My recent spate of work trips leading up to Christmas has spawned a phenomenal number of travel posts. I realise it is a good while since I wrote a straight up review of a perfume, or anything approaching what passes for a "normal post" on Bonkers. The travel posts have all been scent-related at least, while this one is not, so click away if you are after my 2012 resolutions, "Top Sniffs And Nasty Niffs" of 2011 list, or something else appropriate to the time of year.
I will get to some more seasonal topics soon, but next up - as is becoming something of a tradition - here is the latest motley collection of oddities and mishaps from the six-country tour.
Santas behaving strangely
There is something deeply incongruous - and in this particular case, faintly sinister - about a Santa in blue shades.
And you don't come across a pedestrian zone littered with a clatter of Santas in apparent death throes every day either, not even in December.
A disco in a shower
I know this sounds unlikely, but on the first bleary-eyed morning of Trip 1, I was astonished to find that when I turned on the shower, as it dutifully gushed forth, the showerhead lit up alternately blue and green. For all I know, there may be top of the range models that also play Bee Gees numbers, but I was startled enough as it was by the disco light display.
Subsequent Internet research has come up with the proper name for this funky new bathroom fixture: a "Lichtdusche" or "light shower".
For Wuppertal, just read "weird"
Along similar lines to the disco in a shower idea, an art gallery in a lift was just one of the quirky features of a hotel I stayed in in Wuppertal, which was housed in a converted factory. For example, just inside the main entrance was a mannequin in a (very skinny) bird cage wearing goggles.
Then next to reception was a Darth Vader coat stand, while my room had every amenity, including a leopard camouflaged as a chair.
A didactic rev counter
Cruise control was one of the earliest inventions along the development path towards cars that drive themselves. This has since been joined by other useful driver aids such as parking sensors, warning beeps when you leave your lights on or your seat belt off, and a system that registers if you are driving erratically and vibrates to wake you up. For it assumes you have nodded off and aren't just drunk or merely uncoordinated. The full name for this clever invention is the snappy "Nap Alarm Driver Fatigue Vibration Device".
To the growing list of driver assistance gizmos I must now add the "didactic rev counter", for every time I was a bit slow off the mark changing up - though interestingly, not DOWN - a gear, an upwards pointing arrow would suddenly appear. It now turns out that I was driving a Ford Fiesta Econetic model, and that the little arrow on my "nanny dashboard" was in fact helping me optimise fuel consumption, not just avoid knackering the clutch as I at first assumed.
Drinks that are not what they seem...
I love pumpkin soup - it is a seasonal favourite when travelling in German-speaking countries between Hallowe'en and Christmas, and I would happily order it several nights on the trot. I can confidently say that I would never have got tired of it, but the chef in one restaurant in Rudesheim - aiming off for the possibility that I might be sick of pumpkin soup by now - decided to serve it in a most unexpected receptacle.
"Pumpkin capuccino" it said on the menu, aka "cup-a-soup" - but not as we know it.
And here is a cruet, masquerading as two half-bottles of red wine - ideally sized for the lone diner who needs a drink after the shock of the soup surprise.
The novel soup presentation above leads me neatly on to the topic of stealth creaming, which I shared on Facebook at the time. For over the course of December, there appeared to be a campaign by German chefs to get calories down me by the shortest route possible. I put on 3lb last month, so I'd say it worked.
The stealth creaming took the form not only of generous gobs of cream floating on top of soups (though goodness knows there were a lot of those), but also starters of bread and goose fat, salads sozzled in mayo, jacket spuds lost under a giant mound of sour cream as big as my fist - or the potato itself. Most bizarre of all was the molten butter simmering on a little table-top stove, ready for you to drizzle over your fish that was already awash with the molten butter they had slathered on it in the first place, topped off by mayonnaise overspray from the salad.
"Ginger cream soup" (with extra cream)
Contaminated cold cuts
Well, I use the term "contaminated" advisedly, but it seems as though you have to stay in a three star hotel or higher to be sure that the cold meats and cheeses will be segregated in the breakfast buffet. The same level of hotel, in fact, as the one where you know instinctively that the bottle of mineral water on the table in your room costs 4 euros, instead of the 40 cents it would set you back if you could only be arsed to toddle down to Lidl. So it is swings and roundabouts, I suppose... Now I am not a vegetarian, but any serious vegetarian of my acquaintance would rather go hungry than eat cheese that has been cosying up to mountain ham or mortadella under the same perspex dome.
