I will start my blog with some great news (for me at least). The results of my German exam for my citizenship application:
I passed my German exam! And I passed well too, with 18 out of a possible 20 score (pass mark is 12, but you have to get at least a 3 in every item). I wrote extensively about this last month, that I was less sure about the written work and the spoken section (Schriftlicher Ausdruck and Mündlicher Ausdruck) but in the end I got a 4 for these both. This means my entire mark is equivalent to a C1 result and I needed ‘only’ a B2 to get citizenship.
I immediately emailed this certificate (without the important info removed/covered!) to the Ausländerbehörde and I hope to hear soon about my citizenship application. I got an Out-Of-Office from her so I know she won’t even be looking at it for two weeks, but hopefully by the middle of November I might have heard something!
A quick visit to England
A long time ago I vowed never again to fly with Ryanair and, in fact, to attempt not to fly at all. I last took a flight four years ago, to Tenerife to holiday with my Mum.
We all had so many plans and Corona put paid to them. Same for me, as I discovered I could fly from Düsseldorf to Stansted with Ryanair for 10€ each way, going out on a Friday and returning on a Monday (the only two flights per week). My principles of not flying, and not flying Ryanair, crumbled at this point as this was an opportunity to visit my Mum that I shouldn’t miss. So I bought the flights and waited to see if I would be able to use them – if England became a risk area for Germany then it was perhaps not wise, although I had the following week off as holiday (booked ages ago, with plans for Berlin which we cancelled due to the high level of Corona there, so I would have had time to Quarantine).
I told my Mum a few days before my visit as it looked like it would go ahead; I hadn’t wanted to tell her much in advance in case I had to cancel it – with just 20€ for the flights that wouldn’t have been an issue. Although I then had to buy a special Ryanair cabin-size suitcase/rucksack as their allowance is very small. In the end, a 20 litre rucksack designed for Ryanair’s special dimensions worked out fine for me for a long weekend.
Mum was very pleased to hear that I would visit and my sister Anna came up with the great idea of us having Christmas Dinner. Theoretically this year Anna and her family and my Mum are coming over here for Christmas in Germany but we all thought it rather unlikely that would actually be able to happen. So Anna managed to find a turkey crown, some mince pies, a Christmas pudding, Brussels sprouts, pigs in blankets etc and the plan was that Mum and I would go to Anna’s house on the Saturday and celebrate Christmas a bit early.
Two days before my flight the German Robert Koch Institute updated its Risk Areas… they added East Midlands and West Midlands. But fortunately Stansted Airport, my Mum’s house and Anna’s house are all well away from those areas, as they are in Eastern England and the South East. So it was looking good! However, the night before I set off the county of Essex placed itself into Tier 2 (more restrictions) which meant that we could not visit Anna there. However, she was still allowed to travel to Suffolk to visit us, so the Christmas Dinner would now take place at my Mum’s house, although Anna would bring all the food with her. She pre-cooked the turkey the day before (she herself is a veggie so brought along a Nut Roast) and prepared the rest of the food so she could just bung it in the oven/steamer at Mum’s.
I had a flight at 07:10 from Düsseldorf so Klaus dropped me off at the airport by 5:45am. I wasn’t sure how long everything would take in the airport, haven’t flown for several years and didn’t know about the queues at security, but it turned out to be very quick. I was airside after about 5 minutes (I had done my boarding card online a day before) and had plenty of space to sit down.
I had a while to wait so bought myself some breakfast at a Düsseldorf bakery (a filled roll) and a bottle of water and sat down to wait.
Everything was very efficient, as one would hope, and we started boarding the plane. I had an aisle seat on the very last row on the plane (Ryanair constantly try to upgrade you with emails and messages but I was adamant I would only pay 10€ for my flight) and we ended up with three of us on that back row, with the window seat a lady with a crying baby. The plane was clearly not full so the lady in the middle seat moved, saying she couldn’t cope with the baby crying. I stayed put but eventually everyone in the last row on the other side of the aisle moved forward and so there was an entire row with a window seat available. I said to the lady with the baby that I wasn’t moving because of the crying baby but because there was a window seat and she said she would do the same; I had felt the other lady was rather insensitive with her comments when she moved. The baby had stopped crying anyway after a few minutes.
So I had a window seat to myself but the weather wasn’t the best.
The flight was just 50 minutes and was fine. After we landed Klaus messaged me that he had been following my flight on FlightRadar24. Although I was on a Ryanair flight the plane was a Lauda Air Airbus.
