A Sunday drive in two countries

You might remember that I made some comment about how the water here in Germany had the word “bad” in it. It turns out that “bad” is exactly what you want in the name of a bottle of water because it means “springs”.

Our first stop today was a town called Baden-Baden, which is famous for its springs and spas. Our tour guide was asked why it was named twice, and it is like New York, New York, that is, the town of Baden in the state of Baden.










This town became not only famous as a wellbeing retreat but it is also famous for having the first casino in Germany. Our tour guide very proudly showed us photos proving that Barrack and Michelle Obama had stayed at the casino.



Next to the casino there is an open air gallery with freezes showing German history and mythology. This particular one is about a Neptune/Poseidon type fellow who lives in the lake in the Black Forest (which I visited later in the day) with his lovely lady friends.




On one of the bridges there were some lovers’ locks but it didn’t look like it had caught on very much…


There were lots of very up market shops selling beautiful jewellery and porcelain. There were also some which were selling not-so-beautiful ceramics.



After leaving Baden-Baden, we drove up the mountains to the heart of the Black Forest to a lake named Mummelsee. The views up here were amazing. We were higher than the fog rising from the pines. I felt obligated to have a piece of Black Forest cake while in the Black Forest. It was delicious. The cherry flavour was really rich and the cream was light. Mmmmm.











After driving down the other side of the range, we crossed a bridge and suddenly we were in France.


We had a little wander around Strasbourg and learnt about how it keeps switching from belonging to the Germans and the French. This summer palace is where Marie Antoinette made her transition from being German to French before marrying King Louis. It is modelled very heavily on Versailles.


Deeper into the CBD of Strasbourg there is an incredible gothic cathedral named Notre Dame. They started building it in the 12th century but didn’t finish until 300 years later. But you can see why. So much work has gone into just to exterior.



We went inside, which was quiet and dark but it meant that you could really enjoy the stained glass windows.









I also lit a candle (mine’s the one on the bottom row, where I could reach the easiest).


After voting amongst ourselves that we would prefer an open topped boat for our canal cruise, we set off, listening to the audio commentary on our headphones, with a narrator who had an Irish accent.






Half of the canals are about 1.8m higher than the other half, so we had to go through some gates where the water level is raised and lowered so that we didn’t have to run through “rapids” in our boat. You can see the water level difference in the photos below:


The most photographed building in Strasbourg is this one below, the Tanner’s House. It has an open verandah, just like a Queenslander, to allow for the hides to dry out.


Sunday wasn’t actually as long a day as Saturday’s journey but I felt exhausted by the end and was very happy to get back to my tiny room and single bed, ready for returning to France in the morning.

Doin’ the New Swan Rock

On Saturday morning, I braved the slightly chilly breeze to get to the tour office by the (relatively) early 8.30am start for our tour of Neuschwanstein (which means something like new swan rock).

There were only five of us on our tour, a gay couple from North Carolina and two Japanese girls. This meant that were were able to go in a van rather than bus. The significance of this is that vans don’t have their speed limited on the autobahn which not only meant that we could hurtle through the German countryside at 160km/h, but that we had enough time to stop in the historical city of Rothenburg.

Rothenburg is a tiny little town which still has its original city wall intact. We had a little wander around, including a wander on the actual city wall and got a feel for the city. There were Catholic and Protestant churches, shops, cafes, parks and even a criminal museum containing instruments of torture.
















It was very lucky that we were under time pressure or I may have come home without any euros left, but with many more souvenirs than I could ever justify purchasing. We were allowed to enter one shop, Käthe Wohlfahrt, the biggest Christmas shop… in the world *say that like you’re Jeremy Clarkson for maximum effect*. It was incredible! Christmas trees, ornaments, nutcrackers, ornaments, stockings, ornaments, stuffed animals, ornaments… did I mention they had ornaments? I got some catalogues because the whole time I was in there enjoying myself, I was thinking how much my Grandma would have loved it even more!

Then, it was time to drive to Neuschwanstein. There is also a castle next door that no one really wants to see but I took its photo anyway and posed by a lake:




We took a horse-drawn carriage up to the top to the castle entrance. I feel a little sorry for the horses. By the time we arrived, there was steam pouring off them!




