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, 5 September 2014

Oh...It Feels Like Autumn Has Arrived! 10 Reasons Not to Panic.

If you are a Summer person, like me, the arrival of the berries on the Hawthorn may fill you with trepidation.

And no, these aren't them. It is an Autumnal image though...
We have a saying in my part of the Wetlands: when the Hawthorn berries turn red, Autumn has arrived.
And they have. Turned red.
And my predominant emotion is noooooooooooooo, I'm not ready!

Autumn means damp, and wind, and wetness, and getting up in the morning when it is still dark, and all too soon it means getting home in the dark as well.
And I'll feel like a frigging mole for months on end.

So. This year will be different. I have decided this single-handedly.
And to help myself along (and you), I will now proceed to list 10 reasons not to panic.

1. Toadstools are lovely. Even when there are no faeries sitting on them (if there are, they are even lovelier, or you have been at the wine again)

2. Autumn leaves are gorgeous and smell divine

3. Autumn is the perfect excuse for lighting the wood stove, which is the perfect excuse for making either hot chocolate or for opening a good bottle of wine

4.  The grapes are ripe, which means I can do my thing and make grape juice and grape jelly and grape-and-apple confiture (no wine, alas, we do not have enough of them. it me, or is there a very high wine content in this post?)

5. Most youngsters leave our communal park hang-out and move indoors. This makes our nights a lot quieter - which is good. Quiet is good, when you are over 55.

6. Temperatures dropping are a good reason for making stews and hotpots. Somehow these dishes do not appeal to a lot of people when the sun is shining and everyone is drinking either Radler or Rosé.

7. Autumn is the approach to Winter. And Winter in the Wetlands could (note the word!) mean ice, which in turn could mean ice skating on natural ice. Now, you do not know this, but we Dutchies are a bit loony where ice skating is concerned. My husband, for example, is known to drop everything and will risk his life to be one of the first ones to skate on 'virginal' ice. It is always business before pleasure; until the nearest lake freezes over. Then it is 'where did I leave my long underwear'.

8. Autumn means running up to Christmas. We, non- Christians, are big on Christmas in our house. Weird, I know. It is the lights, the cosy tree, the lovely shop windows, the planning of parties, the planning and making of dinners. (Not so much the music; when I hear Wham's Last Christmas one more time I'll probably puke)

9. Autumn means our own apples from our own Elstar apple tree. Without doubt and without boasting the best tasting apples ever. The non-wormhole ones we eat raw, the others we dissect and make apple sauce from with lots of cinnamon.

10. Autumn usually has dreamy quiet windless days in between all the wet windy ones. Those quiet days are gorgeous. You can feel the world slowing down. Nature winding down. Mosquitos leave. The starlings and jackdaws wheel through the sky in their hundreds and make up for the fact that the swallows and house martins have left for Africa. Spiderwebs make the garden a jewel filled treasure trove. 

See? it's not so bad.

Enjoy your Autumn!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

(Bicycle Road Trip - Final Part) Taking a Train to Harderwijk? Not Likely!

Where the NS (the Dutch National Rail Service) f...s up, our heroine goes all Zen in Zwolle, de Zuiderzeeweg is 40 km long and the final destination is reached.

Taking a train whilst taking along a bicycle, is allowed in the Wetlands. So it was with a cheerful and optimistic mind that I wheeled Fietsje into Groningen Central Station on the Saturday morning.
I had just had rain shower number umpteen on my head, but was looking forward to a relaxed two hours on the train to Harderwijk. I had looked it up on Google, just to be sure, and yes, there definitely was a train to Harderwijk, going via Zwolle.

Fietsje and I had to wait a couple of minutes at the ticket machine, but I had her ticket of €6,00 soon in my pocket and looked around to see what platform we needed. When I spied an NS employee, I walked up to him to ask him if I needed to change trains at Zwolle. What came next was the following bizarre conversation:

Me: Good morning, am I correct in assuming I need to change at Zwolle to get to Harderwijk?
NS: Yes, you are.
Me: Is there a direct train?
NS: No, there isn't, you need the train to Zwolle.
Me: Great, thank you.
NS: Platform 6. But it only goes to Zwolle.
Me: Erm...yes, but there I'll change for Harderwijk.
NS: It goes as far as Zwolle. There is no train from Zwolle to Harderwijk this weekend.
Me: Excuse me?
NS: They are working on the lines. So the train stops at Zwolle.
Me: But I need to go to Harderwijk!
NS: Yes, you'll have to take the bus from Zwolle to 't Harde and there you can get a train.
Me: Oh...phew, that's a relief! A bus! Great, thanks.
NS: But that bus doesn't take bicycles.
Me: No bikes? But I am taking my bike...
NS: So you cannot take that bus.
Me: So how do I get to Harderwijk?
NS: You can't. You can get to Zwolle though. Platform 6.

