We have lived in Dorset for seven years and every now and then we visit the coast. West Bay, Charmouth, Lyme Regis etc., I know it’s the Jurassic Coast but have never given it that much thought. A couple of weekends ago some friends from Essex came to visit and Helen, booked for she and I to go on a fossil walk on Charmouth Beach. We ended up as a group of five, two others from Weston Super Mare and the lovely Victoria who led the walk. We all met on the footbridge leading to the beach from the carpark. Several people had a problem with paying at the parking machine but I was able to use the app on my phone. Honestly, you can do anything with an app on your phone these days. It’s convenient but slightly worrying. Apps are definitely taking over. . . but that should be another blog post. Back to Charmouth.
Vic (as she liked to be called) gave us a short talk about the Jurassic coast. She gave us two booklets and the following paragraph is an extract from one of them.
It is one of the world’s great natural wonders. It extends for 95 miles along the Dorset and East Devon coast and offers a unique “Walk Through Time” starting at Orcombe Point near Exmouth and continuing to Studland Bay in east Dorset, it is the only place on earth where you can walk through three distinctive geological eras. It captures the remains of the arid deserts of the Triassic, the shallow seas of the Jurassic and the tropical swamps of the Cretaceous. For more information click HERE
Vic giving us the pre-walk talk at a picnic table.
After the talk we picked up our bags and headed down to the beach. There were plenty of other people and dogs on the beach, many of them with their heads down scouring the sand and pebbles for any sign of a fossil. It’s hard to tell at first and several times I picked up a little something thinking I had made the find of the century only to be told it was just a bit of pottery or a few stones stuck together with clay. Very disappointing. But it wasn’t long before one member of our party found a small ammonite and we all cheered even though we were a little jealous!
This was the terrain where we searched for fossils.
Eventually I found two small ammonites and several belemnites. I sound like I know what I’m talking about but honestly? I’m none the wiser really. A couple of hours on the beach is not long enough. I’ll have to go again and maybe take the grandchildren with me. But, they’ll probably find loads and know all about it. . . that’s just how it is with the old and the young 😊
I was pretty pleased with my haul and I came back home full of enthusiasm for more fossil hunting. One of the other party members gave me a rather lovely (and certainly larger) ammonite than the one I found in exchange for a copy of Dear Tosh. I hope he enjoys reading it! Tosh would have loved searching on the beach for fossils. I thought about him a great deal.
My little haul of fossils. The top left is not a fossil but a quartz stone, I rather liked it. You can see the ammonites (the largest I was given) and the belemnites are the little bullet type shape. The ends of tentacles from a squid like animal I believe.
Watch out for a blog post or two over the next few weeks as I’m off to Thailand for a family 50th — not mine but my eldest son. I know, I know I don’t look old enough to have a fifty-year-old son (she says modestly) but when you’ve been amongst the 180+ million year old fossils for a day it does make one feel pretty young and insignificant!
See you from Thailand, Cambodia and Laos…watch this space.
Oh and by the way, Victoria also has an alpaca farm where you can experience a walk with the alpacas and other activities. Click on the link to see more. Little Orchard Alpacas
For two weeks of February I spent time with my two lovely granddaughters, looking after them at their home in Bristol and then travelling with them to New York and Boston for the second week which was their half-term. This could be a very long post but I’m going to cut down on the text and give you all the photos I can, so that you can see how amazing it was.
My first trip, was with the eldest granddaughter, here in the UK. We went to Slimbridge Wetland Centre with her school. My daughter had signed up to be a parent helper, but in her absence I readily took her place. It’s years since I went on a school trip (we called it an outing) — they haven’t changed one bit! Children eating their packed lunch and treats on the coach before we even reached our destination. Lots of chatting and excitement each time they were lined up in crocodile formation as we moved from place to place on the day’s excursion. We arrived at the park in just over an hour, Bristol to Gloucestershire. It was unfortunately misty for the first part of the day which meant our view from the lookout tower over Swan Lake, was somewhat obscured. No problem we soon raced around the frogs zone looking at — well, mainly frogs — walked all around the park, ate our lunch, and did a bit of ‘learning’. For me the pièce de résistance was the Estuary View Lookout. Amazing. I couldn’t believe how close to Bristol we were as I looked across at the fantastic river valley.
I learned a lot about wildfowl, migration and for a while I even began to like birds. They’re not my favourite species but it was interesting to hear about their habitat and habits. The staff at the centre made learning fun, involving the children in games to help them understand why and where birds migrate. I held the winning card in one game, much to the delight of grandchild number one! For the most part though, she kept her distance. Understandable, who needs their Nonna to be too close on a school trip. (I did hear her boast about me afterwards which was really lovely).
