Saturday, 23 December 2017

The Netherlands - a whole bunch of days.... (home, Riet, Vlaardingen)

I haven't updated my blog since Tuesday the 12th of December.  Not much is happening really and then it's easy to forget that a blog needs to be updated from time to time.

Most of the time though I am still in relaxation mode.  I read a lot and watch TV occasionally, or rather, make that every night.  Very unlike me, but the world news here is covered so much better than at home and there are a few interesting and different TV programs that I like watching here, but probably would not worry about at home.  It's just a different kind of life for a while.

Here is where I spend most of my time reading and watching TV

I do have a car, but when it's not raining I like to get on the bike and ride to Boxtel for groceries shopping.  Sometimes I ride a bit further just for pleasure.  It is very cold though and I can tell that I am no longer used to the cold weather.  Every time a walk or ride my bike I have tears in my eyes.  No, I am not emotional!  It's just the cold wind in my eyes! :-)

A Polish supermarket in Boxtel. 
Perhaps I will go one day and find out if the sell pierogi.

I have also been to the library, walked around the area and dropped in at the local snack bar for a real Dutch frietje met and a loempia.  The first one is hot chips with mayonnaise.  You would get the same strange look here if you asked for tomato sauce as you would get in Australia when you ask for mayonnaise with your hot chips. :-)

When I went to have my hair done the hairdresser told me that there is a Kribkes route if I like to go for a walk.  Liempde is lit up during the Christmas period, but not the American and Australian way.  Just as well, it's something of the times we live in, but to me it's so much 'into your face' and sometimes over the top.  Here the people can decorate their house with lights, but are only allowed to use standard lights and I must say, it's quite tasteful.

My camera has been playing up and the camera on my mobile phone doesn't do justice to the atmosphere in the streets.  The weather wasn't helpful either.....

But, returning to my story, besides all the lights a lot of people have a nativity scene in their front yards, 210 of them to be precise.  One can download the whole route, divided into a few sub-routes, on one's mobile phone and walk the streets to view all of them.  I managed to take pictures of a few of them, but better pictures can be viewed on line, although those pictures are last year's. Some are seen in the front yard, others behind the front window.  Five of the 210 are on a list and are nominated for an award.  Viewers can make make their choice known.

As I have mentioned before, I haven't been out a lot, but did visit one of Frank's sisters, Riet, who had been to visit us in Australia in 2001 with sister Jeanne who has passed away since.  Riet was with her daughters Hannie and Brigitte, so I saw a few more family members and it may very well be that I hadn't seen them since we left the Netherlands in 1980.  I had a real great time, learning a bit about various other family members and also meeting Brigitte's children.  We'll try and repeat a visit before I return to Australia.

Quite a funny thing happened.  We all know that since facebook there are not many secrets any more. Someone had asked me if I had already eaten a Bossche Bol. I told them 'no', but was sure it was going to happen sooner rather than later.  Well, what do you think Brigitte had ready to serve with the coffee???  Indeed!  She said that she had read the remarks on facebook! ;-)

I also managed to be present at a monthly get-together of the former dolls house email group.  So far I have managed to join them at their meetings most of the times during my regular visits to the Netherlands and it's quite enjoyable.  None of them really doing a lot about their miniatures anymore, at least not when they meet.  We all have different other hobbies nowadays.

For this meeting I had to drive to Vlaardingen in the western part of the province Zuid Holland and it gets more difficult every time.  I am just so glad that I drive here regularly, because I can tell you, if I didn't I would be too scared.  The roads are all like the (in)famous spaghetti roads that you now see around big cities and if you hesitate too long at a road sign you're in for a long detour to get back on the road you were on before!  I know, because it happened.  Twice.

I guess this is just about my update for the last week and a bit.  I will keep walking and riding my bike while I am here, just hoping that the rain will stay away.  The fog doesn't bother me, although it makes the world quite wet as well, because it's heavy fog, just a bit shy of drizzle.  The days are not real dark (between 9 and 5), but darkish enough for the need to have the lights on all day long.

This is what it looked like when I was on my bike earlier today.

