It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. Just a fortnight ago we were starting to think that this virus thing might have an effect on business and now we are expecting to hear that we shouldn’t leave the house. Angela Merkel spoke to the nation on Wednesday in her characteristically calm but stilted manner and told us that we should “take this seriously”. We were all expecting her to announce the “Ausgangsperre” (literally: out-go-lock) but she stopped short of that. She just told us to behave ourselves. I read articles in the British press praising her excellent speech and it was well-written but it was a bit short on substance really. Continue reading
As mentioned in the previous post, we had a proper winter this year. It hung on for a long time and until a couple of weeks ago it seemed that spring would never arrive. No leaves on the trees, snow still lingering in shady spots, a freezing East wind and lots of grey sky. Then suddenly, summer arrived. We have skipped spring and were engulfed by a heat wave where temperatures rose into the high 20s and even threatened to touch 30 degrees in some areas.
We had a proper winter this year. Plenty of snow arrived when it should have and stayed in the ski resorts up until well after Easter. Many ski areas are still open and have loads of snow which will linger well into May and perhaps beyond. It snowed quite a few times in Stuttgart too, so I was often woken by the sound of my neighbour scraping a path along our drive and clearing the pavement. Continue reading
It’s that time of year again. New Orleans has Mardi Gras, Venice has the Carnevale, Rio has the Carnaval and in Germany we have Karneval. Or, as it is known in Bavaria and Swabia, Fasching. Every year the five days up to Shrove Tuesday are an excuse for dressing up, drinking too much and generally making a fool of oneself. Continue reading
Phew, what a month. Just over four weeks ago, I had returned from a peaceful holiday in the Lake District and was looking forward to another couple of days off before returning to work. The company was running well without me, as one employee politely but clearly pointed out, so I should enjoy some more time off before getting back in the saddle. On the second day off I met my successor at the company I had worked for between 1999 and 2014 for a “friendly chat”. Continue reading
Now this might come as a surprise, but I now prefer driving on English motorways than German Autobahns. “Driving” is a key word here – being stuck in a traffic jam is awful in both places and I have spent many frustrating evenings crawling over the M62 cursing the motorway. But as long as the traffic is moving it’s nicer in England. The main reason is that the lane discipline is much better. People pull out to overtake and then pull back in. Because of the speed limits, the difference in speed is not so great which makes the whole thing a little more relaxing. In Germany if you are in a hurry, you will want to push on and be doing 200 km/h in the outside lane. Continue reading
I always liked being in the mountains more than being at the beach. I was probably heavily influenced by my parents and even though I grew up less than a hundred miles from the Yorkshire coast, I could count the times I have been there on one hand. As a schoolboy I was into fell running, went on school skiing trips and then I got interested in paragliding which meant that there was always a reason for me to go to the mountains. Moving to Germany to live almost in the shadow of the Alps was a natural and welcome move for me back in 1991. Continue reading
Still enjoying myself in England, although I have had two contrasting experiences over the past couple of days. Yesterday it was a bit grey and drizzly so we decided to go to the swimming pool here in Keswick. I had peeped through the window a day earlier and seen that they had a curly slide so I knew the kids would be in their element running up the stairs and flying down the slide until they were worn out. I volunteered to go to the pool with the kids and the Ladies walked to Keswick Art Gallery. In retrospect they got the better deal. Continue reading
We have been having a decent time here in the Lake District over the past few days. The weather has been typical in that it has been very changeable, but untypical in that we have had quite a lot of sunshine. A couple of days ago we all narrowly avoided sunburn. Keswick does hold the record for most rainfall in 24 hours, which was set only last year – there’s progress for you! – so a dryish sunny week is something to be treasured.
Because the Lake District is close to the West coast of England we get the weather more or less straight off the Atlantic. Ireland acts as a slight brake but it’s pretty useless at stopping the weather systems battering us here. The rhythm of the weather here is mich quicker than back home in Germany. We can usually expect our weather to hang around for a few days, sitting in the middle of continental Europe. Here you don’t know what we’ll be getting in the next half hour.
