Hello and welcome to my report from the month of February – which contains cakes!
A trip to England
As I explained last month, I have planned to make more regular trips to the UK this year and the first of these was planned for the beginning of February.
The plan was to work as normal on Wednesday and then head off to Hoek van Holland Wednesday afternoon. I would return overnight on Sunday, so I took 3 days off work (Thursday, Friday, Monday).
The usual plan is to steal Klaus’s company car with free diesel but he needed it for company business (he was driving double the distance I would!) so I had to take Leo my Smart Cabriolet..
Now a 2-seater Smart car with a soft top isn’t the ideal car for international motorway journeys in February, but in the end it went well with Leo.
I had to buy some headlamp beam deflectors for driving in the UK as I would arrive at Harwich when it was dark. The first set I bought were missing the adhesive (fortunately I had a good look at how to fit them before leaving for the UK) so I got a second, different set which this time were fine.
I left very early to give me plenty of time and to hope to miss the worst of the rush hour. The speed limit on Dutch motorways is 100 km/h (60 mph) which is, I think, a good thing. Leo is fairly noisy at that speed because of the soft top but I had Podcasts playing so it was fine. The rush hour around Rotterdam slowed me down a bit but I arrived with plenty of time. I parked in HvH car park and, with the engine still running, fitted the headlamp beam adapters whilst the headlamps were warm (helps the adhesive) and with the lights shining against a wall. I think I did an OK job.
Then it was time for my evening meal – this time I went to the Chinese Restaurant which was expensive but was a good option. Comfortable, friendly, the food came quickly. I popped into Albert Heijn the Supermarket afterwards to get a little something to nibble on the ferry.
Leo was easy to load onto the ferry (he’s narrow so I had plenty of space) and I had managed to fit all my stuff in the boot – I had the passenger seat as a further loading area if I had required it.
As it was just 7 in the evening I had a cup of tea on the ferry and a muffin I had picked up at Albert Heijn.
I was feeling a bit rough generally – I had started a cold the day before travelling and spent the whole afternoon sleeping in bed. I had a been a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to go to the UK, but I felt better on the Wednesday and had worked in the morning without issue. Mum had expected me to have to cancel so was pleased to hear I was actually coming. So anyway, after my muffin I went to bed – I was feeling a bit cold so I had both duvets on my bed, plus I turned up the cabin heating, plus I kept my socks on. Over the course of the night I got so hot I ended up sleeping on top of the duvet with no socks… so I think I was alternating with a fever/chill. I didn’t sleep too well overall but that’s not uncommon on the ferry.
The next morning we disembarked and I headed off on UK roads in my little German left-hand-drive Smart. The first thing to note was that the headlights were a bit sub-optimal, but they were fine to drive with as I know the road very well and there was so little traffic on the back roads (I didn’t take the A120) that I could have full beam most of the time.
I stopped off at Manningtree to buy some food for my stay, rather than heading out again once I was in Ipswich. I was mindful of my cold and thought it would be better to just hang out at Mum’s rather than do too much.
I went to the Manningtree Co-op where I used to do most of my grocery shopping and noticed that food prices in the UK seemed to have significantly risen. Things seemed more expensive in pounds than I would expect them in Euros, sometimes quite a lot more. I was rather surprised how much I ended up spending.
Once I put the shopping in the car boot I decided to walk up onto the dyke as the weather was rather nice this early in the morning – and I had this nice view of Manningtree and the river Stour.
It was a bit chilly though so I was happy to get back in my car with its heated seats and head off to Ipswich. I drove through the town which was very easy in my little Rollerskate.
Bringing Leo also had another advantage – he’s about the only car that will fit easily in the right hand side of the Cart Lodge at Mum’s as there is a difficult corner as you back out. Here is Leo (on the right) hanging out with Mum’s Fiesta.
It was lovely to see Mum again and we just chilled out a bit. I had a lunch of a chicken baguette I had bought at the Co-op, along with some tomato soup. In the afternoon I had a short walk to the book exchange telephone box to see what was on offer (I picked up a couple of books and had donated a couple I had brought with me too) but that was about it.
For the evening meal Mum went out and got me a pensioner’s fish ‘n chips. She shared some of my chips but it was still a big enough meal for me!
I had an early night due to my bad night’s sleep the night before and this time slept like a log!
