As we entered Germany I felt really excited to be in a country again where I knew the language, knew some relatives like Oma and Opa and recognised the landscape and scenery.
Germany is my favourite country; The streets are clean, the houses are modern with little front gardens and there’s snow in winter when it is cold enough.
German motorways usually have 4 lanes and no speed limit. Driving on the motorway with my Opa at 160 kilometres an hour I was a bit anxious that something was going to happen. It felt like we were on a plane racing down the runway about to take off. I wondered what would happen if there was an obstacle and one person had to stop – all the other cars would crash into each other. Maybe a reason why German motorways don’t have a speed limit is because the Germans made so many fast cars. Car manufacturers wanted customers to buy their fast cars so they persuaded the government to not give them a speed limit.
I love service stations and road stops on the motorway. They have a proper buffet with different sections for: entree, salad, drinks, bakery with delicious “Butterbrezeln”, hot food and desserts. The toilets are clean and if you pay 70 cents to get in, your “toilet entry ticket gives you a 50 cent discount of items you can purchase in the shop like ice creams, ice blocks, lollies, chocolate and souvenirs.
We stayed in my mum’s home town Backnang, where we gave holiday workshops of Dancing Wombat and The Ring Bearer.
In the morning when the other Wayfarers gave the younger children the Dancing Wombat workshop, I went to the outdoor swimming pool with my Oma. That swimming pool had three big water slides (blue, yellow and green) and three short slides for the young children. I always loved going to the pool even though it was on cold mornings, especially when on one of the days, Vanessa and Patrick (my cousins) came over and we went down the slides backwards. There were diving boards but they were closed until we asked the lifeguard to open them on the last day I went to the swimming pool. I easily jumped and dived off the 1 metre and jumped off the 3 metre and finally summoned up some courage to jump off the 5 metre diving platform. It was a bit scary, for when I looked down it seemed so far, yet when I jumped I glided through the air for a few seconds and then went SPLASH! Those days at the swimming pool were marvellous but after a few days it got too cold to go there.
Every afternoon I took part in The Ring Bearer workshop for older children, teenagers and adults. The participants were excited to learn something they had never learnt before which made it fun to be part of. We worked hard on scenes like “The Prancing Pony” and “The Old Forest”. The narrations got translated into German so that the participants could be narrators.
In the middle of the workshop we had an afternoon tea break and my Opa brought food for the Wayfarers like biscuits, crackers, fruit and chocolate.
My Opa really had a very large part in organising our stay in Backnang and think he has done a great job.
My mum and I had a wonderful week with my grandparents: my Oma cooked delicious meals every day and always loved being with me. My Opa would do school work with me or show me special places in the Backnang area.
One of my Oma’s delicious baked specialities is “Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte” (black forest cake). She taught me how to make it and we invited all the Wayfarers to come over and eat it. I had been raving about that cake for a long time and finally the others could feast on what I had been talking about so long.
On our last night we organised a talent night. Initially it was meant to be Wayfarers and hosts but others heard about it and wanted to come too. Everyone wanted to hear a bit about our travels and see some photos too so we set up a slideshow. Finally the night arrived and we all brought a plate of food to share. We looked at the photos (every non-Wayfarer being extremely excited about what we had to tell). Some people performed a little piece of music.
Finally, the day of our departure had come. I was sad to leave my favourite town where I knew very special people but looked forward to coming back a week later on our week off. We said goodbye and finally started our long drive to Solothurn in Switzerland.
It has been quite some time since I wrote a blog actually talking about what Wayfarers have been up to so I apologise! I think the constant hard work has been getting to me and I just haven’t had the extra enthusiasm! Or there has been so many other wonderful things to do that I have got distracted. So here we are in the south of England with very little said about our travels through Europe. Ah well.
Our arrival in England was somewhat dramatic as the ferry that we were booked to travel on wasn’t running due to strike action. Fortunately we discovered this in time to drive to a different port further north in France (to Cherbourg) where we had to book new accommodation but were able to catch a ferry across to Poole on the intended day. So lots of phone calls to the ferry company, hostels, bus companies, and the car and insurance companies later, most of us were safely in England, being greeted by cheerful customs officials interested in what we were doing, though somewhat dubious about the singing that was going on in the queue leading off around the corner… then safely on the newly hired coach, had an enjoyable drive down to the school in Devon and then out to our different billeting families.
Unfortunately this was at the expense of our four drivers, Dave, Gawain, Heather and Evan who after dropping us at the ferry had to drive another 500km or so south to drop off the vans, then had to find another form of transport to get back to the port. They finally made it here last night, three days after the rest of us and with one hour to spare before we started our Ring Bearer performance!
