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Category: Europe (Page 1 of 11)

Yearly trip to Remagen and Wiesbaden

After preparing the night before, we got up early to head off to Remagen. Given that Corona restrictions are still in place we decided to take a train instead of flying over this time. After our visit to Föhr, both Manja and I had discovered that we actually prefer train travel. Usually, though, it’s more expensive and slower to travel by train, so we fly. Now it really is ideal.

As is the way with the vast majority of the trains, we traveled without any issues, using the time to write my blog, read and relax. We even had a home-made couscous salad which we brought along for a late brunch. By around noon we arrived in Remagen feeling quite fit, and Stefan was nice enough to pick us up. He’s got a guest room where we were welcome to spend a few days, which really is luxury while traveling!

On the move and blogging

At his place we had some lunch and got settled in before Alex, Angi and the family joined us for a bit. The kids seem to have a new game: Playing horsey, by either trotting the “horses” in a circle on the lawn, or, if the “horse” seems willing, riding them around. It wasn’t long before they took Stefan for a trot, and then tried to get some of the other adult horses to play along. As it turns out, we were more like mules. Resistance caused bursts of energy and an attempts to get the adults moving by force: Put the reins around the hand and pull, while the others pushed. Manja cleverly side-stepped and tied them to me, where they discovered I was more of a stubborn donkey than a horse. As things were getting a bit energetic, we decided to go for a walk to the shores of the Rhine. I continued to be led along on my reign/leash, and occasionally, accidentally of course, got kids tied to each other and around trees. At the shore we spent about an hour skipping stones, and teaching the kids how to identify good skipping stones and skip them directly too. This, of course, did not stop them from bringing us small boulders to “try and skip” too – where the failure to skip delighted just as much as the occasional unexpected success.

As we headed back for dinner, the reign/leash was almost forgotten and left behind, but we went back and collected it just in time. The girls decided that they would take me back home a different route and we spent some time chatting about school and Australia and how strange it must be to have different seasons and move to another land.  We got back just after the other adults and the horsing around continued immediately. I helped Stefan prepare some pizza but as we waited for it to cook things got wild again. Manja escaped into the bathroom, and climbed out of the window while the girls waited for her to open the door. After that she was deemed to be too clever to be tamed, and the focus returned to me. Which went okay until the metal clip on the leash bent out of shape when there were two kids hanging on it while I was holding it up. A few tears, an ice-pack and a small band-aid later we were having a really nice pizza dinner and everyone was quite calm. After dinner Stefan even repaired the clip, so the leash could be used again in the future.

As evening set in Alex and Angi headed home and we settled in for a quiet night. Manja had brought a Rommé deck, Stefan and Manja explained the rules and we played for the evening. By around 11pm Manja managed to walk away with the victory, and were were in bed just early enough that I didn’t have to wish her a happy birthday.

Stefan is a freelancer, so he was able to work around our visit. So when we got up around 9 he was already up and about, making us breakfast. Manja got a small gift from me and an awesome electronic paper plane from Stefan and his family. I can’t wait to try it out when we get home! After breakfast we headed over to the castle Eltz.

We expected that we would park somewhere, tour the castle and drive home. Instead we parked, hiked 20 minutes to the idyllic castle and waited in line for a ticket. Due to Corona they can only admit 200 people at once, so the line progressed slowly as people left. We spent about 30 minutes in line, chatting the time away before we got in. The process was annoying but professional – you got a visitor pass, tickets to the two tours and an wristband identifying around when they expected you to leave again. The whole castle had been setup to have only one-way walking paths, so you had to go through everything in a pre-set order. This was okay, because you saw everything, but annoying because you had to wait in line at the tours again. The tour through the internals of the castle were really interesting – I learned a few new things.
The “Erker” (Bays) at the side of castles were added as a prayer space. It was added for two reasons: First, you could close the door, and with that the separation of church and private life. Second, you could not have anyone move above the altar – so no one could stand above god.
The lords beds were raised and boxed with logical purpose: Hot air rises, so between this and heavy curtains, one could sleep comfortably even in winter. You did, however, have to literally “climb into bed” which is where that turn of phrase comes from.
Candles and other fire-based lights were rare as the rooms were often flammable, and fire considered a real risk. Instead, benches were built into the windows, to allow for the use of as much day-light as possible.
Carpets were used to decorate walls to present an interesting and beautiful thing to look at, but even more importantly to insulate the rooms.
Kitchens often had parts of their walls turned into cupboards, essentially giving them an old-school fridge by utilising the cold of the thick castle walls.
Even the rich did not live long – their average age did not pass 50.

