Friday, October 10, 2008

The Romantic Road

So how would you like to travel the romantic road with me?
Sounds good, Baby! When do we start?
I've always regarded myself as the romantic type. She soon put me right, for she had something quite different in mind.

There is a well-known (and much-travelled) route in Germany which is called “Die romantische Straße” - the romantic road. In bare essentials it takes one from Fussen near the Alps in Southern Germany to the old town of Würzburg on the Main river in the centre of the country. This is just one of the designated tourist routes of Germany. My road atlas of Germany lists over one hundred, which are designed to suite all tastes. There is a variety of wine routes - actually a GREAT variety. Maybe a beer and castle route is more to your taste. Alternatively, you could have a castle route without the beer, but who would want that one! The fairytale route takes you through the Pied Piper's town of Hameln as well as other Grimm Brothers' favourites. And a clock route (Cuckoo, that is) and a shoe route (Shoe? Yes!) and a Nieblung/Siegfried route for those interested in German legends and/or Wagner (Is this a ring-road? You may well ask). And so the routes continue, crisscrossing the country.

But to get back on track. The romantic road takes in those aspects which remind of times medieval and of legends old – fairytale castles, fortresses, walled medieval towns, churches with tall steeples and all this set in picturesque landscape. It is the very quintessence of ...well, romantic Germany. So why not drive it from woe to go, high to low, south to north, from Mad Ludwig's Fairytale Castle, Neuschwanstein, (this was Walt Disney's inspiration for his Cinderella Castle and has
become the most recognisable castle in the world) to the Residence of a former Bishop in Würzburg, which someone called “the best parsonage in Europe”. Thanks to the extravagance of these two our “romantic” trip through Germany will be anchored by two outstanding bookends.

It not really a long way – some 350 kilometres. The sign-posts are in both German and Japanese, so you can't get lost unless you are neither German nor Japanese. And not even then, for then you can follow the pictorial symbols on the sign posts. This suits me just fine for I still look at the illustrations when I first open a book and am somewhat disappointed if the book contains no pictures.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Packed and ready to go

It's off again. Now comes the seemingly impossible: how to condense the pile of 'absolutely necessary' essentials into 20kg, and that into a suitcase of legal proportions. I know for a fact that packing for a trip uses up a lot of nervous energy and has the potential to disrupt proceedings more than any other aspect. We come from two completely different traditions, my wife and I. “Dad did all the packing in our house,” says my wife. “It was probably a carryover from his earlier job as a storeman and packer. He wouldn't allow Mum to lift a finger; which suited her just fine.” In my family, packing belonged to the area of procurement and care of clothing, which was in Mum's portfolio. Now in our united situation, it was obvious from the very beginning that some sort of compromise was called for. Only then could we be assured that a much-looked-forward-to trip would not get off on the wrong foot.

It seemed that with my wife's self-confessed lack of a spatial concept and my rather overstated (her word) possession of the same, the actual packing would fall to me. It did. Estimation of what might be needed (by her, forgetting that I too needed a change of underwear) and the selection of same would be her responsibility. This seemed fair in theory but in practice all sorts of ugly scenarios raised their petty heads.
“One never knows with Melbourne. They can experience four seasons in one day there. Everyone knows that.”
“True, but does that mean that you need to take your entire wardrobe for the weekend? What about all those shoes? When on earth will you find time to wear them all? And we're going to Launceston, not Melbourne.”
Imagine the vigorous pruning needed for a month's tour of Europe! In spring, when everyone does NOT know what the weather will be like. Add to this the effects of global warming and the unpredictability of weather patterns...... but that's another matter.

I recently visited a friend who was two weeks out from a fourteen-day tour of China. On the bed in her spare room were these neat little piles of various apparel. “I like to have everything organized well beforehand,” she told me. “That avoids all that desperate last minute running around and then leaving something important at home.” All this might be good in theory but not so easy in practice. This is made even more difficult when one's wardrobe consists of the bare necessities. Set aside six pair of socks from my stockpile and I am left with seven individuals of varying colours and a pair of footwarmers I saved from a previous overseas flight. Which airline was it that provided that extra touch some years ago? No, packing the day before seems to be my preferred option.

Another question which could denote some deep psychological significance is this: should there be a his case and a her case or rather a mixture of gear in both cases? In spite of our many trips together this has not been completely finalized. To me it seems to have resolved into a her case and a mixed case. The mathematician can quickly spot the flaw in this arrangement! The fashion consultant would see it as the result of a sort of natural selection. So I remain the chief suit-case packer, at times working under extreme weight and volume constrictions, but always managing to avoid excess weight penalties. Sure, I had to resort to questionable tactics at times to keep my record intact. One occasion comes to mind. We had arrived at our time-share resort in Laugharne (Sth. Wales) and Jill was planning to wear her good green frock to a welcoming dinner. “Have you seen my green suede shoes (shades of Elvis)? I swear I had them out to take.” Two weeks after arriving home the same green suede shoes were found under our bed where I must have inadvertently kicked them while packing.

I must admit that on our trips we have always found something to wear lying about our room after we have unpacked our cases. It is also a fact that some of the items taken with us around the world have not been required to contribute to our (especially her) sartorial splendour. (But very seldom. Normally I wear everything I take.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


There's often a specific reason why you remember a place – be it a town, city or even a whole region. Manorbier is one such place for me.

“Indeed,” you might well reply hoping for some more information which would help you place Manorbier somewhere on some map. It is the site of some interesting castle ruins (photo), but we didn't even visit them. When in Wales one can't possibly visit all their old castles without over-running one's allotted time. We had already selected those we wished to visit.

Across the narow valley from the castle was the Church of St James, a beautiful old stone structure dating from Norman times. It would have been in use back in the twelfth century when the castle was under construction. Beside it was this interesting old cemetery.

Manorbier is somewhat off the beaten track in Southern Wales and does not suffer from a continuous train of tourists. It is on 'highway' A4585. Now that is off the beaten track! We had tacked it onto our visit to Tenby, a better-known resort in this part of Wales. We agreed that it was well worth while. After this impromptu extension to our itinerary, it was straight back to our accommodation in Laugharne, some fifty twisting kilometres away.

