mutteringhousewife

What does the last of the housewives do?

Category: holidays

The Dizzy Heights of Firenze

I’m getting a crick in my neck. In Italy, if you don’t look up, you’re missing out. Most of the palazzos and museums we’ve been in to have ceilings that look like this.

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We went to the Uffizi today, and you can’t take photos, but there was even modern art going on in the ceiling of the place you left your backpacks.

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I should mention our accommodation in Firenze. You know how they have a ton of left over castles and palaces which they fill with their leftover art and armour collections? Well they also have left over more minor buildings that they rent out to travellers on a budget. I’m sitting on the stairs of a working convent which still has enough nuns to bust me sitting on the stairs typing a blog. Why can’t I sit on a chair? Well, next time one goes past I shall have assembled a sentence to advise them that I like sitting on the stairs and I already have piles. They don’t have enough nuns to fill up the place, so here we are. We’ve cracked the record for the biggest room keys so far.

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And check out our ceiling! Our actual bedroom ceiling.

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I don’t give a hoot that the bathroom is down the corridor and you can’t stand up in it for a handheld shower because it’s under the stairs. It’s too awesome for words. I want a history of this place!

In Firenze we’re hitting the heights. There were three sets of stairs we wanted to conquer, and we’ve done them all. Yesterday we went up the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio.

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From there you can see the two other vantage points we wanted, the Duomo and the bell tower of the Duomo. We did the more challenging Duomo first. That was amazing. Here’s the dome from the ground.

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On the long climb up you first pop up inside the dome, where you can get a close up view of heaven and hell painted on the huge dome.

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I think you’ll agree that it’s a pretty terrifying prospect to spend eternity being beaten with a club by a half man half dolphin. What’s even more terrifying is getting out on to the top of the dome itself. I’ll show you how it looks from the adjacent bell tower.

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See the top of the dome? See those tiny ant like figures? See that entirely inadequate sketch of a guardrail? That was us up there. I wonder how many tourists they lose over the side every week? Here’s a shot of the ground, taken with an outstretched arm, I couldn’t go near the edge.

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I felt like the smooth slippery marble floor sloped down towards the edge. I spent my time up there pressed up against the wall, and I wasn’t the only one. And you wouldn’t be getting any of your economy sized American tourists up those tiny spiralling stairs either, for a start they’d have a heart attack, then after that they’d get wedged in and you’d need a vat of olive oil to get them out again. Might explain why I didn’t see any.

After that the bell tower was a doddle, with a lovely strong cage over the viewing area. However, my knees feel like loosely attached castanets, making strange clunking sounds as I wearily ascend the forty stairs that will take me to the first floor of the convent. They loved a bit of scale in the olden days. Oh well, not much walking planned for tomorrow. Planned being the operative word here. Don’t worry, we saw David.

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So we’ve ticked off the important things, anything we do tomorrow will be jam. That is, if my knees can get me down to breakfast.

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You Had to Be There – Venice

There are some places, the Grand Canyon, the Opera House, Disneyland, most of the really big churches in Europe, that you just have to be there. Venice is one of those places. You can see as many photos, read as much as you like. Nothing prepares you for the reality of this crumbling, swaying maze of four storey buildings perched over the swamp. How could you live here?

I think a lot more people visit than actually live here. I’ve heard Chinese, Japanese, French, German, Russian, so much Russian, so many furry hats. Some yobbo Australians, how embarrassment. And this is the off season. I can’t imagine how insane it is in the summer. Firstly, it’s not all water, there are some streets, some opening into squares, some disappearing into nothing. This is not just a tourist photo, the whole island looks like this.

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The shops are amazing. Yes the four kilometre shopping strip in Milan did terrible things to the Muffet’s funds, but it was, you know, shops. This place hasn’t room for shops like that. You can’t change any of the shops in Venice from how they were five hundred years ago or so, so they’re all tiny and tend to the artisanal. The boys are in heaven.

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I bought a belt, and got the story of how the stamp for the leather was made (copied from the decoration for an old Venetian book) the care put into the dyes, the shape of the cow, how they’re cut, each belt has the holes punched into it after you buy it to suit you. Now this is the kind of shopping I love.

