Category Archives: Travel

The von Grady guide to Mauritius

Manfredas: You know the way it’s your birthday in January and mine in February? 

Me: Uh huh.

Manfredas: Fancy going to Mauritius to celebrate? 

Me: (running)

Manfredas: Where are you going??

Me: Packing! 

And so, after a near miss by Manfredas with the ticket inspectors on the S-Bahn, we were off.

I won’t bore you with oodles of photos of idyllic beaches, glorious sunsets or stunning scenery because you can google those yourself. Hint: google “Mauritius” – that’s really how it looks. I won’t even attempt to get my blog stats up by posting Halle Berry-style shots of me emerging from the water in a bikini. (Just google “Halle Berry bikini” – that’s far less scary.)

That’s probably a more accurate representation of me on the beach in the midday sun.

Instead, I’m going to take you on a slightly alternative tour of Mauritius, courtesy of the ever-so-slightly rambling mind that is mine.

You are welcome.

Upon arriving at our guest house and settling in a bit, Manfredas announced that he would be putting his valuables in the safe.

Me: Good idea. I’ll do that too. 

Manfredas: Cool. I’ll just put the key up here on top of the wardrobe. 

Me: Erm, are you sure that’s a good idea? 

Manfredas: Well, if we take it with us and lose it, then we’re really screwed. 

Me: Yes, you’re right. Now we can only get robbed by German, Scandinavian or Dutch people. Oh, or short people with the strength to drag a chair in front of the wardrobe and stand on it. 

Manfredas: Sigh. 

Guest house pool (without me emerging in a bikini).

We were off to a great start.

I decided to make us a nice cup of tea to get things back on track. We had a choice of two cups – Piglet or Pooh. Upon closer examination, I discovered that the clever designers had not only drawn a picture of each character, but also broken them down by body part. I’m still not sure why they had to draw such close attention to Piglet’s arm but maybe someone can enlighten me…

Arm?

After a couple of days’ relaxing on the beaches or by the pool, we decided we should explore a little. First up, the Botanical Gardens. 

Now, if you’re anything like me, when you picture botanical gardens, trees probably play a role. And, sure enough, it turned out that there were trees in the Botanical Gardens – lots of them. The only problem was:

Erm…

Manfredas: How the hell are you supposed to “refrain from walking/standing under trees” in a botanical garden? 

If the finest of logical, German thinking couldn’t make any sense of it, then other people didn’t stand a chance.

RULE BREAKERS!

However, it wasn’t just the tourists who were prone to a bit of flexibility with the Mauritian law…

This might be my new favourite photo ever.

As it’s entirely possible that Mauritian buses are solely responsible for global warming (kind of)…

The BEAST

… on this day, we had decided to rent a car to go and visit the Seven Cascades in the south of the island.

Manfredas: They drive on the “wrong” side of the road here but it’s fine; I’ve done it before.

As I’ve never felt unsafe in a car with him in the past, I took him at his word. And so began the most terrifying day anyone has ever experienced on the über-chilled island of Mauritius. Bollards, walls, ditches, sheer drops, lamp-posts, parked cars and scooters, small children and stray dogs whooshed past me, inches from my face.

Me: Jesus Christ! Could you leave a bit more space on this side of the car?! 

Manfredas: Sorry! I don’t want to go too far into the middle of the road! 

BUMP.

Manfredas: What was that? 

Me: (cowering) Kerb.

Manfredas: Shit, really?

Me: Yes bloody really! We’re not making it back with this mirror…

Manfredas: It’s fine. I’m getting the hang of it now. 

BUMP.

Manfredas: What was that?

Me: Car mirror…

A couple of lifetimes later, we arrived at where the Seven Cascades should have been.

Me: This looks like a bus depot. 

This was really rather observant of me as it was a bus depot. We circled around, following signs for the Seven Cascades and finally arrived at… the same bus depot.

Luckily, a local man was standing by. He ushered us down a dirt track, assuring us that there was parking down there somewhere. We crawled along, parked up where a couple of other cars were parked and got out.

