A quite big event…
I started this month with a trip to the UK! This was arranged extremely last-minute when the UK adjusted its rules so fully-vaccinated people could visit without quarantine. A long time ago I had booked a flight to the UK in the middle of August to visit Mum for her birthday, with the hopes that the rules would be relaxed by then. However, my new job meant I would not be able to travel then. However, rather amazingly I was able to modify my existing Ryanair flights to a date two weeks earlier with no extra charge. So the flights each way were 9,99€.
But first I had to get organised. I needed a negative Corona test within 72 hours of travelling (I got one the day before) and it had to be in English as well as the local language. Fortunately the good testing station in Kempen provides English for the relevant bits, plus does the test with the correct specificity/sensitivity. It turns out that this information wasn’t really checked – just that I had a piece of paper that looked like a test certificate – but I wanted to ensure I was doing everything properly.
Negative test in hand, I now had to get to Cologne Bonn airport (Ryanair seem to have pulled out of Düsseldorf). As I now have Leo the car I could drive myself but parking was crazily expensive, around 55€ for the three nights. Plus fuel of course for a journey of an hour and a half or so. So I decided to take the train from Kempen instead – this cost me 17,50€ which was fine. Klaus would collect me on the Friday evening from Cologne and he also dropped me off at Kempen railway station on the Tuesday morning; he had to work so couldn’t take me to the airport by car but train was fine.
I bought my ticket and then got a message from the App 10 minutes later, as I was beginning to think about leaving to go to the station, that there was a points problem on the line and the train I had planned to get wasn’t possible. So we headed straight to the station and I got on the train to Krefeld rather than Düsseldorf (one stop rather than several) as there was an alternative (slower) route from Krefeld to Köln. This involved waiting for 40 minutes at Krefeld which isn’t terribly exciting, and then getting on a train which feels like it is in the wrong direction (Rheine is north east of Kempen, Cologne is south) but it actually does a U-shaped journey. Still, a bit of a weird feeling – although the sign clearly said it stopped at Köln HBF.
This was a comfortable journey except the guy on the other side of the carriage had his mask hanging under his nose. I had decided I would wear my FFP2 mask at all times, even when on the railway platforms, to protect myself as much as possible. Germany’s incidence of Coronavirus was 20 per 100,000 people at my time of travelling, and in the UK it was 300 per 100,000 people so significantly more, so I wanted to do all I could to ensure I didn’t bring it back!
I arrived at Köln HbF and then I needed to get the S-Bahn S-19 to the airport. There had been a sudden rain shower and there were warnings on the train app that there were some delays, but that an S-19 should currently be on Platform 9. So I went to the platform and there was indeed a train on it, but it had no signage on the side to say what train it was. I hopped on and asked the people seated there “is this the S-19?”. No-one responded at first so then I asked again and a chap said “no, it’s the S-12” so I turned to get off and the doors beeped and closed. I was staying on that train!
The chap said “don’t worry, it stops at Messe/Deutz too” (which was the next stop, which the S-19 would also stop at) so that was fine. I had plenty of time in hand.
We arrived at Messe/Deutz and I got out. As did everyone else, as the train driver announced the train was malfunctioning and would have to go in for service. But first it stayed for 10 minutes on the platform so no other trains could arrive. Eventually it moved off and then came the S-19 – I jumped on and it was 12 minutes to Flughafen Köln-Bonn.
I had flown into Cologne Airport last about 25 years ago and it didn’t look as though anything had been changed in the meantime. It is a very concrete, grey and unappealing building – a big difference to Stansted and Düsseldorf which both have the light, airy feel. I had tried to find out about food options at the airport and it seemed there were some places to get food through security so I decided to go straight through security. With the new Coronavirus rules I had no idea how long the queues would be and wanted to ensure I got to the gate with plenty of time. At this point I was in the airport three and a half hours before take-off so it was looking pretty hopeful!!!
Security (x-rays etc) had a queue which was not too awful and a monitor that said average queuing time was 15-20 minutes. I guess that was about right.
The chap in front of me in the security queue was very lucky though. He had a plastic folder with his documentation including his yellow vaccine booklet and as he lifted it into the plastic tray to go through the scanner, the vaccination book fell out (he was holding the plastic folder upside down) and it disappeared into the area where the plastic trays for scanning are stored. He didn’t see this, but I did, and told him – he peered in, stuck his hand in and got his vaccination book. It would have been very inconvenient for him to have lost it!
