Sunday, 8 January 2012

A Trio Of Bonkers Trips: More Tales Of The Unexpected...

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.

Stealth creaming

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.

Xenophobic wifi

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...

Encoded chips

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, photo of rev counter from, photo of ham and cheese from, photo of squirrel from, photo of wifi from McDonald's website, photo of tea from, photo of chips from, other photos my own.


Cymbaline said...

It's late evening. The Mr. and I are sitting on the sofa. I'm reading the latest Bonker's installment, he's reading a book. I'm laughing fit to bust a gut, he's trying to read a book. I'm telling him to let me read him "just this one paragraph", he's giving me that 'long-suffering' look...

A clatter of santas?! LOL

Anonymous said...

V, you really need not worry about not writing perfume reviews or New Year's resolutions, your posts are so funny and uplifting, I wouldn't wantt o miss them for the world. And I'm sure your othere readers think the same!
I hope you will travel again soon, since I love those posts so much.

"Nanny dashboard" and "stealth creaming" are my absolute favorite phrases! :D

Vanessa said...

Hi Cymbaline,

I am glad I raised a chuckle, and thanks to Mr C for his forbearance!

Maybe a "Sack of Santas" might have been more appropriate, but there were a lot of them hitting the deck, so the noise aspect was top of mind at the time!

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Thanks for your lovely comment - the non-topicality of Bonkers is something that concerns me from time to time, so it is nice to know that you think the pure travel posts work in the overall mix.

I noticed that my (unsolicited!) Wikio Beauty Blog rating has just slipped back, so for fun I might also feature another beauty product soon. For example, I think I may have found an anti-wrinkle cream that does what it says on the tube. (For a while at least...)

Tara said...

We don't come to Bonkers for "normal"! :)

Fantastic post, loved it. I learnt so many new things and totally agree that "Sweet or savoury" is NEI!

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

You don't come to Bonkers for "normal"?

That's a bit of luck then...and thanks for reading! : - )

"Sweet or savoury" is a load of nonsense, isn't it? The stewardess also said "stow" three times in one sentence, which irked me, referring to tray tables, personal belongings etc, and it struck me that that is the only time you ever hear someone use that word. Would you "stow" the jam back in the pantry, or the book back in the bookcase? I think not!

Suzanne said...

Tara said it brilliantly when she said that we don't come to Bonkers for "normal."

Have you ever seen the movie "Michael" with John Travolta playing an angel (albeit a very unusual one)? It's a rather fluffy film, but I love it anyway. Michael (Travolta) goes on a road trip to Chicago with some tabloid reporters and makes them stop at various places along the way so that he can witness these very kitschy things, like the World's biggest ball of twine. (Actually, if you've ever read Nabokov's Lolita, there are passages in which Lolita has a similar fascination.) At any rate, suffice to say that the world seems more zany and magical viewed through the eyes of someone who holds it in such curious regard -- and that's how I feel when I read your posts, Vanessa.

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Thanks for your encouraging comment! I feel emboldened to carry on writing these offbeat travel posts for as long as odd things catch my eye, and not worry too much about them being personal AND non-scent related. Now I haven't seen that film you mention (though I had heard the name) and feel sure I would love it!

Also, it is spooky that you should mention things like the World's Biggest Ball of Twine etc from this film, because for years my brother and I have been competing with each other to clock exactly this sort of "World's Biggest Trivia" on our respective travels - a bit like the Wonders of The World, but a silly, underdog version.

For example, my brother spotted "the world's largest apple-shaped structure" in Canada, while I saw the world's largest dumper truck there (in Sparwood, BC). Under my belt I also have the world's largest woven basket and the world's largest beer barrel (both in Germany). Then I saw the world's *second largest* banana dock in Hamburg once, and am still keeping my eye out for the largest... : - )

So there's your proof, if proof were needed, that "Michael" would be right up my street!

Anonymous said...

I am laughing so hard I've choked twice on my wine. These little quirks are what make traveling fun (or maddening, I suppose, depending how long you've been doing it). I am very grateful for the phrase "impotent tea bags" which I am going to adopt right away. I loathe impotent tea bags, and have been lacking a proper descriptor for them. Thank you.

Undina said...

I don't want to say that I like you perfume-related posts less, but I really like your travel posts! I just wish sometimes you wrote 2-3 shorter ones instead of one loooong. I'm not really complaining, I'd be happy to read two-three of this size. The problem is with commenting: as I read I want to say something about many aspects of the story but then, by the end, with all the laughs I get from the story, I forget what I wanted to write (well, at least part of it). And iPad isn't too friendly for going back and forth between the story and a comment (I hope you understand it's not a serious complaint ;) ).

Where was I?.. I wanted to join Suzanne in her comment about that movie about the angel. I like it too and think you might enjoy it if you get a chance to watch it.