AMERICA: BROOKLYN, AND BOSTON
We flew Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow to JFK and it was not at all bad. The bus from Bristol was 45 minutes late but I had left the house in plenty of time. My daughter’s chirpy text, ‘Lucky you’ve got 47 hours’ was a bit cutting and obviously exaggerated, I had actually only allowed for 4 hours at the airport. We made it with 3 hours to spare. Good flight. Good children. Arriving at JFK in the evening (it was about 3am uk time) we were all exhausted and just fell into bed when we got to the hotel. Let me add here that I then spent 10 nights in the same room as the children and their mother, two different hotels. Thank goodness hotel rooms in America are ENORMOUS!
We spent the weekend in Brooklyn where the children and my daughter have many friends. Both grandchildren were born in New York, one in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan. They caught up with their buddies before we drove up to Framingham near Boston. The hotel here was brand new, The Aloft, and it was chosen because it had a swimming pool HOWEVER, the pool was out of action because there was no lifeguard. Despite the fact that the pool was small and completely visible from the lobby of the hotel through a glass wall. Raised eyebrows here. Ah well. It was okay because they gave us complimentary pass to the pool and gym just up the road. No problem then, except there was a problem, because the children were under fourteen. Boy did I kick up a fuss, (get the American lilt in there?) In the end we were able to go and swim at the Sheraton Conference centre up the road, another Marriott Hotel. I think they opened it just for us as we were the only ones swimming. There was a big sign saying NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY (but they seemed to think a sign was a good enough get out) but an older man sat at a desk and watched us for our designated hour. He was okay and spent at least twenty minutes trying to mend a pair of goggles for us. We only did this swim at the Sheraton once as it was a pain taking an Uber to the Sheraton, getting changed, getting dry and dressed and taking and Uber back to Aloft. Still the concierge meant well.
I had to try and find things to do for a couple of days. There wasn’t much around the hotel as it was mostly a highway with strip malls and restaurants along it. I decided to get the train into Boston and visit the Aquarium, the Boston Tea Party and the Children’s Museum. The train was brilliant, only $9.50 for me and the children went free. It was a double decker so much excitement to be had.
My favourite was the sea horse and the girls loved the octopus of course!
On the Wednesday we went to The Boston Tea Party. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. There were very few visitors but the company of actors/guides still put on a good show in the Meeting Room for us, and included everyone in the re-enactment of throwing tea into Boston harbour. Eldest granddaughter threw the tea chest over without a second thought, (it was on the end of a rope obviously).
The boat, Eleanor, was an exact replica of the original. Much smaller than I imagined. To think of it crossing the Atlantic is very scary! The gift shop was full of many items but also a great deal of china and tins of tea. Too much to choose from really. I would like to have had a cup of tea in Abigail’s Tea Room but the girls were ready to run over the bridge to the Children’s Museum.
Our final visit of the day before we headed back to Framingham on the train was The Boston Children’s Museum. An absolutely fantastic place with so much going on and a great deal to see. They had ‘sock skating’, bubble making, science experiments, climbing, arts and crafts, a whole raft of things to do for children up to the age of 12. My favourite was a real Japanese house, dismantled and imported from Japan then rebuilt in the museum. It was fascinating. We were lucky enough to go inside…shoes off of course.
So much to do in the Children’s Museum
The Japanese House
That’s all folks. I’m off to Thailand at the end of March so watch this space for more travel news!
Back in August 2022, my sister Jean came to stay in Dorset with me. She’s a widow, lives on her own, older than me by six years and doesn’t get out much, so you have to show willing don’t you? (She does have a great sense of humour, so I know that’ll make her laugh). While she was here she expressed a desire to go back to where we were born and brought up many moons ago in Eastcote/Ruislip, Middlesex.
Her comment ran around my head for a few months and being a kind and loving younger sister, I phoned her up and said I could fit her in for a quick visit at the very beginning of February. Plans were afoot! I drove up to Surrey, where she lives, dropping The Man with his mate Jim, also in Surrey, on my way up. We spent the evening making plans for our trip down memory lane. So we were well prepared to set off early on the morning of the 2nd February.
First on the list was Breakspear Crematorium, Ruislip, where our parents ashes are, in Waterside; one of the beautiful gardens at the crematorium. Our dad will have been there for sixty years at the end of this year. He was joined by our mum much later in 2005. I think he spent a lot of time waiting around for her in real life too.
On our way to Breakspear we drove past the Conservative Club in West Ruislip — we had to stop and take a photograph. It was the venue my father was visiting with his mate Ray on the fateful evening of the 27th November 1963. As they were turning right into the club they were hit by a car racing down the hill. Neither of them saw it approaching, it was a filthy night. My father died at the scene I think, his mate Ray survived but it must have been an awful thing to live with. My mother stayed close to him and his family afterwards.