Neuschwanstein is exactly what would happen if my school friends and I got a hold of the finances of a small European kingdom and went berserk. It is the fantasy palace of King Ludwig II who wanted to create a castle that represented medieval kings of old, which is why it looks fantastic from the outside and why I took stacks of photos of it:








Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside the castle but at least that meant I could enjoy it without my eye glued to my camera viewfinder. The first thing I recall was how beautiful the servants’ quarters were. They looked like they were furnished like some of the royal chambers in other castles I’d seen on this trip. King Ludwig II selected some of his favourite legends, like Tristan and Isolde, to decorate the walls of his rooms in grand style. In his chapel, he had the exploits of canonised monarchs painted amongst a celebration of other religions, which I found unusual. He even had his own secret rock grotto built. But, showing that he was still a contemporary monarch, he had installed electric bells so that his valet could be at his beck and call. It was a bit of a mishmash of styles and eras but presumably, it’s what the king wanted.

On the way out, we got to see the 19th century kitchen, which was very Downton Abbey right down to the beautiful copper jelly moulds.

The drive home was 4 hours so we broke our journey at a service station. In an attempt to get some German food, I selected currywurst which is just sausage, tomato sauce and curry powder, but it is a cultural phenomena, there is even a currywurst museum in Berlin.


Getting off my Assmanshausen and seeing the Rhine

I was feeling a little bit isolated this morning after being dressed down by the guy at the tour office (why is everyone here so angry?) so I cheered myself up by buying a mini-pizza for breakfast from a self serve bakery which had a nice dining area and turnstile toilets.

When I returned to the tour office, I met a couple from Alabama called Tammy and Tommy who were very friendly with their charming southern accents.

Luckily, our tour guide wasn’t the grumpy man from behind the desk but a very entertaining fellow who told us his very German name and told us to just call him Michael. He entertained us with the usual Dad joke style humour that all good tour guides provide. I think the worst of his jokes was where he was telling us why we needed to be on time, “I don’t want to have to call my wife and say, ‘I’m stuck in traffic.’ Because she will get upset and say, ‘So Traffic’s her name, is it!'” *Cringe*

Our first stop was at a town named Assmansmausen where we took a chair lift down the hill to the town centre. The views were amazing! It was a little chilly through because I was wearing a skirt with tights rather than jeans so my legs were pretty much exposed to the wind.









When we reached the town, we went for lunch at a very enthusiastically decorated restaurant. There was no blank space at all in this place. Even the toilets were decorated. One toilet seat even had a functioning clock embedded. It was so strange, it has to be seen to be belived:






After lunch, we prepared to board our cruise. This took a little while so I took some pictures while I was waiting.




This is a map showing the path of our cruise from Assmanshausen to St Goarhausen.
We passed twelve castles on this cruise which is more than I had seen previously in my whole life.

Here are some of the highlights!
Burg Rheinstein:



Burg Reichenstein:



Burg Sooneck and what appears to be it’s own quarry:


The view from the boat around Trechtingshausen:




Ruine Fürstenberg:


Ruine Nollig:




Burg Stahleck:


Burg Gutenfels:




Some tunnels near Kaub:




Loreley – named after the beautiful blonde siren who lured sailors to their death from this rock:



Burg Katz:


After the river cruise, we went back to Assmanshausen by bus to do some wine tasting. I was a little disappointed by the wines that I tasted:

And not just the tiny quantity. The red was okay but the whites were incredibly sweet. The last one was an ice wine which is made from grapes that must be hand picked on the first night of winter which reaches -7ºC. This is apparently German law. Ice wines are a delicacy but perhaps I’m too uncouth (or have been spoilt by dry reds) to enjoy it.

Our last stop of the day was Rüdesheim just to grab a pretzel and some souvenirs. I was too preoccupied with souvenir shopping that I forgot to take a photo of this town.

We arrived back in Frankfurt at about 7pm and I set off to find myself some dinner at a Mexican restaurant (traditional German places seem hard to find here, I think I’m in a sort of China Town-ish area).

It has taken me quite a while this evening to go through my photos and match them up with the map and guide book so I could actually work out which castle was which.