After our tour, we spent some more time in line waiting for the treasure chamber, where only 24 people could be at once, to have a spare slot. The chamber was nice, but not spectacular. Unfortunately it was forbidden to take photos of any of the internal areas 🙁

With the tour and the standing in line two hours had passed, and it was time for us to return to Stefan’s house. On our way there Stefan and I discussed the issues with multi-generational wealth and privilege until Manja got sick of us and changed to lighter topics of conversation. When we got back it was time for Stefan to spend some time with his daughter and Manja and I to head over to Alex and Angis place. We toured their house a bit, because they are doing a fantastic job at restoring a 1938 house bit-by bit. It’s a massive project, and the progress each time is amazing – this time additional walls had appeared in the top floor where there are now two rooms for the kids. The parents bedroom is now in progress, and I’m sure it’ll look just as fantastic when we come by again next time.

We had dinner together and Stefan and his family came and joined us. After dinner Manja got an awesome present from the whole group: She adopted an Orange-tree in Spain. I’d not heard of crowd farming before and was pretty amazed. Basically you help a farmer by supporting them financially and you get some sort of benefit for this – like Kickstarter for farms.
Eventually the kids headed to bed while we played a round of Level 8, which I accidentally won, before we headed back with Stefan for the night.

The next morning Stefan’s daughter woke us around 9, asking why we sleep so long. I explained that we were on holidays 😅
She had to stay home because she was a bit sniffly, and with the Corona rules even the slightest suspicion of sick meant a day at home. We spent the morning with her and Stefan before heading over to Angi for a day hiking a small part of the red-wine hiking trail in the region. When we arrived at her place we first got fed some nice chili sin carne before heading over to the train station. The train ride would have been uneventful, except that we were traveling at school-end time, meaning that all available seats filled two stations before we had to get off, and we got to observe the standard teenage shenanigans going on in the train. When we got off we headed straight for the top of the hills and to the hiking trail. It really was beautiful, and we had perfect weather for it. Not too hot, but not cold at all. We even walked slightly further than Angi had before, and found a few hills which made us sweat more than a bit. By the time we got back to town Angi and I wanted a coffee and Manja wasn’t super happy heading into a cafe all sweated through, but came along while complaining a little bit. The train ride back was a great way to relax after the day walking and we got back a bit after Alex had returned from work, just in time for dinner. One of the games which Angi and Alex had but had never played is Rummycub, so we set it up and I explained the rules to them. Their daughter and I proceeded to win a bunch of games as a team effort 🙂

Not long after we headed back to Stefan’s, and continued the night with a game of Rummy before dropping into bed near midnight again.

And just like that we were at the end of our stay in Remagen. Wednesday morning we slowly packed up and headed to the train station, taking a short detour to the shore of the Rhine again.  As there was a bunch of issues with the train network, our trip from Remagen to Wiesbaden, which is usually around 2 hours, took 4 hours today. None the less, we arrived in good spirit to a very very happy Doris. We settle in for a bit, but had to head off again a short while later. Manjas Aunt Jana and her family were coming by to visit as they live only about 30 minutes away. Jana had night shift, so we all decided to have dinner a bit earlier around 17:00 at one of the local restaurants near Doris’ place. It was a super nice evening, but Jana had to head off to night shift, so we split our ways around 20:00. When we got back we spent a bit of time talking and making plans for the next few days, before having a reasonably early night.

On Thursday was Doris’ birthday, so we had arranged a boats tour. Before we headed off though, the whole family and all of her Friends had already called to wish her a happy birthday. When we got to the ship, the ticket-sales booth hadn’t opened yet, but there was a bunch of people waiting. We joined the line and they opened up just in time for us to get a ticket and head on board. We had breakfast as we watched the shoreline go by, traveling through the well-known wine region. We passed many interesting places, I never knew how many castles there were in the region. There were also a couple of places which inspired different legends. One of the places was the famous Mouse tower and another the famous Loreley – a pretty lady whose looks caused many a sailors demise. When we got to the end of the trip we jumped into the train to head back to Rüdesheim where we took a cable car to the Niederwalddenkmal which is a victory statue dedicated to the feeling of the German Rhine area from the French in 1871. (Colloquially, the statue to the only war Germany ever won). We wanted to have a small lunch and headed to a cafe in the wine hills at the foot of the statue, where there is a little hidden cafe with a great view. Manja ordered herself an ice-cream while Doris and I had what amounts to a BLT on a Panini. It wasn’t bad at all, but massive and not all that special either. Full of food we decided to take on the descent by foot, having seen nice sweeping paths on our way up from the cable car.