I love to be outside though and ride through the polders like this.  Some animals are still outside in the paddocks and other paddocks are full of geese and swans who seem to be happy to rest there during the day.  When it's not raining the cold air is invigorating and I feel more energetic than in the muggy atmosphere during our summers at home.

Oh, and I went for another walk this afternoon and went in search for a cache.  It was about time!

#1803 - Liemtse voortuin cach!! (cache)

I generally don't like caches hidden in somebody's front yards, but this one was described very clearly and I didn't mind.  When the mention the house number I am at least sure that I am looking in the right one.

Well, that is it for the time being.  Christmas and New Year will be celebrated in Houten and I will probably stay there for the whole week.  An update may follow when I have time to do so.

For now, whomever reads this: I wish you a very merry Christmas.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Netherlands - Thursday to Tuesday (home, den Bosch, Maaike & Steve, José, home)

Thursday, 7 December 2017

And this is where I am staying now.  As I mentioned before, I have been here three years ago. It was the first exchange I did after Frank's passing.  Then it was kind of soothing, to be in the Netherlands and so close to brother Wim and his family.  Now it is just another exciting exchange. :-)

I was writing my blog at the time, but concentrated only on caching, so I did not mention much about my stay here, nor did I post pictures besides those of the caches I'd found.

Well, nothing much can be said about Thursday, other then that I spent the day relaxing and settling in my new surroundings.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Friday was much of the same, with the difference that Erna and I went to den Bosch in the afternoon.  Erna had to do some shopping, so we drove to Vught and took the train from there.  It's much like at home, where we generally don't take the car into the city because it is so difficult to find parking.

It was raining and not just a little bit, so we didn't hang around too long.  Erna got her things and when we walked into a big clothing store I bought myself some decent winter pj's, because the last few weeks it had become far too cold for my summer nightie....

Next we walk to the Parade, (a big square near the cathedral) where they have erected a Winterland.  It's a mixture of a fair, Christmas market and what not.  There is a huge Christmas tree, of course, and there is an ice skating rink.  I might just..... one day..... ;-)

(Pictures pinched from facebook as I didn't have a camera)

It wasn't until Friday night that it started to snow tentatively:

Saturday, 9 December 2017

We had some more snow:

View from my upstairs bedroom window

Saturday was a busy day as Erna and Hans had to go to a birthday party at night; Erna had to do her washing and cleaning; and Maaike and Steve were visiting in the morning.

Maaike and Steve are from New Zealand and Australia resp. and have lived in the Netherlands for a few years now.  Steve picked me up at the airport three years ago and got me settled in the house, as Erna and Hans were already in Australia at the time.

It was nice to see them again, in particular Steve as I had had more contact with him than with Maaike, and I will see a lot more of him while I am staying here.  For private reasons Steve will be staying in the house every other week or more.

In the afternoon we went out to visit Hans' son who is in external care.  We sat with him and his house mates in the living room with a few of the carers.  A nice group of people.  Later the four of us went for a walk and had coffee and delicious apple cake at the local restaurant.  An afternoon well spent.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Sunday morning started a bit stressful for Erna and Hans, as they were leaving later in the day to stay at a hotel near the airport.  Mid morning it started to snow and it was serious snowfall, which meant that only half the trains would be going and it could get worse.

Still, we had no choice and by 12 noon we set off towards the railway station in den Bosch.  There I had to get yet again into a different car that I didn't know and drive.  In the snow!  It was pretty darn slippery on the roads, as it was too early for even the main roads to have been cleared, but luckily I didn't have far to go.  My best friend, José, had asked me to come around and she lives just behind the railway station, so I didn't have far to go.

On the way to den Bosch

We spent a lovely afternoon together and as usual it was just like I had never been away.  We've been keeping this up for 37 years now and we were friends way before we left for Australia.

And more snow pictures (personally I can't get enough of the snow. Magic!):

By the time we have had dinner and watched TV, Mama Mia was on, the snow on the main roads had all been cleared and the drive home wasn't as stressful as it would have been had I returned early in the afternoon.

