Susan’s Blog

 

How to read the code on your airline ticket.

Have you ever wondered about the flight code on your airline ticket?  The collection of letters and numbers on an airline ticket contain a lot of information.

The letters at the beginning of the code stand for the airline and are usually are an abbreviation of the actual airline name. British Air is BA, Qantas is QF, and Jetstar is JQ due to it being owned by Qantas.

The numbers in the second part of the code represent information about the flight route.

The lower the flight number, the more important the route, with an airline’s main route usually being given the number 1. For example, Qantas’ QF1 is Sydney to London, British Airways’ BA1 is London to New York, etc.

Whether the number is odd or even, can be the code for the direction of flight. Usually northern or eastern  bound flights are even, while western and southern bound flights are odd. Other airlines use even and odd numbers to designate pairs of flights, to and from a location. A flight to New York might be 204 and its return flight 205.

Flight numbers of less than three digits are usually reserved for premium flights, while four digit numbers above 4000 are for regional affiliates. Flights with numbers above 6000 are code share flights where an agreed airline partner will operate the route.

Flight numbers to the same destination will go up through the day, so a morning flight might be 401 while an afternoon flight might be 405.

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HOLIDAY IN NORTHERN ENGLAND (our best kept secret) 

Campervan holidays in northern England has become very popular with the many TV shows and movies that have been filmed in the area.  Open spaces and sweeping scenery, lakes, mountains, and stunning beaches are what you will find.

From Rene Zelwegger playing Beatrix Potter in the Lake District, Beowolf highlighting Bamburg Castle, to Harry Potter and Cate Blanchett’s Elizabeth showcasing Alnwick Castle.   Mark Wahlburg visited when The Transformers recently roared down the streets of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where they once filmed Michael Caine’s turn at Get Carter.

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Tree at Roman wall

From County Durham for Billy Elliot and Vanessa Redgrave’s Song for Marion, to Redcar for the beaches in the Oscar winning Atonement, there are so many movie locations you can visit.  Head towards the Roman Wall and stand under the famous tree used in the opening scenes of Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

Overlook the beach or mountains from one of hundreds of campsites in the area. Pick up one of these films for a preview of the beauty of Northern England.

www.gocampervan.co.uk

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gocampervan in the English Lake District

 

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How to keep your pin numbers safe

I love this tip so much, I implement part of it into my daily life.  Pick pockets and opportunists are everywhere nowadays.  This is a good way to keep your vital information safe.

Write down your credit card/bank card phone numbers on a post-it, tape it with packing tape (so its waterproof), and put it in your shoe.

Then, in your wallet/purse, put a post it with the wrong pin numbers for each card as they will lock up after entering a few wrong numbers.

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Simple ways to save money while travelling

I always have a metal fork and spoon in my day-pack.  That way I can grab a grocery store salad or a pot of yogurt and eat in the park.  If I know I wont be going anywhere with metal detectors (museums and galleries) I will have my Swiss army knife with me too.  This is great for opening packages of sliced ham or baguettes.

Keep wet-wipes and plastic bags at hand for tidying up later.

For restaurant meals, you will save money if you make lunch your main meal of the day.  Look for lunch specials, and if there is a choice of 2 or 3 courses, take the lower priced 2 course starter and main, and go search for a nice cake or pastry from a local bakery for a late afternoon dessert.

You will save substantial amounts by buying alcohol, wine and water in the grocery stores.  Carry a plastic cup in your day-pack so you can discretely sip wine on the river bank.

Look up free museums and galleries, or try to find out if there is a reduction system for visiting more 2 or more sites.  Check online for reduced fees on late visits.  For fee charging churches, look for evensong services and go in as a worshiper.

Check public transport info to see if they offer reduced fares within certain hours, or travel cards.  Also see if the bus service is cheaper than a train or underground system.  If you use a taxi, make sure you know how much the fare should be, and discuss it with the driver before you get in.

Hand-wash your clothes when you can, as laundromats can be very expensive in Europe.  (Count on €8-10 per load, with soap).

