[Here are some of my aide memoires; ready to have details filled in when I get the urge. At least you'll know I've not totally forgetten some fairly important bits!]
Helsinki, last day
M was feeling quite off - he thought probably culture-shock, tiredness, fedupofcrookwifeness, and maybe a touch of the blues. We could see over the road there was a shopping centre of some kind, and a sign saying Cultural Museum, so we went to have a look. First things first, let’s have (at 4pm) lunch. ... a waitress spilled an entire cup of coffee down M’s only-just-drycleaned jacket... he went ballistic, but I got a free brownie. We then inspected two modern collections (not bad, altho I got into trouble for taking photos, oops).. walk back to hotel and begin major packing opurrations, ready to go by train to St P tomorrow..
St Petersburg - the anarchist canal boat guide deserves his own entry, and dear blog, one day, ONE DAY it will come!
Two walking tours; the food; music in streets everywhere, the two concerts (both premieres; the fierce lady who berated us (to no effect!), saxophones in purrticular, the watermelon painting in the hotel; note to Austra about how much we love it here, barely even touching the surface and it’s so appealing... the ‘demo’ for opening of new uni year; seeing the previous Prez, famous woman prez who taught in Canada for 20 years before being ‘recruited’ back to Latvia to rule very successfully for ? 8 years..
the Dada cafe...the wonderful soups and the blessing of no smoking inside...
Bus to Vilnius tomorrow - only one full day and we have already decided that our two main ventures will be to the post office, then a walking tour. And, for me, a proper Web fix, so I can add to T n S; write to ppls, check dosh, etc etc.
M changes his mind on Wed morning and says no posting til Krakow - oh yes?? we’re back to 9 pieces of luggage and I think a spot of posting would be VERY useful..
more detail on Chopin concert and Raoul Wallenburg opera.. and quote the young English lad from the train today, who said to someone on his mobble that ‘we went to ‘Orshwitss, it was kinda wow’’... and why *I* didn’t go, OR to the Salt Mine. and some further reflections on the way we feel we’re being petulant about the difference in things which seems to annoy us so much, even tho it’s part and parcel of travelling.. my view is that we are essentially HOME ppl, and the places we stay at need to meet some aspects of HOME to make us feel relaxed and welcome. and the step up into bathrooms IS a bloody nuisance and a hazard, as are bloody sharp bed-edges in too-small rooms where one has to eel one’s way around everything, even a norty bad red shoe lying provocatively 4 inches way from its mate and just begging to be tripped over.. and the endless annoyance and/or cost of laundry. a super-ripoff opportunity which is milked to the max, everywhere. how many travel plugs can a girl make room for? they’d have to take up space usually reserved for precious and far more important unguents.
Riga walking tour redux; anarchy on the St Petersburg canal-waves.., some more remarks on Vilnius and Krakow.. thoughts, also, about the concertomania we may be indulging in, in Berlinsk.
Berlin, Monday Sept 15th - 11kg just sent off from Berlin post office - two boxes, one large, one medium large; containing amongst many papers and books, two wooden cats, two ceramic apples, a ceramic and glass cat or 2, a ditto angel, and the Sonato mug set. all wrapped in a mile of bubble wrap and brown duck tape. I hope and pray and wish and hopehopehope that all the breakable things make it back to Oz in the amount of pieces they started with.
I’ve been to a good doc; heard that M’s liver enzyme levels are now entirely normal, as is his blood count, bp and pulse rate. The blood test showed he’s suffering some sort of allergy - maybe a hayfever? He’s not been aware of anything, altho sneezing a bit, so that’s ok. Doc told me I looked sick; gave me antibiotics without a qualm OR a lecture (unlike Helsinki doc who visibly shuddered when I mentioned various uber-doc meds, that was rather upsetting..). also topped up my valium for my ‘back’ (I can’t tell you, half the time, whether I take it for my back or for the rest of me, psyche to the forefront..). then we walked a thousand miles to the post office and spent a thousand hours wrapping things in more bubble wrap and duck tape than you’ve ever seen. Now a taxi* to the Bauhaus, where we shall have lunch before a quick-ish look around. Then home to pack, ready for a bus to Freiburg tomorrow, arriving at 5pm.
