Tuesday, 31 December 2013

/52/ A cup o’ kindness

That’s it for 2013 then, I guess.

I lived in three different places (1 2 3) in three different countries. I flew spontanteously to Parma with just a change of clothes, a camera and a toothbrush. I turned 21. I wrote roughly 46,000 words in 23 essays (the 24th would have been semantics, but I guess I never wrote it). I went temporarily insane from stress and realised it was time to tone it down.

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I trekked through fields full of cows in my festival gear, trying to find a shop that sold milk for my tent-side cuppa, and realised the absurdity of 21st century living. I tracked down a dead poet in the Alps. I went for a night-time dip in Swiss lake and then ate a defrosted, uncooked pizza with one of my best friends in the world. I saw Europe’s biggest waterfall. I petted a goat.
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I moved to Berlin and found it challenging. I plodded through autumnal Oslo. I got my first taste of Poland and liked it. I faced Germany’s dark history and responded with many words, even though I really know what to say… I sang karaoke in a gay bar. I started to feel at home in Berlin. sarahk (5)

I went home to Bavaria. I went home to the UK. I went ice skating. I had a heart-to-heart with a painting of Mr Darcy in the women’s loos of my favourite pub back home. I had another heart-to-heart with a dear friend on an Oxfordshire bus. I had a third heart-to-heart in a cozy Oxford coffee shop with snowflakes whirling by. Consider my heart replenished.

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And 2013 ended much like it began, in a house full of friends with a belly full of food and happy.20140101_134454 

I wrote about my year 52 times here – it wasn’t always easy, and I flagged at the end. Considerably. The date tag on this might read December, but as I write this it’s almost the following June. Nevertheless, the task is done. 22,000 words dissecting, documenting and reflecting on 2013. The verdict? It was good, as years go. One of the best I’ve had, in fact.

I’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet – for auld lang syne!


Sunday, 22 December 2013

/51/ Christmas at Home

Please excuse the high number of phone-photos. My DSLR was tired.

Christmas was a quiet affair this year – exactly what I needed after an increasingly hectic and claustrophobic final few weeks in Berlin. The night is always darkest before the dawn, or so they say.In this instance, it was Christmas which dawned, and it did it beautifully. The only really sad thing was that my li’l brother Niall couldn’t make it home, and had to stay in Germany (though I hear he lived it up with our fantastic cousin Alice!). This was our second Christmas where the whole family wasn’t together, but last time it was me who was the missing link.

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The two weeks were full of familiar places. On one day, I grabbed my good school friend Lola and we headed to Oxford to pick my room for next year. While there, we actually bumped into a university friend of mine who had graduated in summer, and I ended up getting the room which coincidentally happened to be his old one. I’m very happy with it – it’s not the prettiest room per se, but has the best view! I took this picture back in January when it was actually snowy, and yeah it’s kind of magical.

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Christmas was in danger of getting a bit too quiet, so on Christmas Eve, my mother and I bought some last minute tickets to the only show that still had seats in London on boxing day – namely, The Mousetrap. It’s an old Agatha Christine that has been running in the same theatre for decades. It wasn’t high literature but it was entertaining, and with a perfect twist at the end.


On the walk to and from the theatre, we passed through Covent Garden and its proliferation of oversized Christmas decorations.


Most important, of course, was a trip to the pub. Our pub: The Red Lion in Upper Basildon (à la Basildon Park). It’s not our local – in fact it’s a half hour drive away from where we live - but it is our regular (not dissimilar to how I am with my favourite Berlin cafe, Factory Girl).


There are many reasons to love the Red Lion, but surely this will sell it to you. The women's loo features a 360-degree panorama painting featuring a row boat, the rolling English countryside and Mr Darcy. I sometimes excuse myself just so I can sit and have a chat with him. He’s an incredible listener.



Saturday, 14 December 2013

/50/ Fiona v. Berlin

The last time I wrote about advent, I was eighteen years old, living in a town an hour outside of Reykjavik, and lonely as a Mormon on the Ganges. Different times.

This year was a little different.


I’ve already touched a little on Christmas in Germany when I wrote about Munich and Regensburg, but it’s different in Berlin. Winter is harsher somehow without that omnipresent, catholic, four-week-long winter anaesthetic festival you find in Bavaria’s approach to advent. Of course there are Christmas markets – but, except for the one at Gendarmenmarkt, which is really quite spectacular, they’re just pastiches of the real thing.

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Photo from 2012, not that it looks any less miserable this year…

In Berlin, the wind whistles down the gulleys between skyscrapers, lashing your face with sleet. The streets are void of life, at times making you feel like the lone survivor in a radioactive wasteland. And when you do encounter someone you have to be ready for the sourest of tempers – this is the “Berliner Schnauze”. They’re not known their warmth to start with, the Berliners, and winter just makes them even worse...


