Tag Archives: weekend away

Housemate Heaven

Moving out of my parents’ house was the best decision I ever made.

I have now settled in to my new abode. The rent is reasonable at £375 a month. For that I pink-new-home-cards-simple-new-house-classic-ideas-wonderful-sample-animal-love-spread-doorget the run of the whole house, next day service on any repairs, a TV with two channels, all bills included and the perfect housemate.

Helen is my age, a lovely, bubbly, tidy, respectful and relaxed tenant with shoulder-length dark brown straight hair and blue eyes. She works at a local hospital organising heart operations, but she wants to be a personal assistant.

She should really be a counsellor, she is so good at listening. Her brother is a psychiatrist so it must run in the family. She will patiently listen to any drivel I spout and look like she is interested. We both like rugby, drum and bass (minus illicit substances) and watching crap on TV (First Dates). That was until my boyfriend “fixed” it. We lost Channel 4 and 5 and now we just have BBC 1 and 2.

So far the landlord’s mum has provided a brand new toaster the day after the old one blew the electrics. I thought I would need to replace the fuse but thankfully it was as easy as switching it back on (thanks Google and the flashlight on my phone). She also does all the washing up and the dishwasher whenever she pops round (once every couple of weeks).  What more could you want?

Credit: Chic On A Shoestring

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Well there is one thing, a washing machine that you can use on any setting. Currently it only works on 40 degrees, delicate cycle and a quick spin. But I am being fussy. The household appliances are a strange combination of 80’s retro (literally from that decade if not older) and brand new, with the “replace it when it’s broken” philosophy. The dishwasher is safe enough but put the washing machine on the wrong setting and you get water all over the floor when you open it. Without a mop it took about an hour to sponge it all up…

It is peaceful here. No nagging from my mother (which was constant and caused headaches), just freedom. I can do no wrong in Helen’s eyes except when I half finish chores (a bad habit).

I have yet to use the complimentary garden herbs – rosemary and lemon thyme. I cooked a meal for Helen the first Friday. I got a discounted pork shoulder joint (only £3.50) and roasted it for an hour with white wine and potatoes. It was delicious.

The landlord is about my age, chatty and excitable with dark brown curly hair and bright eyes. She is a primary school teacher who lives in Bristol. Her parents help her manage the house they helped her buy (worth about £250,000 with a mortgage of just over £500 a month). They hoped she would stay in in the city but she went about four hours away to live with a boyfriend. That did not work out and she ended up staying there for the job which was better.

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Credit: Cardiff Caerdidi Tours courtesy of TripAdvisor.

I spent some quality time with her this weekend. She is also interested in rugby because her father was in a local team. Unfortunately rugby is a risky sport and he broke his ankle, shattering the bones in his leg. He never played again but kept it in his life by being the Chairman of the club and the ticketing association. We watched the Cardiff Blues lose narrowly to Munster (Ireland). I also went round the castle in Cardiff (Wales) and the National Museum. Apparently there isn’t much else to do there but it kept me entertained all weekend.

In other news I failed my automatic driving test for the second time. I failed the first one in February and the second one two days ago. The first time was because I had not had enough practice at parallel parking on a hill and was so shaken up after doing it correctly that I tried to get closer to the kerb wrongly. I ended up reversing out into the road. I forgot to put the car back into forward gear and then turned the wheel the wrong way. I got three minors (for going 40 in a 60 on undulating hills, for not being far enough into the middle of the road when turning right and for not looking ahead through the window before setting off).

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Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The second time I was nearly back at the test centre (at that stage I had passed) when I lost concentration and thought it would only be a minor if I followed a van round a parked car. The man in the car waiting on the other side of the road was livid, gesticulating wildly. Of course it was a major – I should have waited. I got 7 minors including speeding (30 instead of 20), steering (not passing the wheel through my hands correctly) and going through an amber traffic light instead of stopping. If you are preparing for the test please click on this link for some advice.

As for my accommodation, it will probably be sold in a year or so but for now I am quite happy to stay where I am – this living arrangement works.

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Driving, Life of Lydia, Travel, Uncategorized

Beer-lin at Christmas

December was a busy month with trips to Birmingham, Berlin, Lancaster, Norwich and Great Yarmouth and a visit from my cousins, where I cooked for five for the first time.

I learnt that you need to have everything prepared and ready to go for the day of the visit. I spent that morning scouring local farms for turkey, only to be told that it had to be ordered in advance. I was saved by a pre-prepared one at Waitrose.

There was so much to see and do in Berlin. The city had a festive atmosphere with Christmas lights and markets. Temperatures were close to zero so my thermals came in handy.