We arrived safely at Stansted and made our way out. I knew I had more than an hour to wait for my National Express Coach to Ipswich (I wanted to save my Mum the early morning drive to Stansted) so I had plenty of time to look around. Stansted had very efficiently converted a vending machine to masks & hand gel.
I decided I needed a cup of tea so found a seat at Costa in Arrivals.
Hooray again for Tea drinking in England – you order a cup of tea and you get the right product, with milk too. Such a relief!
That killed 15 minutes of my time, so I then went walking around, checking out where the Coach Terminal was. There was a waiting room there so I sat there for a while too. The wait wasn’t too bad as I had my trusty iPad Mini with me.
The bus arrived and they checked our temperature before we boarded. I was apparently 23.7 so was looking remarkably well for someone extremely hypothermic!
Inside the bus was very plush, with a camera so we could see any imminent accidents and a USB charging port in the back of every seat. There was also theoretically wifi but I don’t bother with that as Klaus and I only use about 10% of our data allowance per month as roaming is still free (until 1 January 2021 I guess).
We had to wear masks the whole time, as we had in the airport and on the plane, but this is now normal so it was no problem for me. The journey was £16 plus £1 booking fee which I thought was very good value. We drove down the A120 through Braintree, then Marks Tey, Colchester (it was fun to travel through my old hometown from the elevated bus position) and then up the A12 to Ipswich.
The bus actually arrived a bit early so I was at the bus stop before Mum arrived. I asked the driver if where he stopped was the same bus stop for the return journey and he said yes, as I had already booked to stay at a hotel by the airport on Sunday night and thought I could save Mum a long drive to take me back to Stansted. The bus stop was also for normal local busses and had no sign anywhere that it was a National Express stop!
Mum arrived a few minutes later and off we went in the car. Due to rules in the UK I had to sit in the back seat and wear a mask in the car.
Rather than going straight home she suggested that we stopped for cake at Glasswells, a local furniture store which has a good café. I agreed to this, unsurprisingly.
I was delighted that they had Banoffee Pie on the menu – I haven’t had that for four or five years. Very tasty! And of course a proper cup of British tea.
We then went home to Mum’s and I settled into my room – the spare room. When Klaus and I visit we usually stay in the main bedroom (Mum’s room) as the bed is a lot larger, but this time as it was just me I didn’t need to turf Mum out of her refuge.
I was fairly tired after the travelling so we just chilled out in the afternoon. It was a bit cold and windy in England so we had no great desire to do anything much!
As you can see, the autumn colours have definitely arrived!
My special request for the evening was a curry (take-away, of course) so we checked the menu and had a very lovely evening meal. We were stuffed full afterwards!
Mum and I shared one dish of rice as we (and my sister) all suffer from a weird thing with our oesophagus where rice or bread can kind of get ‘stuck’ in our throats and makes us sick, so we try to avoid them. Mum has significant problems with rice (I don’t, fortunately) so we shared the rice as she didn’t need much. My problem is with bread but fortunately not with naan bread so I had one of those too – or half of it, as I was too full (the other half for breakfast the next morning). The fact that Mum, Anna and I all have this weird throat thing (and Anna and Mum have had all the medical investigations and they have found nothing dodgy) shows that it is some kind of genetic thing. Anna’s eldest daughter said that she also seems to be starting it too. Fortunately it doesn’t prevent us eating chocolate and cakes.
The next day was our alternative Christmas Day!
It started off rather well with crumpets. Someone on the YACF cycling forum had been talking about crumpets and I realised how much I missed them and lo and behold Mum had got some in her fridge! So I had a crumpets with melting butter breakfast. Yum!
As mentioned above, I also had the second half of my Naan bread.
To keep us all socially distanced, we decided to open up the Garden Room (which Mum doesn’t use in colder weather) as there are three separate sofas there, so she turned on the electric heating early in the morning and it was nice and warm once Anna arrived.
Anna had bought a box of Christmas goodies!
The Selection Boxes included a Cadbury’s Double Decker and seeing as Klaus and I had just watched an episode of the Grand Tour (Clarkson/Hammond/May thing) where they were eating one, and Klaus didn’t know about them as they didn’t have them in Europe, I bagsied the Double Decker from one selection box to take home to him. In the end I took the entire selection box as the items (without box packaging) fitted into my suitcase. But note, the Double Decker was 40g and in the normal shops they are 58g or 120g! So Selection Boxes are for small appetites. Which does not describe me, nor Klaus.
Here is Anna working hard at cooking everything in someone else’s kitchen with someone else’s baking trays, utensils etc.
And here was the result…. perfect!
