Sunday, November 25, 2007

the way we were

I'm worrying already. Is the bus that's supposed to take me downtown to the train station at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning going to be on time? Will it even stop at my stop? It is and it does, and there are already about 10 people on it. Where the heck are they all going so early in the day? Perhaps they, too, are starting off on an adventure to parts unknown?

My second worry is whether my train to Leipzig will be crowded. The two-day Deutsche Bahn strike ended only hours before and there may be some stragglers still trying to get home. Turns out that the train is almost empty - I have two whole seats to myself. I've also downed a quarter of a travel sickness pill just to take the edge off the usual discomfort of being in a moving vehicle. I'm such a wimpy traveller.

Armed with my iPod and a couple of cheese sandwiches for company, I settle in for the two hour journey. Nothing can stop me now. Except that weird smell. What IS that? Reminds me of driving away with the hand brake still on (oh please, don't tell me you've never done that). And to top it off, this is one of the noisiest trains I've even been one. I've convinced it's going to fall apart any minute, what with all the creaking and groaning. As I turn up my iPod to hide the sounds of doom I realize that the first song on my playlist is Sarah McLachlan's "Train Wreck". Note to self: do something about that.

We make it to Leipzig right on time. Unbelievable. 50 points to Gryffindor Deutsche Bahn!

It goes downhill from there, but only a little. Apparently the train to Dresden is divided into two parts. One part is already waiting on the tracks while the other one, the part I'm supposed to be sitting in, has been delayed in Frankfurt for 15 minutes. Just after I poke my head into the little glass booth at the platform and ask the lady in the red hat if she's absolutely, positively sure that this part of the train is really, truly going to Dresden, another guy starts joking around with her, saying "Hey! Let's get a move on here! When's this baby going to leave? I'm thinking about complaining. Ha ha!"

He's still chuckling to himself as we both get on the train so I decide to join in on the fun.

Me: Ha ha ha! That's a good one! As if complaining to the DB would help! You know how they are, they couldn't care less.

German Guy: Hee hee! Yeah, I'm sure not going to complain about my own employer.

Me: Ha...ha...oh.


I arrive in Dresden a mere 20 minutes late to find my personal assistant waiting for me at the station. The thing I like best about J ("You know, after living in Germany for a while I visited France and found the French to be pretty damn friendly!") is that J is always J, and that's a good thing. If J tells you he's going to meet you somewhere, you can bet he'll be there. If he says he knows the way to the hotel, you better believe he does.

We're the first ones at the designated meeting place that day as the other meet-up participants slowly drift in.

I had already met our lovely hostess B. ("Quick! Push someone who speaks German up to the front!") at the last Girlie Weekend in March. Now I have the pleasure of meeting her adorable husband Jim ("Just hold out a Tic Tac and the monkeys will be all over you!").

Hmm, let's see - who else is here? There are 15 of us in total, a great turnout.

Ward ("Jus' call me The Big Dumb American!") is big, that's for sure, and funny as hell, but anything but dumb. Ward's somewhat smaller sidekick D.("I've only been here for a week and I've already embarassed myself twice. Ask me about the Laundry Incident."), to be known in future as Evil D. for reasons I'll go into later, is fresh off the boat and the same age I was when I moved here. Awww. I think we may have found a Hamish replacement.

Lots of young couples this time around, too. Newlyweds Cathy ("I thought you looked like Maggie Gyllenhaal in your blog picture, but now I'm not so sure!") and her German husband Thomas ("Who ARE these people?") are just the cutest pair. Those two ambitious lovebirds are going places. And speaking of lovebirds, we also have the glamourous Michelle ("I go in and the place is FULL of naked men, so I just start screaming...!") and her ever-so-German (in the nicest of ways!) boyfriend M ("Mein Gott, if we climbed those trees we could make a fortune selling that mistletoe at the market!"), followed by the totally trendy (spent the day coveting her handbag) CN Heidelberg ("I've never been with two D.'s at the same time before. And what IS this on my plate? I've tried it and I still don't know!") who is accompanied by her mild-mannered better-half D. ("Please, please, PLEASE don't make me play the bongos!"). Good D., that is, since Evil D. and Good D. just happen to share the same unusual first name. Go figure.

Adam ("Well, it was fun, but then I started thinking..."), presently on the lookout for that (male) special someone, is definitely in a class of his own. What a sweetheart.

And I'm not the only Canuck there, can you believe it? After a brief visit in Bonn last year with Canadian Jennifer from Cologne/Hamburg, I'm now tickled to meet Ian ("Damn. Sounds like I should have gone to the gay bar with on Saturday instead of Friday."), a fellow countryman. Not only do we share a common nationality, we actually grew up within about 20 miles of each other in British Columbia, probably skiing and hiking the same mountains and shopping at the same malls for years, blissfully unaware of each other's existence until now. Small, small world, isn't it?