But complaining ain’t gonna cut it, buster.

Please excuse me while I get philosophical here for a moment. There is value in the lack of beauty – because it isn’t easy and pretty and handed to you on a plate. You have to craft it into how you want it to be, it’s in your hands, and you are rudely woken up to the reality that your advent (like your life) is what you make of it.


And I chose to make it cozy.

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I sought out the snuggliest cafes, I drank hot chocolate with rum, perused Christmas market stalls, took my knitting with my on the S-Bahn, I decorated my room with paper stars and ornaments, I went ice skating with friends from home, fell over, and got back up again.


Take that, Berlin winter! endof2012 (51)
That last picture was actually take in 2012, but I sure drank a lot of hot chocolate and rum this year too!


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Regensburg Cathedral

See here for my general post about my visit to Regensburg.

The High Gothic architecture of the Dom St Peter in Regensburg is almost one-of-a-kind in Bavaria, where even in the Gothic period, bricks were usually used over stone, leading to the development of the Brick Gothic style which can be seen in churches in Nürnberg and Landshut.

The spire of the Regensburg Cathedral is over 100m high, making it higher than the Sacre-Coeur in Paris, the United States Capital in Washington DC, and Big Ben in London. The building is roughly 750 years old and is part of the UNESCO-protected Regensburg town centre.
The windows are only a little younger, coming in at 800 to 900 years. Stained glass windows were so hugely important in medieval churches because most of the congregation would not have been able to understand Latin, the language in which the services were delivered. As a result, the colourful and vibrant images- depicting the lives of saints, biblical stories, the gospels, heaven and hell - were a fundamental cornerstone of the development of the Christian faith amongst the populace.
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Even for an agnostic such as myself, cathedrals and churches can be places of wonder. Christianity may not be precisely my faith but it is indisputably my culture, and I see these structures as monuments to the extent of human love, inspiration and devotion.


Sunday, 8 December 2013

/49/ Oh, brother!

My trip to Regensburg got me thinking.


Do you ever look around and get startled by how grown-up people have become – and maybe even feel like you’ve been left behind? A lot of my friends back home are either in their final year of university, diligently scratching essay after essay onto paper and cramming three years of lurning into their skulls. And others have even graduated, moved in with their significant others, and found a job. All while I’m sashaying about in Berlin with well over a year of university left to go. I can’t help but recall the lines from Dr Seuss’ flawless Oh, the Places You’ll Go!:

You’ll get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.

In the poem, this “Lurch” goes on to become a “Slump” (which is really just Seussian for “depression”); but for me, it’s really more of a chilled-out Slouch. Because it’s not a bad feeling actually – there’s something delightfully satisfying about being able to laugh and say “Adulthood? Oh, that’s a while away yet.” And I have a Plan anyway, so I’m not trembling in fear of some undetermined future. I’m patiently waiting for it, and trying to take things easy while I do.


But when your little brother, whom you used to scare by threatening to tickle him until he cried and who you would play Pokemon with on long car journeys, moves out from home, works a full-time job and has a real and proper girlfriend, it can seem like time has crept up on you. An BAM - you’re in that future which, back when you were fourteen and skiving Chemistry class, you used to wonder would ever come.

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Not that he’s really any more grown up than I am. And not that it’s a competition – it’s just one of those “oh” moments. And luckily we get on really quite well. Niall (rhymes with “meal” not “mile”) is doing a year at the theatre in Regensburg, which is a perfect little Bavarian town. There are the quintessential alleys and stone bridges and medieval archways, back-street cafes and cozy dens of eateries, and church spires towering over cobble-stoned market places.


I also have a thing for cathedrals – the architecture blows me away again and again. Since I read Pillars of the Earth I haven’t looked at them the same again. In my opinion, cathedrals are basically Europe’s pyramids (she says, having never been to Egypt). And Regensburg’s Gothic Dom St. Peter isn’t a half bad example. Click through to see more pictures of the cathedral.

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During my visit, Niall and I hit Christmas Markets, I saw him in a play (Robin Hood for kiddywinks – very fun!), and then I met an awful lot of his friends. Awful in the best way – it’s good to see him happy and with so many people surrounding him. Awwww. All this squishy sibling affection is getting, like, mega gross.

“Another picture?” he groaned. I cackled, as I often do, and ignored him, as I often do.

Best Sister Ever, obviously.

All this brings me right back around to Dr Seuss:

[…] when things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.

Right now, I feel far freer than I would if I had a flat and a boyfriend and a job and a reason to stay in one place. It’s not my long-term plan (that definitely does involve a little pride upon the shelf / and four stone walls around me); but for now I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being the chief executive officer of my own life suits me down to the ground.

I’ll fill this formless in-between time with trips to visit those friends who now actually own couches - because every student nomad needs a place to sleep before the next adventure begins!