as the sun illuminates
in the grass
and bluebell hoods
carpet the woods
as the Spring phoenix dashes
from winter’s dark ashes.
as the sun illuminates
in the grass
and bluebell hoods
carpet the woods
as the Spring phoenix dashes
from winter’s dark ashes.
Today I am celebrating the second anniversary of my blog, which I started as a response to unemployment. A big thank you to all you readers and especially my followers who continue to inspire me.
So much has happened since then. I was soon employed and am now able to go on holidays and have driving lessons. Driving is still scaring me but apparently I have good handling of the car. Speeding is my main problem, as everyone else does so I feel like I am holding them up, but it is also quite fun. However I am aware that having points on a provisional licence would not be ideal. My instructor is right to eye that “speedo” like a hawk. The amount of time I spend waiting for buses alone may justify the expense of a car. In today’s fast-paced society, time is money. I’m also saving for a house but the deposit alone is £60,000 so even though I am responsible for half, it’s going to take me years if not decades.
But I digress. As promised here is Potsdam in December. We went on a walking tour which wasn’t worth the money but it’s a lovely city.
The Germans are almost as excited about cycling as the Dutch.
Bahnhof is German for station.
Building work is transformed into art and a cement mixer features a family for no apparent reason.
A church seen from the palace (reconstructed due to extensive bombing in the Second World War).
Glienicke bridge where three spy exchanges happened between East and West Berlin from 1962-86.
One of Potsdam’s many parks. People used to try to swim across to West Berlin from here in the Cold War days.
The Christmas market here looked more authentic and less touristy than Berlin’s.
December was a busy month with trips to Birmingham, Berlin, Lancaster, Norwich and Great Yarmouth and a visit from my cousins, where I cooked for five for the first time.
I learnt that you need to have everything prepared and ready to go for the day of the visit. I spent that morning scouring local farms for turkey, only to be told that it had to be ordered in advance. I was saved by a pre-prepared one at Waitrose.
There was so much to see and do in Berlin. The city had a festive atmosphere with Christmas lights and markets. Temperatures were close to zero so my thermals came in handy.
Hotel Indigo was comfortable, clean and stylish and was lovely to return to after a day on our feet. We had an executive room with a balcony and we wrapped up to admire the view.
It was easy to get around using the S-Bahn and U-Bahn train systems. The U-Bahn is the Underground. You have to get your ticket stamped by the machine or you can be fined.
Transport links from Schönefeld airport were dismal, perhaps the reason for its rating on Google of under 3 stars. We were shattered after our budget airline experience featuring the usual lengthy queues. I nearly fell over as I had labyrinthitis – an inner-ear infection causing balance issues and disorientation. I had just started swimming again and medical opinion was that it had pushed infection further into my ear. Luckily it was the last 24 hours of it.
There was a long walk to the train station which was a vast concrete space with confusing German signposting to unfamiliar areas and some omnipotent machines. You needed to have the right amount of coins as they did not take cards and most did not like notes. Perhaps this is to encourage those in the know to buy at the airport. There were no officials and no information desk. In England there are information points at almost every major station so it was a culture-shock. I’d already been jarred by the lack of warm water in public toilets. Economical efficiency at its best but punishing in winter. Hand-warmers are recommended.
Berlin Photo Tour
This pint features the German bear in front of the dome of Berlin’s parliament or Bundestag which is one of the subjects of my next post. Bears first appeared on a city seal (emblem) in 1280. The earliest city seal from 1253 didn’t feature a bear but an eagle, which was the symbol of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, an important part of the Holy Roman Empire that included Berlin. In 1280 the second emblem featured a Brandenburg eagle flanked by two standing bears. When Cölln and Berlin were merged into one city in 1709, the coat of arms featured the bear below two eagles -red for Brandenburg and black for Prussia. By 1875, the bear gained a crown signifying Berlin’s status as a free city.
Our walking tour started in front of the Brandenburg Gate, outside Starbucks. It was free if you were heartless but our charismatic guide explained that he lived on donations and 15 Euros was the going rate. It was well worth it as we felt we had seen all the key sights and were fully briefed in the history. All questions were answered.
Just past the Gate on the road is the dividing line of the Wall that divided East and West Berlin until 1989, stretching off into the traffic. Division seems a distant memory, one that many would surely rather forget.
