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A week in Swabia

Tuttlingen, Singen, Zurich Airport and London Luton Airport


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I've had a great week in Tuttlingen, which is in the far south-west of Germany, only around 20km from the Swiss border and from the Bodensee (Lake Constance).

I was there because I was teaching 17-19-year-olds a preparation course for the speaking part of the English Abitur exam. The situation for my colleague 'M' and I this week was a little peculiar, because since the actual term doesn't start until midway next week, most of the school was empty - apart from our two classes, we had only a couple of secretarial staff, the caretaker and the occasional teacher for company, plus the contact teacher at the beginning of the week. We weren't given access to a staff room, so our movements were restricted to the classrooms, the secretaries' office, a tiny secretaries' kitchen, the copying room and the toilets.

The students were all quite high level. They were all really nice - a pleasure to teach all round. Since it was an exam preparation course, the end-of-week presentations yesterday were based on two types of Abitur English speaking exam tasks (monologues describing and analysing political or social newspaper/magazine cartoons, and paired discussions based on different topics.)

Yesterday and Thursday were overcast, but during the first half of the week the weather was beautiful. I took advantage on Tuesday and Wednesday by going on lovely walks round town and up a nearby forested hill to look round 'Ruine Honberg', remains of a small medieval fortress. Rebuilding work was going on on one tower, but aside from that I was almost the only person there the whole time, so it was very peaceful. Great views through the trees, too.

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In town it was lovely just strolling around the centre, taking in the pleasant architecture, parks and atmosphere.

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The entire town was burnt to the ground by a devastating fire in 1803 and some buildings from the original reconstruction survive, including the Tuttlinger Haus, now an interesting house museum with displays on local history as well as of one of the main families who lived here - all in German, but I managed to decipher some of it!

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It turns out that although the population of Tuttlingen is only about 35,000, the town currently produces nearly half of the world's supply of surgical instruments. Tuttlingen was formerly a shoe manufacturing centre, because there were several tanneries along the banks of the Danube.

Yesterday afternoon I didn't do much except follow the cricket and go out for a bit of shopping and a walk to the train station to buy my ticket to Zurich Airport for the next day. I also went to an 'Eiscafé' for a coffee with 'M' to celebrate the end of the working week - I asked for an iced coffee and it came with a scoop of ice cream and a mountain of real whipped cream on top! Delicious!

The first leg of my journey today - a rail replacement bus to Singen - didn't leave until 11:15, so after five days of very early starts I very much enjoyed a bit of a lie in and a nice leisurely breakfast! I also managed a last quick walk around town, in order to take a few pictures of sculptures I had noticed on previous days.

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In one of the parks I came across a group of people playing a type of bowls;

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The train journey from Singen to Zurich Airport was very smooth. There was some wonderful scenery, including a view of what I think were the spectacular Rhine Falls. I didn't manage to get any pictures of them though.

My experience at Zurich Airport was seamless and the flight to Luton Airport was uneventful.

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Posted by 3Traveller 16:58 Archived in Germany Tagged waterfalls art buildings airport germany museum switzerland explorations english_teaching fortifications natural_wonder house_museum river_danube tuttlingen Comments (0)

A very special day in Užice

Užice


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There were one or two more normal classes first thing and then the next couple of hours were taken up with final rehearsals and getting ready for the Show. The Show went really well - both classes put on a great performance. My class did a tweaked version of Modern Cinderella and the other class did a reverse-gender version of Romeo and Juliet.

The school day finished early so that people (including us) could go to view a special event in one of the town squares - the school leavers' dance performance! I hadn't heard of it before, but it turns out that this traditional event is synchronised in several countries across the Balkans; the school leavers from every secondary school in every town come together to dance the same dance at the same time in one massive group in a public square. There was a commentator and introducer speaking over the loudspeaker and I think it was being televised too. We went along with some students and teachers from 'our' school to watch. It started in decorous and well co-ordinated fashion, with white umbrellas and basic ballroom steps; as time went on it became gradually less and less decorous and co-ordinated... The umbrellas were dispensed with, the music changed, the group broke up into smaller ones and the celebrations became more raucous, though not in a negative manner. It was a very joyful event and I felt very lucky and privileged to have been at the school on just the right day to have had the chance to see it.

