Friday, April 28, 2017

The Urban Hike: Nijmegen.

Suffering freezing winds and sudden downpours, my darling daughter and myself treated ourselves to an urban hike through Nijmegen.
Town Centre

Nijmegen is practically the oldest town in my country; only Batavorum (now non-existent) has been documented as older. The Romans thought the high hill next to the river Waal a very good vantage point and place to build their army camp. Thus Noviomagum was founded.On the whole the Romans and the Bataven tribes who inhabited the river delta and the hills got along. There were skirmishes, though.

Nowadays Nijmegen is a student town, and an eclectic mix of old buildings dating from the 17th century and hideous new buildings from just after WWII. If you want to know about this period, have a look at the epic "A Bridge Too Far". The German army proved rather persistent in wanting to keep Nijmegen occupied, and hence the entire town centre was destroyed, only sparing one of the many gothic churches.
During WWII

Darling daughter and me started our urban hike on the bank of the river Waal, where we dropped off our luggage on the wonderful river barge b&b Opoe Sientje, which lies moored practically underneath the Waal Bridge.

Opoe Sientje B&B

From there we immediately rambled up the steepest Nijmegen hill, leading us along the Valkhof Park (the largest green blob on the map above)towards the town centre.
It being Monday, the market stalls rather spoiled the view, but at the same time the hustle and bustle was fun to watch.
The Grote Markt proved to be easy to find, as the enormous St. Stevens church can be seen from every point in the town. 

Grote Markt with St. Stevens and the Waagh

I like old churches, not from any religious point of view, but simply because it awes me that people have built these giants without any kind of mechanical device, and they managed to construct them without bits dropping off. So we walked around it, spotting a wonderful tearoom in the narrow alley behind it, Philips.

Once of the entrances to St. Stevens

After taking a quick peek inside, we followed the street with the most people in it, which went sharply downhill and reminded me of Wells (UK), with well water running swiftly down the middle. This street had wonderful little shops and restaurants on both sides, so we took forever walking down.

One of the very nice shops

We ended up in Kronenburger Park, the other green lung of the town, and famous to Dutchmen of a certain age for having been both the place to meet the ladies of the night and the song by Nijmegen troubadour Frank Boeijen that memorises said ladies. To translate: "Leave that world, leave that world,... and don't ask me for the right road, because everyone is lost". These last two sentences: "en vraag me niet naar de weg, want iedereen is de weg kwijt" have become iconic in Dutch culture. I'll provide you with a link; even if you cannot understand his Dutch (with a thick Nijmegen accent), you can enjoy the very good music and Frank's wonderful voice.Kronenburg Park - Frank Boeijen

Kronenburger Tower

From Kronenburger Park we walked uphill again, back to the Grote Markt, where we had dinner in the Waagh. This word stems from the verb "wegen", which means to weigh, and here the goods were weighed before they were sold in the markets of Nijmegen. The historical Waagh has been city hall and then the local police headquarters for a while, but now it is a restaurant, and a very nice one!
Wonderful beer!

After a very good dinner we slogged back to Opoe Sientje, where we had a few biological home brews and enjoyed the open wood fire and our book before retiring.

The next morning it was still very chilly (5 degrees C, in late April!), but we braved the rain showers and took a look at the Valkhof ruin, the Valkhof chapel and the Belvedere, before heading down the other side of the hill to the Valkhof Museum.

Valkhof kapel (chapel)

Me in front of what's left of the original Valkhof. Note the winter coat!

This tells of the history of Nijmegen, and has many Roman artifacts, all found in the cesspits and fields around the town.
It made me reflect that the jewelry of Roman times and of my own time hasn't changed one bit. So have we changed ourselves? Probably not. So much for civilization!

