A Travellerspoint blog

Auf wiedersehen Deutschland

overcast 8 °C
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Saturday night was the night for visiting that mighty Munchen institution - the Hofbrauhaus. We were there early enough that we didn't have to queue to get in, but we did spend a bit of time circling around and eyeing off our fellow diners, trying to work out who would be leaving soon. There were a few false alarms (who puts their furry jacket on in a hot building and then DOESN'T leave?) but eventually we found ourselves seated and being attended to by a fairly impatient Spanish waiter. Even saying 'gracias' to him did little to soften his mood. And the oom-pah band that had been playing when we arrived seemed to go on strike as soon as we were comfortably seated. Nevermind - there was beer, there were pretzels, there was pork knuckle and there was potato in every conceivable form. Can't ask for anything more than that on a night out in Germany. Well I suppose you could, but you shouldn't be greedy.
Sunday morning rolled around all too soon, and by 6.30am we were walking out of the hotel doors and escorting Jazzie to the airport. The bus did that spiteful thing of dropping us at the train station just in time to watch the train pull away from the platform, but that gave us 15 minutes to appreciate the sunrise and try our bestest to stay warm.
After taking Jazzie as far into the bowels of Munich airport as we could without a valid boarding pass, we headed back to the hotel, had a spot of brunch and then Simon and I proceeded to spend the rest of the day being total spoilsports by going back to bed in an effort to shake off our colds and regain humanity. We were pooped. You might even say we were ninkompooped.
Team Dunn spent the afternoon at the aquarium, and Crawford was pretty excited to show us his Happy Meal toy acquisition - a koala who spoke in German. Random. Clare was pretty excited to show us that this toy had an off switch, which I think may have been activated less than 24 hours later.
We totally splashed out on a hotel breakfast the next morning - a stark contrast to the usual ninking approach of cereal and yoghurt. There was some serious competition regarding who could use the waffle maker the most effectively, and Crawford conducted a serious experiment on the number of body parts he could cover in Nutella while still retaining enough Nutella for his waffle. I offered to make Simon a coffee using the fancy shmancy coffee machine, but my first attempt only resulted in a cup of warm, frothy milk. I'm proud of the second attempt though - it even had coffee in it. And I completely nailed making a cup of tea. Small victories. We were bailed up by a fellow Australian who lived in Ballarat, but was from Warrnambool originally. He talked at us for quite some time, and it seemed as if he might genuinely be staying with us for the next leg of the journey, but thankfully he returned to his wife eventually.
We checked out, and made it to the Hauptbahnhof with plenty of time for farewells before our respective trains departed. Auf wiedersehen Dunns, and auf wiedersehen Deutschland!

Posted by Buccas 07:20 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Faceplatz

