Germany, Switzerland, UAE & SA

Friday was my last day in Germany before I spent a day getting home. It was another planning day (work wise) and it was clear from early in the day that we weren’t going to finish early.  We eventually finished at just after 3pm and then we had a 2-hour car journey back to Cologne airport. I have always wondered what people do in towns like Schmallenberg. On the way there and back to Cologne we passed through numerous villages with plenty of houses in each. I eventually asked my German colleagues what these people do to earn a living and I was told they work in what is called German Middle Industry. These are family owned factories and businesses which manufacture for other larger business such as the German motor industry. They said it is the heart of German industry and the economy. In fact, I discovered that in Schmallenberg was the Falke sock factory (and I have been traveling there for 10 years now and didn’t know that).

emiratesOver the course of Friday it transpired that I could get an upgrade (which I was pretty keen to do) but when the travel agent tried to reissue my ticket she couldn’t. So not only could I not check in, I in fact didn’t have a ticket even anymore. Nothing like a little stress to add to the trip home. To make matters worse I could only sort out the ticket at Munich airport and I first had to drive to Cologne airport and then fly to Munich. My transfer time in Munich was also pretty limited. Fortunately the flight from Cologne was on time and despite Munich airport being extremely confusing I did managed to find the Emirates desk and get it all sorted out in time.

The flight from Munich to Dubai was on an A380 which is now my shower on emiratesfavourite plane to travel on. What made it even more amazing was that Emirates have showers on board (not kidding – see picture). They are also pretty spacious bathrooms and bigger than some bathrooms I have experienced in hotels. I was tempted to have a shower just to say that I had done it but given the flight was only 6 hours to Dubai and it was 10:30pm when we took off, I figured that sleep was probably more important and gave it a skip. I had just over an hour to transfer in Dubai and it took me 40 minutes to get from the one gate to the other (it is a massive airport). I arrived as the flight was boarding.

I got home at 4:45pm on Saturday and Helen left for the airport at 6:15pm for her flight to London (she is going on a work related trip). At about the same time, Michael and Stephen started their journey home which involved a train to Interlaken, switch to a train to Bern, switch to a train to Zurich airport. Then Zurich to Dubai to Cape Town. They arrived home this afternoon. We figured out that Saturday was truly a day of #templetravels with only Chloe being in the same place when the day started and ended.  The good thing is that everyone got safely to where they needed to be and generally on time as well.

As is traditional I will finish this series of blog posts with my concluding thoughts about Dubai:

1. It is an expensive place to visit. Everything is expensive. The food, the alcohol (most expensive place that I have visited in this regard) and even the general shopping. I am not sure why people go to Dubai to shop – it is not cheap and there are numerous places in the world you can buy things cheaper.

2. There are no poor people in Dubai. Everyone drives a black Mercedes. They must sell the most of those in World in Dubai. I never saw anyone poor or even close to poor. I assume they don’t have them at all or they don’t let them anywhere near other people.

3. It is an incredibly diverse city – probably the most diverse I have visited. From the fully covered (even eyes covered by a veil), very religious Muslims through to the most secular people you could find. I am not sure how they manage to co-exist and I am sure there is some tension and issues from time to time.

4. It is very clean. I never saw any litter while we were there – not even a cigarette butt. I suspect they deal quite harshly with anyone who litters. And it seems to work. Makes a nice change from some other cities in the world. The place is generally pristine.

It was an interesting place to visit but I am not sure I would be rushing back at any point in the future. I think we all certainly prefer other places in the World – Dubai would not even make my top 20 cities I have visited.

Until next time …

P, H (from Paris), S, M & C

Germany & Switzerland

drinkNot much happened yesterday really. Stephen & Michael are still in Switzerland. Michael spent the day skiing and Stephen spent half the day skiing (he has hip trouble and has now decided to pack in skiing – old age setting in). the only photo I received from them yesterday was of them have a drink at the top of mountain. I am just assuming that they actually skied as I have yet to see a photo of them doing that!

