About Me

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Perth, Western Australia, Australia
I am based in Perth, Western Australia. You might enjoy my books - The Dagger of Dresnia, the first book of the Talismans Trilogy, is available at all good online book shops as is Book two, The Cloak of Challiver. Book three, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation. I trained in piano and singing at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. I also trained in dance (Scully-Borovansky, WAAPA) and drama (NIDA). Since 1987 I have been writing reviews of performances in all genres for a variety of publications, including Music Maker, ArtsWest, Dance Australia, The Australian and others. Now semi-retired, I still write occasionally for the ArtsHub website.

My books

The first two books of my trilogy, The Talismans, (The Dagger of Dresnia, and book two, The Cloak of Challiver) are available in e-book format from Smashwords, Amazon and other online sellers. Book three of the trilogy, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation.I also have a short story, 'La Belle Dame', in print - see Mythic Resonance below - as well as well as a few poems in various places. The best way to contact me is via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/satimaflavell

Buy The Talismans

The first two books of The Talismans trilogy were published by Satalyte Publications, which, sadly, has gone out of business. However, The Dagger of Dresnia and The Cloak of Challiver are available as ebooks on the usual book-selling websites, and book three, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation. The easiest way to contact me is via Facebook.

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Cloak of Challiver, Book two of The Talismans

The Cloak of Challiver, Book two of The Talismans
Available as an e-book on Amazon and other online booksellers.

Mythic Resonance

Mythic Resonance

Mythic Resonance is an excellent anthology that includes my short story 'La Belle Dame', together with great stories from Alan Baxter, Donna Maree Hanson, Sue Burstynski, Nike Sulway and nine more fantastic authors! Just $US3.99 from Amazon. Got a Kindle? Check out Mythic Resonance.

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Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

Places I've lived: Geelong, Australia

Places I've lived: Geelong,  Australia

Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

Places I've Lived - Sydney

Places I've Lived - Sydney
Sydney Conservatorium - my old school

Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier

Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier
Blue Lake

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've Lived: Perth by Day

Places I've Lived: Perth by Day
From Kings Park

Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've Lived: Perth by Night

Places I've Lived: Perth by Night
From Kings Park

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Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Recuperation Time

I've spent the last week lazing about, for the most part. This travel stuff gets more and more strenuous as one ages, especially for one like me who is genetically incapable of travelling light. I've always envied people who could backpack with nothing but a spare pair of jeans and a towel. I've never been able to do that and as I get older I find myself more and more attached to necessities such as talcum powder, vitamin pills and at least three or four books. I always tell myself that I'll pass the books on when I've read them, but when push come to shove I find I can't. And people know I read so they give me more.

I did have a day in Exeter last Wednesday, renewing my acquaintanceship with the cathedral and checking out the oldest churches. Tomorrow I hope to visit the museum and maybe see the old Roman wall.

On Saturday night I attended a lovely concert of medieval music at St Margaret's church, given by a group called Compagnie Guilia. They played a variety of instruments, not all of which are necessarily associated with the period - bass viol, bouzouki, mandolin and concertina - but the arrangments worked beautifully. The program comprised many works by that revered composer Trad, together with pieces by Machaut, de la Halle, Codax, and Anchita. Original material by the group's leader, Julia Thomas, and another modern composer, Dave Whetstone, was also included and were well in keeping with the period. Two members of Companions of the Quest demonstrated dances and led us in a merry farandole. For the first time ever, I danced on someone's grave - several someones' actually, for like many old churches here in the UK, there are graves under the floor of the aisles. I doubt that the old place (St Margaret's dates back to Norman times) has seen such merriment in many a year! You can check the group out at
Thursday, 19 April 2007

Spring in Devon

Oh to be in England...well, I'm here and it's April, and spring is so advanced already that it's a bit worrying. Well, more than a bit, actually, for if the place keeps heating up at this rate they'll be growing bananas in Devon soon. (Did I blog Sam's bananas? I think not. He has a bunch on a tree in his conservatory - in the Rhine Valley! I hope they ripen, Sam!)