semi-overcast 10 °C
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Alright, I'm just going to come out and say it. German public transport is not the epitome of efficiency that everyone makes it out to be. In fact, it's downright spiteful. There has to be something wrong with a system when the train arrives at the station, you can see the bus (the ONLY bus), but as you step off the train and onto the platform, the bus departs. Why? Why would they do that? Surely the bus timetable could be adjusted by one measly minute to make it align with the train? Anyway, first world problems aside, we caught the NEXT bus to our hotel for the next four nights and settled in to our new abode, which came with very comfortable beds and toilets that looked as if they should have been on a plane.
Jazzie and I decided to make the most of our day pass for public transport, while everyone else had some rest and tried to fight off the colds that were slowly but surely taking us over. We set off to the English Gardens, and found the right underground station, but then ended up walking in what may or may may not have been the right direction. There was no sign of the promised markets, so we backtracked and found a bus, which took us exactly where we needed to go. Because if at first you don't succeed, jump on a bus. That's what I always say.
The markets were gloriously festive, and we grabbed some pretzels and mugs of gluhwein (the rot stuff was okay, but definitely steer clear of the weiss stuff). Jazzie got some Christmas shopping done, we worked out the return-your-mug system and then jumped on the next bus. Which was going the wrong way. So we jumped off again, and tried a bus that was headed in a more homely direction, and with no further navigational mishaps, had dinner back at the hotel.
On Friday morning we made it into the city by noon to appreciate the markets and watch the dancing figures on the clock. We strolled the streets of Munich aimlessly before heading to the English Gardens with one great purpose - to find the river surfers. Never mind that Munich is inland, never mind that it was a river, and never mind that it was nine degrees, the surfers were out in force and kept us all entertained for a good while. We ventured back to the markets (a different ambience in daylight hours), and we snacked on various Bavarian specialties while Crawford rode the merry-go-round with varying levels of enthusiasm (depending on which vehicle he was seated on). We returned to the hotel for a rest (these colds were really cramping our style), and when we felt up to it, headed out for dinner. There was a two hour wait at the Hard Rock Cafe, but Bar Roma had plenty of tables available, so you can imagine which option we chose. Rugged up in our blankets, we sat in the arcade and Crawford tried to get high fives from passersby. Towards the end of our meal, two men sat at the table next to us and smoked to their hearts content, ordered beers and pizza, and then up and left. When the waitress arrived with said beers and pizza, they were nowhere to be seen. So we were offered their pizza in a takeaway box for free - score. I was just glad they hadn't ordered a seafood pizza.
On Saturday we set off on another expedition. We made it to Marienplatz easily enough, but getting from the U-Bahn to the S-Bahn proved to be a challenge. First of all, the girls took a lift with Crawford and the pram, and the boys took the stairs. The lift spat us out at ground level, nowhere near the S-Bahn. So we went back down again, only to find the boys at the entry to the lift as well because they had gotten lost and were retracing their steps. Together we found the correct lift - but only Clare, Jazzie and Crawford fitted in, so Simon, Paul and I relied on the escalators to get where we were going. After a little bit of confusion, we found our way to the correct platform. Except that there was no sign of the lifters. We waited for awhile, and then found Jazzie coming down the stairs, leaving just Clare and Crawford needed to complete the set. We called Clare and we texted Clare, and we went to the platform that Clare said she was on - but unless she had mastered some sort of invisibility spell at Hogwarts, she most definitely was not there. I can't properly explain the convoluted stair/escalator/elevator arrangement at this station, but believe me when I say it was bordering on labyrinthine. Eventually we found Clare - or more precisely, we saw Clare from the other side of the tracks, managed to get ourselves up to the same level and descended - as a team - to the correct platform. Phew.
The S-Bahn then obligingly took us out to the town of Dachau, where we grabbed lunch at a B├Ąckerei. The next step was refreshingly simple - get on the bus, and get off the bus at the Dachau concentration camp memorial site. We spent the next few hours at the memorial wondering 'how?' and 'why?' and hoping that the phrase under the sculpture 'never again' would prove to be true. I honestly wasn't aware how many atrocities occurred before the second world war had even started, but Dachau filled in some of the blanks for me. It was rather depressing to be reminded of the human capacity for awfulness. And as we caught the train back to Munich, the sunset seemed an appropriate scene to accompany our silent reflections.

Posted by Buccas 14:46 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Ah, Berlin...

