Mangoes and summer

My father used to say said that the only way to eat a mango was in the bath. But manoeuvring his 183 cm, 140 kg frame in and out of the bath in a narrow bathroom was difficult, if not impossible, let alone with a mango in one hand. So he had to find another method.  I remember him leaning over the balcony, chest bare with a towel wrapped firmly around his waist, mango juice dripping down his arms and on to the grass below, grinning as he relished  mouthful after mouthful.

Mangoes were a treat in  Sydney in the the fifties. Their season was short, and like cherries but rarer, they were closely associated with Christmas and holidays. As far as I recall, there was only one species – Kensington Pride, which remains my favourite, its rich, sweet,  cloying  flavour almost too good to be natural. You feel almost guilty for enjoying it.

Some sixty years later, the season is longer, there are more species to choose from, and we have learned to peel the fruit and slice the cheeks  to make eating easier. Though I must confess that after neatly slicing the fruit, for myself or to share, I can’t resist  chewing the last of the fruit off the pip, knowing that it will end in mango fibres stuck fast between my teeth.

As we became more sophisticated, and canned mangoes became available, we discovered new things to do with mangoes.  In the sixties we made mango mousse, in the seventies it was mango smoothies and in the seventies mango mayonnaise was the height of culinary style. Today we are blasé about mangoes, using them carelessly in salads and desserts, in Thai cooking, and, I learned today, even in fruit cakes and Christmas puddings. And bottled orange and mango juice was readily available before juice bars sprang up everywhere. But tasting the first mango of summer remains an experience to be anticipated and treasured every year.

You have to be careful not to buy them too early. Growers are keen to get them into the markets before they have that rich, ripe taste. So I wait until the price comes down a bit, using that as indicator of readiness. after watching for a couple of weeks, I finally bought my first two mangoes this summer. They both had a tinge of green, one more so than the other so they would ripen sequentially.  I have been watching them ripen slowly day by day, sniffing them carefully and pressing them ever so gently to assess their readiness. All part of the ritual of the first mango of summer.

And today was THE day. The first mango was ready. No bath or balcony needed, I peeled and sliced and added it to my muesli, the aroma released as the knife pierced the flesh evoking memories of childhood. (And yes, I did chew the pip.) as I tasted the fruit and felt the juice I my mouth, memories came flooding back. Memories of summer holidays, of Christmas days, of heat and sunburn and sand between the toes. Memories of buying one mango a summer when that was all I could afford. Memories of fruit platters at work Christmas parties where only the first lucky few manged to grab a piece of mango. And memories of family.

There’ll be another mango tomorrow, and on many days between now and the end of summer. But none will taste as good as this morning’s first mango of summer.

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Writing for fun

 

I’ve always loved words. In the days before pre-school I learned to read by osmosis, and was sent to school in term 3 at the age of 4 3/4. The enforced repeating of kindergarten at the beginning of the following year did nothing for my social skills. And in those days, when learning was by rote, teachers did not take kindly to shy kids who were the best reader in the class.

Despite, or because, of my ongoing nerdiness, I loved school – well, the learning bit. Making and keeping friends was harder, not to mention playing sport. Why didn’t anyone tell me that if I didn’t shut my eyes whenever a ball came towards a me, I’d have a better chance of hitting/ catching it as appropriate?

So I kept playing with words, usually managing  to get something published in the annual school magazine. I was envious of those who got detention, because instead of being given lines to write, they were encouraged to write  stories. Of course, it never occurred to me that I could still write the stories without getting the detention.

I was lucky to come from a family where girls were allowed to be bright, and in fact encouraged. So not going to university was never an option for me. But someone decided that an Arts degree would lead no-where and social work would be too depressing, so I was pushed into a Science degree. Talk about a round peg in a square hole. While my former school friends were on the Front Lawn protesting against the Vietnam war, I was stuck in labs, trying to make sense of scientific method, experiments and formulae. Fortunately this led to the relatively unknown profession of dietetics, where I could combine my love of  food, my interest in people and my nurturing instinct to help people make food choices which would improve their health. But the words were largely left to one side. I read when I could, but until we had word-processors and I had a bit more time, writing stayed in the background.

When  I retired – early thanks to inheriting some money, I enrolled in a creative writing class, which grew into to weekly meetings of aspiring writers. We self-published an anthology each year for several years.  I had the occasional letter published in the Herald, even a short article, and won a prize in a short story competition, but I never had the perservance to write more than a few hundred words.

