… until it wasn’t.
It was now the time for my parents to begin their long return journey to Australia. Everything was in place, we’d packed the cars and organised the food and supplies for their drive to Amsterdam, where they would return the car and spend a night before flying home. They had to leave early to return the car approximately the same time they’d borrowed it. As they drove off, I returned to bed.
10 minutes later and I get a call.
It drops out.
I try to call the number, and it doesn’t work.
I get the call again and it drops out.
It’s amazing how functionless a mobile phone can truly be. Ok, I get it, you can surf the internet, set your house appliances to cook you a meal and listen to music while telling all your friends on social media how great your life was when you were overseas, but a phone is primarily for phonecalls… or used to be.
Eventually it connects and it’s my dad. He’s got the police talking to him in German and he doesn’t understand and they don’t understand English – fair trade. They had a tyre blow out just as they began their journey onto the Autobahn. The police were really just checking that they were Ok and that they follow the rules of putting out the safety stuff and have called someone to fix the car. Fixing a blown-out tyre is pretty easy.
Except when there is no spare tyre.
We had to get the car towed. When the truck came (it took some time), the car then had to get towed to a Mercedes dealership for them to fix it. We had to wait for some kind of “who pays for it” scenario to be resolved. My parents would pay and they should be reimbursed, that sounds like it works.
After it was all fixed, they had no problem with getting to Amsterdam.
Enterprise, the car rental company, decided that they wouldn’t pay for the tyre!
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My parents had tried to battle to get their money back. Travel insurance covered it, no problem, except that it shouldn’t be up to travel insurance to pay (in my view).
They are safely back in Australia.
In order to do some last minute shopping, or window shopping as it may be, we drove to Oldenburg. Oldenburg is part small city, part mega-shopping complex. If you were to take a huge shopping centre (or mall for our seppo friends) and spread it out over a small city’s area, you’d have something similar to Oldenburg, I think. It’s fairly well laid out, with space for pedestrians aplenty, the cars can only drive around the circumference. It’s nice.
I can’t remember anything spectacular being purchased by my parents but I do remember going to this sweet little café that is attached to a confectionery store. That should always be a hint to you, weary traveller, go for the sweets, stay for the coffee and cake. Unfortunately, I cannot find the link for this business, so you’ll just have to search the streets, near the church, near the castle, in Oldenburg. It’s worth it.
My parents ordered Toasties and I had a fancier Baguette thing. We also ordered some tea, some coffee and some cake. I think the Toasties were forgotten. The lady came and apologised and gave us our drinks for free! Super nice!
All of Ingrid’s Posse was to leave: Carlos, goes back to Scotland and her parents continue their holiday to Spain. We take the 2 cars, which is enough to handle the luggage and people comfortably. The drive is good but we’re cutting it a little fine with the boarding time for the parents.
At the Airport, something unexpected happened.
Carlos’s flight had been cancelled about an hour before he arrived at there. Nobody told him. Nobody told his uncle, the travel agent who booked the trip. They were telling him now. They were also telling him that there was no other option but for him to return the next day for another flight. They weren’t going to pay for anything, the expense of a hotel, the food for a day or even the drive in.
We started to discuss what we could do. We could do the trip again the next day. The main point was, for what? We all lose sleep and a day and they could even cancel the flight again.
They should have to pay. What if they don’t? His uncle would then pay it, but he shouldn’t have to, it’s not his fault. I put forward the case that a flight company is not likely to go against a travel agent in such a dispute, they’d potentially lose too much business. I don’t know if that was convincing enough, but Carlos decided to stay the night in Hamburg. We picked the nearest hotel, which happens to be right out the front, The Radisson. The guy would be staying in style! Now he needed to eat. He had missed out on our previous visit to Blockbräu, so this time we took him there, with my parents. He kept his receipt.
We weren’t the only Australians there. A lady at the table next to us asked where we were from. Turns out she’s from the Gold Coast, Queensland. She’s married a German and has been in Germany for around a year. They are going back to live in Australia soon. Not sure what the long term plan for them is, but you don’t go into too much detail in such short meetings.