We wanted to visit that tearoom we saw the day before, so schlepped our way uphill once more (sorry about all this talk about hills, but you have to understand that we are from the wetlands, river delta near the sea, flat as flat can be, and we are not used to hills!). Afterwards we walked around the town centre once again (even though we had walked the same route the day before), because we liked it so much.
The Belvedere

view over river Waal from the Belvedere

The nitty gritty:
Nijmegen demands parking fees everywhere! The best thing to do, if you are by car, is to park in the Eiermarkt parking garage, as they offer a €11,00 day tariff (unfortunately I only found this out the second day; the first day I paid over €30,00 to park on the Waalkade).
Opoe Sientje B&B is situated on the Lindenberghaven 1C, 6511XT Nijmegen, €75,00 a night for 2 persons.
Philips is behind the St. Stevenskerk, in the alley called Achter De Hoofdwaght.

Inside Philips tearoom

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Viggo's Blog - What Does An Easter Bunny Have That I Don't?

Hey there, fans, Viggo here.
How have you all been? Yeah, yeah, I know, it has been a while. Too long, probably, I know you miss me when I don't post.

I've been busy.
It takes up all my energy to keep up with young Bowie, the Brat. He hasn't stopped growing, and it pains me to admit he is now taller than I am... I still have twice his weight and girth though, and I am eating daily to keep it that way.

The trouble is, my woman says, that The Brat eats daily as well. Pfhaw! I eat far more often! Stop interrupting me, woman!

So, today is the day when all people in my hood are rushing around to get the Easter Breakfast Shopping in. I have never seen such nonsense. What is the attraction of those chocolate bunnies, I wonder? And what is the point of all those eggs? I just don't get it.
Mate told me that it is simply a human thing, like they dress in orange and swill beer when there's a football match on. But Mate lives in a household with three males, and my house is a football-free zone with two females in it and an honorary male who only swills beer whilst playing guitar. That doesn't count. Besides, I like beer. He tends to leave his cans and bottles on the floor, so I can have a good sniff and a lick around the rim. His coats always smell interesting too. But I digress.

The Brat has celebrated his birthday last week: 1 year old already. I remember him coming to the house for the first time...such a sweet little thing he seemed. Little did I know...Oh, he runs up to me to lick my chops, and grooms me, and he purrs into my ears, but I know what he is up to!He wants to be alpha cat!

There can only be One Top Cat in this house, and that is ME!
Oh, by the way, did I tell you about the White Goddess? I didn't, did I?
She apparently was on her 9th life already, and she lost it. One day last month me and Mate I were chilling on the pavement late at night, it was a very nice balmy night in fact, and there was a huge earsplitting screeching sound mixed with a sort of thump. And then this dead-sounding quietness all around. So we went to investigate, and we saw nothing at first, but then Nose turned up from the other side street, and he pointed out a very flat thing in the street. You cannot call that a cat anymore, that's rude, so I won't.
Anyway, she always ignored me, the snooty feline, so I cannot pretend I'm sad.
She was mighty sexy. When not flattened.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Garden Delights For Tender Hearts

Hasn't it been a glorious day today?
Well, it has been here!
I've told you before that I live in the wetlands of The Netherlands - the delta of all deltas, where the atmosphere is naturally moist, the humours are damp and the skies are often grey and low.

My violas and English grass - such easy going plants.

So it is not very baffling that we crave sunshine, colour and warmth, especially after the long wet grey winter months.
And then...when the sun does come out, we do too. We rush to our garden centers to stock up on compost, pots and plants. The Dutch summers are short, so there's no time to waste!
I love it. The only snag is that it is an expensive hobby when you buy everything from the center. So this year I decided to sow my own seeds, and hopefully first save myself some money on the plants, and second save myself money again because I've grown a lot of my own salad greens and veg.

Radicchio and sunflowers

So my window sill has been chock full of all kinds of containers holding seedlings. Viggo has been quite annoyed to be unceremoniously shoved to the corner. He has taken his sweet revenge though, by nibbling on the seedlings. Mwah. I have plenty.

They are growing very rapidly, so today I potted them on.

Having my own two cats and most of the neighborhoods kitties around as well, and plenty of song birds, I have had to cover it up with netting.
There's two kinds of lettuce in the 5 black containers, sugarsnaps and swiss chard in the wooden box and right in the back is more lettuce. The rather bedraggled plant in the foreground is a beloved hanging plant I overwintered in the attic. It is a bit sad, because I divided it, which gave it a shock. But it is gorgeous when in bloom and it will flower until the first frost.

