Category Archives: Food

Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie and Sausages

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie was an obvious place to visit and every other visitor to Berlin agreed with us because this is probably the most visited attraction in the city.  It is the most famous of the fourteen previously controlled crossing points between East and West Berlin.

There is no checkpoint there anymore of course just a reconstruction and men in menacing uniforms providing a photo opportunity.  It amused me that the Berlin Wall was constructed to keep out the west but at the site today is one of the most aggressive symbols of western capitalism – a McDonalds restaurant.  Walter Ulbricht is probably still spinning in his grave!

I was seven years old when the German Democratic Republic began building the wall and it was barely out of the news headlines throughout the 1960s; subjugated people trying to escape, the unlucky ones being gunned down in cold blood, the menacing stare of the border guards, the impenetrable and secretive Soviet Empire.  Berlin was where East and West stood toe to toe, where the West stood firm against further Soviet expansion in Europe and where the East tried to annex the whole of Berlin by starving out the West.

Donald Trump would have been proud of a wall like this.

005

If World War Two and the Nazis fashioned our vision of Germany and the Germans then the Wall was something that shaped our opinions of the post war East and the Soviet domination and I spent my childhood with a morbid fear of the USSR and in an environment preparing for imminent nuclear conflict and the end of the world.  This was the golden age of espionage and spies, John John le Carré and Ian Fleming.

Berlin Spies

For me this was the best moment of all in Berlin, around the site are informative displays and photographs which made me stop and think.  I was born within ten years of the end of the most appalling and destructive war in Europe, in the World, and grew up seeing the Germans as natural foes.  I soaked up my Dad’s stories of the War and read the Victor comic. When England won the Football World Cup in 1966 it was a champagne moment to beat West Germany and even in the 1970s I still carried with me my irrational dislike for sun-bed thieving Germans when on holiday in Europe.

I was forty-five when the wall came down, Germany was reunited and Europe gave a collective sigh of relief.

So, for the first fifty years or so of my life it would simply never have crossed my radar to visit Germany until 2007 when cheap Ryanair flights to Friedrichshafen and Lake Constance persuaded me that I should go there and give it a chance and it turned out to be a personal pivotal moment when I discovered Germany to be relaxed, refined and cultured and I was glad of that and to have my national prejudices so quickly readjusted.

Berlin Wall 04

Close by to Checkpoint Charlie is one of the last remaining sections of the wall that remains intact and another series of information boards chronicling the years through the time of the Weimer Republic, the rise of Nazism, the War and the Wall.  I had imagined that this period of history might be somewhat suppressed in Berlin, it is after all nothing to be proud of. But this is not so.  It makes no excuses or apologies but sets out the history in a matter-of-fact and sensitive way.  I was impressed.

Berlin Wall 03

It was close to lunchtime now so we set out to find somewhere suitable to eat and made our way from the wall to Potsdamer Platz, the modern centre of new Berlin but I found it too modern for my tastes, with glitzy buildings made of glass and steel, expensive shopping malls and restaurants with menu prices way above my modest budget.

We were looking for a simple pavement bar with a lunch time menu but found it surprisingly difficult to find one.  I imagined Berlin to be overflowing with pavement bars serving steins of foaming beer and inexpensive hearty meals but this was not the case.

Eventually we found somewhere, ordered beer and scrutinised the menu.  It has to be said that the Germans eat a lot of rubbish food!  Ninety percent of the menu consisted of various forms of sausage and unless you want sauerkraut then vegetables are completely absent.

Thanks to Wiki here for an explanation of sauerkraut – “finely cut raw cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a distinctive sour flavor, acid formed when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage leaves”

We took our time ordering food because any German menu conceals distinct possibilities of nasty surprises and the threat of ordering and receiving something quite unexpected – almost as dangerous as trying to cross the Berlin Wall frontier. So we stuck to sausage.  Richard had a trio and I had meat balls which are really just sausage in a ball rather than its traditional long form.  I had sauerkraut and Richard had chips.  We shared our meals on a 50/50 basis.  We left a lot of the sauerkraut.

