Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Another traveling day AKA on the road again

Waiting for the train to Berlin
Today was Saturday, a traveling day and we were off to take the ICE train from Berlin to Hannover. We were up early and packed after another hearty breakfast we went with D and the kids to the train stop. The ride in was uneventful and suddenly there we were on a train platform with D and the kids saying our goodbyes with lots of hugs and kisses. 

The ICE train pulled in and we climbed aboard. It took a bit but we found our seats and got settled in. A final wave at D and the kids as the train pulled out and we were on our way. The train hadn't been moving for a minute when a guy walked by stopped and looked out at the moving countryside. That's when he cursed in German and stormed off. My wife told me that his issue was he had put his grandmother aboard and after getting her seated was about to get off when the train pulled out.

Look at the speed on the lower
left corner of the screen, yes
that's 249 KPH
The ICE train is cool and with the exception of aircraft it was the fastest mode of travel we had undertaken on the trip. The train speeds for the trip hovered around two hundred and fifty KPH. While seated we struck up a conversation with two women who were seated facing us. It turned out that I had mistakenly taken one of their seats but they were OK with it since they had taken one of our seats.

Sooner than I expected the train was pulling into Hannover and we were up, bags in hand heading for the exit. A short time later we found our new hosts M&U and were headed for their car. The original game plan was to stop off at an artificial lake named Maschsee. Of course there was a major soccer game that evening so it was impossible to find a parking spot. Going with plan B we struck out for M&U's place.

Catching up
M&U have a very nice home in a tiny village that's part of Hannover, think suburbia but nicer. We only had the one night stay with M&U so we tried to get as much living in as we could. It all started with dragging out photo albums and reminiscing then we were out in their garden sipping our drinks and relaxing.

Around sunset we went in for dinner which was a lovely goulash with several glasses of red wine. After dinner the conversations kept up and M, who likes whisky as much as I do, offered me a wee dram. One thing I should mention is that these days I'm a cheap drunk. One of the medications I take makes the alcohol go right to my head. Anyway... After a beer, a couple of glasses of red wine and two or three glasses of scotch I was God's own drunk.

Back yard chickens for the eggs
The next morning we were up packed and sitting at the breakfast table by nine thirty. Once again breakfast was buns, cold cuts, cheese and that wonderful strong German coffee. After breakfast we went for a walk, there was an election and M&U wanted to cast their ballots. One thing I noticed while walking through the village was how many homes had livestock in their back yards. It's only now that this practice is coming into vogue back home.

The original plan was for our next host (F&M) to drive over to M&U's place and pick us up. Just after eating we were sitting around jawing when the phone rang. Over at F&M's place there was a plumbing emergency so the time table was now out the window. Several phone calls later it was decided that M would take us in his car to the half way point and we would meet there for a hand off. This would save F&M around an hour and a half driving.  

On the Autobahn with F at the helm
Off we went and before we knew it we were at a truck stop exchanging hugs with F&M. After the obligatory cup of strong black coffee we said our goodbyes and were in the back of F&M's SUV. We arrived at their place on the outskirts of a town named Werl a couple of hour later and proceeded to get settled in.

Well that's it for this episode, stay tuned for more tomorrow.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Zellendorf, where the streets have no name*

When we arrived at the schloss from the airport it was the start of our first day in Zellendorf and was all quiet. A short time later the quiet was brushed aside when PB's two young twin girls returned from school and started running around the house. It was nice that when the little ladies came home they were all over us like white on rice. We had brought them presents from our sis-in-law for her God daughter and from us to our God daughter. The kids loved them.

My gift from PB
The date was Monday the ninth which back home in Canada was Thanksgiving. That evening we didn't have a turkey for dinner, we sat down to dish called rouladen. It is a very traditional German dish that I happen to love. Rouladen for me has a special connection to my late mother-in-law and eating it brought back a lot of good memories. 

After dinner we gave our hosts PB and his wife D gifts which they liked and much to my surprise PB presented me with a fine bottle of Irish Whisky. We talked well into the evening catching up on all the family gossip until finally our beds called and we ended the day.

The next day saw us sleeping in until around eight thirty. By the time we had hauled our butts out of bed the kids were off to school and D was working. We sat down to a typical German breakfast. There was an assortment of cold cut meats, cheeses and buns plus the ever present strong hot coffee I've come to love. The day was set aside for recovery, my back was still killing me.That evening after another tasty meal we sat around and jawed about all sorts of things. Once again I was surprised at the depth of knowledge PB has about world affairs.

