Returning to Esslingen and re-tracing the past.

It’s been 70 years.

I’m returning to a town where I’ve never been.  Returning to memories that are not mine.  Returning to re-trace footsteps from so very long ago.

I’m about to step foot into the past.

To remember.  To honour.  To celebrate.  And to sing.

Esslingen.  June 2017.

I am here to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the first Song and Dance Festival held outside of Latvia.  Choral singers, folk-dancers, amateur performers and spectators from all over the globe have journeyed to this medieval German city to reminisce and celebrate.

To unite in song.  To uphold tradition.  To appreciate.  To understand.

Latvia.  1940 – 1941.  Soviet Occupation and the Year of Terror (Baigais Gads).

A reign of horror, mass deportation and unimaginable suffering is unleashed upon this Baltic nation.  Cattle cars herd grandmothers, children, the crippled and infirm, to re-settlement camps in Siberia.  The men are either shot or imprisoned in the Gulag.  No one is spared.  The start of Soviet aggression, annihilation and ethnic cleansing of the Latvian populace had begun.

Latvia.  1944.  My mum was 15 years old when she and her family were forced to flee their homeland.  They fled west to Germany.  Towards an unknown fate.  The rest of our family who were not able to escape Soviet occupied Latvia were deported to Siberia.  Eleven beloved souls.

Esslingen.  1947.

World War II had ended nearly 2 years prior, yet thousands of Latvians were refugees, sheltered in displaced persons camps scattered all over Germany.  Administered by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the camps provided the essentials for survival – food rations, medical supplies and shelter.  Esslingen was the largest of these camps and “home” to approximately 7,000 displaced Latvians.

The creation of makeshift schools, churches, theatre troupes, choirs and folk-dance groups were paramount in establishing a sense of “normalcy” to camp life whilst maintaining a semblance of daily routine.  Preserving the rich cultural heritage of what it meant to be a Latvian was not only an obligation that must be passed on to future generations but was an integral part of one’s identity.  Woven into the fabric of the Latvian psyche was the necessity of maintaining strong spiritual and cultural traditions, with art, music, song and literature providing sustenance and nourishment for the soul.  United in tradition and song, Latvians have, for centuries, endured and persevered.

Esslingen.  June 15th to 18th, 2017.  The 70th anniversary of the first Song and Dance Festival held outside of Latvia.

I am here.  Singing with my ancestors.  Their voices, loud and clear, are joined with mine in melodic harmony.

This is their story.  Now it is mine.

Next post:  The weekend of April 7/8th!!!

Next stop! Würzburg . The castles, baroque statues and vineyards we never had a chance to see.

You know that it’s going to be an extraordinarily long day when you inadvertently hop on the wrong train, disembark in a strange town and end up squandering the remainder of the afternoon away miles off the beaten track.  Nothing like hoisting and hauling your cumbersome baggage up and down dozens of stairs – all the while enduring countless stares – as you frantically race up and down and all along the station in search of some helpful information.  And just where oh where is that dratted kiosk located?  Of course.  Conveniently situated at the farthest corner of the edifice, tucked away in some secret location, where only the locals know to go.

So, let me not bore you with mundane details of Schlepping on the Go, and get right to the point of how best to whittle your time away whilst stuck at track level with no place to go.  After all, an unplanned sojourn via detours and roadblocks should be part of the course for any serious globetrotter on the Go.  Why put up with ho-hum routine when you can instead experience the far from ordinary – a holiday that’s clearly gone off the rails, not to mention the charts.  Charts?  There are charts?  More on that later…

So, there we were.  The cuckoo from the choo choo and Travel Bud Oz contemplating our next plan of action on how to get back on track to Stuttgart.  Problem being, the next train was not scheduled to depart for at least two hours, leaving us trapped (and there’s always a trap!) in the train station somewhere in Bavaria.  Würzburg, to be exact.  A picturesque German town and the perfect place to sojourn, dine and explore – but alas, we were only passing through, with nary a smidgen of time to stop and review.

Nestled in a basin along the river Main, this baroque influenced town offers UNESCO World Heritage sights, French-themed gardens and countless palaces, to name just a few.  The list of places to visit are endless, so here’s a run-down of all that I never got to see or do.

