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A week in Swabia

Tuttlingen, Singen, Zurich Airport and London Luton Airport

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)

Dryanovo Gorge & Monastery

Dryanovo Gorge and Monastery


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It was around two o'clock by now so after lunch in Tryavna we headed straight off to the monastery. It is dramatically set in Dryanovo Gorge - apparently most of the monasteries in Bulgaria were deliberately built in geographically dramatic places. The monastery was quite small but extremely beautiful inside. Every church and cathedral I've been to in Bulgaria has had a stall selling beeswax candles and little religious trinkets and this one was no exception; I bought and lit a candle for Dad.

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In a separate building there was a museum that apparently contained stone age pottery and arrowheads and other things found in the Bacho Kiro cave nearby, but just as we walked up to it, a woman locked the door. It closes early during the winter. To the right of that, however, we saw a door and some steps leading down into a room selling sweets, preserved vegetables and a few handicrafts, so we went in. I saw a wooden bowl filled with colourfully painted, light, wooden eggs, so on an impulse I bought a couple. I imagine that at Easter time, painted eggs will be everywhere!

Then we walked across the river behind the monastery and up part of the mountain for five minutes until we got to Bacho Kiro cave.

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To get there we had to re-cross the river using a different bridge; it consisted of lots of little waterfalls almost joined together. As we crossed it, I noticed that part of it was frozen!

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The time was 15.45 by now and in the winter the cave closes at 16.00. We could see the entrance to the cave from the ticket booth, so 'F' asked the man if we could possibly just step inside the cave and look round the main bit for ten minutes. This was not possible, however! Oh well.

To make up for that, we continued climbing up the mountain for a bit until we reached the top of the gorge. The view, needless to say, was stunning.

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There was a beech wood at the top. We carried on walking for five minutes until we reached the river again, which, because we were further back in the gorge, was at a much higher up stage than where we'd crossed it before. It was filled with giant boulders.

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There was no bridge this high up but there were stepping stones, so we jumped across them and walked for a bit through the beech trees that continued on the other side. After a couple of minutes the trail petered out, so after making a pact to come back again in the spring or summer, this time for a whole day, we retraced our steps and drove back to VT.

Posted by 3Traveller 17:18 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged waterfalls mountains monastery dad bulgaria orthodox_church cave_system Comments (0)

Waterfalls

Hotnitsa


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Today I went on my first excursion outside of Veliko Tarnovo. The first part of it was a car boot sale! Not the kind of thing I expected to find in Bulgaria. It was in a field next to a farm; I saw sheep being herded into the field behind us and a harnessed (but not saddled) donkey nibbling on grass next to a stream. Most of the stalls were run by British expats, though there were one or two ones run by locals. The only thing I bought was a jar of homemade raspberry and apple jam, which I intend to have as soon as I've finished my current jar of delicious homemade raspberry and redcurrant jam!

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After we'd looked round the car boot sale, we walked for half an hour through the open countryside to an impressive set of waterfalls. There was a big pool in front of it and there were sets of wooden steps/ ladders up the side.

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We climbed these, looked out from above the waterfall (there was a lovely view) and explored the river leading up to the edge. There were several more ladders as well as small, wooden slat bridges taking us across the river and back again, past pools and smaller waterfalls. Once we came back to where we'd started from, at the foot of the big waterfall, most of us paddled for a while.

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It was a wonderfully sunny day and it was lovely to get out into the countryside for a while. Once we had driven past the hills and enscarpments that surround Veliko Tarnovo, the landscape was quite flat.

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Posted by 3Traveller 10:40 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged waterfalls bulgaria explorations Comments (0)

Mindo: Cloud forest, butterflies, waterfalls and ziplining

Mindo


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Sunday 20th July

Bus journey from Quito to Mindo. Mindo is a tiny village surrounded by mountains covered in cloud forest, which makes up one of the most biodiverse areas on Earth. This setting is certainly dramatic.

My hostel was very quiet. I'd booked a bed in a 2-bed dorm, which along with the other dorms was within the owner's house, but nobody else arrived to take the other bed. In fact I seemed to be the only person booked into a dorm the whole time I was there! This meant it was very quiet, peaceful and relaxing.