Today is the 70th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz where over 1 million people died. An estimated 90 per cent of these victims were Jews, with Poles, Romani gypsies, Soviet Prisoners, homosexuals and others deemed “undesirable” making up the hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish victims that were killed at the hands of the Nazis. The death toll is inconceivable. I thought of my grandfather, who liberated and dealt with the aftermath of Bergen-Belsen. Hell on earth. He never spoke of it and it must have been easier to repress than think about. Primo Levi, an Italian Jewish Auschwitz survivor, writer and chemist, remarked “I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man” quoting the Robert Burns poem “Man Was Made to Mourn”.
The Jewish Memorial in Berlin was quite an experience. It was a series of concrete blocks gradually getting taller until you were engulfed by oppressive blank columns trapping you on all sides. You are suddenly in a narrow space overshadowed by heavy grey monoliths leaning towards you which blocked out the light.
It was even more powerful at night. I couldn’t see anything but a gloomy, shadowy passage in front of me. It was eerily silent and you could hardly see the sky.
You could go on a “Trabi” tour. Trabant cars, affectionately termed “trabis”, were iconic vehicles used by the Soviets of East Berlin. There is a museum for almost everything in Berlin, from those cars to computer science.
Balloon sightseeing looked fun but freezing. We didn’t get a chance to see the Berlin Wall art but click here for a good website with it.
The East side still retained some differences such as the pedestrian crossing signs which featured a large man in a hat. The design was conceived by a traffic psychologist, Karl Peglau. The thinking behind it was that we react more quickly to appealing symbols.
The history of a divided East/West Berlin reminded me of North/South Korea. The Russians called the East the Federal Republic and the British, French and Americans named the West the Democratic Republic. The wishful thinking post-War was that both halves would be run harmoniously. But the 1950s saw the fear of Communism explode in the States with witch hunts including even Charlie Chaplin. There were uprisings in the East which were dealt with by the Stasi, the secret police. Around 2.7 million East Berliners defected from 1949 until the Wall was built, with 200,000 leaving the year before in 1960. Reasons for escape were economic, social or political.One reason was the introduction of a collectivization policy in the 1950s. The goal was to consolidate individual land and labour into collective farms in order to increase food supply. But this meant that profits decreased and there were food shortages and riots instead.
The Wall was publicly built to prevent a war for the city but privately it was
also to stop the East-West exodus. The East-German leader Walter Ubricht termed it an “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart” protecting the Federal Republic from “military adventurers”.
The photo above shows border guard Conrad Schumann who left two days after Wall construction began. His fellow soldiers were distracted and he saw his chance. West Berliners encouraged him to jump and after deciding for a moment he went for it. The moment was captured by passing photographer Peter Liebing. The iconic photograph was used as propaganda.
There were some unusual escapes, such as by tightrope-walking and with a car converted to go under the crossing barrier. Many who succeeded were guards, with over 1,300 fleeing in the first two years of the Wall’s construction. This led to the installation of locks and further walls requiring several soldiers to open them.
There was a good exhibition at Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station about the division of the Underground. Tube trains from the West could pass through Eastern stops but they could not be used and became “ghost” stations. Even here soldiers escaped, so they would be locked in a platform bunker until the end of their shift.
Officially, 136 Berliners died fleeing to the West. Some wanted to earn more money, others were trying to join family members. Friedrichstraße station was nicknamed “The Palace of Tears” as it was the station where East Berliners would have tearful goodbyes to West Berliners returning, unsure when they would be allowed to see them again.
Many casualties were not recorded by the secretive Soviets. But a victims research group called “August 13 Working Group” has claimed there were more than 1,100 fatalities linked to the division of states. West Berliners used it to fly-tip.
The photo above captures the worst Wall stand-off caused by a senior U.S. diplomat, Lightner Jr (American for Junior, which means son of) wanting to go to the opera in East Berlin. The East Germans demanded to see his passport, which he insisted only Soviet officials had the right to check. He was forced to turn back. Due to the tank stand-off and fervent diplomacy that ensued, officials on both sides were allowed to attend the theatre and the opera over the border. As for Lightner Jr, he went to the performance days later.
This month Stasi records became available online for the first time. The Stasi were Soviet secret police. Their files have been available to their subjects since 1992. But you had to write out for them and there were delays in release. The records were saved by East German citizens who stormed Stasi offices when the Wall fell in 1989. They include the harrowing case of Manfred Smolka, a former East German border guard who was seized, thrown in solitary confinement and guillotined after he escaped to the West. The Stasi even attempted to recruit Prime Minister Angela Merkel when she was at University.
Our tour guide was fantastic and we felt like we had been fully briefed on the key history and sights of the city centre.