Directly after security I had a passport check (first time travelling on my German passport) and then we arrived in the airside area. Where there was almost nothing – just a very sparse duty free shop and two food places. I decided to eat a salad at one of the food places and so ordered what you see below – a green salad (with no protein!) and a small roll and a bottle of water. This cost me 10,61€ so more than my flight!!!
Once I had eaten my salad I headed off to the boarding gate. I was the first there, which wasn’t surprising as I was nearly two and a half hours early, so I amused myself for 30 seconds checking that my special Ryanair hand luggage fits in their sizer. Which it did.
I was travelling very light as I planned to bring some teabags back to Germany. As there was a 480-teabag-pack-sized space in my suitcase I had put in some t-shirts which I was passing on to my sister as they no longer fit me. I think I managed to pack about 10 of these tunic-style t-shirts.
Cologne Airport seemed to have decent wifi so I was able to watch the Olympics on my iPad whilst waiting.
Eventually the time came to board. At the gate the Ryanair staff checked the following:
- Boarding Card
- Proof of negative COVID test
- Proof of vaccination
- UK Passenger Locator Form
I had all of this ready of course (I am very organised!) so was allowed onto the plane. Phew!
It’s just a 50 minute flight to Stansted and so we were soon back on the ground again.
Interestingly none of our documents were checked at Stansted. I went through the automatic passport gates (although it took a few goes for it to recognise my British Passport, weirdly!) and that was that. I had prepared my Passenger Locator Form of course but no-one wanted to see it.
I got the bus to the Mid Stay Car Park which was where I had arranged to meet Mum – as the short stay costs 7 pounds for 10 minutes!! Mid Stay is free for an hour and it’s only a short drive on the bus, and the buses come every 10 minutes. I had half thought about walking but it turns out there are no pavements on the route.
It was lovely to see Mum again after so long – we last saw each other at the end of October last year (when I was 21kg heavier too!)
Our way back passed Dedham so we thought we really ought to pop into the Essex Rose Tea Rooms for a Cream Tea.
I used to visit Dedham every couple of days to do my grocery shopping in the co-op there, and nothing much had changed except a few new Tiptree preserves have come on the market. Yummy!
The village seemed much more tranquil without hundreds of tourist coaches. There were a few but nothing like as many as before.
After a look around the Dedham Craft Shop in the old church we returned to the car and headed into Suffolk, arriving at Mum’s lovely cottage.
Mum has loads of great friends in the village and they keep her supplied with cake so after our evening meal of scrambled egg with smoked salmon (low carb) followed by blueberries and cream on a meringue nest (low carb except for the meringue nest!) I had a piece of cake with my evening cuppa.
The next day we would be having a visit in the afternoon/evening by my sister, niece Gwen and nephew-in-law Harley. In the morning we went to the brand new Aldi supermarket in Ipswich which was a real treat as it was surprisingly different to the German Aldis. Quality of food looked really good (with well-designed packaging too) and, marvel of marvels, they had Tetley Teabags! So I bought two of these 240 teabags packs to take back with me in my tiny suitcase. Price was good too.
We also bought salad stuff for me for lunches for the next couple of days. I was amazed by how cheap some of the food is – bags of salad in Germany are 99 cents for 100g, here they were 39p for 120g.
Here’s my shopping list below so the Germans reading this can compare the prices. At the moment 1 GBP = 1,18 EUR.
The milk is 1,89 litres (4 pints) and the Galpharm Loratadin are antihistamine packs of 14 tablets. These are 79p in the UK or a pack of 20 is 5,39 in the Apotheke here. I bought 6 packs (84 tablets) for 4.74 pounds, which would be 22,64€ in Germany. Thus we stock up when in the UK!
So I had the items below to fit into my suitcase. And not to make the suspense unduly dramatic, I managed it!
After we got back from the shops I decided to go for a walk, so ventured out through a very cobwebby wood (I was the first to walk this path on that day and felt a bit like it was something out of a horror movie with all the spider webs criss-crossing my body).
This is a lovely walk on a public footpath that heads south behind my Mum’s back garden. It goes down to Wash Lane at which point I headed towards Witnesham church.