Then I decided it was time to fulfil a dream and enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts – the one denied me forty years earlier. Suddenly I was in a world of ideas rather than facts, where there were many shades of grey, not just true and false. I had come home. I’d seen enough miracle diet cures come and go over the years so that I was – and am – extremely cynical about evidence.

I loved writing essays, the playing with ideas, the honing of sentences, the feeling of satisfaction when something went right. Sure I stressed about finding the perfect reference, and thought that the young ones had a better grasp on concepts that I did, but the six years  I spent studying were a wonderful privilege.

And now I have discovered blogging. I’m still at the early stage, but it provides the perfect vehicle for me to play with words and test out my ideas without the long hard haul of plot, characters and everything else associated with writing the Great Australian Novel, including the near impossibility of getting published.

If I am read, and replied to, that will be a bonus. At present I am content with the process of writing. They say there ar two types of writers – readers who write and writers who read. I have always considered myself to be one of the former. And will continue to be so. But now I will write more often.

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Sunrises and Facebook

I love sunrises. The magic of seeing a new day emerge with all its promise. Watching the stars fade as the sky lightens, changing colours from moment to moment. The long wait until the first glimpse of the sun appears. Small wonder that the sun became an object of worship in so many different cultures.

So when the chance to see the sun rise over the dunes of the Sahara in Morocco, there was no stopping me. This was an unmissable part of the adventure.

There have been other memorable sunrises. A few weeks previously Galway Bay was a surprise, when we woke to clear skies after a drizzly, windy evening.  Most of the other sunrises on the trip were observed in part, and from a hotel window. We were on Prague station at dawn, but weren’t facing east.

I have seen the sun rise over Sydney at the end of a less than exciting Pacific cruise. In my childhood there were many sunrises over Whale Beach during holidays. And, at fresher camp between school and Uni,  I stayed up all night to watch the sun rise,  bewildered by the sophistication and politics of the older students.

My most memorable sunrise was about eight years ago, in the West MacDonnell ranges, near Alice Springs. I was walking part of the Larapinta Trail, my first experience of Central Australia. We rose at 2 am and climbed Mt Sonder by the light of the full moon to watch the moon set as the sun rose. It was the end of a week of hot, hard walking, but I remember  watching in silence, amazed by the spectacle, and wondering what the “rich people” were doing. How could a five star hotel compare with this? Although less than a decade ago, there was no Facebook, no mobile phones or iPads, just a new digital camera on which I took a few shots.

In ways the Moroccan sunrise  was similar. It was the end of a journey. We got up in the dark and dressed by torchlight. Without the full moon we saw myriads of stars, an impossible sight in modern cities. But the camel ride was short, and although scaling the sand dune was difficult in shoes, there were no hours of pre-dawn exertion as  in Central Australia. Instead of hard rock, we sat on a rug on the sand, as the camel driver silently moved behind us to say his prayers in response to the distant call of the  muezzins.

There was still the magic of the changing colours of the sky, the gradual appearance of other camels and people on neighbouring dunes, and the scattered tents and dwellings below. We had a long wait for the sun, but finally its gold rim appeared. Just as it has every day for millennia. But although  I saw much of it first hand, I also took photos, and found myself thinking about what I would post to Facebook. Experiencing the new day had changed. I have always been scathing of those who take photos rather than retain an intimate connection to events and scenery. But I had become one. I wanted to share my experience – partly so that friends could see what they were missing, but also with an element of “look at me.”

Then the driver offer to take a photo of us before the sun had risen completely, so I missed the  moment when the last tip of the orb rose above the horizon, for me almost as magic as the first glimpse. So not only had I cheated myself by not being fully present in the experience, it was curtailed by the camel driver.

Who is to say which experience is better – the one observed in solitude, or the one one wants to share.  Only I had the feeling of the cold wind on my back, the absolute silence  apart from the slow plodding  feet of the camels. Only I can remember the time which elapsed as I waited expectantly. But I wonder if I will ever experience a sunrise in the simple, pre-Facebook way agin.

Camel shadows
Camel shadows
Sunrise in the Sahara
Sunrise in the Sahara

The last cup

My Father was in the racing “game”. So I grew up knowing a bit about horse races, betting and odds. I remember Mum dressing up in her finery and jewels to go to watch one of their horses race. I remember going to the stables some Sunday mornings so Dad could see his horses. And most Sunday evenings,  Mum and Dad entertained  his colleagues – though in those days they were probably mates.