overcast 2 °C
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We landed in Berlin with a thump, and then a long long long taxi to the airport. Nothing like a temperature of -2 to welcome us to a new city! We disembarked, started breathing smoke immediately, and then joined the queue to be allowed into the country. The official that scrutinised my passport did so with what I can only assume was a Germanic level of detail, and after what seemed an eternity, the sound of my passport being stamped echoed through the entrance hall and I was in.
We claimed our luggage and found our way to the train station, where a helpful attendant picked up on our faces of mild confusion and made sure that we got tickets to where we needed to go. We mastered the train AND the underground, and all the stairs associated with them, and found our way to our apartment for the next few nights. There was an undersized and very stealthy lift, which made getting our luggage to the 4th floor a slow but easy process. We made ourselves at home, found a nearby supermarket and got supplies for the evening. We had the fairly un-German meal of spag bol for dinner, and before we knew it, it was time for bed.
The cold weather continued on Tuesday, but we rugged up and faced it head on. We wandered into town and came across some Christmas markets, where we indulged in bratwurst, pretzels and doughnuts. The cold weather meant we ate as quickly as possible so that we could return our hands to our pockets as soon as possible.
Crossing the road was a bit of a highlight, with East Germany's ampelmann to help us out, and we managed to cross all the right streets to get us to the starting point of a free (tips encouraged) walking tour.
Franziska took us through the streets of Berlin, showing us the Holocaust monument, Checkpoint Charlie ('Cold War Disneyland' - on account of everything there being fake, apart from the frame that held up the sign), the carpark above where Hitler's bunker had been, the book burning memorial at Bebelplatz, the Berlin Wall and the shopping centre that had missed the opportunity to have the greatest name of all but instead was called the Mall of Berlin. So damn close. It was all very informative and interesting, but obviously didn't include quite enough toilet stops for Crawford, who had slept through the start of the tour. Let's just say he relieved himself in a location that would not have been an option for any of the adult members of our group.
We trundled home in the dark, enjoying the festive lights around the city before enjoying dinner and calling it eine nacht.
In the morning, we totally owned the public transport system of Berlin, getting ourselves out to the section of the Berlin Wall known as the Eastside Gallery. This is the section of the Wall that is covered in artwork and graffiti - sometimes it is hard to know which is which. Obviously there have been problems with graffiti encroaching onto the art territory, because much of the Wall was protected by a fence. Ironic, no?
Team Dunn headed back to our apartment from there, while Team Buccas enjoyed a bratwurst at the markets, and then found our way to Tranenplast - the palace of tears. This former train station had acted as a gateway between East and West Berlin, and now acted as a museum. It had lots of interesting information on how the division in Berlin affected people, and the section that contrasted news stories from either side about the same events was particularly powerful.
We met up with Paul and Clare at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which was another fairly sobering experience. It brought home to me just how much of Europe was affected and how many people were targets of Nazi persecution.
We topped up our energy reserves with hot chocolate and pretzels before moving on to Topography of Terror, an in-depth look at the Nazi rise and fall. The thing that struck me most there was how many officials were not punished for their actions. Some were not tried at all, some were given light sentences, and it seemed that most of those who were given lengthy prison sentences were released early anyway.
We boarded the train for home, but were quickly snapped out of our reflective moods when Clare discovered that her wallet was missing. Not the absolute end of the world (holocaust museums do tend to put things in perspective) but definitely more of a crisis than Simon's lost Corangamite Shire hat.
We promptly retraced our steps, found the cafe was closed and there was no wallet to be found at the museum. We walked back past the cafe with plans to go to the police, return in the morning, cancel bankcards and whatnot when we saw a person in the cafe. We attempted to play charades through the closed door to indicate that we were searching for a wallet, but his blank look and refusal to open the door indicated that we had been entirely unsuccessful. At that point, a woman driving out of the staff carpark saw us and stopped - she understood our requests and Clare was soon reunited with her wallet. Triumph! And in the midst of all this hullabaloo, some tourists approached me and asked to be directed to the Berlin Wall, which was conveniently located across the road. Triumph #2!
At Simon's insistence, we linked arms and skipped joyfully in the direction of the train once more, and returned home to find that both Jazzie AND Crawford had been behaving themselves in our absence. Quite the achievement! A celebratory meal of leftovers and toasted sandwiches was appreciated by all.
On Thursday the forecast for Berlin was 9 degrees, a huge improvement on the 2 degrees we'd had earlier in the week, but alas, alack, we were not sticking around to enjoy it. We bundled ourselves off to the tram stop, only to watch our tram depart from the other side of the road. No stress though - the next tram was only ten minutes away.
Twenty five minutes later it arrived, and with much mumbling and grumbling about so-called German efficiency we were on our way. We transferred to the airport bus (which actually seemed rather tram-like on the interior) and arrived in plenty of time to check ourselves and our baggage in. I was rather alarmed to see that our tickets said 'hand luggage only', but apparently that's code for '1 piece of checked luggage' in the magical world of Lufthansa. Weird.
We sailed through security with a minimum of fuss, and were pretty excited to get a chocolate biscuit sandwich snack onboard. Crawford put us all in our place when he pointed out that we were not in Germany, we were actually on a plane. Pretty hard to argue with that logic. Once we arrived in Munich, we grabbed lunch at the markets (at the airport - well done Munich) and then we discovered that we were still not in Germany, because now we were on a train. If anyone ever does get to Germany, do let me know what it's like.