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We went on the behind the scenes tour of the Palace of the Doges, and it was just incredible.

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We got the tour of the jail cells, in use for five hundred years until the 1920s!, the rooms of the secret service, the history of the very sophisticated government bureaucracy that dates back to the 1300s. Also the history of the celebrated Casanova’s imprisonment and escape from these very cells. The structure of the place was amazing, it was burnt in the 1500s, then very quickly rebuilt by an army of shipwrights so there’s a very nautical feel to the place. The halls of government are huge, without obvious supports or columns, we got into the roof above them and it’s like an upside down ships keel. The floors in the upper rooms bounce unnervingly, the structure is wood, and stone floors just shouldn’t move like that. The doors open upward like in ships to accommodate the moving floors.

We weren’t able to take photos, but Google it. I felt sorry for the artists commissioned to decorate the place (I had actually heard of Tintoretto, don’t think much of his clouds) they were obviously given a room or ceiling, a general theme, then told to cover every square inch with allegory, wood carvings, ancient heroes, religious themes and acres of gilt. It must have taken ages. Lavish doesn’t even begin to describe it. At least they got to do their paintings on canvas, then have them affixed to the ceilings, rather than having to lie on scaffolding for years like poor old Michelangelo. When I get home, I’m covering my walls with material and having a wood carver work for us full time. I want ornate.

Speaking of which, our hotel, the Hotel Lux, has material covered walls, tiny rooms, ornate fittings, very firm beds and god knows how difficult it must have been here when all the tourists started demanding bathrooms. We reckon we’ve identified the bathroom block in our hotel, our theory is that there was a gap between the buildings that has been filled up by a vertical column of bathrooms. See? In the middle. With the water pipe going down.

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I’m fascinated by the logistics of this place. In the morning everyone puts their rubbish neatly in the streets, and a man with a trolley picks it up. There are no vehicles here at all, not even Segways.

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The cost of living here must be huge, there’s plaster falling off the walls all over the place, bulging walls, and one shopkeeper told me you’re not allowed to touch anything, the whole structure must be preserved. It must be terribly frustrating, but it makes the place gorgeous and unique. It also means that I’m never going to be able to find that sock shop I saw on the first day. We went on a little wander, and rushed passed a tiny window with what looked like feet lingerie, the most exquisite lace socks and things to wear with your ballet flats. I’m sure it was less than five minutes walk from the hotel, but alas, it too shall pass into memory, because I’ll never remember if it was a right and a right and a bridge then a sharp left and an archway and the second left in the little square. Never.

The Last Supper, No, Not That One

I got to cook! I was a bit worried, as you can imagine, when I heard my dear husband breezily invite his newly discovered family over to our flat for dinner on our last night in Milan. What could I make them? Clearly not pasta, my usual holiday standby. It was going to have to be that classic Asian dish, chicken with cashew nuts. And for extra show off points, peanut brittle for dessert.

The local PAM supermarket doesn’t really cater for the international eater. Most of its aisles are devoted to flour in all its forms, bread, dried bread, pasta, biscuits, pasta, a tiny selection of breakfast cereals, pasta. There is rice, mostly for risotto, but I found some basmati. Also a tiny bottle of actual Kikkoman soy sauce. They sold fresh ginger in 200 gram lots, which was odd because ginger is not a flavour that features heavily in Italian cooking. Neither, it appears, is chilli, at least in the north. I also picked up a pack of baby spinach in lieu of bok choy and a pack of soup mix vegetables, for the onion and celery. And found some tiny packets of cashew nuts, a rather essential ingredient. Also got some sugar and peanuts, all one needs for peanut brittle.

I prepared the chicken in the morning, as in the afternoon we were fulfilling a dream of my husband’s to go see AC Milan play at San Siro. I hacked up the one and a half kilos of breast fillet with the tiny IKEA knife supplied by the apartment and placed it in a glass dish. Have a look at what I found in a box in the cupboard.