This is my herb table, but as you can see I can never resist adding some flowering plants as well.

To add some colour to my mostly green beds, I've planted lilies, which will be in bloom in June/July. I adore lilies; they look lovely and smell wonderful.

the herb table from the side

My part of the town is quite old, and most of the older traditional houses still have a traditional front garden bordering the road, instead of having it paved over and added a well-meant but often puny container with one hugely overpriced shrub (as dictated by stark minimalistic fashion)

This house is not far from my own, and every time I pass it (which is almost daily) I enjoy the magnolia. Isn't it wonderful?

Right. Time to do one quick round with the watering can.
Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Spring in The Wetlands - It Has Arrived

Good morning, all over 80,000 of you, around the globe.
Hahaha, sure, I know there's nowhere near eighty-thousand of you logged in to my blog at a time, but seeing the number makes me a little proud anyway!

So...all of a sudden it is sunny. You have NO idea what that does to the average Dutchman! Or woman, in my case.
We rush outside, dragging high-pressure power cleaners with us , and our saws, and hammers, and grand-children (so much for enjoying the sunshine in peace in my back garden).  
In a moment, I myself will be rushing outside as well, as I want to start sowing my peas, and start hardening off my salad seedlings. And afterwards I need to do the weekend shopping.
Not terribly exciting I'm afraid.

I tend to upload my latest photos of my garden (and life in general) to Instagram these days. If you are interested in following me there as well as here, look for me under 
songsmith2692; my avatar is myself; looking downwards at my mobile.

I realize this is a quickie; sorry about that, but the sun, the sun!
Talk to you later, bye!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Fun with Words (and with Friends)

On Monday night, I paid a visit to a writers' group that I had attended for the first time a year ago. With my previous schedule, I found it difficult to join them very often. I'm hoping that has changed.

Together, the group did a writing exercise that was so much fun that I think it would make a good party game. It reminded me a little of Mad Libs and also reminded me a little of my old elementary school assignments to create sentences around spelling words ... the second of which, I suppose, may not sound all that fun to some people. My older brothers, for instance, would stare at that list of words without knowing what to do with them, in spite of the fact that they could be creative with a paintbrush or a camera.

Each of us in the group started out with a sheet of paper with seven numbered blank lines. After writing our names on the papers, we were told to write the name of a famous person, living or dead, on the first line, fold the paper down so that the first answer didn't show and pass our paper to the person on our right. I wrote "George Washington" and passed mine on.

We repeated this similar process with the six other blank spaces, so that each paper, in the end, had words contributed by seven different writers. For our next words, we had to choose a name for a place, a time period, an onomatapoeia word, a verb, an adjective and a noun. After we had filled in our blank for the seventh line, the papers, which had made the rounds of the table, were returned to their original owners. We were now instructed to make a story using all seven words.

These were my words -- George Washington, Yankee Stadium, presidential election, swish, zipped, shiny and rocking chair.

At first, I was a little nervous that Yankee Stadium was one of my words. As Jeremy Crow of this blog knows, sports are not my forte. The closest I've come to watching a sport in a big arena is watching Disney on Ice. In the end, I think I came up with a semi-sensible story, if something imaginative can be said to be semi-sensible. We, of course, read our little stories aloud after a few minutes, and there was some giggling involved.

The story --

"It was a strange sight to see George Washington, or someone who looked very much like him, in the stands at Yankee Stadium. I couldn't help but stare at him. He looked like he'd stepped out of one of the paintings I'd seen of the historical figure. His graying curled coif looked authentic.

This happened to be election season, and I had to wonder if this was a gimmick for one or the other candidate's presidential campaign. As I walked past him with my hot dog, I heard the swish of his coat tails, against which I had, apparently, brushed.

At the singing of the national anthem, he zipped up to his feet. The sun beaming down on him made the profile of his head as shiny as his image on the quarter.

As he stood, I noticed something else strange. He wasn't seated quite like everybody else. Below him was a wooden rocking chair. Perhaps, it was a time travel rocking chair."