I Love Sausage Berlin

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Travels in Spain, Valencia to Alicante

I have taken this drive before but here are some new pictures…

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

The Good Life – First Pea Crop

After I had completed the task of clearing the overgrown garden and handed it over to Kim for cultivation I retained a small plot for myself to try my hand at growing vegetables.  I have been rewarded with a first crop of peas that I have taken for mangetout.  Later I will let some develop into full peas before impatiently harvesting.

MangetoutFirst Crop 2019

Travels in Spain, Valencia and The City of Arts and Sciences

On the second day of our visit to Valencia we did the same as the second day on the previous occasion that we visited – walked to the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias and then to the beach.

It was more or less the same sort of day and you can read about it here.

Here are some new pictures – click on an image to view the Gallery..

The next time I visit Valencia I am going to go inside the exhibition halls, but today the weather was just too good to be indoors.

Travels in Spain, Valencia Old Town

Two years ago I visited the Spanish city of Valencia.  I liked it, I liked it a lot and said that I would like to return quite quickly so this year I did just that.

Here are some new pictures.  Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

I did mostly the same things so instead of repeating myself you can find my previous post about Valencia here.

Cornwall, Mevagissey and a Stormy Arrival

Mevagissey 008

The early Spring weather in the United Kingdom had been especially good, we had been lucky in the Forest of Dean for a couple of days and enjoyed the sunshine and we were hopeful for more as we drove to Cornwall but when we arrived in the port village of Mevagissey our optimism was literally blown away.

There was a howling south-easterly gale that was roaring into the jaws of the sheltered port and sending sea and spray crashing over the protective harbour walls.  We had been advised to park in the harbour car park but as we drove along the narrow road and waves washed over the car this didn’t look very promising.  As we drove out again I spotted a man sheltering in a doorway and sought advice.  I didn’t catch a lot of what he said because like a thief the wind stole the words almost as soon as they passed his lips.  He expressed surprise to see us driving along the harbour wall in such severe conditions and I deduced from his mannerisms that this was not an specially good idea so we set about finding an alternative place to park.

This was about five hundred yards away from our holiday cottage and with the only access up a steep narrow path there was no chance of getting any closer to unload the luggage so we had to make several journeys back and forth to transfer all of the luggage and the shopping bags from the cars.  Once this was achieved there was time to survey the cottage.

Mevagissey 004

It was named ‘Tranquility’ but standing right at the top of the path and overlooking the turbulent harbour below there was nothing very tranquil about it tonight.  As the gale grew stronger the windows rattled and the lashing rain streamed down the glass as we looked out and debated who should go back into the village to bring back the fish and chips supper that we had promised ourselves.  Naturally it was me that got the most nominations.

The rain continued through most of the night and I was disturbed several times, not only by the gale outside but by nagging thoughts about how we might amuse ourselves in the morning if the weather showed no significant improvement.

Well, by the morning the rain had stopped but the wind was just as fierce so that ruled out the visit to the beach which was what the children wanted so after breakfast we pulled on our rainwater clothing and stepped out for a walk along the coastal footpath south to the village of Portmellon.  Over the headland we battled against the wind and on arrival took shelter in a coffee shop whilst the children played near the sea.  I had almost forgotten that little people barely take notice of the weather and whist we adults complain and grumble they just get on with enjoying themselves regardless.  Later in a sheltered cove I couldn’t even dissuade them from going into the sea!

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Later in the day we ventured outside again and this time walked in the opposite direction on the coastal path.  We had intended to walk as far as the beach village of Pentewan but at just about the half way point it started to gently rain so we abandoned the plan and returned to the cottage.  Just as well that we did because shortly before we arrived back home then it began to rain with fierce intensity and we had to make a dash for shelter right at the end.

No real harm done at this point until I was later persuaded to walk down to the village to visit the free admission aquarium in the harbour.  Later I was told that it was free right enough, free for a reason.  By now it was pouring with rain and the sea was crashing over the harbour walls so we had to pick the right moment to move forward to avoid a real drenching.

When we got there the place was closed with a sign promising ‘Back in Five Minutes’.  I don’t think the staff were anticipating any visitors this afernoon because we waited for ten but no one showed up so thoroughly damp we made our way back stopping on route for some traditional Cornish pasties for our evening meal. I suspect no one ever went back to the aquarium that afternoon.

