Monday, 25 June 2012

Changing Horizons

"Sick of London, sick of life", or so the saying goes. However, after 5 years living and working in the capital, I found that inhabiting this concrete jungle was making me feel increasingly aggravated. Don't get me wrong, London has a lot to offer culturally and socially, but the daily commute to Westminster and the dirt, deprivation and noise in my East End neighbourhood, were getting me down.

View from my desk, Victoria, London

I found myself longing for outdoor space, greenery and above all, peace and quiet. Something inside me just couldn't put up with the grit of urban living any more. We tried to move, but it was just as the UK housing market crashed, so we were forced to stay in our one bed flat with no outdoor space.

After some months planning, we left our jobs, cleared the flat and both moved to France in search of a better  quality of life. Everyone thought we were totally mad, but also brave. Mainly mad, though. We didn't have any jobs, after all and didn't really know the new city we were moving to: Strasbourg. "Le Carrefour de l'Europe"* as it is called locally, is a much quieter and certainly more beautiful location than the East End of London.

View from our balcony. Sunset over Strasbourg.

One of the things I noticed when we first moved to Strasbourg, was the difference in noise levels. On a Sunday it was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. From time to time the faint clang of the bell could be heard as the tram trundled past our apartment. In France, nobody dashes around on Sunday in their cars, going to the supermarket or the DIY shop. This is because absolutely every shop is closed. Sundays are family days spent walking in the park or having long lunches together. The only other sounds to be heard were the swallows swooping past chirruping and occasionally, from its nest upon a rooftop, the "clack, clack, clack" of a stork's beak.

After a year and a half in Alsace, we moved to the Czech Republic for new work opportunities. This time to a city we had never even visited before! We weren't sure what we would make of the place and moreover we couldn't speak the language (unlike in France). It's 5 months since we arrived and although Brno hasn't got the picture postcard elements of Strasbourg, it has a pleasing, rolling green countryside.

View from the balcony. Brno, Czech Republic

I was hanging out my washing on the balcony this morning. The sun was shining brightly and the bell from the village church was chiming. Underneath that, birds were chattering and the lazy buzz of insects quietly filled the sonic spaces between. A neighbour walked past and I called out "Dobrý den!". He looked up and waved. I felt content. There is nothing awe-inspiring about the view from our flat, but it is so much nicer than what I was faced with every day in London, that I feel very pleased to have landed in this little corner of the world.

*Crossroads of Europe

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Discovering South Moravia

Znojmo is not a place I had heard of before going there. The DK Eyewitness Travel Guide only deems it worthy of a few lines and doesn't go into any detail about what you will find when you get there. However, I am really glad that I made the trip. One of the 3 most important Moravian towns along with Brno and Olomouc, Znojmo has a wealth of baroque buildings, squares and churches along with what has to be one of the most breathtaking valley views I have seen in a long time.

We booked on to a day trip run by the Brno Expat Centre. The day didn't go according to plan, as 4 people dropped out of the tour at the last minute, meaning that the mini bus hire was no longer viable. Undeterred, 6 of us, lead by our Czech organiser and guide, decided to take the public bus. We just managed to get on board before it reached full capacity. We spent the scorching hot day enjoying the sights of the ancient town.

Before reaching the old town, there is a Parisian style roundabout with grandiose buildings dating from the mid-19th century.
Old Town Hall

Inside the underground labyrinth, dating from medieval times.
Fine if you are small like me, not so good if you are tall like him! It was interesting to go down,
but the tour was a little naff what with fake skeletons and goblins!

The intrepid day-trippers head through the back streets 

Inside the Gothic Cathedral of St Nicholas lies St. Boniface in all his finery

Incredible globe pulpit

Cathedral of St. Nicholas with neighbouring two-tier chapel

Dyje river

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Viennese whirl

I thought I would share with you my walk through the Naschmarkt last Saturday morning in Vienna, Austria, in photos.

This market has everything from trendy cafes and traditional restaurants at one end, food from around the world and up the nearest mountain in the middle and bric-a-brac and antiques at the other end. Enjoy!

Wiener breakfast - fortification for the day ahead

Julius Meinl coffee with the usual mini water on the side

Pfingstrosen - beautiful even in the rain

Not just cheese at Kaeseland!

I so wanted this, but resisted

An oddly French-style public convenience

Familie Michael - great local cheeses

A lady checks out the giant mushrooms

Shot glasses

A colourful parrot hides amongst the bric-a-brac

Lederhosen! Of course

Thanks for taking the tour!