Birmingham, with just over one million residents, is the second biggest city in the United Kingdom. As I have discovered, it is a city built on a number of important industries, some which are still significant today. After negotiating our way from the airport to our hostel we headed out for a walk around the Jewellery Quarter, named for one of those industries. There are many jewellery stores, some wholesale only, but mostly selling mainstream precious metal and sparkly stone jewellery in traditional settings and styles, not really my cup of tea.
We made it to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter just in time to join the final tour of the day. Well worth doing, a very entertaining story of the firm Smith and Pepper who operated on the site for 90 odd years until they closed in 1981. The place had been left just as it was until the museum set up and still looks as it did. Even in the 1980’s many of the techniques, processes and office procedures were much the same as they had been at the turn of the 20th century. Our guide, Rupert, told many stories about the individuals who worked there, as well as giving demonstrations of some of the tools and equipment. A really informative and enjoyable experience.
Friday morning was freezing, -3C! As Megan pointed out, only 46 degrees different to what it was in Castlemaine. Giselle had made plans to meet up with her scout friends she met at Roverway in The Netherlands, they went trampolining at a place in Bourneville (where Cadbury is located, the station is painted Cadbury purple!). I tried to find a walking tour or bus tour to do. I thought I was in luck with a hop-on hop-off type bus but even though its website said it was operating there was no sign of any busses at the stop and I was there 5 minutes before the scheduled time and waited at least 5 minutes after. A bit of googling indicated that perhaps it was closed for winter and wouldn't start again till May 19. I wandered off in the direction of the public library but found the museum first. The museum had a big section on Birmingham: its people, its history and I spent a bit of time there. It was really interesting and well-presented. Birmingham has quite the heritage in a few industries, not just jewellery. The ACME whistle company which invented the policeman’s whistle is from Birmingham; Avery scales; button making, using mother of pearl and metals; military uniforms; coffin furnishing; and steel nibs for pens (in the 19th century 75% of the world's handwriting was done with Birmingham produced pen nibs) amongst other things.
Next to the Library of Birmingham which is the largest public library in Europe and an impressive, modern building. Very busy, a combination of a state library and a public lending library. Lots of different spaces and many people utilising them. At the very top (9th floor) they have reconstructed the Shakespeare room from a previous library built in the 19th century. When that library was decommissioned the room was moved to what is now a university but it was locked up and rarely seen. When this new library was designed, incorporating the room was a priority. The Shakespeare collection is the largest of its type in the world and includes editions in more than 90 languages, scrapbooks, playbills, posters and much more. Quite a fascinating contrast moving from the modern space into the historic one. The view from the top was pretty good too although it was foggy or hazy, not sure what but not good visibility.
From there I headed back into the shopping district for lunch and browsed the shops for a while. Back to the hostel to wait for Giselle, I spent the time in the foyer lounge writing the previous blog post, our room has a big single-glazed window and is very cold until the heating comes on around 5.30pm, not like Germany!
This morning we decided to skip the lacklustre breakfast at the hostel and had a full English at a nearby cafe. All good except the sausages, way to pink and porky for my liking.
We still had half an hour or so before our planned visit to the Coffin Works Museum so we went for a wander and found a section of canal with multiple locks to walk along. The canals are very narrow and it must have been slow-going getting through so many locks. We found out later that there are 13 locks in close proximity there.
The tour of the museum was interesting although we had to leave about 10 minutes before the end to have time to collect our bags and get to the station for our train to London. Newman Brothers didn’t manufacture coffins as such, rather, they made all the metal fittings and plates, as well as the robes the dead were dressed in to be buried. Interesting to see that many of the machines were identical to those we saw at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. Like that business, this one had also been left just as it was when it closed in 1999. It has been operating as a museum for five years.
We are now heading to London by train, I'm rather excited about our accommodation on the 23rd floor of the Strata building. Watch this space!
Our New Year didn't really improve the next morning when I finally found a staff member at the hotel and discovered that there was no breakfast being offered because it was New Year's Day. The German's take these public holidays seriously, nothing was open in the old town as we headed to the station. Nothing was open at the station either, but at least the trains were still running to schedule. We breakfasted on choc-chip cookies and sugar-coated nuts purchased from a vending machine.
This was the last day of our Eurail pass and involved three trains to get to Dusseldorf. Our hotel was close to the station and was easy to find. It's also good value, only 20 euro more for two nights here compared to one night at Rothenberg and it included breakfast!
We have hosted three students from Dusseldorf over the years, in 2016 it was Jule. We went to her house for dinner. It was good to see Jule and meet her mother Heike. They both have more than adequate English and we had a pleasant meal (lovely to have some home-cooking for a change) and chat. We arranged to meet Jule again the next day for her to show us some of the sights of Dusseldorf.
In the morning we walked to the Altstadt (old town) and looked in a couple of shops before meeting Jule. We went first to K20 - the 20th century art gallery. The special Paul Klee exhibition was interesting. Klee was a professor at the Dusseldorf Art Academy in the early 1930’s until he was removed by the Nazis/National Socialists. In 1960, as an act of atonement for this, the state of Westphalia North Rhine purchased 88 works by Klee. This collection travelled the world from 1966 until the mid 70’s - first to Israel in 1966, it was in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in 1974. The special exhibition was of the works but also included some photographs and information about the travelling exhibition.
From there we walked to the Rheim Turm (Rhine Tower) and went to the top. Good views over the city as expected. Yesterday and today were the first time we’ve seen any sun for a while so it’s ironic how annoying the sun was when trying to view to the south! Saw the interesting shaped Frank Gehry buildings that I’ve seen in photographs.
