Welcome to 2023!
As I look ahead to the year’s plans it seems like finally the quietness and inactivity of the Coronavirus times might be over.
I decided last year that I would like to visit the UK a bit more frequently in 2023, so as the New Year Sale from Stena Ferries landed in my inbox I booked four crossings to visit my Mum – in February, for Easter, in August for her birthday and in October. Interestingly the cost of the overnight crossings with single cabin there and back vary significantly depending on the time of year. The February trip cost 281 pounds, the Easter trip (Klaus coming along too) 426 pounds, the August trip me alone 402 pounds and the October trip just me at 371 pounds. This is with almost all other parameters the same (which days I am travelling out and back, price level of cabin, 1 car etc). I got a discount on each crossing through booking with the sale but it was still a big hit to the bank account in January!
We also have a week’s holiday planned in May where we will be riding our trikes in the Bergstraße region of Germany (where Klaus grew up), and we are very pleased that chum Ralf is joining us with his trike too. We have reserved a nice Ferienwohnung so we can be self-sufficient and the price is very fair. We will probably travel there in Ralf’s Sprinter to fit all 3 trikes in (his does not fold). Whilst there we will visit Heidelberg and Klaus will no doubt plan lots of other good routes for us.
We had planned this mostly over WhatsApp but decided to meet up in early January to just finalise things before I booked the Ferienwohnung. So Ralf ventured out on his trike (he no longer has a velomobile) and Klaus and I rode by velomobile to St Tönis.
Naturally while we were there we shared some cake.
We got slightly rained on on the way back but for Klaus and I it wasn’t too bad – we only had a half hour ride in velomobiles. Ralf had an hour’s journey on an open trike, but he is a hardy chap!
Klaus and I also have a two week trip planned around Scotland in Zuzanna his Z3 in June. We are doing the North Coast 500 route, plus visiting Mull where there is a bench in memory of my Dad. We are really looking forward to that trip. We will take the ferry from Amsterdam to Newcastle and that is booked but I haven’t yet booked the return ferry as we have a few spare days so might end up doing something different (going back via Hull or Harwich?)
Regular readers of my blog will know that since Klaus and I got married in August 2021 we have tried to have a “mini honeymoon” weekend away each month, a chance to spend some time together and to enjoy a nice meal too. We discussed these on New Year’s Eve and both wanted to continue with these mini honeymoons. They aren’t cheap but they are worth it for the time together and for something to look forward to.
Honeymoon #14 we had booked last year, that was a 2 day visit to Berlin and we had a great time!
2 nights in Berlin
Klaus and I both booked off the Friday so we could have a longer weekend in Berlin. We booked to stay the 2 nights at Clipper Boardinghouse on Gendarmenmarkt again as we really like it there. However, in retrospect a cheaper hotel would have been fine as we spent very little time there and didn’t use the kitchen facilities at all except for me to make tea (which I can do in a normal hotel with my travel kettle & tea kit).
A week before we went to Berlin we had a look if there was anything cultural we could do, and I saw a concert at the Berliner Phiharmonie which still had some cheap seats left (28€ each). It was a mixture of Ravel, Bartók and Salonen with an Organ Orchestral work. Sounded a bit random and I am not a fan of Bartók but we decided to give it a go and I booked the two tickets for us, right up in the gods. However, I’ve been the Philharmonie many times and I know the acoustics are good pretty much everywhere.
We also booked a meal at Sticks & Sushi, our favourite sushi place near Potsdamer Platz. That would be our Honeymoon Meal on the Saturday night. Klaus suggested we went to a really good Kebab place on the Friday night before the Philharmonie concert; he had eaten there in the summer on a work trip and really liked it.
I also prepared a bit by finding out which cafes I could find on the way to Berlin for a good break. The only one I found that was right near the motorway and at about the halfway point was Café im Schafstall which we had stopped at twice before, both times it was closed. So this time I phoned up the day before and asked if they were open on the Friday early afternoon – and they were.
So Klaus and I left home at 09:00 on the Friday (to let the worst of the rush hour traffic go by) and headed along the A2 towards Berlin. I did the first 2.5 hours of driving and we arrived at Barleben for Café im Schafstall.
It was a nice café and the cake choice was good, but I ended up paying 4,80€ for my tea which I found a bit steep.
Klaus then drove the remaining 3 hours, including right through the centre of Berlin, and we arrived at around 15:30. We parked in the underground garage at Friedrichstraße again as we have a special parking card which gives us a really keen price (8€ per day). It was just a 2 minute walk from there to the apartment.