The universal translator
The next day PB took pity on us and had nothing really planned. The only thing on the agenda was at the end of the kids school day my wife and I went in with PB to pick them up. It was a command performance, the two girls wanted to show off their Canadian aunt and uncle to the other kids. That evening D's mother and father dropped by. While my wife is fluent in German I'm not. After learning that D's dad liked spirits I dragged out the Irish and poured him and I a wee dram. We sat there with whisky acting as a universal translator and had a grand old time. At the end of the evening he and I were feeling no pain, laughing like we had known each other for years.

On Thursday we were up with the sun because we had a mission. PB was taking us by train into Berlin for some sightseeing and a bit off shopping. The train stop was a short walk from the schloss and stopped every hour. After a hearty breakfast we caught the nine twenty and were off on our adventure.

I've got to say that the Germans do the train thing right. The stop we got on at had no ticket seller. When we boarded a conductor cam by and PB paid for a group ticket. The ticket was for the three of us and covered a day of train use so we could hop on and hop off where ever we chose if we wanted to. The price of the fare for all of us was about the same as a one way trip for two on the Go Train.

Kids play area
at the mall
Once in Berlin we visited one of the mega malls for a look see. The Mall of Berlin was a very cool place to visit with all sorts of great deals. When we got to the food area I scarfed down an order of currywurst and pommes frites with mayonnaise. I know fries with mayonnaise sounds nasty but don't knock it if you haven't tried it. 

We explored a bit more then sat down and had an ice cream. With the ice cream scarfed down and our feet almost walked off we headed for home.

Afternoon snack

Friday saw us attending a recital where the kids as part of a singing troop preformed for a group of seniors. I may be biased but I think the kids did very well. 

No time for stage fright... lights, camera, action!
Well that's about it from me for now. More on our traveling adventures tomorrow. 

* When we first visited the small town of Zellendorf all the streets had the same name, Dorfstraße, with the address numbers added. That's why I called it the place where the streets have no name.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Travelling day

Wheels up was to be at eleven(ish) so once again we found ourselves up in the middle of the night at six. Why so ungodly early you ask, well our paperwork said we we had to be at the airport three hours ahead of the departure time which meant eight AM. The evening before we my wife had asked the desk clerk how long it would take to get to the airport. Her answer was a little over an hour because of rush hour traffic. So there we were in the predawn light fumbling with our luggage stuffing it into the trunk of a cab. One thing that the desk clerk didn't count upon was the majority of the traffic was headed into the city not out so the hour long trip took a little over thirty minutes. 

We arrived at the aerodrome with plenty of time to spare so the first order of business was to get something to fill our tummies and a cup of that magical elixir known as coffee. The French may have their faults but coffee is certainty not one of them. Next up was a chat with the guy staffing the information kiosk to see where the AirBerlin check in was. That's when we found out the check in didn't start until two hours before the departure time... sigh. So there we were twiddling our thumbs. Nine finally came around and there we were in line to get our luggage checked and boarding passes issued.

We got tot he AirBirlin counter only to find out our travel agent had fucked up made a clerical error with the booking. The checked baggage wasn't properly booked so we had to head over to another line and pay for the suitcases. One hundred and eighty euros later the bags were on the way. I'm not going to heap all the blame on our travel agent because my wife and I had not bothered to read the paperwork. So for the three of us this was a failure of the Seven P Principal.*  

A Concord airliner, once the fastest of them all, now
sits as a gate guardian
One of those little things that will make a guy laugh was seeing this while we sat waiting to board. 

I guess that's one way to
keep track of your carry on
Across from us sat a little old Chinese woman who hadn't even taking the sticker of her luggage. I guess it does take all kinds to make a world after all. 

The flight was a short one of only three hours and we managed to arrive on time in Berlin. We arrived in Berlin, disembarked and went in across the tarmac and inside to the luggage place to get our bags. There we waited and after a few minutes the first thing to come down the chute was this... 

I wasn't worried because we didn't have any brightly colored straps on our luggage. I suspect that somebody else was in for a surprise.

Luggage in hand we went an met our first German host for the trip, a great guy with the initials of PB. We found PB easily enough and after hugs and hellos we headed out to find PB's car and hit the road.

A word about PB, he retired a few years ago from the German military and is one of those guys whose exploits read like the goings on in a action adventure novel. I would love to write about some of the stories but there's the old saw "If I tell you I'll have to kill you." 

I was really looking forward to catching up with him and the rest of the family.

PB at the wheel on the Autobahn

After a one hour(ish) drive we arrived at our destination, a family home that I call the Schloss. it was a manor home which PB is slowly (he's retired with all the time in the world) restoring.  

