© 2018, 2022 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.
It was March, and I had two business meetings in Europe 10 days apart, and it didn't make sense to come back home between them, so I thought, "Could I possibly find something to do in Europe for 10 days?" Of course, the answer was, "Yes!" And then I thought, "Why not add some extra personal time to the end as well?" And so, my trip would last four weeks. I'd start in Prague, the Czech Republic, with four days of work, then head to Eastern Germany for 10 days of play visiting several friends, hop on over to London, England, for three more work days, and then head to rural England for a final week of play. I had several offers from friends to come along and carry my bags! However, I declined, taking instead my stuffed toy caterpillar (Mr. C) and several imaginary friends.
I had a nice, easy morning. I got my final email fix, packed my gear, and headed out around 11:15 am. In Reston, I visited friend Cathy at whose place I left my car. Right on time, my Pakistani cab driver arrived to take me to the airport, where I checked in and cleared security without delay.
As I approached the information counter near the inter-terminal train station, I saw an elderly volunteer who looked quite interesting, so I stopped to chat. She was 85 years-old and very much enjoyed her job helping passengers with their questions. She'd had 125 queries on her shift so far. I caught the train to Terminal C where I went into United Airlines' Business lounge to get some emergency rations and a newspaper.
At Gate 14, things were very busy due to the weather delays caused on the previous day, and, consequently, the flight was full. However, boarding of the Boeing 777 went very smoothly, and Flight UA989 took off on time. I had one of the best seats on the plane, at a large exit door. My 20-something seatmate was a United flight attendant who was on a private trip headed to Linz, Austria, to visit her boyfriend's family. She was a very interesting person, and we talked at length, of many things. For supper, I chose the pasta in heavy-cream sauce with salad and bread. The mango sorbet dessert was extra good. I declined to watch any video, and, after a short read, I lay back my seat and tried to sleep.
[Next day] Although I'd closed my eyes for several hours, I probably slept for no more than an hour, which is par for the course on an overnight flight to Europe in Economy Class. We landed at FRA on time in light fog. After a flawless flight, the big plane parked out in mid-field, the crew opened both the front and rear doors, and we walked down steep stairs to waiting buses. Then we were taken on a tour of the airport before pulling up at a terminal. After I cleared passport control, where I got my 5th stamp in my new US passport (the most recent one being when I left Munich, Germany, two months earlier), I headed for my connecting gate. Near that, I spied a Lufthansa Senator's Lounge, so I stopped by for an unnecessary snack of scrambled egg, sausage, and bratwurst with ketchup, all washed down with a steaming-hot cup of milk coffee. I also got an English-language newspaper.
After a short wait at Gate 50, a full flight of passengers boarded buses to an Airbus A319 parked out in mid-field. As I had a seat in the very last row, I entered through the rear door where a smiling young German flight attendant welcomed me on board. Lufthansa Flight LH1392 was 15 minutes late departing. The flight lasted about 45 minutes during which time we were served a cookie and drink. I read a newspaper and worked on a Sudoku puzzle.
Arrival in Prague
We had a smooth landing at PRG, and having cleared immigration in Frankfurt, it was an open border into the Czech Republic. All signs were in Czech, English, German, and Russian. Now I'd recently changed banks and had used my ATM card several times before leaving home just to make sure it worked. But, don't you know, when I tried to use it to get cash, I was rejected. I tried three times, certain I had the right PIN, and was locked out. Don't you just hate that when that happens! Being a seasoned traveler, I had several backup cards, so I used one of those to relieve the machine of CZK 4,000 (koruna is Czech for "crown"). The exchange rate was CZK20 to US$1.
By that time, my luggage arrived, and I headed to where there used to be a desk to buy a ticket on the bus to downtown. Well, don't you know, that service had been discontinued since my previous visit without any consultation with me! But, as you may recall from my previous writings, my travel (indeed life) motto is "Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B!" At the visitors' information desk, a polite young woman informed me that a new service now ran from the airport to the main train station downtown, departing every half hour, and she'd be happy to sell me a ticket for CZK44 ($2.20), an exceptionally cheap price. Of course, by the time I got to the bus stop, a bus had just left, so I had a 25-minute wait. Although it was quite cold out, I had on thick socks and warm clothing. While waiting, I chatted with a mother and son from Southampton, England.
