blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Fifty-six years later

Sachseln on the Sarnersee, from the fields above the town

The Luzern-Interlaken train at Sachseln
I was eleven years old when I first saw Sachseln and the Sarnersee. My sister was seven. In April 1962, we went "abroad" for the first time in our lives, on holiday with our mother and father; our destination was this lakeside village in the canton of Obwalden, Switzerland.
Sursee, between Zofingen and Luzern

Sarnersee at Sachseln
In the last week of November (2018) when the morning mists were starting to lift off the valleys and lakes, I caught a train from Zofingen to Luzern, passing tranquil Sursee on the way. At Luzern I changed trains, sitting in a two-carriage cross-country one, bound for Interlaken, getting out at Sachseln station. It was a lovely day. Looking towards the both ends of the Sarnersee, the mist still dissipating, I recognised the old view beyond the willow trees and pebbly shore, with the snowy slopes of Mt. Pilatus beyond. It looked familiarly wonderful and I had it to myself. Coots, whose ancestors we'd met 56 years before, were swimming around. My sister, reacting to the e-photo I sent her, remembered having sketched a close-up of their feet. I couldn't find the lakeside guest house where we'd stayed in '62; perhaps it had been demolished or re-purposed. I made my way towards the centre of the small town. The road to Brienz, as I passed the school and turned round, pointed straight towards the high mountains of the Bernese Oberland. At the crossroads, the old Gasthaus Engel was not the place where we'd originally stayed, but looked similar. I treated myself to lunch there, sharing a table with another solitary diner. The shops were full of things Swiss, including bottles of "Dole" wine (I carried a small one back to Zofingen, to another Engel hotel). A couple of friendly horses lived at the bottom of the Wanderweg I followed steeply uphill from Sachseln into the fields with their picturesque farms, and from a grassy lookout point, which had a cross that added to my impression that I was on a pilgrimage, I could look down over the whole town. Mountains in all directions, fortunately clear; I'd have been most disappointed had the clouds hidden them. The autumn leaves on the small trees in the village square near the substantial, 17th century, Catholic church, were still colourful. I recognised the names of nearby villages, too.

The village church, Sachseln

View from Alpnachstad
On my train ride back to Luzern, I stopped for half an hour at Alpnachstad, so that I could take a look at another lake, an inlet of the Vierwaldstättesee. Ferries run for most of the year, but they were having a Winterpause just now. Alpnachstad is also the base station for the cog-wheel railway that takes tourists to the summit of Mt. Pilatus, the steepest such railway in the world. This had stopped operating for the winter, so everything was deserted. The advantage of being in Alpnachstad without a swarm of tourists around me was that I could appreciate the waterfront with its pollarded trees at my own pace. Back in Luzern, seeing the lion memorial was another story, popular with foreign visitors year round. I enjoyed the views from Luzern that Chris and I would have had a few days previously, had it not been so wet and overcast. Crossing Luzern's Seebrücke festooned with dangling lights, I could see the Rigi on the horizon this time. The Uri was moored at her dock, decorated for special Christmas cruises.

The Uri

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Early December in southern Germany

From Vaduz, on Sunday Dec. 2nd, we caught the No. 11 bus that runs from Sargans railway station to Feldkirch railway station via Schaan. It was a short ride with sensational views of the nearby mountains through the windows. The route was built up most of the way. The flatter part of Liechtenstein seems surprisingly industrial.Craning my neck in all directions I appreciated the scenery but failed to notice the border markers between Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Liechtenstein again, then Austria. Austria (in the western Tirol) looked slightly less prosperous than the other two countries. When we got out at Feldkirch, that was Austria, and we had to purchase some euros to buy a ticket for our next leg from an ÖBB machine. I thought, that's how borders ought to be the world over, unnoticeable.

At Feldkirch station we had a short wait for our train to Lindau. Running along two walls of the station concourse is a quotation from the well-travelled Irish novelist James Joyce, translated into German and transcribed in lower case. It said, "dort drüben auf den schienen wurde 1915 das schicksal des ulysees entschieden." On the rails over there in 1915 the fate of Ulysees was decided."