Me: This looks like a dead-end dirt track. 

It was. Fortunately, our new friend wasn’t far behind us. In broken English/French, we managed a conversation that saw us following him down said dirt track.

Kindly stranger: (shoving something under my nose) Smell! 

Me: Oooh, lovely…

KS: Is mint! 

Me: Oooh, lovely. 

KS: Here! Is for you! 

Me: Oooh, lovely! 

I’ve never really known how to comment on plants and stuff.

I tucked the leaves into my handbag for politeness sake and we carried on a bit until we were finally greeted with a view of the Seven Cascades in the distance.


Me: Oooh, lovely! 

And it was. But short of hiking down there, that was as close as we were going to get. I tossed the mint on the path when our new friend wasn’t looking and we headed back to the car for the death trip home. This time, I wisely decided to close my eyes for most of it.

All in all, we had a fantastic time. The island is gorgeous, the people are among the friendliest on earth, the food is amazing, and Manfredas had what, I hope, will be one of his most memorable birthdays.

So, I’ll leave you with some random observations.

  1. Some guest houses have bed clothes that would be more at home in Latvia.
ARGH! My eyes!

2. Avoid Mauritian wine at all costs.

This was not Mauritian. Hence the smiling.

3. Mauritians take the sacred “O apostrophe” and use it to wipe their bums.

2-ply…

And finally, finally, since you’ve borne with my ramblings for so long, here’s the long-awaited bikini shot.

Just kidding.
Ahh, that’s better!

Au revoir!

Note: This post is in no way sponsored by the Tourism Board of Mauritius. If they see it, they’ll probably never let me back. 

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Digging up the dog in Rheinsberg (Part 2)

Here it is – the long-awaited, “exciting” second installment.

You’ll be relieved to hear that I did eventually manage to get my cup of tea to my mouth, by adopting a new technique I like to call the “Wurstfinger-out manoeuvre”. I might patent it.

I am a genius.

While elegantly sipping my exquisite Netto own brand tea, I spotted Oma emerging from the tool shed in the garden and decided to pop out to say “good morning”. This was just after 10 a.m. and I was feeling rather pleased with myself for simply being up, even if I was still in my pajamas with bed hair. Oma, however, looked like she’d been up for hours and was suitably full of the joys. I raised an eyebrow at the toolbox she was carrying and she threw back a cheery, “So ist das Leben!” (Such is life!)

I couldn’t even imagine a life that would involve me chirpily carting around a toolbox at 10 a.m. (or any time of the day for that matter) but then I’m not a German Oma; she’d probably built the shed while I was sleeping.

Feeling a little underachieving, I went back inside, showered and got myself ready for the day. I figured I would probably have enough plasters to get me through.

Now looking slightly more presentable (and appropriately plastered), I set out in search of food. Before long, I hit the jackpot – a cosy little café that served… Käse-Schinkenbrötchen! The nice lady behind the counter even offered to heat it up for me. (I think there must be something gormlessly endearing about me, or my accent, that Germans find appealing as she just glared at everyone else who came in.)

Gold.

On the way out, I discovered that there must be some live dogs* in Rheinsberg as dead dogs don’t poop, as far as I know.

The dump dump.

Satisfied with my morning so far, I set off for the palace and lake. My plan was to take a few photos of the palace and lake, walk around the lake to the obelisk, take photos of the palace and lake from the other side and then walk back again. Just when you thought this trip couldn’t get any more exciting, eh?

I set off, convincing myself that I was enjoying the (freezing) fresh air. Along the way, I passed a few other brave souls out for a walk, all very clearly German in their sensible footwear and all-weather clothing. Most of them gave me a cheery smile and a hello. It could have been the even more gormless, half-frozen look I was sporting at the time.

Brrrr.

Anyway, I achieved my goal of making it to the obelisk, taking a lot of pretty photos along the way.