We parked up to take a look at our old house in Eastcote Road but we couldn’t really see it because the latest occupant is doing some serious renovations. I think my parents paid around £2,500 for the place back in the 1940s. At the last sale noted in 2017, it went for over £600,000. Phew! Opposite the house was a bus stop, which is still there. I used to catch the 98B to go to Hillingdon for my dance classes with Joanne Blackwell from the Marsden Blackwell School of Dancing.
Both my sister and I went to Coteford Infant and then Junior School. Now then, if you’d asked me last week how far it was from our house to the school I would have suggested maybe a twenty-minute walk. However, when we were there this week, I realised it was only about five minutes away! We drove there in less than a minute! It’s located in Fore Street only a short walk from our house. On the way there you pass Pretty Corner. Neither of us remembered it being called that but we both commented that it was indeed a ‘pretty corner’ and always had been.
Next stop my secondary school where I wasted a few years doing very little. I regret that but I can do nothing about it now. I went to what was called, St Mary’s Grammar School for girls. It’s now combined with St Nicholas’ Grammar School for boys and is called Haydon School. I was pleased to see a sign that said, ‘St Mary’s Building… nice they’ve kept the name.
Back down Wiltshire Lane (I used to cycle to school and remember haring down here at the end of the day and removing my grey, felt school hat at the earliest opportunity. We headed for Black Horse Parade and the Black Horse Pub in Eastcote Village. Jean had lived above the shops for a short time in her twenties and was a frequent visitor to the pub for a tipple or two or three or more.. . . what a gal! I don’t think she’s too impressed with me giving up alcohol for good a year ago!
We sat in the pub and made idle chatter with the barman and a couple of regulars who remembered Mrs Tapping at the sweetshop, the blacksmiths opposite the pub, which is now a bungalow called The Old Forge . . . very imaginative. Jean said the pub didn’t resemble the one that she knew from years ago. I suggested a few more glasses of wine and it might seem more familiar. Only joking Jean.
We didn’t get to see everything we set out to visit. We wanted to walk around Eastcote House Gardens but it was a bit cold and February is not the best time to wander around. only to see the leafless trees and muddy footpaths and very little colour. I’ve promised to take her again in July.
As a writer it was wonderful to jog my brain into remembering so many small things of my childhood; going on the back of my brother’s motorbike when he was in his teens and me only about five! It wouldn’t happen today would it? Also memories of my sister pushing me in the pram, down to Eastcote Village. We used to sit and watch the blacksmith in the forge and then buy sweets in the sweet shop which had big jars full of boiled sweets and other treats — you know the kind of thing if you’re over a certain age. I also loved buying half-a-pound of broken biscuits. I always liked the round Lincoln biscuits best with the little knobbly bits on the top that I could nibble at like a rabbit. Ah times gone by. There’s a lot I miss from the past. . .nostalgia is not what it used to be….🤣
Today it’s twelve years since we lost Tosh. I thought the pain of grief would not be as raw now as it was in the beginning but sometimes it just jolly well is. It’s been a difficult month, with the weather being so dismal and I felt a little low. But, I spoke to my son in Thailand a couple of days ago and told him how hard I was finding it this year. He asked if I wrote to Tosh at this time of year, bringing him up to date with the family and world news the same as I had during the first year and when writing the book Dear Tosh. It felt like a good idea and I actually smiled at the prospect.
At the end of the book I’d signed off,
Love you and miss you Tosh. Bye for now. I’ll write again soon. Mum xx
I had every intention of writing again soon, but I didn’t. Getting on with life took over, and I never got around to writing another letter until today.
Dear Tosh, 14th January 2023
Today I woke up late, feeling muggy and tired. I’d been dreaming about eating, probably because I’ve been trying to lose weight so cutting down on my intake of carbs. As soon as I opened my eyes I thought of you. Most days I think of you first thing and then several times again throughout the day. Twelve years ago we were on our way to Porto, to the hospital. We had to get from Italy where we were living at the time. I was trying to remember how we go to the airport at Bologna, we must have driven but I have no recollection of the journey there or much else. I spent a few days in a world of numbness and confusion. The last letter I wrote to you was on the 1st February 2021. I cannot believe two years have almost passed and I’m sorry I have not written again before today. But here I am. I’m sitting at my desk in our cottage in Dorset. Through the window I can see the driveway of the farm opposite, the barn and the stables. Yesterday the sun was shining but today it’s raining and windy once more. The weather so far in 2023 has been dismal. The rain causing floods everywhere in the Southwest and further afield. You wouldn’t like it — it’s not good weather for graffiti!