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Eventually M and I moved on in order to get started on the rest of our programme for the afternoon... We bought some lunch from a mini-market first, and then split up, each of us with a group of eager now-ex-students keen to show us around. M wanted to get his hair cut, so his group took him to a barber; mine took me to a tiny but interesting house museum first. It was built by a rich merchant in the second half of the 19th century and reminded me quite a lot of the National Revival house museums in Bulgaria. The Ottoman influence was clear.

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Next up for me was the Church of St George, a small and pretty Orthodox church with an incredibly beautiful interior. My guides said that they had never been inside before, which I found interesting.

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My last stop before both groups met up again was at a cultural centre, where we had Turkish coffee and one of my guides told my fortune from the coffee grounds, reminding herself of the meanings from her phone.

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Once we had met up again, some of each group had to go home but others remained. They took us to the Old Town, which is the name of the archaeological remains of a 14th century fortress dramatically set on a steep, rocky hill a little outside of the city centre. We walked alongside the River Đetinja to get there. It was interesting to wander round the ruins, and from the top there were absolutely fantastic views of the winding valley and river, the town and the hills beyond. The sun had properly come out now so it was a very hot day.

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More people had to go after that, so only a couple remained. We were taken further along the river and through at least one tunnel to a bridge where we could see a waterfall. We had passed through outskirts of the city and it felt properly in the countryside; very green and lovely. The river ran clear and I was tempted to paddle and/or swim.

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That was our last stop of the day, so after walking back into town and saying our goodbyes we took a taxi to our hotel. I was knackered and in need of a rest - my fitbit said that I had taken 26,000 steps so far today, so I'm not surprised!

Tomorrow we both take the bus to Belgrade. M will go straight to the airport, but I've arranged a night in Belgrade so I can have a good look round some of the city before I fly back on Sunday.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:06 Archived in Serbia Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains bridges serbia traditions explorations english_teaching fortifications orthodox_church house_museum užice serbian_cuisine Comments (4)

Fireflies, fireworks & 'Detski Romski' festival

Veliko Tarnovo


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Not long ago I got back from a lovely walk round town. My first destination was a park not far from Mother Bulgaria Square, but on the way I stopped at the wooden-shuttered bakery on the craftsmen's street for a kashkavalka for lunch.

The reason why I wanted to go to this park was because I knew the 'Detski Romski' festival was going on. 'Detski Romski' means 'Roma Children'. Yesterday lunchtime, before work, I'd nipped out to the deli to get some lunch, heard music playing from the park and gone to investigate; I saw there were carnival stalls and lots of groups of children in traditional dress spread around. The fountains were in full flow, the flowerbeds were in bloom and the sun was shining. The last time I'd been in this park was in February or March, when the flowerbeds were being dug up and the fountains weren't in use yet.There was a small stage set up with people standing in a ring around it; the groups of children took turns in doing dances. Every now and then, one boy and one girl sang a song together over loudspeaker. I kicked myself for not having my camera with me, but then noticed the banner which said the festival was between 5 -7th June, so I decided to come back today.

Unfortunately when I arrived there today, at one o'clock, the dancing had just stopped and everyone was packing up. Such a shame! I kicked myself for not arriving earlier. I still took some photos of the park, though, because it was so lovely.

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From the park I moved on to the fruit & veg market. To my surprise, although they still had loads and loads of cherries, the amount of strawberries on sale had halved since two weeks ago. Maybe this is just one type of strawberry, and other types will come into season later in the month. I asked one woman for 100g of strawberries, but she refused to sell me them (maybe because people were just starting to pack up and she wanted to sell them in kgs or 500g only). She was needlessly abrupt about it, though, so I went to a different stall and bought 500g from the woman there (I figured that nobody would probably sell me 100g). There was a noticeable increase in tomatoes and I also saw a very small amount of raspberries - maybe these are just beginning to come into season.

Yesterday evening I went out for dinner with R, Belgian S and a friend of hers. I took them to Taverna, the first restaurant I ate at in Bulgaria, because although it's only round the corner from us, for some reason R hadn't made it there yet. They do lovely chicken kavarma here, plus some of the best tarator in town, so I had both, plus some potato wedges. After we'd finished eating R had to dash, but the rest of us walked along Gurko Street. We saw some fireflies - I've seen these around this part of Gurko Street for a few weeks now. They are so captivating to watch.

