Six Wheels in Germany – Month 21

December 2015

Cycling this month

This month wasn’t a particularly high mileage one, despite the amazingly mild weather. A trip to England for Christmas and general busyness meant I didn’t ride as much as some other years but I still had some really good trips!

Cycling statistics for December 2015

December rides

And the routes I took…

December ride tracks.jpg

Cycling rides

The ADFC Nikolaus Tour

Last year’s ADFC Nikolaus Tour started in Krefeld and was good fun. This year there was also a Krefeld one but Hartmut had organised an extra one for the Kempen people and I decided to go along to that. The plan was a short ride to the Mühlenberg in Hinsbeck for some food and another short ride back. My kind of cycle ride!

We were to meet at 3pm in Kempen. I set out in Penelope in plenty of time but hadn’t reckoned with the thousands of people visiting the Christmas Market in Kempen and my journey from the Kuhtor to the centre of Kempen (perhaps 300 metres in total) took forever as I had to cycle at dawdling pace and had lots of people talking to me about my bike (I had all the lights on of course).

I arrived one minute late to find a number of Father Christmases with their bikes.

Hartmut Father Christmas

Hartmut had a trailer on his bike with a Father Christmas. Unfortunately the damp weather and the lack of mudguards meant that Father Christmas’s beard was no longer snowy white!

Hartmut's trailer

Here we all are ready to set off – me, Jochen, Hartmut, Uli and Petra.

Nikolaus Tour Mitglieder

We were joined by Andreas after this photo was taken and headed off on familiar roads towards Hinsbeck. Hinsbeck is a bit of a mega hill for this part of Niederrhein (the highest point between Amsterdam and Düsseldorf) and so the long climb up to Glabbach was hard work in the Velomobile.

Nikolaustour

We also had to stop for Petra who had a puncture in her rear tyre. She has an e-bike so rear wheel punctures can be a major, major problem but Uli was magnificently prepared and had a two-ended inner tube, something I have never seen before.

This is an example of a photo I found on the internet of such a tube

What it meant is that Jochen (who was doing the repair) simply cut Petra’s inner tube to remove it from the tyre without removing the wheel, checked the tyre properly for cuts and then put the new tube in. Once it was pumped up (with my pump, which was the best there), it rode as normal. Petra said she couldn’t feel where the two ends joined, it felt just like any other tube. What an excellent idea!

We arrived at the café at the Mühlenberg and settled down for cake. I had a Nuss-Sahne Kuchen.

Nuss Sahne Kuchen

But the others were actually having ‘proper’ food and as we were going to be there a couple of hours, till about 6pm, I decided I probably ought to have some food as well as I was feeling a bit hungry still after the cake. So I had a Frikadelle.

Frikadelle

We had a very pleasant and relaxing time at the café with the chaps drinking plenty of beer and me enjoying my cups of tea. Eventually we decided it was time to set off in the dark and headed back along the Bahnradweg from Nettetal to Kempen.

Petra lives in St Tönis so left us before Kempen but the rest of us continued on to the centre of Kempen where the Weihnachtsmarkt was still in full swing.

Kempen Weihnachtsmarkt 1

Kempen Weihnachtsmarkt 2

The chaps were stopping for another beer but I decided to have a quick look around the market and couldn’t resist some Poffertjes.

Poffertjes

When I came back the chaps had graduated to Schnapps which was served in a most unusual glass!

Hartmut's Glass

I headed home fairly soon afterwards for a hot shower. It was a very enjoyable ride although at only 37km in total at an average speed of 16.6km/h I am not sure I burned off the calories in my cake, Frikadelle and Pofferjes!!

A last minute trip to Xanten

Mid-afternoon on the Saturday before Christmas I got an email from Hartmut saying he was going to cycle to Xanten the next day to visit his wife’s godson who would be setting off on a round-the-world bike tour in spring. Hartmut was going to have a chat with him and say hi, and asked if any friends wanted to come. Jochen and I said yes so the following morning at 9am they appeared at my house…

Ready to ride

We set off, following a track to Xanten that Hartmut had planned. Jochen had planned our return track so we had a bit of variation!