Here the hawthorn is already in full bloom (it used to be called "May" because that's when it always flowered) and I heard on the BBC that swifts are nesting already, a month early. Something worrying has happened to the climate and will go on happening, it seems; however, the upside is that I'm seeing more flowers than I might have done in what used to be considered a "normal" season. Bluebells galore - and not all of them blue. They come in mauve and pink and white as well, in scores and hundreds and thousands. Tulips are a joy - if you can see them under the showers of dropping cherry blossoms. We're having temperatures in the high teens-low twenties Celsius, which again is unusual in April. And none of the fabled showers. Nice for me with my perpetual cathedral hunting, but not, in the long term, a good thing at all.

I spent Sunday night in Salisbury, where there is an excellent YHA establishment. A lot of YHA hostels have been closed down, which is a shame as I much prefer them to backpackers' places, which are often very noisy and sometimes seem to attract people I'd rather not share with. As the average B&B is too expensive for me, I was glad to find a Youth Hostel in Salisbury. Don't be put off by the Youth bit, fellow mature persons - they attract travellers of all ages and nationalities. I shared with a young Taiwanese-French scientist and at breakfast I met a whole family of people from the Midlands - four generations of them!

Salisbury is a lovely town, very well placed for Stonehenge and Avebury, although for the latter you really need wheels. I think I like Winchester even more, though. I'd really like to go there again, while Salisbury and Stonehenge can be seen in one or two days. I last visited in 1996 and wouldn't have gone again, except the visit allowed me to meet still another e-cousin, Jeremy, who is doing a virtual One-Name Study of the TURTLE family. I was happy to meet his wife, Janet, and to take a peek at the latest results of Jeremy's painstaking research into our mutual ancestors. And you should see their amazing collection of turtle ornaments, doorstops, paperweights etc. There was even a velour one than did a song and dance act!

Yesterday it was Exeter. I did the rounds of a group of really old churches, dating back to the conquest. Some of them have been extensively rebuilt over the centuries, of course, but here and there the visitor can see the original Norman arches and even the odd bit of Saxon stonework. I also visited Exeter Cathedral and saw the burial place of a pair of many-time great-grandparents, Hugh Courteney and his wife. Fine family historian I am - I can't remember the poor woman's name. However, they lived back in the 1300s, by which time our ancestors number in the tens of thousands, so no wonder I can't remember the odd one:-)
Monday, 16 April 2007

Back in England

After only a 55 minute flight from Hahn to London, I arrived back in London on Thursday. I stayed the night with dear Diana, who good naturedly puts me up - or puts up with me - whenever I rock up. I'm now in Winchester, which is, I think, the town I love best in England. This is my first visit and I was smitten within minutes, perhaps because of the gigantic statue of King Alfred in the square:-)

I met up with my e-cousin Alison from Canada, who had kindly invited me to join her in a most comfortable B&B, the Wolvesy View. Our host, John Harmer, was a delight and it would be hard to imagine a more obliging landlord. We met up with two more e-cousins: Ambrose from Ghana and Steve, who, being local to Winchester, was able to tell us all the best sights and sites.

Alison and I tramped ourselves almost footless for two days, including three wonderful hours in the town's magnificent cathedral. (If you saw The DaVinci Code you have already seen the north trancept, and I recommend a live visit to see the rest.) The next port of call was Milner Hall, which used to be the RC church where Alison's grandmother worshipped, and to our delight there was a harpsichord recital by a Miss Schmitt just starting. I feel bad because I can't remember the young lady's first name, but she was jolly good. The works were centred on the life and times of one John Bull, a contemporary of Byrd. We were entertained right royally for over an hour before proceeding back to the cathedral for a rapturous evensong. This morning we decided to spread ourselves thin - I went back to the soaring buttresses of the cathedral and Alison went to mass at St Peter's, then we spent a happy hour at the local museum, which has fine displays of Roman, Saxon and later archeological finds. I wish I could have stayed for several more days as there is so much of interest here!