We were tiredly unpacking the car – maps and brochures, lunch hamper, wet weather gear, mementoes from Tenby when: “Have you seen my camera?” A quick search and then further frantic searching yielded no result. My simple question: “Well, where did you leave it?” evoked a rather threatening glare from my wife. Then began the memory game until a possibility finally emerged.
“I must have left it on a pew in that Norman church in What's the Name of that Place? Oh yes! Manorbier.”
“Are you sure?”
Would it still be there? Merely entering a church for an idle look might not enforce on everyone the commandment,Thou shalt not nick a camera someone left lying on a pew. Maybe a phone call to the local vicar? Bless his soul, he suggested he would drive out to the church (it was situated a few kilometres outside the town), have a look and get back to us.
“Yes,” he later phoned, he had rescued it.

And so the 100 twisting, tired kilometres to retrieve the camera firmly cemented the name “Manorbier” in my memory.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


“Never smile at a crocodile.
No, you can't get friendly with a crocodile.
Don't be taken in by his welcome grin,
He's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin.”

The words of this old song (popular in the middle of last century after the appearance of the Walt Disney film, Peter Pan) came to mind when I saw the - dare I say – smirks on the faces of the crocodiles at the Cairns Tropical Zoo in North Queensland. “Welcome grin”? Hardly! Supercilious smirk would be my estimation. And ugly. Yes, “ugly” would be a fair description of the faces lolling around inside the enclosure. No beauty contest winners here. Not even the odd second prize.

Can it climb trees?
How fast can it run?
Is it a greedy feeder?
These were some of the question asked at the crocodile show. Sort of safety first questions but purely academic to me for I would prefer to keep well away from their natural habitat (the keeper suggested that this was the best safety measure of all). Seeing them from a distance in a safe enclosure in a zoo is quite enough to satisfy my adventurous spirit.

It was a little tense and worrying to see the handler in the pen with these dangerous creatures. Well he didn't really “handle” them in the same way as the snake handler allowed the snakes to slither all over him but he did appear to treat them rather off-handedly. Oh, how languidly the old tick-tock appeared to rest in the water. But be not deceived. As the keeper moved backwards and forwards in front of his snout the suspicious, half-open eyes followed him from side to side. His primeval brain may not be very large, but what he has was surely “imagining how well you'd fit within his skin”.

The keeper showed little concern. Crocks are not greedy feeders, he assured us (and himself, probably) and a well-fed croc is unlikely to attack. Which is all very well in a zoo where they can be kept well fed, but what about in the wild where one doesn't know when Charlie Croc (or Crissy Croc) had the last bite to eat. Make no mistake, the emphasis is on the BITE. The speed at which the mouth opened and the resounding “snap” to devour the proffered chicken carcass was frightening. As was the force with which that upper jaw slammed shut! Ever been bitten by a rottweiler? Ever looked at his snarling, salivery mouth and shuddered? Those who know, tell us that Mr Croc has fifteen times more power in his snap than that puppy (the crocodile's word, not mine). Ouch! Luckily for us their jaws cannot open so easily; so grab that snout!

And another thing. The water in his enclosure is too shallow for him to get the same propulsion that is possible in deeper water. An unexpected onslaught would be quite unlikely. I don't know about you, but I am never completely convinced by the term “unlikely”.

Would he jump out of the water and chase a person? Quite unlikely. Crocodiles are not in the business of chasing. They are ambush predators. They can run 15-17 kilometres per hour over twice their own length. Like running the 100 metres in about 20 seconds and so most of us could beat a crocodile in the 100 metres sprint. So you have only ever run it in 19 seconds. Don't worry! I'm sure you would find that extra second somewhere. A crocodile would not bother finishing the race. If he hasn't caught his prey in 3-4 metres he gives up and waits till next time. This is a strategy which seems to have worked very well, for they have been around for a very long time. They were there when dinosaurs walked the earth. They were around when Muttaburrasaurus was grazing the outback and Kronosaurus frolicked in our inland seas.

Yes, the crocodile has remained. For our pleasure? Pleasure perhaps not; but certainly to evoke our “Oohs” and “Aaahs” when it displays some of its pre-historic traits.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Hut with Memories

Days of my childhood: Pepperina tree with a dairy in the background.
To the casual observer this would appear to be an old hut, but others might recognize it for what it is – a typical old dairy. Dairy in a special sense. This was the building on a dairy farm which housed the separator (the machine which separated cream from the milk), the cream awaiting collection, and the milking tins and buckets – as well as other unrelated items which ended up there.

The cows here were milked by hand in the cow-bails which were situated off the photograph to the left. I remember clearly sitting on a block with a bucket clasped firmly between my legs, head resting on the cow's flanks (how comforting was the cow's warmth on a cold winter's morning!) and milking the cow dry. At times, as a break from the monotonous chush, chush of milk going into the bucket, I would send a squirt of milk hither and thither – into the cat's eye, for she would love to be around at milking time; or at the dog's nose. He was not allowed in the bails for fear of frightening the cows but would poke his nose around the corner, probably just waiting for a fat stream of fresh warm milk to come his way. Or at my sister walking past to empty her bucket into the four gallon (20litre) tins which would then be carried to the dairy to be separated. (She didn't appreciate being hit with a stream of milk.) When separated the cream would be sold to the local butter factory and the milk fed to the pigs.

The small herd of cows (c. 20 head) and the pigs were two aspects of this mixed farm operated by my father, with the help of his family. Other aspects involved growing cash crops (table vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkins, onions and cabbage) and fodder.