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Dodgy knives, no toaster, no kettle, but this little beauty is an essential in the Italian kitchen for the preparation of Parmesan. We also had a little stovetop Bialetti for the mandatory morning coffee, the one you have before you leave your apartment for your cafe normale. Bung a few chunks of ginger in the Moulinex and it’s minced like nobody’s business, ditto a small onion. That goes on the chicken, along with olive oil and copious soy. Ideally I would also like some rice wine vinegar and plum sauce, but dream on. A lemon would have worked, but you could only buy them by the half dozen at the shop, so no. I have used plum jam in an emergency for this dish, but all I had was some rather terrific apricot jam made by Isabella’s mother. It was a very deep coloured rich jam, almost like quince, so a few tablespoons of that went in too. I squished all of that into the chicken, covered it with foil, then made some peanut brittle.

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You know how to do that, it’s easy. It was a bit frustrating, I have all of my fabulous recipes with me on the iPad, but no oven! No oven, so no pie, no tart, no biscuits. Having had a fairly close look at the sweet selection in the PAM, I thought toffee would be a bit of a novelty. Take two coffee mugs of sugar, place them in a saucepan with half a mug of water. Bring to the boil, stirring to get all the sugar around the edge. Boil in a lively manner until the mixture starts to colour, then you starting doing the crack test. Drop a bit into water and if it goes crunchy after it cools down, it’s done. Bring off the heat, stir in about two tablespoons of delicious white Italian butter and a coffee mug full of salted peanuts. Fling onto a sheet of baking paper you’ve providentially put on the bench.

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Leave to cool while you go to the soccer.

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When you get back, put on the rice. I put three mugs of rice in a big pot with five mugs of water and the tops of the celery for a bit of flavour. Bring to the boil, simmer covered for ten minutes, then let it sit. Meanwhile I kind of stir fried the chicken in two frying pans, transferring it to the rice pot when it was done. Then I stir fried in a little olive oil a couple of handfuls of broccoli with some very poorly chopped carrot and celery and the cashews, then put them in the pot too. Then I got out another pot because that one was too full to stir about, transferred some to that, then put the baby spinach in at the top and stirred it in.

Strangely enough, it was fine. They loved it, hadn’t had anything like it before and all had seconds. I’d probably gone a bit heavy on the ginger, but whatever. I did have to explain that it was an all in one meal, we don’t have a pasta course then a meat course. The peanut brittle also went down a treat. The relief was stupendous. There would be sadness at parting, but I didn’t want it to be from sore tummies.

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Another Day in Milan

I’m understanding a lot more Italian. I can even string a sentence together, but it usually takes me about ten minutes, so not great for conversation. Io ascolto ma non parlo. I actually managed to get that one out, I rather expected a round of applause, but let’s face it, every Italian’s English is better than that. What it does mean is that I can at least translate for the benefit of my family. “Why haven’t you put out enough chairs? How many are there? Seven! No, not seven, eight! Eight! I’ll count them, one two three four five six seven eight! See! Where’s another chair? Where should you sit? No, not there, over there, you’re not doing anything!”. There’s a lot of exclamation marks and a lot of hand waving and we get there in the end.

My husbands family have been very kind and escort us around their home town, a beautiful city chockers with churches and sculptures and beautiful apartment buildings. We walked past evidence today of the perils of trying to build anything here.

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You can’t dig so much as a hole for a pot plant without turning up some Roman ruins. Apparently this turned out to be part of the Imperial compound back in the day when Milan was a big cheese in the Roman world, between the 200s and the 400s AD. Back in San Ambrogio’s time. Remember him? The dead guy in the glass case? Good times.

We start the day with a coffee. In Giorgio’s case, a fag and a coffee and a fag, everyone smokes here, but not inside, so that’s nicer than Austria.

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The coffee shops are tiny and exquisite and just like all the tourist guides say, you stand up for your shot. I need to take a photo with a Travelling David Tennant for comparison. Next time. The kids have been loving the freshly squeezed orange juice that all the cafés knock out. Our apartment even has an orange juicer. Not a toaster or a kettle, though.

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And if you ask for a cappuccino after about ten o’clock in the morning, like my dear husband did, aspersions are cast on your sexuality. At least the coffee definitions are similar to Australia, I recognised the macchiato, unlike the giant mug of milk I got in Munich.

