Snapshots of Bavaria

Preamble – Childhood Memories

Therese NeumannChildhood memories can be notoriously unreliable.  Four small children sitting on a railway station in the very early hours, waiting for a connection to Konnersreuth. Kindly monks putting us up in their roomy monastery. First time under a duvet, which kept falling off. Easter Sunday with these lovely, gentle souls, who had made meringue lambs for us. And, of course, the main reason for visiting – for darling Ma to see Therese Neumann, the stigmatist.

We were living in RAF Pfalzdorf at the time, so that was a hefty rail trip with four little people, but I guess Dad probably liked the adventure too. He certainly made an impact on the trip, and a dear lifelong friend in Christiane Fuchs.

Luckily we were always well-behaved, observing with our big brown, slightly frightened, eyes. Maybe that charmed 1962 German people as they were certainly helpful and friendly to us.

Revisiting Bavaria has long been on my list of places to re-visit, though it ended up being a last minute decision with about three weeks’ notice. It was also a second trip on EasyJet so part of the plan was to travel extra light, relying on Ghost dresses, one pair of shorts, creams and potions decanted into teeny pots and one pair of flat glam sandals apart from Toms for walking duties to go with Gap black trousers, black bomber jacket and Rufus Roo substituting for a handbag. And, surprisingly, all that and more fitted into the reduced EasyJet cabin case of a ‘guaranteed 50x40x20cm’. Probably only possible in summer months though.

(If you get to the end of these snapshots you’ll see that EasyJet reneged on its guarantee.)

Another reason for travelling light, apart from not trusting EasyJet (with reason!!!) was chopping and changing hotels and spending a fair bit of time on trains.

En Route – Tues 05/08/14 – 4pm South Terminal

Retail therapy accomplished including the foolish purchase of a pair of rather pretty diamante flip flops… with massive soles. They took up a lot of the last remaining space in the teeny cabin case. Also foolish: putting my euros on a Moneycorp card. I ended up paying twice to get the money out of an ATM. (Back home, I am still not sure if there is anything left on the card and will have to go back to Gatwick to find out. God knows what I was thinking of.)

Having booked in online and got my boarding passes, I am unsure what to do now. I have tested my 50x40x20 and it fits easily into the bag checker. Phew! Now there’s all this time to kill.

After a late lunch, I finally felt (feel?) in a holiday mood. A small glass of wine might have done that, coupled with the expansive sight of an airport runway, and loads of excitable people.

However, having been woken (yet again) in the early hours (01:30hrs) by the screaming brats next door (40 minutes non-stop!!!), the screaming children in the airport threatened a serious downer. Thanks to those regular bad-tempered screams, I now almost cannot stand the sound of children at all. Yet once upon a time I used to be charmed even by temper tantrums. Never again.

Meanwhile: great time to remember I haven’t checked out how to get from the airport to the Ramada, and it’s too late to book a shared cab. Shall have to wing it.

The hotel’s website says to take the S8 to Daglfing and then take a bus. Can’t see me doing that late at night, and to make myself understood if no-one speaks English. But it’ll have to be something cheaper than a non-shared cab which is €60-70!

Map Planned VisitI rather wish I had planned this better as tomorrow I will also have to take the train from Munich to Nuremberg, which will also involve train travel of some sort. The Ramada is outside the city centre, in their business sector, right beside an exhibition complex. And, to make matters worse, I’ve also booked it for my final night. Changing it will mean losing my booking fee. Pox.

Still, I’m not that bothered about sightseeing in Munich as the grand plan is to get to Konnersreuth as well as see as much of Nuremberg as I can. Also on the wish list is the Krystallmuseum  in Riedenburg – dependent on time and finances. Meanwhile, am sitting in the wrong spot for wi-fi so no chance of using the app to check in.

Past midnight so technically 06/08/14

Supper = one packet of peanuts (restaurant closed) and a glass of Merlot Grenache (bar still open) (wine=delicious) courtesy of the Ramada Munchen Messe. Bathed and in bed. Scribbling notes.

Well it definitely was not the easiest of places to get to. The cab was indeed €65 so I got the S-Bahn…which took a kind lady to sort out.

Aside: the S-Bahn is like our local mainline; the U-Bahn is the equivalent of our underground; and the DB Deutsche Bahn is longer distance national rail travel. I think.

Anyway, surprisingly, very few people speak or even understand English – even those in tourist locations ie the airport!

Even TV programmes have only a few news channels in English while sitcoms/ dramas are available in French, Italian, Arabic and even Chinese. Yet I remember working here in the mid-90s when plenty of people spoke good English. What on earth has happened? And so much for the EU when a major partner cannot even be bothered to cater for our language yet every other TD&H one is. Harumph!

But, back to the U-Bahn information desk. A very kind lady could manage a bit of English and took me down to the ticket machine where we had to work out how many stops there were to Ostbahnhof, where it would then be easier for me to get a taxi, which wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, to the Ramada.

Some strange looking ticket emerged, having paid €12.50 using the Moneycorp debit card with my €uros on. Apparently, when I start my journey, I have to shove it into a blue ticket punching thingy which marks it with date and time. Then no-one looks at it again. Well at least not at that time or on that route.

Seems I was not the only non-German totally perplexed by the how, where, what etc of getting a ticket on the U-Bahn. But I got on the right train – confirming with fellow travellers that I was on the right one – and, after about 30-40 minutes, I arrived at Ostbahnhof and looked lost, yet again.

Struggled, yet again, to find someone who understood enough English to point me in the right direction, but did, heading up the stairs hauling the 50x40x20 (another reason my gratitude for its small size kept increasing, as I did quite a lot of hauling it up non-moving stairs!).

There were two cops at the top of the stairs but even they could understand ‘Taxi, bitte?’

Sure enough, there were plenty of taxis and it ended up costing me around €20. I was a little worried that the guy had the meter running and had no idea where the Ramada was, but he said the equivalent of ‘don’t worry’ and turned off the meter while he studied the map I had brought. (Glad I printed all those off as they were sorely needed!)

And within about 10-15 minutes, I was in the hotel. A strange pokey reception but a very large restaurant area and plenty of seats bordering the main window. Practically all with seated Muslims – and one in the queue ahead of me.

When it was my turn to check in a smiling lady upgraded me as I was still a bit shell-shocked at the hotel being rather out of the way, and I could no longer get anything to eat. Hence the peanuts. The wine was gratis.

Oh I forgot to mention that all those teensy pots of melasma lotions and potions and a spray of hair conditioner and ‘fat hair’, got me stopped at airport security. I fully expected them to be confiscated (hence the teensy pots) but they waved me through after taking my word that they were what they actually were/are.

Everyone at the airport was incredibly kind and polite, even when I got grumpy with Moneycorp.

But, back in the Ramada – a fabulous shower unit. It had multiple options on the showerhead so felt nicely massaged as well as clean. Apart from totally drenching the outside floor from angling it incorrectly…

Don’t mind so much coming back to this hotel on last night.

On the S8 to Ostbahnhof from the airport, I did have a brief chat with a lady who understood a teensy bit of English. I told her about Konnersreuth and she said there was a joke about it but wouldn’t translate it. Said it wasn’t funny anyway. I bit my lip to stop responding re German sense of humour.

Aside: practically no-one tourism-related had heard of either Konnersreuth or Therese Neumann. By a total fluke, the man who sold me the Bayern Ticket to Marktredwitz in Nuremberg Bahnhof did and made a sign on his palms to signify the stigmata. He clearly was a very religious man and asked me to pray for him.

Having planned most of this trip to be on the go, I do feel slightly worried at the equally multiple options for train tickets and lack of English speakers. Am scribbling a rough plan for tomorrow (ie later today 6/8/14): walk to the U-Bahn at Messestadt West, take tube to Munchen Hauptbahnhof. Find a ticket office for the D-Bahn and get a return to Nuremberg.

Flicked through a million channels with only BBC World in the Queen’s English (as opposed to CNN and Bloomberg and some other American and Australian news channels). Lots of American sitcoms but all dubbed. Peter Florrick and Rufus Sewell speaking in German accents didn’t quite work for me, so I slept.

Day 2 Wed 6th August

Bahn Blues

Later the same morning (6/8/14), having checked out, I did indeed walk down to Messestadt West and needed yet another person to translate the ticket machine so I could get the right ticket (and remember to get it stamped), heading off to the Hauptbahnhof.

Bahn Tickets

Actually, typing up all these notes, I am surprised I got anywhere at all because I think German tickets are way more complicated than they need be. They must think so too given the printed paper directions including times, platform and other gumpf that accompanies the Bayern Tickets (like an all-day travel card but dependent on which zones – or something like that).

It was also cheaper to buy a Bayern Ticket to go to and return from Nuremberg.  If I had been cannier, I could have made better use of its flexibility, stopping off en route or whatever. Or maybe not, given I was carting along my 50x40x20 case and wearing the delightful (not) Roo.

So… I got out of the tube (U-Bahn) and carted the case up the escalator to the mainline ticket office and had the misfortune to get a Korean-looking Rosa Klebb. Boy, talk about unhelpful.

ICE – the fast train – is €110.  I paid for the ICE ticket only for her to demand a credit card with my name on as proof as the Moneycorp was simply an unmarked card holding my cash – not a credit card. All non-tube tickets apparently need your name on them. You have to write it on the paper ticket though I gather some of the tickets can be shared – hence including name/s. Or something like that.

Anyway, having paid, but not acceptably, for the ICE, she gestured for me to put the Moneycorp card back into the machine so she could give me my money back. (And all because they want proof of your names and date of birth before they’ll issue you with tickets – could you imagine the same in England getting a return to Birmingham from Victoria?)