I visited the churchyard (my Dad’s grave is there) and then decided to walk on a bit further, crossing over the river Fynn on a little bridge and walking past a very secluded house where someone was practising the drums. Probably very good the house is secluded!
I was following the footpaths on my Apple Watch (I have a map on there) and the footpath on the map was marked to go straight ahead from here, but I didn’t fancy plunging through a load of brambles so followed the arrow on the sign and the path soon joined up with the footpath marked on my map. Not sure what happened there – did the farmer move the footpath himself?
I got back after a relaxing 4.27km walk, enjoying the sunshine as it wasn’t actually that warm when the sun was hiding.
After our lunch (I had a salad) Anna, Gwen and Harley arrived having enjoyed (??!!) a Burger King on the way up from Southend. We had a lovely afternoon chit-chatting before heading off to Bekash Tandoori in Ipswich for our evening curry.
It was a lovely evening and so great to see my sis and niece and nephew-in-law again. I hope it won’t be another 10 months until I can see Gwen and Harley again.
The next day I had to do my Day 2 Corona PCR test and then we needed to post it in one of the Royal Mail Priority Postboxes for it to go to the lab and get tested. I would not actually receive the results till I was back in Germany, but anyway.
We had a relaxing morning and then in the afternoon went out for a walk at Felixstowe, parking at Landguard.
There are old and new sights galore – with the old WW2 defence buildings next to a modern radar tower for the shipping and of course all the cranes for the docks.
I initially thought the ship below was the Ever Given, as I know it had docked at Felixstowe, but it was the Ever Gentle.
It was nice to see the sea! On the left hand side of the photo below is the North Sea, and to the right hand side is the mouth of the River Orwell and River Stour. Directly ahead in the photo is Walton on the Naze with the Naze tower.
And here a view east to the North Sea, with the tiny Sealand fort (Roughs Tower) visible.
After a bit of a wander around the nature reserve Mum and I headed back to Witnesham via the Royal Mail Priority Postbox at Claydon. I decided I would like a bit more of a walk so got Mum to drop me off in Henley, where I followed my nose east along various roads and then public footpaths to walk across the fields to Witnesham. The car route does three sides of a square, heading north and then east and then south again, so my route was more efficient!
This was Henley church, very similar to the church at Witnesham.
There are loads of lovely quiet lanes around this bit of Suffolk but they are very narrow – it would be interesting if you were driving and met another car!
And I was once again reminded that East Anglia is home to several airbases. A Chinook was doing its noisy thing overhead.
The lanes I was following went past a very posh house and then became a restricted byway.
I had a view over the fields to the east towards Witnesham which is on the ridge in the photo below.
It was very quiet and peaceful walking the public footpath towards Witnesham.
I joined back up with the route I had taken the day before and arrived home after just under 4km in 45 minutes. Mum was surprised at how quickly I got there, but it is a shorter route than the drive which is over 6km.
That evening we went for our meal at The Railway in Westerfield which is a very nice pub that offers slightly more upmarket meals than some pubs.
Mum had a starter (as her main course) which was duck in hoi-sin sauce but ended up looking surprisingly like potato croquettes. But tasted good!
I couldn’t resist having a pie! So I had a sausagemeat and onion pie with mash. It was a proper pie with shortcrust pastry base, sides and lid – not one of these silly puff pastry lids. I really enjoyed it!
My dessert was also traditional – apple and blackberry crumble and custard.
Mum had a trifle in a glass.
After my meal (mega carbs!) I was completely stuffed but it was very tasty indeed.
The next day was my day to return to Cologne. The flight was just before 14:00 but once again I wanted to ensure I was there in plenty of time as I didn’t know what the queues would be like.
Mum dropped me off at the Mid Stay Car Park at 10:30 and I caught the bus to the terminal. There were lots of holidaymakers on the bus and I had a chat with a family who were really concerned about all the documentation requirements as they had two children under 10 so there are different rules for them. All very complicated!
I arrived at Stansted and went straight through security as I know there is lots to do airside and plenty of food options. I had brought my lunch with me – leftovers from my salad items at Mum’s, so olives, cheddar, tomatoes, cucumber and houmous. Unfortunately security relieved me of my houmous.
As soon as I got through security, with only about a 10 minute queue, I sat down for a cuppa as I knew I had a long wait and there wasn’t much point going early to the gate. So I had my cup of tea (I was good and had no cake).