Although the bus was adequate, it wasn't quite as nice as the one it replaced, hence the lower fare. After the 20-minute ride, it was a 10-minute walk from the train station to my hotel, which was exactly where I'd left it on my last trip in June 2016. It was 11:30, check-in wasn't until 15:00, and my room wasn't ready, bugger! I'd discovered my mistake regarding the ATM card, so tried again with the correct PIN, but it rejected me saying I was "locked out," having used up my three tries. To stay awake, I walked the neighborhood getting programs for music concerts and getting some sunshine. I stopped by my local supermarket where I browsed at length looking at all the items, packaging, and language. As you might expect for this part of the world, many products are sold across borders. For example, the bag of potato chips I bought was labelled in both Czech and Slovak.
Soon after I returned to the hotel, my room was ready, so I boarded the high-tech, glass-enclosed elevator (AU: lift) and went up to my room. After a long, hot shower, I felt decent, and I unpacked while sampling my 4% whole milk, potato chips, and tropical juice. To help with jetlag, it is best to get on local time as soon as possible, so I decided to try that, although I could easily have crashed. As I'm always looking at signage for photos for my blog series, I noticed the unusual "Do not Disturb" sign hanging behind my door. On closer inspection, it read, "CALM. Seeking Peace; no service needed," which was quite clever.
I wiled away the afternoon working on personal and business things until 18:45, when I dressed in my Japanese yukata and slippers, and went down to the health club in the basement. There I had two 15-minute sessions in a very hot sauna with cold showers before, in-between, and after. It was quite invigorating. Lights out at 19:45, asleep at 19:46!
[I had my first visit to Prague in 2009, and this was my sixth one. All of them were for business, for the same committee, and at the same meeting place. So, I'd gotten to know the city and the neighborhoods where I stayed and walked to work.]
[Next day] The bed and super-soft pillow were Heavenly, and I slept like a baby for five hours, waking at 12:45 am. As I was wide awake, I got up, boiled the electric kettle, and had a cup of soup and some cheese and crackers. Then I took care of new email (it never stops arriving) and started work on this diary. I then slept another five hours. At breakfast, I unexpectedly met a colleague, so we ate together and talked some business. Back in my room, I worked for several hours before having a 3-hour nap. Then it was back to work before supper in my room.
At 19:00, I arrived at the health center where I was met by Helene, a trim, athletic-looking young mother of two small children. She invited me into her private room, asked me to disrobe and lie face-down on the table, after which she vigorously exorcized all the demons from my body. Yes, Dear Reader, I had signed up for a 1-hour Swedish massage! To show how serious she was, first she knelt on the table overtop of me, and then she stood, both times putting all her weight on her hands which she used to "walk" up and down my spine. We chatted a bit, and I learned that before she had kids, she enjoyed hiking in remote places, such as Iceland, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. She worked hard for more than an hour. I then spent an hour rotating between a cold shower and the steaming sauna. It had been a great first day in-country, and very soon after I got into bed, I was asleep.
It was a very poor night for sleeping; I had only a few hours. For the rest of the time, I lay in the dark, thinking about sleeping! When my alarm went off at 07:45, I got up against my will. Outside, it was snowing steadily, and the temperature was just above freezing. I had the usual, very nice buffet fare for breakfast.
Getting Down to Business
At 09:30, a colleague and I set off for our meeting place, making sure to not injure ourselves on the slick snow-covered sidewalks. The group had a busy and productive day, and as usual, while the others went out for lunch, as meeting secretary, I snacked in the room and brought the meeting minutes up to date and worked on action items. I got very tired around 13:00, but got a second wind at 16:00. After the meeting ended, I worked on administrative issues for another hour.
The snow had stopped, and light rain fell, making the snow slushy and sidewalks even more slippery. At my local supermarket, I picked up some emergency rations and a nice salad for supper in my room. I ate while alternating between three English-language TV news channels.
I headed down to the health club very much looking forward to more sessions in the sauna, but that was not to be. It appeared the staff had forgotten to fire up the unit, so I returned to my room dejected. My solace lay in chocolate!
