Category Archives: Travel

Travel Post: Football, Animals, and the road home

I had planned to attend A’s church on Sunday, but in the end, sleep took priority, and I instead rose in a more leisurely fashion to begin contemplating packing and what I might need to post home, before meeting A for lunch along with her friend I, last seen in costume at Barockfest two years ago.   It was really great to catch up with her again, though as she is still working with scientists, lunch quickly degenerated into scientist and grant stories.

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With my flight home only two days away, we had earmarked Sunday well in advance for a very important cultural experience.  I refer, of course, to the football again.  Not the France versus Ireland game, which we watched on A’s computer while I weighed my luggage and wondered just when I had acquired so many toys for my niece (answer: constantly and at every town I stopped in across three countries), but the far more exciting German game against… (oh that’s nice.  I didn’t bother to write who their opponents were in my diary.  Clearly, the cultural immersion.  Sorry, whichever team you were.)

Anyway, watching football at home while saying ‘Oh la la, c’est pas possible’ a lot and commenting on the attractiveness of the respective goalies (we both tend to barrack for the goalies) (this might be why we watch so many nil-all draws?) is all very fine, but this is clearly not the proper way to do things.  No, to watch football properly, one must go to a beer garden, ideally in the grounds of an old castle.

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Travel Post: Back in Mainz, and a Feast

Saturday was a massive cooking day.  A couple of years ago, A showed her friend R my cooking blog, and he started following it.  When he heard I was visiting, he asked if I could come to his house and make a feast. (This is a little less opportunistic than it sounds – he volunteered himself, his wife K and my friend A as kitchen hands and bought all the ingredients. And provided all the wine and other drinks.)

This sounded like fun, so I said yes, and he got very excited and started inviting his friends to a feast cooked by ‘a famous Australian food blogger’, at which point I started feeling a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the hype.

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Before we left for Dresden, A and I started to plan a menu, and R promised to order us a chicken from a local farmer.  A had told me that the farmer’s chickens are always huge, so I had planned to stuff it with rice and fruit and nuts and serve it with lots of different vegetable accompaniments, which I felt would be ample for the 6-7 people likely to be in attendance.

I relayed this to R, who immediately texted back ‘are you sure there will be enough food?’

Oh, R.  You read this blog.  You should know better.

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Travel Post: Germany, with Dresden, Opera and a trip on the Elba

Thursday dawned atrociously hot again.  We started the day with a quick cherub poll, before heading out to meet with another of A’s friends near the statue of Friedrich August der Starker (who we suspect fathered all those cherubs – he apparently fathered quite a few non-cherub people, and his statue is suspiciously gold, so it’s plausible.)

We had breakfast outside and in the shade, and talked rather too much about Australian politics and refugee policy, which apparently the German right likes to hold up as an example of what to do (ugh).  Then we talked about German politics.  Apparently, we had chosen a good time of the week to come to Dresden – Mondays are when the neo-nazis like to protest outside the Opera House.  Lovely.  The Opera House has struck back at this by putting up huge banners saying ‘Offnen Augen, Offnen Herzen, Offnen Grenzen’.  So now every photo of the protesters is effectively surtitled with the slogan ‘open eyes, open hearts, open borders’.  Nice one, Dresden Opera House.

A’s friend grew up in the DDR and used to be the principal flautist in one of their top orchestras.  When A shared our conerns regarding the cherubs of Dresden, he immediately started coming up with theories about hidden cameras and microphones, which was both unsettling and illustrative of the kind of imagination living much of one’s life in the DDR endows one with…

It really was dreadfully hot and sticky, but we wanted to visit the rebuilt Frauenkirche.  This was burned to the ground during the bombing of Dresden in World War II, and was only restored in the last decade or so.

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They tried to replicate the old building as far as possible, and even used some of the bricks that survived, putting them back in their original locations on the building.  You can see them quite easily, as they are burned black, while the new bricks are white. Continue reading

Travel Post: Germany, with Dresden and so many cherubs

Wednesday morning dawned bright and hot.  My friend had a physio appointment in the morning, so I decided to stay home and write some postcards.

That was when I first noticed the cherubs.

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To be accurate, I had, in fact, noticed a cherub or two (or five) in our apartments the night before.  They were a little hard to miss.  But I had excused them on the grounds that cherubs are what happens when you get baroque, or even pseudo-baroque.

But there were more than five cherubs.

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Travel Post: Germany with Naumburg and Leipzig

With the music festival over, Monday was our day to explore Naumburg properly.

We had our sights set on the cathedral, but on our way there, we visited a rather special plush toy shop, called Kösen.  The are known for their highly realistic plush toys, and their toymakers sketch the animals from life, going to zoos or even overseas to find the animals in the wild and observe how they move.  The toys are then designed based on these sketches – and (alas!) priced accordingly.

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The shop was rather spectacular with highly realistic jungle animals, farm animals, and birds.

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Travel Post! Germany, with a Medieval Music Festival

Saturday was another slow start for us, followed by a long drive north and east to Freyburg for a festival.  We provisioned ourselves for the road with bread, fruit, tomatoes and some glorious capsicums that reminded me of tulips from Dutch paintings.

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And then my friend’s mother, M, who was sharing the driving, and who would get along very well with the Italian side of my family, brought even more provisions, apparently feeling that we might starve without her intervention.

My friend A has been wanting to get me to the Montalbane Festival for Medieval Music for years, and I’ve never been in Germany at the right time.  This time I was – but we had that book launch to attend on the Friday, and Freyburg is a long way from Dedesheim.