I could see the departures board and I liked their Remark – it used to say “wait in lounge”.
Not a whole lot of different airlines flying out from Stansted it seems!
The contrast between Stansted and Cologne could not be greater. This is Airside at Stansted – airy, high ceilings, not much concrete, loads of shops and seating.
I sent my sister the above photo so she could see there was a Burger King available as she would be travelling to Germany through Stansted 2 weeks later.
I went into several food shops looking for replacement houmous as my dipping vegetables would be rather boring without it! Eventually I found a little pack of houmous and falafel so bought it and ate it whilst waiting in the main lounge.
With about an hour to go I went to the boarding gate (only a 5 minute walk) and the numbers of people slowly increased.
When it became time to start boarding the Ryanair employees walked along the queue checking the documents and then giving out a small slip of paper with a signature so the gate staff knew your documents had been checked.
The documents I needed were:
- Boarding Card
- Vaccination proof
- German Einreiseanmeldung (blue and white form)
This was all OK and I boarded the plane, which was about 80% full (similar to my earlier flight).
I refuse to pay Ryanair extra money to choose my seat or any of that nonsense but ended up in Row C with a good view in the cockpit before they shut the door for take off.
It was another easy flight and we arrived in Cologne on time. Passport control checked I had the Einreiseanmeldung form and my passport but not my vaccination certificate. I was out in the arrivals area meeting Klaus within 10 minutes of the plane drawing up to the gate.
Klaus and I had discussed where we would meet and where he would park and I found this fantastic website with information about Cologne airport. Read and enjoy!
Hints: Only Terminal 1 mentioned, although there is also Terminal 2; airport for West Germany which hasn’t existed since 1990; S-Bahn S-13 said to service it, but I took the S-19 to get there; it seems important to the author that the airport’s peace and tranquillity is not disturbed by urban noise so they conveniently have various oases (!!!) which is one nature reserve; the ugly concrete buildings are considered as historic; this airport is not amongst the busiest in Germany unless it is a very long list; it is not growing! Terrible writing!
Klaus had been there for over an hour as he didn’t know what the traffic would be like getting to Cologne because of the flooding problems and because it was Friday afternoon but it was OK in the end. The parking charge was a bit steep but hey ho, still less than my train ticket would have been and I was travelling in luxury! It was nice to be home again with my additional 480 teabags but I was so glad I was able to squeeze in this visit to the UK before I started my new job and wasn’t allowed holiday.
About an hour after I got home I received my PCR test result – negative!
I was impressed how quickly Eurofins completed the test as they can have only received it in the post that day. However, I have since read a news report about problems receiving the tests from them, so it’s really hard to know what is best to do.
I did fast tests every two days for the next week to ensure I hadn’t brought anything back from England with me and they were all negative, hurrah!
Sport this month
Here is my wheel of exercise this month:
As you can see, it includes my walks in the UK so the map is rather small. Here is the map of the local area where I have cycled (green) this month.
My total distance this year is a mere shadow of previous years but that’s OK, times change and it’s not a race!
But we are still doing SOME cycling (and I have continued my 5k runs three times per week).
A long, long time ago (last year sometime) when we had a velomobile meet at Landcafé Streithöfe in Willich, Klaus from Köln (hereafter KLKöln) suggested to me that I organised a tour to one of my great cafes. He knew it would be a longer ride as they were much further north but thought in summer it might be a good idea.
So when the lockdowns started easing I thought about this again and decided it was time!
I offered six different dates on the Velomobilforum and one of them, the 8th August, was the most popular. So 8th August it would be!
The choice of café for this first trip was obvious – Bauerncafé Büllhorsthof in Winnekendonk. This would mean a 200km ride for those coming from further south but the cakes would be worth it.
Various people said they would be coming, including two who were coming by car with trailer (one because he would be taking part in a 400-600km ride the two days before). The weather forecast for the ride was a bit rainy but the forecast improved as the day got closer and in fact we had no rain.
KLKöln arrived first with his velomobile on a trailer and we helped him get it ready. Then ReneF in his Milan SL which he built himself from a kit over ten years ago. Here is his Milan next to its larger brother the Milan GT.
More and more velomobiles started arriving and we soon had a very colourful gathering outside our house!
