbours right in front of the wedding table. We are privileged!

The wedding celebrant welcomes all in German and very good English - when we asked Steve how long the service would last, he had replied about an hour.  Of course it was, because everything needed to be said twice!  The 120 guests were seated under two very substantial marquees waiting for Anne's arrival. Now, she is a super organised planner sort of person and was fretting that she was going to be late. Took a but of convincing, we are told, to accept that it is the 'normal' thing for the Bride to be a few minutes late!

The outdoor area for the wedding celebration is adjacent to the stables and some of these beautiful horses were ready to take part as well - the venue actually offered Anne the opportunity to arrive on horseback (nope, not in a carriage - on the back of the horse!) which she declined - smart woman!

Anne arrives on the arm of her father Michel sans any attendants, the combined German/English service happens and finally Steve and Anne are husband and wife.
They go off to have photos taken and the guests move to the courtyard for more drinks and chats.

When they return, we all adjourn to the Restaurant inside for the wedding feast. And yes, that is exactly what it was. We started with Devils on Horseback, divine little egg tarts, olives and bread with tomato relish and mayonnaise.

This was followed by a buffet dinner that included all sorts of barbequed meats plus fish, rice, salads and the ever present chips!

The head table consisted of Anne and Steve and their parents and Anne's brother Johannes and his partner Tanya.

There are the speeches with Steve doing a great delivery in English and German and as a surprise to Steve, Anne's dad replied in German and English - pretty amazing as he doesn't speak English. He received a deserved standing ovation. The largest contingent at the wedding is Steve's very extended, very close English family, so the effort made by all to include both German and English was appreciated by all there.

Eventually, the first married dance took place with the two of them practicing for months we were told.
We took our leave as boogeying was getting on.
We have another sizeable drive tomorrow to Inga and Markus place in Hamburg - predictably a 4.5 hour trip.

But first we head over for the 'Aftermath' breakfast, taking Lou and Rich with us. we hope to hit the road by noon.