What do you think? Would you have fun doing this exercise at a party or is this something only fun to writers' groups?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Awed in Edinburgh - Scotland with my son (4)

This post was originally written at 29 juni 2013 om 18:45

I had looked forward to the last leg of our train journey enormously, as I have read and seen so much about Scotland.  But...reality differs from screens, and stories can be romanticized. In this case the Scottish borderlands turned out to be...pretty boring, actually.

We left The Lake District with pain in our hearts, as we could easily have spent another week there. But Edinburgh beckoned. So we travelled back to Oxenholme and there boarded the train for Waverley Station, together with Philip and Mrs Nag, two Ozzies from Sydney, who were 'doing' Europe in three weeks. He was sweet, she found fault with everything. For example the lovely room at our Windermere B&B, which she pronounced "so tiny that you couldn't swing a cat in there". (No...but why on earth would you want to, I wonder?)

I watched the landscape from our window, and saw yellowed grassland, sheep, and neglected white-washed cottages. Not very romantic and certainly not exciting. But the entry into Waverley Station made up for the boring journey. Coming into Edinburgh past those Victorian and Georgian monumental buildings, and the Monument, and seeing Edinburgh Castle on that craggy rock simply took my breath away. I couldn't wait to start exploring, but first we had to find a bed for the night. Here we were in luck, as Mrs Nag had booked a room in The Travelodge, and they had one for us as well. We quickly threw our bag into our room, and rushed out into the city.

It had been raining off and on whilst we were on the train, but the sun now peeked through the clouds, resulting in that typically British custom of pretending it is high Summer even though it is only 8 C, and all those pretty girls throwing off their winter clothes and parading through Princes Street in bare arms and legs. I kept on my Dutch winter coat, thanks.
Within 10 minutes we met our first kilted Scottish piper. And then the second. And the third. No question about it, this was Scotland!

We decided to visit the castle first, though the admission was a shock. We bought two tickets anyway, and spent hours walking through the history of the British army. (Why would a pacifist walk through halls and halls full of army memorabilia, you may wonder? To tell you the truth, I don't have a good answer to that...But I did sign the condolence register for some poor 19 year old who had stepped on a bomb in Afghanistan the day before.) The cellars were the best bit. Here they had kept their prisoners of war, amongst whom many Dutch sailors, some as young as 8 years old. 

Outside, in one of he courtyards, there was a youth orchestra playing their little hearts out. The funny thing was that they had decked themselves out in orange boas, orange wigs, red-white-blue bunting and paper crowns. How very insightful, as this day was the Dutch coronation of prince Willem-Alexander.  But a bit weird, as well. And, as I remarked to my son, looking as ridiculous as (normally) only our fellow countrymen can look. As I said this, a woman in front of me, with an orange Heidi-wig-with-orange-wooden-clog, turned around and gave us a flyer. Ah...the orchestra turned out to be from Haarlem (a town not far from Amsterdam). She invited us to Reid Concert Hall for that evening, where they would perform a free concert. We went, and had a smashing time.
The Noord-Hollands Youth Orchestra

The next day we wanted to visit the Botanical Gardens (always a favourite). But we couldn't take the bus, as we didn't have any 50 pence pieces, and the bus driver couldn't make change from twenty pounds. Shops and pubs being closed still, this meant having to walk there, and getting lost, and sopping wet. But it was worth it. 
Afterwards we spent two hours in the Scottish Museum, where there was an exhibition about the Vikings In Scotland. Two hours was ample for the exhibition, but not enough for the rest of this wonderful museum. We ran through the Egyptian hall, and then were politely but firmly evicted.

Time for a bite to eat, and a wee dram (I had promised myself this. When in Scotland...) We ended up in a pub named The Huxley, and I got some advice about an independent brewer who brewed a beer called Caesar Augustus. With hints of oak and flowers...gorgeous! The Huxley became our home away from home. We were never going to leave it again! After hours and hours in the company of Caesar Augustus, I decided that the dram wouldn't be needed anymore, and that frankly it would be a good idea to try to find a bed. And I was sharing mine with my son...
When we reached The Travelodge, the Polish construction crew underneath our window just fired up their concrete drills. Ah...that's why the street had been closed for all traffic. Ah...and they worked all night, in Edinburgh...I spared a drunken thought for Mrs Nag. Imagine having a room large enough to swing a cat in, but having to share it with a bunch of Polish concrete layers.