Xanten

Hartmut has a rather singular hand-warming contraption on his bike.

Hand warmers

As you see, he wears shorts all year round. However it was 12 degrees so not exactly chilly!

As we approached Xanten we found the route closed – so Hartmut moved the barriers so we could ride through!

Moving barriers

We went over the large hill near Sonsbeck. This is normally a killer for me but with my electric motor set to 9 (maximum assistance) I was able to keep up with the chaps and even pull slightly ahead. That was the main difference with this ride – normally Hartmut and Jochen adjust their speed to my pace so we average 16-17, but this time I had the motor on 5 or above so our average speed was nearer 20. A significant change!

After the Sonsbeck hill there is a lovely long downhill and I got my year’s speed record of 57.5km/h. Great fun!

High speed

We arrived at the house of Hartmut’s wife’s godson and had a good chat to him and admired the catalogue pictures of his new bike he had ordered. He and his girlfriend had cooked lunch for us which was rather nice of them!

Lunch with Johannes

Eventually we headed the 2km into Xanten’s centre. Jochen and I wandered once round the Christmas Market but Hartmut installed himself in a beer garden – to keep an eye on the bikes, apparently. Jochen and I joined him before too long and then they both surprised me by having non-beer to drink!

Hartmut and Jochen no beer

Here we all are.

The three of us

The route back was straight up a really awful hill. I was so glad to have my electric motor and left the chaps behind. At the top we had a good view over the landscape. I asked Jochen if he wanted to try my trike with electric motor and this was his response:

Jochen says no to e motor

He says he daren’t try it in case he likes the e-motor too much and feels the need to get one!

We were counting down the kilometres on the way back as I knew I would reach my 10,000km for the year on this ride and wanted to have a celebratory cake. When we got to Issum we found a brewery but no café.

Brewery is closed

Fortunately a passer-by was able to direct us to a café, although we were 700 metres too soon (i.e. I was on 9,999.3km). But we decided to stop there and so I had my celebratory Grillagetörtchen.

10000km Grillagetorte

We got back just before dark and I was very pleased with our average speed of 19.8km/h for 87.78km.

Cycling Stammtisch

Once again we met in Ela, the Turkish restaurant in Kempen, for the Thursday evening Stammtisch. It was a good showing, and Klaus arrived a little later too.

Stammtisch 1

Cycle repairs

The main job this month was fitting the electric motor to Alfie and you can read all about it here.

However, I also had another small job to do, removing the final part of the rack for Alfie.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a few months you will know that a bolt on Alfie’s rack sheared on my Ruhrtal Tour and after that the rack was always rather noisy and rattly. It became clear that some of the bushes had worn away and there was play in the metalwork.

Klaus and I managed to remove most of the rack (I have side bag panniers I can use that don’t need the rack) to make it all quieter, but we couldn’t remove a pin that held a large piece of metalwork. We tried and tried with no luck, so left it in place.

ICE had sent me a replacement rack and when I discovered I couldn’t remove the pin they sent me replacement one of those as well, because we might end up destroying the existing pin to get it out. With all the necessary spare parts, Frank decided to have a go.

What has to be removed in the photo below is the vertical black metal thingie on the left hand side, which is part of the support for the (now not attached) rack. It is held in place with a long pin which is fixed by two grub screws which I had removed. But the pin didn’t want to come out at all.

Removing rack 1

So with tools at the ready, it was time to try again.

The obvious thing to do is hit the side of the pin with a hammer. Klaus and I had tried this to no avail, using various prods to accurately hit the pin. Frank had another go at this using real force and finally, just finally, the pin started to move… but only a little bit.

The next thing to do, to give us more purchase on the pin, was to cut away the black metal flap. I had a replacement one of these courtesy of ICE so we could destroy this one. Frank cut the side of it away with the circular saw, being careful not to damage the frame of the trike.

Removing rack 2

Then he was able to twist off the rest of the aluminium part. You can see that the bushes (a creamy yellow colour) were a bit knackered too.