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Best time to buy flights tickets online 

Did you know that the day you purchase a flight ticket, can sometimes make a slight difference in the price you will pay? A study looked at 11,000 destinations to find which is the cheapest day to actually fly. Sunday is the most expensive day to depart and Friday is the most costly day to return; as these are the busiest days of the week for air traffic. If you want to save money, you’re better off departing on a Wednesday and returning on a Tuesday if you’re flying domestic, or a Monday if you’re coming back from abroad.

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Fares fluctuate throughout the day, and the number of seats offered at the lowest fares also changes frequently; or someone might be holding the only seat at the lowest fare and not book it, so it goes back into inventory and it will be yours. If you don’t like the fare at 10 a.m., check at 2 p.m. or the next day or the next week and book it when you see a good price.

Get airfare alerts by email. Many travel websites offer emailed airfare alerts, letting you know when fares go down, and they all have something to offer. Do a browser search for “airfare alerts” and you’ll see what’s available. They all work a bit differently so sign up for more than one.

Sign up for the airlines’ email feeds and frequent-flier programs. The airlines want to develop a relationship with you, so they’ll send you special deals, such as 50%-off promo codes or two-fers, if you sign up for their emails.

Use Twitter. Some of the most amazing airfare deals last only a short time (even if they’re valid for travel over a long period), or you open the email too late. Twitter is more immediate. Follow the airlines you’re likely to use.

Good luck and happy travels.

 

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Here’s a cute little poem written by the gorgeous Sarah, who was on our trip a couple of winters ago.

The Traveler’s Toilet                                                                           

The traveler has many needs that must be attended,
and so, to the traveler’s toilet we have all surrendered.                                      h
No matter if we are in Paris, Switzerland or Rome,
one thing is clear – the loos are never quite the same as home.

We have been in toilets completely lacking any seat.
We have paid one-Euro-fifty – and gotten a receipt!
We have laughed at certain Austrian design flaws.
We have braved the public loos of France, fitted with timbered doors.

We have used upstairs loos, downstairs loos, Gadget-and-gizmoed up loos,
Nice loos, smelly loos, toilet seat-flip-up loos.
Loos with buttons, levers, sensors, chains and pedals.
Just for knowing how to use them, we all deserve a medal!

But there is one thing I cannot help but mention,
though it may be a matter of some contention.
A holiday of Europe would not be complete,
without fond memories of the traveler’s toilet seat.

 

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The Nudist Camp

 

Do you know what FKK means?  You will frequently see these signs dotted along the Croatian coast.  It is a German term for Free Body Kulture; in other words, ‘Nudist Camp’.

We first encountered this phenomena while on a ‘make it up as you go along’ Hotel-bus tour.  The passengers were from Taiwan and the man who put the tours together, would read an article on a place, advertise a tour and he could fill a coach within weeks.

The coaches were magnificent, purpose-built German machines, where the back section had three layers of bunks; as well as bunks in the overhead storage areas.  There was full outdoor catering equipment, a kitchen inside, tables, chairs and everything you needed to go anywhere.  We stayed mainly on campsites, and twenty-four people could travel comfortably and eat fairly cheaply.

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The hotel coach. They aren’t around anymore, but they were great at the time.

Anthony, the main man, had read an article about eating fresh trout in Lake Bled and put together a tour based around achieving this goal.  What he didn’t take into consideration is that this was only a year after the Yugoslavian war had ended and the country had not quite recovered from the devastation.

To give you an idea of what we were facing, Yugoslavia was a group of separate countries, languages and religious groups, put together after WW1, in order to survive.  During WW2 they were occupied by the Nazis, only to become united under a communistic regime led by Tito.  He managed to keep this patchwork quilt of communities together, but when he died in 1980, the cracks began to appear. Ten years later, a horrific war kicked off.  I don’t mean a few protests and blockades; I mean snipers, bombing, baby killing, rapes and extensive ethnic cleansing. The UN took over the campsites and refuges filled all the hotels. By the time we arrived in 1997, most of the campsites had been liquidated and stripped; and all of the city hotels were destroyed or still full of homeless.  This left us limited places to camp or stay.

