Time for home…

I’m writing this sitting up in Business Class on SingaporeAir. We left Zurich at 11:45am and it’s now 7:20pm in Switzerland and 1:20am in Singapore. We are somewhere in the middle. I enjoyed my glass of champagne before take-off and another when we were airborne. We had a delicious lunch served on board: Singapore Chicken Satay, followed by Marinated Shrimp with Pickled Melon. For the main course I had Gaeng Kiew Waan Talay (Thai style green curry seafood with vegetables and rice) and then for dessert, Apricot Tart with Balsamic Mousse. I hope it reads as good as it tasted.

Now we are meant to be sleeping and I’ve had two tries but my mind just says that I don’t sleep in the afternoon so I’ve watched Where the Crawdads Sing. I really loved the book and I enjoyed the movie. I’m also half way through Elvis and am enjoying that too. We missed them both at the theatre. I brought a book to read but when I started it, I realised that I’d already read it. Now that’s frustrating. I have plenty of books on my iPad so I could be reading them but it’s not the same.

This is such a long flight. It’s not much fun here but I can’t imagine what it’s like in economy. We still have another four hours to go. Ugh! Were the 30 days we had in Europe worth the pain of the flights? Of course they were!

I hear you asking what were the highlights. Without a doubt, the best part was the week we spent in Wiltshire with my cousin, Kay, my niece George and our patient men who gladly came along and participated in our family history quest. Then we had that wonderful day in Swindon when we caught up with cousin Wendy and our wonderful genealogical friend, Fran and met cousin Christine and many other cousins. I still haven’t sorted out in my mind who is whom in some cases. I’ll have to ask Wendy and Christine to put a name to all the people in the photos for me.

We visited all those beautiful places where our ancestors lived- Bradford on Avon, Westbury, Lacock…. It was wonderful and now I’ve got lots to do to record it all on my family tree.

The Swiss Mountain scenery was everything I hoped it would be and riding the trains through that scenery was great. It even snowed for us in St Moritz – the first snow of the season. I loved all of that. Every bit of it. It was stunning.

However, we were very disappointed with the Travel Marvel Alpine Train Tour. It was not run by Travel Marvel. They have an arrangement with Great Rail Tours who actually organise the tour. Our itinerary stated that Travel Marvel promise luxury travel of the highest standard and premium accommodation. Some of our hotels did not provide premium accommodation and the organisation of the tour left much to be desired. It was not luxury travel.

In the past, we’ve organised our own travel. In 2015, we travelled around Spain by train staying in appartments for six weeks and we had a great time. Managing your own luggage is difficult when you’re getting off on on trains, some with three steps and limited luggage storage aboard. We could do it then. But we are older now and have a few issues we didn’t have then. We were worried whether we could manage. So we booked a luxury tour with full porterage, thinking we’d pay someone to do the hard work for us. Except it wasn’t luxury travel and a lot of the time we had to manage our own luggage. It was very difficult for us. Other guests on the tour were very helpful and took care of us but we weren’t their responsibility.

We had thought that we might do a similar trip on the trains of New Zealand but we won’t be doing another Travel Marvel tour anywhere.

Our visit to Herrenchiemsee

Herrenchiemsee is a complex of royal buildings on Herreninsel which is the largest Isla in the Chiemsee Lake in Bavaria. It’s about 60k SE of Munich. So yesterday morning we packed up all our gear and left Salzburg by coach about 9am to head to Prien am Chiemsee where we caught a boat across to the island. It’s just a short 15 minute ride. (By the way, masks are still required on public transport in Germany & Austria- seemed a bit strange when we sitting on an open top deck of the boat.).

Another beautiful drive on the way to the lake.

