Anna and the Innkeeper goes to Germany – 2015


It is factually incorrect to refer to moi as the Innkeeper. Or at least it will be when we leave for Germany. At  that time I will no  longer  be an Innkeeper, as Anna and I have decided to call it a day, Innkeeping-wise. We are retiring. Not a good word, though – “retiring”. It implies a retreat, conceding defeat. That is not what we are doing. We are exiting the hospitality industry. Klaar with the guest house. Kaput. On 1 April 2015, we hand the business over to Andre and Mathilda , who will rent it from us. We will occupy ourselves doing other stuff, the exact nature of which is yet to be determined. I will in any event, keep the “Innkeeper” in the title of this blog. Maybe I am really, deep at heart, an Innkeeper and will remain so. Sort of an honorary Innkeeper. Turn up at rallies wearing my medals. Reminisce about the great old days. Bore the pants off everyone.

We have had a yen to return to the Alsace, where we spent a day or so two years ago. We were fascinated by the place, by the curious blend of German and French origin and culture. So, we are going back there for, say, a week, and then trundle around Germany, doing things one does in Germany. Eating wurst and drinking beer. If  he thinks I am going to Germany for that, he is sadly mistaken. There are things to see, medieval towns to explore. Sure, maybe here and there a beer and a wurst, but that is not why we are going. Anna will probably insist on visiting some old stuff and so, but I am reliably informed that even the meanest, oldest, crumbling town in Germany is replete with beer. And wurst.

Here is our planned route.

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Around 5000 odd km. Most satisfactory. We love road trips. The peculiar loop in blue is caused by the fact that we decided to invite Marietjie and Louis, two of our kids, along for the first two weeks. I know, I know. Weak moment. What can I say………

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Louis is on the left……
At the end of two weeks we need to get them to an airport to start their return journey.
Anna has done the research (Lots and lots of it). The plane tickets are bought. The visas in order. Car rented. On 1 April we bid the guest house adieu. On 22 April we leave for Germany.

St.Goar and Cochem
And so we put running a guest house behind us. On April 1, we handed Mes Amis over to Andre and Mathilda and went gladly into the a new state of life. Not that we had much time to contemplate our navels or to even wonder what lies ahead. We had to quickly do some building alterations to the part of Mes Amis that we will use as our private home, and prepare for our holiday with Mieks and Louis in Germany. The first part was sort of stressful, until I realised hit upon a great solution. I simply handed the task of overseeing to Anna, who was quite happy to take it on. (That is not quite how it happened. I soon realised that, if there was any chance of actually getting it done before we left for Germany, I simply had to step in, take over and actually communicate with the builders. As opposed to waving your arms about, which the Innkeeper is very, very good at.) Delegate, delegate, I always say.
In any event, the building work got done, the packing got done and we left for Germany. Via Doha. We met up with Jan, Retha and Mieks in Johannesburg, was fed lunch and departed. The flights to Frankfurt reminded us what a supreme pita flying is, and we arrived somewhat the worse for wear after about 24 hours of travelling. We had nothing booked for the first night and decided to wend our way down the Rhine to see what we can find.It was a most pleasant drive, the views punctuated by the odd castle on a hilltop. Oh, Mieks will be commenting in blue.

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We stopped at a handy little tavern in Bacharach, keen to down our first beer on German soil (Who knew beer could taste THAT good?)

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Somewhat revived, but still flagging a bit, we were determined to find a place to sleep in St Goar and get over the travel lag. The Rheinhotel in St Goar got the nod.

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We found time for a beer at the cafe next door.

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Dinner was at the nearby restaurant Zur Krone, reputedly a traditional German eatery. This was so that we could stop Louis mumbling about wurst, which is what he had been doing since we stepped off the airplane.

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We tried valiantly to deal with a bottle of Rheinisch red.

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It was truly bad. A second bottle of Pinot Noir left us marginally more satisfied. Louis and I had bratwurst with sauerkraut and potato croquettes. Good wurst, ok sauerkraut and factory croquettes.

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Mieks had spatzle and pork, pronounced good

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and Anna did battle with a dry pork schnitzel. (The pork needed to be much thinner- perhaps the frying time could then have been shorter. We were all so tired that we would in any event probably not done any food justice.)

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Not a particularly auspicious start to the culinary part of the holiday,but at least Louis got his wurst thing done. This was an antique corkscrew on the wall behind us.

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Off to bed. (I see you conveniently left off mention of the two Scnapps we each had which made us feel a whole lot better!)

Great continental breakfast. Crisp bread rolls, ham and so on in a sunny room overlooking the Rein. An attentive Innkeeper, doing everything right. stgoarbrek2

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The kids looked and were fully back to normal. Full of beans (full of delicious, freshly baked german brotchen) and ready to kickstart the holiday. We were booked for 2 nights in Cochem, a medieval little town a few kilometers upriver. Lots of time to first visit as supermarket to purchase essentials. Such as wine glasses. And wine. Which we did in Koblenz.

Wurst heaven……

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Thus armed, we drove along the Mosel towards Cochem. It is spring in Europe.

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Still a great drive.

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The Mosel valley is a large wine producing area, and vineyards dot the terraced hillsides.

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A leisurely drive down the valley. Enhanced by the absence of grumbles about wurst. Mieks was, however, in full Schloss mode. Every castle that hove into sight elicited a cry of “Schloss! Schloss!”. We are rethinking this. Was it wise to bring these two along? What can we do now? Sedatives spring to mind. Where can we find some valium? By the time we get to meet Christine and Jochen, we will probably be frazzled. If anyone reading this wants to adopt two adult (more or less) kids, please email us. Sofort. Maybe we’ll just abandon them on the side of the road…….(Hmph! Shall be keeping a tight hold on the wine and schnapps supply….)

Cochem is a charming medieval village on the Mosel. Mit castle. Which we will explore in the morning.

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We located the Pension Andreas up a small, steep street. Basic, but pleasant accommodation at around 35Euro per person. We soon found a salubrious spot to have a beer. And a coffee. And look at the river.

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We scouted for a restaurant for the evening and settled for a place with a reasonable menu and pleasant ambiance. Whence we returned later, after a short nap. Anna shrewdly stashed a bottle of wine in her handbag lest we again be confronted with bad wine. The bloody place had only one red wine on the menu. We tasted – it was terrible. We asked permission to open Anna’s bottle. No go. We left. This was not good. Plenty of white Mosel wines on offer, a few sweet and semi sweet reds (I joke you not), but only one lousy Trocken red. We went down the street, looking at wine list after wine list. That is, if one can glorify an afterthought of three whites and one red at the end of the menu by calling it a wine list. The word “list” sort of implies as reasonable number of items, does it not? I was aghast. Anna was aghast. Louis and Mieks were giggling (guffawing is the more accurate word methinks). Side of the road, I think. At what must have been the last eatery before home, we sat down and determined to drink white- we were running out of choices. This place had NO red wine at all. Niks, nothing. We spoke to the waiting person, and got the nod to open our own. Louis made a quick dash home to fetch a second bottle and we were good to go.

A relieved ex Innkeeper.

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The food varied from a decent spaghetti with beef

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To an ok pork schnitzel

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to a sub-par pork fillet

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to a really bad disk of lamb cutlets.

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The fries were good, but the sauce, of the sauce: a glutinous mess that was identical to that covering the pork fillet. On the culinary side of thing, we are less than pleased. Maybe we should stick to the wurst……At least the kids are still smiling. (Have to, don’t they, with all this talk of adoption and leaving them at the side of the road)

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Tomorrow we will figure out how to deal with the wine thing. We have one more night in Cochem. For now, on to bed. Gute nacht.

Cochem day 2
The day dawned cloudy. With a light drizzle. The chirpy Roswitha served a great breakfast – if there are crispy rolls available, the battle is half won. The kinder were going to go bike riding along the Mosel, but the weather put them off. No guts and determination, those two. It was but a few odd drops of rain……(let’s just say that no-one likes a soggy jean bottom!) Anna delved into her research and suggested that we visit the Schloss Eltz, about 18km from Cochem. So that is what we did. (Doing the research does pay off, as anyone who has had to deal with kids on a rainy day can tell you) (and what a most excellent researcher she is!)

We waited around for a shuttle bus to take us the last 2K.

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The short wait was well worth it.

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An impressive pile, still owned by the 33rd generation Eltzes. Moi and Louis entering the treasury

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A couple of the exhibits of objects d’art, weapons and so on – just the sort of stuff you would expect lying around your everyday castle.

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The courtyard where we met a guide who took us through the part of the castle not used by Dr. Karl Graf von und zu Eltz-Kempenich, the current owner.

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The kitchen

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The meeting room.

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The master bedroom.

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All in all a most satisfactory way to spend a rainy morning in the Mosel Valley. On the way back, we encountered some great views over the valley.

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We returned to Cochem and had a sort of ok lunch in an eatery on the river. At least the Beitburger Pils was good…..We drove back to the guest house, only to find the way up the steep, narrow street blocked by a van loading something. Reversing back down the narrow street is not, I can tell you, for the fainthearted. Especially not with three we-know-how-you-should-do-it passengers all yelling advice at the same time (and especially not if you do it twice!). Apparently the street would only be unblocked late afternoon. We decided to try to get home from the other end of the street, which, unfortunately, proved an elusive goal. We drove up roads. We drove down pedestrian streets. We traversed one way streets. At one point we drove into the gate of the castle, to the consternation of all and sundry. (I don’t think we’ll be able to supplement our income as professional navigators – even the GPS gave up on us) At least we got a few good pics:

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Suffice it to say that we got home eventually. Were it not for the adroit driving and sure sense of direction of the Innkeeper, however, we might well yet be wandering around the hills of Cochem. (So says he. There are others who know better.) (Bwahahaha!!)

An afternoon nap, and we were ready to venture forth to seek food. And wine. Which we will tell you about in the morn. Gute nacht.

Riquewihr

We have had mutters from the direction of Cologne that we should not have expected great red wine on the Mosel. White is what we should have focused on. In our defense, I must say that we did sample Moselle whites. It is just that, when it comes to serious wine drinking, Anna and I eschew the effete whites and prefer the company of characterful reds. Wines that you can discuss the state of the world over. Wines that you can have a serious relationship with, not just a one night stand. Our big gripe is not so much the crap wine as it is the crap wine lists. Are there no red-wine drinking tourists? Three reds on the list – a sweet, a semi sweet and one dry red. I do not think that I have ever seen a semi sweet red, never mind had one. Thank goodness!

Dinner last night  saw a distinct improvement on the wine front.We hied ourselves to the Ratskeller and found that they actually had two dry reds available – one the dreaded Dornfelder and the other a Moselle red from Theo Loosen. The latter was eminently drinkable and got us started in good cheer. The Ratskeller is located in the cellar below the city hall. A vaulted ceiling and rock walls made for a great ambience.

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It was time to get to grips with Flammkuchen, or as it is known in the Alsace, Tarte Flambée. A distant cousin of a pizza, it consists of a very thin, unleavened dough, covered with sour cream or creme fraiche and topped with whatever else. Onions are almost de rigeur and there is no mozzarella.

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Great choice. The crust was thin – a very thin and crisp flatbread. The ratio of bread to filling makes it completely different from a pizza. We will reprise this.

Of course the evening could not end without some controversy. They were happy to accept mastercards, but not Visa. Fortunately we had sufficient cash but what the fuck? Allow me also a rant about the German waiters we encountered. See how carefully I do not extrapolate to German waiters generally – only those who served us 4 meals and some beer in between. What a surly bunch they were! Efficient, but surly. No smile in sight and even when the place is not that busy, an attitude that left us feeling like cash cows. At the Ratskeller, we requested tap water with ice. We were brusquely informed “No ice” and were brought literally lukewarm tap water. This with a barman busily pouring behind a very large bar. Sure, that is what we ordered, but is should have been clear from what we said that we ordered it because we did not want bottled water. It detracted from what would otherwise have been a great evening. Except for the Visa thing.

Off to the Alsace, more particularly Riquewihr, a charming (and very touristy) medieval town. The Alsace was at various times part off Germany and then again part of France. It has therefore a unique German/French aspect that is reflected in the architecture, the food, the wine and the languages spoken. We visited it a few years ago, and were keen to revisit and share it with the kids. But first, we had to get there. 300 odd kilometers – not very far, but probably about 6 hours, given that we refuse, where possible, to use highways. The smaller roads take longer to traverse, but are always more interesting.