On the other hand, I can comment with 100% certainty that I sat in a room the whole day in a planning session. From walking well over 10000 steps a day for almost a week, I walked less than 2000 steps yesterday which gives you an idea of how sedentary the day was for me. The worst thing is that the chairs are wooden and by the end of the afternoon my back was aching from all the sitting so I spent the last hour or so standing.

schmallenbergThe Germans like to start late (9am) and finish late (6:30pm). I can sort of understand why because at 8:30am the sun had still not risen (not that we saw the sun the whole day because it was overcast and raining the whole time). At these meetings there is also the insane tradition that they hike up to a hut in the mountains where we have dinner in the evening. Remember this is Germany in the winter in the mountains. Usually there is snow and it is freezing cold outside. This time there isn’t any snow to be seen but it did rain the whole day (and it was still freezing cold outside 2 degrees C). When I first came to these meetings I felt obliged to walk as I thought there was no option. Now that I am more experienced I realised that the food had to get up to the hut somehow and so I now join the bus while the crazy people walk up. I have gained a small following and last night because of it raining there were 4 of us who drove up and the other 9 people walked.

Dinner in the hut is always exactly the same. You start with Smoked Salmon and Rosti and that is then followed by Spaetzle and venison stew. This year it was no different. We have one person in the group who doesn’t eat meat (but he does at least eat fish) and so he gets Smoked Salmon to start with and Smoked Salmon for his main course. It is standing joke and they make no effort to provide for him. Vegetarians in Germany are not really provided for in restaurants.

The one thing I do like about the Hotel that we stay at, is the breakfast. They always have the same thing and it is a traditional continental breakfast of rolls/bread and cheese/meat. I see this year that they actually did have some cooked sausages and bacon and there was a frying pan out so it looks like you could have egg if you asked (not that there was anyone around to cook it). However, they have a selection of about 15 cheeses and 10 different types of cold meat (and the cheeses are fantastic). The bread/rolls selection is also extensive and are generally very freshly baked.

Tonight I start my journey (and it is a journey) back to SA. It involves a 2-hour drive to the airport, then a flight to Munich with very little time to connect to my flight to Dubai and then connecting to the flight to Cape Town. Not a lot of time in-between so hopefully nothing goes wrong and I am able to make all the flights. If all goes well I will overlap with Helen for about 2 hours in Cape Town – just enough time to take custody of Chloe!

P, S & M … and H & C (from CT)

Temple Diaspora Continues

helen sleeping in dubaiAt least one section of the family has made it home. Helen and Chloe had a reasonably long lay over in the early morning in Dubai. They made a bed out of some chairs in the lounge and got a few hours sleep before having to board the flight back to Cape Town (that’s Helen sleeping in there – photo creds to Chloe). That flight was delayed in departing but they got home close to the planned arrival time anyway.

SSki slopestephen and Michael started skiing in Switzerland yesterday. Michael has skied for some time but he says he got the hang of it quite quickly again. He said at first he forgot how to turn (which is fairly crucial) but it came back to him. From the pictures it doesn’t seem to be the best of weather but they did manage to first ski at the ski school (at a place called Bodmi) and then went up to Kleine Scheidegg.

cologne office viewMeanwhile, I got to go into our office in Cologne for the day and work (the picture is the view from the office). I always walk to the office from the hotel (I always stay at the same hotel when in Cologne – near the Cathedral).  The walk is about 1.5 km to the office and is a nice way to start the day even when it is pretty cold outside. I was staggered yesterday to witness someone cross the road when the traffic light was RED. I don’t know what Germany is coming to.  I have never witnessed that before in the 15 years I have been coming to Germany.

At 5:30pm we left for the mountain region and a place called Schmallenberg which is where I will spend the next 2 days on a planning meeting. We do this every year. It is in the middle of nowhere and about a 2 hour drive. The first bit of the drive is on the Autobahn with no speed limit. I always travel with my boss and he has a BMW. Yesterday we got up to 200 km/h on one section. No one passes him – he would take that as an insult. He takes great joy when he passes a Porsche.

Bed in SchmallenbergWe always stay at the same hotel. It is a quite a backwards place but for the first time ever (in the 15 years of coming here), we now have WiFi in the rooms.  A major step forward. And to top it off they have installed room safes. Another first. The rooms still remain quite small – as you can see I have a single bed in my room with a very soft mattress and pillow – I may just sleep on the floor tonight. The rooms are also terribly overheated and so at 2pm I woke up bathed in sweat and had to get up and open the window to get some fresh cold mountain air in the room. I left it open the rest of the night and slept better after that.

