Thursday, 30 May 2013

No windmills....but plenty of bicycles!

Last week, DD and I finally managed to get ourselves over to Amsterdam  - this little jaunt has been a few years in waiting!

The weather was not brilliant, but it didn't stop us doing all we'd planned. Visiting the Anne Frank Museum on our first evening proved a success - going out so late in the day we avoided having to queue for too long. (the pouring rain may have played a part in keeping some of the crowds away.... ;-p)

The Museum gives an insight into the claustrophobic life of Anne Frank and the other people incarcerated in the tiny upper rooms of her father's office building as they attempted to hide from deportation on the Jewish transports from occupied Holland in WW2.

Afterwards, we walked back alongside the Singel canal towards our hotel, stopping off at  Café Van Zuylen mainly because we wanted to escape the rain and also because they were still serving food late into the evening!

We can recommend this establishment - the service and food was excellent. So good, in fact, that we decided to return there for a meal on our last night before travelling home!

Day 2 saw us heading towards Haarlem - we braved the trains and managed to find our way to the right platform (eventually), listening out for 'Haarlem' amidst the announcements in Dutch. It was only a short train ride, about twenty minutes - not a windmill in sight.

The weather was still inclement but we only had a fifteen-minute walk to the centre of the city from the station and made our way to the Corrie Ten Boom Museum 

Again, echoes of WW2, similar to Anne Frank; the Ten Boom family of watchmakers took in Jewish people trying to escape the Nazi holocaust. Both DD and I have read the books written by Corrie Ten Boom describing the 'Hiding Place' that was created to conceal their Jewish 'guests' if the house was ever searched, so this was a very special visit for us.

The tour guide had some willing 'volunteers' to show how tiny the space was!

For those not familiar with the story, the family was eventually betrayed and arrested, then deported to various concentration camps. Corrie was released from Ravensbrück women's camp in 1944, due to a clerical error (some say a 'miracle'!) - shortly afterwards, women her age were routinely executed. 

This little sign in the window was used as a signal to the Dutch underground  - if the sign was in view, it was safe to enter; if it was missing then there were German officers or police in the building! On at least one occasion, someone forgot to move the sign - leading to some 'close calls' for unwitting Resistance workers!

Across the Grote Markt stands the magnificent edifice of St Bavo's Cathedral - which the Ten Boom family visited. 


Apparently both Handle and Mozart, as well as Mendelssohn, have graced the keyboard of this magnificent church organ

With the weather improving slightly, Day 3 saw us venture onto a boat and take a tour of Amsterdam's canals. 

Watching a boat do a three-point-turn through the various inter-connecting canals is fascinating. (and slightly alarming if you're actually ON the boat at the time!)

More foodie goodness was to be had at Villa Zeezicht, across the road from Van Zuylen's: 

This has to be THE best apple cake in the world, accompanied by cinnamon ice cream - it's to die for! (and yes, we HAD to return there on our last morning....!)

Avoiding the famous, yet less salubrious, areas of Amsterdam (no, let's not go there!) we managed to cover most of the city on foot, leading to the Dam Square overlooked by the royal palace:

Day 4, and another cultural landmark we wanted to see was the Rijksmuseum:

Having been warned the queues for admission were horrendous we still decided to brave it - surprisingly, we arrived about 10.15 am and just walked straight in! (but the queue when we left some hours later was truly astounding, skirting the entire length of the building).

We duly viewed the magnificent Rembrandt paintings, including his famous 'Night Watch'  - as well as other 'old masters' and enjoyed seeing the amazing collection of porcelain and ceramics.

More interesting architecture - and canals!

Now - about those bicycles.....!

High running costs for cars coupled with a hefty duty or congestion charge means many people opt to use bicycles. Quaint, you might think - but a word to the unwise: they go at one heck of a speed and most have no visible brakes! (to say nothing of safety gear - ne'ery a helmet or hi-viz jacket in sight!)

Pedestrians are right to attempt to cross the streets with caution, riders in the cycle lanes will not even attempt to avoid you - the almost silent approach may (or may not!) be heralded by furious bell-ringing if you impede the cyclist's progress! 

.....and almost everything is carried on the bike - be it shopping, the dog.....or even the kids!