So we travelled through the last stretch of the Mosel valley, through flat farmland

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and lots of small villages.

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(Because parts of the trip was boring, the kids started faffing around in the back seat. I had to speak to them sternly with a threat of offloading them to get the car back to peace. Sigh!) (Bloody Louis doesn’t know how to sit still – and kept bugging me as I was peacefully reading….Brothers!!)

Lunch was beer with brotchen, ham, mustard and cheese on the side of the road.
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France hove into sight and we were soon driving among the vineyards of the Alsace. Riquewihr was as charming as we recalled.

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We were soon installed in the hotel De La Couronne and could explore the town. And maybe drink a beer or two.

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Dinner was at the Brasserie le Grognard   We divided our attention between a carafe of bordeaux and a carafe of Alsace red. Both were declared excellent. Best wine so far on the holiday.

Anna insisted that we start with escargot, which we reluctantly acceded to.

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This was followed by a beer baked chicken for Anna – as in chicken with a beer can stuck up its backside

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(Most embarrassing, having this contraption carried to one’s table…..) The rest of us had a beef and foie gras burger. Excellent. (It was ridiculously, toe-curlingly divine!)

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So, into the night went the gesellschaft Groenewald. Happy and contented. Rain is forecast for the morrow, so we may well roll two blogs into one. Bonne nuit.

Riquewihr day 2

The day dawned gray. And rainy. We had breakfast (the rolls, cheese, ham, jam, boiled egg and cake thing is getting a bit old now. We can do with an omelette. Or something). We had planned to visit some vineyards and take in the surrounding small towns. Scrap the vineyards.

Maybe we could drive around the neighbouring towns and see what we can see, given the crappy weather.

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Not much to be seen. Drizzle interspersed with heavy showers. We scuttled back to Riquewihr, had a beer and found a place near the hotel for lunch. Delightful two bunnies next to the table.

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One took a liking to Mieks. Why is she looking embarrassed? (Like you really should ask?)

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Forgettable food – I seem to remember two really bad terrines. As we were eating, the sun came out and we decided to repair to Ribeauville. And maybe Kaiserberg. Both nearby. We dawdled around the towns for a while…

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The last Easter decorations were still evident.

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And some of the party would always be able to find something in a shop…..

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(Why are there so many pictures of our backsides??)

The area is known for the storks that breed here and some buildings have platforms for stork to build nests on. Which they do. And then sit in the nest. Breeding more storks.

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I stayed a block away and zoomed in. Lest the bird notices me. And delivers a leetle gift…

On the way back the Innkeeper had a small mishap (Hah!) with the car and hit the curb rather hard. Causing some damage to the tyre. It is, of course, extremely difficult to focus on one’s driving with the kids shouting and screaming in the back (“Wurst! Wurst!” and “Schloss! Schloss!”) That I managed to keep the car on the road is a minor miracle. In any event, we’ll exchange the car in the morning.

We came to a unanimous conclusion. Of all the Alsace towns, Riquewihr is the most representative, quaintest, prettiest of the lot. Two nights in Riquewihr is enough and we will move on.

For dinner we decided to reprise the flammkuchen, seeing that this would probably be our last chance at it. So we did. (Ahem…But as we were in France, it’s called Tarte Flambe)

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These ones had snails on. Clearly Tarte Flambee, not flammkuchen. How more french can you get?

The new day was pretty grim as well. Rain and more rain. We decided to head to Landau in Germany. On the Bodensee (or lake Constance if you prefer the Swiss version). The old part of town is located on an island and thence we would go. First we exchanged the car in Freiburg for one with a good front tyre. I will, of course, never hear the end of this. All three of them will, I fear, keep reminding me of the contretemps with the curb. (So right, my dear, so right. Haha!) (Am planning to enroll you in a curb avoidance course for your next birthday)

So, on to Landau, all of 300K down the track. The rain did little to dampen our spirits, although there were times of quiet from the back (Thank goodness!) when the young ones caught a nap. We saw the odd interesting sight at circles

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And interesting landscapes

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Eventually the Bodensee hove into sight. A lot of water. 63km long by 14km wide.

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We drove into Landau, found the island and experienced one of those “Oh shit” moments. It was not at all what we had pictured. Maybe it was the rain (it was bloody cold by now – 3C). Maybe it was us. Maybe it was Landau, but we decided that we cannot stay there. So we left. Anna hauled our her research and we headed to Füssen, about 100K further on. Where we eventually arrived, slightly worse for wear, late in the afternoon.

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We were immediately cheered by the friendly reception we got a the Altstadt Hotel Zum Hechten. Dinner was in the hotel restaurant.

Three cheese soups

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and a beef broth for Mieks (chicken soup – and it was delicious!)

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Both soups declared great. Mieks was happy with her pork with dumplings.

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The rest of us were unhappy with a stodgy Zuricher Geschnetzeltes.

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Depending on the weather, we might ascend the Zugspitz, the highest point in Germany. Using, I hope, some form of solid German engineering. Rather than ropes and pitons and stuff. We’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

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It had been raining for a few days, and the forecast going forward is more rain for a week. Lo and behold, we woke to sunshine. Jammed in to all the cloudiness, one day of sun. Just when we want to go up the Zugspitse and need clear skies. If we had stayed in Landau and arrived in Füssen a day later, we would have been denied the experience. Talk about serendipity. But maybe it is because I lead a clean life….. Mieks says it was karma.

About 60km later, we arrived in Greinau, whence the cable car departs. Up the very high mountain. If you look carefully you will note a tower at the very top of the very high mountain. That is where the gondola thingy dangling from a rope was due to take us.

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You will note that the ropes dangle downwards. That is, I am told, because they are so heavy. And this without anything dangling from them! It was a sight to daunt the bravest. I swallowed a couple of times, girded my loins and entered the hall of departure. (We actually had to push him in. After all the travelling to get here, he simply had no choice) 

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It was so worth it, though. Here is what we saw on the way up:

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At the top, we exited onto a deck, covered with snow.

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On, so it felt, the top of the world, looking down. (Truly breath-taking!)

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Magnificent! No, beyond magnificent. This was, we all agreed, the experience of a lifetime:- right up there with anything we had ever seen.

There was a further cable car available, descending to the level of the glacier below, where skiers were doing their thing. (I must admit to feeling a bit jealous) Ski lifts ferried them to and fro.

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By now I was inured to the hazards of moving up and down mountains in gondolas and led the way down. It was important, I felt, to set an example to the more timid members of the party:- something all us true leaders are happy to do. (Hahaha, and so the delusions of the aged sets in!) So, down we went.

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And used the ski cafe to down a beer.

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Back to the top, we dawdled around a bit

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A last look at the vista surrounding us,

 

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and down we went. I hummed calming tunes as we went, trying to place myself into a state of Zen. Louis, however, kept commenting how high it was, how far to the ground and stuff designed to make me feel nauseous. No consideration for his elders.

We returned to Füssen, took a nap, and then explored the St. Mang abbey.

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Füssen is a great town. Not too touristy. Oodles of charm. Painted building facades – a Bavarian thing, it seems.

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Pleasant garden…

 

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And enough shops to satisfy even Anna. She did, of course, teach Mieks some bad, very bad habits. (It must be noted that we did not purchase a single handbag, so I think I was a very good influence!)

 

 

 

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All in all, as satisfactory a day as one would wish, touring a foreign country. We had a forgettable dinner in, of all things, a Greek eatery. Okay, okay!

Tomorrow the idea is to visit Neuschwanstein castle and then we’ll decide where to do. Great, great day. (Spectacular day!)

Mittenwald
Another sunny day:- the last in a while, I fear. So, maybe a last day in the mountains. We decided to head to Mittenwald, deeper into the Alps. But first, mad Ludwig’s folly, the Castle Neuschwanstein, lies but 3km from where we were. So thence we went, incidentally giving Mieks a serious Schloss shot. (Methinks I am now schlossed-fulfilled!)

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This was the model for Disney’s castles. More or less completed in 1880, it is in part an homage to Wagner, a friend of Ludwig II of Bavaria. To give the guy credit, he used his own and borrowed funds, rather than funding the building from state coffers.

We ascended to the castle from the small town of Hohenschwangau via horse-drawn carriage. No pics allowed inside, so I had to nab some interior shots from the web, just to give some idea of how ornate the place is.

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Mittenwald is a small town located in the Isar valley in the foothills of the Alps. It was founded around 1090AD and is as charming as all get out.

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Particularly noticeable was the paintings on the facades of some buildings and houses.

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I immediately offered my services to do the same at Mes Amis, seeing that I am retired and all. A splendid project, serving to keep me occupied, beautify the place and at the same time give expression to my artistic talents. Win-win all round. The idea, however, flew like a lead balloon. A few snorts was all I got. Talk about being deflated. And hurt. (Sorry, my dear. Some things you can do, and some not. Painting? No. Definitely no)

Dinner was an middling affair at an Italian place. Whence we fled to escape another Bavarian menu. I personally have nothing against a schnitzel, and I would hate for schnitzels world-wide to take affront, but variety is, so they say, the spice of life……The pasta was not bad and, as a change of pace it served its purpose.

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A good Chianti Classico arrived properly dressed.

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The weather forecast is pretty dire, so we decided to head to Augsburg, the 3rd largest town in Bavaria. The theory is that we should be better able to keep ourselves occupied in the rain in a larger place. We shall see……

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Augsburg got the nod. If it is to rain, we should be ok in a large town. More to do and so, was our reasoning. Pretty miserable outside. Outside the  hotel, we found a bunch of youngsters dressed in Bavarian clothing, mounting a horse-drawn wagon with their musical instruments.

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We set off in the rain. As we drove, and encountered village after village with no one around and everything shut down, it slowly dawned on us that it was 1 May, worker’s day and a public holiday. If we had taken that into account when we decided to drive to Augsburg, we would probably have stayed another night in Mittenwald. Oh well….

We arrived in Augsburg in the rain at the Hotel Am Ratshaus. On the square in front of  the Ratshaus, people were packing up what would have been a celebration of some  sort. Pretty dismal.

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We walked around a bit, got wet, drank wine, took a nap, drank some more wine and ate. Augsburg was a washout. We decided to head to Rothenburg the next day, chasing what was forecast to be a spot of sunshine.

It was still cloudy, but the drive to Rotenburg was a pleasant one. The Navigator guided us along small country roads…

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Past little hamlets…

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through farmland…

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more towns… Like Dibach…

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and Dinkelsbuhl…

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Donauworth…

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And eventually she deposited us in front of the old gate that led to the medieval town of Rothenburg…

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Just inside was the second gate…

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which got us into the village, awash with tourists.

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We found our hotel, the Rote Hahn, settled in and went walkabout – no rain!

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A most pleasant way to spend an afternoon on holiday. Although the town was packed with tourists, it was not overcrowded. It was everything that we had hoped for.  Loads of character, whimsical little shops, lots of places to have a beer.

Dinner was at one of  the “regional  speciality” restaurants. Which means schnitzel, lots of pork, very little fish or fowl and no veggies outside a salad. Lots of potatoes and dumplings. And stuff. The choice was this or Italian. The wine was most interesting – a black Riesling

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Anna looking a little lost.

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Mieks pronounced her chicken breast with a creamy tarragon sauce to be excellent.

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Louis’ meatloaf with spatzle was less successful.

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Anna was happy with her breaded chicken with rosti.

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My roast suckling pig with dumplings was a dismal affair. Beyond stodgy. We have to find something better. This is getting pretty dire…..

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We had initially planned to move on to Heidelberg in the morning,but the weather forecast was for rain both there and in Rothenburg,  so we decided to stay put and extend our stay.

We actually got eggs to order in the morning. A first. The weather was holding, just, and we explored the town further, determined to search for a change of pace dinner-wise while walking around.

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Please note how suave and debonair the Innkeeper appears. Even on holiday, the man maintains certain standards. Even in the rain, he stands out. Don’t you think? (I love you dearly, my man, but you can talk such nonsense…) (What she said!)