I then got two separate slips which I didn’t understand and she didn’t explain but which someone else told me was one taking the money and the other refunding it. By gum, they use up a lot of paper and toner on all these print outs.

Then I went off the idea of dealing further with her. The unsmiling sourness of her face made me distrust her totally.

Wandered across the hall only to be told that those counters were just for local travel – again in German, btw. I guessed from what she was pointing at. So back I crossed but went to another counter. A bloke. Sat like he had a poker up his rear and spoke in much the same manner but he did tell me (in English) I could get a cheaper ticket on a non-ICE train (much cheaper – €50).

This too however required a pint of blood. Okay not quite, but date of birth and the equivalent of a pint of blood in questions so I paid cash and had a coffee and sandwich while waiting (ages) for the train which he said would take three hours and which I could not deviate from and I would have to wait two hours for it to arrive.

Except I didn’t wait ages, being an impatient critter, and an untrusting one. Went to another information booth (there are a lot of them) (all needed!) and discovered that there was not only an earlier train but that it was much faster than the 3 hours quoted by poker bloke.

Got on it – along with a zillion others. Trains are very popular in these here parts!

At last, I could start to relax.Nuremberg

There is something utterly timeless about the Bavarian countryside. Unlike cramped England, there was endless space and fields which looked as unchanged as they must have appeared in 1962 when we last travelled part of this route as a family. And chocolate box houses nestled among lots (and lots) of trees. All very calming.

Holiday Inn Nuremberg

No wonder my memory retained that trip to Konnersreuth from 1962. How my parents managed with four small children, speaking no German, and from much further away (RAF Pfalzdorf) is beyond me. But then both of my parents were extraordinarily determined human beings – and where there were challenges, they’d just ask God for help. Who invariably obliged through some sentient or other.

I want so much to go there but the hotel and various tourist information booths tell me it would involve taking two trains, two buses and that there are complications on the line, meaning delays. So, no sooner do I get there but I’d have to turn around and come back.

However my mind was fully convinced (about not bothering to go) when I popped into a Catholic Club here in Nuremberg Altstadt and even they had never heard of Therese Neumann – and barely of Konnersreuth.

First Proper Evening Meal

Red Light NurembergFound an Ayurvedic Ceylonese (sic) restaurant very close to the Holiday Inn AND I don’t have to pass the prostitutes and strip joints to get to it either. Phew!

Food is mostly stuff I can’t eat but had a delicious papaya salad and a few mouthfuls of red rice. The smells were all delicious and evocative of eating with relatives in South India.

I can recall what I ate during the day, just not which days. However, one thing – semi-vegetarian. Virtually everything is stodgy and fattening. I suppose the only reason I didn’t come back three times the size is because I walked so much.

Re the semi-vegetarian bit: since the car crash in 2002, I have had grilled fish of some description about 4-6 times a year. This is partly because so many vegetables are currently off my diet due to allergic reactions. No nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines, peppers, chillies). No spinach, and even broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage can bring me out in a painful rash if undercooked. No rice (though I do like to tempt providence from time to time). No soy at all. All a bit tedious really.

So, as all forms of nourishment are sentient life to me, I will now eat fresh fish from time to time to save from starving when eating out.

Day 3 Thurs 07/08/14

On Train To Marktredwitz

After yesterday’s defeatist attitude, I awoke with the bright idea of taking a direct train to Mitterteich (also a very strong memory) and getting a bus or taxi to Konnersreuth from there. Nope. That too involves multiple train changes. So I asked a woman at the information kiosk what the distance was from Marktredwitz to Konnersreuth. 14kms.

Do-able by bus or taxi. And it’s a fast-ish train from Nuremberg. Hence sitting in this carriage waiting for the off.

And, finally (as mentioned earlier), the guy who sold me the Bayern Ticket had actually heard of both Konnersreuth and Therese Neumann, making a gesture on his hand to indicate the stigmata. He wished me God speed, and to tell him about it when I returned. A good omen, I felt.

(Aside: I remembered but didn’t spot him.)

Meanwhile, I finally sussed what the Bayern Ticket was/is. A one-day travel card (Ed: yes I know I have mentioned this earlier.) throughout Bavaria – or at least this region of Bavaria.

There is Lower Franconia, Upper Franconia, Middle Franconia, Upper Pfalz, Lower Bavaria (oddly in the upper half of the map), Upper Bavaria (oddly in the lower half of the map) and Bavarian Schwabia or Swabia. Nuremberg is in Middle Franconia, as is Konnersreuth, and Munich is in Upper Bavaria. Well at least that is what one of my maps said, although a guy in one map shop said they were often changed.

By the by as I am now on a moving train to Marktredwitz.

Such gloriously unchanging hop fields – or at least that is what it seems like – until brought into foul modernity with an expanse of solar panels. Peace and tranquillity disturbed.

2pm On Train Back To Nuremberg

Meister Bar MarktredwitzMarktredwitz is completely unremarkable but in a pleasantly tranquil way. I had a spot of lunch at the Meister Bär Hotel while waiting for the taxi, organised by the lovely receptionist who also spoke rather good English. (Yes, a quiet backwater where someone speaks good English versus a metropolitan city where most appear not to.)

Sitting in the warm conservatory, nibbling a slice of salty, herby garlic bread and sipping a decent red, I felt all tension disappear. The taxi would be no more than €30 for the journey there and back with him waiting for me for about ten minutes. (It was circa €28 plus I gave him a reasonable tip as he waited considerably longer.)

I know realise we probably never visited Konnersreuth at all and certainly did not stay over. Easter Sunday mass was held in something akin to a cathedral – with Therese Neumann seated behind the altar. The monastery where we spent the night had huge rooms – or at least that’s what it felt like to a 10 year old.

Konnersreuth is small, clean, elegant and tranquil. But tiny. There is a church but it too is small. Definitely unlikely we ever came here at all.

The cemetery is also small.

Therese Neumann GraveBut I paid respects at Therese Neumann’s grave and then the taxi driver motioned that he wanted to take a photo (yup – no English and we ‘conversed’ with me using a dictionary!) Hence the photo to the left of this. I can assure you I was totally respectful and prayed for loved ones and those who asked for prayers.

Prayers for me included miracles re ‘you know who!!’

I think we stayed in either Mitterteich, since it resonates strongly still in my mind, or Waldsassen, though that name is less strong in my memory. I had neither time nor finances to hike around either to find the monastery or cathedral, so got him to take me back to the railway station.

Scataside: Spiritual Journey in German is Geistig Fahrt. Wise El pose015

Again feeling calmed by the spacious, uncluttered fields.

Apart from the solar panel farms. I could feel my mind expand with every mile of glorious Bavarian countryside.

Got back into a very hot Nuremberg (after a very chilly Marktredwitz) for late lunch. Had to get more euros from the ATM and pay a fee – again – feeling distinctly miffed. Never again. Plus there seemed to be no mechanism to check how much you have taken and how much is left. Never again!

Tomorrow is Third Reich Day and tonight is Piggy Night.

After some retail therapy, I headed back to the hotel, only to take the wrong route, going north-west of the old town. Very beautiful and very classy but way out of my way and, after going round in circles for a bit, I found the right track and got back.

After a long shower, I had my fully-justified piggy meal in the Holiday Inn restaurant. The food here was more than quite acceptable and meant I could use my credit card instead of the fast disappearing euros.

Piggy Night is the one night in the holiday week when I have more than normal to eat and drink, kicking off with some kind of exotic cocktail, a main meal of garlic omelette and green salad with red wine, finishing off with a massive fatty pudding. Probably not hugely piggy by some standards but a lot for me.

As it was still light and hot out, I went to walk off the pud. I did a quick tour and then, as I headed back, I saw a woman in the street near the hotel wearing the tiniest thong and even tinier top. Trying to avoid making eye contact, I looked straight ahead and went directly into the hotel.

The highlight of the day was definitely the kind woman in the Meister Bär and the taxi driver trying to add a little weight to the visit to Konnersreuth. A real lightness of being, despite being adjacent to a red light district.

Tomorrow there will be lot more walking…

Day 4 Fri 08/08/14 Third Reich Day

Documentation Centre

Documentation Centre NurembergIn Italian restaurant – inside – with a glass of Prosecco. It is roasting hot and I am still attempting to cool down after walking to the Documentation Centre and Zeppelinfeld – and back.

Aside: I am surprised at some defeatist attitudes here. First it was with trying to get to Konnersreuth and being told it was too difficult and to give up. Then deciding to walk to the Documentation Centre. Oh it’s too far many people kept telling me. Take Streetcar 9. Take the U-Bahn somewhere or other and change. Too far on ‘fuss’. (NB umlauts don’t seem to work here.) And so on.

Documentation Centre NurembergIt actually took me around forty minutes walking slowly – partially because of the exceptional heat and partly because I wanted to make a meditation of it.

It was, it must be admitted, a dull walk, mostly along the main road, but an extremely straightforward and easy walk. It was only because of its dullness that I planned to take the bus back but I actually discovered a better route walking back, and took it. I’m guessing it was about 2-3 miles each way, so not far by my usual Sunday constitutional.

Best of all, despite the scorching sun, I didn’t even work up a sweat… until I climbed the almost vertical steps to the Documentation Centre – with even more, going up ever higher, inside. And all the steps had gaps so you could see how high up you were. Didn’t do my height fright any good at all, but I kept going, praying I wouldn’t fall down or miss my footing.

All for not a lot really, as I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know. It was a bit dry, dull and emotionless – even the remains of the Congress Hall didn’t resonate with those massed voices and past powerful energies.

Wise El pose015Scataside: Not plagued by foreign travel smells. Plagued, however, with 3+ days constipation. I presume that comes from all the travelling and not wanting to use public conveniences.