The cows have gone, but the dairy with its memories remains. The pepperina tree of my childhood also remains. It was an old tree then, even older now. This was a tree in which a young boy could learn the art of tree-climbing. This was a tree in which sparrows loved to nest; and there were many of them. This meant that it was easy to add to my birds' egg collection. Then there was usually a peewee with its mud nest, and as was usually the case, a willy-wagtail's nest would be found on a nearby branch. They seemed to like one another's company, the peewee and the willy-wagtail. There was also room for the turtle doves and topknot pigeons. Yes, this was a tree alive with experiences....and birds and bees and berries

The tree is still thriving, having helped to create childhood memories for two generations following mine. It has altered little in the last half century, but lost most of its inhabitants. The dairy is patiently awaiting a new lease of life. Once central to the farm's activities, it is now unused (a little like the tree). The lawns in front of it have gone. The water tank attached to it is no longer required. The tennis court once situated between it and the cow bails is now a horse paddock. But this old hut (dairy) still remembers me turning the separator handle morning and evening, and carting milk to and fro. It has vivid memories of me washing the tins, buckets and separator parts, of giving the dog its tin of milk, and the cat hers. It was the beginning and ending of each of my primary school days. It was part of an education which few in our land experience today. Which is probably a pity.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Meals and Memories

Like my left cheek and my Box Brownie, my appetite is something which automatically accompanies me whenever I travel. It always needs the appropriate attention. I am not one to demand that my trip be an international culinary experience of the highest order. Neither would I be seen too often – if at all - under the golden arches. Why even at home I tend to avoid Macdonalds, and KFC and Hungry Jacks and....... But the inner man must be fed.

Now I could mention a few dining experiences like eating Hungarian Goulash in Sopron (Hungary), Wiener Schnitzel in Vienna, Sauerbraten and Bratkartoffeln in Bavaria or savouring coffee and cake on the footpath of an expensive cafe in St Moritz (Photo); but I won't. Instead I want to mention a few gimmicky things.

Let's go to where the hills are alive with the sound of music and the confectionery shops are full of Mozartkugeln. If you love chocolate and are in Salzburg you will certainly try a selection of Mozartkugeln (Mozart balls) – a round chocolate delicacy full of tantalizing tastes. They are definitively morish. The original Kugeln were first produced by a confectioner back in 1890. He called them Mozartkugeln after the famous musician who was born in the city. Perhaps one could imagine a sweet in the shape of a piano key (white and dark chocolate) more suitable to bear Wolfgang Amadeus' name. Perhaps we could call them Mozartfinger and sell them to the tune of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik! I suspect that Herr Fürst, who first made the Kugeln was a shrewd businessman. He realized that 1891 was the 100th anniversary of Mozart's death, and I am sure that would have boosted sales. The Fürst company is still operating in Salzburg making the Kugeln by hand according to the original recipe. But he did not copyright the name.

We now travel to the home of the Rothenburg snowballs. These are something you can nibble on while visiting the popular town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber on Germany's Romantic Road. This snowball is a round pastry delicacy the size of a large apple, dusted in sugar powder to give it the appearance of a snowball. Then there are others covered in chocolate or caramel and various other concoctions – certainly not your pristine snowballs. Nice to nibble on it's true, but I wouldn't go to Rothenburg just for the Schneebälle. They do, however, add to my Rothenburg memories.

More generally, there are foods which take you back to specific occasions which you cannot forget. Still in Europe, but years ago, I ordered a “butcher's plate” in Erbach in the Odenwald area of Germany. This was a selection of fresh sausages with accompanying vegetables; well, potatoes and sauerkraut. All was going well until I cut into the blood sausage and warm blood ran over my whole plate. Memorable also was being at boarding school and having flybog and peanut paste on bread. This was in the days before fly-screens and the school was adjacent to cattle sale yards. And golden syrup is very sticky! Or that Sunday lunch at my second boarding school when the cook must have put too much gelatine in the jelly. Which is hard to grasp for we had jelly and custard EVERY Sunday. The inedible jelly prompted certain undisciplined boys to bounce jelly cubes off the dining room walls. Such memories could be multiplied.

Meals and memories. Which reminds me of a drawing hanging in our dining room (Photo).It is our daughter's representation of the last supper when she was in grade two many years ago. OOPs! Some years ago. This Jewish festival of Passover and its Christian “equivalent” of Mass, Holy Communion, The Lord's Commerative Meal, epitomizes all those advantages (Dare I say blessings?) of eating together – memories, thanks, bonding, security and love. Babies first experience it at their mother's breast, or indeed in the arms of their father who is feeding them. Children feel it eating as a family at the dining table and this feeling of unity is heightened when the meal itself has been prepared in the family home by family members. The take-away fast food industry has a lot to answer for apart from its contribution to the present nutrition crisis in Western Societies.

The other two photos:
1.A medieval depiction of the Last Supper set in an outer wall of the Gothic church of St George in the small town of Dinkelsbühl in Southern Germany.
2.The main panel of The Holy Blood Altar carved by the fifteenth century artist Tilman Riemenschneider located in the Jacob's Church in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Much more interesting than a snowball!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Lake of Reeds

I saw it from the plane flying into Vienna. Down there to the south was this large expanse of water. That must be that lake.
It was.

My knowledge of the geography of Eastern Austria and Hungary had been practically non-existent, but since we had planned to visit the area I had carried out a quick check. I now had a basic knowledge of the lay of the land. Hence I had read about “that lake” - Neusiedler See – and was keen to see it at eye level.

Neusiedler See (Lake Neusiedl) is an endorheic lake. (So is the Caspian Sea and Australia's Lake Eyre. The Black Sea is almost one!) It is the centre of an inland drainage system and has no outlet to the sea. Unlike Lake Eyre (-15metres) and The Dead Sea (-420metres) it does not lie below sea level. (Did you know that the shores of the Dead Sea are the lowest dry land on earth? - a fact which has little relevance to Lake Neusiedl.) Lake Neusiedl is dependant on the inflowing streams for its existence. Wet years and the water level rises, but a few very dry years can cause it to disappear. It is a very shallow lake (1.8 metres) and so walks a very tight rope. Scientists tell us that it has dried up about 100 times in its existence. The last time was in 1866.

By world standards it is quite a small lake (36Km long and up to 12 Km wide) but for Austria, which is a landlocked country, it is important. It is their seaside. Well, lakeside!

Sometimes facts can be dry too and a book isn't always sufficient preparation for the reality. Such was the case here. The Reeds! Sure Lonely Planet had mentioned that reeds were a nuisance in gaining access to the water. Other sources had noted that the reeds provided a great habitat for bird-life – local as well as migratory. But the reeds!