I like weather, so I like it here. I don’t mind getting battered by stormy winds as long as there is a warm pub or sleeping bag at the end of the day. The quickly changing weather also means that even on a bad day, you will probably get a ray of sun shining on a hillside at some stage. You quickly take a picture and, hey presto, your Lakeland Holiday looks fantastic. The days you spent inside with the kids going stir crazy are quickly forgotten. I think we may have pulled this trick on my friend Alan. He managed to convince his family to come to the Lakes for a few days earlier this summer. Oops – total washout. Sorry about that, Alan and family. If it’s any consolation, the weather’s lovely now!
That’s not quite true, we have had a couple of rainy mornings. We have managed to “weather” the rainy interludes quite well – mainly because the kids have a TV in their room. We seem to have crossed the rubicon as far as technology is concerned too. Suddenly we went from me explaining how to use the remote control, to me asking the kids how it works. This means that my children have the whole glorious world of English terrestrial TV at their fingertips. I don’t mind because at least they are perfecting their English. Well, maybe “perfecting” isn’t quite the right word. Their favourite shows are Come Dine with Me (thanks Uncle Rob) and You’ve Been Framed. Their second-favourite viewing experience are the adverts. And, to be fair, the adverts on English TV really are better than in Germany. They are wittier and funnier at least.
Come Dine with Me is a special form of torture. There is a similar show in Germany called Promi Dinner but Come Dine with Me is even more embarrassing. For those who don’t know it, here’s a quick guide. The producers find four “colourful” characters who look awful, can’t cook and have borderline mental health issues combined with no social skills. I was wondering where they find this seemingly endless supply of candidates, but then I recalled our many journeys on the North Sea Ferry and had a seriuos “aha” moment. Anyway, the kids had been quiet in their room for a long time until my patience snapped and I decided to tell them to watch something better. I marched up the stairs wondering if we could find a history documentary or something. Ariane came to look for me ten minutes later – only to find me sitting on the bed shouting at the injustice of one of Diners’ verdict on the toffee pudding. I think she was disappointed in me – but five minutes later she was doing the same.
Well, at least we watched Victoria and, to my despair, The Great British Bake-off so the girls get to hear some posh English as well. Predictably, they loved Bake-off which I hate. The more I grumble about how a country can take it so seriously, the more they are going to like it so I had better keep quiet. I suppose that Bake-off and Strictly do act as deterrents. Anyone thinking about destroying our culture just needs to watch a little evening TV before giving up while saying “Come, Comrade, our work here is done.”
48 hours ago we set off in our rented people-carrier from Stuttgart to Keswick. Initially there were four of us, but we picked up Ariane’s aunt in Rotterdam and my mum in Wetherby. We are now safely settled into our home in Keswick for the next week. The journey is one I’ve done a few times now but I can’t remember ever having done it in such good weather from start to finish.
I had packed the vehicle the evening before we left and to my surprise we left at 8:00 on the dot as I had suggested on Thursday morning. The summer has saved it’s best til last in Germany this year so we were driving off during a heatwave. But we had air-conditioning and a cool box full of drinks so everything went well. The car is big and a little bit noisy so above a certain speed I couldn’t hear the kids asking if we were nearly there either. Excellent driving conditions.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the traffic was light so we were already crossing the spectacular Autobahn bridge over the Mosel before lunchtime. The river meanders between terraced-vineyards at the bottom of the valley. It’s a big river at this point and sure enough there were plenty of boats and a water-skier on the water below. Back in the 1970s we went on a family camping holiday in our old VW Caravette and I am sure there is a picture of us at the little car-park and viewpoint over the Mosel somewhere. I always like getting to this spot because it is almost exactly half way between Stuttgart and Rotterdam (where we take the ferry to England).
After the Mosel it’s a fairly unspectacular Autobahn dash up to Venlo on the Dutch border and then we turn left towards Rotterdam. For the most part the journey through the Netherlands isn’t very interesting either. Only we approach Rotterdam and start crossing huge bridges or diving through tunnels do you get a feel for the “real” Holland with all that water. We had two jobs to do in Rotterdam. One was to collect Ariane’s aunt, and the second was to get the ferry to Hull.
Christa, Ariane’s aunt was waiting for us at her daughter’s house on the outskirts of Rotterdam. It’s a pretty area with canals and lakes all over the place. As a driver you have to be really careful because at every junction or roundabout you have to keep an eye on the traffic but also be aware that cyclists often have right of way on the cycle-paths which cross all the junctions too. I am sure you get used to it but as a newcomer, it’s pretty tiring. I didn’t want to start our holiday by squashing a dutch cyclist under the bus. I didn’t have too much time to admire the scenery, but there is one particular stretch of road which briefly runs along the side of a large lake and here was a Holland in a nutshell. The sun was beating down, there were loads of boats on the water and cyclists were cruising past on their highly-geared sit-up and beg bicycles (which still have baskets on the front). In the background was a windmill.
