Feb 102012


The Ill river in Strasbourg freezing over. 

You may have heard tell the Europe is presently a little chilly. This is not being exaggerated!  It is, indeed, COLD.  “Ah”, I am tempted to say.  “But, it’s a dry cold!”

Even here in one of the warmer corners of the continent, we are seeing daily temps hovering around -7 degrees C (about 19 F).  A typical night this month drops to about -13 C (8 F).  There is snow drifting down into Africa and even the Sahara Desert- the first, we are told, in 30 years!

We haven’t gotten much snow, but we try to make the best of what we have.
Interestingly, the snow is so cold that it is complete powder. 
You can blow it off you hands or trees and it will float on the breeze!

For this reason, it is particularly important at this time that we have reliable transportation.  Unfortunately, Little Blue, our petite second-hand VW Golf, has been feeling a wee bit under the weather, so to speak.  Actually, it has been hacking up a lung and chirping like a cricket.

Saturday, realizing that we were likely to have some issues if we delayed any longer,  David took the car down to the VW dealership about 1/2 km from our house.  There, it merrily chirped and coughed for the service rep, who regretfully informed David that the earliest they could work on it was Wednesday.  But, if we brought it in that morning the dealership would rent us a car so we could get the kids to and from school.  Fair enough.  At my behest, David also asked if they could please do an oil change when they had it in there.  I had noticed the oil looked a bit, well, inky black actually.  So, I had been eager to get it cleaned out. The rep noted it on our appointment.

So, we avoided driving it as much as possible for the next 3 days, and dutifully brought it back Wednesday morning…. Only, now the noise seemed to have stopped.  With the skeptical mechanic standing by, the car would make nary a peep.  They agreed to check it out anyways and rented David a pleasant enough little dealer car…. with one rather large quirk:

Passenger Side Pedals!

 It had been used as a Drivers Education car!  The passenger side pedals override everything else.  So, no one is allowed to sit in front!  Um… Groovy?

From the outside it looks pretty standard.

At the prescribed time, David returned the rental and picked up our Little Blue.  Not only had they failed to find and fix whatever the issue is.  They hadn’t even done the oil change!  Apparently, it “wasn’t due on the schedule”.  To say I was displeased would be an understatement.  I knew darned well that it was a matter of when not if the car would break down with me and the kids in it- Or, worse, would break down as I was on my way to pick up one or the other of the kids.  I was not looking forward to this experience.  Plus, we had just spent 100 EU and a difficult day for essentially nothing.

As it turns out, I was both correct and incorrect about my guessed outcome.  I will let David pick up the story from here:

David’s Tale

So this morning I pile into the car with the kids at our usual unholy pre-dawn hour to go to school and we head off to Gengebach.  Everything seems fine until we get most of the way there when all of a sudden the car starts to both sound and drive as if it had swallowed a bison.  There’s nowhere to pull off to the side of the road instantly, so we limp to the next exit and pull off across a bridge and into a clear area on the other side.  Stop the car and get out and look.  Nothing obvious inside, but its clearly hosed.  

Ok, time to test out our new ADAC (German AAA equivalent) membership I guess. 

I read the roadside assistance number off our info and call.  A prerecorded message babbles at me in German for a minute and then tells me that no one is available right now, please call back later.  CLICK

Um, what?

I try again and this time hear it offer me another menu option if I press 1.  I guess I hadn’t pressed it in time before (?) and this time manage to make it to a dispatcher.  After a brief conversation and my member number it turns out this fellow speaks pretty decent English, which makes my life easier.  I describe our problem (took car in yesterday, car is toast now) and that we’d like to take it to the shop that saw it yesterday and can you please send someone.  The kids pipe in from the back seat to remind me to tell them I have two kids with me (tends to speed things up), and he asks how old.  I try to explain where we are (Garmin gives us the street name at least).  Ok then, help is on the way.  It should arrive within the next 2 hours.  Oh and do I have a warm building to stay in?

Excuse me?  Did I mention it was well below freezing and we can’t have the car running because the engine is busted?  I point this out to him and he doesn’t offer any helpful advice, just says that no, they can’t get someone there sooner than that. 

Sort  of diggin’ the ADAC
megablock set

So we wait.  At first it is just time ticking away, as everyone reads / draws / sits / etc… but it becomes increasingly obvious that with the car off the heat is leaving rapidly.  We get everyone as bundled as possible and I make a point of checking on everyone repeatedly.  Wiggle your toes, how are your fingers, etc… sorts of stuff.  We’re doing decently, but its clear DD’s feet are the least well insulated of our extremities and are getting cold.  Ok, shoes off, DS can sit on them.

Lots of giggling ensues, but it does seem to do the trick.  Everyone stays warm enough now and we wait.. for the two hours stated.  

We then get a call from someone with whom I have almost no luck communicating.  His German is really thick, and he doesn’t seem to understand much of what I say.  Eventually he hangs up and I really hope he’s headed to where we are.  We give it a few more minutes and I consider calling the dispatch to try to relay more information.  I get out of the car and look for him, since he had asked me to do that to make it easier to spot me.

Finally a yellow ADAC van pulls up in front of us (not a tow truck) and a second ordinary car behind us.  An older gentleman gets out of the ordinary car and upon seeing the ADAC car smiles and shakes my hand.  He was apparently just a random fellow making sure we were ok. I thank him for doing so and he climbs back in his car and takes off.  