Off to Salisbury now!
Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Time to say goodbye

This will be my last blog from Germany as I’m off to London tomorrow. A nice catch-up with Diana, then it’s Winchester for the weekend and, I hope, a visit to Salisbury. I might not get back to the blog before next Tuesday so I should have a lot to report then!

The last few days here in the Rhine Valley have been wonderful, as, indeed, has the entire visit. On Sunday night there was a most enjoyable family gathering at a Weinhaus. This is something between a restaurant and a privately-owned pub where a vintner exposes the vintage to the public. I enjoyed the meal (the place had a much better menu than similarly priced restaurants in Australia) and the company as it was a chance to meet my children’s third cousins and their partners. However, I stupidly ordered rosé instead of white. I know red wine gives me a migraine but I kidded myself rosé would be different. Not so – I woke at 2.00am with a pounding head and a sick stomach, dammit!

The usual medication and a sleep-in fixed things, thank heavens, and I was ready for Monday’s adventure, which was the long-awaited photo opportunity at the Geisenheim parish church. I have the trophies safely on CD and have noted lots of useful info to draw on when I come to write up my journeyings more fully later in the year.

Yesterday was a highlight: a trip to the lovely city of Wiesbaden. Wiesbaden exists purely for the exercise of life’s more refined pleasures. First and foremost, of course, it is a spa town and has been so ever since Roman times. Hot fountains gush the slightly salty waters for which the town is famous. I took the opportunity to top up my trusty water bottle and sipped on the waters of Weisbaden for the rest of the day. I feel well and alert today, but whether or not that’s because of the water I don’t know. However, the spas are the height of luxury and people spend a lot of money to indulge in a swim, shower, spa, sauna, massage, mud or sand bath or whatever else takes their fancy, and surely they can’t all be deluded!

Water or no water, Wiesbaden is a delight. It has a wonderful theatre precinct which contains several magnificent rooms for balls and concerts as well as three theatres ranging from an opera house seating over 1000 people to an intimate studio for experimental productions. We were able to sneak a peak into the concert hall thanks to the kind offices of one of the attendants, but the theatres were all in use for rehearsals. A constant stream of cultural activities flows in Wiesbaden. It is not a huge town—maybe 280,000 people—but its pleasures are readily available to residents of the Rhine Valley, Mainz, Frankfurt and surrounding areas. That is the wonder of Europe – everything is within driving distance, and public transport, while not cheap, is always accessible. Elfriede and I rode around the town on a tiny tourist train; not one that runs on tracks, but on normal wheels. We stopped for ten minutes high on a hill over the town (which is built around a natural basin opening onto the Rhine) to view the famous Russian church. Like the Taj Mahal, it was built by a grieving royal husband as a mausoleum for his wife. She died at only 19, and her infant daughter with her, but the Russian Orthodox community of the region still benefits from the presence of the church. It is, of course, floridly gilded in the Russian manner, resembling, perhaps, a temple from the Far East rather than a European chapel, but its wildly colourful exotic beauty, while not to everyone’s taste, is a feast for the eyes.

Wiesbaden has always attracted the glitterati and has the shops to suit. Elfriede and I laughed at the prices. How about €200 for panties and a chemise? Pure silk and hand-embroidered, of course. But then you still have to buy things to put over the top (what a pity to hide such luxury!) and the prices there can run into the thousands. We restrained ourselves.

On the way home, we stopped to see the winery where Josef Neist worked before he emigrated to Australia. It has changed hands now, but I was able to photograph the door leading into the cellar where they made the champagne. We also saw the house where he and Margarethe lived, but couldn’t get a photo because of the traffic and cars parked in front. And the residents might not like having their house photographed, in any case.

This visit has been a joy and I am deeply grateful to Sam and Elfriede for their kindness and wonderful hospitality. And I must mention Karrie, the family’s black bitza dog. He is quite a character. German dogs talk, it seems: both Karrie and his “cousin” Gigi, Renate’s pet terrier, converse with their owners in tones that incorporate elements of yawning, whining and howling!