We returned to the entrance gate. The small hole above the arch was used to pour molten lead on attackers. Tends to dim one’s warlike ardour, molten lead does.

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The age of the town wall, the gate, a bridge connecting parts of it was palpable. Especially for us from the new world.

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We wandered around the town

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Found a shop specialising in Christmas decorations. By the thousands.

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At ridiculous prices.

We visited the crime museum,  with exhibits of torture instruments and the like. Just the thing to improve one’s appetite for lunch….

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Lunch was a good soup, a good toasted baguette and two terrible flammkuchen. Two things we will experiment with back home – flammkuchen and quarkballchen. The latter being deep fried balls made from a dough consisting of flour, sugar, vanilla, egg, oil and quark, which is a soft cottage-cheese like milk product. Seriously good.

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Some of us took a post-lunch nap. Mieks took a walk. She ascended the tower in the middle of town.

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And walked along the wall surrounding the town.

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(Rotenburg is a very charming place! Loved the idea of walking along the old ramparts, imagining people walking in the very same place hundreds of years ago. Moments that make you feel so connected to the whole human experience across time…And of course a bit of walking helps to work off a bit of German cheer!)

We found a Chinese eatery for dinner. Sad, but we are desperate. We do realise that our dining dilemma is caused by the fact that we insist on visiting touristy places. Places worth visiting inevitably become touristy. When they do, it follows that most eateries will cater for the tourist market and thus focus on local food. Like schnitzels and stuff. This makes it fine for the tourists who whip through in a bus and are keen to sample local cuisine before they hit the next country. Others, like us, suffer.  C’est la vie. Does not mean that we cannot bemoan our fate. But we do so with the tongue firmly in the cheek.

Louis looking contented in the restaurant.

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A happy bunch of people, just because we have a change…

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Tomorrow we meet with Christine and Jochen. Yes! Yes!

Wiesbaden

We left Rotenburg, contented that we added a second day. We headed for Wiesbaden, where we were due to meet our friends, Jochen and Christine, a meeting that we had  been looking forward to since the start of the trip. Along the way we planned to visit the gardens at the Schloss in Swetzingen. As per Christine’s recommendation.

The gardens were symmetrical and formal. And peaceful and beautiful.

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Louis had to show off!

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In Wiesbaden Jochen and Christine had booked us into the Hotel de France. A far better fate than we deserved.

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Shortly after checking in, our hosts arrived, and we picked up by Andreas, who was to show us around Wiesbaden. Wine was opened and the tour began.

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A most pleasant afternoon. Wiesbaden is a supremely civilized place. The Americans shrewdly spared it from being bombed in order to  use it as their post-WW2 headquarters.

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Stately homes……

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We visited the Russian chapel built by Duke Adolph von Nassau between 1849 and 1855 to house the funerary monument of his wife who died while giving birth, the Russian Princess Elisabeth Michailowna, Grand Duchess of Russia and Duchess of Nassau at a reputed cost of 1m rubles. He surely loved her a lot.

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Mieks and Jochen are both suckers for dogs. We had in fact been having problems throughout the trip with Mieks dashing off at the sight of a dog, accosting the owner, scratching the animal’s ears. And doing doggy stuff. Most embarrassing….

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We went up a funicular thingy, again dangling precariously from a rope. Who do people think that the Innkeeper likes dangling from ropes? Please, please make a note. Do not do this to me. (Hah! He should have known this was coming. I just love seeing him go pale…..)

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Great view from the top, though.

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End of tour pic.

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We freshened up and then went to the Weihenstephaner across the road,  a restaurant owned by Bruno Henrich. Who would, personally and by proxy be cooking for us.

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But first, there was wine to be drunk – Bruno treated us royally to an array of quite splendid wines.

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Starting with an extraordinary Spaniard. I was determined to record all the courses faithfully for your delectation and delight, dear reader. Of that splendid plan little came about. Mainly because of the arrival of Roberto and Isabelle from Frankfurt. We were delighted to see them, but things went rapidly downhill from there. We did get a reasonable pic of the first course, Kabeljou with a herb sauce and potatoes. A remarkable dish. Redefining a potato salad for me forever.

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We did manage to salvage from record of what happened…….

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Roberto expounding. Which he does a lot…

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Isabelle flashing…….

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Anna looking pretty. Pretty drunk, if you ask me…. (Actually, I was the only reasonably sober one of the lot. Drank lots of water with the lots of wine, you see.)

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And the Innkeeper making a fool of himself.

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There was more food. A wonderful schnitzel, a goulash and a deconstructed apple pie for dessert. And Bruno kept opening wine. We spoke, and drank, and laughed. What an evening! I seem to remember towards the end, Louis talking about not having had weisswurst yet, only for servings of weisswurst to appear. With beer. After all the wine.. We went to bed.

After breakfast the next morning, we said our somewhat sad goodbyes and left. At least we will meet our friends again in Hamburg towards the end of our trip.

For now, we set off to Traben-Trarbach on the Mosel. It is only 20Km from Hahn airport, we had to drop the kids off at around 6am the next morning.

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From  Wiesbaden to Traben-Trarbach is only about 170Km – a mere doddle, We decided to go autobahn most of the way, as we were a mite tired from the night before (As in moeg en babbelaas). There was nevertheless stuff to be seen. One of  the aspects of Germany that struck us is how organised and manicured it is – even the farming areas. See what we mean:

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In Traben-Trarbach we checked in to the Hotel Moselschlossen. A very pleasant pile on the banks of the river. The Mosel, obviously.

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The hotel was basically the only pleasant aspect of an otherwise dismal place. We were not impressed with the town. At a distance it looked sort of ok – as in the view from our balcony across the river to the Trarbach part of the town. No matter – we were still rather weak from the excesses of the previous night.

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We wandered around, looking for a place to eat – me and Mieks studying wine lists. We were back in Dornfelder territory and bedamned if we were going to be ambushed by a wine Karte again.

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And Louis looking nonchalant.

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In the end we had dinner at our hotel. All dishes pronounced very good. Rib eye steak with fries for me.

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Anna liked her chicken.

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Mieks munched on rabbit.

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Louis was happy with his pork.

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A bottle or two of black riesling (a new taste experience) helped things along.

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And so the last day with the kids drew to an end.

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Our last evening on holiday with Louis and Mieks. Two great people who brightened up our days. It was wonderful to have them along. It was great to build memories together. We will forever have something that belongs to just the four of us. Thanks, you two. (It was very special. A rare opportunity to experience something special with two special people).

We move on to St.Gallen where our friends Andy and Rosy Fraefel will be our hosts for two days. Andy has planned a busy schedule for us, so the next blog post will probably only happen on Sunday.

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We arose before the first sparrow farted at 04:30 and dropped the two younger ones off at Hahn airport just before 06:00. Bound for Venice, where they were to spend a few days with a friend of Louis. Does not sound much of a hardship to me…..

We set off for Frankfurt Airport, all of 80Km further on, to exchange the Skoda station wagon we had with a smaller car. That done, we pointer the car’s nose in the direction St. Gallen in Switzerland, some 450Km off. We decided to take the autobahn and get there rather than dawdle along country roads, as is our wont. Thus we do not have much to report regarding the trip, as the Autobahns in Germany do not provide much of a view of the surrounding countryside:- trees on both sides, mostly. And lots of trucks. As in plenty.

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In St.Gallen

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we met Andy and Rosy, our Swiss friends.

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They installed us in the Hotel Bad Horn on the shore of lake Constance, utterly spoiling, the two of us….

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I had, when we last saw Andy, mentioned to him that I had seen pics of the Abby Library in St. Gallen. He remembered and took us there. The library was built in 1758 in the baroque style and houses among its 160,000 volumes, 2,100 manuscripts dating back to the 8th through the 15th centuries. No pics allowed, so you will have to make do with the ones I downloaded:

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This is without a shadow of doubt the most impressive room I have ever seen. It is overwhelming, awe-inspiring. It exudes a sense not so much of the volumes it contains, but the collective of their contents. There is a palpable sense of civilisation, of the heights to which we can aspire when pursuing knowledge. If you do nothing else in your live, stand once in this room. It is an experience beyond words. (Unbelievable. Unbelievable. I still cannot believe that something so moving exists)

How do you follow this with anything meaningful? Andy and Rosy had the answer – dinner at a 1 star Michelin restaurant, the Segreto in Wittenbach. Eating a menu carefully constructed by Andy and chef  Martin Benninger. So, when you follow my sage advice about the library, dine here. And ask Martin for the Andy Fraefel menu. Here is what we had:

Parma marshmallow with salami. Wonderful pillowy mallow bursting with parmesan flavour. And then of course,there was the salami…

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Neither of us are keen spargle eaters. When white asparagus is in season, the whole German-speaking world goes bananas. Every restaurant has a special spargle menu,  there are spargle stall, spargel degustations…. We do not like spargle. It generally tastes of old rope. And it looks like a small white penis. But then Martin gets hold of it, adds a judicious selection of herbs and it becomes something else. This. It was absolutely great.

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Next up we got bread. Exquisite small rolls. Olive, pesto, carrot and plain.

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Served with butter, raw butter, peppered cream and salt. Crunchy and delicious.

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Martin then appeared with a prawn on a skewer. Wearing a basil hat and clutching a citrus thingy to its tummy. Firm, but not rubbery. I forgot to ask Martin, but I suspect that it was mostly done ceviche. Very good.

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Next up was probably the most extraordinary dish I had ever eaten. By a long mile. Here it is:

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Very, very thinly sliced slivers of scampi in an almost invisible white wine sauce, with dried mushrooms and spring onions. The scampi was frozen, then thinly sliced, placed into the sauce on the plate, and gently heated, not cooked. I now understand what a Michelin star means. This dish was genius.

Foie gras made its appearance in the form of small cubes of raw foie gras in a pate-like consistency. With rhubarb, a foie gras ice cream and a slice of brioche. (I sat this one out. I cannot stand the thought of force-feeding geese for our pleasure and refuse in principle to eat foie gras, delicious it may be. The rest seemed to enjoy it.) Indeed we did.

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Then we were served a veal agnolotti. Thin, almost ethereal pasta, a flavour kick from the filling, and a thin coating of veal stock made this the complete dish. Best pasta I have ever had. I don’t like pasta. I liked this.

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Crayfish got the treatment. Again very lightly cooked. Served with thin strips of apple, and parma ham. A superb dish.

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Slow cooked veal cheek made its way to our table. Not by itself, of course. On a pillow of potato and a glistening veal jus. Soft, falling apart and utterly delicious.

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Dessert was a honey ice cream with olive oil (!) and the blanched tips of a pine branch. Said pine branch covering the disk and removed, cloche-like, by the waiting staff. A wonderful end to a wonderful meal.

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I did not mention, did I, that the dishes were accompanied by extraordinary wines. It goes without saying. Regrettably I failed to  record the details. Mea culpa. We ended by having as a digestif a superb and very rare gin.

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What a night we had. An unbelievable dining experience. The best food we have ever eaten, in the company of good friends. Can it get better than that? Only if you were all there as well…

After a good night’s rest, Andy and Rosy picked us up the next morning. We were due, said Andy, to go to Appenzell and thence, on a rope in a dangling cage up a mountain. I turned pale. I was so sure that I had no more dangling-from-a-rope-going-up-a-mountain adventures in store….(I will in time cure him of this. I will, I will )

Appenzell turned out to be a perfectly pleasant little village.  Its claim to fame is that it is the main town of the canton, and the good citizens do all their voting for canton-related stuff by gathering around a fountain, speaking, arguing, and then voting by a show of hands. Sounds perfectly sensible  to me. We have been doing things by Lekgotla in times gone by. Pity there was nothing going on, voting-wise when we were there. Could have been fun pulling a Julius Malema on them….

Look at the village. Clean, pristine, manicured. Ordered. Swiss.

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All this was, of course, a prelude to the rope thing. Which came about in the fullness of time. Rosy and Anna carried me up the steps and into the cage, whispering words of encouragement. If only I had a slug of last night’s gin available… Nevertheless, us African type people are made of stern stuff, and I was determined not to allow the other Swiss people around giggling at me, so I gritted my teeth and up we went.

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Joking aside, the view was spectacular going up, and descending. Unfortunately the top was shrouded in cloud. We had a beer, waited for the sun, and went down again.