On Friday evening, R and I were sitting in F's living room having a hot drink and a chat with her when suddenly we heard the unmistakeable sound of firework bangs. We looked out of the windows behind us but only saw flickers of light. They were clearly going off by the sword monument, on the other side of the hill. Just then the loudest fireworks bang I'd ever heard happened and we all rushed downstairs to have a look! F went onto the terrace, but R and I ran down the steps onto the street and sprinted along it, looking for a good viewing point. We saw a few absolutely fantastic ones, but by the time we reached the first proper terrace, they'd stopped. As far as we were aware there was no special occasion that day, but later that evening we found out a beer festival had been the cause!

On Thursday morning I went to Sarafkina House, the Gurko Street house museum.

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I was very much looking forward to seeing it, especially the displays of all the types of traditional bread, dyed eggs and Martenitsas I'd heard about, and I wasn't disappointed. So interesting!

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I loved the old photos of musicians, traditional trades and general life of VT, too, plus the historic building itself, though I only got to see two of the five floors - the one level with Gurko Street and the one above. I loved the view from the windows as well.

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Posted by 3Traveller 07:01 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market museum bulgaria veliko_tarnovo house_museum bulgarian_cuisine gurko_street traditional_customs Comments (0)

Further Plovdiv explorations

Plovdiv and Shipka


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Well, we certainly fitted a lot into this morning and the first half of the afternoon!

The very first thing I did after breakfast was walk to an internet café to print off Mum's boarding pass for her. Reception at our hostel didn't have a printer, but they told me how to get to a place where there was one. Something I've noticed in Bulgaria is that internet cafés are much rarer than they are in Ecuador - this was the first time I'd been to one in Bulgaria. It was mega-simple though - walked in, didn't even need to log on to one of the for-public-use computers as the girl in charge set up hers quickly for me instead; three minutes, cost about 20 stotinki (8p)! On my way back I stopped at a fruit & vegetable market and bought Mum a bag of cherries.

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First stop together was the Ethnographic Museum; I'd been there before, in March, but Mum hadn't. Our favourite exhibits were; the traditional musical instruments and mummers' costumes, the large wooden attar of roses container which had been steeped in the stuff for so long in the past that it still smelled wonderfully of roses, and the huge, fluffy (sheepskin?), colourful rugs on one wall. Mum also particularly liked the embroidery as well.

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From there we headed down the road to Hadji Aleko's House, via a souvenir shop where the owner's wife weaved mats and wall hangings on looms at the back of the shop (she wasn't actually in action when we went, but there were half-made things on them and the owner told us his wife made them).

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Hadji Aleko's House is a National Revival building now used as an art gallery. Downstairs was filled with contemporary paintings for sale, whilst upstairs had a permanent exhibition. My favourite contemporary painting was of a colourful Firebird. Lots of original antique furniture as well, especially upstairs.

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Once we had looked round the gallery we were feeling quite hungry, so I took Mum to a restaurant I knew of at the foot of Danov Hill. Back in March I tried to have lunch there but was thwarted by the public holiday crowds, so I was keen to return! My tarator and potato balls were delicious; the dish of cooked red pepper slices surprised me by being cold, but were nice all the same.

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Our last proper stop before returning to the hostel was done on an impulse at a small mosaic museum which I think was connected to a Roman forum excavation nearby. The mosaics were impressive and we also liked the well-lit and colourful collection of amulets and scent bottles made of Roman glass. It was just the thing to round off our Plovdiv visit!

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After picking up my stuff from our hostel and saying goodbye, I took a taxi to the north bus station. The bus journey back to Veliko Tarnovo was uneventful, though we did stop for ten minutes at Shipka. The golden domes of the Russian Church gleamed over the rooftops. Right in the middle of the parking area was a cherry tree absolutely dripping with ripe fruit; I enjoyed several ultra-fresh, sweet and juicy cherries before it was time to get back on the bus.

