Saturday, February 18, 2012

Day 4 - Winter Wonderland Tour Day 1

Sunny tending to Overcast was the weather prediction and it was about 2 degrees when we set out to explore Offenbach proper. We walked northward, or at least we thought it was northward and happened upon a farmer's market, where we found a plethora of advent wreaths and candles. Little did we know that this was going to be a common occurrence in the weeks to come. 

Our breakfast had been huge: Smoked salmon, herring/ cheese/and chocolate banana muesli. I could get very used to that!!! Delicious mouth watering pastries/cake/fruit as wellas hot dishes and the most scrumptious pretzel buns. My new favourite food!!

Significant attractions this morning included many buildings and fine houses and a delightful church with wrought iron gates. Some of these manor houses are quite large and some built post war, others' obviously pre dated the war or were rebuilt afterward, as Frankfurt was fairly heavily hit in WWII. 

Something unexpected was the appearance of Peter Parker a.k.a. Spiderman and of course the landlady or spouse in the apartment above was dutifully cleaning the windows. ( An obsession that is purely German, I think). 

Schloss Offenbach is the largest manor house of all in Offenbach.
Dating from the 18th Century, it overlooks the river and the barge fleet, and appears deserted but is open on some occasions, according to the sign on the door. The orange paintjob is a little perplexing and I do wonder what the interior is like..... 

The Offenbach equivalent of the Gallery of Modern Art, was closed but H. was pleased about that as she thought the building was creepy. The leatherworkers museum was open but did not look enthralling enough for us to spend time there. A rather weird structure sits outside, but keep walking along this street to see some really fantastic suburban architecture and manor houses. Must have been studying history for too long, as I could see German soldiers or SS trotting about with their boots on, in the ever present piles of Autumn maple leaves that seem to be omnipresent in this part of the world.  On arrival back at the Sheraton Offenbach hotel, ( via the mall and the Xmas markets), we checked the free internet in the lobby and met up with our tour guide, Sue Mason. 

On tour of Frankfurt proper, we were introduced to modern Frankfurt The Euro bank ( in the news predominantly at the moment) tent city, Financial Deutsche Bank HQ with the affectionately named 'credit' and 'debit' towers, and our final stop which was to be the most exciting of the day. 

We found the bus that was to be our quasi day home for the next 9 days was roomy and comfortable. We ended up the back, opposite a couple from Texas, and in front of a Brissy couple who were headed for London for 2 years who alighted with us at the Frankfurt Xmas markets.....

Well it was a Saturday but an ocean of people greeted us. It was all but impossible to make your way around. I felt like I was back at sideshow alley at the Royal National Show. Most items were a little expensive compared to Offenbach, but we did find a few souvenirs and H. bought me something for xmas on the sly. ( Dear little thing) Food wise there was opportunities to sit and drink gluhwein, for 7 euro and you pay a deposit, refundable when you return the cup, but who has time to sit when there is so much to see and so many people to squeeze past!!! I did grab a  baked potato with dill sour cream sauce and that filled me up!! 

The Romer square or Romerburg is something to see, even with a sea of people. The quaint half timbered houses were amongst  the only few buildings untouched by the bombs as a postcard in one of the shops grimly testified. The city was reduced to rubble, and I mean rubble, except for the Romer square timbered buildings that we see today. Imagine how pretty Frankfurt would be if it all looked as the Romer does. 

Don't miss the Romer round church if you go to Frankfurt, and the city hall is somewhere you can whip around in, in less than 5 mins.  The first German parliament of the unified Germany 1832 and 1871. Inside some of the shops were gorgeous and had the old world charm happening bigtime, and others, no different, and had been thoroughly modernised.  

The good: Romerberg square original houses and Round church
The Bad:  High prices at the Xmas  markets
The Ugly: Very touristy and worse on a Saturday

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Day 3 Europa 2011-12 - Flying High Back in Time to Frankfurt

Although it was Friday and we spent most of it flying over Asia and the Middle East, we were to move backwards in time and experience Friday a second time. It was shortly after 6 am Friday when we landed, so the start of Friday again!