The German market looked fantastic. To the left is the Concert House where we enjoyed an orchestral and choral Bach performance.
You must visit Fassbender and Rauch. It’s a chocolate shop with green awnings like Harrods and has confectionary which is just as fancy. There were several iconic buildings made entirely of chocolate. Upstairs in the lift is the restaurant where they do a main meal in chocolate on Monday-Friday. There can be a queue early in the afternoon but it is worth the wait. Their petit-fours look exquisite and are delicious.
Christmas decoration in Pottsdam, copied nicely in chocolate in Berlin. That city is the subject of my next post, along with more of Berlin.
I am lucky to live on the edge of some stunningly scenic countryside. Here are some pictures from a walk I did on the way back from a village open-air swimming pool.
Hand-gliders jump off the top of the hill above.
There was a lot of greenery after a thunderstorm and rain the day before:
A scenic spot called Burbage. On top of the hill (below) are the remains of an Iron Age fort.
The weather was perfect, not a cloud in sight and warm, a tropical 24 degrees. All bipeds have right of way in Derbyshire, with sheep at the top of the list. They are also allowed to stay in the middle of the road for as long as they so choose and frequently abuse that privilege.
I tried to take pictures of the butterflies that stopped in front of me but they flew off as soon as my shadow was over them. This one is roadkill, a beautiful insect killed by big ugly polluting metal cans zooming past and ruining the country idyll.
On Sunday leafy Yorkshire was invaded by the French for the first time since the Norman invasion.
Even our local newspaper was taken over, with a commentator yelling “speciale edition of ze Yourkshe post!”.
We arrived early in the morning in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. There were ancient stone houses and farmers’ fields everywhere and the smell of cut grass lingered in the air.
Parking spaces were already filling up on verges of the narrow country bridges and pavements. There was a festival atmosphere with many of the crowd in yellow, many already lining the route including the BBC.
We walked up one long steep hill. I pitied the Tour de France riders who would have to climb it. If it was me I would certainly get off and walk.
We passed a field with numerous food stalls from hog roasts to Carribbean food to the local brewery stalls and then on to the Portacabin cess pits, although at this early stage they were still fairly hygienic.
Any stalls advertising coffee had lines of caffeine addicts desperately awaiting their morning fix. My boyfriend’s friends spent about an hour in it for theirs.
A sausage sandwich was necessary for the wait. We found a bit of the verge that had been left as it was narrow and established our territory. With just crisps and chit-chat we whiled away the hours until lunch – a picnic. All the while spectators streamed past up the hill, desperate for a patch of grass to claim.
A lot of people had cycled there including a lady in a polka-dot dress. A mother produced giant chalks and her children drew all over the road with them, including her. She seemed to be enjoying it more than them.
Then just half an hour before the event began a large lady with small dark eyes close to her nose, her skinny older husband with parchment skin from years of nicotine abuse and their whiny little boy were walking in the road and stopped at us.
The mother eyed us up and decided we were soft targets.
“Do you mind if we stand here, we’ll stand behind you and won’t cause any trouble” she said aggressively.
It was more an order than a question and without waiting for an answer she shoved herself and her family between us. We ignored them so she continued her tirade:
“don’t see why they mind, we’ve got as much right to be here as they have, it’s a free country, it’s not like they own the land. Anyway I don’t see why they’re sitting down” she glanced at me indignantly “there’d be a lot more space for other people if they stood up.”
Her husband timidly intervened “they might have been waiting here for many hours.” She relented slightly “well they may have but why shouldn’t we stand here as well, we’re standing behind them and we aren’t gonna cause any trouble are we?” she said to her offspring, who about ten minutes later started whining “is it gonna start yet? mummy when’s it gonna start? it’s been aaages! I’m bored!”
“Play with your sword then” the space offender suggested and her son started thrashing his plastic sword and shield about at spectators.
The procession of police and gendarmes began at around 3 with continuous sirens and beeps. Then came the marketing cars and floats throwing out freebies. They were not as generous with them as I would have liked and of course most of them went to the boy beside us. But I imagined to get a cow keyring with some French on it. They were mostly floats for French companies but some were international. One had massive drinks on and ice cubes, a car sported a plastic bottle of wine the length of the roof:
and there was a gym van with people on exercise bikes racing away.
There was a van covered in cheese and one with meat advertising a French supermarket that we also shopped at in Turkey of all places.
Then there was a constant stream of police landrovers, motorbikes and cars with thin dainty racing bikes on. I started to feel a little sick at the amount of taxpayer money inevitably funding all those police, who were more needed along the route. Occasionally our stewart shouted “get behind the white line” but often forgot, so some people were nearly taken out by wing mirrors.
