Saturday, 13th October. I’m on my way home. In fact I’m half way there – I’m sitting at Starbucks Coffee (not drinking coffee, but the chair is comfy) at Kuala Lumpur International Airport after a 12 hour flight from Frankfurt, Germany.
I left on a cold and rainy day, the visibility very poor as we took off at 12:45 this afternoon. I didn’t get to see any of Frankfurt – I’d caught the train to Frankfurt from Eichstatt (a station that seemed in the middle of nowhere because we’d taken the scenic way) after spending a few days with Elke, my German sister.
I’d arrived in Ingolstadt late on Tuesday night after a train ride from Venice. Elke was there to pick me up and we drove the half hour to Eichstatt, arriving at about 11pm.
She was thrilled to see me:
The next day we went to Nürnberg on the train. It has some beautiful cathedrals and a castle.
On our way back we stopped in a supermarket and I couldn’t resist taking a photo – and was promptly told off. The only word I understood was ‘forbidden’ … Elke explained that I was from another planet which didn’t allow alcohol to be sold in supermarkets. That appeased the situation – the woman who had told me it was forbidden looked at me pityingly – I wasn’t sure if it was because I was an alien or because my planet was so unsophisticated.
The next morning we wandered around Eichstatt, before having lunch.
Oohing and aahing over the autumn colours I noticed this quite macabre site over the river – a stark reminder of the past (quite a sobering one):
But the town really is very pretty … the autumn colours are deep and gorgeous.
Elke showed me her folk dancing skills before taking me on a very scenic route to the railway station. The scenic route involved a dirt road through a forest and a sudden U-turn but I had every confidence that Elke knew where she was going.
It was time for me to leave – a very (very) short visit – and I headed off to Frankfurt via Munich. I had a little time to spare in Munich so that I’d go for a walk around the city closest to the train station. It became clear very quickly that this wasn’t the ‘nice’ part of town, so I cut my walk short and wandered around the station instead.
The train ride to Frankfurt was uneventful – and then things got interesting. I had directions to my hotel from the airport train station, but I’d arrived at the main station. Hmmm … I found the tourist office and asked the girl how to get to the airport hotel I had booked and she told me to take the S7 train (I didn’t have to pay for it) and I’d find my way from there.
Have you ever been in a foreign country, on a train, and not known the train station to get off at, and how to know which station you at? I was staying at Morfelden-Walldorf and when I got on the train I found a station map. There was a station called Morfelden and one called Walldorf. Hmmm … it was dark by this time (about 8:30 at night) and I alighted from the station, searching vainly for a taxi. Nope, not a one in sight. I crossed the road and went into a shop. The Indian boy behind the counter said that he wasn’t from around here and couldn’t help me. A customer in the shop couldn’t help me either.
I walked up the street a little way and came upon another shop. It was shut, as was the next one, and the next one. Finally, I found one that was open. I asked the girl behind the counter if she knew where the hotel was. She didn’t. I asked her if she knew where I could get a taxi from. She didn’t.
But then she had a brain wave and looked up the number for the taxi and rang one for me. She wouldn’t take any money for the call. I was very (very) appreciative. The taxi duly arrived and we drove for a few miles in the rain; I was glad I hadn’t decided to walk.
Sleep … walk to the bus stop in the rain (lucky I had my rain coat) … bus … shuttle … wait wait wait …. plane.
And here I am. In Kuala Lumpur waiting for my second last flight before I get home. I leave here at 9:30 (local time) and arrive in Melbourne at about 9:30 – too late for a flight to Tassie, so an overnight in Melbourne, and then, finally, home to Tim.
Martedi, 9th Ottobre. Venice is about two hours behind me. I’m on the train heading to Germany, to see Elke.
It was strange coming over the bridge between Venice and Mestre (on the mainland); it was like coming into a new world. A world of cars and regular (Italian regular) houses and farms and industry and … regular life.
Venice is anything but regular. There are traffic jams, but they’re not regular ones. Gondolas rather than cars get caught in jams and on the big canals horns honk just as virulently as they do in non-water based cities; ‘stop and go’ men hold up red stop signs for pedestrians rather than cars. The rubbish collection isn’t regular – well, it happens on a daily basis (except Sundays) but instead of bins, people put out their bag of rubbish (and their recycling if they have any) on little hooks stuck into the walls. At 8am each morning the rubbish collectors move through the laneways pulling their rubbish carts behind them. Ambulances aren’t regular ambulances; police vehicles aren’t like regular police vehicles; delivery-men work tirelessly pushing and pulling their trolleys loaded with goods up and over bridges, through the laneways and into the shops. Everything is delivered on foot. It seems so obvious once you’re here, but it’s not something I had thought about previously. Furniture is moved by boat, then carried through tiny laneways to houses, grocery shopping is done on a daily basis because there are no cars to drive it home in. No lawn mowing is needed, no front gardens need tending; there are no grassy playing fields, no skate parks, no tennis courts, few trees. It’s a different world.
The ‘stop/go’ man, keeping the traffic under control while something happens in the building above.
I even saw a Venetian garage:
And then there’s the art. My goodness! Some I went to, knowing I was going to go; others I came across in my wanders. The Dali exhibition was one I just happened upon. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection was one I deliberately set out to see. Works by
… amongst others.