If you have had enough of looking at my photos of castles, you’re not in luck, I’m going on a Royal Castles tour tomorrow after thinking that the Rhine valley tour would be more about vineyards but it seems they also have a castle surplus. Nevermind, I’m on a castle binge! Can’t wait to see some more!

Laser sights and red lights

This morning, it was time to leave the Westin Grand hotel with its in-bathroom television speakers (actually useful for the ITV channels that were stuck on audio commentary for the blind mode), 5 Euro flat bottled water and policy to use vintage Mercedes Benz cars as decorations.

After a rush to print off my train ticket for Monday using the business centre at the hotel upon discovering that it specifically says it must be printed, I hopped on the Thales bus to Koblenz, which took about 2 hours. (I slept for most of this and woke up incredibly disoriented travelling along a gloomy, congested highway.)

At Koblenz, we were divided into groups in a very enjoyable way. We were each offered a chocolate and the type of chocolate we got determined our group number. Very effective and delicious!

The first part of the Thales facility which we saw was the workshop where real weapons are converted to ones that can be used in simulation settings. All the dangerous stuff is removed and an imitation recoil and some sensors are added. We were then taken to the room where small arms training takes place. I was told that I was allowed to take photos just as long as I didn’t put them on facebook or publish them so it means you’ll just have to imagine me awkwardly handling a German rifle, squinting through the laser sight and laying waste to the simulated woodlands and the terrorists within.

We then went upstairs to see another simulator room. In this one, a helicopter pilot and a gunner (enlisted through audience participation) worked together to fight off some pirates (modern pirates, not the Captain Jack Sparrow sort) that were attacking a container ship. The graphics were just amazing. It was just like looking at the real ocean.

In the other end of the same room was an integrated train supervisory system. We observed the system under normal circumstances, then changed the direction of the escalators and saw the escalators in the AI-generated security footage change direction. We also simulated a fire in the station and watched all the AI passengers run for their lives and then forget what had happened and stand around the entrance to the station trying to get in again. It was like The Sims Railway Edition!

We had a BBQ lunch. Someone joked to us Australians that it was a long way for us to come for a BBQ. There were even shrimp on this barbie…

The weather all day had been pretty gloomy and windy. But at least that sort of weather is useful to someone:


We got back on the busses and some of us drove to Stuttgart and some back to Frankfurt. While in transit, I did some blogging and travel planning. I’m glad I rang to confirm my tour for tomorrow, because they actually didn’t have enough people so we swapped the tours around and this means I get a sleep in tomorrow!

My bus driver managed to drop me on the far side of the railway station, which added about 15 minutes to my walk to my hotel. When I was deciding where to stay in Frankfurt, I had to make a choice between being close to the train station and meeting point for my tours, and not being in a red light district. I decided that I wanted to be closer to the train station (and the ladies…)

A Brisbane comparison for the level of danger and number of strip clubs and sex shops would be Fortitude Valley. However, if you walk about 200m you end up in a West End sort of area with restaurants and a market and, surprisingly, heaps and heaps of jewellery shops.
This was one of the frontages on the street:


My hotel is uniquely decorated with mosaics in the foyer and restaurant. My room features great economy of space but luckily, I’m not full sized person otherwise I may not have been able to fit in the shower and would have my feet hanging over the end of the single bed. I went down to the basement gym before dinner. It was a very strange place tiled like a Turkish bath (with seats built in to the walls). There were air vents that went out to the street so you could hear people yelling outside in a strange out of body kind of way.

I went for a walk to get some dinner and after deciding not to go to Kakadus, the Australian restaurant, I went to an Italian place run by a lovely Indian couple. I returned before sunset because I was feeling a bit paranoid, but looking out now, there are lots more people and it seems a little safer.


When in Römer

I warily skipped breakfast and just had a cup of tea before my presentation on Wednesday morning.


My audience seemed reasonably impressed by the glossy marketing images in our corporate introduction video and my slide explaining how most of Europe could fit into Australia, land mass wise.

I also had some positive feedback about the axle counter-related content and was even able to answer the question directed to me at the end.





You may have been able to see a sign behind my head while I was presenting which said “Willkommen Beinvenue Welcome”.