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Bombed out house in Croatia

We rolled down the coast in our modern coach, past families staring glumly from the steps of their half bombed homes; steering around crater marks and burnt out shells of buildings, following our camping guide-book to ghosts of where campsites had been. When we did find one, we would step over bullet marked tiles in the shower rooms and use the cold water hose where the chrome taps used to be. Big white UN letters were painted on the tin roofs, which had stopped them from getting shelled when they were harbouring refugees.

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see the shell marks in the road

 

 

 

 

Funnily enough, the Germans were quite upset when the battles stopped them from planning their holidays to their favourite FKK camps on the pebbled coastline; so as soon as the last tanks rolled away, the smart business men hunted out the remaining tradesmen and returned the FKK camps to their pre-war glory.

After one hot and fruitless day of searching for a camping place, we were left with no option but to try to stay on the perimeter of one of the German FKK playgrounds.  The owner told us that people began to dress around tea time and as long as we were back on the road early morning, we should be okay.  He was busy thinking of how much revenue twenty-four people and a massive mobile home would bring in for him.

It was about six-thirty pm once we cleared reception and  Kevin drove gingerly down the narrow road.  We passed a clothed couple walking hand in hand.       Within minutes, Kev had to slow right down as our coach loomed behind a naked man on a push-bike, who was clutching a loaf of pumpernickel bread under his arm.

More nude cyclists appeared from a side road. We carried on driving past camping plots with scowling women washing dishes; all dangling breasts and fuzzy nether regions, with fathers scolding their little naked children who played near the family caravan. It seemed due to the abnormally warm evening, everyone was staying naked much later than usual.

The Taiwanese were fascinated by these sights and there was much ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘wahh-ing’ as they smudged the coach windows with their noses and open mouths, with Kevin shouting ‘No photo!  No photo!’ to no effect.  This kinky site-seeing tour was not going to work out as planned, as we had visions of hundreds of angry naturists coming at us with flaming bratwursts and waving BBQ forks.  Kevin turned the coach around and drove full speed to the exit.

A few hundred metres back along the main road, we saw the sister campsite for those who enjoyed wearing clothing and breathed a sigh of relief.  We checked the group in and set up camp along side a chain link fence that separated us from the expansive sports area of the neighboring FKK site.  Our plot was noisy and overloaded, with limited crappy facilities; but at least there was no exposed pubic hair in sight.

The group created dinner from the boxes of unrecognizable supplies they flew in with, washed their dishes and disappeared into their little cubbyholes for the night.  Finally, all we could hear was the rustling of disposable paper underwear and some loud snoring.

Kev and I could make out the soft thud of bad Eastern European disco music in the distance. Deciding it was time to explore, we climbed over the fence and into the dark foliage, following the light and the music.

The now clothed nudists danced along with the out door DJ, and sat at tables in the alfresco café enjoying dishes of fresh trout.  The public facilities were vast and gleaming, with endless rows of pristine showers and toilets; the polished tiles an extreme contrast to our two grubby shower heads next door.17101344-cartoon-night-party-people

With our new knowledge, we climbed back over the fence and took to our beds in the overhead storage racks; with plans of sneaking back into the FKK camp in the morning to use their showers.

The next morning as the sun beamed through the curtains, we could hear giggling and clapping from outside the coach. The Taiwanese always woke early to set pots of water to boil and to retrieve their dry laundry from every available tree branch.  All the girls, young and old, had set up a row of lawn chairs facing the chain link fence.  They howled with laughter and aimed their cameras through the sparse bushes at the bouncing orbs of the nude volleyball players. There was lots of flopping and bobbing, as the un-self-conscious athletes entertained the group. The Taiwanese ladies were delighted by the size of some of the organs on display.

