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Saturday 25 August 2012

12 days in the "Dordogne", France...

Once settled in at our home in France, Shelagh and I went for an exploratory walk in the  village. We came upon the cemetery and went inside. We both like cemeteries, and the ones here are quite ornate, with large tombstones and ornaments. Most of the graves were covered in framed photos of young children and newlyweds etc; it's like a way to include those passed on in current events. We walked on into the centre of the village and figured out where the butcher, baker and grocery stores were located. Then we came upon the local hotel, a small auberge with a restaurant and a nice terrace. We took a seat outside and ordered a half liter of the local wine, very tasty, and sat there in the French country side being completely blown away.

Dinner was on me that night and I chose to cook a Hungarian goulash, big mistake, it needs to simmer quite a while to tenderize the beef. Although the dish tasted okay, the meat was tough, bummer! Next time I'll use pork tenderloin.

We had dinner "al fresco" at the picnic table, and that is where most dinners were served during our stay. The night air was warm and comfortable, we had some wine as the sun set and the stars came out. In the country where city lights don't spoil the upward view, the stars are a magical display of distant mystery. Guy, who used to be a merchant marine, gave us a quick lesson in astronomy. We were shown the big and little dipper as well as Orion and Cassiopeia. Fascinating stuff to see so far into the universe, and then to be told that the light you are seeing was sent here millions of years ago, some of the stars we see today may no longer exist! It makes you feel very small in such an enormous space.

We tumbled into bed at around midnight and slept like the dead...

Up in the morning Shelagh and I went into town and at the bakery we bought one baguette and four croissants. Breakfast was on in the garden with some boiled eggs, our bakery treasures and fresh jams and cheese from the local merchant. Coffee and fresh juice rounded out the extravaganza. After cleaning up we went for a walk around the country side and came upon fields of corn and sunflowers, both just past production and a little dried out. We saw the Dordogne river up close a stuck our feet in the cool water, knowing that a swim was in our future. Along the walk we met a chasseur (hunter) and asked him how it was going, "Sa va?" his reply "Mais non!" a bad day for pheasant.

Guy and I took turns in the kitchen during our stay in Carsac. It was a good routine and we had some excellent dinners. Our last stop of the day was always at some grocery store to find what to make for dinner, it set a precedence for future holidays.


During dinner we discussed what we would do the next day and we decided to go to Rocamadour, a village famous for the discovery of the bones of the apostle Zacchaeus, as legend has it, but also an important pilgrimage site of prayer. The town is glued to the cliffs of a deep gorge and it is exquisite. On the way there during our drive Guy spotted a sign advertising an ancient fortified mill, so we took a detour, paid the modest entry fee and got a guided tour of how the workers milled grain into flour using the river's current for power. Fascinating machinery and ingenious impellers that could be lowered into the river to drive the grinding stone.

The grinding stone

The view from the mill

The entrance to Rocamadour

Little shops

Looking up

The path to the church

Upon arrival in Rocamadour we wandered the streets all the way up to the church that tops the town. The views are amazing and it leaves you feeling a bit strange when you realize that this town is about 1000 years old. The streets were built for donkeys, so car traffic is nearly impossible. We had plans for a late lunch here but restaurants close between 14:00 and 17:00, so we had to be satisfied with some ice cream. A lovely day was had by all and we went back to our little house in Carsac for a nice dinner and idle chat in the garden with some of that lovely regional wine...

Monday 23 July 2012

On to the continent...

After our short stay in England with my stepmother Jet and her husband Frans we took the ferry from Harwich, Parkeston Quay, to Hoek van Holland. There are two types of ferries running between Harwich and Hoek van Holland. The slower traditional one, travel time about seven hours and 45 minutes, or the new faster one with a catamaran hull, travel time about four hours. We took the faster crossing. Once boarded, the ship moved away from the harbor quite slowly, but once in open water the speed picked up. We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the upper restaurant of the ship with a great glass, or two, of wine. All this was a gift from Jet and Frans, including a few days' stay at their lovely home in Elmdon, Essex. Upon arrival in Hoek van Holland we were picked up by my brother Bart and he drove us to his home in Utrecht.

Nephew Alexander

Brother Bart and nephew Marcel

Starting the fire

Sister in law Wilma and Alexander

Wilma and Shelagh

A stainless steel house on a small foot print
most of the house is under ground

The under ground part

the Dom Tower

Here a series of events began, it had been 10 years since we had been to Holland, my original country of nationality. When Shelagh and I got married, my siblings promised us a day we would never forget, but since we took so long to cash in on this gift they increased the gift to last a week. We took up residency in their attic apartment.

Once settled in we went outside and had a lovely glass of wine and a barbecue dinner in the sunshine. We chatted the night away catching up on the last decade. It was the first time we met our two youngest nephews Alexander and Marcel, we had already met their older sister Dorette, but after ten years it was like meeting her for the first time too. Sleep came easy and the next day we headed into town for a tour of Utrecht.