Back into the old town for some lunch, finally a good coffee. Then we caught the Ubahn out to Kaiserswerth, a suburb to the north, also on the Rhine where there is a ruined castle. Unfortunately locked up for the winter but it was a pleasant place for a walk along the river and we stopped for cake in a cafe. It was very nice to spend time with Jule. We caught the train (more like a light rail/tram) back to the Hauptbahnhof (main station) and said our goodbyes to Jule.
A couple of hours of quiet time then we walked back to the Aldstat to meet Moya (who we hosted this year and who Giselle stayed with) for dinner. It was nice to see her, she was much the same as when she was visiting. On the way back we went into a supermarket and got rid of some euros by buying some chocolate!
This post takes me to the end of our time in Germany and Switzerland so I thought I'd finish up with a few things I've learnt along the way (in no particular order):
Last day of the year! Our NYE hasn’t turned out exactly as we’d like but I guess it will be one to look back on and laugh.
We are in Rothenberg ob der Tauber which is a pretty little medieval town, very much a tourist place but despite that more than half the shops were either closed all day or closed at 2pm today. We walked the entire old town wall, much of it on the covered walkway at the top of the wall. According to Lonely Planet it’s only 2.5 km around but I beg to differ. About halfway (or possibly a bit earlier) I looked at my pedometer and saw that I’d walked 6 km already today, by the end that was up to 10. It took one and a half hours of fairly consistent walking so I’m guessing at least 6 km in total. Anyway, it was a great experience, peeking into the backyards of houses and seeing the full range of well-preserved medieval buildings as well as some lovely views over the countryside and the Tauber river which Rothenberg is on. We were ready for coffee (hot chocolate for Giselle) and Schneeballen by the end, and then on the way back to the hotel I wondered whether we should book a restaurant for dinner. Decided not to as we were still trying to establish whether or not the famous Night Watchman tour would be on tonight at 8pm, and thought we could ask at the hotel. No one was around (haven’t seen any staff at all, the key was left in the letterbox for us when we arrived! I’m assuming someone will be here in the morning, I haven’t paid yet). I did some googling and discovered that the tours are daily except December 24 and 31, oh well. Having had cake so late in the afternoon, we didn’t venture out again until 7.45pm, but thinking that it’s NYE, surely that won’t be a problem for restaurants... The restaurants we tried were either closed, closed for private parties, or the kitchen had closed already (even though there were still people eating). Even the Doner kebab place that Google assured us was open until 10pm wasn’t. Finally we found a Chinese restaurant that was still open and still serving food...but they had no room for us...so takeaway and a look at livestream fireworks on YouTube it was!
Now I’d better backtrack a little.
We left Zurich on Friday and headed to Pforzheim which is close to where Giselle's friend Sarah lives. Three trains to get to Pforzheim. The first, a Swiss one, was a standard long distance train, the second was a double-decker regional train and the third was only one carriage, like a bus on rails.
The scenery along the way was interesting, I’m glad I chose this rather than the simpler two train way which would have been backtracking from Basel to Karlsruhe. Seeing the Rhine falls, spectacular although gone very quickly; lots of pretty little towns; rural scenes of cows and farms; tiny chapels; frost everywhere the sun hadn’t hit. As we got closer it looked like it could have been snow because is was in the trees as well but it seems it is just a semi-permanent version of frost. We followed a river for much of the final leg. Pforzheim is on three rivers, the Enz, the Nagold and the Wurm.
Sarah and her father Mattius came and picked us up at about 2pm. We went to their house in Ispringen where we met her mother Susanna, two of her sisters Milena and Ninetta, her cousin Lily who lives in Norway, and Ninetta’s friend Sochi from South Korea - they met at an English language school in New Zealand, Sochi has been in Germany since September now learning German!
A great deal of effort (and the good china) had gone into afternoon tea with a cake, tea and coffee in pots, home-made biscuits and special Christmas biscuits that are made with old wooden moulds. The recipe has been handed down by their grandmother, they take more than 24 hours to make and are flavoured with aniseed.
A little later, Susanna and Sarah took us to the town of Calw which is a very pretty town made up of medieval buildings. It is also the birthplace of Herman Hesse, the poet, and there is a statue of him on an old bridge that also has a very old chapel on it. It was very cold walking around. We had coffee in a cafe and also spent time in a bookshop before it was time to meet the other girls for dinner at a nearby restaurant. Susanna teaches at a kindergarten and we spoke a little of favourite children’s books, she likes Jackie French’s Diary of a wombat. In the bookshop I looked for any Australian picture books that had been translated but couldn’t see any but I did find Do not lick this book which was the 2018 CBCA Information book winner. Susanna thought it would be a good one for the kindergarten children. At the kindergarten about 90% of the children don’t have German as their first language, many are refugees from Iraq and Syria.
Dinner was at a large beer hall style restaurant, Brauhaus (brewhouse) Schonbuch , in an old sports hall that has been done up. A nice, noisy place. The crowd silenced briefly when one of the waiters rather spectacularly dropped a large pile of used plates. The food was traditional and locally sourced. I had beef goulash with spatzle (noodles) Giselle had schnitzel with mushrooms and spatzle.
Pforzheim is known for jewellery and watchmaking so when Sarah met us at the station the next morning we went to the Schmuckmuseum (jewellery museum). The museum was very good, the historical collection goes back to Ancient Egyptian times, right through to the 20th century. It’s interesting that people have been using precious metals to create earrings, rings and necklaces for thousands of years and that even the very old stuff could be worn today.
Next we headed to the Mittelaltermarkt (Middle Ages Market) which is similar to many of the Christmas markets but has a middle ages theme. People working there are all dressed in costume, and the crafts on display - timber, ceramics, wool/felting, silverwork using an open fire to melt the metal - are from olden times. Mind you, the food wasn’t particularly Middle Ages, plenty of potatoes - introduced by Frederick the great in the 18th century, plus pizza, waffles etc. It was fun.