PB's humble Schloss
When we arrived at PB's place there were more hugs and kisses all around. After we got the bags to our room the Germany phase of our trip began. 

Well that's about all for now. I'll post more tomorrow but until then, bye-bye. 

* The Seven P Principal - Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Pour Performance



Saturday, 28 October 2017

Paris the city of light

When last we saw our intrepid explorer it was three in the morning and he was on a dark deserted street in Iceland waiting for a bus...

Leaving the land of ice was uneventful. The minibus was outside on time and we climbed aboard. There were two other riders who were not so lucky. Our driver stayed for a few minutes then we went and picked up another group. Before going to the bus terminal he made another pass but the passengers were no shows.

We arrived at the airport, had a little breakfast with coffee then did the security thing. Shortly we were winging our way to the city of light, Paris. After landing we grabbed our bags and got a cab to our hotel.

The hotel we stayed at wasn't in any of the tourist areas and was only a short cab ride from the sights we wanted to see. While we were there every night we went out to a different restaurant for dinner and in each place it was great food and wine.

The Eiffel Tower
The first full day saw us start off at the Eiffel Tower. While we didn't go up the tower just being there brought a sense of wonder, we were in Paris!

It was at the Eiffel Tower when I came to learn how serious the French were treating security. 

When there are guys like this
around it's easy to remember
Niven's first Law*
There we were in a line of tourists being screened through a security checkpoint, and yes at every tourist attraction there was security checkpoints in case you were wondering. This included being scanned with a metal detector. There I was, a guy who had once held a NATO secret level security clearance, a guy with thirty five years in security/investigations/loss prevention, a grey hair balding retried fat dude with Swiss Army Knife. Of course being the threat I was they took the deadly weapon with the two and a half inch blade away.

Notre Dame
We explored around the tower for a while then set off on a Hop-on Hop-off tour bus. My lovely and smart wife had got our travel agent to book this for us and it made a world of difference. The distance between the sites we wanted to see and the cost of cabs would have bankrupted us. On the first day we managed to see the Notre Dame cathedral. While I'm not a religious guy being inside this place just took my breath away. 

Scooter drivers
in action
It was back on the bus for us and off to new sights and sounds. One thing I will say right here and now the bus ride was "interesting." It gave me a first hand look at the famed Paris traffic. If I were to sum up the Paris traffic in one word that word would be insane. With the congestion, the ever insistent car horns, vehicles cutting in and out, motorbikes zipping between cars I was very happy to leave the driving to others.
One thing the France aren't
too good at are lane markings.
Even at night while trying to sleep there was the ever insistent sound of the car horns and police sirens with the occasional police helicopter thrown into the mix.

On our last day in Paris we visited the Louvre Of course while inside we saw the masters. While seeing Venus de Mileo and the Mona Lisa among others was great ...

Glad we got here early, lots wanted
to see the Mona Lisa

Venus de Mileo
I will admit it was a simple piece of rock that took my breath away. This carving had upon it the Code of Hammurabi. I guess you just have to be a security guy to understand this. This was the first real codified piece of law ever discovered.  Just looking at it gave me goose bumps. It's a shame that these simple writings were perverted into the tens of millions of rules, laws, statutes, regulations etc that we have to contend with today.
Code of Hammurabi
Did I mention the food was great? Well it certainly was and it was also a little bit strange too. On our last night in the city of lights we chose to go to a buffet. After checking around we found one that wasn't far from the hotel and hoofed it over. Before I go any further let me explain something. Being from Canada my idea of a buffet is simple, get up go to a line of food tables, pick out what you want, get it sit down and eat. Well this buffet was like that except the food was on farmhouse tables with seats around those tables. You simply get up go to the other tables chat with the folks while picking out your food. Then you return to your chair and eat while chatting with others at your table. It was this way that we met a couple of Aussies. The meal and the conversation were very memorable.

The buffet...
The next morning we were off to Germany which I will describe in the next few posts. Until tomorrow, bye-bye. 

*  Niven's Laws (from Known Space)
    1. Never throw shit at an armed man.
    2. Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man.



Friday, 27 October 2017

Home, home again

Well I'm back home now. As you can see my attempt to blog from away was a dismal failure but I half expected that. The trip was a good one with new sights seen, new foods tasted and old friends laughed and partied with.

Over the next few days I'm going to chronicle what happened in Europe with some of the photos I took and a lot of photos were taken. Today's episode we will call Iceland.

