Austria 🇦🇹: Family winter holiday Stubai valley

Winter holiday was upon us! Alex more than happily left school already at lunch time and we headed to the airport. We avoided most of the heavy half-term traffic and made our way to Munich. Sadly for Alex with a lot of pain – his cold prevented him from equalising his ear and so he was in absolute agony. Poor little thing. No last drinks that night in Munich, but straight to bed. Next morning i picked up Laura after breakfast. She had flown in overnight from Bangkok with the same airline we used from london – yet with a very different experience. She was given neither food nor blanket and couldn’t get any food on her journey while our stewardesses took such great care of alex. Strange.

Off to austria!

Traffic wasn’t great, but we had a relaxed journey. Mainly off the big roads. There was time to talk, stop for Austrian lunch with sun and a view and still enough time to sort out skiing gear for alex and laura – our newcomer – after a warm welcome with the parents.

Exploring the Stubai glacier

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Laura went straight for her 5 day ski course and even had a Spanish instructor 🇪🇸. She did well and learned the basics pretty quickly as the sessions went past. I doubt though that the tight ski boots will ever become her friend.

Bodo and mum had a private lesson right away the first day. Mum has really mastered her skiing by now while Bodo didn’t see the slopes all that much owing to some physical issues. Let’s hope it gets better next year.

Alex didn’t attend any ski school for the first year. Mainly because last year his progress was poor (concentration isn’t his strength exactly) and the whole thing was a waste of money. So Frances and I took him with us for most of the time – later joined by Steve who arrived a few days later from Copenhagen and is an excellent skier like Frances.

For the last day, Alex made a dream come true and had his first go at the snowboard. For that we headed for the piste nearer by our house (Schlick2000), as bad weather on the last day robbed us of a lot of skiing enthusiasm. He did well though realises he is a long way off his skiing ability … 🎿 🏂

An evening with the Widdecombe’s

A special occasion this year was the visit of my good friends and godson from London – Sara, Paul, Liberty & Bob. They were on their first family ski holiday and lived in the same accommodation. What a fun evening we had over raclette. The laughter over one of the jokes (sorry Paul!) is probably still echoing in the valley. Avalanche risk level 5!

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Back in Munich

Tradition dictates that the Saturday after skiing is spent in Munich and more particularly the Hofbraeuhaus. We also managed to visit the zoo two years after our first visit (Weekend stroll through Munich and the zoo), the surf wave in the English garden and, how could we miss it, the Viktualienmarkt. Fun times as always!

Laura gave Alex a Bayern Munich shirt just before we had to say goodbye at the airport. He had zero issues putting it right on top of his Chelsea top. Kids have no loyalty these days!

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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!

A wedding, a christening and two reunions

My 9 day break from cycling proved fruitful for catching up with former classmates (20y reunion!), family at my cousin’s wedding along with a new godson, team Nepal over a raclette evening and Alex who represented his school at a cross-country event. I feel like I should get a special discount for any travel from/to Berlin Schönefeld with three flights in a week by now. Back to Serbia to continue my cycle trip…

20y school reunion

20 years ago I finished off my A-levels before heading to the army for my basic military service. Thankfully we have a group of people who keep the anniversaries in mind and organise a get together every 5 years. We had a school tour with a rather hilarious former teacher and i learned that we had prison cells somewhere in the basement… Different ones for different problems (such as STDs!?!). Many things have changed now that the school has been renamed, extended and hosts a Czech focused class and teachers. But there was still plenty of memories berried those old walls of the former Rainer-Fetscher gym.

The dinner and party in Pirna’s city center was nothing short of amazing. Really good to catch up with old friends until the early hours. Gossip central!

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Denise / Mitko wedding & Anton’s baptism

My cousin finally got married to her Mitko after living together what seems forever to me. Crisp church service including the christening of my new godson Anton and then it was party time in the village of Weissig with wonderful views of the surrounding Saxon Switzerland countryside.

The party was good and many made an effort to surprise the newly weds. Good moments to chat with people who i don’t get to see often. Thanks. I had a good time.

Team Nepal in da house

Jon, one of the Everest climbers, just commenced his time off from service on his ship and stopped over in london before heading to africa to climb Kilimanjaro. Good time to catch up and retell Nepal stories. Rory and Zena came along too for what turned out a fantastic evening over a raclette – my preferred choice to socialize over dinner. Looking forward to the next catch up. And good luck to Rory for his Nepal cycle trip.

