Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Christmas Tale Continues...

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a Foofoo was stirring, not even a mouse.
The beer fridge was filled in the kitchen with care
In the hopes that St Nicholas would make more appear.

At Westminster Abbey, the occupants were there
For a wee round of carols and a wee Christmas prayer.
They marvelled at the tombs, and the choir they cheered
Then looked for the Queen, till all disappeared.

Then back at home all snug in their beds
Dreams of Guy, Madge and the Doctor danced in their heads.
They tried to sleep, excited and pale
Till they settled their brains and passed out from the ale.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
They sprang from the bed to see what the matter.
Away to the window they flew like a flash
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

A werewolf! A werewolf! A werewolf they exclaimed,
Then sleepy and frazzled the others explained.
Back to sleep little darlings, it is just a fox
Out here on the Heath, you tend to get lots.

But others, oh others, please just explain,
Why do they sound like babies about to be maimed?
Now little darlings, don’t you be worried
Just pretend they are reindeer, before Christmas is sullied.

Then, in a twinkling, they heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
To sleep back they went, and in the morning arose,
Had their first glass of champers, then presents they chose.

Cherry Ripes, Doctor Who, and calendars did flow
A plaque of the Bucket Fountain, to remind them of home.
Too many to remember, but many more missing
From the friends who forgot them, whose names they were dissing.

Then after a while, eyes twinkled and went merry
Cheeks went like roses, and noses like cherry.
Their droll little mouths drew up like a bow,
They slumped in their chairs, all pissed in a row.

As by some intervention, they suddenly awoke
Ready for action, nobody spoke.
They hustled and rustled, fuelled by beer
Sounds of cooking, was all you could hear.

At last, the feast was prepared before dark
They ate their own weight, then walked through the park.
They were heard to mumble as they walked out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Westminster Abbey

Queues for the carol service

Big Ben

Actually, the bell is 'Big Ben' not the clock

O Christmas Tree

Christmas Day Sha

Notice the cheesy Vegas photo in background!

Perraine is delighted with the floss

Nothing is too good for our friends

Oh, great, a Kiwi quiz game...

...we left that country for a reason you know

Me with wine and thread

'Cos if you cant mend your dressing gown on Christmas Day, when can you?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Christmas Tale

We began our descent and glimpsed our first sight of the mother country! We wished our German flight buddies the best of luck using up their ambitious supply of condoms and searched yet again for the duty free that seemed to elude us at every airport. Clearing customs, or should I say being welcomed back into the Queen's bosom after an ancestral induced absence, we made our way in search of our friends, hosts, and reason for being at this particular destination. It’s fair to say it was simultaneously the weirdest and most natural thing in the world to see Perraine and Heather standing there, and definitely seemed like only yesterday since we last saw them, and not 2 years ago.

There is a blurred recollection of apologising for being late (like we had some control over it), then throwing pound notes at Heather and begging her to manage our lives until ready to work it all out for ourselves. Thus the purchase of our Oyster cards was made manifest and we were bundled onto our first Tube followed by a black cab and taken to a place simply known as home, in a place called Blackheath near Greenwich Park.

Home had a Christmas tree with presents under it that had labels with names like Sha and Foo written on them!!! Luckily, we had the foresight to gift wrap the NZ dental floss they begged us to squeeze into our luggage the day before leaving NZ. This along with the Kiwi Quiz and obligatory calendar of NZ scenery - 1 of 3 they would open on Christmas day - our dowry was placed accordingly under the tree of Christmasness.

The following day we joined Heather on a trek to our first British farmers market to source our Christmas day produce, this was the beginning of the realisation that our food choices and ability to purchase ethical food at reasonable prices had just grown exponentially.

A church in Blackheath en route to Farmers Market

Old buildings are starting to become very interesting

We also had a quick wander through Greenwich Park and surrounds, where we would return at some point in the future.

Sha and Heather in Greenwich Park

Perraine was feeling poorly, hence it was just Stu and the girls

Looking towards London's beleaguered financial district

I kid you not, jousting used to take place down on that green field many years ago!

Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson

Sha and Heather with Nelson - some wag has been out with the chalk

The Tube
The first few days were a mish-mash of catching up, settling in and organising necessities such as bank accounts and grasping the transport system. It’s worth mentioning what an incredible piece of branding the Tube symbol is.

The first time we rode the tube, it was a surreal feeling of ‘wow I am on a tube’ mixed with boring familiarity. You wonder how you instantly adopted the London ‘bored with the tube’ look, then realise it’s the branding.

That's not unusual...

Typical bored tube commuters

Permission is seldom given to film or photograph a tube train or station for any commercial use whatsoever, so you wonder how you are so familiar with the branding, and then you remember all those Underground map t-shirts adorned by kiwis returning home from their OE, those same kiwis who still wear them with holes ten years later to remind the rest of us what losers we are for not destroying our liver 3 times over in a London squat.