Then it was time for Giselle and Sarah to say their goodbyes and we caught our first train to Stuttgart, followed by the train to Munich. On the platform at Stuttgart we were standing around with our packs on for quite some time so I decided to bend down to shift the weight around, I lost control and ended up on my back, must have looked ridiculous but it was pretty funny and no harm done!
Me on the platform at Stuttgart
MUNICH. In the morning we walked to Marienplatz where we planned to join a walking tour. We were early so had a bit of a walk around. Found the Michael Jackson shrine, bizarre. Joined the walking tour. It was very cold with light rain and wind making it feel worse than 3C usually would. The walking tour was fine, in and out of a couple of churches, interesting to see a very glamorous shopping centre behind an old looking facade. I guess I must be reaching the point of tourist fatigue because nothing really stands out from the tour. The Hofbrauhaus was interesting for the detail about the 621 people who have their personal beer stein kept in a locker for them to use each day, at a cost each year and the locker only given up when they die! Beyond that I really don’t remember much except for the regular chiming of bells which the guide had to compete with.
Lunch was at a cafe we’d seen on the walk, chicken noodle soup for me, tomato soup, served with a bowl of piped whipped cream(!), for Giselle. We then went to the Pinakothek de Moderne (modern art museum). Very busy. Most museums in Munich are only 1 euro entry, under 18’s free, on a Sunday. All the shops except cafes, takeaway food and restaurants are closed so what else would you do on a cold Sunday! A queue to get a ticket, then a queue to cloak our bags.
There are four sections to the museum, a design museum, modern art, graphics - meaning works on paper, and architecture. The design part was interesting although there were a lot of chairs, none for actually sitting on. Also a special exhibition of jewellery which was a good complement to yesterday’s as it was more recent “out there” work rather than historical. The graphic collection is huge apparently so they only ever have a small part on display. At the moment it is works on paper that are designs for bigger works, mostly frescoes and the like for churches. The architecture display was on the various buildings constructed for Ludwig II. The modern art collection had works by many famous artists but we didn’t spend long there.
Adelboden cont. - Completing the challenge
Once Giselle and Tee had finished their community service we set off for a walk to find a stream they could immerse their feet in for 5 seconds (this was optional and no doubt much more popular in the summer months). They also had to talk to a Swiss person and find out three facts about Switzerland. Both tasks completed, Tee went back to the chalet and Giselle and I continued walking, heading toward Adelboden. The walk was a bit fraught with black ice and general slipperiness, I slipped over on my backside a couple of times but no harm done. We got as far as a supermarket which wasn’t open and headed back. On the way saw people paragliding, a small ski run next door to an indoor bowling/curling/ice skating centre, and many people out with dogs. I got very hot on the walk back up the hill, amazingly so given the temperature hasn’t got above 1 all day, but it has been very still and sunny, actually perfect weather.
Dinner Christmas night was another good meal, more like our regular Christmas lunch with cold meats, salads, devilled eggs, also leftover beans from yesterday and some very yummy desserts, chocolate mousse cake and lemon tart amongst other things.
The hike to the magic tree was fun, a bit more challenging than I expected, mostly because of the icy conditions. It was great having a hiking pole, it made dealing with the slippery conditions much less fraught. Ashley and Corina who were leading the walk got a bit lost/unsure of the best route due to the snow and ice and had to call in back-up from Tanya, the Our Chalet manager. We may have walked a little further than we had to but it was all good fun. The magic tree is over 500 years old and is hollow inside, big enough for at least four people to get inside. Remarkably it is still alive. We lit candles and made wishes. Giselle and Tee were presented with their Our Chalet challenge badges.
A bus, two trains and a tram later we found our lodgings in Zurich. Pension Kafischnapps is above a cafe of the same name, the cafe would not be out of place in any trendy area of Melbourne and seems popular. The room is simple but nice, with toilet and shower shared with the other four rooms.
Giselle’s friend Anik came and met us at the cafe while we had lunch. She took us into the old town, to the church, GrossMunster, where we paid to climb the tower. Excellent views across Zurich and Anik was able to point out areas of interest. The church had some very interesting windows, some made of cross sections of gemstones, I bought a postcard of one, Giselle bought a booklet about all the windows.
We saw the Opera House, the river and top of the lake. There were many people out and about even though the shops were all shut. The Polybahn, a funicular railway, was also shut - a disappointment! We saw several Christmas markets that were in the process of being dismantled. In Germany I got the impression that the markets continue until early January, perhaps the 6th (12 days of Christmas) but not here.
We walked up some of the main shopping street, Bahnhoffstrasse, where there were many big name shops - Tiffany, Jimmy Choo, Versace etc. We diverted up to a small park with a good view over the lake and also into one of the better chocolate shops, extraordinary prices - 6.50 (about $9) for a 50g block for example.
Anik left us to catch our tram back to the hotel. After a bit of quiet time in the room we went back out and had pizza at a very small restaurant where the chef/waiter didn’t seem to speak any English although I could hear some Italian, French and German. It didn’t matter, we had a decent meal - two pizzas and one glass of wine for 41 francs. Cash only!
Today Giselle headed off a bit before 10am to catch two trams to meet Anik, I had a little trepidation about her going off on her own, crazy because I wouldn’t think twice about it at home.
I had arranged to meet up with a friend I'd only previously known online through my studies. Grethe and her husband, Colmar, picked me up at 10.30 as arranged, we started talking and didn’t stop all day! About our work, study, about Switzerland and Australia - it was lovely. They drove us out into the countryside but the weather wasn’t great, clouds were very low or perhaps were even fog most of the time so it was difficult to discern the mountains from the lakes. Apparently there is much less snow than is usual for this time of the year and we went past one lake that Grethe said is usually frozen over by now. I saw a couple of ski jump set-ups that had no snow.
