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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.