Gerry’s Diary 176: A train adventure, Dresden, seedless grapes, US election (21 October, 2016)

Hi, this is Gerry and this is my Diary for Friday 21st October 2016. On today’s show I’m going to talk about my holiday in Germany and a shopping problem at home. But first let’s go back to my pub quiz question about America. I asked you: When the Americans talk about the “battleground states”, what do they mean? What are the “battleground states”? Not so many of you wrote to me with the answer to this one, but congratulations to Armin and Charles who both seem to be interested in American politics because they both knew the answer. The “battleground states” are the states which decide who the next American president will be. Each state gets a number of votes. It depends on the population [1] of the state, so big states get more votes than small states. Some states always (or nearly always) vote for the Democratic candidate and some states always (or nearly always) vote for the Republican candidate, but some states sometimes vote Democrat and sometimes Republican, so these are the most important states in the election: states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado or North Carolina. The word “battleground” is a military word – it’s a place where two armies [2] fight, and have a battle [3]. This year we can perhaps understand why we use words like this because there hasn’t been much discussion: it’s just been a big fight between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton should win, but after the Brexit referendum who knows? But not long to wait now.


As I told you on my last show, I had a holiday last month. My wife and I first went to Switzerland for a wedding, and then after a few days in Zurich we took the train for a trip to Germany. Before I went I wondered: What will the highlight of this holiday be? What will I talk about in 20161021 E German trainmy next podcast? I didn’t expect to have a dramatic train story to tell you. German and Swiss trains are not usually dramatic. They’re comfortable and they run on time. But not this time. After a weekend in Munich we took the train [4] to Dresden. The first train was from Munich to Nuremberg (Nürnberg). It was an ICE – very comfortable and on time. But then we changed onto slower regional trains, first to Hof and then on to Dresden. Our third train seemed very slow. After some stopping and starting, it stopped for a final time. We all sat in the train and waited. Nothing happened. After an hour, they told us that our train had broken down and that we had to evacuate [5]. Some railway men arrived on bicycles, and helped us get out of the train. A train is quite high and we had to get down firstly from the train onto the ground [6] – with our suitcases – and then down a bank [7] onto a path beside the track [8]. After that we had to walk to the next station. It wasn’t so far – about 500 metres – but it was quite difficult because the path was very narrow for our suitcases. Fortunately, the weather was good. At the next station we then had to wait for another train to take us to Dresden. We arrived there two hours late. But that wasn’t the end of the story. In Dresden we were going to stay in a little apartment in the old town – not in a hotel but in an apartment. We had to meet the owner [9] at 4:30 to get the key [10], but now we were two hours late.

From the train I texted [11] the owner to say that the train was late. The owner then asked: What time are you now going to arrive? I texted: I don’t know yet. And then I noticed that the battery on my phone was nearly dead. The last message that I sent said: We hope to arrive at 6:30, and the last message that I got said: “If you’re not able to call me I will place key at the down left corner of the apartment door.” The English was not 100% clear but I understood: the bottom left-hand corner of the door. And then the battery died. We had the address of the apartment so we found the house OK. The address said: 3rd floor. So I went up to the third floor. There was nobody there, and I found a lot of doors: 301, 302, 303, etc. Which door was it? I didn’t know. And I couldn’t telephone the owner. Behind one door, I could hear something, so I knocked on that door. A man opened the door. It seemed to be an office. I explained my problem. He said: Oh, you can use my phone. So I phoned the owner. He told me that I needed door 302, and he told me again where to find the key. It was hidden under the carpet by the door. So at last we had our place in Dresden. And I had a good story to tell you on my podcast!

Dresden was and is beautiful. I’m sure you know this. I knew about the terrible bombing in February 1945. 25,000 people died, and the old city was destroyed [12]. I knew this but I didn’t really know what kind of city Dresden was. They called it Florence on the Elbe, and it was and is a great cultural centre like Florence. Was there a good reason to bomb it? I’m not an expert, but I think this was one of the worst events of the war. The first city to be bombed was Coventry in November 1940 – and I used to live there. Coventry and Dresden are twinned cities [13]. From the ruins of Coventry Cathedral after the bombing, a priest made a cross from three nails [14] from the old roof of the Cathedral. This became the symbol of Coventry’s International Centre for Reconciliation [15] – and you can find some of these crosses in Dresden today.

After Dresden we went on to Görlitz on the German border with Poland, and then we stayed in Regensburg on the way back. Two more beautiful historic cities. Regensburg was full of tourists but Görlitz was quieter. It’s a very special place.