It was the days before digital cameras, so I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when they sent their films in for developing.  Funnily enough, Anthony’s next tour sold out instantly.

 

 

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ITALIAN COFFEE…NECTAR OF THE GODS

My favourite part of any day in Italy, was when I walked through the open door of the bar, following the smell of roasted beans and steamed milk.  There would be a cacophony of chatter from a small round table off to the side, while an older man with pressed trousers and shiny shoes waited patiently at the marble counter top.  The waiter would bring him a shot of grappa and a tiny cup of black liquid, before turning his attention to me.

‘Una dopia espresso perfavore.’ would slip off my tongue as I use my practiced Italian pronunciation, honed from years of listening to the locals.  Keeping the serious face of an Italian senora, I would watch him casually place two cups under the nozzles of the monster coffee maker; an array of buttons and pipes that would hiss and gurgle before releasing the fragrant black liquid.

The cup and saucer would clatter on the freshly wiped marble and I would choose a packet from the overstuffed sugar bowl.  As I stirred and sipped, locals would come, order, drink and go; as if getting a jolt of life blood to keep them going in the heat of the day.

When in Italy, this is an essential activity.  There are so many different coffees to chose from:

Caffè – In Italy, the word “caffè’” naturally implies an espresso

Macchiato –  macchiare means to “stain” – and this espresso in a demitasse cup is stained with some hot milk, probably frothed, though no attention is placed on serving foam. This is not a mini-cappuccino.

Caffè Macchiato Freddo – An espresso served in a demitasse cup with cold or lukewarm milk on the side. It looks like a normal caffè next to a carafe of milk. Many bars provide a communal container of milk on the bar, so often someone can just order a caffè and add the milk themselves. It’s best to order the caffè macchiato freddo and let the barman direct you. If you absolutely want to add the milk yourself, you can make sure to specify, “il latte a parte”

Cappuccino – Probably the most well-known and loved coffee drink. Espresso and steamed, frothy milk added so that there is a cappuccinoclean layer of milk foam in a larger cup. The name comes from the light brown colour of the drink, which is the same tone as the robes worn by Cappuchine monks.

Marocchino – Also called an Espressino or Mocacchino.  It is a shot of espresso served in a glass demitasse with a sprinkling of cacao (added either before or after the milk, sometimes both) and milk foam spooned on top.

Latte Macchiato – Milk “stained” with coffee, and served hot in a glass cup as shown or in a tall glass, larger than a cappuccino.

Caffè Corretto – An espresso in a demitasse cup, with a “shot” of liquor of your choice. Popular liquors are grappa, Sambuca, cognac, rum or Irish Cream

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Caffè Doppio – Two shots of espresso, served in a larger cup (tazza).

Caffè Americano – A shot of espresso with hot water added.  Often referred to by Italians as dishwater.

Caffè Lungo – A setting on most espresso machines, more water is being run through the filter, resulting in a “longer” coffee. The consistency and strength is not the same as an espresso.

Caffè Stretto or Ristretto – Made with less water than a normal espresso, this caffe’ is more concentrated and strong and served in a demitasse.

Caffè Freddo – Cooled or chilled espresso

Caffe HAG – Not only is this the most popular brand of decaffeinated coffee in Italy, it can also be a way to indicate a decaffeinated coffee when ordering. It can be ordered as a single, double or macchiato like a normal caffè.  (Pronounce: Ahg – the H is silent).

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Gareth in Paris

Gareth was kind enough to send me his diary of the trip he did with us.  He and Dan really went for it when it came to site seeing. They also took lots of fantastic photos which were featured throughout the brochures.   Here are his impressions of two days in Paris.  Let’s see if it brings back memories for you.

Thank you Gareth!

Gareth’s Travel Journal

After getting up at 5am, we made our way to board the Eurostar to Paris. That was a great and smooth ride. At one moment you are in King’s Cross, London, and before you know it,your phone beeps to say you are on a new network and you arrive in Paris. If only we could get something like that to Melbourne (from Sydney), it would be fun.

