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Published: September 18th 2015
Haven't flown on a 747 for few years but that's what it was from Hong Kong to Frankfurt. One forgets how big they are with their top deck and cavernous body. 12 hours is a long time to be inside an aluminium tube but we had paid extra for some seats with more leg room and it paid off. We could stretch our legs out and not reach the seat in front. Highly recommended and with our carry-ons for footrests it was relatively comfortable. Lufthansa service was efficient and friendly so no complaints. The flight avoided hot-spots as we took a crooked path away from places like the Ukraine the Middle East and detoured over the Balkans and Italy.
Speedily through customs and immigration at Frankfurt and on to a fast train to Mannheim (30 minutes at 200kph). The day was grey, wet and cool - half the temperature of Hong Kong at 15 degrees. The realities of long distance travel began to nip a little once we hit the platform at Mannheim. We decided to walk to our hotel. Bad move. We couldn't find it and repeated request to passers-by got us more confused. Walking in the rain, slightly disoriented after leaving our hotel in Hong Kong 20 odd hours prior, we became frazzled and our mood didn't improve when we eventually found our hotel in a seedier part of town (we'd booked it off the internet and hadn't given it enough thought), and couldn't get into it. It has a door onto the street, locked and activated by a keypad linked to an intercom. No-one came. Melt down imminent until a tradesman chanced up and got in with us scurrying in after him. Then a comedy really. We knew we probably wouldn't get into our room at 8.30a.m. but the staff were unhelpful, uninterested and unprofessional. What a contrast with the Nathan Hotel staff in Hong Kong! So we dumped our stuff in the janitor's room and wandered off into the drizzle to find somewhere to sit and have a coffee and a croissant. We ended up in the Journal Cafe where a very pleasant and friendly waitress renewed our joie de vivre to some extent before we later, around 12.30pm , gained entry to our room. It's spartan but clean. No jug, no fridge, no safe. The keypad lock seems to have a mind of it's own - my swearing quota went up somewhat - and the water went off for two hours when a fault developed. We slept.
Then woke up 3 hours later and eventually tottered off into the town for a recce. Grey, wet days are not a good introduction to a new town so I have to allow Mannheim some slack for my slightly tinged negativity. The River Neckar runs through it although in the town itself it's more like a canal with rock-faced banks. There were bloody big barges using it as their 'road' as we were walked along the riverbank pathways. Our initial impressions were of litter and uncared for civic gardens, masses of graffiti and really, just an air of not having enough city taxes spent on keeping the overall urban environment in good shape. But the light rail system that runs through the town nonstop is a beaut. You just have to keep your wits about you as you cross the road or the tracks as I found out earlier on. Mainly, look the right way, not the NZ way; i.e. look right, not left. "Kiwi traveler crushed under light rail tram". Not the headline or epitaph I want.
It was late afternoon and as we were still pretty shagged we decided to have an early dinner at a place Lyn had been to a year ago which has a good reputation for traditional German food and beer. Kellers. Just around the corner from our hotel as it happened. It was great. The waitress from a year ago who had served Lyn's group (of 30) was still there and remembered. Lots of laughing and handshakes. She no English, us no German. Our actual wait person, Jenny, then took over and treated us like long lost friends. Great service and the food WAS traditional German with lots of hearty meat dishes, not many vegetables to be seen and in vast quantities. We enjoyed it. Just what we needed at the time. along with a few beers - Bitberger - which we chose because when Tim had lived in Germany for a while he used to rave about Bitberger. It went down no problem.
With full bellies we walked it off in the early evening through the streets with the after-work shopping crowds until we felt that an early night was becoming an absolute necessity and headed back to the Hotel Luxa (such an unfortunate name). Do you think I could operate that bloody keypad? The curse quotient skyrocketed to no effect. Finally it was an SOS through the intercom and an Adam Smith clicked the lock open for us. Ditto the room door. I think I got it right on the 4th attempt. I'm over the locks!
I think it was abut 8.30pm when Lyn nodded off and I followed not long after. We both woke at 5.00am (when I'm writing this) after sleeping well and looking forward to a day of appointments and ending with dinner as guests of a family whose daughter has recently been at HVHS.
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