First of all I would like to wish all my readers a Happy New Year. I hope that 2024 is a great year for you all.
It will certainly be a busy year for us as we have already booked all our annual leave days from work. This will include a trip to Vancouver in Canada and also a birthday trip for me from New York to Southampton on the Queen Mary 2 (originally planned for my 50th birthday but postponed due to Coronavirus). I have also booked six visits to the UK in 2024, all using the Stena ferry from Hoek van Holland to Harwich. I now have Gold membership so get free entry to the Stena Lounge with free tea, coffee, wine, soft drinks, pastry, fruit and other snacks.
Anyway, we will start the year with a Happy New Year from Klaus and Poppy too.
So, what happened in December?
Actually, not all that much – apart from Christmas in England.
The beginning of December was fairly cold but we’re not sure if it was the weather that upset Klaus’s car’s map display when using CarPlay. This happened several times, the map display gradually ended up looking like some kind of modern art. The photo below is the map of Alderkerk in Kreis Kleve, in case you couldn’t recognise it…
With the cold weather Poppy had to wear her coat when out walking. But she seemed really fit this month and was running around for the whole time during her walks, and she was also able to do two 5km walks in one day with no problems.
An added bonus was after the red cabbage had been harvested from the field up the road there were a few leaves left on the ground which seemed to be very tasty for a dog.
She carried her treasure home and ate it in the back garden.
Klaus did some working from home in December and also had a couple of days off to use up his overtime which would otherwise disappear at the end of the year. He was helped by Poppy.
I was also rather pleased to get a personalised advent calendar from one of my suppliers at work (they make packaging cartons).
Inside the doors were some very decent chocolates, and also some messages which were personalised!
Needless to say Klaus and I enjoyed sharing the chocolates.
Quite a few cakes this month
Our landlord and landlady Gudula and Frank had been away in Thailand for a special holiday to celebrate their birthdays and when they returned we decided to ease them back into German life with a nice selection of cakes from Bauerncafé Beyen.
As you can see, cake consumption continues as usual in our household!
We also had another trip out for cake to meet up with our Dutch friends Ingrid and István who Klaus originally met through photography. Ingrid has a book that she has translated from Dutch to English as it is being published in the US and I did some proof-reading for her (although she had done it exceptionally well). They invited us to meet for cake now they have moved back from Berlin to Roermond, so we met at a good café in between Roermond and Kempen, Hofcafé Alt Bruch in Nettetal.
It was a cold and rainy day but it was warm and cosy inside the café and the cake selection was excellent.
The staff members, when taking a break, started chatting with us as they noticed we were speaking English partly, and also some German. They were impressed that the Dutch people could have the conversation in three languages (and István also speaks Hungarian!).
Office Christmas Do
I work at a candle manufacturer and each year we have a Christmas party. Last year it was at an Italian restaurant but this year they decided to have it in our warehouse which actually worked out rather well.
Some colleagues set up in our packaging warehouse (where the candles are boxed to be sent out) and put up decorations and of course we had lots of lit candles.
We had food catered by a local sandwich shop but it was hot food (salmon, chicken, beef, rice, pasta, salad, bread etc) and it was very good.
They also did some interesting mousse desserts.
And another mystery colleague had made some fairy cakes.
As usual for a German event there was lots of alcohol available. I went home about 10pm as I was tired and rather thirsty (they had no still water and I don’t drink fizzy!) but some colleagues stayed till three in the morning! And then came in six hours later to clear up, very keen.
Klaus had his work do the same evening which was 300 people in a large venue with good food.
Mannheim Christmas Market
The next day Klaus and I drove to Mannheim to visit his father and to nose around the Christmas markets there.
His father made us Dampfnudeln mit Kartoffelsuppe which was very tasty. We spent some time with him and then set off on foot to Mannheim centre which is only 2km away from Klaus’s father’s apartment.
The river Neckar was very high – you can see basketball hoops in the photo below which are nearly underwater.
The first Christmas Market at the Wasserturm had a huge Weihnachtspyramide!
We walked around this market and I had a waffle. We then walked along the main shopping street in Mannheim and stuck our noses into a few shops, before going to the more interesting Weihnachtsmarkt where I had previously bought my nice red hat – the hat stall was still there and they still sold the same hats!
