December Reflections 30: thank you for…

DSC_0329

… a successful book launch

… a trip to the opera

… a week on the Book Bus

… a weekend in the country

… new friends and old friends

… reading whatever I felt like

… learning to teach, and enjoying it

expanded horizons (internal)

(finding space in my faith for the fullness of myself)

… railways that got better and better

expanded horizons (external)

I came into this year, and in particular I went into the InterRail trip, thinking of it as the last chance to have fun before things got terrible. And who knows, it may still turn out to be that. I’ve been scared of 2019 for… well, two years. And so I was thinking of Patrick Leigh Fermor, hiking from the Netherlands to Constantinople during the rise of Nazism; I was thinking, do it now, in case you don’t have a chance later.

But about two days in I knew that I was going to have to go back. I was going to have to go back to Hamburg; I was going to have to go back to Copenhagen. I was going to have to bring other people to see them. I was going to have to go back to mainland Europe and see things I hadn’t got round to this time round.

I wrote, on the way home,

This isn’t the end of anything. This is about understanding that it’s all mine for the enjoying, that much more is possible than I ever thought, that in fact I can have both/and.

Maybe I won’t be able to. Maybe politics or money will get in the way. Maybe I’ll be doing other things. There are many things that might stop me – but it’s less likely, now, that I’ll be one of them.

So. It sounds ridiculous now, and goodness knows what it’ll sound like in a year’s time, but thank you, 2018, for hope.

December Reflections 26: remembering

IMG_20181226_220047_424

This picture shows:

  • the spiral-bound notebook I used as a journal when I went Interrailing
  • the engagement journey into which I stuck small ephemera and recorded brief highlights of each day
  • the photograph album into which I stuck photographs and larger ephemera several months after I returned
  • one of the many exercise books in which I’ve been writing, among other things, an account of my travels (it will appear on this blog at some point)

Which is a lot of remembering for three weeks, but I have almost certainly forgotten several interesting and diverting details.

A phrase that’s been floating around my head this year is the documented life. I’m not sure where it came from, or why it feels so important. It’s connected to the idea of legacy, and it seems to be partly for me and partly for other people. Like legacy, it’s haunted by the sense that perhaps it’s all a bit pointless, perhaps no one’s going to care. It is not as if I am going to end up with something like A Time of Gifts, however many exercise books I take over it.

But still, it’s fun. I stick things into albums in order to stop them hanging around the house, and I like looking back through the albums, and it’s sometimes useful to look back through my diaries. I write down as much as I can remember in order to make a note of the lessons I’ve learned for next time, and then, because it’s just annoying otherwise, to fill in the gaps in between them.

December Reflections 18: I said hello to…

DSCF7678

… this charming lizard in the botanical gardens at Innsbruck. Actually, I don’t remember what I said, but I do know that I was very pleased to see it. I am very fond of lizards; one sees them in Ventnor sometimes.

I met all sorts of people when I was InterRailing. I’m not massively outgoing, and I got half way through the trip without having a conversation (beyond the basics required for checking in/ordering food/buying tickets) with anybody I wasn’t married to. I had long ago come to the conclusion that I was not like Paul Theroux or a Buchan hero, and that I was  not likely to get talking with interesting people.

Then after a series of mishaps with trams I ended up having dinner with a coloratura soprano in Vienna, and the next day I met a Canadian couple on the train to Ljubljana. And in Innsbruck, the night before I met the lizard, I got adopted by a group of friendly Austrians who ordered schnitzel and fries for me when I was too tired and hungry to look after myself properly, and then we managed to have quite an extensive chat even in my limited German.

So maybe it’s just something that happens if you travel far enough, for long enough, on your own.

December Reflections 14: 2018 taught me…

DSC_0253

… that Stockholm is beautiful, but looks even better after a nap;

… that Bratislava is delightful, but not until you’ve had a shower;

… that carrying too heavy a bag detracts from one’s enjoyment of the great art in the Zwinger at Dresden;

… that nothing is fun if I’m hungry;

… to travel first class, check my suitcase into left luggage wherever possible, and wear comfortable knickers.

In short, to attend to my bodily needs in a timely fashion. And travelling alone meant that I had to take responsibility for all that myself. I had no companion to suggesting that we go to bed, or to decide which café we ate in or what sandwich I wanted. 2018 taught me to take care of myself.

December Reflections 12: best meal of 2018

DSCF7545

The best meal of 2018 was undoubtedly breakfast in Bratislava. I quote from my diary:

… not overpriced at all, because there was a huge amount of it. If anything, the menu undersells it. Nicest breakfast I’ve had in ages. Orangey sausages – presumably with paprika – cherry tomatoes, red peppers, courgettes, squash, mangetout, French beans, various salad leaves; poached egg; toast.

In Slovak, assuming I copied it down correctly:

klobásky s. gril. zeleniou a pošírovaným vajcom

I ate an awful lot of bread and cheese when I was InterRailing, and by the half-way point a breakfast that consisted of bright colours and all the major food groups was very welcome. Dinner the previous night had been very good, and cheap (gnocchi with sheep’s cheese; white wine; Slovak whisky: just over €10), but even allowing for the stock of apples I’d been hauling round Europe I thought I was probably running a vitamin deficit. This was a delicious way to put that right. And the menu had some good advice, too.

December Reflections 2: favourite photo of 2018

DSCF7060

(What happened to December Reflections 1? You can see the picture here. But I’m using this prompt series as part of my Advent practice, and Advent only started today.)

I left on my InterRail adventure in the middle of April, which this year followed up the snowpocalypse of March with two solid weeks of grey dreariness, and all the trees stayed bare. The first day took me from London to Hamburg, which is about as far as one can comfortably get in a day. I had to change in Brussels, then Welkenraedt, then Aachen, and then finally Düsseldorf on the way.

I’d got it all planned – and, as my plan came to pass, I became increasingly confident. I was not worried about the Eurostar. I felt a bit nervous about the Belgian trains, but after I’d boarded and alighted from two I was beginning to feel as if I could do this. There were young green leaves on the trees in Belgium, too.

And the timetable worked out in such a way that I had a choice of trains at Aachen. I’d originally envisaged myself pushing right on through to Hamburg as fast as possible, but then I thought it would be a pity not to see where Charlemagne was crowned, and so I decided that I could be brave. I could be spontaneous. I could change my plans.

I talked a bit of German. I worked out the left luggage locker. And I hot-footed it across Aachen to the cathedral.

And outside Aachen cathedral was this glorious magnolia tree, in full bloom. It was as if my long-delayed spring had come to me all at once – except that I’d gone to find it.