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We boarded our transport (the coach) which would serve as a mobile home for the next 28 days and it already felt good to have someone do the driving and thinking for us. It works out every second day (give or take) we have a free day where we do what we want. The first being a whole day in Paris to do whatever it is that we want.

Paris – city of love, romance and people pashing in the street, in parks and on public transport.

After checking in at our hotel, we boarded the tour bus once again for an orientation tour and our first glimpses of all the Parisian sights – Le Tour Eiffel, L’Arc De Triomphe, Le Musee du Louvre, Le Cathedral Notre Dame, L’Avenue Champs Elysses and the beautiful River Seine which runs through the city. Dinner was in a French bistro (where else?) and our first real chance to chat to some of the people we would be spending the next month with.  As we started to chat, we were pleased to find that everyone seemed lovely and friendly and surprisingly, most of the tour is from Australia.DSCF5443

After a very yummy dinner (French pate, Mmmm) we all went on a romantic cruise on the Seine and saw some beautiful views of the city and lots of locals getting amorous by the river. We then had the opportunity to see Paris by night and were back at the Eiffel Tower to see its nightly light display, before heading back to the hotel to recharge the batteries for a very busy next day. Thanks Susan and Kev!

Bright and early, we grabbed a quick (and very average) breakfast and headed into to city on the metro.  It was a free day, so Gareth and I separated from the group; first stop was the top of the Arc de Triomphe. We made our way up the Champs Elysee, through the Tuileries Gardens to Place de la Corcorde – a giant square teeming with traffic and tourists snapping away.

DSCF5539The thing with traffic in Paris is that on roundabouts, you have right of way coming onto the roundabout, give way as you exit and there are no lanes or line markings. This makes for some very interesting manoeuvres as cars, bicycles, coach tours and mopeds all bustle through on their journey and was very entertaining to watch!

By this time we were rather hungry and tracked down a little restaurant where we put our newly acquired French skills to good use. The food was delicious. Real French onion soup, some nice fish and a grilled Andoillette Troye (sausage). While eating it, I began to be a little suspicious of the smokey flavour and interesting texture of the meat and sausage skin but thought better not to be thinking about it too much. At our lunch stop the next day I saw it again, this time with the English translation – tripe. Hello, Revolting! After a few moments of revulsion Dan decided to add it to his list of firsts for this trip.

We spent the afternoon wandering and riding the metro back and forth between sights and areas of Paris. We climbed the tower of Sacre Coeur, explored the streets around Montmartre and ate in the Latin Quarter where we met a nice old French lady who we chatted with for a while. It gave me the chance to practise my French and she practised her English. Speaking is getting easier; it’s the listening that’s still tricky as they tend to speak very quickly. Baby steps.

I am very happy to say that we both love Paris and we’re both really looking forward to returning at the end of our tour and spending more time there. Paris is such a beautiful city, full of magic and wonderful things to see and do.

                                                Observations:

  • It is not just a cliche that every second person in France actually does walk around with a baguette under their arm.
  • In France cars have a unique way of parking. They park with the handbrake off and just use the bumper bars on the cars to push their way into the spot. We have seen this many times.
  • There is dog poo everywhere.
  • There is a buzzer warning just before the doors slam shut on the metro for a reason. Also the speed of the doors slamming will leave a nice bruise on your arm.

 

 

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Pizza making as a dying craft

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It might soon become difficult to find an Italian born pizza maker in Italy.  Just like in our countries, kids no longer want to go into the family business.  It was a tradition handed down from generation to generation, but even though there are record levels of unemployment among the young, Italy desperately needs at least six thousand new pizza makers.

It’s a tough job because you work morning to night, you’re on your feet all day with your head in a hot oven and the wages tend to be low; so as the demand for cheap food increases, there is a severe shortage of skilled pizza makers in the land that invented the calzone and the margarita.

In big cities, pizza is still the most affordable and convenient food for office workers to grab at lunch-time, producing an annual turnover of nine billion Euros.

