- European Chronicles '98 -


I arrived back from a 6-week European tour on Saturday, 6th June, after an exhausting train journey from München to Frankfurt Airport, a hop over to London and an additional 12-hour flight from London to Cape Town. There simply is never enough time to see everything and everyone. The focus of the trip, therefore, was to visit places I had not been to before and see a number of good friends at the same time, some of whom I hadn't seen in years, in effect killing two birds with one stone. The initial catalyst, though, was to attend a Yes concert at Hammersmith in London the day after my arrival there on 23rd April.


It would have been rather daft if I were to fly to Europe purely for the sake of seeing my favourite rock band, unless I was desperate for an entry into the Guinness Book of Records for the "longest distance travelled for attendance at a rock concert"! I therefore began to plan an extensive trip to disguise this, though most people who knew me well weren't fooled, particularly as I had been following the concert tour reviews on Internet very closely. It was a 20-year old burning ambition realised and it turned out to be an amazing show - the last of their European tour, and such great fun.  All the YES trademarks were there - the intricate time signatures and tempo changes, the complex layers of sound and stunning vocal harmonies of Jon Anderson, each piece performed to perfection. It was like watching a rock equivalent of a classical  orchestra. The audience gave them a standing ovation after practically every number.

I stayed in London for just under a week with Marek and Renate, who were in the process of renovating their flat. I visited museums in the process, inter alia the outstanding Museum of Moving Images (MOMI) and the Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Embankment. Isn't it amazing to be able to roam Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus and to have access to the multitude of plays and musicals on offer.  The choice is usually difficult but I settled for the musical "Rent" because there seemed to be a certain "buzz" surrounding this show.  I was ultimately extremely disappointed not to have been able to get tickets for the drama "Naked" starring Juliette Binoche, as I had procrastinated and left booking too late in the day. I desperately wanted to see a play of real substance and to make matters worse, in my haste, I ended up in a half-empty theatre having to agonize through the excruciatingly painful and trashy musical "Popcorn". This turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment or perhaps I had simply missed the point!

Anyway, it was up to Scotland and Glasgow to visit family whom I had never met, namely Madge and Archie Wyllie. For the record, Archie’s Dad and my grandmother were brother and sister. Archie’s well into his 80’s but boy, can he join in the fun and sing a song or two? From Glasgow we went "Roamin' in the Gloamin'", as it were, on a day trip along Loch Lomond to Oban. This was followed by a visit to Dunoon by ferry from Gurrock. Justice would not have been served if I had not paid homage to Glasgow itself, often criticised and playing second fiddle to Edinburgh in all but football. Yet it is a fascinating city nonetheless, especially in terms of architecture.

The train journey back to London wasn’t without it’s fair share of drama. In the Midlands, the locomotive of two trains, including ours, broke down and we were forced to crawl into Birmingham International, change trains and set off again, arriving in London almost three hours late at about 23h00. I then organised a taxi to Brentford, courtesy of Virgin Rail. What concerned me most of all was the fact that I had an arrangement to get the key from the neighbours, as my friends Marek and Renate were away in South Africa, and did not wish to impose on them at some unearthly hour. But their light was still on and I decided to risk bothering them, which they they did not seem to mind, so it was a case of all’s well that ends well.


      Heidelberg on the Neckar


After returning to London, I popped down to Canterbury by bus to visit Jo, an Australian "Sheila" whom I had met on my African Overland Tour. Jo was studying midwifery at Canterbury Hospital and was desperately yearning for warmer climates, so her tenacity in terms of attempting to achieve her current goal was commendable. She had also climbed Kilimanjaro, as I had done. I flew to Copenhagen for a few days to meet up with Claus, whom I had also met on my African Overland Tour. We all stayed with his cousin Henrik & Conni, who were in the process of..…you’ve guessed it….renovating the flat. This was after having spent the first evening in a Youth Hostel.


A group of eight of us went to eat out one evening at a restaurant located directly opposite Tivoli Amusement Park, that had earned the distinction of having "the longest bar in Europe", Henrik announced proudly. Bearing in mind the weakness of our currency on the international market, as a South African, I had the distinct impression that this establishment probably also appending a fair number of zeroes to the last figure appearing on the bill. Claus, bless his heart, bailed me out! Well, now I know where these Vikings get their reputation for partying. Claus was ready to hit the pubs, which we did, till 4 in the morning! I never thought that I would be dancing in a Scandanavian Scottish pub called Rosie McGee with a girl from Norway, in a moment of harmless spontaneity, thereafter swopping e-mail addresses. Telephone numbers are so passée, you know. Then on to Frankfurt via London by air and a rail trip to Lüdenscheid near Hagen, where I stayed with Ariadne, a Greek friend of mine, whom I knew from South Africa. She and Gerd live in a cottage (renovated some years ago!) in the stunning rural Sauerland countryside. I did a walk in the area, while also visiting Düsseldorf and Münster on separate days. Ariadne opitimises your archetypal "Gastfrau", extremely concerned as to my well-being, organising little lunch boxes and leaving little notes before going off to work each day. The only flaw in this role is that she is in fact a South African of Greek origin, extremely well versed in practically any language imaginable, or most, at least. She arranged for a one very sweet Delia to take a day's leave to accompany me to Münster, which was jolly decent of them both!