Every time I looked at this sign (which was very half a minute or so, because it was behind the presenter’s head) my internal monologue continued the following lines of the opening song of Cabaret,

“Fremde, etranger, stranger
Gluklich zu sehen, je suis enchante,
Happy to see you, bleibe, reste, stay
Willkomen, bienvenue, welcome,
Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret!”

and then proceeded to have the song stuck in my head for most of the day.

After I’d presented I was free(er) to relax and posed in front of a vintage car that was just parked near the refreshment table.

I won’t thrill you with all the details of the afternoon’s presentations but the most interesting thing I saw was from the Metro de Porto in Portugal where their rails are laid within grass.

In the evening we had our Gala Dinner at the Römer Frankfurt. Apparently, this former town hall is quite an exclusive venue and a member of the public asked us who we were (maybe expecting us to be visiting dignitaries or some sort).

To get to the Römer, we caught a bus and walked through a very picturesque courtyard.




On the bus, I was nattering away to one of the German ladies at the seminar, commenting on how Frankfurt was such a modern city. She didn’t really make much of a comment on this. Later I found at that at the beginning of the 1940s Frankfurt had the largest number of medieval houses in Germany but that by the end of the 1940s there were only 11 left and this was not because they had a sudden urge to build shopping malls. I can hear Basil Faulty’s voice ringing in my head…

The ladies who had organised the seminar were very appropriately dressed for the occasion:


We were entertained in the courtyard by a medieval fool who performed a range of tricks – juggling, diablo, fire twirling, magic and puns.


This house used to be occupied by Italian merchants (hence the Rome-related name) and then the state acquired it. For quite some time, it was the place to be. This fountain used to flow wine not water:


And there was even a secret staircase that drunk gentlemen used to use so they could leave the premises with out attracting attention when clodhopping through the piazza (square? I’m going with piazza seeing as Romans used to live there).

Inside the building they had arched, vaulted ceilings, medieval artefacts and even a harp player who sang beautiful German folk songs. It was a wonderful atmosphere.


As is often the way in workplaces where you wear a costume as your uniform, we took some photos of and with the staff.



We were offered nibblies in the courtyard and soda water with passion fruit and berries. But then, inside, we were provided with a five course meal with wine, schnapps and tea as well! The fool nominated members of our party to play roles such as the official food taster (to check for poison) and the official most drunk guy (who got a hat with curly hair attached).

The fool did a little more light juggling.


As he added more and more juggling balls to his act performed under the vaulted ceiling, I was reminded of a book I read as a child called The Clown of God, where after a hard life, an old clown’s final act was to juggle for an image of the Madonna and Child.

After dinner, the fool promised us a “fire surprise” outside and he delivered quite impressively:


We walked back through the square, which was beautifully lit at night and then caught the bus home.



The majority of my colleagues took this opportunity to continue the frivolity in the hotel lobby bar but apparently physical age has nothing to do with conference stamina and I went to bed:


Every axle counts

Today didn’t start off great for me. I wasn’t sure whether it was the boiled sausages I ate for breakfast or the fact that I was drinking tap water (here in Germany the more literal translation is “plumbing water”) but I certainly wasn’t very well. My Thales rep suggested I drink bottled water from now on but he might be overly paranoid because he wanted me to be in top form for my presentation tomorrow. The brand of water at the hotel unfortunately has the word “bad” in it’s name…


I learnt some interesting things today from the presentations I heard but I think the most interesting was about High Speed Rail Grinding. If you don’t care about rail grinding, skip ahead to the next paragraph. If you do, read on… With heavy use of rail by heavy loads (like coal trains), small cracks and deformities can form in the rail. In the extreme, this leads to multiple surface-breaking cracks and complete failure of the rail and can result in disasters such as the Hatfield Rail Crash. In order to prevent the spread of fatigue cracks, routine rail grinding is undertaken, shaving off about 2mm of rail head at a time to remove all the material that has been plastically deformed before the fault spreads throughout the rail. This is a slow process and usually we have to remove everything attached to the track. The presentation I listened to used a high speed rail grinder that could be scheduled just like normal train. It didn’t remove 2mm of rail every time, but the intention is to run it so regularly, that it would still remove the small cracks before they infected the rest of the rail. Also, it didn’t interfere with axle counters. Everyone’s a winner!

