The Motherland – Part 1

November 24, 2018 at 11:36 am (Travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

It wouldn’t be summer in Europe without a whirlwind trip to visit family and friends in England.  By now, mum and I have a pretty set route, except this year it went backwards and included a wedding in the Lakes District.  Copious cups of tea were drunk and I was soon sick of family history, but as always the motherland did not disappoint and I loved catching up with family and friends from lots of different parts of my life.

IMG_8838Mum and I started the trip in London.  I made use of my first day without her by going for a run, spending time with my aunt and catching up with Rob of Darmstadt fame. We spoiled ourselves with a rather spontaneous decision to go for dinner at the Shard. We were lucky to get a last minute booking at the Aqua Shard restaurant on the 31st floor and had an amazing dinner looking out over the River Thames. The food was scrumptious, the conversation flowed… Seriously a once in a lifetime experience and a brilliant way to begin my England trip!

IMG_0098In London, we stayed with my Aunt Frances (of course) and spent a lovely morning exploring the Horniman Museum with her.  This museum has its own aquarium with seahorses as well as an interesting collection of stuffed animals.  We spend the afternoon shopping for shoes for the wedding on Oxford Street which was simply horrendous.  Luckily, we managed to find a gorgeous sparkly pair at Irregular Choice.  They have wonderful quirky designs and actually make shoes in small people sizes.

Tradition is tradition, so of course we had to see a show!  This year 42nd Street with my friend Deb was on the menu.  It was a toe tapping delight with an amazing amount of clothing changes.  It really was fabulous to see tap dancing back on the center stage and I had forgotten how many of the songs from the musical I knew I loved.  I mean come on… Lullabye of Broadway is simply a classic.

I also kept my running up participating in the Herne Hill Park Run, where I got a standing ovation for being from Australia.  On another day, after having a Sunday roast with my beautiful friend Mish who I worked with in Stuttgart, I ran from Vauxhill back to Herne Hill.  It was a great way to explore the area of London that Frances lives in and amusing too as I managed to get myself quite lost on a number of occasions.

We picked up the car from Heathrow and headed out to Wales to visit my mum’s Aunt, my Great Aunt, Judith.  After a minor hiccup (we decided not to heed the closed road sign) we arrived and spent two lovely nights at her converted barn.  It was family history galore when we met Judith’s niece Ruth, who mum and I had heard lots about.  She was absolutely lovely and we spent ages chatting over tea with a magnificent view.

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When mum, Judith and I are altogether, it’s three generations of the Alderson side of our family.  There’s not much doubting this when you at look at photo of the three of us together.  What I find even more amazing, is that we all have a love for cryptic crosswords and one of my favourite moments of the trip was the three of us, all on various different devices, asking each other for help to solve our crosswords.

The next stop was Cockermouth in the Lakes District for my second cousin’s wedding.  We spent four days in the area which was absolutely lovely.  We walked, I ran (not as often as I should have), spent time with family and enjoyed a stunning wedding.  We particularly enjoyed a walk around Lake Buttermere that the bride and groom has organised for their guests.  Not only did the walk offer beautiful views but it gave us the opportunity to get to know some of the guests better.

IMG_8892Next up was two nights at Whitley Bay near Newcastle to visit mum’s cousin John who spoiled us with two lovely dinners out including one with his son and family who made a special effort to come and see us.  Mum and John spent the day together walking and I got to catch up with Brook.  He took me to Barter Books for lunch, which is an amazing second hand bookstore that has a model train going round it.  Very, very cool.  It’s actually where the saying “Keep Calm and Carry on” was penned.  I promised myself no book purchases until I found two old Ladybook books titled Cubs and Scouts.  I just HAD to buy them for mum.

One of the highlights of our trip for me was our stop at Hadrian’s Wall on our way up to Whitley Bay.  For nearly 300 years, this wall was the north-eastern boundary for the Roman Empire and is approximately 73 miles (117.5 km) long.  Built in 128AD it is probably the second most famous wall after the Great Wall of China AND I got to walk both of them in the same year.  How cool is that?

