Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Haw haw haw

You may recall way back at the beginning of this year and this blog, I had some harsh things to say about sailing on the cruise-ship Balmoral, one of Fred. Olsen's finest.... Her present passengers have been experiencing truly frightening events.

After our ghastly trip on Balmoral in January - heading for Tangiers but ending up in Antwerp because of the storms and all the accidents on board due to what I believe is the criminal lack of sufficient handrails aboard, her next trip was to Cape Verde, and after that she set off on a voyage round the world. I seem to remember this trip will last several months.

While on this mega-expensive cruise, her unfortunate passengers and crew have been subject to fierce pirate attack in the seas off Somalia, in a region known as the Gates of Hell. The ship came under fire four times from bandits armed with rocket launchers.

According to a newspaper cutting given to me tonight by a fellow-student from my French class, pirate boats appeared and began closing in rapidly.

Alarmed by the suspicious activity of these boats, the Balmoral's crew made emergency calls, and sent up distress flares. The ships' 1300 passengers, 95% British and (as on our voyage) mostly elderly, were herded into 'safe' areas (I have no idea what these could have been - maybe the big stairwell and reception area which has relatively few windows).

The attack was averted by the arrival of a US Navy ship which escorted the vessel through the Gulf of Aden - where pirates attacked more than 130 ships last year. From April to December, 42 vessels were hijacked and £100m taken as ransom.

What are these cruise lines doing??????????

PS It is worth reading the official Fred. Olsen account of this incident dated March 5th. They deny that the ship was attacked and so on.

See: http://www.prlog.org/10193921-balmoral-cruise-ship-alleged-pirate-attack-fred-olsen-official-statement.html

The Sun newspaper gives more details: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article2295025.ece

Tuesday, 10 March 2009


Posted as soon as we got home on Tuesday night but written yesterday - Monday 9th.