Then, as you do, you pop in for a squiz at The Last Supper. Actually, Isabella booked for us, they shuffle you through in groups of about thirty. You’re not supposed to take pictures, it’s famous enough to Google. Take note of the doorway the friars knocked through Jesus’s feet. The masterpiece is sadly faded, but incredibly impressive, especially compared to the picture by the poor sucker who got to paint the other end of the room. I did sneak a pic of that.

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The Duke of Milan, who commissioned both works, got himself photo bombed into that painting, so he looks as though he was at The Crucifixion. Lucky he didn’t try to pull that one on Leonardo. The Horror got personally shushed twice, they didn’t want his piercing voice to shake the fragile plaster off the wall. He was making pertinent comments, I should add.

Later in the afternoon we had a demonstration of Italian driving, which apparently by national standards was very cautious. We were actually going to see the lake which, even in the rain, was very picturesque.

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“Shouldn’t that guy have given way to you?” asked the husband. “In Italy the rules, they are more like approximations” Giorgio answered, swerving around a pedestrian who was foolishly trying to cross at a pedestrian crossing, as the Moose giggled nervously in the back seat. Later we saw some fine examples of double parking, parking on the median strip, leaving your car wherever you stop, really. Outside our apartment it is normal to park on the pavement, which means you have to get out by driving along the pavement.

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Which means you have to look both ways before stepping out of your front door. I’m starting to have second thoughts about the advisability of driving around Tuscany.

The Italian Museum Experience

It’s a common solution to a common problem around Europe. Here we have this castle or palace lying around empty now that we have some semblance of democracy, and here’s all this detritus lying about the place because people have been living here for thousands of years, not to mention those over eager nineteenth century archaeologists bringing truckloads of the Middle East home to put back together. Let’s put the latter in the former.

And so it is in the Castello Sforzesca.

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I think we were a bit spoilt in Germany. You can guess how their museums are laid out. Subject order, chronological order, huge amounts of information. They’re a little more laid back here, which for some aspects of life are terrific – the kids aren’t getting the death stares they were in German museums – but not so great for getting a picture of the grand sweep of history that the castle represents. In fact they hardly mention the castle at all. There are just bits of castle with, say, a collection of armour and assorted weapons in it. Or a dungeon with a couple of mummies and sarcophagi far from home lumped in with local Bronze Age finds, in which a glass case full of what looks a lot like neck rings and bracelets is just labelled “Metal Hoard”. Frustrating. The castle is in very good shape, but I’d love to know a great deal more about it, instead of passing random doors and not knowing what they were used for.

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Or these heads, mounted just beside the top of the portcullis.

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I think there was a sign below mentioning that they were Roman, but from where?

I know who this guy is.

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Sant Ambrogio, he looms large in the history of Milan, having been a very busy bee around the end of the 300s AD. And what gets me, and freaks out the Muffet! is that you can go and visit him in his church just down the road.

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I think that’s him in the red. Again, more information! Actually, the church did have a little sign in English with the history of the body, because of course all I wanted to know was “no way! Is that really him! His own dead body!!”. Yes it is, placed in its current casket in the 19th century. His body has been continuously venerated all these over sixteen hundred years. I can’t believe there wasn’t a line out the door for it, instead of a solitary weeping Orthodox woman begging for his intercession.

I’m also getting the impression that Leonardo da Vinci spent a fair bit of time in these parts. After passing through rooms in the castle with painted ceilings we came across one full of scaffolding with a sign saying it was under conservation to restore the work of Leonardo on the ceiling. He’d done a rather nifty leafy thing, giving the impression of a rainforest canopy. We’re going to see the Last Supper tomorrow. Just briefly though, Giorgio says museums give him the bores. I think we’ve just about had enough of them too.

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Milano New Year’s Eve

There’s a familiarity about Italy that I blame on over twenty years living in Italian neighbourhoods. We went into a local supermarket yesterday, and the kids said it was just like Lamonica’s in our suburb, selling croccanti, crostoli, panettone, chinotto and a ton of Nutella. We’re here to meet my husband’s Italian family and last night we shared New Year’s Eve with them.

