Friday, April 24, 2015
Our weekend began, like most people’s, on Friday night. Anna finished work, came home, took a Nanna-nap, and then it was out for the night. First stop, the Biergarten at the Hofgarten, on the banks of the Rhine. It was the perfect night for some libations; It was a sunny, reasonably warm Friday night and, due to daylight savings, would remain so until after 9pm.
We stuck around until about 10pm, but by this time the wind was blowing off the water and it was getting quite chilly. As I have mentioned before, I have a goal for the eleven weeks we’re in Europe: I need to try 200 different beers. The Biergarten is a great place, it has a fun atmosphere, and everybody is there just to have a great time. I’m a creature of habit and I know I’ll keep going back there, but my beer challenge is a good thing. It makes us branch out and try to find new places. I’ve had everything at the Biergarten and there are plenty of beer halls and microbreweries here so that shouldn’t be a problem, except that the beer halls make Anna sleepy. The ones you find in Bonn are not the raucous type that you see on TV and in movies, they are actually quite mellow, dimly lit places with no music, just a bunch of middle-aged men and a few women sitting around, drinking. It suits me fine, but Anna needs aural or visual stimulation, otherwise she tanks. We went to a beer hall and stayed for a few beers, then it was off home for a couple more and some TV. Never fear, we still have tomorrow.
Saturday, April 25, 2015
Saturday here was cold and grey, a little rain here and there and eerily quiet. There were very few people around at all, but we have no idea why. There was a cafe in the Altstadt that Anna wanted to try, which is about a five kilometre (3.1 mile) walk from our place, but after much looking we came to the conclusion that it had ceased to exist. Instead, we stopped at an Italian restaurant where the pizza I ordered turned out to have a circumference roughly 30% larger than the plate on which it sat and Anna’s pasta was piled half a foot high. I do most of the cooking at home, so we are still coming to terms with the size of the portions here. We decided that we should probably attempt to walk that lunch off and perhaps try to have something small for dinner, so the bulk of the afternoon was spent walking around the shops, mainly just browsing.
On our walk to the Altstadt we had stopped by a restaurant near our place called Matthieu’s to make reservations for dinner. Matthieu’s is always full and every time we’ve attempted to enter we get asked if we have a booking and our response is always met with “Sorry, then”. Not this time. From the outside it looks like an old pub, but inside it’s all middle-class forty-somethings.
We ordered a special three-course “Surprise Menu” so we had no idea what we were getting. It turned out to be an incredible fish starter, followed by lamb chops and fillet with scalloped potatoes, and a dessert consisting of sorbet, berry parfait and chocolate mousse. So much for that “light” dinner. More walking was in order.
We strolled down into the town again. Our first stop was a microbrewery called “Bönnsch”. The beer there was good but expensive by local standards, about €5 for a pint. I guess we’re getting a little spoilt, because that is exceptionally cheap by Singapore standards! We had a few drinks there, but it couldn’t last. How am I supposed to crack 200 if I spend my entire Saturday night in a bar that only has one beer?
Anna thought it would be amusing if we went to “Billa-Bonn”, the alleged Australian bar in the Altstadt. She feels kind of bad that I don’t know anybody here, but I honestly don’t mind, I’m content with my own company. To her, however, Billa-Bonn was a superb option for two reasons:
- I might meet some drinking buddies and
- To watch a little part of me die inside, as it does every time we are around drunk bogans, be it in Australia or overseas (That’s why I will not go to Kuta Beach).
This Aussie bar was like no other we had ever been to. I have been in Australian bars the world over, the reason being to watch sports or spark up a conversation. Aussie bars are generally the same anywhere in the world, whether it be aesthetically, the vibe, or the patrons:
- There are always pictures of kangaroos and those yellow road signs that say something to the extent of “Kangaroos Next 200km” or “Crocodiles. No Swimming”. Also, boomerangs and pictures of rugby players are usually hung somewhere, too.