Monday, 11 December 2017

On Monday I stayed home and enjoyed watching the snow from behind the windows.  Most of the time.  I did have to go out to get some groceries, but driving or riding a bike were out of the question, so it was a 10 minute walk to the shop.  Not that I did mind, it was wonderful, albeit cold when I had a head wind and the snow was blown into my face. ;-)

It snowed in all earnest, as you can see in the pictures, and it stuck to my boots, so I felt like I was wearing moon boots... It would have been the right kind of snow to make a snow man had I felt so inclined...

Walking back from the shop

At the end of the afternoon, when I was reading and relaxing on the couch I suddenly heard the front door and in came Steve.  I hadn't expected him before the end of the week, but he is staying for a whole fortnight now.

I quickly moved my stuff from the upstairs bedroom to downstairs, where I have my own bedroom and bathroom.  No en suite or walk-in wardrobe, but still, a place to myself.

I had an invitation to join him and his children for a movie, but I declined as I didn't feel like going out through the cold and the snow in the dark, so I had a quiet evening and an early night.

By the way, Erna and Hans got away alright.  They flew out early in the morning.  Just as well, because airport Eindhoven was closed.  Many schools as well, as it was too dangerous to be on the roads.  Schiphol cancelled all European flights.  We weren't the only country to be effected by the snow.  Sweden, Germany, France, Ireland and England all got hit by light to heavy snowfalls.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Another day, mainly indoors, because I had a few things to do.  The snow is slowly melting with the rising temperature.  It's only 1 degree C, but that's already a melting point, so the roads will clear quickly now and then I can go out.

Today I paid a quick visit to the neighbours across the street, who I had met three years ago as well.  At least Jack, but not his wife Wilma.  We had a chat and a cuppa and then I went home to finish off what I had been doing.

Steve came home and together we went to the shop to top up on the groceries and next I spent the night working on my blog which needed updating desperately.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Goodbye France - Hello the Netherlands

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

And so it happened that I missed the Sint Nicolaas festivities in the Netherlands, because I left France the day after.  It's celebrated in France as well, but in the Elzas region, not where I was staying.  Anyway, not to worry....

I left early on Wednesday morning and said goodbye to Jean Pierre.  Michèle was going to drop me off at Laval as Jean Pierre had other commitments.  Had I been happy the day before, when I had cleaned and returned the car, that I had managed everything without having an accident, that relieve didn't last long, because Michèle asked me to drive. :-)  It all went well, but I certainly didn't relish driving in the dark.  We arrived in plenty of time for me to catch the train to Paris, so I said goodbye to Michèle as well and got ready to settle on the train for a few hours.

Later in the morning I arrived at Montpernasse from where I had to catch the metro to the Gare du Nord.  Not as easy as I had hoped for, because there were no elevators or escalators to the metro station and I was lugging a damn heavy suitcase.  Fortunately there are always helping hands when people see you struggling, so the lifting was kept to a minimum.  That's not to say that I hadn't a sore arm three days after my arrival in the Netherlands. ;-)

At the Gare du Nord I had plenty of time, so I bought lunch and sat down to do some reading until the train would leave for Amsterdam/Schiphol.  I arrived there later in the afternoon after a pleasant and uneventful ride on the TGV (Train Grande Vitesse, or the very fast train) and found the intercity for 's-Hertogenbosch easy enough.  I finally arrived there at about 5pm.  Erna was waiting for me and we were soon at my last destination for the day: Liempde, N.Br.

Since I know Erna and Hans fairly well by now, having met a few times in Australia, it was easy to settle down and chat.  It was a relieve to be able to speak Dutch again, after a month long struggle with my limited French!

And what did we have for dinner on this winter day?  Yep, good old pea-and-ham soup with roggebrood and katenspekRoggebrood being a kind of pumpernickel and katenspek a thinly sliced kind of speck.  This is commonly eaten after a bowl of pea-and-ham soup if there are no pancakes on offer....

Well, if that wasn't a good start of the stay here than I don't know what is...

France - Monday and Tuesday (home)

Since I have not updated my blog for more than a week now I have a lot of catching up to do, so I will be very brief and try to relate what I can remember!