Long story short: I got to Zwolle and got off.
I had decided to cycle to Harderwijk; 40 km. But when I tried to get out of Zwolle, I got another setback. Some joker (okay, I called him a moron on FB) had given the signpost a good kick, making the sign to Harderwijk point exactly 180 degrees in the wrong way. And I only found out after 30 minutes. Thus had to cycle 30 minutes back to where I started. One of the numerous old men I talked to on my road trip came to my rescue. Resulting in the second classic conversation of the day:

Me: Can you please point me in the right direction for Harderwijk?
Him: Yes.
Me: So..? Harderwijk?
Him: That way.
Me: Thank you very much. I just wanted to make sure.
Him: Told you. That way.
Me: Thanks again.
Him: On THAT?!! (pointing at Fietsje with an incredulous face)
Me: Yes.
Him: But that is very, very far!!!
Me: I know. But I like cycling.
Him: You are crazy.
Me: No no no, I like cycling, it's okay.
Him: You crazy mad woman! Well, suit yourself! Crazy woman!

He's probably still standing there in his Manchester trousers on his wooden shoes, muttering about crazy women.

My trip along the 40 km long Zuiderzeeweg was nice, but uneventful. I passed lovely farms,  and friendly boys, and goats and such. But the most exciting thing that happened was that I got showered with acorns from time to time.
And I noticed that butchers close early, even on a Saturday.
In exactly two hours I reached the outskirts of Harderwijk, and my final destination.

It had been an adventure!
And simply wonderful. Who needs trips to far-away places? The Wetlands, my Wetlands, had turned out to be lovelier than I had imagined.
This journey had started from a desire to reconnect with my roots, and a desire to have a road trip without pre-booked resting places. I would go where the wind blew me.
And I got what I desired. Lots of wind, more rain than I imagined possible, and the cobwebs were gone completely. Plus the wind blew away the blues of the downing of that Malaysian plane and the atrocities of War and gave me new energy.

To celebrate, two songs that I think are appropriate.

C Wibe Koopman

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

(Bicycle Road Trip - Part 6) Moi, Beautiful Groningen!

Where the skies are stunning, our heroine sets you right on the character of Groningers, dinner is served and old hearts are warmed.

Groningen is a piece of the Wetlands all to itself.
It has the reputation of being cold and empty (except for potatoes and the occasional seal), and its inhabitants are said to be taciturn.

When I first visited our northernmost province, in 1987, I was happily surprised to find its landscapes wide, with stunning open skies, and its people friendly. A Groninger isn't taciturn, he is cautious, and not inclined to tell a stranger immediately to his face what he thinks of him. Personally, I think this a very good habit! (Compared to, say, a Rotterdammer or Amsterdammer, who will call total strangers klootzak or eikel to their faces, when he simply wishes to acknowledge their existence).
Ever since that first quick visit in 1987, Groningen has had a huge place in my heart, with wide open skies.
No surprise then, that my 6th day of my road trip was a good one.

May I give you a tip? Do not forget to visit Winsum. It is a charming village on the Hogeland (above Groningen City towards the Waddenzee), with one of those typical Groninger churches and three windmills built onto a terp (a man-made hill, to keep the Groninger feet dry when the Waddenzee or one of the numerous rivers flooded the land). Look at that stairway! Even when flooded, this church is accessible. It has a charming bridge that puts the ones in Amsterdam to shame. And good bars, always important to a Dutchman.

I'll let you in on a secret: I wouldn't mind living in Winsum. It has everything a village has to offer, and it has a direct Arriva train to Groningen City only taking 15 minutes to the city centre. 
Years ago in the late Eighties we have tried our best to move to Winsum, but then (as now) fear of unemployment kept us in the West. With hindsight I feel we should have taken the plunge. Too late now...our kids do not want to leave their friends. (We'll kick them out in a few years though...never say never!)

Spending at least a couple of days each year there, I have to shamefully admit I forgot to take photos for you... But I'll make it up: we spent the evening having dinner in another (even smaller) village nearby, Garnwerd, and there I did take them.

Garnwerd is cute. People, especially students, come all the way from Groningen City to eat here at Hammingh and the brand new Garnwerd Aan Zee. And no, it has no direct sea access, that is a joke. But if you follow the Reitdiep river you will get to the sea eventually. The Waddenzee, that is, filled with seals these days. In fact, so many of them lose their way and end up in my neck of the woods (so to speak), that they are building a new seal sanctuary in Stellendam, only 14 km away from my home.

But I am drifting...
On the Saturday, one week into my adventure, I left Winsum, again with rain in my face, and cycled in an hour to Groningen City, where I planned on taking the train to Zwolle. Yes, I could have cycled there. But that would have taken me another 2 days, and I was pressed for time by now. I had to be home by the beginning of the week.
Groningen proved yet another knooppunten hitch... there were road works with badly signposted diversions and it took me a while to find my way.