Lufthansa A 380
Our Lufthansa flight was on the new and so enormous A-380, which has two floors of seating. With the Lufthansa CEO ( I had seen him later on German TV, otherwise would not have had the foggiest who he was) and his entourage taking up most of the senator class on the Upper deck, it took us almost an hour to board this huge flying monster that had come into service so recently, it still smelt new. The cabin was well insulated which did cut down on that awful vibrative noise one gets in planes.

The Crew were not very friendly, but not unfriendly either. Just a presence, not  a verbal one, more a physical one. As for the passengers, the man next to me was either Russian or East European and he was the best airplane neighbour I have had yet. He just curled up and went to sleep, and I did  not hear boo out of him all night. The other side of the plane consisted of a large group of square headed severely blonde gentlemen with no. 1 crew cuts, shouting in what sounded like an angry Deutche. But then German sounds like an angry language sometimes.

Rathaus cafe

Frankfurt airport is huge and extremely difficult to orientate oneself unless you go directly out to an exit. On passing through Passport control, we were asked about our itinerary. I must say that the customs/police were very kind and friendly, as was our taxi driver (who was however, hell bent on breaking the sound barrier, getting us to our hotel) in Offenbach, a satellite town of Frankfurt. He was from Pakistan, ( aren't most taxi drivers?) and he told us how he had a near fatal car accident when he first started driving... eeek! Something he tells his customers to reassure them......

To our delight, our room at Sheraton Offenbach was made available for us straight away, at 7.15 am, which was either by good fortune, or because we were part of a large tour group that was commencing the next day. After settling in, we toddled out to find what Offenbach had on offer....excuse the pun/Dad joke.

What we found was a small  Christmas market, focused on food, in the "main" (again excuses for the pun/Dad joke), a wonderful Cafe at the Rathaus, where hot chocolate would be served to you for a paltry $1.20 Euro ( but who am I to complain?) and a medium sized indoor shopping centre with some wonderful clothes shops. Heidi and I spent most of the day there buying jumpers and t-shirts, jewellery. We loved it and found many bargains and some nice new winter gear.

Searching for the illusive Squirrel

It was rather cold and we started to feel it, but nothing daunted, we did spot a squirrel in the nearby Palais park, and it was far too tempting to not chase this little fellow into the park.Whilst the Autumn leaves periodically dropped around us, we attempting to get a good photoof the illusive creature (which turned out to be a blurry shot anyway). The Palais is now a conference centre for the hotel, and looked like something that the Von Trappe family once owned.  It was about 5 degrees but felt a little colder, presumably after our Singapore sojourn, and we had not yet acclimatised to the cold.

Something else we had yet to learn about Offenbach was where to find good local eateries and we were somewhat put off by the name of some of the food at the Christmas markets such as  "Super Dickman."  (The mind boggles) Opting for something safer, we purchased some rolls from the Supermarket, (it always good to check out the local's food ) and found some delicious pastries instead, which were more than satisfying.

The German bakery treats were to become very familiar to us and indeed part of our permanent body shape for the next 3 weeks and hopefully not part of our body shape for three years. God they are good!!! In the end, tonight we dined at the hotel restuarant and the prices, once again, I have to say were moderate, compared to Australia. I had a delicious prawn pasta dish, seen below, in its triumphal glory and Heidi had a bolognaise that would have easily fed 6 people!!!
Prawn pasta with "water"

If you are used to having still water with your meals, then beware, in Germany you have to request it and pay for it, and they will provide mineral water in a bottle for you, at a price. If you just ask for water, they will give you this version with bubbles, or gas, as they say. In other words, sparkling mineral water. You have to ask for still vand, or still water. Perhaps because it is much colder than at home, noone seems to drink still tap water here.  You can see our requested water in the picture, where we learnt this lesson very quickly. Water was something we pondered about.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Seven highlights of (Middle Earth) Singapore in a Day - Day 2 Europa 2011-12

Singapore Weather: Hot Humid and Overcast  30 degrees

Sightseeing Agenda:
1. Botanic Gardens - Cluny Road Open from 5am - Midnight. (Free entrance)
2. Orchid Gardens - within the Botanic Gardens Nominal (free in school holidays) entrance fee
3. Hindu Temple - Donation for photography
4. Chinatown
5. Buddha Tooth Temple
6. River Cruise - $14 Singapore dollars
7. Marina Bay Sands  Entrance fee to Observation deck

1. Botanic Gardens are a restful way to spend an hour or two. If you need a break from shopping til you drop in Orchard road, rest a while in the closely located Botanic Gardens. On Weekends, this place gets really busy, but during the week you will only meet a few tourists there and perhaps some ex-pats with their maids pushing the ex-pat's child in a stroller. Incidentally, many of the larger central apartments here in Singapore have maid's rooms, which wouldhave to be the pokiest room known to man. Not even the length of a bed!!! 