I think I’ve finally worked out the relationship. Here’s my husband with the woman who was married to his half-great uncle, Zia Nina.

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Which makes her son Giorgio his half second cousin. I think. I’ve discovered that I can understand some of the conversations going on around me, and can sometimes answer a “come si dice?” question. For a brief period in May of 1984 I could actually speak Italian in whole sentences, sometimes even using correct tenses. There are echoes of this ancient skill still lingering and I hope I can drag some of it to the useful part of my brain in the next couple of weeks.

While my husband was discussing the family tree with cousin Giorgio and his fabulous wife Isabella, I was discussing the nature of colonials being obsessed with genealogy with a man who bore a striking resemblance to my father. Here he is with the Muffet.

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Luciano is the godfather of Giorgio and Isabella’s daughter. He said that Italians are not interested in such things. The reason is that they know where they belong, and it is here. Giorgio has lived in his apartment for sessanto anni (sixty years). On a walk around Milan today he showed us the church where his parents were married.

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It struck me for the first time what a wrench it must have been for all the Italians who live in my area to uproot themselves and travel half way around the world. No wonder they maintain such strong ties with their home village.

Anyway, the night was about the food. Mamma Mia, so much food. First some salumi, some carciofi, some Ligurian olives. Then some homemade lasagne Isabella’s friend Titi had made and brought. “You know lasagne?” she asked. Oh, how we laughed.

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It was so good, and much lighter than the Southern version we were familiar with. I was wise to the ways of the Italian feast, so had left some room for the roast chicken that followed, but I was a bit worried my husband was going to burst at the seams. Especially as we must also have the fruit salad that Luciano had brought. It contained twelve fruits for the months of the year that had just been, and the Muffet and I managed to guess them all, though I’d argue that an almond is not really a fruit. I really liked it in the fruit salad, though, made a mental note. Then we had to eat a bunch of grapes naming the months as we ate each one (a good refresher). And then, of course, the panettone which is far nicer fresh than after it has spent months at sea to arrive at Lamonica’s. Also torrone, of which I’m very fond, especially the Venetian version brought by Titi that looked like the Alps. And chocolate. Very lucky. Then more champagne, which wasn’t champagne but a lovely light dry prosecco claimed by our hosts to be far superior to that French rubbish you spend so much money on. And then the fireworks lit by the local lads out on the street which were very entertaining, especially after one lot fell over and started randomly strafing them.

So now I know what it is like to have a food hangover on New Years Day rather than the conventional kind. But Isabella still has a fridge full of food for us to eat that she didn’t manage to serve last night, so we soldier on. I’m going to have to move in to the gym when we get home.

Thoughts on Germany

There’s a lot of things to like about Germany. It makes such a difference to your enjoyment of a city, Barry O’Farrell, to be able to get around it easily. In Germany the pavements are wide, there are dedicated cycle ways every where, the public transport is integrated and frequent and clean. Some of the bigger cities, and this is also true of Austria, seem to have been built for giants. The buildings and roads are just enormous, you could ride an elephant into your hostel. If you happened to have one. You can take your dogs anywhere, into the banks, into the shopping centres, into most hotels. I’ve never seen one poo, so I don’t know the protocol, but maybe they’re better trained than at home.

Embarrassingly, almost everyone can speak a little English. I feel I like a cultural imperialist. I have picked up a few words of German, and even downloaded a language tutor app, but got annoyed when I found out that the gender for the word “girl” is masculine. Like an English speaker should complain. I may continue with it, I’ve been told my pronunciation is very good (thank you Christopher Bowen), and I want to come back here. I’m pinching a couple of words. They call their phones a Handy, I like that. It does mean expunging the adjective from my vocabulary, but I can live with that. I’m also taking Schicksal for the word fate. Schicksal.

The place is full of history, but I guess that’s true of all of Europe. Even the little village of Wittmar, where we were so generously hosted, had a ruined Dark Ages castle and the Bismarck tower, a popular local suicide spot.

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In Wittmar we were fairly close to the old border between East and West, so we got some modern history too.

