Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Horsing Around

(Windy horses foaling around outside my kitchen window. )

One of the loveliest things about this house - and there are quite a few - is that there are horses right outside my kitchen window. I get to breakfast with them.

As I also sit and write at the kitchen table most of the time, the sound of their calm snorts and playful hooves prove a constant companion.

There's something awe-inspiring about the strength and grace of horses. These two are very friendly, coming up to greet me when I step outside the door.

My new friends.

Today, I went for a walk around the village. From my garden I can see an old church, and around the corner you can enter it through a bright yellow courtyard.

The church, from my garden.

Up close.
Ornate carved door.
Strange stone carving.
Ancient wall under renovation.

Something else that I discovered were the German Second World War graves. After visiting the British First World War ones at Ypres, and Great Granda' Tom, it was strange to stand in East Germany looking at the fallen on the other side. They were mostly later into the war, from around 1944 onwards, and often the same family names over and over. Very sad.

After that, I continued along the village and found a nice walk over the fields and along the river. It was gloriously sunny, which was nice, as it seems to alternate between sunshine and grey downpours each day. There has even been snow! Spring seems to be lagging behind England here - there's still snowdrops in my driveway, whilst dad is talking about his daffodils back home.

The other thing that is noticeable is how flat the land is around here. There were some very high mountains on the drive up, but now it's straight horizon in every direction. Quite a nice feeling.

The open road ahead.
Village from a distance.
River Weißen Schöpses or Schwarze? 
Artsy shadow shot.
Abandoned building.

Very pretty place :)

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Retreating, Part II

On Tuesday I drove around six hours to Kassel, where I couchsurfed with a Buddhist family, the wife being a piano teacher who let me play her Steinway baby grand. It was an amazing experience. Gorgeous instrument. Had some really interesting discussions about life, the universe, entheogens and everything.

Then on Wednesday I continued on to my final destination, a little village north of Görlitz in East Germany, near the border with Poland.

Everything went well until the final turn-off. The village is very small, and not signposted anywhere, so I ended up driving up and down the same stretch of road five times before eventually admitting defeat and pulling into a petrol station to ask. At which point the lady behind the counter smiled and said ‘yes, it’s just up the road, on the right’.

So near and yet so far!

It was raining and dark by the time I arrived, but the lovely neighbours were great and really helped me to settle in – showed me where everything was. And the house is fantastic. The perfect writer’s retreat, complete with three bedrooms, a living room, large kitchen, two bathrooms and its very own creepy cellar!

The kitchen.

The living room.

The scary cellar steps...

Cougar Car having a well-earned rest.

Pretty cart in the garden.

Can’t believe my luck.

On Thursday I did a food shop, then drove into Görlitz to buy an internet connection. It’s a USB modem and, shockingly, the connection is worse than Rwanda! Never thought I’d say that, what with their infamous Missing Telephone Network. But it really is pretty bad. Still, almost better than none at all. Not that I want to waste this precious writing time communing with the outside world – but I resent being charged by the day when most of the day I can’t connect.

Boo hiss phone company – poor show ;o/

So – here’s to productivity! I’ve spent the past two days tippety tapping away like a good’n’. I'm also hoping to pop over to Poland at some point, as I’ve never been before.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Retreating, Part I

Well, I made it! :)

Left last Sunday and took the ferry from Dover to Dunkerque, then drove to Ypres.

Co-pilot Percy Rabbit.

Queuing at Dover ferry.

Aaah. When advertising said what it meant.

Anchors away...


Passing through Dover harbour wall with the white
cliffs in the background.
Waiting for the ramps to open onto France.

Stayed in a lovely hotel called the Regina, right in the central square overlooking the Cloth Tower. I’d booked in for two nights to get over the drive.

The Regina is full of quirky art. Here's the
Last Post on the hall wall.

Ypres Cloth Hall, reconstructed after the town was
reduced to mud during the Second World War.

Cloth Hall and mini Cloth Hall.

On the Monday, I went for a walk, then drove to the Town Cemetery Extension to find Great Granddad Tom, who stayed on with the War Graves Commission after being injured in the First World War. He helped found Poelkapelle Cemetery, but eventually died from the conditions aged just forty-one.

In 2005 we re-interred him from the town cemetery to the adjoining military cemetery (or ‘extension’) at the request of the council. This was the first time that I’d been back since then. A bit sad as my nana (his daughter), who was with us last time, has since passed away.

Ypres Town Cemetery.

Looking out across the military extension.

In good company.

Great Grandda's grave.

I rounded off the night with Last Post beneath the Menin Gate, then dinner from the chip shop and a bubble bath.

War memorabilia shop in Ypres.

The Menin Gate.

People gathered beneath the gate as they do
every night of the year to observe the Last Post.

Names inscribed on the gate.

Tributes left.

You can join the Last Post Association online.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Daud's Retirement

Daud meeting his kin at Melbourne Zoo.

When I was twenty-one, I worked on a hippie market stall in Reading selling Indian incense, bronze Hindu statues and tie-dye clothing.

I left Reading with my then partner to travel around Australia for a year. We took the toy elephant from on top of the stall, named him Daud after my boss, and gave him the new title of: Daud the Travelling Elephant.

He came with us all around Aus. He also went to Rome, the Lake District and several other places. He's been pictured at Melbourne Zoo, Ayres Rock and countless areas of interest.

But, unfortunately, Daud has become a little frayed in recent years. No longer his lustrous self.

I'm going to take him to visit my friend Martine, to get dolled-up, at some point but, for now, Daud is handing over his duties to Percy the Rabbit, who I found on my recent trip to Belgium.

Daud today, in need of TLC.

Percy Rabbit, ready to go.
The reason for the co-pilot?

I'm off on another road trip.

Someone's lending me their house on the German-Polish border for a while, to hide away and write. So, early tomorrow morning, I'm driving down to Dover and taking the afternoon ferry across to Dunkerque, from whence I'm continuing up to Ypres (also known as Leper) to chill out in a hotel for a couple of nights. I also plan to visit the Menin Gate and my great grandfather's grave, which I haven't done for over five years now.

From there I'm carrying on to Kassel in Germany, to couchsurf with a family, breaking up the nine hour journey.

On Wednesday I hope to arrive in a little village north of Görlitz.

First ever solo journey of this length so a little nervous, but ready for my next adventure.

Wish me luck everyone - I may not post again for a while. Hopefully I can pick up a USB modem from 1&1, but not sure how soon. Plus it's not much of a writer's retreat if I spend all of my time online now, is it? ;)