England/Germany 2002

In October of 2002, I went to visit my friends Jeff and Sabrina in England, and Cindy in Germany. Jeff was doing post-doctoral thesis work at the Cambridge, and Cindy was at the University of Mannheim on an exchange program.

I kept a diary (with some gaps), as has become my habit when on vacation. Also see the photographs.

England/Germany 2002 Trip Diary

Day 1, Monday Oct. 14

9:30 EST

Trip begins. Now in the air, leaving Canada. Airport was smooth, except that I still had my pocket knife when I got to the security desk. My baggage was already checked, so I couldn’t put it there. I gave it to the security guy. My special gift to him for a job well-done. Damn!

Cool “bomb wipe” thing, checking for chemical residue of explosives on the case of my laptop. They didn’t bother to check my camera. The usual half-assed job of security. Preferable to a fully-assed job, of course.

1:10 EST

Partway across the ocean. I now realize I forgot the AC adapter for my CD player. When the rechargeable battery dies, that will be it for music for two weeks. All the time spent selecting CDs for the trip wasted. Oh well, at least the inevitable forgotten item was a small one.

Just grabbed a bottle of Inniskillin Vidal icewine for Sabby from the duty-free cart. $29. We’ll see if it’s actually cheaper than the LCBO really.

22:15 GMT

Long wait for baggage. Tried to get pounds from bank machines, but NONE ACCEPT MY CARD! They all claim to support the Plus system, but it’s not working. I go to a money changer, get a measly £15 for my $50. I don’t think that will go far in the taxi in Cambridge. Hoping that bank machines there will work, or maybe a visa cash advance if I can find an open shop.

Barely made it onto the Cambridge bus on time. Couldn’t find the JetLink desk in Terminal 3. Found it, it was closed (contrary to the hours printed on my eticket). Had trouble finding central bus station. “Central bus station: Follow signs”. What signs? I don’t see any signs. There are no signs out by the bus-stops at T3. Only inside the terminal. Sensible. Ironically, it turns out that just show the eticket to the driver, no need to exchange it for a real ticket, so looking for the desk was a waste of time.

Anyway, on the road to Cambridge now. Bus driver is a madman. He’s driving on the wrong side of the road! I hope I don’t have to walk to Jeff and Sabby’s place.


Taxi fare to Jeff&Sabby’s was only £6. No problem. Snuck in quietly, Jeff told sleepy Sabby that Fuzzy
Bunny was here. She didn’t believe him at first. But she came down to see me, and was utterly delighted. It’s all

Sat up chatting til 2.

Day 2, Tuesday Oct. 15


Walked to the lab with Jeff. Sabby left before us. Stopped to buy a toothbrush. Tried bank card again, still no go!

Got to lab just about in time for tea. Met Charlie, Vicky, Gerda, Ian.

Talked about the old flapper, the new flapper, saw the PIV system and laser sheet.

Sat in on the lab meeting over lunch.


After lunch, Sabby and I left to tour around town. It was raining pretty heavily, got soaked but had fun. About to head home to change before going out to eat.

Still no money! Must contact CIBC.

Day 3, Wednesday Oct. 16

Wednesday was Sabby’s birthday. Worked a long time during the day with Gerda on the motor-speed controller. We never really got it working. I think they were just trying to run that motor too damn slowly. After the end of the day, we headed over to the Eagle to meet Sabby and Jeff, getting ready for a night of celebration.

A large collection of people moved in and out of the group over the evening, including Martin and Ed. After a while at the Eagle, we went to a Turkish restaurant for dinner. It was yummy. Then to another bar for more drinks, now down to just Martin, Ed, Jeff, Sabby and I.

Day 4, Thursday Oct. 17

Lunch with Martin and Ed, at a big restaurant Martin says is his favourite in town.

Evening, went to a talk on the effects of prenatal conditions throughout life. Martin is the presenter of this series of talks, but he’s not the actual speaker. It seemed mostly pretty intuitive, really.

Day 5, Friday Oct. 18


Spent the day on the town with Sabby. We went to the Fitzwilliam Museum. Way over-the-top extravagent architecture! Huge rooms, high ceilings, marble everywhere, elaborately decorated. Totally stunning! The museum itself holds paintings on the second floor, and antiquities (Egyptian, Greek, Roman) on the main floor. An impressive collection.