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Stay tuned for more English adventures…

xoxo

P.s  More photos?

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A Whirlwind Tour of Germany

November 9, 2018 at 6:47 am (Germany) (, , , , , , )

After France it was back to Germany and a crazy whirlwind tour through the country to try and see as many friendly faces as possible.

Leipzig

I was curious to finally visit the eastern Germany city of Leipzig where both Leon and Gwen are studying medicine.  The city feels much more alternative than others that I am more familiar with in the south.  You can see this in clothing and style choices, graffiti and just feel it in the general atmosphere.  I was impressed with the openness that same sex couples showed and was surprised that nearly every second person had a beer in their hand.  There is also an impressive amount of greenery in the city.  I can see why both Gwen and Leon are enjoying living there.

I stayed with Leon in his very student WG (flat share).  He and his other flat mates were very accommodating (especially as I had forgotten to give him my arrival details until the morning of my arrival…ooops!)  He took me on a tour of the main sites, always knew somewhere good to eat and was full of interesting information about his university city.  I particularly enjoyed kayaking down the canal with him, even if I was atrocious at steering the kayak by myself.

IMG_8639With some prodding I finally got Gwen to agree to have dinner with me as she was busy studying for an important series of exams.  We quickly got back into our usual banter and it was great to catch up and swap stories.  She even managed to have lunch with me before I left on my last night.  We weren’t able to play any hockey but we did manage some ice cream and shopping instead!

I did do some touristy things in the city.  I visited both the St Thomas and St Nikolas churches, saw the market place, the opera house and enjoyed wandering the various arcades.  I tried running to the Monument to the Battle of the Nations (Völkerschlachtdenkmal) but didn’t quite have the kilometres or the time so I headed out on the tram to marvel at the 91m high structure.  The monument commemorates the end of the Battle of Leipzig/Battle of the Nations in 1813.  This is where Napoleon I was defeated by the coalition armies led by Tsar Alexander I and Karl Philipp, Prince of Schwarzenberg.  The structure towers over the park and offers a stunning view of Lepzig.

Berlin

In Berlin, the catch ups continued but not so much the touristy aspect.  I did manage to run around Schloss Charlottenburg and along the river.  We also visited Stone Brewery, which was nice and fancy but also American rather than German.  This all didn’t matter because of the wonderful company I had.

I stayed with my Renette who has recently moved there to be with her partner.  We worked together in Stuttgart and have always kept in contact, especially through the job search connection and our love of planning holidays.  It was great catching up, hearing about her new school and seeing how happy and excited she is to be living with Tom.  Another friend of ours, Jaimi, also came and hung out which was awesome.  She is leaving Europe and starting a new chapter of her life, which is really exciting but as always, heartbreaking in some ways.  Catching up with her was not on my radar so it was an unexpected but most welcome surprise.

IMG_8670I also spent a lovely afternoon paddle boarding with Tanja who had been a teacher with me in Suzhou.  In glorious weather, we got help from a Buck’s Day to pump up the board and spent the afternoon lazing in the sun with a beer.  Such a special thing to experience and completely off the normal Berlin tourist trail!

Marburg

This is where my whole overseas adventure nine years ago began so it was essential to go play some Phase 10 with Rabea and Sandy.  Some serious hill climbing running was on the agenda as well as a paddle boat ride down the Lahn.

Day Trip to Darmstadt

I stopped off in Darmstadt to catch up with two friends who I knew wouldn’t be around when I was back in the city.  The town still feels amazingly like home and has hardly changed in the four years I haven’t lived there.  It was lovely seeing Astrid and hearing about her upcoming trip to volunteer in South Africa.  So proud of her for getting out of her comfort zone and trying something new.  I also got to see Kerstin and meet her new arrival.  Loved having a cuddle and catching up on all her news.