We stopped in Einsiedeln, a small town known for its monastery, the Benedictine Einsiedeln Abbey, which was established in the 10th century. The abbey contains the Black Madonna which apparently is a particular attraction for people who like to pray to such things. There was a service going on so we weren’t able to look around much but it certainly was impressively decorative.
We then drove through the area from where William Tell is reputed to have come and saw his statue/monument in Altdorf.
We stopped there for lunch in a typical Swiss restaurant. I ordered what Grethe and Colmar assured me was the most typical of Swiss dishes - veal with mushrooms in a cream sauce and potato rosti, it was delicious.
I learnt a lot about the Swiss way: their direct democracy meaning they frequently vote on single issues; how their presidency rotates amongst the seven members of the cabinet so they more often than not don’t know who the president is; how the overriding philosophy is to build up the lowest rung of society as this will benefit everyone, and then let capitalism take care of the rest; how much government is very localised, including each city or canton having its own school system which perhaps isn’t for the best; how even very wealthy Swiss live unassuming lives (particularly compared to Germans and Italians who like to flaunt their wealth); how everyone looks down on or makes fun of the Swiss Italians - the Italians, the other Swiss...and much more.
All in all today was one of the highlights of the trip - wonderful to spend time with locals.
Giselle got back an hour or so after I did and we decided we should have fondue for dinner. Headed back into the older part of town that we first walked through with Anik yesterday to a restaurant that specialises in fondue - Raclette-Stube. We had a fairly standard mixed cheese fondue with bread and potatoes and added in some pickles. It’s nice but not something I’d regularly choose as my main meal. I think it would be great for around 6-8 people to share the amount that we were served for two, as a starter.
I'll finish with the view from the back of a Zurich tram.
Merry Christmas everyone! The picture above is from one of the prettier Christmas markets I saw (and I have seen many), this one in Basel.
Giselle has been getting very excited about finally getting to Our Chalet and meeting up with girl-guide types, more so than about Christmas
Right now I'm doing the washing, having already enjoyed a lovely Christmas morning brunch here at Our Chalet. The washing!...yes, well, you have to take advantage of laundry facilities when and where you find them. It is a beautiful morning here in Adelboden but first I need to catch up on Nuremberg and Basel.
An earlyish start in Berlin, to the station to validate our Eurail passes and catch the train. We arrived in Nuremberg soon after midday and luckily were able to check straight into our hotel. We walked through the old town, past the Ehekarussell or Marriage merry-go-round fountain, through an open air mall up to the market square. There was the usual Christmas market going on but also a more standard food market - fruit and vegetables, delicatessen items and so on. We saw the Schöner Brunnen (Beautiful fountain) but it was surrounded by stalls.
At Albrecht Durer’s house we opted for the tour with a guide who portrayed herself as Albrecht’s wife, Agnes . It made the whole experience much more engaging, particularly as she made great effort to engage with us, Giselle especially - she’d asked at the beginning what interest we had in Durer and I said that Giselle was studying art. The house is genuinely medieval being one of the very few buildings that was not damaged beyond repair in WW2. Built in the late 1400s, not by Durer, it looks Tudorish, lots of timber beams, low doorways etc. It was a rich man’s house demonstrated by the extensive windows, made up of lots of small sections. The stories Agnes told about Durer’s life and work were very interesting, particularly how difficult it was back then to make paint and the effort that had to be gone to to get different colours, it makes you wonder that anyone bothered! Durer also created woodcut and copperplate prints and we were treated to demonstrations of both of these being printed, the second by a local artist who makes and sells prints on site.
Next was the Toy Museum which was more extensive than I expected although there was a lot of very similar things for example many very realistic dolls houses and lots of trains, cars and dolls. Not so much post WW2 stuff, was mostly 18th, 19th and early 20th century. Worth a visit.
From there we wandered back through town, to the Handwerkerhof which is a number of craft shops in a medieval setting, supplemented at this time of year with Christmas market stalls. There was a nice glass shop, leather, timber, metal, vintage toys etc. but we didn’t buy anything.
A counter meal! We ate sitting at the bar as the hotel restaurant was fully booked. I had my first schnitzel, finally, and we shared Gingerbread mousse (parfait) and apple strudel with particularly nice vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Two trains to get to Basel, first to Frankfurt and then to Basel. The trains were crowded with people with lots of luggage, heading home for Christmas no doubt. The second train gradually emptied and we had our compartment to ourselves for the last little bit. There are two Basel stations, one in Germany and one in Switzerland. On the map you can see a spot on the edge of town where the borders of Switzerland, Germany and France meet.
Our hotel in Basel is a “smart” motel meaning there are no reception staff, you have to deal with an annoying machine instead. Doesn’t make the room particularly cheap but it is nice and only up one flight of stairs instead of four like in Nuremberg. Swiss plugs are slightly different to other European ones so one of my adaptors won’t fit. When I went to the ATM I was given two 200 franc notes (about $280 Australian each) - I knew I’d have to break one of those before going to the Christmas market we’d walked through so we went into the first random biggish shop to find something to buy. It was an electronics shop so I found a UK to Swiss travel adaptor so I can now put a usb charger into the UK adaptor and put that into the new swiss one. Annoying! Annoying getting such large notes from the ATM but the money is very pretty. The notes are large and quite stiff, difficult to fold into three to go neatly into my wallet.
