Tag: food; travel

Phase 3: Oma writes poetry and Germans sniff lettuce

You may think I’m joking about the lettuce part. Sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? Well. Germans aren’t known for being normal. But I’ll come back to that later.

The last time we spoke, I think I disappeared into a memory food coma. Those pancakes were SO GOOD.

Anyway. We were in Munich. So – once we dropped Sheridan off at the airport on that last afternoon so that she could catch her flight back to the quaint British countryside city of Oxford, Tyson, Maren and I hit the road for Oehningen, a very small village about 30 minutes past Oma and Opa’s house in Gottmadingen, Southern Germany (don’t feel bad – no one else has ever heard of these places either). When we got there, mum – who hadn’t seen Tyson and I in a year since her and dad left to go traipsing around the world last December – nearly jumped through the car window in excitement at having us back.

Small talk, informalities and mum trying to feed us everything in the house aside, we – that is dad, mum, Tyson, Maren, Fynn (who’d arrived a few days earlier) and I soon found ourselves sitting squished together on the amazing Air BnB couch, drinking red wine and talking about life. How blessed I am to have family who loves each other so much!

It wasn’t until the next day that the rest of the relatives trudged on in – aunt Christel, Oma and Opa, and eventually aunt Angela and cousin Niko as well. It was to be a special Christmas this year, a rare occasion to have all of us together that happened the last time back in 2009. Pleasantly, despite increasing age (80+) and their usual loving bickering, Oma and Opa still appeared healthy and happy, pleased to have us all together but definitely glad as well that us “kids” were staying in a separate house and weren’t creating more work for them.

At Christmas, Oma recited self-written poetry of family and love and what it means to be together, and Angela sang a song about God looking out for us no matter where we are. Christel read funny Christmas stories of snow and the meaning of giving, and I tried my best to translate but gave up when Tyson didn’t laugh at my English version of the German jokes.

We didn’t do presents this year, instead playing a game of White Elephant, where everyone had to bring something wrapped up that they didn’t want anymore. Based on how the dice rolled, we were able to open and exchange opened “presents” with those around the table whether they wanted to swap or not. Amazing how attractive a little old Christmas ornament becomes when you compare it to a broken viking hat, a little Greek language dictionary or a notebook and pen someone pinched from a hotel!

The rest of our time in Oehningen was spent relaxing, talking, walking around the area and going on excursions (Tyson, the twins and I took a day out to go to dad’s university city, Freiburg and France’s beautiful city, Strasbourg). We were even brave enough to sweat it out in the private sauna on our last evening, though the amount of times we opened the door to let the crisp outside air in probably reduced the positive health effects this exercise was supposed to achieve.

Finally, it was time to head off to our next destination…. But wait, wasn’t there something about lettuce sniffing?

I kind of hoped you’d forgotten.

You see we Germans, most of the time, give off a pretty clean-cut impression. Good engineering, strong political presence, neat gardens. Sometimes we’re seen as a bit conservative, you could say. We’re strange, but we don’t often show it.

Well – that all goes out the window in the small villages.

All we wanted was a bag of lettuce for dinner. If we’d been the only ones in the corner store, we probably wouldn’t have even noticed it. But as it turned out, it was rush hour in the otherwise shop-less hamlet when Tyson and I arrived, and we found ourselves in a queue to pay behind a tall, blonde German woman who – without warning – started sniffing at her bag of lettuce. Wrinkling her nose every time she came up for breath, she didn’t wait long – nor ask permission – before sticking her blonde head in our bag too.

“Smells a bit funky, doesn’t it?” she said.

“Umm…” we replied, not sure whether to be more concerned about her head in our plastic bag or the fact that our lettuce might be off.

What made the situation even more bizarre was the man standing in the back corner of the shop, near the lettuce, who had a white, circular-shaped hat on his head that looked like it had been hand made out of cardboard for a game of train conducters with his grandchild.

Neither he, nor anyone else in the queue, seemed to find it strange that blondie was sniffing all the lettuce bags.

To cut a fascinating story short, we ended up buying the lettuce and washing it while the blonde lady did not, instead opting for the popular brussels sprouts also displayed in the greenery corner beside the strange train conductor, no doubt to the overwhelming joy of her children waiting at home.

And that was it. A little insight into the strangeness of Germans.

Welcome to my culture. 🙂



Phase 2: A road trip adventure and the king of all pancakes

We got distracted.

I blame it on a combination of Tyson’s love for our new hire car and its ability to drive whatever speed we wanted it to on the Autobahn, and our fascination with how close everything is in Europe. We could have taken the more direct route and been in Munich in the afternoon as promised. …But why do that when you can go via Liechtenstein and Austria??

Poor Sheridan.

By the time we’d navigated our way through the roundabouts of Liechtenstein’s capital, Vaduz, to take a selfie in front of the cathedral, got stuck in small-town after-school traffic jams in the back streets of some random Austrian villages and found our way back to the main road, it was late afternoon, and Sheridan had been waiting in Munich for hours.

Quickly dropping off our luggage in the Air BnB with mismatched furniture and the broken door that was not to be opened, we picked Sheridan up and drove straight on to Munich central station to pick up Maren and find some traditional, hearty German food for dinner.

