So what exactly are the official holidays? With UAE National Day falling on the ever-predictable 2nd December, it was reasonably safe to infer well in advance that Thursday would be a day off. Islamic New Year, on the other hand, was going to be a different matter.
As usual, the date of 1st Muharram would be subject to seeing the new moon on the previous evening around sunset. In the UAE, the astronomical new moon was going to occur on Sunday 5th December at 9:36pm. This is well after sunset and moonset as eny fule kno, therefore the new moon would surely be spotted on Monday 6th December and the New Year holiday would be on Tuesday.
Except the gubmint decreed about three days in advance that the public sector would have Sunday for New Year (making a four day weekend – huzzah!) That same gubmint instructed that the private sector would have Saturday off for New Year. Anyone who has a two-day weekend in the UAE will instantly realize that this is a chiz: having your holiday on a normal weekend.
It is high time that public and private sectors had the same official holidays. Come to that, publishing the holidays well in advance so that we can actually plan ahead might be nice. The date and time of the new moon isn’t magic: anyone reading this is surely connected to the Interwebz, small parts of which are dedicated to publishing the dates and times of movements across the celestial sphere.
On with the story, and Beloved Wife gleefully emailed the information regarding her long weekend. Having failed to get a holiday decision out of De Management, the Goat booked Sunday as annual leave and then booked flights and hotels. Goat and Wife were off to Bavaria! Dust off the winter woollies, and in the Goat’s case unearth a pair of chunky boots. These have steel toecaps and therefore go down well through airport security.
It was going to be more practical to fly from Abu Dhabi to Munich than from Dubai via Istanbul, so Etihad became the airline of choice. We were deposited in a sub-zero and snowy Munich at some obscene hour of Thursday morning. Once we’d figured out the cheapest way to get to the hotel by train, an all-day, all-zone family ticket for €18, we rolled into town past Christmassy scenery as the train filled with commuters. At the Novotel München Messe the receptionist was happy to let us have our room immediately rather than wait until mid-afternoon to check in, so we collapsed for a few hours to recover from the red-eye flight.
München Messe is a new, modern development on the site of the former Riem airport. The Novotel is astonishingly close to a metro station, which made travel in and out of town spectacularly easy, as we discovered once we arose at the crack of noon.
The primary purpose of the visit was to explore the famous German Christmas markets that spring up in clusters all over cities in Germany and beyond. It’s not only glass ornaments and wooden mobiles for sale.
Beloved Wife advised that there was a very large and famous Christkindlmarkt in Nürnberg (or ‘Nuremberg’ for those who don’t have an umlaut on the keyboard (which is a right pain when writing about Germany)), so one day we took a day trip through the magical snowscape of Bavaria in winter. Nürnberg was indeed very much as advertised, complete with oompah band and sub-zero temperatures. As in München, plenty of locals, expats and tourists were happy to engage in conversations in a mixture of English and German.
Many sausages, beers, Glühweins and Christmas ornaments later, we reeled unsteadily back to the railway station and caught the fast train back to München Hauptbahnhof. Despite the tales of woe on the TV about how this disastrous and unprecedented snow was affecting transport across Europe and completely halting all movement in the UK, our experience was that everything was working to timetable in Bavaria. Unprecedented? It snows every winter, and the only unusual thing about 2010 is that it came a bit early.
The public transport ticketing in and around Munich is very similar to the systems we encountered in Rome and Naples earlier this year. You can buy a single ticket at a machine at the station or on the bus or tram, you frank it yourself, and then it’s good for a couple of hours. Or you buy one of a selection of all-day or all-week passes. There is no need to get yourself to the Hauptbahnhof in order to buy a smart card that you then have to preload with credit before you use public transport. Dubai, take note. The system relies very much on trust; it would be incredibly easy to ride for free. In all our travels only one metro employee produced an ID card and asked for Fahrkarten bitte. I conclude that the fines for getting caught fare-dodging are extremely punitive, or that Germans are incredibly law abiding, or some combination of the above.
It wasn’t all eating and drinking. I did something for the first time in my life: I walked on the natural ice covering Nymphenburger Schloß ornamental canal.
So the Goat can indeed walk on water – something he had hitherto only suspected.
Others were playing ice hockey or a game similar to curling, and in a random walk through
Narnia a Munich park, we discovered children tobogganing.
My extolling the virtues of German organisation went awry when I tried to send the Nanny Goat a Christmas card. Could I find a post box anywhere? Eventually the unposted card ended up on the airside of Munich airport. I asked in the shop that sold postcards and souvenirs where I could mail a card, only to be told unhelpfully: “Unmöglich”. If it is indeed impossible, why do you sell the damned postcards? Beloved Wife resolved the problem by smiling sweetly at Etihad ground staff and asking the nice lady to post this envelope when she got off shift. And I’m pleased to report that the card duly arrived chez Nanny Goat less than a week later.
We both slept on the return flight to Abu Dhabi. This was just as well because I drove straight to work. Meanwhile, Beloved Wife had to get back to Dubai before reporting for duty on Monday morning. To my delight, De Management had finally made a decision regarding holidays and decreed that my office would be closed on Tuesday. I spent most of the holiday recovering from the ravages of time zones and tryptophan.