I go talk to the ADAC guy, not sure what he can do from here.

The ADAC fellow is a small older man with the incomprehensible German I had spoken to before.  His van clearly has no towing supplies but has a whole bunch of tools.  I vaguely wonder if a miracle will occur and he’ll magically fix the car.  He opens a bunch of cabinets, pokes through stuff, pops the hood, and looks at the car.  After turning it on for a moment he turns it back off and then tries to explain something else to me that I didn’t understand (par for the course with him unfortunately).  Finally he goes and fetches a brochure from his van that has a picture of a tow truck on it and says his colleague will come to tow us.  Great.  

Ok then, he hops back in his van and drives away, leaving us sitting there again.

Time passes.

Not that much time fortunately, and then I get another call.  This turns out to the tow truck who wants to know where we are located.  I explain to the best of my ability and he says ok he’ll be there in half an hour.  Um, its pretty cold out and I have two kids here, can you make it any faster?  Unfortunately no, he’s (somewhere incomprehensible) that is 20km away and it’ll take him the full half hour.

Ok, we wait in the car.  Colder now that the door has been open, but we’re ok.  Everyone is still engaged and seems to be doing fine.  35 minutes roll by and we’re hoping I did in fact manage to describe where we are when the tow truck shows up.  Young fellow is driving it who looked a lot like a tow truck driver you’d get in the States.  His German is much easier to understand and he seems to get a bit of our English too when I’m talking to the kids.  There’s only barely enough room for us in the truck so we drop everyone’s backpacks off in the car and climb in. 

More fun ADAC toys!  Collect the whole set!

We arrive at the VW dealer without incident and the tow truck guy looks around for a good parking spot, and failing to find one just unhooks the car in the middle of the parking lot.  Here, sign here, and he hops in the truck and takes off.  Usually I would have expected him to put it in a spot or something but eh, not today I guess.

The service folks at VW basically recognize me and I describe that I had bought the car in for a noise yesterday and that today it had a big noise and drives badly.  The receptionist talks to the technician who seems to say ‘eh’, and she says please wait until he can come see you.  Now that we’re all somewhere heated it is all a fair bit easier but I’m feeling fairly annoyed to be back here with a broken car after having taken it in to be fixed yesterday.

I don’t really feel like I’m getting proper priority so I use the car location as an excuse to talk to the receptionist again.  The tow truck left my car in a bad spot see, we should probably move it.  The lady didn’t quite get it, but the older lady next to her did and explains that we were towed there.  Oooh, I understand now, your car had to be towed today!  That changes things.  Hang on.

She runs off to chat with the technician again, and we do in fact get much speedier service thereafter.   I talk to him about what happened, and show him the car.  He turns it on for a moment and then right off again.  Um yeah.  He talks to his boss and they decide that the problem may very well be the timing belt work that was done in Kehl by the other VW dealer, but that they’ll need to open it up to see for sure.  They can’t do it today but they can do it tomorrow.

No, they don’t have a rental car available, but when he realizes I was towed by ADAC and am an ADAC member he says ADAC has a rental car program and I should just talk to them.  How exactly would I do that I ask.  It ends up with him calling ADAC on the phone to ask them about it.  ADAC says you only get a car if your current car is ‘destroyed in an accident’ which mine isn’t, so no dice there.  He then gives me the number for another car rental place and says I should call them.

Do you have a car available tomorrow?  I ask.  Yes.  Ok, I will take that one.  Oh uh, ok.  We make arrangements to pick it up tomorrow and then walk home.  Not terribly far but still negative whatever degrees.

So… end result:

Everyone home safe and sound and properly warmed up.
Car at the shop waiting to be examined.  Probably going to be shenanigans getting it fixed and paid for.
Rental car available for Friday – Monday when I go pick it up in the morning.

I think that’s enough difficult German conversations for one day for me.

Warming Up

So, what is the proper follow up to such an adventure?  Mothers everywhere know: Hot Chocolate, warm showers, lots of hugs and a good meal!  I chose fresh French bread and a French-peasant-style chicken dish made with lardons of bacon and mulled cider : )

Nice Crumb if I do say so myself!
Good Crust

DD’s Design Center Trip

DD was lucky enough to have our other Big Adventure for the week.  Her art class at Hogwarts took a fieldtrip down to the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, near the Swiss border just outside Basel.  The trip had been planned for a month.  But, her Art teacher got ill and was unable to lead it.  So, the French and Math teachers took over.  After a 2 hour bus ride, when they arrived the museum did not have a record of their appointment!  While the kids stood outside throwing snowballs, the teachers argued with the staff.  Eventually, they were allowed a tour of the grounds, but not of the current exhibit.  The buildings were designed by famous architects, and I correctly identified the one by Frank Gehry- who designed a building very familiar to Los Angelinos- the Disney Concert Hall.

Here are DD’s photos:

Gehry’s building

Leading a tour of the very cold students

The “VitraHaus” by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron- We thought it had a Lincoln Log effect

Map of the facility- they make and design high end chairs

This narrow path ran around the grounds.

There were apparently images being projected inside this

Another view of Gehry’s work

Sculpture in a snowy field

Tadao Ando designed this conference hall based off of
Japanese Tatami sleeping mats

More of the Tatami conference room

Walking Single File on the Path

This wall is just… a wall.  It creates a courtyard- or a place to walk around with tours.

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