Also found our way down to the riverbank again, where I phoned Cindy, sitting on the banks of the Cam. We took some photos at the Mathematical Bridge, too.

Found Jeff at the University after his class on supervising students, and headed over to Happy Hour, to consume large amounts of beer.

Stopped at a pizza place on the way home. Pizza didn’t agree with Sabby, she threw it up that night. She claims this had nothing to do with the Smirnoff Ice coolers she drank.

Day 6, Saturday Oct. 19

Slept in too late to go to London. Spent the day in Cambridge instead. Walked downtown along the river all the way. We came across a tiny riverside pub called the Fort St. George that Jeff remembered from his previous stay in Cambridge, but had been unable to find again. Continued to Garfunkels for late breakfast.

After breakfast, toured King’s College chapel. Took lots of pictures outside, but none allowed inside. Checked out some shops.

We left Sabby at home, while Jeff and I went to buy some food to cook. We returned, and made some chicken with some sort of easy sauce stuff in a jar. Quite good.

Then Jeff and I left to go to the Fort St. George pub, where I educated him about diodes, transistors, TTL logic circuits, combinational vs sequential logic, the “sequencer” portion of the encoder-to-voltage converter he’s going to build, flip-flops, and ripple vs synchronous counters. Drank more real ales 🙂

Day 7, Sunday Oct. 20

Went to London. The plan was to go to Mme Tussdaud’s, maybe the Sherlock Holmes Museum around the corner, and maybe a museum or two.

Mme Tussaud’s turned out to have a huge two-hour lineup. We weren’t going to waste our day on that. Went to the Sherlock museum, which was small and crowded, but somewhat cool. I’d probably have enjoyed it more if I was able to recognize more of the relics of the various stories.

From there to the British Museum. Huge! We saw a bunch more antiquities, sculptures raided from the Egyptian tombs. Sculpture overload, eventually. Sabby spent a good time looking at the mummies. Jeff and I enjoyed the “money” and clocks and watches exhibits. We were tired after this, went out for a bite. First grabbed some wide-angle photos of the immense reading room at the centre of the museum. We never went to the asian and arts sections.

After sandwiches, we head to the Museum District, to see either the Natural History Museum, or the Science Museum, whichever is still open. Science Museum takes it, but it’s huge! We only get through a couple exhibits (History of Medicine, and some Scientific Instruments) before we’re getting the boot. We head for home.

Just barely missed the train, had to wait for the next, about 40 minutes, I think. Had a bunch of kids near us, Sabby clearly suffering from the commotion they caused. Taxi home, late dinner of home-made fish-n-chips and beer. Bed.

Day 8, Monday Oct. 21

Travel to Germany day. Not entirely without certain nightmare aspects.

Got to Stansted without great difficulty. Long wait for my check-in to open, followed by short wait at the gate. Snarfed back a Stella Artois while waiting. Got a nice seat on the plane, well ahead of the engine (would be a first-class seat on a regular airline).

Landed in Frankfurt, and the nightmare began. I was at the Hahn airport, a tiny little place, not the big airport Cindy thought I would land at. There were cows beside the runway. There were no trains to Mannheim, that would take Visa. Only a bus that wouldn’t. And it wouldn’t take the £8 I had left either. And bank machines that, as usual, would not give me any money. No shops would do a Visa cash advance. So, stuck in a hick airport with no way out, no Euros, and no way to get Euros.

British Telecom SIM card works in Germany, but only for voice. TIM SIM works, but only for GPRS. T-Mobile SIMs don’t work at all. Had to switch back and forth between SIMs for a while, since my European-band Blackberry seemed to have a bad microphone. Called Cindy.


Ok, I made it to Mannheim. I was about to rent a car, and hope I could find my way without a map (which I couldn’t buy, no *#*!* Euros!). But the lady at the information booth suggested I could ask the bus driver to take me without paying, and Cindy could meet us at the terminal with money. He agreed. Hallelujah, Mannheim here I come!

Arranged it with Cindy by phone, though it was awkward, since the bus schedule didn’t give an exact location where she should meet us, and driver spoke almost no English.