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The houses dotting the landscape are all farmhouses of small cattle and/or sheep farmers. The extension to the left on the pic below is for the animals. The right part for the humans. In winter, of course, Although we did not see a lot of animals outside. Maybe they get used to being inside. Sort of house cows. And house sheep.

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Most enjoyable. Off we went to Mainau, an island on lake Constance renowned for its garden. It was a former royal possession – king of Sweden and his descendants, the details evade me. In any event, a spectacular place. We spent most of the afternoon wandering and wondering. Have a look:

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(This was the most incredible garden I had ever seen. When we get back home, I want one just like it…)We took a ferry across the lake and Andy drove us to Lauterbach where we settled in at the restaurant Gu. We got an interesting amuse consisting of a firm-fleshed fish tempura

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And Andy wanted to show us how a schnitzel  should be treated. Very, very good example of the specie. We are not sure that,  as a specie, it will ever get into our top 10.

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Good sleep – tired from all the walking on the flower island. Our last day in Switzerland was to be devoted to a visit to Zurich. Whence we went by train.

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Very civilised. Andy was determined to eradicate my rather jaundiced view of Zurich, gained during numerous visits in the dim, Inet past.

We took a walk around the city, and I have to admit that there is more to it than I had thought.

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We had a beer,

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and then repaired to the Kronenhalle Bar, a small,cosy bar frequented by the Zurich movers and shakers. Replete with Picasso and Miro. The Innkeeper fit right in, of course…. We had a pisco sour (don’t ask, I don’t know).

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Off to the Kunsthalle to have a gander at an exhibition built around the Japanese influence on Impressionists such as Monet, Picasso et al. Interesting. We repaired to a nearby bar to have a beer – it was starting to rain -, had a look at a very interesting food deli (fillet steak at R1500/Kg, small sole at R1300/Kg). In fact, prices generally in Zurich are insane. Even for the Swiss.

Andy has entrance into the club Zurich Haute, on top of a building, where we had a drink, admired the view and then repaired to the flat of Trudi, a friend of the Fraefels. We met Alicia, Trudi and Nina.

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Also Sam, who belongs to Alicia.

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Andy jr., celebrating his last day at university, also joined us.

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Bowl upon bowl of Thai food was trotted out, and a great time was had by all.

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We returned to St. Gallen after 10pm on an intercity train, drinking a grappa and eating cookies that the thoughtful Nina had provided,

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(Civilised, I tell you. Civilised.)

To bed, and the next morning we bid Andy and Rosy adieu to continue our German adventure. What hospitality! What good friends. We really need to have both them and Jochen and Christine with us next your. Friends are such a joy, such a blessing. Thanks Andy.  Thanks Rosy. (You spoilt us rotten. Thanks.)

Passau and Bamberg

We left St.Gallen for Passau, a long drive of 400Km. We debated whether to stay for 2 nights, given the distance, but in the end booked one night at the Hotel Passauer Wolf. Good thing we did.  Passau has all the credentials to be great- founded in the second half of the 5th century, an old Roman outpost, etc. etc. In reality it was devoid of warmth – Alt aber kalt.

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It does have the world’s largest cathedral, which redeemed the day. St.Stephen’s Cathedral was built in the late 1600’s.

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It is 100m long and has an organ with 17,776 pipes. And 5 consoles.

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Quite magnificent. And ornate, and elaborate and I want to ask “why?”. (For me it was the most impressive cathedral I had ever seen. Maybe because it is so large, but it had a large impact on me.)

Forgettable dinner at an Italian place where the German waiters kept saying “prego,  prego”.

And to bed – the Passauer Wolf was good value for money. With friendly staff and a good breakfast. Actual fried eggs! We set off for Bamberg, 270Km from Passau. We decided to take the small roads, but soon realised that the scenery was rather monotonous.

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Not boring monotonous, but without sufficient diversity to warrant adding 2 hours to our driving time. The Navigator had by now sorted out the German-speaking satnav – “Bitte nach rechts abfaren” and so on. She programmed it and I translated. Fun. It has a small window where you are warned of upcoming turnoffs and so. Suddenly it read “Fest Regen im 1.7Km”. Now “Fest” I was not sure of, but I was pretty sure that “Regen” is rain. No ways. Just – no ways. We ignored it. In 2Km it was raining heavily. I joke you not! “Fest” I later learned, is “hard”.

The car muttered darkly that a tire was deflating, so we had to stop and check  at the next petrol station. Everything was fine, but the air thingy was quite interesting – a portable one.

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Note the elegant right arm – classical! (It took him quite a while to  figure it out. The right arm, of course, is due to stiff joints.)

We diverted to the autobahn. The satnav refused to take us to it other than via what seemed to us a very roundabout way. I mean, we could practically see the A3. This was why – there were roadworks. Look at the poor souls in the other direction:

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She had us bypass the roadworks. I think I am in love…….(I do not fear competition from a computer. It is just a one trip stand.)

Bamberg is still in Bavaria on the river Regnitz. More rivers in Germany than you can shake a stick at. For the major rivers we have no counterparts back home. The minor ones are our major ones. Oh well. The town was first mentioned in writing in 902AD.

We checked in at the Hotel Am Dom. A fairly modern little hotel. Pleasant. We decided to stay for 2 days. Chill time. Bamberg was again like the curate’s egg – good in parts, bad in parts. The bad parts predominated. Stone buildings with little warmth. Good architecture, but not inviting. Like this:

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There was the obligatory cathedral. On a platz with nothing but cobblestones.

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We had dinner in a nearby eatery. Steak and fries for me, and trout with spinach and potatoes for Anna, both dishes good.

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To bed. The birds woke us early and we determined to suck the last drop of nectar from Bamberg. The dismal breakfast was not a good start.

We took a tour on a hop-on-hop-off bus. The only thing we saw that we liked was the Altenburger hill, with a smallish and utterly charming castle.

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With nice views. I refer, of course, to Anna…..

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For whom I bought an eis.

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Note the chapeau, if you will. The epitome of suave, I would say.

For the rest the tour was a complete waste. Imagine a hop-on-hop-off in George……We hopped off, and found a few interesting and charming streets.

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Where the Innkeeper could sample a beer from one of Bamberg’s 57 breweries. A Weisser. I prefer the clear Pils, though.

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We have been sustained in our travels post Wiesbaden by the wine, schnapps and other stuff that Cristine and Jochen had packed for us. The wurst in the aid package did not last long. Not with Louis in the car. He goes through wurst quicker than a laxative through a weak stomach. We still have 6 bottles of superb German red wine left. And schnapps. Oh, the schnapps! Wonderful, soft birnen that speaks to you in tongues….

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So, while the Innkeeper blogs,

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Anna keeps pouring wine. Note the angle of the left arm. Perfect.

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Dinner at the same place as last night. We were unable to find anything better in our wanderings around, and the waiter promised that they will line up some duck for us. Besides, the Rotweincuvée, a blend with black Riesling was pretty good. So thence we went.

The wine was as expected – a blend of black Riesling and Duett. Not up to the Burg Ravensburg in our stock that we dealt with earlier, but quite acceptable. Compared to the Dornfelder crap we dealt with along the Mosel. The duck was great – slow roasted and knusperig. Dessert was shared – apple rings, covered with mashed apple and a batter. Then dipped in cinnamon sugar. Served with a mixed berry sauce. A good meal.

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This was their menu. More or less what we have seen all over Germany.

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The plan was to drive to Erfurt for a day, so that is where we will head in the morning. Maybe we should do a map for you in the next few days.

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To Erfurt we went. Nothing absolutely fabulous to report along the way (180Km). Other than fields of canola

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And the odd interesting little town. Like Viernau

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Or Zella-Mehlis

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Or Ebertshausen

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All mildly interesting and enough to sustain us along the way.

Erfurt is a university city and a centre of the German labour court. It was founded around 700AD. Sort of old. Old half-timbered houses and 25 Gothic churches. We could only get accommodation for one night at the Pension Altstadtperle. We were not sure whether we should hunt around for alterative accommodation for longer and decided to stick to one night. This is the problem with travelling the Groenie way in Germany. In 2011 Google stopped taking pics for streetview in Germany after privacy concerns by the German authorities. Not having streetview seriously handicaps the Navigator’s ability to judge places. If we had it available, Bamberg would have been skipped. As would Passau. O well, we make do. As it turned out, we would have loved more time in Erfurt. Utterly charming, vibrant, full of life and juice. (Joey recommended that we visit Erfurt. I remember that he used to live here. Thanks, J. Great recommendation). Alt aber nicht kalt.  We only had the afternoon to go walkabout. Which we did.

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Lots of places to sit back with a glass of wine.

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And a beer. If the Innkeeper’s grip on the beer mug looks peculiar, it if because it is the Griff der Biertrinker – a grip that is developed with years of experience and at a glance seperates the parvenus from the professionals. Do not try this at home – there are subtleties at work that you cannot imagine.

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Anna buying glass stuff.

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Anna walking from one glass stuff shop to another. (He can carry on so. We agreed that the wonderful glass figurines would be great somewhere in our home. Tyoical Innkeeper, making me the culprit)

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We are going to put in an offer for this building. It may look somewhat ramshackle and probably is, but we have a vision of restoring this to a haven of peace in the middle of Erfurt. A guest house and restaurant where we will serve anything that is not traditional German. Like walkie talkies (ask your nearest South African what it is). We are enthusiastic about this and may well invite Julius to open the place. Positions are available for chefs, waiters, waitresses, front of house and so on. Apply now!

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Near our apartment we found Antoine’s, a place that serves only Tarte Flambee. Mit a real Frenchman in the kitchen. We know that because we were early and he came out to chat. And spoke French go us. We know that because he said “bonsoir”. And other French-sounding stuff. We got the definitive Flammkuchen. If you think it looks like a pizza, you are so wrong. Same family, but this was good. Seriously good. Thin, thin crust, crunchy and crisp – no yeast, remember, so essentially flatbread. Great meal, with a pichet of house wine. (The Innkeeper threatens to make this back home. So, if you get an invite to dinner, ask first if Flammkuchen are on the menu)

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And back at our apartment, as usual, a schnapps. Courtesy of Christine and Jochen. Tonight was the Himbeergeist. Sublime.

We will move on tomorrow, regrettably. But then, new places to see. All is well. Gute nacht.

Quedlinburg

The Navigator liked what she read about Quedlinburg and, being an obedient husband, to Quedlinburg we went. It is located on the river Bode and is apparently first mentioned in 922AD in writing by King Henry the Fowler. Not “the Great” or “the Brave” or something similarly heroic:- no “the Fowler”. as in the birder. Poor guy.

Not a long drive – about 150km. The countryside the same as yesterday and the day before. Lots of Canola fields.

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Interspersed with green stuff that to our untrained eyes looked very much like green stuff. It turns out that Germany is the world’s 5th largest canola producer. Behind Canada. And France. And India. (This will remain a picture in my mind of Germany in Spring. Yellow and green. And nothing but planted fields or forests. No veld at all – no square metre wasted.)

Along the way Sabrina (that’s the satnav) took us on a detour to bypass  part of the A71 that was temporarily closed. Gotta love the woman.

We arrived in Quedlinburg and checked in to the Ferienwohnungen Alte Bäckerei am Schloß. Which is to say, the Old Bakery Holiday flats at the Castle. We have noted that accommodation establishments in Germany tend to be flowery when thinking up a name. Right here in Quedlinburg we for example have the Himmel & Hölle Ferienhäuser – the Heaven and Hell holiday cottages. Sure to attract the crowds, that one.
Our old bakery apartment is fine, if a tad weird. It  is located in the attic of a house, with the bedroom above the lounge, accessible via a ladder through a hatch. Bathroom downstairs. We decided to lower the gangplank when we go to bed, lest one of us need the toilet at night and tumble to our doom. Anna woke me twice get the damn thing raised….. (It needed 2 to lift it. And letting it down was for him – if anyone was likely to go tumbling down, it was him)

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And then we also had to be careful with the low door  frames… (Not “we”,my dear, you. You are  the one with scars from bumping your head.)