After only about an hour’s unpacking and chilling we set off to walk to the kebab place.
I had a traditional kebab in a Fladenbrot but it looked really different than the ones I get in St Hubert. It was very tasty!
Klaus had one with potatoes rather than Fladenbrot and it was also excellent.
For dessert we shared baklava which was just 2 pieces of baklava (no fruit or ice cream with it) for 5€. Berlin prices!
But it was a good meal and we enjoyed the walk there and then back south towards Potsdamer Platz for the concert.
I had really cold hands and we were passing a leather shop so I bought a pair of leather gloves to warm my hands, and Klaus also bought a pair as they were a very fair price. His were lined and kept his hands warmer, my fingers were still a little cold.
(and as a note, 6 days later I managed to lose one of the gloves when grocery shopping in Kempen and despite looking everywhere for it couldn’t find it, so that was a very short lifetime for a pair of gloves!)
We arrived in the general area of Potsdamer Platz more than an hour early so decided to stop for a cup of tea and a cake somewhere, but we found nothing suitable in the Sony Centre (two restaurants had closed) and ended up finding a doughnut place where we could sit in the warm.
Klaus is not a big fan of very sweet desserts and the doughnuts were nice but definitely very far into the sweet spectrum. The place also was doughnut colours so not so cosy.
We drank a coffee/tea with this (my tea was free!) and then headed off towards the Philharmonie which proved slightly difficult to find initially as we had ended up off the normal route on our doughnut hunt.
We got there 45 minutes early but that meant I pre-empted the huge queue for the loo (there were only 3 ladies in front of me, about 25 in the queue 15 minutes later) and we got to look around a bit. It was Klaus’s first visit there.
Because of the all the walking we were wearing normal clothes and trainers. I had initially wanted to wear a dress and boots but as I saw the weather forecast as the holiday was approaching it became clear that would be way too cold! So Klaus and I were in normal clothes, like a lot of the visitors, but there were some others in suits and evening dresses. It makes it more of an event like that so it was a bit of a shame the weather and our walking everywhere had conspired against us!
Here is a photo I took from our seats – as you can see we are right at the top and the organ is off to the left but visibility was good – we had an orchestra’s eye view of the conductor.
Here is the running order of the concert.
And it was great! The Ravel was as you would expect but the Salonen organ piece was very different and surprising – with lots of drums. It was more modern than the music I usually like but at a live concert that doesn’t matter, it’s just wonderful being at the event and experiencing live music. The organ was fab in this piece too.
In the interval we ate a Brezel and wandered around a little bit – I was glad I didn’t need to join the loo queue as that was once again huge!
The second half was again Ravel (again as I would expect) and then came the Bartók which was completely different. The sound the violins made at the start was completely un-violin-like. There were also some points when I didn’t know if it was drums playing or the double bass (there were 7 double basses there!) The acoustics were marvellous but I was surprised not to hear the triangle that the percussionist played – afterwards Klaus told me it had been really loud, so it must be in my deaf frequencies. The gongs were really cool too – watching percussionists play makes you realise they probably don’t need to go to the gym as it’s a full-body workout sometimes. Klaus hadn’t seen the orchestra from this viewpoint before so he found that interesting too (as someone who has sung in choirs standing behind orchestras I had seen some of this before – but not gongs!)
We really enjoyed the concert and it was definitely worth the ticket price! We walked back through the cold streets of Berlin but it was still really happening there – Berlin is rather a different place than Kempen!
Klaus slept rather badly due to work issues going round his head so he felt completely pooped the next morning. He had managed about 3 hours sleep in total but knew he wouldn’t get anymore once it was morning so we got up. The plan had been to go to Frau Behrens Torte for lunch but before that we thought we would visit Mall of Berlin.
First order of business was breakfast for me so we went to Steel City Bikes again, where I had the sort-of English Breakfast again. Klaus just had a coffee. On the walk there Berlin seemed really dead, we hardly saw anyone!
Suitably fortified we hit Mall of Berlin, which was also fairly empty. I was looking for sneakers, Klaus also liked to nose about the shoe department (although he had bought some sneakers online a few days before and was waiting for them to be delivered).