But back to Botanical matters and you will find therein a small lake with several white swans (frequented by the ubiquitous small child and mother throwing scraps of bread),as well as plants from different parts of the world located in separate sections of the Gardens. It is a popular place for wedding photos, even during the week. 

Cafe and Souvenir shop and ice cream kiosk also in situ. A Choc Frappe is one of their specialities and much needed in the humidity in order to keep hydrated.

2. The Orchid Gardens located on the high point of the hill in the Botanic Gardens, opened in 1985 are a serene and marvellous place, even for those not interested in flowers. A humid climate must be nirvana for Orchids, as the masses of blossoms on these plants and the way they decorate the environment with them has to be seen to be believed. 

Innovative and creative, they have painted a picture with orchids of all colours and types and divided them into Seasonal shades. There are even a group of crossed hybrid plants with celebrity names.

And the famous Graffiti tree, is to be found there as well. Couples in love would scribe them names in the bark in order to make their love as eternal as the tree. NB: You are no longer allowed to scratch one's name in the bark as it was killing the tree. Killed with love....

Entrance was free for school children the day we went, as it was during the Singapore school holidays. The entry charge is really only minimal anyway. 

 A feast of colour for one'e eyes and one might even glimpse a rare bird or two.

3. Next stop was the Hindu temple and to this we caught the bus. Hindu is a minority in Singapore but the temple is an important place to visit because of its unique architecture. 

Visitors are allowed but please be respectful of the temple and remove your shoes before entering. Also cover your shoulders if exposed which mine were because of the heat. They ask for 40 cents in order for you to take photos, but this money goes towards mantaining the temple so it is not an onerous charge.


4. Chinatown   
Here you will find all sorts of stalls and vendors willing to haggle. Alongside you can ensure your continued hydration with juices - try an interesting soursop flavour, or lemonade that was more like lemon lime juice.  If you really want lemonade, you will have to ask for a sprite or seven up!!!  Mango juice was also very refreshing. Smoothies eat your heart out.
Stalls prices in Chinatown are cheap but cheaper elsewhere in Asia, for example, Hong kong currency conversion is a better rate for Australians and no doubt Americans too.

5. Buddha tooth temple
Four to five floors of temple splendour. Maintain Quiet and cover your shoulders when inside. Most of the floors photography is not allowed, so always check. 

The Buddha tooth is quite small and contained in a box, on the top floor, and even during the week you will see many people actively praying and paying for gifts for the various gods.  Also a floor with a library, reading room and small shop.

6. Singapore is a fabulous city for viewing the marvels of modern architecture. The River cruise is a great way to see all of this. There are various departure points, but you can not get off at all these points, only get on. 

 7. Marina Bay Sands
As if Singapore did not have enough Architectural icons, the recently Marina Bay Sands complex is a Feat of engineering that appeals to everyone's eyes.  The boat section actually holds the 3 enormous towers up. Visitors can purchase a ticket to the observation deck (on the boat's pointy end) and you might find you have to queue for the lift. To visit the middle section where the large pool is located, one has to take a guided tour or be a guest staying here. So we just peered through the glass door.

In a storm, which during the months of October to February, expect electrical Tropical storms. In a storm, the  observation deck will be closed, but if you visit before the storm, you will get, as we did a bird's eye view of not only the amazing Singapore skyline but the storm rolling in.... so we headed down the lifts before the throngs of tourists escaping the storm, invaded the lift foyer. The storm hit as we reached the bottom and we took a taxi back to Orchard road. There is a River cruise stop here at Marina Bay Sands so you can also take the cruise from here. 

Well that was Singapore's seven major highlights all achievable in a day. To finish off a perfect day with Annette, we browsed some shops at Tanglin Mall where we found some interesting bakery treats and had Pizza.

Before flying out, we walked further up Orchard road and saw an lovely Christmas lights display.

Singapore... On the Equator - middle earth definitely something to ponder about.