Heidelberg

IMG_8701Onwards to visit Danny, Peer and Emil in Heidelberg.  Peer was my hockey coach in Darmstadt and him and his family became my Darmstadt family.  We’ve always stayed close and I was super excited to stay a few days with them.  Peer cooked my favourite meal and even baked the German Christmas biscuits Vanillekiperl even though it was the middle of summer.  A highlight of my visit was trying (and failing miserably) at rowing along the Neckar with Heidelberg castle looking down at us.  Visiting the Mays always feels like coming ‘home’ in a way and I am hoping that next time it will be them visiting me in my home.  🙂

Illingen

After a small miscommunication where I thought I was headed to Tübingen because I didn’t realise they had moved, I arrived in Illingen eager to meet Norá and Simon’s two children.  Both were born in the two years I spent in China, with Thomas being only weeks old.  The older, in particular took a liking to Charliebear and even insisted that he joined us for my run/their bike ride.  Very cute indeed.  I loved having some quality family time with them and getting lots of cuddles from both boys.

Karlsruhe

I spent a night visiting my old flate mate Anshelm in Karlsruhe.  We lived together in Stuttgart and always got on swimmingly.  He took me to a public viewing of the Dota International 2018 which was certainly an interesting experience.  There would have been about 200 hundred people cheering the gamers on at the public viewing.  The game was a little bit too complicated for me, but I can respect the skills that the gamers have in working together and using tactics.

We also went to the Karlsruhe Schlosslichtspiele.  This is a free event run over summer where every evening the Karlsruhe Palace is lit up by a series of five to ten minute films.  These were thought provoking, captivating and very clever.  I watched spellbound even though I was freezing my but off!

Stuttgart

I headed back to Stuttgart for another couple of days in my old city and have to admit to STILL not having been to the Mercedes Museum.  That was my number one priority going to visit and didn’t even find time.  That’s because I was so busy making sure I got to see everybody.

IMG_8730I stayed with Natalie and we managed to squeeze in two runs as well as some Mario time.  She was a brilliant host, especially as I was here and there visiting people all the time.  I made sure I got to see Stephie as much as possible, caught up with Killi again, spent time with Chris, had a lovely morning with Andrea who was the lady I replaced with I started at ISS and visited everybody at school.  I simply needed MORE time.  Note to self, at LEAST a week next time I am in Stuttgart.

One highlight was an evening with the Aussies in Stuttgart group.  We had such banter as we talked about all the different things we have been doing.  It truly felt like I had never been away.

Darmstadt – Hash Weekend – Darmstadt – Goodbye Germany

I sandwiched my time in Darmstadt with a crazy Hash weekend with the S.H.I.T.S Frankfurt group.  We had a very long but beautiful trail through the Oldenwald and it was great getting to meet hashers based in Germany.  I particularly enjoyed getting to hash with Elke who I had worked with in Seeheim.  She did an amazing job of putting the enjoyable weekend together.

IMG_8750Otherwise, it was only fitting that I finished my tour of Germany in Darmstadt.  I didn’t do a particularly good job of planning my time though because Katha was ultra busy and Fiona was away for most of the week.  I did get to spend time with both of them though and am very thankful for it.  Fiona is even contemplating coming to visit which would be ultra exciting.

I also caught up with lots of other people too.  I had a long lunch chat with Rob as well as visiting Emma and Pete.  We had a lovely barbecue dinner and through out the night each of her three daughters turned up which was an absolute bonus.  I went and saw Gwen’s parents for an evening and had my nails done in town with her sister Constanze who I used to tutor.  Luke, from the Australia crew, came up and had dinner with me all the way from Stuttgart one evening too.  We had missed each other when I was in the city and I was blown away with his effort to come and see me.

I spent an afternoon down at my old school in Seeheim and got recognised before I had even gotten on school grounds!  It was fun surprising everybody and catching up with all my teaching buddies.  In particular, seeing Martin, Julie, Michelle and Lain was very special even if we really didn’t have enough time for a proper chat.

I hadn’t realised how many students I would still know at the school.  My first group of Grade 5s graduate this school year!  Some faces I knew the names instantly, and others I needed help with but it’s nice to know that none of them had forgotten me quite yet.

