Full Christmas Agenda 🎅🎄🎉

It was pretty fresh when i got back from Aruba – a 30 degree temperature swing and most of the weekend was dark & wet. Welcome back to London! Didn’t i just miss it! 😊☔ 🌃 🇬🇧

Card Fraud 💳: Back in london, I found a host of charges on my card for deliveroo, taxi, bus travel and online shopping in the US. Interestingly, the card was active exactly while i was on the plane and couldn’t do anything about it. So i guess someone in Bogota airport copied the details knowing which flight i am on (you always give your flight details for shopping) and probably traded the details online. Clever trick really. But even nicer was the resolution process with Revolut bank. Simple. Quick. Got a new card in 3 days. Money back. Wow!

Star of the week 🌟: Alex was on a post-school playdate with his classmate Nathan when i got back. Nathan and his family are originally from Eritrea and his mum cooks the most delicious Eritrean dishes for the international evenings at school. Alex had been awarded the star of the week award for his good behaviour and effort at school. That means you get to take home Wuffi (the toy dog) and document your time together – Sunday church, time at home (last time together with Ross), sunday football and winter wonderland – London’s annual christmas fair.

New tenant 🇪🇸: While Amazon deliveries had sorted most of my presents, there were a few other things to sort out. First up a new flat mate with Ross moving on to lice with his girlfriend. He will be missed! Glad it didn’t take long and soon Ana from Barcelona will take up his room. Bienvenido!

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Catching up with Tina 🗞: She had just returned from an exhibition in  Turin on her work with African immigrants working in prostitution. Nice job. Generally, she had been busy on her photojournalist work – be it the African topic, lost Mexican children, Chernobyl or else. Always fun to talk with her and her work begins to pay off too with commissions from Der Stern, potentially a National Geographic deal and a new migrant project in Colombia. May all go well!

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A visit at the Chelsea stadium 🏟 ⚽: Wednesday night was a special night for Alex and myself – our first live football game. Obviously it had to be at Stamford bridge to watch the Chelsea play Bournemouth in the Carabao cup quarterfinals. Tight game, but we squeezed a 1:0 out thanks to an Eden Hazard goal – much to the delight of Alex. Next up is Tottenham who qualified the other quarter final.

Godfatherly duties ➕ 👦: Last, but not least was some time down in Dulwich village to hang out with Paul, my godson Atlas George and his sister Liberty. We had a pizza night and the kids enjoyed playing while the adults chatted away – as usual talking about god and the world (literally). I still regret having touched that strange polish liquor Paul offered … 🤢

Frohe Weihnachten! 🤶: Saturday we went to Germany after an exciting two days watching drone activity grounding air traffic in Gatwick. It turned out fine for us though a small knock-on delay made for a long journey and so we missed the 40th birthday party of my cousin and Alex godmother Denise. Well, happy birthday anyway!

Two friends reunited 👬: This year the christmas walk with my former classmates and family didn’t happen (see here last year Uttewalder Grund: Catching up with school friends (& their +1’s, +2’s … +4’s)). Not too tragic given most of us met at a recent school reunion (A wedding, a christening and two reunions). Instead i met up just with katja and her kids, Valentin & Valerie. For valentin and Alex i still had the friendship wristbands to exchange. Last year alex wanted to give one to him and made. A huge drama when i had none left. We had a great time in their house where alex worked on his art skills, we played in the park (yep, parents included owing several rounds of hide and seek) and fed ducks before enjoying lunch near the river elbe. Good times.

Christmas market 🎄: The weather was rainy ☔ throughout and not really inviting to visit the Christmas markets. We just made it to Pirna briefly for my only mulled wine of the year (!). Sadly someone rammed into my mums car in the car park after we left the market. Nuisance!

The Georgiev’s 🇧🇬 🍷🎄 vol. 2: While I had missed Denise’s 40th birthday, i managed to catch up with quite a few people of her husband’s family (aka the Georgiev gang) during their traditional get-together on the 23 December. Very entertaining as we discussed my bike trip (especially the Bulgarian part they had visited too), got some tips for the upcoming Vietnam trip (including, would you believe it, a recommendation to drink Vietnamese rum from my cousin) and laughed a lot. Thanks for the invite! This year i got off the train in time 😴 saving me the long and cold walk back to Königstein of last year 😂🤣

Christmas eve without church, but good vibes at granddad’s: We decided to skip church this year to have a little less busy agenda. Admittedly, I did miss the christmas flair the church visit usually spreads. Instead we had more time in granddad’s 👴 house. He has gotten old, but was on good form. To my surprise, my uncle Jon, wife and daughter joined us. The latter accompanied by her daughter and boyfriend – both of whom i hadn’t met yet. Back in Koenigstein we first stopped by the other grandparents anf then followed the usual protocol of dinner (potato salad, sausages, meat salad) followed by presents. Alex was so happy and got going right away with his huge lego ninjago ship and later we enjoyed a game of Mister X.

