Friday, December 29

Christmas Story

Hi everyone,

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas! Thanks for all the cards/messages/phone calls and presents!
We returned from Germany yesterday and have submerged back into the London fog. An eerie thing it really feel like you are in another world.

Our journey to, within, and back from Germany can only be described as an adventure, the highlight of which was of course being able to catch up with a number of special people and to enjoy great german hospitality and Christmas culture.

The adventure began on the Friday (no work) with lots of wrapping of presents and packing. We drove up to a small village called Felsted located about 30k's up the road from Stansted airport (which was not affected by the fog delays). Our friend Maria is working there as an opair (sp????). The family she works for live in a 500 year old house. It is a truly amazing building - everything is crooked and leaning and it is a miracle it doesn't just fall over. The owners just recently finished renovating it to its former glory (well, apart from the leaning bit).

We had a wee Christmas celebration with Maria, which started with 42 below fejoa and apple juice 'aperitifs' in front of the 500 year old open fire place and then proceeded to dinner at the 'Raj Mahal', an Indian restaurant just across the road. Next was the opening of xmas pressies Graham had bought back from NZ a few weeks earlier. Fran was so excited about these that she fell down the 500 year old stairs and sustained minor injuries. Thankfully, the bottle of wine we had shared back at the 'Raj' dulled the pain considerably.

Another form of pain hit at 2am in the morning when Fran awoke in the realisation that she had forgotten to pack the (somewhat essential) bag of christmas presents for her family. May I note here that in Germany it is considered extremely rude to turn up as a guest empty handed, not to mention it was Christmas time. May it also be noted that Fran spent A LOT of time wrapping these presents and that postage from the UK to anywhere is pretty expensive.

Anyway, at 2am we hopped back in the car to undertake the two hour return journey home to pick up the presents. We returned to Felsted with enough spare time to have a half hour nap in the car before hopping on the 5.20 am bus that took us to the airport.

At the airport it took us a while to find the end of our check-in cue. There was a sea of cues for all sorts of flights and they just sorted of blended into each other and it became impossible to tell which was the end of one cue and the beginning of another. Not to worry though, as we had arrived in good time our cue (once we found it) was relatively short and we got our stuff checked in on the 'Fragile Items' belt (due to some wine bottles in our packs).

It was half an hour later on the plane that we realised that declaring the wine bottles may have been a mistake..........It was announced that the conveyor belt carrying the baggage through the terminal had broken down. Due to this only about 40% of the expected luggage was packed onto the plane and there was a half hour delay. Had we checked the bags in normally, they would have been part of the lot that made it through before the belt failure, as we were amongst the first to check in. Being fragile items, however, they must have been at the end of the line in order to get packed on top. Honesty is not always the best policy : )

Not to worry though, the cabin crew promised us that any missing items would be picked up with the evening flight to Stuttgart and that we would have our missing bags asap.

We had a good flight to Stuttgart, on which Fran sat next to her 'shadow' or Doppelgaenger. - A lady living in London who was german but was born and had grown up in New Zealand, who also went to Massey, and who was visiting her family in Germany. It was freaky how many things the two had in common, including blond hair and glasses. Bizarre!

Fran's cousin Susanne picked us up from the airport and drove us to Fran's Oma (Gran) where we were immediately ordered (by Oma) to 'sit down and eat'. Jawohl Herr Kommandant!! On the lunch menu was Sauerkraut with smoked Pork and Semmelknoedel. Nice. This was followed by a nap and then joining Oma to watch Christmas 'Schlager' (really cheesy germans singing very cheesy songs) on TV. After an hour and a half of these we told Oma that 'we did have only two hours of sleep' the previous night, and thus escaped from listening to more Schlager songs.

