Saturday, 27 June 2009

Dresden to Amsterdam

So, I spent my week between Munich and Amsterdam in Dresden, Saxony (the NorthEastern corner of Germany). It was completely destroyed during WWII, but they rebuilt all the historic public buildings, like the cathedral, etc. So, what you ended up with was buildings that look like they'er 500 years old, but have sharp corners, clean walls and smooth floors. You know, like they're new. Or, like they would have looked when they were new. We're so used to the 'old' look in our acitecutre that we forget that at some point in the past, it was new! That was really quite cool.

I spent Wednesday-Friday there, and on Saturday took the train cross country(s) to Amsterdam. That was actually kind of fun. I went to the Dresden train station and talked to a booking agent about getting to Amsterdam. She had several suggestions. The one I liked the best (overnight sleeper train) wouldn't work, though, because it didn't get me there til Monday, and I needed to be there Sunday! They had the trains running every night, but they were twice as expensive on Saturday. So instead, I ended up traveling all day Saturday. But, because I said yes I'd do 3 train changes, I got a 1st Class ticket for the price of a 2nd Class ticket! Yeay! 9 hours on the train? What's an additional 45 minutes? Seriously, that was the time difference. I was even more pleased when I ended up with an entire cubical to myself. :-) I slept a good portion of the way (which was good, because I'd been up til the wee hours of the morning talking to Lois!). In fact, I was so far asleep, the conductor had a difficult time waking me up to check my ticket. *blush*

Upon arrival in Amsterdam, I was reminded why I hate the city. Rediculously expensive! Stupidly expensive!! Insanely Expensive!!! I went from 25 Euros/Night
room to 125 Euros/Night room. And you know what? The 25 Euro room was nicer! Seriously, the room was shocking.

However, the 'room' I shared when I meet up with Mom and Grandma more than made up for the deprivations of the first place! I walked down from my place to the collection point for our shared place. What was exciting was, I didn't have a map. Or any real idea of where I was going. Shockingly, I made it without any problems! I had looked at it on Google Maps the night before, but I had no way of printing off a map. So I just wrote down all the streets. Unfortunately, I'd misremembered the tram system, and got off at a completely wrong spot . . . which also happened to be about 3 blocks from where I wanted to end up! I've got quite a good sense of direction, so, even though I didn't know where I was, I knew which direction I still needed to go. And after a couple of blocks, I saw a street sign I recognised. I'd found the corner of one of the streets I needed. And what was better? I was literally one block from the hotel! I rounded the corner of the final street, and just as I did, I looked to my right, and there was a crane (bird) on the roof of the car I was standing next to. And it was about 3 feet from my face! I was really shocked. And then I heard this laughter coming from across the street. Some tourists were sitting outside the hotel, and laughing at my surprised face. I said, 'I so wish I'd had a photo of that!' and they said, 'We wish we'd had had a photo of your face!' Ok, maybe you had to be there.

Anyway, back to the accommodation. I arrived first and asked if Mom and Grandma had checked in. I'd promised that if I got there first, I'd wait for them, but if they arrived first, they were to give them my name and go on to the flat. (We'd rented a flat instead of a suit in a hotel. It was cheaper.) They hadn't arrived, so I sat down to wait. The woman at reception said that the flat had two, very steep, flights of stairs. Since it was my grandmother coming, would we prefer a houseboat on one of the canals? Ummm.... yeah! So, we ended up with a houseboat! It was brilliant! Gorgeous inside (though less than stunning outside) with a spectacular view of the canal out the window. It was the perfect way to stay in Amsterdam.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Weekend Festivities: or Happy Birthday Mark!

Phew! Quite a weekend. Loads of fun, however.

Started off on Thursday. I arrived in Munich around 9.00 pm and made my way to the Thursday night dance. You know me! :-) It was a ball (no pun intended, but I'll take it!) Met up with Mark there, and met a bunch of the other people who'd be attending the birthday bash. Many of them were German, and would only be coming for one or two days. Several were American, though, including Mark's brother and parents! That was good fun. I'd met his folks before, but not his brother. Nice to complete the picture. The other Americans came from various and sundry parts, including one who lives/works in Addis Abeba, where Mark's currently living/working. He also had an Australian friend who also lives/works in Addis. So, clearly we were an international bunch! Thursday night, most of us crashed at Christine's place (she's a local Munich dancer, and dance teacher). Bless her, there were 6 or 7 of us! She's a total star.

Friday we got loads of bits and pieces accomplished (like groceries!) and finally arrived out at the cabin in the late afternoon. It was quite a lot cooler up at the cabin, which isn't terribly surprising, considering it's up in the mountains. It was a gorgeous location: all beautiful green pine trees growing on the mountain and a lovely little lake in the valley. The cabin we were in was this weird cabin/hostel arrangement. Each room has its own kitchen unit, some separated from the sleeping quarters, some not, and a variety of styles of beds. There's communal toilets and showers. We had 4 of the 6 rooms, and there were 2 other families in the other rooms. Meaning? Even though we didn't actually have exclusive use of the cabin, we still pretty much took over. We tried to be nice and share, but with 20+ people, it's sort of hard not to be everywhere!