Tomorrow: A Christmas Tale Continues

A message from our broadcaster

As all of you following this blog of unimaginable delights will know, the current date is the 29th of April. We are still writing about December 2008.

Never fear faithful reader, I have enlisted the help of the amazingly talented Sharon of London who has taken the art of blog writing to heart and is, as we speak, skilfully crafting stories of magnificence. This will allow us to deliver, to you, much to idle your time away with.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Auf Wiedersehen Munich!

Saturday, 20th of December

Today is the day we leave Germany for our new home in England!

We took our time at the breakfast bar before heading out to the bus - an army marches on its stomach (just like a caterpillar), and Stu and Sha are no different.

Now, we were running a LITTLE bit late but weren't too concerned. As the bus left every 20 minutes, we knew we could catch one easily enough. We had tried to ask staff at Wombats as to what time we should leave but no one really seemed to know.

We ended up taking the bus 40 minutes after our ideal departure time, but when we got to the airport we were relieved to see that it was all going to be okay. We joined a queue and proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait. And waited some more. As we slowly inched our way forward, it rapidly dawned on us that our time was running out. Visions of Perraine and Heather patiently waiting at Heathrow for our non-arrival swam in our heads.

To cap things off, there was an awful family who were slowly cutting their way forward through the line, pushing their way ahead one person at a time. As time trickled away, more and more people left the line and went straight to the counter (I guess they had a plane to catch or something). The awful white trash family were now right behind us and tried to skip past us but Sha held her ground and steadfastly refused to let them go ahead - for a few moments I thought Sharon was going to smack the woman in the head. Sharon told her “don't you dare” which had the effect of other people in the queue piping up and saying that the family had been trying to push ahead the whole time they had been there. Interesting how one person can say what many others are too afraid to.

We made it to the counter with no time to spare and the check in guy said it was our lucky day as it turned out the flight had been delayed ever so slightly. Even with this delay, if we were any more than one person further back, we would not have made the check in time. Having checked in our luggage we found Sha's well packed bag was slightly overweight, so we had to take it to the heavy baggage area, further delaying us.

As soon as we had done that, we RAN from the luggage area to our flight gate and made it with 30 seconds to spare. A very exhilarating experience, but not one either of us want to repeat any time soon!

We made our way down to the shuttle bus which would take us to our flight and sat across from two young German guys in their late teens. They were heading over to England for Christmas and one of them had in his hands a giant pack of condoms. Sha turned to him and said "Planning a good time are you?" and he blushed and said "No, not me, my girlfriend is still here, but he is" pointing to his mate. His mate joked about joining the mile-high club, when Sha looked around at all the families and quipped "Your mate might have to help you out with that one".

Once we were on the flight, these two German lads kept buzzing the stewardess for more drinks but hey, it was nearly Christmas and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. English girls watch out!

Coming up next...The Descent (no, not the scary horror film).

Our final flight...for now

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Munich - Day 4 - Castle Tour

Friday, 19th December, 2009

Today was our castle tour day. We were taking a bus to two castles in Southwest Bavaria - Schloss Linderhof and Schloss Neuschwanstein (some good pictures shown at those links).

Both of these castles were built by King Ludwig II, with Schloss Linderhof being built in 1869 in an area where Ludwig II used to go hunting. Schloss Neuschwanstein is more famously known as the Sleeping Beauty castle when Walt Disney saw the castle and ‘borrowed’ the design and construction also started in 1869.

The bus tour guide had been doing this tour for over 30 years and still managed to keep it fresh. He had a naughty gruff persona and liked to be a bit rude (all for laughs of course).

Other people on the bus that stood out were the three Americans (mum, daughter and Dave) all dressed in huge fur coats. The daughter reminded us of Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, Dave seemed to be the only normal one of the three of them but was often being told what to do by his step-daughter.

As you will be able to tell from these photos, there was a little snow and this was fun.

Both the castles were spectacular - Sha's favourite was Schloss Linderhof. Unfortunately, you weren't allowed to take photos inside, so all we can say is that they were both amazing and as with every tourist attraction in the world, you always exit through a gift shop.

Sha outside Schloss Linderhof

The castle

The grounds

In summer the fountain is working and it looks even more impressive

Linderhof up close

As I have mentioned in previous posts, sometimes the photos don't seem to do things justice. Here is the Linderhof official website, which has a few more photos and more on the history of the castle.