Hotel Indigo was comfortable, clean and stylish and was lovely to return to after a day on our feet. We had an executive room with a balcony and we wrapped up to admire the view.

It was easy to get around using the S-Bahn and U-Bahn train systems. The U-Bahn is the Underground. You have to get your ticket stamped by the machine or you can be fined.

Transport links from Schönefeld airport were dismal, perhaps the reason for its rating on Google of under 3 stars. We were shattered after our budget airline experience featuring the usual lengthy queues. I nearly fell over as I had labyrinthitis – an inner-ear infection causing balance issues and disorientation. I had just started swimming again and medical opinion was that it had pushed infection further into my ear. Luckily it was the last 24 hours of it.

There was a long walk to the train station which was a vast concrete space with confusing German signposting to unfamiliar areas and some omnipotent machines. You needed to have the right amount of coins as they did not take cards and most did not like notes. Perhaps this is to encourage those in the know to buy at the airport. There were no officials and no information desk. In England there are information points at almost every major station so it was a culture-shock. I’d already been jarred by the lack of warm water in public toilets. Economical efficiency at its best but punishing in winter. Hand-warmers are recommended.

Berlin Photo Tour

Many meals centred around sausages (wurst). This is tasty currywurst.

Many meals centred around sausages (wurst). This is tasty currywurst.

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This pint features the German bear in front of the dome of Berlin’s parliament or Bundestag which is one of the subjects of my next post. Bears first appeared on a city seal (emblem) in 1280. The earliest city seal from 1253 didn’t feature a bear but an eagle, which was the symbol of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, an important part of the Holy Roman Empire that included Berlin. In 1280 the second emblem featured a Brandenburg eagle flanked by two standing bears. When Cölln and Berlin were merged into one city in 1709, the coat of arms featured the bear below two eagles -red for Brandenburg and black for Prussia. By 1875, the bear gained a crown signifying Berlin’s status as a free city.

 

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Schnitzel was nothing special.

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The apple cake was delicious.

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Our walking tour started in front of the Brandenburg Gate, outside Starbucks. It was free if you were heartless but our charismatic guide explained that he lived on donations and 15 Euros was the going rate. It was well worth it as we felt we had seen all the key sights and were fully briefed in the history. All questions were answered.

Just past the Gate on the road is the dividing line of the Wall that divided East and West Berlin until 1989, stretching off into the traffic. Division seems a distant memory, one that many would surely rather forget.

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Today is the 70th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz where over 1 million people died. An estimated 90 per cent of these victims were Jews, with Poles, Romani gypsies, Soviet Prisoners, homosexuals and others deemed “undesirable” making up the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish victims that were killed at the hands of the Nazis. The death toll is inconceivable. I thought of my grandfather, who liberated and dealt with the aftermath of Bergen-Belsen. Hell on earth. He never spoke of it and it must have been easier to repress than think about. Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish Auschwitz survivor, writer and chemist, remarked  “I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man” quoting the Robert Burns poem “Man Was Made to Mourn”.  

The Jewish Memorial in Berlin was quite an experience. It was a series of concrete blocks gradually getting taller until you were engulfed by oppressive blank columns trapping you on all sides. You are suddenly in a narrow space overshadowed by heavy grey monoliths leaning towards you which blocked out the light.

It was even more powerful at night. I couldn’t see anything but a gloomy, shadowy passage in front of me. It was eerily silent and you could hardly see the sky.

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You could go on a “Trabi” tour. Trabant cars, affectionately termed “trabis”, were iconic vehicles used by the Soviets of East Berlin. There is a museum for almost everything in Berlin, from those cars to computer science.067

Balloon sightseeing looked fun but freezing. We didn’t get a chance to see the Berlin Wall art but click here for a good website with it.

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Source: ampelmann.de

The East side still retained some differences such as the pedestrian crossing signs which featured a large man in a hat. The design was conceived by a traffic psychologist, Karl Peglau. The thinking behind it was that we react more quickly to appealing symbols.

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The history of a divided East/West Berlin reminded me of North/South Korea. The Russians called the East the Federal Republic and the British, French and Americans named the West the Democratic Republic. The wishful thinking post-War was that both halves would be run harmoniously. But the 1950s saw the fear of Communism explode in the States with witch hunts including even Charlie Chaplin. There were uprisings in the East which were dealt with by the Stasi, the secret police. Around 2.7 million East Berliners defected from 1949 until the Wall was built, with 200,000 leaving the year before in 1960. Reasons for escape were economic, social or political.One reason was the introduction of a collectivization policy in the 1950s. The goal was to consolidate individual land and labour into collective farms in order to increase food supply. But this meant that profits decreased and there were food shortages and riots instead.