For those who are not expert on a British Christmas Dinner, at least Auntie Helen’s Family Style, this meal had the following (not all visible on the photo above):
- Turkey with stuffing
- Separate stuffing balls
- Pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon)
- Roast potatoes
- Roast parsnips
- Yorkshire puddings (not normal for Christmas, but we couldn’t resist)
- Brussels sprouts
- Roast onions
- Bread sauce
- Cranberry sauce
Of course we were full to bursting after that lot so had to wait an hour before we could eat a slice or two of the Yule Log, made by Anna.
Rather ingenious that the holly berries were raspberries – she couldn’t find any glace cherries.
She had also brought along a Christmas Pudding but I nabbed that for Klaus so he could have one for our Christmas in Germany, with who knows how many people (probably just us two and his daughter). It’s a very alcoholic one with brandy, port and cognac – and of course he knows about setting it on fire with brandy before eating. I don’t like it myself so it’s all for him and Lara.
We had a lovely time with Anna – and it’s the only Christmas ever with just the three of us. We seemed to have a lot more time with so few people and it was rather lovely.
Here we all are:
Anna disappeared off with the leftovers for her hungry hordes and Mum and I chilled out again.
The next day we decided to go for lunch at The Railway, a pub in Westerfield near Mum’s house, as they did a proper Sunday Lunch. So we both went for the Roast Beef of course.
We had originally not thought of having desserts but then when I saw there was crumble with custard on the menu my resolve weakened.
Mum chose the cheesecake which was also a good choice!
As I mentioned earlier, I had decided to take a room in a hotel at the airport for Sunday night as my flight was at 7:30am on Monday morning and I didn’t want Mum to have to drive the two hour round trip to and from Stansted in the dark. She dropped me off at the bus stop for the National Express in Ipswich and we said goodbye – we have no idea when we will see each other again.
A grand total of three people got on the bus, which was the last that would run on this route for the time being – National Express is suspending the Ipswich-Stansted route as there aren’t enough passengers. Rather a shame, particulary for one of the passengers who was talking to me at the bus stop as he works at Stansted; he now has a nightmare train journey via Liverpool Street.
The bus was very blue inside!
The journey to Stansted was easy again. I had booked the Hilton/Hamptons hotel which is just along from the terminal – it was about a five minute walk.
I assume because of Corona the price was excellent – £62 which included a breakfast which started at 04:00. I checked in and said I would have a hot cooked breakfast at 5:30am.
I ate my dinner of turkey sandwiches and olives in my room, washed down by tea.
The next morning my alarm went at 5:00 and I was downstairs with my suitcase for breakfast at 5:30.
There was some self-service food but they also brought me a cooked breakfast which should keep me going for the 50 minute flight.
Then it was just the five minute walk back to the terminal, very easy. I will definitely take this option again if the prices are still manageable.
There was a lot, lot more going on in Stansted Airport once you got through security than in Düsseldorf. All the shops seemed to be open and there were even more shops than last time I travelled through. I bought Klaus a proper-size Double Decker as I decided I would need to eat the 40g one from the selection box. Despite transporting the Christmas pudding, several Selection Box items and some paperwork from my Mum I still had a bit of room in my case and was rather tempted by a nice teabag tin but things are terribly overpriced in the airport and my tin fetish should not be encouraged.
It was Lauda Air again.
This time I had a middle seat and someone next to me in the aisle. When they closed the doors the Stewardess asked the chap in the aisle seat to move to the emergency exit row, which he did, so I now had the entire row to myself and sat by the window again. So I have done well for my 2 x 10€ (although I also had to invest 20€ in the suitcase).
The view of the sunrise was rather lovely!
Once we landed I made my way out through passport control and had to find the railway station. Klaus was working from home that day but couldn’t be out for the time it took to pick me up from Düsseldorf but would collect me from Kempen which was very handy. So I would need a train from the airport to Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof and from there the Kempen train which runs every 30 minutes.
I ended up using the transit suspended railway to get to the railway station so that was cool, and then I had a ten minute wait for the train to Düsseldorf. I had tried to buy my ticket at the ticket machine without success but I did manage to buy it on the App – 12.80€ which was not bad I thought.
When I arrived at Düsseldorf the train to Kleve/Kempen was standing waiting on the opposite side of the platform so that was very easy. It pootled its way through Krefeld and I was soon arriving in Kempen. Klaus was already waiting for me on the platform with Poppy – he said only about 20% of people were wearing masks although it is a requirement anywhere in the railway station. It was noticeable that Poppy didn’t recognise me until I was standing right in front of her – I think she was probably hoping it was Lars that Klaus was picking up from the station and was looking out for a chap!