Preparing a xmas goose 🦆: Never in my life have i cooked a duck or goose for xmas. Now, most people don’t care yet i was curious. So i offered my help preparing the family meal for 26 December. Granddad Georg, who got comforting news from his hospital visit earlier in the day, had already prepared the birds for seasoning. From here it is simple. Salt and pepper inside and out, stick two apples and  mugwort inside, close it up and put it in a pot with some water. From here is about 3-4h in the oven on 150-180 degrees. Simple. The fat and all other that comes out while cooking then gives you tasty gravvy.

God-children hanging out: Later on the 25th we got a visit from Denise and Anton. Frances had also arrived from xmas at her dads in Munich. Alex and Antin love playing together though (no different from my childhood) need calming down at times. Adults meanwhile indulged in sparkling wine and conversations 😉

Second Xmas day feast 🍽️🍷🍗🍨☕🍿: Tradition has it that we spend the 26th of December with the Rehn section of the family. All kids were around and everyone busy stuffing tasty goose (thanks 👨‍🍳), dumplings, red and green cabbage… The desert, however, was unusual this year. Alex got a popcorn 🍿 machine for present and supplied the whole room – plain, sugary, salty or with whipped cream 🤣😂. The walk about town after lunch was dearly needed to digest!

Bowling bowling 🎳 night at Joe’s: After aan afternoon stroll and hot chocolates, it was time for bowling. Family bowling is also a long-standing tradition. We prefer at Joe’s in Pirna, as they have bounderies to help children score (seriously lowers drama occurrence for Alex). Finished off with a McDonald’s for dinner made this a truly american evening 🙄.

Last stop – Granddad Kurt: After Alex and Frances spent the morning making candles, we visited Opa Kurt in Dresden. Naturally, he had bought Christmas cake from Dresden (Stollen) and so munched and chatted away. Next year he will already be 90 years old and is still doing great!

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Lars in London: Just when i thought all is done and i can focus on my next trip, a close childhood friend of mine visited London. I managed to squeeze two hours out of the little time i had in london to catch up. The world is a village!

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Busy two weeks!

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Boys week: Sicily road trip

Straight after I returned from Istanbul it was time for Alex’ half term holiday. So bike out, kid in and back to the airport next morning. First stop was Germany for grandma’s 80th before we headed to Palermo to have our annual road trip – this time around Sicily. It was overall enjoyable, in particular the warm weather, Mount Etna and the Sicilian landscapes. However, i dislike the constant chaos in cities, the generally poor state of infrastructure and many dirty spots with garbage on streets, in nature and no one seemingly giving a damn. It’s sad to see.

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Happy birthday Oma Renate!

80 years is quite a number and so the family came together to celebrate the occasion at Margaetenhof in Gohrisch. It turned out rather nice and i had plenty of time to catch up with many family members. We even had a little after party back home. Sweet!

Off to Sicily…

We arrived in Palermo late afternoon from Berlin, picked up our little rental car and headed for the town of Castellammare del Golfo. I hadn’t booked any accommodation for this year’s trip, but brought the tent along for a bit of camping with alex. He likes it very much.

The first night, after our first of many pizza’s, we spent on a seaside camp ground that Alex had spotted. Due to luggage constraints (going camping with hand luggage only) i had only brought a sleeping mat for alex. So I resorted to some of the felt fittings and door mats of the car to insulate the cold. Very practical. The waves made quite some noise (i like it, but alex claims to not sleep well when they are too loud) and heavy rain made for a wet and stormy night. Inside the tent all was fine though and we woke up to a brilliant morning next day.

Sicily economy: The island remains one of italy’s five autonomous regions and has a very rich past. Over the centuries, Sicily was ruled by most of the large european powers at their time (even germans) leaving a diverse mix of culture and architecture behind. Economically and despite healthy tourism it is a tough spot and at c15% has the highest level of expatriates of any Italian region. The ongoing involvement of the mafia doesn’t help albeit less now.

Zingaro nature reserve, Erice & Marsala salt flats

On our first full day we spent the morning hiking in Zingaro nature reserve. We took the coastal path, checked out some houses converted to museums and a big cave. Swimming was not an option due to strong winds that day. Overall almost 7km – enough for the little man today.