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But all in all, quite comfortable. The loo is, though, rather peculiar. It has, right beneath your behind, a sort of a shelf. I have placed the toilet brush on it in the cause of clarity. The hole is right in front. The shelf is where you deposit your stuff. It then sits there, staring evilly at you until you flush. Mighty handy if you need to collect samples for a medical exam,  but otherwise it is wise to suppress the weird impulse most of us seem to have to take a quick look at your excreted matter. Simply stare into the distance and flush quickly.Trust me on this. It ain’t pretty. Good motto for life – never look back – leave the shit behind.

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Lunch was needed, so we went past the castle

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into the old town. It was market day and the marktplatz was fairly busy.

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We wanted to spend some time planning the next few days, so we had a forgettable lunch and returned to the apartment. A short nap later, we opened one of the bottles of the wine thoughtfully provided by Christine and Joey (A Michel Pinot Noir – excellent) and discussed our options for the next few days. We decided on Leipzig first, and then to return to Erfurt for two more days. The decisions got easier as the wine bottle got emptier……The next morning we got the following comment from Christine to our Erfurt blog:

Dear Friends, what a relief… You liked Erfurt, the town, the architecture, even the food and the people. But do you know why you really liked it? immediately and deep down in your heart? Because your german friend Christine was born there! 66 Years ago. And there is a picture of the two of you where you are standing right in front of my Opa Wilhelms House.He was a horse butcher and as a kid I loved the horse- Salami he produced.The house is in the historic part of Erfurt.
Serendipity or what? (I am excited to go back. When we left, it felt like unfinished business)

We trundled off to dinner feeling pretty good. A fish place nearby seemed just right. Ambience was good. I mean, there were nets. And wooden fish. And plastic crayfish. And stuff. Very nautical and fishy, no?

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And we got a pretty good bottle of Chilean Merlot.

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The menu explained that their fish is freshly sourced from Bremerhaven and deboned by experienced fish deboners so carefully, that the discovery of a bone earns you a free schnapps. Clearly we were in the right place for good fish. Right? Wrong! We shared a calamari starter. It was beyond words. Clearly factory made. The fries were ok.

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But,surely, the fish from Bremerhaven has to be better, right? I mean, from Bremerhaven und al and not a bone in sight? Right? Wrong. Again made in a factory. Probably in Bremerhaven. It was dismal:- covered with stuff that bore just the faintest relationship to a batter or a crumb coating. The potato salad was woeful. The only edible item on the plate was the sliced carrot pieces. Which we ate with the wine and left. The only plus was that we ordered one dish shared between us, thereby halving the horror. (This time the Innkeeper is not exaggerating. It was really, really bad frozen fish from a factory.)

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Thank goodness that we still had some schnapps left. A healthy glass later, we felt much better.

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Up the ladder and to bed.
We rose latish (08:30), descended the ladder and set off for town to find breakfast – the ferienwohning thing by definition means no breakfast. We certainly did not intend to cook. We found breakfast, and took a tour on a little bus.

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It struck us that a large part of the medieval town remains – not just a touristic chunk in the middle, filled with small shops, but an entire neighbourhood with occupied houses.

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We wandered around.

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(I simply cannot get enough of the half-timbered architecture. It has a warmth and a charm that is simply in tune with me)

Anna found some glass thingies to look at. Seems glass is the theme this holiday. If we do not want to tinkle our way back home, I’d better be alert. (You can be alert as you like, my dear man. I shall, as always, win out in the end)

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Where the market was the day before, the library (that’s the ivy-clad building) had set out an exhibit – books, loungers and so.

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After a light lunch, we repaired to the castle to visit the Schloss Museum.

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Located conveniently in the schloss on our way home. Which is why, I would venture to say, it is called the Schlossmuseum.

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Here is the thing – outside of the really, really touristy areas, like along the  Rhein and the Mosel, it seems that most tourists are Germans. Certainly we see very few people from the East and hear no other language as we walk around than German. Hence the commentary on the tourist bus was German only, and all the exhibits in the museums are described in German only. This makes  it extremely difficult to get value from a museum visit, even with my rudimentary command of German. We voted it a waste of time and will shun museums from now on. And maybe also the tourist tram/bus thingies. (Big disappointment. I had the Innkeeper climb all the way up, only to find that we had to guess at what we saw.)

Up the ladder, a nap and some reading later, we were ready for dinner. Down the ladder. We felt like Italian food and found a small place nearby. Schiller’s. Does not sound very Italian, does it? Maybe that was a good start. The German waiter did not pretend to be Italian. No “prego” to be heard.

Anna was happy with the prospect of Italian food.

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We got a Chianti at a steal (18Euro). Excellent.

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Then followed a failure of the camera to record our vorspeise – toasted bruchetta with aubergine and parmesan. Excellent. And the plate of tapas we shared. I know, I know it ain’t Italian. But it just seemed to be the right size for 2 old people sitting in Quedlinburg drinking Chianti. It was ok. Just about the sort of tapas you can expect in an Italian eatery. Desert was tiramisu for Anna (Seriously good ) and Irish coffee for me. I know, I know.  What can I say…

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Schnapps. Then off to bed. Up the ladder. Gute nacht.

Leipzig

We decided to go to Leipzig next. For two reasons – because it  is there and because we thought that we would like to visit those spots in the city famous for the October 1989 protests that sparked the fall of the GDR.

We read again about the events of 1989 and was moved by how citizens took back the right to decide their own fate. It is in the end impossible to deny civil rights. A parallel in some ways to what happened in South Africa in 1994. A peaceful transition to true democracy. In any event, we wanted to visit the St. Nicholaskirche, where a few hundred gathered on 9 September for prayers for peace, swelling to a gathering of 300,000 on the 23rd October on the Augustusplatz near the church. “Wir sind das Volk” was the slogan. A more profound expression of nationalism cannot be imagined – “we are the nation”. Not some apparatchik appointed to rule us. On 9 November 1989 the Berlin wall fell – one of the most profound geo-political events of our time.

So, down the ladder and off to Leipzig.

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Note the insouciance with which the Innkeeper slithers down the ladder – still, despite the danger in which he finds himself, able to display his six-pack for those who thrill at the sight of such finely developed musculature. (This, I think, is a record in talking utter nonsense, even for the Innkeeper. six-pack? I ask you…)

Germany has, at last count, some 21,000 wind turbines, producing 30,000 megawatts (S.A. total production from power stations is about 35,000 megawatts). In some areas the turbines are everywhere.

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We were booked at the Penta Hotel. Big place. The reception counter doubles as a bar. Handy if the queue gets long.

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We arrived latish, having spent hours and hours and hours of the day searching for a pillow for Anna, after she finally rebelled against the soft, fluffy pillows we have encountered.  (Nonsense – 15 minutes in a home store did the job). And I had to suffer the embarrassment of her insisting on lying down on the shop floor to test drive about 50 of them. Until she settled on this one.  Which did not seem to be much different from all the others.

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(But it is just perfect. I know. I am going to sleep on it.)

Dinner was at the hotel – there is nothing else nearby. Good meal – we forgot the camera, but will take pics tomorrow night.
A good night’s rest and off we went to see what we could see. Anna had seemingly built a good relationship with her new pillow. I heard her whispering endearments to it in the morning. (First really good night’s sleep in a while. Shows you how important it is finding just the right pillow to spend your life with. Pillows you cannot change. Men, on the other hand……)

We got a sense that Leipzig is not as carefully maintained as the other large German towns we have seen.

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On the whole, though, it seemed a pleasant city. Some remnants from the GDR days.

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Some rather impressive modern architecture.

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The Alexanderplatz, the site of those pivotal protests, was taken over by the German Celiac Society. It could easily have been mistaken as an evangelical gathering of some sort. Weird little Arabian-like gazebos, each housing people trying to out-ungluten those in the other tents. Space for, I presume, a band. And tables to chow down on some good, gluten-free noodles.

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I have no problems with this – for someone who is affected by celiac disease, it is important to learn how to obtain and cook gluten-free food. The thing is that this lot was trying to convert us all to eschew gluten. I was a bit miffed, as the empty platz would have been better to get a feel for its historicity. A while later, down the street, they had a parade. With drums.

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nd banners. And marshalls, the one in the pic telling the guy with the backpack: “Please sir, do not hit them with your helmet, they are gluten-free”.

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And T-shirts.

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For me, I will remain resolutely glutened. I have my principles.

We found the church of St. Nicholas, and spent some time inside. Someone was playing the organ. A refreshing pause.

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As a footnote, we noticed that all the seats are numbered. Why?

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We ambled down the large pedestrian zone, dotted with cafes against a backdrop of interesting architecture.

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Three guys were playing some classical airs very competently. We bought a cd.

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In a department store, I found the counter that sells Serrano ham. For 99 Euro you get the whole ham, a carving knife and a carving stand. (He got that look in his eyes. I dragged him off very quickly.)

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Maybe the WW2 bombing could be the reason that we frequently saw the old juxtaposed with the new. In a rather splendid way.

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A great day in a city that laid our fears of being drab and dreary and cold to rest. Straining hard we could still not really connect to what happened in 1989. The sheen of a modern city has placed a layer over the places where it happened. But still, those events resonate with us and we are determined to follow this trail further. To Dresden, Meissen and to Berlin.
On top of a building on the Alexanderplatz, these grim two men striking the bell on the hour, their slogan straight from the Soviet era – “Labour conquers all”. For whom, one wonders, did the bell toll?

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Dinner at the hotel. They have, also half in and half out of the foyer, a restaurant that does bistro style stuff. Here is the menu:

Not bad. We had a few glasses of wine

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Anna settled for the fish and chips. Which was more chips than fish, but still good, fresh and ample to satisfy her small appetite.

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I got a humoungus burger with two patties each app. 200g. I did not finish it. Very good, though.

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Thankfully no ladder tonight… tomorrow to Dresden. We will stay there for 3 nights, with the idea to visit Meissen during that time. For now, gute nacht.

Dresden

We came to Dresden knowing a little about its place in the history of World War II – we knew that it  was bombed severely in 1945. We found accommodation in the Aparthotels Am der Frauenkirche, a super little apartment right in the middle of the old town.

We settled in and found this view of the Frauenkirche from our 4th floor window:

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(I wondered out loud why the church was not completely cleaned – the right hand piece still had to be done. The left part looked much better. The receptionist who showed us to the room said gently that the dark piece on the right was the only part of the original church left after the bombing).
This is the front of the church – you can just see the dark part left  rear:

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This startling discovery led to  further research and touched our emotions. Please bear with us – this post concerns a Dresden that was, a Dresden destroyed. We can only really come to grips with Dresden today by looking back. I know you can look this up yourselves, but we need to make this record. For ourselves.
On 13 February 1945, 1249 Allied bombers dropped more than 3900 tons of explosives and incendiary devices on Dresden. Up to that point in the war, Dresden was relatively unscathed. The resulting firestorm devastated 6.5 square Km of Dresden and killed around 25,000 people. This is what the city looked like after the bombing:

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And here is what was left of the Freuenkirche.

View taken in January 1952 from Dresden's Muenzgasse street showing people working on the removal of debris in front of the ruins of the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). The 18th century Protestant church, a searing symbol of the suffering of German civilians after its destruction in World War II bombing and now of reconciliation between the one-time enemies, has been re-consecrated on 30 October 2005 after over 10 years of reconstruction costing some EUR 180 million.  AFP PHOTO      SLUB DRESDEN/Deutsche Fotothek (Photo credit should read SLUB DRESDEN/AFP/Getty Images) BER022

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In both Britain and the USA, a controversy soon erupted – was this really necessary, given that Germany was all but beaten? Did it serve any military purpose? The only mileage to be obtained from beating this about the head is an intellectual one. It happened. People who made it happen thought it was required. Looking back, we can cast doubt. We can, perhaps justifiably, point fingers. One thing is for sure. If a city has a soul, a memory, the events of February 1945 is seared into the soul of this one. We will go and explore it tomorrow with that thought firmly in our minds.

Oh yes – the church was only restored in the 1990’s, using fragments left over from the bombing and 3d computer models. The darker stones among the new ones are pieces of the original. The ruined piece was restored but not cleaned. It stood there before the bombing and, tenaciously, is still there today.

Our apartment in Dresden overlooks the square where sits the Frauenkirche. Where the bells peal for 10 minutes every day at 6pm. A most congenial location, overlooking the church, some interesting buildings and the goings on on the square.