At this point, I was feeling so “at one” with nature, that I decided to carry on walking for a while. After ten minutes or so, I noticed something odd. I was completely alone. I hadn’t passed any Germans since the obelisk. Did they know something I didn’t? Had I missed a sign or something? I sent Manfredas a quick message.

Me: Are there wild boars in Brandenburg? 

Manfredas: Hmm, I think you’ll be quite safe in the middle of the day. 

Pfft. What did he know? Maybe the wild boar had never smelled Irish meat before and would disrupt their nocturnal habits for a nibble. Feeling more like eating than being eaten, I headed back towards town for some cake.

Unfortunately, I came to a Glühwein hut first.

Actually, there was nothing unfortunate about it; it was bloody brilliant. My cockles warmed, I continued on for around three minutes until I hit a likely-looking café.

A mandarin, cream and sponge concoction that was just as delicious as it looks.

Naturally, after all of this wild adventure I was exhausted, so I walked back to my apartment for a nap. A few hours later, I was ready to eat again. (I know – it just keeps getting more exciting…)

I’d spied a reasonably-priced restaurant on my earlier travels and, this being Rheinsberg, had no trouble getting a table. A lively foursome were sitting at the table next to me and thankfully, they didn’t look like they were about to leave any time soon. This was good as we were soon the only people left. We ended up having a nice chat but soon they were also ready to leave. Determined not to be the last one in the restaurant again, I downed my wine and left with them. We parted ways and I headed to the only Kneipe in town.

OPEN! YES!

While it wasn’t the most salubrious of joints, I’m generally quite at home in these places so I plonked myself at the bar and ordered a glass of wine. The heads around me turned. Ah, “strange face in a local bar syndrome” – fun.

Me: Huh. Am I the only woman here? 

Holger: (nodding behind the bar) She’s a woman. 

Me: (casting a dubious look at the barkeep giantess) Oh, yes, of course she is! I meant, you know, as a customer… (eek, bad start)

Holger: Hmm, you speak good German but you don’t sound like a German. Where are you from? 

Me: Ireland. 

Holger: Oh, right then! Shot? 

Me: Yes, please. 

And so began a merry night of shot-drinking, bizarre conversations and terrible dart-playing. It seemed there was some fun to be had in this town after all.

Day three got off to a rather later start and was pretty much a carbon copy of day two, apart from a nice glass of wine on a (currently non-touring) tour boat – and skipping the Kneipe; I was worried I might have some damages to settle from my slightly erratic darts skills.

And, while I may not have dug up the dog, I did find where he’s buried.

Woof.

All in all, a perfectly enjoyable few days. I can definitely recommend it – especially if you enjoy having entire restaurants to yourself at the outrageous hour of 9 p.m.

*If you’re confused by the dog references, you probably need to read the previous post.

Digging up the dog in Rheinsberg (part 1)

Me: I’m going to Rheinsberg for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s. 

Ze Germans:

“Where?”

“Why??”

“Da ist der Hund begraben.”

Me: The dog is buried there? What?

Ze German: Ja, this means it is a very boring place where nothing ever happens. 

Me: Oh, good. Perfect! 

After a pretty hectic year, a few days in a sleepy, picturesque town in Brandenburg sounded ideal. I’d booked a beautiful apartment a few minutes’ walk from Rheinsberg Palace, Googled how to get there and was good to go. It was while I was on the last leg of the journey, a bus ride from Neuruppin to Rheinsberg, that my phone decided I was roaming. But not to worry – unbelievably, they have WiFi (that actually works) on the buses in Brandenburg. A true post-Christmas miracle…

I texted the owner of the flat to tell her I was outside and, a couple of minutes later, was being warmly ushered in by a jolly German granny. After she’d shown me around the flat and we’d had a jolly chat, I decided that I would like her to be my new German Oma.

The flat was even better than I had hoped; really cosy, newly renovated and adorned with twinkly Christmas lights.

My very own garden

This being Germany, of course there was some form-filling to be done. Rheinsberg is one of the areas that charges a Kurtaxe (visitor’s tax) of €1.50 per person per night. I’m not sure why some places charge it and some don’t but again, this is Germany so there doesn’t necessarily have to be any logic.