The maids at my hotel are top notch! Not only do they were traditional maid outfits complete with cap and apron, but they took it upon themselves to organise all my toiletries and make up in decreasing order of size. That’s commitment!

I have failed as a tourist, once again. I am still feeling rubbish so I have stayed home for an early night instead of going to the Apfelweinwirtschaft (essentially a cider brewery) with my colleagues. As lame as you may think me, it wouldn’t be nearly as lame as vomiting during my own presentation tomorrow morning. And with that charming thought, I bid you Gute Nacht!

Not embracing, but perhaps fist-bumping, German culture in Frankfurt

This morning, after hopefully not waking up all of Bornholmsgade, I caught the train to the airport and flew to Frankfurt. Anna had warned that the airport was tiny, but I was still impressed by the duty free shopping and less impressed by the Danes’ inability to queue in an orderly fashion for security, in shops, at the gate – people were just everywhere! Scandinavians just seem so organised in every other respect, how have they not got this?!

I admit I did add to the chaos in security after not removing my keyboard from my backpack (it’s not technically a laptop…) and only emptying one of my, it turns out, two bottles of water. Amateur, just amateur! *Shakes head in embarrassment*

Today was my first day in Germany, but I didn’t go very well at embracing German culture, I think perhaps we just awkwardly fist bumped… Frankfurt CBD just looks a bit like Perth, but the people are dressed more warmly and if you look really, really, really closely, you can see some historical remnants like this horse’s head decoration that was on the McDonalds building.

In fact, a German lady who I spoke to this evening lamented that this seminar wasn’t in a more culturally significant place with less skyscrapers and more Oktoberfest.

I had 3 hours to wait until my hotel room was ready for checking in so I had intended to do some sightseeing, but got distracted by another H&M store and then went to Starbucks and used their free wi-fi to blog for an hour or so. I was disappointed in myself for travelling all the way to Germany to hang out at Starbucks, but I did make an attempt at a cultural experience by ordering a pretzel there (which was actually spelt bretzel).

The hotel is a square building with a courtyard in the middle and my room is at the end of three long corridors, the longest distance possible from the elevators. But, it is a good excuse to get some incidental exercise. The bed in my hotel room is incredibly comfortable, which is balanced by the internet charges which are incredibly expensive, and I have my own private Nespresso machine!

In the evening, I went to the reception for the Thales Axle Counter User Group, which is the reason I’m here. The food was amazing! It was a drinks and nibblies affair, but the nibblies were in courses – scallops and lentils for entree, soup and a hot buffet for main, and berry and dark chocolate mousse tarts for dessert. Everyone was too distracted by the main buffet to worry about the scallops and tarts but they were the best of all!

I found more evidence of the European obsession with meat when it became apparent that none of my German colleagues had ever seen lentils before and seemed confused about the explanation that you could use them in vegetarian dishes instead of meat. It seems I’m not the only one getting to experience new things in Frankfurt!

I was just proofreading the sentence about the dinner buffet above and added an Oxford comma to help with clarity. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, the Oxford style guide mandates the inclusion of a comma before the “and” which separates the last two items in a list. This is to avoid situations like, “I would like to thank my parents, Madonna and the Pope.” when your parents aren’t actually Mads and the leader of the Catholic Church, and what you actually meant to say was, “I would like to thank my parents, Madonna, and the Pope.”) This reminded me of what one of my Scottish colleagues remarked last week about the “Scottish Comma” where profanity is used to punctuate between words. That made me laugh, but perhaps it is only me that finds grammar jokes amusing.

Some other things that I find amusing in Europe are the different signs. Such as this one:

Where you must hop down the stairs if chased by the ghost of a cactus… maybe.

Hamletting it up

Earlier in the week, the guests at the IRSE convention went to Helsingør and Helsingborg and saw Hamlet’s castle. I was quite jealous so on Saturday, I asked Anna the leading question of what we were doing the next day, so that I could convince her to change her mind to go to the castle if her proposal wasn’t as interesting. Turns out great minds think alike, or at least, Anna and I do, because she had already planned to take us to Helsingør!

We caught the train (the one after the one we intended to) from Østerport to Helsingør and enjoyed the view, the wi-fi and the power points from/in the train. (Note that I have actually worked out how to type “Ø”s on my keyboard without having to google the name and then copy the characters into this blog. It’s option O! Finally!)