Instead of staying with Fiona, I stayed down in Griesheim with Anneli and Gregor.  This worked really well because it meant I got lots of time to hang out with them even though they were both working.  I explored the Griesheim forest on my runs, watched lots of tennis and discussed their upcoming trip around the world which sounds absolutely AMAZING.

With the continental part of my trip over, it was time to fly to the motherland to meet my mother and start the England tour.  As I sat on the plane, I reflected on the truly wonderful friendships I made in Germany.  Friendships that are still strong after time away and are still so important to me and the person that I have become.

I think the bottom line is… I’ll always have Heimweh when I think of Germany.

xoxo

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Crashing the Family Holiday in France

November 2, 2018 at 10:46 am (Travel) (, , )

I spent six glorious days camping on the French Atlantic coast with my good friend Chris and her family.  Chris and I worked together in Stuttgart and have a tradition where we always share a bottle of Möet when we meet up again.  Her family was lovely enough to let me crash their holidays and enjoy the beautiful coastal village Moliets-et-Maa.

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Camping with Family Meinck was like a holiday from my own holiday.  I tend to do things at a million miles per hour and try to cram too much in to my day, never allowing for enough down time.  With the Meincks, everything slowed down and happened leisurely.  Nothing was stressful and the days rolled by calmly.

4050d6c5-b41d-49c2-9f34-a6dc434d7608The campsite was only a stone’s throw from the beach and we made as much use of it as possible.  I also kept up my running, enjoyed reading in the hammock and Chris’ amazing camp inspired meals.  I played more Yahtzee than I have in a very long time and loved being the ‘the eighteen year old daughter.’  Feeling like you are part of the family is really special when you travel and Family Meinck could not have been more welcoming.

One day we went canoeing down a nearby river which was spectacular.  The ride included some very small rapids and Lucy and I hit every possible log until we finally got the hang of it.  This resulted in much fun and laughter.  At one point we got stuck on a rock, at another accidentally bumped into Chris and Olli and sent them into the water.  (Olli blamed his mum instead of us which was lucky)  IMG_8578The route had quite a lot of low hanging branches and we also famously steered our way limbo style under more than just a few of them.

Other activities included visiting a natural made cave, having lunch in Spain and one afternoon we even participated in a Mojito making workshop!  The whole thing was presented in French but we made it work and absolutely enjoyed ourselves.  We also survived quite a fierce storm at the campsite.  At one point Chris experienced ‘walking on water’ in the main tent where there was a ground sheet, and the kitchen area revealed a waterline of about 15cm the next morning where there wasn’t.  I managed to keep everything in my tent fairly dry but at one point the tent was shaking quite violently.

On my last night we watched the sunset from the sand dunes with a glass of wine.  It was the perfect way to reflect on the trip and be truly thankful for the laughter, fun times and sunshine.  Thank you Chris, Peter, Olli and Lucy for having me.

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xoxo

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A Long Weekend in the Netherlands and Belgium

October 23, 2018 at 3:28 am (Travel) (, , , , , , , , , )

img_8447After an overnight bus ride from München, I arrived bleary eyed but excited back in Nijmegen to visit my friend Stefan.  We met back in 2014 when I was travelling through Brazil and have kept in touch ever since.  As soon as he cottoned on I was back on the continent, he was determined to have me visit and I am so glad I made it possible.

I love staying with Stefan because he is so easy going.  Everything was so relaxed and he takes everything in his stride.  It was almost like spending a lovely weekend with my boyfriend except missing the romantic link!  We read in bed, discussed his computer game as he played, had a barbecue at his sister’s place and he even joined me on my two runs.  What a gentleman!  A lot of our time was spent just hanging out and chatting and after my time away in Crete I really enjoyed having a weekend that felt more like normal life.

img_8450The whole weekend was smack bam in the middle of a Netherlands heatwave.  We had blue skies and above 30° each day and the nights did not get much colder.  My runs ended up being at 9 o’clock in the evening so at least the sun was not bearing down on me.  We spent Friday afternoon at Nijmaren’s version of the beach.  The town is located on the sandy banks of the river Waal and makes for the perfect sunbaking area.