We ended up in Peek & Cloppenburg where he happened to look at the coats and we found a really nice blue coat. Original price was 400€ but it was reduced to 229€. It looked really good on him, and he was concerned that his existing coat (that I call the “Spy Coat”) was too large (which it is – he has lost weight from his midriff since he bought it and could probably fit another half a Klaus in there too), but couldn’t quite decide. So we spent a bit more time on the sneaker hunt for me and then went back to the coats as I thought he should get it. I noticed a sign saying an additional 20% off on sale items and he asked about that – if he registered for a newsletter he would get the 20% off. So he did, and the coat now cost 183€. Which was a bargain! It’s really good for the warm weather.
I got a pair of Vans sneakers (at half price!) but was also considering some white tennis shoes.
Klaus was flagging after his bad night and we decided it was too far to go to Frau Behrens Torte, especially as Klaus was carrying around an additional coat and I had a box of trainers, so we decided to dump the stuff back at our hotel so Klaus could rest. On the way there we stopped at a café on Gendarmenmarkt which was OK – I had a brownie, Klaus had a Marmorkuchen.
After our cakes (and my tea was free!) we went back to our Apartment. I had another cuppa and then I set off back to Mall of Berlin to check out the sneakers again. Klaus stayed to have a bit of a rest. I didn’t actually buy any sneakers on my second look around but I got more of an idea what I liked and didn’t (and I ended up buying some when I was back in Kempen). What was interesting was how busy Mall of Berlin was at 16:00 in the afternoon – it had been almost deserted in the morning. The Berliners are afternoon/evening people.
I went back to the apartment and then we headed off to Sticks & Sushi for our evening meal. It had started raining and slightly sleeting as I was walking back from Mall of Berlin so we decided to take the U-Bahn to Kurfürstenstraße which would mean we only had a short walk in the rain/snow.
We really like Sticks & Sushi as a restaurant – the service is good, the surroundings comfortable and the food excellent. I always order the same thing and as soon as I saw it on the menu I had decided. This time Klaus went for something a bit different. It was a bit of a surprise that when my meal (“Robust”) came they had changed it slightly and I think I preferred the older one really. I had a large bowl of edamame beans which were a bit fibrous (a quarter of the portion would have been fine), no longer a small bowl of rice with it, and some slight changes in the other things. It was still very tasty but I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t entirely what I was expected. Klaus liked his choice very much, although he too had far too many edamame beans.
For dessert we shared the little dessert pots again – there is also one with liquorice that Klaus really likes but that wasn’t available.
We took the U-Bahn back again as it was still raining/sleeting but our walking total over the day was over 12km (we also walked 12km the day before). The good news is that Klaus’s back, which had been rather dodgy at the beginning of January and meant he had to have three osteopath visits, seemed finally to have settled down. He has found that doing regular walking is good for his back but as he had had 5-6 weeks with the lurgy and then recovering he had got out of practice and his back complained! But it was a real relief to be able to walk around Berlin all day without pain.
The next morning we were heading back home but I had requested we go out for breakfast somewhere and after some googling the evening before we had reserved a table at Ama Café in Dorotheenstraße (round the corner from Friedrichstraße station). We checked out, loaded our car with our luggage and then headed off on foot to the café.
This turned out to be a great place and the food was absolutely excellent and fairly priced.
I chose their Mediterranean mixed platter and Klaus went for Benedict Hollandaise.
As you can see from the photo above, I also treated myself to a croissant as I really like to have those at breakfast. And it was indeed a fantastic croissant – not stupidly flaky so it explodes in your hand, just buttery and soft and absolutely yummy. We will go there again!
Klaus also ordered some Breakfast Cake to have after his eggs.
I wrote a very good review of this café as we found the food and service excellent and will definitely go there again.
Rather than going straight back to the car Klaus fancied a bit more of a walk so we headed off to the Brandenburg Gate.
Klaus fancied walking to Topographie des Terrors so we went there but as it started to snow as we arrived we decided to head back to the car.
As I prefer driving in daylight I did the first bit of driving which involved coming out of the underground car park and driving through the centre of Berlin. Due to road closures that Apple Maps didn’t seem to know about we did a car tour of the Friedrichstraße area before ending up back where we started again, but eventually we escaped Berlin past the Tiergarten, Siegesäule and out in the direction of Westend. We were soon on the Autobahn and had a very smooth and easy journey.
We stopped again at Bantorf for cake at Café im Schafstall. As the tea had cost so much last time I decided not to have any, I just had tap water (I had a flask of tea in the car for later). The cakes were good again!