We approached the lake through the town of Rust, where a kilometre-long causeway had been constructed through the reeds to the open water. Early summer and there was little activity at the end of the causeway. A hand in the water suggested why. That “warm” water of the lake which attracts thousands of visitors hadn't arrived yet either. The awaiting facilities gave notice as to what might be. Most intriguing for us was the holiday accommodation – lines of thatched huts disappearing off into the reeds. Intriguing indeed, but then one is reminded of the remains of lake settlements in Europe which date back to the Bronze Age. Are these “houses” simply carrying on a tradition which began millennia ago? Holidaying in one of them may not be a Bronze Age experience, but would certainly give you an insight into the life of a migratory bird.
But the reeds!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


From Kris at Garden Variety
There are two of us writing this blog and we have answered together.
The rules:

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning

2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.

3. At the end of the post, the player tags 5 people and posts their name, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

What was I doing 10 years ago?
Jill was a teacher-librarian at an outer suburban high school. Still basically enjoying it but the cracks were beginning to appear. Glen was running an antiques shop in a country town near Brisbane.

Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect, non weight-gaining world (and in this world as well):
Chocolate eclairs, cheese on plain cracker biscuits, Schulte's Mettwurst and liverwurst, cashew nuts, berry fruits.

Five snacks I enjoy in the real world:
See above.

Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:
Travel the trans-Siberian railway first-class, look after my family, find an ordinary nearby family to sponsor anonymously, tithe, sponsor organic farming, invest in cheap accommodation to benefit the needy.

Five jobs that I have had:
Teacher, teacher-librarian, antiques dealer, author, lecturer, housewife.

Three of my habits:
Can never push a drawer completely closed, pull out a particular noxious creeper in other people's gardens and public places, wash feet before going to bed.

Five places I have lived:
Upper Tent Hill, Brisbane, Gympie, Goondiwindi, Toowoomba, Hamilton

Five things to do today:
Sort, pack, read, entertain and put the grandchildren to bed.

Five people I want to get to know more about:
The Peak Oil man who is going to live in the Czech Republic to prepare for the oil crunch. He believes they will cope better there. Does he know the language and how will cope as an outsider in such a different culure?

Is Mrs Kneale, the butcher's wife, still alive?

None of my friends, because I know as much as they have wanted to tell me.

My (Jill's) grandmother, Agnes, as a child and young woman. She was very good at editing her life story. My (Glen's) grandfather who migrated from the remote north-eastern corner of the German Empire in the late 19th century. Good thing he did, too, or he could have met with the same fate as most of the inhabitants of this area at the end of WWII. What prompted him to migrate to Australia?

My great-grandmother, Isabella Jane, who lived on the gold fields in Victoria and NSW.

We don't have any blog friends so can't really pass it on.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


There is a story about a man who needed time out from his extremely busy life to seek spiritual comfort. He entered a monastery for a few days and, as one of the monks showed him into his rather spartan cell, the monk said, 'If you need anything, let us know and we'll teach you how to live without it'.
This is probably my favourite quote of the week and comes from Philip Yancey's book Prayer.

What is it with us that we need all this stuff? We are positively suffocated by it and it seems to be winning the space war. Some interesting from The Australia Institute's website ( are below. Of course, they all refer specificially to Australia.

88% of all homes have at least 1 cluttered room
the average is 3+ cluttered rooms
the spare room is the most cluttered
Victoria has the most cluttered homes
houses are worse than units
4/10 Australians are anxious, guilty or depressed about their clutter
1/3 are embarrased by it
older people have the most clutter but care the least about
many buy stuff to deal with their stuff and add on extra rooms to fit it in
1/8 have moved house to accommodate the extra stuff they do not need

In 2004 the average Australian household wasted $1226 on purchases they never used. This equates to $10.5 billion across Australia – more than the Australian government expenditure on universities and roads at the time. Cutting this would protect mortgagees against against a .75% rise in interest rates.
Why do we do it to ourselves? No doubt there many individual reasons but I wonder if one reason is that we are not very balanced people. It is as if we have a gap at the centre of our beings which we are constantly trying to fill.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Huts are my favourite. Whenever I travel I am always on the lookout for photogenic huts. They can be great reminders of places visited and often they have their own story to tell.
I invite you now to come with me and visit a few of my huts.

Ah! If these stones could but speak. What tales, intriguing and wonderful, might they tell. Which unfortunately would not be terribly comprehensible to me for they would be speaking Italian. This solid stone structure with its tiled roof would suggest some former importance – perhaps even present-time importance. But what it is remains hidden to me. What might be housed within its walls? Alas, I do not know. I only know that it is standing on a stony hillside in Umbria, Italy, hoarding its secrets behind the securely locked door. Nor do the infertile surroundings give any suggestion as to its purpose. This is the Umbrian Enigma.

Unlike this delightful log cabin in a fertile little valley (Kötschachtal) feeding into the Gastein valley in Austria. Its purpose is easily discovered. The cracks between the logs allow a peep inside to see the remains of last year's grass harvest. Could it be called a 'grass' hut? The wonder here is that such a plain hut, serving such a mundane purpose is sited in such a magnificent landscape. Long will I remember hiking up the valley, and resting, with a fine Austrian wine, at the foot of the snow in the background.

Whereas people might pass these first two huts without noticing them, my third hut draws people to it. This is St Govan's hut. This small stone hut is nestled in the cliffs of Pembrokeshire in Wales, on a coastline of rugged beauty. A hut? No, not really a hut today, but previously....

Govan was a monk from Ireland, born in the sixth century, whose work took him to Pembrokeshire. Legend (or history) has it that once when he was fleeing from pirates, a rock miraculously cracked asunder here on the cliffs and allowed him to hide from the pursuers. (The more pedestrian among us would suggest that he simply hid among the rocks on the cliff-face.) As a token of thanks, he remained here, living in a small stone hut and ministering to the local people. One can just stand in wonder and contemplate the inner forces which compelled a person to live in this stark isolation. Mind you, the view FROM the hut is quite spectacular! The present structure was built in the thirteenth century as a chapel and only small parts of the sixth century hut remain.
This is also King Arthur country. Another legend - and the countryside in Pembrokeshire abounds in legend – claims that Govan is a corruption of Gawain. Sir Gawain was a nephew of King Arthur and lived here as a hermit after King Arthur's death.
Whatever the history, and it is difficult to ascertain facts from the sixth century, what can't be disputed is that the chapel (hut) remains for all visitors to see, some 70 rough steps below the top of the cliffs and numerous rough boulders from the ocean below.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Father, Son and Holy Ghost

We're in the Sunday School room.
Little Tommy: Miss.
Miss SS Teacher: Yes, Tommy?
L.T.: We have God the Father. He created us.
Miss SS: Yes, Tommy.
L.T.: And then there is Jesus, the Son. He loves us.
Miss SS: That's right, Tommy.
L.T. : What do the holy goats do?