From outside appearances, most of the buildings in Denmark and their doors seem quite old and old fashioned. The creepy thing about a lot of these doors is that they are traditional outward-inward opening doors but they open automatically, like a ghost butler is present. It’s particularly unnerving at apartment blocks when someone else opens the door from the inside and the door just opens, beckoning you in to the dark to be haunted. Where I was going with this explanation was that Helsingør train station, while a beautifully decorated historical building with chandeliers and carvings had automatically opening doors which we weren’t expecting.


We walked through the town, down Anna Street, past the cathedral and around a park which looked like it had the gorgeous Danish cousins of the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who prancing around.



I also mistook this frontage for a souvenir shop, but it turned out to be a pub.

As we approached Kronborg castle, we heard marching footsteps and hooves. Expecting to see some sort of historical reinactment for tourists, we turned around, only to find that the sounds were coming from speakers only to give the illusion that the Swedes were about to storm the castle.

We took some obligatory photos around the castle (Anna and I practiced our royal waves again).








I even found a Danish Hobbit hole in the grounds!


Inside the castle we learnt about the ship dues that were paid to the Danish King which led to the funding to convert the fortress at Kronborg into the Renaissance castle that it is now and experienced an attraction that simulated being on a boat and paying these dues, and also what it would have been like to die a fiery death in the castle when a section of it burnt down.
I really loved how enterprising the kings were in order to maximise their revenue. Ships had to signal that they were intending to pay their dues. If they didn’t, Kronborg would fire cannons on them. Then, not only did the ships have to pay the original dues, they also had to pay for the cannon balls that were used to shoot at them. Brilliant!

We also learnt what “casemates” are and visited them. (Anna and I had originally thought that this was a Danish word, turns out it is actually English…) For those playing at home, the word “casemate” comes from a latin root meaning “home in the dark”. At Kronborg, the soldiers used to live underground in damp, poorly lit conditions which bred disease and death. In fact, the horses’ quarters had better ventilation. Fortunately, these soldiers were also paid with 8 litres of beer a day, so perhaps they didn’t even notice their rubbish situation. Here’s Anna starting off her journey into a section of the casemates which was actually light enough for me to take a photo without needing to be a statue myself.

At the beginning of the casemate tour, we met a legendary Danish hero, Holger the Dane the son of King Geoffrey (of Denmark) who fought for Charlemagne and was his Paladin. After 25 years of fighting, he decided to return home to Denmark. Very close to his home, he decided to break his journey and sat on a stone to rest his eyes, vowing that if Denmark ever needed his help to defend and flight he would wake up again. He’s still sleeping…


The guide of this tour, who was Swedish herself, told us how the Swedes invaded several times, one time melting down a magnificent fountain which had a revolving top driven by water pressure alone. Here’s a miniature model of the former fountain:


The Danish metro spend a lot of time, effort and chemicals policing and removing graffiti tags from trains. They even have a database with photos so that if a graffiti “artist” is caught tagging with a particular design, they can match that design in the system and charge him or her for all of the damage that they’ve done over the years. At Kronborg castle, one of the most prolific taggers is this guy:

– King Christian 4 (note he seemed to prefer hindu arabic numbers rather than Roman numerals)

The major renovations at Kronborg were carried out by King Frederik II for his wife and queen, Sofie. So there are a lot of S’s and F’s as a crest in the outer walls of the building, which might be fair enough, seeing as they paid for it. Their son Christian, upon inheriting his parent’s place, stuck his initials all over it, even though it was really already decorated. Here are some examples:


His monogram’s even in paintings with cherubs!

There were some other paintings which C4 commissioned and hung in Kronborg which were equally questionable. This man here appears to be eating either a baby or a cherub…


I mean, I really appreciate paintings, much more than your average Gen Y engineer, but I still find this one is also a bit odd:


I had my photo taken in a little room off the Queen’s chambers where it was advertised in the tour that the view hadn’t changed except there are tourists now instead of soldiers.