Utrecht is a university town and the city is alive with the young vibe of many students. A walk along the canals of the old city centre shows you all the little pubs and bistros where you can take a load off and people watch for a while. This city has an amazing charm, and is easily navigated. We stopped along our walk at a pub and had a beer with a "broodje croquette" a hotdog bun filled with a deep fried, breaded ragout sausage. Try one, you'll love it! Then we boarded a canal tour boat and got a view of the city from the water, the tour guide spoke three languages and everyone who was a tourist got the full meal deal on the city's history.

Then dinner time came and we went on to a nice downtown restaurant, very posh, and enjoyed a magnificent meal, we were treated like VIPs. A night cap of scotch and we were off to bed to get ready for our next adventure...

In the historic city of Arnhem there is a zoo. Simply put, this place is quite amazing. We gathered here the next morning for "Family Day". The day was organized by my sister Jobs and her partner Guy. We were made familiar with the plan of the day and everyone participated. All my siblings and their children were present. The zoo is called Burgers' Zoo and Safari Park, and it is very much devoted to keeping its animals in an environment as close as possible to their natural habitat. The visitors stroll along paths and elevated walkways to view the animals. It is quite interesting to watch the lions from an overpass 3 meters up. The aquarium has passages that are completely submerged under thick glass covered walkways. The fish swim over you, quite a different orientation.

At lunchtime we were all to gather at the food court for our specially made lunch box, which included a little bottle of wine or beer for the adults, and a juice or soda for the kids. The next stop took us to a quaint restaurant where we all enjoyed a great dinner and some speeches about our long awaited return to Holland. What a great day we had, and when we were all done we went home with my sister and partner Jobs and Guy.

Guy and Shelagh sailing on "Oubaas"


Canal sailing

The next morning we headed to a marina to go for a nice day of sailing on Guy's sailboat. A traditional steel hulled flat bottomed sloop, built to last. We spent the day entirely under sail, except for within the marina, and I was quite impressed with the agility and speed of this heavy looking boat. We enjoyed some lunch in one of the many villages that line the Friesian lakes. The day was perfect, and although the sky was cloudy it stayed dry. Back at home we had a lovely home cooked meal with plenty of wine and cheer. Then we prepared for our morning departure to France.

We were off to the Dordogne region in the province of Aquitaine, France. In a small hamlet called Carsac. This little place is near Sarlat la Caneda in the Perigord. We drove from their home in Drachten, Friesland to our first stop, a town called Gien, famous for its fine china. Along the way we bypassed Paris and we vowed to return some day and check it out. Once in Gien we started the hunt for a hotel and it  did not take long to find the hotel "Le Rivage" a lovely place on the river Loire, and got settled in.

The evening was spent walking through the town and eventually settling in a little restaurant, so French, so inviting and comfortable, it was like in the movies. I actually ordered frog legs, they were yummy in their garlicky sauce. The wine flowed without shame and we had a ball. I finished my dinner with a selection from the cheese basket, some chevre, some Roquefort and some brie with crackers. Guy and Jobs treated us that night to dinner, once again, part of our wedding present. Once back at the hotel Shelagh and I enjoyed a little nightcap in our room by the window overlooking the Loire river. So romantic.

We got up relatively early the next morning and enjoyed a delicious continental breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Back on the road we were not far away from our destination. We found "Maison Strand", our little home for the next 12 days after a short search and got moved in. This small house is owned by 25 members, of which my father and his wife Jet were one. Upon my father's untimely death, Jet became the shareholder. She graciously lent us her two week share that year for our enjoyment. In the next blog post I will write about our experiences in the Dordogne, France.

Sunday 3 June 2012

Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, England

Ely Cathedral...

Ely is a relatively small town and you would wonder why such a small town would have such an enormous cathedral. Well, as the story goes, it was the town that grew around the church. The cathedral was built by Benedictine monks who had a grand church of gargantuan proportions in mind. Building started in the 11th century, and lasted a few centuries. Since then there have been many restoration projects completed as well as some plunder projects, depending on which century you're researching.

Shelagh was not into climbing up the cathedral and opted for the market which was in full swing nearby.

The stained glass is amazing

Upon arrival I was immediately overwhelmed by the hight of the ceiling, everything is on a grand scale. The long centre path leading to the altar is wide, the pews on either side are dwarfed in this voluminous building. At the cross point of the church, looking up, the huge copula, decorated with paintings of angels completes the roof structure. It's a bit dizzying at first. How, I wondered, could people have pulled this off so long ago. Legend has it that the eight massive wooden posts that form the foundation of the copula came from Scotland, and they are placed in such a way that is impossible to achieve by engineering standards of the period, let alone transporting them from Scotland to Ely. So, it must have been accomplished with some Devine assistance.