- If they serve food the menu usually consists of typical Australian produce, i.e. steaks, lamb chops, etc., as well as more uniquely Aussie dishes, such as kangaroo or crocodile.
- There’s rock music playing at a decent volume, usually good stuff, or songs that most people know, plus shit like Khe Sanh to appease the bogan masses.
- There are always sports on TV
- It will have a large range of beers, especially Australian beers.
- There are the same old dudes that you know are in there every single day.
There was also the fact that it was ANZAC Day, so I thought there might be a replay of the footy or something.
Billa-Bonn was different. Very different. Sure, there were the road signs, the kangaroo pictures, and the boomerangs, but there were also numerous Guinness posters and pictures of the Irish rugby team everywhere. There were TVs that weren’t turned on, there was barely audible German rock playing, and there were geeky college kids playing drinking games with dice, clapping and singing in German. No old men, no fellow Australians, no staff that spoke English, and only British beer. I pointed to the Newcastle Brown tap, made the gesture of a pint, got Anna a drink, too, and then we finished them and left as fast as we could. It was all good, there were a few more beers at home, plus, we had big plans for Sunday.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
In the hills near where we stay and the area where Anna’s hospital is situated is the Drachenfels, an ancient castle.
The ruined castle, on the summit of the hill, was built between 1138 and 1167 by Archbishop Arnold I of Cologne and bears the same name. It was originally intended for the protection of the Cologne region from any assault from the south. Originally it consisted of a bergfried with court, chapel and living quarters for servants. The castle was slighted in 1634, during the Thirty Years’ War, by the Protestant Swedes and never rebuilt. As a strategic asset it had outlived its usefulness. Erosion due to the continued quarrying undermined much of the remains and only a small part is left today
Getting to the castle requires catching a boat up the Rhine, then a few hours of hiking. It was essentially going to take the whole day, but we had planned earlier in the week to do it as we thought it would be a pretty cool way to spend a Sunday. The only problem was that it poured almost the entire day, but while near the river we got caught in the rain and the nearest place for shelter was a giant beer garden. It must’ve been destiny. The only times the clouds parted and the rain ceased were when we were sitting inside, beer in hand. “Okay, we’ll go after this one”, then, as soon as we took the final sip the downpour started again.
I know that some people reading this are asking themselves why we didn’t go somewhere else. What you need to understand is that in Bonn nothing else is open on a Sunday, not even supermarkets. If you’re not at home, the only other option is the pub. Unlucky. Sure, going to the castle would’ve been fun, but we still had a great afternoon sitting back, chatting, and relaxing.
Now, anyone who has spent an extended period of time around Asians who actually grew up in Asia will know that they get crazy food cravings, but with good reason, too. Anna has known of colleagues from Singapore who have gone to work overseas and strongly based their final decision of the location as to where they can get the best Asian food. Anna has tried cooking Peranakan food here before, but can’t get the vegetables and the sambal sauce sucks.
Yesterday was one of those days with the strong cravings. The Chinese food here all looks terrible, sort of like what you’d expect to get in the Stockland Traralgon Shopping Centre food court. That ain’t going to cut it with a Chinese woman. One of her colleagues is married to a Thai woman and suggested a Thai restaurant that is not supposed to be great, but better than most of the others. Anna knew she was setting herself up for disappointment, but she just had to deal with the craving. Needless to say, although we ordered tom yum soup and pad thai, the best thing we got there were the deep-fried cheese croquettes, despite the fact they aren’t even Thai. Anna doesn’t think the yearning will return now.
Although we have been living in Bonn for four weeks now, this was only our second full weekend here. We didn’t do anything that we set out to do, but we still had a great time. Now it’s Monday, it’s still cold and wet, and it is back to the reality of my house-husbandly duties for another working week before we head over to Brussels, Belgium this coming weekend.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I’m at 83/200 different beers with almost two months left to go. A weekend in Belgium should help get that number up.