For lunch we headed for the medieval hill-top village of Erice. Views were a bit hazy, but the architecture makes a visit worthwhile nonetheless. From up there we spotted our next stop – the nearby salt flats of Marsala.

Here, for centuries, salt is extracted using a system of ponds and windmills and the resulting salt decorates the landscape by way of white hills all over the place. The salt museum provides a good overview with tours in English available.

Stuck in mud

We had again big plans for the next day and kicked off with a visit to Torre Salsa nature reserve. I followed google maps that led me to an increasingly worse road. off-road pretty much. Previous days rain had softened the ground and we ended up getting proper stuck with our tiny city car in the middle of nowhere.

Not being able to move and with no one around we headed for the park entrance some 20min away on foot. I was hoping some ranger would be there (usually these reserves have an official gate and often charge for entrance and/or parking). The last stretch of the road was now more akin to a river and no ranger in sight. Well, we at least little swim on a pristine beach with unsurprisingly noone else around.

On the way back an english couple helped us out later on joined by two frenchmen and of course Alex. Eventually we got the car going after trying all tricks we could come up with. Thanks guys! We would still be there without your help.

We skipped the rest of this day’s agenda, which was chiefly the valley of temples (though we glanced at it driving past near the city of Agrigento), and rather had the car cleaned (the guy af the car wash couldn’t nt believe his eyes!). By nightfall we were in our room, showered, clothes washed (well, i tried my best), had takeaway pizza amidst 5 envious cats observing our every move and all the dirt was a mere memory. What an adventure!

Vendicari reserve & Syracuse

After some driving and lunch in one of the many eco resorts we headed for Vendicari nature reserve amidst great weather. The reserve is home to many animals including several bird species. Recent rain had also left its marks here with several pathes closed off due to flooding. We found a nice spot near the beach for the afternoon and Alex got busy with wave jumping and playing in the sand.

The night with spent in Syracuse, more specifically the island of Ortygia. It has a port and a lovely, largely traffic free old town be it quite noisy at times. More pizza please!

In the morning we managed to observe a fisherman sorting his early catch of fish, squid etc from his net.

Up the volcano and more time at the beach

Mount Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe at 3,300m and sadly a mass tourist attraction. The volcano is very prominent even in the rather hilly sicilian countryside and was calmly letting some smoke out.

The very top was not accessible due to a collapse the night before. So we headed up to 2,750m by cable car from where a offroad bus took us close to 3,000m.it was windy and cold and some leftovers of last seasons snow remained visible.

The visibility was amazing and the guide helpful in explaining where different eruptions occured over the years. Alex was most amazed by the warm earth that you reach by digging a mere 5 or 10cm into the ground. It is an active volcano after all.

After Etna we headed for the town of Taormina. No appetite for sightseeing though. Alex wanted to get back to the beach. No objections from dad!

It was a last night camping for us, but not before scoring some very tasty ice cream. Alex went for strawberry, i had chocolate. However, as soon as he tried mine i could read in his face that he wanted to swap. Well, fair enough son 😊

Active volcanos around the globe

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Last evening in Palermo

We followed the coastal highway to Cefalu – a picture postcard place in Sicily. The weather was kind again and so… beach of course. Alex loves being in the water, which for me was a touch cold (i am a bit of a girl, no disrespect, when it comes to that).

Once the time was up we headed another 50min to Palermo with its cathedral and vibrant old town. I really enjoyed meandering through the busy streets. It appeared some sort of town festival was on (it wae Saturday night too).

Alex finally got his lasagne and i had pasta as well. Be even tried bruschetta for the his time on the promise of the waiter for a present if Alex ate it. Well, he ate three and got nothing. Not cool i think, but heh.

Nice evening to finish off a great trip. Time to get back to london next day and leave the sun behind (well, i shall have it back in a few days).

A few days in Saxony

After my canoe paddle adventure had ended, it was time for a bit of family action back in Königstein. First and foremost the 50th birthday of Bodo, but also some downtime with Alex, sightseeing with Laura and catching up with the grandpa’s. A really great time, though I was also happy to get back on the road. Off to London briefly while Alex flies to St Petersburg to spend the second half of his summer holidays with babushka 👵 and dedushka 👴 in Russia.

Bodo turning 50

Great evening to honor the 50th of Bodo with loads of guests and a program boasting everything from magic to songs and dancing. We also put a revised version of we will rock you together while Laura impressed with her very colombian dress. Fun indeed though never enough time to catch up with everyone. Well, there are plenty more occasions this year.

