Tuesday 27 June 2017

An Unexpected Treat

Last Friday, I was on a work-related trip to Ulm. Depending on what train you take, you can reach Ulm within 1 1/2 hours. All was well on the way in, and the small conference I attended there was interesting.

On such occasions, it is hard to tell when we really finish, and at what time I can be back at the train station for the ride home. Therefore, I always buy a ticket that allows me to board whatever train I happen to catch.

That Friday, I arrived at the station with 3 minutes to spare before the next train was going to depart for Stuttgart. So, without further ado (i.e. without checking anything else about this particular route), I hopped on that train, leaned back and took my kindle out to read.

The loudspeaker crackled, and I expected to hear the usual bored voice make the usual announcements. Instead, a friendly man's voice, speaking in a natural and lively manner (without the artificially assumed cheerfulness you often hear on trains and planes), informed us passengers about today's trip. I thought, now, that's unusual, but nice, and turned back to my reading.

The train started to move, and there were more such friendly announcements with every stop coming up - and there were many! As it turned out, of all trains going to Stuttgart that afternoon and evening, I had chosen the slowest, stopping at almost every small town and village between the two cities. 

And then, the train driver informed us in his by now familiar friendly manner of our next stop - a break of 28 minutes, as is apparently always scheduled for this particular route, in a small town called Süssen.
When I first heard that we were in for a 28-minute-stop, I though "oh great...", but then the train driver added: "And, by the way, there is a real good ice cream parlour near platform 1, if you are looking for a way to spend the next half hour. I always go there myself when I am on this route."

This sounded like a much better idea to me than sitting in the parked train, especially as it was such a beautiful summer's day. So I got off, just as the driver stepped off the front and made his way along the platform. I waited for him and told him that I was going to check out his recommendation, and we went to platform 1 together.

A table in the half-shade was quickly found and ice creams ordered, and we started talking. The driver told me he was only having three more weeks of work here and then leaving for good to make his childhood dream come true: Move to Switzerland, living in the mountains and driving the famous Glacier Express. 

He told me that he really liked his job, but was very unhappy with the way the German Bahn (Railway) was being managed. It is a topic often discussed in our national media; from what used to be a very reliable and efficient system, the Bahn has turned into what appears like a bunch of greedy managers, making money on the back of notoriously overworked staff. Late and cancelled trains, lack of information, high ticket prices, dirty trains with toilets and A/C out of order etc. are everyday occurrences, and the company have to pay refunds to fed up passengers all the time. A lot of people only travel by train because they have no choice, and "my" train driver told me that things were going to get worse within the next five years. "You'll see," he said.
We talked about the railway in other countries, and it turned out he knows the North York Moors Railway and the National Railway Museum in York. 

That way, we spent a pleasant 25 minutes, enjoyed delicious ice creams, and when it was time to get back on the train, he paid for my ice cream, too! I really did not expect that, and there was not even the slightest hint of anything untoward in his manner, just saying thank you for a friendly encounter and spending his break in pleasant company.

Taken in Ulm with my mobile phone on the way back to the station

I said good-bye and went back to my former seat, wishing him all the best for his future. 

Isn't it sad that those who enjoy their job and are good at it are driven away by mismanagement and wrong decisions? But isn't it nice that people like that still exist, and in spite of how terrible the world looks whenever we switch on the news, there are still such nice surprises happening to us (if we let or make them happen)?

This whole experience reminded me of an older post of mine; back in 2011, I wrote this about a similar situation - also in connection with a train trip.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Meadows, Trees and Churches: Part II

After our picnic in the meadow close to the wood's edge, it was only a short way to the next village. It was of the relaxed quietness you sometimes find on a Sunday afternoon - it was Thursday, but a holiday. We met one man and his dog, with the dog being rather curious about us, and passed by a house where swallows had built nests under the eaves. They were flitting in and out, and I took pictures, but they came out blurred and so I left them out.

Another village or small town I had never set foot in before, Schornbach, was down in the valley after a relatively long stretch of road. It had some very pretty old houses, like this one:

The church was built in 1471 and is unusual in that the upper part of its bell tower is of wood. Again, we would have liked to have a look inside, but again, it was locked.

Schornbach was not our goal, and we walked on, down into the valley and towards Schorndorf.

Schorndorf (Dorf means village) has made the transition from village to town already as far back as 1250, when the then Earl of Württemberg acquired the place and had it built up with walls. But it had already been a settlement a thousand years before that, when the Romans occupied this part of the world and civilians lived there in the 2nd and 3rd century of our time.

Nowadays, with around 40.000 inhabitants, Schorndorf is a thriving town with a picturesque centre. I had never visited before, but my sister did, and she showed me around before we sat down for refreshing drinks at a street café.

 Old town centre - no cars allowed in this part, what a relief!

The sturdy castle was built in 1538 and withstood any threat that came its way, including a fire in 1634. Nowadays, it houses offices and the civil court.

Building of the church (you can see it in the first picture of the old town centre) began in 1477. And guess what - this one was open! My sister wanted to show me something special, and after a general look round, we arrived in a small side chapel with this unusual ceiling:

It is Jesus' family tree, starting with Jesse, out of whose body grows the root of the tree, then grows on and on, via David all the way to Mary with baby Jesus. The figures all carry bands with their names on them.
The Tree of Jesse is taken directly from the bible and appears not only in sculptures and on pictures in (mostly) medieval churches, but also in a few songs, one of them an old Christmas song still very popular in Germany, but I dare say most of those singing the words do not really think about what they may mean; they sound just beautifully old-fashioned and festive. Well, now you know!
You can find out more here on wikipedia.

