Sunday, July 22, 2007

Snail Slalom (or, is this really summer?)

I came back from Germany expecting the heat wave that had found us in Heidelberg (35 degrees) to have found England too…but alas, a very large bucket of water appeared to have been thrown at the UK and it wasn't what we'd usually expect of "summer" at all. I was cycling to tesco one day and there were so many snails on the cycle path that it was nearly impossible not to run them over! Definitely not July. It's been a little better recently but I'm still crossing my fingers for the wedding on Saturday…!

Beer, Schnitzel and many German churches

No sooner had I returned from France than I plunged myself back into the Cambridge bubble with a week of rehearsals and concerts with selwyn choir, and then off we flew to Germany for ten days. With new people and new places (I had never been to Germany before) this was an altogether original experience, and turned out, as well as being fun, mostly nice weather, pretty, etc, to be the most easy-going choir tour yet! Not better than new zealand, mind you, which was on another plane entirely…but certainly a thoroughly enjoyable tour!
We visited Erfurt first, regional capital of Thuringia, dominated by the Dom (haha) and a second large church, both on a (mostly man-made I think) hill above the marketplace, and full of bridges, one of which is built up like a road such that you could walk across without realising it was a bridge at all! A nice town, but not particularly exciting, though they did have Eraclea hot chocolate, and Bratwürst in abundance.
While based there also sang in Weimar (in a church Bach himself had played in!!), very pretty town that felt just a little bit fake…like a theme park…probably because we bombed it beyond recognition (oops). Next up was Jena, Caroline's Year Abroad Haven. Unfortunately I wasn't feeling well enough that day to go on the Caroline Tour (I had a few hours of Helen's bug), but what I saw seemed nice and the church was big and lovely and full of people, most of whom seemed to be there for Caroline and some of the kids even sat in the front row with "Caroline, you are the best!" banners. Very, very cute. Highlights of the day were the Kartoffelhaus for dinner (every sort of potato you can imagine…and more!) and a lovely pub garden after the concert (mmm Weißbier!). Last in the little thuringian quartet was Gera, exciting church but otherwise unremarkable town.
After Erfurt, we moved on to Würtzburg where for the first time we had a day without a concert. This beautiful Bavarian town provided plenty of cultural sightseeing opportunities, and almost some bike hire (Millie and I were puzzled that the hire place appeared never to be open!). We took a guided tour of the Residenz, ate plenty of ice cream, walked up to the Schloss, and drank plenty of beer in a little courtyard tucked away at the back of the Bierkeller, before ceilidh-dancing on the bridge in the dark. A charming little town that was the first German location to put on my "liveable" list. Maybe Kirsti can find me a job there…
Next up was another wonderful town called Bamberg. The youth hostel turned out to be a couple of miles out of town, in a place called Bug. As we drove up to it, we passed a good three places offering mini-golf, and lots of people out in pedalos. Both activities were later indulged in, tremendous fun (and a hilarious argument between Ben and the Evil Pedalo Man). Bamberg itself, which we had several days to explore, was definitely the highlight of the tour, a stunningly beautiful town with some nice eating places and a town festival going on in the streets. Another one to add to my list…
On Sunday, we went to Bayreuth to sing a service in the Stadtkirche in the morning. This is Wagner's birthplace but, being a Sunday, most things were fairly shut. It was like an "ideal village" when we arrived: no litter, no cars, no people…the church was lovely, but undergoing repairs throughout, so the congregation were squished into the back corner and we were above in the organ loft! Some excellent preludes from the organist and computerised church bells (the real things would have made the scaffolding fall down…) were the order of the day. Afterwards we explored the town a bit, and drove past Wagner's opera house before heading back to Bamberg.
Last, but not least of course, came Heidelberg. Here we sang two concerts, the second of which was our last of tour, and unfortunately had the smallest audience (ironic given it was in the University church of our twin town!). That aside, it was the best concert of the tour by far, and so our holiday (and for several, their choir career with Selwyn) ended on a very good note. Heidelberg was nice, if a bit touristy, and very one-street-town. Laura was an excellent guide and took us up to the castle, down to the bridge and so forth. Again, ice cream was consumed and best of all, I bumped into Lena in the street! Wow. Talk about coincidences…
So, beer, schnitzel, churches, castles, bridges, bakeries, cafés, hostels, multi-lingual games of 21, Finzi, Bach, so on and so forth…it was all very nice and I even learnt some German!

…what's next?

One of my favourite quotable moments from children's literature is in The owl who was afraid of the dark. Plop, the baby barn owl, can't fly yet, so his parents bring him food. Each time he says "mmm, what was that?"and his parents reply, for example "a worm" and he says "I like worms, what's next?" Plop then transfers this to other things he meets in life, for example, fireworks: "ooh, what was that?" "A catherine wheel" "ooh, I like catherine wheels. What's next?"

I feel a bit like Plop, only perhaps a little more grown up. I feel like saying "oooh, I like year in France. What's next?"

Of course, the answer to what's next is Finals. If only a boy scout could explain what those involved like he explained fireworks to the baby barn owl. But in the meantime there are plenty of distractions in store. First of all, the summer holidays. A post about our recent choir tour to Germany will follow…then came a bit of work on the dissertation, mingled with the release of the last harry potter book (a few chapters left now…) and a 21st party for two friends on saturday, which involved a combination of bouncy castle and pouring rain…
More dissertation work to come, hopefully combined with some punting tour work here and there. I'll be off up to Edinburgh for a weekend, and then helping put the finishing touch to Elizabeth's wedding preparations: the big day is August 11th! Then at the end of August I'm off to Romania, but I shall write more about that nearer the time.
Persons in Cambridge and/or within reach of Cambridge, let me know and we shall meet up!

The End of an Era

No sooner was I back from England than Laura and Cristina, two of my best Italian friends, arrived on the train from Parma for the weekend, bearing much cheese and salami and enjoying a swift but fun tour of Lyon's best delights before dashing back again to face exams.
The last week of June then promptly disappeared in a muddle of flatmates coming and going, negociations with the next people to occupy our wonderful flat, worries about what to do with most of the furniture, packing, and a sense that we ought to be making the most of the last few days together and not faffing around with rental agencies, cleaning or furniture removal. We managed a couple of relaxed nights in during which most of my friends who were still in Lyon popped round to say goodbye, not that it felt permanent at that point! It didn't really sink in that we weren't coming back to live in that lovely flat until Gareth and I were walking along the road with our suitcases, and even then it felt rather as if we were going on holiday (well, Gareth pretty much was as he has now returned to Lyon, albeit to a different flat)! We met Louise, a girl I'd met at church and who was on an engineering erasmus year, at the airport, and travelling together distracted us a bit from the reality of leaving it all behind.
It did feel like the end of an era that week, and it was the end of this blog's first era too: I shall no longer be reporting much on the whims and wonders of the French lifestyle, although I shall attempt to carry on reporting the odd thing or two of interest from life back in the UK now that I am a grown up linguist (or something like that).