[Next day] The ritual for Day 2 of my meeting was much like Day 1. On the way back to my hotel, I swung by the main train station to buy a ticket to Germany. I couldn't get one to my final destination, so got one to Berlin.
At 18:30, three colleagues met me in my hotel lobby, and we walked to a restaurant nearby for supper. I had some nice pork medallions with fried eggs and roasted garlic sauce, all washed down with a jug of lemonade with some exotic flavor and lots of small pieces of mint. I shared a dessert.
Apparently, the porter of my hotel was out sick for a few days, and as he oversaw the sauna, it wasn't running for the second night in a row. It is so hard to get good help these days!
[Next day] It was hard getting out of bed, but I made it down to breakfast. The day was clear and warmer than previously. We started the final day of my meeting at 09:00, and worked steadily until 16:30, with a break for lunch. I almost fell asleep mid-afternoon as jetlag overcame me. Afterwards, I took a colleague back to my hotel where we worked in the Business Lounge.
At 18:30, long-time Czech friend Robin met me in my hotel lobby, and we went out for supper. [I met him 20-odd years previous when I hosted him in Reston, Virginia. And each time I've come to Prague, we've gotten together.]
By Train to Germany
[Next day] Travel Day! Sleep wise, it was a very poor night. After five days in-country, I was still nowhere near getting on local time, bugger! When my alarm went off just after 06:00, I struggled out of bed and had a long, hot shower. At that hour, the breakfast room was almost empty, and there were more staff that diners! I made a snack "to go." Back in my room, I packed the last of my gear then checked-out at the front desk. Then I walked out into a cold, but very sunny, morning pulling my luggage over the rough tile and cobblestone sidewalk, the wheels making lots of noise as I did so, waking the neighborhood. If I had to be up this early, then so should everybody else!
The main train station was quite busy when I arrived at 07:45. Interestingly, platform assignments were not announced until about 20 minutes before departure, so like everyone else, I was standing watching the Departures board. Finally, the platform for the Euro City 176 "Johannes Brahms" train, to Hamburg, Germany, was displayed, and I headed off to Platform 7, the furthest away, where I waited in the cold open air. The train arrived five minutes before its departure time. There were two First-Class carriages, both at the end, and I was at the back of the final one, in a glassed-off area of 20-odd seats, all to myself. Was I being isolated from the other passengers, or they from me? I had a table, electric power, and free wifi connection. I was accompanied by my very colorful stuffed caterpillar, Mr. C., who was sticking out of the front of my shirt.
Although the train was painted and decorated in the Czech railway livery, the company seemed to have an association with the German railway company, Deutsche Bahn (DB), and the paper ReisePlan (itinerary) placed on each seat was written in Czech and German only. Soon after we departed, a uniformed waiter came through offering complimentary newspapers and bottles of water, and taking orders for food and drinks. Although the train was headed to Hamburg, I was only going as far as Berlin. There were just a few stops along the way. The train was very quiet with none of that clickety-clack noise! When the conductor came through, I had questions about buying a ticket in Berlin for the rest of my journey. However, he didn't speak English, so I had to dig deep to find enough German words and grammar to sound halfway intelligible. It was hard work, but I managed it.
As we went north, we came to the River Elbe, which we followed all the way to the German border, and on into Dresden. [The Elbe runs all the way to Hamburg and out to the North Sea.] I'd been to Dresden once, in February 2013, when I'd trained up from Prague for a meeting with a university professor, and had an overnight stay. As the city was buried in snow back then, I saw very little of it.
As we progressed, trees were taking on some green buds, and fields showed small green plants pushing through the soil. There were occasional groups of wind turbines. In-between working on personal things on my laptop, I watched the world go by out the window as we raced along at 160 kph (100 mph).