Friday night we just pretty much chilled and had dinner, and a quick walk around the lake. Carol (Mark's mom) ended up in charge of the food (she had an ample number of helpers, but she coordinated the efforts). Partly that was because as a mom, she's used to organising meals. Partly it was because she was the only one who knew what the fridge actually contained. Most of the rest of us only knew about the bits and pieces we'd brought (like the chocolate biscuits I brought) and beer. There was a more than ample supply of beer. In fact, Christine ended up with nearly 2 crates back at her house at the end! Fortunately there was stuff other than beer (or other alcohol!) to drink, as I don't do any alcohol. So, Friday we had spaghetti and salad, then cake that one of the Germans had baked. Really nice, too! The whole evening was good fun, if quite. We ended up in bed before 11.00 pm! As Christine said, "What?!? It's too early for bed!" Yet, there we all were. Asleep before midnight.

Saturday people got up whatever time they felt like. Naturally that meant not very early for me! If left to my own devices, I'm prone to late mornings and later evenings! Some crazy people were up before 6! (Australian) Jason, for example, was up and back in Munich before 8.00. He and Mark are riding their motorbikes from Munich to Addis, he had some errands to get done. That, and he's just an early riser by nature. There are times when I wish I were! Mark, (brother) Jason, (father) John with bits of help from other people started getting Mark's bike ready for the trek during the morning. Then various groups headed out on hikes. I was meant to go along, but I was so exhausted from the hectic schedule I've been leading recently (8 months is recent, right?) that I decided to stay behind and help Carol make the birthday cake (Red Devil Food). Yeah, that was actually quite a lot of fun. I sort of wish I'd got to go along, but I did have a blast with Carol. We were making this cake in a wood oven, after all. Challenging! It turned out pretty well, if not perfect. In the evening we had a BBQ and sat at the outside benches and chatted til very late. And had birthday cake. Tasted pretty good, actually. There'd been a wedding at the hotel next door, and after dark they went outside to let off these big paper hotair balloon things. They were paper lanterns with a tiny flame in the bottom, which heated the air and made them float. Really awesome, if slightly dangerous. We saw one catch fire without leaving the ground, and one catch fire and crash down onto the roof of the hotel (but didn't catch light, fortunately!) Then, in the late evening, Mark, (American) Liz and I danced. For some reason none of the German dancers ended up dancing with us. But we had fun! We went to bed quite a bit later Saturday night than the previous night!

Sunday we got up whenever (yeah . . . that means late for me!) and the weather was quite a lot warmer. Saturday had been fine, but a little cool. The sun was only out part of the time. Sunday lived up to its name! It was gorgeous. I ended up reading most of the late morning/afternoon either down by the lake or at the cafĂ© with (American who lives in Addis) Lorraine. There had been some talk about a lunchtime trek to this restaurant, but Mark and (Australian) John were still preoccupied with their bikes, so it didn't happen. It was a lovely, quiet day. And, in fact, it was pretty much exactly what I needed. I'd felt much better that day. I finally feel like I've caught up to myself. In the afternoon several of us went on bike rides. It's been a while since I've been on the back of a bike. I miss it! It was a gorgeous ride. I rode behind (Australian) Jason, Mark had his mom behind, and then his friend (American, but lives in Germany) Paul and (brother Jason) had their own bikes. Stunning scenery. Then, in the evening we had another big dinner of hamburger soup (another of Carol's family recipes. Excellent!) and salad. Then we went outside to the fire pit and had s’mores (yes, I laid the fire! You know me . . . Pyro, pyro, it's off to burn I go. With sticks and wood you know I could. Pyro, pyro, pyro!) Eventually Liz, Carol and I were the only ones out there, and we were basically just there babysitting the fire til it mostly burnt out. Then we went off to bed, too.

Monday (Mark's actual birthday. He's now 30!) we packed up the majority of the stuff and went into Munich. (American) Sean and I were staying back with Christine that night because we'd planned on going to Nuremberg Tuesday morning (foiled: rain). (American) Liz and (American but lives in Addis) Lorraine were staying back out at the cabin with Mark's family so they could get a lift to the airport in the morning. We all met up for lunch at a Beer Garden and had some really lovely Bavarian food. I had something billed as broccoli, mushroom and potato grattan. Whatever that meant. It was good. Then we all split and went our separate directions. Mark, (Australian) Jason and Lorraine stopped off to collect some stuff Christine had been holding for them, and take it somewhere else. This meant that, since Mark's bike was piled high with spare tires, luggage and other bits and he couldn't get the stuff on the back of his bike at all, poor Lorraine, riding pillion, had to be squished between two very large piles of boxes! It was really funny watching her try and get mounted!

Happy Birthday, Mark!

Friday, 12 June 2009

Amsterdam via Munich, from London

So, I'm en rout to Amsterdam, Netherlands. So, naturally I leave London and fly to Munich, Germany! Clearly this is the logical rout to take. Ok, so maybe not. Why, you ask, am I navigating by such an indirect path? Well . . . Monday it's my friend Mark's 30th Birthday. He's an American, but used to live in Munich, and now lives in Ethiopia (with Nepal in between). So, Munich seemed the most central location for his festivities. He's rented a cabin in the mountains and invited people to come when they can, and stay for whatever amount of time they want. So several of us who've had to travel just to get to Germany are going to be there for the full weekend. Now, since I have to be in Amsterdam on Sunday to meet up with Grandma and Mom at the end of their cruize, I thought, what sense does it make to fly to Munich, fly back to London, just to turn around 3 days later and fly back to the continent? Yeah. It didn't. Especially since I don't have anything in England which requires my physical presense. Nice, eh? So, that's why Amsterdam via Munich.