The next day was Friday and we had arranged to meet my cousin Moyna at Hall Farm Farm Shop in Dedham for cake. In the morning Mum and I went into Ipswich (using Leo the Smart – easy to park but rather rough over the English potholes due to limited suspension and short wheelbase!)
Ipswich is really dying a death. I went to Marks & Spencer of course, but apart from that there only seemed to be card shops. I also saw three separate teams of police officers walking around which made me wonder why there were so many (Mum reported that someone had been stabbed in the town centre a week or so before). After an hour and a half I had seen all I needed to see so Mum and I headed back to her house. I’m really not sure if Ipswich town centre is worth a visit now.
We went off in the afternoon down the A12 again to Dedham where we met Moyna.
Mum chose a coffee cake.
Moyna a Lemon Sponge.
And I went for a cream tea of course!
We had a lovely chinwag with Moyna and also did a bit of shopping at the Farm Shop where I got a cake for my colleagues at work in Germany when I returned. It was great to see Moyna again.
The next day, Saturday, was jam packed full!
The plan was to visit my sister in Thundersley near Southend. I got in touch with my old school chum Lindsay and she happened to be at home so we arranged to visit her first – she has moved house in the last six months and so Mum and I went on a magical mystery tour of the unmade roads in South Benfleet. We understood why all the houses we passed had trucks or off-road vehicles as we bounced around speed bumps and potholes…
But Lindsay’s new place was lovely! Reggie the dog made us feel welcome.
It was a chance for a catch-up with Lindsay. We tend to see each other every 3 years or so, although we communicate by email/text much more regularly. And here we are together, 47 years after we first met!
Lindsay had a lunchtime engagement, as did we, so we said our goodbyes and headed up the bouncy road towards Anna’s house. It’s a good 10 minute drive but you could actually walk cross-country in about 10 minutes too as the houses aren’t that far apart, just 3 sides of a square to go via roads.
It was lovely to see Anna and family again. Our plan was to head straight to Leigh on Sea and browse the Charity Shops as you can find some good bargains there. Anna, Mum and I headed off to Leigh and discovered that lots of other people had had the same idea and there was no space in the car park and several people in cars already queuing, so we started driving up and down all the local roads and eventually found a space (good thing we were in Mum’s Fiesta rather than Anna’s MG estate car).
The first order of business was to find lunch, but the Leigh Cafes all seemed to be a bit Avocado Toasty… but eventually we found somewhere with seats where we could have our lunch of cake.
Well, Mum and Anna had cake, I had an English Breakfast Sandwich (basically a Doorstop Bread with sausage, egg and bacon in it. Yummy!)
Here are Mum and Anna’s cake choices.
We browsed a few charity shops but didn’t find anything too fab until in the last shop I found a really good suit jacket (a Marks & Spencer one) which fitted me perfectly. So I got a bargain!
We managed to find the car again and then headed off to Rayleigh where we were dropping Mum off to visit a friend whilst Anna and I went to Battlesbridge again to see if I could find any more vintage bargains.
The answer was no to the vintage bargains, but Anna found a dress that was really great for her. We were able to try things on in the disabled loo which involved going down 3 flights of stairs and then outside to the loos, holding the dresses – but the lady selling the clothing seemed to think that was fine. What I tried on didn’t work for me but, as I said, Anna got a dress that she absolutely loved.
We went up to the café for some restorative cake and Anna’s friend Suzy was there. I went to grammar school with Suzy and see her about once every ten years now when she happens to be doing something with Anna. Anna’s middle child Hari was also at Battlesbridge with her new chap but we tried not to crowd him with too many family members and other random people!
Anna and I decided to share a cake, which was a Crunchie Sponge. For those who don’t know, Cadbury’s Crunchies are chocolate bars with honeycomb inside which we always used to have in our Selection Boxes at Christmas. They make a pretty decent cake topping too!
The view from the window of the café is pretty good too!
I escaped Battlesbridge without buying anything so that was a win. I still feel like I need more time there as there’s so much to see but we never give ourselves enough browsing time. Next time I visit I shall attempt to use the time more wisely!