By the way, the most famous person from Schorndorf is Gottlieb Daimler, the man who invented the car (it wasn't quite so simple, but you get the general idea). His birth place is now a museum.

Monday 19 June 2017

Meadows, Trees and Churches: Part I

The 25th of May - a Thursday - was a holiday here in Germany. The weather was fine; sunny without being too hot, and so my sister and I decided to go for a nice long walk.

We took the train to a small town called Winterbach, about 30 km East of us. Before starting on our actual walk, we had a quick look around the beautiful old church. It would have been nice to see it inside, too, but as is so often the case, it was locked.

There has probably been a church in this exact spot long before the current building was dedicated in the year 1309. Of course, the church has undergone renovations and alterations over the centuries that have passed since then (for instance, lightning hit the bell tower and burnt it down in 1644, and in the 1750s, the good people of Winterbach became modestly wealthy and spent some of their money on extensive renovations), but it is still very obviously very old.

Some typical buildings for this part of Germany, and a maypole:

We left Winterbach (literally "winter beck")  and started our walk in earnest.

About an hour later, we arrived at the other end of the woods among more meadows and orchards:

Time for a break - a picnic on the grass, before walking on towards the next village.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Pub Quiz

This is not the first time I am mentioning pub quizzes on my blog - you can easily find my older posts by putting "Pub Quiz" in the search bar on the top left corner.
I can not remember exactly when I started going to the quiz at "my" pub (Ludwigsburg's Irish Pub, Towers). It must have been 2008 or 2009, and although our team has changed a little over the years through circumstances - one member moving back for good to the US, while a new member joined us for the first time earlier this year - we are still pretty much The Corner Shop.

We nearly always end up among the first three and have come out 1st a few times. All of us would like to play more often, but it is difficult to find dates when everyone can make it. The quiz is held every Tuesday night, with a long break over the summer and a shorter one around Christmas. We manage to play maybe two or three times during one season.

This season ended last night - and we ended it on a high!
Only three of us managed to make just one point less than the winning team! (We still did not come out 2nd, but 3rd, since there were two teams competing for 1st. And I will now forever remember how many letters there are in the Hawaiian alphabet!)
So, VERY well done us!!!

At first, I was rather put off - although I had booked well in advance, our usual corner table (hence our team name) had been given to someone else; two of our team could not make it, and there was no ginger beer for me, only ginger ale.
But once the questions started and we realised we were not doing so bad, my mood lifted, and walking home with yet another bottle of champagne was a very good end to the evening (and the season).

We'll be back for more in September :-)

Do you want to have a go at those questions I can remember?

1. How many letters are in the Hawaiian alphabet? (That was our draw question.)
2. Where on the human body would you find a hallux?
3. Which is the biggest lake in Africa?
4. What is the name of the most famous beach near Sydney, Australia?
5. In which state of the USA do you find the town of Stuttgart?
6. Which river crosses the equator twice?
7. What body part is affected by the disease hepatitis?
8. In which movie would you hear the phrase "Chewie, we're home!"?
9. What two nations share the island of Hispanola?
10. Which sport returned to the Olympic Games in 2016 for the first time since 1904?
11. In which European country do you find the resort town of Sopot?

Monday 12 June 2017

Looking My Age

It's been years (5 1/2, to be precise) since I last wrote about the topic of self-perception and how it differs from what others see when they look at us. If you are interested in my 2011 post about the topic, click here.
Maybe this post from two years ago is also interesting in context.

A few weeks ago, I had an appointment at a photo studio where all sorts of professional photos are taken. People go there when they need pictures to apply for a job, for a new passport, or simply for fun; they can have their pictures taken either as a family, couple, group of friends or on their own.

Last Christmas, my parents gave me a voucher for a photo session at that studio. I was unsure what to do with it, as I do not currently need pictures for any particular reason. So I simply went there to see what was going to happen.

The very young lady who was "my" photographer took about 15-20 minutes to apply make-up. We had agreed on a simple day-make-up, nothing too over the top, no smoky eyes or any particularly fashionable stuff. She chose lipstick and eye shadow for me, and soon we were in the room with the lamps and different wall backgrounds.
I gave her free range, since I had no particular wishes. She was quite happy to let me try various postures in different lights and in front of several backgrounds.

About a fun half an hour later, our session was over. She let me choose my favourite pictures out of the 60 or so she had taken, and showed me which one was her personal favourite of the set.

I am not unhappy with the results, but I agree with my sister, O.K., RJ and others who have seen the photos and said I look older in them than usual; the general agreement seems to be that I look my age.

Well, I have wrinkles - perfectly normal at 49 -, and I agree that I do not look like this normally; for one thing, the only cosmetics I own and (occasionally) wear are lipstic, mascara and eye-shadow. No make-up or "foundation", as it is often called.

Now I wonder what you think. Also, have a guess at which was the photographer's favourite, which one my Mum chose to have framed, and which is the one I personally like best. And no - this post is not really about vanity. It is out of a genuine interest in the topic of self-perception v. how others perceive us.