Sunday, December 10, 2006

Nuremberg Trip

Sorry, I forgot to tell you I was going away again. There you are, sitting there checking my blog every day and wondering why I'm not writing anything (what a complete fantasy world I live in!), and all the time I'm away on a business trip.

Nuremberg is in the northern part of Bavaria known as Franconia, and the city is well-known for many things. Let's get the unsavoury one out of the way first: the Nazi war crimes tribunals were held here after World War II, and the city bears the scars of extensive bomb damage. Of course, everything has been rebuilt long ago, but the modern, boxey, post-war structures are a poor substitute for what was there before. Looking at the untouched old buildings it's easy to imagine the whole city looking like that, and it's a nicer picture than what is there today. Other claims to fame are that the city is home to the giant toy maker (that's a large company, not a huge bloke with a wooden train in one hand and a screwdriver in the other) Playmobil, the area has some 3,000 breweries (Yay!), it is home to the Christkindlesmarkt: one of the most famous Christmas markets in the world. And, last but not least, it is home to SUSE, the Linux company that Novell acquired three years ago, hence the reason for my visit.

Nuremberg is a long way from Riyadh, too long for a two-day trip, some might think. Ordinarily I'd agree with you, but I'm a seasoned traveller now and take this kind of journey in my stride, plus when you live in Riyadh you think very carefully before turning down an opportunity to go somewhere else, even for a short while.
Riyadh to Zurich with Swissair was an overnight flight, leaving at 2am and getting in around 0615, during the six-hour flight I got about 90 minutes' sleep. Then two hours later the second leg to Nuremberg was only one hour's flying time. These short regional flights use very small aircraft: the one I took was a De Havilland Dash 8-300: a twin prop with only fourteen rows of four seats.

My Star Alliance frequent flyer profile has my seat preference as Aisle, as near the front as possible, so naturally I was in a window seat in the back row for this flight. The interesting thing about having a seat like this on a plane like this (with the wings at the top of the fuselage), is that you can see the landing gear in full, so I could watch the starboard wheel spinning madly away, and continuing to spin all the time from leaving the ground to being tucked away in it's compartment under the engine. And when we landed I saw the wheel hit the tarmac -- the expected small puff of burnt rubber on impact being replaced by a catherine wheel of spray from the wet runway.

I met up with two teammates, BP from the UK and Bernd, who is a local and our host for the two days. Bernd is a Goth, with long black hair, tattoos, always dressed in black and with a taste for Black Metal music. Rather disconcertingly he doesn't look at all out of place among his SUSE co-workers; one developer I bumped into was wearing 70's-style black punk trousers with a strap joining the knees, and -- forgive my ignorance of the proper name -- Ninja shoes, with a gap between the big toe and the others. That's what you get for trespassing in the domain of the Linux hacker. Slightly scary appearance aside Bernd is a very nice, normal guy, happily married and with a three-year-old daughter.
The work side of things was very productive and worthwhile, as were our evening activities. Bernd was a very good host and guide; obviously very proud of his home city and taking care to point out its interesting features and history as we travel around. The first night he took us to Landbierparadis, which roughly translates as Local Brew Heaven, so you can guess what kind of night we had in store. The interior was typically German: basic, plain, but functional, and most tables were occupied when we arrived by locals dressed for the winter; thick woolly jumpers and hats everywhere you looked. One half-page of the four page menu listed food dishes, the rest -- I kid you not -- was dedicated to beer; there must've been over thirty different kinds on offer. We took Bernd's advice on both beer and food choices, and I was treated to a stein (stone beer mug) of Schwarze Anna, a dark, frothy and very tasty beer. My food arrived along with a second mug of Schwarze Anna (you signified to the waitress that you were ready for another beer by laying your stein on its side); Bernd had ordered for me a local Franconian speciality, I think it was called Schaufehle. Well, that name will do as a placeholder for now and I'll correct it once I check with Bernd tomorrow, but I know I'm close. Anyway, Schaufehle is shoulder of Pork, first boiled and then roasted, and it was the most tender, delicious piece of Pork I have ever tasted. The meat just fell off the bone and melted in the mouth, it had a lovely crunchy blackened top, and of course a thick, crispy strip of crackling crowned the creation. This was served with Klose, which are balls of potato that have been mashed when raw, then squashed into balls about the size of snooker balls, along with some other ingredients, then boiled. The result was a potato "dumpling" that was as springy to cut into as a suet dumpling. I had two of these on the plate next to my majestic serving of Pork, all swimming in gravy -- lovely. I couldn't eat it all.