The crowd became more and more excited, with Mexican waves rippling about.
Finally it was the race we’d all been waiting for. A helicopter swooping low overhead heralded their arrival.
We heard the cheers rippling further and further up the hill as the police escort heralded the arrival of the leanest meanest cycling machines in Europe if not the world.
I was expecting them to look exhausted but their matchstick muscle legs seemed to propel them effortlessly past, with not even a drop of sweat flying off onto us in the front row.They were almost sitting back in the saddle admiring the crowds, who surged forwards almost into the road. There was no steward to be seen and one guy stepped into the path of a competitor and he had to swerve around.
I was absorbed in the atmosphere and in my camera, experimenting with the different effects.
Then came the middle group really working, most standing up and leaning forward, smiling as the spectators shouted and screamed.
It was a Lycra line of calf muscles bulging out like biceps. I was unaware that the British cyclist had already passed as no one had acknowledged him in the fly-past.
Then came the stragglers and this time I could just make out rivers of sweat running down their face in the 20 degree humid heat, having climbed at least 500 metres of torturous hilly bends. An ambulance whizzed past with its lights on.
There was a pause and then everyone went into the road and started heading home, moving baby steps for about half an hour, when suddenly police cars and bikes parted the crowd and one straggler acknowledged the crowd with a wide grin as he palely inched past us in yellow.
Then in true Yorkshire style, it began to rain as we headed to the car.
We spent hours in a traffic queue overlooking the beautiful open countryside as Tour wannabes whizzed by.
On the way back I saw some “tourmakers” having a consultation in their frog green outfits.
Would I go again? I doubt it. We waited hours and hours for about 15 minutes of cyclist champions but I don’t regret it because of the sheer excitement and energy of the event.
When we got home we watched Lewis Hamilton win the Grand Prix which finished our grand day out nicely.
My journey to Turkey started with a trip down to London as we were flying from Luton airport.
To get there I took a bus, two trains, two tubes, a train and then another bus. This was easy to do as links in London are pretty efficient, not as provincial as up North, where bus drivers take breaks every 15 minutes to read The Metro.
It was once I got to the airport that I experienced delay – our plane was late coming in and then this happened next to it…
The oil spill delayed us by an hour. Green powder was spread all over it and then it was brushed up before we could depart.
When we finally got to Bodrum-Milas airport in Turkey we were tired and I was hungry (I am usually hungry). We got our taxi to the hotel, which was probably the most expensive part of our holiday at 80 Lira each. You divide by about 3 for Sterling so this was about £27 for an hour’s journey to our hotel in Turgutreis. The first thing we noticed was that almost everyone smoked. Our car reeked of it.
Our hotel was lovely, having been built on the site of an old hotel only a year or two before. It was very modern and featured a spa, indoor and outdoor pool and private pier which we later jumped off to go snorkelling. But tonight I needed dinner before bed. Luckily there was a family-run outdoor diner just next to the hotel. I had some kebabs bursting full of flavour next to a Turkish family who were having dinner with their little one at about midnight.
The next morning after a great sleep I opened the curtain to heaven on earth. Before us was the light blue of the pool and just in front of that the darker blue of the sea framed by the sun blazing down from the bright sky. I went onto the balcony and was dazzled. The light was so bright that my camera malfunctioned and all the pictures that day came out white. We spent most of that day getting accustomed to the brightness, squinting British tourists sweating in the sunlight.
We thought we’d take in the local village and the new culture. It was a 15 minute walk away and we could walk along the seafront to get there.
We saw lots of dogs and a few cats, both pets and strays.
We passed a lot of cafes and restaurants with shouts of “hey bella take a look at our menu” “hello how are you English?”.
We also went down a street with tourist tack shops and also a bakers and tailors. The tailors was very busy with many alterations being made on the spot.
Bougainvillea brought bursts of colour to the white buildings.
I had some ice cream made of natural fruit juices, pistachio and blackcurrant. The locals were very friendly and cheerful.
We walked past the empty expensive shops in the harbour, admiring the tiled walls and the figureheads of Turgut Reis – the sailor who gave the village its name.
After that we spotted the villlage mosque in front of a McDonalds and headed for it.
We weren’t sure whether we would be allowed in but it appeared that all was welcome. We were both wearing long dresses so we took off our shoes, donned scarves and entered an oasis of calm. There was one big carpet on the floor divided into sections for prayer and lots of beautiful tiling and chandeliers, with a big one hanging from the high elaborately painted dome in the centre.