Urgh.

Form filled in, Kurtaxe paid, Oma left me to it. At this stage, I was pretty hungry so I hit the town in search of cake. Unfortunately, most places I liked the look of were either having their Ruhetag (day of rest) or closed until March. Hmm. I wandered on and eventually found what I was looking for, settling in with my book, a cup of tea and…

cake!

I decided to take a walk back through the town to the palace and Lake Grienerick. It was around this time that I noticed how much Brandenburger folk like to stare at people, or maybe just me. In a town of only 6,000 inhabitants maybe I stood out a bit but I don’t think I’m that odd-looking. After one gawp too many, I alternated between beaming at people (instant confusion) or hitting them with the Latvian-Girl-Death-Stare (instant cowering wreck). This is how I like to entertain myself sometimes.

The palace and lake were pretty impressive, even in the already dimming light. I decided to leave most of the walking and photos until the following day but managed to snap a few pics before heading to the charming Ratskeller Restaurant (nothing to do with rats) for a glass of wine to warm up.

After that, it was off to Netto to pick up a few essentials (shower gel, tea, wine and crisps) and then back to my apartment for a little nap. I woke up a couple of hours later, feeling wonderfully refreshed and ready for food.

Unfortunately for me, my packing skills are a bit Irish, i.e. fecking everything into a bag with no particular rhyme or reason. While rummaging for my make-up, I felt something prick the index finger on my right hand. What the …? I withdrew my hand and watched with fascinated horror as the blood started flowing. Oh shite.

A quick (very quick) look in the bag revealed that my razor had landed blade up and that I had gashed myself quite badly. Then it was time to run. In the bathroom, I tore through sheets of toilet paper, wrapping the offending finger, waiting for the blood to soak through, binning the blood-soaked tissue and repeating. After a few minutes, the sink and surrounding area looked a bit like the bathroom in SAW. How could something as small as my finger bleed so bloody much!?

ARGH!

Swathed in half a roll of toilet paper, I found my handbag and tried to locate a plaster. In the chaos that is my bag, you never know what you’ll find but luckily, there was one plaster. I stuck it on, thinking that would be the end of the matter.

But no, blood started seeping out above, below and even through the damn thing. I thought about tearfully calling Oma at this point but decided she probably had enough to cope with as she had around 20 family members staying with her.

By now, it was 8.15 p.m. and Oma had told me that the supermarkets closed at 7. My last hope was the Späti (late-night shop). I waved my bloody stump at the Späti guy, while asking calmly and politely if he sold plasters. He did not. BUT (Gott sei Dank) LIDL was open until 9 p.m. I raced down the road, squeezing excess blood into a tissue as I went and located the plasters.

With three more plasters wrapped around the original plaster, I figured things would probably be OK. I found a nice Italian restaurant I’d seen a poster for earlier in the day and ordered. Little did I realise how difficult knives were without a fully-functioning index finger. Every time I pressed on the knife, blood started seeping out again until I’d gone through another four plasters and created the ultimate Wurstfinger. I was so focused on my finger that I failed to notice I was the last one in the restaurant. It was around 9.30.

I finished off my wine and hit the town. Unfortunately, the town was shut. Oh well. I guess I had been looking for a quiet few days; it didn’t get much quieter than this. Back at the flat, I fired up my laptop and started chatting to my Irish friend on Facebook.

Me: Aw crap, my finger is bleeding on my keyboard. Hang on…

Sinéad: Did you put pressure on it? 

Me: If shouting at it to stop bloody bleeding counts as pressure, then yes.  

Sinéad: Erm…

The next morning, I had a new problem.

Massive sausage finger vs tiny, tiny cup

 

Did the bleeding ever stop? Did I manage to get that cup to my lips? Did I dig up the buried dog?? Find out in the next “exciting” installment… 

Sacré vert! It’s Green Day in Paris!