We went back to Anna’s for a cuppa and then it was time for the evening curry at the Mumtaz Mahal in Benfleet. We like this restaurant very much but this time they were very slow. When we ordered they said that as Harley and I had ordered a special thing it would take “a little bit longer” which we assumed to be 10 minutes. We ended up waiting more than an hour for the meal so everyone was starving! I’m not sure why it took so long as it was just a mixture of normal dishes plus half an onion bhaji. I shared mine with Gwen, Harley had a portion all to himself.
And here are the butcher, baker and candlestick maker again!
It was very late when we left – Mum was driving back as I don’t see so well in the dark, plus I was really tired now as Germany is one hour ahead of the UK. I was pretty dozy in the car on the way back, and then we had the fun of an unexpected closure of the A12 and the diversion signs sent us the wrong way at Colchester. Fortunately I know Colchester so we were able to get back onto the right route but had wasted a good 10 minutes when we would have liked to be in bed!
The next day was my last day in England and I went to my old church Lion Walk URC in the morning. It was so lovely to see everyone again, and to listen to the music. I really feel at home there. I did some browsing in Colchester after the service and got myself some lunch, then spent a relaxing afternoon with Mum. I did a short walk to the church and to the other Book Exchange as well – the church was lovely with all the snowdrops!
As has now become our custom we had an evening meal at the Railway Inn in Westerfield before I drove on to Harwich. Mum had this nice chocolate cake dessert.
I had apple crumble with custard, hurrah!
It was an easy drive back to Harwich along the country lanes again. No-one flashed me so I think my headlamp beam deflectors were reasonably well fitted. As I got back to Harwich I removed them (as the adhesive was warm again from the lights) and managed to get pretty much all of the gooey adhesive off.
I had a much better sleep on the way back, was up in time for a cup of tea before leaving the ferry and I then had a very relaxed drive home to Germany. Leo averaged 5.56 litres per 100km (which translates to 42 mpg) so was actually pretty efficient on the motorway section, but then driving at 100 km/h is pretty efficient. He was fine as my method of transport but the Octavia is definitely better at dealing with potholey roads in the UK!
A visit to the Frankfurt Ambiente Messe/Trade Fair
The candle manufacturer that I work for exhibits at the yearly Ambiente trade fair which is in Frankfurt. Klaus thought it would be useful for me to visit this fair so I could see what the competition are up to and that we could combine it with a visit to see his father in Mannheim.
So we decided to head for the Messe on the Saturday morning and booked a hotel in Heppenheim for the evening.
It’s a drive of over three hours to Frankfurt and we arrived and parked at the main station (which was once again almost empty of cars). Rather than going straight into the trade fair we walked a few hundred metres up the road to the café/bakery Zeit für Brot – where Lara and I had some very tasty Schnecken in Berlin last year. This time Klaus was with me and we settled down to a huge Schnecke each.
I liked these very much but it wasn’t so much a Klaus thing. Nevertheless they were huge and would function as our lunch.
We then walked the 20 minutes or so to the Messe area. I had not been before but Klaus had visited the Frankfurt Messe many times and was not a fan of their organisation – and I could see why.
We had to queue for the place where we could check our bags and coats and the queue spread across the main walkway for all the visitors – in the UK they would have supplied some roped poles to encourage people to queue out of the way a bit. Once we had checked in our coats it wasn’t clear how we should get to Hall 3, where my company were exhibiting, but we saw some signs saying “Bus to other Halls” so went to the door there. We were not allowed through as the chap said this wasn’t the bus area; we pointed to the sign above our heads pointing exactly to where we were and he said “typical Frankfurt Messe.” We had to walk a little way to another door and there we found the buses.
We got on a bus and off it went, but the driver stopped once or twice without telling us for which halls we should now get off. In the end we looked at Google Maps to see where we were and I realised we were fairly near to Hall 3 so we got off and walked the rest – who knew if the bus would head off in a different direction.
This was all a rather disorganised start and I was not impressed. Which was compounded by the fact we were unable to find the stairs up to the first floor of Hall 3 where our stand was. There were no signs pointing to stairs or an escalator anywhere, and the only escalator we had seen was outside and roped off.
Eventually we found our way to some escalators, went up to the first floor and visited our Stand.
We then went to see some other stands and I had a meeting with one of my suppliers. I then discovered there is an overground walkway between all the different halls so we didn’t really need to go outside/get the bus but I hadn’t realised this before – the signage hadn’t exactly been obvious.
