2018 travels

I seem to have neglected my travel posts in 2018… by which I mean I think I wrote about maybe two of our trips? We didn’t have a proper holiday (well, Jan did – 10 days travelling to Vienna, Sofia, Belgrade and Istanbul with his choir), but we did manage a few days out and weekends away. So before I entirely forget what we actually did this last year (almost forgot!), I thought I would write a round-up post of all our travels…

We started the year in Geneva, where we got very wet watching the New Year’s fireworks! We had arrived there on 29th December (I think) and left in the evening on 1st January. There was a festival of lights happening, which was nice, and we had a lovely walk around the lake, where we saw a woodpecker (which I didn’t manage to photograph), several robins and lots of different duck species, but overall I wasn’t that impressed with Geneva. It seemed dirty and despite not being particularly huge felt kind of like a large city, with lots of traffic going right through the centre. I much prefer Basel, as provincial as some may find it!

One Saturday in February we decided to head to Aarau, since it’s close by and we had never been. We discovered a cute little town where the undersides of the roof eaves are beautifully painted.

It was freezing and when it started to rain we were pleased to find an open café where we could have a hot drink and some Flammkuchen.

Later in February, we headed to Dijon for a weekend. The Sunday happened to be photo an hour day, so miraculously I actually posted about part of that trip! Dijon is quite a charming city but a lot of the old buildings could use some renovation. Best known for its mustard, the Dijon region is also the home of Kir – a French cocktail made with a measure of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) topped up with white wine (Kir Royal uses champagne) – and, being in Burgundy, Boeuf Bourguignon and Coq au Vin. Those two dishes are what Jan and I ate on the evening we spent there and both were delicious.

We didn’t actually go anywhere in March… or at least I didn’t – Jan left for his trip at the end of the month. But on Easter Monday, which fell on 2nd April in 2018, I took a tram to the nearby town of Aesch and walked up to some castle ruins above the town. It was a cloudy day, but I still had a great view of Basel from the top.

At the end of the month, when Jan was back, we decided to go up to St Chrischona. Once again, it happened to be a photo an hour day, so I actually have a post about our walk!

At the beginning of May, we drove down to just outside Munich for my cousin’s confirmation. On the way, we stopped for lunch in Bregenz, Austria and the day after the confirmation we went to Partnach Gorge near Garmisch-Patenkirchen with my uncle who lives near Munich plus my aunt and uncle who came over from England for the confirmation.

We also did the 24 stops walk in May, which is a sculpture path between Switzerland and Germany.

Basel 24 stops
One of the 24 Stops sculptures

On 26th May, Jan got a car and we drove to the Trümmelbachfälle – a group of ten glacier-fed mountains inside a mountain. On the way back we stopped in Spiez to see it in the light, since the last time we were there it had been night time.

At the very end of May, we flew to England for a few days because we had been invited to a wedding on 2nd June. On the last day of May, we went out for the day with my mum and brother, first taking a walk around the lake at Druridge Bay, before stopping in Warkworth for lunch and finally visiting the beach at Amble. I my have lived abroad for most of my adult life, but I will always have a special place in my heart for Northumberland’s breathtaking beauty.

Later in the month, we took a day trip to Wasserfallen, where we took a cable car up a mountain, walked around and saw some people returning from llama trekking. No photos from there because I appear not to have them on the computer! Then on the weekend of 30th June/1st July, we had a mini-break on Lake Lucerne. We stayed in Vitznau, directly on the lake, and the next day took the cable car from Vitznau up to the Wissifluh – part of Rigi – before driving down to Stans to head up the Stanserhorn. On both mountains, we saw lots of butterflies.

I was actually pregnant at that point but had no idea.
The following weekend, we spontaneously decided to drive to the French-speaking part of Switzerland, specifically to St Ursanne, then later headed on to Neuchâtel where we ate dinner.

August was my birthday month but didn’t involve any travel for me – although Jan had a rehearsal weekend with his choir. But in September my mum, her friend and my brother came to visit and on one of the days we went to Mount Rigi and Lucerne for the day with our visitors. We got cheap deal day tickets and took ordinary trains, cogwheel trains and a boat. It was a long day but really nice. (Those last two sentences are copied directly from the draft post of my September recap, which was all written and just waiting for me to add photos. I never ended up posting it because the day before it would have gone up was the day I lost the twins and the post included pregnancy talk).