We left Wiesbaden at 10, intending to go to Cologne but one look at the motorway was enough to make us (me) turn tail and we set off back to the rural byways. What a good decision that was. We had called into one (one only) motorway service station to have a pee and buy a map and what a ripoff. Coffee cold, croissant had a tile-like bottom, loo cost 50 cents, and it was all queues and who cares?
But, instead of the motorways we have been through forests, along wandering valleys, past ancient mills and tiny wobbly-looking hamlets, up into the Vullkan district (complete with beautiful crater lake), and over wonderful ridges and hills. We had snow, rain, bright skies, dark journeys, and all kinds of weather. The river systems are just beautiful, large or small, all busy and cleared to rush along. We loved the Lahn and then the Arh, and all the little rivers in between. For the most part the forestrty work is very impressive with trees being cleared out at a usable size and space made for the smaller saplings to grow up. Everything looks very autumnal with the brown leaves of beech and some oaks still on the trees or on the ground, and very little green apart from the occasional plantation of evergreens and some of those are very large and intimidating. It made me think of all those fairy stories of poor woodcutters' children, Hansel and Gretel, or Little Red Riding Hood, or other small heroes setting out on their life-changing journeys.
This must all look absolutely magnificent once the greening starts. We saw eagles a few times, I think, in ones or twos at the most and always high up. There are signs along the road for wildboar and deer, and to be honest, I was hoping to see warnings for wolves and bears. It isn't really THAT remote but coming from England which is comparatively so small and dinky, and where the landscape changes so quickly and definitively, to be in this huge place is like going back in time.
On our way today we found (by chance) the gorgeous little city of Diez – complete with medieval buildings and huge schloss, sitting all unannounced near to Limburg where we were just a few days ago. Diez (pronounced Deetz) knocks Limburg into a cocked hat.
And we stopped in the famous ancient spa town of Bad Ems – with the purpose of buying stuff for a picnic as the day was so bright and the temperature creeping up to 7 or even 8 degrees.....I agreed to Captain Thrift's proposal to buy a sandwich or some ham and bread and eat by the river. But......we found no deli along our route but we did find the Hotel Bad Emser Hof – where we had a magnificent two-course lunch for 25 euros all up. Delicious, delicious, home-made, kindly served and all overlooking the river. We walked around later, looked at the Roman spring (temperature 46 degrees), checked out the tourist office, felt as if we were in a 19th century Punch drawing of toffs taking the waters, loved it. We called into a small store which would have supplied our picnic if we'd found it in time – run by a Turkish guy I think. Outside he had about 20 kinds of apples on display, all the varieties named, all neatly ranged in boxes and all looking delectable. Why oh why oh why cannot we have a fruit display like this in Faversham which ought to be world-famous for its supply of apples?
Since we had the book to hand I looked up some of words I ought to have known the meaning of but had forgotten... hof = court, or yard, bauer = farmer or peasant, Ehemann = husband, Konditorei = pastry shop, schmucke = jewellery, etc.
We spent a long time in river valleys of great beauty and length, not unlike the Tarn in the south of France where we went to stay with Tom Vernon and his wife Sally a few years ago. But when you reach the Rhine everything else you have seen is dwarfed by its huge scale and astonishing beauty. For instance, the area around Koblenz (where the Mosel joins in) offers a great opening out of the landscape, and even with industrial and block-like residential areas getting in the way of that sense of nature, what you see takes your breath away. What time and water have done to the landscape has produced such a huge result.
In contrast, our arrival this evening at Monschau has been walking into a completely different kind of wonderland. I don't suppose all that many Brits get here. The translations on the menus etc are charmingly wrong. The town is a STUNNER....a deep valley with a rushing river at the bottom and with hundreds of ancient wooden and stone houses crammed in, along black granite cobbled streets, with stairs climbing between the old mills and warehouses. Lots of tat shops of a superior kind and lots of bars, cafes, etc all shut at this time of year. It is just gorgeous. We are in a 300-year old building which has been a hotel for 120 years, in a lovely room overlooking the (slightly noisy) river. It's very classy and comfortable, for 85 euros including breakfast. We're just about to go down for supper. The stairs and landing have automatic lighting which comes on as you go up or down and the whole thing is made of beautiful carved oak.
OK – now just back from supper where we started with the local speciality – honey and mustard soup. So rich, so delicious. The patron promises us the recipe. There is a mustard mill here in the town, hence the development of this dish.
We then ordered a salad each and couldn't get anywhere near finishing it. Too much food.
Outside a blizzard has been building up. No doubt the weather is worse up on the plateau. It is noticeable there here, as in Wiesbaden, the weather at roof level is significantly different (harsher) than it is when it reaches the pavement. Is that true everywhere? It makes the notion of microclimates even more interesting.
During our meal in the pretty 18th century dining room, we could see huge snow swirls up at roof level across the river where a light was shining, but we could hear it falling as rain as it hit the ground. The river has deep walls all the way along, so they are prepared for spring floods.
We also thought (having had a walk around the pretty cobbled streets and over the many small bridges and along some of the alleys - before we ate) that this place, unlike any possible English comparable place, is so neat and tidy, unchav, self-respectable. It really is lovely and being only about 4 hours down the motorway from say, Dunquerke, or maybe 5 from Calais, ought to be on the itinerary for any self-respecting English culture-seeker.
The Simpsons, in German, has just come onto the TV in our room. The voices are uncannily similar to the ones we know and love. And now Andrew has found Who Wants to be a Millionaire in German, too. That eery tube-train background music.... The host is not as glam as our own ghastly home-grown Tarrant.
Time for bed for me. It was a long day and very interesting to see so many things along the route... I am tuckered out.
We have had thunder now... Maybe we'll be snowed in and won't be able to get back to the ferry tomorrow night. Heheheh!

PS When I got into bed (and was not wearing my glasses) I was looking at the peculiar sprinkler system on the ceiling by the end of the bed and pointed it out to Andrew. It seemed very odd they would just douse a fire by the windows.... but he said it was just a lighting track. He thought it was unlikely the radiators would set fire to the curtains and was then able to use one of his finest comic refrains... “It's annoying when they do that....”