Especially for you, I searched out a song. No, they do not have northern lights over Groningen (well, almost never), but just close your eyes and listen to Nick Drake. Northern Sky

My tip for wanna-be knooppunten cyclists: get into your Zen-mode when attempting to use a knooppunten route in a major city!

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Last Ity: Purity.

There we are: all 18 Ities done. And it has been lovely. Thank you swami and thank you Happinez Magazine for calling them to my attention!

I am a great believer in purity.
Blessed are the pure of heart!

Now, on a prosaic note, my husband will tell you that my house is far from pure most of the time, but I don't equate cleanliness with purity. My mistake, I'm sure.
For me, purity has more philosophical hues. I see a house as pure when there are no bad vibes floating around. And when there are (and in a house where there are adolescents there is no escaping them, alas, all that adolescent anger and angst), I strongly believe in getting rid of those vibes by letting as much fresh air in as possible. And by purifying by using frankincense and herbs like sage. And by playing beautiful music.

Okay. Okay.
Laugh if you must.
If this post makes you see me in a totally new (and dotty) light - so be it.
This is my belief. My conviction.

I have told you before that I do not believe in any religion, that I believe in the goodness of humans ( so call me humanitarian for lack of a better word), but I have also told you I have a very strong Pagan streak ingrained in my very being.

Where it comes from? Frith knows. It has always been there. When I was 4 I roamed the country lanes singing I was a flower child, princess of the there you have it.

Back to purity.
What is more pure than a small child, uncorrupted by the beliefs of its elders? Or a young animal, still innocent? Or a flower? Or a brook? Or the dew on the grass in the early morning, when the people still dream in their beds and only the birds are awake?

I wish the world could be pure. Pure and innocent.
Yep. Always the dreamer...

I wish you a very good day. I hope those 18 "Ities"of the swami have given you some food for thought.
I have had a good time. Hope you have had it too! Peace, my friend.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

(Bicycle Road Trip - Part 5) Friesland and Groningen - hey-ho the North!

Where all kinds of birds take precedent, our heroine visits a Friesian estate, Fietsje spends the night with a classic Morris and the sun makes an entrance.

It was great to wake up to a dry world for a change...
My friend had taken the day off, and we spent the morning at our leisure, having breakfast and watching the many housemartins and swallows wheeling over her enormous modern barn. They had their chicks with them, and it will not be long before they all depart for warmer climates (very sensibly). They had another charming little bird there, called a Kwikstaartje in Dutch.

All too soon the sky started to close in on us again though, and we decided to get a move on, as we wanted to take a drive through her part of Friesland (on the border with Groningen, so in the North-East) and visit an estate in Veenklooster.
By the time we got to the estate, it had started to rain again - bugger!

We parked her car and first had a tea in a café run by people with a disability, the Oude Zwaan. This initiative is being followed more and more in the Netherlands, and it's a good one. People with a disability get money from the government, but the idea is to provide them with a steady job in a café, supervised in the areas where they need help. Our young waitress did the serving herself, but was helped with adding up and checking the bill, that kind of thing.

The Fogelsangh State (meaning bird song estate) was quiet. We had it to ourselves...and boy, was the lady from the gallery glad to see us! It took some effort to get away from her.

And get away I wanted to, for there was an exhibition showing owls, and I wanted to enjoy this in peace!
The watercolours were lovely, but far too expensive for my purse.
The estate itself showed how affluent Friesians lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth century; with a ladies' morning room, a gentlemen's hunting room, a library, a music room, etcetera. Not half bad. Obviously, I preferred the music room with its piano.

Taking photos inside was strictly forbidden, and this time I obeyed, sorry.

The rain, meanwhile, was coming down in buckets again, so we ran back to the car and drove into Kollum, to visit a 'Wereldwinkel' (meaning: world shop)

Another great concept! I believe it was an initiative by Oxfam originally, not quite sure though. Artisans from the Third World send their stuff to the Netherlands, and get a fair price. I bought a gorgeous little stone bird from Zimbabwe for my husband there, as it would be his birthday soon.

Back at Tessa's, I helped Rein pick their plums, and all too soon it was time to go to bed, as they had to make a very early start in to work on the Thursday morning.
Never mind, for the sun was out!!!!
I said goodbye to Tommy, tore Fietsje away from their roguish Morris, and was back on the road at 8 am.

Fietsje and I made great time. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the cows greeted me by sometimes galloping along next to the bicycle path, in short - I had a wonderful morning!

At some stage I passed a farm being dwarfed by huge receivers; did they expect an alien invasion in the Friesian polder?

After only a couple of hours I passed the invisible border with Groningen. I stopped for an early lunch at Roodehaan, a tiny hamlet on the Reitdiep river, and phoned our auntie that I was almost there.
Life was good!

My tip for wanna-be knooppunten cyclists: if you are in Groningen, say 'moi' (pronounced as in oy) to everyone you meet.