As we approached Berlin, next to the train line, there were many garden plots, most with some sort of structure ranging from a primitive hut to a summer cottage. After a very comfortable and uneventful 4:20 hours, we arrived at Berlin's main train station. A few days before, I'd studied my options for the connecting trip. It was a bit complicated and involved two train changes, with tight changes with little room for delays. I had 30 minutes to buy a ticket and get to the right platform, and I had visions of a very long line at the ticket counter. As it happens, the Travel Gods were on my side. After riding escalators up three flights and taking a wrong turn, I was helped by a very efficient man who gave me a printed itinerary and then handed me off to a young woman at the next counter to issue me a ticket. As it happened, the middle leg of the itinerary I'd planned had been cancelled, so the first two legs had to be changed. And as half of the travel time would be in single-service trains only, there was no point in paying for a First-Class ticket.
Everything went so smoothly that I was on my first platform with 10 minutes to spare. Don't you just love that when that happens! The first leg took all of two minutes and involved riding an S-Bahn train one stop. There I descended way down underground to another platform where I waited 10 minutes for another S-Bahn that took me to Oranienburg. We stopped at all 16 stations along the way! There, I rode the elevator (lift) with an elderly Canadian couple from Vancouver. Interestingly, the station had platforms numbered 20–30 only; there was no indication as to what happened to numbers 1–19! After A 15-minute wait, I boarded a very comfortable double-decker carriage and sat at a window downstairs. Once again, I watched the countryside go by and, from time to time, I wondered what it had been like to live there in East German times when this area was behind the Iron Curtain.
A Visit with Belinda
About 2:30 hours after leaving Berlin, I arrived in Altentreptow where Belinda, a friend of 20-odd years, was waiting for me. [I'd last seen her when I visited four years earlier, on the way back from western Poland. We'd first met when I hosted her in the US.]
Back at her house, we talked of many things, and as she teaches English, we soon got out an English dictionary and an English-German-English dictionary to help us in our discussions. We had a nice supper of beef goulash with boiled potatoes, and slices of tomato with mozzarella cheese and basil. Surprisingly, given my lack of sleep the previous night, I didn't start yawning until 20:00, so I capitalized on that by going to bed at 20:30. As Travel Days go, it had gone very well.
[Next day] I slept soundly until 03:00, but try as I might to get back to sleep, once I got a new writing-project idea in my head, I got very creative, and after two hours of brainstorming in the dark, I got up and started writing up the idea on my laptop. After that, I brought this diary up to date by which time it was 08:00. I went back to bed and slept until 11:30 after which I had a light brunch.
Around 13:00, we headed out in overcast weather with a very faint mist. We drove 90 minutes to the Baltic Sea Island, Usedom, which Germany shares with Poland. Our destination was the Army test site at Peenemünde. [Belinda took my son, Scott, and me there in 2000 during our first visit to her place.] This is where the rocket research and testing went on, which resulted in the infamous V1 buzz-bomb and V2 rocket. We toured the control bunker (now the visitors' center) and the power station, the only remaining buildings. The power was mostly to make oxygen for rocket fuel. We spent 90 minutes touring the museum and walking around the power station and grounds. Nearby was an old Soviet submarine. I read how that after the war, the Allied nations of the US, Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France each took scientists and engineers back to their respective countries to help build their military weapons and civilian space programs. The US group included Wernher von Braun who became a major force at NASA.
We drove home on back roads, and had a quiet evening. Lights out at 20:00 after a very nice day.
[Next day] I slept in two shifts, but didn't get up in-between, so I guess that's some sort of progress. After a shower, I was ready for the world, but was das Welt ready for me? Breakfast consisted of left-over beef goulash on toast with coffee and juice. It was Heavenly! Belinda loaded up her washing machine with all my laundry, and then we both settled down to administrative chores. She was trained to teach English, Russian, and French, and her job that morning was to grade some French papers, while thinking in German, and talking to me in English!
I hung my washing on the outdoor clothesline where the sun was shining brightly, and a light breeze was blowing. It had been a good while since my clothes were dried outside on a line! However, after three hours, most things were dry.
At 16:00, we headed out in the car. The first stop was Quilow, a small village where Belinda grew up and her mother had been Principal at a Primary School. There, we picked up her brother, Olaf, to take him out for a meal. Belinda's parents are both buried in the village cemetery, and I took photos of quite a few graves, all of which were mini gardens with small trees, bushes, and/or flowers. Many were covered with creepers, and all were covered with pine branches, as is the custom over Christmas. From there, we drove to Greifswald and to an old fishing village, Wieck, where the River Ryck runs into the Baltic Sea (which, by the way, the Germans and other neighboring country folk call the East Sea).