We didn’t do much travelling in October, for obvious reasons, but eight days after I was released from hospital we went to France, first stopping in the fortified town of Neuf-Brisach and then visiting Riquewihr, which was absolutely gorgeous but also absolutely packed full of tourists. Although I was still slightly weak from lack of iron, it was a much needed day out.

in November we wanted to get away from it all and went to Yverdon les Bains for a weekend. We ate delicious food, walked a lot and toured the castle. Back in Basel, after a meeting at the town council with the person responsible for bereavement, we got a car and drove part-way up a mountain then walked the Geissflue circular route. It was a beautiful day and the autumn colours were stunning!

At the end of November, while Jan was in the US, my mum and sister visited and we took a brief trip to Freiburg im Breisgau to see the Christmas market.

December was an incredibly busy month between Jan’s choir concerts and Christmas, but we did manage one day trip… on Boxing Day we drove to Murten – a small medieval town near Fribourg. It was cloudy and cold but we still had a walk around the town and along part of the wall before heading into a pub for some food.

And that concludes 2018’s travels. Despite all the ups and downs of the year, we actually managed to fit quite a lot in. There was only one month without any travel at all! We spent New Year at home this time, but I am hoping to kick off this year’s travels with a trip out to somewhere tomorrow. And beyond that? We have no plans as yet, but I am hoping for a proper holiday in 2019. Stay tuned!

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Bletchley Park, August 2017

Jan and I recently watched The Imitation Game, which has inspired me to finally write about the day we spent at Bletchley Park last year! As I’m sure you know, Bletchley Park was the home of the WWII code-breakers. Really, I only had the vaguest idea of what went on there – something to do with decoding the German military’s secret messages? Likewise, although I had heard of Alan Turing, I had no idea who he actually was. Yes, clearly I was very ignorant.

Bletchley Park1

Located in a the grounds of a mansion in Bletchley, a small town that’s part of Milton Keynes, Bletchley Park was the home of home of the Government Code & Cypher School – now known as the Government Communications Headquarters – during the Second World War. Nobody actually knew that at the time though – the work being done at Bletchley Park was highly secret and only started to be discussed publicly in 1974. The site has been a museum since the 90’s and was restored to what it is now in 2014.

The exhibition starts in the welcome centre, where they have a short film and some information about the history of Bletchley Park. Once outside, you can enter some of the restored huts, which have partly been set up as they would have been originally and partly contain some interactive exhibits. Then the main exhibition is in Block B. There, you can read about the history of the Enigma – the machine the Germans used to write their code. Early models had been used commercially, so everybody knew they existed, but of course the military version was more complex. Block B also has an exhibition about Alan Turing, which is where I learned all about him and his sad fate for the first time. He was, of course, part of Hut 8 at Bletchley Park and instrumental in the invention of the machines that were used to crack the Enigma’s codes (although not quite to the extent depicted in the film!), but to computer scientists he is mostly known as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.

In a way, the exhibition at Bletchley Park was the perfect combination and Jan’s and my interests – the codebreaking, Colossus machine used for breaking ciphers (considered to be an early computer), and Alan Turin stuff for computer scientist Jan, and the linguistic component for me: obviously it wasn’t enough to just decrypt the messages… somebody had to translate the German (and later Japanese) text into English as well!

The exhibition was really interesting – it’s fascinating to think of all that happening not even that long ago, certainly within our grandparents’ lifetimes. But there was so much information. We were there for about 5 hours and didn’t even manage to see everything properly. We left right before closing time and I was actually pleased they weren’t open any longer since, by then, I was all museumed out. It was definitely a good start to our holiday though and I can highly recommend it to anyone who is at all interested in history, cryptography, computer science or languages. Tickets are valid for a year, so those who live closer can go back time and again. I feel like smaller doses will make it easier to take everything in 😉

Holiday!

It feels like forever since I last had any proper time off, but now it’s finally my turn for a holiday! Tonight we fly to Gatwick, from whence we shall be travelling around Britain (well, mainly England really). I haven’t scheduled any posts and I won’t be posting while I’m away either, so this place will be devoid of activity for a while. Try to be good while I’m away 😉 See you in September!