Nuremberg Trials Court Room 600

Nuremberg TrialsAs I had to pass the hotel, I had a brief pitstop to clean up and then headed back out again to walk to the Nuremberg Trials Court Room. Again, they thought I was mad to walk even though Furtherstrasse was only a couple of miles from the hotel on the outskirts of the Altstadt.

Unfortunately, I ended up misreading the road signs and headed north where practically no-one seemed to know where either Furtherstrasse was or the Justice Palace, despite it being on or off a main road. In the end, a Jewish lady (she was wearing a Star of David) guided me back in the right direction.

Nuremberg TrialsA straight road almost from the hotel… so not entirely sure, even now, how I ended up going off the beaten track. Perhaps too much heat and, even more, too much walking. I was certainly exhausted by the time I found the ‘palace’ – where nothing looked open.

An older Australian guy leaning heavily on a walking cane was also looking for the entrance. Practically nothing was signposted but we eventually found it. Cue him taking the lift and me – tired feet notwithstanding – walking up three flights of stairs.

Just typing these notes is making me feel exhausted. I must have been nuts. Or trying to work off the stodgy food eaten.

The top floor had a lot of interesting information about the trials. To do justice to it, I would have had to spend considerably longer there but as I was feeling severe information overload, I did a rapid circuit then down to Courtroom 600.

Nuremberg Trials Courtroom 600Not a lot to say about Courtroom 600. It wasn’t very big. There was – again – no sense of history. Mark you, that could be down to there being a bus tour and a bunch of sweaty-smelling people. It is very difficult to tune in in such circumstances. So my visit there too was definitely in and out.

Seen on walk back: Noris Bikes Nuremberg

Day 5 Sat 09/08/14

Hallerwiese – Pegnitz Canal Walk

Dreadful night’s sleep due to all night-party outside my bedroom window. Second night of high jinks outside. Holidays are supposed to provide a mental hiatus from the usual stresses and strains, but I have not managed to switch off at all.

And yet Nuremberg really is a very attractive city in a chocolate box kind of way. Staying in the Altstadt has meant everything historical has been within walking distance, so no excuse for lazing in the hotel or worrying about cab fares.

Canal Walk CanalWalk (2) CanalWalk (3) CanalWalk (4) CanalWalk (5) CanalWalk (6)










That said, this morning, the romance of Nuremberg is fading as I decide to do a Pegnitz (canal) walk. A strong smell of pee invades my nostrils and the sun no longer hides a multitude of sins.

Walking beside the Pegnitz via a non-canal extension to Hallerwiese (park), the Hesperides Gardens and St Johannes Friedhof (historical cemetery), and back into and around the Altstadt feels autumnal, sadder, with diminished hope after the optimistic blazing sunshine of the last few days.

Following the Pegnitz wasn’t quite the river-hugging walk I had believed though. It cut through the old town – dividing the Sebald Quarter from the Lorenz Quarter (defined by their churches) – under and around the old city walls and involved walking back and forth across various bridges (there are lots of bridges), through tunnelled pathways, park areas and city buildings, and got me thinking that Nuremberg’s old town wouldn’t survive long if there was a serious flood.

(Typing up these notes, detoured to google ‘Nuremberg/floods’ … Seems World War 2 did have some benefits in flood defences being built along with all the other extensive post-war regeneration work.)

I did have a pitstop at 10am, desperate for the loo. Nothing was open till 11am despite it being a Saturday and despite it being holiday season. Still, a kind bloke, at a restaurant beside the Kaiserberg, let me use their toilet.

Next challenge: to find somewhere to have breakfast prior to resuming the canal walk.

My notes indicate being severely unimpressed with German waiter skills. I sat and sat and sat… then moved to another place partly because the menu was rubbish and there was a heavy smoker near me.  Then I sat and sat and sat (beside the rather manky looking river though the ducks seemed happy enough) despite the manager telling the girl to serve me. And it wasn’t even busy. So I moved again.

Service really is dire here though they are unfailingly polite and friendly. Just disorganised and slow. As for anyone asking ‘Are you ready to order/ Do you want anything’ …forget it. It just doesn’t seem to cross anyone’s mind, that little thing called ‘customer service’.

Wandered off again and spotted an Australian Bar and Kitchen – which also did breakfasts that vaguely resembled our own. The others didn’t, and I was going to have continental stodgy stodge of some description. In the end, I had something that passed for scrambled eggs and then it was back on the very long river walk.

Not sure where all my energy came from given the second night of interrupted sleep from partying outside the bedroom window, though partying is infinitely preferable to those screaming bad-tempered brats.

13:30hrs and back in the hotel after a brief pitstop for a beer (unfinished) and veggie sushi (picked at and half-eaten. Drinking red wine now to (a) get rid of the beer taste and (b) to help me have a pm snooze to make up for last night.

Post snooze plans: to do the sketches of river walk then go out again. Or maybe not. I’ve now gone past my holiday threshold, despite there still being plenty of things to do and places to visit. Perhaps if I come back, I’ll hire a car and be more nomadic…

Did I mention this is cyclists’ heaven? They even have over half the pavement marked out as theirs. Pedestrians have to scrunch into the remaining bit along with the overspill from shops.

16:15hrs – Had around an hour’s kip, didn’t do any sketches and went out again. As I walked towards the centre, barely five minutes from the hotel, I could hear loud massed shouting. Such loud group shouting so near to the Nuremberg Rallies was slightly disconcerting. I asked an old lady what the noise was and she said ‘fussball’ (umlaut not showing) and shrugged her shoulders.

It was actually a few hundred Yazidi protesters.

Yazidi Rally Nuremberg SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503My first thought was it was an anti-Israel protest. I asked the head polizei (the only one wearing a different uniform and clearly in overall control) if it was anti-Jew or pro- or anti-Christian. Neither. He smiled widely and said ‘no, no, no’ and proceeded to launch into an explanation (in English) why they were protesting.

Mark you, I’m not exactly sure what I would have done if they were anti-Israel or anti-Jew. Knowing me, I would have waded in somehow. Just as well my brave foolhardiness was not needed.

Meanwhile, the sun came back out and I made the most of my last evening here. No more long walks – no more stodge, so no need of long walks either – says she quaffing an iced coffee which is mostly cream and ice-cream!

Altstadt NurembergThe Yazidi protestors came back. With Saturday shoppers still out in force, my wariness of crowds kicked in and I headed back to the hotel for supper by way of the Kaiserberg to work off the ice-cream.

Marriage Sculpture NurembergSupper was not so good this time, despite the usual prompt attention and friendliness. The ‘green salad’ came topped with tomatoes.  Although they changed it, I am sure they just hoicked the offending toms off as my skin did later erupt (and, more than a week later, it still has rashes and various food-related blights).

Day 6 Sun 10/08/14

Back to Ramada Munich-Messe

On train back to Munich. More drunken arguments outside the window last night so very tired indeed. I left the hotel early and walked to the Hauptbahnhof not knowing what train I would be catching.

It was not as sunny but still pleasant weather and I thought I’d do some sight-seeing in Munich. Not a lot as I was wearing the Roo and carting the 50x40x20.

(As at time of typing, 10 days after the event, this is all now like some alternative dimension. I can barely remember much at all, so just as well I made some notes. I can recall walking to the Hauptbahnhof from the Holiday Inn but have only a slight mental image of waiting for, then taking the train to Munich.

As usual, I do recall asking more than one person if I was on the right platform and then on the right train, but then I do that in England as well, so no change there!

I do also recall trying to find the U-Bahn the same way I came but instead going a different way. Anyway, my notes were scribbled at 21:30hrs in bed.)

21:30hrs in bed – A bit of a challenging day.

I mistakenly got off the tube (from Munich Hauptbahnhof) at Messestadt Ost instead of West (and this is despite the woman in the information booth telling me it was West and even underlining it on the map – but then I was very tired).

Instead of getting back on the wretched tube, I walked around – and around – the Halle (huge exhibition centre) in the blazing sun for about an hour before the Ramada hove into view.

Out of the five people asked only one man running with his girl-friend (who ignored me) told me to keep going and then turn right. Another man told me to go back on the tube as it was too far. Another said ‘nicht fichtstehen’ and seemed terrified of making eye contact. A Halle security guard told me to go down into the railway area and take a taxi.

Yet the actual distance from the tube was probably only two miles maximum. Obviously just a few hundred yards if I had got off the right blooming stop though.

I decided to walk slowly, enjoying the ‘scenery’ – well the road was straight, tree-lined and clean – and, when I walked into the hotel, I joked about my failing to follow instructions to the receptionist. Not a word did I mention about checking in.

Strewth! Got an unsmiling Teutonic bark about not being able to register till 3pm (it was around 12-ish) and could barely get a word in. Except I did. I was hot, I was sweaty, I needed the toilet and I was not going to let anyone – anyone! – talk to me like that.

In my best loud RP voice, I said if I was too early she should have told me to take a seat until I could register, that she was very rude and to please call the manager. Oh and that I wanted to use the toilet. NOW. She pointed me in the right direction and said I could leave the case with her. Absolutely not, I replied. Given that wretched welcome, it would not surprise me if she let someone walk off with it, I fumed.

When I came back upstairs again, the duty manager was waiting for me, all smiles and regrets. I explained that that was no way to talk to paying guests and that a simple explanation would have sufficed. Perhaps a spot of training might help, I added.

No rooms were ready as yet but to please wait (as indeed I had suggested) and they would bring me a glass of wine. I went to sit at an outside table and they did bring me a glass of wine which I was going to pay for but it was another gratis.

