Saturday, January 20, 2007

Working Life in Ireland (Christmas Update #3)

So I guess the biggest news for me (Joe) is that I'm back with DHL Express, in Swords, just near Dublin Airport. I'm working as a Key Accounts Advisor, which is quite interesting, looking after the day to day runnings of some of DHL Ireland's largest accounts. The role is mainly proactive, and my past experience with DHL has allowed me to take up the ropes pretty quickly. So everyday, I go down the lift in our apartment building, into the underground carpark, drive to Swords (about 45-50 minutes on the motorway), into the DHL underground carpark, then up in the lift to my floor. Consequently, I've joined the gym and I'm going 2-3 times a week! Clare continues to do well in her role and went to the Netherlands last week, and off for some meetings and audits in Southern Ireland on Sunday night. We spent a recent weekend checking out some of the areas south of Dundalk, and discovered a little fishing village called Annagassan. We loved it, so we're currently negotiating to move into a new apartment there overlooking the sea. It's very quiet and the village has just 1 local pub and shop. But it's very beautiful, and will make a change from Dundalk (but only about 15 minutes away). The 2 photos of Annagassan in this update are actually from the local pub website, The Glyde Inn, so please feel free to come and join us for a Guinness or two... We'll keep you updated with how it all goes!
Also, all of the pictures from our recent trip to Germany are posted here. Please take a look if you like.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Berlin, Berlin (Christmas Update #2)

flickr photo link: <Berlin, Germany, Dec 2006>
On 27 December, we took the ICE train from Braunschweig to Berlin. Very crowded, so we found some seats in the buffet car, but also very fast, so we found ourself at the brand new Berlin Hauptbahnhof in less than 1 1/2 hours. From there, we got frustrated by the ticketing machines, but eventually found our way on the S-Bahn/U-Bahn to the stylish Moevenpick Hotel Berlin, which was absolutely beautiful (our Christmas treat!) Our top floor room had a huge Philippe Starck designed bathtub, groovy lighting and chocolates magically appeared on our pillows every evening. Berlin is truly amazing, and can only be compared to London & New York in terms of scale & shopping. Clare had visited in October 1990, just a year after the Berlin Wall came down, and 1995. I'd never been there before, and I want to go back already!
You could easily stay a week and not see everything you want, from Checkpoint Charlie (very close to our hotel) and the whole Berlin Wall history (and associated museums), to Museum Island (chock full of huge museums bursting at the seams with ancient treasures) which we only saw from the outside, the Jewish Museum Berlin & the 2,711 concrete stelae of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which we saw on a bleak and overcast day, perhaps the most appropriate time. Near the memorial, next to a childrens playground and large apartment building is a simple sign showing where Hitlers' bunker was located. History is at every turn - you need to use your imagination sometimes, but remnants exist all around that help you to feel it. So, we fit all of that into 2 1/2 days, as well as the Museum for Photography and the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral), which is so massive it's almost overwhelming. The Museum for Photography features Helmut Newton, a Berliner who lived for a time in Australia and took photos for the fashion and art world. He died in 2004. Many of these attractions can be found on foot with a half decent map, or just use the S-Bahn/U-Bahn, which has a huge network of trains crossing Berlin in all directions.
Finding great food in foreign cities is of course our forté, and Berlin was no different. After Braunschweig, we'd had enough knackwursts & cake, so we quickly found an excellent Japanese restaurant, Izumi sushi bar in Kronenstrasse (try everything, it's all good). The breakfast buffet at our hotel was outstanding (but we only made it on 1 morning!) The next evening, Clare settled in with a cheese platter & a glass of red at the mindblowing KaDeWe foodhall. 1,300 different types of cheese, 1,200 sausage and ham delicacies, 400 types of bread & rolls, 34,000 products - unbelieveable but true. Clare says the listeria filled cheeses were the best she's ever had, and very filling. I settled instead for a Nasi Goreng from the local Asian takeaway! On our final day, we met Clare's friend Michael (from an African trip in 86/87) for lunch at Cafe Einstein Unter Den Linden (nr. Brandenburg Gate), had a fantastic walking tour to Museum Island & Berliner Dom, and ended up at the Vietnam Restaurant next to Friedrichstrasse Station. Authentic and quite reasonable. We found Friedrichsrasse to really be the new centre of Berlin. From pretty much nothing 10 years ago to Mini-Cooper showrooms, French department stores and European designer clothes. All too much for our budget!
That was our final night in Berlin. We ended up braving the chill to see if the queues for the viewing dome at the Reichstag had dimished in the evening, but they hadn't. So we retreated to the warmth of our hotel room to get ready for our early morning flight back to Dublin. Oh, I almost forgot to tell about the snow. Yes, as we peered out of the crooked windows of the Jewish Museum (don't miss it) on our 2nd day, snow flakes started to fall. They got heavier throughout the day, but had stopped by evening. Of course we rushed back to the hotel to get our camera, and we got a few photos, but it was just a great experience. Our flight back with Ryanair from Berlin-Schönefeld Airport was on-time and smooth. As cheap as they are (and for their poor reputation), we've had no problems yet with Ryanair, and that capped off a truly superb week away - completely different from Christmas in Australia!
All of our pictures from Berlin are posted here. Please take a look if you like.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Frohe Weihnachten! (Christmas Update #1)

