Monday, 18 August 2008

London Day 1

The start of the London trip was not auspicious. We decided to catch the bus to the airport, since it's quite close and much cheaper than a taxi. We were at the bus stop at 5am, and saw the bus go by...along a different route. The bus driver evidently didn't know he was supposed to follow his normal route and not the detour. So we then had to call a taxi after all. And it cost 10 Euro for those 2 or 3 kms. Ah well.

Checking in was no trouble but the customs officer took me to task for not registering my change of address to Singapore in my passport. Tsk. (I removed my dependent pass from my passport on the way back in. So there.) The flight was fine on the cheap airline (Air Berlin). They should do the same thing Virgin does in Australia i.e. make you pay for your food and drinks, rather than offer stale, dry sangers.

The trip with the Stansted Express was really easy and quick. Only, we shouldn't have bought the ticket at the travel agent. We could have saved a few Euros on the plane. Still cheaper than buying it in London though - on the way back we met some people complaining about the over 17 GBP price-tag i.e. more than what we paid at the travelagent.

First stop after Liverpool station was taxi to the hotel, since we didn't know exactly where it was. This cost about 10 GBP, but oh well...

We left our luggage at the hotel and, since we arrived nice and early, we decided to get a hop-on-hop-off day pass for 22 GBP each. We had some time til the buses started, so we explored the Tower Bridge, since our hotel was right next door:

And walked past the Tower of London:
To get to the bus stop for the Hop-on-hop-off bus (The Original, no less). They supposedly go from 9.30 to around 7pm, but it was about 10 before the bus left the Tower of London bus stop and made its way towards Westminster and Trafalgar Square. However, it then stopped on the Embankment again and we were told it would be quicker to walk to Trafalgar Square around the corner than to continue on the bus. Which we did, seeing some imposing and impressive buildings:

The Square was packed with people, as one might expect in London in summer i.e. Tourist season:
Then we managed to find a bus to get back on to do some more sight-seeing orientation.

We hopped off again to have lunch near Victoria Station. Fish and Chips, of course. Mother-in-law actually liked it, but found the peas that come with it to be a strange accompaniment. She'd have prefered salad. So would I, but it's what they feed the tourists for about 10 GBP each.

After lunch, it was back on the bus and see some more sights - mainly so we could decide what we wanted to see during the rest of the week. It started raining again (no, really!) so we ended up sitting downstairs on the bus, from where the view isn't that great, but at least we didn't have to sit in the cold and wet. Just the cold ;-)
We took the tour bus all the way through its circuit and then got off at the Tower of London stop, to go and actually check into the hotel. According to the brochure, every room has a view of the tower or the tower bridge. After getting to know the people across the corridor from us, because I was trying to open their door with our key and hearing their complaints about not having a view of the tower (which they allowed us to confirm), we allowed them to see our magnificent tower view. Those flags you see are on the towers of the Tower of London. Everything else is skyline not belonging to the tower.
Still, the hotel rooms are fine, and its not like we're spending a great deal of time in the room...

Then, since it was still daylight and our bus ticket included a cruise on the Thames, we decided to take advantage of it. While we were waiting for the cruise ship to arrive, we saw the Tower Bridge open to allow a sail boat to go through. Apparently it only opens about 3 times a week these days, so we considered ourselves lucky:
We took the (last of the day) cruise past Canary Wharf (Dr Who! Yay!):
all the way to Greenwich where we could see the college and the observatory (Greenwich Mean Time!) on the hill (which my mother in law surprisingly had never heard of - not even GMT!):
 and then back the other way to Westminster.

We had thought to walk back to the tower from there, but it was a lot further than we thought. Since it had started raining again by this time, we decided to get a taxi back to the hotel (since we knew the Tower Hill tube station was closed, and not how far it was to get back to the hotel), for which we forked out another 12 GBP.

Once back at the hotel, we popped into our rooms to freshen (and warm) up a little, before heading out to find our dinner, which was at the Dickens Inn at St Katherine's Docks:
Dinner was actually very nice and no more expensive than it is in Germany. We paid about 10 GBP for our main meal dishes, and our beers were about 1.60 GBP each.

After dinner, it was back to the hotel, about 5 minutes walk, to fall into our beds, exhausted.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Bianca goes to Germany Part 1

After being about to start packing my stuff into my actual suitcase and being interrupted by Qantas to tell me that my flight was being delayed by 16 hours, I went to have a much-needed massage and buy a USB flash drive to store all those photos I'm bound to take on. Had a steam in the morning before the new flight time of 3pm, and gave myself a rash on my legs, as I began to notice on the flight. Oops. Guess that stuff was too old to use after all.

Got the run-around at the airport, as per usual. I was there a little too early and kept being sent from one counter to the next to the next until they just told me to sit down and wait 15 minutes when the counter would actually open. Only had to wait 25 minutes and was the lucky first in line.

After checking in it was off to get some lunch. Ended up having lunch with a nice irish man who lives in Aus. Forgotten his name, of course, but it was nice to chat. Once I went into the waiting lounge for the flight, I was given a new ticket. I vaguely wondered why but was distracted by something else. It wasn't until I had a proper look at my ticket to see what my new seat number would be that I noticed I'd been upgraded to Business Class. Woohoo!!!

It was so nice to be able to stretch out on that seat! And watch things on the TV monitor without having to scrunch down in my seat because the person on the seat in front of me is leaning back as far as they possibly can. I could even lie down flat and the be massaged by the chair. It was soooo nice! Only problem was that I didn't want to sleep because I needed to sleep as soon as I got to my destination since I had an appointment in the morning. Still, since there was not a single movie that I wanted to see (and there were a lot on offer), I lay down for a while and listened to my mp3 player. I may have dozed off for a while....