And here's a youtube video of Schloss Linderhof

Once we had taken in Schloss Linderhof, we went to the village
Oberammergau where a passion play takes place every 10 years. A passion play is a telling of the death of Jesus and the entire village is involved to some degree. In 1633 the region was being ravaged by the bubonic plague so the residents of Oberammergau made a vow that if God spared them, they would perform a passion play every 10 years. The death rate subsided in the space of a couple of months and they’re still performing the play even now, with the next performance being in 2010.

While taking in Oberammergau, we took a look at a couple of gift shops which contained cuckoo clocks, wood carvings and carved crystals (the region is well known for wood carving). Oddly enough, there was also a lot of religious iconography. Oberammergau also has some brightly coloured buildings with murals, which illustrate various fairy tales and religious scenes. All up, a very cool village with a lot of history.

Yep, Oberammergau is where we are!

Is that Joseph?

Correct me if it's not!

A gift shop

Another moose...

...this one seems a bit wooden

King of the beasts

A magnificent mountain

Notice the cross at the top - imagine getting that up there!

From Oberammergau we headed to our final stop, a village at the bottom of the mountain that Schloss Neuschwanstein was on.

We were told that we had just over an hour to kill before our entry time to the castle so we headed to a hotel for lunch. I had some Bavarian white sausage
with bun and mustard, served in a bowl of hot water (the sausage, not the bun!) while Sha had soup and bread. Lunch was served to us by a well dressed waiter with incredibly strong body which only added to the authenticity of the alpine village. Hey, the sausage was fine and that's what is important!

After lunch, we went for a little wander and looked at the lake where King Ludwig II 'drowned' under very suspicious circumstances.

The lake

Later, we found out that this wasn't where he drowned at all and the lake where this happened was somewhere completely different.

Kind Ludwig II was a very flamboyant King who didn't really take his duties that seriously and was more focussed on building castles and having a damn good time. He is known as the fairy tale king for good reason and left a lot of the running of the country to others which seemed to fit with his schedule slightly better.

As it got closer to entry time, we made our way up the steep path to the castle. For a more traditional approach (and a few Euro), you could take a horse and cart up to the top. As we preferred the 15 minute walk, we passed on this.

Horse and cart up the mountain

Schloss Hohenschwangau

This castle wasn't on the tour but is in the village at the bottom of Schloss Neuschwanstein

A distant view

Sha loves her fire hydrants

Schloss Neuschwanstein isn't fully completed and it's a little sad to see something so magnificent when it is only one third finished. Apart from being a tourist attraction it isn't used for anything else, although it was once used for staging a Wagner concert. Ludwig II was a big Wagner fan and at one point considered abdicating and following him into exile.

Getting closer

Inside the courtyard

A bedroom (from a postcard)

As we were leaving

Here are some more
photos from outside and here are some inside (via a flickr search). Well worth checking out, especially the ones inside.

We had been warned about being back at the bus on time and if we were late, we would be left behind. We were also told that taking the horse and cart up to the castle was fine - but in NO CIRCUMSTANCES were we to take it back down. They ran infrequently and there was a risk of missing the bus. If we missed the bus, the taxi fare back to Munich would be over €100 (over $230NZ) and it would be cheaper to stay the night in a local hotel and come back on the tour bus the following day.

On the way back down, we had decided to stop for some mulled wine and this was nearly our undoing. We had to canter down the path clutching our vino, being careful not to spill any. When we got to the bus with a few minutes to spare, we hid our souvenir cups to ensure the tour guide didn't hassle us. Luckily, the Veruca Salt family were the last ones back and got suitably chastised by the tour guide (always good to have someone else running later than yourself!)

While heading back to Munich, we were allowed a wee snooze and upon our arrival, we paid a tip for the in-flight entertainment. Sha and I were both impressed that the tour guide had been doing this trip 3-4 times a week and therefore over 4000 times in the last 30 years. Personally, that sort of repetition would do my head in, but good on him for sticking with a job he enjoys.

Once we got back to Wombats, we decided to head out to one last Christmas market in Munich. This time, it was a medieval one. The medieval market had people dressed in costume, was selling things like swords and armour, food and Christmas gifts.

Night ice skating

Pretty lights

Sha with a medieval sausage

Looks a little burnt, but still tasty



Giant metal man

I think it is Maximilian II of Bavaria

Intriguing poster

Peter Fox and his monkeys

Music Video...

This is bizarre but quite cool - just need to learn German!

After the wander around, we went for dinner (Italian) and popped in on the Wombats bar to see some live music and claim our free beer. I'm guessing that most of the bands were in their early start out phase.

The thing that really got to us in the bar was the amount of smoke. As you are allowed to smoke in bars, everyone seemed to be and the fug was overpowering. We managed to stay for one small beer, a few songs from a solo artist and then had to get out. As Wombats is a backpackers, the majority of people were a little younger and the bar reminded me of a school disco. But with beer.
Oh well, off to bed for us oldies. Tomorrow we fly to London!