Church.

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Some interesting buildings.

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Goings on.

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These guys kept us entertained until after 9pm. As they did part of the 10m annual Dresden visitors.

We are literally surrounded by bars and eateries, none of which we would patronise for food. We decided to rebel. Seeing that we have an apartment and all, we would make do with what we could put together in the kitchen. We have now had almost a month of eating out every night and are thoroughly tired of it. We have some ready-made salad available, grilled chicken, a frikkadel or two, some fruit, cheese, erdnusse, brötchen, butter, honey, prosciutto and two thirds of a bottle of schnapps. The dining table looks out on the square. How bad can that be? So, no reports on food for Dresden. Assume that we ate. If not superbly, then also not badly.

We like Dresden very much. It has a small core of interesting places, surrounded by nothing much. This means that it is easy walking for the two of us – we can explore what we want to see without much effort.

We visited the church. Looking at it from the front, we could almost get the perfect angle to match the WW2 pic – the one in the corner.

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It is a Lutheran church, so from a decorative viewpoint the interior falls somewhere between the austerity of Dutch Reformed and the ornateness of Catholic.

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What is immediately apparent to the astute observer, of which genus 2 happened to be present, is how new everything looks. There is an incongruity between the baroque architecture of the 18th century and the sparkling newness of the finishes inside. Not and unpleasant disparity, though. (I thought it to be great to have a chance to get a feeling for what many of the great cathedrals and churches felt like when new.)  Indeed. Today the years have worn down the patina of newness from old buildings. Much like the patina of newness is gone from the Innkeeper as well. At least from the legs down.

We wondered about town, and wandered about as well. Stopping here and there for a beer. Or a cappuccino. Or to buy postcards for the kids.

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There was much to see. As this facade, with a 102m mural depicting the rulers of the house of Wettin.

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Each of the princes are thoughtfully named. So that you can know which is which. Heinrich the Pure is there, right next to Friedrich the Fashionable. Who is flanked by Johann the Steady. This thing of giving important people an adjective-based rider to their name is a great idea – remember Henry the Fowler? We should adopt this. Jochen the Laughing. Andreas the Able. Johan the Faithful. Louis the Hungry. Ted the Softhearted. Jan the Caring. And of course, Gerhard the Great. Works for me……..
Brühl’s Terrace is, amazingly, a terrace. Used to be part of the city fortifications many years ago. More or less in the time of Wilhelm the Wanker. Currently used as a promenade overlooking the Elbe river. Here is the Innkeeper at the stairs up to the terrace, explaining the history of the terrace to a crowd of admiring tourists. Bearing in his hand a freshly grilled Thuringer Bratwurst. Useful to have handy to point to things. Good to eat too. (1cent is all I ask. 1c for each word of nonsense he spouts, and we can retire. Oh wait, we are already retired. Damn…)

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Up on the terrace. Great views.

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Later in the day we went Zwinging. That means visiting the Zwinger palace, built as the festival arena, orangerie and exhibition halls for Augustus the Strong.

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Lots of German kids being taken through the complex. We knew that they were German because we heard one of them say “Scheisse!”.

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The complex houses a museum containing Augustus’ Chinese porcelain collection. Or maybe it is no longer his. Because he is dead. Anna managed one snap before she was admonished by a stern looking guard.

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Dresden was a great stop on our German tour. We could consume it in nibbles, and not have to swallow down the experience like a dumpling. Nibbles work for us.

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It is difficult to walk around Dresden without reminders of the 1945 bombing. The evidence of the firestorm is visible everywhere. In the heat-blackened stones of restored buildings. In the sheen of burnt-in soot on a statue or a facade. And thus seared into the very fabric of this remarkable city.

To Erfurt in the morning for 2 nights.

Erfurt Again

So we returned to Erfurt. We made a mistake to visit it for only one day and we decided to rectify by returning for two nights. Humble, we are, ready to admit the error of our ways. But first, a footnote on Dresden. You will remember that we were, on our last night there, also going to eat in, as it were. Cook for ourselves in our apartment. Perhaps “cook” would have been to grand a word for it. In any event, it did not happen. Here is why.

We went in search of a cappuccino and a beer. And a chocolate cake. Found it just downstairs. In, and I kid you not, an Australian restaurant called, wait for it, Ayers Rock.

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I idly paged through the menu, and came across this:

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No way on this dear earth was I going to pass on the opportunity to taste kangaroo steak. The home cooking thing was forthwith cancelled. (This was the Innkeeper on a mission. I kept quiet, although I suspected that he would be disappointed.)  We returned later the evening. Anna had a veggy lasagna.That is the evil looking thing with the white squiggly lines on. Surprisingly, she liked it.

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My Kangaroo steak was accompanied by potatoes and apple. Not bad. The steak had a unique taste – almost sweetish, with a coarse texture. Closest comparison is Ostrich. Not great. Not bad, either, but if you are ever confronted with a choice,don’t cancel other  plans. The dish as shown does illustrate one of the major problems we have had with German cuisine. Or in this case, Australian cuisine as done by Germans. They drown food in sauce. The entire plate was covered with a cranberry gravy. As a result the apples and the potatoes and the meat all tasted of cranberry gravy. Anna’s plate was covered in tomato sauce. A sauce, people, accompanies the food, it should not drown  the food. Oy vey……..
(The Innkeeper and his “I’ve got to taste that”. I seem  to remember  the exact same situation in Slovakia.  Only it was horse meat….)

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On to Erfurt, where we found an apartment in the Junge Moritz house. Huge one  bedroom place. Neat,  clean, new and not far from alles. We like the apartment thing. Gives us choices. It just goes against  the  grain  to cough up  R300- R400 for breakfast for two.  When we can have  fruit, muesli, bread,  eggs and stuff made by ourselves  for R50. and we get to  choose what we  want to eat, not just bread, cheese, cold meats, cheese. The space is nice, as  is the ability to keep  a beer or two cold. And to make coffee.

We strolled into  the Altstadt and found Grosse Arche number 15 near the  Domplatz – the address where Christine’s Opa lived. (The Innkeeper navigated. I am still surprised that we found the house.) We were doubtful whether to  post the pic, but  here it is, Christine:

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A touring group caught our eye for their uniform grey heads. “Book your next tour with Graukopf-Touren. We offer a special insurance – should you die on tour, all will be free of charge!” (We considered joining them for  the  commmentary,  but  they walked far too fast for us…)

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Two side-by side buildings on the Fischmarkt stood out. Almost identical, except the one’s facade was painted in bright colours and the other left au naturel.

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At  the weir in the river Gere, we spotted two ducks preening themselves, their chicks floating in  the water below. You need good eyesight to spot them. I, of course, have the sight of an eagle. That is because I lead a clean life…..

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Two splendid half-timbered buildings.

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In a side street, a small shop that sells ties and cravats. Off the beaten  track. How on earth does such a small specialist shop offer a living? Only in a first world  country, I guess.

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On the Fish Market Square stands this statue called  “Römer” (Roman), erected by the city in 1591. Doesn’t look much like a Hollywood Roman soldier, does it? With  the boepie and all. I was a tad disappointed to find  that  it depicts a Roman  soldier. I was ready for it being of someone far more profound.  Like Frederick the Fat.

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We walked across the Krämerbrücke (Shopkeepers’ Bridge), built in  the  1500’s and completely covered with houses.

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From  the other end.

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And from the  river side. (Cuddly buildings, leaning  against each other.)

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The river shore offered great views and a pleasant stroll.

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Anna communicating with a bronze hare. (It did not have much to  say.)

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The Erfurt Dom.

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Erfurt was great.  A huge change from the towns in Bavaria and even from Dresden. Far,  far  fewer tourists and those that we did encounter  were  almost exclusively Germans. We know that because we could  hear  them  say “Scheisse”. Also because a lot of them  clearly availed themselves  of  the services of  Graukopf-Touren.  It is a delightful town. History oozing from the eaves of its buildings. We did not attempt to take it all  in – Martin Luther was a monk here – but what we saw we liked. If you have an opportunity to visit Germany, put Erfurt on the  itinerary before the Americans discover it.
Oh yes, we ate in. Breakfast was Thuringer Bratwurst with a parmesan omelette for me, and muesli with yoghurt and fruit, a boiled egg,  brotchen, Maasdammer cheese and honey for Anna. Tuna salad and beer for lunch.  Dinner was pan-grilled crumbed Camembert with a green  salad and cranberries for Anna and for me an Argentinian (!) rump  steak with a green salad.Great food!  Having exhausted the wine from the good folk from Köln, we made do with two bottles of  Australian  Shiraz. About which: Either we need to import Shiraz from  Australia,  or some of our  wine makers need to get  their Shiraz act together. The Australian  version is far more fruity and less steely,  peppery than the S.A. ones. And then, of course, we did the digestiv-schnapps thing. Delightful.
Next stop is Weimar.

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We found accommodation at the Hotel Anna Amelia in the old center of town. The town dates from 800AD and is known, inter alia, for being the home of Goethe and Schiller. Goethe I knew about (Faustus), although I have never read any of his works. Schiller is apparently also a famous German writer. Weimar was also the place where the German constitution, forming the German Republic after WW1, was signed. The so-called Weimer Republic, famous for the  hyperinflation in the 1920, when the price of a bread was 200,000,000,000 marks. The causes of which are, I guess, required reading for economics students. Should have been required reading for some African states to the north of us…

Here is Goethe and Schiiler standing grandly in front of the theatre in Weimar.

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We arrived latish and did not have much time to do anything but find a place to eat. An Indian eatery caught our eye. A good variation, thought we. We were offered an Indian Shiraz, which we tasted and politely declined. The Chianti we did get came with with very good Naan.

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Can’t be bad, can it? Yes, it can. Ghastly lamb keekab, terrible tandoori chicken. We ate the rice, ate, the naan, drank the wine and left. After much debate we decided to show you the lamb. The chicken is age restricted.

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The hotel offered a very good breakfast, after which we investigated the town. We had a directory showing the way to the house that  Goethe stayed in, the toilet Schiller peed in and the street Liszt walked in. And other momentous places. Which we did not have the slightest interest in. There are also various museums. Which we peered at and went past. As I mentioned previously, in deep Germany everything is in German only, including museum exhibits. Which is understandable, as 90% of the visitors are German. Besides, you have to more or less expect people in foreign countries to speak and write foreign languages, don’t you? So this is not a gripe, just the reason why we skip museums. Certainly not because we are Philistines. A fact that I am sure you all will attest to, should you be asked the question by a roving reporter.

While on the subject, Weimar is notorious for the presence just outside town of Buchenwald, the  WWII concentration camp where those considered undesirable by the Nazis were interned and used as forced labour in local armaments factories. (I did not want to see the actual camp. Bad enough reading about it. It is not necessary to get up close and personal to evil to know how bad it is.)

Bird homes. Pity the glare from the window spoils the pic. (Great, quirky bird homes. Anybody back home – this will sell at the market)

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Some pics from our stroll. Perhaps we should not refer to it as strolling. More like stumbling around, trying not to fall over. Those damn cobblestones…. (Not to worry,my dear, I’ll hold you by the hand.)

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Anna mit newly purchased chapeau. Quite fetching, I think. In the background a vintage pram.

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Pleasant pedestrian areas.

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And on the inevitable Markplatz, with the inevitable Rathaus in the background, a small market.

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A peculiar  threesome playing a peculiar stringed thingy and singing peculiar songs. Left over from the GDR?

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In front of the church on the Herderplatz a new bride.

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We are still not sure what this shop sells. Or even if it is a shop at all. With Persian carpet on the floor…

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Our intention for dinner was to go to a place that serves duck. If it is traditional German cuisine, as it almost surely would be, we would speak to the waiting person pleadingly. 1. Die sosse separat, bitte. No pool of sauce all over the plate. Klaar.2. Ohne Knödel, bitte. A Knödel is a dumpling. Very good in the hands of someone like Bruno in Wiesbaden. Otherwise, steer clear. It is an evil thing. 3. Ohne Blaukraut, bitte. We have had blue cabbage with everything. Thankfully not for breakfast. Not yet. 3. Mit pomme frites oder Bratkartoffeln, bitte. 4. Und mit ein kleiner salat  The idea being that we get duck with fries or pan fried potatoes and a salad. This is fun…. Off we went.