The Valkyrie also came out with my (upgraded) room details and was hugely apologetic. She gave me some sort of heart shaped magnet – but I hadn’t a clue what it meant even after some explanation about something or other or whether it was meant to be kept or used in some way or given to someone else. I ended up leaving it on the table.

I must admit, I was still grumpy but could see they wanted to make amends so smiled and tried to resurrect my usual good grace.

Drink finished, room assigned, I went up to take a long, very long, shower. Hunger pangs kicked in and I went to try and find somewhere to eat. Not in the main restaurant. Closed. The ‘brasserie’ didn’t serve omelettes or anything eggy, so I went to the H2, a sister hotel next door.

Peaceful Overgrown GardenGot some scrambled eggs and a Prosecco and sat in their very novel gardens. Meaning, as you can see from the photo, a real wilderness that makes my own look positively manicured by comparison!

That said, for the second time this holiday, I felt totally at peace and at one with the world. (The first time was in Marktredwitz in the MB Hotel.)

It was scorchingly hot, probably intensified by the four multiple-storeyed walls hemming in this patch of greenery. I was alone out here and there wasn’t even a hint of sea or swimming pools, yet the sense of holiday relaxation was immense. If only I could have bottled it!

Bavarian PancakeCame back to the Ramada ‘brasserie’ for coffee and pudding and decided to finish my holiday with a German pancake – yes, more stodge. Oh dear. Totally inedible. And I have never before seen a pancake look like large bullets of fried flour! (See photo.) Quite revolting but I paid as I had eaten the fruit that came with it and was pleased not to have added to holiday weight gain. (I don’t think I did because of all the walking…)

Went upstairs for another shower and hair wash and a strong desire to be back home. I half wished I had gone back into Munchen for that last minute sight-seeing but most of me was overfilled with seeing places and doing touristy things.

The day ended with yet another (eating) challenge.

Oh dear. I was so looking forward to a good meal to end an interesting visit to Bavaria. Instead I got something in tomato juice with lots of tomatoes and peppers, despite saying I was allergic to them. They assured me that they didn’t just hoick off the tomatoes and peppers but re-made the meal. Unfortunately, as I ate – very carefully – I spotted a huge hair on a piece of cucumber. Cue end of meal.

They didn’t charge me but, waiting for the bill (a long time!), it left a sour taste so I wasn’t minded to leave a tip despite intending to leave a hefty one. I got a horrible feeling as if I was to blame for everything from the unwelcome welcome to this – as if I was trying to pull a fast one. Me, who takes honesty to stupid degrees sometimes!

It wasn’t as if the place was crowded either, though I didn’t take it personally. I just think from my overall experiences – and observing them in general – that Germans have a different attitude to ‘waiting on tables’ to say the Italians or French. Even Brits at least pay you attention.

Wi-fi was even dodgier than the Wi-Fi in the Holiday Inn so I gave up trying at 21:13hrs and decided to try and sleep.

Aside: why were there so many large groups of burkha-clad women in the Ramada – and apparently also in the Munich Holiday Inn?

I just want to add here that the staff at Ramada Munich-Messe did try to make amends, and quite quickly. However, I have kept the notes as is in the interests of veracity.

Day 7 11/08/14 + End Notes

Munich – Dachau – Home

09:20hrs – Sitting in Henry’s in Munich – parallel to the Hauptbahnhof. An early night meant an early morning. Hence being here so early. For a Monday morning it is exceptionally quiet. And wet. No commuters. No cyclists. Just rain.

I decided against having breakfast at the Ramada and checked out. The previous evening’s guilt about being given a free meal – albeit unfinished on spotting the hair – remained. So I gave one of the girls €10 to give to the staff who served me last night. I presume they did.

It was raining as I walked to Messestadt West – the correct U-Bahn stop! All the previous days of scorching sun instantly became distant memories. But cooler damp weather was in fact a big benefit as I was now wearing my travelling clothes and carting the 50x40x20. Well perhaps not with canvas Toms – which ended up soaked.

I had previously bought a ticket for four hours travel anywhere which I thought would be enough to do a spot of sight-seeing in Munich. However, I was too cold, wet and more than a little fed up for that. I also was not enthralled with Munich either before or now.

Unfortunately, I also had HOURS to kill before the EasyJet flight back. So I went back to the information desk to find out what I could do hereabouts, bearing in mind that my ticket would have to take me wherever and then back on the s8 to the airport.

The nice lady told me to pay a euro more for an all-day ticket instead and then I could take the S-Bahn (S2) and a local bus to Dachau instead. So I did.

That S-Bahn plus local bus trip was not as wearisome as it sounds though I did stand on the wrong platform and found myself going in the opposite direction. Luckily, the S trains like the U trains come fairly frequently so it was a short wait for the train back and then a short hike up some stairs (still with 50x40x20 in tow) to the right platform and the right train.

Just in case, I did a double check and asked a friendly-looking woman, who was with her family. They were Americans, also visiting Dachau. Exiting Dachau station, there were suddenly hordes (well, a lot) all waiting to catch the local bus out to the concentration camp memorial.

DachauThe local bus was not just for tourists and stopped several times. But it was still relatively quick so I felt a little less tense about travelling times. I think the bus fare was just under €2 but you couldn’t buy a return.

On arrival at Dachau, I said goodbye to my American fellow travellers as I knew I would be heading back well before them (or any of the other tourists).

In fact I spent most of the time there in the gift shop, wanting to buy something Jewish or Israeli. Got a ‘hand’ with a Star of David on. Then followed a quick walk up to and partially round the camp – still dragging the 50x40x20…

11:45hrs Dachau bus stop – waiting for bus back to the station.

Having been to Auschwitz, Dachau with or without crowds doesn’t have the same – or really any – emotional impact. Even the words Arbeit Macht Frei are on a small gate that is barely noticeable.

13:10hrs – On S8 to airport. Yes, WAY too early but am so tired of crowds, lifting the 50x40x20 up endless steps and trying to fill time just to say I’ve been somewhere.

As I was about to descend into the S-Bahn, a major lard bucket reversed her bulk without looking where she was going, knocking my case and hitting my foot. Instead of saying the equivalent of ‘sorry’, the fat schweinhund kept saying ‘scheisse, scheisse, scheisse’. Needless to say I slammed straight back with ‘same to you’, mentally thinking ‘You great big fat brick shithouse.’ Obviously, discretion got the better of me and I kept that little retort inside my head.

As if to tell me my seven days of peace were finally coming to an end, this entire journey to the airport was discordantly accompanied by a bad-tempered child, whining and shrieking. The entire forty-odd minute journey. Oh joy. And something to look forward to (not) with the Ps next door. Double joy.

14:40hrs – In the terminal, pre-security, giving up on getting something I can actually eat without some reaction and ending up with a glass of wine and a cherry roulade cheesecake. (Note: a week later and my skin is still reacting with rashes and hives to all this food I don’t normally eat – cannot normally eat.)

Better to while the hours away here in the airport than traipsing the streets of Munich in the rain.

Cleaned up my feet in the loo and massaged them with a ginger and cardamom potion I bought in Müllers which made them tingle a bit more than was strictly comfortable.

Just as well I spent the money landside as Munich duty free is sparse – and more expensive than Gatwick.

Feeling mellow, at last. No longer concerned about home and other people. But decided to go through security and chill out on the other side.

No problems passing through customs but when they asked if I had any fluids the numbers on the lock wouldn’t align so I could open the case. They weren’t bothered and waved me through, but I made a bit of a fuss as I couldn’t open the damned thing for my own benefit.

One of the airport guys tried and couldn’t open it either, so yet another tried and eventually succeeded. I immediately took off the lock and left it in the case.

16:20hrs – parked near a runway, STILL hours to kill though there is free Wi-Fi here – you just have to provide your inside leg measurements first and if you are too slow, you have to re-register. I didn’t bother as I managed to access all I needed to bring me up to date before it wanted another pint.

I will however have to give in to eating stodge or more stodge as I am starving. Finally used up remaining euros on a bottle of water and a huge pretzel thing which almost gave me lockjaw. Gut-clogging, tasted revolting. Constipation is now guaranteed for the next three days. (Aside: my jaw is still sore over a week later!)

19:05hrs – and either Private Eye has suddenly become laugh out loud or I am losing it big time. But the time really has gone by quite quickly.

Bloke who was snoozing a table away from me has now woken up and is staring at me. Looks vaguely familiar. Like Rod Liddle. I went off to the loo and then he lumbered off somewhere so I’ll never know.

All those burka-clad women are now in the airport. Practically all the little girls are very pretty and very mischievous. The mothers swarm the loo and the shops en masse. Later, an air hostess looks about to have a nervous breakdown as the gates are closed (at least three times) while said women continue to saunter around. Twenty minutes later, they deign to go to the plane, still in no rush whatsoever. I presume they must be related to some Omani Croesus to be quite so arrogant.

Finally the gate is called and EasyJet reneges on its ‘guarantee’ to allow the 50x40x20 on as cabin luggage. The case fitted easy-peasy into the tester thingy in Gatwick but refuses to go into their minute checker here in Munich.

I am outraged and make sure every man, woman and dog knows. But the Spanish bat sticks a luggage label on which means I still have to haul it to the plane where it is then taken away from me to go in cargo. (As of typing this my ‘fume’ has started re-fuming…)

Not only was the plane was delayed a lengthy time, there was also a cockup as the bus took us to the plane. Flying EasyJet was altogether not an experience I ever want to repeat – even if the fares are much cheaper. The one and only time I have flown before – to Jersey – I went deaf in one ear for nearly three weeks.

On the plus side, I sat next to a chatty chap, an ex-prison officer, who told me all about his football away trip/s and his time in the prison service. He kept chatting all through the flight so the time passed quickly and, more to the point, my mind was distracted from worrying about my case and picking up my car.