I had a good chat with my contact at the other candle company and we then had a bit of a look around some other exhibitors, including a hot water bottle manufacturer from the UK who had a good moan about Brexit. We went back to the stand from my company and had a bit more of a chat as they were less busy – they gave us drinks and a few sweeties too which kept us going.
We ended up staying at the Trade Fair for nearly three hours but eventually collected the car (the parking for four and a half hours was nearly 18 Euros!) and headed to Heppenheim.
Our hotel was right in the middle of Heppenheim in the main square and we had a nice room.
We had arranged to meet up with Klaus’s friend Martin in the evening at a local Italian restaurant so walked there later on. It was lovely to see Martin and chat with him again over some great food. I just photographed the desserts!
Heppenheim was full of energy and life when we visited last summer on a really hot day; in early February it was rather dead, with just a couple of young people wandering around the centre when we walked back from the restaurant.
The next morning we enjoyed a good breakfast and then headed off to Mannheim to meet up with Klaus’s father, stopping for Quarkbällchen to bring him on the way. It was very hard to find an open bakery on our route which was a bit of a surprise!
We had a good chat with Klaus’s father who also made us some lunch and we had the Quarkbällchen for dessert.
It was a 3.5 hour drive home again from Mannheim but it’s much easier when we stay somewhere overnight and don’t do the visits all in one day – that ends up as a lot of driving!
Work and Karneval
As mentioned above, I bought a cake in Dedham and shared it with my colleagues when I got back to work. I had also bought some high quality Brownies for my colleague Lucia as it seems she really likes them! I ended up having some of the cake from England at work as it is hard to go Cold Turkey from cake when you have been in England and are back in the office, but with a nice cake just waiting for you in the office kitchen!
February wasn’t as cold as in previous years and it was nice that, over the month, my commutes started to become lighter. By the end of February I was riding to work in daylight.
February was Karneval in Germany. It’s a big thing in this part of Germany but not really my cup of tea; however, several colleagues really enjoy this season and we all had a mandatory day off for the major celebration day, Rosenmontag (the day before pancake day – which isn’t a thing in Germany).
The Thursday before Karneval our boss had provided us with doughnuts – the yellow ones were Eierlikör.
And this was the day of the strange German custom of women cutting men’s ties in half (Weiberfastnacht) – which also took place in the shop part of our office buildings.
And then my colleagues enjoyed some Sekt. During working hours. Whilst eating doughnuts.
I can definitely get behind the doughnut-eating part of the Karneval tradition!
Honeymoon #15 – Heidelberg
I had visited Heidelberg once in 2018 but Klaus had been there many times in his youth and we thought it might be a nice destination for our next Mini Honeymoon.
I found a nice hotel, Molkenkur, which was up on the hill behind Heidelberg with good views over the Neckar Valley towards the Rhine, and the price was also very fair!
Klaus and I set off at 9am on the Saturday morning for the 3.5 hour drive, which ended up being 45 minutes longer due to a crash on the Autobahn (we saw five cars all on the hard shoulder when we eventually got past so it had been a bit of a pile-up). Still, we arrived at 1pm which was earlier than we could officially check in but they let us into our room anyway.
We dumped our suitcases and then headed straight out for lunch in Heidelberg. The hotel told us that we would get half price tickets on the Funicular railway (Bergbahn) which goes down to Heidelberg via the castle – so the tickets ended up being 4,50 € each.
The photo below makes it look very steep, it’s actually an average of 37% and travels at a speed of 4 metres per second.
We glided down the hill and then set off in search of cake. There was some kind of demo taking place in one of the main squares with drums and things.
We found a café which had good reviews and both chose the multi-layer cake.
I ended up with a bit of back-and-forth with the lady who wanted me to buy one of her teas rather than using my own teabag (the same conversation I regularly endure). In the end I said yes, but Klaus felt she was rather too pushy and was on the verge of leaving. The tea came, it tasted OK but was missing that special something, so once again it confirms there’s no point in me drinking German tea, I should insist on my Tetley. The cake was fine though.
We had a good walk around Heidelberg and spent some time in Kaufhof looking at scarves for Klaus (didn’t find the right one for him). When we came out it was unexpectedly pouring with rain but we carried on walking and after 10 minutes the rain had passed and the sun came out.
