Two Dutch Girls on a Road Trip to Wiltshire

Road Trip 2017 (2) - Richmond to Chawton to Salisbury.

Good afternoon! Would you like to join me for the second part of my road trip in the South-West of England? A long time wish of my daughter...

Friday, 20 December 2013

For Those of You Dreaming of a White Christmas (and getting a soggy green one...)

Walking in the Air - by Reincarnatus

I have provided a link to the music I want you to listen to whilst reading this blog. It's a song from the wonderful film 'The Snowman', composed by Howard Blake and sung by Dutch female band Reïncarnatus.

The video starts with a view of one of Maastricht's most beautiful churches, the Sint Servatius (or St. Servaas), in the snow.
St. Servaas in Summer

There are many great things about Maastricht, not in the least the concerts André Rieu gives in his home town every year. But it also has the most gorgeous bookshop of the entire Wetlands!
But back to the snow here!
Aren't you longing for a white Christmas? Well, I am! Instead, I am getting a soggy green one (very typical for my part of the world).
A woman's got to do, what a woman's got to do... 
I'll be creating my own, home-made, white Christmas. The tree in the living room has snow on it (which my cat loves to lick - cannot be good for him!), I will be making my spiced hot wine, we'll be lighting the wood burner and will pretend it's cold, crispy, snowy white outside.

I bet all of you with snow up to your eaves now frown and think I'm a silly fool. Hah! Silly fool I may be, but when you come from a land which lies 4.50 metres below sea level, and where dampness is your constant companion, the thought that all that water may turn to snow is an attractive one. 
Snow is romantic, you can make snowmen with it, sleigh bells ringing in the still air, it makes your hands and face tingle and your dog do a doggy dance from joy. (It also pisses off your cat, royally). And when you've had your fill, you go inside and make yourself a hot drink.
I love snow.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Photographs Tell it All - or do they?

Sky with gulls
 +Wibe Koopman
Today the book is published which features my son's first steps onto the slippery slope of professional photography. (There's a post about this book too)
To commemorate this fact, I'll post some of my favourite photos by Wibe.

Wibe's new photography site!
Swan over the Haringvliet.

Self portrait

Beach in Norfolk

His little sister

The night my Tomcat climbed into my bedroom and left me a live vole in my bed.

My black cat is a constant source of amusement, fun and frustration. We got him from our local shelter, when he was only 2 1/2 months old. He had mange and an eye infection, was terribly skinny but the most affectionate cat I've ever had the pleasure of feeding.

Obviously, Viggo is Master in our house. He rules over our dog (who was here first!), has successfully evicted all the other neighbourhood cats from our garden (even the huge Maine Coon from 3 houses further on)and manages to get us to open doors for him whenever he pleases.

His thanks for all our servitude (mostly mine; my husband and kids's ears aren't as tuned to Viggo's miauw as mine) is to leave me presents. In bed.

The mole and the vole.
On Summer nights, my balcony door is open. To keep the mosquitos out, I have a screen door. But this door doesn't keep Viggo out. He simply hooks his nails in the rubber frame and pulls. If this fails (it sometimes does), he climbs into the screen and howls his annoyance. He will keep this up until I get out of bed and let him in.

But most of the time, he manages to open the door himself. He wakes me up by gently nudging my face, and if this doesn't rouse me he bites my nose (not gently at all). As soon as I'm awake, there are two scenarios:

1. he wants to get under the covers (no problem; he snuggles down and goes to sleep - I go to sleep)
2. he has brought me A Gift.

The first time he did this it was a tiny baby mouse. He presented it with a flourish. Hey, look what I've got you? Isn't it wonderful?
The second time I woke up to a strange smell. I opened my eyes, saw Viggo's eyes gleaming at me and then realised that the smell came from a huge male mole on my pillow. It was dead.
The third time I again woke up to a smell, but this time it was so foul that I woke up gagging.
At the same time, I felt something move from my neck onto my bare arm, and I leapt from my bed. Along with the bedcovers something small and furry fell to the floor, and shot like lightning under my chest of drawers. 

Viggo tried to get under the chest as well, but he was too fat. So he compromised by crouching in front of if and growling. The animal answered by screeching shrilly. I realised that I wouldn't get any sleep until I had rescued the creature, so I knelt in front of the chest as well. Viggo took a swipe at me; he didn't like the competition.

I beat a tactical retreat, to put some clothes on and to get a clothes hanger. Then I shut the cat into the bathroom. He yodeled his frustration.
It took me ten minutes or so to drive the thing into a corner, where I could smother it lightly with a hand towel and pick it up. I then set it free in the garden.

Two days later Viggo brought me yet another vole (the same one, said my husband cynically), but this was a dead one.

The thing is, to get to the bedroom, he has to climb the fence, 2 metres high, then scale a bit of wall (another 20 cm.) and manage that screen door. All with his gift in his mouth...

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

My travels around Rotterdam - Part 2 (The Delft)

The Delft.