Lake Lucerne
Photo of Lake Lucerne from above for no particular reason…

A day in Manchester

Ugh, I’m a terrible blogger! Not only have I not posted in daaays… today’s post is about a day trip we took in October! Between being busy and, quite honestly, sheer lack of motivation, I’m way behind!
Anyway… while we were in England in October, we decided we wanted to have a couple of days away by ourselves rather than spending time just with my family. I knew I wanted to see the Wave exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, so we started looking into other places in Yorkshire. Then Jan pointed out that Manchester is only an hour from there, he had never been and I’d only made it as far as the airport. Plus my ex-housemate from uni days lives in Salford. And so the decision was made… Manchester it was.

I know I have a few readers from the Manchester area, so I hope none of you will be offended when I say it’s not my favourite city. Sorry! Culturally, there’s a lot going on – if we’d wanted to, we could have spent a week visiting all its museums! But it’s just too… cityish for me. It’s crowded, it’s loud, and while there are some nice buildings, they’re few and far between. I’m glad we visited, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t want to live there!

It was fairly sunny when we arrived, so after parking the car, we decided to just wander around for a while and see what we could find. And, in my case, take photos.

Maybe too many photos?

We also managed to buy some blue trousers for Jan (which he needed for a choir performance), having failed to find any he liked that fit him in Newcastle… so yay Manchester for that.

You may have noticed the sky getting rather cloudy in the last few photos above. At around 2 p.m., the heavens opened… after it had been such bright sunshine all morning. Yep, we were definitely in England! Obviously we needed shelter! My friend had recommended the John Rylanda Library as a place to check out and earlier in the day we had noticed a sign saying it had an exhibition on the gothic, which sounded interesting, so that’s where we went. The building is pretty cool – it looks like a converted church, except it never was a church… it was just built like that. Again, I took too many photos, but when you see them you’ll (hopefully) understand why.

By the time we’d finished with the library, it was pretty much time to meet my friend. Luckily by that time the rain had also stopped since we were meeting outdoors! On the way to meet him we ended up down by the river.

My friend was slightly late meeting us (something to do with trams), so we sat in the little park next to the tram stop and I tried to take photos of rainbows. It’s harder than it looks!

Can you see them? Click the photos for a bigger version.

After we met my friend, we asked him to recommend a place to eat – that’s what locals are for, after all 😉 He took us to an amazing Thai place that I wish I could remember the name of! It was right by the Chinatown gate if that helps any locals. I ate incredible beef in a pepper sauce – so good it was all gone before it occurred to me to take a photo! Afterwards, we stopped at a pub around the corner for a few pints (by this time it was chucking it down again!), then it was time to leave my friend, pick up the car and drive back to our hotel in Yorkshire.

If anyone ever finds themselves in Manchester I would love to recommend a Thai restaurant for you to eat at… but unfortunately, I can’t 😉

Alnwick and its gardens

Waaay back in October, while we were in England, we spontaneously decided to visit Alnwick one sunny afternoon. It was too nice to be indoors, so we skipped the castle and purchased tickets for the gardens instead. Being October, a lot of the flowers were already on their way out, but I still managed to take many, many pictures! There was a kind of treasure hunt for children which seemed to involve finding all the different fairy tales and nursery rhymes that were referenced throughout the gardens, and I took great delight in spotting fairy tale items as well, even though I didn’t have a sheet to fill in.

Alnwick itself is a pretty little town, and is home to the amazing second hand bookshop Barter Books, the place where the “Keep Calm and Carry On” slogan was first (re)discovered. It’s housed within the old Alnwick train station, with the bookshelves where the tracks used to be and space to sit and read in what used to be the waiting room. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit Barter Books that day, but if you ever find yourself in Alnwick you definitely should!

Before driving to Newcastle, where we were due to meet a friend for dinner, we of course had to stop on the Lion Bridge to grab a few shots of Alnwick Castle – which some of my may recognise from a certain film about a wizard with a lightning shaped scar… (others may know it from Blackadder).

Alnwick is one of my favourite places and I’m glad we got to have a stroll around the town and its gardens last time I was home!