Also, I liked the idea of a disco-shower. I expected to read in the next line that it was also playing music (and changing color depending on a water temperature).

Thank you for the joy! I like "traveling" with you.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Thanks for your comment, and I do know just what you mean about the length of these travel posts, especially if someone is reading them on a small device. I have thought long(!) and hard about splitting them up into smaller chunks - every time I write one in fact! But then I worry that some readers may think that this is not a perfume blog if they come across several posts in succession that are off-topic, and that they will click off, never to come back. Perhaps I could get away with two? That would be more manageable.

Anyway, thanks for raising the point. I am sure you are right.

Must get that film now!

Vanessa said...

Hi anotherperfumeblog,

I am pleased to have raised a smile! I guess travelling is maddening and amusing in equal measure sometimes!

And I am happy to have given you a new term for infuriatingly weak tea bags - there are quite a lot of them about...

Anonymous said...

So many good things, as always, Vanessa.

In your blogs you do the humour equivalent of the "stealth creaming" chefs' creations, I feel: lots of good things with oodles more crammed in for good measure.

OH is a tea-fiend too. He tells similar tales of woe about weedy teas of the world, and the unholy global dominance of weak Earl Grey.

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

lovethescents said...

I can't stop laughing! LOVE this article!

Okay, I need a shower head like that. Will do a web search now. How can you NOT be in a good mood under something like that? :-)

Now as for the soup in the mug/cup, I've seen that many times before. When we do our wild mushroom soup, which is chockFULL of wild shroomies, we put it in cappuccino cups and top with frothy milk: like a cappuccino! It's delicious and fun to eat.

What is ginger cream soup? Sounds delicious.

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

"Weedy teas of the world" sums it up! There's a place for Earl Grey in my repertoire, but my default blend it is not, which seems to be the assumption in some cafes abroad.

Am flattered that you should compare the humour in my travel posts to a stealth creamed dish! I will try to make them shorter or split them up in future though. I bet it is a monster on an iPhone...I have one myself and daren't look!

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

That shower was the business, I must say. : - )

Well, I do lead a sheltered life on the soup capuccino front, haha! It was my first encounter with such a frothy concoction. That mushroom one sounds delicious, btw.

Vanessa said...

PS As for the ginger cream soup, I have no idea what was in it apart from the aforementioned ingredients. It came with a couple of grilled king prawns on a skewer which was a nice touch.

Anonymous said...

Whatever you feel you need to do to accommodate new tech., just keep posting in the unfettered and charming "one thing leads to another" style, please.

I so enjoy your easy-going, chatty, observant, phrase-coining mode of delivery.

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

lovethescents said...

Thank you, V. Everything I'm looking up is showing the carrot and ginger cream or sweet potato and ginger cream. Might there have been those in there?

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

I'd say you have a real way with words yourself! I promise I am not biased because it is my own style that is the subject of your expressive turns of phrase. And I do aspire to be "unfettered", it is true. Well, there is certainly a lot of free association that goes on in my head, I'll say that... : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

It could have been either of those - it was so bland it was hard to tell. I'd guess carrot if I had to pick one, just because I come across carrot more in German soups, and it wasn't as voluptuous in consistency as you might expect from sweet potato.

Anonymous said...

The 14 year old boy in me cannot read the phrase 'stealth creaming' without bursting into fits of filthy, immature giggles.

I love your travel posts and I REALLY want a disco shower, although I don't think Nigel would approve of it :(

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

...and the 52 year old woman in me is not immune to the lure of innuendo!

Marilie said...

I love your travel stories and this one in particular: I live in Wuppertal and I can confirm that it is weird :)

Too bad that the iPod sleeve doesn't fit. But imagine you had bought it along with the Candy bottle only to get your hands on it! Think positive: at least your glasses have a pretty cover now. :D

Vanessa said...

Hi Marilie,

Thanks so much for your comment - I am aware that Germany features a lot in my travel posts, and it is great to actually meet a German reader!

That wacky art hotel is a one off, granted, but I reckon Wuppertal's oddness has a lot to do with its being in a valley, being incredibly long and straggly - the Wuppertal exits on the A1 just seem to go on and on! - and also with its being overhung by the famous Schwebebahn (monorail)!

I have been coming on business to Wuppertal on and off since the late 80s, and it still seems a bit dour and odd. I stayed in Schwelm the time before last, but I think I would give the ArtHotel another spin, incredibly hard mattress and all...!

And I owe a big debt of gratitude to the city, for I once drove off and left my briefcase with all my valuables in it in the middle of the road, and it was an hour and a half before I discovered my mistake and could turn round and get back to where I had parked. Someone had handed my briefcase in to a resident in the street, who had contacted the police and put a poster up on the wall by the parking space, saying that my bag had been found!

: - )

Vanessa said...

PS And oh my goodness, yes - how awful to have shelled out the 89 euros *and* had an unusable iPhone case! Doesn't bear thinking about...