May Morning

Oxford is home to many traditions, and one of them is May Morning.

This is how you do it: get up at about 4am, try to put on your clothes the right way round and walk into the city centre. Don’t jump off Magdalen Bridge.
 

Stand in front of Magdalen Tower and admire the people who come from last night’s party and look more awake than you will feel for the whole day. Wait for crowds to assemble properly.

Wait patiently until 6am. Listen to Magdalen College Choir intoning the Hymnus Eucharisticus and madrigals, and the chiming of the tower bells. Applaud.Magdalen tower

Follow the crowds on the High Street up to Radcliffe Camera. Leave a minute or two to ponder any signs you come across.

Divert your attention to May Morning get-ups ranging from leafy headgear to walking trees.

Upon arrival or along the way, take in any occurrences of Samba, pipers and Scottish dancers, rock music, English folk music or Morris dancing.

Finally, try to find a pub that’s only 105% full so you can have breakfast. Failing that, try and make your way home. Can’t guarantee that’s possible, though.

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Out in Oxford

For the time being, we’re in Britain, and last week we had a lovely day out in Oxford. Of course, the colleges in all their non-Cantabrian modesty (aka pomp) are always worth a visit, and this time we went to see Balliol (having been into Pembroke, Magdalen, and St Edmund’s before).

Balliol college oxfordPretty much all colleges sport some pretty or not so pretty gargoyles, and Balliol is no exception. They also seem to like rather long lunch breaks.

From the posh, we went to the more down-to-earth, but not less educational Pitt Rivers Museum. It must be one of the most crammed exhibitions, and I really like it. If you are in Oxford, don’t miss out on this one!

The English weather was merciful, so we could also stroll around Christchurch Meadow and along the river Isis (usually known as Thames). The cows were impressive, and to our surprise and delight we also saw the first hatchlings of the year.

Germany – Bus 666 to Colditz

Having left Slovakia, we spent a few days in Thuringia to visit family. Someone had the good idea of going on a day trip, and because neither of us had been to Colditz before, we decided to go there. They have a website (http://www.schloss-colditz.com/index.html), but no information how exactly to get there. So, while we were driving into what we thought as the right direction, a public bus headed towards us, labelled ‘666 Colditz’. Uh-oh.

Well, we eventually arrived. There was a diversion, and signposting towards Colditz town or Colditz castle was much sparser than I had anticipated, given how important the place is, especially for British tourists. For the uninitiated: Colditz was an Oflag during World War II, and most of the PoWs were British. Having said that, there were also substantial numbers of Polish, French and Belgian prisoners.

This is what the castle looks like these days:

One can go on guided tours, where there’s a lot to be discovered, but we only went to the permanent museum and the special exhibition. The latter was about the role of Poland during WWII, in particular Polish resistance and prisoners at Colditz.

Have a look at this poem:poem

‘Kriegsgefangenenpost’ means ‘post for prisoners of war’. We saw more of that in the permanent exhibition.post

The major part of this bit of the museum was about all the ways of escaping from Colditz. If you’ve ever watched a film called ‘The Great Escape’ – that did not happen at Colditz, but lots of similar stories did. I was amazed to learn that people escaped from this prison in the middle of Germany and made it through enemy country all the way to Britain or Allied territory! And Colditz today looks probably nicer than in the 1940s …colditz view

Of course, there was also some birding to be had, both inside and outside the castle.

All in all, if you’re in Saxony or Thuringia, and don’t know what to do, Colditz castle is certainly worth a couple of hours. There’s plenty of information available in English. And if you don’t have your own transport, you might actually get a chance to go by bus 666. Reward yourself afterwards with a home-brewed glass of beer in the pub Waldhof (on the western main road towards the town of Bad Lausick, closed Mondays and Tuesdays). Prost.beer

Venice – The Signs

Last December, we went to Venice for a handful of days. Being a language teacher, I suffer from that Berufskrankheit to look for odd bits and bobs of language, and I certainly found them.

For instance, weird places to live in:

sign-8Ok, I admit, my ignorance of Italian is probably the biggest issue here.

But there were also some surprises when it came to the inhabitants of such places.

sign-7A family of Jedi, fine. A family of galaxies? Or robots? Or …? Hm. Anyway, they have their day-to-day struggles to deal with and to make them visible to the many tourists.

sign-6 sign-5I hope their protests are successful. And I also hope, that all those numpties with their selfie-sticks will find their [heavily censored].sign-4

On a slightly more mundane note, there are also the usual lost-in-translation signs. This is something I’m not keen on trying:

sign-3And those two inside a museum and quite far away from any bathroom left me completely baffled. Please leave a comment if you can figure out what the unsuspecting visitor is supposed to be doing.sign-1 sign-2

Wrocław – Animals

Wrocław, which we visited in mid-November, turned out to be full of creatures of all kinds, not only tourists. The beasts appeared in many forms, a selection of which follows here.

There’s plenty of beer to be had, and there are allegedly some bears roaming the forests. I can confirm many a gull flying around.

Wrocław is also home to a magnificent zoo. There they have real rhinos.

After WWII, Wrocław lay in ruins, but it has been rebuilt wonderfully. Buildings in the centre are marked with plaques in Polish, English, and sometimes German which inform about the building’s history and also the people who lived and/or worked there. Animalic decoration abounds.

The place is steeped in history and features lots of statues. And it came as a lovely surprise to find a memorial to all the slaughtered & eaten animals.animal-memorial

The only other place I’ve seen something vaguely similar is London – the memorial to the animals which died in wars.

Wrocław also used to have the third-biggest Jewish community in Germany before WWII. So, there are two Jewish cemeteries in town. We visited the older one, and found many birds, a stone butterfly and an agile cat.