Removed rack

With more hammering of the pin and adding some lubricant we discovered the pin would move about 5mm side to side but no further. Frank realised that the metal of the pin had slightly splayed (presumably due to the banging with hammers) and so he had to cut away the edge very slightly where it had ballooned. Very careful work with the circular saw!

Trimming pin

And then success – the pin came out!

We decided for the time being not to fit the rack as I was mainly using the sidepods and the trike fits in my car more easily without the rack. But the rack will soon be refitted as there are to be some changes on the car front (more later).

Subsequent to this work the rear mudguard began to rattle and on a ride to the Rhein at Uerdingen I discovered why – the metal attachments on the mudguard which the stays affix to had broken. When the first broke I just had a very rattly ride but the second broke about 3km later which meant the mudguard constantly fouled the wheel. We had to remove it destructively so I could continue on the ride as there was a bit of time pressure and to remove it non-destructively would have taken us too long.

Dead mudguard

I have written to ICE to ask them to send me a new one. In the meantime I will get very muddy if I go through a puddle!

Life in Germany

This month I actually did something cultural (this is unusual for me). I went to the cinema with Christine and two of her friends to see the National Theatre live production of Jane Eyre. At 3.5 hours long, and at 18€, it wasn’t a normal cinema visit but it was an excellent evening, including the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet beforehand. The play of Jane Eyre was excellent and we were all spellbound.

I also went again to the English-speaking quiz at the Royal’s Café in Anrath. This time my team was Christine, her husband Andreas and Gudula my landlady. Here is Gudula enjoying a pint of Guinness.

Gudula and Guinness

We all also had the chicken curry that was provided.

Quiz curry

And despite being five points behind with two rounds to go, somehow we ended up winning by half a point! Once again Christine and Andreas were fantastically knowledgeable, and what with Gudula’s help with the German faces we managed to acquit ourselves well. Babs’s team were third. We won another English Breakfast at the Royal’s Café so arranged it for eight days later, partly to celebrate Christine’s birthday.

English breakfast

Frank came along as well and liked the sausages, bacon and mushroom so much that he had another portion! It was a very pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning and for four of the five of us the meal was free!

Death of my car

When I first starting planning my time in Germany there was a bit of a question mark over my car. I have a right hand drive Audi A6 estate which is a lovely car and so I’ve had it with me for part of the time here, and also James’s Honda Jazz for the rest of the time (for insurance reasons). But I knew I really needed to get the Audi registered as a German car which would involve new headlamps, a special kind of MOT test and more.

Frank my landlord is a car mechanic and started looking into this for me. He said that the TüV (a kind of MOT) people would be in the workshop one day so he would take my car and put it through as a test run to see what would happen.

This was what happened:

Car Estimate 1

This was just the estimated cost to repair what was currently seriously wrong with the car. I had myself detected that the automatic gearbox was on its way out, plus there would be lots of additional costs to register the car as German (such as the headlamps) so the decision was taken to scrap the car and buy another here in Germany.

As I write this on 31 December the car is parked on the road outside, where it has been for nearly two weeks, and it will probably make a trip on Saturday to the scrapyard in Kempen.

In the meantime I have been car hunting.

My main criterion is a comfortable car, petrol engine, that will fit my trike in. It would be wonderful to find a car that Penelope would fit in but as you can see from this pic, even a VW Sharan (a Ford Galaxy) is massively too short.

Penelope and Sharan

I guess I knew this already from the fact that she only just fits in the VW Bus. But basically Penelope will need to move under her own steam or I will eventually invest in a trailer or something if I have to take her somewhere.

Anyway, I’ve been doing some test drives of various small van/car things such as a VW Caddy, Skoda Roomster and Skoda Yeti. I liked both the Roomster and Yeti and so will be parting with some cash early in the New Year for one of these if I can find a suitable one (I have my eye on one in Moers so it is looking hopeful). But I will be really sad to say goodbye to the Audi which I have had for ten years.

Advent in Germany

Last year I had James’s family over here in Germany for Christmas. This meant that Christmas had more British influences than I might otherwise have experienced if I were on my own.