Posted by Buccas 02:02 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

The birthday bash

semi-overcast 9 °C
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We settled back in to life in Otley, with Rosie taking our return completely in her stride and being pleasantly surprised to find us still there each morning. We did some of those boring-but-essential jobs (like washing), and a spot of delicious-and-essential cooking. On Thursday night, Simon and Andy went off in the search of Culture and enjoyed a screening of a film about football in Palestine as part of the Leeds Palestinian Film Festival. They came back with plenty to say about it but unfortunately Annie and I were not particularly receptive to their stories on account of it being nearly midnight and us being nearly asleep.
On Friday we headed into Leeds on the X84 bus (free wifi, lovely views from up top) and met up with Annie while she was on her lunch break from her training course. We strolled about the German Christmas market, making sure to complete a full lap before deciding which foods to partake in. We opted for that German Christmas classic, yiros with lamb, feta cheese and tzatziki. As you do. I quite enjoyed the singing moose, as well as all the stalls and lights and rides. The atmosphere was vaguely Oktoberfestish, and it felt as if we had fallen into one of those scenes you always find on Christmas cards. Splendid.
Annie returned to work, and we returned to touristing, with a brief visit to the sculpture museum. The highlight of this was actually the five metre gorilla statue standing outside the building - but inside was free, so it was no great loss. We stopped in at the library, which felt just like a good library should. The building was old and grand, but cosy and welcoming at the same time. I would have been quite happy to stay and read a book all afternoon but we moved on to the Leeds Museum instead, completing the trifecta of free things to see in close proximity to each other. The museum featured the 'story of Leeds' as well as a delightfully haphazard collection of taxidermied animals. I appreciated the inclusion of a platypus to make us feel at home.
We caught the bus back to Otley with Annie, and met Andy and Rosie in town for a Friday night pint at the Horse & Farrier. Rosie enjoyed the opportunity to use one of her favourite words 'star' in context (huzzah for Christmas trees) and then we moved on down the road for Thai dinner, at which point Rosie was less impressed with the situation and finished the meal fairly thoroughly covered with sweet chilli sauce.
Saturday morning was a flurry of cleaning, making paella and playing with Rosie. The afternoon was when the party really began - Andy took Rosie in to stay with Steve and Lesley, and returned with Clare, Paul, Crawford and Jazzie. Otley suddenly felt a lot like Camperdown! Crawford was fairly disappointed that Rosie wasn't around to play with, but was easily consoled by the fact that Rosie's train set was readily available. The rest of the crew rocked up, we tucked in to Andy's paella and Rara's mint-not-basil and strawberry topped chocolate cake. Delicious.
After dinner we roamed the streets of Otley, trying our best not to terrorise everyone we encountered. We started at the Black Horse (where Team Dunn were staying), and then moved on to the Cock Inn (where we commandeered the upstairs room) and finished up at the Junction. There was a band playing music loudly, and they would have benefited from someone doing a Chambo and walking through the crowd to discover that the levels were all wrong. But regardless, Proud Mary was enough to generate dancing from a couple of the more enthusiastic members of the party. And once the band had finished, Andy entertained us all with a heartfelt and moving speech for his wife, who was both the firm and tender age of 30, and who had apparently kept her mountain climbing passions a secret from everyone (including herself). Once we returned home, it had officially become Annie's birthday and so there was prosecco all round, and another two speeches from Andy. It seemed that he was finally accepting of the fact that he had married a Yorkshire lass - and a lovely one at that!
The morning after the night before started with bacon sandwiches, always a good start to the day. Things continued well when we sauntered along to the Otley Victorian Fayre, essentially a fair with the occasional person dressed in Victorian attire. Kate and Fay introduced the Australian contingent to the concept of Argos shopping, and we were all absolutely thrilled to discover the concept of the human fruit machine as a fundraising strategy. Absolutely hilarious, and we all scored a free pen for our troubles. One pound well spent.
Crawford made the most of the rides on offer, and was pretty gosh darned happy to see Rosie Posie again as well. The dodgem cars were a particular hit for Crawf, while the rest of us speculated about the target audience of said cars, given the use of pictures of scantily clad women on the car track. The music accompanying the cars started off with 50s classics and then made an abrupt and unexpected turn into Nickelback land.
After we had exhausted all the fun of the fair, we returned to Annie and Andy's place for more cake with all of the Thornton/Lancashire clan, and settled in for another solid session of playing with trains. Once the trains were packed up, the weekend was officially over and declared a success.
Monday morning rolled around - Annie and Andy went to work, while the rest of us went to the airport. We struggled through security - someone forgot to remove their laptop, someone left all their toiletries in their carry on luggage, and someone forgot about the hand sanitiser in their backpack. Not our finest airport moment, but we still had plenty of time to get to the gate and get on board our plane to Berlin. Auf wiedersehen, England!