Yes, the Rhine Valley is a wonderful place to visit and also, I think, a wonderful place to live. Imagine a mild climate, riverside walks, drives or cycle rides, bush-walking, picnics, visits to wineries, numberless historical sites, every possible cultural and sporting experience and excellent shops, all within a half-hour drive! Das ist der Rheingau.
Sunday, 8 April 2007

Easter in Germany

Posting every two days is essential if I'm not to forget the details of all these new sights and experiences. This is my only journal while I'm on the road and it will jog my memory when I come to organise my photos once I get back to Oz.

For a non-Christian, I seem to be spending a helluva lot of time hanging around churches. That's because churches are among the few landmarks (other than natural ones) that remain in place, generation after generation. Some of the local ones here in the Rhine Valley have changed only in minor details over the last three hundred years or so, which means they must look pretty much as they did when my children's ancestors lived here. On Friday afternoon, Elfriede took me on a return visit to the parish churches of Erbach and Winkel. This time I made sure the camera had a fresh battery and the card had space for lots of piccies.

In Erbach lived the furthest-back ancestor we know of on the Rhine line. Her name was Anna Christina Freylinger and she was baptised in this lovely church on 29 September 1689. Her parents appear to have moved to the area from Koblenz and Arnold, her father, was a butcher. Elfriede found the record of a marriage settlement on his daughter Helena, child of a previous marriage which took place on the other side of the river, in Bingen. Such old documents are invaluable because they give little details about family life that otherwise would never be known. This one tells us that Helena's husband needed money to establish himself as a miller so Helena was getting her inheritance early.

Our Christina, Helena's half-sister, was to live a chequered life. She married Gottfried Neus, a surgeon, in the church at Geisenheim on 3 March 1710, but after siring two children, Gottfried died in May 1715, at the age of only thirty-five. In the following September, Christina married again, to a man named Johann Wedelin Kissel, by whom she had four more children. This husband died in 1725 and again Christina lost little time in re-marrying. She and Heinrich Weber were wed at the Erbach church in 1736. There were no children of this marriage. I took some good photos of the interior of St Marks in Erbach and also of the village, which still has many half-timbered buildings left from Christina's time.

Winkel was the home of the Kunz family, which spawned the Margarethe who married Josef Neist (as the Neus name had become locally) and emigrated to Australia in 1907. Here again, the church, dedicated to St Walburga, is much as it would have been on their wedding day and I captured some good shots.

As a break from churches, I went with Renate yesterday afternoon to the village of Bacharach on the other side of the Rhine, about 17km downriver from Bingen. Bacharach is unique in that it has an almost complete town wall still surrounding it. Most of the towns and villages hereabouts were under the rule of the Archbishops of Mainz, but for some reason Bacharach was ruled from Cologne. Renate told me that Bacharach has always held itself a little apart from the rest of the valley's villages, and the atmosphere was definitely different. Yet there were many of the same kind of half-timbered shops and dwellings found in the other places I've visited and it has added attractions such as a well-rebuilt castle that serves as a youth hostel. There was a delightful restaurant with a medieval courtyard where Renate and I had lunch. An excellent musician played for us on a large Celtic harp. When we arrived he was playing wafty, new-agey music, but soon he switched to a program of English folk songs, including Greensleeves and Scarborough Fair. If I closed my eyes I could easily believe myself transported to an inn of Tudor times and if I opened them and looked up my gaze fell on the Gothic beauty of the ruins of the Werner Kapelle, which nestles on the steep vineyard-strewn slopes below the castle. Chapel? Ha! The place must have been the size of a cathedral when it stood in all its pre-C18 glory. As my guidebook says, "Its filigree network of gleaming red sandstone is an unforgettable vision of loveliness".

