Non-Holidays : What I Didn’t Do on My Holidays

man holding no entry sign in front of faceHolidays? Wot holidays?
Just non-holidays, actually.

Towards the end of last year, Sophie blogged on the perennial school essay topic of What I Did On My Holidays. With Easter coming up soon, I’ve been thinking about holidays too. And I’ve realised how much I’ve missed over the last year of more or less permanent lockdown.
You might be feeling equally stir-crazy?

I haven’t been away from home for a year. But I should have been. I had holidays and trips booked. They had to be postponed or cancelled. So I’m going to muse on might-have-beens. Non-holidays, if you like.

After all, we writers use our imaginations all the time.
So why not holiday that way?

Lake District Non-Holidays (of the working variety)

Lake District in overcast weather. Non-holiday destination

Imagine walking down that beautiful hillside towards the water, smelling the freshness of the trees and feeling the breeze on your face. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to do that?

Sophie and I (with various writing mates) had booked a writing retreat in the Lake District for March 2020. It was postponed. Sigh.
Until March 2021.
And guess what? Yup, this month’s Lake District retreat was postponed as well.
It’s supposed to take place later this year. We’re not holding our breath for date #3 either.

laptop and coffee for writerStill, we weren’t giving up on the writing-together lark, so we organised a virtual retreat. We would check in every morning with our plans for the day and zoom every evening to report back on how much we’d done. Usually with a glass in hand.
No surprise there, I hear you cry.


writer's energy exhaustedIt wasn’t the same. Not anything like the same. Yes, we got quite a lot of words done; and two of our number managed to finish their books ahead of schedule. Congratulations to them, of course.

But we missed such a lot. A writing retreat is much, much more than just the word count.

There’s nothing quite like a group of writers sitting together round the breakfast or supper table, chewing the fat on writerly things, having the odd moan or just chatting about nothing in particular. It’s fun and stimulating and it provides amazing mutual support. Zoom is fine but it doesn’t do that.

Disgruntled cookSo modified rapture from our virtual retreat. Words, yes; fun and support, not so much.

Zooming is NOT the same as hugging your mates, having a laugh over a glass or two, and hearing about the misadventures of husbands and partners while they are escaping from our clutches. (Partners are allowed to have fun, provided they do the shopping in between times. And at least some of the cooking.)

So we are all hoping that the third date does finally go ahead. We don’t care too much about the weather late in the year—we writers are mostly inside working. It’s the partners who are usually out braving the elements. We’d probably settle for snow and gales, if only our retreat can go ahead with hugs and laughs.

Non-Holidays with added Opera

Lake Constance or Bodensee

Image of Lake Constance by Lars_Nissen from Pixabay

Last August, I should have been on Lake Constance, enjoying the fabulous scenery around the Bodensee, bordered by Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I had arranged to stay in a favourite German hotel. I had tickets for the opera at Bregenz, in Austria (only a short ferry ride away). The opera takes place on a spectacular outdoor stage that’s set in the lake itself. (The audience gets to sit on land, though.)

I’ve been a fan since my first visit, back in 2013, to see The Magic Flute. The lake backdrop and huge stage gave the Mozart opera’s magic full rein. Take a look at these before and after images of the set. [Click to enlarge any image]

To give you an idea of scale, those three dragons are about 90 feet/27 metres high. And yes, the walkway between the dragons’ mouths was in use. Only by people with a head for heights?

Bregenz stage set, Magic Flute, 2013Daytime view of the set for The Magic Flute
Huge, impressive, but not magical?

The Magic Flute, Bregenz, Austria The Magic Flute, Bregenz, Austria, 2013

Performance views—darker and darker, getting more and more magical?
The forest on fire, the dragons’ eyes burning high in the sky,
and someone up there, braving the walkway

You can see more of that performance, including the superb Warhorse-type puppets, in the video further down the blog. The commentary is in German, I’m afraid, but the images and the music are for everyone. Don’t miss the Queen of the Night aria. This is how she started, the night I was there:Bregenz Magic Flute 2013 Queen of Night

She finished on top of a vertiginous extending pole!!! You can see it at about 3m:20s into the video below. I gasped when I saw it on the night. It was an astonishing coup de théâtre. That’s the real soprano up there and she is not miming. She hits all the top notes, too.
Respec’, ma’am.