Our destination was "Jack & Richie's Steakhouse," a very nicely appointed restaurant decorated in a Wild West theme. I ate a small serving of pork spareribs cooked with a spicy sauce and served with coleslaw and garlic bread. Although the menu was in German, modern-German society uses many American-English words and phrases on a regular basis. For example, some of the items were "Mississippi BBQ Chicken," "Jack's Ribs," "Crispy Six" (6 chicken nuggets), and "Kentucky Mix" (onion rings, mozzarella sticks, steak strips, sweetcorn, garlic dip, and chili sauce). Many such names seem to be primarily to make the items seem exotic. Apparently, it works! I finished off the meal with a scoop of strawberry ice cream, which came with some small pieces of peppermint leaf. Afterwards, we drove Olaf home and then returned to our place in light fog. At several points along the highway, we were met by hundreds of UFOs hovering in formation ahead of us with blinking and steady red lights. Well at least I imagined they were UFOs! In fact, they were wind turbines each of which had blinking lights on top and one or two sets of static lights at lower levels of their towers, all for aviation safety.
[Next day] After 12 hours in bed with about 10 hours of sleep, I got up to a wintry day. After a cup of coffee, toast, and slices of salami, I dressed in business attire, and headed out to meet the day. Fifteen minutes later, I arrived at the Gymnasium Altentreptow, the town's high school. I chatted with the principal who I'd met four years earlier. I then was a guest speaker for him in a 90-minute English class for Year-11 students (age 17). Belinda joined me for lunch in the cafeteria. Afterwards, I joined her for an English class for Year-8 students (age 14). First up, they had a 20-minute test on gerunds; you know, those "-ing" words! I too took the test, which was quite challenging to start with, but I did OK. Then it was "open-question" time for about an hour.
On the way home, we stopped by a bakery—German bread typically has no preservatives, so people buy it every one or two days—and a supermarket, where I rescued some whole milk, a salad, and some gummi bears. Back home, we worked on various projects. While doing so, I had a German internet radio station playing in the background. After a "traditional" German supper of salad, whole milk, and potato chips, I had a wonderful cup of coffee and a cookie with raisins. (Is there no end to my gourmet palate?) I called my next host to make plans for my train trip to her area later in the week.
[Next day] After an almost-uninterrupted night, I finally seemed to be on local time. After a small breakfast, I headed out in light drizzle for Belinda's school. Starting at 10:00, I worked with her in two English lessons. The questions I got covered a wide variety of topics from religion, organ donation, politics, Germany, travel, and food.
Around 13:00, we drove to Neubrandenburg, a large city to the south. There, I rescued some euros from a cash machine, and we settled into a coffee shop for hot drinks, a snack, and a chat. I walked around the main street area taking photos of some interesting signage. Then we went to the train station to buy a ticket for the next leg of my journey. Although Belinda was with me, I decided to give my German a workout. After I explained to the very pleasant older woman agent that I spoke only a little German, she spoke slowly and explained everything to me in a very polite and professional manner. However, when it came to say that I preferred to sit facing the direction of the train rather than backwards, I resorted to Belinda for help. We drove home via a country road through several small villages and farmland.
Back home, we each worked on personal projects and had a light evening meal.
[Next day] After 10 reasonably restful hours in bed, I got up around 07:00, and had a small breakfast while listening to an album by Andrea Bocelli. It was another overcast day. After my morning email ritual, I worked on administrative chores.
After some false starts, I finally found an AirBnB place in which to stay during my time in England after I leave London, and I worked on a plan for my first few days of that leg. In the note I sent to my hosts, I wrote, "I'm traveling with a very colorful stuffed-toy caterpillar and several imaginary friends!" I didn't want them to think I was a "normal" guest.
At 13:45, Belinda came home to get me, and we headed out for Greifswald, 45 minutes to the north. She had to attend a meeting of regional English teachers. Meanwhile, I walked into the main shopping area, which is a pedestrian mall. It was very cold out! As soon as I entered the town, things looked familiar from my visit there four years earlier. I went into some stores, mostly to get out of the cold, and took some good photos of signage. Afterwards, I took a long walk around a residential neighborhood.