The copula, each side of the octagon has four paintings of an angel

I bought a ticket for a tour of the upper parts of the cathedral. We were a group of nine people plus our guide, a wonderful man, you know the type, history buff, full of enthusiasm and knowledge, eager to share. Up we went through narrow stairways to the outer part of the copula, from the inside of the church the walls are still vertical here, then suddenly the walkway becomes more horizontal and I realized that now I am walking on the top of the ceiling of the copula, the part leading to the paintings of the angels. When we reached the octagonal part of the copula our guide opened a tall narrow shutter and revealed on the other side of it one of the angel paintings. Every panel could be opened like that. I looked out and took a couple of pictures, one straight down to the cross point in the church, I got a bit queazy suddenly realizing where I was standing but soon I reasoned that after this many centuries nothing would happen. It is an awesome experience standing there on top of a domed ceiling, looking way down into the church from such a height. When the tour guide closed the shutter I noticed that there was a lot of graffiti scribbled on their reverse sides, "Shame about all these names on the shutters" I said. Then the guide explained that they were not just tags, they were the names of soldiers going to battle on the continent, indeed most had dates with them from the time of World War Two. There is a poem that states, "If you write your name on the back of an angel, you will return home safe and sound".

One of the eight sides of the copula

Looking down, standing on the ceiling

A few more stairs up and we came to a door leading to the steeple of the church with a walkway all around. The views were quite nice and I snapped some pictures of the Monastic buildings and country side. We were guided along the roof to some more vistas of Ely, and I could see the market where Shelagh was wandering about.


Around the steeple

The Monastic buildings

Roof detail

Just a view shot

We stayed on the roof for some time enjoying the views, but then it was time to return to the start of the excursion. Once back to the bottom I looked up again at the copula, and could hardly imagine that I had been up there, kind of suspended above this granite floor.

I went to find Shelagh at the market and found her just as she received her order of chips (french fries). Obviously she shared them with me. We finalized our stay in Ely with a pint of lager in the local pub. After the pub Shelagh joined me in the cathedral for one last look and I showed her what I had been up to.

We both had a great day in Ely, Cambridgeshire, England.  

Sunday 27 May 2012

Our third and final day in Barcelona

Barcelona, day three.

After breakfast in the hotel we located the nearest stop of the blue bus that takes tourists on a ride to the upper parts of the city. Once again we decided to take the entire route before picking a few places to return to. The tour includes stops at various museums including that of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Higher up we came along Park Güell and decided to return to this place. Along the rest of the tour we were shown the FC Barcelona stadium and the Olympic village.

At the entrance to Park Güell

We remained on the bus and got off at Park Güell. This was meant to be a residential neighborhood with large opulent villas, park grounds and a market. It completely failed, and is now a park with a couple of the villas in use as a tourist shop and the park maintenance operations. A third villa is located higher up and seems to be lived in. The market place is a haven for musicians and its ceiling is inlaid with tile mosaic art. All over are columns holding up the roof structure which in itself is a plaza surrounded by a serpentine bench, it snakes along the edge of the plaza. The idea here was that people would be encouraged to have conversations, because the serpentine effect causes people to face each other. Another function of this bench is to collect rain water for use in the park as irrigation and to supply the water features. A large stairway leads up to the market area and a mosaic tiled lizard guards the entrance.

This villa is now the gift shop

One of the villas now used for park operations

This villa appears to be occupied

After taking this all in we walked the many paths through the park. Fantastic views of the city in all directions demand photographers to aim and shoot. The lush greenery combined with local, more drought resistant vegetation are a wonderful mix. We spent the rest of the day in this park and enjoyed a wonderful late lunch with some white wine.

The market place

Ceiling detail in the market place

Looking out from the market place

On the serpentine bench


Serpentine bench tile work, Gaudi gave the tilers free range on the design

Tile work detail

The bench drains through these holes into a gutter that feeds cisterns with water

The outer gutter on the serpentine bench

Along the many walking paths in the park

The view of Barcelona

A look back

Intricate stone work holds up the upper walkways

A stone wave

The market below and the serpentine bench above

The lizard guarding the entrance

Back on the bus we arrived at the soccer stadium and got off to check out the FC Barcelona gift shop. We chose a couple soccer jerseys and matching scarves for the boys, gifts well received by our soccer playing sons.

A late afternoon stroll along las Ramblas finished with a dinner at a restaurant in the marina area rounded out our day. The evening air was wonderful and the dinner excellent. At one point our waiter tripped and broke a plate on the floor, resulting in a small cut in Shelagh's ankle. The poor waiter was beside himself with concern and came with tissues and bandaids to stop the bleeding. After much fuss, and Shelagh convincing the staff that she was all right we were served free desserts, with a local drink called "Crema Catalán"' it reminded us of Bailey's. We returned to the hotel in the evening for our last night in this great city.

The entrance to a home on Las Ramblas

They have their own "arc de triomphe"

The Catalonian presidential palace, probably the only building without grafitti

Upper crossover from the courthouse to the palace

In the morning, after breakfast we said goodbye to the hotel staff and walked uptown to the bus stop, dragging our suitcases, looking so touristy. The bus connection to the airport is simple, no problems. Barcelona is a wonderful place to visit, and we highly recommend it.

Walking to the bus stop, adios Barcelona...

I must thank my brother and sister in law, Bart and Wilma, for making this trip possible.
Bart booked the flight, and Wilma booked the hotel, and gave us this holiday! Wonderful people.