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The Juice Plus+ Conference Ends

It is now Sunday afternoon, and the conference is over. We had a couple of terrific speakers this morning, including one talk on body language... I am usually a bit sniffy about men giving talks on this subject as there isn't a women I've met in my life who isn't an expert, yet men only 'discovered' it in the 60s when cheap film and then video was to hand, and now they are the world experts. However this chap was very amusing and had us all trying out various arm movements and different facial expressions. ie. Raise your eyebrows and now try to look aggressive. Very funny.
The meeting petered out, rather, with lots of testimonials and German plaudits for various people. It is fascinating how rip-roaring successful it is here, and in so many other countries, and such a dismal slow starter in Britain. There are various theories as to why this should be the case, which I have already mentioned and today I suggested some action we could take in our team...I think we might get somewhere. The fact is the German Olympic team is now officially sponsored by Juice Plus, and the French national ski-team too, and we need to get our UK teams to take a look. Does anyone out there know David Beckham, please, or Seb Coe? I want to talk to both of them.
Sorry if this is being a bit hither-and-yon.....I have to get the thoughts and memories down as they spring up.
Andrew came and met me at the end of the conference and we went back across the road to the Wiesbaden Museum for lunch (where I went with Dr John McConnell yesterday). Afterwards we paid our 8 euros and looked at the art.... a terrific collection from the 20th and 21st centuries. I loved a huge wooden Centaur-Trojan horse with innumerable pages of planning and annotation all in mirror-writing, and several installations of suspended groups of - what? - junk? anyway integrated masses of boxes, cones, flaps, tubes, angles, blobs, bits, etc, all multicoloured, and on two quite different scales, reminded me of space detritus, or crazy satellites, or flying towns, or even mind-maps of witches. Great fun. There was a film called Der Lauf der Dinges which was nearly 20 mins long and showed the most spectacular sequence of cause-and-effect I have ever seen, with tyres rolling down slopes and triggering small fires or waterfalls, and oscillating planks causing chemical tidal waves, and chairs tumbling over, and tides of water slowly dissolving the bottoms of tiny columns of sugar cubes supporting further boards with cardboard tubes which then rolled away and set off strange wobbly-orbit pairs of shoes flapping along, which bumped into tiny ladders which collapse and set off further explosions or fires emerging from water (phosphorus?), or clouds of dry-ice steam which somehow set off further events...absolutely amazing. Dated 1985-1987 and no doubt the source for many an advertising campaign since.
I could say so much more.... do you want to read it?
The best thing would be to come and see for yourself. English tourists are not much in evidence in Germany, yet loads of people here speak really good English and are very pleased to see us.
I was really impressed (yet again) at how much money is spent on the arts, the numerous lovely brochures and posters for local artistic events, and the space and quality of the buildings dedicated to culture.
Another nice thing here is that if you stop to watch a small child splashing in a puddle, or chasing pigeons, or doing whatever children do, the mother will smile at you.... like they used to do in England before this ghastly health-and-safety age we have to live in now. It is quite a relief, feels normal.
In the art museum I was not allowed to take my handbag around and so could not make notes of the artists' names and despite trying to memorise them, I could not. Sorry. Actually I am really tired.
Quite apart from my late night last night, I have been in this noisy dark flashing-light hall for days, trying to make sense of headphone translations and making notes as we go, and it is knackering.
Anyway, it was a relief to walk round to pick up the car and drive to Mainz – where we walked about, saw that the Gutenburg monument is absolutely empty for some reason at the moment, looked at the Rhein, ate delicious Italian ice-cream, looked in lots of pretty shop windows, heard a (Gypsy?) clarinettist playing mournfully in the streets, admired the statue of St Boniface, and generally just stroll about. Lots of nice shoe shops by the way.
We have spoken to our landlady who is coming round in the morning and we can pay her the rent and then we plan to set off for Koln (Cologne) to see the cathedral and have lunch. We have all day Tuesday to make our way back to Dunquerke and home and at the moment we have no idea where we will stay tomorrow night. Nice feeling.
I can recommend this little apartment if anyone wants to know where to stay here... not expensive, room for 4 people, very basic but clean and in a quiet and convenient central district. True is is at the very top of the building with lots of stairs, but that gets you fit and there is a nice view from the kitchen roof-light....of lots of rooftops. Also it is noticeably warmer up here so you get the benefit of the heat in the building in the cold weather.
I meant to mention the excellent wig shops I have seen, I am v tempted to buy a long wig as an act of nostalgia for when I had long hair. I do miss that but it's such a bore growing it again.
We're going back to the Greek place to eat again tonight, and maybe will be blessed with the monstrous garlic bread dish again. The internet cafe is right across the street from there so I will post last night's and today's bulletin (this!).
Best bits – some of the speakers at the conference, the architecture in Wiiesbaden, seeing my friend Michelle fall down into the seating well in the sushi restaurant last night (she's OK), seeing inside the Russian church at Neroberg, seeing the caped women of Wiesbaden in their bright clothes, seeing thousands of Germans dressed as Turks and behaving as if they were about to collect their A level certificates, and not least, the general sense of stimulation to my creativity...I have had lots of ideas for painting and for short stories and even a novel, all based on this place. Goethe was here, and Wagner and Brahms and Dostoevski and loads and loads of other people, and when you are here you can see why. Also hilarious are: the wiring in the apartment, the way almost everyone in the street stands and waits for the green man to show before they cross the road even though there is not a car in sight, the written German language with it ludicrous pilingup of nouns and adjectives to create a particular meaning, and the faint misuse of English – nearly but not quite right .... such as a sign on a shop window saying 'I'm so glad I'm a woman', and a tatty jewellery shop with the slogan emblazoned... 'Nice, but not too nice for you!'
I love it. I love the travelling. I love the differences and the civilisation and the fact that all this is going on all the time, and has been going on all this time even though we have never been here. It's like visiting a waterfall and leaving, knowing it will go on squirting huge amounts of water over the edge whether you are there to see it or not.
The Rhine is a MIGHTY river, absolutely huge and still here we are so far inland. People walked about here in these forests and mountains maybe thousands of thousands of years ago, and made artefacts and houses and created a sense of how to BE in northern Europe. They had their mythology and their sense of the weather and the food and the wild-life and the distance and they were our ancestors and while A and I were driving about a day or so ago I felt close to them, however silly that sounds. Looking at more recent human history, it is quite plain that the English language IS German... we are the same. So all these differences and silly quoibles and twiddles I have been thinking about are just irrelevant really.
OK – time to go and eat. Not sure when the next post will be. Maybe from Cologne or further west back into Holland or Belgium. Tchuss!