It was lovely to see Klaus and Poppy again and nice not to have to get the bus to St Hubert and then walk home the 1.5km from there. Klaus seemed pleased with the Christmas Pudding (which we are saving till Christmas) and we ate our Double Deckers together. Strangely some of the other selection box items had disappeared the evening before…
I was really lucky to travel when I did as two days after my return the whole of the UK was classed as a Risk Area so I would have had to fully quarantine when returning.
Coronavirus reaches our home
Although the part of the UK that I visited was not a risk area, my workplace asked that I took a Corona test before coming back to work.
After a bit of back-and-forth with work because I didn’t qualify for a test under the German rules so would have to pay for it myself (and I wanted to check work would refund me), I booked online for a test in the evening. The testing centre is just down the road from my workplace.
We had to queue to register, but fortunately there were only 3 in the queue when I got there. Registration swiped our health insurance cards and then gave us info flyers for us to take home and of course the swab giant cotton bud thingie in a plastic tube and a document to hand to the nurse.
They had asked me why I wanted a test and I said my workplace requested it. I had booked the test as a ‘self-payer’ but from the form it looks like it may be covered under the ‘Contact Person’ reason. We will see if I get an invoice in due course.
Actually having the test wasn’t too bad. I know lots of people say it felt very uncomfortable but I was OK with it and if I had to do it every day then that wouldn’t be too much of a trauma. But I do also seem to be one of the lucky ones who doesn’t suffer so much from pain and discomfort with medical things generally.
Anyway, about 40 hours later I got this notification:
And with further information:
So this was good news, although it didn’t affect our decision to self-isolate. We had decided to do this anyway as it turned out both Frank and Gudula had caught Corona. They had been on holiday in Leipzig and Frank started to feel unwell so fearing that it might be COVID-19 Gudula drove him home overnight (she was still OK). We were very surprised to hear in the morning that they were back, as they were due another four days of their holiday. Frank had most likely picked it up the week before when he was on a walking holiday with friends – all 4 of the men on the holiday ended up Corona-positive, and as a result two of their wives (although notice that two wives avoided it).
Unfortunately, Gudula then became very unwell and ended up spending several days in hospital, fortunately on a normal ward and not in intensive care. We were very relieved when she was brought home again.
Their Corona tests came back as positive, which was not too surprising. Although we are not technically the same household, we decided we should do our best to self-isolate and so both worked from home and we didn’t go out except to walk the dog (we live out in the countryside) and to do a bit of grocery shopping, also for Gudula and Frank who had come back from holiday to a relatively empty fridge. They weren’t particularly hungry but we got them a few bits and bobs.
We are both quite good at keeping ourselves amused at home so self-isolation isn’t such a horror as it is for other people. Nevertheless it was good to have a variety of things to do, and one of these was getting back to puzzling. I did this one that my sister sent me for my birthday.
It took me three days before it was completed, but I was working all mornings on my real job and only puzzling in the afternoons whilst Klaus was still at work!
Both of us working from home meant we had to buy a second office chair as we only have one decent one – so I got myself another Back Chair/Kneeling Chair as I get on well with them and it can be stored under the Grand Piano when not in use!
Our Apps remained green despite Gudula and Frank’s positive test until suddenly one day…
It gives you instructions on what you should do:
So once again I booked a Corona test, even though the last one had just been six days before and since then I hadn’t really been out. Klaus’s App had also gone red although his last dodgy exposure was apparently 10 days ago (when I was in the UK, but when he and his daughter went to the supermarket – she also had a red App with the last exposure 10 days ago…)
Strangely, the next day my App went green. On the basis that I had had a Corona test a few days before, and that there were rather a lot of people needing them, I decided to cancel mine. Klaus went ahead with his yesterday so we are still awaiting the results. When he went there was a MUCH longer queue – 23 people in fact, and he had to wait 45 minutes in the queue for registration.
His App had gone green again before the test but he thought it worth going ahead with anyway. His daughter has also been tested and she was negative.
Frank and Gudula have slowly improved over the 10 days or so that they have Corona. Frank is now officially out of quarantine although he’s still not doing much and Gudula gets her freedom tomorrow!
In celebration of this today (Saturday 31 October) Klaus and I made a pilgrimage to Bauerncafé Büllhorsthof to buy some restorative cake for Gudula and Frank, now they have started to get their senses of smell/taste back. As it was a long journey we got cakes for both today and tomorrow, including Rohallah their foster son in the bounty!