The musician passed a basket around for donations and I was horrified to see he was being given only 20 cent pieces. I doubt if it contained more than €10. I took it over to the next table, thinking that side of the courtyard hadn't had chance to show their appreciation and in my best bad German explained it was "für die Musik". One of the women replied, in broad Yorkshire, "W'iv already doon it!" There were laughs all around when I replied in like accent that I was glad she was a North Country lass! I then went out hunting for a banking machine, thinking to give the musician more than the 30 cents I had in my purse. I found that the only one in the vicinity was inside a closed shop! Many shops were closed (and this was Easter weekend, remember) there was no banking machine available and when Renate and I visited the tourist office the receptionist did not even look up from her typing, let alone offer any assistance. Yes, they are different in Bacharach. Elsewhere the facilites have been first-rate and people have fallen over themselves to be helpful and friendly.

Still another church last night although not, AFAIK, one with any family connections. However, the nearby village of Johannisberg had its New Fire service at 8.00pm instead of late at night, so we favoured it with our patronage. St John's, in contrast to all the other village churches I've seen, is almost completely without internal ornamentation and has its walls painted a soft white that emphasises soaring architectural features. Arches flow along its nave like towering waves and a huge, starkly simple wooden cross serves instead of the usual carved or painted reredos. I had fun trying to follow the service. For a start, sight-singing is not foremost among my talents. Add to that my linguistic difficulties and you can imagine how I must have sounded. Slightly out of tune much of the time, I chanted inanities like "dum-dum-ooh-ah" only joining in with gusto when it came to "alleluia" or "hosana"!

I should add that the New Fire ceremony is one I find thoroughly moving. Whether Christians admit it or not, it is a Pagan remnant, celebrating the return of the sun and the coming of spring. The Buddhist part of me likes it too, for it reminds me to start anew, time after time. Mindfully, of course:-)

Well, we've ticked off almost all the churches. Geisenheim alone remains to be photographed, and I hope to get there later today.
Friday, 6 April 2007

Casting the Net

Each day seems to bring a new place to visit. Sometimes it is nearby, sometimes it is miles away, but every destination has its own charm.

On Wednesday afternoon Renate took me to see Germania, a huge statue erected between 1887-1883 to celebrate the first re-unification of Germany. The crowning figure alone is over 10 metres tall and the tiered plinth, which is decorated with life-size figures in bas-relief of Kaiser Wilhelm I and other German leaders of the time, is 25 metres high. Built high on a peak above Rüdesheim and overlooking almost half the Rhine Valley, the Germania precinct offers some of the most spectacular views imaginable. Whole villages are spread at the viewer's feet, interspersed with vineyards and forests and punctuated with fortresses. As if this were not enough, Germania's backdrop is a recreation of an English country park dating from the 1780s. Very much in the style of Capability Brown and his successors, the artful wilderness includes unexpected delights among the trees; charming "follies" such as a pavilion in the style of a Greek temple, a tiny castle and a tunnel with twists and turns that opens onto an unexpected gap in the vegetation, affording a tantalising glimpse of the river. The count's old hunting lodge has been turned into a hotel, which now farms its own venison. A falconry is situation close to Germania and now and then one can see falcons and even eagles flying free.

Birds of prey are not the only interesting wildlife in the Rheingau. There are badgers and weasels and otters and owls, pine martens, squirrels and hedgehogs and hares. All can be seen occasionally in the wild. This morning, Good Friday, Elfriede was delighted that a hare ran across the garden, no doubt on his way to collect eggs for delivery on Sunday. Here the chocolate variety still takes second place to the real thing. With shells beautifully decorated, Easter eggs can be bought in the shops and the German equivalent of the Egg Marketing Board advertises them widely. Many people like to decorate their own eggs at home but increasingly, the chocolate delicacies we are used to seeing in English-speaking countries are ousting the hard boiled kind.