There is a gallery/giant hallway that connects the Queen’s chambers with the ballroom and court. This was an addition because the Queen didn’t want to have to walk through the whole rest of the castle to get to the action. There are some enormous paintings in this corridor. One of my favourites was the one where Queen Margrethe I of Denmark is being surrendered to by the Swedish king. Not only am I fan of this due to the “girl power” element, but I love how all the Renaissance ladies are lovely and curvy with chins.

Anna agreed that it would be a better world if we could all celebrate our chins more. We had an explanation of why they probably were so healthy looking… at a normal ladies lunch, these girls were eating 20 courses and 36 courses for a special occasion.

There were some spectacular rooms in the castle, but the one I found most impressive was the 62 metre long ballroom.


Originally, the king had tapestries showing 100 Danish kings of old all over the walls. In particular, this was to impress the Swedes when they came round for dinner. The problem was, at the time, there hadn’t actually been 100 Danish kings… so he used made up ones from legends to supplement the historical figures. Easy!

Some of the tapestries are still hanging in the castle, but in a darker room to protect them from the light.


Seeing as we were in the castle featured in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we decided to get a little dramatic in the courtyard. Unfortunately, I don’t have the same sort of photoshopping capabilities on my iPad that I usually do when at home so you will have to imagine where the swords and skulls are supposed to be in these photos:







In a similar way to Malmö castle, Kronborg isn’t decorated in its original furnishings… except for the chapel, which is spectacularly carved and guild-ed (guilt?). These are some of the highlights:




After leaving Kronborg, we walked a little bit along the water’s edge and saw some fluro lighthouses:


And the male Terminator 2 version of the Little Mermaid:


We stopped at a little Italian restaurant in a square in Helsingør. Fortunately for me, the menu was mostly in Italian not Danish, so I had a better chance at understanding than I had at other ordering attempts during this trip.

We caught the train back to Østerport and bought some pastries (Danish ones, what else?) from the supermarket.

Continuing our castle-related theme of the day, Anna and I relaxed in the evening by watching the first episode of the latest season of Downton Abbey and then went to sleep to have castle-related dreams.

Goodbye Malmö! Parting is such Swede sorrow…

Today was my last day in Malmö after spending 7 nights there. After having a well-deserved sleep in and consolidating all my belongings back into my suitcase from the various corners of my hotel room, I walked to my favourite square to have a last luncheon in Sweden. The venue I selected actually turned out to be a Scottish bar, serving German food with a particularly attentive British waiter, so not as exclusively Swedish as I had hoped. Thinking that the expensive menu prices were just because the food all seems to be expensive, I ordered a pig’s knuckle which ended up being about the size of my face:


As I was just about to leave Malmö, I took some last minute photos of the place to aid in my memories on my time spent in this lovely little city:


When I was walking past the town hall I heard Chapel of Love playing and I noticed a very newly-wed couple who were having a picnic wedding reception in the square having having been married at the town hall. Everyone just looked so happy and relaxed:


I caught the train back to Denmark still using the group ticket from the convention because they are valid for 48 hours. Tak IRSE!

Anna met me at the station, despite the fact that the train was 3 minutes late and after dropping off my bags and starting a desperately required load of washing, we went for a walk around the Kastellet:












There were so many more photos of me than there have been on previous days of my trip because not only was Anna there to provide commentary on the sights we were seeing, she was also very happy to photograph me posing with all of the sights.

I had been looking forward to seeing the Little Mermaid since finding out I was going to come to Denmark. She looked forlorn on the rock and in hindsight, it was probably insensitive to be grinning in this photo.

Anna suggested that I think more about the ending in the Disney interpretation than the original Hans Christian Andersen version and that made me feel a little less melancholy about the whole attraction.

We went to dinner at a 300 year old restaurant and had some more amazing food – duck, two types of potatoes, roasted prunes and red cabbage. I understand why the Scandinavians cycle so much, it’s not just because it is convenient and green, it’s to preserve their waistlines…


20130922-020104.jpgThe question of the day, instigated by Ruben, a native Spanish speaker, was if I knew what phrasal verbs were. I didn’t. Neither did any of the other English speakers we encountered this evening. It turns out that they are verbs made of more than one word including a preposition, which often doesn’t mean anything or possibly even the opposite. Like “calm down” when in fact, you actually want the calm to increase, or “look after” when you are caring for something but actually in the present. It was really interesting to get another opinion on our language and how, as I have suspected for some time now, it doesn’t really make much sense.