Thanks to crap EasyJet, another day had been added to my car park fees.

Finally arrived at Gatwick and the hordes of hell. Where have all these people come from at this hour of night? However, by a stroke of luck, my case was waiting on the baggage carousel, so I headed straight out for the car park bus.

Also jam-packed.

Finally I’m at exactly the right spot where I parked my car only it has decided to be invisible despite trying the remote lock. Deep breaths. Walk up and down the gangway. And there it is. Not invisible anymore. And the remote lock works.

One last palaver: the pre-paid ticket is no longer accepted and there is a demand for £110. In a pig’s ear! I leave the car at the barrier and take another deep breath before telling the woman inside that the plane was delayed, the bus was delayed and the car park bus was also delayed hence nudging into another day. She didn’t say a word. Fiddled around with her computer screen… and then gave me an exit ticket without having to pay that huge extra.

As I was finally heading home, a guy who was on the car park bus said ‘You were right!’ as he too went to get his over-payment nullified. I wished him luck as the barrier rose, letting me out.

Uneventful but slow drive home, cul de sac filled with cars as expected, but I was home.

End Notes

If I am honest, I had to force myself to do those quick sketches, and even to take the not very good photos. Despite loving Nuremberg, Marktredwitz and Konnersreuth, it did not poke the creative muse at all. Well, that’s my excuse for the poor images!

And some other photos:

PS The camera was playing up so the dates and times on the photos are obviously incorrect. I travelled 5-11 August 2014.


Snapshots of Rome

2nd February to 6th February 2003

£79 for the flight 286 euros for the hotel plus spending money [euros and credit card] meant plastic bending par excellence! Plus airport parking totting up the bill… but I evidently needed to treat myself.

Booked flight a week before departure via special offer in Sunday Times then frantically surfed the internet for a reasonable hotel. Over concern with reports of muggings and pickpockets made me choose a quiet place near the Vatican. The Pope and Sts Peter and Paul could keep an eye on me I figured.

Sunday 2nd Feb
Arrived early at Gatwick Airport and went for Mass in North Terminal chapel. First time in ages. Beautiful spring sunshine for my birthday made me feel very optimistic and I felt like sharing it with God. Sunshine and lots of compliments re my age from women and men, definitely good start. One of the girls who thought I looked “wonderful” even gave me a gratis bottle of Opium as a gift. Thought counting and all that.

Even the plane being delayed didn’t faze me. Cosmopolitan Italians are very easy on the eye. The men especially seem to have a freshness and vigour which probably comes from all that curiosity towards attractive women.

On the flight over I was seated next to a lively and charming young man with very little English who wanted to chat despite the difficulties.

Arrived at Fiumicino late but the taxi driver was waiting patiently. He was immaculate, his car even more so. Didn’t get to see much of the drive though as it had got quite dark by now.

Hotel Amalia, via Germanico – ten minutes walk from the Vatican. An odd little hotel. It looked like a city apartment block with an old-fashioned three-door wire-box lift, and a “restaurant” that only opened for the two hours of breakfast. No chance of a swift verre of something pleasant in the bar. But it was clean and the staff were professional.

Pity fatties in the shower though – my size eight felt quite cramped in it!

Before I’d even taken my bags upstairs, the chap in reception had booked me on some tours with the 3rd Feb a free day to get my bearings and explore. And boy did I explore! My feet were killing me at the end of the day and I had a five o’clock alarm call to get on the tour to Naples and Pompei.

But still on day one, the 2nd, I was starving and with no restaurant, it meant I had to brave the streets in the dark for a meal. The hotel chap suggested Insalata Ricci on via Ottaviono. Translation came through a Bangladeshi waiter, but it triggered off curiosity from an old gentleman sitting on my left. He was an American professor of astronomy on a six month study tour or something like that. A pleasant enough way to round off the day and the meal was okay.

Monday 3rd Feb
Started early with peculiar breakfast and then walk down to Vatican. Sun sharp and bright although cold. Stood in St Peter’ Square saying hello to all the holy chaps etched against the blue sky. It felt so comfortable that I must have stood there for fifteen minutes before walking into the Vatican – firstly the wrong way and then having to walk all the way to the other side to be frisked before being allowed entry.

Had a few brief minutes of spiritual peace and “inner weeping with divine pleasure” before hordes of Japanese descended. It must be awful visiting the Vatican at the height of the tourist season if spiritual connection is what you seek.

Luckily I did manage to get to some places on my own – like the Museum Treasury. Highly recommended. Amazing amounts of gold, jewels, fantastically ornate candelabra with highly-decorated stems like those images on the sides of Indian temples, except not pornographic. Except of course the Bernini columns on the High Altar with Julia Farnese’s face in repose to orgasm and back and the Barbieri bees as her naughty bits. Peter whatever-his-name told us this when we went to Rome in the 70s. Then, the guards kept us away from the columns. This time, I could touch them unhindered if I wished. I didn’t.

Anyway more of the Museum Treasury – papal rings the size of my bracelets. God they must have been real porkers for those to fit. Massive crystals on equally massive crucifixes and yet more frippery. It probably all weighs a ton so no wonder it is all stored in a very darkened series of rooms. 5 euros entry by the way.

Didn’t do Sistine Chapel or other museums.

Really felt JP2’s vibes. Or God saying hello through him. I have never felt anything from Il Papa before even though I think he’s a lovely, kindly old chap and radiates goodness. Today, though, it was as if he was with me.

Eating in Rome is annoying. Even without the no-no of wheat and dairy, restuarants in that quarter at least didn’t open till 13:00 hours with only standing cafes or eating on the hoof available before. As my feet were sore even by lunchtime, I wanted to sit. Anyway the standing cafes only sold things like pizza. Finally found one after one o’clock that did “English Breakfast” which I had a vegeterian version of, but was so hungry I ate the toast and butter too. And suffered with bloat and poor bowel movements for the rest of the trip.

Explaining my fingers/hand, don’t like Italian word for broken. Sounds like rotten.

Took the Metro to Colosseo. Said never again to Roman tube travel. Filthy and cramped with graffiti everywhere.

The Colisseum – what a disappointment. Saw only one cat but the place had no atmosphere despite the maze of passageways below [which we couldn’t wander down into].

I like the stones to talk to me – Christian martyrs…. gladiatorial combat…. but nothing. Perhaps the spirits of all those lost souls had disappeared into the feral cats who in turn had pissed off somewhere more appetising to them. I was so disappointed, I left quite early despite paying my 8 euros to stay all day if I wished.

Walked up the via del Corso – freebie Rome – with stones that DID talk on both sides of the road. Remains of Imperial Rome with the Foro Imperiali, Foro Romano, Piazza Colonna, the Trevi [didn’t like that either].

Pitstop for aching feet at Cafe Canova [yes the 3 Graces chap]. Had a salad and a glass of wine. Moved on when young English couple came and sat next to me [in empty restaurant] and started talking v loudly and the woman ate even louder. Yes I glared but the dopey bird didn’t notice.

Those four small meals meant I skipped dinner and retired to bed with a packet of crisps and a bottle of water – and some half-cooked chestnuts.

Beggars here are more dramatic, kneeling in prayer, arms outstretched for alms. I prayed that God would give them drive and light for something a little more soul-enhancing.

Italian men have a wondrous curiosity towards females. It was pleasantly charming to see them stop mid-conversation and look, absorb the face with a smile and then simply move on. Nothing threatening. [BTW I wore the scar plaster on my nose the entire trip – so that might have had something to do with it!]

Sleepy now. Up at 5am for Naples.

8:30pm awake again. Don’t know how I slept so soundly last night as it was freezing and presumably as noisy as it is right now. Chattering voices, traffic and trams. The trams sound like Vesuvius rumbling. All loud. Very loud. And now I’m hungry-ish too. However, after affects of walking all day means I am not shifting from prone in this warm bed.

Surprised by total lack of vibes with Colosseum – especially after Gladiator. Lower corridors v impressive in detail but zero atmosphere. Said prayer for repose of souls of martyrs et al.

Amazing how many body parts can ache from several hours of walking. Think Inner God must be tired too as can’t feel any great spiritual stirrings.

Been thinking of T. and praying that the power of the Vatican’s energy will make me right…… Australia? Farmer?

Miss the Mother. Well ringing and haranguing her probably. Hope and pray she’s alright.

Difficult to work out what God’s Will is for me in a foreign place while in tourist mode.

Tuesday 4th Feb (writing en route)
7:15am on coach ready for Naples/Pompeii day trip. Horribly early start with alarm call at 5am. Irritation at no coffee facilities in room but nice man preparing the room made me one.

Perilous descent downstairs (the stairs were marble and rather steep and winding with no handrail).

Interim minibus takes us to Greenline where we change coaches and get two guides. Hordes of young Japanese girls but they are off to Capri, changing at Naples where we pick up another, local, guide.

Couple smoking heavily on coach south. Don’t fancy three hours of polluted atmosphere so ask Monika, the main guide, if they would kindly stop. They do and we speak a little later. They are Brazilians who have checked their daughter into university in Switzerland and are touring Europe before returning home. They are charming but total chain smokers so the coachtrips must be hell.

Still immensely tired in part because I haven’t eaten anything since 6pm last night. Three quarters of an hour till coffee break. Evidently breatharianism isn’t for me!

I’m also not cut out to be a travel writer! The scenery for the last gazillion hours has been mind-numbingly boring. Motorways spliced through not particularly life-enhancing scenery. Same the world over. And it’s pissing down with rain. Okay in the UK. Mark you these snapshots aren’t meant to be travel writing. Just a log of the holiday predominantly for Ma as she likes to know these things.