After Dad died, Melbourne Cup day became Mum’s one day of the year. Not for maudlin remembrance, but to entertain and enjoy the company of her closest friends. She spent weeks planning the menu, buying wine, vacuuming, dusting, polishing silver, and organising the sweep. The guests changed a bit from year to year, but there was a core of five or six  regulars and four or five who came sometimes. they included her sister, and friends that she had made in the typing pool some fifty years earlier. Some died and others became too frail to travel, but for a good ten years, until her death,  this was the highlight of her year. I still remember being surprised – not to mention piqued – when one year I asked if I could come while our children were at school. She refused. I don’t remember her saying no very often in my childhood, let alone on my adult life, but this was definitely her day, and  I was not welcome.

So I tend to get a bit nostalgic on the first Tuesday in November. I don’t usually bet, and now I’m not working, I don’t even find myself in a sweep. In fact I haven’t watched the race for years. But today when the neighbours invited us in to share a bottle of bubbly and watch “the race that stops a nation”, I looked forward to it.

But I think it will be the last Melbourne Cup I watch.

Years ago, on the small screen, with cameras well back from the horses, we knew they were being whipped, but didn’t think much about it. But now, with jockey cam, digital television and large screens, the cruelty associated with this massive exercise in drinking and gambling cannot be overlooked. As more than one commentator has said, why  are people getting irate about kids and Halloween which has developed in to an event which is fun for families and communities, when several days later adults get drunk, throw money away and watch animals being whipped.

I’m not a great animal rights advocate, and often wish that some of the energy expended on saving animals could go to helping humans lead a better life, but today, especially with the as yet unexplained death of one of the horses, has been the end of an era for me.

RIP Admire Rakti.

 

The end of the adventure

After 11 weeks, 13 countries and 43,000 kilometres, our great adventure has ended. We have successfully completed Travel101. During this time, we have been astounded and delighted, shocked and amazeed.

We have see palaces, castles, cathedrals, mosques, gardens and spectacular natural scenery. We have listened to music of many genres. We were in Scotland when the referendum seeking independence from the UK was held and lost. We have learned of the deaths of friends and of two great Australians (Peter Sculthorpe and Gough Whitlam).

We were unable to master global roaming, but Viber, FaceTime and Facebook helped us keep in touch. We avoided politics as much as possible, and were amazed at how much better we felt without starting each day reading about the murder and heartlessness of the twenty- first century. Most of which has happened at least once before in the countries we visited.

We reflected on the horror of Auschwitz, the incredible wealth of kings and queens, and wondered at how travel has become inextricably linked with shopping. We observed the habits of locals in different countries; in Warsaw young women drink beer through a straw, in Keswick dogs are welcomed everywhere.

We had wonderful meals and some dreadful ones (Latvia’s potato sausage stands out as the worst). We have drunk many glasses of beer and wine and discarded hundreds of plastic water bottles. We have seen the sun rise over the dunes of the Sahara and set over the Atlantic Ocean.

We travelled on an organised coach tour in Eastern Europe and with a private driver in Morocco. In between we caught trains and planes, and managed to find our way around the cities and towns we visited, more often than not often with unintended detours.

We have slept in a Berber tent (with ensuite), a former mediaeval monastery, the home of an assistant vicar, large faceless hotels in Eastern Europe and a luxury riad in Fez. We have been treated with warmth and hospitality, and only occasionally disdain.

Behind the scenes we were supported by hundreds of hotel staff who cooked for us, made our beds, cleaned our bathrooms and tidied our rooms, provided maps and advice using what was usually a second (or third) language for them. Taxi drivers got us to stations and airports on time; train drivers, pilots, cabin crew and ground staff all ensured that we moved smoothly from place to place on our adventure – an adventure so fabulous that most of them could never conceive of having the opportunity to do anything similar. Not to mention the tradesmen and architects who have squeezed lifts and ensuites into old buildings built decades or centuries before touch things became essential for travel.  Strangers pointed us in the right direction and, in Dublin, to the wonderful Avoca cafe.

There were many surprises – including the seat on the Royal Air Morocco plane which failed to stay upright during take-off, the unexpected luxury suite in Riad Fes and the harvest festival in Vienna.

