Saturday, 12 January 2008


Well, the months are buzzing by ever so quickly, 3 months since we returned and I still haven't finished writing about Europe. It was such a whirlwind portion of the trip, I'm still trying to organize my thoughts about it. It's also a bit more difficult because Laurie isn't right by me to jog my memory when I get stuck on details, or to encourage me to just get it done. I tried waiting for comments, but that obviously doesn't work with this bunch who read. Now that it's been so long between posts, we'll see who the truly faithful readers are... hehehe.

And so we went from France to Germany. Here's the thing about Germany... when we were in Spain, we had at least a very basic grasp of the language thanks to Laurie's early exposure to it and the fact that I found it similar to French... in Germany Laurie had no understanding (other than a couple words used around her house) and I had... um... some odd combo of High and Low Germany, mainly referring to food. Thanks to a night of cards in New Zealand, we both knew the names of all the cards, which amounts to knowing our numbers from 1 to 10. But in reality, German was the most different foreign language we were forced to deal with since leaving India 7 months earlier. I will say this: it's amazing what you can communicate with hand gestures! It's also amazing how fast our brains can begin processing new words and finding patterns in things.

We chose to go to Lübeck, Germany. This is a small city in Northern Germany that we may not otherwise have heard of or thought to go to, except for the fact that my cousin Joe and his wife Sybille live there. Our timing for visiting them was, to say the least, horrid. On our last week in New Zealand, we had sat down and planned out our trip to Europe, picking one main city in each country we were going to, and basing the timing all on when we wanted to be in Ireland (and on the cheapest flights from country to country). This tour around Europe landed us in Germany from September 12th to 18th. Sybille was due to have a baby on the 16th. Aren't we considerate? And yet they were quite the gracious hosts. Living in an apartment, they didn't have room for us with them, but we were able to rent the "guest room" just downstairs from them. Getting to their place was a small adventure in itself.
Have you ever navigated a foreign city without knowledge of the language? We had basic directions emailed from Joe, and so we tried to catch the bus, uncertain what side of the street would take us in the correct direction... we guessed right. I showed the bus driver the paper where I had written the place where Joe told us to get off the bus, but the driver didn't seem to recognize it. So we sat at attention and watched the countryside go by, hoping we'd know when to get off. I can't even remember what made us decide we were at the right place, I just recall getting up suddenly and having the bus driver leave the doors open long enough for us to get our luggage off the bus. Then looking around for someone to ask directions of. That was a part of the directions Joe gave us: ask for directions for the last leg of the journey. I don't know if he realized just how poor my comprehension of German is! There was a little booth very close to the bus stop that I went to to ask directions. Their English was probably as good as my German, which isn't saying much. I was glad I had written out the address, but they still didn't seem to know, until another person from off the street got involved in the discussion. By this time Laurie had wandered over to see what was being said. One of the people seemed to have a sudden realization and recognized the street we were looking for. Then we had 3 of them, all explaining in German with broad hand gestures, how to get to our destination. One man grabbed my paper after seeing the half-confused looks on our faces, and drew out the directions. :D So much easier. We took off and felt fairly confident, but when we were almost there decided to stop in a store to find out if we were indeed on the right path. We walked into a museum (which we figured would be more likely to have people who spoke english), and asked the ladies at the counter if they knew if we were on the right track, and once again pulled out the paper with the address. They had never heard of the street, pulled out a map, and realized it was the next street over. Poor ladies, they were so embarrassed. We found the apartment, buzzed the landlady who showed us to the room amidst broken english, and settled into a perfect little one-room place with a bathroom.
The days in Germany were so relaxed, they kind of blend in together in my head. We spent a lot of time wandering the cobbled streets. Lübeck was built in the 1200's, and is a walled city (at least the old portion is). There are many buildings from the middle ages, 7 church spires that peak above the rest of the city, a stone wall around parts of the city, a river that was split to go around the city, effectively a natural moat that prevented this port city from ever being captured. To say the least, gorgeous. And so laid-back.

One night we went to the Kartoffelkeller, in the basement of the old hospital, also considered the church basement, where all dishes relate back to some form of potatoes.
Our favorite restaurant was the Soup Pot... or Suppentopf. Here's a german quote I found about it while using Google to try and remember the name of the restaurant: "Die von Hand täglich frisch und... immer anders zubereiteten Suppen werden größtenteils aus Biologisch wertvollen Zutaten zubereitet. Alles frisch - alles lecker! Und mit fünf Euro wird man wirklich satt! ..." From what I understand (using an online dictionary) it says about the same things we might say about it. Amazing soup made fresh daily, you really can't go wrong. We only went there once for lunch, but we came back the day we were flying out to get a couple bowls of soup and slices of fresh bread to go. It's got an interesting set-up inside as well... there's no chairs. There's tables that are all high enough to stand at and eat your soup. I guess that's how they make sure people don't just hang around after they're done.
We even spent one afternoon at a coffee shop/bakery that was quiet and comfortable, with a great front window for sitting and writing postcards home. (I was writing too, but trying to get a picture of both of us just didn't work)

I don't even know what all to tell you about Germany, we spent a lot of time just wandering the streets, enjoying the sights. There were so many old buildings, some half covered in ivy, some that leaned to one side or another. There was the big gates to the city, the old walls, and just the general atmosphere with people not seeming to be in quite so big a rush as in North America.

We went to the puppet theatre one night, and saw the Barber of Seville. Neither of us knew any of the plot beyond the Bugs Bunny version, and this show was all done in German. It was done so well that it was always obvious what was happening, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Even if the one line that really stuck with us was "MAMA!" lol. That and Laurie was happily spouting off the words from the Bugs Bunny version all the way back, singing it in ever higher tones, as she tends to do when she's in a happy/goofy mood.
On Friday we went with Joe to his classes (he teaches grade 7-9 English) and got to meet a bunch of kids and answer questions about ourselves (to work on their English). That was neat. At one point the principle walked by while we waited outside the classroom and gave us a look, like we should be in class. We don't look THAT young, do we?
On Saturday we caught the train and spent a day in Hamburg. We learned that the train station makes you pay to use the toilets, and it's very possible to wait and use other toilets. We found downtown Hamburg busy (thanks to some ethnic parade, where various groups were doing traditional dances from all different parts of the world, and it took us forever to be able to cross the street and get to the downtown area). We ate at a large mall... but didn't really have the heart to go shopping. I managed to be completely oblivious to Laurie walking past me when I was supposed to be watching out for her. We wandered aimlessly through the streets for a while, got stopped by a guy on a bicycle wanting directions, had to stare at his map for a few minutes before we even knew where we were, but we were able to give directions. We found a bombed-out church with a memorial to a nearby concentration camp (and could NOT believe our guide book would leave something like that out!) And at the train station on the way back, we found some really good smokies!

All in all, we really had a good, relaxing time. If only we knew German...

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