Which takes me back to Sopron and a church there with a most unusual name. The locals call it The Goats' Church. Yes, you heard me correctly. Not The Church of The Holy Ghost. The Goats' Church! I don't believe goatherds are particularly noticeable in the district. I didn't see any goat either. A curious name.

Legend has it that the original Franciscan church was built using a cache of buried treasure that a herd of goats had unearthed in the nearby forest. It seems that there were goats in the area at some time in the past.

More likely is the version of the origin of the name suggested by the coat of arms of an earlier benefactor of the church. In an act of penance Heinrich Gaissel bequeathed his legitimate fortune to the Franciscan monks who then used it in the construction of the church. Herr Gaissel's coat of arms contains the image of a goat.
Whatever the origin of the name, the main square in Sopron has been left with a remarkable landmark. The interior is something too, as suggested by the pulpit pictured below.

But back to the Sunday School room where Miss SS Teacher is relating the story of Lot and his wife leaving behind the wickedness in Sodom City.
“It got so bad,” she said, “that Lot had to take his wife and flee from the city. But his wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.”
“Oh dear!” exclaimed little Tommy, “and what happened to the flea?”

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Surprise! Surprise!

“Vienna, city of my dreams”, I've always wanted to visit there. Maybe it's because I love waltzing. Maybe not. Here was my chance to realize my dream. We were using our time-share entitlements to arrange accommodation but RCI had nothing available in Vienna. Would my dreams have to wait?
Try Sopron.
Where? Sopron is a small city just over the border in Hungary. Only an hour from Vienna.
Sounds good. The dream is still alive. With this good advice aboard we landed at Schwechat airport in the “city of my dreams”, picked up the hire car and drove on to the land of Liszt.

Next morning came the surprise. A quick reccy and we soon realized that Sopron was much more than out-of-town accommodation for Vienna's visitors.
Here is history. The town was on one of those many roads which led to Rome. Two thousand years ago we would have been in Scarbantia. Its not only the ancient history here that's interesting.
Here the medieval lives on.
Here is natural beauty. The rolling forested hills of the Soproni Mountains embrace one side of the town and the intriguing Neusiedler Lake approaches the other. (Yes. Sopron does have more than two sides. Actually, Sopron has many sides.)
Here is music and culture. Franz Liszt and Joseph Haydn were regular visitors and their heritage lives on.
It appears that my dreams must be put on hold. There is more than enough to occupy me here.

Oh yes, the fire tower. I mustn't forget the fire tower. You can't miss it. It dominates the whole town, not only the adjacent main city square. It is regarded as the symbol of the city. It's been there in its present form since the fifteenth century but it is built on Roman foundations – a remnant of the ancient Scarbantia. The tower had an important role to play in past times. The watchman in the tower didn't just watch out for fires. He had to be multi-skilled. He was to keep an eye out for approaching unfriendly forces, as well as signalling the approach of VIPs and wine shipments. He had to keep the tower clock ticking as well. Yes a man with many responsibilities. Someone to look up to.

One can imagine his utter disappointment when the tower was burnt down in 1676. It seems that some of the local lads had chestnuts roasting on an open fire.... Oops!! And it wasn't just the tower. No merry Christmas in Sopron in1676. But it's an ill wind. Most of the old houses around the main square were destroyed and replaced by attractive baroque buildings which give it its beauty today.

At the base of the tower is a gate which leads to the Fo ter (Main Square). This is called the Loyalty Gate. There is a background to this rather unusual name. Sopron (once known by its German name of Ödenburg) is on the border of German- and Hungarian-speaking people. After the Austro-Hungarian Empire was disbanded after World War I the border areas here were apportioned to Hungary, Austria or Czechoslovakia. Initially the Sopron (Ödenburg) area was allotted to Austria, but the people were unhappy and in 1921 a plebiscite was held. (Fancy governments giving the people a say in their future!) The result was that this area became part of Hungary. The sculpture above the gate was commissioned and erected in recognition of the Soproni people's loyalty to Hungary. Hence Loyalty Gate. The sculpture depicts the symbolic figure of Hungary (centre) with the faithful inhabitants of Sopron gathered around. Isn't that a good-news story?

A lot of history in that tower.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Which reminds me of Thargomindah.
What does?
Diverting from a planned route “to just have a look at something”.

A few years ago we had planned to drive to Cairns and ended up in Thargomindah.
Bad navigating?
No. We were barely under way (in the centre of Brisbane actually i.e. 20 kilometres from home) when Jill said, “Let's go via Thargomindah”.
Well, it is somewhat out of the way but hey! why not? We eventually arrived in this town some 1250 kilometres from Cairns as the crow flies, and believe me, there is a lot of crows out west. I wonder do they ever fly from Thargomindah to Cairns? But no stunning Baroque churches. Remember Banjo Patterson's outback poem The Bush Christening?
“On the outer Barcoo where churches are few
and men of religion are scanty,...”
Thargomindah is actually on the Bulloo River. But that's a minor detail. It's just as far out and the description fits.

We arrived in the lateish afternoon and, like in biblical times, there was no room at the inn. Nor at the motel. Nor at the caravan park! The helpful receptionist at the motel suggested a B&B 'out of town' (photo). She would telephone to see if they had a vacancy. “No sense driving there for nothing”. She did.
They did.
Then she gave us instructions to get there. “Well, a little way out of town”, she conceded, “but lovely people.” The place was some 80 kilometres down along the Bulloo River! Yes, eighty, or as the locals told us: “about four stubbies out”. Turn off the road when you see a boat on the right hand side, follow the track and you can't miss it.

We arrived to the hearty welcome of the worried hosts. Worried? There were storms in the area (we had noticed) and had one crossed the black-soil road we were slowly travelling along, we would have been stuck.
They didn't luckily.
And we weren't. Thank God for that.
It was these hosts who convinced us to stay around Thargomindah rather than drive all that long way (and out there you can't drive as the crow flies) to Cairns.