When we were back in the car, we both thought about eating something hot, so we stopped off at a large shopping center that had a number of eating choices. I had a nice hot, but spicy, bowl of goulash soup with a bread roll. It was just the thing for a growing lad! I also bought Belinda a bottle of wine for her up-coming, BIG birthday.
Back home, we had an easy evening of snacking, drinking, music, talking, and TV news. Lights out early.
Off to Erfurt
[Next day] Travel Day and the Ides of March!
Well, don't you know, after 6½ hours of solid sleep, I lay awake for three more, bugger! I finally dozed off again and got up at 08:00. After I showered, I had breakfast and washed the dishes before packing my gear, which somehow seemed to have expanded. Don't you just hate that when that happens! Then I played some easy-listening music from an internet radio station while handling email and planning some travel activities.
At 11:15, I headed out under overcast skies hoping the rain would hold off for my walk to the train station. It sure was cold out. I arrived in 20 minutes, and had a 40-minute wait. Four other young people were already there, three of them smoking, and two of them playing with their phones. (Some bad habits are universal!) The station building was closed permanently, and was in a state of disrepair, although a good clean and some renovation would make it a nice building.
A young man approached me and asked me a question in German, although I figured that wasn't his native language. I replied in German that I spoke only a little of that language, but did speak English. He then switched to English, of which he had a good command. He was a refugee from Eritrea in northeast Africa, and had travelled to Italy by boat from Libya. From there he requested asylum in Germany. He had recently completed five months of German-language training, and had a good grasp of that. He spoke Arabic as well. None of these were his native language. He was looking forward to getting a job and being busy, and was enjoying experimenting with European food. He was very pleasant, and we spoke for 30 minutes. He seemed like he'd be a good contributor to whichever country he finished up in.
Regional Train 05 pulled up right on time at 12:16, and about a dozen passengers boarded the double-decker train that had five carriages. I settled into an upstairs table with four seats, and spread my gear around. Having looked at the First-Class seating area, I didn't see any advantage in upgrading. Although there was no internet service, I did have power, so I plugged in my laptop, found some headphones (which my airline now gives away on every flight), and played some "Body and Soul Duet" albums while looking out the window and bringing this diary up to date. In a field next to the railway line an array of solar panels was making the most of the sun that was getting through the thick cloud cover. The array was about 100 meters wide and 500 meters long. Sadly, a number of stations we stopped at along the way were even more dilapidated than the one at Altentreptow.
As I was editing photos on my laptop, my electronic calendar raised two alarms that reminded me of my "previous" life. The first, was to schedule the annual termite inspection of my house. The second, was to schedule the 5-yearly pumping-out and inspecting of my septic tank. Unfortunately, it was not so easy to arrange either from my upstairs seat on a train in Germany, and nor were they very high priorities on my list for the day.
After a 2-hour quiet-and-smooth ride, we approached Berlin, and in the distance, I saw the distinctive Fernsehturm (TV tower) in the former East Berlin. [In 2000, son Scott and I ate a meal in the revolving restaurant at the top.] We pulled into Berlin's main train station, a rather new building in the heart of the city. Although I could have gotten a connecting train in 15 minutes, I chose one 50 minutes later, so I could take a walk around the station. I stopped by McDonalds McCafé for a milk coffee and to use the McRestroom.
I went down to Platform 2, and after a few minutes, the inter-city express, 1538, to Frankfurt arrived. From the carriage arrangement on a sign, I'd discovered mine would be the last one, so I made my way there to find someone in my seat. As that seat had a reservation sign, the man moved to another seat before I had a chance to evict him. As I had a wifi connection, I set to work dealing with a lot of non-urgent email that had been piling up in the past six days. I shared four seats at a table with a young woman who was headed to Erfurt for business. We had quite a conversation, and although I'm sure I butchered the German language repeatedly, she was polite and said that she could understand me perfectly well.
