On August 30th Ella’s Mum Diana arrived for a trip away with Ella for two weeks through France and Spain. The leaving party was eventful to say the least and many were left pondering the origins of their many bruises in the days that followed. Hayley remained at the Bog for the intervening time to work. If not already obvious by blatant word inventions, and despite the third person façade, Hayley is in fact the author of this wee blog and therefore cannot cover the time Ella spent away, though you may be treated to a first-hand account from the traveller herself. In mid September Hayley again took the horrid seven hour bus ride back to London to meet up with Khalid.
For Khalid, the first time Londonner, touristing the main sites was a must, which was achieved over three days. Staying in a room posh enough to have towels included and an automatic front door for the first time, Hayley was very happy, especially after walking through Hyde Park and finding the squillions of squirrels. On the list was a bus tour, which turned out to be a disaster once we lost the ticket, though we did manage to sneak onto the river cruise more than once by saying we were with that particular company (which shall remain unnamed for fear of advertising them). We took a London cab for the sake of taking a London cab, met up for dinner with Khalid’s cousin, tried to get on the London eye but were too late, and managed to see most of the things you might find on a postcard from the city.
Our next stop was one every little girl dreams of - a stay in a castle in the north of Germany. We flew into Dusseldorf and took multiple trains (more than actually required in fact, turns out Germans aren’t so clear on their ticket instructions) and a taxi to reach Wasserburg Anholt. Truly something out of a fairytale, we both fell into bed on arrival, pulled out the lemsip and box of tissues and spent most of our two days there sick with colds. Khalid of course, was struck down by the dreaded man-flu. Fortunately the castle had an incredible moat, drawbridge, turrets, garden and maze to explore and spend some non-tiring time outside. The meals were hard to describe, that good, and the breakfasts had so much choice we couldn’t resist but try it all. It was all so luxurious. Room service and a mini-bar for someone who had never had either before, and spent the a good part of the year in places with floors so dirty you can’t take your shoes off, it was one unforgettable experience.
After we checked out we had most of the day before we flew to Munich. Organised tourists that we are, we dropped our bags at the airport in Dusseldorf and took a train into town to have a look around. At the central station we got off, walked up one street. Walked back down that street. Got bored, and went back to the airport to wait. However, it’s highly likely that a tourist with a destination in mind might find Dusseldorf more stimulating. We landed in Munich that night, met up with Ella who had said goodbye to Diana that day and flown in from Spain, to meet up with Michael and Carmen – Hayley’s step-brother and step-sister-in-law. All three of us were to stay with Michael and Carmen for the week. A week which just so fortunately happened to fall during the infamous Oktoberfest.
On our first day in Munich Khalid and Hayley were just starting to feel better as Ella was desperately trying not to catch the remainder of our colds. The three of us spent the day wandering the centre of Munich, stalking guys and girls in lederhosen and drindels and starting to buy souvenirs and pretzels. We even managed to only get lost once.
The next day we had a slow start, intending to finish late, so we left for our first day at Oktoberfest at mid-afternoon. We caught the full view of the madness of Oktoberfest from the giant ferris wheel before setting out and hunting down some beer tents. Unfortunately our first pick turned out to be a wine tent. We stayed long enough for one drink (Khalid and Ella had the only beer on offer, Hayley tried a German cider) and headed off to the huge circus-like Hippodrome that had a capacity of over 3000 seats. We took up three of them long enough for Ella to make friends with an Italian man and the server guy, Hayley to sneak her mug into her handbag (it’s practically good manners) and Khalid to purchase the first ever ‘mass’ he drank from. Moving on again we found Michael in a beer garden for a drink, a pretzel and some lessons in Bavarian before finishing up the night and heading home.
Feeling a bit lazy, Hayley and Khalid had a day at ‘home’ watching DVD’s while Ella explored the town and her choice of museums. We headed out to dinner with Michael and Carmen at night. Fortunately we had our two German speakers to translate the entire menu for us and even tried the Bavarian tradition of a glass of coke and fanta. Which, incidentally, is not as bad as you might think.