A random Tuesday night in the local bar:

Me: I think Green Day are coming this year. I’d love to see them live.

Manfredas: I’d be up for that. When are they coming?

Me: Not sure. Hold on, I’ll check… Aw crap, they’re coming on Thursday! There’s no way I can make that. 

Manfredas: (Sad face)

Me: Oh well. Guess I’ll just have to wait until the next time they’re in town. (Sigh)

The next morning, I woke up to a Facebook message:

Manfredas: Do you fancy going to see Green Day in Paris? 

Me: ??? Mais oui, bien sûr! 

Within the next couple of hours, flights were booked, concert tickets were reserved and an AirBnB apartment in the centre of Paris was found. German efficiency. Stupidly early on the 3rd of February, we were off!

We got to Orly Airport and made our way outside to wait for the Orly Bus to the city. The first one was too full to get on, with passengers’ faces squished against the windows. We managed to squeeze onto the next one, where we stood like sardines the whole way into the city. There was no chance to validate our tickets so it would be a free journey back. Irish rule-shirking.

We navigated the Métro easily and were soon standing in front of our apartment building on a postcard-perfect, cobbled street in Saint-Michel.

PARIS!
PARIS!

We had been sent a list of quite detailed instructions by the owner of the apartment, Julien. Unfortunately, he had failed to include the correct code for the front door. Luckily, another resident was leaving just as we were punching in the wrong code for the fifth time so we finally managed to get in.

After that u have to cross the yard : dont climb the first stairs but the last. The flat is at the 4th floor (without elevator) and it’s the door in front of the stairs, the last possible.

The door is sometimes a bit hard to open.
The lock to open is the lower one. The tip to do it easily is to push the key until the end and to take it back a little. Then turn a quarter round unclockwise and it’s done ;).

I wisely let Manfredas grapple with that.

Please don’t throw anything anormal in the toilets, it’s getting blocked really easily. There is a bin under the bathroom sink.

Poor Manfredas would refuse to poo in the loo for the whole of our time there. He figured, using flawless German logic, that a lady poo would probably be OK but a manly poo might be too much for the delicate French plumbing. It was actually quite hilarious having a German in a French apartment; if he’d had his tool kit, I think he would have spent most of the weekend straightening the crooked shelves and replumbing the entire apartment.

Thankfully he didn’t and it didn’t seem like Julien possessed anything remotely practical so we were able to leave the apartment and start exploring. The narrow, winding streets around the apartment were just so pretty and so French that I may have had a tiny orgasm. We certainly wouldn’t go hungry or thirsty as practically every second building was a bar, restaurant or café. The chances of going broke were far higher.

€20 for two scoops of ice-cream...
€21 for a lemon tart…

We managed to find a place that wouldn’t require taking out a loan and enjoyed our first croque monsieur and bottle of wine in Paris. We strolled around for a while, scoped out where the bus to the concert venue went from, and I exclaimed “Sacré bleu!” and “Oh là là” sporadically and for no apparent reason.

After a little rest (and some wine) in the apartment, we made our way to the bus stop. Upon overhearing our conversation on the bus, a lively debate sprang up among the locals about which stop we should get off at. Yeah, the French are soooo unfriendly…

We got off, got half-heartedly frisked on the way in, and made our way to our seats. Manfredas went and got us a couple of beers and then Green Day were on.

Billie Joe! It's me!
Billie Joe! It’s meeeee!

Having been a fan for quite a long time, my expectations were high. Green Day surpassed every one of them – they absolutely rocked the house. There was a lot of audience participation and one girl even got to keep the guitar that she played on stage. Manfredas had the added bonus of listening to me roaring along with the band for over two hours. Lucky devil.

We stumbled out of the stadium on a total high, jabbering on about how amazing it had been and how cool it was that we were actually in Paris and had seen Green Day. I wondered if I should hang around and wait for Billie Joe to come out so I could creepily stalk him but decided that a celebratory glass of wine was more important.

Coming across as a complete “Basket Case” probably wouldn’t have endeared me to him much anyway.