So for the next few weeks we experienced the desert splendour as well as the friendliness and hospitality of Thargomindah (it is a beautiful-sounding name) and Queensland's Far South West.
We still haven't been to Cairns together.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Souvenir Spoons

Grammy enjoyed travelling and she liked to punctuate her travel diary with souvenir spoons. But when you've taken your last trip and the time comes to hand in your passport this mathematical equation remains: One ardent traveller PLUS a penchant for collecting souvenir spoons EQUALS a big pile of spoons.

And the variety! The business end of the spoon comes in all shapes, sizes and designs. Brighton even has a picture of the Royal Pavilion on it. Then there are the various shafts. But it's the top end, the pictorial end which makes the statement and displays the ingenuity of the souvenir spoon designer. Here a “real” opal centred on Cooper Pedy, there a black and white penguin standing on Bruny Island and look, a wee kiwi hanging from the black ferns of New Zealand. Gold medal, however, goes to the two jubilant miners dancing atop the Kalgoorlie gold-plated extravaganza.

I can see the benefit in buying souvenir spoons. They are relatively cheap and easy and light to carry. Oh! And you can use them. Well ONE you can. Perhaps half a dozen; but hundreds? They surely must have some real use. They do have memento value to the traveller. But isn't it true that they mostly accumulate in an unused drawer and tarnish?

One could devise all manner of party games based on the spoons.(Do spoons spin?) They could be used to teach geography. (“Here's a spoon for each of you kids. Draw a map of it and list its main industries.” “Sir, where's Expo 88?”) Whereas some are salt spoons and there are jam and honey spoons, most are teaspoons, so you could have endless afternoon tea parties without visiting the same place twice.

You could become an ardent collector, going out of your way to add to your collection. Or you could become an armchair collector and travel the world on Ebay. I must check out the going rate for souvenir spoons at the flee-markets and local garage sales. Maybe there's a dollar to be made in wheeling and dealing in spoons. I am sure that some would be more valuable than others. “I'll swap my Miniland, Coonabarabran, (with a black Tyrannosaurus Rex) AND a Port Arthur Powder Magazine for The Royal Wedding 29 July 1981.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Wow of a Church

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Psalm 29: 2.

It is Sunday evening and so I think the quote from Psalms is quite appropriate. It also takes me back a few weeks when we were driving along a road in Southern Germany. We were following our route on the road atlas and we noticed a “place of touristic interest” in the middle of what appeared to be nowhere. The specific symbol on the map indicated this “place of touristic interest” to be a church. It had the name “Wieskirche”.
Being in no great hurry, we decided to investigate. This is one of the advantages of individual travel. You do not have to be at a specific place at a specific time. But then I can remember times on a planned tour when we weren't where we were supposed to be. There was this one time when.... But I'm getting off the track. Back to Southern Germany! We came over a rise and Wow!! Here was this huge church. Yes, in the middle of nowhere, but surrounded by hundreds of cars, buses, trinket shops, restaurants, and beer stalls. This was the Wieskirche, or to give it its official name, 'Wallfahrtskirche zum Geißelten Heiland auf der Wiese' (Pilgrimage Church of the Scourged Saviour at Wies).
We had unknowingly stumbled on one of the most beautiful rococo churches of Southern Germany – a cultural site on the UNESCO World Heritage List. So much for a planned, well-researched holiday!
Going into the church was a double Wow! It is easy to see why hundreds of pilgrim groups and over a million tourists visit this church every year. Who said church attendances were falling in Europe? That day – admittedly it was a Sunday – things were really buzzing in the surrounding establishments as well as in the church. What on earth is going on here? What is this church all about? My inadequate descriptions would be superfluous. There are a lot of interesting facts about this church at (in English also) as well as many other sites. Especially intriguing is the history surrounding its establishment as a pilgrimage church and the reason for the name 'Scourged Saviour'.

All of which raises a question – Why are churches so high on the list of tourist sites? Not only this one which has such obvious appeal, but most places like to promote their local church as a place worthy of a visit. Or is this a subtle form of proselytising?
Perhaps the verse from Psalm 29 gives some clue. There have always been devout people who spared no expense in building worship centres, (Christian and other) where a specific deity is worshipped. The Abbot and monks of the nearby town of Steingaden spared no expense in having this church built. Nor did those who recently restored it to its present (or should I say past?) glory. Today people still come to churches to worship. Others just to see the beauty. But I agree with you. There is much more to it than this. Must think more about these things.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Food for thought

Read the other day about a family where the toddler twins were found in their room by an older sibling – dead. The father hadn't seen them for some months and the mother thought maybe she didn't feed them often enough. There is obviously a whole sad story there and I don't know the details and can't make any judgements about it. The parents are to be charged with not supplying the necessities of life. This is a legal obligation for anyone sharing a house.
It put me in mind of a conversation I had many years ago about eating and family. The Bible verse about those who don't work should also not eat was quoted. I am quite hopeless at direct quotes from anywhere. Don't seem to be able to remember exactly where things come from or the exact words used. I hope I get the gist, however. I dislike it when a few words are taken from the Bible to support some argument and no thought is given to the overall message or even the historical context.
Anyway our response was that anyone in our house would be fed regardless of their efforts in any field and the arguee realised that what was said was a bit harsh. It seems the law agrees with me.
On a larger scale, however, we should remember that we all share the home called Earth and this means that everyone here is entitled to be fed regardless of their value to us personally as people.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lingua Franca

“No worries! Most people in Europe understand English. You don't have to worry about that phrase book!”
Well, apart from being a rather arrogant attitude, it's not strictly true. Sure, in the major hotels on the main tourist routes there will be someone who speaks English, but off the beaten track....... I had a stomach bug and quite debilitating diarrhoea in Hungary. I needed help, but my miming did nothing to change the blank look on the face of the receptionist. Luckily we had a computer to hand and made use of the translating function (and this one could speak Hungarian). She then understood and gave me some tablets which fixed the problem. My only trouble was trying to spell d.i.a.r.r.h.o.e.a.