King Ludwig built a palace on the island to rival Versailles. David & I did not do the walk to the palace – we’ve seen plenty- so we enjoyed a quiet, peaceful time sitting in the gardens, gazing into space and reflecting. It was very pleasant. Of course, we visited the restaurant for coffee and cake too. Those who walked to the castle said some rooms were even more ornate than Versailles. How could that be possible?. What a waste of money. It seems he ran out of money so it couldn’t be finished. He spent 10 days on the island and mysteriously drowned in the lake.

Check out my Apple streusel at the restaurant overlooking the lake.
Out coffee spot!
A view of a section of the Palace Gardens

After the boat ride back, we caught a little steam train up the hill where a different bus collected us to bring us here to Innsbruck. We got in at a very civilised time of 4:30 but unfortunately our luggage didn’t make it until 9. We were compensated by being served a delicious dinner in the hotel restaurant. The first included dinner that has been really delicious.

Our little steam train

Today’s itinerary was a bus ride to the famous castle, Neuschwanstein Castle which is said to be the inspiration for the famous Castle in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Then, having bought your lunch yesterday, you had to eat it on the bus whilst driving to the station to catch the train to the highest mountain in Germany, Zugspitze. In order to do all that, departure by bus was at 7:30 and arrival back at the hotel was expected to be at 7:30 pm. Both excursions necessitate a lot of walking and not easy walking.

My medical issues mean that I can’t possibly have that early a start so I have stayed in Innsbruck but I did get up early & wave them all of this morning for a huge day, especially for those in their 80s. I’m hoping David is ok!

Instead, I’ve had a very pleasant wander around the old town, a delicious morning coffee and cake and sushi for lunch. It was meant to rain and be very chilly on the mountain but the top looked clear earlier so I hope the views from up there are amazing.

Coffee and cake in the old town of Innsbruck.
Very tasty sushi for lunch
Amazing old steps in the Art Gallery I wandered into – Ferdinandeum
Will it be fine up there? I hope so.

Now to read my book and rest.

One of the great reads by Fiona McIntosh. This one’s set in York. She always does extensive research so the background is fascinating. Fiona is currently visiting Wiltshire, doing research for a book set there. I wonder if any of our Alley places will get a mention.

“The Things We Cannot Say”

I’ve been very lax with my blogging lately but I’ve just read this great novel by Kelly Rimmer, an Australian author & I want to spread the word about what a great read it was. The story begins with childhood sweethearts, Alina & Tomasz, in rural Poland just before WWII. We then meet Alice, in America in 2019. Alice & her husband have two children, Pascale, a brilliant 10 year old, & Eddie who is on the Autism Spectrum.. Alice loves her grandmother, Hanna, a great deal but Hannah is not expected to live long.

This is a mystery, a love story, a family history story……. it was just a great read. I didn’t want to put it down and I won’t tell you anymore as I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Another book I’ve really enjoyed lately was “Foreign Correspondence” by Geraldine Brooks, another Australian author. This is a memoir and begins with Geraldine sharing the joy she received from having international pen friends when she was young. I know just what she means as I corresponded with teenagers in England, Brazil, South Africa and Vietnam & I loved receiving those letters. Geraldine then went on to become a foreign correspondent and the memoir lets us see what life was like. It was a very enjoyable read.

I’ve been busy for some time now researching my Couch ancestors from Port Isaac in Cornwall so I can write their stories. My GG Grandparents, Elizabeth Couch & her husband, Isaac Hawker migrated to Melbourne Australia in 1862. It’s an interesting journey I’m on. I think I’m related to nearly every one of the original families from Port Isaac, at least by marriage. I’ve read a couple of books as part of my research & they include photos of and stories about my relatives. Both of these books are by Geoff Provis (I’m even related to Geoff by marriage). The books are “The Fishermen of Port Isaac” and “The Seafarers of Port Isaac”.

It’s a very strange world at the moment. I’m very lucky that I can fill my days with reading wonderful stories, researching the story of my family and playing bridge online. It was very difficult when we couldn’t see the grandkids but the easing of restrictions has made life more pleasant.

