Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas day at our place

Christmas day dawned cold, but with no snow. Christmas Eve was rainy (which was not such a good thing, as this is when most Germans celebrate Christmas, and give their gifts late in the afternoon).

For us, the day begins with opening of the presents, and calling family back in Australia (often, due to the timing, these often overlap!). Alexander and Cameron burst into our bedroom to let us know that Santa had been (Rudolph had even left some carrot 'crumbs' on the terrace!) and there were some intersting presents for them to unwrap!

We joined the boys downstairs, and we opened our family presents. The boys had a great time, and one of the delights is sharing the boys excitement at finding out what they have received. Of course, this included Lego, so within minutes of all the presents being opened, there were packs of Lego opened and spread out around the loungeroom!

We had offered to 'host' Christmas lunch for our good friends, the Ramsays. We have enjoyed Christmas lunch at their place in previous years, and it was our pleasure to have them join us for the day. Following a detailed plan, the lunch ('Thomas the turkey') was prepared and served to the two families (except Alan and Sonia's eldest son Stuart, who celebrated in New Zealand with relatives this year).

It went off well, and we all had lots of laughs (especially with the two Dame Edna masks for Alan and Phil!), plenty to eat and quite a few bottles of good wine. The boys played beautifully, sharing and testing all of the new presents. Later in the evening, the boys reported that all the adults were asleep on the sofas at the same time (we, however, don't believe them...).

Being so far from home makes Christmas quite a reflective time. It reminds you how far away you are, and how the bonds of family are stretched that little bit further than if you were there. Having great friends to share Christmas with helps a lot.

Nicole received 2 tickets to see the film "Australia" from Alan and Sonia, so we arranged for the boys to have a sleepover and the 4 adults (Alan, Sonia, Phil and Nicole) went to the movies on Boxing Day evening. We thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and for Nicole and I it was a real reminder of home. Not so much the storyline, but all of the accents, scenery, actors the we have seen on Aussie TV... all the little stuff. When the credits rolled, Nicole and I just sat there. With Christmas, and then seeing our homeland, made us pine a little for home. Somewhere, over the rainbow, indeed.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Nicole's Fascination with Tudor Houses

Nicole takes dozens of photos of the Tudor homes as we tour are a sample of some of them.




Hameln, Celle, Home

After we checked out of the Youth Hostel, we walked around the Altstadt of Hameln.

There are a series of rats painted on the pavements (a tourist route that allows you to follow the 'route' of the pied piper, from the Information Bureau to the Rattenfangerhaus (rat catcher building).
Here is the fountain with the Pied Piper Statue

Here are the kids being led out of Hameln by the Pied Piper!

It is made to give you a rough path to stroll through the city and see the sites, so it suited our purposes nicely. The town was really pretty also in the daylight. The old buildings (from 200 years before white settlers hit Australian shores), the cobbled streets and the general atmosphere were all interesting to see.

The Bridge over the Weser River, there is a gold rat on the top.

We had a really pleasant stroll around, had more strawberries in chocolate (morning tea this time!!) and then found a lovely little cafe to escape the cold.

After seeing Hameln, we set off across country to visit Celle. It is another old, historic town to the north of Hanover. In our original plans, we would have stayed there instead of Hameln, but the youth hostel was booked out. So, it worked out for the best, because we then got to see both Hameln and Celle, which was (sort of) on our way home.
The town of Celle was set up like so many of the small historic towns that we have seen - a central 'Altstadt' with lots of pedestrian zones, an old 'wall' (or a street where a wall would have been), which is often the best (or only) place to find a park, and heaps of traffic there. We found a tower park at the North end of town and headed for the town centre, for a walk around and some lunch.
This van was small enough that Cameron could have driven it! It makes you wonder how a grown man can be comfortable driving in this?

The town lived up to the things we had heard - there is a lovely Schloss/Palace at the south end of town set in beautiful gardens. There are lots of very old (restored) houses, cobbled streets and a large central town hall or church.

Celle was particularly interesting because many of the houses had specific things written across the front of them (see the montage on the next post - look for the lettering, often in gold paint). Most of them seemed 'puritan' in nature
"This house was built for God and for our hard work"
"Work! No chatting, talking or gossiping"
"Don't let widows or orphans suffer, or you will face the wrath of God"
There were lots of bible quotes, and the one I liked the best (loosely translated..)
"You cannot enjoy life unless your neighbours are free".
Christmas markets are great fun, we gave the camera to the kids and here is a selection of photos they took.
These are chocolate covered apples! We are not sure what sort of animal they are supposed to be. In Hameln they had chocolate covered pear halves and dressed them up as rats!
Honey coated almonds....delicious! and below glass decorations.