This year I would be spending five days over Christmas in England but I was in Germany for most of the preparations.

On 6th December it appeared that Nikolaus had appeared for Lara…

Lara's boot

Although Germans only decorate their tree the day before Christmas, as a Brit I felt I really had to do mine a couple of weeks before. I didn’t have a tree but Carole, a friend, said she had a spare plastic one and so I borrowed that and bought a few baubles to put on it. I had some coloured lights from my trike’s Christmas flagpole that I used on the tree too (as they’re not strictly legal on the bike in Germany). I think it ended up looking nice!

Christmas tree

As I have said to many friends here, one of the things I miss about England is my church and its music. The dates I had booked to travel to the UK meant I would miss my church’s carol service on the Sunday evening so was delighted to discover (from friend Babs’s blog Britlandish) that there would be a service of 9 Lessons and Carols in Bonn. So I decided to go and Christine said she would come with me.

Lessons and carols

We drove to Bonn and were able to park fairly near the church which was pretty full twenty minutes before it started. It was a service entirely in English with all the normal readings. Carols were:
Once in Royal David’s City
Sussex Carol – arr. David Willcocks (sung by the choir)
I cannot tell why he whom angels worship
The Lamb
– John Taverner (sung by the choir)
Hills of the north rejoice
Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing
– arr. David Willcocks (sung by the choir)
Lo! He comes with clouds descending
Stille Nacht
– Franz Gruber, arr. David Willcocks (sung by the choir)
Rise up, shepherd, and follow – arr. John Rutter (sung by the choir)
The first Nowell
Kings of Orient
– J H Hopkin, arr. David Willcocks (sung by the choir)
Christmas Night – arr. John Rutter (sung by the choir)
Hark! The herald angels sing
O come, all ye faithful

Christine and I enjoyed singing along although as altos we both found the carols pitched very high. But it was great and I loved every minute of it. Afterwards they offered mince pies but we popped along the road to a pizzeria for our dinner before making the one and a half hour journey home. Well worth the trip though, and the choir sang very well indeed.

Christmas in England

I had booked my ferry ticket to head to the UK during the day on the Tuesday before Christmas, the 22nd. But unfortunately a week beforehand Frank my landlord took my car to be checked out and discovered that it had a lot of faults including with the suspension and steering and he felt it wasn’t safe to drive it long distances or fast. Because of the risk of the steering failing it seemed unwise to drive it at all so it has been parked up near the house since that date, not moving, awaiting its trip to the scrapyard (the basic repairs would cost over 2000€ and the car is a 13 year old Audi so these repairs are not economic). But this meant that I would have no car for my England trip. What to do?

As usual friends and family came to the rescue. Klaus offered to drive me to Venlo station on the Tuesday, which turned into an offer to drive me all the way to Hoek van Holland (and I am a sensible lady so accepted this kind offer, so I didn’t have to get a train). My Mum offered to pick me up from Harwich and lend me their brand new car for the time I was in the UK, and Frank my Landlord would pick me up from Venlo after I got the train there on the way back. Very easy! I changed my ferry tickets to remove the car from them – I would be a foot passenger – and got a refund of about £70 which was a great bonus (Flexi tickets are very worthwhile!)

So on Tuesday 22nd Klaus picked me up with my suitcase which was stuffed full of presents and we headed to the Hoek of Holland in some extremely strong winds. We arrived in plenty of time so as promised I bought him lunch at the Torpedo Lounge but first of all we had a short walk… very near to Harwich!

Helen at Harwich

I think you can see how windy it is!

This was just a walk to get a view of the Ferry and the North Sea Cycle Path as Klaus hadn’t been here before. We walked back and then had some food. I was very tempted to try the Ragout as I have never eaten dragon before!

Dragon for dinner

But in the end I went for a burger.

Klaus then waved me off as I headed to the ferry and checked in.

