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.

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