We are very relieved that they are both on the road to recovery. We have heard of several more cases around here so Corona is definitely in Kempen. I will be working at home again at least next week and Klaus will take as many Home Office days as are appropriate, although his company keeps everyone very well distanced in the offices. As I share an office it is rather difficult to distance from my colleague and as I am able to work from home, this may continue for a while – although one of us does have to be in the office due to using a special label printer etc. I don’t mind working from home as I enjoy it and work effectively, Klaus ends up doing loads of overtime and getting up in the middle of the night to right reports and things so I am not sure it is as ideal for him.
Cycling this month
I have not done much cycling at all this month – holidays and self-isolation don’t make it very easy. Plus we have both slightly lost a bit of the drive to cycle so much. All my cycling was commuting except for two leisure rides.
You may have noticed above that I mentioned ‘running’. Yes indeed. After reaching the age of 49 and a half I have taken up jogging. Slowly. But I thought it would be good to do something other than cycling and my sister seemed to enjoy her running, having done the Couch to 5k programme a couple of years ago. So I got myself organised with some decent running shoes, my AirPods Pro twinned with my Apple Watch (don’t need to carry a phone) and the NHS Couch to 5k podcasts; I have now completed the 9 week course (took me 12 weeks due to pulling a muscle in my side in week 4).
I did my first 5k on 24 October (it was definitely 5k, not sure why my Rubitrack software shows 4.96 as Strava and the Apple Watch say 5.03) which took me a lot longer than the traditional 30 minutes – it took 41:48 – but I am not a fast cyclist and I am obviously not a fast jogger either. I’ve enjoyed the Couch to 5k programme and haven’t actually found it that hard.
Now I have reached 5k I have decided to do some intervals training to see if I can increase my speed so the last two runs on the screenshot above are Intervals. The first, on 28 October, was cycles of 30 seconds of running and then 2:30 of jogging (with a 5 minute warm up walk recorded first), then the next time I tried 1 minute running and 2 minutes walking (and recorded the warm-up and warm-down walks as separate activities).
Turns out my 1 minute running, 2 minutes walking average speed is not much slower than my only-jogging speed, so maybe this may improve my jogging speed. I shall find out tomorrow when I will do another half hour jog (with 5 minutes walking warm up and 5 minutes warm down).
Klaus and I did manage to go out on a ride on Hallowe’en, partly to try to burn off the large Büllhorsthof cake that we had. It was a beautiful day.
Despite being mostly self-isolating this month, before all that really kicked off we were pleased to welcome a visit, by Velomobile, of Dirk, the new owner of Celeste, Klaus’s former Strada. He came to see us and was not empty-handed…
Whereas when we had a visit from fellow Velomobilist Thomas, who wanted to pick up some Velomobile calendars that had been delivered to us (we were a distribution hub!) he gave us warning when he was 20 minutes away and we put the calendars in front of the garage door so he could pick them up from us without coming too close. We spoke to him from the doorstep and he kept a good 6 metres away. It is slightly a feeling of a leprosy colony in our house at the moment!
Although one person who is very unbothered by it is Poppy.
Although, saying that, I had expected Poppy to spend lots of time with Gudula once she came out of hospital and needed comforting, as Gudula is definitely Poppy’s Number 2 human (number 1 being Lars who is in Berlin). But Poppy seemed rarely to be downstairs with both Frank and Gudula, even though they were in the house the whole time. We are wondering if she can smell the COVID and doesn’t like it as only in the last two days, when Gudula has improved a lot, has she started visiting them again. Interesting.
At work we have a new colleague to help us in the administration department of our food ingredients production facility. Lena started off learning everything about my customer (I am key account manager for our biggest customer, a Russian food company). She is currently sharing an office with me (well, not in Corona times) and it’s been great having her with me. My colleague Lothar, who used to sit in the office with me, is helping another of my colleagues with some different work.
Anyway, Lena informed me fairly on that she is rather good at cake baking and made us a wonderful example of her art. Here it is on my label printer:
It tasted as good as it looks!
Cakes this month
Most of the cakes have been featured above but here are a few others.
Klaus and I are both carrying a couple of extra kilos and so we are trying to shift them. It’s not really from cake (as cake is a normal part of our diet) but I ate lots of carbohydrate food when in England and it takes a while to get it out of my system. So at the moment we are being a bit more careful with what we eat and we are already feeling better for it.
Here’s hoping when I write next month’s blog there aren’t more Corona cases amongst our friends and family, but that seems a forlorn hope. Keep well everyone!