But that was moot, because the bus arrived in Mannheim an hour early for some reason. Of course, Cindy wasn’t there. The driver let me go without paying 🙂 I offered him my £8, but he didn’t want it. Just shook my hand, and drove off. A nice guy!

So, I called Cindy, and she somehow managed to find me. There were no street signs (typical Europe), so I don’t know how we managed it. The only street-sign I could find said “Einbahnstrasse”, but it turns out that that means “one-way street” :-). Not helpful.

Cindy and I went back to the Irish pub where she had been waiting. Had a beer before heading to her place. Did battle with the late-night transit service for a while, walked for quite a while, before arriving at her place with a very sore back.

We sat up talking for quite a while. It felt like a sleep-over 🙂

Actually, another trick I thought of to get Euros is to sit around the shops in the airport shops and ask people to let me put their purchases on my Visa, and give me the cash. Only thought of that after I got to Cindy’s place, though.

So there you go: Ron’s guide to getting around in Europe with no money and no way to get any.

Day 9, Tuesday Oct. 22

Slept badly, back hurting a lot.

After breakfast, went downtown, Cindy to her classes, me shopping. Finally got some money, Visa cash-advance at a bank. Found some pain-killer, and a phone-jack adapter for the modem.

Mannheim is a much more modern city than Cambridge. That’s probably because it was almost completely destroyed in WW2.

Now I’m sitting in a cafe, sipping coffee and waiting for my back-pain medicine to take effect. Writing emails and diary entries.


In Heidelberg now, very beautiful old town. Took the train here with Cindy after her classes. She’s gone to audition for a play. I walked down the Hauptstrasse (Mainstreet), took a picture down at the river that looked cool. Walked back along some sidestreets. Got tired, and landed in a bar called Zum Weissen Schwanen (The White Swan, I think). Chatting with a friendly old German guy. Had a local beer, Heidelberger Pils, and a Köstritzer Schwarzbier. Still waiting for Cindy to SMS me back.

Cindy arrived, we left for Mannheim to join some friends of hers at the Irish bar Murphy’s Law for trivia night. It was fun, until the music started getting too loud. We were tired too, and left around 11pm.

Day 10, Wednesday Oct. 23

Got up early, intending to go to Heidelberg again, to see the castle before Cindy’s classes back in Mannheim. Maybe return to Heidelberg after for the boat tour and dinner.

Must get to an Internet cafe today to settle my travel plans. Not sure how best to get back to Heathrow for my flight out. Ryanair is proving inconvenient, since there’s only a bus to the tiny Hahn airport, and then I’ll need another bus to Heathrow from Stansted. I doubt I can do all that on Friday in time for my flight, I might need to go tomorrow.

Also should check out possibility of other flights from Frankfurt direct to Heathrow, or trains.


Took longer than expected to find an Internet cafe. They wouldn’t let us plug my laptop onto their network at most plaves. But we found one guy who was willing to bend the rules, when I assured him that my laptop was indeed virus-free.

VPN worked perfectly. Cindy spent a while going through her email. Then we started up the Blackberry software and cradled her device. Generating a new encryption key turned out to be all she needed to make it work. She was already on the UK relay. She was delighted when her blackberry started receiving email for the first time in two months.

Looked up some flight info and train info to get me back to Heathrow on Friday. All very dubious.

After that, we went back to Hauptbahnhof, she had a class nearby, and I wanted to talk to the train agents about a train to Heathrow. They quoted me something like €340 and 5 transfers. Ridiculous. Ryanair was cheaper, and easier than that.

Walked up to a Lufthansa travel agent, to ask about flights from the big Frankfurt airport to Heathrow. She was able to get me a return ticket for €170, not much more than the Ryanair flight from Hahn to Stansted, and a great deal more convenient. Bought it. It should get me to Heathrow in plenty of time before my flight to Canada.

Spent rest of afternoon walking around Mannheim. Cindy got out of class a little bit early, SMSed me. Met her back at the Hauptbahnhof, and we boarded a train to Heidelberg.

