Our Year 2019

So Where Did the Year Go?

Right out of the blocks every scrap of non-working time to January 26th was consumed arranging my mother’s funeral. She’d passed away on the 3rd. No let up in February nor through March, struggling to push probate through successive bureaucratic barriers. Eventually in May we were able to put the little retirement Flat on the market. Almost all free time to mid-April was spent planning an expedition for June, overland to Istanbul and back. Only to need to postpone until 2020, though much of the plan detail will be re-usable.

The rest of April into May was taken with planning the fall-back holiday for June: To and from, up and down and all around Switzerland, by train. More of this anon. Immediate on return to from Switzerland all my spare cycles in July went on the horror show which it is to remotely organise a seventeen-year old niece’s applications in Indonesia for a first passport, UK and then Schengen visa. Not to mention insurance and flights. Early August a glimmer of light in accepting an offer on mother’s Flat. But the remainder of the month was additional work-load covering my boss’ and colleagues’ holidays. Oh, and the small challenge of short-notice planning the three of us train-ing it around three European capitals for mid-September. More of this anon too.

As October arrived (just after niece Jessica’s return to Jakarta) briefly considered planning a holiday before year end: Somehow lacked appetite for organising this. Belatedly checked in for a few days in November at a ‘retreat’ in the lovely surrounds of Bath, where it rained solidly pretty much for the duration. Then, lo and behold, time already for the annual round of office parties and so on running towards Christmas. Ninety percentage of which I missed due to a bout of shingles: Recovered enough to make it to the office for the last few work days of the year. Though the vestiges took the edge off even the quiet Christmas spent not going anywhere!

So at bottom is my pretty hopeless time-management. A poor excuse for not replying to letters all year, and for passing on kind invitations to visit folks around the country and beyond. And for missing out on way too many of the usual entertaining distractions. In my defense (it seems to me) this year did present an unprecedented number of challenges: Too many to readily fit around the free time-limiting nine-to-five office week. Clearly my main error was strategic … not finding time to stop working all the time!

To Switzerland (and a bit of Italy) in June

A relaxed morning departure at twenty after ten from St. Pancras Intl. with changes in a blistering hot Paris, later Strasbourg and Basel brought us to the cool clear air of Interlaken a little after 9pm on the first day. Day two a local excursion via mountain trains and cable-cars transported us to gentle ramblings by the alpine pastures above the Lauterbrunnen valley. Day three found us lunching atop Stockhorn (7,185 ft) with spectacular views back over Lake Thun. It was at this juncture our fortunes changed and our paths diverged: Yvonne being winched off the summit by the excellent Swiss mountain air ambulance on account of a severe asthma attack. Leaving me to make my own way down and back to Interlaken to rendez-vouz at A&E! Fortunately no harm incurred, other than to the bank account when the bill arrived.

The following day was a more serene trip up and down Lake Brienz aboard the wonderfully restored 1914 paddle-steamer
Lotschberg putting in for lunch at
Giessbach Falls hotel, accessed by the world’s first funicular railway, 1879. Fourth day saw us up-sticks from Interlaken onward to Chur by the Glacier Express: Four hours of spectacular mountain scenery and incredible narrow-gauge railway engineering (including a portion of cog-wheel or rack-and-pinon track). Chur is the eastern-most canton and oldest Swiss town. Next morning our earliest start of the week was the 8.32 Bernina Express to Tirano, Italy. Four amazing hours on a railway of UNESCO World Heritage status, the highest to cross the Alps, reaching 7,392 feet. A hot, sunny hour-and-a-half in Tirano for excellent Italian lunch before re-boarding for the equally remarkable return ride. We had planned a train-free final day thinking we might fancy a change: In the event couldn’t resist the local ride to Arosa which, being Switzerland, is an astonishing 3,300 ascent over just 16 miles in an hour. Including the Langwieser Viaduct built from reinforced concrete in 1912.

On day eight rather glumly we embarked homeward bound, by the 9.09am Chur to Basel to reach St. Pancras by eight that evening. (Around 700 miles with changes at Strasboug and Lille.).

To Amsterdam, Berlin & Paris in September

Dutch fin-de- siecle ‘Jungenstijl’ murals at Haarlem Station, 1908

Our first chance to take the new Eurostar direct to Amsterdam Centraal, and in under four hours. Opted to stay in the more tranquil setting of Haarlem, at the old station hotel Lion d’Or just a twenty minutes local train from the action. Next morning we were joined by Bob, the eldest nephew (on a break from university in North Sweden). And later that day Yvonne was pleased to introduce Bob and Jessica to some of her Dutch aunties, near Leiden. Day three, our regional travel passes enabled a bus trip to the quaint countryside towns of Vollendam and Edam. Returning to the city we took the obligatory trams all about the sites of Amsterdam including the Dam Square. Here I had a sobering realisation that I first chilled on these steps fully forty-five years ago, when I was Jessica’s age.

A relaxed start on the one o’clock train from Amsterdam brought us to Berlin Hauptbahnhof five after seven. And shortly after to be found downing wiener schnitzel with lashings of Berliner draft at an excellent Potsdamer Platz brauhaus. It’s a travesty to visit for only three days the great city of Berlin, my favourite metropolis of all. But we did our best nonetheless, taking in: Of course The Wall (at Nordbahnhof, and next day by the Ostbahnhof); Alexanderplatz, the museum quarter; the Ku’dam naturally; the infamous Zweibelfisch bar, just off Savignyplatz; back-streets and markets of Kreuzberg; Checkpoint Charlie, obviously; and, the surreptitiously marked site of the Fuhrerbunker; the Brandenburg Gate, naturally. An afternoon by short train and bus ride was spent at Sachsenhausen, the control-centre for all the Third Reich’s concentration camps: Always a pensive experience, but one that shouldn’t really be shied way from, I feel. The mood at the end of this third day lifted by an ascent of the Reichstag dome, modern Germany risen from the ruins, with its vistas of a remarkable historic centre of Europe.

Now reduced to three our ninth day was the longest journey (Bob having flown back to Sweden where his summer bar job awaited): By a nine-thirty departure and via Frankfurt and Karlsruhe we pulled in to Gare de l’Est five after six. Ample time for a brasserie dinner in Montmartre just a short metro ride away, before the de rigeur furnicular up to Sacre Coeur steps for the spectacle of Paris by night. For our three days visit Paris / Versailles sported a sultry 28 degrees, quite a rarity for mid -September, and not the ideal for pounding city streets it must be said. At least the top of Le Tour Eiffel afforded a moderate breeze, and the gardens of Versailles had some shady spots. Napolean’s cool marble mausoleum at Les Invalides was probably the most welcoming spot of all when it came to climate. Evenings spent in bistros and bars were my favourite time of the day if truth be told. No surprises here then! Day thirteen afternoon saw us boarding Eurostar once more for the two hours twenty-five minutes back to St. Pancras International … for a well-earned rest.