Yesterday Elfriede took me to Mainz to tick off a few more architectural and historical delights. We visited four churches. The first one, that of St Christopher, we came across quite by accident while trying to find the Cathedral. It was built in the early C14 and stood for over 600 years before being bombed in WWII. Gutenberg, Mainz's most famous son, was presumably baptised there, since his family is known to have lived nearby. The shell of the church is still standing and has been preserved, with a small chapel in what must once have been a vestry, as a memorial to civilians killed in war. Next we headed for the impressive Mainz Cathedral. Dedicated to St Martin and St Stephen, it has a long and glorious history. An ancient church stood there even before 1000AD and under the guidance of Archbishop Willigis, a new edifice was built early in the second millenium. Sadly, it was barely finished before it was severely damaged by fire, but Willigis, undaunted, ordered a rebuild. He died well before it was completed but is remembered as the founder. A wheelwright's son, Willigis took the product of his trade as his insignia, lest he forget his humble origins, and this device forms part of every coat of arms in the Rhinegau, for the entire valley fell under the rulership of the Archbishop of Mainz until Napoleon's invasion of 1805. Some archbishops were good and charitable men, while others were little better than the robber barons they sought to rule. One of them, Hatto by name, set up toll castles to fleece the traders who used the river as their highway. He also levied huge corn tithes on the peasantry, who were supposedly free men under the archbishops rule, but they were less free under Hatto than many who laboured under a secular lord.

After paying our repects at the cathedral, Elfriede and I determinedly heaved ourselves uphill to St Stephen's church. The sainted Archbishop Willigis is buried here, but St Stephen's is even more famous for its utterly lovely stained glass. No medieval dies irae stuff here: these gorgeous blue windows are a celebration of life that somehow manages to fit in beautifully with the church's C13 architecture. The orginal building was destroyed and rebuilt many times, most recently after the devastation of WWII, and in 1973 the parish priest, Fr Klaus Mayer, sought to embellish the church with new windows that would not only serve as a token of friendship between France and Germany, but also as a symbol of hope for the reconciliation between Christians and Jews after the horrors of the holocaust. He approached Marc Chagall, who willingly undertook the work despite the fact that he was approaching his tenth decade of life. The aqua shades that form a background to the biblical figures depicted in the apse windows give the church a unique beauty. Chagal completed the six windows of the apse and recommended the services of Charles Marq for those in the body of the church. Executed in similar style and in the same kind of blue shades, these are abstract rather than pictorial and complement Chagall's work perfectly. Chagall died shortly after completing the oeuvre in 1985. He was then 98 years old!

Retracing our steps and marvelling at the wonders we'd seen in St Stephen's, Elfriede and I broke our church-crawl to admire quite a different kind of artwork: the metal fountain of the Fastnachtsbrunner. Burgeoning with figurines from the Carnival, this work demands close examination for the viewer to fully appreciate its almost infinite variety. Nearby we paused in the Gutenbergplatz to worship at the shrine of the man who invented moveable type and to stand on the narrow band that marks the 50th degree of latitude. From there we gazed in awe at the 1829 State Theatre with its surprisingly modern facade. The Mainz Ballet is about to begin a season and the posters reminded me of the several friends and teachers from my earlier days who worked with that excellent company.

Our last port of call was the church of St Quentin, whose sanctuary looks almost like a Greek temple with its pillars and marble canopy. It also contains some very fine wood carvings, but I was pretty much cultured out of my brain by this point and was more interested in the Bretzel Elfriede purchased from a market stall for us to munch on the way back to the car. Mmm...
Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Thick and Fast

I can see my blogging is defeating the capacity of my readers to keep up. That's because new experiences are presenting themselves so often I'm posting far more frequently than usual. Yesterday's New Experience was a whole new country. A very little, blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of country - Luxemburg.

Elfriede shouted me a coach ride to Luxemburg city from Wiesbaden. Getting to Wiesbaden was an adventure in itself: up at 5.00am (ye gods, I haven't done than since I was in the monastery!) and on the train by 6.15. A hurried dash to the coach, fortunately standing only 30 metres or so from Wiesbaden's lovely railway station. And a three-hour ride through rolling hills dotted with vinyards, villages and glimpses of Father Rhine on our way to meet Mother Mosel.

The Mosel - or Moselle, as most of us would call it - flows from the French alps through Luxemburg to meet the Rhine at Koblenz. She is loved by people of all three countries for her charm and benificence. In these river valleys, winters are mild and spring is utterly gorgeous. Right now the magnolias and tulips hold sway, but hyacinths, daffodils and primroses are still much in evidence and the smaller trees are just starting to green up. The forests are still drowsy, though, and except for the firs, the big trees are bare.