On the second evening Bernd took us to the Christkindlesmarkt in the town square, where we had a lovely time strolling up and down the lanes of market stalls after dark with thousands of other people, all wrapped up warm against the cold, their breath visible in the air as they browsed the stalls.

Both BP and I had neglected to bring our cameras on the trip, so Bernd kindly lent me his so I could get some shots of the brightly coloured and festively decorated stalls. Christmas decorations, toys, music boxes, hats, gloves, Lebkuchen, Bratwurst rolls

"1/2 metre of Bratwurst, anyone?"

and, most importantly, Gluhwein. Gluhwein is hot, mulled wine and was being served in commemorative boot-shaped cups. You paid 2.50 Euro deposit for the cup on top of the price of the drink (or more accurately, Bernd paid), then you could choose to return it for a refund or just keep it as a souvenir.

My favourite person in the Christkindlmarkt: the Gluehwein Lady

I kept my cup as a souvenir!

Hand-made wooden toys. See if you can spot Pinocchio

A village of lantern houses

One of my purchases. You put a candle inside this cute little ceramic hotel and all the windows light up.

"Not sure which one's Donner and which Blitzen. No, wait... they were reindeer weren't they?"

After the market we walked around town a bit and did some more shopping, before going through the market once more on our way back to the car, and I stopped to buy a few bits to take home. Once back at the car Bernd took us to nearby Erlangen, a university town with a very good Sushi restaurant called Haru.

My journey home began with waking at 5am to shower, pack, check out, and get to the airport for a 0730 flight to Frankfurt. My return route is Nuremberg -- Frankfurt -- Beirut -- Riyadh, and each connection was less than one hour, so I couldn't afford any delays. I'd packed a small suitcase so was able to carry on board with me, which helped a lot. Although only a 30 minute flight, the Frankfurt leg was delayed by 30 minutes, which meant we touched down just as my next flight (to Beirut) was starting to board. Two circumstances enabled me to catch the next flight: there were at least ten others on the plane who needed to make the same connection, and the connecting flight was taking off from the other side of the airport. These two things together led the airline to decide to help us all catch it rather than taking off without us, which they would undoubtedly have done had there only been two of three of us in the situation.
As it was, there was a man in a dayglo jacket holding a sign saying, "Beirut" at the bottom of the stairs, and he led the twelve of us to a waiting bus, which then drove us to the other side of the airport, then the steward led us up a flight of stairs, into the terminal, up another floor in a lift, to the gate to have our boarding cards checked, then down two flights of stairs and into another waiting bus, which then took us directly to the plane. All of this carrying two heavy bags too! I was almost starting to "glow" a bit. The Frankfurt -- Beirut leg was three and a half hours, on a modern plane which, unusually, had no entertainment infrastructure of any kind. There were no seatback screens, no ceiling-mounted screens, in fact no screens at all. There wasn't even a headphone socket in the armrest. I've never been on such an aircraft before and wish I'd made a note of the make and model (don't know why, guess I'm just sad that way).
Again, on landing at Beirut airport (my first visit to Lebanon but it doesn't really count as such) I just had time to walk briskly from one plane to another via the transit check-in desk, then it was off again on the last, two-hour leg to Riyadh.

The journey lasted -- having left the hotel at 6am and arriving home at 8pm with a two-hour time difference -- twelve hours. A lot of faffing about it's true, but well worth it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Neal,

I stumbled across your blog as I am going to Riyadh myself soon. Just though you might be interested to know, 'Landbierparadies' has a website:
(unfortunately only in German)

and since December 2008 have even more beer on offer:

If you enjoyed Nuermberg then pay Bamberg a visit sometime (also in Franconia). Lovely place and it's the beer-capital of Germany ;-)