Historical Bath

Somehow, in a year of living only a couple hours away, I never made it to Bath, England. This is doubly surprising because I’m pretty fond of Jane Austen, who lived in Bath for many years and set several of her books there. So when some Facebook-friends-turned-real-life-friends suggested a meet-up in Bath on a weekend when I would already be in England, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see this charming city.

Bath is named after its oldest and most famous attraction, the Roman Baths. Lots of Roman cities had baths, but these were special because of the naturally warm mineral spring water. Bath had the largest public bath in the Roman empire despite the small size of the town because the water didn’t need to be heated! The water also supposedly had healing powers—a belief that continued into the Regency era. There was probably some truth to this: in a time before vitamins, drinking and sitting in water with extraordinarily high mineral content could cure some infirmities. The place to “take the waters” nowadays is the Pump Room next to the baths, where an ornate fountain lets visitors taste the spring water. Most make faces at the sulfuric smell and gritty taste. I banished that taste with afternoon tea (with all the traditional accompaniments), which I ate as I listened to the delightful Pump Room Trio.

My historical adventure continued at the Fashion Museum and Assembly Rooms. The Museum was simply paradise for anyone who loves historical clothes. I’ve included photographs of a few of my favorite pieces from the collection (conveniently labelled by year) in the gallery below. I just wish a larger portion of the collection had been on display! The same building houses the old Assembly Rooms, a meeting-place for Georgian society. Concerts, balls, card games, teas—they all happened here under the careful planning and watchful eye of the Master of Ceremonies (the most famous being Beau Nash, who was “King of Bath” between 1704 and 1761). Continue reading Historical Bath

May Week in Cambridge

May Week is a University of Cambridge tradition—a week of mad revelry that happens, as you definitely would not expect, in June. The highlights of the week are May Balls, elaborate and elegant all-night parties hosted by the colleges. Larger colleges throw balls every year, but the smaller colleges take turns. This year, my alma mater (Corpus Christi College) hosted. Additionally, two white tie balls were held. (Most are black tie.) Since neither of those things happened last year when I was a student at Cambridge, I had to return this year to take part! My week involved very little sleep but lots of alcohol and lots of fun.

I arrived in England on Monday afternoon to the news that a friend had an extra formal hall ticket at Christ’s College that evening. So I dashed to the college, luggage in tow (thank goodness for porters!), and arrived just in time for sherry, good food, half a bottle of wine, and port. Since I don’t drink much in Munich, that was quite the boozy start to my week. In other words, it was good training for what was to come! After a day of meeting up with friends who still live in Cambridge, the real partying started Tuesday night with the St. John’s College May Ball. All sorts of rumors circulate about this party: Time once ranked it the seventh-best party in the world. They keep a reserve fund to buy extra fireworks at the last minute so they can be sure to top Trinity College’s display. I have no clue whether either of those rumors is true, but it was certainly a perfectly elegant evening. We went from bumper cars to swing boats and from pop-rock to beautifully sung opera. I was well-fed with crepes, cheeses, scones, macarons, and pizza. Particular highlights included the fireworks display and the tea bar.

Continue reading May Week in Cambridge

Normal Norma

There was quite a Twitter gathering at the Bayerische Staatsoper on Saturday night. We were all a bit disappointed by the Norma we saw. The production was pretty, but the singers and musicians weren’t all well-suited to their roles. I’ve heard Radvanovsky (our Norma) before, and I love her sound. (Not everyone does.) But I heard her in Verdi in a huge house (the Met), and she didn’t do as well singing bel canto in a smaller house. You can read my full review here.

A glittering Hungarian musical comedy

The Hungarian operetta Die Csardasfürstin is virtually unknown in the United States. That’s a shame—judging by the production I saw at the Deutsches Theater last night (on tour from the Budapest Operetta Theater), it would be a hit on Broadway. This musical comedy has it all: annoyingly catchy tunes, jaw-dropping dance moves, and a feel-good happy ending. My review for Bachtrack is here.

Stolpersteine in Munich

Stolpersteine are a privately funded art project and memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. They are golden cobblestones inscribed with individuals’ names and birth and death details, placed at the last location the person chose to live. There are more than 40,000 in Europe, but there are just 25 in Munich, all on private land. In fact, Munich is the only city in Germany that prohibits Stolpersteine on public walkways.

Stolpersteine in Berlin
Stolpersteine in Berlin

This policy (in place since 2004) is largely due to loud objections from some members of the Orthodox Jewish community. One community leader and Holocaust survivor, Charlotte Knobloch, has been paticularly active in ensuring the ban remains in place. She argues that Stolpersteine are a disrespectful memorial because they enable people to literally trample the memories of the dead. But many people—including Holocaust survivor Ernst Grube—disagree. Stolpersteine serve as a beautiful, dispersed memorial of the dead. Unlike a centralized monument, they’re something ordinary citizens encounter and think about during the course of their daily lives. And they are never installed against the wishes of victims’ surviving family members. Continue reading Stolpersteine in Munich

Spargelzeit

Late spring is a glorious time of year. The sun is out. Lots of roses in my neighborhood are in bloom. I can wear cute dresses every day. But to Germans, this season has a special significance. It’s not just late spring or early summer; it’s Spargelzeit.

kastelbeller-spargelzeit,15882737

Spargel is asparagus (usually the white variety), and Germans are a little bit crazy about it. The fruit and vegetable stands that dot downtown have been filled with it. Every restaurant proudly displays a special asparagus menu, with soups and salads and mains all centered on this white stalk. I don’t quite get it—I like asparagus, but not that much—but it’s fun to watch.

spargel-oberursel

If you’re more of a fruit person, there’s still something for you. It’s also Erdbeerzeit (strawberry season). I do understand the strawberry craze; perfectly ripe, fresh strawberries are to die for. I keep buying baskets of strawberries with the intention of mixing the fruit with my muesli for breakfast, only to eat the whole basket on the way home!

Hiking in the Alps

As my time in Munich nears its end, I’m trying to get through my bucket list. It’s a bit too late for intense sledding in the mountains, but it’s just the right season for hiking! My fellow Fulbrighter Eric agreed to go with me, so we packed up lots of food and water and took the train to the tiny town of Griesen, right along the Austrian border. We walked around the Nudelwald (literally “noodle forest”) and hopped a freeway to get to the trailhead. We planned to conquer Frieder, a 2050-meter mountain in the Bavarian Alps.

My hiking guidebook listed Frieder as a medium-difficulty hike, which should take 6.3 hours. Eric might have been able to do it in that time if he’d been hiking alone, but it took me (somewhat out of shape, but an experienced hiker) 8 hours. We ascended 1410 meters from our starting point, scrambled over steep and rocky paths, and even crossed patches of ice. The hikers we passed all wore serious boots and carried trekking poles. (We owned neither.) By the time we reached the bottom—just in time to catch the train back to Munich—I could hardly walk. A shower and a tick removal operation later, I was sound asleep. Continue reading Hiking in the Alps