Tag Archives: travels

A Grand (National) Day Out

10 Apr

For the weekend, I popped home for the weekend to watch The Grand National. The most famous steeplechase in the world is possibly the only event that I have placed a bet on in my life. I am discounting the times when we have gone to the races or even the greyhound races as a family and have done our own “in-house” betting; in which we each put a pound in and the winner gets to keep the money in the pot.

Going to the races live was not a opportunity that I was going to miss. I sorted out an outfit with a dress and hat that I already had. I decided to buy a new pair of shoes (without a heel) so that I would be able to comfortably walk around and enjoy the day without the agony and worry about staying in hills all day. More on this later…

thumbnail_IMG_5123On the day of the race, the weather was glorious and that is not an understatement. There was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was out in style. The metaphorical cloud on the horizon was the fact that several rail companies in the north west were striking on the final day of the National – the day that we had tickets for. Luckily, there were still trains from Liverpool Central to Aintree at the time of the day when we needed it. No other trains were running at all. It was quite funny to see the train schedules on the screens in the train station and all of the trains going to Aintree and nowhere else.

We arrived in good spirits and soaked up the atmosphere while we waited for the racing to begin. There is a walking tour of the actual race course that you can do before the races start but my new shoes were already being to rub and hurt me like crazy so I gave that one a miss. It was also possible to see where Red Rum, the most famous horse to ever run in the National, was buried near the Finishing Post.

I didn’t bet on the first race because I was a bit indecisive and I realised that the races aren’t as exciting when you know that you will not benefit financially from one of the horses crossing the line first. For the second race, I put a fiver on Finian’s Oscar to win. I chose the horse because it reminded me of Finigan’s Wake, the novel by James Joyce. The luck of the Irish was on my side because I won 18 pound, 75 pence when the horse crossed the line first. And it was much more exciting to watch as the race enfolded.

I won another 6 pound on the next race and then I guess my luck ran out because I didn’t win a penny after that. It was still exciting though. The atmosphere when The Grand National finally got underway was thrilling. After two false starts and a lot of groaning and disgruntled spectators, the crowd erupted in excitement. It is always difficult to work out which horses have fallen, who is still in the race and if there is still some chance of financial gain at the end of it. But without the benefit of the TV and the list of the horses who have fallen popping up on the screen, it is virtually impossible. No surprise that there was no final win for me.

Meanwhile my feet were painful and blistered. I had managed to cope in the knowledge that I would just need to get the train, then the bus and I would be able to the shoes off and put my trainers on. Luckily I didn’t have to wait that long as there were people handing out flip-flops to ladies, like me who had worn unsuitable shoes for the day. The best thing was they were free! I would have paid a lot of money for those flip-flops if they had made me. The relief was instant and I was a lot more comfortable on the way home.

On the Sunday, I caught the train and headed timage1o Manchester, where I met my brother and his kids and we drove to my mum’s house. I was treated to a lovely, and unexpected Sunday Roast, and we went for a walk to feed the ducks. On the way back, we managed to see some lambs who had been born only a few hours before.
All to soon, as it always seems to be, it was Monday morning and I was back at the airport again, queuing to have my bag scanned and waiting for the plane to be ready to head back to Switzerland and back to work…

Operation Full Immersion: Day 6

20 Jan

Waking up to -14 degrees this morning was not at all the sort of welcome anyone needs on a Friday but that is life. It certainly didn’t help me in the preparation for my last lesson. By the time I arrived at the language school, my brain was half frozen.

It is surprising how quickly a 90 minute lesson flies by. By the time you have looked at a few grammar exercises and done a bit of chit chat, it is almost time to pack up. It is a lot easier to remember things if they are presented to you in a unique way. That definitely happened today.

We started talking about idioms. Sentences or phrases that are not meant literally but convey another meaning entirely. In English, you might say “to pull the wool over someone’s eyes” which means that you are deceiving someone by not letting them see the truth and not that someone is pulling your knitted hat down over your face. There are similar phrases in German. We were talking about the phrase: Das Geld zum Fenster hinauswerfen. This means to through money out of the window or to waste money. I understood what the phrase meant but just to make sure the teacher took 10 Euros out of her purse, opened the window and proceeded to thrown it out onto the street below. I had no idea what to say or do. She just turned to me and laughed and said “Someone will be happy to find that later”.

When we moved on to the phrase Die Kuh vom Eis holen which literally means to pick the cow up from the ice and actually means to solve a hard problem, I was worried that she would produce a cow from her handbag à la Mary Poppins style and take it down to the icy street below and try to pick it up.

Needless to say, these two phrases will stay in my head for a long while to come. No revision or further explanation necessary.

As my lesson finished at 10am, I had the rest of the day free. I decided to visit the Dachau concentration camp which is located just outside Munich. After the Third Reich tour from yesterday, it made sense to round off the important sites in the surroundings that are associated with this topic. I was having second thoughts about going but , it is important to understand all parts of history and not just the nice parts.

I arrived by train. What struck me initially was that Dachau itself is a lovely little town. If you didn’t know that there was a former Nazi concentration camp in the vicinity, you would have no idea about the atrocities that occurred there. I wonder what it is like for people who live there, when they tell someone where they come from? For German people, the name is familiar and everyone knows what happened there. I wonder if it feels like there is a dark cloud hanging above them.

The Memorial site itself is completely free to enter and there is an insightful museum and you can roam the grounds and explore. Dachau was the first concentration camp that was built. It was the model for all the other camps, of which there were thousands. Apparently the gas chambers in Dachau were never used for mass extermination as they were in other camps, although no one can explain the reason why.

I found the place to be a very restful and peaceful place, which was probably helped by the cold weather and so few people visiting the site. I am still finding it hard to reconcile the horrific images and decriptions about the conditions and how life was for a political prisoner with the serene, contemplative atmosphere of the place that looked beautiful in the snow and the afternoon sunlight.thumbnail_img_4510

I found out on this trip that it is compulsory for German high schoool children to spend a year learning about what happened in this point in history and they also visit concentration camps as part of their education. I always thought that they learnt very little in comparison to what we learn in the UK. Although I can understand the reasons for this, I can’t help but think that Germans are somehow punished for the mistakes of previous generations. For sure, Brits are no angels either and the British Empire was also a place, where, I imagine, man’s inhumanity to man and explotation of people reared its ugly head. But I know next to nothing about it because it is not something that we are taught or are proud of.

Feeling pensive and slightly depressed with the world again, I head back to the city. I had heard that the Chinese Tower in the English Beer Garden was covered in snow. It sounded like a great photo opportunity. img_4517The English Garden area is relatively big and I can imagine in summer it is packed with picnic-ers and beer drinkers. Unfortunately, when I visited it was cold and covered in snow and the normal food and drink stalls were all shut up for the winter break. I would like to come back in the summer and see what this garden is like then: BBQs, people playing football, sunbathing and enjoying being outside. There is even a part of the river with a man-made waves and you can surf on the river. In the meantime, I saw the Chinese Tower looking glorious in the sunshine. That will have to do for now.