I didn't have any such inspirations on our half hour ride into Bavaria, but it was another quiet and pleasant journey. Grey skies over the grey lake: the eastern end of the Bodensee (Lake Constance). Lindau is just around the corner, a medieval, walled town on an island, with a causeway linking it to the shore. We could have cut the corner by catching a ferry there from Bregenz, but there are few boats running in the winter. Our hotel for the night was the Lindauerhof, an attractive building with pink walls, right next to Lindau's Christmas Market, so that you could smell the roasting chestnuts and cinnamon flavoured hot drinks from its front door. A brass band was playing, and later a jazz band, and people were thronging there to such an extent that we had to keep saying Entschuldigung! as we trundled our suitcases over the cobbles, through the crowd. It didn't help that, with the rain starting, everyone was carrying umbrellas. It rained all evening so we never took advantage of the voucher for complimentary glasses of Glühwein in the hotel courtyard. Chris wasn't feeling too well. He had a bad cold that lasted for the whole trip. I went down with it too, in the end.

We walked along the arms of the harbour next morning, seeing the Bavarian stone lion and the stone watchtower, the Mangturm. These landmarks had been floodlit the evening before making for a pretty view from our (upgraded) front bedroom window. The winding streets through the old town were very picturesque too. It must seem like an awful tourist trap in the summer but in the quieter season, it's worth being there. The express trains to München pull into the station there and then back out again down the causeway. We took a midday one and reached the destination around 4 p.m. having seen a distant line of snowy Alps to the south for most of the way. The woods, farmland and unfenced lanes in the foreground looked appealing too.

Munich, by contrast, has a big-city feel. Our hotel there was a few steps, once we worked out the direction to walk in, from the Nord-Friedhof underground station, near the top end of the long park known as Englischer Garten, off Ungererstraße. We tried exploring the park but it was muddy on the paths and getting dark; we turned back in the direction of the Leopoldstraße where there was food for sale and found first a tea shop, then the small outdoor (Christmas) market outside Münchner-Freiheit station then, for supper, an excellent Afghan restaurant, the Khorassan, at the end of Dietlindenstraße. It was as well we took note of these places because Chris needed to bring his colleagues and all of his trainees to the Khorassan the following evening, as an emergency measure, after there had been confusion over a group booking at some other restaurant. Men are not good at organising meals out, and I was nowhere to be found at that point. Chris led an all-day workshop on the Monday, which left me free to explore by myself. I take such days at a slow pace, all on foot, which suits me. It was raining again, but I had an umbrella. I had an agenda too, to discover the spot where my Ottawa friend Dagmar used to live as a child in the early post-war days, on the quiet corner of Arcis- and Adalbert-Straße, in a Wohnhaus now painted yellow, a short walk from the Siegestor, Munich's Arc de Triomphe, with its four lions, not looking so fierce or triumphant in the rain. Dagmar remembers this, of course. I took photos to send to her afterwards, that she was pleased with. Another short walk past the Alter Friedhof that's mentioned on the first page of T. Mann's Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice) brought me to the Pinakothek complex which Dagmar had recommended for my stay.

I have been to the Alte Pinakothek before but it is worth multiple repeat visits, its modern interior housing a superb collection of European art from the 14th to 18th century. I get emotionally drained in art galleries and have a bad habit of muttering my thoughts aloud as I walk past the pictures. Rembrandt's lovely and sincerely imagined picture of the holy family in the stable made me think of my two nieces who had very recently given birth. You stop and gasp, oh wow, that's famous! as you approach the faces by Rembrandt, Dürer, Giorgione ..., but less familiar pieces grab your attention too. I soon needed a sit-down at the last available table in the cafeteria downstairs. After my light lunch I felt I might have enough stamina left for the Pinakothek der Moderne across the road as well where I lingered in the Blaue Reiter collection and among the expressionists. Marc, Kandinsky and Klee were well represented in these rooms. Early 20th century art both thrills and disturbs me. The colours were radiant, the paintings stylishly displayed. There was no way I could also face the Neue Pinakothek (19th century art) after this, so I continued towards the city centre, finding a traditional Bavarian supper at a traditional tavern where I was lucky to get a table.