Now off for the meeting …

P, S & M (because H is back at work today and C is at home probably sleeping in until 1pm)

Temple Diaspora Begins

Today was the last time we will all be together until 30 January and so breakfast was the last meal together (even though I said yesterday that it was dinner). We had breakfast at a Pasteleria around the corner from the hotel. It took us awhile to figure out that you had to take a ticket to get served but we did that and then managed to get our order in. Breakfast was slightly more expensive this morning at €13 but still a fraction of what it would have cost if we had eaten in the hotel. It was then back to the hotel to pack up and off to the airport. Our taxi driver clearly wanted to chat to us on the way to the airport and asked (in Portuguese) whether we spoke Portuguese. We said no.  Then he tried Italian, we said no. Then he tried Spanish and Michael said a little. The balance of the drive was taken up with him conversing with Michael in Spanish. All I could make out was that they talked about football teams. Michael said he didn’t really know what he was talking about.

Helen & Chloe are flying back to Cape Town (via Dubai). They were the first to leave and have in fact just landed in Dubai as I type this. They left on time but arrived late into Dubai. It is now almost 2am Dubai time and their next flight leaves at about 8am for Cape Town.

I was next to leave for Frankfurt (unfortunately I have to go and work). My flight was packed full.  We were pushing back off the stand and people were standing in the aisles still trying to find a spot for their suitcase in the overhead compartment. I flew TAP and it doesn’t seem that they worry too much about passenger safety. Also the worst leg room I have had on a flight – my knees were right up against the seat in front of me. Stephen & Michael were last to leave and they flew to Switzerland (Zürich). We both then had train trips to get to our final destinations. I took a train to Cologne and the boys took a train to Bern then connected onto a train to Spiez and then my Dad fetched them from the train station in Spiez (which is about 30-40 minutes car drive from Grindelwald which is where they are going).

We all seemed to have ended up in the right places at least though Helen and Chloe are only half way to where they need to be. With all the traveling today I clean forgot to take some photos. So you will have to do with a shot just taken by Michael from the living room of the chalet in Grindelwald where they are now.

P, H, S, M & C

Mom Swiss

Lisbon Day 2

I never really understand why hotels charge so much for breakfast. Our hotel charges €18 per person for breakfast. We walked down the road on route to our appointment this morning and all had breakfast for €10.35. I am not sure how it is possible to even eat €18 of breakfast. The only challenge really was once we found a place to have breakfast was to figure out how to order. Many people just seemed to stand at the counter and have their pastry and coffee. Best coffee I have had this trip so far and it only cost €0.55!

The reason we came to Lisbon was to renew our residency permits for Portugal. We had to do biometrics and also sign some papers at the lawyer’s office who is handling all this for us.  On route I also visited our Portuguese bank which went bankrupt since I opened the account but subsequently re-opened as Novo Banco (meaning new Bank). The previous incarnation was Banco Espirito Santo (which means Bank of Holy Spirit). Seemed it wasn’t too Holy. Or maybe it was ‘holey’. Even though it went bankrupt it didn’t affect my accounts at all. Our banker had not changed, the branches seems unaffected, my money was not affected, the website still worked the same. My only reason for visiting was that I had never managed to get my ATM card working. The banking service is very good though in Portugal. Even though I have only dealt with my banker once face-to-face when I opened the account, she still remembers who I am and in about 2-3 minutes she had issued me with a new PIN and the card was working.run down lisbon

We then headed to the lawyer’s office to sign the forms we needed signed and then one of their staff took us down to the Home Affairs department to do our biometrics. It pretty much looks like Home Affairs in SA – they even have exactly the same queuing automated system (and yes I really mean exactly the same one). Last time it took us about 2 hours and the queue’s looked roughly the same so we were expecting the same wait. As it turned out when we got our number we were actually next but it took about 30 minutes for us to get called. We were later told the reason was that the system crashed. All we really had to do was have an updated photo taken (they have very fancy digital photo taking machines) and then we were done. Unfortunately they say the renewals now take 3-4 months to process. The reason being that they discovered corruption happening in the issuing of these permits and so now they are very thoroughly looking over all the details before approving them.

It was lunch time so we started our walk back to our hotel and on route stopped in at Burger King for lunch. I discovered that the girlfriends apparently don’t eat Burger King. Just wondering what they are going to do for meals next year when they travel with us … we might need to get the sons to start training them.

car parkingWe had a few hours in the hotel and then headed out up the hill (my Fitbit said I had climbed 59 staircases at the end of the day when I had really only climbed about 5) to visit what was billed as the best Mall in Lisbon. What always surprises me in Europe is how people parallel park on a steep incline with very little space between the cars (see photo – not the first one that was trying to illustrate the run down buildings). How do they get their cars out of those spots without scrapping on the other cars?! After working about 30 minutes and again noting the derelict buildings right next to the brand new ones, we came across the mall which was right next to an abandoned golf driving range now covered in graffiti. After experiencing Dubai Mall, this Mall was pretty poor. Even comparing it to any of our Malls at home would have been unfair. The Portuguese really need to learn about what a decent Mall is. There must be a business opportunity in Portugal in that regard. The only people to actually buy anything was Stephen and Michael who both bought some really cheap clothes.  Michael got a ski jacket for R420 (€30) – marked down from €100 – pretty good deal and he didn’t even have to bargain for it.