Stealth salting - and heating
Related to the hotel ploy mentioned above of leaving a bottle of overpriced mineral water in your room, is the tendency of hotel chefs to oversalt dishes, so that you are sure to develop a raging thirst in the night and - your reserves of bargain Lidl water by now exhausted - be forced to crack open the 4 euro bottle in desperation at 3am. Also playing into this whole scenario are radiators with no - or malfunctioning - manual controls. These will typically blaze away all night, exacerbating your thirst and further boosting sales of in-room water. That said, the hotel's profits on the drinks front may be seriously eroded by the extra utility bills, but the management may choose to ignore this in their eagerness to peddle incidentals.
Now that title may also look strange, but bear with me. For you see, although I have enjoyed free Internet access in branches of McDonald's in Switzerland, Slovenia and Hungary, when I was in Germany recently I was unable to access the network because I couldn't register on the portal using a German-based mobile phone. Given the international popularity of the chain and the amount of passing trade they must do from overseas visitors like myself, I am surprised that they should discriminate between foreign and domestic customers in this way. So, Ronald McDonald, you need to know that it is never going to be a Happy Meal if I can't get my emails...
By the same token, I tried to buy a metro ticket from a machine in Amsterdam last night. Not only did it not accept coins or notes, but the only plastic it would take was a Maestro card, whatever that is when it is at home - which it clearly is in Holland.
Impotent tea bags
On these trips I was struck by how often the tea bag I was offered in cafes and at hotel breakfast tables turned out to be Darjeeling. Out of the tea bag trinity of Darjeeling, Ceylon and Assam, Darjeeling is possibly the weakest. On a forum of English expats living in Switzerland, one member wrote: "Whenever I seem to make a cup it's as pale as a heroin junkie and as weak too...". The classic blend of English Breakfast is a mix of Ceylon and Assam and Kenyan teas, I believe, and is better suited to the British palate. As another forum member replied in the same thread: "If you like mashed, stewed and spoon dissolving tea, then you can get English Breakfast and others over here too." Well great, but where? Now there's an idea for a phone app..."Strong Brew Finder", maybe?
I tried letting the feeble Darjeeling tea bag infuse for longer. I tried squeezing the life out of it with my spoon. It was still weak, but nastily metallic. Now I know what you are thinking: "When in Rome..." and all that jazz, but tea is one of the fundamental components to my day. So if no one comes up with that app I may just have to ramp up my emergency tea bag stocks...
On one of my flights, the stewardess brought round complimentary soft drinks and a choice of snack. "Sweet or savoury?" she inquired of everyone, as she passed down the aisle. What kind of silly question is that? That is a clear case of NEI (aka "Not Enough Information"). Why, "sweet" could cover the whole spectrum of offerings from a boiled sweet to a three tier Black Forest Gateau, while savoury could encompass a full roast dinner all the way down to a tiny bag of pretzels. So of course I had to ask what exactly the options were within those broad food groups, to which the answer came: "cookies or chips", arguably shorter words to say in the first place. Ah well, I suppose I might have guessed that really. They'd have struggled to fit a chicken into one of the steel drawers on their trolley, and short of strapping it to the back of one of the engines in the line of thrust, I am not quite sure how they would have contrived to cook it.
And of course no round up of travel silliness would be complete without a picture of something strange on a pole...yes, it's another Chupa Chups water tower!
And here is also a cute one of a cat. He's got the hang of the Buddha squat, but isn't quite in the zone mentally, I sense. The ears are a dead giveaway...
Photo of shower from lifestyle-bunny.de, photo of rev counter from parkers.co.uk, photo of ham and cheese from tripadvisor.com, photo of squirrel from ullocal.wlky.com, photo of wifi from McDonald's website, photo of tea from darjeelingcuppa.com, photo of chips from everydayshouldbesaturday.com, other photos my own.