We then felt it was time for a bit more sustenance and shared this brie baguette with cranberries. It was very tasty!
We did some more Weihnachtsmarkt browsing (didn’t buy anything) and then stopped for a cup of tea/coffee and of course a pancake for me and a slice of cheesecake for Klaus.
A visit to England for Christmas
Klaus and I headed off to England for the festive period.
He had more remaining annual leave than me so had the week before Christmas Week off as well. I worked until the Thursday and then had Friday off, which was the day we were travelling.
The weather forecast was for gale force 8-9 for the crossing with seas moderate to rough or very rough so we knew it might be a slightly interesting journey. However, the Stena Britannica and Stena Hollandica are big ships with good stabilisers and I had travelled before in a Force 9 and it was OK, just woke me up a few times with the rolling motion of the ship.
We set off really early to make sure there weren’t any issues with the traffic around Rotterdam on what was probably the last working day of the year for many people. The journey was fine in fact, we arrived in Hoek van Holland at 17:00.
I like to eat my evening meal at the Chinese Restaurant Ocean Sun but Klaus is not a fan of Chinese so we went to the Italian restaurant almost next door.
We both had tomato soup and then I had a pizza, Klaus had cannelloni, and it was a decidedly moderate meal.
Klaus went for a Tiramisu dessert – which came with cream from a squirty bottle (not something that is often done in Germany).
Uninspiring food which cost 55 € in total. NL is really not a great. place for eating out.
We were early in the queue for the ferry and were soon on board. As I now have Stena Gold membership it means I can have the Stena Plus lounge free – but I wasn’t able to add it to my existing booking. However, we asked at the Guest Service desk and there was space so we were given the access information.
The selection of food had changed since last time – cheese biscuits with cheddar cubes, hummus with carrot and cucumber sticks, mini pretzel biscuits etc but of course also the pastries and muffins. We ate well.
And Klaus took the opportunity of some wine. I enjoyed free tea (although the water isn’t boiling so it never tastes that great=.
We went to bed at ten and had a reasonable night. I was awake for about 45 minutes in the night as it was a particularly rough bit of the crossing and we were in a cabin right at the back of the boat. It was falling off the waves a bit and making a crashing sound. But overall it was not bad.
The next morning we headed to the Stena Lounge for breakfast.
We then disembarked, queuing for the border as the sun was rising.
We drove to Mum’s and had a cup of tea there before heading off to the Supermarket to buy the food for Christmas. Mum had pre-bought stuffing, bread sauce and a few other bits and bobs (Christmas pudding, syrup sponge cake for me, mince pies etc) but as I was going to cook Christmas dinner I wanted to get the main items (meat and vegetables) myself.
Mum also needed a replacement fluorescent bulb for the lights under her kitchen cupboards so we first headed out to Wickes in Ipswich – but they were out of stock. We had a nice chat with the one other customer in the store that time who also wanted to buy the same type of bulb as us (but a different size). Klaus was able to give her his engineering opinion as to whether it would work for her.
Klaus and I then headed off to B&Q which is the other side of Ipswich so that we could try for the bulb there. It was also out of stock, so this was clearly not going to be a success. We ended up ordering them online and they were delivered after we left, so Mum will have to get someone else to fit them or wait till we visit again in February.
As we were near a large Sainsbury’s we did our shopping there. It was busy but not too horrendous. I got a turkey crown which would feed 4-6 with scotch whisky stuffing. We also got all the required vegetables and other bits and bobs, including pigs in blankets and lots of fresh soups as my sister and her family were coming up for Boxing Day.
We headed back to Mum’s to chill out in the Garden Room. She had very carefully tied on these baubles in the front garden as it was very windy!
As we were relaxing with tea and coffee (Klaus bought his coffee maker Bialetti thing with him) we had an alert from our webcam at home… someone was stealing our dining room table!
As usual Frank and Gudula borrowed our glass table as it folds out to seat 10 and we never need it. It’s always a challenge to carry the very heavy metal frame and glass panels – Rohallah is a strong young chap though! We spoke to them through Alexa which is also in the lounge – big brother was watching them!
That evening we had fish & chips from the usual fish shop in Ipswich – we shared a medium cod and chips and just had some extra scampi. Very tasty!