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Now, young people see hospitality as a low grade job, and even when they do go into the industry they want to be a chef in a five star restaurant.

Foreigners are increasingly taking their place in Italy’s 50 thousand pizzerias, with Egyptians emerging as a dominant force among the estimated 240 thousand pizza makers, who earn as little as €250 per week.

One of my favourite tour memories was sitting in Pompeii Pizzeria, languishing over a hand thrown pizza cooked in a wood fired oven, made for me by my friend Giuseppe.  He and his family and staff, showed me the utmost in hospitality over the years and I really hope his young son Michaela (not in the photo) wants to continue the family business and keep the tradition alive.

Pictured: Pizza Susan:  tomatoes, peppers, basil and lots of chillies, created especially for me.

 

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My Crocodile Dundee Encounter

This is a non-European adventure, but considering that the large percentage of people I have had the pleasure of taking through Europe, have been from Australia or New Zealand, I am regularly asked if I have been there myself. This is one of my memorable visits.

The answer is yes and I did get to travel extensively.  The first time was for five months as a tourist and the second was ten months for work.  Being a photographer by trade, it was my job to tour hop with a popular coach tour company and take photos for their travel brochure.  I went from Sydney to Cooktown three times; and from Darwin to what was then, Ayers Rock.   I also got to live in Brisbane, the Rocks, and just outside of Sydney for a few weeks each.                                                   2012-04-16-23-55-20

On one of the tour routes, we stayed on a homestead near Katherine.  On this particular ranch, there was an eccentric known as ‘the Snake guy.’  It was the first time I had seen anyone wear one of those sweat stained Crocodile Dundee hats with a piece of rope for a hat band.  On his lap was a tiny Joey who was fidgeting while sucking on a bottle. He told me he was in the habit of running into orphaned or hurt creatures, where he would nurse them back to health before releasing them.

‘Show her the one you kept,’ nudged one of the other farmhands.  He left the Joey with the guys and ran off into his cabin.  As he came out the door, it was apparent he was not wearing a scarf, but a five foot long python.  I could hear the squeals from the girls as he came back to his seat.  The squeals turned into curiosity and he soon had a harem of girls from the tour, oohing and ahhing and giggling excitedly.

 

trevor the snake guyLeaving him to it, I went to get ready for the evening dinner excursion.  As dusk was approaching, we walked to the nearby river and boarded an old wooden boat.  As we chugged down the narrow waterway, snake guy pointed out various trees and birds.  We were taking pictures and in general awe of the rough riverbank.                                                          2012-04-17-14-53-37

The boat suddenly lurched and headed towards the bank, as the snake guy hurled himself upward into the branches of an overhanging tree.  Just as quickly, he dropped out of the foliage and back onto the deck of the boat. A surprised snake curled around his wrist as he posed for more photos after impressing the girls with his Tarzan impression and intimidating the guys with his sheer madness.

 

By the time we came to rest on the river bank, it was completely dark except for the boat’s flood lamp.  We walked down the rickety dock and were led by torch light to the picnic area. Three staff had arrived earlier and prepared a hot meal for us over an open camp-fire.  As they dished up the stew and damper, we could hear lots of rustling about and splashing off in the distance.  Once the food had been devoured, we were told it was Croc and veggies.

We stacked up our dishes and grabbed a plastic cup of red plonk, before being led back to the blackened waters edge.  Snake guy made a funny noise in the back of his throat while throwing pieces of raw chicken into the water.  A few seconds later, all four staff shone their torches on the waters edge and with a lot more splashing and flailing about, thirteen crocodiles scrambled onto the bank before us; their yellow eyes piercing the pitch blackness.  We watched as they tore at the raw chicken, before sidling backwards into the Cimmerian depths.  Gasps of ‘bloody hell’ filled the humid night air.

Later, back at the corral, the group sat around the camp-fire to drink and chatter about their exciting encounter with so many dangerous and wild creatures.  Even I was surprised how near the crocs were, when my flash lit them in the darkness.