It was empty apart from some scholars buried in their books in the corner, prayer beads in hand. We took care to be quiet and had a rest there for a while. We heard later that the mosque had only been built about 5 years before.
On the way back we went to the supermarket to get lunch. There was fresh fish by the entrance and a man was picking out what he wanted for about £7.
Then there was a vast array of fruit and vegetables piled up and further down were dried fruit and nuts of all varieties.
On our way back we saw plenty of statues and flags with Ataturk (or “father of the Turks”). Ataturk was an army officer and the Republic of Turkey’s first president who ruled unchallenged from 1923 until 1945. He was responsible for wide-ranging social and political reform to modernise Turkey. These reforms included the emancipation of women and the introduction of Western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet, replacing the Arabic script with a Latin one. He briefly made the fez the compulsory national headdress and people faced heavy fines if they wore a turban. He was and still is treated almost like a religious figure, with one portrait description even describing him as “immortal”. In almost every city there is a statue of him.
After filling our bags with local delicacies we headed back to our hotel for some sunbathing on the pier. The next day we planned to go over the border to Kos in Greece.
After the magnificence of the Haggia Sophia we refreshed ourselves with a visit to a traditional restaurant where we ate kebab main meals (when in Rome, or rather Istanbul!). I had it with the hot spiced apple tea again. It was sweet and revitalising and I couldn’t get enough of it. I then had a tea but I had to ask for milk – if you don’t they just serve it black! Every drink is also served with mounds of sugar cubes as well as having it added. After a while I began to appreciate the EU sugar limits.
We then continued our tourist experience by buying up boxes and boxes of Turkish delight and nougat. Massive blocks of the stuff were chiselled off. They had an array of colours and nuts, it was quite a display. The Turks are very fond of anything with nuts in.
We then went to the Tokapi Palace (Tokapur in Turkish pronunciation), where we marvelled at the variety of styles of 16th-17th century tiled walls.
We walked in ancient regal rooms with 16th century bronze and tile fire places. Odd things with pointy tops. Every so often there would be a little courtyard, sometimes with a fountain.
I got the impression the Turks were also very fond of these, which seemed logical given that Turkey is usually lovely and warm, unlike the bitter cold that day. I had forgotten gloves and I soon lost all feeling in my hands.
The best bit of the palace were the imperial treasures, which at one time only the royals could admire. I had never seen anything like it. Such a large amount of incredibly valuable precious-stones, gold and diamonds, all glistening and dazzling in two rooms, crammed together in a breathtaking display of opulence. There were bronze and ivory thrones from the 16th and 17th centuries, every inch dripping in rubies and emeralds. I asked my boyfriend whether I could have some ruby or emerald jewellery for Christmas. Even if we won the lottery I doubt that is possible, but one can dream. I was like a magpie in the dragon’s cave of the Hobbit. I had never seen anything like this before.
The gold was highly polished and almost blinded you in its magnificence. The diamonds looked thoroughly transparent. These were the literal jewels in the crown of a vast and wealthy Empire that had at one point stretched all the way to “threaten the gates of Vienna”. Incredible given that they started off as a nomadic desert tribe. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photographs.
We saw the Harem where the Emperor’s many wives and the black Eunuchs that served them were housed. The quarters of the Eunuchs were the most modest rooms in the palace, quite small but still richly decorated with painted tiles.
We saw the religious artefacts (the Prophets beard, bits of the Kaa’ba in Mecca and so on). These were the busiest rooms and there was a hushed solemn silence throughout the crowd.
We saw the library and as the sun went down we walked through the gardens to the edge of the palace. Here there was a viewing platform with a little seat. The city stretched away on the other side of the river. It was quiet and rather romantic and we took a picture against the sunset.
The building’s illuminating lights came on and after three hours touring this vast complex it was time to go, we were told the palace was closing.
I had enjoyed feeling like a princess and would have to make do with our “palace” hotel instead that night. As we walked out we saw that the place was guarded by armed soldiers. The Haggia Sophia looked even more dominating in its floodlit glory.
We walked back using the GPS on my boyfriends phone, winding around narrow dark streets, all the while passing burnt down houses standing as they were, dilapidated houses that surely were not safe to live in, disturbing alley cats scrabbling at the rubbish, some of them with infected eyes.
We crossed a railway and navigated for a while longer through the gloom – there were few street lights. Thankfully the streets were largely deserted and we finally made our way back to the hotel.