Wiesbaden - How things are...

OK – it's about midnight on Saturday. I've just come back from the JP conference party, theme “1001 Nights”. My own attempt at fancy dress was minimal but quite effective (scarf made into turban. low cut evening top and sunglasses). But what was totally hilarious was being with three and a half thousand Germans in disguise as Arabs. They were mgnificent. I took some video footage which I will attempt to post up for you, but not yet as I;m not sure about the protocols.
Earlier we joined some of the few from Kent for supper (sushi and Chinese) which was pretty good especially as we were joined by one of my heroes, Birgit, who is very senior and successful. She gave us an impromptu training session over dinner – very illuminating and inspiring – and then paid for the whole thing. How very nice of her to do that. She combines elegance, beauty,brains, kindness, wit and success.
Andrew had spent the day travelling about by bus and reached Mainz, across the Rhine,( a town of great charm and with a lovely medieval centre) before coming back to Wiesbaden, where he managed to find one of the hot springs – I would like to go back there with him to see that. He said they have taps of the salty hot water there for you to drink and it is really hot.
I took my lunchbreak in the art gallery across the road from the conference and will try to go back there tomorrow (today now). Had an excellent bowl of soup there and a sandwich, with no queueing and no hassle. Things inside the conference hall do get pretty full, but Birgit said that although we have each paid our 100 euros to be there it actually costs more like 800 euros a head to put on so it is heavily subsidised by some of the top team members and the company, hence the spectacular nature of the whole affair. I don't know how accurate that figure is but she is certainly in a position to know.
On my way to the hall this morning I spotted a few more of the dotty older women wandering about, and of course I identify with them so much. They wear terrific things. I am not sure why theycluster here, maybe it's throughout Germany but I can't answer that yet.
My son David texted to say he is enjoying reading the blog again, and I'd love to know who else is reading it.
I did a little deal this morning with some of the company management...they produce loads of documents which have originated in various languages but have to be published in English. The team in Italy are pretty good (brilliant, in fact) at translating it all into something intelligible but to my eye it often reads a bit cranky so I have pestered them into letting me proof-read it for style and smoothness. I have been doing this since last autumn and we finally agreed my fees today, hoorah! They are very pleased with my work so far, and I enjoy doing it. I saw some of my work up on the screen today when they announced the launch of a new website – and of course I instantly wanted to change bits here and there. I can see it is a job which is never really complete.
In many ways this is an example of how much work goes on behind the scenes, which most people don't even know about but I must say my respect for them all continues to go up. They deliver what they say, and they try to do their best. I do sometimes shiver at the rah-rah style they adopt but they are after all an American company. What's so unusual about them is that they are (astonshingly) recession proof and growing year on year regardless of the economic conditions affecting so many other sectors. Who would have thought the likes of Lehmann Bros would have evaporated, or Goldmann Sachs and Merrill Lynch etc etc.? Like Pres Obama said.... “.......CHANGE...........”
This is what change looks like. Computers, the internet, and now a new form of company structure. Very interesting and very exciting. I WISH we could have a meeting like this one but in Britian. It will come.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Wiesbaden - more about the town and our day