A Visit with Astrid and Günther
After 90 minutes, we arrived in Erfurt, the capital of the state of Thüringen, the home of the world's best bratwurst, or so the locals claim. There to meet me was Astrid, a teacher I'd met and hosted in 1995. I'd last visited her six years earlier. We drove to her quaint village, Tiefengruben, where we were met by her husband, Günther. After Astrid started a load of laundry for me, we sat in the dining room and talked of many things for hours, stopping for a light evening meal. I spoke mostly in German and they mostly in English. And even though that did absolutely nothing to help my sadly lacking comprehension of spoken German, it let us communicate quite effectively.
A restaurant in the village also rents rooms, and that's where I stayed. I walked the 400 meters there, unpacked my gear, and "made myself at home." It was very nicely appointed with a great bed and worktable. It even had indoor plumbing! Lights out at 22:00 after a very good day.
[Next day] I had an uninterrupted night and, when I woke at 07:30, I actually felt rested. It was raining, and the village was immersed in a thin fog. As predicted, snow had fallen. After a long, hot shower, I brought this diary up to date and went through my photos from the day before.
At Astrid's house, I sat down to a light breakfast, which morphed into the usual discussion of the English and German languages. Late morning, Astrid and I dressed warmly and headed off in light snow to the town of Apolda. For a small town, it has a well-known art gallery that has hosted exhibitions of many famous artists. Currently showing was a large collection by Andy Warhol. On display were the following: Campbell's Soup Cans I, Mao, Lenin, Skulls, Love, Shadows, Marilyn Monroe, Sunset, Camouflage, Flowers, and Sarah Bernhardt. The only ones I got a little bit excited about were two of the "Love" prints. The series of 10 called "Sunset" are not often shown, and are somewhat unknown. We spent time in the giftshop looking at cards and prints for sale, and compared notes on the various galleries we'd visited around the world.
Although the weather had deteriorated, Astrid decided to brave the roads, and we set off for her school in Weimar. At 18:30, a 1-hour musical play began with 80 10-year-old students performing. I understood an occasional word and some of the visual effects, and enjoyed the singing. The drive home was quite slow, as a number of large transports and cars were slipping around on the roads. Back home I tested the apple-almond cake we'd bought to make sure it hadn't gone bad. After a small slice, I wasn't sure, so I tested it again!
[Next day] I arrived at Astrid's place where Günther served me a fried egg with bacon pieces on bread. It was just the thing for a light breakfast, along with a cup of coffee. We sat at the table talking afterwards. Outside, it was -7C (20F), and some villagers were out for the annual "spring cleaning," but they could do little with all the snow on the ground. Around 11:30, Astrid and I rugged up with long underwear, scarves, and caps, and went for a walk around the village. The wind was quite strong until we got into the forest. I shot photos of various half-timbered houses.
Back home, Chef Günther served a great lunch of fish with curried Asian vegetables and flat noodles. We talked of many things, and got into the usual English/German word discussions before Astrid and I had a Backgammon tournament. We had three great games despite our both being rather rusty with the move calculations. The next thing we knew, it was "afternoon teatime," at which time, we ate slices of apple-almond cake with tea and coffee. We made good use of our dictionaries and tablet computer with access to Wikipedia. I then worked on bringing this diary up to date. Later, we paused for a light evening meal.
[Next day] I woke after a long sleep feeling quite rested. I worked in my room for a couple of hours before walking to Astrid's place. At 12:30, we went to the restaurant (above which was my rented room) for lunch. Of the three dishes on offer, I chose the pork schnitzel with Brussel sprouts and French fries. I washed it down with a glass of johannisbeere (red-current) juice. The proprietor joined us for a chat.
Astrid and I drove to Erfurt to buy my train ticket for the following morning, and to have a look at the main church, and to walk around the plaza nearby. I took some photos of some traditional buildings and signage. However, after taking my gloves off for only a minute, my fingers were absolutely freezing. The strong wind made it feel very cold. Back home, I had a piping-hot coffee. We played more Backgammon and then I posted the 100th installment of my blog. It had been running for more than eight years without a missed month.
We had a light evening meal together and visited various places around the world via Google Maps. Then I said "Goodnight" to Astrid and "Goodbye" to Günther. Back in my room, I prepared for my business meeting in London on Tuesday.
Next time, we'll continue the trip in London and Norfolk.