We set off at just before 11am, having informed the Bauerncafé we expected to be there at 12. I was the leader of the group as I was probably also the slowest, plus I knew where we were going!
I routed us through Stenden, Kengen and then past Issum on the lovely road through Zitterhuck and Achterhoek.
Here is friend Kai’s video of the event – a couple who had ridden ahead to get photos and then the leisurely column of velomobiles led by yours truly, trundling slowly towards cake.
When we arrived at Bauerncafé Büllhorsthof we found a large grassy area to park some of the velomobiles.
Three other Velomobilists had got there before us, they had come from the north.
And then it was time for cake! Here were our options for the day.
Klaus went for a Himbeer Mascarpone for a change (he usually has Pfirsich Schmand).
Kai ordered two slices of cake to start with – this date and walnut cake as well as a Himbeer Mascarpone.
Several of us ordered the Etagère upon my recommendation. It takes longer to produce so we were cake-less while the others were eating which made ChristianW a bit twitchy (he had ridden 400 kilometres the day before so was a bit peckish). When it came it was well worth it!
Kai still felt a bit hungry (well, he had ridden from Neuss!) so after his two full-size cake pieces he ordered the most filling of all, the rich chocolate cake. Amazing capacity!
We were also of course having drinks and lots of conversation – it was really nice!
After we had paid for the cakes (prices are really keen!) we were theoretically leaving but instead everyone stood around and chatted for nearly an hour!
Finally we managed to extricate ourselves from the cake zone.
The route back was a different one, heading through Aengenesch and then Hartefeld, Winternam, Kerken and Stenden. There was a very strong headwind full in the face which was a bit annoying!
It also looked as though there might be some rain, but we got back to our house in the dry.
The contingent cycling to Neuss/Düsseldorf headed on after just a few minutes’ break and we then observed the loading of velomobiles onto trailers and waved goodbye to our guests.
Klaus and I both really enjoyed meeting up with Velomobilists again and spending time chatting to old friends. We hope we can do a similar ride before too long.
Some more trips by bike
Klaus, Malcolm and LaPaDu
Klaus went alone to LaPaDu (Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord) when I was out having a meal with my former work colleagues.
He took some pictures with his iPhone so here they are for your delectation:
Velomobiles in the Netherlands at last!
Klaus and I also together did a 62km cake ride to one of our favourite cafes, Jacobs just outside Straelen, but took a route which had a short section in the Netherlands, including crossing the Maas twice.
It has been so long since we have ridden in the Netherlands, at least a year, so it was wonderful to visit again!
Here wer are in the queue for the first river ferry.
We arrived 15 minutes early to Jacobs as we had been quicker than expected, but sat outside enjoying the sunshine.
And then it was time to enjoy the cake. As I had been in the Netherlands I ordered a raspberry rice cake as they have the rice cake quite a lot in NL.
Klaus had an Apple Wine cake which he liked very much!
Triking to Papperlapapp
We decided one Sunday to do a trike ride and I didn’t feel too energetic so a 30km round trip would do the trick. The café Papperlapapp in Tönisvorst-Vorst has very good cake selections so we decided to go there.
Here is the view in my wing mirror…
And here is the view of my cake!
And Klaus had something very tasty too.
We didn’t notice our landlord and landlady Frank and Gudula in the queue for ice cream in Vorst – we just sailed past them! They should have followed us for excellent cake as they had to wait about half an hour to be served!
Ride with Lara to Tönisvorst
One weekend when Lara was staying with us we suggested a cycle ride on the Sunday morning and she was game for that. She would ride my trike and I would follow along behind slowly in the Velomobile. Lara also had to borrow my shoes but they are fine for cycling.
It was a nice day so we decided to do a route towards Süchteln and then stop for cake in St Tönis,
I had an alternative track as the route that Klaus and Lara would take on the trikes wouldn’t always be suitable for the velomobile due to gates etc. But I rode with them most of the way, I just had about 4km of diversions in the 40km ride.
It’s been a long time since I had ridden the Bahnradweg between Süchteln and St Tönis. It’s become rather overgrown and also very bumpy in places.
It was also a surprisingly windy day – the flags on Lara’s/my trike were standing straight out the side.
We arrived at the St Tönis Obsthof and treated ourselves to cake. Klaus and I had the ever-wonderful Himmelstorte.
Lara had Pflaumenkuchen which she likes.