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We went on to an East German village, and that was pretty sad. Full of abandoned and dilapidated houses. Sabine told us that during the Cold War the East Germans hoarded everything they could get their hands on, including stones and bits of wood. They haven’t lost the habit.

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Even the village castle was mostly ruined, but partially inhabited. We didn’t see anyone outside at all. It did mean that the kids could climb on it without anyone looking sternly at them.

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Of course Berlin is still shuddering with the war, it’s everywhere. There’s bullet holes everywhere you look. Buildings are still being rebuilt. This is a church, the spire has been half bombed off.

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Everywhere we went was the small footnote, “this building is a reconstruction, it was flattened during the war”. I wonder if they just kept all the bits of each building in a pile and used the bits to rebuild? I’ll have to get a book. It must cost a fortune. The Berlin Dome looks convincingly old, though the original was only sixty years old when it was bombed. There seemed to have been a history in the city of each ruler knocking down works of the previous ones and building bigger and better versions.

And there’s the history they’ve pinched from elsewhere. We lined up for two hours to get into the Pergamon museum, losing a chance to go to Checkpoint Charlie, but inside they had this.

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The Ishtar gate of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Oh yes indeed. Also this marketplace entranceway from ancient Pergamon, complete with a Greek inscription marking the spot of the barber.

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Come on Frank Lowy, surely you could fancy up the entrance to Westfield Burwood a bit. There was a ton of other stuff that they’d hauled out of the Middle East in container loads, the Moose was taking notes for the future when he does Ancient History. It was amazing.

One could go on about the history forever, but I’m moving on. I’m not bowled over by the local cuisine. I’ll show you a summary.

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Can I just say that the specialty of Berlin is curry wurst? You know what that is? It’s a frankfurter cut up with curry sauce squirted on it. And the curry sauce tastes like tomato sauce with a bit of curry powder mixed into it. I have had some delicious meals here, you can do a lot with cabbage, and anything with venison is very good. Also there’s a lot of berries around the place. I wouldn’t actually kill for a pad Thai or some bok choy with oyster sauce, but I’d really like some. There’s a lot of pizza joints around. The Horror spotted some sushi places. We peeked at the menu of one and it did have sushi, but also tomato soup and chop suey, so I wasn’t convinced. I do love the bread here. I wonder what they do to it? I may have mentioned the beer.

We’re here in a mild winter, but it still means a fair old rug up to go outside, and a de rug once you get inside. The sky is very low. We like it because we’re on holidays, but it would be a bit depressing to live through. On the other hand, the rain is unconvincing, so you can still tourist in it and pretend it’s not happening. Apparently the winter does make summer a celebration.

Speaking of which, they do Christmas in style. I’ve never seen so many giant, beautifully decorated Christmas trees, even inside churches. I’ve told you about the Christmas markets, and something else I’m taking home is lit candles everywhere. You have to remember to blow them out before leaving the house.

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I’ve been very impressed by the environmental credentials of the country. There’s windmills all over the place, I think they look rather elegant, and depressed looking solar farms. I realise coal is cheap in Australia, but come on! We have so much more sunshine than here, it’s embarrassing that we don’t make more of an effort. A lot of takeaway places serve food and drinks in reusable cups and plates, you get a deposit back when you return them. That can’t be too hard either, can it?

So it has been terrific, and I want to come back. And next time, I want snow.

Berlin – Still Under Construction

I haven’t got the hang of Berlin. All of the other cities we’ve been to you just hightail it to the Altstadt, visit the main church, the new town hall and the old town hall, various museums and the Christmas markets and you’re done.

Berlin doesn’t appear to have a centre. Sure, there’s the Brandenburg Gate, but that’s blocked off for New Year’s Eve, or Silvester as it’s charmingly known in these parts. There’s a giant park adjacent to that (the Tiergarten) with many bits walled off ditto, including the gravesite of 2000 Russian soldiers. I did spot a monument to three great composers in there, Hayden, Mozart and Beethoven.

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Of course Haydn and Mozart were Austrian, but borders were more fluid back when the monument was originally built, and maybe they had an Australia New Zealand thing going on. It started a theme for Berlin. This monument had the krapfen blown out of it during the war and is a reconstruction.

