Horn-Bad Meinberg (Germany), 22-24/11/12: Yes! We made it to Horn-Bad Meinberg.
Yes! After one wrong number, the taxi came.
Yes! We made it to our cosy room.
…and yes! It featured arts.
I had assumed that our friendly hosts at Hotel Waldschlößchen could, like many Germans, speak perfect Oxford English but spoke German to humour us but later decided that perhaps this was not the case. This presented us with a good opportunity to warm up our Deutsch in the field – Nicole being proficient and me able to ask “where is the [noun]?”, etc.
The hotel itself was quaint and cosy, befitting its location and featured a restaurant downstairs offering several variations on the theme of schnitzell.
As it was relatively isolated, we also got breakfast there which, in what turned out to be typical German style, appeared to us more like lunch.
One advantage of this was that the matron would kindly pack our left-overs as lunch – perfect for long walks in the forest. Also, when we later switched back to cereal, my metabolism really missed the bready, meaty morning jump-start. However it does make you wonder whether bowel cancer is endemic here, given the near-absence of vegetables in the German diet… So here are some hard numbers. It turns out that Germany’s ranked 14th, well behind Australia at number 6, so they must be doing something right.
But I digest. Our visit to Horn-Bad Meinberg (HBMB hereafter) was not for the bread rolls but rather to visit their local attraction, the Externsteine (infrequently refered to as the Ayers Rock of Germany).
These large, rocky protrusions apparently attract around a million tourists each year although it seems that even within Germany the name draws more furrowed brows and puzzled head-scratches than validating “aaaahs”. The Externsteine has also been an important religious site for Pagans and Christians (it features evidence of both groups) and has also had nationalistic signicance, especially around WW2, when the Nazis attempted to prove that it was an important religious site in pre-Christian times in order to boost national pride (kind of “we were holy first” I think) – but with limited success. To this day it attracts neo-hippies and renneisance festival types (those that sup of the pig and drink of the wine from ye goblet), who like to dance at make merry on the site around important astrological dates, much to the chagrin of some of the locals.
It also makes for good photos. The approach was made on foot through pretty, autumnal forest in perfect walking conditions.
There were rest points along the way where you could really kick back.
Then, after about 40 minutes, there was this:
Which led to this:
As you can tell from these epic pics, there are stairs leading up to the top and a sadly closed bridge, built in the late 19th century. From up there one can take pretty autumn panoramas.
It was all quite mystical, and the sureptitious whispers of nature were interupted only by the sound of the public employee with the leaf-blower across the lake.
This man will always have a job.
Once we felt we’d absorbed as much of the Externsteine and its infotaining visitors center as we could, we went out to take in the sights and sounds of bustling HBMB.
It is a small, cute town attached to national forest with nothing in particular for tourists on drizzly winter days. There was however a future echo of our trip in this monument:
…in that we would be visiting Metz, France in a few weeks time. As yet I haven’t been able to determine the significance of this memorial though.
We trudged through the rain back to Waldschlößchen, our eager sights set on a warm dining room, a Schnitzel dinner (which did not disappoint) and a good night’s sleep, since the morning promised another day of train travel which we were determined would this time be without incident.
Warwick (England), 15/11/12: Today we were touristing to Coventry.
Over the years, Coventry’s gone through its fair share of holy buildings. Early on they had a nunnery, but that got sacked by the post-Viking Danish King Canute. Next, Leofric, Earl of Mercia and his nude, equestrian wife Godiva planted a monastary, later converted to a priory and cathedral. This lasted a few hundred years before King Henry VIII got into his famous disagreement with the Pope over his desire to re-marry and had it taken apart brick by brick.
Some decades later they gave the cathedral idea another go on the same site, this time with the new Church of England branding. They got about 500 good years out of it before World War II broke out and, as a result of being next door to Coventry’s weapon factories, it became an unfortunate victim to German fire bombing. Its ruins remain and provided direction and form to the current cathedral, designed in the 60’s by Basil Spence.
We took in a tour of the new cathedral. I was underwhelmed at first but to hear it all explained added a great deal to the experience. It initially appeared to me a bit of a hodge-podge of ideas and designs. I still think it is, but it all hangs together in a funny sort of way. In retrospect, I guess most grand old cathedrals and chapels I’ve seen are just as stylistically discombobulated but you just don’t always notice from so far away on the time axis.
We ran out of time to go to Stratford – next time, as they say. For good measure, the public contributions to the arts at the park-and-ride bus shelter (which I present here as Exhibit A) were mildly inspirational but short of divine.
Warwick (England), 14/11/12: The other thing that never ceases to amaze be besides the rich fertility of England is the old things and how accessible they are. Following our sit-down breakfast, we, along with our hosts, set out to explore some of Warwick’s more famous examples of the genre.
First stop was the Cathedral, just another workaday magnificent European, centuries old structure with dozens of dead Earls and clergyman from the middle ages buries beneath the foundations.
A big part of what I like about such relics is that they are still in active use and, while treasured, treated with a kind of callous affection. Another more specific thing I liked was this lectern:
I would love to do a gig from behind this thing.
As we were inspecting the chapel (which contained tombs of the early Earls of Warwick) a friendly guide told us a bit about the various tombs and some of the town’s history. She wasn’t overly precious about it though and, while obviously loving it all, would casually dismiss certain relics as a bit rubbish or incorrectly sculpted and at one point was giving the golden crown of the very late Ambrose Dudley a jolly good tug to make her point. Sweet.
She also mentioned that the current Earl of Warwick in fact lives (or recently lived) in Perth. True story, look it up.
Our guide had warned us that The famous Warwick Castle had been badly Disney-fied since it was purchased by Madame Toussauds and that it wasn’t worth the steep entry price. We were determined however and had 2-for-1 vouchers to justify our decision. Turns out she was right to a point – it had been camped up a fair but we weren’t too proud to get involved.
The castle and grounds are never-the-less magnificent though and the history fascinating at times. We were able to storm the parapets, which called for some epic posing.
Also gave me a reason to experiment with the panorama feature on my bat-phone.
Fun engineering fact: they were generating – and battery-storing! – electricity for the castle using a paddle/dynomo in the river next door as early as the 1890’s. The Earl of the time’s wife, Daisy, had an electric ferry she used to take around the waters.
Took the long and winding route through town and back to Val & David’s, then back out into the cold for a nice pub meal at a little place next to one of the canals in Warwick that form part of the English canal system.The thought of a canal barge holiday excites me a bit and I don’t care who knows. Maybe for the 20 year long service leave…
Warwick (UK), 13/11/12: Arriving at Heathrow airport on Tuesday morning, we were greeted by Nicole’s rellies, Val and David, who were to play host to us at their place in Warwick for the next few days.
Warwick’s about a 90 minute drive up the M4 from London. England’s cool, overcast weather suited me well. I never cease to be amazed by this country’s ability to grow things, though at this time of year there’s a good mix of greens and autumnal yellows, reds, oranges and browns. Very pretty.
Val and David kindly acted as cooks, chauffeurs and tour guides during our stay. Five star service. On our first afternoon we made a trip to the neighbouring town of Leamington, ostensibly for the shops but we also took in some of the local sites – the historic spring and public bath building being a stand out. The spring water was once said to have curative properties. It tastes very salty, as if having marinated generations of Englishmen in times gone by.
At 9:15, after a lovely home-cooked meal (mustard-marinated chicken with home-grown beans and a berry pie), I was falling asleep in my floral-print covered armchair and drooling on my chest, so we bid our hosts auf wiedersehen and headed upstairs to bed, where I slept fitfully until 4:30am. Stupid jet-lag.