We all enjoyed the ride and although cycling a Milan at 16 km/h isn’t its usual métier, it was fine and I had the motor switched off the whole time so I used 100% my leg power.
Cake with Babs/Bella
It’s been almost two years since I saw my friend Babs. Actually, her name is Bella, Babs was a nickname and I will now be referring to her as Bella as it makes more sense for a grown woman!
Anyway, we arranged to meet at the St Töniser Obsthof again and I went by velomobile.
I recommended the Himmelstorte to Bella so she had a slice (as did I).
And as we ended up chatting for 3 hours (!!!!) we thought we ought to get another round of cake in. So this time I had a Heidelbeer Schmand Kuchen and Bella had a Mohnkuchen (in the background of the shot below).
They were, of course, mega tasty!
It was so lovely to catch up with Bella again and we both had lots of news. She also gave me my birthday present from last year – I was impressed she was able to find it after 14 months!!!
And a random photo – Klaus took this picture of Kempen whilst he was waiting for me to eat my ice cream one evening when we went there by trike. Kempen is such a lovely town!
I reached my weight loss goal!
I reached my weight loss goal of 75kg last month but decided to go a little under to give me some wiggle room.
It’s really interesting looking back at my weight figures in Apple Health from before I started Keto/Low Carb eating. Here is December 2017, hitting the scales at 113.2 on average.
I think it was January 2018 that I started with Keto/Low Carb, but went into it fairly gently. I was still eating breakfast at this time, but it worked well and I was slowly reducing my weight. I wasn’t counting calories or anything like that, just reducing the carbs that I ate. A year later I was down 7kg, having had a bit of a Christmas excess.
It was after this that I started the intermittent fasting (16:8), where I only eat over an 8 hour period and fast for the other 16 hours. In other words, my first meal of the day is lunch at 12:30 or later and my last food is 20:30.
Without doing the Keto/low carb diet there is no way I could do without breakfast. I used to wake up really hungry every morning and I would HAVE to have breakfast or I would feel starving and maybe a bit faint. If you eat very few carbs the hunger pangs go away and you can function perfectly well without food, which enables you to start thinking about reducing the amount of hours in a day when you are grazing food!
Intermittent fasting helped me lose more weight, and then in order to shift the final stubborn kilograms in late October I started tracking what I ate on an App (Yazio) to really learn what worked for me and what didn’t. Last month we bought some new weighing scales which measure body fat etc but the most notable thing about them was they weighed us as 550g heavier than the other scales, so they are not a perfect comparator to weights several months ago (or you subtract 550g from the weight the scales show).
And this is where I have ended up, at my goal weight or a bit under to give me some wiggle room.
Klaus has also been losing weight and is now actually below where he wants to be so he is working out what extra food he should have in the day to keep his calories up. We both feel very fit and it’s nice to be able to shop in normal clothing shops too!
After the wedding
As mentioned above, Klaus and I got married this month and I wrote a separate blog post about it… Reader, I married him.
Our wedding was on the Friday and the next day, Saturday, we entertained my mum and sister by letting them have a corona test in Kempen and then doing a bit of Saturday morning shopping.
Anna bought a dress and we wandered around, also visiting some of the very pretty side streets in Kempen.
In the evening we went out for another nice meal, this time at Büskens in Wachtendonk. It was our first time there since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic so we were pleased to see he had survived.
Mum and Anna had a flight fairly early on Sunday so we left Heskeshof at 7 am for the drive to Cologne Airport which was much easier than when we collected them (1 hour travel time instead of 2 hours) but we got stuck in stationary traffic on the way home. Anyway, the flight home for them was also delayed but they made it back eventually and both had a date with their Day 2 Corona Tests the following Tuesday! These are done at home and then posted in the special Royal Mail Priority Post Boxes to the lab who do the test and then inform the person and the government of the results.
Overall Mum and Anna had a great time visiting Germany and we were lucky with the weather too. It was great to see them and the plan is that they will come over for Christmas this year (postponed from last year) so we are already looking forward to that.
A note about this blog
We have had many good wishes for our wedding from friends and from people on the Internet – it’s lovely to be able to share my life in Germany with my readers and I hope that you all find it interesting. After 89 months in Germany I don’t have that many new experiences but daily life here is rich and varied and I hope to continue to have things to write about for many more years!