Monica – the coach guide – keeps telling us of all these special places as if we are about to be within spitting distance and invariably they are unviewable and hidden behind some particularly nasty looking industrial site. For example Caserta some large and famous palace. You’d need infrared specs and bionic vision to spot it on a sunny day let alone through storm clouds.

But then suddenly the rain eases and there is space. Lots of it. Piedmont to the right, snow-covered mountains. Olive trees. And SUN! And this space. Yet all these bods want to come to cramped, crowded England. South East England at that. So many of them are country workers anyway… Would I stay to try and rebuild a poverty-stricken England? I hope so. I believe so. Mark you the way this Government(?) is carrying on we may well have an imploded benefits system and then what would happen?

Nearly half way there. Middle of nowhere-ish and old fridges and tyres are littered by the roadside. I wish I had stuck to my teen ambition of being multi-lingual. Of course it’s not too late to learn but without regularity of conversation it would be difficult.

A very exotic garden centre. More bare olive trees looking like they are doing Imelda’s spider dance en masse. Capua 1km. Isn’t that some saint’s territory? Italy has so many works of art in the wild as opposed to being in a museum. I find that remarkably civilising.

Sleeping dragons on left as we approach Caserta. Largest palace next to Versailles and now a museum. No, I can’t see it. The Japanese guide, Yoshika, is giving me brain ache with her high-pitched and VERY fast gabbling.

Odd to have a big palace in such an ugly place. Looks like a mix of industrial estate, council housing and building works.

Pitstop. I have eaten (some unhealthy chocolate wafers), the sun is shining and the Brazilians are friendly. What is it with eating in non-UK places which creates such malodorous bowel movements? And their loos have such strange positioning you are practically sitting on your own stool. Gross.

A glimpse of the ancient Appian Way. Now that looks more like it. Rome to Capua and Brindisi. Just the words conjure up the apostles on their travels. Wonderful biblical resonance. She’s telling us now of Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli. We can see Naples now. Nice vibes but not a pretty place. Stepped green hills a small bright spot under the original cluttered spaghetti junction and a half.

Italians like their fur coats. I’m wearing my best La Redoute fake fur.

Ah the nice vibes were because of the tropicality of the location. Must remind me of baby years in Ceylon or something. But it is all STILL ugly although even ugliness can be attractive. Masses and masses of apartment blocks and blocks is the operative word. She’s harping on about Vesuvius again so I think we are almost peeking into the crater but in all the time there I saw nothing at all.

Grey sea and photo stop for bay of Naples. Everyone hikes out to capture it on film but I’ve seen better at Littlehampton – alright not quite. This is on the hill and perhaps if it weren’t so grey it would look spectacular. Unfortunate for the bods who own the houses below. Not much privacy.

10:50am VERY out of breath local guide, Gennaro, arrives. Traffic accident held him up. He valiantly ploughs into his pitch, gasping for breath so we don’t miss his little tidbits. Such as they are.

We head into the flashier part of Napoli where Caruso used to hang out. “Egg” castle built by Normans. Palace in front, red, looks like Dartmoor prison.

New style me deciding to be relaxed and see what happens with the day. If I like Pompeii a lot I can always come back. Gennaro is locked into boring detail and I am fascinated with a motorcyclist watching his leather gloves blowing away in the wind and the carabinieri copping another motorcyclist. Gennaro still struggling to tell us anything interesting about Naples (“here is the oldest coffee shop” “here is a covered meeting place or arcade”, “next castle, beautiful marble arch of Alphonse of Aragon”). Maybe it’s him, or the route he is taking because my guide book is quite interesting.

I think if you really want to see or experience a place you have to do it by yourself. So far, it has been a drive by coach and a below par lunch with even less spectacular guiding. Actually Monica’s guiding skills stimulated the imagination. We just couldn’t actually SEE anything.

Wanted a glass of wine to lift the meal but it came by bottle. The American couple who had been asking me questions about Rome ordered one but did not even offer a taste. The Japanese girls were also asking me questions but were very sweet.

16:49 Nearly two and a half hours later and I am STILL soaked. Tunisia all over again. Cold winds and hailstones terminated the visit to Pompeii although I did manage to see what I wanted. It was peaceful and enjoyable, and definitely worth a trip in sunshine, but now I’m cold and starving and taking a long time to dry out. To make matters worse a creep has joined the trip back and keeps staring at me, but as I write this he has thankfully gone to sleep.

Although there were some delightful surprises at Pompeii like the groves and large private houses I felt antiqued-out after about an hour. Anyway the “spirits” were quiet. Obviously all at peace. Gennaro told me I was a romantic and an idealist because I didn’t want to follow the tour.

Before the hailstones crashed down, I spotted a coral shop where I wanted to buy something for Sarah and Richard. Coral is a symbol for a long and happy marriage. But it was enormously expensive. Even something practically invisible was nearly £30.

Hope Ostia tomorrow is dry – and not cold!

All I seem to think about is food. Unsurprisingly since it has been vile so far. Tonight I am planning to have a chinese.

Wednesday 5th Feb
9o/c in bed scrubbed clean but still aching from all that walking around. Unfortunately also very bloated from eating wrong things. Example: utterly delicious poached salmon with brandy sauce at lunch. I now look pregnant and feel constipated waiting for it to swim to pastures new. Despite thanking it (the salmon) for the oils and proteins it was giving to my hands!

Yesterday it was “see Naples and die” – and it very nearly took me off with boredom. Pompeii started well but finished with a wet battering from golfball sized hailstones. Even this morning my hat and coat were still wet.

I was so fed up with the poor guiding and horrible coach trip that I cancelled todays two trips to Ostia and the catacombs. I slept heavily and then decided to do my own tour of the catacombs despite Antonio in reception telling me I wouldn’t be able to.

Got on the nearest Metro to hotel but made mistake of getting off at Re di Roma and found neither buses nor taxis. Trambus guy said to get back on Metro and then off at Colli Albino(?) and take bus. But when I couldn’t get the ticket the Metro lady came out to help me and in best English said to get off at St Giovanni and then take the 218 bus direct to Sts Callisto and Domitilla. This was confirmed by another chap on the Metro who also spoke good English. They all seemed to think I was mad. But I found it. The 218 bus stop was opposite a rather splendid church – there are LOADS of them in Rome but they all seem rather wonderful with massive statues peering over the ramparts.

The only pressure point was that the ticket I bought worked for tube and bus WITHIN 75 minutes of purchase. So if the transport was anything like in the UK you’d be stuck.

The bus drive was more as I like it, traversing the Roman end of the via Appia Antico and once again it felt historical and biblical and transported me out of the 21st century. Actually I almost missed getting off.

Arrived at St Callisto to find it closed (on Wednesdays) and crossed my fingers as I walked half a mile up to road to St Domitilla’s. Thank God it was open. I skipped her house and went into the labyrinthe below – with a guide. Very spooky and moving. Even though it was unlikely that Christians sheltered there, there were fish mosaics and Christ symbols to be found. As one descended, there was a reasonably-sized chapel where Mass is held. Further into the catacombs were more altars where services apparently are held as well. I was lucky having the guide all to myself and we chatted about all sorts of things which gave me a fuller picture.

I would definitely recommend both the Vatican and the Catacombs as individual day trips to chill and absorb the atmosphere. I couldn’t get round to all the sights around the Appian Way like the Quo Vadis church because there just wasn’t the time.

Decided on a taxi back into the centre and fortuitously a taxi was just dropping off some chap. The route he took me back along was also wonderful and I was severely miffed with myself for the wet day in Pompeii when I could have explored so much more of Rome. Unfortunately the Catacombs is the complete opposite end from the Vatican. However should I go back I will probably stay in a hotel nearer to the via Appia Antico next time.

Taxi dropped me off at the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps). Not at all sure what the charm is, and I exited almost as quickly as I arrived. Ditto Fontana di Trevi the other day. Yet leaving the Piazza, I walked past a most beautiful fountain set into a private courtyard – except I didn’t know and wandered in to admire it. The guards came out to warn me off but then changed their minds and said to please browse. I told them I thought it was very beautiful and – oh those Italians – he said I was the beautiful one.

I came out to Rome on the spur of the moment for a cultural and spiritual lift but have had the added benefit of feeling very attractive.

Pootled round shopping, leather gloves for my battered hand, mint tea in the Grand Plaza something or other, then that wonderful salmon lunch at a charming place in della Croce.

Then headed back over Cavour, along the Castel Sant’Angelo and back to the Vatican to say hello again. As I walked into St Peter’s Square, I tried to tune into the Pope to say sorry for missing his blessing that morning but that I took it anyway… and I swear to God I got an instant reply in my gut and in the immediate tears in my eyes as I said “Hello Pope-y”. I know it doesn’t sound dignified but evidently he or God flowing through him didn’t mind at all.

Went into the private prayer chapel for a quiet word or two and Benediction was starting half an hour later, so I waited and joined in. More Catholic ritual in three days than in the last 37 years! But enjoyable.

And that Motherkins is all I wrote of Rome.

Snapshots of Budapest

June 1 – 5 2006

I certainly needed those two alarm clocks to get me out of bed at 4am but thereafter it was a pretty smooth ride.

Finding APH was easy, despite leaving behind the address, and their coach service deposited me at the North Terminal with plenty of time. Plenty of time to spend money! What is it about airports that makes me spend so much money?

The nice guy at Dixons put the camera together so I didn’t have to engage my brain in that direction. Just as well, as there was plenty else to tax it later on.

En route: It was a first, flying with Malev (Hungarian National Airline) and they seemed to be located in the Siberian outpost of Gatwick Airport. Made everyone laugh when I said ‘Bloody hell, I thought I was going to walk all the way to Hungary’. And the plane was the smallest commercial one I’ve ever been on.