‘That was a bit close,’ I said to snake 2012-04-17-16-51-46guy. ‘Does anyone ever get hurt?’

‘No, it’s fine.’ He chuckled. ‘The reason the crocs came on to the shore like that and are so tame, is because there is the one male and his twelve ‘wives’ follow his lead.  But mainly, he’s such an old fart, he has no teeth and has to rely on boat tour groups for food, because he can’t catch anything meaner than himself.’

So if you want to see the Hugh Hefner of crocodiles, who takes his wives out for dinner every night, head on down to the Homestead and bring some raw chicken.

 

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Here comes the bin, so it must be time for the mains

Our Paris restaurant experience  

When we first started visiting Paris with K***** Tours, we were required to use a restaurant on the corner of a busy street, with a train line thundering overhead, and a bus stop and bin collection area in front. The group would be served by the only waiter in the place who could be trusted to be pleasant to them.  He would tell jokes and laugh at their attempts to pronounce words off the menu.

french-waiter1Meanwhile, Kev and I would get shunted to the side table in the doorway, half hidden behind the door curtain, and in a spot where the world’s most miserable waiter would purposely bump our table every time he went by.  He would ignore us as long as possible before taking our order, and when he did bring out our cold food, he would drop somewhere on our table with no eye contact.  One time he plopped my starter down directly on my handbag, which I was looking through at the time.

There were three meal choices allotted to us ‘Englese’. For starters they offered fatty pate and stale baguette, a cold tomato soup with no seasoning, or some old salad. The main was either a chicken curry from a jar, a piece of tough old horse steak, or fish.  After trying out and leaving most of the first two choices, I thought I would try the fish.  What was put before me looked like a wing, with white flesh stuck on it.  I had to take my fork and scrape the meat out from between the bones. After this I just started ordering an omelette.

 

 

Every time we visited, at exactly the same time the mains came out, the miserable git of a waiter would push the curtains into us binmen-cartooneven more, kick our chairs out of the way, then wait for the trap door in the floor to open.  With a grinding whirr, a lift would rise up out of the floor to present the overflowing rubbish skip to the diners.  They would then wheel the decaying mess through the doors out to the waiting collection truck, and roll it back in empty, to where it descended back into the bowels of the restaurant.  It left a lovely odour to accompany our meals.

 

The shining highlight was sending the girls down stairs to the toilets.  It doesn’t seem to matter how upmarket a restaurant is in Paris; the toilets are always an afterthought.

urinal_custom-be7855e121b52876cb2586eabea39ffc900ebe71-s6-c10I would tell the girls they were going to get dinner and a show,  because as you descended the stairs to the toilets, you would see a door in front of you with a clear glass panel.  This gave you with a perfect view of the urinals and the back of the men using them.  I could hear the squeals of the girls as they got to the bottom of the stairs.

Needless to say, once the bosses daughter joined us for dinner in this establishment, I was given the go ahead to change restaurants.

 

 

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A group dinner that I will never forget                              

‘Oh no!  What the heck is that?’ I said to Kevin as he paled, while poking at the lump of gelatinous flesh.  ‘That is totally different from what I had pictured when I ordered.’

How could this go so wrong?  I had followed the correct procedure according to German ‘ordering a group meal in a restaurant’ laws.                                                                                                                                             Bavarium Restaurant Table

Step 1. Ask for the approved set-in-stone group menu list in English.

Step 2. Choose the 3 course menu you desire.

Step 3. Fill out the detailed order form and send to us.

Step 4. Upon receipt of the order (and only within office hours) the restaurant manager will send you a confirmation letter with the exact menu right down to how many pats of butter on the table and a break down of price with tax and service charge.  Find an Internet café, download this form, print it, sign it in ink and fax it back.

Step 5. Once the signed fax is received, you will get a confirmation which also must be downloaded and printed out, and is to be presented upon arrival.

