Germany- day three, the return

Another early start, another German breakfast. Then packing.

I had a second bed in my room but I was very thankful I was alone to spread my mess around. See my cute little travel kettle?

I took a couple of photos from the windows; we were on the sixth floor, which worried me but it never became a problem. This one is taken from the end of the corridor next to my room, but not the view from my window:

You can see the Rhine in this one. As you can also see, this was quite early!

This is what I had as a view from my window. The trees hid the busy road mostly from view but didn’t mask the sound of the traffic. Thankfully the window was double glazed and reduced sound polution quite well.

This is the view of the corridor. I know, it looks rather like a borstal:

However, the rooms were clean, comfortable and had what you needed, which worked, unlike some of the flea pit hotels where nothing works.

Give me German efficiency over French style any day!

Then we hit the road. But so did everyone else so the going was fairly slow. By the time we got to Lille, we were running late, so time for Lille was about an hour and a half. The centre of Lille has no public toilets and so we usually recommend a visit to Mc Donald’s. That day, the loos there were so out of order you could smell them from the street. Yuck.

I had a croque monsieur in a cafe I have been to before and then a wander round the market:

This one is from last year as I had packed my camera deep in my rucksack!

I found some nice things here and before very long it was time to pile back into the coach and head back to England, smug that nothing had gone wrong.

Big mistake.

It’s not over till the fat lady sings and this lady wasn’t singing.

About fifty miles or so from Calais, I saw with horror(and in slow motion) the exhaust of a van ahead detach itself and bounce along the road right at us. There was nowhere for our driver to go so we went over it. I had had visions of the thing bouncing right through our windscreen but when we immediately pulled on to the hardshoulder, I knew we had problems. The exhaust had bounced at a crucial moment and hit something under our coach, severing the connection of the water pipe to the radiator. We were going nowhere fast.

Some hours later, after much phoning, moving of students up the coach and mind boggling ingenuity from the drivers, plus a police escort off and then back on the autoroute, we were mobile again and heading for Calais.

Troubles over?

Not a bit of it. We’d missed our ferry and the next one was delayed. At least we went through Customs without trouble. Finally on board and underway, I went up with the drivers to the drivers’ lounge for my dinner, which was better than going the previous way. By some chance we were on the same ferry. The the boat started juddering as if we’d hit a reef. Lovely. Then it really began to rock. Not as bad as I’ve been in, but not exactly smooth either. Certainly the worst channel crossing I’ve done so far, anyway. Back down with the kids, it became clear it was scaring some and making others sick. The crew came round with sick bags. I’m not a bad sailor and I was pretty sure I was OK. I had a headache but beyond the occasional queasy moment I was OK. I just didn’t like how much the boat was rolling, so I found something solid to hold onto and held onto it like grim death.

That was bad enough but just as we sighted land, the tannoy piped up with the message that since the weather was bad, we were now in queue of ferries waiting to dock and since the wind was making it unsafe to dock, we might be there at least another 90 minutes. I had the feeling they were being upbeat as the boat was being buffetted rather vigorously.

By now the kids had had enough. One boy was wheezing and it turns out his inhaler was back in the coach. I suggested the paper bag trick(you breathe in and out of a paper bag, it’s a useful emergency measure that does help) and that if that failed, we find the purser and access medical supplies. There’s no way they’d be letting anyone down on the car deck at that point; probably not actually dangerous but no one was going to take that risk.

Eventually, a long time later, we docked and disembarked, hours and hours later than we should have. It’s still about two hours to the drop off point and then another three to the coach depot, not to mention another 45 minutes after that for me.

I finally crawled into bed at 4am on Monday morning, so glad to be home and so tired, my mascara stayed in place till I surfaced properly at about 8am, still wired and buzzing.

I can only say that with the difficulties we experienced, all beyond my(or anyone’s) control I feel we were being cared for. But at some points in the proceedings, I did wonder quite how bad it was all going to get. The thing is about being “in” time, you don’t know how the story will end. This one had a happy ending. But it may well not have done.

A sobering thought.

Germany- day two

Well day two started way too early but I can live with that as long as I have a cuppa first thing:

After a traditional German breakfast we were driven part way into town and then walked the rest, and on to the Dom. The cathedral is immense and very beautiful but outside I saw this sad sight:

Then I saw an angel

She was cold and a passerby got her a coffee:

Inside the Dom the stained glass was amazing:

I couldn’t get a decent photo of the relics of the Three Kings because the lighting was poor but here’s a lectern:

 The interior was so dark I couldn’t get good pictures. It was also immensely big so my paltry little flash didn’t do much at all.

Here’s one of the outside: made me quite dizzy looking up at it; too big for a building but not a mountain.

Around this time it began raining and getting very cold so I didn’t get any photos in Aachen that afternoon.