The next morning, it was time to explore Munich, ‘the city that loves you’. In between trudging after Maren down random back streets to find the city’s best coffee according to Bean Hunter (favourite app of all self-declared hipster coffee connoisseurs) and looking for waffles for Sheridan, who seemed to have developed a sudden craving, we did actually see a fair bit of the city pedestrian shopping mall. (I may have gotten distracted again, this time with shoe shops.)

After plenty of caffeine (not great – Bean Hunter does get it wrong from time to time), a waffle experience (craving satisfied!) and some Gluehwein at the Christmas markets, it was time to find some dinner again. Tyson’s dream came true when we got a table at the renowned Augustiner Brewery, at which Dirndl-clad women with varying bust sizes served up beer in 1L Steins and plates of sausages and pork knuckle to your heart’s content. This evening would be, as it turned out, Tyson’s favourite dining experience of our whole trip.

The next day, wanting to make use of the nice blue sky and flexibility offered by our hire car, we decided we’d take a day trip to Neuschwanstein Casle (Tyson had never been to this famous German landmark that inspired the Disney castle) and Austrian alpine city, Innsbruck. It was a beautiful day, if long, and we were all happy to be out of the city and exploring the region. We were even lucky enough to experience some snow along the way!

The next day, our last day in Munich, we had the privilege of experiencing Mr Pancake – a tiny café in a trendy suburb close to the centre of town. Run by two ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Romanian immigrants and serving up plates of the most incredible pancakes we’d ever eaten, we felt refreshed being inside, not only because of the delicious aromas coming from the fying pans in the miniature kitchen, but also because of the Hillsong album playing in the background. God, it seems, really is everywhere.


A most delicious and adventurous beginning.

I could barely see – the rain lashed my face as we pedalled past rice fields, away from the local market and toward the small rural enclave that housed the family-run Coconut Hat Restaurant; our cooking class venue for the afternoon. Hoa, a woman in her early thirties, had picked us up at lunch time from Ms Tri’s House, our homestay in Vietnam’s beach town, Hoi An. After half an hour of walking through the local market together, Hoa pointing out different herbs, vegetables and cooking ingredients, we had mounted our bicycles (on loan from Ms Tri), slipped into our bright yellow ponchos and headed out of town. The air was nice out here – clean and fresh from the rain. The temperature sat at a pleasant 24 degrees. We cycled past rice paddies, small farms, a cemetery and across bridges over canals in which water coconuts grew. We even saw a lone buffalo swimming in a waterhole! Scenic, authentic, adventurous – ‘this is why I love travelling’, I thought, as our bike tyres rolled over bumpy roads and the wind blew the raindrops into my eyes.

It was our second full day in Vietnam. We’d arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) two nights earlier after a long day of travelling, and been greeted by rats scurrying along the alleyways as we walked to our first Air BnB accommodation. Thong had waited up for us although it was quite late, and showed us to our room on the 2nd storey, which consisted of a mattress on the floor and a bathroom across the hallway. We didn’t mind – the room was clean and the shower warm; all we wanted to do was sleep.

Early the next morning, we were on our way back to the airport again, on our way to Hoi An for a few days of R&R in this renowned tourist haven. We were greeted by Ms Tri with a huge smile and words of gratitude for choosing to stay in her home, and were given bicycles and suggestions of places to visit around the town. After a morning of cycling to the beach and eating fresh and absolutely delicious seafood, we meandered through the Old Town in the afternoon and tried to avoid getting ripped off by locals making use of the ‘three tiered pricing system’ – local price, expat price and tourist price (apparently, double each one and you’ll just about have it).

Today, we were to experience our first Vietnamese cooking class. Hoa, a friend of Ms Tri’s from high school, had opened up a restaurant with her husband four years earlier which served as a rest stop for people cycling through the farming areas surrounding Hoi An town. Today, Hoa’s husband takes tourists out onto the river in traditional, round basket boats to show them the unusual water coconut plantations, and then brings them back to the restaurant for the cooking class (and foot massage, if you book the whole tour). His wife Hoa, also mother to a seven-year-old girl and three-year-old boy, used to be a chef (‘not main chef’, as she enforced) and has now devoted her energies to raising her young family and teaching foreigners how to prepare some of the dishes Vietnam is famous for.

In a number of hours, we prepared spring rolls, green papaya salad, rice pancakes with shrimp, whole fish in banana leaf and banana pancakes. Hoa was a good teacher, even letting us drink beer as we cooked, and explaining everything in good English. The whole class was completely tailored – Tyson and I were the only students, and we could eat each dish as soon as we prepared it.

As we finished the class it got dark, and we were thankful for the small lamps on our bicycles as we made our way back past the rice paddies to Ms Tri’s house. With full stomachs and happy hearts at having met so many lovely locals already, we were excited about what lay ahead for us on our three week Vietnam adventure. Tomorrow, we would be off to Hanoi, Vietnam’s thriving capital, for a few days of street food tasting and a new year’s eve celebration on board a traditional junk boat in UNESCO World Heritage Listed Ha Long Bay.