The next day was Christmas Eve and I wanted to go to church in Colchester so off we went to Lion Walk. It was a Christingle service where we made our own Christingles – which involved wielding a knife to cut a small hole in an orange and then sticking cocktail sticks into it and squeezing chewy sweets onto the end of the cocktail sticks. What could possibly go wrong?
The photo below is the finished Christingle minus the cocktail sticks and sweets – this was back at Mum’s house so I could show her what I did in Sunday school.
I was very impressed that half of the congregation were wearing Christmas jumpers. Klaus was fairly horrified – he has a bit more of a respectful view of church clothing.
After the service was over and we had chatted to friends over tea we went for a wander around Colchester. The shops were open of course and we had a quick look at the Bavarian Sausage Company street stall as a possible lunch source but with nowhere to sit down (and quite high prices – six pounds for a Bratwurst in a bap) we decided to eschew the German food option and ended up in the Purple Dog pub where Klaus had a sandwich and I had a Turkey, Stuffing and Cranberry panini.
After this we did a bit more walking around and then it was time to head home – but I thought we really ought to have a cream tea on this England visit so we stopped in Dedham at the Essex Rose Tearoom for the traditional Tiptree Cream Tea.
As you can see from the photo above, Klaus had a half of one of my two scones, with a small amount of jam and clotted cream. He was helping me out here as the menu told us that the cream tea itself is over 1000 calories. Bear in mind my usual consumption is around 1400 calories per day – but not in England at Christmas!
The rest of Christmas Eve was relaxing in the Garden Room – Klaus also spoke to his father to wish him a happy Christmas.
We also went out for a walk and discovered there has been some local crime – this was previously one of the two Book Depositories in the village!
Christmas Day was very quiet. I did the cooking and we enjoyed Turkey with the Trimmings and then Mum and Klaus had a Christmas Pudding and I had a syrup sponge pudding. It took some time to get the brandy lit for Klaus’s pudding but we eventually managed it. We had brought brandy with us from Germany as Mum has none – I think the bottle I have is about 20 years old as it is only used for Christmas Pudding. We have enough left for another 3-4 years I think,
Klaus and I needed to stretch our legs in the afternoon and so we went for a walk, going past the Moon & Mushroom pub in Swilland – which was open on Christmas Day. We didn’t go in but decided we might pop back later.
Our evening meal was cheese and biscuits, a real treat, plus of course some chocolates that Mum had been given. We weren’t that hungry after the large turkey lunch!
We then had our torchlight walk back to the Moon & Mushroom but unfortunately it was closed – it seems it had only been open for Christmas Lunch. Klaus was a bit disappointed as a few years ago he had a pint on Christmas Eve (which wouldn’t happen in Germany) and he was hoping to get a pint on Christmas Day too.
Talking of Christmas, my attention was drawn to the fact there is a place near Guildford that rejoices in the name of Christmas Pie.
The next morning Klaus and I got up a bit earlier. The sun was rising over the fields at the back so it was a lovely day.
We were heading to the supermarket to get fresh bread for the Boxing Day soups – and also a new microwave for Mum as her old one, at about 38 years old, was on its last legs (we think it had tripped a fuse as the fridge, dishwasher etc stopped working until we realised what had happened).
We looked online and found a suitable small one in Currys so went there first, taking the old microwave with us for them to dispose of. We got a 5 pound voucher to use for the new microwave.
Klaus and I then checked all the options and ended up buying something larger and a different colour than Mum’s online choice but we felt it would better suit – and if she wanted it in white it would cost 61 pounds more. Very odd, that the same microwave had such a price differential depending on whether it was black (what we got), silver (31 pounds more) or white (61 pounds more).
After this we went to the next door Tesco but rather surprisingly they had no fresh bread at all, and no-one in the bakery department so there would be nothing forthcoming.
We therefore headed off to Sainsbury’s on the way back to Mum’s and they had a smallish selection of bread but it did include some nice olive bread. We bought enough for the nine of us at lunchtime and also replenished Mum’s Cheese Biscuits supply as we had mown through them rather badly the day before – and expected we would have more later.
It was a sunny day when my sister Anna and her husband Roderic arrived. Niece and nephew Gwen and Harley arrived five minutes later, and other niece Hari and her boyfriend Luke arrived 15 minutes after the rest.