We have laughed and I have cried, and we only occasionally became frustrated with each other. David took his photos, I planned the itinerary, navigated badly and tried to set the pace.

So now we return with memories – some unforgettable, like the sunrise camel ride in the Sahara, others, like a mandala, experienced and forgotten almost immediately. It is time to sift through thousands of photos, share our experiences with those who will listen, adjust to the mundanities of suburbia, and face the reality of life under a heartless government. And begin planning Travel 102.

 

Ireland
Ireland
Sangria and beer, Cordoba, Spain
Sangria and beer, Cordoba, Spain

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Sahara sunrise
Sahara sunrise

 

Roof top bar, Fez
Roof top bar, Fez

Five star travel

I’m not really a five star person. But we have lashed out on a bit of luxury in Barcelona at the end of two and a half months on the road. Here, in a boutique hotel in the gothic sector,  we were greeted personally by the receptionist and concierge.  No name tags here, we are introduced. After a guided tour of the  hotel, – including Roman remains, our bags arrive and we move to the roof top bar for a drink and a swim.

Attempts  to phone for a beer and a coffee only reach a recorded message. Other guests tell us that someone will appear soon. By the time they do coffee time is past, and it’s straight to the white wine – a delicious Verdelho.  We move down to the trendy tapas bar, with more beer and wine and fabulous food.

On  returning to our rom we find a hand written personalised note welcoming us, alongside two chocolate biscuits. There is a linen mat on each side of the bed, so we don’t have to step onto bare  floor when we get out of bed!  As a former aged care worker, all I see is “falls hazard”.

However, the real five star living reveals itself at breakfast. I love hotel breakfast while travelling. The chance to explore new foods, new ways of starting the day. As a control freak, I enjoy being able to decide how much to eat, what combinations I want and in which order. But here we are greeted by the concierge, who introduces us to the head waitperson.  Coffee and tea arrive – and a menu. No leisurely browsing the buffet here – although it is possible, we have people to meet your every need.

We decided to look at what is available anyway- and are guided through the choices by one of the elegant staff. Their English is prefect, so I have no chance to practice my wobbly Spanish. Toast, croissants, fruit and fresh squeezed juice arrive at the table  automatically.  David orders fried eggs, with accompaniments, and I ask for yoghurt. Unlike the other cold offerings including milk, yoghurt must come from the kitchen. And it is now that the fun begins.

David’s eggs arrive while he is eating cereal. I look at my bowl of fruit, anxious to top it with yoghurt. I mention the yoghurt. I nibble at a slice of apple.

David finishes his cereal, and his eggs, tomatoes, potatoes and foam. I mention the yoghurt again.

I consider ducking out to the supermarket next door to buy some yoghurt.

I nibble a bit of dry toast – jam and butter are delivered to others, but having had the temerity to serve ourselves some cereal, we don’t get jam and butter. I am reluctant to leave my seat in case the yoghurt is not delivered. We catch someone’s  eye, I order another coffee and ask again for the yoghurt. By now I have eaten the fruit, and another piece of dry toast, though the latter is no great issue as I often eat my toast dry.

Then, miracle of miracles, the yoghurt appears. It is fresh and delicious, almost worth the wait. I serve myself a smoked salmon and cream cheese mini roll, ignoring Sacher torte, French meringue, chocolate muffins and other bizarre breakfast choices. And , unlike every other Spanish  breakfast we have seen, there is no tomato concasse, although we did have it with bread last night.

First world problems, I know, but I wonder why when you pay more, the experience is less interesting. At least tomorrow I will know how the system works, and order yoghurt as soon as I sit down.

Calamari
Calamari

 

Smoked sardines
Smoked sardines

It’s the little things

Along with the cathedrals, museums and natural wonders that travel exposes us to, there are the little quirks of individuals or cultures that enhance our experience.

Many weeks ago, in Cesky-Krumlov, a waiter told us he did not like young Australians. But the “older-born”, like ourselves, are OK. We have adopted the phrase with enthusiasm, carefully noting those who are more older- borne than we are and are still able to travel. They give us hope that we will have more adventures.

In the Doñana National Park, Jose, our wonderful Spanish guide took us on a”shallow hike” ( short walk). As the temperature was in the mid-thirties, we needed a shallow pool at the end, but had to settle for a cool beer.