Forestry here is very different from that of southern Australia, where monoculture of Pinus Radiata or Redgum is the norm and public access is restricted. Here the forests belong to the people. Stands of fir and beech jostle with the tall, straight oaks that form the principle crop and here and there one can spot a copse of silver birch shining in the still-wintry sunlight. There are plenty of pathways for hikers and trampers to use and even this early in the season they are put to good use. Elfriede belongs to a walking group and almost every weekend they go "wandering" in the forests.

Luxemburg city, however, is not in the forest. It is centred on a huge rocky hill that for centuries stood impregnable, as it is guarded by a deep ravine. Today the ravine is bridged and its other bank bears the weight of New Europe - modern buildings of glass and steel overshadow the older part of the city, which dates back to Roman times and probably earlier. The old part, of course, is the part I liked best. We have glass and steel a-plenty in the Land of Oz. What Aussies of European or Asian descent lack is access to the history of their ancestral homelands before their forebears travelled south.

A hop-on, hop-off bus tour with multi-lingual recorded commentaries accessed with headphones enabled Elfriede and me to get a quick overview of the city and its history. We did a hop-off at the Chemin de la Corniche, which overlooks the impressive ravine and its fortifications, and from there we shanks-ponied it to the wonderful old St Michael's church and the National Museum of History and Art.

A word about churches here: every single one I've been in - and I've seen a dozen or more now - has had devotees sitting or kneeling quietly, undisturbed by the presence of tourists. In the Rhine Valley, bells ring out every morning and the faithful are called to prayer. Religion is not dead in Europe; far from it.

My religion, however, makes room for history. Respect for those who have gone before and for their works forms a large part of my personal ethic, so visiting a museum is, to me, almost as meaningful as kneeling in a house of worship. In the Luxembourg Musée I found plenty of things to honour. Grave goods, tools and household effects from not only the Middle Ages but also Roman days are impressively displayed and described in French, German and English. The very best exhibit we saw was a complete Roman mosaic floor, found in excellent condition in 1995 and skilfully shifted and restored to be displayed in its own balconied gallery at the Museum. I was happily snapping photos when an official came along and explained, very kindly, that photography was prohibited. He didn't make me delete the ones I'd already taken, but in any case I later purchased, for only €1, a brochure with a much better picture than I ever could have captured. The subject matter is the Nine Muses, demi-deities close to my heart, with eight of them circling the figures of the ninth, Calliope. She sits in discourse with Homer, who must be the earliest known fantasy writer:-) I gave thanks at a Jupiter shrine on our way out.

After a very pleasant lunch served in the museum's café by a tri-lingual waiter (I ordered in French, he spoke with Elfriede in German and when he came back he addressed us in perfect English!) we re-boarded the bus for a final round before catching our coach outside the Grand Ducal Palace, a tastefully restrained but very lovely edifice, for the four-hour journey back to the Rheingau. What a wonderful day!
Monday, 2 April 2007

Hopfen und Malz - Gott erhalt's

The above header is a phrase I came across yesterday, written on the till of a delightful restaurant in the village of Kestert. It means, roughly, "May God protect hops and malt" and after a tall glass of the local shandy, known as "Radler", I concurred most heartily with the sentiment. The food was excellent, too.

Sam, Elfriede and I were in Lorelei country, the eastern bank of the ravine that marks the end of the Rhine Valley proper. Here, so legend has it, a beautiful maiden sits atop a slate cliff and sings sailors to their doom, just like the Sirens of old. The photo above is of the cliff she is said to haunt and the one to the left is the stunning view from her home.

Lorelei didn't favour us with an appearance on the clifftop so we contented ourselves with a trek to her statue, which crowns a man-made (or at least man-enhanced) breakwater just beyond her reputed haunts. Heights, even two metre ones, are simply not my preferred adventure playgrounds, so I gritted my teeth and stuck to the middle of the path along the breakwater and held on tightly to Elfriede and Sam when we got to the narrow neck that projects beyond the enormous statue. I transferred my grasp to the statue's rocky base and forced a smile for the camera, just to prove I'd been there! My friends rewarded me with the above-mentioned delicious meal at the Kröne Hotel.