I then moved on to Brühl near Mannheim for a brief stay with Bettina & Volker, Bettina being a sister of one of my best friends in Cape Town. They had just returned from a working stint in Dubai in the Middle East. I was able to visit Heidelberg once again with them on the beautiful Saturday morning of 16th May, the last occasion being some years back in the middle of Winter, on my first visit to Europe. We called in at the beautiful gardens at Schloß Schwetzingen. We also wandered down to the local village festival of sorts for a quick bratwürst and beer.


After a short overnight stopover in Erlangen near Nürnberg, I headed for Leipzig to visit family Falk. Siglinde I hadn't seen since my 4-month European sojourn in 1988 and Max, her husband, I was meeting for the very first time. We went down to Chemnitz in the south, where their son, Steffen, and his wife, Eike-Maria, live and work, he as a traditional silversmith, in partnership with a friend, producing the most astounding handmade silver crafts. The business is located in the grounds of Schloß Klaffenbach. It was wonderful to see how that part of the world is developing and definite signs of progress are in evidence. Leipzig was charming and I saw the city unlike most tourists would, in that I was able to share in Max's experience as he showed me where the former Stasi buildings had been located and discussed the transformation in former East Germany from his perspective. I was shown the contents of a file which the notorious Stasi organisation had compiled. The ultimate purpose of this mad dash across central Europe was to edge ever closer to the city which was initially top of my wish list, that being the architectural and cultural jewel of Prague!
Prague, where I spent a week, is an incredible place! I could write a book about it. The castles, the history, the beauty, the music, the vibrancy and the excitement!! I traversed the city from dawn to dusk to see as museums, parks, churches and cathedrals as I possibly could.  The intensely beautiful Czech women, with characteristic Slavic features, of high cheek bones, are second to none, in terms of stunningly good looks. The Thursday on which I arrived also turned to be a public holiday in Germany. So practically "half of Germany" decided to "park off" in Prague for the weekend along with all the other tourists. The first day or so I did not know whether I was "Arthur or Martha" in attempting to gain my bearings. I bought a decent guide book called "Eyewitness".  In retrospect, I take pride in the fact that I resisted the temptation of booking a city tour as a convenient way to end the frustration in attempting to get "kick-started" in first place.
The frustration as a backpacker is that one is not able to purchase and take along any one of a multitude of souvenirs available in this unique city, especially a piece of Bohemian crystal. Well, at least I have the memories, including those of a performance given by the Prague Symphony Orchestra in the Rudolfinum, performing et al Mozart’s "Prague Symphony". I journeyed to Karlstein Castle, about 25 miles from the city, in order to distance myself from the tourist rabble for a while. At dusk I even mustered the energy after this day trip, to visit the ruins at Vyséhrad. 

I moved on to Vienna, where I spent a few days visiting Markus, another South Africa expatriate and friend of mine, and his girlfriend, Bibi. Markus had unfortunately fallen off a bicycle and slipped a disc recently, but was recovering after receiving acupuncture and I enjoyed some walks with them in the vicinity of their appartment, located near the Prater.


The last leg of the trip took me to Greiling, 35km south of München, in the heart of Bavaria, to visit yet another kind friend of mine. When one wakes up in the morning to the chiming of small bells, one's initial thoughts are that the Hare Krishna are in town, until this image is arrested by the sound of a "mooing" cow - one then realises that one is in rural countryside. Christa, a Lufthansa air hostess, who was in Cape Town in 1998 with her friend, Rita, was on leave and showed me a bit of the magical Bavarian countryside encompassing forests, lakes, farmland, Baroque churches, the distant blue Alps always within view. The astoundingly majestic Neuschwanstein Castle proved well worth the visit.

And so a truly amazing trip came to a close. On my last day, Christa took me by car into München, as I had the added complication of having to pick up a bag at a hotel in one of the suburbs which had been brought to München from Mannheim by Bettina (I had been carrying too much luggage on my trip). Time was of the essence and this was just days after the horrendous high-speed train crash in Germany, which had put the normal time table into disarray. So Christa had gone to some trouble and this was jolly decent of her. We had a coffee in the city before I did a wee bit of shopping and then rushing off to catch the train.

At Frankfurt Airport, the BA flight from London which was to take me there in order to catch my connection to SA was late in arriving, which caused a delay in my flight to London. At Heathrow a change from terminal 1 to terminal 4 was necessitated and by the time I arrived there, it was just about time to board the flight for home, which left very little time for duty- free wandering. I was exhausted and consequently slept quite well on the flight, which was relatively empty, arriving back in Cape Town early the following morning.


Images on this page include:

  • St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle - Interior and stained-glass windows.

  • Ferry from Gurrock to Dunoon, Scotland.

  • Rosenborg Castle and Gardens, Copenhagen.

  • Jan Hus Statue, Church of Our Lady before Tyn, Prague.

  • View of the Neckar River from Heidelberg Castle.

  • Cathedral interior, Leipzig.

  • Golden Lane, Prague Castle.

  • Hand-painted caskets and Easter eggs in a shop window, Prague.


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