Klaus did the remaining 2.5 hours driving home, during which time I wondered about what we would eat for dinner as we had pretty much nothing in the fridge at home. We often stop at a Burger King on the motorway but after the cake it didn’t seem necessary. I started looking at Lieferando (German version of Deliveroo) on my phone to see what was available and decided to wait till we got home.
When we got home Gudula asked us if we were hungry. Yes, we said. She had been out for dinner at a Ukrainian acquaintance’s house and the lady had provided enormous quantities and Gudula had three Tupperwares full of leftover traditional Ukrainian food. Would we like some? Yes indeed!
We had vareniki mit Kartoffeln, which are kind of tortellini with potato and bacon and herbs – really tasty and extremely filling (library photo below):
and Golumpki, which is white cabbage stuffed with mincemeat and herbs and other things, with a kind of tomatoey sauce (internet photo below):
We also had a kind of prawn and egg mix/cocktail thing with it.
As a dessert we had some Ukrainian cake (the only item I photographed):
It all tasted really good and we were completely stuffed after all that food. We hadn’t finished it up either (apart from the prawn & egg cocktail) so we also had it again the next evening for our evening meal. We were really happy not to have to order a pizza and to enjoy such new tastes.
All in all the Berlin weekend was lovely. We were there less than 48 hours but packed a lot in and it was great to be there.
Back to work
I had two weeks off at Christmas as I had so much overtime accrued, but it wasn’t strictly necessary so I have decided to just take a week in 2023 and use the overtime which I will undoubtedly accrue for time off over the year (my England trips each use up 2 working days too).
It was cold in January but I tried to do more cycling to work rather than driving, and I was rewarded with some good views.
I had a wonderful experience when cycling back from work towards the end of the month as I saw two sets of hares boxing in the field! I tried to film it but they were too far away. Fantastic to see it though.
And here are two pictures of our own wildlife – Poppy with her favourite person Lars:
This is when she was on holiday in Berlin (yes, she had another holiday in Berlin without us – this time Gudula went to stay with Lars and took Poppy with her on the train). She had a great time there and came back seeming much fitter – she can now walk 12-14km in a day without becoming especially stiff afterwards and has lots more energy. This despite the temperatures being around zero a lot of the time. It seems that last year’s health issues as a result of her cruciate ligament tear and then slipped discs in her back are finally behind her. We hope!
She is getting more deaf and we’re not sure she sees too well either. She snores a lot more too! But we all in the house love her very much.
I lost a fight with a cauliflower
I had a bit of an inconvenience this month when I lost a fight with a cauliflower.
It didn’t help that the day before I had sharpened my veg chopping knife.
As you can probably guess, there was a knife/Helen interface where I had miscalculated the strength of the cauliflower’s stem.
I could see straight away that it was deep enough that it wouldn’t easily stop bleeding, so I washed it under the tap, wrapped it up in kitchen towel and went downstairs to ask Frank to take me to the local A&E unit (Klaus was on his way home from a business trip and an hour away).
So Frank took me to the hospital – I couldn’t have driven myself as I had to keep pressure on the thumb to stop the bleeding. I said he didn’t have to wait with me as I would probably be ages so he headed home – I had phoned Klaus who said he would drive straight to the hospital.
I ended up waiting about two hours before I was seen, and as expected I needed stitches. He did two but then realised it was still bleeding so I got a third, and a nice thumb bandage.
I had to wait for him to write a letter to my doctor and give me some antibiotics (which I need because of my arm). I also really needed a tetanus jab but surprisingly the hospital don’t do that during the week, only at the weekend – they say you have to get it done next day at your Hausarzt/GP if the visit to A&E is during the week.
Klaus and I were starving by now (it was 20:30) so we grabbed a pizza on the way home. He put the cauliflower back in the fridge and washed the knife.
The next morning I went to the GP and of course had to wait a long time there (as I always do, but he’s a great doctor so it is worth it). He wrote me a prescription for the antibiotics (the hospital only gave me 2 tablets and I needed a 5 day course) and then the nurse gave me two jabs which were mixtures of the tetanus jab, polio, diphtheria and whooping cough as I don’t have a record of having these in Germany (although I had them when younger) – and I would need two more jabs for complete immunity. So they will be in a month’s time and six month’s time. At least my German vaccine book is now up to date.
So I arrived at work quite late but my thumb was now looking OK and had mostly stopped bleeding.
Because of the location of the stitches I had to have a plaster on it pretty much the whole time as otherwise the stitches caught the whole time – putting your hand in your pocket, almost any other hand movement! So I had to buy some more waterproof plasters and I made sure I regularly changed them.