Now we’re back in Wales and I went shopping to buy some fruit in our local supermarket. It’s a good time of year to buy fruit: lots of good apples and pears, but I wanted some grapes [16]. The autumn is when you can buy European grapes, and I love good grapes. But when I went to the supermarket, I couldn’t find any grapes that I like. All the grapes in our supermarket, and in the other supermarkets these days are seedless. It means that they have no seeds [17] in them, although we usually call the little brown seeds in a grape pips. What’s the situation in Switzerland? Do you have seedless grapes, too? I’m sure that you do, but I’m sure that you can also buy “normal” grapes: grapes with pips. So why do I not like seedless grapes, and why do our supermarkets now only sell these grapes, grapes without pips? Well, I don’t like seedless grapes because they aren’t juicy enough. Seedless grapes are sweet, but they’re chewy [18], meaty [19]. I like a grape that bursts [20] open in your mouth with juice. So that’s what I like, but it seems that the problem here is that British people don’t like pips. They don’t like them because they have to spit [21] them out. A lot of British people think that grape pips are dangerous to eat. They think that grape pips are like olive stones or cherry stones – you shouldn’t eat them. They’re not good for your stomach. I tell my friends and my family that French people, Italian people, Swiss people and I eat the pips and we’re not ill. But they don’t really believe me. So to please the British and other people who don’t like grape pips, the supermarkets now nearly always sell only seedless grapes. What can I do?


It’s nearly the end of the show, but before I go here’s your pub quiz question for this podcast. This year, the BBC asked 5000 British people questions about eating and food. One question was “What is your favourite meal?” Can you guess the answer? And it’s not fish and chips. Send me your answers to the website, or you can use Twitter. My Twitter address is @gerrypod.

Remember that you can listen to me with the PodClub app, and you can also find the vocabulary learning programme on the app. And you can follow me and my Podclub colleagues on Instagram. Use the hashtags #podclubgerry or #gerrysdiary. In two weeks you can hear the latest stories from Owen in China, and then I’ll be back on November 18th. Thanks for listening and take care!

[1] population: the number of people who live in a place, for example in a city, a canton or a country
[2] army: a big organisation/group of soldiers
[3] battle: a fight between two big groups of soldiers
[4] to take the train: to travel by rail
[5] to evacuate: here: to leave / to empty (the train)
[6] ground: here: the top part of the Earth, the part which we walk on
[7] bank: a raised sloping piece of land, for example at the side of a river (Here the railway was higher than the ground on each side.)
[8] track: railway, the place where the train travels
[9] owner: a person to whom something belongs (If you are the ~ of a car, it means that the car is yours.)
[10] key: a small piece of metal that you use to open a door
[11] to text: to send an SMS message
[12] to destroy: to damage something, through bombing for example, so badly that it cannot exist as it was before (The old town of Dresden had to be rebuilt after the war therefore.)
[13] to be twinned: (two cities) to be joined so that lots of special exchanges and visits can take place by people and their organisations
[14] nail: You use these pieces of metal to join two pieces of wood together; you hit them into the wood with a hammer.
[15] reconciliation: a new friendly and peaceful relationship between people after a war or a bad fight
[16] grape: a fruit that grows in bunches on a vine (It is used to make wine. When you dry this fruit it is called a raisin, a sultana or a currant.)
[17] seed: a small hard part of a plant that can grow and become a new plant
[18] chewy: something that you have to break and soften with your teeth before you can eat it
[19] meaty: like meat (here: it feels a bit like meat in the mouth)
[20] to burst: to break so that liquid (from, for example, a water pipe) or gas/air (from, for example, a balloon) comes out
[21] to spit: to send something solid or liquid out of your mouth


Roland Feller 04-01-2017 22:53
Hi gerry
they are very interesting stories .ilike it reading and to hear. roland
Käthi 14-11-2016 17:23
Hi Gerry!
Now we know the result of the United States presidential election. Did you have a foreboding? Because you said in your last podcast: "Clinton should win. But after the Brexit referendum who knows ?"
For me and for a lot of people, it was a very, very nasty surprise.
Best wishes,
Charles 27-10-2016 19:09
Hi Gerry
Thank you for your interesting diary.
I prefer like you the grapes with pips. They're more tasty and juicy, I think. And there is no problem to eat the pips. By the way I eat often also the cherry stones and I had never stomach or intestine problems. What can you do to get grapes with pips? Visite your friends in Switzerland and buy them here!!!!
About your question: Not so easy! One survey has namend pasta as the most popular dish. Following another puplic poll the bacon sandwich is Britain's favourite food and a roast dinner came in second. Who's right?
Best regards
Monika Kretz 26-10-2016 11:02
Hi Gerry
thank you for the dramatic, funny story.
I'm not sure but I think it's italian food generaly. Young people falls in love with pizza and pasta, I mean spaghetti and maccaroni.
Best wishes
Ruth 25-10-2016 14:34
Dear Gerry
Thank you for your amusing story.
About the grapes. Here in Switzerland we can buy grapes with or without seeds. Normally I prefer grapes with pips, except when I make a dessert with grapes, then I always use seedless grapes.
The fact is that some elder people have problem with normal grapes and for these it’s good if they have a choice.
Best regards Ruth
Käthi 22-10-2016 14:23
Hi Gerry!
I don't know the English eating habits. But I did a little investigation on the internet. It seems the world's favourite meal or food is pasta. According to the Guardian, the UK results were: steak, pasta and chicken - in that order. Is it the right answer for the pub quiz question?
In my family the pasta is also a favourite. If I will be sure that my grandchildren like the meal, I have to cook pasta. Succes is guaranteed!
Best wishes,