Tourist info booth told us there is no sightseeing boat with a restaurant. We decided to try to find it again ourselves, but it was gone. Perhaps it was actually from somewhere else. We went back to the Altstadt. Walked down to Bismarckplatz and back looking for nice restaurant. Ended up at a restaurant called Perkeo, very nice inside. I had Rouladen and a glass of Shiraz, Cindy had Schnitzel with sauerkraut, with a glass of some unknown Italian white-wine.

Cindy thinks I’m writing terrible things about her in here. I have to keep reading passages to her to reassure her.

After restaurant, back to Mannheim, tired and full.

Day 11, Thursday Oct. 24

Woke up early (horribly early) to get to Heidelberg in time for a walking tour or boat tour. Arrived too late for the first boat tour, and the walking tour was too expensive, decided to do our own tour.

Climbed up to the castle, over 300 steps. The castle is amazing and gorgeous. Partially in ruins, with an amazing view of the town. Inquired about tickets: guided tours €12, tickets to go in yourself, €2. Bought the cheap tickets.

Walked around outside more before going in. There’s a large portion of wall that fell off a round tower, but stayed together mostly. Now it leans against the side of the tower.

Inside, we saw a couple huge barrels. Probably contained enough water (or beer!) to withstand a lengthy siege. In front of the bigger barrel, a statue of Perkeo, mascot of the restaurant from yesterday. So maybe it was a wine-barrel.

Castle also had a museum of artworks depicting the castle, and local music. And another museum of “apotheke” (drugstore) history. Sort-of boring, but at least we got to see more of the castle.

Turns out the guided-tour gets to see more of the castle than the self-guided ones. That sucks.

Walked back down to the town, with a while to go before the next boat-tour. Went to a cafe right beside the Uniplatz. Had hot chocate, cappucino, and fried apples.

Went down to the riverside to find a boat tour, but it turns out that the tour we wanted wasn’t running (despite the sign). The nice big boat with the dinner tables only did one run per day, the one we missed. So, no boat tour. Probably too cold anyway.

Walked back to Bismarckplatz. Stopped at a Spiegel+Frieziet (toystore), I picked up that Geomag set that’s been on my mind for days.

Back to Heidelberg, and home. Cindy made some pasta things sort of like wontons. Planned to go to the planetarium that evening, but the brochures we looked at made clear that there was only one show on Thursday afternoon, and we missed it.

We decided instead to go to a ballet. Not usually my sort of thing, but I’d never seen one, so it was worth a try. It turned out to a very modern, abstract thing, with weird techno-like music, and a lot of writhing around on the floor. Plus weird spoken bits (“Pting placed the placenta on the polenta pie.”) It was actually a Canadian dance troupe. The Germans seemed to like it.

Then home. Packed up my stuff, so we can get going early tomorrow. Now, to sleep.

Cold getting worse, very stuffed up all day.

Day 12, Friday Oct. 25

Going home day.

Woke up early, 7:00am, feeling periodic hints of upset stomach. Perhaps this cold is turning into a flu. I hope I don’t get seriously sick on the flight.

We found me a ticket on an “IC” train. Very fast, should get me to Frankfurt Flughafen in 30 minutes. Only €4 more than a slow crappy train that would require me to transfer. Should arrive at the airport at 10:02 for my first flight to Heathrow at 11:45.

And here we go…


A lot of security at Frankfurt Flughafen, but all pretty smooth. Taxiing for take-off now. Home, here I come!

In flight…

I ate some guy’s Muslim lunch. The regular lunch was smoked salmon. Yucky. All the vegetarian lunches were gone, but they had one special Muslim lunch for a passenger who didn’t make the flight. They gave it to me. Mozzarella sandwich.

In flight again…

Landing in Heathrow uneventful, except for some inner-ear discomfort likely caused by my cold.

Collected my baggage, made the long trek to Terminal 3 for my flight to Canada, checked in. Had some hours to pass, spently mostly cruising the shops and restaurants after the security checkpoint. Bought some decongestant to hopefully prevent a recurrence of the ear discomfort when I land in Canada. On a previous similar landing, my inner ear got filled with fluid, which took days to clear, with the help of some antibiotics. Don’t want that again.

Flight boarded quite early, but left the gate about 20 minutes late. Raining. Now in flight, somewhere over the
atlantic. Just finished dinner.

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