One in five couples in the UK sleep alone because of snoring, and I am sad to say we are in that number. Andrew retreated to the click-clack (sofa-bed) in the sitting room last night because he was too hot and because of my snoring. I wonder what on earth is the evolutionary advantage in snoring and I decided it must be to keep night-time predators at bay. A horrible night-tiger approaches and then hears a deep rasping rumbling roar and decides that he can find another tasty morsel instead of this sonorous snack... What else could it be? I inherited my snoring capacity from my dear mama, and have passed it on to my son. In case we are ever unfortunate enough to be stalked by night-predators this will come in handy but meanwhile it means solitary nights far too often for my liking. I have wondered about various patent 'cures' and fixes but none have had much appeal so far.

Another strange thing about snoring is how it can be a huge noise in the room and yet the snorer almost never hears the sound himself. Whatever the switch is in the brain which allows or encourages snoring is the very same one which renders the snorer totally deaf. I have very occasionally caught the back end of one of my snores, but it always seems miraculous, unbelievable, incredible. Why?

I am just back from the first part of my conference which I will report on shortly, but meanwhile will say how we spent our morning. We traipsed about in the drizzle, looking at various buildings and shops. I was looking for a particular kind of lip-pencil made by Mac (which being a German firm I thought would be simple – but no). Eventually we did find a stand in a smart shop called Douglas, but the colour I want is now out of production. Poo.

Most people we speak to can understand English or speak it fairly well, so it is proving a bit difficult to practice my German. I spent ages looking through the art catalogue I bought, which is all in German, trying to look up the vocabulary in my tiny pocket dictionary, but it can't cope. I was thinking it was extraordinary that a smallish provincial city in the middle of Germany could have a museum with so many prehistoric treasures – images of women, goddesses, fertility objects etc from Greece, Peru, Mexico, Roman Gaul and Germania, etc etc but of course most are reproductions, and thus they have accumulated a terrific focussed collection. This was part of a big exhibition last year contrasting and comparing these images with 'modern' iconography of the Virgin, and I would love to see something similar at home. I am thinking I will try to do something similar based on my researches from the 1990s about the Invisible Women of Faversham, of whom there are some tremendous stories and I daresay enough images, maps, even artefacts or other objects to make a provocative show.

On our walk round we saw a tiny bit of the Roman remains...really just a fragment of a wall. t was on a steep bit of hillside, so I guess that was why they fortified it. It was to keep the barbarians out, hence the name Heidenmauer (heathen wall).

We saw the world's largest cuckoo clock, a table with ostrich legs, some beggars, lots of trees pleached and pruned into the most knobbly shapes, and we inspected various possible restaurants for lunch. There are almost no German restaurants as no-one likes German food apparently, but there are loads of foreign cuisines including Mauritian and Korean, and all the usual European and immigrant cultures.