We did find some time to be tourists too!  We rode bikes (a must in the Netherlands) and visited both the Nationaal Fietsmuseum Velorama and the Nederlands Openluchtmuseum in Arnhem.  I also dragged Stefan all over town looking for a new Blond-Amsterdam mug for my collection.  I buy a new one each time I visit the country but locating the brand in Nijmegen proved harder than anticipated.

img_8436The Velorama is the quaint National Bicycle Museum.  Set over three floors, the museum is a treasure trove of bicycles, memorabilia and fascinating cycling related documents.  It was interesting to see how the bicycle developed to what we know today and how quickly it became evident that this was the most suitable build.  We weren’t even sure how some of the devices were even ridable.  I particularly liked the early hobby horse bike riding styles.

img_8469We spent a whole day exploring the Open Air Museum in Arnhem.  This museum focuses on the culture connected to everyday life of the Dutch people.  As such, all of the houses and buildings were actually lived in and used before being located to the museum.  In fact, during the World Wars, the houses were reused to house people!  The museum has a wide range of properties ranging from old farm houses to manor houses, as well as a paper mill, a laundry and even, to my amusement, an old Chinese restaurant.

I can’t even begin to explain the depth of culture and history enclosed in this museum.  Even trying to find a suitable route around that includes as many buildings as possible is difficult.  Luckily Stefan knew his way around and was a wealth of information about the museum.  He had obviously played tour guide here before!

Before we knew it, we were on our way to Brussels for the day.  Stefan had never been and my next flight was leaving from there so we decided to make a day of it.  Brussels is well known for its connection to comics, in particular Tin Tin and the Smurfs and after a quick google search we found a graffiti tour of the city.  This was a really fun way to explore the city because it meant that we went to areas that a tourist normally wouldn’t.

Of course we made sure we also checked out some of the historical sites.  We visited the stunning Grote Markt, checked out the famous and over popularised Mannekin Pis as well as his much more exciting sister Jeanneke Pis and walked through the Galeries Saint Hubert.  I also had to visit the Smurf store and have my photo taken in front of a MASSIVE Smurf statue.  We also made sure we had chocolate and waffles for lunch!  🙂

Stefan and I said our goodbyes with a firm reminder that next time it was his turn to visit and I spent the evening with Giles of Shanghai hockey fame.  Brussels is Giles’ home city and he happened to be in town for summer.  He showed me all his favourite parts of the city including a magnificent view at sunset and was full of quirky information about his hometown.

We finished up the tour with Belgium Frites and beer, which was an absolute highlight for me.  Those of you know me well, know that hot chips and mayonnaise is like my favourite food ever.  I’d wanted to try it in the Home of Frites for like forever and luckily they did not disappoint!  Teamed with one of Giles’ favourite beers this was close to one of the best meals I had all trip.

Brussels really is a beautiful city and I wish I had had more time to explore it even further.  Thank you to Giles and especially Stefan for making this long weekend so unbelievably special.

xoxo

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Learning to Love Munich

September 7, 2018 at 5:43 pm (Germany) (, , , , , )

Munich has never been one of my favourite cities.  It has a reputation for the schickey mickey and is notoriously expensive.  However, with Olli and Elke newly residents there, a visit was an absolute must.  When I thought about it further, I realised that I actually knew quite a few people in the city I also had some major holiday planning to organise.  Before I knew it, I had spent a whole week learning to love Munich.

img_8208Olli and Elke have really settled into their new lives in Munich.  Their flat is in a fantastic and easily accessible location, and they have decorated their space using a vibrant mixture of Tanzania and Chinese influences.  They were extremely welcoming and flexible with all my crazy comings and goings.  They truly made me feel at home and the week of chilling and sorting was most welcome.

My brother’s old flatmate Gregor is back in Munich finishing his studies.  He spent last Christmas with us and attended my brother Michael’s wedding too.  I was keen to catch up but a tad worried as he has only recently had a hip operation.  I suggested coffee and a chat, he was determined to take me on a tour of the Olympapark.