We then walked back to our hotel to rest our very weary feet. At that point my Fitbit said we had walked over 15000 steps already, 59 stair cases and almost 12km.  We agreed to eat dinner in the hotel but when we went down later we discovered that the restaurant didn’t seem to be operating and so we had to find another place to go to. We had originally been recommended to stay at the Tivoli Hotel in Lisbon and it was quite nearby to where we did stay (we didn’t follow the advice because the hotel was 3 x more expensive than the one we ended up staying in). However, we did go there for dinner tonight. We realised that it is actually our last night together until 30 January and so it seemed fitting to eat a nice meal together in a better quality restaurant. And it was a good quality restaurant though the prices were still quite reasonable by European standards.

crepe suzettesThe kids all tried something new. Stephen ate guinea fowl for the first time (Michael and I also had it but we have eaten it before). The guinea fowl also came with chestnuts as the vegetable (not really sure it is a vegetable in my mind) and none of the kids had tried them before. It is safe to say they won’t be rushing back to have them again either. I eat them but there quite honestly are better things to eat. As it was our last night we all also had desert. Most of you know I don’t really eat desert but I make exceptions for a few things and one of them was on the menu – Crepe Suzette. When I see it, I generally always have them and they were right up there with the best I have had.

Back to the hotel and 17804 steps, 13.3kms, 62 step floors and 2953 calories burned today from all the walking around Lisbon.

S (because my Fitbit fell out of my pocket today and Stephen spotted it and it would have been lost for good otherwise), P, H, M & C

Dubai to Lisbon

Up at 3:30am this morning for our 4am pick up. Some of us managed more sleep than others. I was rudely awaken to the munching of peanuts at midnight and when I said ‘noisy’ my dear wife replied ‘really’ … Some of us were getting a good night sleep up until that point.  Our flight was at 7am and so we managed to have some breakfast in the lounge before we had to board. It was a 9-hour flight with a 4-hour time change. Helen & Chloe went to sleep almost immediately and that was how they passed the first 5 hours of the flight. I managed to sleep for an hour and 30 minutes and then watched 2 movies and 2 TV episodes.

lisbon by airWe landed at 12pm and after a short wait at passport control we were back in our home country of residence – Portugal! The passport guy did ask us whether we spoke Portuguese yet and we had to admit no. Helen immediately said she was going to download an app and start learning it. It was a beautiful winter’s day in Lisbon – around 20 degrees C.  We are staying at the Eurostars Das Letras in Lisbon (http://www.eurostarsdasletras.com/EN/hotel.html) which is pretty central and near to the centre of town (I think that is close to tautology but not quite … I am sure Josie will tell me?)

After everyone (except me) had an early afternoon nap, lisbon sidewalkwe ventured out at just after 4pm and walked down into the centre of town. On the side of the main road (Avenida da Liberdade – my guess at a translation would be Avenue of Liberty) there were various stalls selling antique jewellery, pocket watches, old tiles, old books etc. It took us awhile to get down the road because of the various stops and Helen managed to buy herself a ring as well (or actually I bought her a ring).

lisbon tramLisbon is a city of anomalies to me. You will find a beautiful old building and then right next to it will be a derelict building with the windows boarded over. They have lovely old trams and then there is graffiti all over it. I am sure that it is showing the effects of the financial crisis and hasn’t yet recovered. It seems that with a little bit of money and renovation it could be an absolutely beautiful city.

In the centre of Lisbon there is a pedestrian only section and there were numerous people performing. People acting statues, a guy walking on broken glass, some musical performers etc. Lots of people walking up and down enjoying the weather and the performers.  We walked all the way to sea and then watched the sunset. There were a lot people there all watching the sun going down. Lots of couples making out as well. No issue with public displays of affection in Lisbon. I am sure Stephen and Michael were thinking of their girlfriends (though I definitely hope they don’t engage in PDA of a similar type). Quite a culture shock compared to Dubai. We took various family selfies with the sun setting in the background.lisbon fluvial

The temperature immediately fell once the sun had set and so we started making our way back to the hotel with a planned dinner stop on route. There are numerous sidewalk restaurants and it is pretty hard to pick. We eventually chose one – an Italian one. We really do need to eat in a Portuguese restaurant tomorrow night. The one thing that was immediately noticeable is how much cheaper Portugal is compared to Dubai. The meal cost us about 50% of what we paid in Dubai (and that included a nice big Sagres beer). In Europe the beer is often cheaper than the cooldrinks in restaurants so I feel obliged to rather drink beer to save on costs.