Andrew chose our lunchplace – one of the few trad German ones, and the average age of the clients put them squarely into the war generation, so I can't say I liked it very much. We ate in a similar place yesterday (though that was more touristy) and have had queasy stomachs ever since. So I did not eat much today. I expected the music in today's restaurant to be oom-pah-pah band music but it was actually mostly Tom Jones and Paul Anka.

Straight after lunch I went to my conference and I must tell you something about that. There are 3,500 people there mostly German but actually from all over the world. The venue is modern and huge and the interior has been totally staged for and by Juice Plus – orange carpet throughout, loads of tall glass vases containing just white, green and orange flower and fruits – really beautiful. There are about 400 white leather sofas, and bar-stools and tables. There are huge plasma screens beaming the stage events into the sitting areas, and loads of break-out rooms, cafes and meeting places within the conference. It looks gorgeous. High design. In the present climate of recession and anxiety, it all seems extraordinary, but the company is experiencing a massive and steady growth, so for them this is normal. The Germans in particular have taken the JP message to their hearts, and so their national marketing team (we don't have one) have been able to stage a spectacular show for us, with a fantastic acrobatic troupe doing a terrific jumping and flipping act to start us off, and then a German Olympic gold-medallist bringing 'the flame' (the real one, still living) from Beijing, to our hall.

The first big news of the day was that Juice Plus is officially sponsoring the German Olympic team – fantastic! Why can't we in the UK have this level of exposurea and success? And then we heard that the Bayerne-Munich football team who have their own doctor of course, a man who was an athlete himself and has specialised in sports medicine all his life – he endorses JP and gave a tremendous speech this afternoon. He is 66 and looks 40. It is tremendous to be with so many people who have so much energy, and all regarding health and wellbeing and preventing illness as normal and natural. In the UK with such a strong tradition of 'the National Health will take care of me' + a strong tradition of being sceptical about anything if you meet it 1-2-1 from someone, or not in a high-street store, we find the JP message is less well received. But I think things will change as the message gradually sinks in! This is not meant to be any kind of sales pitch but I am trying to describe my day. Anyway the health message fits in very easily in this city.

Wiesbaden is absolutely stuffed with clinics, doctors, therapists, treatment centres etc. based on its spa heritage. It also has a notably non-fat population. And it has a fair sprinkling of really eccentric slightly older women and men wandering around in brlghtly coloured scarves or sweaters, begging or buying buns etc. It has lots of lovely shops, including one selling very snazzy coffee-making machines, and a model-making shop which made me stop and stare - every kind of tiny lathe, jig, kit, toolset, what-have-you. The guide book claims that W enjoys a Mediterranean climate (oh yes?) but says the average temperature is 9 degrees. We have had it mostly about 4 degrees this week and drizzle all the time. You are NOT supposed to cross any road except when the green man says so, even if it means waiting at the edge of an entirely empty road. We are not very obedient to this rule, but we are not alone is jaywalking. But we get some funny looks. The Fiat arouses quite a lot of interest but we have seen about 3 just like it, so it can't be that uncommon.

Tonight we were supposed to be going to a toptable meal at the Casino with Jay Martin, the company founder who I have met before and greatly admire, but I cannot face all that food so we are having an abstemious evening in the apartment eating some pears and cheese. Back to the conference tomorrow.

Thursday, 5 March 2009


Here we are in our apartment in Wiesbaden – towards the end of our first full day. Our journey here, leaving Faversham about 6.30am yesterday, via Norfolk Line to Dunquerke and then through Belgium and into Germany was uneventful. The ferry was blessedly empty and I had fun in the shop asking if they had a selection of pens (just one with the company logo all over it) and then asking if they had a selection of playing cards (just one with the company logo all over it). I bought the cards so we could play crib if we wanted. Coffee on the NL ferries is very nice. The neck-massage service was not available, sadly.

You gain quite a lot of eastward miles going to Dunquerke but it's a bit of a long boring haul getting away from the docks. Still, eventually you hit the motorway and you can get going. We tracked down to Tournai where we peeled off for lunch in a cafe called Leons which we chose because it was not too far from the main road but the service was frustratingly leisurely and the food (claiming to be famous) was average. The best thing was the bottled water, with Bru on the label – delicious. The sparkles, according to the details on the bottle, are natural. Really?

