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!
It’s getting really hot again. Now it really feels like holidays. We are not leaving on our summer holidays for a couple of days yet but I have already started to wind down. Because most of my customers are away on holiday themselves, I have caught up with all the stuff I needed to at work and am definitely feeling more relaxed. Combine that with the heat, the quiet roads and a general sense of slowing down and you can’t fail to get into the holiday feeling. Today I went into work but the girls went to one of the larger “Freibäder” (open air pools) in the area and had a great day with some friends.
In a couple of days we will be loading our holiday gear into a rented bus and heading up to Rotterdam to catch the North Sea Ferry to England for a week in the Lake District. I am glad the girls are getting the sunshine and swimming done here because the forecast is looking “mixed” for the Lake District. Still, we’re looking forward to it. I enjoy going somewhere which is not on the German holiday radar even if it is well-known to the Brits. We went to the Lakes last year and everyone loved our photos, but they won’t risk going there. So where do the Germans go on holiday? I’m not going to google it and give you a list but I will give you my guess at the top destinations based on half-listening to people I know saying where they went this year.
Number one must be Majorca. The Germans write it as Mallorca and pronounce it as “Mayorca”, or use the affectionate slang term “Malle”. Any Brit who has been to Mallorca will already know that it is overrun by Germans. They love it. Germany has its own booze-soaked ghettoes in El Arenal just like the Brits, but the posh people we know will go to the East coast or the North coast to somewhere not quite so brash. I can’t begin to tell you how often I’ve heard people explain to me that despite the image, “Mallorca is a beautiful island”. Then they go on about the drive they did around the island in the rental car and the charming little places they passed through in the middle of the island. Now if anyone mentions to me that they are going to Majorca I feign surprise that they, as middle-aged people, would spend a week drinking buckets of sangria out of straws on the beach. They will then go into the usual “beautiful island” monologue so I can switch off.
Another favourite destination, especially for people who live in the South of the country like us, is Italy. From our front door to the Italian border at the Brenner Pass it is only a three hour drive (without traffic and going as fast as you can). But if you get the timing just a little wrong it can turn into a 12 hour traffic jam – as I have found out once or twice. Everybody heads down through the Alps and then stop either at one of the lakes or fan out further South to the Adriatic coast. Back in the 1970s when the economy was really booming and lots of people started taking foreign holidays, the Adriatic coast East of Venice (Lignagno, Jesolo, Bibbione) was particularly popular as were the resorts further south (Rimini). They are still popular today. A few years ago we visited Lignano, where Ariane had spent many happy summer holidays as a child. We did enjoy ourselves. Well, the kids did. I wonder if Germans like the well-ordered beaches and the insane rules. There is literally a sun-lounger every half a metre and if you try and just pitch up with a towel and sit in the sand you get in trouble. You have to pay for your bit of sand with a couple of sun-loungers. It was boiling hot all the time, the water was shallow and lukewarm with a film of sun-oil making rainbows on the surface. The split was about 50/50 Italians and Germans. In retrospect it was torture, but as I mentioned, the kids loved it. As any parent knows, when the kids are happy on holiday the grown-ups are happy so I still look back on that holiday with some fondness.
The further North you go in Germany, the more likely people will spend their summer holidays on the German “Ostsee” or North Sea coasts. I have never been there in summer but by all accounts it is really pretty and fairly unspoiled. We are toying with the idea for next year. There are a few people who will fly to the States, or Mauritius or somewhere else exotic but around here people basically go to Malle or Italy. One place they don’t go, is France. This is a bit strange because France is the most visited country in Europe and it is less than an hour to the border from here. I don’t really know why that is. Probably historical. The wars probably didn’t help. In general I find that Germans and French stay apart. I know that Merkel and Hollande are making a show of solidarity at the moment desparately trying to convince us that the EU is going to stay strong. But even though the two countries are neighbours, they are culturally miles apart. Maybe we should break the mold and go on holiday there next year.
Well, no need to worry about that now. In just a couple of days I shall be tucked up in a cabin on the North Sea Ferry heading for, as far as Germans are concerned, an exotic paradise across the sea. Yes, you guessed, we’re taking the Hull route.
It’s nice to be back in the routine. I have been away for the past three weekends – twice with the family, once with Dad – so it was comforting to know that this weekend we were staying here. I started the day properly by going to the bakers and then stayed in the groove by going to the tip and then taking all the deposit bottles back. All the drinks we buy here (with the exception of fruit juice and wine) come in cans or bottles with a deposit. The stock of empties in the cellar grows fairly quickly and after a couple of weeks it is down to me to get rid of them. When this “deposit on everything” law came in about fifteen years ago (under the ruling red/green coalition at the time) I can remember the politicians reassuring us that every retail outlet would take all sorts of bottles back. Continue reading