In google we trust, I said, as we headed off. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves heading down a wine-hill. Keep in mind that Doris is over 80, so I was impressed that she was okay going cross-country with us. Two more hills later the cross-country path we were traveling down ended in a massive cravice. Manja and I may have been able to jump across, but there was no way Doris would make such a jump. So back up the hill we went. Doris was not happy with this ascend at all – which was totally fair enough, it was STEEP. We got to the top and laughed about it in retrospect though, crossed the crevice at a small bridge and headed back to the main road. We missed the train we were aiming for, but another was only 30 minutes after and we made that one comfortably.

As we hoped to get a car share car for Friday, there was one more thing for us to do. While Manja already headed back Doris and I made use of her ability to travel the trains for free and headed to town to get the car-share card. Think of a hotel room key, but for unlocking car share cars. Just one problem: It was at the main train station “Bus stop A”.

Sounds easy enough, but all the bus stations had numbers not letters. Poor Doris had to do another lap of the train station with me before we found them: the local buses (as in, not the ones going to other cities) had the letter-based stations. And right next to stop A was a little glass house. We got the key card and I jumped onto my mobile to book one of the cars I had seen standing around…. only to notice that no available car was in the area. The concept of car-sharing was new to Doris, so I had to explain that it didn’t mean that we had a specific car. As there was no way for her to walk another 20 minutes to a car, we took a taxi to pick up our car-sharing car 😅

Once there, though the process was easy. We jumped in and drove back to Doris’s place, parked in the street and all was well. We had planned to go out for dinner, but we were not really that hungry, and we were definitely all tired. So we ordered some pizza instead and played Uno for the whole night.

It really was a fantastic day, full of adventure.

On Friday we decided to head out and check out some pretty cool history at the Roman Fort Saalburg, which was one of the forts guarding the so-called Limes. This was basically a border line of the Roman Empire; not so much in the sense of a defensible line but one which stopped people on either side driving stock or large good across. Individuals could cross without much of a problem, but larger groups would be seen by watchtowers – these were not well defended either, but were in turn the domain of the forts. Attack a tower and the fort would respond. As such, it was easy enough to get in and out of the Roman Empire, so long as you essentially used the doors they permitted.

We spent most of the day there, and even had an excellent lunch at the cafeteria. I do enjoy historic sites like this a lot, and this one also included some excellent exhibits on how tradesmen back in the roman days plied their trade. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves this type of history! In the afternoon we headed back to Doris’s place and had dinner at the local Greek restaurant once more before catching the train back the next morning.

Alps of Saxony and Sophias Wedding

On Monday night we had a nice date-night at our favourite asian place in Friedrichshain.

As Sophias Wedding would be the next weekend, we decided to make use of the trip and go hiking in the Saxonian-Alps for a day or two before.

So on Tuesday evening I left work to get a car and pack for our trip, so that we could head off on Wednesday nice and early. We drove to Dresden initially, where we met up with Alex, Angi and kids. Alex and Angi were celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary in Dresden, a city in which they had lived for the early part of their relationship. The car we had this time was more expensive than average, thanks to Corona and people holidaying locally. It was a Renault Twingo, with absolutely no upgrades. Even the windows were manual. The trip on the autobahn quickly made it apparent that the car was just crap generally – by the time we got to Dresden two hours later I was exhausted.

As we arrived we were confronted with searching for a parking spot in the central carpark, but with no success. Manja jumped out to get a better view, and I suddenly saw Alex waving at me madly near the entrance. It took me a few minutes to realise he was holding a spot for us, so I rushed over and parked in the premium spot right next to the entrance. Score!
Next challenge: Getting a ticket. The machine accepts card and coins, but after three attempts with a card I gave up and started to search for coins. We managed to get within a Euro, and once more Alex was there to rescue us with the missing coin.

We headed off to have lunch, which was nice but plagued with the German summer-curse: Wasps. The kids were a bit scared by them, but Manja was there to the rescue. The wind-brakers on the candles, with a coaster to close it – made a brilliant wasp-holding vessel. Just catch them and put them together. Suddenly it was a game and everything was okay. Throughout the meal the wasps got names and we caught about 8 of them.