Visit to Königstein fortress (on 2nd attempt) & Klettergarten

A visit to the largest fortress in Europe is almost mandatory for anyone that visits the town first time. Our first attempt was sadly thwarted by a massive rain shower with hail, lightning and thunder. So strong that even the fire alarms went off and a dozen of fire engines turned up (the fortress has a long history with lightnings).

On the 2nd attempt it worked out fine and Frances was helpful throwing in the remaining pieces of info from her time as a guide here (lets call it … patchy 🤣). For me the views remain some of the best in the region. See here for more on the history.

A new activity for me was the high ropes course near the fortress. Alex had been there with grandad before and wanted to try the higher levels now with me. Frances and Laura joined as well. It is tough once you get past the first 4 initial stages and pretty tiring (esprcially if you clear obstacles without cheating). Nice workout.

Dresden… Always a beauty

We didnt have much time to see Dresden, but surely I didn’t want to leave it out completely. So a quick round through the now reborn old town of Dresden. The amount of work put in to restore this beautiful place impresses me time and time again.

Wer das Weinen verlernt hat, der lernt es wieder beim Untergang Dresdens.

– Gerhart Hauptmann

Family ski holiday in Austria: Ups & Downs

It has been our tradition to go skiing with my family for 5y now. Last year we were in Kirchberg (see here the blog on my winter ascent) and this year not far away from Wildschoenau. The chalet wasn’t as luxurious (no wifi, not very clean etc), but on the flip side there were other houses in our village ‘almdorf’ allowing Alex to meet new friends such as Linus from Aschaffenburg and the snow-white family dog Lillyfe. With the kids busy, we enjoyed talking to the parents Tanja & Rene – perfect. 

Message to Almdorf Wildschoenau: Hey guys … the wifi & heating (to dry clothes!?!) need fixing. Ahh yes, and take a look under the beds. Needs some cleaning too. And a toaster per house would be great too. Otherwise, we enjoyed our stay. 

Here a great clip of the trip … thanks go to my sister for this one!

Weather wise we were not very fortunate. after a full week of sunshine in 2017, we only had one really brilliant day though generally good snow conditions and beautiful white coated forests everywhere around us.

 

Ski arena Wildschoenau: the ski area couldn’t quite compare to kirchberg/kitzbuehel. In particular it lacks good blue runs for the parents we felt. Also apres ski was pretty muted, as the area is mainly frequented by families that don’t go much more crazy than a few drinks at the end of the day.

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Project igloo – well, an open air one anyway: alex loves playing in the snow. With plenty of snow around he suggested we build an igloo. Well, we tried but just didn’t have the skills to fit a roof. Still, great effort and fun building it together. The ferraro rocher that alex has hidden somewhere inside is still there – bon appetit to whoever finds it!

 

Progress report – Mum taking second place in her first race: Alex went to ski school as usual. He is still struggling with  parallel skiing at times, but fearless and enjoying every moment. Mum also went on a course again in her second year and ski’s really well by now. Her efforts were awarded with a stunning 2nd place finish (out of 9) in Thursdays slalom race. We had bets running where she’d come out. Frances was spot on while we others all expected a worse outcome (Bodo #4, Ronny #6, Alex #8). The ceremony happened at Hotel Harfenwirt and rounded off our evening out. Fun. 

 

Carneval @ home: this years winter holiday coincided with the carneval week. We had brought costumes and celebrated in the chalet. Alex went as dragon, sister as indian, dad as captain, mum as something and i as some hula hula girl from Hawaii (though with a strong ladyboy touch judging by the pictures / feedback … well, i am just back from Thailand after all). Alex’ friend linus and his parents joined us for the evening. to our surprise, all of us being really tired from sport & fresh air all day, we chatted to almost 10pm and laughed a lot. Great evening. 

 

German  carneval & its origins – see here for a really good source

I guess a good way of understnading the origins are to look into the three typical terms for carneval – carneval itself, fastnacht & fasching (depending on the region). Historically it was a celebration ahead of a ‘fasting’ period beginning ash Wednesday and lasting about 6w to Easter Sunday.

The word Fasching dates back to the 13th century and is derived from the Germanic word vaschanc or vaschang, in modern German: Fastenschank = the last serving of alcoholic beverages before Lent. In olden times the 40-day Lenten period of fasting was strictly observed. People refrained from drinking alcohol or eating meat, milk products and eggs. The English word “fast” (to refrain from eating) is related to German fasten.

Karneval, on the other hand, is a newer, much more recent (17th century), Latin-based word borrowed from French and Italian. The true origin of the word is uncertain, but it probably comes from Latin carne levare (“away with meat”) > carnelevale > Karneval or Carnival. In earlier times, the German word was even written with a C rather than today’s K-spelling. (Some German carnival associations still use the Carneval spelling in their names.)