Let me give you a bit of an update from January 2021. When Geoff and I returned from France in May 2021 I published my book about you called Dear Tosh . It’s the 27 letters I wrote to you for the 10th anniversary while we were staying in Caux, South of France. A lot of people have read it and it has helped many people come to terms with their own loss. I think you’d be very pleased about that.
I’ve not written anything big since your book, I’ve tried to write a novel but haven’t had much success. I find plotting very difficult! At the moment I’m sticking to short stories and poetry, which I find less stressful to write.
Geoff and I went to France again in 2022 and stayed near Lorgues in Provence. It was a beautiful area and Geoff did loads of cycling. Unfortunately, just before we were due to come home he fell off his bike on a cycle path, broke his collarbone, a few ribs and had a nasty concussion. Bad eh? It was quite nice for me and Jpeg the dog though, because he came walking with us for the last two weeks of our trip. Jpeg loved that! He’s back on his bike now though, albeit indoors because of our awful weather. He does 45 mins in the morning and I do 30mins of keep fit with a Youtube video. Fabulous Fifties — who am I kidding!
Sadly Jpeg died at the end of August 2022, she was thirteen and a half, so she had a good life. She was a well travelled dog. Even though you never met her I know you would have loved each other. We had her cremated and then took her ashes back to the farm in Italy where she had found us all those years before and you had convinced me we should keep her. On our way to Italy we stopped at the small village in Lorraine, France, where some of your ashes are in a beautiful village cemetery overlooking the French countryside. I shed a tear or two, I love the headstone there because it has your photograph on it. We left some of Jpeg’s ashes behind the stone so that she could be with you.
World news over the last couple of years is dire. Russia invaded Ukraine. The Climate Crisis is taking hold. I know you would be definitely behind any cause that would save our environment. There’s flooding, war, starvation . . . the world doesn’t get any better. As for the UK well it’s a disaster right now. We had three Prime Ministers in 2022! Everyone is on strike, the NHS is falling apart. We have gone back to the 1970s. I won’t say any more as it’s too depressing.
I think about you every single day, more than once, we talk about you all the time and look at pictures of you, when you were little and as a grown man. Of course I can only imagine what you would be like now. Forty this year! It doesn’t seem possible. But then again we’re all getting older year on year. Your eldest brother will be fifty this year — now that’s really something. I cannot possibly be old enough to have a fifty-year-old son. We are going out to Thailand to celebrate with him as are Emily and her girls. It will be a lovely couple of weeks. Geoff and I are going to take the opportunity to travel to Laos and Cambodia while we’re close.
Today we are trying to be upbeat about the anniversary of your death. Thinking of so many good things. We’re going to have a lovely meal, I have a new toy, an air fryer (I keep calling it an air dryer ha ha) and I’m roasting lamb, Persian style, with yoghurt and spices. I’m celebrating your life and know that if you were still around, I’d be chatting to you about my new air fryer and all the things I can make with it.
Miss you as ever. Lots of love Mum xxx
PS I tried to get a couple of walnut whips today so that we could ceremonially eat them, but couldn’t find one anywhere.
I know you loved them. I think Emily has been successful. I hope so.
On Friday 4th February 2022 I had my last glass of wine. I had answered a sort of quiz on an internet website Drinkaware — you can see it HERE if you fancy assessing your own consumption — and for the first time, I didn’t cheat with my answers. Sadly, I wasn’t at all happy with the result. You know the sort of thing they ask like, how many units of alcohol do you drink a night, or how many glasses in a week, and a few other questions too. My answers revealed the truth to me, it was a bit of a shock but, I thought that I might be a little alcohol dependent as I reached for the bottle every evening or I was having that extra glass of wine at the end of the night — that I didn’t need etc., — and this was happening all too often.
So I just decided to stop.
It’s been fine, I honestly haven’t missed the alcohol at all. I haven’t missed having a fuzzy head some mornings and I can definitely feel the benefits of living a sober life. It might be sober but it’s definitely not dull. So many people think that if you don’t drink at all then you’re boring. I’d like to think that I would never be considered boring.
We travelled to France for April, May and June, staying in the wine region of Provence for several weeks where in the past I enjoyed many glasses of their wonderful Rosé. But I didn’t even think about it this year.
What I did miss was having a grown-up drink before dinner, or sometimes when I sat down in the evening. However, during the last year, more and more alcohol free drinks have come onto the market. I find I can enjoy a ‘gin’ and tonic or a ‘martini’ and tonic. Gordons, Tanqueray and others are now producing alcohol free gin. Another of my favourite drinks is Atopia spiced citrus. All these I drink with tonic, ice and lemon or cucumber, of course.