I used the new microwave to heat up the soups (and a couple of them were not really hot enough in the end, rather unfortunate!!) and we ate the soup and bread together. After lunch we went out for the traditional Boxing Day walk to the churchyard to visit my father’s grave.
With tea and Yule log we sat together in the Garden Room and chatted. My relatives headed off later that day and Klaus and I had some cheese and biscuits for a light dinner. We considered trying the Moon & Mushroom again but Google suggested it would be closed. We will have to try it again next year!
The next day was our last day in England and the forecast had gone up to gale force 9 again for our journey back across the North Sea. In the morning Klaus and I decided to visit Felixstowe so we headed there by car, parked in a side road by the beach and went to walk along the seafront.
The wind was very strong and there was much evidence of previous stormy weather as the concrete walkway had many piles of shingle and sand that had clearly been dumped there after a storm. We saw the Lifeboat heading out to see and then it returned half an hour later, you can just see it in the photo below heading back to Harwich.
We walked to Landguard Fort (which was closed) and then along the river Stour/Orwell mouth towards Felixstowe Container Terminal which is the largest shipping terminal in the UK. But, it turns out, only about half the size of Rotterdam and Hamburg in terms of containers handled per year.
There was a tea room along this way which Mum said a friend had recommended so we stopped there. Klaus had soup, I had a turkey and stuffing butty.
We then walked back to the main seafront of Felixstowe and then headed further along towards the pier. I was sorely tempted by the fresh doughnuts at the pier but managed to pass by without handing over some money. We walked right to the other end of the seafront where we stopped at Ruby’s Café up a slight hill for some cake. Well, Klaus had a Brownie which was extremely filling for him!
We had walked nearly 9km in total by the time we were back in the car, and the lenses of our glasses had a film of salt on them from the spray. Klaus had also got two wet ankles when he was visited by a particularly keen wave!
We spent the afternoon in the Garden Room relaxing and chatting to Mum. We had originally planned a meal at the Railway as usual but felt we had all eaten enough that we didn’t need a pub meal, so had leftovers (including the nice olive bread and more cheese and biscuits).
Klaus and I headed off to Harwich where we joined the queue to check in. Unusually all the cars were on the bottom deck level of the ferry (we are usually up a level), but this was presumably as there were very few HGVs on the ship.
Unfortunately there was no space in the Stena Lounge for us (there were two other couples asking for it at the Guest Service Desk when we arrived!) so we were not able to eat our own weight in pastries again. Instead we went to bed having just had one drink each.
The crossing wasn’t quite as lively as on the way out and we both slept well. In the morning we had tea/coffee and I bought a chocolate chip cookie for me. Klaus ate the sandwiches that I had prepared yesterday (I had ended up having mine in the queue to board the night before!)
We had an easy drive home and it was good to see Poppy again – and of course our landlord and landlady.
The rest of the time between Christmas and New Year was very quiet. I managed to go out running for the first time since mid-October when the gloomy weather put me off (plus I had Covid and needed to recover fully from that), and I hope to continue that as the weather is not so chilly at the moment.
We saw Lara on the 30th but during the afternoon Klaus started feeling a bit off and within about 15 minutes we realised he had the man-flu. I drove Lara home after our evening meal and Klaus stayed in bed the rest of that day and the next – which was New Year’s Eve. We had had a vague plan to go to an organ concert in Kempen (as we did one previous year) but he was not well enough.
I’ve stopped focusing on cycling, which was the original pillar of this blog. Life has changed a bit and I am really only cycling for utility reasons (although Klaus managed to do a bit more with the Velomobile in December).
My statistics for the year are as follows:
As you can see, this year has not been good for cycling but I am pleased with my walking (please note the walking statistics are only for when I started the GPS on my watch to track the walk. Normal walking around during the day doesn’t count).
I’m hoping to do a bit more cycling in 2024, although I have to do some really annoying bike maintenance on a sticky brake cable and am not looking forward to the job (I hate it!). Klaus, too, wants to get back a bit more cycling fitness – perhaps we will be able to cycle for cake more.
Anyway, I wish all my readers an enjoyable 2024 and hope that you are happy and healthy. Take my advice, tea and cake is a real immunity booster!