On Sunday morning we headed off to the Petrolstation (all other shops being closed in Germany during our entire stay) for essentials - i.e. hair gel for Graham and two replacement presents for the daughters of Fran's cousin. After this Fran made some calls to check on the baggage situation. We were told that the baggage would not arrive until Monday night. No one could tell us why and the many numbers we tried all connected to anwser machines with messages along the lines of 'Our office is closed over the Christmas period ..........' After a while we gave up and decided that we would not let this spoil our christmas. (We are however hoping to get a free flight out of it.... )

Another very rich lunch ensued, followed by 'Gutzle' (Christmas cookies) and playing Ludo/ Mensch-aergere-dich-nicht with Oma - who cheated profusely!!!! Late afternoon we headed to the graveyard to light a candle for Fran's mum and grandad. Soon after Fran's uncle Wolfgang picked us up and drove us to his place, where we had roast beef with 'spaetzle' for dinner.

This was accompanied by lots of wine and followed by some serious schnaps tasting which got Oma into a jolly good mood. By this time Susanne's two children (aged three and seven) were going nuts wanting to open their presents. (Oh yeah - in case it hasn't been mentioned - Germans open their presents on Christmas eve). Afterwards Susanne and her family headed home and we stayed up till midnight having more yarns amongst more beer/wine and schnaps, and then making a few phone calls home before heading to bed at 1am in the morning.

The next day we got a lift to Pforzheim and visited Nicola - a friend of Fran's who was staying with her family over xmas on a break from Uni. We spent the afternoon chatting, drinking peppermint tea (it was really frosty that day!!) and eating more christmas cookies. Around five they gave us a lift to Bretten, where we spent the evening catching up with Sara and Michael (again, friends of Fran's) and Sara's family who live a few doors away. The next morning we were treated to a lovely champagne breakfast with them all with even more lovely food, after which Sara gave us a lift back to Pforzheim. Here we caught up with Marree, who is the niece of Fran's stepdad Rob, and who is about to head back to NZ after a year opair-ing (again - sp????) in Germany. More tea and cookies followed..........

By the end of this Fran started feeling a bit queasy, and by the time we got to the railway station and were on our way back to Stuttgart airport she was feeling pretty sick. Back in Stuttgart we finally got our bags, with just enough time to repack them, take out the remaining xmas pressies (which were handed on to Fran's cousin) and then check them in again. The flight home went sweet, as did the drive back to London and we were back home by 9.30pm. Shortly after arriving Fran had a big chunder, after which she felt much better. A great way to end the Christmas break!!

Now we are back at work for a few days.........where it is very very quiet with most people on holiday.
Last night we went ice skating with Paul and Amy at Forty Hall , a historic building not far from where we live in Enfield. It was good winter fun.

Today we head off to a house down on the south coast near an old town called Rye somewhere south-west of Dover. We are staying there over New Year's along with six other NZ-ers and it should prove to be a great opportunity to unwind and party (a Bogan theme is planned..........).

Oh - it should also be mentioned that we went halves in a computer for Christmas! This was to be the first official email to be sent from it, but getting our internet connection up and running is taking a bit longer than expected. Next one though!!!

X-mas photos to be posted soon.

Lots of Love
Fran & Graham

Wednesday, December 13

The AB's play in Cardiff

This may look like an abstract painting but it is actually the view from the bus as we cross the bridge to Wales..

The All Blacks warming up at the Millenium Stadium

Paul, Andrew and Graham in their Beige Brigade gears

The sell-out crowd

Graham heads home for a week......

Graham and his mum Carolyn
Graham's brother Ritchy and friend Willy doing the true Kiwi xmas BBQ thing

Graham and his sister Kelly and sister-in-law Amanda heading to the wedding

Kelly and Willy

Corey and Helene, the newlyweds

Friday, December 8

Christmas approaches...

Christmas is approaching and London is getting into the spirit...
Fran and a friend watched the Christmas tree being lit at Trafalgar Square. The tree, a huge fir, is an annual gift from the Norwegian government for help offered by Britsh soldiers during WWII.

Fran, Maria and Maria's friend Ree at a Xmas party in She Bu. We enjoyed some great mulled wine and gingerbread men and there were some interesting costumes... : )