Basel has a lot of very long trams that only go in one direction - ie there is only a driving compartment at one end, like the trams in Lisbon. In front of the station there are a series of platforms, about 8, with trams coming and going in all directions. What with driving on the right it’s all a bit fraught when trying to cross the road. All hotel guests staying in Basel get a special public transport pass for free public transport - there’s an idea Melbourne!
When we left the hotel we headed to the Museum of Paper, writing and printing. Unfortunately we were too late to go into the museum (the train arrived just before 4pm, by the time we got there it was nearly 4.45) but we had a look at the shop which had a lot of lovely paper and writing things, inks, pens and the like. Also cards, prints, calendars etc. I bought a wood-cut print of Basel and Giselle bought a metal seal (for using with sealing wax). We then walked along the river (the Rhine) toward the old town. We came across Basel Minster, a gothic protestant church with origins dating back to the 9th century. There was a large crowd of people queuing to get in, perhaps a special pre-Christmas service or just the regular Sunday evening, not sure. Beyond the church there was a very pretty Christmas market (pictured at top) but we realised there was no point looking around until I’d been to an ATM for cash. We kept walking along a very pretty cobblestone alley down to a shopping area. We then walked across the Mittlere Brücke, an historic stone bridge. On the other side we found another market, mostly food, which we walked through and then discovered a craft market up a side alley.
By the time we got back to the first Christmas market it was almost 6pm and it seemed all the stalls were packing up! Not sure if this was because tomorrow is Christmas eve or if it is a Sunday thing. Back into the shopping area and walking back toward the station and the hotel, we came upon yet another market area but they were still going strong although some of the food suppliers seemed to be saying that they were selling out what was prepared now and not making more of things.
We bought some candied nuts and Giselle found some sealing wax to go with her seal. Finally back near the station it looked like many cafes and restaurants were already closed. We went into an Asian cafeteria-style restaurant and had a rather expensive very ordinary meal.
Had a bad night’s sleep - between overheated room, despite window open, and noise from outside, because window open, it was a restless night. Woke to fairly steady rain so instead of exploring a bit more of Basel we just had breakfast and hung around in the room until it was time to catch the train.
An hour and a half to Spiez, via Bern. Past a Lindt factory in a town, while between towns the scenery was pure chocolate box. Went through quite a few tunnels and clearly were climbing as my ears popped often. Changed trains at Spiez and again to a bus at Frutigen where it was raining. Bus fare extortionate - 10.40 chf each (about $13), for a trip no further than Macleod into the city, but there was no other option.
As we travelled along we first saw some snow and then it became obvious that it was no longer raining but actually snowing! Quite magical. We were picked up at Adelboden Oey by Tania the Our Chalet manager. Fortunately we were not expected to walk up the hill in the snow (we were only promised a luggage transfer).
We settled in and met a few people in the lounge, including Tee who Giselle met on the cruise last year. The girls involved in the program that Tee is doing then went orienteering and after a while we realised it had stopped snowing so we went out for a bit of a walk and snow play. The sun was trying to come out and the scenery was just spectacular, so pretty.
The special Christmas Eve dinner was at 6pm. There are about 10 guests at the moment plus perhaps 15 volunteers, interns and staff. They are expecting 70 people for a program next week so I think we are lucky to be here at a quiet time. There were introductions, a sung Grace - the Our Chalet grace in French! Dinner was three courses, bruschetta followed by full roast chicken dinner, potatoes, carrots, a really nice bean dish, cabbage, sprouts, stuffing, gravy etc. Then tiramisu, chocolate cake, cheesecake for dessert.
After dinner we joined in some activities in the lounge. We made up an Australian team with Tee and Nes, one of the volunteers. A series of puzzle/thinking challenges, none of which I was any help at, we only scored on one. Then a charades game where we did much better as in the end we won, despite me giving away answers to the opposition a couple of times!
The lounge is well-stocked with puzzles and games. I think this is going to be a very relaxing interlude in between the frenetic go go go pace of being a tourist.
This morning there was a special Christmas brunch and then no other planned activities until this evening's hike to the magical tree. Giselle and Tee are working their way through the activities to attain the "Our Chalet" badge, at the moment doing some community service which involves chipping ice off pathways. Soon I will join them for a walk into the township where they have other activities to complete.
A very different Christmas for me, but very pleasant none-the-less. I hope you have enjoyed yours, wherever you may be.
This song kept getting in my head the whole time I was in Berlin, really only for the line "Here in Berlin..." not for the sentiments expressed particularly, but it can serve as a soundtrack for this post if you like!
On Thursday morning I discovered I could see Giselle’s hostel from just outside my hotel. Walked around and met her in the lobby. We waited till Frau Holl and Mr Fab came down then said our good-byes.
We caught a train to the East Side gallery which is the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall (except for the bits that have been taken out for new building) and also, apparently, the longest open air gallery in the world. Painted by 118 artists from 21 countries immediately after the wall came down, it officially opened as an open air gallery on 28 September 1990. It is now protected an a memorial and the paintings have been restored a couple of times already.
Next to the Topography of Terror exhibition, housed on the location of SS offices, prison and Reich security main office. It's a very comprehensive exhibition and documentation centre, both inside and out although it all gets a bit depressing after a while.
Next to Nineties Berlin a special multimedia exhibition ,only on for a short time (6 months). Using your phone you linked into their interactive information source. It was about the wall coming down and the culture that exploded in Berlin the the subsequent 10 years. Very loud, techno music. Interesting interviews on screens from various people with different roles and perspectives on Berlin at the time, from artists to historians to politicians, musicians and police officers. In an outside area they had a section of the wall and a memorial with linked information about all 138 people who died trying to escape East Berlin. There was a labyrinth that led to multimedia displays of music and images. Far more information available than you could possibly read/absorb in one go but overall very interesting.