I had told Carolin, Ariane’s cousin and our host for a couple of hours, not to go to any trouble with lunch for us as I wasn’t exactly sure when we would arrive and we might eat something on the way. As I expected, Carolin completely ignored my comments and put on an excellent spread which we ate in the shade in the garden. We loaded Christa into the bus and off we went to catch the North Sea Ferry.
The drive out to the ferry terminal is pretty grim. You are sandwiched between a large canal and oil refineries for about the last ten kilometres of the journey and it’s always a relief to see the ferry port hove into view. We were in good time and I felt confident we would soon be sitting in our cabins getting ready for a nice smooth overnight trip to Hull. Because we were taking Christa, I had taken extra care to make sure we booked the right sort of cabins and a day before we left I confirmed all the details again and entered the registration number of our hire vehicle. I also checked that I had really booked the right size of vehicle (height between 1.80 and 2.20m). Check. I had done everything right and was feeling uncharacteristically organised and a little smug.
Unfortunately my smug-bubble burst as soon as we tried to check in. The friendly Dutch lady in the booth informed me that I was checked in to board in Hull in an hour and a half. I had made the bookings the wrong way around – Hull to Rotterdam instead of Rotterdam to Hull. Oh dear – car full of hot passengers and Dad’s got it all wrong again. Nice start, I thought. The P&O staff took pity on me, though and after half an hour of frantic re-booking and being let off the surcharge because their credit card machine was on the blink we were able to board the boat. There was a bit more drama when we found that our cabins had been double-booked too but eventually we got settled in.
We like taking the North Sea Ferry when we are heading to Northern England. It sails overnight and there is plenty to do on the boat so the kids are quite happy. Once we arrive in Hull, it is only an hour to my Mum’s place. All in all it’s a great way to travel. On the other hand, it is a little seedy. It’s a bit like Blackpool on the water. It’s not a great advertisment for Great Britain. The buffet restaurant serves some reasonable stuff – but nothing healthy. I was glad we’d eaten at Carolin’s because the nearest you are going to get to fresh vegetable on the “Pride of Hull” is if you scrape the tomato sauce off a baked bean. We decided against the buffet and went to the cafe instead. At least here you could get a Pret a Manger style sandwich. Or that’s what we thought. Probably the inspectors took offence to the fact that there were salad leaves in the sandwiches and banned them. Now we chould choose between hot-dogs or pies. So we all tucked into a bit of stodge and then headed to the “Sunset Lounge” for a drink and to watch the entertainment.
As a regular North Sea Ferry traveller I have seen my fair share of “entertainment shows” but this one plumbed new depths. The singing, dancing combo of one lad and three lasses treated us to a show called Destination Space. This meant that they would sing vaguely space-related songs and dance around in a variety of home-made space-costumes. It was unspeakably awful. They really couldn’t sing, the dancing was terrible and the sexy space-suits didn’t look so great because our entertainers had obviously been hitting the hot-dog café too. Thankfully the set finished earlyish and my girls didn’t notice the compere asking us to think of requests for a later show (to which my standard answer is Can you play “At Home”?) and so we headed back to our cabins.
After an uneventful crossing we woke to blue skies and stodgy breakfast before disembarking at 8:00 the next morning. Even though I have lived more than half my life in Germany I always feel like I’m home when I set foot in Yorkshire and am keen to show off my homeland. Christa knows England well and could perhaps be described as an anglophile but I still felt responsible for making sure Yorkshire showed it’s best side. After the Ferry I had some catching up to do.
Things didn’t get off to the best start. We spent the first hour on English soil stood in a Hull car park, accompanied by only seagulls and some litter, waiting to get through border controls. Eventually we were through and soon after that we had left the grim fly-overs and traffic lights of Hull behind us and were barreling along the M62 enjoying the unmistakeably English countryside. We collected Mum in Wetherby and pushed on up to Scotch Corner and then over the hills to the Lake District. As we got closer to Keswick the afternoon sun was out – lighting up the purple heather on Blencathra and the area just looked beautiful. Phew!