Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hamburg Again

At the autobahn lay-by

We spent Sunday night at the carpark across from our former hostel, on Max Brauer Allee, part of the infamous St. Pauli section of Hamburg, and in the Schanzeviertel, where the alternative 20-somethings are said to hang out. (Most of them hung out outside our room's window last Wednesday night, until 5AM). Sunday night was very quiet on Max Brauer Allee. As hoped.

Monday was a day of errands. First, with some help from our friend Katrin, we found and visited the ADAC, Germany's equivalent of the US' AAA. AAA has reciprocity with ADAC, and we were thus able to get maps of Austria, Germany, Scandinavia, etc., camping guides, and a variety of other materials. Free. The ADAC central shop in Hamburg was quite impressive...not only travel and member services, but tons of travel maps and books, a travel accessories boutique, and more. For those interested, the ADAC is on Grossmoordam Str., #69, pretty much right downtown.

Next we moved on to what might have been the St. George section of Hamburg (our map was of the old city only), and the nice folks at Gas Meier, #53 Pappal Allee. They took care of our propane needs and gave us helpful advice as well.

Next we sought a camping/RV accessories/supply store. A stop at a helpful Hobby caravan dealership sent us to Camping Salon, #30 Schwarzer Weg. Some readers of this blog will be familiar with Camping World in the US. All too familiar. Well, imagine a store with 3 times the merchandise of a Camping World. But imagine it all set out in warehouse style, no clever/colorful/attractive displays, no special deals, just aisle after aisle of camping/RV Stuff, arranged on shelves and bins. And English-speaking staff willing to spend whatever time with you, explaining the nuances of LPG availability in Europe, merits of this kind of grill versus that, and so on, ad inf. The prices were decent, and we helped ourselves to several needed items, particularly vehicle levelers. The lumber ones I had fabricated in St. Cloud were just too big and heavy.

I should note that all our navigation about Hamburg—something we could never, never have done by ourselves—was handled flawlessly and effortlessly by Tom. He is a marvel.

We proceeded on, down the autobahn toward Berlin. The country is pretty flat, very bucolic. After a huge field of wheat, many many hundreds of acres, you see a small woods, then a huge pasture area, a few cows, then a commercial conifer forest, then another humongous wind farm. The wind farms are all over. Mile after mile. Then it begins all over.

Autobahns in Germany have changed in the years since we were last here. Some actually have speed limits. The Hamburg/Berlin autobahn apparently does not. We have resolved to drive the Grey Wanderer no faster than 60 mph...fuel economy, drag, impending senility of driver, safety, etc. Passing us at speeds probably twice that were scores of Japanese cars, Opels, VWs, Audis, a Porsche, several Mercedes, and one yellow Lamborghini that was as much sound as speed. It sang by, quickly, a great Italian basso, and then was gone in an instant. No Smart Cars.

Germany has very liberal laws about Wohnmobil camping, and tonight we are in a lay-by about 50 miles short of Berlin. The lay-by has a few 18-wheelers, a few campers like us, and a 24 hour cafe/restaurant/gift shop. An autobahn construction area begins right at this point, so all the traffic is slowing down to 60kph, very quiet. From what I have seen the last few days, Germans are very law-abiding when it comes to traffic laws; when there are traffic laws. Helpful visitors at the lay-by have already told us about cheap and quiet "frei camping" sites in CBD Berlin (one behind the Chancellry).

Vicki adds:

May 24, Hamburg again

We picked up the camper Friday after leaving a cool $17,400 with the Germans. No longer on my list of countries I like. Had a few f'alse starts--at first the shipper said not until Monday, but I begged and she called back and said maybe. So we jumped in a cab and went to the port. Camper was already sitting on the dock! We handed over $$350 for unloading and headed to customs. They didn't have the bank wire yet, so we thought we might just stay there for the weekend camping behind the large fence. However, about 2 pm it showed up and 30 minutes of paperwork later we drove to a nearby campground in Bremen. Mark hooked up the electric and it didn't work. We have tried every possible combination--power comes into the step-down convertor but no power comes out. So we spent two days with no electric and no lpg. Batteries got very low so we had to keep frig on minimum. Did do some shopping for groceries. About 25% cheaper than Ireland--about US prices. I had to buy a new robe--I had left mine at hostel in Bremerhaven--called, but no one had "found" it.

We got most things unpacked and put away. The camper itself is extremely comfortable. We just drove back to Hamburg after spending an hour or so in Bremen town center. I am at the hostel we stayed at last week using the free wifi--Daddy got the two bags we left here and put them in the camper. We will spend the night across the street in the parking lot--perfectly legal in Germany and only cost $5. The batteries recharged on the drive up here so we are good till our drive tomorrow.