The Belgian roads leave quite a lot to be desired, with frequent potholes and huge stretches warning of 'Aquaplanage' and indeed the drainage seemed to be non-existent for a lot of the way. We were driving through the rain, so it was quite interesting. We saw one big modern car all smashed up having swerved around on the road and hit various barriers. On the other hand they have rather nice central reservations all planted up with trees so the oncoming headlight problem is averted and it makes for a more rural feel to the journey.

At Liege we turned southeast and into spa country, very beautiful with lovingly tended valleys and wooded hills. Once we reached the German border near St Vith we became preoccupied with getting across country as the routes are tortuous and don't really go to Wiesbaden....but we managed to buy a terrific largscale map at a garage and by switching our dependence between that and the satnav ('Turn around! Turn around!!') we left the main drag at Wittlich and headed into the Mosel valley areas. How lovely! The wine country announces itself all at once, with astonishingly steep vineyards. The holdings seem to be quite small and the farmhouses are surrounded by the most amazing piles of old rubbish and machinery. Speaking as a connoisseur of such collections, I can only say I was in awe. There were tractors, spare tractors, spare spare tractors, bits of tractors, sheds, piles of rope, piles of wood, cutters, diggers, wheels, ladders, spare sheds, fallen-down sheds, and more. Wonderful.

Old railway lines thread along the valleys, some are in use but some seem to be summer lines only, but all in good order if a bit rusty. Up over the ranges we went, into tidier country and then, near Bingen (where Hildegard the nun wrote her music) we hit traffic jams and long delays. A phone call to our landlady in Wiesbaden warned us to find the 'right side of Rheinstrasse' in Wiesbaden, but by this time it was really too dark to read a map anyway and we were back with the previously jilted Tomtom. We crossed the Rhein, and tootled through the elegant 19th century avenues of the city. Totom took us straight to the door...where Daniela Hofman was waiting for us. It was roughly 7pm.

OH MY GOD!!!! I have never seen so many stairs! Up and up we went, lugging too much stuff. My knees were v wobbly by the top, though to be honest it's only 3 floors and very like the houses my granny did up in Belsize Park and turned into flats. Even had the same staircarpet. We are in the very top, a plain and simply furnished atelier, bedroom, sitting room, shower room, kitchen and hall. Ikean of course, but spacious and cheap – 275 euros for 5 nights. Daniela walked us round the neighbourhood and showed us where to shop, where to park our car for free, etc. Her ancient little dog Salsa accompanied us the whole way, eventually, taking her time but never out of breath.

Settling in and getting everything straight with Daniela took about an hour or so, and we eventually headed out to walk around and eat. We chose a Greek place, one of her recommendations – and sitting down we were both pretty zonked. The waiter took pity on us and brought us a dish of garlic bread with the cheese dip thing we had chosen. Another OMIGOD! I have never seen so much garlic in one place, and in this case half of it had to go into me. It was absolutely fantastic. The family are from somewhere in the north of Greece soe they did not do hoummus, but – hey – I'll forgive them anything for that bread. I think we have been killing people all day today with our bad breath.

The man also gave us free ouzo to drink. It seemed impossible to explain that Andrew does not drink so I had his and then the man filled the glass up again. Too much, too much. Though it is very nice. I love that aniseedy flavour.

The restaurant, not surprisingly, had lots of Greek stuff in it such as a four-foot plaster model of the Parthenon on the Acropolis, and lots of other kitsch, but actually wherever we have been in Germany we spot lovingly placed Greek repro items – caryatids, statues of various kinds, lots of columns, temple-fronted churches and garden sheds, etc etc. One particularly good item was a woodshed beside a main road, with the roof made of three huge wooden half-barrels, supported by a line of fiercely white-painted Ionic pillars. Nice.

Sleep later – well, I did but Andrew didn't have such a good night. Too hot under the silk duvet.

Today we did a recce – went to the old town, into the Rathaus, into the Tourist Information portacabin, into a cafe for a sitdown and cappucino and to read the guidebooks. The ladies loo had NO toilet paper. Is this usual? Apparently not, but what a bummer so to speak.