This will be my first Christmas without alcohol. I’m not bothered. The Man hasn’t had a drink for over thirty years and it never bothers him. Also one of my sons gave up several years ago, they both drink alcohol free beer – Lucky Saint they say is a good one, but I’m not keen on beer so I’ve been testing out the wines. Nozeco is popular, cheap, about £3.50 a bottle and it’s okay. Noughty sparkling Chardonnay is good, but not cheap, averaging around £9. I’ve not seen any sherry yet…but I keep looking.
I like a drop of mulled wine at this time of year so I bought myself a bottle of low alcohol red wine (0.05%) opened a jar with bags of mulled wine spices in it. I heated the wine with water, an orange, a small spoonful of sugar, and the spice bag, let the whole thing sit on a very low heat for an hour or so and bingo — it was bloody good! When I looked at the spice jar afterwards it said on it, best before October 2011 Horrors! It was sealed, it’s spices, I’ve lived to tell the tale. We went visiting this weekend and I told them about my mulled wine experience, whereupon they produced a bottle of Vintersaga mulled fruit drink from Ikea at £2.95 a bottle, and I have to say that was pretty good too. Only thing is it cannot be bought online so a trip to Ikea looks likely. (See centre photo above).
Have a wonderful Christmas and if you, like me, have given up the alcohol, there is a lot out there to choose from . . .
If you receive my newsletter (you can sign up for it HERE on this website) you will have seen that The Man and I did rather a lot of travelling in November. November is a difficult month for me, it’s the beginning of a series of family anniversaries (births, deaths etc.,) Going away was a great thing to do. We travelled down to Le Marche in Italy where we used to live but took several days to get there stopping in Belgium, France and Switzerland on the way. All the stops were really my choice so I had to allow The Man to fulfil his dream of staying in Trieste. Which we did, for three nights at the end of November. I chose the hotel, right on the front with a sea view and The Man got us a free upgrade to include a balcony.
We were incredibly lucky with the weather. Although it turned a little cold, the sun shone for most of the time we were there and we had a magnificent view of the Mediterranean sea — until it was interrupted by the arrival of an enormous cruise ship less than 100 metres from our hotel window.
Just a few photographs of the hotel in Trieste and our view with and without the cruise ship! It was a special treat for us and we very much enjoyed it.
There was so much to see that we had difficulty in choosing but as James Joyce lived here for some time during his life, it was a must to find some of his haunts. We didn’t make it to the museum but we will next time. You can read about James Joyce in Trieste here on the museum website. We walked up the Via Roma to find his statue. I of course hoped for some inspiration. The Man was walking in the steps of a writer he much admires. We visited the James Joyce Café on our first evening in Trieste but it was closing and a bit of a disappointment. We saw one of the blocks of apartments that Joyce lived in, a pretty pink one beside the water inlet in the Piazza Sant’Antonio Nuova.
We chose to visit the Banksy exhibition which was staged in the old fish market. An enormous building with high ceilings and big windows. That was impressive to begin with, never mind the art works on display. The Man said, ‘I have never given Banksy anywhere near enough credit for his satirical observation, probably because I just hadn’t seen enough of his work. It is eye opening to see so much here.’
It was a big exhibition with many familiar pieces and many I had not seen before. There was an area containing pull-down rolls of blank paper and pens for the public to do their own piece. I couldn’t resist of course. Afterwards, I wanted to tell Tosh all about it. . . So I did.
We also chose to visit the Revoltella Museum. Founded in 1872 by Baron Pasquale Revoltella (1795-1869), one of the most representative figures of Trieste society in the 19th century. who left to the city, in addition to many other bequests, his house and all the works of art, furnishings and books it contained. Apart from wandering around the beautiful house and viewing all the wonderful works of art and furniture, we attended I Macchiaioli exhibition housed in a gallery within the building. In the words of the museum website:
The term “Macchiaioli” defines the most important group of Italian artists of the 19th century. Independent and rebellious spirits who abandon the historical and mythological scenes of neoclassicism and romanticism to open themselves to a realistic and immediate painting, without preparatory drawings, painting precisely “in stains” dense and colourful everyday life, with short brushstrokes that make the subjects much more truthful. The outlines in their paintings are blurred in an attempt to reproduce reality as it appears at a glance.
This was a movement I had never heard of. I’m not an art critic and I know very little about the history of art, unlike The Man, but even he didn’t know of it. So, a great deal to be discovered by both of us. We agreed that paintings we saw, mostly of ‘ordinary’ working people in different environments were pleasing to look at. The light and shade and the subject matter all making an impression on us. Here are just three examples:
I particularly like the young boy, painted in the 19th century but looking very much like a boy of today. The young girl reminded me of the In Summer painting I had seen in Berlin, remember? The street scene is just fabulous, the sunlight and shadow, the children playing in the street and neighbours chatting.