We dropped the kids off at the hotel where they wanted to watch some cartoons, while we went for a walk through the beautiful old inner city. In Dresden many of the really old buildings are blackened from the outside. Initially I thought that this was just from soot and exhaust fumes, but Angi and Alex explained that it was left after the Second World War, as a reminder how Dresden stood in flames. The only things which were clean were the parts which were replaced. The whole Frauenkirche, the monument to Dresden, was rebuilt after the war ended, making it a pristine building right in the center.

We wandered and chatted the afternoon away, before stopping for a cold drink. As we looked for a place we found the perfect place: the “Ayers Rock Dresden”.  It was an Aussie restaurant in the way that an Aussie pub that serves Crocodile, Emu and Kangaroo, with German beer and wines, is typically Australian. The Iced-Coffee/Tea/Chocolates we all had were really nice though, so it’s probably not bad for a meat-heavy night out.

And that was our time in Dresden already. In order to make it to our hotel during check-in we headed off in the late afternoon, saying farewell to Alex and Angi for the next few weeks. We will come and visit them at the end of the month at home, so it was more of a see-you-later than a goodbye 🙂

The hotel Manja had selected was “Hotel Rose” which was a quaint little place in the “saxonian alps”. It was pretty! By the time we got there though, we were both pretty exhausted and spent the night finalising a slideshow for Sophias wedding and having a light dinner of sandwiches and snacks.

Thursday was hike day. I was excited and ready to go – first time hiking in a long time. We packed and had breakfast at the hotel – a complete overload of food, some of which we had to take along as lunch so not to waste it.

We headed off right from the other side of the road. The day was pretty warm, so we were thankful for the shade. One of the things that we noticed a lot was that many trees were affected by the “Borkenkäfer” – or  “Bork beetle”. While there are many different types (Wikipedia says 6000 with more being discovered) the type here either flies or walks to the top of the tree and lays its eggs. The little larvae then begin eating their way to the floor – inside the tree or the bark. By the time you see the exit holes at the bottom, the tree is pretty much dying. In a healthy tree population, this isn’t a problem, but current climate conditions mean that the trees themselves are stressed, and that the beetle has perfect breeding conditions, and they are decimating a lot of forests, which in turn is bad for climate, causes more stress for the remaining trees… you get it.

As a silver lining though: in THIS part of Germany, the trees mostly being killed are introduced species, which the forestry department has a multi-decade plan to remove. In the case they’re really helping!

Along the way we also found a Frog!

What you do notice again and again is that there are large spots of brown dead or felled trees throughout the forest area. None the less the views from the top – in particular the Bastei bridge. One of the fascinating things here is a medieval castle, built into the rock formation. We were thinking about visiting, but between Corona and large visitor numbers on such a beautiful day, we decided against it after all. Instead we continued wandering through the forest a bit more.

By the time we got home it was starting to get dark. We briefly considered driving somewhere for food, but decided that our remaining sandwiches and snacks would suffice for another night. By around midnight I finally finished the slideshow for the wedding (technical issues, lesson learned: Don’t use apple Photos for slideshows you want to have any control in).

On Friday we had two things on the Agenda: A visit to a historic people lift in Bad Schandau, which my grandparents remembered fondly as they had a chance encounter there as kids years before getting together as a couple. The story is great: My grandmother was there on a school excursion and my grandfather and some friends had decided to cycle over from Berlin – the whole 250 km! While staying in the area my grandfather had an accident on the bike, and was put up in the same Hostel to recover. My grandmother was asked by the hostess to look in on him every now and then to make sure he had food and drink as he healed.

So this list has some historic significance to all of us – my parents had been there before too – and I was glad to finally get a chance to visit it myself. Nowadays it counts as an engineering monument, so while the lift itself has been upgraded a bit, it still works with the same principles as it did back then.

And I have to say, the view from the top was spectacular! We even managed to call Oma on Alexa and show her where we were and the view for a bit 🙂

Our next stop was the Castle Königstein, which frankly we underestimated. While I was my usual upbeat “let’s spend all day moving” Manja was, understandably, a little exhausted from the previous day 20km hike. So after making it all the way up the hill the castle is built upon, we decided to head back and conquer on another day. Instead we headed back to town for an iced-coffee. We mis-communicated a little and I was expecting food with the coffee, while Manja was happy to just have an iced-chocolate. So we wandered town looking for a good place to have a snack, but could only find places which sold cakes. So after walking around for a while we drove to a large cafe which we spotted on the way from the castle, but which I had deemed to be “too industrial” – meaning that it wasn’t like a nice little country bakery. They had everything we wanted and I had some scrambled eggs for brunch while Manja had a piece of cake. Of course, the cake once more attracted all the wasps in the area, so we retreated inside to allow Manja to eat in peace.