The Reichstag was burnt to a hollow shell during the 1930s, then had the krapfen blown out of it during the war, but has been completely reconstructed and we toured the dome at the top. Very much worth a look, even just for the pictures of the history of the building.

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It’s a bit difficult to walk around Berlin, not just because of not having a centre and Silvester, but they’re also building some new train stations in the middle of town (are you listening, Barry O’Farrell?), plus despite it being such a long time after the war they’re still painstakingly rebuilding some of the buildings destroyed then. Some cities would say, oh bugger it, let’s just start again. To a certain extent this has been done, and Berlin is rightly proud of its modern architecture. But they’re very aware of being a city that’s over seven hundred years old and they’d quite like to look like that.

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It’s got a slightly more dangerous feeling to it than other cities we’ve visited. The first morning my dear husband stopped to read his map right next a group of skinheads. I had to restrain myself from asking “which one of you bitches wants to dance?”. There’s a lot more English on signs. There are more baristas in coffee shops, as opposed to push button coffee machines (erk). The public transport is excellent, not just for the connections, cleanliness (Gladys Berejiklian) and ease of use, but the decorations in the stations. Here you go Kev. Working and everything.

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It has the second biggest department store in the world, the KaDeWe, where we (except for the bored husband) indulged in some excellent German pens. We also had a snack at the food hall, which was David Jones on all kinds of drugs.

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We also stopped at a Christmas market that wasn’t selling the usual decorations and glüwein, it was all handmade stuff. Look at these leather pouches that we got, allegedly made by the stallkeepers mum.

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It also has about a gajillion museums containing all kinds of stuff “acquired” during colonial times, one of which we peeked into today for a dose of gobsmackingness. We also surprised the kids with the museum of computer games.

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They had my entire computing history. The TRS 80, the text only adventure game Zork, the Apple II (signed by Steve Wozniak!), the first Mac. Remember Bard’s Tale Kev? I beat the Moose at Asteroids on an Atari. Ahh, the memories. We’ll go to another proper museum tomorrow.

We attempted to do a bit of the Wall, but that thing is over sixty kilometres long. It is commemorated by a cobblestone track which disappears a lot under construction zones, but we followed it along the river a bit and saw some very sad memorials to the people shot trying to cross it. We’ll go to Checkpoint Charlie tomorrow for the full experience.

Ice Hockey

We’re staying with a very generous family in Germany whose daughter we borrowed for a couple of weeks earlier this year. Wanting to be the perfect hosts, they asked us if there was anything in particular we’d like to do here in the north of Germany? I ignored my dear father’s suggestion of visiting the worlds biggest model railway setup in Hamburg. He wants to see that, he should come here himself. My dear husband suggested popping into a Bundesliga soccer game, fun for the whole family. Alas, they were having a Christmas break. But we could go and see an ice hockey game, also a new experience for our hosts.

Let me tell you, you have to get out and see ice hockey. I’m guessing that we don’t really have an equivalent in Australia, I know there’s a bit of ice hockey played, but it couldn’t be like this. For a start, the ice looked a lot colder than that at Canterbury Ice Rink, it stayed dry. And there were a lot more people there. And you got a free pat down on the way in because of crowd violence, that added an edge. I could have wished to be slightly further from the drumming chant leaders.

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But they really added to the atmosphere, the crowd was impressively musical and knew a lot more songs than One Nil.

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At first there didn’t seem to be any rules at all, except that you score when your puck goes into the net at the other end. Which made me wonder why there had to be four referees. Eventually it appeared that there were some things that were beyond the pale, such as slamming an opponent into the wall, sitting on a goalie, hitting the puck into the crowd, having more than six players on the ice at any time – and that was confusing, there was constant interchange that basically involved them leaping the fence at exactly the same moment that someone leapt in the other direction. At one point the opposition decided they’d like to score a goal, so took off the goalie and had six players all trying for a goal. That lasted about ten seconds before the home team scored from behind the half way line. Back to having a goalie. It was very fast moving and very exciting, for some fans perhaps a little too exciting.

