Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Blumen marvellous

Well, I've had a busy and enjoyable weekend. I really feel like I kicked back a bit.

It started well, on Friday evening, with a new mums' night out at a Thai restaurant. We had all spent far too many evenings in. You could tell by the way we enthusiastically embraced the restaurant's cocktail menu. I had to walk home as I left the restaurant so late that my carriage had turned into a pumpkin.

On Saturday evening we had a dinner party. It could be judged a success based on the length of time the guests stayed: we had to start making hints about April's early starts when it got to 2am! Or it could be judged on the high levels of inebriation achieved: as an example, we played Balderdash, making do with a dictionary rather than the proper board game, until one person lost the ability to read said dictionary. (I am proud to say it wasn't me.)

Sunday was a day of rest. It had to be - I'd only had 10 hours of sleep spread over the previous two nights.

flowers_on_balconyI am currently feeling very proud. I just went to our local flower (blumen) shop and purchased this very cheery plant, speaking entirely in German, including describing which plant I wanted and asking the price. My German teacher would be proud.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye

Leaving picnicYesterday we went to a picnic leaving do for a lovely family we were fortunate to meet out here. We met them on a visit around a maternity ward back in January (see 'A fortuitous meeting') and have been firm friends ever since. The lady is American, married to a Lithuanian. Their baby daughter Josie was born just six days before April was born (our daughters actually shared the same due date). They are leaving for New York, for work purposes, but feel that they would have liked to stay in Cologne another year.

As you can see from the photo, loads of people came to wish them goodbye (and more turned up later). The picnic was both a celebration of the year they had here and a sad farewell.

I do hope that when we leave Cologne we will be this sad at leaving as I think that will be proof that what we had was good. I'd also like to think that loads of people will come to wish us farewell.

The event also made me ponder on the types of friendships you make as an expat. I have been fortunate to meet many wonderful people here, of so many backgrounds and nationalities. From a Russian translator, to a German astrophysicist, to an American editor...I have even met and become friends with one lady from Billericay, Essex, where I lived for several years, and one from my home county of Norfolk.

Expat friendships are subtly different to those back home as people tend to come and go more frequently. However, often friendships can become quite deep, quite quickly, as everyone is very open to the idea of making friends. And although friends may move on, I do think that they will remain friends for life.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

High chair

April in her new high chairContinuing on the theme of photos showing April in big chairs, here's one I took this morning. We have just bought April a high chair, to get her used to the idea for when she starts on solids. However, she has decided to cut out the middle man and go straight to eating the chair. Her idea of solids. Children eh?

Sunday, 12 August 2007


Roman goddess Victoria'Victoria was considered the embodiment of victory.' So read the sign beside this Roman figurine. I instantly liked the figurine. (If you read a description like that with your name in it, vanity tends to kick in.) The figurine dates to the 2nd Century AD and is a representation of the Roman goddess Victoria. It belongs to Cologne's excellent museum of Roman life, the Römisch-Germanisches Museum.

And that, dear reader, is my cue for a little history lesson. Those who tire easily may want to take a little pause just now, to build up energy stores...

The museum was built on the walls of an old Roman villa of about 200 AD, which was discovered in 1941, when workers were digging an air raid shelter. Figures from the Bacchus mosaicWithin the boundaries of the villa is a fantastic Roman mosaic featuring scenes from the world of Bacchus, Roman god of wine and intoxication (must have been a fun chap to invite to a party). It is about 70 square metres in size and is made from over a million pieces. The mosaic is very well preserved: when the city was sacked by barbarians in the 4th Century AD the wreckage of the villa fell on the mosaic and protected it from damage over the centuries. In the first photo of the mosaic you can see a couple dancing and in the second a pair of birds hold a cup of wine.Detail from the Bacchus mosaic

The museum houses a fabulous collection of Roman artefacts, including stunning pieces of locally made jewellery and glass, household items and reliefs from buildings. According to the Rough Guide to Germany, the museum's Roman glass collection is reckoned to be unsurpassed in the world. Indeed, Cologne developed as a centre for the manufacture of luxury glass from the 1st Century AD.Roman glass

So, now for a little bit about Cologne's origins. Perhaps you'd like to get yourself a brew?