Here now are a three photographs of the house:
A carriage, the library and dinner for four.
As I said, we did a lot of walking. We do a lot of walking wherever we go and Trieste was no exception. One rather long and uphill stroll, took us from behind the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre to the top of the city where we found the war memorial on the hill of San Giusto. A cathedral, an old monastery and on the plateau of the hill were the remains of an old Roman forum and beside it, after climbing several steps. the memorial for those lost during the first and second world wars. There were benches dotted around and a few people sitting on the old broken down stone walls. A kind of meeting place, I thought, and it inspired me to write a short story — not finished yet —Typical I hear you say. But it will be.
A few photographs of the Roman amphitheatre ruins, our walk to the top of the city, the war memorial and surrounding area.
Finally, some photographs of the food from Trieste. We do love a good breakfast, lunch or dinner!
I enjoyed my visit to Trieste. The architecture is Mittel-Europa (so The Man says) heavily influenced by centuries of the Hapsburgs. Trieste lies in the very north east of Italy with Slovenia and Croatia on its borders. It was Austrian for many years and was the principal port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The food has Teutonic influences (the pastries magnificent). It’s a city of great interest to literary and historical buffs and a must visit if you are either of these. We’re planning a prolonged visit next year so watch this space.
Once again we travelled on the train, this time to Savignyplatz. We had arranged to meet a German friend, Oliva. She had noticed we were in Berlin from my posts on Instagram and sent a message telling us that she was now living in Berlin. We had not seen each other for some years, not since the days when we all lived in Italy. I asked her to book a table for lunch where we could eat traditional German food. This she did. More later.
We arrived early at Savignyplatz, and The Man decided it would be a good idea to walk along the Kurfürstendamm, this was centre of West Berlin during the partition era and the main shopping street. Armani, crazy expensive shoes that I didn’t even like. Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Versace, Victoria Beckham, to name a few. Interesting to look at but I wasn’t tempted to buy anything or even try something on. I don’t know if it’s my age but I’m just not bothered about owning any designer stuff. I don’t like bling and it is beyond my comprehension that a minority of people can purchase things in these shops whilst the majority are looking for money to feed the family and keep them warm. I mean €995 for a pair of trainers?!?! But, as I said, it was interesting to walk along the street and a few of the security guards outside shop doors were quite attractive. . . ha ha ha. We sat outside an upmarket coffee shop to take an Americano with hot milk on the side (The Man) and a small cappuccino (me) and had fun, people watching.
The Dicke Wirtin restaurant was exactly how I thought it would be. In my work in progress, I have my characters dining at Aschingers, which no longer exists, well if it does, I couldn’t find it. However, The Dicke Wirtin (The Fat Landlady) was, I imagine, a close resemblance to Aschingers. What struck me was the amount of dark wood; balustrades divided those dining at tables on the raised platform. High tables with bar stools, and smaller tables with bentwood chairs, or high-backed bench seats with flowery cushions. The place was overloaded with pictures, pottery beer mugs, china cups and trinkets and memorabilia. Some of the walls were papered with a montage of photographs from over the years. The ambience around all this suggested a social history of artists, writers, activists, philosophers and political dissidents, deep in discussion around the tables whilst eating their cabbage soup, bread and cheese or just necking a stein of beer.
The menu was indeed German. I chose, Riesenbratwurst mit Rotkohl und Petersilienkartoffeln, (giant bratwurst with red cabbage, boiled parsley-potatoes and gravy). It did not disappoint; but I had indigestion all afternoon and well into the evening and the red cabbage had a little too much bay in it for me. Still I don’t ever have to eat it again. The Man chose, Königsberger Klopse mit Rote und Salzkartoffen, (meat balls in a white sauce, beetroot and boiled potatoes). It looked insipid but apparently it tasted fine, Oliva played safe and had the soup of the day. Maybe I should have followed her lead but I really wanted the bratwurst. Perhaps a giant one was a little over the top.
Before we left the area, we visited a huge bookshop under the arches of the railway station. The Man bought a chunky Magnum photographic book with photos of Tours de France over the years. I bought a ‘then and now’ book of photographs of Berlin. Very helpful for my research.
Big walking day today. Took the S-Bahn from Jannowitzbrücke station (a ten-minute walk from our hotel — have I already told you that? The S-Bahn is above ground and extends beyond the inner city to the suburbs. We were heading for Potsdam. I don’t know if it’s because I was only born five years after the second world war, which meant it was still very much spoken of in my childhood, but the scenery and stations that we passed on our train trip to Potsdam seemed to be full of sights that reminded me of stories that I’d heard. I could imagine people running through the woods looking either foraging for food or looking for a place to hide. I could ‘see’ the trucks and soldiers. It was a little chilling. We stopped at Wannsee station where Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Goebbels and others agreed the ‘Final Solution’. The sign for the station was written in Teutonic Script font, also scary. But, moving on, because it was all a very long time ago and I don’t want to dwell on it here, as today’s Germany is not that of the 1930’s and 1940s.
