Judith Silverthorne decided to make the most of her time between retirement from the Saskatchewan Writer's Guild in June 2018 and the next chapter of her story as Writer-in-Residence at the Regina Public Library. She chose an excursion that combined her passions for learning, history, genealogy, adventure, art, food, wine and friends into the trip of a lifetime.
Judith’s journey began in Assmanshausen, Germany, where she enjoyed delicious food, fine wines and the view of this lovely old castle on the Rhine from her balcony. Next stop, Gehweiler, home to some of her ancestors in the 1600’s.
"Ancestors are honoured in Germany. People are responsible for taking care of their own family gravesites, and many are elaborate and most have flowers or other vegetation that is lovingly cared for. Everywhere we went there were people in the cemeteries watering and pruning. Graves are recycled every 25 years as space is limited."
"My cousin Shelley and I have completed 3 successful days of researching and touring our ancestral villages despite the surprising last minute no show of our interpreter/guide/driver! Besides the two of us being somewhat resilient, we don't speak German, but we have been very fortunate in meeting some incredibly kind and generous folks here in Germany.
There are many castles and churches in the Hunsruck Region. Some are built into the sides of low mountain ranges and hills. Another, finished in 1765 with a bell from the 1300s, proved to be the ideal place for the marriage a year later of our great-grandparents from 6 generations back."
Next stop, Worms, where The Diet (assembly) of Worms was held in 1521 to discuss Martin Luther's Reformation. This was a formal deliberative assembly of the entire Holy Roman Empire which lasted five months. Worms was an imperial free city at the time. Today the St. Peter's Catholic Cathedral and the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church sit within blocks of one another.
This year's grape crop promises a bountiful harvest and excellent wine production from the region.
"Tasting local food is a must in another country. We've had fun sampling local cuisine: weiner schnitzel, spatzel, spiessbraten, lobster bisque, potato dumplings, salads with shrimp or chicken and special dressings....and ice cream."
"I'm in the Black Forest eating authentic Black Forest cake!", Judith enthused on September 4th. "I took the express train to Baden-Baden today. It was so fast we didn't have time to get off at our stop so we had to backtrack. We also went up to the top of Mercur Mountain by cable car, awesome views! Then traditional Rouladen for supper. Weather is fabulous as you can see!"
Judith next ventured to the Danube River in Ulm where her German ancestors boarded crowded boats 234 years ago to reach Vienna on the first leg of their journey to Galicia, Austria. There is a monument to all the emigrants on the bank. Two days later, she was on the Baltic Sea at Sopot (near Gdansk) in Poland, visiting a dear friend she hadn't seen in over 20 years. They walked the longest wooden pier in Europe and enjoyed some amazing food including homemade chocolates.
Judith marked the halfway point of her trip by enjoying the sights and tastes of the areas surrounding the Aegean Sea for awhile. She reports that her appetite was challenged by the local restauranteurs who insisted that she inspect the raw fish and seafood before placing her order. "On the whole an interesting trip so far," she recorded. "I walk an average of 10,000 steps every day, have taken 7 trains (1 not planned) and 7 planes. Only 5 flights left to take."
Turkey was full of wonders for Judith. "Today I saw the ancient city of Ephesus. It was home to 250,000 people in about 100 AD with the Aegean Sea at its doorstep, but the sea is 5 km away today. I spent 2 hours there and then went on to the library, one of the three largest in the ancient world". In one fascinating but exhausting day, Judith also visited what is believed to have been Mother Mary's home in the last years of her life, saw how Turkish rugs are made and viewed the basilica built over the apostle John's tomb.
The next point on the itinerary was Pamukkala, home of ancient healing thermal pools that leave calcium deposits to create cloud-like effects. "It was wonderful to be in a place I've wanted to go for a long time," says Judith. "I was in the pools but they were slippery so I went for a swim in the pool, it's the same water. There were even a couple of pillars from an old Roman bath in it, lying down, and I fell over one. I was also at the cemetery of Heiropolous where over 1,000 people were buried, probably back about the 7th century, and visited the south gate and other ruins that were destroyed by an earthquake."
More guerilla sight-seeing was to follow in Istanbul after Judith met up with a friend from Scotland. They toured the 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome of Constantinople and the Topkapi Palace. Hagia Sophia was originally a Greek Orthodox Christian cathedral, later becoming an Ottoman imperial mosque and eventually the museum it is today.
Judith learned that there are over 3,100 mosques in Istanbul. She dressed respectfully to enter the Blue Mosque and reported that, "It was very hot in these clothes, but neat to try it and understand more about the Islamic culture".
Her step-counter was working overtime. "The last few days I've walked 12,000 steps each day, mostly over uneven ground, cobblestones etc., and up and down steep inclines and stairs," she said, "Today I did 13,500. I had to leave the Grand Bazaar with its 4,000 shops for another day." She did make it there before she left the city, though, and to the Spice Bazaar as well. She notes that approximately 250,000 people pass through each of them daily. The Grand Bazaar, started in 1455, covers about 60 city blocks.
On her last day in Turkey, she experienced another first. "I just had an authentic Turkish Bath! It was in a place that is all marble, below the streets of Istanbul, and which has been in use as one since 1475. I highly recommend it! No photos are allowed inside. It's sauna sessions, a body scrub and massage .... I feel like a new woman."
On to Paris next. Judith pronounced her visit to the nearby home of artist Claude Monet as one of the highlights of her time in France and of her trip as a whole. "I love Claude Monet's paintings. I have several prints hanging on my apartment walls. I was thrilled to see his home, gardens, lily ponds, and bridges today in Giverny, 80 km west of Paris. The site is spectacular, even in the fall. Six full time gardeners are kept busy all year round as different flowers bloom through the year. His home contains mostly his actual belongings. Only the paintings on the walls are reproductions; the real ones are in museums."
Judith arrived at her final destination, Amsterdam, on September 19, 2018. If she had written a book on her time there, she says she would have titled it, "Bicycles, Bitterballen and Bed". She had succumbed to a cold and suffered from a scratchy throat and cough when she checked into the ultra-modern Citizen M Hotel. The hotel staff pampered her with free orange juice and tea laced with honey and lemon.
On the last day of her adventures, she wrote: "Tomorrow...Saturday...home... with 2,200 photos and a ton of fabulous memories. I took 13 flights, 6 train trips, 3 bus tours, 2 boat cruises and met many new friends."
Judith is a multiple award-winning Canadian author of more than a dozen books, many of which are Children's or Young Adult novels plus a picture book, some of which have been translated into Japanese, Cree, and French, along with two non-fiction adult books. She has also contributed several hundred articles and columns for newspapers and magazines, and written and produced television documentaries. She has given hundreds of readings, writing workshops, and presentations at libraries, conferences, schools, and other educational institutions. She is currently serving as the Writer-in-Residence at the Regina Public Library.