Cologne was founded by the Romans in 37 BC. In 50 AD its status was raised to that of a 'colonia', the Roman term for a city, by Emperor Claudius. It was given the full title 'Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium' after Claudius and his new wife Julia Agrippa (she was from Cologne, so Claudius was buttering her up by raising the status of her home town). The name of the city exists today in the form of 'Cologne'.

River GodCologne was the capital of the province of Germany Inferior. The position of Cologne on the Rhine gave it two great advantages: the Rhine provided a natural border against attack from hostile tribes on the opposite bank and also provided opportunities for ship based trade. In fact the Rhine was so important to the city that it became personified as a god. This mask, in the museum, is of a river god, possibly a personification of the Rhine.

Here endeth the lesson...for now!

Monday, 6 August 2007

The Eifel Tour

Yes, the Eifel Tour, not the Eiffel Tower.

We spent this weekend on a ‘minibreak’. Our lovely German neighbours had recommended a national park an hour and a half south west of Cologne, known as the Eifel, so that was where we sped off to on Friday evening. The Eifel - www.nationalpark-eifel.de/- covers almost 11,000 hectares and is home to over 460 endangered species of flora and fauna.

Urftsee Lake from Cake VogelsangWithin the Eifel is a place called Camp Vogelsang. It was constructed as a Nazi training school. After the Second World War it was annexed by the US, then British and then Belgian forces. It was used as a NATO training camp from 1955 until 2006, when it was opened to the public and is now being developed as a site both for historical remembrance and for wildlife conservation. From the camp there are fantastic views of the Urftsee Lake which you can see in this panoramic photo (it's better if you click to enlarge, but I don't need to explain that to you).

deer and churnCertainly we were thrilled to catch glimpses of a lot of wildlife during the weekend.
Here is a deer with its natural prey – a churn of milk. See how it has just made a kill and is jealously guarding its prey.

It was exciting to stumble across this group woodland creatures enacting a scene from their natural environment. Normally they kill each other on sight, but here they are being nice to each other, for the sake of the tourist pound.
(I jest of course: actually all these animal delights were to be found within our hotel. They live there. Or at least lived.)

Our hotel was nice. Quite family friendly. At least the staff and guests pretended to be, as April screamed down the dining room when everyone was trying to have a nice meal the Friday night. In the end her father had to take her outside for a chat about her behaviour...which basically involved pushing her pram around until she fell asleep. Meanwhile her mother got started on the wine. Hic :-)

forest_by_hotelThe hotel was set within forest, by a babbling brook. It was originally built as a water mill in the mid 19th century - hence the requirement to be near moving water. On the Saturday I took a walk along a trail leading away from the hotel, following the stream towards the old mill ponds. I was struck by the beauty of these trees along the route. So amazingly tall and graceful.

cheese ash trayEach time we went into our hotel room were were taken aback by the existence of this 'decorative' ash tray. The only way I can describe its mottled attributes would be to say that if cheddar and stilton were to have an illicit liaison, this would be their love child.

Within the Eifel region is a picturesque town called Monschau, where we chose to spend the Sunday. It is a town of half-timbered buildings and narrow winding streets, set within a river valley. It is good for ambling.

spiders Here we visited a 'sculpture park' which turned out to be more like a shop window for a creative ironmonger. But pleasant all the same. These metre wide spider sculptures are an example of how pleasant the ironmonger's vision can sometimes get.

Near to the sculpture park was a man 'playing' a wind up musical organ. Very jolly. But later, when we spied him from behind, we saw him relaxing, standing chatting with a tourist. He wasn't turning the handle, but music was still coming out. We felt slightly conned having previously believed that his job always demanded physical input. All I can say is that he has to live with the burden of his lie every day... Here's a very poor movie showing Simon pushing April along a pathway towards the music man. Let the music be the theme tune to this blog entry.

The weekend was rounded off with some food at a cute pavement restaurant. Food always rounds things off for me.