A couple of years later, Sophie and I went together to the Bregenz performance of Turandot. Even though she’s not a Puccini fan and she dislikes the plot of Turandot, Sophie admits that the music is beautiful. And she was impressed by Bregenz. For this opera, we had the Great Wall of China and an army of terracotta warriors marching into the water, as you can see. [Click to enlarge image]

Turandot set, Bregenz, 2015We were in the water, too, because it rained. Almost all the audience (including us) stayed in their seats, donning macs and plastic wraps. (Brollies not allowed, for obvious reasons.)
The opera continued, even on the wet and slippery stage.
More respec’. They’re a hardy lot, those opera singers…

Rigoletto: my not-opera in my non-holiday

The latest Bregenz production—Rigoletto—was the one I had tickets for but didn’t get to see, because the whole festival was cancelled in 2020. But the first performance had taken place the year before, so I was able to see some of what I’d missed. Cue teeth-gnashing 😉

The Bregenz festival is still hoping to put Rigoletto on again in 2021 so the staging is still there. (I have a feeling it won’t happen this year either.) You can see what the stage looks like, from the permanent webcam but it’s a bit sad at the moment, I think. The image below shows the basic Rigoletto stage in the early evening light. This isn’t the complete set though; it’s missing the hot air balloon. (Doesn’t everyone have a balloon on their lake?)

Stage for Rigoletto, Bregenz, 2019

Image by Gabriele Lässer from Pixabay

But have a look at the video below and you’ll see what that set can become. Look how that clown head changes and animates. This time, the commentary is mostly in English. And the famous aria La Donna è mobile takes on a new twist—literally—in this performance. See for yourself around 6m:40s in.

The Bregenz festival doesn’t do things by halves. Maybe that’s why they can manage to fill 7,000 seats every night for four weeks?

With luck, I’ll be in one of those seats, another year, on an actual holiday.
When non-holidays stop and the real thing begins again. Fingers crossed…

Joanna, virtual holiday goer

7 thoughts on “Non-Holidays : What I Didn’t Do on My Holidays

    1. Joanna Post author

      It is definitely an unforgettable experience, Liz. They don’t seem to spare any expense but then, it’s a pretty rich festival. According to their own website, they spend about €22 million a year. They have a huge cast to pay, of course, with acrobats and swimmers and all sorts, along with the singers, the chorus (from the Prague Philharmonic), and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Plus those amazing sets. OTOH they do take in a lot of money from punters like me — 28 performances, 7000 seats a time, average ticket price around €100. And each production runs for two summers, so it’s not a new set every year. When I saw the wonderful Magic Flute, the festival director was David Pountney who’s now at Welsh National Opera. I’m sure he loves it in Cardiff but I imagine he misses having Bregenz levels of money to spend on productions.

  1. Sophie

    Oh I so remember that rain soaked evening and Puccini’s strange, eerie music. Nessun Dorma in a rainstorm was truly something. As was the lovely trip back after the performance to our little town on the lake ferry, stopping off for locals and visitors to disembark.

    And do you remember the Tannoy calling for someone (was it Julia?) to find someone else outside the doors. I remember speculating that an errant husband had come in search of an escaped music loving wife. Possibly with sub plots.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Opera in the rain is definitely an experience, I agree. Though it was warm rain. When I went to the Magic Flute, it was a lovely warm evening with no rain. OTOH there were mosquitoes. I hadn’t realised. Hadn’t used repellent and came back to the hotel with my sandalled feet much bitten. One learns…

      But neither rain nor mosquitoes will stop me going again. After Rigoletto, it’s due to be Madam Butterfly.

    2. Joanna Post author

      Also — I forgot to say — the stage on the lake does lend itself to spectacular plots so you’re not alone in thinking one up, Sophie. Part of the James Bond film A Quantum of Solace was filmed there, during an actual performance. It was Tosca I think.

  2. Elizabeth Bailey

    What stunning sets! The director in me is salivating. Though, kudos to opera singers brave enough to sing on that walkway, never mind a slippery stage. I hope they are suitably recompensed with amazing salaries and hot chocolate in the dressing room!
    My missed holiday-cum-treatment was Budapest, both last year and this. Hopefully later in the year, like your retreat.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Most of the singers at Bregenz are quite young and still to make their names, Liz. So they probably don’t command amazing salaries. And they’re prepared to do difficult things, like work on a tilting stage in the rain.

      I hope you get your non-holiday fairly soon. We all need it.

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