The Delft

There was a Man o'War, built in Delfshaven (then a shipbuilding town, now a neighbourhood in Rotterdam) in 1783 -1789, called the Delft. 
She sailed to protect the Dutch merchant vessels, and had a crew of 375 men and 60 canons on board. She sank in 1797, after a battle with the British navy near Kamperduin. (The Brits tried towing her to England as a spoil of war, but after 3 days a storm hit, and the ship went to the bottom)
For centuries she was lost. 
Until she was found again:-) Now, enthusiastic volunteers are building a replica on a wharf in the Lloydkwartier in Rotterdam. 
The council had promised to pay them one million Euros a year, for ten years. But due to the financial difficulties of the Rotterdam council, the money dried up after a couple of years, and the work was delayed. Fortunately the volunteers haven't given up, and the shipyard has been turned into a museum.
We went there on a typical Dutch December day (today, in fact), when the sky is pressing down on your head, and it is damp, and windy.
Perfect weather for visiting a shipyard. For the skeleton of the Delft is far more impressive when viewed under these conditions, than on a sunny day. Inside it was nice and warm, and it smelled of wood and glue and linseed oil. 
The work outside may have been abandoned. But inside woodworkers are still slowly carving the most amazing things. 
If you come to Rotterdam, and you find yourself at a loose end, or if you actually have come with the purpose to get yourself acquainted with her harbours, you must visit this wharf!
It's a wonderful piece of Rotterdam and shipbuilder's history.
I was told that when they want to actually finish building this replica (with the original estimates), somewhere, somehow another 20 million Euros will have to be found.
Wouldn't it be lovely if they were?

What makes YOU happy?

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...
Maria van Trapp knew what made her happy.
One of the most played songs on the radio at the moment is one that has 'spread the happiness' as a chorus.

It's the end of the year, the festive season is upon us, and many people are evaluating their lives. So am I. It is a default mechanism when the last days of 2013 are speeding by.

What makes me happy?
Listening to music.
Singing, always.
Watching my children.
Cuddling my pets.
Laughing with people (not at them.)
Watching the birds in our garden.
Exchanging smiles with the teenagers at school.
Marrying folks.

Seeing the faces of dolphins. Dolphins always seem to smile, don't they?

hard times

I'll let you in on a little secret. After all, we've been on intimate terms for weeks now.
2013 Has been one of the shittiest years of my life.

When you've hit rock bottom, the only way is up, someone said (I forget who. Story of my life. My head is full of quotes which are doomed to be nameless). There wasn't just one cause, there were many. An endless chain of things going wrong, frictions, friends dying, friends leaving, people getting awful illnesses, losing the job I adored doing, and fuck me the economy crashing around our ears didn't help either. And to top it all an ancient trauma, long buried, suddenly surfaced and demanded attention. 

Now, we in the Wetlands are living a charmed life. We have plenty. Stuff. Things. Even if you lose your job over here, you get help finding another one and you get money (the fact that I've been paying into this benefit bank since I was 17, which means I have been paying for 38 years, is neither here nor there). At least for a while. Compared to, for instance, Rumania, we are filthy, decadently rich over here.
And yet almost everyone I speak to these days is complaining. Everyone is tired. A lot of people are worried. They tell me they are looking forward to the holidays but with the same breath fret about having to do all that shopping/cooking/partying and who will take the old folks this year?

(Photo by Wibe Koopman)

Plan B
'I have a plan, I'll never plan again', is the opening line of a popular Dutch song from 2013. 
As an obsessive planner, I will take this to heart. For 2014, I have a plan: I will heed the old lesson my long-departed beloved Grandma taught me when I was a little girl. She told me two things:
1. a human suffers most from the suffering he fears
2. always count your blessings.

In 2014 I am going to face my fears. And count my blessings.
And do the things that really make me happy.
Let me know what makes YOU happy??

Monday, 16 December 2013

Counting down to Christmas? So are we in The Wetlands! Here's your *free* recipe for Bischopswijn!

I don't know if you realise this, but there's a financial crisis on in The Wetlands. Christmas will be a frugal affair for many of my countrymen.
There are noticeably less light-decorations around the streets, and folks are being careful what they are spending their money on. To save money, I will have a do-it-yourself Christmas this year.
The bar at TweeHondjes, Hellevoetsluis

I took my old Mum to my favourite haunt in my home town, for a concert by Dutch female group Reïncarnatus.

 The management had splashed out on Glühwein (not Dutch at all, but German, although we have a spiced wine variety as well, called Bischopswijn) and raisin bread.

Recipe for easy-peasy Bischopswijn:

*1 bottle of red plonk (no need to pay a lot for it, as you will be chucking things in)
*1 lemon
*2 cinnamon sticks or a good dash of ground up cinnamon
*brown sugar (optional)

Heat the wine (do NOT let it boil!), add the juice of the lemon and the cinnamon sticks and perhaps the sugar if you have a sweet tooth. Drink hot, but not too hot, as it will impair the taste.
Enjoy yourself! We did :-)