Wow! My feelings are written on these pages

I have, over the last 24 hours read a book which has touched me and brought a few tears to my eyes. Dani Shapiro is the author of Inheritance – A memoir of genealogy, paternity, and love. It is one of several books she has written. Growing up in an orthodox Jewish family, she was often told she did not look Jewish and she never saw herself in the faces around her. When she was 52, she did an Ancestry DNA test which showed she was no relation to Susie, with whom she supposedly shared a father.

She wrote this book as she tried to come to terms with this traumatic shock and as she and her husband tried to solve the mysteries of the identity of her birth father, a sperm donor, and how it all came about.

Similarly, at 54, after the death of my parents, I discovered that they were not my parents at all but had adopted me.

My feelings, as I solved my mysteries and discovered who I really am, were very similar to Dani’s. My DNA test came as the last part of the solution to my puzzle, rather than the beginning, as it proved that the man I had come to believe was my birth father, really was.

I really enjoyed reading this book and will ponder upon it a fair bit over the next few days, I reckon.

This book also resonated with me because of the window into the Jewish religion and its customs as my husband’s heritage is Jewish although he was not brought up in the faith.

The book was easy to read and I recommend it.

Definitely worth reading: “Bridge of Clay”

In the last year or so, I’ve read three books about teenage boys: Jasper Jones, boy swallows universe and, now Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak, the author of The Book Thief. They’ve been very different stories but have all told the stories of boys growing up in difficult situations and have all been great reads.

I hear about incidences which occur in the high school classrooms in which two of my daughters teach and I ask myself what situations are these kids trying to cope with as they go from childhood to adulthood. Certainly many kids today, as always, don’t have it easy.

This book was published last year and is set in suburban Sydney, Australia where Markus Zusak lives with his wife and two children.

The Dunbar family consists of five brothers. Their mother, Penelope is dead and their father has fled. The story is narrated by the oldest of the boys and tells the story of their life, their love and their brawls and how it all came to pass.

It flips backwards and forwards, going into the parents’ history which I found very disconcerting at first. It was hard to remember who was who. Many times, in the first half, I almost returned the book to the library unread.

But then the author hooked me. This morning I did my chores, met my daughter for a walk and a coffee and came home to continue to research and write my grandfather’s story but I saw the book and my plans went awry. I have done nothing but read on until the end.

It’s a wonderful story of stories, of loves, of youth and animals, of internal battles….. and, of course of the building of a bridge, a very special bridge.

It’s just a great story. I recommend it to you.

“little fires everywhere” by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng has written two books. This is her second novel and the first I’ve read. I’ll be looking for her first, Everything I never told you, as I really enjoyed little fires everywhere.

I’ve been thinking about the book since I finished it last night. I think it is the story of three mothers and their children but it is so much more as it stimulates thought about our western society, the way we treat others of different classes and colour and what makes a good mother.

The story is set in Shaker Heights, a meticulously planned suburb of Cleveland Ohio where the author grew up. Elena Richardson and her lawyer husband have four children and they are the perfect embodiment of a successful Shaker Heights family.

Mia Warren, a photographic artist, and her daughter Pearl live a nomadic life and Mia has promised Pearl that they will make a permanent home at their next stop which turns out to be in Shaker Heights. Mia has, however, total disregard for the rules of the lifestyle here.

Friends of the Richardsons decide to adopt a Chinese-American baby girl that has been left outside a fire station in the snow by her desperate mother, a work colleague of Mia.

I loved reading this book. There was love, angst, caring, disdain and lots of intrigue. Once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. And there are little fires everywhere.

It’s being made into a miniseries to be released in 2020 with Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. I’m looking forward to it.

Loved reading about some of my female ancestors

I’ve just read Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon – Women’s Lives And The Fight For Equality by Frances Bevan.