On the bright side, we are in England! And it is so beautiful! We saw more rainbows on our drive down to Devon than I have seen in the last two years combined! Autumn is just starting so it is cold and wet, the trees area starting to turn, but when the clouds part, the sun is beautiful and warm. I like to joke that the weather here is basically a typical winter day in Adelaide. It is our first cold weather for the trip though, so after so many months of warm (and sometimes disgustingly hot) weather, it is nice to go outside in the morning and feel a cold chill in the air. It does mean though, that everyone in the choir is hurriedly getting out (or going and buying) raincoats and warm jumpers, scarfs, gloves etc. and our bags are therefore getting bulkier and heavier!
We are working at the South Devon Steiner School, otherwise known as Hood Manor because it is in an old manor house. It is so nice to be back in English speaking classrooms! To begin with I just love listening to the accents of the children. So fabulously English! (And I am sure they are getting equal amusement out of listening to our Australian accents, although I must say, these are getting less exaggerated in a number of us as we unintentionally start mimicking the accents of those around us.) It is so wonderful to be able to talk to everyone! We speak and they understand! It sounds silly, I know, but it makes such a difference knowing that what you say is being understood by the children, being able to ask a question of the person walking past “could you tell me where to find the photocopier?” Or strike up a conversation with someone on the bus. Not only could the class threes say ‘amphibians’ and ‘mammals’, they knew what they meant!
It is Sunday today, and our day off. But tonight we are having a combined birthday celebration for Kate and Manuka, and are celebrating by having a variety night. Which will be particularly enjoyable now we are finally all together again! Having four people away makes the group feel so much smaller! I think we might all need a bit of time at the beginning to go away and practice the things we thought we might do, but haven’t had time to rehearse! Because as always, we haven’t had any spare time to do such extraneous things as rehearse! It might end up being a bit of a shambles. But shambles or no, it is sure to be lots of fun because it is the first purely leisure time that we have had together in a long time and we Wayfarers just love spending time together! So off I go!
We are let off the train & our Moscow friend, Helen, is there to worry about the amount of luggage we have – though it’s only 25 – 30 kg each… She is a friend of one of our choir – a journalist, a singer & an English woman fluent in Russian language & culture. The Transiberian Guard was right to be wary of her!
My camera & my mouth are open as soon as we are off the train platform – beautiful architecture right there – where we pile our stuff into taxis & prepare to take subway trains to our hostel.
The subway is a grand gallery of Soviet Realist Art – arched ceilings complete with mosaics, chandeliers, patterned floors, relief features, sculpture – all depicting Soviet ideals, produce, industry & working people. Most memorable, there on the platform where trains pull in, lifesize bronze sculptures of a woman soldier, a rooster (worn where people have stroked it for luck) and a soldier with a dog (worn where people have stroked the dog for comfort). Our guide explains that the stroking is testament to lives of little joy during Soviet times. She says Stalin’s grand projects are built upon the bones of the Russian people.
Our rather cramped hostel is in the tourist part of Moscow, on the same street as the Anglican Cathedral where we give a concert of some of our religious repertoir. The Canon, Dr Simon Stephens, is very helpfull & tells us about the church volunteer program which aims to help some of the 40,000 homeless children in Moscow (yes, I got the 0’s correct – that many…) Winters are minus 20C & the snow can be 4 metres deep.
These few days in Moscow it’s midsummer, and 38C the day we walk the tourist sights. I get separated from the others but manage to comprehend the Russian street signs enough to read the English map & remember that north is the shady side of the street – sufficiently to navigate past The Kremlin, The Bolshoi Theatre, the breathtakingly ornate (Coptic) Christ the Saviour Cathedral to Gorky Park & back home.
In the cathedral there are a few moments of living fire as a ray of sunlight ignites the solid gold Cross.
In Gorky Park people are lying on the grass, playing in the sprinklers, playing the didgeridoo(!)… just like in Oz! … I do too, except for playing the didge‘.
wake to soothing train trundle sound after removing ear plugs & after a hot, stuffy night in railway sheets on narrow bunk bed, wearing clothes of yesterday & the day before. Look out at deciduous forest rolling by – it’s been light for hours. Gather loo requirements, including paper & thongs. Step carefully past 2 levels of 45 sleeping bodies of all ages & genders spreading from similar bunks. Beware of bumping face against sleeping feet & shins against sleeping arms. Everyone looks peaceful.
Don’t get distracted looking at the view out the window or someone will get the loo ahead of you. It‘s a basic small train loo but cleaner than an Australian one. Pump single tap with one hand while washing the other. It has an open window which is a blessing. Enjoy some cool fresh air amongst loo smells.
Get a drink of boiling hot water from the old painted metal urn on the way back. There is no other drinking water available. Wait there for it to to cool while taking in the view through the open window or carry it back past the sleeping bodies in the stuffy carriage.
3 days of forest and still going by – young Birch & Pine joined by young Spruce, Fir Cedar, Cypress, Elm, Elder etc as we travel west. Meadows of pink Toadflax or pale yellow bulbs intersperse. Occasionally villages appear of simple, leaning, single level, timber cottages with vegie gardens & firewood pile. Rarely a horse or cow. No other signs of people. They say it gets to minus 20C here.