Somehow it seemed poetic, our first night in Norwich without a wink, and now our last night in Edinburgh sleepless as well.
When we put down on Schiphol the next morning, it rained.

This concludes our rambles around England and Scotland some years ago - way before Scottish Independence reared it's head and Brexit. I have a firm wish to go back to Scotland and explore The Highlands. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Hikers Rule #1: Wear the Right Shoes! - England/Scotland with my son (3)

The original post was published on 26 juni 2013 om 18:40

There are hikers, and there are hikers. You can recognise the real ones by their sturdy boots. And that's where we went wrong. We were wearing the wrong shoes...

Our gracious hostess Paula took a good look at our flimsy shoes and pronounced them totally unfit for hiking in The Lake District. So sorry!
But we are stubborn people (us Dutchies usually are), and asked her if there really wasn't any route we could try? Perhaps one for foolish Dutchmen?

Well, we could always take the bus to Keswick, which is a charming little town, and perhaps we could walk for a bit along Derwent Water, if it wasn't too muddy, that is.
We took Paula's advice, and sat on top of a steamy bus, awed by the landscape we passed through. We saw numerous sheep, and countless daffodils. As we passed Dove Cottage, I thought about William Wordsworth's line: ' A host of golden daffodils'. I had tried to convey the beauty of his poem to my pupils last year, and now I was living it!

Keswick was lovely indeed, and the rain stopped, which was great. We took a public footpath along the edge of Derwent Water, but Paula knew her stuff: it proved to be too muddy for our shoes. Walking back amongst frolicking lambs and indifferent sheep, we decided to walk along the road to the next village, but after an hour saw another footpath leading away from Grasmere Lake, up to the hills. Surely that wouldn't be so muddy? Encouraged by the sunshine, and not at all hindered by the fact that we didn't have a map, we took off. Public footpath, how hard could it be?

Pretty soon we had to look carefully where to put our feet, and we had to cross burns by balancing from one stepping stone to the next. The wind, already blowing quite hard, picked up. On the ridge between Grasmere Lake and Rydal Lake, Wibe wanted to go up even higher, to the top, to take a panorama photo of the eight peaks around us. I take my latent vertigo very seriously, so I declined. Very undignified to be up there and not dare to come down..So I sat on a wooden seat, put down especially for scaredy cats like me. 'In Loving Memory of William Soye Backhouse 1891-1953'. 'Here's to you, Bill,' I mumbled. 'Hope you didn't take a tumble here.'

The wind picked up even more, and I started to get worried about Wibe. Gosh, this hill was steep, hopefully he wouldn't slip whilst taking photos. In my mind's eye I saw the rescue helicopter approach, fool that I was, in my inappropriate shoes!
Just as I was ready to start climbing to his rescue, an ancient woman passed me, with a walking stick and one of those small typically English dogs. 'Hello, lovely view, isn't it?' A couple of minutes later woman number two passed, this time with an umbrella and a slightly larger dog. I peeked at her boots. Yes. Very sturdy.  'Lovely day, isn't it?' And then woman number three. She had a man with her, and special nylon waterproofs above her hiking boots. She didn't greet me, but her man did. 'Sunny enough for you?'. He looked furtively at my shoes.
Thankfully Wibe came down the mountain just then, safe and sound! We descended to Rydal Lake and loved it. It took us another hour of hiking along pebbled beaches and dirt tracks strewn with sheep droppings to reach the first pub, The Badger, where we had cold pints of Magners cider and I admired those super-fit English old folks who ran about these hills.

We took a bus to Ambleside, where we had an Italian meal and then walked back to Windermere, which took us another hour. What a wonderful day! And all this in the wrong shoes!
Experience Rydal yourself in this charming little video by Eric Worsely (who was wearing the correct footwear).
A walk around Rydal Lake