We had a very late lunch at an Italian restaurant, very large pizzas but we managed to eat them!
From there we went to the DDR museum. This was a lot of fun, a very interactive, hands on exhibition about what life was like living in East Berlin including a Trabant car with simulated driving experience (Giselle managed to crash a couple of times before the fuel ran out!), and a whole apartment furnished just as it would have been in the 70's with lots to explore in the cupboards. Highly recommended!
Finally found a decent coffee! It took Einstein to make it...no actually Einstein Kaffee is a chain of coffee shops, I’ve only seen one other so far (I've Googled since and sadly it seems they are only in Berlin, Potsdam and Frankfurt, dammit). Such a relief to have a coffee that actually tastes good, is of a reasonable strength and isn’t half UHT milk froth.
We caught an S bahn train to Potsdam, about 35 minutes away, and then joined a bus tour. In summer months this bus is one of the hop on/hop off type but in winter it just has one departure daily with three stops of 20-30 minutes with a live guide to explain a little about where you are. On the bus the live guide only speaks in German but they have the usual recorded information in various languages available.
Potsdam is a very interesting place with a lot of significant history, particularly from the 20th century and the cold war. There are a number of very impressive buildings, variously described as castles or palaces. We stopped at:
We finished the day with a visit to the Ritter Bunte SchokoWelt, a cafe and shop where you can purchase everything Ritter chocolate. Afternoon tea of hot chocolate (dark for me, nougat for Giselle) and a chocolate fondue (got to get some fruit into us somehow!) and a few chocolate purchases (OK, four blocks plus a 500g bag of mini blocks for 7 euro) which may or may not make their way home to Australia!
I have written this while travelling on a train from Nurembery to Basel (via Frankfurt). I would have done it on yesterday's train to Nuremberg but the train's wifi wasn't working! I will update on our day in Nuremberg later.
Train 1 - London to Brussels
Monday morning was bright and sunny, in stark contrast to the miserable night before. After a short walk around for breakfast I packed up and walked the 200m to St Pancras station and found the boarding queue for the Eurostar. Quite a process of queuing, ticket checking, more queuing, security, still more queuing, then passport control. It's all much more complex than when flying because then your luggage is already booked through. Here I had to manhandle the big pack onto the screening conveyor as well as remove my coat, scarf and watch. I got a very thorough patting down by a security guard (female) after I set off the scanner for some still unknown reason. Eventually I could board the train, found my seat and remembered that I’d booked premium ticket - breakfast supplied. Croissant, roll, yoghurt, coffee - very nice!
The train was very quick and smooth, got out of London very quickly and the tunnel came up before I expected it. As soon as we hit France I got a text message about the phone roaming, the same when we got to Belgium and then later in Germany. Changed trains in Brussels. I was a bit concerned that 20 minutes was cutting it fine but no dramas at all.
Train 2 - Brussels to Cologne
The second train of the day was just as smooth. No food provided but I could have ordered and had food delivered to my seat if I chose. Arrived in Cologne 10 minutes late (!) at 4.24 pm but at least it was still light. My hotel is literally next door to the station so locating it and checking in were quick and easy. Headed straight out for a wander around. Had to remind myself that I’m in Europe and they drive on the right...going to have to be careful with that. Wandered through the shopping area and then when I tried to get to the river I came across a Christmas market. It was most entertaining with an ice skating rink, another ice based game - not curling exactly, more like bowling on ice. Very interesting looking food on offer, no idea what some of it was.
Heading back to the hotel via the cathedral I found another market. Different style to the first but just as popular and interesting to wander around in, getting completely disorientated in the process.
The next morning I got up early headed to the pedestrian bridge adjacent to the railway bridge which is famous for all the "love" locks on it. Crossed first on the east side, plenty of locks although it thinned toward the middle. Returned on the west side, absolutely chocka with locks (upon locks upon locks) particularly as you get closer to the north side, nearest the cathedral. They have even ventured further out onto railings on the adjacent plaza. I cannot begin to imagine how many padlocks are on that bridge or what it all weighs but it seems it isn’t an issue.
Next to the cathedral where I paid my 4 euro to climb the 533 steps to the top of the dome. I think I must have been the first person up today, I didn’t see another person until I was just about to head down. It was hard work on the way up, I think I'm moderately fit but I don’t know that I’m ever great at stair climbing. On the way down my left knee and right ankle started to hurt and it made me dizzy.
Train 3 - Cologne to Berlin
Back to the station for the final leg in this part of the journey. I couldn’t find an overall departures board but found the right platform for my train by scanning each platform's sign. Clearly there is no need to arrive any more than 10 minutes before departure, I ended up waiting on the cold platform for quite a while. Tricky to figure out where my carriage would be and which one it was when the train arrived, the carriages were not so clearly marked as yesterday’s trains but once I got onto the right carriage it was all easy.
A straightforward longish train trip. Mostly unremarkable scenery, lots of wind turbines, sometimes singularly, others in great mobs.
It was 3.05 pm when the train arrived and I wasted no time in getting out once I’d checked in to the hotel to make the most of the limited daylight. By 4pm I’d seen the Reichstag and the Bundestag and not much later had seen the Brandenburg gate as well. Walked through areas of BIG buildings, wide streets etc. flash hotels and glamour businesses. Went into the “Digital cafe” only to discover it was part of Microsoft, had a coffee anyway - surprisingly good coffee (the only one in Germany so far!) Went into the Ampelmann store - Ampelmann is the figure on the pedestrian crossings, he seems to be a bit of a thing!