We left Carlos, after dinner, to make the most of his hotel. Our drive home was fairly easy.
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Carlos ended up getting all his expenses paid back
The morning Sun started to rise but we didn’t need to. Brunch doesn’t start until everybody else has eaten breakfast. We took our group to Miss Peppers, it’s a restaurant chain that’s styled like 1950’s-ish Americana Cafés. They really offer everything for breakfast: fruit, muesli, yoghurt, milk, sausages, bacon, pancakes, breads, salads, deli-meats, spreads (no Vegemite), coffee, tea etc. There’s probably things I’m forgetting, or maybe I’m choosing to omit them due to bias. I know that it’s a big thing here to eat raw mince with onion on bread. That’s just not on.
Everybody ate, they talked, they ate some more, they started talking about how much they’d eaten, they ate some more. It was time for some to drive back to Berlin. We ended the meal that doesn’t have to end until the normal lunch time and said all our goodbyes. I don’t think anybody cried, maybe there were hidden tears, on the inside.
That freed up the posse to go on an adventure. Our plan was to show them the sights and taste the tastes of Bremen!
Bremen itself isn’t so amazing, really. It’s a mini-city, it has some large-ish buildings, a bit of traffic, some water, some people, some shops. What the main attraction there is this little ‘old town’ section called The Schnoor. There’s also water, from the river that Bremen is next to, it is near The Schnoor too. As mentioned, The Schnoor is a little bit of old living in a quite modern, although still historic city. They claim to have the narrowest street, which can only be walked through single file and some even have trouble doing that. We showed all the sights, the old galleries, the bars and wineries, the nice architecture. The decision was that for dinner we had to take the Posse to the Cats Café. It is basically a pretty good International restaurant, meaning they offer some Italian, French, South American, German styled food. It basically gets the name because a lot of the pictures, the statues and toilets are all cat themed. They also have a few photos with famous people and other oddities.
Everybody ordered all kinds of crazy things, which is good, it meant we could all try something new and different.
We were quite a big group by now. Two lots of parents, a brother and we also had some of our friends come over. How do you feed and entertain these people? There’s a Bowling Centre nearby, they have a kitchen. Done!
We had to use two lanes at the bowling alley, I cannot remember how the groups were divided, because it seemed fairly inexpiable. After a few games it became clear who wasn’t completely incompetent at the game and that bred a little competition. Manuelita, our youngest competitor at age 3, had everybody cheering her on if she managed to roll the ball towards the pins. Sometimes it didn’t make it far enough to hit the pins. I was the bowler after her, so I abused the situation and would use my ball to hit hers and score extra pins. Yes, it’s wrong. Sometimes a good sportsman uses what he has. I still didn’t manage to come first though, I think… I believe I was second. Let’s put it this way, if I was first, I’ll say I’m second because of the morality you’re applying to the situation.
We ate some schnitzel, chicken nuggets, chips and drank some beers. The night was nice.
The next night was our treat to these same special people. We took them to a very traditional, old and delicious German restaurant. It’s called Steakhaus Landfrieden. I think the restaurant itself has been in the middle of nowhere for at least 200 years. If your business exists and there’s nothing near it, you’ve built up a fine reputation, that’s for sure.
The interior is warm and wooden. Stuffed animals from hunting times in the past adorn the walls, as well as old painting and antiques from the German history books.
The meat is cooked well and the sauces are delicious. The meals are always satisfying, no matter what you get. Ingrid’s brother Carlos had a fun time ordering a drink, I can’t remember what it was he ended up getting, but it wasn’t what he was expecting.
Everybody slept well, not knowing that we’d also planned a big meal for breakfast the next day.
Today didn’t go as planned. Ingrid decided to take her family to Keukenhof. They came back with mixed feelings. It wasn’t bad, from what they said, but there were some things that weren’t impressive either.