For dinner I had a whole steamed tilapia fish, learning through the process of ordering that the Spanish word for steamed is 'al vapor'... makes sense considering what the process of steaming is. I'd never come across steamed food on a menu in Ecuador before.

Monday 21st July

At breakfast I saw hummingbirds for the first time since Dave and I did the Inca Trail in Peru five years ago!

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After some scrambled eggs, pineapple juice, melon slices, toast, jam and coffee I looked round the little orchid garden attached to the hostel, but it evidently wasn't the right time of year to see them because not very many were in flower. It was still nice to wander round though.

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After that I booked a ziplining trip for the afternoon and walked to a butterfly farm. It was very hot and sunny and I soon left paved roads behind; as I walked along the whitish dirt road in the middle of lush greenery, with the sun beating down on my head, I got a sudden image in my head of the cover of my copy of 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning', which shows the back of Laurie Lee as he walks by himself along a road in the middle of nowhere in Spain.

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At the butterfly farm I saw some bright shiny silver jewel-like chrysalises that are designed to look like water drops, a butterfly in the process of breaking out of a normal-coloured chrysalis, and lots of brightly coloured butterflies! I especially liked the ones that were grey, brown and black on one side of their wings but then electric blue on the other side when they opened them. There were bowls of overripe bananas around, food for the butterflies, and when I dipped my finger in the juice, butterflies would then land on it.

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My afternoon ziplining trip was an exhiliarating experience, zipping between beautiful valleys and mountains within the cloud forest. There were ten lines. I was put with two small groups of Germans and one of Ecuadorians. We saw two toucans in the branches of a tree at one point - I was so happy! I love toucans and I hadn't seen any since Dave and I saw some in Brazil on the same trip five years ago that I just mentioned above.

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On the way back I started walking but was then given a lift the rest of the way by a group of girls who'd been in my group. It had clouded over by the time the ziplining had begun, and just as they dropped me off at the end of my road it started pouring with rain.

A couple of hours later, when I went out for dinner, the rain had stopped. I went to a café known for its brownies, though I didn't have room for one after I'd had my main. They didn't actually have any hot main dishes left by that time, only salads and sandwiches, so I had a really thick tuna sandwich with a side of yuca chips and a chocolate milkshake. I made a mental note to come back the next day for lunch.

Tuesday 22nd July

First thing this morning I went on a cable car over a forested gorge to a protected forest, where there was a long walking trail leading to and past six different waterfalls. I was one of the first people there so I had a lovely peaceful walk with nobody else around for the majority of the time. It was very sunny again this morning.

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It took a couple of hours to do the main walk, which went past five of the waterfalls. Then there was a shorter, separate path to the sixth waterfall, which was also the biggest. I swam in the pool and river beneath it - the water was so refreshing and cool - very very welcome considering how hot and sweaty I was after my long hike! The current was very strong so when I tried to swim to the waterfall itself to get underneath it, I couldn't because the current pushed me back so hard. I was trying to swim forwards but ended up just swimming on the spot.

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I wanted to stay in there for hours but eventually dragged myself out, got changed and hiked back to the cable car station. Then I walked the 4 km back to the hostel (I'd got a taxi on the way there in the morning). It was all downhill but because I was already tired from the long hike, I arrived pretty exhausted.

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It was about 3pm when I arrived back, so as soon as I'd dumped my stuff I went straight back out again for some lunch at the same café I'd been to for dinner the night before. This time I went for the soup of the day (cream of broccoli and asparagus), a chocolate milkshake, Fanta and one of their famous chocolate brownies. I was stuffed by the time I finished.

I then went back to the hostel for a bit before going to an internet café for a couple of hours. I wasn't particularly hungry for dinner because of how late I'd had lunch, so I left dinner as late as I could and then only had a plate of chips.

Posted by 3Traveller 15:23 Archived in Ecuador Tagged waterfalls mountains birds spanish hostel butterflies ecuador mindo ziplining hummingbirds explorations toucans ecuadorian_cuisine freshwater_swimming Comments (0)

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