My first contact with Frances came about a few years ago when I searched for Radnor Street Cemetery on Facebook and her name popped up. I found that she researches the lives of the people buried in this old cemetery and writes their stories. She also leads tours of the cemetery on one Sunday per month through the warmer months. The cemetery is in Swindon, a railway town in Wiltshire about a ninety minute drive west of London. Consequently I can’t go on the tours but I can read her stories and since many of my Alley family, my paternal line, are buried there I really enjoy reading them.

In fact, it was through communicating with Frances that I found and have met some cousins who are very special to me. When Frances asked me if I knew Wendy Burrows who was also searching for information about Frederick Alley, it lead me on the journey to find my cousins. We went to Swindon where Frances, Wendy and her husband, Frank, David and I enjoyed a wonderful day together. We have since met and stayed with my lovely cousin, Kay Prosser, and her husband Ben in Victoria on Vancouver Island and they have been to stay with us in Brisbane. When you discover at 52 that you were adopted, finding and meeting and becoming close to your birth family is very special. It gives you back your sense of identity and you know where you fit in the world.

Reading about the women in my family in Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon is also special and I really appreciate the work that Frances does. My Grand Great Uncle, George Richman Alley had one son and seven daughters. The daughters are pictured Below. Amelia Annie Alley and her sister, Ethel Gertrude Alley had a millinery business at 90 Victoria Road. Ethel Gertrude Alley married William Hewer and they ran the Oddfellows’ Arms. The youngest sister Eva married George Babington and they opened a drapery store next door to the milliners. Mabel Alley was awarded the British Empire Medal for Meritorious Service in 1960 as she was sub Post Mistress at Westcott Place for more than fifty years.

Emma Louisa Hull, née Alley, another of the sisters, was a member of the Women’s Freedom League and was active in the fight for the vote for women. She was arrested twice and imprisoned for short times.

Eileen Kostitch, née Babington, was the daughter of Eva Alley & George Babington fought with the Yugoslavian forces against the Germans in World War II. She died there of ill health and is buried in Western Bosnia.

I think there have been some amazing women in my family!

Details of life in Swindon and of the women who fought for women’s rights can be found in this well researched book. I found it fascinating.

A new Aussie author that I’ll be following

I’ve just read the third novel by Jane Harper, The Lost Man. Like The Dry this one is set in the Australian outback, this time in South West Queensland rather than Victoria. Life on a cattle station in the outback is a struggle for all. One of the three brothers is found dead of dehydration in the scorching Christmas heat beside an old stock man’s grave and no one understands why he would have left his vehicle with all his food and water to walk ten kilometres to this headstone.

The story delves into the tensions around families at Christmas and how these tensions are magnified by the death. We go back into the past to enable us to understand the present. It was an excellent read, as was The Dry. I didn’t want to put it down.

An easy-to-read novel by Baldacci

Last week I read The Last Mile by David Baldacci. Melvin Mars is going to be executed for the murder of his parents twenty-one years ago. He’d had a promising career as a footballer ahead of him when he was arrested but just as he was about to be executed another man confessed to the murders.

Amos Decker had just joined a new team in the FBI to investigate old murders and he convinced his boss that the team should work on this case to find the truth of what happened. The story unfolds from there.

It’s interesting and very easy to read. I read it in a couple of days and enjoyed it.

A fictional tale about the workings of the legal system in the USA

I think it is probably twenty-five years or so since I first read a novel by John Grisham and I remember particularly enjoying The Pelican Brief and The Client amongst others. He was one of my favourite authors.

A couple of weeks ago I found his 2017 novel, The Rooster Bar in our bookshelves so I decided to read it. It’s a story about three final year law students in America, each of whom have racked up a $200,000 loan for their university fees. They’ve been conned into attending a second rate law college and are unlikely to ever be able to repay the loan as they have no hope of getting a job in a law firm.

They decide to practice law illegally without the qualifications and that is where the trouble starts.

I enjoyed the book but it wasn’t one of my favourites. I wouldn’t want to read it again and I wouldn’t recommend it to you.