Tomorrow the nice German girl we met at the hostel (she is living here temporarily) is going to help us phone around to find an lpg dealer who can "unpurge" our tank. Mark will send an email to the US company who sold us the step-down convertor and see what can be done to get the electric working. We are also going to visit the German AAA to get maps, etc. So hopefully within a day or two we will be ship shape and heading for either Berlin or Denmark.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fahrten around Bremen

Steller See; the part of northern Germany we have seen, Hamburg to Bremerhaven, to Bremen, is loaded with wind farms; every few miles there's a clump of them The old city hall in the Bremen markplatz, 15th century The Roland statue...very old Towers of St. Petri church (did he concoct the famous Petri dish?) Bremen markplatz old and new Vicki at the Bremen Musicians statue Saturday we spent mostly in the Steller See campground, Vicki unpacking and setting up househeeping and me puttering around outside, the still-not-working 220/110 converter, bicycles, other things. A beautiful day. Steller See is a large holiday park, mostly semi-permanent trailers around the lake. As our battery power waned we went for a drive in the beautiful countryside and then to a nearby shopping center with a German-equivalent Home Depot and Super Walmart. Food here is relatively affordable, and alcohol, whether beer, wine, or spirituosen, is positively cheap. Sunday we packed up and drove to Hamburg, via Bremen, where we spent a good bit of time walking around the World Heritage Site markplatz (market place, square), the Roland statue, the Bremen musicians statue, the St. Petri church, etc. Another beautiful day, not all that many people. Sunday night we'll be in Hamburg again, sleeping in the van across the street from our old hostel on Max Brauer Allee, and Monday we'll work on the propane, converter, and other issues. And then we're off!

Reunited with the Grey Wanderer

Tiniest bit of Bremerhaven harbor

The Otello unloading

The Grey Wanderer on the dock

A German train in Buxtehude

Dietrich Buxtehude was a famous organist, Bach's idol, and I thought we'd hit pay-dirt with a lay-over in the village of Buxtehude; but he always claimed to be Danish (I learned) and never got closer to here than Lubeck, 100 miles away...oh well, his music is great, and you can hear seeds of Bach in it

22, Mai, 2009. So hier bin Ich, sitzen in mein campingvan, essen mein mittagessen--brot und kase and pigfleisch--und trinken bier, mit mein Frau. Wir in das Steller See campingplatz campen, in Bremen, Deutchland.

Not bad Deutsch pidgin, huh?

Largely through Vicki's persistence, we picked up the Grey Wanderer Friday morning in Bremenhaven.

We'd taken the train from Hamburg to Bremerhaven on Thursday afternoon. The Otello was due to arrive Thursday, and we had high hopes for Friday. Of course, Thursday was a national holiday, so there was going to be no unloading of the vessel that day. The jugend gasthaus (hostel) we stayed at in Bremerhaven was very nice. Friday morning, we commenced calling the shipping agent. Our liaison had called in sick (a four day holiday), but a colleague was willing to help us. She then called the shipping lines, who said not possible, call again maybe Monday. At that point, Vicki's persistence came into to play, persuading agent A to call agent B again, plead, cajole, threaten, whatever. It worked. They said if we could be there in an hour, we perhaps could get the van. A taxi ride got us there in half an hour. More waiting, more forms, more documents, more perhaps. Another colleague drove us to another office. More forms, more questions, more documents. Then the keys to the van appeared, and we were told someone else would drive us to the pier. (Bremerhaven harbor is very, very large, miles long where we were, and that was just the auto-carrier section; the container section is even bigger). Then they drove us to the pier and, behold, there was our van, the Grey Wanderer, already off-loaded, along with dozens of other vehicles. (Monday Schmonday, it was already debarked when they told us Monday). We quickly inspected it, ascertained nothing was amiss, and then drove it out of the port and onto the next adventure...customs.

Those of you following Vicki's blog know that in order to drive off into Germany, and the EU beyond, we had to plop down some $18k as a deposit, presumably against our selling the vehicle and evading taxes (or someone else's evading taxes). Whatever (as long as we get the $ back; at least we're not losing much on interest these days). (Germany, I might add, is the only EU country doing this...unfortunately, the vicissitudes of shipping brought us here). Monday Rebecca had wired the money, but, even by Friday morning, it was not yet in the German customs account in Frankfurt. It was looking like Monday, again, as we had lunch. At least we could sleep in the van in the customs parking lot until Monday morning.