Sat next to a garden designer/author called Rosemary Alexander, owner? of the Chelsea Psychic Garden. She was on her way to give a speech at a garden conference. Partly gripping her attention was a tall, bald French guy on the other side of me. He had brought his own huge tupperware container of some mixed fruit and veg concoction and polished it off in about ten minutes. [Because I brought forward my return home, Rosemary and the French guy were also on the flight. Her conference was not as she expected and the French guy was a footballer who broke his foot and narrowly avoided being in a bigger catastrophe when someone had to grab the wheel of their coach as it was about to crash.]

Unfortunately, tedious journeys repeated themselves a few times on this trip; the taxi to Gyor took well over two and a half hours and my bottom was completely numb. To make matters worse, the early start caught up with me and I fell asleep with my mouth open, leaning onto the driver! He, like most Hungarians I met could not understand any English at all and I could barely remember ‘thank you’. Kersmer-something… The other snooze-inducing element was the landscape. Green, spacious and dotted with plenty of trees, but somehow truly boring.

‘Pensions’ or guest houses are quite popular in Hungary now, and the Teatrum in Gyor was clean, friendly, well-maintained, with a good breakfast, and all for £20 per night. And they let me send an email to the family at no charge. My room had two single beds but laid out head to toe, making the room long and thin. Number 3, overlooked the theatre (hence Teatrum) but was surprisingly quiet.

Lying in bed the first night, I thought I heard the distant rumble of a train.. till I realised it was the oddly solid mattress. Every time I moved, it made this strange noise. B thought it might have been made from horsehair.

Loos, poos & other unmentionables: Gillian McKeith would have a field day with faecal matter in foreign places. What is it about non-native travel, even to countries with similar diets, when human waste smells and looks so alien? Did that really come out of me? It does not help that so many mainland European pans are flat and placed high, so what went in comes out rather close to self, sitting there like some gigantic malignant toad. Yeurk. Such grossesses always make me peeved with the Big E. It just does not seem very divine.

It barely stopped raining the entire time I was there. Apart from gloomifying everything, I was wearing black boots and ended up with black toenails. Very pretty. However, I could hardly stay inside the whole time. Thankfully, the first afternoon was sunny and I felt perky enough to wander around the town. Actually, it has a cathedral (with a Weeping Madonna) which technically makes it a city. Didn’t get that impression at all though. Despite being famous for its 16/17th century streets, my first impression was of clothes shops and cobbled stones. There were racks of clothes standing sentry outside many shops, and virtually all circa 50s style. No temptation to buy although I did end up getting a red striped (non-fashion) jumper for £12.

Unlike Krakow, there were no swivelling heads and unsmiling looks, thank God. The Magyars are rather friendly and accepting. Consumerism is edging in but in Gyor at least there was a refreshing trust and almost innocence. Equally, the food won’t challenge the average British palate. Everything appears to be deep-fried, except for the delicious soups and stews. I also discovered a splendid vegan café with pictures of Ganesh on the walls.

Still on the first day, I met up with Edina, the tour guide for Oswald-Andra Dent, at 5pm. She initially struck a sour note. Firstly, she could barely understand English – not a good sign for an intermediary. Then she either interrupted herself or me with endless phone calls so I didn’t know what the hell she was on about as we had to keep starting from the beginning again.

I finally managed to understand that a taxi would pick me up at ten to nine for a 9am appointment with the dentist. We were given taxi cards so that any money we paid would be refunded from the fees to the Oswald part of Oswald-Andra Dent. I still did not realise I was part of a group, partly because I had arranged my own flight, and partly because I arrived on Thursday. The rest had arrived on the Sunday evening for Monday to Friday treatment.

Pain? I never really thought about pain until Marianne mentioned taking plenty of painkillers with me. Now not only was Edina mentioning them, several times, but some group members were popping them like smarties. I barely slept a wink.

The only blot in service the entire time was breakfast on the first day. The waitress was late, sniffing and blowing her nose unsmilingly. I also did not realise a good cooked breakfast was on offer and made do with two cold boiled eggs and lots of coffee. Luckily, she wasn’t around for the rest of the trip.

I must have been more fearful of the process than I realised. Overnight just my left eyebrow had sprouted three long white hairs (the other was smooth and jet black) and my shoulder pains returned with a vengeance.

The taxi arrived on time, as was I for my first appointment. The surgery itself was larger than first impressions but the street was ‘rundown suburbia’ – like most parts of Gyor and Budapest that I saw. There is a staggering amount of graffiti on virtually every spare wall, even in the nicer parts of town.

I’m not quite sure what went wrong next, and I am saving the dental details for my article on ‘dental tourism’, but I ended up bursting into tears, so he suggested going for a walk and then coming back in 30 or 40 minutes to agree on what happened next.

I wandered up and down these truly drab streets, in the rain, couldn’t find a coffee bar and then crept back in to their waiting room. And I was still weepy.

Andra didn’t look too pleased to see me sitting there but I was buggered if I was going to traipse the streets again. By this time the small waiting room was filling up with more of the tooth tourists. All German or Swiss. Then a tallish, blond guy came in. An English voice! Effeminate, before you all get too excited!

We all started to chat and I discovered they were all regulars. That gave me more of a feelgood factor but to cut a long story short (ie the story I’ll be writing in my article), the dentist only fixed the broken filling (for free) but suggested I came back and that they would pay for the flight or give me a discount. There was no time for a bridge before my flight back this time, which was the alternative to the implant which would require five months of osseointegration. And, presumably painkillers. (More details in the article). And then returning to have a crown fitted. So now I was here in Gyor with no dental treatment planned and lots of spare time.

B, too was at a loose end. He mentioned something about companionship needed for dental tourism – which the Swiss and Germans had but he was the only English bod till I arrived. So we wandered around the medieval streets and had lunch at the vegan cafe. Paid 400 HUF (Hungarian Florints) to visit the Miklos Borsos museum. An entire museum to just one artist/sculptor who, if truth be told, did not light my fire overmuch. But he was a local lad and there was a message of sorts in his works.

I wanted to visit the gothic cathedral and see the Weeping Madonna so we had another wander around till it was open. I said prayers for all the family (and put in a request for a columnist’s job!) and then wandered around some more. I wanted a red jumper and found one that served quite well. He too bought one, although seeing vast expanses of untoned white flesh was distinctly offputting.

As is often the way with foreign trips, swift friendships can develop through shared intimacies and what started as a discussion about spiritual beliefs moved on with discovering more about each other. I think being homosexual may possibly have made all this social chitchat more personally intrusive than normal.

He was born M D, in Germany, to a woman who worked in a nightclub. The social services of the time thought this wasn’t a good place to bring up a child and he was put in an orphanage till he was four. Then he was adopted by a Squadron Leader, who also adopted another little boy. B says he has always been effeminate and that annoyed his father. The hatred seems to have been mutual. He said his father was a homophobe in action as well as thought. It sounded like he said his father went out on queer-bashing expeditions and used to hit him too. Eventually the father left the forces, opened a bar in Sussex I think. However he left, so B felt his life had turned full circle as he was back again with a single mother in a similar ambience.

By this time, I was starting to feel vamped and he said he was tired so we returned to our (different) pensions before the (group) evening meal.

A coach took us to what looked like council offices in some equally rundown side street. Well, it was raining – again – which always dampens views. Pleasurable surprise. The inside of the Goldenball Restaurant seemed to be richly decorated in red velvet and low lights, with book cases lining the walls, a piano player and a superb menu. and not very expensive either. But then nothing is in Hungary, at the moment. And the waiter spoke excellent English. He used to work on a cruise ship and had lived in North Wales for three years if I recall correctly.

B and I shared a table with Peter and Beatrice, a Swiss-born couple who lived in Texas but travelled extensively and were regular dental tourists. However, they saw a different dentist to us.

The coach seems to have been a one-way trip and we all walked back to our pensions. Well they sauntered under their umbrellas. I loped back as my feet had already started to turn black from the boot dye.

Saturday morning I had to myself as the dental tourists went for final check ups pre-lunch.

I had yet another wander around, buying a little angel in a feng shui shop and trying to find a massage parlour for my shoulders. Stuck my head into a hairdresser and made hand gestures as if giving someone a good pummel. A lady got up from under her drier and wrote down the name of a salon and the address….

The Gyorans have a friendly imprecision with addresses. All to whom I showed the paper, said ‘es’ – presumably because it was roughly in the same neighbourhood.

Several tours of the streets later, and just about to give up, I found it. A manicurist’s salon. So much for my skills at charades!

Went into a health food shop and the thin and tired looking lady decided to close up her shop for twenty minutes while she took me round three different massage parlours to choose from. Ida was her name (pronounced Eeda). A fan of Krishna. Unfortunately, all shops close at lunchtime and the salon with potential was fully booked – so it was back to the Teatrum to meet everyone for lunch and pay Edina for management services and any dental work.

I asked Edina to change my flight but as it was a cheap flight and Pentecost, had no luck. B said to go to the airport and try face to face, so I booked my return taxi for 9am Sunday to give me plenty of time and maybe even a Sunday flight…

As B had gone on about being adventurous, I thought our last day ‘together’, on Saturday, could be spent discovering places other than Gyor…. except there was a free goodbye lunch provided by Oswald. A three-course meal, with lunch and a gypsy violinist. I suppose my attitude wasn’t that good as you know how fond I am of crowds.

With the very best will in the world, and B had already described them in similar terms, the group were mostly working-class pensioners. The British version has its own particular charms, but Swiss-Germans are almost on another planet, for me. For a start, they understood no English and our German was non-existent.