I went with my parents to pick up their rental car and we took a leisurely, scenic drive home. Picking up the car was a little bit of goodness. The car my parents had booked had not yet been returned, we got a free upgrade…. to a Mercedes! It was a bigger car, which made putting the luggage in easier. It was fast, I think I managed to get up to something like 200km/h on the Autobahn and it didn’t even sweat. We got a free GPS, I don’t think the rental company knew that. They asked if we had paid for a GPS, we hadn’t, so they didn’t add it as a charge. The GPS took a little while to program, but once we had the hang of it, it was a bit of brilliance too! Enough about the car, I cannot even remember what model it was, so it’s not like I’ll get any interest in terms of my review.
Groningen was our first stop on the way home and last town we’d visit in Netherlands while the parents were here. Groningen is a little, quiet, pretty place with the famous canals running through, old architecture and plenty of shopping, if one is so inclined. We found an Australian restaurant there! That was a surprise and it was almost too much that we walked in. We wanted to see if we could get something more like Groningen food, so we kept walking. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the restaurant. It was a hip little place, lots of old stuff around the place, most of it is for sale too. The menu was in Dutch. Turns out I could use my half German skills to translate enough for my parents. We ordered in English, I dared not try to talk German with a Hollandaise person, it’s a little too close to being offensive, I think. My parents both ordered toasties. I convinced my Dad to try a Rooibos tea. We were done and on the way back to the car before the parking ticket expired (we’ve had to pay that fee before and it’s a pain). Ingrid’s posse was still admiring tulips.
Emden: one of the cutest, little towns in North Germany. It is a town built around a bit of a port. There are always impressive ships moored, the sun shines on a large public space nearby which is surrounded by cafés and restaurants. We walked into a little shop because something bright caught the attention of my Mum’s eye. She ended up buying something for all of her grandchildren. I was acting translator, although the service lady seemed to speak a bit of English. She was quite old, it was impressive. We still had time to kill, if The Posse was to catch up with us. I asked for a coffee recommendation and we headed off. In this public space is a bakery run by a Turkish man, I believe. He was super nice. We sat by the window, drank our coffee, ate some cakes and watched the people outside. We then made a bit of a tour of the town, although most of the shops were closing by this point. It didn’t matter, Mum had spent enough. I showed the Rathaus (Townhall), some churches, some of the old buildings and some more shops. Returning to the car inspired me to also walk a little further. There were huge Finance Buildings and Council Offices not far from our parking place. It would be interesting to work there, in such history, although I suppose every work environment quickly becomes just another office…
It was getting late and I had to get up around 6am to go to work. We headed home to wait for The Posse. Our surprise for all of our parents, we had rented them their own house for the week. It would give both families time to know each other, my parents time to practise Spanish and Ingrid’s parents time to practise English.
It was something like 1:30-2am before we were all going to bed. That’s right, I went to work with 4 hours of sleep. Badass.
The drive to Amsterdam is along the coast of the North Sea. Wind turbines keep guard the whole way, turning majestic blades to power the country. No such beauty in Amsterdam. Traffic is intense and parking impossible. I jumped out of car and met my parents. We waited for Ingrid and her posse to represent – they had the task of finding somewhere to park. Today’s lunch was at Omelegg. Omeletts, a big business in Amsterdam it seems. After eating, I asked the waiter for a place to meet up and drink a coffee before beginning a night out in Amsterdam. The Posse had to get the car and check in to the hotel. It took hours. We, my parents and I, were sitting in a café and I had to remind my mother often to stop staring at the prostitutes on the other side of the alley. We moved on to the Science building to wait there.
The Posse returned but the access to the building was closed so the meeting point moved. Dinner was a bit of a let down, nobody was inspired. We ate at the restaurant in the library. The benefit was that we got a free dessert because they were closing for the night.
Carlos was pumped for a red light night but the Posse was uninterested. My parents retired from the group and slept for their last night in Amsterdam. We debated options to suit everyone. Carlos gave up and we all returned to our hotel. He’ll have to experience an Amsterdam night another time.