Last but not least we have Janine ("Ack! They're weirder than I thought!"), the baby of the bunch. A sweet German girl who decided to brave the expat onslaught and join us for the afternoon.

Now that we're all assembled, B. and Jim treat us to a paddle wheel cruise on the Elbe river.

Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt

The cruise is great - 90 minutes of chatting and getting to know each other while totally annoying the other passengers. From where I'm sitting I can't see much out the windows but when a few of us go to the upper deck to cool off we're treated to a wonderful view of the villas along the river. Some amazing architecture here and completely different to what you'd see in Lower Saxony, where I live.

Now, I usually pride myself on being able to do 17 things at the same time, but at this type of meet-up, sightseeing be damned, all I want to do is chat. I want to pick all your brains and find out what makes you tick. I'm pretty sure I'm going to visit Dresden again some day so churches and museums can wait. That's why I barely take any photos and don't really register what we're seeing.

I do know, though, that this is Dresden's amazing Frauenkirche

And maybe someone else can tell me what this was, because it was kind of dark and I wasn't paying attention.

After another hour or two of traipsing around town we decide to go back to our respective hotels for a while and meet up again in time for dinner. J, who is staying at the same place I am, decides to seek some liquid refreshment with a couple of his new pals so B. and Jim accompany me, the one with no sense of direction, back to the bed and breakfast where I've booked a (cheap) room.

And what a room it is. The whole place is done in a "Mexican" theme. Well, as Mexican as you can get in the middle of Europe. Words like "rustic" and "uncomplicated" describe my accomodations. Sure, if I were to stay for a week, I'd probably go a little crazy, especially having to share a bathroom out in the hall with three strangers, but for one night it's just dandy.

Check out the sink!

An empty bottle of tequila with a candle stuck in it. A giant sombrero. What more could one want?

Low-tech is nice for a change

On the wall there's a framed photograph of a Mexican family having a picnic. A pot of beans and a stack of corn tortillas sit on a table. Little children play in the park while adults stand around chatting to each other. Who are these people and do they know that their picture is hanging in room 31 in a bed and breakfast in Dresden, Germany?

I read a couple of chapters of the book I brought along and then nod off for a bit. Suddenly it's time head on out again to meet the others. As I'm turning my key in the lock, the guy in the next room pokes his head out the door and yells "Buenos noches!". You too, buddy, you too.

Our next stop is a restaurant called Mama Africa. Interactive dining at its finest, I tell you. The live "band" keeps us entertained until our dinner arrives.

Actually, I'm wondering who is entertaining whom, since our Angolan "medicine man" seems to find us pretty interesting as well and can't quite figure out what we're all about. Good sports on both sides. Obrigado, medicine man!

We plow through all sorts of exotic dishes. The menfolk have a few drinks and start exchanging dirty jokes. Now, I like a dirty joke as much as the next gal, but I AM still eating, you know. Thanks to Adam I'll never look at mashed potatoes quite the same way again.

Not content to call it a night quite yet, we find a quiet bar and continue our various conversations. I'm an introvert at heart, but I do actually enjoy talking to people. In fact, once I get started, it's hard to get me to shut up. And besides that, hanging around in bars with strange men I've met only hours before reminds me of days gone by.

Despite sticking to soft drinks for the entire weekend, I wake up on Sunday morning with a sympathy hangover. An ibuprofen, a cup of strong coffee and a big plate of scrambled eggs take care of that fairly quickly and we, the remaining members of the crew, enjoy our brunch before everyone has to head back home, wherever home may be.

My train doesn't leave until 3 p.m. so J and I walk along the river a bit, enjoying the decent weather. Nice place, this Dresden. I bet it's gorgeous in the springtime.

Once on the train I dig around in my backpack trying to find my pen. I need to make a few notes before I forget everything. The pen seems to have disappeared, but in its place I find a stubby green pencil with 'Washington State Lottery' written on the side. Where in the world did that come from? Oh well, it will have to do. It's either that or sacrifice my eyeliner.

The first part of the ride back goes quicky and before I know it I'm at the Berlin station. Oooh, shiny! I have a bit of time to kill so I check out some of the shops, miraculously still open. What will they think of next!

My train to Hannover leaves when it's supposed to. I'm on a roll. Arriving at the Hannover station I suddenly realize that I should have gotten a little something for the kids. I still have enough time to pop into the drugstore before my bus leaves for Dullsville. After looking around a bit I discover these.

They're Russisch Brot (Russian Bread), one of their favourites AND they're made in Dresden! There are a few legends surrounding the origin of these cookies, but the most likely one is that they were first made in Russia under the name of Bukwi (Russian for 'letters') and brought to Dresden by the baker Ferdinand Wilhelm Hanke in 1844 when he opened the first Deutsch-Russische Bäckerei - the German-Russian Bakery.