We arrived in Cordoba one quiet Sunday morning. One of the first sights was a young Japanese woman who at first glance appeared to be  a bride, accompanied by a groom. But a closer look revealed that along with the bridal veil, she was wearing a tutu and gym shoes. Sporting a camera and tripod, they moved from scenic background to scenic background, her upper half elegant, her lower half walking in a most un-bride like manner.

In one three star hotel, two tourists walked in to breakfast, each clutching a fork. Did they not trust those provided? Did they want to use two forks as a kind of chopstick? No, they subtly placed the forks in the cutlery drawer, presumably having borrowed them to eat a take-away in their room.

Later the same morning, we were sitting on a quiet street having a coffee, when we heard the unmistakeable voices of schoolchildren. Looking up we saw a large group approaching, neatly uniformed, but chattering excitedly. They passed us on both sides, so that we felt surrounded by a swarm of bees. Only two spoke to us; a young boy said “hóla” and two girls said “ah.. Coffee”. There must have been about two hundred, accompanied by teachers, aged between ten and fourteen. They passed us and the street returned to its former quiet.

Seville is renowned for its processions, especially around Easter. But it was Friday evening in October when we heard we heard a loud brass band, with many drums, behind the hotel. We followed the sound, and found the  end of a procession going into a church. Presumably this was a fiesta and there had been an image of the virgin carried in front. We returned the next evening to see if the event would be repeated. Although we saw many musicians assembling, and well- dressed people going into the church, after half an hour of watching and waiting we decided to eat instead of waiting longer. The policeman assigned to the event didn’t know what it was, other than a festival. But like any brass band, there were people of all ages, maybe 150 in all, some well groomed, others less so, looking like the naughty girls at school. Many were smoking as they waited. They wore uniforms, had badges on their chests, and many had banners attached to their instruments. Much later, back in the hotel, we heard the band finishing the festival.

We have admired dogs on public transport ( not allowed in Australia) and cats at historic monuments. We have seen art students sitting on footpaths, diligently sketching the surrounding buildings, and children of all ages exhibiting the universal behaviours of joy, excitement and sulking.

In Madrid, tall Africans stand on the streets, selling handbags, sunglasses and t-shirts. When the police move them on, they pick up the sheet on which the goods are displayed, pull it together, and move around a corner or two and begin the process again. I was amazed by how many people actually bought from them.

But the most bizarre sight we have seen is stand of dot-painted boomerangs among the scarves, postcards, jewellery and models of the Alhambra in Granada. Not just once, but several times. Why here and nowhere else in Spain? Why at all? We tried to ask one stall-holder but he had no answer, other than to ask us about boomerangs. People must buy them, or they wouldn’t be there. Cultural appropriation, globalisation or just plain tacky. Probably a bit of all three. Totally unnecessary as far as I can see, but just one of the little things that have added to our wonderful,adventure.

 

 

Dog on launch , Derwentwater.
Dog on launch , Derwentwater.
Boomerangs in Granada
Boomerangs in Granada
Cat at Alcazar of Christian Kings, Cordoba
Cat at Alcazar of Christian Kings, Cordoba

Enchanted by Ireland

From the first day in Ireland when the taxi driver told us they didn’t vote to free themselves from the English, “we just shot them”, Ireland enchanted me. I had not expected it to exert its charm as it did. For me the whole trip was a planned around  galleries and museums, places of worship and natural beauty. But for David, the highlight was always to have a pint of Guinness in Ireland, the home of his (distant) Kelly ancestors.

He restrained himself at lunch, but by the evening it was time to indulge. We were told later that a pint of Guinness should be consumed in six “quaffs”. A good barman will pour the second pint while  you were having the fifth quaff, and it would be settled by the time you finish the sixth. No break in quaffing.

But for David it was like a ritual, as he watched the settling process, anticipating the taste of a brew he enjoyed in Australia, but knew would taste better in its land of origin.  And he was not disappointed. His approach was reverent with not a quaff  to be seen as he sipped, savoured and enjoyed, then repeated the process.

There were many other highlights during our week in Ireland. We were blessed with wonderful weather , although it was late in September. The countryside, with its fifty shades of green, was better than picture books, with white cottages – some still thatched,  ruins perched on hilltops, and  cows, sheep, and horses in the fields.