The next day we had a proper breakfast out at a café with Michael and Carmen in preparation for a full day at Oktoberfest. Michael had a table reserved with his work in one of the big tents, and somehow (possibly our Kiwi charms) we managed to squeeze in with them. We sat, danced, sang German songs using made up words, drank beer, ate pretzels, practised ordering more drinks and eventually got up on the seats and danced on those too. Two guys provided a very special moment in the aisle next to us by re-enacting the jump-dance scene from Dirty Dancing. At the end of our session, we went to settle our bill and found it already paid for by Michael’s boss – why don’t the German’s have an amazing reputation for hospitality? We left the tent and began touring the festival. We played darts, went on various giant swings, roller coasters, spinny machines and bumper cars before Khalid had is camera stolen/lost from one of the bumper cars and we three headed home to watch a movie. Not the best way to end the day but this is where insurance comes in handy and having more than one camera throughout the day meant that we hadn’t lost all our photographic memories.
In the morning we all got into our black and whites and headed off to an Irish pub in central Munich to watch the rugby game between New Zealand and France. The pub was so packed in every room we managed to squeeze ourselves in down the back – hadn’t seen so many Kiwis since we left NZ. We met up with Michael’s French workmate (poor guy) at half time and enjoyed the atmosphere of a morning pub drinking session. Towards the end of the game the screen kept blacking out – hilarious for us slightly indifferent fans but torture for the true blokes and blokessess in the room. Khalid, Hayley and Ella went back to Oktoberfest to check if the camera had been handed in, and then into the police station to file a report as it hadn’t shown up in the bag of cameras, phones, wallets and sunglasses offered. We spent the afternoon in town picking up last minute souvenirs as this was our last day there. Just as we were about to leave, we spotted people at the top of a bell tower in the main square. Figuring the view would be worth the climb, we checked it out. We would later find a list on Stuff about other things to do in Munich, number eight of which was; “Take a hike. Well, not really. Burn those beer calories by climbing up the 306 steps of Munich's oldest church, St. Peter's (called Alter Peter), and bring your camera -- the summit holds some of the most memorable views of the city. “ We did, and they were. About 20 steps from the bottom, the well-worn stone steps and the well-worn flat soles of Hayley’s sandals resulted in a sprained ankle, a devastated Hayley and a painful limp home.
Separating again, Ella stayed behind as Hayley and Khalid left for the train station. Ella was to fly to Birmingham for a biomedical science conference for several days – again she may fill you all in, it honestly is more interesting than it sounds – while Hayley and Khalid flew on to Athens. With Khalid pulling and carrying both of our 20kg bags, we made it to the airport ok, and found a wheelchair to ease the stress. The lovely air hostess people and security people put us through first – an experience I can highly recommend. Unfortunately we got our first taste of the strikes in Athens while sitting on the runway in Munich for an hour and a half waiting for clearance at the receiving end. Hobbled off the plane and was offered another wheelchair, gratefully accepted and was wheeled by a security guard all the way to baggage claim. Luckily the trains were running that day in Athens and we made it to our 5 star hotel, only to be given a free upgrade to a superior room, a complimentary bottle of wine and a view of the Acropolis all pretty and lit up out the window. Even with an ankle the size of an eggplant and looking just as colourful, it really wasn’t a bad way to be.
Our first full day in Athens was Khalid’s birthday. We went out for souvlakis and when we returned a staff member delivered a bottle of champagne and mini cakes to the room to celebrate. All around the hotel and all over the news was evidence of the strikes in the city, causing a lot of traffic noise and honks and headaches for the traffic police. Instead of getting caught up in it, we spent the whole afternoon on the rooftop pool in the sun drinking our champagne, followed by cocktails and a sauna. We finished off the day with a gorgeous greek meal in a nearby restaurant with lots of tzatziki.
We spent the next couple of days in the sun by the pool, drinking and watching movies and blissfully unaware of the strikes and protests going on nine floors below. On our last day, when Hayley could almost walk normally, we headed to the Acropolis and soaked up the culture. We passed a lot of great souvenir shops but they would later be revisited with the shopping guru Ella.
In the morning we made our way to the new hostel to meet Ella, then all went down to drop Khalid off at the metro station, where Hayley did very well barely cried at all. Relatively. We’d been tourists in London, sick in a castle, beer-bellied in Munich and limping in Athens. May sound a little crazy but it was nothing short of a trip of a lifetime… inside another trip of a lifetime.