Friday, September 30, 2016


From Freiberg, we took the train to Lindau, on the Bodensee (Lake Constance).  The weather was forecast to be rainy, but this turned out to mean rain overnight and fine, if cloudy, days.

Two examples of German food: white sausages with mustard and a giant pretzel and mushrooms with a giant dumpling.  Not things one would encounter at home, but perfectly tasty for lunch.

Lindau is an ancient town on an island, now linked by causeway, but with regular ferries running to other towns along the shores of this vast lake.

We took the ferry to Friedrichshaven, where there is a Zeppelin Museum, and an airport offering flights in airships.  This would not suit me at all, but it has been a long-standing dream for my husband so he had booked a flight.  It all looked a bit precarious as the huge ship bounced about on its rope tether, before taking off.

Another day we went over to Bregenz, which is actually in Austria, and up the mountain in a cable car.  This should have been an exciting experience, but in fact felt like an overcrowded tube train, so many people were packed in.  At the top there is a wildlife park of mountain animals: wild boar, ibex, moufflon and deer.

Monday, September 26, 2016


Four more hours on the train took us down the Rhine valley to Freiberg, an old university city in the Black Forest.  We did see a few cuckoo clocks but of the famous gateau there was not a kirsch-soaked cherry to be seen.

We saw many painted facades

interesting carvings

detailed mosaics

and the little channels of fresh water for which the town is famous.  On these hot days we saw children paddling in these to keep cool.

Freiberg has its own splendid cathedral.  We climbed up the spiral stairway up to a room high above the square, just below the belfry.  Then it was up an even narrower stairway inside one of the openwork spires - terrifying.

Freiberg suffered heavy damage in WW2, and its cathedral was seriously impaired.  Perhaps they removed the medieval guild windows to save them?  Here the boot-makers' and the bakers' windows.

Finally, this striking image of St George and the dragon.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Where are we now?

Just back from a little break.  So where can this be?  We travelled by Eurostar and high speed train.

We had never been to this country before.  Despite some intensive practice on Duolingo, I found my fifty year old O level was not even up to the details on menus, let alone the longer words on museum displays.

We did not actually try the Currywurst, but we certainly ate a range of other types of sausage, some of it what we would have called luncheon meat - which, I suppose, made it eminently suitable for the lunches when we ate it.

We had one night in Cologne en route, and had already decided that the cathedral was all we could manage.  It did not disappoint.

Flying buttresses and Gothic arches.  It was only completed in the nineteenth century, but to the original design.  Miraculously, it survived World War Two with only some windows lost.

The exterior is clearly being renovated piece by piece.

This piece of scaffolding, high up on one of the spires, seems to defy gravity.

Many of the figures have been restored.  But the real wonder was to hear the great bells reverberate thrillingly across the whole square.

We watched the play of light on the stonework of the façade as we ate our supper at a pavement café opposite.  (Bacon, egg and Rosti, since you ask.)

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Swallows and Amazons

About this time last year, we stayed at a cottage near Ambleside.  On the bookshelf was a copy of Arthur Ransome's "Secret Water", a later title in the "Swallows and Amazons" sequence, but which got me reading all the others, cycling out to the Shotley peninsula, reading Jennifer Jones's homage and generally following a trail.

This year a film has been released, so of course we had to see it. It's rare, these days to see a film aimed at children without animation or obvious CGI, so that was the first oddity.  Press coverage seems to have been obsessed by the change of name, from Titty to Tatty.  Given that the actress playing the part was a very sweet little girl, and not an adolescent, this name change was hugely irrelevant and as nothing to all the other changes, which were legion.

Maybe we do now suspect that Ransome himself may have done more than research folk tales and escape his failed marriage in revolutionary Russia, but was it really necessary to start the film with a direct rip-off from John Buchan?  Every key moment in the story was then hi-jacked by this spy-story, not just using it to add motivation to the burglary of the houseboat.

But then, the costumes.  They may have used vintage fair isle pullovers or had them custom knit for the boys.  But did the girls really need to wear bits of old tray-cloths made up into blouses and dresses?  The scale of the embroidery patterns cannot have been intended for children's clothes.

So, having bothered to establish "period" in this way, why bodge it with the updating of attitudes?  The Swallows all form a crew for their boat in which naval discipline is established by rank, and they all obey the captain with very little demur. But not in this film, where they argue and question his decisions.  The eating of "pemmican" (corned beef) in the book is all part of their extended role-play as explorers; Ransome goes into lots of detail about how they cook it in various ways or eat it straight if time is short.  In the film, they are shown losing a picnic hamper of more interesting food and turning to corned beef as a last resort.  The film makers appear never to have been camping for days on end, or indeed, hungry after a hike.

As for the Amazons, it is hard to say which decade these two girls belong in, but it certainly isn't the late Twenties.  The supremely over-confident Nancy of the book has been transformed into a troubled teen, searching for a father figure.

We did marvel at how Derwentwater, clearly identifiable from a view of Catbells in the background, could appear so deserted.  Why are there no other boats on the lake at all?  And how did they manage this?