Headed to Gendarmenmarkt square with the French and German cathedrals at either end and the Concert hall on one side. There was a Christmas market on there, I almost didn’t go in as I’d decided I definitely wanted to sit at a restaurant to eat this evening (I hadn’t sat to eat since arriving in Germany except for what I ate on trains) and they charged 1 euro to get in. But in I went and very glad I am too. There was an inside (very warm) section of handcrafted items - the sorts of things you see at the arts centre Sunday market, I made a couple of purchases.
Day two in Berlin and I joined a walking tour. Quite a large group and from all over - England, US, Singapore, Australia, Philippines and Germany. The guide, Phil, is Irish - studied German history at university, met a girl from Berlin and moved here 5 years ago.
Phil gave a rundown of the entire history of Germany in under 10 minutes (he talks fast) which gave a big overall context for much of what was to come. Walked to Museum island where there are 5 museums, I think there was only one that I really thought I’d like to visit. Then to Berlin cathedral which has a tower climb, only half the height of Cologne which I might go back to but I've had a bit of pain in my right ankle and shin since the Cologne cathedral and down steps is the worst so we shall see. We then went past the German historical museum (which I went back to later), then across the road to Bebelplatz where the Nazi book burning took place, there is a memorial in the form of empty shelves for 20000 books under the plaza, visible through a window set into the ground. The plaza is the forecourt of part of the Humboldt University and the Catholic “upside down tea cup” church.
Then to Gendarmenmarkt which is where the Christmas market I went to last night is. He explained the story of the two churches - the French raised money to build their church so the Germans wanted their own, it’s one metre taller, in a case of one-upmanship. From there we had a short break in a cafe and I finally warmed up, pity the coffee was so bad! Only 2C for most of the day, the coldest I’ve been since Glasgow on Saturday.
On to Checkpoint Charlie, stories of the wall going up, taken to the second longest remaining section, to the location of Hitler’s bunker which is barely acknowledged, just one small sign. Apartments were built on the site in the 70’s and the bunkers filled with rubble and covered over, Phil indicated they are under the very nondescript open space/trees (no grass) where we stood.
From there, the Holocaust memorial, which I thought quite impressive, then to the Reichstag and finally the Brandenburg gate.
The German historical museum was very grand and imposing and has a very serious collection. I probably wasn't in the best frame of mind to enjoy much of what it had to offer although the late 20th century section was interesting. I also enjoyed the small, special exhibition on the history of Christmas tree decorations, and it was lovely to be inside in the warm!
I'd booked a visit to the Reichstag dome for 5.45. You assemble in a portable building on the forecourt to go through a very thorough security process, and then each group is escorted to the dome. There is a well organised audio guide that is linked to where you are. It was very pretty at nighttime but tricky to work out which buildings were being discussed at some points, or to see the detail of what was mentioned. Would be better to do in daylight even though it looked great at night. Cold up there. Interesting stuff about the design and how the mirrors on the centre section help illuminate the parliament area below to save electricity.
Finished the day with a bus trip back to Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church - it was badly damaged by WW2 bombing but not repaired so as to serve as a memorial. There was a Christmas market there and I went for dinner - Currywurst and quark balls (basically donuts).
Giselle has joined me today, I'll save today's adventures for my next post.
I've had a bit of trouble getting my laptop connected to wifi over the past couple of days, hence the gap between posts...but trust German efficiency, I'm now on a German train heading from Brussels to Cologne and the wifi has connected AND accessed the internet straightaway!
Glasgow is a really great city to visit! Throwaway any preconceptions you might have, it is a truly interesting place and much less touristy than Edinburgh. I only wish I'd had a little more time there, and that the weather had been a bit more pleasant.
I arrived there on Friday afternoon having travelled by train from Dundee. The train was fully of happy Scots, many dressed in bad Christmas jumpers (including the conductor) and tee shirts, some already drinking at 11am. Trying to work out where the bus stop was, I had a mild panic when Google maps wouldn't respond (poor connection!) even though I had good 4G connection. Wandered around where I thought I should be for a bit and tried again and this time it worked. It made me realise how dependent I am on the phone working. After further experience it seems to be a peculiar Google Maps black hole as it happened whenever I was in the vicinity of Glasgow Queen St station.
Once I found my bus, the 77, I had no trouble getting to the Airbnb. Once again I had downloaded an app and purchased my ticket on the train. My host, Jill, is very nice, hobbling on crutches with a damaged ankle. She makes mozzarella cheese which she sells to local businesses, cafes I guess. She delivers it each day.
The room is great. At the top of the house (two flights) it is large and bright with a stunning bathroom - better than our ensuite, even when it’s finished (which I believe it is, finally!). There is a very large world map on the ceiling.
I set off for Kelvingrove park and museum. This area of Glasgow seems more like London than Edinburgh although admittedly I didn’t spend much time in the new town. Lots of four storey terraces, like the one I’m staying in, lots of churches and other grand buildings, Kelvingrove among them. On the way there was frost still on the ground (max temp today was 3) and a frozen pond with a “danger thin ice” sign. I had a quick squizz around the gallery, mostly at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh section. From there I went on a long walk, down to the river and all the way along to the city centre. This would be fun on a bike.
Woke up Saturday morning to discover it was snowing. The snow continued for a couple of hours but then turned into rain. Once it was light the snow melted as soon as it hit the ground but there were still piles around the place, particularly on cars. I walked into the city centre to meet up with the Glasgow walking tour I'd booked which was led by Caron, a true Glaswegian, red hair and all. There were 13 in the group - three local women, three men from Edinburgh and northern England, four Germans (two couples) a couple from Russia...and me. The tour was great despite freezing weather. Today was the first time I did the two coat thang and I definitely needed it. I could also see the value in a hat today, but two hoods do the trick, particularly when it rains which it did, quite a lot.