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The Wall was publicly built to prevent a war for the city but privately it was

Walter Ubricht (Wikipedia)

Walter Ubricht (Wikipedia)

also to stop the East-West exodus. The East-German leader Walter Ubricht termed it an “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart” protecting the Federal Republic from “military adventurers”.

The photo above shows border guard Conrad Schumann who left two days after Wall construction began. His fellow soldiers were distracted and he saw his chance. West Berliners encouraged him to jump and after deciding for a moment he went for it. The moment was captured by passing photographer Peter Liebing. The iconic photograph was used as propaganda.

There were some unusual escapes, such as by tightrope-walking and with a car converted to go under the crossing barrier. Many who succeeded were guards, with over 1,300 fleeing in the first two years of the Wall’s construction. This led to the installation of locks and further walls requiring several soldiers to open them.

There was a good exhibition at Nordbahnhof S-geisterbahnhof_21_01606Bahn station about the division of the Underground. Tube trains from the West could pass through Eastern stops but they could not be used and became “ghost” stations. Even here soldiers escaped, so they would be locked in a platform bunker until the end of their shift.

Officially, 136 Berliners died fleeing to the West. Some wanted to earn more money, others were trying to join family members. Friedrichstraße station was nicknamed “The Palace of Tears” as it was the station where East Berliners would have tearful goodbyes to West Berliners returning, unsure when they would be allowed to see them again.

Many casualties were not recorded by the secretive Soviets. But a victims research group called “August 13 Working Group”  has claimed there were more than 1,100 fatalities linked to the division of states. West Berliners used it to fly-tip.

The photo above captures the worst Wall stand-off caused by a senior U.S. diplomat, Lightner Jr (American for Junior, which means son of) wanting to go to the opera in East Berlin. The East Germans demanded to see his passport, which he insisted only Soviet officials had the right to check. He was forced to turn back. Due to the tank stand-off and fervent diplomacy that ensued, officials on both sides were allowed to attend the theatre and the opera over the border. As for Lightner Jr, he went to the performance days later.

This month Stasi records became available online for the first time. The Stasi were Soviet secret police. Their files have been available to their subjects since 1992. But you had to write out for them and there were delays in release. The records were saved by East German citizens who stormed Stasi offices when the Wall fell in 1989. They include the harrowing case of Manfred Smolka, a former East German border guard who was seized, thrown in solitary confinement and guillotined after he escaped to the West.  The Stasi even attempted to recruit Prime Minister Angela Merkel when she was at University.

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Our tour guide was fantastic and we felt like we had been fully briefed on the key history and sights of the city centre.

The German market looked fantastic. To the left is the Concert House where we enjoyed an orchestral and choral Bach performance.

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All photos on this page Copyright literarylydi. Please ask for permission before using. Thank you.

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You must visit Fassbender and Rauch. It’s a chocolate shop with green awnings like Harrods and has confectionary which is just as fancy. There were several iconic buildings made entirely of chocolate. Upstairs in the lift is the restaurant where they do a main meal in chocolate on Monday-Friday. There can be a queue early in the afternoon but it is worth the wait. Their petit-fours look exquisite and are delicious.

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Christmas decoration in Pottsdam, copied nicely in chocolate in Berlin. That city is the subject of my next post, along with more of Berlin.

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January 27, 2015 · 9:21 pm

The journey to Istanbul and our First Night

I hadn’t even thought about the train journey. But it was just my luck that there were gale-force winds. When I got to the station many trains were cancelled or delayed.

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There were crowds of people staring at the boards in desperation, or anxiously chatting into their mobile phones. I assumed the worst, but scanning down I saw my train was at least running and only delayed by five minutes. I had set off at a perfectly respectable hour, 2pm. I even had time for a haircut and colour and had made the split decision to go brunette. I wasn’t sure of it, but the styling was good. By the time I got to London my train had been delayed by half an hour and my boyfriend had already had dinner.

When we got to the airport hotel I was suitably impressed; it was the sort that had Kettle Chips in the vending machine.

The next morning we were up at 7am which was easy enough. From there we drove to the cheap car park my boyfriend had booked online and then took a transfer bus the short distance to the airport. I hadn’t been to Gatwick before and was pleased with the variety of shops on offer. It wasn’t hard to choose where to have breakfast – Jamie Oliver had a restaurant there, which was a pleasant surprise. I expected only low-calorie options after his drive for healthy meals and so was astounded that a “full English” was on the menu. 019

After that I felt as heavy as my cabin bag, which luckily made it on to the plane with 0.2kg to spare for souvenirs on the way back.