*The taxi driver took off at a speed we’ve previously only identified with Rome.. he was making and taking calls on his mobile.. this is common, however illegal. He took us quickly to a high-rise filled street, with a huge window-fronted business with ‘BAUHAUS’ all over the glass... we wandered in a puzzled way towards it; this looks more Grace Bros than Gropius.. as we get closer we can see that the small print says ‘House and Home Wares’. Oh. Not THAT kind of Bauhaus. The driver is watching us, and as we turn back towards him he asks what the trouble is. M explains, again, that we want the ART MUSEUM BAUHOUS. He looks quite puzzled, and has to make a couple of radio calls, then at last says ‘ok ok get in’. We do, looking at each other. He charges off at high speed to a wider highway with median strip area of big business. We’re not too sure, but he’s got the bit between his teeth, and when he screeches to a halt next to a KPMG high-rise, I’m getting that ‘oh sure, we’re having and adventure’ feeling. He does two u-turns (“it’s not a trip without a u-ey” my father always says) and we end up at the same place. All this done at high speed amidst much beeping and swerving - of the other traffic. Then, nothing loathe, he turns down a walkway!!! and creeps along, looking at the highly unlikely surrounds of a small park and some fairly domestic or back of cafe buildings. Then he comes to another side street. We’re not allowed out; he calls again on the radio and this time, as he explains afterwards, he gets a woman. She gives him another address and he’s happy now, ‘oh yah, yah’ and screeches off the walkway and does a hasty u-turn onto the street. About 3 metres along, he stamps on the brakes. As we rub our foreheads from their rapid onset head-rest therapy, ‘Das is est!’ he proudly declares. Right. We hand over more Euros (he kindly deducted the second flag-fall) and head into the nearest big gateway. This still looks wrong, but I hear a beep and a despairing ‘lady! lady!’ and look back - he’s gesturing to us to go the other way, and sure enough, around a few bushes we find it, the actual Bauhaus Art Museum. Wonders.
Naturally after all the posting and walking around in the cold and then high-speed taxi shenanigans, we head straight for the cafe. The service is marginally faster than the speed of erosion, but eventually we get our baguettes and coffees. I’m flaked out by now, and M not far behind. But Berlin has been difficult for us; we haven’t got to see very much (although I must say that if all we’d seen were the two concerts, I’d be very happy). We spend a gob-smacking hour walking the exhibition, seeing familiar designs and objects, and reminding me of some of the long-lost art classes I had at my extremely ordinary high school. I recognise more than I’d expected. I was particularly delighted at the shop, where I saw ‘Stickles’, a toy from my childhood - notched coloured circles which interlocked into 3 dimensional shapes. I enjoyed seeing the cutting edge Bauhaus teasets and office chairs - these styles are as fresh and practical today as they were extreme modern minimalism in their day. Wonderful. M encourages me to buy something, but the only things I really want are all too impractical to carry with us - ceramic, glass, large... I do LUST after the vases, which are square or rectangular blocks of glass, with a vase shape carved inside them and given a frosted finish. Completely impractical - heavy, breakable, expensive and foolish. DAMN.
We went back on the bus, had a quick dinner, and then packed furiously, ready for an early start to take the train to Freiburg, where I am looking forward so much to seeing my family.
During the night I suffer two severe asthma attacks - they’ve been on the increase for a week or so.. in the morning I drag myself out of bed, sweating and shaking. I try going through the usual ‘there, there, you’ll survive’ morning routine - shower, unguents, coffee... but I nearly collapse in the shower, I’m so hot (and yes, I did turn the water temp down to nearly goosebump levels); I can’t face the coffee for fear of nausea; I try to put on some clothes and my hands are shaking.. at this point I have to say to M that I don’t think I can make it. We indulge in a bit of swearing, crying and hand-holding, then he shapes up in his usual uber-wonderful way and begins to be very practical about what must be done.
I take a bucket of oral steroids - my only alternative at this stage. I *could* ring an ambulance; or try to see the doctor, but the thought of negotiating the medical system in a foreign country (and in spite of our unnecessary fears in Russa) is simply too much, I ache to just lie down and shut my eyes. And shake quietly to myself with a teddy bear nearby.
M speaks immediately to the hotel ppl and they quickly confirm we can keep the room. Then when he is certain that I’m stable for now, and don’t want him to try to get onto the doc, he goes to the nearest big train station (at the Zoo, if you want to know) and for a very small fee, only a few euros, is able to transfer our tickets to tomorrow’s train. Phew. He’s back quicky, with today’s English papers. I’m out to it, I vaguely hear the door open, next thing I know it’s three hours later and I’m awake looking for a puffer and thanking the goddesses that I can stay quietly, safely and near medical help if I need it. I nearly made it onto that train, what finished me off was the fear of having a huge attack while travelling and having NO help to hand, and my only option being to get off at some random town/city and go through the exhausting business of hospital/doctor/hotel etc etc. Not a happy thought.
I’m writing this bit on Wednesday, on the train, having benefitted enormously from the rest and the onset of the drugs. I’ll still have to take it quietly, and see a doc in Freiburg, but there we have the advantage of knowing that my sis-in-law has a good doc - we saw her last time when I’d hurt my back - and generally being in the bosom of the family and with native speakers who know the ‘system’. Saves a LOT of time, that does.