Which reminds me of an American in Paris. No, not the Gene Kelly movie of some decades ago. This Yank was a modern tourist in Paris, with camera, loud shirt, etc. He just couldn't wait to try out his school French. (Good on him!!) After spending some time studying the menu he beckoned the waiter, “Garsong, je desire consomme royal et un piece of pang et beurre – oh damm – une piece of beurre.”
“I'm sorry,” replied the very tactful waiter in perfect English, “I don't speak French!”
“Well,” said the American, “could you go and find me someone who can?!”

Anyway, after a handful of Carbo activatus the problem was indeed fixed and we were soon on the way, enjoying the fresh green of the Hungarian forests.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Up and over Bernina Pass

The Bernina Pass allows rail and road access from the eastern regions of Switzerland to Tirano in N. E. Italy. The Bernina Express which travels up and over is one of Switzerland's scenic trains. It overcomes some very steep gradients (for a train) to climb over the 2330 metre pass and then loops the loop to make its way down into Italy. It is a marvel of railway technology. Many people avail themselves of the opportunity to use this particular technology to appreciate the natural beauty of this part of the Swiss Alps (seen here in early summer).

Some 2000 years ago Roman soldiers used to walk over this pass (hopefully not in winter!). Steep going? Yes, it would have been, but tramping over 2330 metres is better than scaling the mountains on either side which reach 4000 metres. I wonder if their attention was focused on the beauty of the Alps or were they dreaming of a technology which would make their journey a little more comfortable? (Most likely they were dreaming of sunny Italy which they would probably never see again!)

It's sad that today's technology (eg. transport) often overshadows the beauty of a natural landscape, as is the case here in the Mosel river valley in Germany. Speaking more generally however, isn't it a fact that we are so continually bombarded with one unbelievable scientific advancement after another that our minds are numbed by it all – digital sound and vision reproduction, medical breakthroughs, aircraft and space travel and communications. It is nothing short of amazing that I can sit in my lounge room and watch events taking place on the other side of the world, or indeed check out the soil on Mars. (Actually I have to sit in our TV room, for my wife does not allow a TV in the lounge room).

In all this our capacity to appreciate things natural has diminished. But in spite of the apparent omnipresence of human achievement, there is still a world of wonder waiting for those who want to discover it. Yes, up there in the Swiss Alps or check out a passion-fruit flower.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Suffer the Little Children....

Talking about Sunday school on our way home from church yesterday, my wife and I. Don't know particularly why, but it seemed appropriate at the time. Some folk see it as so important to have a thriving Sunday school – letter dropping the local community inviting the 'kiddies' along; spending disproportionate sums in setting up attractive Sunday school rooms, many of which are only used a few hours each week....
“I feel they put their energies into Sunday school because it's easier.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, it's easier to tell a little child,' Jesus loves you', than to discuss the Christian message with an adult.”
“You mean it's a cop out?”

Here in our Western Societies there are still many hereditary Christians – people who have grown up in a Christian family and have taken the Christian message aboard without really thinking about it. They have absorbed the message as a child. They are quite comfortable with statements such as “The church teaches...” and “The Bible says that...” without any critical analysis, forgetting that different churches promote different teachings and that throughout the centuries the Bible has been variously interpreted to suite what a church wanted. So many find it difficult to have a discussion with someone who does not accept the infallibility of the church and the absolute truth of God's word.

We also know that many of these hereditary Christians grew cold when they really started thinking about their inherited beliefs. But that's another story!

A modern intelligent agnostic, when confronted by someone with the Christian message is going to want the answers to many questions. The Church must be ready and willing to give these answers without referring simply to their own dogma. These people will not be “coerced into faith by the sheer weight of the inexplicable” (J.B.Phillips: God our Contemporary).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Church for all Reasons

Einhard's Basilica in Seligenstadt is not just a noticeable building. It is truly a church used for all occasions. While we were staying with our friends/relatives in Germany they were invited to a baptism in the basilica and we were asked to come along as special guests. No, not “special” really. That appellative was reserved for the little girl being baptized.

The Bible reading for the ceremony was Luke 10: 30 -37, – the parable of the good Samaritan. (Or should I write, “Lukas 10: 30-37, - der barmherzige Samariter”?) A strange reading, you might say, and I thought so too initially. Then the priest gave his address based on the same reading. The line he took was unusual (to me at least). He portrayed Jesus as the good Samaritan. Which is interesting for the Jews in Jerusalem once “accused” Jesus of being a Samaritan.
“The Jews replied, “are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and possessed by a devil'?” John 8:48-49. Jesus answered, “I am not possessed; no, I honour my Father but you want to dishonour me.” I note here that Jesus did not deny that he was a Samaritan, but rather that he was not possessed by a devil.

Anyway, the Priest pointed out how a despised Jesus goes out of his way to help us when we are hurt and abandoned by others; how he is a cure for our pains; how he takes us to a safe place where we are healed and he himself pays for all this; no cost to us. Interesting parallel you may say, but what has that to do with baptism? Well, the little girl being baptized was starting out on life's journey where she will encounted various kinds of brigands, but she can be assured that the good Samaritan will always be there to care for her. Then it was off, throught the old town of half-timbered houses, to the other celebration of cofee and Kuchen... and Kuchen... and....
My photo shows an old beauty from 1596 – the “Einhardhaus”. Seems as though Einhard is everywhere in Seligenstadt!
As we were leaving the church guests were arriving for a wedding which was to take place shortly afterwards. This old basilica is not only a tourist attraction but is the focal point of the busy parish of St Marcellinus and Petrus, Seligenstadt. Marcellinus and Petrus, now there is another story. They were two Christian martyrs from the fourth century persecutions in Rome. By some devious means Einhard brought their relics from Rome in 828 and advertised them as a feature of his recently-build pilgrimage church. Today these relics are interred under the main altar of the basilica and these two martrys remain the patron saints of the town.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

In a Monastery Garden

This takes me back to my school days and piano lessons. (No, I didn't go to a Catholic school!) Sooner or later, and in my case it was later, music teachers would introduce students to some of the descriptive works by the early twentieth century composer Albert Ketelby. Piano pieces such as “In a Chinese Temple”, “In a Persian Market” and yes; you've guessed it! - “In a Monastery Garden” figured prominently in the young pianists' repertoire. Those afternoons of piano practice (rather than playing tennis!) came back to me as I was strolling through the garden behind the restored Benedictine monastery in Seligenstadt.