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They had some excellent innovations that we could adopt, such as vending machines for your ice hockey essentials. I would have got some shoelaces, but I didn’t have any coins on me.

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Also the plastic beer mugs have hollow spike handles that means you can stack a whole lot on top of each other. Not only that, but if you take them back to the bar you get a deposit back, which means no litter. Alternatively, you can pinch one to take home as a souvenir, remind me to show you some time. As a side note, I appear to be able to tolerate German beer. Australian beer is delicious, but gives me all kind of digestive problems, as does American beer which also has the disadvantage of being non delicious. I’ve even had two in a row with no noticeable side effects. Interesting.

However. The game is in twenty minutes thirds and there seem to be a huge number of players in each team that only spend a couple of minutes on the ice at a time. It may just be a local thing, but the opposition (Schwenningen) was pretty much ignored by the announcer and booed by the crowd. And the referees got death threats when they scored their only goal. The home team (Wolfsburg) had a huge introduction with pictures of the players on the big screen and a whole lot of carry on when they scored. The players themselves seemed fairly good natured, there was only one bit of fairly half hearted biffo. Not even too much angst when a stick was broken. And the puck doesn’t stay horizontal to the ground as I’d imagined, it was spinning on its side, being chocked into the air and players could slam it to the ground with their hand to avoid sticks being at head height.

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As a sport avoider in general, I would put this up the with AFL as an excellent spectator sport that looks really hard to do yourself, only a lot shorter and with more singing. Thanks Sabine and Thomas, we couldn’t have asked for kinder hosts!

Munich. Beer.

There are some beautiful sights to be seen in Munich. Many of them are in the Marienplatz, the square in front of a huge complex of buildings that appear to be the seat of government. Makes anything in Australia look very lame indeed.

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If you look closely you can see about half way up the tower is a two storey set of puppets. On the hour these perform a fairly basic show with bells accompanying that brings the square, already crowded with Christmas markets and their attendant shoppers, to a complete standstill. As my dear husband remarked, it isn’t going to replace television, but apparently it’s a must see and we saw it.

What was far more interesting is that you can catch a lift right up to just below the spire. I do think they should make tourists take the stairs, but anyway. The view on a clear day is spectacular, we could just make out the Alps in the distance. The detail in this place!

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And everywhere really, I can’t get used to it.

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Wouldn’t something like that be roped off in Australia? Yet it was just sticking out of a random wall.

But what Munich is about is the beer, and at some point you must inevitably go to a beer hall. We went to the Hofbraühaus which seats a touch over three thousand patrons at any one time. It’s a bit hard to judge exactly how old the place is, people have been drinking beer on this spot for a thousand years, but bits have been torn down, rebuilt, enlarged, moved a bit, bombed, burnt down and rebuilt some more. It’s old and it’s big, OK?

What you do here is find yourself a giant table with benches and an old chair at one end

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And order yourself a giant plate of meat and potatoes, some cabbage if you’re feeling like some kind of vegetarian hippie, and some beer. It comes in litre glasses. If you’re terribly wussy they do have one half litre option and something called Radler which is a shandy, but that only comes in litres too. The husband and I decided to share the original beer brewed on the premises.

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The chap behind us ordered two as soon as he came in, one light and one dark. You never know when you’re going to be able to catch a waiter.

The Moose and I shared a green salad and what turned out to be two boiled veal sausages, which were a little salty but otherwise very nice. The Horror topped himself up with his current addiction of wiener sausages. It took us a few days to persuade him to try them, now that’s just about all he’ll eat. Muffet and the husband shared a large slab of roast suckling pig. Other tables tended towards giant bits of meat attached to what looked like a brontosaurus shin bone. It was all a bit Flintstones.

Dessert choices were limited, but the Horror was very pleased with his icecream, Muffet and Moose should really have shared the dumpling with vanilla sauce, it was bigger than their heads, and the husband and I shared this.

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It was a Christmas special of gingerbread mousse, and what an interesting presentation, boys and girls.

We picked up some bread rolls and clementines for dinner, but couldn’t resist getting a couple of half litre bottles of a very pleasant beer for less than a euro each at the supermarket. I think it’s classed as a food group here.