It did not quite work out as planned. Die Scharfe Ecke, the duck place we had targeted, was full. People left and right snarfing Knödel. Oh well. Next door was the Texan, a BBQ place, and we decided to go thence. Anna got excellent wings, and I ok lamb chops. Not quite what we had anticipated, but in the end quite satisfactory.Note the absence of cabbage, Knödel and dams of sauce. Hah!

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Weimar did not deserve us. We have little interest in fame derived from the presence of a famous personality. Unless we happen to be fans of said personality. And I mentioned our problem with the museums. We are uncomfortably aware that we are missing a lot on our travels. A pity, but it is what it is. We see as much as we can of what we want to see. What we do not get to due to ignorance, sore feet or whatever other reason, we simply do not get to. What  is  striking, though, is the sheer quantity of museums. Almost every little town has a museum of some sort or other. You find a Stadtmuseum detailing the history of the  city practically everywhere.

In the morn we go to Eisenach. Gute nacht.

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Why Eisenach? We actually don’t know, apart from being the home of the only Bach museum in the world. And we have to be somewhere on Ascension day. When alles, but alles, is shut down. Except for the Bach place. And, thankfully, a few eateries. We planned to be in Lübeck for 3 nights later in the week, and we had a day open. in between. Stands to reason then. We have to be somewhere. Might as well be Eisenach. Last bit of the old GDR. And there is the Bach thing. Which is open on holidays. There you have it. Eisenach got the nod.

We have frequently seen these in fields adjacent to a forest.

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They are hunting blinds where hunters sit and wait for deer to wander around. One or more of which then gets shot. The deer, not the hunter. In German the stands are called Hochsitze and in it the hunter Ansitz. That is, I suppose, when he is not actually shooting at something. Germany has around 2.5 million Roe Deer, increasing to 3 million in spring. Around 400,000 are culled each year via hunting permits to those who can go and Ansitz in a Hochsitze.
(No wonder almost every menu has a Bambi dish.)

We drove along back roads, through pastoral scenes that we just cannot get enough of. Those are cultivated fields along the side of the road….

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The preceding two pics and the two below illustrate one of our lasting impressions of the German countryside. It is so ordered, so civilised, so neat, so…. first world, I guess.

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(I want to build one of these back home. Fill it with spring flowers and then pack it away for a year.)

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We have only seen the side cladding in the pic below in Thuringia. Just decorative? Any practical use? Even Google does not know.

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We did not have much chance to look around after checking in at the Hotel Steinberger – oldish, old style hotel, but quite satisfactory. Good bar and restaurant, where we had some tapas for dinner. Anna is smiling because of the glass of Vriesenhof Merlot in front of her.

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Bad pic of good tapas, so no pic. We will probably reprise tomorrow, and make sure to get good shots.
During the night, I woke to a clattering noise. Accompanied by cursing, worthy of a sailor. Anna, whilst navigating to the loo in the dark, swept a bottle of Californian Zinfandel off the desk and onto her right big toe. Fortunately the bottle was almost empty, so very little wine was lost. (And my toe? What about my poor, bruised toe? All he cares about is the bloody wine. My toe is probably broken in 10 places, and how much sympathy did I get? None. Zilch.) Her toe was a bit red, but looked ok to me. Which is more than I can say about the last of the Zinfandel.

Next morning we walked around. It was the holiday and the town was very, very quiet. Our hotel is the building with the flags bearing the hotel name. Always a sure sign of an old-style hotel, the flags are.

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A few tourists here and there along streets that still had oodles of charm. Old buildings and new, standing shoulder to shoulder.

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Coffee at a small Italian place. The Innkeeper contented with life. Or maybe contentedly giving his footsies a rest.

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We came across an excellent example of the half-timbered building method. The wooden structure was built first. The spaces in between then filled with woven green twigs and then infilled with mixture of clay and chalk with a binder such as grass or straw and water or urine. “Klaus, come pee on the chalk. Sofort!” Could have been a job description right there – travelling pee-er. Drink beer. Go to building site. Pee on chalk. Drink beer. Move to next site. Pee on chalk. Rinse and repeat.

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(Further on in the pic the later filling in with bricks is clearly shown. I am fascinated by this, the first wall that clearly shows the method ranging from the middle ages to much more recent.)

The market square is devoid of interest. Except for the gold cheruby thing on the fountain.

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And fat sheep – another sure-to-sell-at-the-market-product. (Maybe I should go into fat sheep manufacture when we get back and make a fat sheep fortune.)

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Bach Haus. Bach was born in Eisenach back in 1685 and spent the first 10 years of his childhood here. Enough reason for a museum. The part on the left is the restored house where he was born. The house was thoughtlessly bombed in 1945. The new part on the right hosts the other essentialia for a museum. Like the ticket counter, the cafeteria, the loo and the museum shop.

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We enjoyed the museum. All exhibits had, mirabile dictu, English descriptions in addition to the German ones.
This was a one of the 7 volumes of Luther’s translation of the Bible, published in 1522. A side note: we did not visit Wartburg Castle just outside Eisenach, where Luther hid and worked, mainly because it requires a serious lot of step climbing.

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The exhibits includes some interesting and rather weird musical instruments. One of which is this 20cm pochette, or pocket violin, used by dancing teachers in their classes when demonstrating steps.

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And this glass harmonica, invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1760. The glass dishes are turned with a pedal and then played with wet fingers, much in the same way that you make a wine glass sing.

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We enjoyed a 20 minute performance by an engaging fellow on 4 old instruments. At least, we assumed he was engaged because the rest of the audience, all German, chuckled at what he said.

He played Bach on two house organs, a clavichord, and spinet. And did so well. (I wonder what Bach would have said if he could hear his music on modern instruments. Most of these were rather tinny.)

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This organ was built in 1650, and required a pumper. That is the woman on the right. The man is the player, not the pumper.

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In all, a most enjoyable time.

Lunch was two flammkuchen – mine the traditional with cream cheese, onion and bacon, while Anna tried the Italianisch with a tomato base, arugula and proscuitto. Both very, very good.

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Off to dinner. At the hotel. We had a glass of Bardolino (me) and one of Montepulciano (Anna). All Italian, seeing as we were going to have tapas again. Oh, wait, tapas is not Italian, is it. Too late. We already ordered the wine. Great wine. And so  they should be, at around R85 per glass. The tapas, or rather sort of small dishes, not really tapas, were very good –  chicken livers with honeyed cubes of apple, baked feta with maple syrup, a Knödel (dumpling) with a soy sauce, small mushrooms filled with tomatato and mascarpone, and chorizo in red wine with pearl onions. We like this way of eating, as opposed to the one dish thing. Does not allow your palate time to get bored.

(Good service too – we had a woman who was happy to help the Innkeeper with his German)

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Tomorrow we are off to Lübeck where we have an apartment booked for 3 nights. Gute nacht.

Lübeck

We headed to the northern part of Germany to spend a few days in Lübeck, meet up with cousin Nico in Flensburg and  then with Christine and Joey in Hamburg. This is where we went to (and intend going):

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Flensburg can be found by looking for the word “Flensburg” and Lubeck where I marked “Lubeck”. Hamburg is a tad more difficult to find, but do try. (I have now given up doing umlauts, so, with apologies to all our German readers – imagine an umlaut on the “u” of Lubeck.)
We decided on Lubeck because we needed a day or so of sorting things out. Laundry, deciding where to go for the  last two nights on our way to Frankfurt (Fritzlar got the nod for 1 night, because it is 2/3 of the way to Frankfurt and has apparently got a good restaurant, and Mainz for the last because it is close to the airport). So, our itinerary is done, the laundry is done. Various admin matters back home has been attended to. And in between, be saw something of Lubeck. Just something because the weather was pretty lousy. The first day is was cold and windy. Serendipitously, Christine had sent us some travelling tips, should we get bored with Lubeck. So we headed direction Rostock to see what we could see.

Along the way, we encountered the first wildlife we had seen in Germany. Actually, they were not all that wild, being behind a fence and all, but one could easily imagine them gamboling through a forest, trying to evade the stern gaze of a Hochsitzer.  Looks a lot like Bambi, so one would assume that they be deer.
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The weather was still lousy – cloudy with a really cold wind blowing. We were therefore disinclined to get out of the car and explore. A few of Christine’s recommendations thus fell by the wayside. Nevertheless, we passed through Heiligendamm and had a quick lunch in Kuhlungsborn. (Umlaut on first “u”, please.) This mainly so that  we could say that we saw the sea. The Baltic, that is. We only saw a small, tiny bit of it, but saw it we did.

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If you look carefully, just beyond the 2nd jetty…… yep, they be surfers.

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Lots of yachts drifting at anchor. Or doing whatever yachts do when they are stationary.

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We simply could not summon up the courage to expose our warm African bones to the chill from the Baltic,  and called it a day. 
(On our way back, I made a point of taking some pics of the lanes of trees we passed through. I thought France was the country of tree lanes. We found these in long stretches, sometimes 10Km at a time.)

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(And more were being planted)

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We cooked dinner, so nothing much to report. It was, of course, a spectacular meal: superbly cooked Pollo a la parmesano con pasta linguini, but other than confirming that we had an Australian Shiraz or two, we have nothing to say.Or show.
The next morning dawned ok-ish, with rain forecast, so we took the opportunity to dash into Lubeck town center. The town has considerable history under its belt. It was, in the 1300’s, the centre of the so-called Hanseatic League, an association of guilds from a few Northern towns who united to promote trade, and combat piracy. The old part of the town is surrounded by the river Tave, and should, everything taken into account, be pretty interesting. Especially if you  like Marzipan, which came from here. Which we don’t. Like marzipan, I mean.
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Population 210,000 (George is 150,000). So, not quite a city. It has, unfortunately, some of the worst attributes of a city. Like the traffic. Really, really bad between around 11am and 5pm. We drove around, because our apartment was too far from the old town to walk. At times, we encountered stationary queues of cars 2Km long. Along a street just 1Km long. Lots of buses around, exacerbating the situation, because along many streets there  is no room for a lane of cars in one direction and a bus in the other. Plus a row of parked cars. So, you have to play a game of dodgems – dodge around a parked car, pull over to let the bus pass from the other direction, quickly dodge past a few more parked cars and so on. Quite nerve-wracking.
The town suffered extensive damage in WWII, and despite the renovations, it still has a peculiar feel to it. (Not inviting at all, despite the pedestrian areas.) Unenchanted, we were, despite the odd bit of brilliant, if restored, architecture.

The market square with a few straggly stalls. Maybe we were too early, but it all looked half-hearted.

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Some great terrace houses a few streets from our apartment.

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A view up Muhlenstrasse.

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A detail on the front of the Rathaus.

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(Almost the most interesting things we saw, were these pigs made from tree roots. The hair are the fine roots.)

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The tower guarding  one of the entrances over  the river.

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Boring architecture. There was quite a lot of this……

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We accomplished what we partly  came here for. The town was, if not a complete disappointment, certainly a let-down. It is still raining. We will eat in.
It is not general knowledge, but the final leg of the 2015 Mes Amis Canasta Coppa di Africa is to be held in Lubeck this year. Amazingly enough, on this very evening.
Never one to miss an opportunity to educate the masses, I leave you with this titbit…. I mean tidbit. In German the Queen is called die Dame,  and  the Jack is known as der Bube. We are, of course, in honour of the host nation, playing with German decks. I took the first set 2-1, Anna the second 2-1. At least I am fairly sure of at the worst coming home with the silver……

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Hamburg
Before we got to Hamburg, though, we went to Flensburg. Which is north of Hamburg, on the border between Germany and Denmark. We did not particularly want to see anything in Flensburg, other than nephew Nico, issue of Anna’s late brother Nico and Linda. He lives in Denmark and would travel by rail to Flensburg for a brief visit.

We found a great apartment – Juergenshof, and picked Nico up ate the station. A thorough debriefing ensued over two bottles of wine and we went off to dinner.

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On the way, we encountered this pug, looking smug.

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Keen to dine in a cellar frequented by gnomes, we found a table at the Porterhouse am Gnomenkeller.

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The only gnomes around were those painted on the walls. Undeterred, we had a great dinner. Lots of catching up to do.