Posted by Buccas 11:14 Archived in England Comments (0)

Malteser

20 °C
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We arrived in Malta to rain - again - and yet another reminder that the Maltese drainage system is hopelessly inadequate when faced with the type of weather that we bring with us when we travel. Our Airbnb host met us at the airport and escorted us to our flat, which was decorated in the most hilariously tacky 'romantic' decor. Everyone loves a heart shaped light on the ceiling, don't they?
We had a very brief walk around Msida and found a cafe to get a milkshake. And oh what a milkshake it was! Malta continued to excel in the dairy department, and I had a tiramisu milkshake. Ohhhhh yeah. Simon had a peanut butter milkshake, which was equally lifechanging. After a quick game of cards, we set off for dinner. There was an excellent restaurant just ten minutes from the flat if we wanted a really good Italian meal. We felt that it probably wouldn't compare with the food we'd been eating for the past week so opted for reasonable Turkish kebabs a mere five minutes from the flat. Simon was thrilled with that choice because they had blue Powerade, but I was thrilled that I didn't have to make polite smalltalk with a waiter at a real restaurant. My brain was slowly switching back into English mode and it was hurting a little bit.
The next morning we checked out, and our host had kindly printed our boarding passes for us. Except that the barcode was completely missing. Hmm. Oh well. We set off for the bus stop, only to find that Google was proposing that we walked along the highway. Not ideal. So we found an alternative route, and arrived at the bus stop, where the timetable said the airport bus was three minutes away but the display screen said there was no airport bus. We waited three minutes, and I was just getting ready to ask the closest English-speaking-people-with-suitcases, when the bus arrived. Huzzah. The bus smelt faintly of stale urine. Not huzzah. We made it to the airport on time. Huzzah. The Ryanair lady reprinted our boarding passes (WITH barcode) at no charge to us. Massive huzzah.
We boarded our flight, and discovered to our absolute joy and delight, that the two of us had an empty seat next to us. So Simon took the window seat, I took the aisle seat, and everyone was happy. The man across the aisle was doing a little light reading - "Essentials of Plastic Surgery". Nothing like a bit of rhinoplasty to while away the trip.
Andy met us at the airport and it felt like being home again - and the Buccheri Suite had even been wallpapered in our absence! Too spoilt.

Posted by Buccas 02:48 Archived in Malta Comments (0)

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