(these images I pulled off the internet, but we saw these everywhere)


For anyone interested - here's a short clip from the film of 'The Hiding Place' :


A birthday present earlier this week was a DVD of the Alistair McLaine novel, 'Puppet on a Chain' - set, of course, in Amsterdam. I hadn't seen this film for years and we settled down to watch it last night  - DD and I playing the 'we were there' game! ;-p  Yes, it's a bit 1970's-'cheesy' in places, but it has a great alternative to the usual thriller car-chase....... 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Retirement : Redux

In January 2011 I decided to take 'early retirement' from my job in the local town library. After the first few weeks of  feeling as if I was just 'on leave' I soon settled down into having the delightful luxury of not having to flit round the place like a headless chicken and being able to say 'mañana' where housework was concerned! I indulged my passion for reading and writing, as well as genealogy and yarn-crafting.

Then a few months later 'life' got in the way: one chick returned to the nest, along with their attendant paraphernalia (and furniture!) and the other chick had some major medical issues which meant we had to rally round and help with her household chores and chauffeuring. 

Eventually, we settled into a new 'normal' - covering the bases, but not really progressing with things.

Well, 'life' has intervened again - hubby recently retired from his 'day job', younger chick has just this last week 'flown the nest' again and relocated in the north of the country and elder chick is contemplating returning to (self-financed) educational studies, whilst keeping her independence.

This, of course, means hubby and I are 'empty-nesters' once again. Elder chick has claimed we might kill each other, being in the same space at the same time after 32 years of marriage, but we have a plan: we commandeered the 'spare' bedrooms as our individual space - one for him and one for me. I used to joke that he'd have the 'east wing' and I'd have the 'west wing' - as if our home was rather larger and grander than reality! As it's turned out, he gets the morning sun and I get the sunsets - so it seems we really have got the geography of our personal spaces correct, after all! ;-p

Between us, we have a few holidays coming up: elder chick and I are off to Amsterdam and Haarlem in a few days; then hubby and I are touring Vienna and Prague (the highlight of that trip is to Ceske Budejovice to tour the brewery!); then later in the year while elder chick and I visit relatives in New England, hubby and younger chick are off to the Italian Grand Prix!

It looks as if it will take a while for hubby and I to finally settle down to proper 'Darby & Joan' retirement (although he might get a little part-time job, so he'll be out from under my feet! ;-p)

So, I'm gradually reclaiming the 'craft room' I set up when the nest emptied first time around. I'm allocating space for yarn storage and working out how to organise all my Family History documents and images, etc.

I have great plans......!

.......and who knows - I might yet get back into writing.....!

Friday, 3 May 2013

A-Z 2013 Reflections!

Well, that's another A-Z challenge over and done with!

Er, no, actually - the challenge for the month of April might be over but trying to get round all the 1,650+ bloggers taking might take just a little longer! ;-p

This year I scheduled my posts every few days so that in theory I would have lots of time to visit other blogger - alas, 'life' and family got in the way of my free time, so that I haven't had chance to get to as many blogs as I would have liked, although I did try to make a point of responding to everyone who left comments for me.

And thereby hangs a tale because some comments did not link back to a blog, but to the Blogger's a/c, some of which only showed the blogs they followed. True, I could have used the email option, but with time in short supply I'd rather just go straight to their blog. In future, make it easier for people to contact you (and why would you want to hide your blog in the first place....?)

This year I found far less obstacles (captcha/moderation/approval) on blogs I actually visited - so that is an improvement - thank you everyone who made it easy to leave a 'calling card'! ;-)

Of course, some bloggers decided to write VERY LONG posts each day - I'm sorry, I had to give up on a few due to the time factor. Those that intrigued me have been noted so I may return but I feel the A-Z challenge, by its very nature of introducing us to new blogs and Bloggers, means that 'short and sweet' wins the day.

What I missed most this year was not having  a 'surprise me' button on the blog hop (it may have been available but I didn't see it anywhere.....?)

Giving bloggers the option to use a code to indicate what subject they were blogging on was a good idea, so I had fair idea of which ones I'd prefer to read, with the limited time available - the only thing that would improve this (for me, anyway) would be so have each category separately listed (e.g. all the Craft/CR together, likewise a separate list for Writers/WR, etc.)

Finally, I am in awe of the 'hosts' with such an overwhelming number of entrants to keep track of - well done, medals all round! Weeding out the non-starters, spam and those who ground to a halt must have been an onerous task for you all.

Now, I shall keep the list handy and as and when time allows I shall try and get to a few more blogs over the coming weeks and months. (before we start all over again with the A-Z 2014!)