  • A must-see is the Residenz, the Palace of the Prince-Bishops.
  • Hofgarten - The impeccably manicured French-themed gardens located on the grounds of the Residenz.
  • Marienberg Fortress - Positioned high above the banks of the river.
  • Kapelle Würzburg - a Russian Orthodox style chapel in the woods.
  • Alte Mainbrucke or Old Main Bridge - Baroque statue lined bridge which connects the old city to the left bank.

Did I mention that Würzburg is also the starting point for many of the romantic road excursions that trail along the river Main?  Had I known that we were knee-deep in wine country, I would have high-tailed it lickety-split to a vineyard and delayed my impending trip to Stuttgart by a day or two.  The tempting thought of jumping ship and scampering off along paths unknown on an impromptu wine tour sampling Chardonnay was but a fleeting idea, best saved for another holiday detour.

So, scrapping that plan, we had more urgent tasks at hand, such as squandering the remainder of the afternoon away, languishing at track level for Train #02! 

Next stop!  Stuttgart (we can only hope!).

Where are we?  Guess Not Stuttgart!

Catching a few rays waiting for the next train!

Stop!!  Let me off this train!!

Yikes!  Looks like this train is NOT going to Stuttgart.

Finally!  Out of the tunnel...and there's scenery!!

The vineyards that we never got to see.

When in Wurzburg, might as well indulge in a Wurzburger or two....

Catching up with my stories, snippets and snaps.

Next post!  In three/four weeks!  Saturday, March 3rd!!

Stuck in the Black Forest - Trapped and the trouble with tunnels

In hindsight, it’s a good thing that we didn’t have a map.  Or even a clue as to where exactly in Germany we were.  For, if I had any inkling that we were headed in the opposite direction, I wouldn’t be in this roadblock of a predicament, miles off track and nowhere near to where we were scheduled to be.  I wouldn’t have spent the better part of the day sequestered – more like trapped – aboard a train speeding south along a tunnel lined path through the mountains. 

Before embarking on this journey, I had wasted denizens of hours surfing the web, double and triple checking whether our planned for route involved long-distance tunnels.  Short ones could easily be managed with the blink of an eye, yet anything longer than a few kilometers involved coping strategies of yet another kind. The kind that involved a whole lot of averted eyes and pitying glances.

“Is your friend not well?”

“Perhaps we should summon the conductor for emergency assistance?  Or, better yet, is there is a medic on board?”

“Don’t they have tunnels in Canada, dear?”

Did I mention that I have a bit on an “issue” with all things tunnel related?

Words do not do justice to the scene that transpired, so I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to just let your imagination run wild.

And, let’s not even mention the handful of passengers, as well as the living and the dead on both sides of the Atlantic, who were rudely awakened from their slumber by the not so eloquent and oh so grating screeching of a certain pink sneakered lass (ugh – middle-aged ‘ol Auntie, if truth be told).

Itching to get up and go, I raced along the narrow aisle, in a futile effort to at least do something.  Anything.  Anything but stare out the pitch-black window into nothingness.  No trees.  No clouds.  No view.  Just endless rock.  And more rock.  Trapped.  On a train burrowing through granite with no end in sight.

“I can’t get out!  When’s the next stop?  Stop this train now!”

German dictionary in one hand and today’s crossword in the other, Travel Bud didn’t even bat an eyelid at the ongoing spectacle, more engrossed in checking off at least one foreign language word, than having to deal with the cuckoo on the choo choo.  Chalking it up to yet another one of the drama queen’s Academy Award worthy meltdowns, he calmly shook his head, adjusted his glasses and carried on with his puzzle.

Just another ordinary day in the life of Pink Sneakers on the Go!

Next post – In two weeks!  The weekend of January 27th/28th.  Catch up with our never-ending journey to Esslingen.  And yes, we do eventually arrive at our destination – via detours, wrong trains and a whole lot of roadblocks! 

And since I'm on the topic of trials and tribulations, I still can't upload my pics from Germany, so, no pictures AGAIN!!  YIKES!!  Hopefully soon.....

Ok....was sort of able to upload a few pics, but not all of them, but at least it's a start in the right direction....

Koblenz to Esslingen tickets on hand - what could go wrong?

YIKES!! Looks like we're taking a bit of an unplanned detour to Vienna!

NOT a happy face, as I'm TRAPPED!!

The last bit of view before that dreaded tunnel....

So where are we now??  Nowhere close to where we need to be.

Staring at the departures board - only 4 more hours to go!!

My happy place with my pink typewriter on the Go!