Christmas Markets everywhere. I happened upon the Wittelsbacherplatz where a medieval market (Mittelaltermarkt) was in operation despite the rain. Stall merchants were wearing medieval costumes; people do enjoy dressing up and acting a part. Open flames and ages old traditional food and drink were in evidence and ancient music was being performed. In the dim light my attempts at photography weren't successful.

On my second day of explorations, meandering past the Hofbräuhaus (out of curiosity I had a look inside this tourists' hotspot). I also browsed the Christmas market stalls at the Residenz, nibbling the obligatory roasted chestnuts and sipping Glühwein, as well as in the Marienplatz and in the Viktualienmarkt. The latter was the best place for this, the stalls selling fresh, local produce, the Christmas decorations featuring fresh flowers and fir branches smelling wonderful. I would have lingered there far longer and perhaps found a souvenir worth buying, but had to pick up my stored luggage and meet Chris at the station, so that we could catch our train to Stuttgart. At this point we both felt unwell. I was beginning to notice the cold I was trying to throw off, the same as Chris' cold which after a day of teaching had reduced his voice to a mere squeak. We were in an enclosed coach with other people so didn't talk much in any case.

In Sindelfingen, which we reached by means of a crazy ride from Böblingen with an expat Turkish taxi driver claiming to have a personal connection with Erdogan and complaining of his lowly status and inadequate income in Germany while driving in a very erratic and dangerous way, Chris had to keep working, at the usual December conference in Sindelfingen. He gave a presentation right at the end of the day, before which the poor chap felt faint from nerves and fatigue, but once he got up on stage it went well and the questions continued long afterwards. Meanwhile, I enjoyed another few hours of sheer respite, at the place I'd been looking forward to for weeks, the Böblingen Thermalbäder, swimming and relaxing in the blood-warm water. In the evening I led Chris and three of his German QNX colleagues through the Altstadt to a meal at the Fässle pub, a place I've mentioned before in this blog. It didn't let us down.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Since Vaduz

This could be a long post, if I'm not careful, not having updated my blog since we were in Vaduz on the 1st of December.

Since then, for the record, I have crossed the Atlantic 4 times. I've been to Lindau, München and Sindelfingen (Stuttgart), to London and Cardiff and back to Ottawa. The day after we returned, on December 15th, my mother died. I'll write more about it, eventually. Between that day and the day of Mum's funeral (January 10th) came Christmas, which I hardly noticed with so much else to think about, although our friends Elva and Laurie were very kind to us on Christmas Day, allowing us a moment of tranquillity over a lovely Christmas dinner at their house, with a log fire in their living room. We felt exhausted. On January 7th I was back in the plane to London, returning (after the funeral) on January 13th. In Ottawa I had to hit the ground running, as the cliché has it, in order to finish editing the February edition of CFUW-Ottawa's newsletter and get it published on time. That, while fighting a virus of some kind, was also exhausting. The outside air temperature felt like -35 C for a few days, which didn't help.

It wasn't all bad. Among the good things were a couple of gemütlich and stimulating meetings with my German-speaking friends, swimming at the Chateau, walking in crunchy snow, flying over the hills in the Cessna, playing the accompaniments to our Schubert songs, seeing the special exhibition of Paul Klee paintings at our National Gallery and highly entertaining documentary film about four famous British actresses. On January 25th I had another treat, a horse-drawn sleigh ride after snowshoeing.

I'm writing this in Bristol, in a hotel room with my husband who's about to join the annual SSS (Safety-Critical Systems Symposium), having flown to England again on February 1st.


That was not such a long post after all, a mere summary. My next post will go back to our week in Germany at the beginning of December.