But then, when we checked again after lunch, the money had arrived, and with a few more transactions, forms, questions, documents, inspections, we were on our way, out of Bremenhaven and on to Bremen, where the nearest campground is located (less than an hour's drive on the autobahn). It rained intermittently as we set up camp at the Steller See campground, the 220/110 volt converter does not appear to be working, we have no propane...but we were relieved and happy to have our van, our home, back, to start unpacking and organizing it all, and to get on with the rest, and major, part of our trip. RVing in Europe is something we have always wanted to do, for 30 years anyway, and now we're going to do it!

Oh yes, all the bureaucratic crap we had to go through reminded me of an adage to which I have long subscribed, at least since working in state government in the early 1980s: “one man's red tape is another's due process.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Day in Hamburg

A bier garten across the street from our hostel in St. Pauli

Another carved stump in a park

Very large statue of important person (I was afraid to ask) with very, very large sword (turns out it was Bismarck)

Old and new Germany...

St. Nikolaus' was Germany's third largest church until Hamburg was bombed in 1943. What remains is the enormous tower, the carillon, and a few other remnants, now the St. Nikolaus Memorial to those "who were persecuted and who suffered, 1933-45."

Old and new, again, through a St. Nikolaus window

Hamburg's beautiful Rathaus (city hall)

Feral geese (but very family-oriented; well-organized, as one might expect)

Hamburg's inner city contains two large lakes, the Binnenalster and the Aussenalster; we had a picnic lunch on the shore of the latter

Our negotiations with shippers, brokers, agents, bankers, customs officials, and others seemingly at an end (thank you, Rebecca), we took the day to explore the Hamburg centrum, mostly on foot. (See Vicki's blog for descriptions of the interesting circumstances regarding the shipping of the Grey Wanderer). It is a very old city, capital of the Hanseatic League before there was a Germany; but little of the really old remains. It is nonetheless an attractive city, with much to see and explore. Good beer, Bitburger, is 49 cents a half-liter bottle. FWIW. A bottle of Riesling was a buck, I mean, Euro. Somehow I resisted visiting the U-boat museum.

Our explorations included the railway station ("Ich gehe zum Bahnhof"--some of my two years of German is coming back, slowly, in iotas..."the awful German language"), where we purchased tickets for tomorrow's ride to the port of Bremerhaven. Hopefully, we'll pick up the Grey Wanderer there on Friday. If not, we'll be at a hostel in Bremerhaven until we do....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Irish Out-takes

The restaurant scene in Dublin is fairly diverse

Dublin parking lot attendant at a fancier place than we visited

Tree stump in Lismore carved into a beautful image

A Georgian street in Dublin

Another remnant of Dublin Castle (1204); we figure the painting was more recent

Dublin sidewalks exhibited representations of Viking artifacts

The Rock Close at Blarney was by itself worth the price of admission

The Parnell statue in Dublin; the inscription was memorable though incomprehensible

Vicki is convinced she is part Irish; here's the proof, near Glendalough

Fences: we figure there are 10,000 stone fences for every B&B, 10 B&Bs for every pub...

At the B&B, Vicki sleeping; note position of duvet...

The stone restaurant at Slea Hand, Dingle; more corballed vaulting, contemporary

Irish horse, Inismor

Irish cows, somewhere

Holy target practice; note the nearly perfect St. Brigid's cross shot into the barrel; they are a devout folk

Little house on the trail to Dun Anghus...for the little people?

Us at Dun Anghus

It was election season in Ireland in May, and everywhere were these glamour-shot posters

An interesting private residence near Hill of Tara

Mussel-farming near Sligo

Paddywagon, a popular bus tour service

Deutsche Bank

We had a brief meeting with Deutsche Bank this morning, well, the Hamburg branch office on Schulkteblatt Strasse. Very nice and helpful young man. Excellent English. But it turns out we won't need them. Alas, I was relishing the opportunity to use this line on Vicki (our CFO).

Ugarte: Heh, you know, watching you just now with the Deutsche
Bank, one would think you've been doing this all your life.
Rick: Oh, what makes you think I haven't?