Monday, 4 December 2017

I do remember that it was still very cold, but being able to manage the wood stove was a big help.  I could at least keep the house warm and cosy.

In the morning I drove to Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët (a mouthful, but that's the problem with many of the French names...) where I filled up the tank and went to the car wash. 

Upon my return, as I had discovered a series of good books on my Kindle I planned to read, but when Michèle asked me if I wanted to come to the apple orchard again with her I said yes and so I made my last trip through the campagne (country) with her.  I bought enough apples to make my own apple sauce this time and had a nice time doing so when we were back home.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

On Tuesday, my last full day in Fougerolles-du-Plessis  I spent most of the day cleaning and packing my suitcase.  It's an old house, which means that there is always a lot more cleaning to do than in a modern one, but I got it done and that's the main thing.  At 12 noon I had to be ready to go out, because Michèle and Jean Pierre had asked me out for lunch.  We went to the Lion d'Or (doesn't every town in the world have one?) and had a very nice meal consisting of a Tartiflette (Potato bake) with as much from the salad bar as one could manage.  (A bit like Sizzler in Australia).  Of course we finished off with dessert and coffee.

After that I only had to pack my suitcase and get ready for travelling the next day. My wonderful 5-1/2 weeks in Fougerolles-du-Plessis had come to an end...

Monday, 4 December 2017

France - Thursday to Sunday (Home, St Malo, Marché Noël & Home)

Thursday, 30 November 2017

A quiet but fruitful day at home.  I nearly got all my exchanges done for the coming year, as all of a sudden positive responses started to come in.  I will keep you posted when they are firming up.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Friday started very cold and it was NOT the day to go out, but since I didn't know I did go anyway. :-)

My bedroom windows were frosted over big way and so was the windscreen of the car.  Scrounging around for a scraper I found a spray can for defrosting windscreens, but that didn't do too much, so scraping I did.  By the time I got the windows clear enough to see through, while I had the car idling to get the heater to fill the interior with warm air, I my hands were pretty cold, but not too cold to grip the steering wheel, so off I went, to St. Malo for a second time.

Had the sun been shining at home, it didn't last and before I knew it I'd hit threatening dark clouds and the rain came pouring down.  However, since I had had the plan to turn around on my way to Le Mont Saint Michel and the weather had cleared I was hoping for a repeat of the performance today.  Well, I had run out of luck, the rain cleared, but came back ever so quick and this was an ongoing matter all the way down to St. Malo.

Anyway, to keep a long story short, I got there alright, found a parking spot very quickly (no surprise on a day like that!) and could walk right into town.  This time from the other side that when I visited with Patricia.  I had parked close to the castle on the west side and close to town as a result.  I had planned to also find a few caches, and as they were strategically planted at the various gates into the town, I hit my first one upon entering.  Found it too!  But not before I had had a look over the town walls across the water. 

It sure was a cold and rainy day, and not only that, it was downright stormy.  I had my hands full holding my camera still against the wind coming from the English Channel and was nearly blown right through the gate upon entering the town.

Castle on the west side of town

Then I found my fist cache of the day:

#1800 - Saint Malo # 1 - Porte Saint Vincent (cache)

I hadn't been to this part of town and had a lot of exploring to do, but holding an umbrella in the blustery wind was not going to happen, so in the end I didn't do as much as I had planned to.  I had to let go of two caches as well, as they were both on the exposed side of town and it got too much when even my glasses got blown off my head!  

On my way I passed a little place that sold crêpes and since it was lunch time and I also wanted to warm my cold hands, a crêpe for lunch it was.  Then I walked on and past a restored fishmonger place:

I did get to see a few more nice parts of town though on my way to the eastern, and more protected side.

L'Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

On the southern ramparts

Then on the eastern side (the lee side today) it was all quiet again and even the sun came out momentarily.  My chance to look for a cache that had eluded Patricia and me before.  We had looked near the gate at ground level, but the cache was on top of the ramparts.  Which I had guessed later and it checked out to be correct.

