Wanderlust Interview #2: Vanessa

Anamaria Koeva 24 November 2020
Image Credit: boatmaginternational.com

While we are all doing our best to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, TCS is committed to keep your wanderlust alive. With this interview series we are hoping to reignite your travel imagination and give you some interesting ideas for post-Covid adventures.

Vanessa is a musician, composer, music teacher and a Selwyn graduate (matriculated 1985). She is also a mother of three and a David Attenborough fan. As I am currently lodging with her, we sat down in our living room in Cottenham for a journey through Vanessa’s travel memories.

AK: Which country made you fall in love with travelling?
VB: Germany! I had done German at school and I liked the idea that you can travel somewhere where people can understand you even if you spoke something different from your own language. Since then I made friends with people in Germany and in a way… one feeds the other. I like getting to know different people and the way they think.

AK: How did you end up going to Germany in the first place?
VB: I first went with the school orchestra. We played in Koblenz. [It is] a place where the Rhine meets the Moselle river. And there’s a whole load of vineyards, so we got a bit tipsy… and then played on a boat. This was fun. I remember we had to put pegs on the music stand to stop the music from blowing into the Rhine.

AK: Have you traveled a lot for music?
VB: I went to Florida with the school orchestra, and on tours to Italy – Florence, Bologna, Ferrara and Venice with the county youth orchestra. I also like taking trains to music festivals in the UK. ‘Music festivals’ to me means a different thing to what it would mean to most people. For example, I like the Huddersfield Contemporary Music which is a festival for modern-day classical music.

AK: Could you tell me about a time you got lost while travelling?
VB: I remember getting lost in Bologna while on a trip with the orchestra. I was friends with the bass clarinettist, Deanna. At that time here in the UK, it’s going to sound very strange, but people didn’t really go to cafés or restaurants very much. It’s massively changed now, but it used to be a really big deal to eat out. It was a novelty to have an outside part of a café, too, so my friend Deanna wanted to show me this café she found. We decided to go and look before we had to be back on the bus, and we walked and walked and walked… seeing lots of cafés which had an outside bit on the way, because in Italy they generally did, but we couldn’t find the one that she remembered. Only she couldn’t really tell the difference, so eventually we got completely lost in the suburbs.

AK: And you didn’t have the internet…
VB: Or any map, or anything. Deanna oscillated between hysterical laughter and hysterical crying while I went into cafés to ask about directions. Nobody spoke any English, but we managed to get back by using Italian-sounding French words and the Italian musical terms we knew which reminded us of some word that might help us. About ten minutes before we got back, we bumped into one of the French horn players who was also lost. By that time we’d worked out where we were going and we were able to confidently say to him “Oh, just come with us!”. We just about made it back in time… we would have been in so much trouble!

AK: Where did you go last in the pre-Covid times?
VB: Ah, I last went to Bergedorf, which is just outside Hamburg. I went to stay with the Flocken family, whom I got to know because my son Luke did an exchange with their oldest child, who was called Lukas, as it happens, and they got on very well. Since then all five of their children have been to stay with me, separately, sometimes in twos and sometimes with their boyfriends or girlfriends, because they are now at that age. But the only people who hadn’t met were the parents. So I went to visit them.

AK: What was your highlight of that trip?
VB: They have the most amazing museum called Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg. It’s an enormous building with various cities, each city taking up, say, half this room. And everything is in miniature and incredibly detailed. They even have an airport with a plane that takes off from time to time. There is day and night which are in proportion to the real-life day-to-night ratio. Everybody should go to the Miniatur Wunderland. It is incredible. Another Hamburg attraction was the Hafencity Riverbus, which is a bus-boat… It can go both on the road and in the river.

AK: Where do you want to go when it is safe to travel for leisure again?
VB: I’d like to go somewhere where you do go out into the wild, but someone takes you, because I wouldn’t want to get lost. I’d like to go to the North Frisian Islands to the north of Germany. People only live in the middle of them, because the edges get regularly flooded and some would go underwater. So it’s like a wetland with an amazing ecosystem. Sylt is one of those islands. There’s a train that goes from the mainland to Sylt, which makes it even more appealing.

AK: So is it safe to say that trains are your favourite means of transport when travelling?
VB: I love trains! I’d go anywhere on a train. By the way, another surprising thing about going to Germany was that I thought that, being German, all their trains would be incredibly punctual, but they’re not.

AK: Well, that’s a travel myth busted.
VB: Sometimes they don’t even show up.

AK: They sound much like the Cambridge-Cottenham buses! Is there anything I’ve not asked you, but you’d like to share?
VB: I’m a hopeful traveller. I have lots of places I’d like to go, but haven’t got round to them because of commitments. So I’d advise your readers to investigate grants for travelling and to take all the travel opportunities they can when they can.

Would you like to share your travel highlights in the Wanderlust Interview Series? Send an email to adk45@cam.ac.uk to arrange an interview!