It was Oliva who suggested Potsdam as a must to visit and how right she was. Over the last few years, extensive renovations have taken place. As we walked from the station towards the Sanssouci Palace (the main attraction) we detoured to stroll around the Dutch Quarter of the town. It was easy to identify; the architecture and the bicycles a real giveaway! Loved it, as I did other areas of Potsdam. I think I could easily spend a few months there, in the right sort of apartment with a balcony…hmm wishful thinking, probably far too expensive.
It took well over half-an-hour to walk to the palace gates as we didn’t take the direct route from the station. A sign on the gate said New Palace 1.5k. You could see it in the distance, and it seemed much closer than 1.5k. But. . . it wasn’t, in fact I think it might have been 2k! We walked it anyway. All the way down — and all the way back! Past the Old Sanssouci Palace, the Orangery, the Italian gardens. It was breath taking in its vastness. The grounds extending to many acres and the palace magnificent at the end of its driveway. We didn’t go in. In fact, I’m not sure it was open to the public.
We both loved Potsdam but our legs and feet did not appreciate our enthusiasm. After stopping for a quick ‘bowl dinner’ at Dean and David’s (a great little restaurant chain – it was our second visit) we headed straight back to the hotel and a quiet evening in our room playing cards and after around 12 kms, resting our tired limbs.
The forecast for Saturday wasn’t good, rainy and dull. The Man had a desire to visit the Arminius indoor market in Moabit, where we thought we might pick up brunch. As you might expect it was a very large, brick, purpose built, market hall with high ceilings and glass windows around the top of the walls. The smell when we walked in teased the taste buds; frying bacon, waffles with syrup, coffee etc., We opted for the all you can eat brunch. We paid €37 each and were given a wrist band to prove it. The menu included unlimited Prosecco (which we didn’t have because neither of us drink alcohol). The friendly waiter showed us to a table and immediately brought us a huge pot of coffee. All you had to do was visit any one of a number of stalls selling different breakfast food, fill your plates, return to your table and eat. You could do this as many times as you liked from 10am until 2pm. Needless to say, we didn’t pace ourselves very well, and only managed about an hour and a half of eating. All this scoffing was accompanied by a piano player! Also, there was a very large table for friends and family to gather around. It has a sign above it saying Die Mutter aller Tische, The Mother of all Tables.
The rain was rather heavy by the time we left. We took the train back to Alexanderplatz and went to the Alte Nationalgalerie, a magnificent building. We wandered around and looked at many paintings — which is what you do in an art gallery — a favourite of mine was a Renoir called In Summer. It’s of a young girl sitting in the garden looking pensive. I was inspired to write a story from it. Sounds a bit trite but I felt she spoke to me.
Another painting that has stuck in my mind is The Foot of The Artist, by realist artist Adolf Menzel. I couldn’t stop staring at it. As yet though, it has not inspired a story.
The Man is fond of sculpture, me not so much, but I’ve included a photograph above of his particular favourite from the day, a stevedore from Wilhelmshaven.
We loved Berlin and I look forward to visiting again. There’s so much to see and do and it’s a wonderful city. If you haven’t visited yet I can highly recommend that you do so as soon as possible!.
We flew from Bristol to Berlin on Sunday 25th September and after dropping our bags at the hotel and having a bite to eat we took a short walk to Alexander Platz, which is when we discovered that the Berlin Marathon had been run earlier in the day. There were lots of road blocks and barriers erected everywhere, and a great many tired looking people filling the restaurants — and their stomachs — sporting finishers medallions around their necks.
I immediately loved the vibrant atmosphere in the famous Alexanderplatz. Young people milling around or sitting in groups drinking and eating. The pervading smell of doughnuts, fried onions, and other street food assailed my nose. It was exciting. Equally delightful were the backstreet areas and their small squares with trees.
Below is the Neptune Fountain to be found in the gardens behind Alexander Platz. It was originally situated outside the City Hall in the Palace Square.
Continue reading to see where and what The Man and I got up to on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday:
We walked from our hotel in Mitte, to Unter den Linden, past the Humboldt University, up to the Brandenburg Gate. I wanted to have coffee in the famous Adlon Hotel but it was closed to non-residents. However, they did own a little coffee shop right next to the hotel so we went in there to have our breakfast. We were in Berlin for me to do some research but also as tourists because neither of us had ever been to the city.