#1801 - Saint Malo #4 - Porte de Dinan (cache) 

The next gate was too exposed and there were too many people around, so I couldn't search for long.  Instead I walked to the next and last one and this was a different and tricky one, although placed by the same cache owner.  Upon first inspection it looked like an electricity box of some sort, but the hint in the description said: no danger!  So, I took my chance, grabbed it and bingo!  It was the cache container, hidden in the wall and made to look connected to another, real one further up the opening.

#1802 - Saint-Malo #2 - Grand'porte  (cache)

By then I was cold and tired enough of the wind and rain to look for a place where I could have a cup of coffee and some peace and quiet....  I found the one where Patricia and I had been before, a cosy little place where they also spoke English, which is very helpful, but.... by now, ordering a café au lait is not the hardest thing to do anymore. ;-)

After I have warmed up sufficiently to brave the elements again I decide on one last walk to inspect the Hotel de Ville a little closer before I go and find the car, and I find myself at the entrance of a historic museum.  I was in luck too, as it was the first Friday of the month and the announcement said that the museum was free every first Friday of the month!  Well, I enjoyed another good hour at the museum, which was very interesting indeed.  Of course mainly local history, but I like any kind of information about the places that I visit and this was no different. 

The museum, formerly the castle

This cabinet really are bunk beds behind doors

View from the top of the castle tower

The walled city of St Malo originally

When I had finished at the museum it really was time to go home, because the winter days are getting shorter and the weather was inclement, with warnings to be careful on the roads as there was the expectancy of hail and of course, in this cold weather, also frost.  As I am very weary of black ice I didn't want to drive home in the dark.  Daytime was bad enough...

I made a quick detour past the Marché Noël (Christmas market) and then found the car.  Stopped off at the supermarket on the way home and relaxed with a pre-cooked dinner when finally home.

It was a bit early still.  Not all of the stands had opened yet.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Another cold start of the day.  Wonderful pictures painted by the frost on the windows:

I had planned to have an easy day at home, but sometimes those planes don't work out.  Not that I had anything to worry about.

Jean-Pierre came upstairs to tell me that there was a Marché Noël in the village and did I want to join him and Michèle in the afternoon?  Of course I would!  And Michèle was also going to the farm to buy apples.  I could come as well, so I did.  I love to have fresh apples straight from the orchard rather than the ones from the supermarket that have most likely be in a cold store and are a year old!  I decided to make some apple sauce this time as I had plenty of time on my hands.  I bought some really nice sweet apples, so I didn't even have to add sugar.  Michèle bought a few kilos to make apple jelly.  I had never heard of it, let alone tasted it, so she would drop me off a jar the following day.

There are surprisingly many English speaking people in this little village.  I regularly talk to one of the girls at the supermarket.  Just for a chat, but also handy to have somebody who you can ask difficult questions!

At the Christmas market there were a couple from England, who seem to live half the year here, and the other half in England.  They sold delicious vin chaud (mulled wine) which I finally tried.  I have seen it at every place that I have visited, it being so popular during autumn and winter, but I always had to drive, so I couldn't/wouldn't have any.  And there also was this lady from the USA and I had already seen/heard another couple speaking English at the supermarket earlier.  They were at the market as well.  Not that I needed to talk to everyone.  I rather had a haphazard chat with the people behind the stands and one of the ladies let me have a taste of some kind of chutney mad of pumpkin and figs.  Really nice, but since I am travelling shortly I didn't want to go home with too many items, so I couldn't buy any.  

After strolling past all the stands we finally arrived at the corner where Santa waited for children to have their photos taken or even receive a present.

Michèle wanted to take a picture of Santa and me, so I obliged and than she had to as well! Santa happened to speak English very well too.  He told me he had worked on the boats in Australia in the 60s.  Santa does get around, doesn't he? ;-)

An angora rabbit, kept for its wool, which was sold at the market

Sunday, 3 December 2017

What can I say?  Another quiet day at home.  I feel like I have seen everything there is to be seen and just want to vege out on the couch.  I have started a new book and besides finishing my blog I don't feel like doing much else.  I have to do the washing though, but the machine is doing the hard yakka.  I can just sit down and relax while the wood stove is burning a lovely warm fire....