We then proceeded to Marksburg, a restored medieval castle that overlooks the town of Braubach. This former lead-mining centre snuggles amid mountains that reach almost to the waterfront, heralding the steep climb to the castle. Fortunately there's a good road these days (although parking along the edge of a ridge was pretty alarming!) and it's possible to take an easy stroll up to the gates via a service road if you don't fancy the myriad steps. (We didn't.)

A stroke of luck accompanied us in the form of a gaggle of teenagers from Reading, England, out on a German language class expedition. Now maybe the company of twenty-odd Year 10 students doesn't appeal to all persons of mature years, but this was a great bunch (the boys, especially, were very impressed with crossbows and cannons) and they let us join their guided tour, conducted by Nora, a fluent English speaker. She led us through a veritable maze of passages and stairways to view a wine cellar, a kitchen, a sleeping chamber, a privy, a crafts room, a chapel and an armourers' workshop before taking us around an exhibition of arms and armour. All the rooms were furnished with the basic essentials of medieval life (although some elements were from the C16-C17 era) and there was even a glass case of archeological finds, including shoes and small implements. The whole outing was a joy to one who loves the medieval period and historical fantasy. The many Rhine legends that Elfriede recounted in the car were the stuff of inspiration, too.

Of course, there was the odd hair-raising moment. There was a narrow, winding staircase leading from the beautifully vaulted chapel to the open air and I had visions of getting stuck and having to stay there while they dismantled the castle brick by brick to release me. It was the priest's exit route and all I can say is they must have auditioned for particularly little priests. One-fifty centimetres and 45 kilos would be the required size, I reckon. And of course, I had to get left behind, didn't I, due to my determination to get photos of the armaments. Nora had warned us when we arrived that we would be locked in if we lingered, and to make her point, she waved an enormous key. I thought the implement was merely for show, but no, it was for real. By the time I'd got my pics the students, their teacher and my friends has disappeared and I was stuck among a new party under a German speaking guide, who also had one of the enormous keys and was waving it threateningly at her charges: no teenagers this time but serious group of Mature Persons, possibly from the U3A or its German counterpart. My German is almost non-existent, but it was obvious that the serious group's equally serious guide was using me as an object lesson on what happens to naughty tourists who don't stay with their companions. I felt about two inches tall as she shepherded me to the locked gate and without deigning to look at me or acknowledge my mortified "danke schön" released me from the perils of Marksburg.

I seem to have been disaster-prone since leaving the Land of Oz. I won't embarrass myself or bore you with tales of malfunctioning computers and blocked toilets, but I will warn you to make sure all your cosmetics are safely packed in plastic bags when flying in this part of the world. If you don't, you risk being pulled up at the x-ray machine and having your goods and chattels gone over with a fine tooth comb while they make sure you're not carrying any explosives. While it's reassuring to know that the customs officials of Europe are well and truly on the ball, it's hard to understand why they think a plastic bag will be any better than a plastic-lined cosmetics purse in foiling the intentions of terrorists. Never mind, I made the flight in time and less than an hour later I was drinking my first cappuchino in Germany. Imagine; in the same time as a flight from Adelaide to Mount Gambier you are in a different culture, a different world. The world of the Lorelei.

The photos above are all from Wikipedia. BTW, I haven't yet photographed the church at Geisenheim, although I've visited it and was most impressed. Every village church here, it seems, is the size of your average cathedral. However, at the end of a long day checking out the haunts of Hildegarde of Bingen, a woman whom I have long admired, my camera's battery gave up the ghost when I asked it for a shot of the Geisenheim font. Elfriede has promised to take me again, but it won't be until later in the week as tomorrow she & I are going to Luxembourg! Then on Wednesday her sister Renate has kindly offered to take me to still another medieval village, Bacharach. What was I saying last time about hoping my good karma won't all get used up? Surely there can't be much left!
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