Not quite Usain Bolt, but good effort nonetheless

Alex already told me over the phone that there will be a cross-country event with 120 kids from different schools. He was excited to have been picked amongst a handful others in his class to represent St saviours.

He was busy thinking how fast he could be. I was busy managing expectations. His run turned into a series of sprints with some walking in between. Pacing is something he will need to improve. In the end it was just place 94 this time. Room to improve for the next run.

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

Elbe paddle: Finishing off in Hamburg

‘Endstation Hamburg’ would be the German way to describe it. Against the original plan of paddling all the way to Cuxhaven we decided to stop in Hamburg. 650km, 17 days, two countries and 6 federal states is enough for now and having taken the boat out of the river, i was a bit lazy to put it back together for another day or two. There was also sad news of two canoers bodies recovered half way to Cuxhaven. So that was the Elbe paddle – a test run for my bigger plan of paddling the Yukon in Canada/Alaska (~5x the distance at ~3,000km) and a bit of seen in my home country. Loved every moment of this river adventure even though that is hard to believe for some 😉 💪 🛶

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Two days in Hamburg

We spent only so much time sightseeing. Mainly the Landungsbrücken, Hafencity and the city hall. All pretty nice. The busy port with loads of waves reminded us as to why we took the boat out early. We didn’t see a single paddler in the harbour area though they are more likely to use the less busy Suederelbe anyway. We did spot the vessel though that passed the lock in Geesthacht with us.

For dinner we were invited at Thomas’ and Hanna’s brand new house in the West of Hamburg. I had never actually met any of the three boys. Another very important reason for the extra time in Hamburg. Afterwards we hit the Kietz with its iconic Reeperbahn. It was pretty empty, but we found still some iconic bars to have a good night out after all the sporty days behind us. The sun greeted us on the way home ☀ ☺ 🏩

So how was it after almost 3w on the river?

I have to say that I am well impressed with what the journey has to offer. It is true that it is not a matter of floating down the river, but in fact hard work. In particular at low water levels. On the flip side there are plenty of pretty towns on the way, amazing outdoor (really loved the camping by the river with good swimming and little insect issues) and so many animals. Really good to see the beavers back, lots of seafood about (crabs et al) and endless numbers of birds. I hope the infrastructure improves even further, as some places between Meissen & Hamburg feel dead.

What to learn for the next trip?

Here is a short list of improvements for the next trip.

  • Seat padding & backrest
  • Folding chairs
  • More gas, less liquid fuel (used spirit and managed to melt the MSR stove) ⛽ 🛢️
  • Waterfilter (well, if it ever gets delivered)
  • Larger tent (for Yukon) 🏕️
  • Much less clothing for change (quick wash is enough)
  • Better shoes (flip flops are pretty unstable) 👟
  • Consider canoe/double paddles
  • Need to accept that a cold beer or meat just won’t be readily available 🍻 🥩
  • An umbrella instead of drag sail

Summary of all posts

Elbe paddle (day 1): Usti n. L. to Decin

Elbe paddle (day 2): Decin to Stadt Wehlen

Elbe paddle (day 3): Stadt Wehlen to Coswig

Elbe paddle (day 4): Coswig to Riesa / Strehla

Elbe paddle (day 5): Riesa / Strehla to Torgau via Mühlberg

Elbe paddle (day 6): Torgau to Wittenberg

Elbe paddle (day 7): Wittenberg to Coswig (Anhalt)

Elbe paddle (day 8): Coswig (Anhalt) – Dessau – Barby

Elbe paddle (day 9): Barby – Schönebeck – Magdeburg

Elbe paddle (day 10): Magdeburg – Niegripp

Elbe paddle (day 11 & 12): Niegripp – Tangermünde – (somehwhere near) Räbel

Elbe paddle (day 13): Räbel to Wahrenberg

Elbe paddle (day 14 & 15): Wahrenberg – Schnackenburg – Dömitz

Elbe paddle (day 16): Dömitz – Hitzacker – Bleckede

Elbe paddle (day 17): Bleckede – Geesthacht lock – Drage/Hamburg