After our breakfast we walked to the Holocaust Memorial. A unique memorial which, in it’s simple complexity (if that makes sense) took me to a strange and thoughtful place where I spent a few moments to contemplate the horror and pointlessness of war, the loss of so many lives and. . . the human race never learns — at least our leaders do not.
From the memorial we made our way through the Tiergarten which was much bigger than I ever imagined and we only walked through a tiny part of it.
We ventured to Charlottenburg, an area I was particularly interested in for my research. Our first time on the U-Bahn. The payment system was a little unnerving but actually, once we got the hang of it, very easy. Once you have bought a ticket, either for a single trip or another option such as a twenty-four hour ticket for A, AB or ABC zones, then you validate it and that’s it! No barriers to wait at, no queuing behind someone who’s app won’t work, or their ticket doesn’t scan… it’s not at all stressful. We didn’t get lost once. We walked from the Sophie-Charlotte-Platz station to the Charlottenburg Palace, passing through a fairly affluent residential area, with wide tree lined streets, big houses or apartments. The architecture dating from 19th and early 20th century, some of which managed to survive the WW2 bombing of Berlin.
The palace, both the old and the ‘new’ extension, was interesting and historical. I often don’t bother with the audio guide but we did this time and I would highly recommend using them. It didn’t cost any extra, but enhanced my tour of the palace by explaining the functions of the rooms, the paintings, furniture and history of the place. So much more enjoyable than just wandering through the rooms randomly and reading a few information labels on the walls. One of my favourite rooms was the Gold Ballroom — it took all my restraint not to waltz down the room (in fact I did do a little turn or two 😊). Peruse the photographs in the slide show from the U-bahn to gardens of the palace.
Not far from our hotel (less than a ten minute walk) was the Märkisches Museum. It opened in1908 after several years of construction. The museum today shows the social and political history of Berlin. It is one of the best museums I have ever visited. Once again I used the audio guide enabling me to gain so much more from the exhibits.
We walked through the rooms which were arranged in chronological order beginning around the 12th Century right up to the the 1970s. There was so much to see in each era, including Berlin’s collision with the plague, a model of Berlin in the 15th Century, and a big scale model of Berlin from the 1700s where one could see the city wall around the edge and The Man and I could just about pick out where our hotel was now standing. The rise of Prussian militarism, three internal wars, culminating in German unification. History of WW1, the post war economic collapse, and Hitler’s rise to power. WW2 and on into more recent times.
We had fun with the jukebox and I had fun in the barber’s shop — I took my research seriously, honestly!
Wednesday Afternoon – The Wall
I was ten when the Berlin Wall went up and I couldn’t get my head around it all. I remember asking my dad why they didn’t just walk around the edge. . . I think he must have thought me too young to need an explanation. From the Märkisches Museum, we crossed the river and walked the 2.5km alongside the River Spree heading to the East Side Gallery. After walking for more than a kilometre we found ourselves beside a long stretch of the original wall. I wasn’t sure if the wall was in its original position or not, because it’s hard to follow the route today not knowing whether you are, in what was East or West Berlin. Fortunately for me, I happened across a young girl in a kiosk carrying a clip board and folder. She was part of a volunteer organisation who work to preserve this section of The Wall for posterity. She explained that ‘Yes, this was the original position of the wall’. There was 1.4 kilometres of it and we were at the end. She showed me a photograph from the 1960s and pointed to a building, ‘See that building, it still stands there, and houses The Wall Museum.’
She explained that the graffiti was done on The Wall by people from all over the world immediately the wall began to be demolished in 1989. I took some photographs but they’re really not that good. Being there was the best thing.
We had walked along The Wall, on what had been the Russian Zone. Immediately on the other side of the wall it was still the East and the border for the West was on the other side of the river. And of course… a wide dead zone between The Wall and the river. It doesn’t bear thinking about. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to look out of your home and see that barrier knowing that some of your relatives were out of reach on the other side of the river.
Of course many people tried to escape and very few made it. We had seen some memorials on the fence when walking the day before. I’ve posted a photograph below.
We visited The Wall Museum afterwards and by the end I had a much greater understanding of what the German people on the East had to endure. Splitting families and holding people in a country where they don’t want to be just seems barbaric.
We watched interviews with escapees who succeeded and those who didn’t but survived. We saw photographs from the period1945/6 up to 1961 when there was a little more freedom of movement between East and West. We then saw the agony which began on August 13th 1961.
Of course there is so much political history and the subject needs much greater research and serious study to make any real comment here on my blog. I suppose what I can say, is that prior to my visit, I had only superficially thought about Germany after the war and now I have come to realise what a dreadful time the ordinary Berliner had. That child of ten had no comprehension of the division of Germany and Berlin between the Allies (France, Britain and America) and the Russians.