We decided to walk up to the castle from the town which was 315 steps. I felt rather proud that at the end we overtook a teenager – us old farts can still walk up a hill.
The castle itself is really impressive – part ruin but also some bits still functioning.
We went inside the old wine cellar which was huge – and had a coffee/tea and then Klaus went for a glass of wine (why not, in an old wine cellar!)
The view from the castle over the Neckar river is great.
We took the Bergbahn up the single stop to Molkenkur again and then dressed for dinner – we had decided to eat in the hotel restaurant.
The restaurant was very good – the waiting staff were friendly and Klaus enjoyed his Martini and then wine. The food was also excellent. We splurged on a dessert each – we chose the same and it was worth it, a little chocolate pudding!
When we went back to our room it was dark but clear – this is a photo out of the window of our room (great view!)
The next morning we enjoyed a hearty breakfast in the hotel and then decided to walk up to the Königstuhl which is a larger hill behind Heidelberg which has a Max Planck Institute radio telescope plus a couple of aerials.
We started off crossing under the BergBahn.
Garmin offered us a walk of 1.4 km so we thought we would try that, only to discover it wanted us to walk up some tumbledown steps which looked too rickety with our normal shoes. So we did the longer 3.6 km walk along forest trails.
In the photo above the white blob in the centre is the hotel Molkenkur, so you can see why we had such a good view last night!
It was quite a tough uphill to get to Königstuhl, with an average gradient of 10% I think, but we made it in the end and the view was worth the effort! Here you can see the Bergbahn too.
At the top there was a restaurant/cafe but that only opened at midday and we were a bit early. However there was a Kiosk by the Bergbahn which turned out to be really good – friendly staff, good choice of cakes, free hot water for my tea. I had a pastry.
Klaus had an apple cake.
It was pretty cold sitting there, especially as I had slightly sweated walking up the hill and was now getting a little chilled, so we decided to head back down again fairly soon. We went via the view point – once again looking down the Neckar valley. Klaus was born within a stone’s throw of the Neckar so he considers it his river!
Once we got back to our hotel, although we had already checked out they offered us another hot drink (for free!) so we enjoyed a tea and a coffee whilst we thawed out a little. Then we went on our way.
We were visiting Klaus’s father in a couple of hours so travelled a different way back down the hill via the village where Klaus’s relatives come from (there are still some businesses with his surname in the title in that village). He was looking for a house he remembered but we couldn’t find it.
We then stopped in Ladenburg for a cup of tea which turned into lunch. Klaus ate a Flammkuchen (a local speciality, like an incredibly thin pizza without tomato).
I saw Kaiserschmarrn on the menu which is one of my favourite things, so I added further carbohydrates to my day!
We headed back to the car after wandering around Ladenburg for a little while and then went to see Klaus’s father in Mannheim.
We drove back as night was falling and as it was getting late we decided to stop for an evening meal. We could have stopped at a Burger King but instead decided to leave the motorway and find an Italian restaurant – a relatively fail-safe option. We found one, Pizzeria La Strada in Erfststadt, and had a really nice fluffy crust pizza.
We were pretty tired for the final hour of driving to get home. Klaus had actually technically been off work for the last two weeks due to a bacterial infection but he had done a lot of work at home in that time, but taking regular breaks. The weekend was pretty full on so we were both pooped after it. But it was another lovely honeymoon!
On a boring weekend day Klaus and I received a photo from Lara of a cake she was eating (she was away in Hessen visiting friends). Within 10 minutes I had jumped into my velomobile to cycle to Beyertshof which is a very good Farm Shop 7.5km away – and which has excellent cakes. So I got cakes for Klaus and I which we sliced in half and had over two days.
And the final information is my Veloviewer Wheel… which shows how little I am cycling these days (all commutes except for the above-mentioned cake-fetching).
However, Klaus and I talked a lot about our cycling and it seems that at the moment we are happy with the amount we are doing. We don’t feel such a need to do long distances in the velomobiles. We have a trike tour in May with Ralf so will need to get a bit of training in before that but otherwise we will just take it easy.
The weather has turned colder over the last few days so I am glad of my velomobile for the commute – but I still get cold cheeks! But Spring is most definitely on the way!