We hoped the weather would be better the next day but looking out of the window at the squally sea and the towering columns of water and foam I confess that I was not terribly optimistic.

north-coast-storm

Lincolnshire to Cornwall, The Wye Valley

River Wye

When I was a young boy we used to go quite regularly to Cornwall on family holidays. I last visited Cornwall for a holiday (I have been there since for work) in 1975 when I stayed in a bed and breakfast at Crantock village near to Fistral Beach at Newquay.  On that occasion to get there I drove a route through the Wye Valley, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and this time I was keen to replicate the journey.

We were staying with Lindsay (my sister) and Mick in Lydney in the Forest of Dean so this made the quest quite easy to achieve.

I especially wanted to visit two places on the route, Symonds Yat in England and Tintern Abbey in Wales.

We started at Symonds Yat and drove to the visitor centre at Symonds Yat Rock which is a high vantage point with wonderful panoramic views of the River Wye.  The river is the fifth longest in the United Kingdom after the Severn, Thames, Trent and Great Ouse and for part of its course provides the natural border between England and Wales.

Two pictures at Symonds Yat Rock, forty-five years apart…

symonds yat

That black shirt was always one of my favourites but it wouldn’t fit me now that’s for sure!

Symonds Yat Rock and View

From the visitor centre we followed a footpath through the forest and down to the fast flowing river and then took a gentle walk along the English west bank and back to the car park to the car that we had left there earlier.

From there we drove along the side of the river, along the route of ancient Offa’s Dyke, eventually crossing over the river and moving into Wales.

Some things in life stick in the memory like velcro and for me one of these was my first ever visit to Tintern Abbey.  As the road follows a sinuous course from the north it enters the attractive stone built village and after negotiating several turns quite unexpectedly the Abbey comes into view and rises majestically at the side of the river.  I remember it as a wonderfully powerful WOW moment.  This can never be repeated of course and I was ready for it this time but I still found it to be a special moment.

Now, I might be mistaken but I seem to recall that in 1975 you simply parked the car by the side of the road and just walked into the grounds of the ruined Abbey which was in the middle of an empty farmer’s field but you cannot do that anymore.  The Abbey is managed by the Welsh Government, welcomes seventy-thousand visitors a year and has all of the trappings that can be expected at a tourist attraction; a pay and display car park, souvenir shops, a café selling cream teas and a massive pub and restaurant and a forest of invasive signs.

Tintern Abbey

The Abbey cost £8 to go inside which seemed rather expensive so we didn’t bother, we saw what we could from the outside and then went to the pub for lunch instead.

There was more experience that I was hoping for before we left the Forest of Dean and that was to see a wild boar.  These days there are wild boar in several places in England but the Forest of Dean is the easiest and best place to spot them.  They had been extinct in England for four hundred years or so but sometime in the 1990s someone released the boar into the forest and they have flourished in conditions that suit them perfectly (rich, deciduous woodland, agricultural land nearby and the occasional household rubbish bin to raid) and it is estimated that there may now well be almost two-thousand roaming the forest in various sounders, the term for a herd of wild swine.

There is evidence of them everywhere in the forest.  Every few yards, the earth has been gouged up and pushed aside, the undergrowth freshly disturbed. At the base of the beech trees are long, raking scratches where the pigs has ripped over the topsoil, looking for something beneath. Bluebell roots lay limp against the earth where they’ve been pulled up and cut through, and around the base of the larger trees are deep, pale craters, as if the forest had recently been hit by a massive hail storm.

Lindsay is always telling stories of encounters with the animals and we had seen plenty of evidence that they were nearby and all around but so far we had not seen one but then in the evening driving to a pub in a nearby village we spotted a sow with some youngsters quite close to the road and I was happy about that.

And, the following morning as we left the forest on the first leg of our journey to Cornwall we glimpsed sight of a magnificent male beast foraging close to the road.  A lot of people in the forest consider them to be a pest but to be honest we considered ourselves to be very lucky to see them.

Wild Boar Forest of Dean