See? As I was telling J just this afternoon, the Universe always provides. Yes, even at the train station drugstore at 8:15 p.m. on a Sunday night.

Mr. M picks me up from the bus stop in Dullsville and it's a short ride up the hill to our humble abode. I'm glad to be home but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the meet-up.

Hope to see y'all again next year!

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At November 25, 2007 12:55 a.m., Blogger Expat Traveler said...

Oh - I loved the report and all of the photos! And yes it sounds like you guys all had a great time.

I'm anxious to read other reports. Have you know that we've had a cold week without rain!!! Incredible!

At November 25, 2007 7:57 a.m., Blogger Andrea said...

Sounds like it was a great time. Your accomadations sounded...interesting. I'm definitely not missing out on next year's gathering!

Andrea :)

At November 25, 2007 8:50 a.m., Blogger Charlotte said...

Sounds like a lot of fun. I really must come next time.

My kids love Russische Brot, and so do I. Interesting to hear that it might have come from Dresden.

At November 25, 2007 10:48 a.m., Anonymous ian in hamburg said...

Hi Christina from that Canadian guy,

Those photos of the building at dusk are of the Zwinger, a museum that was badly hit by the floods in 2002 and of course in the war. Been to Dresden twice now but never gone in.

About your room: cosy Mexican theme, but at least you weren't singing La Cucaracha! ;-)

At November 25, 2007 11:03 a.m., Blogger C N Heidelberg said...

Oh man, we seriously missed out by not booking at the Mexican-themed joint! Bummer! :D

I love Russische Brot...I didn't know it came from Dresden. I should have gotten some there!

Also, my bag is handmade and Canadian! :) I got it at

At November 25, 2007 12:08 p.m., Blogger EllasDevil said...

Sounds like an absoultely fabulous weekend!

I really enjoyed reading your report... I'm kinda curious about the mash potatoes but I figure it's probably best I don't know.

Don't want my pure and fragile mind corrupted!

At November 25, 2007 1:04 p.m., Blogger Sandra said...

What a great write-up.

At November 25, 2007 2:48 p.m., Anonymous tqe / Adam said...

Gosh, I am always remembered for the wrong things!

a fantastic write-up, I really enjoyed reading it.

At November 25, 2007 9:28 p.m., Blogger Arashi-KIshu said...

Wow, reading the other reports , Dresden seems so cool! I should stay there a bit longer next time.

At November 25, 2007 11:15 p.m., Blogger J said...

I do agree that our guesthouse was very charming and atmospheric - unlike the Mercure. Less really is more, I guess.

Love the quotes!

At November 25, 2007 11:52 p.m., Blogger Di Mackey said...

Wish I'd organised myself to come but living vicariously through your blog is lovely too :)

Hmmm, maybe I need to organise one here in Antwerpen ... beer and chocolate, it's not all bad.

At November 26, 2007 11:06 a.m., Blogger Alison said...

sounds like a great time Christina!

At November 26, 2007 7:59 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

Fabulous, Christina, just fabulous! Told only like you can tell it! Thank you. I'm so glad you had yet another wonderful meet-up. You're getting "old hat" at these. :)

And wouldn't you know, Donica is in Hannover as we speak...till Wed. a.m.

At November 27, 2007 11:03 p.m., Blogger christina said...

expat - It was really fun but I was TIRED when I got back.

Hope the rain stay away!

andrea - Hopefully we can choose a place next time that's convenient for more people.

charlotte - Oh yes! It would be lovely to meet you.

ian - Hey Canadian Guy - thanks for the photo ID! And no, I didn't see a single cockroach. Not that I really looked, though. :-I

cn heidelberg - I think some of the rooms even had bunk beds! And wow, I thought your cute purse looked like one of a kind. I was going to ask you if you had made it yourself.

ellas devil - If you *really* want to know, the joke is on Ian's blog in his write up of our Dresden trip.

sandra - Thanks! A bit too long but as usual, I had a lot to say. :-)

tqe/adam - Well, that's not *all* I remember you for. ;-)

arashi-kishu - Too bad you guys had to take off so soon. It really is such an interesting city.

J - It was a cute place. I like how they made something out of nothing, really, and created the theme.

The quotes were just for you! :-)

Di - Well, my dear, you saved yourself a lot of hanging about on trains, but next time FOR SURE, all right? Really lovely people.

alison - I really enjoyed myself.

ginnie - Thank you! Yes, I guess after a few of these one gets promoted to Professional Expat Meeter Upper status. :-) I guess Donica is back with you in Amsterdam now.

At December 02, 2007 9:32 p.m., Blogger swenglishexpat said...

Wonderful read, Christina! Your words put me right in the middle, although I was not there. I feel I do not know anybody, but it would be very interesting taking part next year perhaps. My better half would have to accompany me to keep me in order. ;-) She insists!


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