We were inspired by the spirituality of the Hill of Tara, home of the ancient chief-kings, which we visited in a still, misty morning and were amazed by the burial mound at Newgrange, where sun hits the inner chamber once a year – on the winter equinox and two days either side. Nowadays, the Government holds a lottery to be present on one of those mornings, and with Ireland’s wet weather, even those who win a place may not see the sun if it is a grey December day.

The fishing village of Howth sparkled in the late afternoon sun, as seals cavorted in the harbour, looking for scraps from the boats. I swear one smiled at me before it turned a circle.

In contrast the west coastal town of Galway greeted us with wind and showers. We stayed in a grand old-style hotel where we were among the youngest guests, and even David appeared sprightly beside many of the others. The restaurant where we had breakfast, had busts of the ancients around the walls, more like a museum than a hotel.

The next day I saw the sun rise over Galway Bay, and our visit down the coast to the Cliffs of Moher gave us a rare sight of the Arran Islands. The following day was wet and misty, so any thoughts we had of a boat trip were put aside, and we decided to potter through the midlands, seeing where fate took us. We ended up at Portloise, and stayed in an elegant, creeper-clad Victorian house, now a B and B. Breakfast included  home made bread, porridge and free range eggs, served on linen table cloths, with real napkins and Wedgwood china. All over Ireland, we noticed menus proudly proclaiming Irish beef. Here even the kebab shop stated this.

We returned to Dublin, had afternoon tea at the wonderful Avoca cafe, and returned to the Holiday Inn Express, chosen for its proximity to the airport. Delayed by illness, we were lucky to find the Santry Demesne opposite. The former site of a grand house which had fallen into ruin, it still contains a folly and a temple pillar, and has acres of pathways. Kids were throwing sticks and a ball to get  conkers down from a horse chestnut, one of many ancient trees on the site – great cheap afternoon’s entertainment said their mother.  In contrast, the old walled garden, which had been used as  a rubbish dump when apartments were  built behind, is now being restored by members of the local community garden association.  They have been able to go back to the records in the Trinity College  library and can faithfully recreate what was there previously.

Apart from these regional adventures, I loved the exhibition of the Book of Kells and the long library at Trinity College, Dublin, imagining decades of students climbing the spiral staircase to research what their predecessors had written. And the manuscripts at Chester Beatty Library, including  religous texts  from many belief systems was equally inspiring.

But what really enchanted us was the Irish people themselves, their kindness, their sense of fun and their warmth. Their pride in their history and their heritage, and their civic organisation. Things work. Most of the people we met had a family member in Australia or hope to go themselves one day. Eight days only scratched the surface. We will return  to explore more of its beauty and ancient ways and have another Guinness or three.

First Irish Guinness
First Irish Guinness

 

Sunrise over Galway Bay
Sunrise over Galway Bay
Heritage apples
Heritage apples

Watching Scotland decide

I’m sure that blogs on the Scottish vote are many, some erudite, others emotional. These are my few observations after spending the day in Edinburgh.

We had been in Glasgow for a couple of days, and had observed that the yes voters were far more visible, with stickers in windows, flags on cars, and rallies in the square. The polite “no thanks” contingent appeared to be few and far between. We even saw a band promoting yes, but intermingled with Jesus songs, with an old style fire and brimstone street preacher who may or may not have been part of their act.

Our straw poll – taxi drivers, bar and restaurant staff, came up with replies like “the yes vote is only for those with money, I’m not sure what it will do to help me,” “we’re sick of talking about it but I’ll be voting yes,” “if we vote no Britain will clobber us” and the inevitable “I’m not sure how I’ll vote.” And with voting optional, the age lowered to sixteen, rules on current residence irrespective of the past, and only needing a 50.1% majority! the voting rules seemed to favour the ayes.

There were a few people in kilts, and as we struggled with the Glaswegian accent, one waiter told us that everyone was broadening their accent as a way of emphasising their Scottishness.

In Edinburgh, the city remained clouded in mist, with the castle invisible at times, giving the day a surreal feel. At both the polling booth and the parliament building there were crowds of people with flags, and an attendant media contingent. A guide at the Castle suggests that the weather effected the mood of the ordinary people – depressed by all the talk.