I thought things were going really well when amidst a sea of Chinese restaurants and Argentinean steak houses, I had found this great little place in Berlin. They had chunky wooden tables, waiting staff in traditional dress, litre steins of beer and instead of demanding cash payment, they took credit cards.

When they sent me the group menu choices, I bypassed the coal fish, the creamed chicken and breaded veal menus, and went straight for the pork knuckle.  This had always been a favourite with groups and I loved the chorus of ‘wow!’ and ‘that’s enormous’ that would go through the restaurant as the servers swept past, placing steaming plates of crispy pork shank in front of every diner.

With this particular restaurant, my choices were:

Menu A:  roast pork knuckle    with a bucket of sauerkraut, a giant liver-onion dough ball and a bland milk pudding

Menu B:  boiled pork knuckle    with hot parsley-butter potatoes, steaming vegetables and hot chocolate fritters.

‘Can I please have menu B, but with roast pork instead of boiled?’ I begged.  I knew if we got the liver ball and sauerkraut, most of it would go back and some people would be hungry, but when dealing with some Germans, you quickly learn that rules are not meant to be broken.

With that, I went with the executive decision to go for menu B, sure that all would be missing would be the crackling. After all the Germans serve the best pork in Europe. I was sure it would be a massive chunk of skinless meat on the bone, smothered in rich brown gravy and a symphony to the eye, as well as to the palate. Everyone would ooh and ahh; the guys would finish whatever the girls couldn’t; we would get our veggie fix, and all would be wonderful.

It didn’t feel that way as the kitchen door pushed open and the Frau plunked dishes in front of us, with what can only be described as a human body part taken from a medical lab. I looked down at a lump of greyish pink skin, still dewy from the boiling pot, with sawed off bones sticking out of either end and peeled back the thick layer of soggy skin and fat, to reveal mottled, over-boiled meat.

7101080483_b76a5e8e44_bKev and I barely had time to look at each other and mouth ‘Oh f**k.’ before three Fraus stormed out from the kitchen carrying multiple plates. As the dishes hit the tables, the wows and cheers we had expected were replaced with squeals of horror.  ‘It looks like a human knee,’ and ‘I think I’m going to be sick,’ echoed through the room as the meal was presented and there was not a damn thing we could do about it.

‘You realise there are 35 of those things coming out. ‘  Kev pointed out, as we burst into laughter.  What else could we do?

Another stein later, the Fraus tutted under their breath as they picked up our mainly untouched chunks of road kill to return to the kitchen.  All in all, we had a laugh on the coach later, but it still makes me feel a little sick when I think about it.  Poor piggies.

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Life’s little boxes

Waves were smashing across the deck and the ‘Vision of the Seas’ was like one big washing machine. After downing my quota of sea sickness pills, I traversed along the corridor, clutching the handrails that were put there for that purpose. I got to the theatre and plopped down in a seat at the front, waiting for the public speaker who was there to entertain us with her ‘life talk’.

I can’t remember her name, but Shirley will give you a picture to work with.  After chattering about how green tea can help you lose weight and how we could decide if we were in the right job or not, she got out a flip chart and a felt marker.

‘Let’s list the things you want to do in your life.’

Hands went up all over the theatre with answers of ‘swim with dolphins’, ‘start my own business’, ‘see the pyramids’, and of course ‘get a divorce’, to which we tittered politely.

Our ambitions were transferred to the blank page as we patted ourselves on the back for our wit and grand dreams. Shirley flipped to a fresh page and drew eight squares.

‘Each box represents ten years of your life’ she said, marker pen squeaking across the paper.

‘Now cross off the boxes that have gone by already.’  With a flourish she eliminated her first five boxes.

‘I’ve drawn enough boxes to get me to eighty, but we’ll cross off the last two, because who knows how my health will be.’

Big crosses covered them, leaving her with a solitary box.

‘That’s what I have left.  How about you?’  The stunned silence said everything.

‘So, what are you waiting for?’

Day 15 A magical castle at Neuschwanstein