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From the bells of London to the bells of Eisenach

Sunday 16th to Monday 17th September

On Sunday I awoke at my Putney homestay and walked to the high street where I found an Italian cafe serving excellent coffee and pastry. Walking back along the Thames river the bells of the Putney churches on both sides called Sunday parishioners to service: I noticed a number of families walking purposefully in that direction, a scene played out on that spot for centuries. The peals of bells competed with each across the river. Then it was time to take the coach to Cambridge.

Arriving around 2pm, I made my way to Bridget Hornibrook’s house in Tenison Road, and was met by Bridget’s partner David, though I had expected an empty house. After attending to a few domestics I headed at a fast clip into the town centre to take a quick look at the famous Heffer’s bookshop (I thought not as good as on past visits) and I looked around the vicinity of King’s College. At 5pm the bells of St Benet’s pealed very loudly welcoming worshippers to Evensong. I walked around The Backs, where boats punted tourists on the Cam, and round to the Mathematical Bridge. As in London, Cambridge is simply full to overflowing with tourists, but the scene is as achingly beautiful as ever.

A very early start the next morning for a 4.44am train to Stansted airport, where I was astounded at the huge crowds of people and general confusion in checking in to my Ryanair flight, which is very much self-help. Getting through security was chaotic, and there was no immigration check at all. I wonder how people can do these jobs all day surrounded by madness.

An hour’s peace was had at a smart coffee stand with my laptop, and then it was time to queue, and wait, and queue and muck about for an hour before we finally got aboard the plane to Frankfurt Hahn airport. It amazed me how quickly we were over Kent, and then France, and were then descending into Frankfurt. I had not done my homework properly as this airport was not the Frankfurt International but quite another, a distant – 120km distant in fact – aerodrome with just one small building, and no train to Frankfurt at all but a very expensive bus that was not scheduled to depart until 10.55am – and a journey time of 2 hours!

This did matter as I had a booked and paid-for train at 12.14pm from Frankfurt station to Eisenach. The bus moved quickly and was efficient, but it did not get me to the Hauptbahnhof in time for my train – I missed it by 20 minutes. So I had to buy a whole new ticket, at full price, for the 1.19pm service. That was a rather foolish error on my part, but these things do happen and the guide book I consulted made no mention of two Frankfurt airports – and is there a third?!

However it was good to be headed in the right direction and the very smooth train whisked us at great speed through increasingly beautiful scenery and forest as we approached Thuringia and Eisenach. As I have seen so often, the very long train was full and people were standing. Everywhere seems to be jammed with people travelling in all places and in all directions and at all times.

We made only a few stops and pulled into Eisenach at 3pm. I stepped out into that beautiful, still warm, European September air – the trees just gathering towards their autumn colours, the ground hard and baked off from a very hot summer, no hint of a breeze. Eisenach is in the former East Germany and has a very quiet, calm atmosphere. It is a relief to be somewhere more serene after recent days in hectic cities in both hemispheres.

I lunched on brown bread sandwich and latte macchiato – which turned out to be a very weak and milky concoction – and waited a short while for my friend Hans, who arrived on the 3.45 train from Hamburg. This was our pre-arranged meeting time and place and it was indeed remarkable that there we both were at the right time and place!

We walked up to our accommodation, Pension Maria Luisa, below the Wartburg, and then climbed the hill behind, a beautiful walk up the Reuter Weg, through still forest, following the Martin Luther heritage walk, to the 1000 year old castle that atops the mountain. Luther was held in a form of house arrest here for his own protection for about 15 months. It was saved from crumbling into ruin by Goethe, who in the 1840s recognised its importance to German cultural history and arranged for it to be restored.

At Wartburg with Hans 17 sept

At the Wartburg

At the Wartburg (above two pictures)


Bach statue in Eisenach 17 Sept

JS Bach Statue, Eisenach

js bach in eisenach.jpg

Bach is everywhere in Eisenach

We walked around and gazed at great acres of Thuringian forest, just tinting with autumn colours.

Finally we followed the hill down again, on the Martin Luther trail once more, as church bells tolled and rang over the town and the hills. Past beautiful timbered German houses with flowers on their window sills, and into the town Markt, where we found somewhere good to eat right on the town square. It was extremely pleasant to sit on the side of the square, as a few people walked about enjoying the warmth and the late summer sun, children played around the fountain, and under the immense tower of the Georgekirche, until at 7.30pm it was getting too cool and it was time to head back.

We walked back via the Bach Haus, and the statue of JS Bach that looks over the town, and marvelled again at the peacefulness and the orderly charm in a way that is uniquely German: what the Germans call the gemutlichkeit.

It was just enchanting looking down past JS Bach and over the historic buildings to the browns and golds of the forest beyond. Nearby the most delightful antiquarian bookshop with little windows displaying intriguing books means I will have to visit tomorrow.

I am much looking forward to a deeper look into the Bach sites tomorrow.