Luckily for me, I sat next to the lady from the dentist who spoke French. She (Therese) and Yuri, her racy looking Serbian husband (he wore a grey pony tail) looked wonderfully in love, as if they had been together for years. In fact, they met in a singles club and had been married for ten years. She had been a milliner, while he was a theatrical costumier. He just got a bit miffed at not being able to understand what we were saying. Therese said it was good for him not to know everything.

The subterranean restaurant amplified the acoustics so the already loud violinist and the electric piano player played havoc with my ears.

I rather ungraciously blocked them with my hands especially when the blasted violinist stood behind me giving me a personal serenade. As he didn’t get the hint, I got up and waited in the loo till he moved on to someone else. Fortissimo is not conducive to digestive flow. Interestingly, all those who enjoyed it left no tips while I, whose ears were assailed, did.

Post-lunch, we all went for a coach trip to a local shopping mall. As before the location was ultra-grim, but inside were some rather pleasant shops. I treated myself to two citrine rings and just hope I come into some money before the credit card bills come in!

Back at base, I started to feel soul weary. Desperately wanted to be back at home and missed my sisters too! Got out the digital camera and mucked around taking some self-portraits. Unfortunately, I looked really ugly and horrid in virtually all of them which made me feel even more down.

Because B was so open with his life story, I felt able to push the boundaries of normal conversation. For example, using the word ‘homosexual’. He didn’t like it, saying it was too clinical, whereas I dislike using the word ‘gay’. He suggested ‘queer’ but I think that’s rude, rather like ‘nigger’. So when we met up later on Saturday prior to finding somewhere for supper, I wanted to discuss some anthropological aspects of homosexuality, for example the effeminate voice. It really did sound like that guy in Are You Being Served? so I felt it was a bit of an act. Not that I said it in so many words but that was the beginning of the end.

As we sat having a drink, he told me about an Egyptian experience of his. Thinking he’d reached a natural stop, I replied with mine at Abu Simbel. Big mistake. He really flipped. Said he hadn’t finished and that I did that to him before (Guilty, m’lud. It’s a Labon failing. Ask the brothers-in-law.)

I apologised and let him drone on… something about meeting someone in Egypt and which lead to an Australian experience, having three mothers, one in Australia who foretold lots of things about him. But he was still cross with me so I apologised again. I said he seemed rather ‘vulnerable’ meaning it in a kindly way but he went absolutely apeshit. Said that was critical. Gave me a lecture about my failings (he thankfully missed out quite a few). I actually listened then mistake three or was it five, I muttered ‘if you are going to be painful…’… and off he flounced. And that was that. Never heard from or saw him again. Although quite pleased to be alone, I did send him love and light so whatever was bothering him would be resolved.

Over the time we spent together, he wanted to know about his numbers, the turquoise ring on his Saturn finger and various other things so it seemed like he was seeking direction. Well that remark was ‘critical’ according to him. Yet to seek it is nothing to be ashamed of. Mark you, if he had read my original notes then he may well have thought I was critical. I wrote that he was tall, blond, pleasant-looking, untoned and walked like he had a rocket up his arse. And that was before he confirmed that he was HX (homosexual).

God knows why I felt guilty. All that mincing effeminacy was beginning to grate. Could be why I wanted to know about the voice. Maybe deep down I wanted him to go. He said he knew more about me than I did about him. Quite possibly. I see my life as a spiritual experiment to be shared in order for others to learn, if they want to that is.

Anyway, if I had seen him again, I would have invited him to join me. As it was, I found a lovely restaurant called Komedia and had a light supper pre-bed. There was a long table with mostly men having the tail-end of a celebratory meal. I was made to feel like a welcome gatecrasher.

Sat with Peter and Beatrice in the restaurant in Teatrum on return, for quick chat. He was an engineer in the paper industry, she does temporary work in finance. They lived in South America (among many countries) and bought precious stones as an investment.

Beatrice said that Peter was very opinionated which probably triggered some equally opinionated remarks from me. Like genetic modification and the rise in homosexuality. I know, dicing with death! But then I have always been an acerbic observer. In B’s rant he said I was judgmental but how can a writer not observe with clarity without appearing to be judgmental?

Peter meanwhile seemed very interested in British politics and life. Mentioned that even co-habitees might have to share assets. He, tongue in cheek, said he’d be too scared to live with me, and then spoiled it by asking it that offended me. No, of course not… although he’d be lucky to be invited in the door let alone live with me. I know I have a strong personality but I am not going to keep apologising for it. God gave it to me for a purpose and so I will treat it as a gift.

That said, about to step into the shower, I was feeling a little gloomy, when the radio played my lumiels tune – Love Is All Around. I really needed that and it felt like my guardian angels (lumiels) wanted to tell me that God loved me and is looking after me.

By the way, Sky Radio in Hungary has a novel way of murdering songs by playing adverts mid-melody. Most odd. Luckily, they left my lumiels’ tune alone.

Last morning in Gyor – got rude awakening at 4am. By mistake. Then another at 6am – and that’s despite saying wrong room. Passed time waiting for the taxi by watching Teletubbies on BBC World. Can’t believe children enjoy that programme. They look and sound like fluffy Daleks.

After a couple of false starts, lovely Csilla at Malev found me a seat on the Monday flight even though it was overbooked. I had to pay an upgrade and booking fee which was less than if I’d stayed in a Budapest hotel till the original flight, which I thought worth paying.

I also decided to treat myself to an overnight stay at the 4-star Gellert and got a single room for a reasonable price. A spa hotel, built in the early 1900s, it still has that vaguely forgotten air, but the location was excellent as was the food. Booked a Thai massage for later and decided to have a wander around.

First stop was the cave church carved into the Citadel rock face. Said a prayer for all the family and thank you for everything despite still having the tooth gap.

Tourism can certainly corrupt quickly. Although people are generally friendly, some of the hotel staff had that cynical and supercilious air you often find in more expensive hotels. Probably from years of dealing with obnoxious customers. There was also a deeply unpleasant girl in a perfume shop who made offensive hand gestures when I tried out the testers. Isn’t that what they are there for? I was so put out that I lobbed back that she was a great lump (she was quite a bit overweight) and very rude. Not sure if she understood, but she would have seen from my face that I was NOT pleased. Even if people do come in and steal testers, not everyone should be tarred with the same brush.

When I asked her the price of something, she added that payment by credit card had to be with a passport as well. That’s a first, and needless to say I did not buy anything. However, I subsequently discovered that PIN numbers are only accepted with additional signatures (although no-one else asked for my passport). Thankfully, I used my M&S credit card which I rarely use so it will be easy to monitor any abuse… and is easy to cancel without disrupting my finances.

The perfume girl was the second sour note after B, and I felt in need of spiritual light, so sent her some L&L to clear the flow, although really I was still unhappily outraged.

Despite the four and five star area, there was an amazing amount of graffiti everywhere. It is such a potentially beautiful city and could really do with a massive clean up.

The first brown faces I saw were tourists staying in and around the Gellert. I wondered how the Thai girl managed but her English was not brilliant. Her Hungarian was apparently non-existent despite living there for three years. As she lived alone, and did a good job (I skipped cracking my spine as I was still in some pain), I left her a whopping tip. In fact, I seemed to tip everyone as if I was the Sultan of Brunei, since I got 70,000 HUF (Hungarian Florints) for my £200, and it goes quite a long way. I really felt that spending it or giving it away was a form of tithing and was helping their economy. Hope God feels the same way for my bank balance!

And thank you God for a certain type of Frenchwoman. They are unafraid to openly appreciate what they believe is physical attractiveness. I’ve even been stroked before now. Mark you I hardly expect any admiring glances these days with increasing CF (age) so that really made my morning…; so much, that I left a large tip for the young taxi driver who took me to the airport. He almost burst with pleasure.

The airport sounds like something out of Star Trek (Ferihegyi). Unfortunately, it is definitely not space age, and as I arrived three hours too early, I had to make do with crisps and a glass of wine while writing up copious notes. At least staff were friendly off-airport.

Once into passport control, there was more officiousness and unpleasantness generally though I only got the officious passport control woman, who spoke no English but kept gesturing that my passport photo was not me. I think she mentioned distinguishing characteristics, but since they are not listed in the passport how the f… would she know? In the end, she turned to her colleague who must have told her to let me through.

That’s the second East European country that let me IN with barely a glance at my passport, but kicked up a fuss when I tried to get OUT.

The general tetchiness and suspicion of the duty free staff could have spoiled things but meeting the French footballer and Rosemary again gave the trip a ‘school reunion’ feel. They both had less than perfect trips. The poor guy broke his foot and they narrowly averted disaster with their coach when someone grabbed the wheel just in time.

Saw another blubbery white belly, which then sat next to me on the flight back. A truly miserable sod. In front of me there was an HX couple (did I mention it’s my new term for ‘homosexual’. I don’t like using the word ‘gay’, and ‘queer’ – which they like – sounds too rude. And, according to B, they think homosexual sounds too clinical.)

I have a feeling that the miserable sod was also HX and, since I had seen LOTS of cosy male couples, wondered if Budapest was now some sort of HX holiday hot spot. I am also trying to lose the image of the miserable sod’s chocolate eating habits. He literally crammed a 3×7 bar into his mouth with BOTH hands. Whatever happened to breaking off a square at a time?

Meanwhile, the guy in front, reclined his seat so far his head was practically in my lap. I do leg exercises on even short journeys as I once got a blood clot on a flight so I rather rudely prodded the back of his seat. However, both of us must have been innately courteous and harmony returned after a short apologetic conversation. Nonetheless, I was disconcerted to see them waiting for the same courtesy coach as me but decided to make a joke of it. Thankfully, he got it and we chatted about various things…

And then it was back into my car and en route for home.