Vicki adds:

May 19, 2009 Hamburg, Germany

While Mark has been regaling everyone with the lighter side of our travels, in the background we have been working through further serious camper shipping issues. Seven days ago we got an email from the shipping people in Germany telling us that German customs would require that we leave a $19,000 deposit with them in order to release the camper. Needless to say, it was the first we had heard of this. Turns out one can only have a vehicle in the EU for 6 months at a time otherwise you have to pay customs duty and the VAT (a 19% sales tax). The Germans started requiring a deposit last year which you get back when you take the vehicle out of the EU. We frantically started emailing our shipper, customs etc. and the bottom line was that had we shipped to England, Netherlands or Belgium no deposit would have been necessary. But the Germans require it. Our shipper neglected to mention this. So we have transferred this to an account in California where Rebecca has access and the money is going to be wired to the customs bank account. To further complicate things, the ship arrives on Thursday, which is a holiday in Germany. We may be able to get the camper Friday or maybe not till Monday. In the meantime instead of paying $20-25 a night to camp, we are staying at a hostel with the bathroom down the hall for a mere $70 a night.

At least the food here is much cheaper than Ireland. In fact the grocery—which is a small, urban type, not a large suburban affair—has prices almost cheaper than in the US. I bought ham, cheese, bread, mustard, coke, wine ($2 a bottle), prepared lasagna, milk, prepared salad, garlic bread, muesli—enough of everything for 3 lunches and breakfasts and 2 suppers for $21. So we aren't too far over budget. We plan on taking the 2 hr train ride to the port of Bremerhaven on Thursday and staying in another hostel there until our ship comes in.

The hostel is fine and has free wifi. All ages are staying here, including couples with babies, but it won't be full before the weekend. It is very helpful to have the kitchen with refrigerators. Of course Mark and I are used to sharing communal bathrooms because we camp so much. In fact the hostel bathrooms are always much cleaner than a KOA or such back in the States. But we can't wait to have our own “little home” on wheels.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Vicki tries the local speciality: hamburger. And not at McDonald's either. We dined al fresco, outside a small but cool little grill downstairs. I had the knockwurst mit curry sauce and frites mit mayo. Sehr gut! Also a Tyskie bier, winner of 2009 Munich award. Sehr, sehr gut.

Smart Cars are all over Hamburg; you can do such interesting things with them, parking-wise

Ditto, about 50 feet down the street. I think Mercedes makes the motors.

Aer Lingus safely transported us across the Irish and North Seas to Hamburg, our next stop en tour. I can honestly say it is a place I never thought I would see. We are in a hostel downtown, ultra-spartan, but clean, warm, no wind, and not raining. Whereas Ireland was in early spring, and truly beautiful, this part of Germany is in full spring, and also beautiful. It is also warm, something we have not known for more than three weeks. We'll stay here a couple days, dealing with German customs bureaucracy and other matters, and trying to enjoy ourselves and this old city of 1.7million, before venturing to Bremerhaven, the Otello, and the Grey Wanderer. And German customs.

Last Day in Ireland

The Phoenix Column, Phoenix Park

The Wellington Testimonial...he was Irish

Phoenix Park scene

"April 3. Met Davin at the cigar shop opposite Findlater's church. He was in a black sweater and had a hurley stick. Ask me was it true I was going away and why. Told him the shortest way to Tara was via Holyhead."


Sandycove Martello Tower, James Joyce Museum..."Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed."

Second-floor interior

The gift shop; the cartoon above reads "The Buck stops here"

After County Meath, we drove on west of Dublin and found a campground in Clondalkin. Squalls continued through the night, but, as in previous nights, lifted enough for us to set up the tent.

Sunday was our last day in Ireland. We had a signature Irish breakfast at a nearby hotel. I particularly enjoyed the black and white puddings and sausages. After breakfast we drove into the city and explored a bit of Phoenix Park, another storied Irish place. It is Europe's largest city park, centuries old, many hundreds of acres, enough to support a long-standing deer population. In addition to all the monuments, gardens, zoo, equestrian center, etc., the Park also contains the US embassy and the residence of Ireland's head of state.

We next drove through the CBD out beyond the port to Sandycove, site of the Martello tower where Ulysses begins. (Twenty-some such towers were built around the bay in the early 1800's to defend Dublin from Napoleon). It is, since 1962, the James Joyce Museum. We toured it at leisure, savoring every letter, first edition, cigar case, guitar, vest, and all the rest. It is actually a very small place for a life so full of reflection and experience. But as with any author, I suppose, the main monuments and museums are the creative works.

We drove back to the CBD and, while Vicki read, I ventured through Temple Bar, Grafton Street, Nassau Street, and beyond, in search of a book. I found the bookstore, but not the book. Story of my life. The downtown was bustling despite the continuing downpour. We drove back to our campground and commenced packing for our next removal.

Despite roughing it in often rough conditions, we thoroughly loved Ireland. We earned our enjoyment of the place. I'll post some Irish out-takes sometime, some further observations on a wonderfully rich and interesting place.