By the time we had finished eating Michael’s teeth were chattering and he couldn’t eat anymore because he was so cold. Everyone except Stephen and I turned out to be inadequately dressed and so we made our way back to the hotel at a fast pace. The only problem is that the last 300 meters or so is directly uphill. My Fitbit claimed at the end that we had climbed 13 flights of stairs (to give you some idea of the incline). We were all panting by the time we got to the hotel. I am sure it will help us all sleep well tonight (so long as no one starts munching peanuts at midnight again).

P, H, S, M, C (only those last two did any mocking of me today)

sunset lisbon

Dubai Day 3

gold soukAnother late start to the day with breakfast at 10:30am and then straight after breakfast we decided to head for the Gold Souk. Given the weekend traffic, that took us almost an hour to get there (about 35kms). We had been told the Gold Souk was a must visit place even if you didn’t buy anything and they were right. I have never seen so many jewellery stores in one place.  There are over 300 stores right next to each. The competition is clearly intense as each shop owner tries to lure you inside with special offers. You can’t walk a few steps without someone badgering you to enter their store. At one stage there were so many people I was fearing for Chloe’s safety (especially if you watched the movie Taken you will know what I am talking about) and so I held her hand tightly with my other hand on my wallet (they warn that pick pockets operate in the area).

It is clear that people here love gold. Gold cars, gold Playstations and no shortage of gold jewellery. It is staggering how much helen soukjewellery and money must have been in that one place.  At one stage we walked past one jeweler that had a gold bar weighing 160kgs in the store (that is worth over $6m).  Not kidding! Dubai apparently trades about $6bn per year in gold and $7bn in diamonds. The combined value of jewellery in the Souk must be massive. They say security is tight but there were hardly any security guards but a massive number of CCTVs though. If that was in South Africa there would be numerous robberies and attempted robberies every day.  Everyone would be scheming how to steal the 160kg bar!

Michael did his first bartering in the morning as well. He wanted to buy a souvenir Burq Khalifa and we found a suitable one. He asked how much and was told AED20 and he immediately counter bid with ‘I only have AED10 in my pocket right now’.  They settled on AED15. Michael reckon he did well because that was a 25% reduction and we had read that it was possible to bargain them down by about 30% usually. When he started Helen just turned to me and said ‘I can’t believe that is my son bargaining’. I was very proud – clearly brought him up well.

The biggest challenge of the day was finding a taxi to get us from Souk back to the Dubai Mall (a repeat visit was required by the ladies). Everyone seemed to be wanting a taxi and we had the added complication of needing one big enough for 5 of us. We eventually secured one and got tofountains burj the Mall around 2pm. It seemed that most of Dubai had the same idea though. Men and ladies split up – men to watch a movie and ladies to shop. The movie theater’s are like everything else in Dubai – very plush. Comfortable seats, lots of leg room. Of course they also have Premier Suites if you don’t want to fraternize with the ordinary people you can have your own private suite where they will serve your seafood platter while you watch. It also surprised us that it seems anyone in Dubai watches movies from the most religious (in their full burka’s with only a slit for the eyes) to the most secular. We would have thought that Western movies for the strictly religious people would have been outlawed but it seems not.

We met up at 5:30pm and decided on an early supper and selected a Shake Shack (fast food American burger place) fountainswhich had a view over the fountains. Every evening they have a fountain show to music from 6pm and every 30 minutes thereafter until 11pm. The internet suggested the best place was from a restaurant and so that is what we did. We managed to catch two shows and they were set to different music – the second one at 6:30pm being more impressive.  Each shows lasts around 30 minutes. The Burj Khalifa also lights up as part of the show. It was pretty impressive and thousands of people exit the mall to see it every 30 minutes. As this was our last night in Dubai and we have to get up early (3:30am) for our flight tomorrow, we headed back to pack and have an early night.

Until tomorrow from a different city and continent …

P, S (because he mocked the least today), H (because she bit her tongue a few times today even though she was smirking), C & M (because they never bit their tongues – in fact M shouldn’t even make it onto the list)

chloe drinking