Stena ferry

The crossing would be seven hours long and with gusts of force 9 perhaps a bit choppy but these Stena ferries are so enormous and their stabilisers so effective that it was no problem. I watched a film in the cinema halfway across (‘Bridge of Spies’, quite good) and the rest of the time read and drank tea and generally chilled.

Mum picked me up from Harwich in the new Kuga and drove me to Dedham where a friend of hers collected her and I headed back to my house in Great Bromley.

The following morning I had the joy of a dentist appointment (I will have to have a filling replaced next visit, which will be February) and a few other bits and bobs before going to visit friends Kirstie and Howard who I hadn’t seen for a while. Their dog Rose is Poppy’s best friend but they haven’t seen each other for over a year…

Rose

And as Poppy wasn’t with me Rose was once again disappointed, although she was pleased to see me.

We shared lunch and chat which was lovely.

Kirstie Howard Eli

I then headed off to visit my parents north of Ipswich for the rest of the day which was lovely.

The next day was a free day so I had organised seeing some more friends. My first ‘appointment’ was a cuppa with friend Gwenllian – and we shared one of my Christmas Tree biscuits.

Gwenllian Helen biscuits

We decided to pop out for lunch and so walked from her office to a café in Colchester very near my church where I had a baguette that you would never find in Germany – chicken tikka. Very tasty!

Chicken Tikka baguette

And of course a proper pot of English tea.

English tea

Then it was time for me to head off to Sevenoaks in Kent where friend Charlotte lives. It is a drive of an hour and a half but in Dad’s lovely new Kuga (which had had 302 miles on the clock!) it was a very easy journey. Charlotte and I shared some toasted teacakes and bakewell scones and a good natter. It was great to see her again!

Then it was time to drive back to Essex for the midnight service at Lion Walk URC. I had been asked to sing in the choir again for the midnight service so arrived early and had some food in Colchester, then I played through the songs a couple of times as one was new to me. The church was empty and looked rather spooky without much light!

Church before service

This was Heiligabend and in Germany presents had all been distributed and opened. I had various photos from friends throughout the evening of their presents which was lovely. I also had a picture of Poppy who was celebrating Christmas with my landlord’s family and she seemed to be the lucky recipient of some chainsaw safety gear.

Poppy the woodcutter

More people arrived at church and it started to look more friendly!

Church 1

Church 2

The candles were all lit for the service which I enjoyed very much. I do love a good sing, British Christmas Carols are wonderful and it was great to see lots of friends again. At midnight we all wished each other happy Christmas.

The next morning was Christmas Day and I spent it at my parents’. They also had two friends Hans and Hilda there, with their dog Kasper who had a great time.

Kasper

And here am I in a bauble – two attempts!

Me in a bauble

Me in a bauble 2

My Mum is an excellent cook and of course we had the traditional English roast turkey with all the trimmings.

Roast turkey

Christmas dinner

For dessert Mum, Dad and Hilda had Christmas Pudding but neither Hans nor I like it so we had some other options – Hans had made a Swedish style sponge cake

Cake from Hans

And Hilda some bakewell tarts.

Bakewell Tarts from Hilda

We opened a few presents (we had generally agreed not to exchange presents but I had brought a few with me from friends in Germany to unwrap) and generally relaxed. It was a very relaxing Christmas for us – well, for the guests at least, my Mum did lots of cooking of course!

When I got home I spent some time playing my piano again which I need to sell (unfortunately) as I can’t bring it to Germany with me. If anyone knows anyone who wants a lovely baby grand piano, let me know!

Helen and Piano

The next day, Boxing Day, I was again at my parents’ and my sister and her husband and youngest daughter came. We had lunch and dessert was a trifle.

Trifle

Here are the ladies of the family.

Ceri Anna Mum Me

And after Anna and co headed off I had a bit of time to relax and chat to Dad and check my phone… Dad got a photo of a fairly common sight!

Post-Christmas Phone Usage

I was going straight from my parents’ to Harwich (Mum was dropping me off) so left there at 7:30pm and had an easy run to Harwich. It is very comfortable travelling as a foot passenger and I checked into my room, then enjoyed a cup of tea in one of the lounges before heading to bed. The marvellous thing about the overnight sailings is you wake up at Hoek van Holland so the journey time just disappears!