flickr photo link: <Braunschweig, Germany, Dec 2006>
23 Dec 06 EI DUB/DUS 1340/1930
30 Dec 06 FR SXF/DUB 1105/1220
Haven't had any updates just recently, so it's time for 3 quick ones in a row. Happy New Year everyone... We hope you all had a good one, wherever you were. We spent the night in Dundalk, watching the local Polish kids burning themselves with fireworks in the park over the road, but more about that later. We're feeling thoroughly "reunified" after our Christmas week in Germany. We learnt a few things... about the superb "Weihnachtsmarkt" (Christmas Markets) of Braunschweig, the organisation of the Germans at Autostadt (Car Disneyland), the immense history of reunified Berlin AND the value of the Euro in Germany (compared to Ireland!)
We flew with Aer Lingus from Dublin to Dusseldorf on 23 December. We got to Dublin Airport around 5am to the busiest airport I've ever seen in my life. No kidding. Even the worst days in Australia never rivalled this. A bit like what you see on tv when Heathrow is in the fog, but no white tents on the roadways! But there was no fog this morning, this was just Christmas. Dubs can be bad at the best of times, but I guess we should have known that flying at Christmas is a no-no. We used the self service check-in terminals, which everyone does, then spent an hour in the "bag drop" queues. Then into the security line (more like a conga line!) which snaked round and round the terminal like something out of Disneyland. That took another hour, and we made it to the gate with 15 minutes to spare - phew. Dusseldorf Airport seemed pretty quiet after Dubs, but they continued the Christmas joy by taking about 1 hour to get the luggage onto the conveyer belt! Met our good friends Gerald & Sandra to have a quick tour of this sophisticated city on the Rhein. Nice Italian lunch at Vapiano, then down the autobahns for 3 hours to Braunschweig (reached 180 km/h). Met Gerald's parents, Sylvia & Peter, then off to the Weihnachtsmarkt for some delicious bratwurst, strawberries dipped in white chocolate & glühwein (Clare says it's an acquired taste)... Gerald & Sandra bumped into loads of old friends, it seemed like the place for old friends to come home and meet up at the end of the year. We all had a great night, and another experience is ticked off our list!
24 December started with a traditional German breakfast - breads, meats & cheeses. Then up out of the fog into the blue sky of the Harz Mountains to walk off some of the food - alas no snow but pretty cold. Back to Braunschweig for coffee & cake (a real German tradition), then later our Christmas dinner of duck legs, red cabbage, potato dumplings and real cranberries. Gerald's 94 year old Grandmother was there and had some amazing tales, born in England in 1912, emigrating to Germany in 1922 and staying for the WWII while her brothers & sisters went back to England. So we had a nice day, but so much food, too much food...
On Christmas Day when you'd think everything would be closed, a lot of things in Germany are open, including the impressive Autostadt in Wolfsburg, the futuristic showpiece of the Volkswagen Group in an ultra-modern concrete landscape dominated by the huge 'Pink Floyd like' smokestacks of the VW Factory. Did you know the VW Group includes Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Seat & Skoda as well as all the V Dubs? (but not many Combi's in sight)... As well as bucket loads of interative displays & cars, they have 2 huge glass car "towers" that lead to an underground VW delivery centre, and yes, some customers were even picking up their cars on Christmas Day. Anyway, we called it 'Car Disneyland' and it's well worth a visit if you're in northern Germany. On the way back, we stopped at the disused East/West Germany checkpoint at Marienborn-Helmstedt on the highway from Hannover to Berlin. More than 1000 GDR soldiers inspected everything moving between west & east until finally abandoned on 30 June 1990 after the wall came down. A great museum and such amazing recent history...
We spent another day walking in the countryside and checking out downtown Braunschweig before going for more coffee & cakes with Geralds' sisters family. A good chance to practice a little German, mmm... The next day (very cold & foggy), we took the ICE train to Berlin for part 2 of our little trip...
All of our pictures from Braunschweig are posted here. Please take a look if you like.
... Continued in Part 2 (Berlin)...