M also benefitted from the rest yesterday - after he’d returned from fixing the tickets he slept as well, saying he’d needed to catch up. So there was a silver lining. We even tottered out, just across the road to the good Italian restaurant, knowing that I could get ‘safe’ food - ie food that wouldn’t have crunchy bits or chilli or rice, these being things which can catch in my throat and set off more koffing. M said I was just trying to even up the odds, after his Russian drama. Huh. I have NO desire to spend 5 days in hospital anywhere, thank you. I’ve done quite enough of THAT!
I *have* wondered if we were foolish to take on this trip. The triumph (or blindness) of hope over experience. And I have also wondered if we should keep going, especially in the last three weeks. It’s been hard yakka, first with M’s illness and recovery; then my gradual descent into throat virus/sinus/asthma problems. I don’t have an easy answer - at what point does one give up? Not just give up the money, but the people; the places; the hopes and expectations; the unexpected excitements and the unpredictable events... I guess if M’s Russian doktors had said ‘ze liver she is shotsky’ we might have pulled the plug and retreated to excellent Australian medical care. Ditto if I ended up in a similar state and a white-coat pointed out that asthma stressors riddled our proposed pathway.. for now, we’ll carry on, and I expect we’ll finish. We’ve made it (in half an hour) to family territory. From here we can get back to Helsinki easily, no more long train trips. The only part I could happily ditch is the 5 days in Seoul, staying instead one night, then flying on through another overnight stop in HK and thence to Sydney. I predict crying when we land there.
Let’s hope Seoul is spiffy enough to cause some excitement. Let’s hope Seoul has some fabric! I have totally failed to find textiles of practically any kind, unless you all want shawls. The end of summer fashions sales are at full pitch, but high end designer duds are not what I see my friends and family wearing. Unless you are all secretly decked out in Stella and Chanel and YSL and I just think you’ve done the ironing for once...
I gotta go, it’s almost time to start heaving luggage down from the racks and lining up at the door to leap off - we have a whole 2 minutes to de-train in Freiburg before this extremely nice new and well-staffed German train departs. We enjoyed the dining-car - full service! The only train trip where we’ve had such a thing; the rest of the trains have only had a sort of kiosk, sometimes with no tables and chairs.
9:21pm, Freiburg, safe and delighted in the bosom of the family.
We arrived, de-trained easily, and were met by three beautiful women - my sis-in-law (my OTHER sis-in-law, who is easily as lovely) - and two of her daughters; the eldest who is 16 going on 21 and gorgeous and elegant and unspoiled, and her youngest daughter, who is therefore (counts on fingers.... ) nearly 13, ah yes, she told me we’re missing her birthday by only a few days. She is still round-faced and goofy and is SO like her daddy (MY youngest brother, got that?). We had a rousing family dinner, special south German food - spaetzle with onions, schnitzel, salad, and then apple and plum strudel. NOM. All home-cooked and such a welcome change from restaurant food. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve eaten plenty of really wonderful things (and, that reminds me, the blog is overdue for a food run-down, I’ll get onto that), but nothing beats real food.
Now I am exhausted, slightly wheezy, incredibly thankful for the quick effect of the steroids which is the only reason I’ve been able to make this trip today. And in the hands of some pretty special peoples. I said over dinner something I’ve not wanted to mention, although purrhaps it’s been obvious to you readers out there? - if we hadn’t been coming to see our family, I think I would have said to Michael after Riga - let’s just go home. Just STOP with all this half-alive, worried about poor health, too tired to enjoy things, fed up with different languages, etc etc. - all the things which should make travelling worth it have been making think it’s not enough, because of my dang busted body. So.
Today brought to you by ICE (Inter-City-Express), a wonderful husband who knows just when to say the encouraging things, and my dear German family. There’s a bit of ‘Enjoy’ in there but it can hardly compete with such earthly ravishments.
Thursday 18th September
Oh my oh my oh my... the BEST day. Slept in, read books, went up to the family for a late lunch and stayed until now (10.30pm). Talked, drank buckets of coffee, went for a long walk, more walking, hugging girlies and teasing girlies and watching tv and drinking more coffee and singing and eating and making plans.... bliss. Just... BLISS. No hunter-gathering, no organising, no timetables or taxis or decisions.
And! the plans we have are all for ordinary things - going out to buy nice things for me to cook tomorrow night, sorting out a concert for Saturday night, going on Sunday to Mass to hear the girlies sing with their choir; my cousin Sarah coming from Basel for the day. We’ll definitely stay an extra day here, therefore reducing our planned time in Frankfurt from 2 days to one. Easy. Wonderful. A very fine way to finish our holiday on a high, oh such a lovely high note, and face the business of getting home. This is better. We must remember this for our next trip - if our shares don’t plummet in value and all the airlines in the world stop flying and we can’t sail cos they got no fuel either and no-one can row that far...
Today brought to you by Fair Trade coffee, eau-de-gorgeousgirls, and a little bit of Gucci just for fun.