We had a lovely wander around the last dose of Christmas Markets (for this trip...), finally getting back to the car and hitting the autobahn for our run home.
There was a medieval area of the markets and here are the kids in their suits of armour!

When we told the boys that naughty children would be put in this cage, they decided to stop mucking around!
It was a very busy but highly enjoyable pre-christmas trip with the family (subtitled "Nicole's Christmas Market Tour of Germany...). We all look forward to a safe and joyous Christmas, and hopefully some time to relax at the start of the new year!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Dortmund, Arnsberg, Hameln

We left Köln after breakfast, heading towards home, although with a few stops planned along the way. The first of these was in Dortmund, at DASA - Deutsche Arbeitsschutz Ausstellung (German Occupational Health and Safety Exhibition). Sounds like fun right? We read about it in the Lonely Planet Guide, and it sounded like it had heaps of hands-on fun stuff for the kids. It was not far out of our way, so we input the co-ordinates into BOB, and off we went.

The museum was great for the kids - the especially loved the air-traffic controller's workstation (landing planes),

the inside of the airbus cockpit,

the robot, all the old typewriters and printing processes, and any computer that had a game on it. We were given earphones as an audio guide (changable to English), which provided some interesting additional information.
After we had all had a good look around (and a play with everything...), the boys found an outside play area, and we found a cafeteria. The boys promptly set about having a construction site, and built a house.

They recruited some other kids to help them, building walls,

putting in windows,

tiling the roof, and Cameron was chief in charge of the plumbing.

The playground was better than the coffee....

After this we set out for out friend's place in Arnsburg. Earlier this year we spent some time with Heike and Guido, touring the Arnsburg area. Today it was a short visit on the way through. We enjoyed a delicious lunch, lots of chat (all in German!) including some very funny stories from Guido. As the afternoon was starting to get dark, we thought we had better get on the road to our overnight stop in Hameln. We look forward to Heike and Guido joining us in Berlin (to go the football) in May.

We had planned to overnight in Hameln. This was about a 2 hour drive from Arnsburg, and is well known for the Pied Piper fairytale. We arrived at the hostel after dark, and after settling in, we walked along the banks of the Wesser River into the Altstadt for some dinner.

It was really beautiful. It was cold and dark, and the Christmas lights bathed the old town (with its beautiful old buildings in light). The Christmas markets wrapped around the town-hall and down a few major pedestrian malls.

There were heaps of people out (the last Sunday night before Christmas) and the mood was really festive. We had dinner in the Christmas markets (including chocolate covered strawberries for dessert - yum!) and walked back to the hostel for the night.

Saturday, 20 December 2008


Aachen is a small town about 80 kilometres west of Köln, right on the border with Belgium. I had been told that it was a beautiful town, and worth looking at. After breakfast at the hostel, we programmed the 'town centre' of Aachen into BOB (our sat nav) and set off.

The day was bleak, grey and rainy. So was the place where BOB took us. (sometimes I wonder if BOB has her own weird sense of humour..) However, the town centre of Aachen is not the 'Altstadt' centre -the centre of the old town. So new co-ordinates were put in, and off we went. It wasn't far, but the difference was incredible!

We were lucky to find a park (the last weekend before Christmas) and, with 2 hours on our parking ticket, set off into the Altstadt. The town was really worth visiting.

The Christmas market sat on a hill from the centre of the old town, down to Aachen Cathedral. It was grey, but with the lights of the Christmas markets and the festive spirit of the locals, it was a lovely atmosphere - as you can see in the photos. We cruised the markets, had a look around the township, and enjoyed a really good sausage in a roll for lunch.

We visited the cathedral and saw lots of differences to the Dom in Köln.
Cameron especially wanted to take a photo of this skull on a tomb set into the floor. It came out better that I thought it would!


We got back to the car a little late (but no ticket, thankfully!) and headed back to Köln. We had a short relax at the hostel (watching the kids run around in the gardens, chasing rabbits).

Then it was off to Andrea and Baden's farewell party. We met lots of interesting people (mainly other expats working in Köln, and some other friends that we already knew from Berlin, who Andrea introduced Nicole to on a previous visit to Berlin). A great evening, with loads of kids for the boys to play with and lots of intersting adults for us to chat to.