So rather than going with our original, more sensible plan, of driving up on the Friday and attending a modest selection of offerings on each day of the Festival, we had elected to drive up on the Saturday afternoon, and then attend EVERYTHING on the Sunday.

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So we drove, and drove, and drove, north and east, past lots of castles, including the Eisenach, which is where Martin Luther threw an inkpot at the Devil, and you can still see the stain on the wall (we did not stop to look at the stain).

And finally we reached Naumburg, where we would be staying.  We did this with a surprising lack of wrong turns – my friend A has been to Montalbane many times, but apparently never without getting lost or delayed on the road.

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Travel Post! Germany, with Heidelberg, Soccer and Theology

And we are back to the travel posts, with our first glimpse of Germany!

Taking the train to Germany always has some interesting moments.  Changing trains onto the more local line is particularly good fun, because the signs at the station don’t always mention the name of the station that is on your ticket, and one has to wander around with a large suitcase looking for a map which might suggest the likeliest train to get on.  Fortunately, I did manage to find my way onto a train to Mainz Hauptbahnhof, where I was met by my friend A.

A has an apartment just on the edge of Lerchenberg, near Mainz, which is full of windows and light. Below, there is a carpark, a row of trees, and then open fields.  At this time of year, even though Mainz isn’t really that far north, the horizon never gets absolutely dark.

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I’d arrived in the late afternoon, and A had just finished her University semester, which had been fairly taxing due to several conferences late in the term and the fact that she is actually working in a neighbouring country and taking the train back to Mainz every weekend.  Given that I had been busily walking my feet into ribbons all over Paris, and was still recovering from that endless cough, I was very happy with her plan for a quiet few days, and a chance to sleep in and catch up.

We took a walk through the fields near Lerchenberg, which I foolishly failed to photograph – there really are long fields of barley and of rye, with the occasional bright red poppy raising its head.  This was very lovely, and the first taste of an Arthurian theme which would recur several times in our German travels.

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Travel Post: Paris with many parks and a fond farewell

It’s Wednesday, and I’m sitting in a train that has just departed from the Gare de l’Est and is rapidly gaining speed.  My initial destination was going to be Reims, but I got home last night and discovered an anxious message from my penfriend – apparently, Paris had been having big and rather violent protests during the day (several of which I appear to have just missed), and the SNCF strikes were on again.  I considered my itinerary – Paris to Reims, Reims back to Paris, Paris to Kaiserslautern – and decided that the odds of at least one of these trains being cancelled was quite high.  I have been *extremely* fortunate with strikes and everything else in Paris, but there is such a thing as pushing one’s luck.  So I cancelled all my Reims bookings and am now headed straight for Mainz a few days early.  I’m sad to miss Reims, but I had visions of taking days to get myself to Germany from there if the trains stopped…

I decided that Monday, the day when most museums are shut, would be a good day for walking around the 19th and 20th arondissements and crossing off some of the parks on my list (I had a LIST, oh yes.  It had chocolates and patisserie and museums and parks, all sorted by arondissement and by priority, and with the arondissements grouped by proximity, so that on any given day I could choose which collection of items to cross off.  It is possible that I am a tad over-organised, but I was a Catherine with an AGENDA, which included at least a brief visit to every arondissement in Paris, and there was no time to waste!), so I started the morning by exploring the park at Buttes Chaumont.

My inner Metro geek was delighted to discover this involved going on line 7 bis, which I haven’t been on before.  I spent a little bit too much time on my journey trying to work out which Metro lines I had been on during this trip.  Certainly 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 7bis, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.  Probably 4 and 6.  Probably not 8 and 9.  Certainly not 3b.  I did a fair bit of walking and bus travel, and didn’t take notes.  Next time, I shall be systematic…

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This is actually a modern park, and I think a constructed one.  It’s very hilly (if you look at the Crypte Archéologique in my previous post, you can see the Butte Chaumont even on the map of the pre-settled area of Paris), very popular with joggers, and has unexpected water features and a gazebo.

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Travel Post: Paris and the Subterranean Weekend

On Saturday, the floods having retired somewhat (I sent out a dove to check), I decided it was time to start my proper underground exploration of Paris. And with garbage strikes allegedly over, but rubbish nonetheless still piled high on the streets, it seemed timely to investigate the sewers of Paris.  (My hostess warned me that it might be smelly, but I pointed out that right now, I was probably as used to smells as I was going to get.  It’s not that Paris has been unremittingly stinky, but with the warm weather, one does detect a certain aroma as one passes the rubbish bins…

I began making my way down towards the seventh arondissement, but then realised that I was going to be too early for the sewers, and decided to stop by the Rodin museum on the way.  As you do.

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Travel Post: Paris, with Bois de Boulogne, Saint Denis, and some museums

So.  After my perfect Paris chocolate day (which still makes me smile whenever I think of it – it really was an absolute gift), I realised that Wednesday could not POSSIBLY live up to the same level of Parisian wonderfulness, and that was OK.  Really, one fantasy-Paris day in a visit should be enough for anyone.

On Wednesday, therefore, I decided to get started on my project of walking through as many arondissements in Paris as I could.  Having already explored the Tuileries Gardens (before getting distracted by chocolate), I took the Metro to the Place de Concorde, and began heading westward along the Champs Élysées.

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The Champs actually starts out quite leafy and green, but pretty quickly becomes a very busy and rather touristy and expensive shopping strip.  There is even a McDonalds, which I thought was a little sad.  I walked along, and snuck into a FNAC to pick up my concert tickets for later in the week and continued my approach to the Arc de Triomphe.

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