Travel Monkey

Yorkshire Sculpture Park and “Wave”

Months before we had even booked our flights to England, Jan and I had decided to hire a car while we were over there this time – party to give us a bit of freedom from relying on other people/buses, but also so we could go away by ourselves for a few days. This was my first holiday since New Year and I wanted us to have at least some time to ourselves! Much as I love my family, visiting them doesn’t count as a “real” holiday for me. We had discussed a few options for where to go, but when I saw an article about a part of the poppies exhibition from the Tower of London was visiting Yorkshire Sculpture Park and would be there while we were over the decision was instantly made for me. I was disappointed not to get to see the poppies in London so I knew I had to see them in Yorkshire. Luckily Jan agreed – since he’s the driver forcing the issue might have been a bit difficult 😉

While we were driving down to Yorkshire, it started raining heavily, as in can barely see through the windscreen heavily! It calmed down a little afer a bit, and  after we stopped at Woolley Edge Services for food and coffee (or chai latte in my case) it had slowed to a mere drizzle. It still made for a rather damp visit to the park, but the gorgeous autumn colours at least partially made up for that. And also being a rainy Monday in October meant it wasn’t as crowded as it might have been 😉

As soon as we entered the park, we saw signs for Wave, but there are plenty of other things to see on the way there. Some sculptures were more interesting than others (and some were just downright weird!). Here are a few of my favourites:

I guessed as soon as I saw this next sculpture that it was by Nike de Saint Phalle, even though it’s not her usual style – the colours fit, but her “people” are normally less recognisable for what they are.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

There’s a country house in the middle of the park, Bretton Hall. Apparently at one point it was used as a college and the latest plan is to turn it into a hotel.

By the way, that metal slab on the right-hand photo is one of the sculptures. Told you some of them were odd!

Finally, we reached the main attraction and let me tell you it was worth the wait!First we went into a little hut where there were copies of poems about WW1 on the wall and a notice board where people could put their tributes to people who had fought or died in the war, plus a giant window to catch your first glimpse of the bridge where the sculpture was dsiplayed, then it was on to the sculpture itself. I may have gone overboard taking photos – this isn’t even all of them!

We walked all the way up to the Longside Gallery (through a field of cows, but no sculptures!) only to find that the current exhibition is very modern-arty and not that interesting. Random sculptures that even I could have made! Then we took the free shuttle bus back down to the main park and had a look at the last remaining sculptures.

Overall, we were there for about 3 and a half hours, including a stop at the end for a cuppa and some cake. If it hadn’t been such a miserable day, we could probably have taken even more time walking around! Parking costs 8 pounds for the entire day but entrance to the park is free, so I think it’s worth it (especially if you have a car full!). There are also buses from Barnsely and Wakefield that stop directly outside the park if paying for parking bothers you.

Even with the rain we had a good time and the poppies definitely met my expectations. The “Wave” sculpture is there until 10th January 2016 if you want to visit it, but otherwise the park is a great place for a day out in the fresh air at any time.

I’m linking this post up to Monday Escapes with Packing My Suitcase and My Travel Monkey. For more information and to join in click the button below.

Packing my Suitcase

Friday letters

I can’t believe it’s Friday again! It simultaneously seems like I was only just getting ready to go and see the Lion King Musical and like that happened weeks ago. What is going on with my perception of time? Anyway, it’s been a few weeks since my last Friday letters so I thought I’d jump back on the bandwagon.

Eye'm watching you...Dear godson. How are you turning three on Sunday?! Haven’t you only just been born?! I hope you have a fabulous birthday, anyway.

Dear England. Our flights are booked so we will see you soooooon! (By “soon” I mean 19 days. Not that I’m counting down to my holiday or anything…).

Dear flat. Every one of your rooms now has a proper light (as opposed to just a lamp) Admittedly the one in the corridor isn’t very good, but that’s just details 😉 Only a few more items of furniture to buy and we’re done (for now)!

Dear supermarket. It’s barely even autumn yet I saw Lebkuchen in you today. Go away! It’s not time for Christmas stuff yet! (I know I’m stitching Christmas cards, but that’s different… it doesn’t take 3 months to buy some Lebkuchen!)

Dear “What am I stitching?” fans. I’ve already taken the first picture so get your guessing heads on – the post will be going up this weekend.

Right, that’s all from me. Have a great weekend everyone!