Glad I brought the ear buds.
Our trip started with a stop over of a few days on the island of Iceland. The flight on Icelandair was much better than I expected. The aircraft used was a 757 with the convenience of an in flight entertainment section including WiFi. This was one of those times where I was glad I had done some reading. One of the items I had brought along was a set of ear buds. This gave me the means to enjoy the in flight entertainment. Had I forgot to bring them there were earphones for sale only costing an arm and a leg.

When we got to the hotel in Reykjavík we were met with silence. Outside we stood looking at a locked door to a dark lobby wondering what to do. A few rings of the doorbell and out shuffled a little Spanish guy, AKA the night clerk. After being checked in and given a brief about how things worked we were shown to another building where our room was. There I was standing in the lobby of the building we were going to stay in looking at stairs to the third floor and no elivator. Oh, one thing I had forgotten to mention, I had blown out my back just before the trip. Oh well we shall soldier on I guess.

The breakfast of champions.
After little sleep due to "strange bed syndrome" We were up and at 'em eager to explore. I put a heating pad on my back to try and ease the pain and we were out bound. 

Breakfast was a simple affair of cappuccinos and croissants. Then it was off the find the hop in, hop off bus we booked for some sightseeing. 

My wife didn't
bight so I had to
trudge along, soar
back and all.
During our time in Reykjavík we stayed in the city which, when we looked looking back upon this choice, was a mistake. The problem was our time there was really short so we made the best of it in the city. 

Iceland has a very rich and
fascinating history.
The sights were cool the people we met were really friendly with a great sense of humor. One thing that floored me was not that they could but how well the Icelanders spoke English. In the few instances I saw where this was a minor problem other people jumped in to help. 

All to soon it was time to hit the road for the next leg of the trip. There we were standing outside the hotel at oh dark hundred.

Our exit from Reykjavík was a rather spooky affair
Well so much for the start of our trip. I will post again upon the morrow about our adventures in France. Until then bye for now. 

Friday, 13 October 2017

The latest from away...

Well the travels so far have been... entertaining,  sometimes magic sometimes not so much. It's only now that I've found a way to get a post out. I'm sorry but no pictures for now, that's for when I get home. 

When we arrived at Iceland the transfer to the hotel was simple but when we arrived at the hotel it was a little bit strange. The front desk was closed and we were locked out. After the door bell was hit a few times the front desk clerk shuffled in. We got checked in and shown to the building where our room was. Here I was with a bad back and of course our room was on the third floor and there was no elevator. Sigh. 

Roaming around Iceland was cool. The folks were super friendly and helpful.  The food was good but since we didn't leave the city we missed a lot. When we were at the airport leaving for Paris my wife and I decided we would return and do do some day excursions. 

I'll post more tomorrow when I can,  bye bye from Europe.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The countdown is on

In a little more than twenty four hours my wife and I will be out bound for a holiday abroad. Our first stop is Iceland where we will spend a couple of days. Then we are off to the land of french wines and cheeses, Paris France. After a weekend there it's on to Germany where we will link up with some old friends and family.

If it were not for the condition of my back I would be looking forward to it. 

A few days ago as part of the fall/winter preps I picked up four bags of salt for the water softener. I eventually brought the four bags, weighing in at fifty pounds each, into the house and stored them in the basement. The seventeen year old mind had no issues with just slinging the bags over a shoulder and bringing them in. Meanwhile the sixty three year old body was of another opinion. The end result was that I blew out my back and I'm presently in a world of pain and have been for the last few days. 

I've been taking muscle relaxers and putting ointment on, and heat on, and stretching, and suffering. In the past when I've done this it's taken a week or so to heal. Now I'm trying to heal up in a couple of days. With a mere twenty fours to go things ain't looking pretty. I'm not looking forward to the flight sitting in an economy seat for five hours plus. On the plus side there are public hot springs about a half a block from our hotel...

Putty Tat is on vacation too...
Yesterday I had the sad duty of taking our cat over to a friend's place. Our friend S has volunteered to look after Putty Tat for us while we are away. She is also going to visit our place every couple of days to keep an eye on it. Last night was a little strange for me. It was the first time in a few decades we haven't had a cat prowling around.

Today is a getting ready day. Laundry is on and we are going to clean the house. Well in reality I will do as much as I can but it will be my wife that does a majority of the work. To say this bugs me is a vast understatement. 

Anyway things to do and all that. 

Over the next few weeks blogging will be scarce depending on the free wi-fi that I can find. For me to blog from Europe on my dime would cost a fortune so just bare with me. 

Until next time, when ever that might be, bye-bye.

New shiny

I was going to get my blood work done this morning, so I was up at the crack of nine thirty(ish). After doing the shower thing and making...