Highlights of the tour:
There's the bird that never flew,
There's the fish that never swam,
There's the bell that never rang.
I had a number of frustrations with buses that afternoon and it took a stupidly long time to get home in the cold and dark (it was 4.45 when I started off, pitch dark already and nearly 6 when I got there, I could have walked in less time but I'd already walked nearly 15km by then) but I'll spare you the detail. Suffice to say I totally get why people don't like buses!
Yesterday (Sunday) was sunny and clear so it was a shame I had to leave already. I had time to walk to the new Charles Rennie Mackintosh statue that was only unveiled recently before making my way to Central station and the train to London. All quite uncomplicated (trains are good!). Interesting watching the world go by. The first section we must have climbed a little because there was a lot of snow about, and lots of black-faced sheep. Of course it was dark by the time I got to Euston station. I walked to my hotel and shortly after headed out for a walk, only to discover it had started pouring with rain. Exploring in the dark is one thing, exploring in the dark and rain is quite another so I opted for an early dinner and early to bed.
In yesterday's post I mentioned going up to Dundee Law for a look at the view over Dundee, but nothing else of what I'd done that day.
In the late 19th and early 20th century Dundee was known for three J’s - Jute, Jam and Journalism. The jam was marmalade, invented by Janet Keillor in the 17th century as a way to use up bitter Seville oranges, and turned into an industry by her son. Journalism is represented by the publishing empire of DC Thomson who produced The Beano, The Dandy, The Sunday Post and the People’s Friend and introduced characters such as Dennis the Menace. Another character is Demon Dan from the sculpture pictured in my previous post.
I learnt about the significance of Dundee's jute industry at Verdant Works which is a former mill that has been turned into a living history museum. It was very quiet so I got a personalised tour from the “works manager” and from George, a volunteer, who looks after the machinery, some original and some scaled down models. A lot of the equipment reminded me of visiting the Castlemaine Woollen Mill as a kid, I guess the principles are the same.
Today was a big cultural/tourist day starting with a visit to the V&A Design Museum. I saw the Ocean Liner (paid) exhibition first. Comprehensive and very interesting, particularly the decorative elements. They had a deckchair from the Titanic which brought to mind the term “like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” which I think means doing something futile.
The Scottish Design gallery was full of fascinating objects, everything from fashion to medical technology. The building is stunning but bizarrely it seems smaller on the inside than expected. Not that the inside spaces are small, the entrance, cafe and shop area are very large and open, it’s just that I thought there’d be more than just the two gallery spaces. Maybe there are, just not on public display.
Discovery Point, home to, and history of, the Royal Research Ship Discovery which was built for Scott’s three year trip to the Antarctic. The ship is now permanently docked in Dundee, having spent many years on the Thames as the home to Sea Scouts among other things. Another very interesting exhibition with lots of displays, videos, and interactive elements.
The McManus, a combined museum and art gallery, mainly focusing on Dundee and Scotland. I enjoyed the story of the two women journalists who were sent on a world tour by the publisher DC Thomson to report on the life of women around the world. The exhibition of portraits was also very good and I learnt that well-known companies such as Timex (watches) and NCR (cash registers and ATMs) had significant operations in Dundee..
Finally, Dundee Contemporary Arts which I visited mainly because it was open after 5pm and thus was a good way of filling in time before it was late enough for dinner! My accommodation here in Dundee is great but it’s just a bit out of the way (and uphill) to want to come home in the afternoon, knowing that I would have to go back to town for dinner and there doesn’t appear to be anywhere to eat nearby.
It's going to be extra cold tonight and tomorrow morning. So far the temperature has mostly been around 6C which is fine when I'm rugged up in my coat, scarf and thermals although my nose is usually cold. It's already down to 2C and expected to go to 1C overnight. Tomorrow's top for Glasgow, where I head late morning, is only 3C! I might have to add in the second coat I think.
As I viewed Dundee from Dundee Law yesterday it struck me just how much technology enables travel today, and how very different this trip is, even from five years ago and certainly from Don and my first trip to Europe over 20 years ago. I had just video chatted with Don via Facebook messenger - who could have imagined being able to do that with such ease, and in the outdoors, even ten years ago.
Some other examples:
I went on an Edinburgh castle tour with Jen, an entertaining geek-girl type. Good way to see things, I think you can just end up wandering about not really understanding anything without someone telling you and the sorts of stories she had are much more entertaining than the standard audio guide. In the small group was a woman from Japan, a guy from Portugal and a young woman from Italy called Chiara. I particularly loved seeing the little dog cemetery which is in one of the photos below.
I visited the Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith. This was an interesting and well-organised experience. It's called a yacht but really it's a mini cruise ship. Fun to see in real life some of what has been on display in The Crown TV show. Decent coffee in the tea room - yay!
On the bus on my way to The Bailie Bar it was getting dark so it was odd to see lollipop people manning school crossings but then I realised it was only 3.40pm after all. The Bailie Bar was very busy for the time of day. I had a cider but didn’t approach the staff to tell of my namesake. They seemed too busy and I felt awkward...and I’d decided I really didn’t need a mug to cart around for the rest of the trip, even though it would be nice to have. From the bus on the way I saw Anderson’s bar but was too slow to grab a picture.
In the evening I had dinner with a teacher friend who I first met online but had met in real life last year at a conference. Always lovely to spend time with locals although he is originally from Glasgow and his wife, Caroline, from Newcastle. They spent many years living on the Isle of Islay where there are 9 whisky distilleries and not much else!
I'm going to stop there for now - it's time to get out and about for my only full day in Dundee.
What's happening here?
I'm off on an adventure to Europe, on my own for 12 days and the remaining 3 weeks with my 17 year old daughter. This is where I'm going to share my adventures.
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