The food was not so good. I can't remember exactly what I had, but they'd run out of choices by the time they asked me what I wanted - I guess they knew who'd paid for Business Class and who hadn't. The meal before landing was truly awful!

My first full day in Germany was spent with extended family and the registry office wedding and lots of yummy german food and lots of cakes (which I mention only to make all envious since I don't eat the stuff myself) and coffeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

The second day was spent reacquainting myself with Frankfurt (yes, I took a couple of hundred photos, what of it!?!?!), buying a jacket (summer at 14 degrees C) and meeting up with an ex-colleague. It was fun to see Daniel again, only sad that we only had time for lunch before he had to go back to work. His daughter and her beau then showed me around Frankfurt city a little more. They had intended to take me back to my uncle's in their car but their purchase of a mobile-phone turned into an epic with the failure of cash registers etc, so I ended up taking the train back.

I was picked up at the station by the bride-groom and was greeted by the rest of my uncles and aunts who had turned up for my cousin's church wedding on the following day. They were all very surprised to see me, since they hadn't known I was coming. It was great to see them all again after all this time - some longer than others, but at least 7 years since I saw any of them. I have managed to fill the rest of my holiday with promised visits to them all.

I spent the night at the hotel where the aunts and uncles were staying, to keep out of the way of the wedding preparations. It was not too bad. The room smelt of cigarette smoke, even though it was non-smoking, but the furniture and fixtures were fine, unlike for some of my aunts and uncles.

I went for a walk around the park on the other side of the road since I was up quite early. It's quite pretty, so I walked right around the lake and took a few (truly!) photos. I can't get over how green and abundant the foliage is and in winter it's all gone and everything looks dead, as if it's two completely different places. I also encountered my aunt and uncle, who were on their morning jog, and we agreed to meet for breakfast at 9.

Breakfast was complained about by all and sundry, except me. Possibly because I don't eat much anyway and am happy with a cup (or 2) of coffee. But it was nice to have the aunts and uncles there to drink coffee - I mean have breakfast with. It must be genetic because they all drank lots of coffee and had to keep asking for more jugs of the stuff to be brought to our table.
After breakfast and before getting ready for the wedding, another aunt and uncle and I went into Bad Nauheim to look for the Sprudelbrunnen ('fizzy well') which I'd seen depicted in the hotel brochure. It wasn't that easy to find, but this way we got to see a few more places along the way. OK Fine - I got to photograph a few more places!

Then it was time to get dressed for the wedding. I felt overdressed for most of it, but oh well - I think I looked pretty fine. Since I was constantly being introduced to people as 'my niece from Australia' or 'my cousin from Australia', people probably have a strange concept of how Aussies dress. You can thank me later. ;-)
The bride (my cousin from Germany ;-) ) and groom.
And then it was party time. Much fun (releasing balloons, crosswords, multi-artist painting, and dancing, releasing a hot air-balloon) was had by all. The majority of the aunts and uncles (and yours truly) piked out about 1.30am.
There was a last-minute change of plans that meant I was heading for the Sauerland and Plettenberg next,  instead of spending another night or two in Frankfurt, because another cousin's fiancee was heading off on holidays and this would be the only time I could meet her.
On the way there we stopped off for cake and coffee, as one does in this part of the world. (See! It's cultural as well as genetic!). I even partook of this one!
And that was our view over our afternoon coffee.
Monday was a sight-seeing expedition while the weather held i.e. before it started pouring down rain. First the Schnellenberg castle, then a few other places and then the Adolphsburg castle (spelt Adolfsburg in the wiki) before heading to my cousin's physio practice for some water and then home to avoid said rain. Had a nice dinner at my aunt and uncle's with my cousin and his fiancee before calling it an early-ish night.

The next day saw me on a train to Düsseldorf where I was picked up by my mother-in-law and caught the bus to her place - 20kg suitcase and all. Uggh. Had the day in, since it was cold and yucky out anyway, and caught up with the in-laws - the ones not on holidays in Bavaria, at least.
Thursday finally saw some gorgeous weather. 30 degrees C and sunshine. Lovely! So my mother-in-law and I went into town so I could take photos :-). We went through the old town and even did a cruise on the Rhine, which I'd never done before, though I lived here 4 years. We also sampled the beer, more than once - Düsseldorf is known as the longest bar in the world, after all.
The next day, three of us took off to see the Benrath palace and the imperial palace ruin in Kaiserswerth. Both really nice, though on opposite sides of Düsseldorf.

Since my husband arrived that night, it was the end of the sight-seeing expeditions til he left. Instead we met with friends and he with his ex-colleagues and I with mine. And my dear husband got me blind drunk, but was very sweet and helpful while I drove the porcelain bus on the way to bed. That saw me spend the entire day in bed feeling ill, and missing out on some of my most favourite foods. I still hadn't fully recovered by the next day when I went to visit with my ex-colleagues in Marl!
Since the husband left yesterday morning, very early, his mother and I took off into town again. This time to the art museum Kunstpalast which included sculptures made from firecrackers and lots of beatiful glass objects. Then it was off to the wine festival in the old town. The cab-sav being offered there was just not that nice, unfortunately. Or maybe that should be fortunately.... but I also drank some Eiswein - wine made from grapes that had frozen on the vine. Very sweet and alcoholic!

Tomorrow morning it's off to London.