I better get to sleep now (on my Danish-designed couch with Ikea blanket) because we have a big day of castle-visiting tomorrow!

PS: Anna has pointed out that above I said that the train to Østerport was three minutes late. In fact, it was three minutes early and Anna was (relatively) three minutes late. Thanks for keeping me honest, Anna!

Putting the laughter in Slaghuset

After realising that four out of five of us had travelled illegally last night (because we only validated one of our five-pass ticket), despite passing a ticket inspection, we returned to Ørestad for some more papers from Metroselskabet about the amazing existing driverless metro and the new City Ringen project.
Although we didn’t go back to the Ramboll building, it looked lovely in the sunlight so I took another photo:


The building that we did end up going to was just as exciting architecturally, if somewhat more imposing:


One of the presenters was asked why the trains run all night and his answer seemed really typical of the noble attitude that the Danes have towards their passengers, and the public in general, “Because the people want it.” Simple.

After some very welcome coffee, we went on a tour of the Metroselskabet control centre and train depot. We were divided into smaller groups (I was in the yellow group) so that we would fit into the areas for the tour. Our group guide was a train dispatcher and was very dedicated to keeping us to the timetable. There was a lot of watch tapping and “Excuse me, yellow!” to ensure that we made it through all the areas.
The first room was the emergency back up room with a very tempting button:


We were told that if we pressed the button the metro would stop, which just made it all the more tempting. We then saw some trains that had cabins that were being refurbished. In this area there is no electrification, so there is a vehicle that acts like a tug boat, but for the trains. This particular one had a lovely feminine touch:


In contrast to the flowers, there were also some more “traditional” decorations in the workshop:


The next area we walked through was where the trains were cleaned. A Metroselskabet employee was using chemicals to clean graffiti off one of the trains and we were guided past him, splashing through whatever was cleaning the train. We were worried we’d find that our shoes had melted, but I think we were just being paranoid.

The control centre room at Metroselskabet was greatly different to the other control centres we had seen on our trip. There were signs banning conversations and photography and all the controllers wore uniforms instead of the casual bright colours of the Trafikverket and S-train controllers.

We also saw a simulator that was used to train the controllers. The controller trainer explained how they would recover from particular line failures with minimal disruption to passengers but running a shuttle train on one line around the error and just turning all the trains at the stations at either end of the fault. Genius! In fact, the controller trainer explained that it was just like playing a video game.

After the tour, we were given a metro ticket and free time to explore Copenhagen. We caught the metro back to the city, taking in the views provided by the lack of drivers cab:

And had a wander through the city.


We stopped for lunch at a seafood restaurant at the canals. Unfortunately, due to the copious amounts of salmon that we had been fed throughout the convention, none of us ordered fish.

We were serenaded by a clarinet busker with a backing tape who played a range of music from Ave Maria to My Heart Will Go On, which really contributed to the touristy atmosphere.

We made our way towards the Nørreport metro station through a park, with a “castle” and an army barracks.



We caught the train back “home” and started preparing for the evening gala dinner, which for me meant curling my hair, but for many of my colleagues, it seemed to involve shaving the gradual rugged stubble which had been building throughout the week, the “facial hair is invisible when not in the office” phenomena which I often observe when at conferences or site visits.
Well, whatever our individual beauty routines, I think we did scrub up quite well for the dinner at the Slaghuset, the old Slaughterhouse:




The food was lovely but we did have some hiccups on our table to do with dietary requirements, which didn’t seem all that complicated to the causal observer, but were giving the staff some issues. One of the guys on my table was served three different dinners until he was given something that met his specification. We had a lovely Italian waitress, though, who gave us recommendations for underground clubs to go to, rolled her eyes at the 80s tribute band that played and rescued my handbag at the end of the night when they were closing.

I was a little sad that the convention had ended because after spending several 12+ hour days together you develop a sense of camaraderie with your colleagues and it might be years before we cross paths again. Luckily, in this information age, I will be able to stalk them from time to time on LinkedIn and Facebook, to check that they’re going okay in their respective countries until the next time we find ourselves together.

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