After returning to the Youth Hostel for dinner (Goulash!) we headed out again to another Christmas market, the Alte markt, which was a few minutes walk away from the Dom markt. I finally met up with my friends Svenja and Ulrich, and they took me to a real German pub and had me drink real German beer (“The gluhwein, that’s just for the tourists!”) and talked at a hundred miles an hour. I did talk a bit in German, till tiredness meant I began to flag and they kindly reverted to English. They took me back to the meeting point and we all went back to meet the coach and go home.

I was longing for my bed that night too:

It was very welcome to crawl between the sheets and go to sleep after a hot chocolate and a hot shower. I’d rather the bedside light hadn’t got so hot that I worried it was a fire risk but I was asleep quite quickly.

And no, that wasn’t the beer. I had a small Kolsch, the beer of Cologne, and only one. That was all I had time for.

What did I dream of? I don’t know, but probably home!

Germany- day one

No working day ought to begin at 12.50am but mine did last Friday. The alarms were set for 1.30 but after sleeping very little, and that fitfully, I woke then and figured it was better to get up and go with the flow.

My boss picked me up at 2am to drive me to the coach depot. If I took our car, it means my husband is carless all weekend; he has on occasions driven me to the depot but my boss is a night person and is quite happy as it’s cheaper for her to do the drive than pay my petrol expenses. The coach was ready and waiting  and before too long the two drivers also arrived and we embarked.

I tried to sleep but dozed a tiny bit on the way down to Surrey. The drivers took turns for naps. We got to the pickup point at around 6.30. No one was there but as it was cold and damp, that wasn’t surprising. The kids and the teachers all arrived in plenty of time and we set off at 7.30 as planned. The kids were pretty young, only 12/13 and all seemed very nice. The teachers were mixed ages, the oldest in her fifties and the youngest being 25. All seemed nice enough, though you always get a sense when someone doesn’t like you very much. I did my best to depersonalise this and since it seemed to be pretty much instant, before I did anything to deserve it, I suspect it was based on something entirely beyond me, such as reminding her of someone else she didn’t like at all. Whatever: not my problem.

Services stop in Kent, for a much needed coffee and then on to Dover. I’ve usually sailed P+O but this time we took the Sea France ferry. I’d rather do P+O in future. It’s hard to put your finger on why exactly, but one thing was certain: the food in the drivers’  lounge is better on P+O. I really didn’t fancy any of the rather greasy and unpleasant looking foods on offer and so I made do with the continental breakfast still available. Cheeses, hams, and bread rolls. The pork chops looked like you could use them to make car tyres with.

Disembarking in France, I felt a sense of adventure beginning. The usual bleak countryside of winter passed swiftly until we made our services stop somewhere in Belgium. The same lady was collecting our cents at the loos as last time I stopped there. Onwards. Germany at last. It seemed to take forever but finally we were in Cologne. The last time I entered the city, it was in thick freezing fog and temperatures of minus 4/5 so I didn’t see anything. This time we saw the Lindt chocolate factory and museum on the banks of the Rhine with the choccie fountain lit up as we passed.

We were running a bit late so I’d asked my boss in England to phone ahead to let the Youth Hostel know to hold dinner for us. It wasn’t a problem as the French group were eating dinner when we arrived and we’d have had to wait anyway. Swift trip to rooms to wash hands and then down for dinner. Not terribly sure I would ever choose to eat what I had but I was hungry and I am seldom fussy.

Finally, kids going to rooms, and I can go to mine. Bless German efficiency: a good hot powerful shower and a good bed. Hot chocolate in bed( thank you travel kettle) texts sent to husband to say good night, ten minutes reading to unwind and then finally, bliss- oblivion……


Babel in my head

I’ve been trying to recover my lost German, spending a while each day (that was the theory, the practise is I forget sometimes) using some CDs and a book to get some of my language ability back. I took an O level in German, way back in 1982, when an O level was worth rather more in many ways than the current exam. Of course, 1982 is a long time ago and while I have used it a little since then, I have let it slip away and I thought it was mostly lost, but for a few words and phrases.

It’s so much harder to learn a language once you are an adult and I’m over forty now, so harder still. I used to be able to pick up language very easily; I’d only need to hear a word or phrase once or twice and I would remember it. I was getting to a point recently where I felt near despair because the words were just not sticking at all.

Then last night, after I went to bed, my mind started to chew over things, while I was trying to get to sleep and then it went into overdrive and began spouting German all night. You know how if you are sleeping very lightly you can sometimes have a lot of dialogue going on, almost beyond your consciousness. Well, mine last night was in German. Halting and rather broken German but German nonetheless. I sometimes dream in French but until last night, never in German (except for waking up with the phrase for fizzy water) 

I think that’s probably progress. It feels like it’s starting to “catch” again. I’m off in just over ten days so I may be able to complete the course before I go and feel I can at least manage without looking too often like yet another stupid English tourist who can’t or won’t speak the langauge.