We flew by Turkish Airlines and they were excellent, with complimentary Turkish Delight of course. I read my pocket guide book and phrase book and attempted to test my boyfriend, but he had no interest in it and said they’d speak English anyway. He was probably right but I wanted to make an effort. I then leafed through the book that had almost taken me over the 8kg limit: “Strolling Through Istanbul”, a fascinating guide book of the history and attractions of Istanbul. Unfortunately sometimes there was so much detail that I found myself reading the same paragraph multiple times. It all blurred into one literally as I found myself getting tired. 023 As we arrived four hours later, we flew low across the entire city. On emerging from the clouds we first passed long lines of hills illuminated purple in the sunset. Then as we got closer I caught glimpses of domes and minarets, even getting a picture of the Haggia Sophia (pronounced “Aya Sofya” in Turkish) and the suspension bridges criss-crossing the Bosphorous. It was magical.

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View of Haggia Sophia from the plane. Originally a church and built around 500AD, it rises majestically into the air. From the ground its minarets appear to touch the clouds.

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The Bosphorous

However we were brought sharply down to earth (and not just on the runway) when we tried to get out of the airport. It took us a while to find  the subway as there were not many signs until you had actually reached it. Then we assumed they would have ticket offices. No, there were only machines, and they didn’t take anything less than 10 Lira. This was a bit of a problem, we only had 100 Lira notes.

I sleepily suggested going back into the airport and buying something, at which my boyfriend pointed to the queue of disgruntled travellers waiting to get their bags through security. Oh of course. Well why didn’t we see if there were any shops in this large hall area then. We couldn’t see any nearby but I thought surely there would be some further along. Exasperated, we followed the sign for “buses”. This led to a car park with a couple of minivans parked up and guys sitting around smoking (almost everyone smokes in Istanbul).

So we headed back inside, with my boyfriend now thoroughly agitated and fed up. By this time we’d probably spent half an hour finding the place and wondering what to do, so my boyfriend finally decided to give my idea a chance and we went off in search of a shop. Sure enough, we found a “market shop” further down. We breathed a sigh of relief and bought refreshments. I got some sickly sweet cherry juice (I found most of their drinks are either too sweet or too bitter) and some watermelon chewing gum, what a novelty. We then spent some time trying to distinguish our route from the blurred map available and worked out that we’d need to buy a 3 Lira token for any number of stops in one direction. What a bargain compared to the tube in London!

My first impressions of Istanbul (formerly termed “Constantinople”) were that there were lots of mosques… 042

and stray cats… 039 It was heartbreaking seeing the poor mangy fluffy things scavenging in bins, some of them mere kittens. My boyfriend loved watching though them as he has a pet cat.

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I was expecting a standard modern posh hotel. However when we got there it was more vintage posh, or at least had been once. There were signs that the place was a shadow of its former self and the decor was quite overpowering. Everything was gold or crimson, even the walls. My favourite part of it was the winding staircase all the way up, which made me feel like a princess. The roof terrace was also fantastic, offering views across the city. We just walked up there and it was deserted.

Our bed was a modest double but all in gold velvet, with “Palace” written slightly off to one side in the middle. When we went into the bathroom there was a hanging basket overflowing with freebies, from dental kits to fluorescent blue shampoos.

There was a spa in the basement and I proposed we relax from our airport ordeal with a massage. We went down to the reception, which consisted of a small bar. When we turned around there was a small swimming pool and some rooms behind it, presumably the steam room and sauna.

After five minutes or so a young blonde and a Chinese girl turned up and booked us in. I went for a Swedish and my boyfriend went for a “Medical” as he had a sore back. We were sent to two rooms with glass doors. Thankfully part of them were opaque. There we were covered with so much oil that after having every limb attended to we slid off the table and into our clothes a little too easily.

I discovered that the girl I thought was Chinese was actually from Uzbekistan and had emigrated to Turkey for a better life. She had come from a large family and had considered going to university in Uzbekistan but it had been too expensive, so she was now excitedly saving for hairdresser college. She said she preferred Turkey as it was cheaper and there was more to do. None of her family had joined her and had no plans to, and I thought she was rather brave, being just 21 years old.

Following that my boyfriend and I could hardly keep our eyes open and we stumbled upstairs in a happy sleepy daze.

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December 15, 2013 · 10:03 pm