The third common term for carnival in German, Fastnacht, refers to the Swabian-Alemannic carnival, which differs in some ways from Fasching and Karneval, and is found in Baden-Württemberg, Franconia (northern Bavaria), Hesse and much of Switzerland. Although this word looks like it comes from the German for the “eve of Lent,” in fact it is based on the Old German word fasen (“to be foolish, silly, wild”). Thus the word, sometimes spelled Fasnacht (without the t) actually means something like “night of being wild and foolish.” You can learn more about Fastnacht below.

Slap in the face (with a hammer): Not all was fun for me last week. I had to deal with some surprisingly rude treatment from someone who I value very much and thought vice versa. How wrong I was. I skip the myriad of details here. Such things happen in life – both on the giving & receiving end – and one gets over it.  But then it always hurts when someone essentially slaps you in the face unexpectedly and with brute force. Especially if it is someone that you helped a great deal in life. Sometimes these things are interpersonal, cultural, to protect the other person, influenced by third parties, out of fear, because of difficult family situations, due to lack of maturity or sometimes because it’s just hard to speak the truth … god only knows (but he kept it to himself for now). Cut. Next take. Get ready to shoot. Sound rolling. Camera rolling. Action!

It’s funny how sometimes the people you’d take a bullet for are the ones behind the trigger.

Finishing off in Munich – as usual: It’s never good to finish on a bad note after a challenging week. Nor should I. Good news is that there are so many good people in life, first and foremost my sister. As we have done in so many years, once again we enjoyed a good time in Munich. Alex had right a go at the Schweinehaxe in the Hofbraeuhaus … impressive how much he liked to nibble on this big piece of pork. German after all.

Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile & who love you no matter what.

 

Weihnachten zu Hause

Christmas in Germany kicks off pretty early on the 24th in the evening (usually with the closest family), followed by two bank holidays that are usually spent with either set of grandparents (mum’s side and dad’s side).

Striezelmarkt: Before we even got to the delights of this years’ xmas, we enjoyed a day on one of Germany’s most famous xmas markets in Dresden. 8 degrees plus didn’t really give it an authentic xmas feeling, but heh. First up a long overdue catch up with Sandra, a former fellow Commerzbanker. She was part of the insane group of people to offer me a job many years ago ;o) Then straight into mulled wine, snacks and shopping with Alex, mum and sister. Good times. Even had the time to catch up with my cousin Denise and the family of her better half. Great evening!

 

Take me to church: People from Saxony are mostly not religious. Those that are tend to be protestant – a statue of Martin Luther in front of the Frauenkirche (Dresden) underlines that. Our family has always been protestant yet we didn’t visit Church all that often and usually only on Dec 24th. Could be a byproduct of anti-religious policies in East Germany (the central government disliked competition) or that freely available schooling made a lot of the wanna be believers i meet in London redundant (‘pay or prey’ to get your kid into a good school). Who knows. Anyway, after a brief stop in my home village Naundorf and granddad Kaiser, we made it to church in Struppen and enjoyed this year’s nativity play. Always good fun.

 

Kartoffelsalat: Most of my fellow students in Russia will remember my praises for my mum’s potato salat. A tradition in Germany in most families. Each mum has her own recipe passed on from previous generations. Add a few frankfurters and you have a basic yet tasty meal … and afterwards its time for presents. Dominated by lego sets this year. I got 5 finger shoes … as inspired by ‘Born to Run’. Lets see if it helps me reducing running related injuries.

 

Stollen in Dresden: After our family trek to the Barbarinea, we visited granddad in Dresden. Like the one in Naundorf, he lives by himself and so we usually just swing by for coffee instead of a full festive meal. Part of any coffee that time of the year has to be Stollen (Stollen is a cake-like fruit bread, see here). And there is none better than the one from Dresden! Taaaaasty!

 

Goose & green dumplings: Traditionally the 2nd bank holiday is reserved for dad’s side of the family. Originally we picked that day due to them being busy on the first bank holioday serving xmas lunches to guests in our restaurant, while they closed the 2nd. Now I guess it’s a routine even though the restaurant is just a B&B by now. A lot of the lot i hadn’t seen for a year (and some like Steve’s new girlfriend Anastasia not at all really) and so we discussed a bit the Lhotse adventures and future plans. Food is always excellent including tasty & tender goose, dumpling (Klösse) made with raw potatoes giving them a slightly green-ish colour and red cabbage. Wine is also never in short supply teaditionally kicikng off with a glass of Pinot as aperitif. Its tradition in Thuringia where my grandma is from … and tradition matters (and is super tasty).