And then the older works contained in the Gallerie dell’Accademie. Paintings from the 12th century onwards, looking as though there were freshly painted. Titian, Bellini, Tintoretto and more. Room after room after room of amazement.
And of course the Doges Palace, which has one of (the?) biggest rooms in Europe in it. Again, amazement on every wall and ceiling. Furniture, paintings, wallpapers, frames: interpretation panels making sense of it all. Across (inside) the Bridge of Sighs and into the maze of the old prison. It made me think the convicts at Port Arthur were lucky, in their own way. The Giants Staircase, with the original rises from the 14th century; Aries and Poseidon continuing to guard it.
And then there are the churches and the islands … and the history.
And the music! On my first night in Venice I went to a Vivaldi concert in Vivaldi’s church. I Virtuosi Italiani were playing The Four Seasons, but they started with Pachelbel’s Canon. On the first note a tear trickled down my face and then as the music continued I couldn’t stop them; it was so beautiful. Tim will know the other reason. The concert was fabulous and if I hadn’t been caught in the infinite maze looking for the lavanderia I would gone to another one. Another thing to do on my next visit.
I know thousands/millions of people have ‘been there, done that’, have seen these galleries filled with beautiful old and new works, heard this music played live in Vivaldi’s church, and it’s not new for them (possibly for you), but for me it was new and it was wonderful. I walked the laneways thinking that people have walked these same laneways for hundreds of years – the cultural heritage here is so present, so evident, that it was easy to let my imagination go and think about the number of priests and noblemen and women (and not so noble ones) walking the same laneways over the years. So many other people, in so many different cultural evolutions, have walked where I walked; did they stop and admire the dome on a church on the other side of the canal? Did they marvel at the statues and ornate buildings in the same way I did? Was it at one time new and wonderful for them (you) too?
There was plenty I didn’t see: churches and museums and galleries and islands and concerts and St Mark’s Basilica from the inside … but it’s not too far from Prague, so I can go back during next year’s trip.
I have just passed through Trento and I have to say that the countryside is beautiful. The hills on either side are lit by the late afternoon sun which makes the rock faces shine. Vineyards take up every available space, a castle clings to the side of a mountain and I catch my breath with how beautiful the scene is. The rivers are wide and fast-running and the same kind of colour that rivers in New Zealand are. To me it suggests water that’s come from high in the mountains over particular kinds of rocks that turn the water almost green in its colourlessness. The landscape is amazing! Little villages are dotted here and there, the church steeple always the tallest structure. A road snakes steeply up/down the mountainside and the light flits across the tower of an old castle, making it glow amongst the green of the vines and the apple trees.
Fields of solar panels, as I’d seen in France, come into view and even old sheds have solar panels on their roofs. As we pull into a station I check the number plates of the cars to see if we’re still in Italy. We are. I wonder if I’ll know when we cross into Austria. It’s amazing that … that we can move from one country to another without having to fly or go on a hazardous boat ride. I suppose only Australians fully appreciate that; although I perhaps the English have some idea of what that’s like. Does driving to Scotland or Wales feel like going to another country, I wonder?
We have arrived in Bolzano Bozen, a place I never knew existed. There have been quite a few of those sorts of places on this trip. The German family leave and close the door to the carriage after them, dissuading others entering the train from coming in. Except one man, who nods to me as he enters, and then another who sits opposite but insists that I don’t have to move my bags out of his way. They both communicate with me in a way that suggests they both know that I’m not from round these parts.
Bolzano Bozen is beautiful; vineyards climb up and over the hills on one side of the train, while the hills on the right hand side are full of pine forests. It’s green, something I (oddly) missed while in Venice.
Another castle high on a hill, built on the very edge of a cliff. I wonder what OH&S would have been like when it was built. So far this is my favourite train ride yet. Twin waterfalls spring from a hole in the hill, about half way down; apple trees laden with fruit, tractors on the roads, flower boxes full of pink and white and red flowers adorn balconies and window ledges, the prevalence of church steeples, the green of the hills, dahlias in bloom in gardens beside the train line, scooters lined up at the station, fat cows with bells around their necks, touches of autumn colours, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu playing through my headphones (it somehow seems fitting) … what a wonderful way to spend the day.
It’s almost 6pm and I’m almost in Austria. I have to say that the northern part of Italy I just travelled through is beautiful. Sarah asked me where to after Prague next year … I think I just found it. Innsbruck is about 35km (by road) from here, and the train arrives in Munich at 8:25. We must be crossing a narrow part of Austria. I hope I get to see some of it before the light goes. There are patches of fog sitting at the tops of the valleys and smoke rises from chimneys at the bottom of valleys.
My trip is winding down and I feel sad about that. I’ve had a fabulous time; seen lots, travelled to many new (for me) places, ordered things off menus without knowing exactly what I was getting, seen more artworks in a week than I think I’ve seen in my life before, eaten ice cream just about every day, drunk French or Italian wine nearly every night, said Ja instead of Si (or even yes) more times than I should have (in fact I didn’t once manage to say Si), seen the Mediterranean and the Adriatic seas, been to four countries, found my way on and off trains, followed incomprehensible instructions to hotels in five cities, walked between four and six hours every day, spent time with my niece Sarah and her partner Ben … it’s been fantastic.
Two weeks has felt like a month, but it’s not over yet. A day with Elke, another train trip (to Frankfurt this time) and then the long flight home, via Kuala Lumpur (plus a night in Melbourne).