From there it was a couple of hours to the wedding venue, and our hotel in the area, so we decided to head straight there. Just as we were about to arrive, we got a call from Manjas mum, asking if we could pick up some extra tablecloths in Dresden, which we did, managing to drive back through traffic (The whole Autobahn was at a standstill for sections!) to get to the store 10 minutes before closing time. Of course, they took cash only, and we had insufficient cash with us, so we raced to the nearby petrol station to get cash and got the tablecloths moments before closing time. Phew!

To the rescue! Picking up table cloths!

From there it was about an hour of driving through now peak traffic to deliver the tablecloths and help with some of the final setup touches. By the time we got to our Airbnb we just grabbed a Döner at a nearby takeout, ironed our festive clothes for the next day and dropped into bed.

Our nice accommodation

Saturday it was time for the Wedding. We headed over to the venue by 10:30, and then over to the Standesamt with the Groom. The Bride arrived in her stretch-hummer a short time later, much to the amusement of passer-byes. Thanks to both, size of the office and Corona, only the closest family could be inside, so I got to have a break outside with a few people while the ceremony happened.
As they returned outside I got to point-and-click with Manjas camera, realising once again the difference between someone who knows how to use a camera and me 😅 The photographer arranged some photos before we all piled into the cars and headed back.

We were at the venue well before the bridge and groom, who were being driven around with their parents  in their hummer for a bit. This gave us time to sneak in our slideshow and prepare everything. By 14:00 they arrived and had to cut their way, using tiny scissors, through a heart on a bedsheet. The Groom then had to carry his bride through the heart, and just as he did someone set off confetti cannons. Now I’m not one for these things, but the timing created a truly awesome moment. They had to saw through a log before eventually getting inside of the venue and welcoming everyone. In the welcome they mentioned that we might start with coffee and cake a bit earlier, which everyone took to mean “eat it now” and promptly got into it.

After cake there was a bit of a gap in the program as the couple headed off to have photos taken in the ruins of the old cloister, which we used as an opportunity to also explore said ruins as well as the herb garden.

It’s a pretty spectacular venue, which they are restoring bit by bit, funded by events such as the wedding.

Toward evening we returned for some group photos before dinner. The dinner buffet was so extensive that one could not even sample it all – and it was all really good! Enter a few more wedding games and dancing, meaning time passed quickly. It was a bit past midnight when we eventually headed off.

Sunday we just drove home – Unfortunately Odin had been ill while we were gone and proceeded to vomit all over the place. The awesome cat-sitter had done much of the clean up in between already, but we still spent the afternoon cleaning everything up once more before eventually dropping off the car.

The next Wednesday we used the nice weather to catch up with Ilka at a local pizza-slice place just around the corner from us, after grabbing some slices we spent the evening chatting in our local park.

That Saturday the weather started to change, and we slept really poorly for it. We spent the afternoon at equivalent of Berlins Asian markets, the Dong Xuan Center.  Background to this is that we’re meeting Gaby next weekend for some Wok cooking – something I’d not done in ages. Gaby has a proper gas wok-burner in her new kitchen and a wok, so I offered to make a few things, but would need some specific ingredients.

On Sunday we headed to Ilkas garden once more. We had a lovely night and ended up heading out and having burgers together.

The next week it was time to cook some wok at Gabis! We took a train to a nearby station where she picked us up in her convertible. It was fun to ride with my face in the wind again!

I had found a few recipes which I’d made before including crispy fried eggplant, sezuan tofu, some fried rice and that type of thing.
I’ve got to say it was all good, but the crispy fried eggplant was fantastic. Unhealthy, sure, but fantastically yummy. We chatted the evening away before Robert eventually drove us back to the train station. We had to leave a bit earlier than we wanted to because there was a lockdown in place needing us to be home by midnight.

Sophias Polterabend

And with that we got to August already. On the first weekend we decided to rent a car for the day and walk around a lake. We’d not spent a day at a lake yet and given that this is the thing that every Berliner does in summer, we definitely felt the need to head out at least once. We also checked out the area of Caputh, where we had looked at a house a while back.