We came back to the apartment, picked up the car and drove out to a place called Neroberg, hoping to ride the funicular to the top, but it's closed for the winter. Driving up through rich, rich villas and woods, we found a marvellous early mid-19th century Russian orthodox church, luckily open. A deaf monk was sittintg inside, taking the money for the candles and cards, and rocking back and forth on his chair. The inside was gleaming and glowing, filled with saints and icons, candles and mosaics, lamps and wonderful candlesticks.

After that we headed out of town, up towards Limburg an der Lahn, through forests and moorlands, trying to imagine how marvellous it must be here in summer with greenery and light. The weather was not really on our side: cold, dark, dull, damp. Still, the scenery is magnificent and clearly the whole region is really loved and cherished and full of b+bs and little hotels all along. We saw castles and cement factories, wonderful forest rivers, ancient little villages, lots of horses dotted around, more railway lines, and just a few glimpses of large birds – too far away to see what they were. Though I forgot to mention, I think I saw a pair of eagles yesterday when we were up in the high lands coming in Germany.
We had lunch in Limburg in an crinky-cranky old restaurant, felt pleased not to be there in the crush of the tourist season, admired the underground carpark which is quite hidden in the hill under the Dom (cathedral), and set off back to Wiesbaden. The drive back along the rivier Aar was just fantastic. Gorgeous.

Back by the flat, I went into the museum across the road – the Frauen Museum – a whole building dedicated to women's history, currently showing two art exhibitions with work by many different women. The museum's remarkable ethnographic collection was sadly for the most part not on show, but I bought a catalogue from last year's exhibition which related these (mostly) prehistoric images from all over the world to 'modern' images of the Virgin Mary. I would have loved to have seen that, but the catalogue is pretty good, with some striking photographs and themes – enthronement, lactation, motherhood, etc. I know I am not doing this justice but I am now really tired. It's getting dark again (now about 6.10 local time), so I will put all this onto a memory stick and take it along to the internet cafe.

My conference starts tomorrow afternoon I think, in the Rhein-Main-Halle Centre which is about 10 mins walk down the road. I am told several thousand Juice Plus+ people will be there – a sight to see, I imagine.

Meanwhile we are enjoying being in Wiesbaden which is not a REALLY old place but a city developed throughout the nineteenth century. It has grandeur, style, space, peace, elegance and lots of interesting places to walk and visit. (We have yet to visit any of the spas – maybe will go to the Kurhaus tomorrow morning). The balconies and fronts of the tall houses are lovely. It's all a bit reminiscent of parts of Kensington or Hampstead/Belsize Park. It must have been wonderful when it was all horse-drawn but it's still pretty good today. Prices in the shops are roughly comparable with home, and property prices too.

This did not turn out to be a funny posting, really. Though just writing that makes me want to laugh.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Video clip success continues

Well - the wave video had had 1823 hits when I checked just now, and that's in 4 weeks. Thanks, guys! Excellent.

We are off again today to Germany - Wiesbaden - for a conference. I thought our Channel crossing was going to be more of the same ghastly storm stuff because of the high winds and rain last night, but that front has passed, thank goodness, and all seems calm now.

Our studio accommodation in Wiesbaden does not apparently have internet connection so we will have to find that somewhere, and posts may be intermittent.

The good news is that loads and loads of people have told me how much they enjoyed the blog last time around, and found it funny (thank goodness for that, too), because on a day by day basis, life seems to me to be almost knicker-wettingly funny, but there isn't much opportunity to describe it or record it. Though I have to remember it might not be funny, in fact it might turn out to be sad or serious or just plain boring.

The best bit so far is that I went into the Fiat showroom and got two new windscreen washer jets for the car (as the design of that small but crucial element is not very good and they pop out in snow or icy weather). I think the forecast for Germany is 'colder than here'. I made them take them off a car ready to be sold as they didn't have any spares. The guy tried to take the old ones off my car but I refused as one is a replacement and I wanted these two new ones as spares. So they have a problem, heh heh.... (They had promised replacements 2 weeks ago but apparently nothing had come from Fiat).

Ah well, time to go.