After 10 days it was looking better and it was time for the stitches to be removed.
This was no problem but there was quite an obvious scar so he put some scar cream into it and suggested I used a bit of pressure now and again to try and smooth it down.
I had to keep plasters on again for several days to stop knocking it all the time but eventually, more than 2 weeks after I cut it, I was able to stop using the plasters. This is what it looked like after 3 weeks, so it will scar but that doesn’t bother me.
I’ve been using hand cream to try to soften it but I am like Lady Macbeth with hand washing so it doesn’t last long!
And the cost of this mishap? 5€ for the antibiotics prescription, and 2,40€ for the waterproof plasters. The vaccinations were free of course. Once again I am so happy to live in Europe with our socialised healthcare – I wonder what the 2.5 hours in an American hospital would have cost me!
Anyway, that was my numpty cauliflower experience and when I had my next attempt at cauliflower chopping I used the hand-protecting glove for knife/glass usage that we have in the drawer!
Fuelling my car
I love Leonardi diCabrio, my Smart car, and the more I drive him the better I think he is (well, he is a Daimler after all – it says so on the German equivalent of my V5, the Fahrzeugschein!)
I felt like I used Leo a fair bit over the winter as after I had my bad cold I didn’t cycle for several weeks and I am also a bit wimpy when it is raining and I tend to take the car. Anyway, towards the end of January I realised I would have to fill up – and when using my App I noticed that I had last filled up a the beginning of October. So perhaps I don’t use Leo that much after all (I drove 409km in that time).
Anyway, one thing Brits might not know is that German petrol prices change multiple times during the day. In the UK the petrol pumps have the same price for weeks but here they change the pricing to adjust demand. If you go Monday morning it will cost waaaaaay more than Tuesday just before lunch, for example. This also means you don’t know the likely cost until you get to the pump – unless you have one of the many Apps which show the current prices.
There are four filling stations in Kempen and the one nearest us is one of the more pricey ones. For Klaus this is no problem as his diesel is free on a work Card but I have to pay for my petrol so I like to shop around a bit. Usually the Jet which is to the south of Kempen and on the way to Lara’s is the best price so I fill up when collecting her, but it just so happened I had Klaus’s car each time I needed to collect her so didn’t take Leo.
Frank would possibly need Leo one morning to collect Lars from Duisburg which meant I needed to fill up so I drove Leo to work (it was raining) and then when I finished work I checked the best prices – and the filling station nearest to work was the best price at 1,69€ per litre. So I headed there and there was a pump space free on the correct side for Leo – great! Only this set of pumps only had RON 85 (E5) and I use E10 fuel which is cheaper. E10 was sold on the other set of pumps (there was a lady there in front of me) but not on mine. I briefly considered buying E5/95 but it was 7 cents more per litre so I felt that wasn’t a bargain.
So I waited and the lady at the E10 pump in front of me finished, went in to pay and then came back out to the car. She sat inside and then proceeded to try to remove her coat, which she took absolutely ages about. She faffed around for about 2 minutes before finally driving off.
I parked next to the pump and picked up the filler nozzle, checking the display was reset to zero – and it showed the price as 1,73€. It had changed within the last minute, while the lady was faffing with her coat (as I had seen it at 1,69€ whilst waiting for her to leave). I ended up with 25 litres so had to pay an extra euro due to this faffing woman which really annoyed me. I said to the guy in the shop when I went to pay how annoying this was and he said not to sweat it – he’s right but it wound me up.
So, Brits, as you see there are advantages and disadvantages with this rapid-changing pricing – I bought the petrol at a price which was undoubtedly less than if I had gone before work, but if I had not had to stop at the red light on the way there and saved a minute or so I would have paid less. You just can’t tell what it’s going to be…
It’s been a long time since I included my cycling statistics in my blog – I actually only cycled 2,700km last year and that was 95% commuting, so I have kind of forgotten to do it. When I just updated my Veloviewer Stats it had 115 new items to add, it’s been so long since I did it! (That is cycling, walking and running).
Anyway, this is what 2023 looks like so far:
Klaus and I have tried to get back into the routine of walking during the day. When he is in the office he takes a walk at lunchtime, I try to do one in the afternoon. We need to build up our fitness again after having a lot of time off for the lurgy in December.
We have lots planned for February so we are looking forward to the new month. I hope yours is good too!