I must admit that I couldn't really relate the tune – those snatches faintly remembered – to the beauty of the garden around me. I must try to track down a copy of the old sheet music and maybe picking out the tune will do the reverse and take me back to the pleasant time spent in Seligenstadt and the monastery garden there.

There are the vines, then the herb garden, fruit trees, flowers and vegetables, and all so neatly organized. Is neatness next to godliness? Both my wife and my daughter are self-proclaimed vege-garden experts. But theirs is a slash, plant and pray variety – slash down the verdant weeds, plant sundry vegetables among their skeletons and pray that they grow and produce. They end up with a disorganized arrangement of various vegetables growing cheek by jowl with resurrected weeds. “Better for the soil. Better for the plants. Duplicating nature. Monoculture leads to the ruination of the soil.” These and other justifications are given for their agri-methods.

Oh, that they could see this monastery garden where the peas are happily growing with the other peas and the lettuces are all lined up neatly. Here the slow-growing lettuce is unable to hide its tardiness behind a pumpkin leaf or indeed die and pretend that a grass-straw was there all the time. This all gives a quiet, peaceful environment surely appreciated by the erstwhile monks more than the discordant aspect of slash and let
grow would have done. But did the lettuce taste as sweet? Alas. That we shall never know!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Seligenstadt - A Blessed City?

In my German/English dictionary the meaning given for “selig” is blessed (rel.). In the Bible in the fifth chapter of St Matthew we read, “Selig sind, die reines Herzens sind; denn sie werden Gott schauen.” Oops. Sorry! That should be Ev. Matthäi. St Matthew, chapter 5, verse 8 in my old King James version reads, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. (Many modern translations do not use “blessed” but “happy”, which seems to miss the point of it all.)

All of which takes us back 1200 years to the early 800s, to Charlemagne, the supreme ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, and to Einhard. Einhard? I would hazard a guess that most people have never heard of Einhard. He was, however, quite big in Charlemagne's day. He was a trusted envoy and close advisor of the Emperor and later wrote a definitive biography of the great ruler. He was born in the Main Valley region (that's where we are at the moment) but then lived in the royal court at Aachen, doing what royal advisors used to do in those days. But apparently – according to legend – Einhard did a little more than most.

It is reported that Charlemagne had a number of daughters who were a little generous with their affections. Einhard was smitten and ran off with one of these 'wild' daughters, Imma, headed back to his home districts (the Germans call it his “Heimat”) and settled in the small town of Obermuhlinheim on the Main river. The lovebirds were tracked down, but rather than exacting revenge, Imma's forgiving father cried, “Selig sei die Stadt genannt, wo ich meine Tochter wiederfand”. (May the town be called blessed, where I found my daughter again.) Hence Obermuhlinheim became Seligenstadt.

Well, maybe. It is true however that Einhard was important in the early (i.e. around 800) development of the town. The settlement itself was really founded by the Romans some 800 years before Einhard's time. Today a huge church, Einhard's Basilica, surrounded by a restored Benedictine Monastery, stands witness to his influence in the town those many centuries ago.

Einhard, whose wife was indeed Imma, but the sister of the Bishop of Worms, had been granted a number of estates in recognition of his work for the Emperor. He chose to live in one of these – Obermuhlinheim. Here he had erected a pilgrim church which contained the relics of two early Christian martyrs which he somehow had transported from Rome. This is the basis of another version of the origin of the name Seligenstadt. Pilgrims visiting this place would call it “Saligunstat” - the blessed place.

Whatever the case, Einhard's Basilica and the restored monastery beside it, create a focal point for the visitors to Seligenstadt today. And if you ever happen to be in Seligenstadt and want to go to Steinheim (also an interesting place) down river a little, you can leave by the Steinheim tower gate (photo). Over 300 years old that fine structure.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


Just got back from some time in Europe.
Ah! Europe River Cruising. Now that's the way to go. “Magnificent”, “exclusive”, “champagne”, “luxury”, “quality”, “gala”, “deluxe” - these are just some of the words the coloured brochure used to entice me on board. And then there's “free” and “free” and “save” and “save”. Makes me wonder why at this very moment I am not sitting on the sundeck of ms whatever, sipping a Rüdesheimer Rheinwein and savouring the Rhine scenery.
And all this could be mine “from $9247*”, ppts^. Ah! The word “from“ and the asterisk, now therein lies a whole new tale. One now needs to find a magnifying glass, refer to the bottom of the page and read the lines of the very fine print which begin: “Conditions apply.....”.
This price applies to category E cabins. Then it's a quick check-up on the net to find out where categary E cabins are located. Just as I thought – low price, low deck! They are on the lower deck next to the engine room and water tanks. Looked at from the outside they are behind those little black dots one sees just above the water-line. Fixed windows (portholes which can't be opened or the river water would gust in) allow you to have a fish-eye view of the twigs and branches, plastic bags, bottles and dead fish floating by.
But there's no great cause to worry for there is a very limited number of these and you are unlikely to get one. So you must upgrade. Up and up to a higher deck where indeed you have a balcony with a small table and two chairs, and a position which allows you to see beyond the levee banks. But you probably won't get one of these either. They have become too expensive. How quickly has my dream of a romantic European river cruise “from $9247*”, ppts^ , been left in the wake of ms whatever.

Stop dreaming and come back to earth. And I did, in Seligenstadt. Seligenstadt is a delightful little town on the Main river in Germany; the river which allows those deluxe river boats to sail from the Danube river into the Rhine, or from the Rhine river into the Danube if you are travelling in the other direction. A ferry crosses the Main here, on which both vehicles and passengers travel free. I went over and back a number of times, and indeed it cost me absolutely nothing. Here my European river cruising was indeed FREE. The deck-hand noticed me sitting going backwards and forwards across the river and in my school-boy German I explained what I was doing. Which reminds me. I must look up the meaning of “verrückt”.
^ per person, twin share

PS Too boring on the ferry. How about a deckhand on a river barge? My photos show possibilities on both the Main and the Mosel.