I took the train at Hoek van Holland, enjoying a breakfast of turkey sandwiches that Mum had packed for me.

Turkey sarnies on train

Frank my landlord collected me from Venlo with Poppy as well, who was a bit stand-offish with me as she is when I have been away!

It was a good trip to the UK and quite busy. I had planned to bring a few more things back to Germany (books, walking boots etc) but as I ended up without a car on the ferry I couldn’t do this, but I am returning to the UK in early February for the wedding of my niece and should have a replacement car by then.

As much as I feel at home in Germany, there is something about special celebrations like Christmas that make it feel good to be in your home country amongst family, just for a visit, so I was pleased I was able to go.

Cakes this month

Once again I did some cake baking. Here is a Käse-Sahne Torte that I made to share with friends.
Kaese Sahne Torte 1

Kaese Sahne Torte 2

I also attempted this Käsekuchen which tasted good but which wasn’t as smooth inside as the ones you get at bakeries!

Kaesekuchen

Kaesekuchen 2

I did another Käse Sahne Torte and that was even more successful – I have definitely got the hang of it!

Kaese Sahne Torte

I am going through my recipe book ‘German Baking Today‘ from Dr Oetker and liked the look of the Frankfurter Kranz so decided to make one. Unfortunately I hadn’t spotted that the Gugelhupf tin I needed should be 22cm and I used a 28cm one which meant the mixture wasn’t very deep and so the whole thing was a bit flat. It tasted OK but wasn’t one of my greater successes.

Frankfurter Kranz 1

Frankfurter Kranz 2

It is meant to look like this:

I also had a go at making Christmas Tree biscuits. A chap at my church in the UK had made them each year and I thought it would be fun to have a go so found a few recipe ideas on the internet and gave it a go.

The biscuits first of all… three different sizes.

Plaetzchen

I had bought some coloured fondant icing and some edible baubles for the tree so set about decorating my biscuits… And I think it was rather successful!

Plaetzchen tree 1

Plaetzchen Tree 2

I also made, with little Lara, a ‘surprise cake’.

Can you guess the surprise?

Surprise cake 1

Surprise cake 2

Lara had decorated it with our initials (and Poppy of course). This was a practice cake as she wants to make a cake for her friend. Anyway, here is the surprise…

Surprise cake 3

My landlady made me a load of biscuits using a poppy-shaped cutter she found for me!

Poppy biscuits

She also gave me for Christmas another Tortenschlemmen voucher (eat as much as you like cake and tea/coffee) for the local café. I have arranged to meet Babs there in the New Year!

Tortenschlemmen

Frank brought this slice of Black Forest Gateau home with him from work one day – one of the mechanics had made it to share with everyone and he was able to bring a few slices home.

Black forest gateau

Nils (son of my landlord and landlady) provided a selection of cakes one afternoon.

Nils cake choice

I also found a plate of waffles in my kitchen one evening when I got back from choir

Waffles

Another gift slice of cake from Gudula:
Poppy seed apple cake

And, although not a cake, I also decided to make a meat pie (something my Mum always used to cook for us and I loved). I didn’t have the right ingredients to make shortcrust pastry but I did have some puff pastry in the fridge so used that, with a venison ragout for the filling. I shared it with Frank and Gudula and we all seemed to enjoy it!

Meat pie

And I did mash and mixed veg with it (also proper bisto gravy but that’s not in shot).

Meat pie 2

And as I liked this traditional UK pie I offered to make it for Klaus, Claudia and Lara for New Year’s Eve (Silvester) which I would be celebrating with them this year. So all the ingredients have been bought (I will make the filling fresh from chicken, ham and leek) and I will be heading off to their house shortly. A report on the success (or otherwise) of more English food in a German household will follow…

New Year

It just remains for me to wish all my readers a Happy New Year and I hope that you all have a blessed and peaceful 2016! Thanks for all your comments on my blog which I really appreciate, and it’s also great to get to know new people who contact me through it.

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