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Anna had fish.

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Nico settled for a piece of steak with spinach. Lots of it. The spinach, not the steak.

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And I has strips of lamb fillet with potatoes gratinee. (Accent on the “e”. Special chars still too much trouble)

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Good food. (Enhanced by the company. It was so great to catch up with Nico. I have a special soft spot for him. It is a pity that we live so far apart. I enjoyed the short visit so much – it was a pity to end it so soon. We had a schnapps or two back at the apartment and went to bed late.)

After breakfast the next morning, we dropped Nico off at  the station – tearful goodbye from Anna -, pointed the car’s nose direction Hamburg and set off. We had in the meantime learnt that Christine had landed a contract with ZDF, the  German public broadcaster, to co-host a TV show. It is to be a 45 minute book discussion. A really, really prestigious show to have landed. We know this because I read it in Die Zeit.

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We are so chuffed for her. The content, the format is made to measure for Christine.

 Hamburg was one of the Hanseatic League cities. On 23 July 1943, much of the city was destroyed by a fire storm caused by Allied bombing. 40,000+ people died and 1 million were evacuated. As a result of the destruction, much of present-day Hamburg is new. It is today one of Europe’s most affluent cities, with its busy harbour playing a major role in its post-war revival.
Christine and Joey insisted on being our hosts for the two days and arranged accommodation in and apartment-hotel, the Clipper-Elb Lodge, right on the harbour. Great apartment with a great view of the harbour.

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The plan was for the  four of us to visit the ballet  in the Staatsoper. Onegin, by the  renowned John Niemeier. It turned out that Joey had decided to turn down the ballet in favour of the DFB final between Wolfsburg and Dortmund. I decided that it would be unseemly for me to go to the ballet alone with Anna and Christine. Heaven knows what they might do to me. Prudence dictated that I join Joey for the football thing.Which I did. We had a beer at a pub and then joined friends of his for the football. I was, so Joey told me sternly, to support Dortmund. I checked to make sure that I knew the two teams apart, and we settled down. Dortmund, I am sorry to say, had these ugly yellow shirts. Not at all  a colour that I would have considered espousing, were it not for Joey’s insistence. The Wolfsburg boys, on the other hand, had white kit with a diagonal green stripe, speaking of elegance and insouciance.

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Guess who won? 3 – 1?

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(While the boys were being boys, Christine and I went to the ballet. It was breathtaking. The music by Tchaikovsky was superb, the dancing was out of this world and the decor wonderful. We had a great, great evening. One that I would not exchange for all the football in the world. I will remember this performance for ever, from the opening to the closing dance)

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After the football, we were to meet the ladies (note that I do not refer to them as “girls”. Too much respect. “Boys” indeed!) in a sort of Spanishy place on the Reeperbahn. Which is the Hamburg red light district. We walked a few hundred meters through the place on our way to the meeting spot. We passed shows and cabarets.
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Some of them quite blatant about the wares on offer.

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We managed to evade the lurking ladies of the night.

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And found Anna, Christine and Berbel (a friend) in what must be the loudest eatery in the world. Smallish, packed to the rafters with everybody shouting to make themselves heard over everyone else shouting. If we could have got them all to shut up for a moment, and then restart at normal decibel level, all would have been fine. No pics, I fear. We ate a series of antipasto. Shouted. Drank wine. Shouted. And so on. (Until we went back to the hotel, in the wee hours. My poor ears are still singing. What a contrast from the ballet. Christine and I took a while to adapt).
The next morning, we set off for the Fish market, held every Sunday morning not far from our hotel. Fish is not by a long chalk the only thing sold. It is a 500m long conglomerate of stalls, selling everything from Chinese clothing to veggies, cheese, groceries, flowers, knickknacks and, of course fish.

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It is very busy. Very, very busy – on average 70,000 people visit it every Sunday.

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Vendors pack baskets with fruit, offering the contents, basket and all, at bargain prices. Euro 10 for this:
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A cheese guy did the same.

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As did the fish sellers.

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All of them shouting at the top of their voices, extolling the virtues of their wares. Noisy, loud, busy. Throngs of people, pushing, eating, talking, buying. It was wonderful.

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(We had fish on a roll for breakfast. A first for us, but very good)

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We took a harbour cruise aboard a small ship. Or boat. A floating thingy with an engine. This is the Innkeeper looking apprehensive. No reason of course.

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The harbour is an enormous world in itself. It is a busting place, with boats and ships of all shapes and sizes.

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Warehouses.

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And a reminder of home.

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Most enjoyable. A peek into the engine room of Hamburg commerce. Breakfast was next. By this time a cold wind had swept in from the sea. It was seriously chilly, but, hardy souls as we are, we had breakfast on a terrace next to the harbour.

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(Cold? Cold? It was freezing! Thank goodness for the blankets..)

After a nap, we did the hop-on-hop-off bus thing. Except  that we hopped on and did not hop off at all. Except when the tour wash done. Stands to reason. Otherwise we’d still be on the bus, wouldn’t we?
The rathaus.

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This statue had a pigeon on it. That’s life. Some days you are the pigeon, other days you are the statue.

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Hamburg has more canals than you can shake a stick at. It is criss-crossed with waterways, adding a pleasing aspect to  the city.

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The route took us through an extremely posh neighbourhood, with impressive villas.

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and pleasing greenery.

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Great harbour views.

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We liked Hamburg. It is clearly and extremely prosperous city – building, for example, this new Philharmonic building.

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In 2007, the construction was scheduled to be finished by 2010 with an estimated cost of €241 million. In November 2008, the costs rose to €450 million. In August 2012, the cost were re-estimated to be over €500 million. As of December 2014, construction work is scheduled to end in October 2016 at a cost of €789 million, with an announced opening date of 12 January 2017. Paid for by the Hamburg taxpayers. So there….

The post-war reconstruction appears to have been done slowly and sensibly. Rather than throw up buildings left right and centre, some thinking took place. (The place has a warmth to it. You can see yourself living in it.)

Dinner was at a fish place on the harbour. We shared 4 small starters (forgot to take pics. Sue me) I remember a spargel salad with prawns. And some other food, but especially Labskaus. This you will learn more about. At least those of you within range of my cooking. Finely ground matjes herring, beetroot and potatoes. An unexpectedly stunning combination. I stole a pic:(The egg is traditional, but imho unimportant).

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I had a plate with a variety of scaly things – matjes herring marinated in beetroot, a prawn with glass noodles and a tomato sauce, smoked eel on a thick hollandaise, salmon tartare on sour bread and a carpaccio of tuna with ginger and a mustard sauce. Brilliant meal.

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Joey had, I think, a baked cod. In any event a manly chunk of baked fish with parsley potatoes and some veggies.

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Christine and Anna opted for Wiener Schnitzel.  (And a good thing that we did. This was by far the best schnitzel we have had on this trip. Really good)

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Several bottles of wine went the good way during the meal  (I should have noted the names down, I know). All excellent. I know that we finished with an extraordinary Bordeaux. Schnapps ended a most convivial evening.

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Sadly we said goodbye the next morning. Endings are never good, and this one was no exception. Until next time, dear friends. You looked after us royally. Spoilt rotten. It is always special to spend time with special people. A great pity it can only happen so infrequently. We take wonderful memories with us.

Off to Mainz for our last two nights.  Gute nacht.

Mainz – the End

I need to give you the final result of the 2015 Mes Amis Canasta Coppa di Africa which, as you may or may not remember, was held in Lubeck (mit ein umlaut on the “u”). The winner, and thus the 2015 champion was – wait for it –

Anna!  At the post-match press conference, she said: I am happy to be the champion ONCE AGAIN. In fact, being champion is getting to be boring. I have to thank my coach, Klaus Muckenfuss, my mother and also my two dogs. A word of thanks go to our sponsor, the Westermann gang, who kindly donated the trophy. And also supplied my opponent with some tissues to dry his tears. He played well. Just not well enough. I am proud to be champion. I deserve it.

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Talk about arrogance! I can exclusively announce that the authorities are investigating the organisers, FICA, the Fédération Internationale de Canasta Association after allegations of bribery, corruption and dealing from the bottom of the deck surfaced. No arrests have been made. As yet. Hah!

By the way, we celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary in Hamburg. Being with Anna means everything to me. She is the anchor in my life, holding me securely fastened to normality. I cannot imagine my life without this lifeline . Goodness, but I love this woman. And depend on her. (This holiday, being together 24×7, just showed me how much the two of us are soul mates. You may not have noticed, but for the past 7 years, we have spent 99% of time together. That is how we want it. That is what makes us happy. Great, is it not?)  Yes, it is. I feel sort of lost without her. And complete with her.

Our two last nights in Germany was in Mainz, back on the river Rhine, right next to Frankfurt. 2 nights, because we somehow had to get back within striking distance of the Frankfurt airport for our lunchtime flight. That  is all of 550Km from Hamburg. So we decided to do it in one go, get to Mainz, hit the sack and  then we are sort of there. The drive was supremely boring, as we stuck to the Autobahns. The German highway system is amazing. It connects practically every reasonably sized town with every other one. In all almost 13,000Km of multi lane highway. Quite amazing.

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In any event, the only reportable thing is that all the canola fields have lost their flowers. No yellow expanses any more.

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We found accommodation in the Hilton in the city centre. Ok-ish. Big-American-hotel-chain-ish. Good dinner at an Italian place – I forgot the camera and took pics with my little dumb phone. Really bad, but here they are nevertheless. Anna’s excellent Osso Bucco:
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Very good lamb loin with a red wine sauce.

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Dessert was a vanilla pannacotta, a tiramiso and white chocolate ice cream. The tiramisu is the blobby thing on the left. Most peculiar. The panacotta was good, though. Could not restrain Anna from chomping a bite from it before I could take the pic. (Me? Moi? No, no. It was you doing the chomping, my dear.)

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To bed early. Long drive. After a good breakfast (at least that is something the Hilton-type places do well), we took a stroll through town. Christine recommended a drive to Eltville, but we were a tad deflated, this being our last day, and settled for a walk in Mainz, lunch, nap and then the final organising for the trip back.
On the Markplatz not far from the hotel, the Tuesday market was in full swing. Just food.

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(I have never seen this type of Peony before.)

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Pasta puppets? Pasta poppe? Pastafarians?

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And then, of course, there was a stall selling spargle.

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Every year during spring, the whole of Germany is beset with Spargle Wahnsinn. It is everywhere. Unfortunately also in pots and on plates. Spargle is fresh, large white asparagus. It tastes nothing like the thin green stuff we have back home. Boiled or steamed. Frequently served with hollandaise. I guess it is an acquired taste. If you have been eating since childhood, the spargle lust will also take hold of you in spring. Leaving us immune foreigners somewhat bemused.

An interesting fountain.

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Parking is a huge problem in all towns and cities in Germany. Too many cars chasing too few parking spaces. Here is how to turn 4 spaces into 8.

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At the VW plant in Wolfsburg, they built this automated garage for employees:

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We sat next to the Rhein for a while, watching it flowing.

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Anna watching.

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Nearby a few ducks sat smugly on their little amphitheatre. (Waiting for swan lake to start?)

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This row of patrician townhouses caught the eye.

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And that was as much of Mainz as we could fit in before our feet gave up the ghost. We had a lunch of sorts, returned to the hotel and decided to write the blog and do other stuff. (Such as repack suitcases, check that we will have enough clean clothing and so on. Will not do to arrive at Jan and Retha’s all crinkled, will it?)
Dinner will be at the little bistro in the hotel. I have low expectations, so we will post this blog before dinner.
Looking back, we probably spent one week more than we should have in Germany. (Not having Google streetmaps, we did not realise that most of the German medieval towns are more or less the same). We would have done it slightly differently, perhaps. But, it does not matter. We had a great time, saw a lot and learnt a lot. (Germany is so neat, mostly so manicured and clean. A prosperous country that brings home what the First World is really like. Doing stuff like this with the Innkeeper is, for me, the ultimate. As is my life with him). Mission accomplished. Now we return home and need to get settled in to our new, post-retirement lives. An exciting prospect. (It will be good to see the family again. And, of course, the dogs. And to get our house sorted.) And to try out some new ideas culinary-wise. A lot to look forward to.

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