Catalans declared “we want to vote too but Spain won’t let us”, some of the yes stickers had a green centre, presumably from Northern Ireland, and I saw one Welsh flag. Signs proclaimed “end Tory rule forever” although the Prime Minister had argued that Tory rule will not last, as Parliaments continue to swing from right to left. Young people declared themselves as generation yes. Metro, the free newspaper, retained its apolitical stance, but urged people to vote. Other headlines referred to day of reckoning.

By late afternoon pubs were beginning to fill with noisy supporters, and as work finished for the day, cars were tooting their horns, sometimes at the sight of a blue and white flag, others seemingly at random. The no thanks reminded discretely out of sight.

When we got off the train at Glasgow, people were still bearing flags as they came into or left the city. There was still an hour of polling left. I thought I had found a queue of people waiting for the result, but David pointed out that they were waiting for the Apple store to open so they could buy their new iPhone at midnight (why?). For many, the world goes on, regardless.

We ate in a trendy bar, filled with young professionals, who were noisy and convivial. They too seemed untouched by the polling hype, though they had probably voted.

As I write this, the result should be known; I have heard more street noise this morning than other mornings, so suspect that there are groups still wandering around. Whatever the outcome, and without any deliberate intent, our adventure has included a window into Scottish history.

 

 

I will remember Vienna (2)

Today, plans and serendipity combined to provide a wonderful experience.
We set off early for the Danube, via the metro. It is always a relief to master the metro in a new country, although you come to realise that there is a formula common to all. When we arrived, the area was almost deserted, with only a few cyclists, skaters and photographers in evidence and all the cocktail bars and cafés closed. Of course, 10 am Sunday morning is not prime time for Danube culture. There was evidence of revelling the previous night – a few bottles and glasses abandoned on tables and windowsills, but the cleaners must have been, as there was no rubbish.

The river wasn’t blue – perhaps it would have been if the day had been brighter, but it was there, with pleasure boats waiting to be filled with tourists, and a commercial barge heading west.

As we walked back across the bridge we noticed a beautiful church, with flying buttresses and wooden doorways. We were able to slip in between the English and German masses and were invited to stay for coffee. Memories of international roast at church morning teas led us to decline, but David managed to put his ear to the door and listen to the organ for the beginning of the next mass. It is a really beautiful church, overlooked in many of the tourist recommendations. St. Francis of Assisi church was built between 1898 and 1910, and is the main English speaking church in Vienna. It is located in Mexicoplatz, so,named as Mexico was the only country, except Russia, which protested about the annexation of Austria.

Next stop was a ride around the city in a horse drawn fiacre. We had been observing these since Krakow, and decided it was time to indulge. Fortunately we found another couple who were also contemplating the trip, so we shared the ride – and the cost. There is no choice of horses – like a taxi stand you take the next one. Our driver was completely devoid of warmth and when we asked her to take photos with 2 cameras she was not impressed. We kept an eye on other carriages and many drivers seemed the same, although others did talk to their clients.

After a quick lunch we divided, as I was keen to see the natural history museum. We had noticed lots of people in Austrian dress during the morning, and had seen the edge of a festival somewhere during our fiacre ride, so on a whim I followed a pair of lederhosen up the escalator from the metro. I found an amazing festival which seemed to be some sort of celebration of farming. Lots of beer and food outlets as well as crafts for children. All the usual suspects until I followed the sound of voices and found an Austrian choir singing what I know as the hymn “we plough the fields and scatter….”. There was a church service on a stage , complete with priest, large choir and candles.

My motive for going to the museum was to see the Venus of Willensdorf, thought to be made between 22,000 and 24,000 BCE, one of the oldest known statues of a woman. It was so amazing to see her after viewing her image in uni lectures. And with no crowds around, I could just stay and look and look and look – and come back to look again at the end of the visit.

When I emerged from the museum I heard a brass band, followed it and found a parade of floats, all led by tractors, and exhibiting various produce. The floats were interspersed with bands, and those of us standing on the edge of the street taking photos had to watch for trams. The last band was followed by street sweepers, a few police motorcyclists, then the traffic resumed. I tried to find out just what it was , but all I could get was that it as some sort of farmer celebration. I just call it a harvest festival.

The evening was Schnitzel followed by Sachertorte, both more remarkable for their Austrian significance rather than their culinary expertise. On the way home we saw an opera singer busking, amazing voice, but very sad body language. After a few arias, she picked up her money, collected her children and headed off.

I will definitely remember Vienna.

 

Venus of Willendorf
Venus of Willendorf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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