The train stops at a station & we are allowed off! Try & work out how long until the train goes again when all lettering & announcments are Russian & the station clocks only show Moscow time, many hours away from local time.
Judy & Renate & I rush out to the big wide world of courtyard beyond the station to find takeaway food. It is Russian food labelled in Russian so it’s a matter of point & hope. They barely do caffeine here – tea without milk or dispenser machine coffee with ’whitener’. DON’T ask for ’latte’. Rush back wondering if this will be the time the train goes without us.
Yesterday we noticed at the last minute that Judy was not back in time. We told the guard, we pleaded, an English translator joined in, I stood half on half off the train so it wouldn’t go, the guard continued to tell us to get on. The other’s lied; pointing & saying “she‘s coming!” The guard began to put away the step-ladder access to the carriage, I stood back on the platform thinking that Judy must have injured herself & we shouldn’t leave her alone in a Siberian town. Luckily, in the nick of time,Judy cooeed from inside the train & I was allowed back on.
We already lost 3 of us at the beginning of the trip, in Irkutsk, when 1 lost his ticket & was forced to buy another one, then the train left after he bought it & before he got on; leaving him & his 2 Wayfarer helpers stranded until they bought tickets on a later train. So we know the Russian railway authorities are unforgiving.
Today, back on the train, finish breakfast with some roasted unhulled sunflower seeds (good roughage) & hope for more luck later.
Now back inside travelling, time disappears and it seems best to snooze….
We had 2 nights of not sleeping at the airport or train station for 2am boardings before this, At this time of year there is ~ 2hrs of complete darkness each ‘night’. Everyday we move the clocks back 1 hr, so each day actually has 25 hrs. Time becomes elastic and so disappears.
Sometime or other…get up again longing for the view of endless trees.
Judy is finding where on the map we are with the help of the Russian passengers, later she learns the Russian alphabet with them. Renate is communicating using her Polish language skills, Terry is chatting away in Russian. 12yr old Manuka is composing, Kaoru is looking over her music, Kia, Roh & Raph are rethinking Judy’s ’Ringbearer’ play, Evan is in the air conditioned dining car making lists of Wayfarer’s petty cash, Matt is doing something learned on his laptop, Heather is organising our next hostel, several are still asleep.
I find the only carriage power point – near the loo, by an open window, near the guard’s room; and charge the laptop while standing nearby with the serious music book, humming Mozart’s Kyrie canon to sol fah, amongst the din of the open window & occasional train going by and amidst the constant traffic of people back & forth to the loo & while dodging the guard. I get better at Mozart’s Kyrie canon. Yes, it is a thrill to bring Western sacred music to non-western cultures!
The loo is locked & the train is slowing – a station stop?… Rumours are that we stop for 40mins & yes there are food sellers on the platform! Grab bag complete with passport, water, money, toothbrush etc in case train deserts…. Cup fulls of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, buckets of pickled cucumbers, baskets of fresh cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes, onions; trays of cool bottled yoghurt, coke, Kvass, beer, icecreams, chips; dried & smoked fish , sacks of peanuts, unhulled sunflower seeds, buckwheat; gadgets,soft toys & plastic toys, mysterious jars of pickles & mysterious baked things harbouring unknown fillings… I buy pickled cucumbers, yoghurt, peanuts & dried fish from lined, gold toothed women & return to the train as late as possible.
The next hour I spend trying to extricate the dried fish from its bones & into my mouth along with yesterdays rye bread and pickled cucumber – eventually a fantastic, tasty meal.
It might be late afternoon-ish.
Back to take in the forest near the source of fresh air. I feel like eating it.
The guard has turned her pop music up, including ‘I Will Survive’, so we dance a bit & earn a smile from our stern guard. However, not enough to save me the next day,at the end of the journey,when the sheets are handed back & ticked off. Our fierce guard thought she had put 2 sets of sheets on my bunk & expected them back (I think). I had used 1 set & tried to explain this to little avail even when an almost bi-lingual young Russian stepped into help. The penalty s 350Roubles (Aus$12) & no getting off the train until you’ve paid it. I was prepared to pay rather than argue, but our dear Music Director would have no wrongfull accusations & managed to let them know that our Russian speaking friend would meet us at the station. We think this was the turning point as the guard then decided to waive all charges.
To continue with the innocent day:
At Wayfarers end of the carriage some of our music has started – various short songs in umpteen part harmony including Rachmaninov’s Bogoroditsye in our best Russian. The sleepy Russian travellers seem to be underwhelmed, so Renate & I resort to softly going through Judy’s atonal ‘Jumblies‘. (They went to sea in a sieve..)
I want to sleep, but drinks in the dining car is proclaimed to celebrate Evan’s birthday. We drink European beer, eat very small salads & sing Happy Birthday harmonies before we get to unfold our littlle bunks & lie down, pretending it’s a dark, cool evening when actually its light & hot.