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Mum had a couple of hours to go in Plovdiv before her lift to the airport; apparently she went for another walk and saw a Bulgarian bagpiper performing outside a shop. This is something I really want to see before I leave Bulgaria.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:57 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains art market museum buses traditions bulgaria mum plovdiv roman_remains house_museum bulgarian_cuisine traditional_customs shipka_pass Comments (0)

Frescoes, baklava and more strawberries

Arbanasi and Veliko Tarnovo


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Going to Arbanasi today was a priority for Mum, as she was really keen to see it and we hadn't managed to go there when she visited me last October. We arrived at about 9 o'clock because the weather forecast had predicted sunshine in the morning but then a thunderstorm later on.

First of all, seeing as the sun was out but might not be later, we went to the magnificent viewing point where I had taken previous visitors.

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Then we went into the Church of the Nativity (stopping at an outdoors gym on the way - we tried out one or two of the machines!). Mum absolutely loved it, just like I thought she would. It's just so colourful and atmospheric inside! It started off with just us there, but then a party of young American men came in with a guide. This turned out to be quite beneficial to us, because we could overhear all the interesting information the guide had to offer the group. She showed them (and us) the painting of the Wheel of Life with its days, seasons, signs of the Zodiac, man at different life stages and the angels pulling on ropes to turn the wheel; the bad tradesmen in hell, suffering punishments related to their crimes; the shepherds in appropriate period dress (including one sitting in the Turkish manner, playing a pipe); the unicorn amongst the animals being named by Adam; the remaining original frescoes from the 15th century and the second layer of ones from 1681; the dragons on top of the iconostasis; and more. We also overheard her say that figures of the Ancient Greek philosophers were painted on the wall or ceiling of one of the rooms, but we couldn't spot them when we went to look.

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From there we went on to Konstantsalievata's House, the house museum I'd taken previous visitors to. I described this is a previous blog entry so I won't write more about it here, except for that Mum particularly admired all the heavy carved wooden chests and the wonderful carved wooden ceilings.

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After that we were both quite hungry but it wasn't lunchtime yet, so we had a coffee/ hot chocolate and some baklava at a café instead. We both loved the baklava; it was different to any we'd had before, being in a large slice like a slice of tart or pie. It was very syrupy and delicious; quite often (especially in the UK) baklava is very stiff and solid and stodgy, but this wasn't.

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Our next destination was the Church of St Atanas; I hadn't been before and didn't know anything about it, but I thought it would be interesting to check it out. Well, unfortunately it was closed when we arrived! We did however see a huge quantity of red and black beetles on the steps.

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By the time we'd wandered over there and back again it had started drizzling. We decided to have lunch slightly early; however Arbanashki Han, the place where I took people for lunch before, had a big party arriving soon, so we decided just to go back to the same place we'd had baklava. I had pepper burek (stuffed peppers with batter or breadcrumbs on the outside) and tarator and Mum had breadcrumbed chicken bites with a salad garnish.

The rain was tailing off by the time we left the café and headed to another place I'd been to with previous visitors; the monastery of Sveta Bogoroditsa. We both bought and lit candles there and wandered around both rooms, admiring the icons, frescoes and flowers. This time, instead of tulips, daffodils or carnations, they had roses and sweet williams in vases along one side. Two or three lambs munched on leaves outside.

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Our walk back to VT went well - we took the same route as I had taken with Kate and Andrew. The vegetation had overgrown even more than when they were here two weeks ago, but it was only a problem in that since it had only just stopped raining and Mum was wearing flipflops, she kept sliding on the grass in them! The sun came out relatively soon into the walk, however, plus the path became less overgrown, so the problem didn't last. It was a lovely walk and Mum enjoyed it too.

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Once back at the flat it was between 4 and 5pm - we'd left at about 8.50 in the morning! We put our feet up for a couple of hours before going out for dinner at Hadji Nikoli. I took her here when she was here last October and she had requested a return visit. Since the temperature was so mild, this time we sat in the courtyard. No pianist this time unfortunately, but the food was just as good. Mum had grilled tiger prawns and vegetables and I had tarator (of course!) and cannelloni.

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We both had coffees (I had Turkish) but didn't have any pudding there because we knew we had strawberries waiting for us back at the flat. More strawberries with rosehip syrup - a perfect way to round off the day.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:26 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged museum monastery roses bulgaria mum icons veliko_tarnovo church_of_the_nativity orthodox_church house_museum bulgarian_cuisine river_yantra arbanasi Comments (0)

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