It was slow going on his crutches but he was a magnificent tour guide.  He explained how the area was all developed for the 1972 Munich Olympics.  All of the athlete accommodation is now used for the university and the other stadiums are still in use too.  At the time, the area wasn’t considered to be close to the city center but now as the urban sprawl has spread out, the park has become a green oasis and very popular with runners, university students and tourists alike.

The Munich Olympics are unfortunately well known for the massacre.  The Palestinian terrorist group Black September took 17 members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage and demanded the release of 234 Palestinian prisoners in Israel.  As a result, 17 people lost their lives.  The memorial in the park follows the massacre respectfully using a combination of visuals and text, looking at the event from a number of different perspectives.  A sobering but educational experience.

Gregor finished the tour off with a visit to the World University Beach Volleyball Championships.  These took place in the Olympapark and were free entrance.  I’d forgotten how exciting the sport is to watch!  It was hot, sunny and the DJ did a great job of pumping up the crowd.  Tilman, a friend of Gregor’s who had also visited us in Melbourne, joined us and we enjoyed beers in the sunshine while watching the games.

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We decided to meet up again for the finals the next day.  Afterwards they showed me the university accommodation room they are currently sharing.  There’s barely enough room on the floor for the mattress but it seems to be working for them.  It was great seeing them both and a lot of fun videoing Tilman for a birthday message he sent to a friend.  He dressed up in his Lederhosen and played the birthday tune on his bugle.  He then looked up the music for Advance Australia Fair and played it while Gregor and I sang alone while the sun went down.  Crazy antics but a whole heap of fun.

img_8235In the evening, I joined Olli and Elke at the Tollwood festival.  On their trip to Cambodia, they had met somebody who worked in the puppet group Dundu and Elke was determined to see him in action.  The puppets are manoeuvred by a team of people and vary in sizes.  At night they are all lit up and are magical to watch in their movements and interactions.  The festival itself was also interesting with the sharing of culture being a focus.  There were many handmade booths and a variety of ‘hip’ German eating options.

Of course it was only fitting that Oli and I join the Munich Hash House Harriers for a hash.  We enjoyed a lovely run inclusive beer stop and a lot of banter.  It’s always interesting to see how other kennels tick and we really enjoyed ourselves.  The Munich H3 are a lovely group of people and we felt like part of the family by the end of the evening.  The On On party was in a beer tent at a local summer festival so we danced on tables and went on the dodgems.  Such a fun afternoon.

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On the Sunday we strolled through the English garden and visited the Japanese festival.  It wasn’t exactly what we were expecting as most of the people there were dressed up as anime characters.  It was quite remarkable how much effort some of them had put into their costumes.  I was expecting some traditional kimonos but was surprised with the cartoonlike figures.  In retrospect, anime is a very popular art form and intrinsically connected to Japan so I don’t know why I was so surprised.

We also watched the Munich surfers for a while.  There always seems to be somebody trying their luck on this artificial wave system and the day we went was no exception.  Braving the foam is not for the fainthearted and some people would get in and be out just as quickly.  They all seemed keen enough to have another try.  The most famous of these spots is right in the Munich city center but apparently there are other spots where this is possible around the area too.

d8250dbc-0a37-497c-b62b-5221a353f817In some freaky coincidence of chance, Kai and Sarah were actually at home in Munich while I was staying.  I worked with them both in Suzhou last year and they were also on summer break.  I was stoked to be able to spend an afternoon with them and share gossip as well as hear about their first year in their new school and city.  They live in a completely different part of Munich but also in a lovely part and seem very happy and settled.  Their joy for the city and their new life was infectious.

img_8260My last catch up was also a bit of a coincidence.  Nadja is a Nanjing hasher and we had actually never met, but had been in contact with each other organising the new Suzhou hash logo.  She saw via my Wechat post that I had hashed in Munich and asked if I was still in the city.  We got on immediately and spent the morning shopping and chatting.

I was very lucky to spend time with amazing friends in a beautiful city.  Munich has grown on me, much more than I originally thought possible.  I have a feeling it will be a must on my travel plans every time I come back to Germany from now on in.

xoxo

P.s  More photos?

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