Sunday, January 22, 2023

A sojourn in Seville

As some of you may know from my postings elsewhere, Koos and I went to Spain on January the 10th and have only been back a few days. We had a really lovely time, the weather was beautiful (although not hot at all), and we were met with more kindness and friendliness than I could have imagined.

We flew to Seville and made the city our base for the full week we were there. The first and last days were spent travelling - always a complete day, however we do it - so we had eight days to explore Seville and its environs.

The only downside to the whole trip was the room we'd booked. We wanted to be quite central and not too far from the bus and trains, so to keep costs to a reasonable level, we opted to stay in a cheap hotel/hostel in one of the narrow backstreets of the old town. While it was a fantastic location, our room was at the back of the building with no window onto the street. In fact, the only window it had was onto one of those typically Spanish shafts that provide an opening for houses that back onto each other. Being high and narrow, virtually no light gets in and our room was simply dark the whole time. I couldn't wait to get out into the light every day. 

In addition, the city sewage system in that area has clearly seen better days, so the smell of dirty drains pervaded everything. Other than that, though, we were in a very good position and were able to walk to the heart of Seville within ten minutes or so, which was great!

Most readers here probably know that Seville is deep in Andalucia and flamenco is everywhere. Even the little corner shop in our street had these delightful little dresses for small girls. Interestingly, this shop, like hundreds of others we found in Seville, was run by Chinese people, all of whom speak Spanish, but with the standard confusion between L and R, which made me smile. It reminded me of so many of my students who have the same problem.

The rather grand Moorish building in the photo above used to be the city's railway station but is now a kind of enclosed market with small kiosk-type shops inside. (We won't mention the McDonald's, which seems to be everywhere). This kind of building design seems to have been quite common for train stations as we saw others with similar arches and decorative detail.

Of course, the first place Koos and I always go is to the waterside (eerst naar de waterkant, as they say in Dutch), and we were much impressed by this amazing old tree leaning over the banks of the Guadalquivir. On the subject of the river, the stretch that runs through the city is actually still water. Its main tidal course was re-routed to the west of the city in the 20th century to prevent flooding, and continues on to Cordoba and beyond. Apparently, however, navigation is only possible up to Seville, and only when the tide is coming in. The port of Seville is in the reach of the river that runs through the city, and is behind a large lock. From what I've read, though, flooding can still be an issue as in both 2006 and 2010, the city suffered from severe floods, and it was even worse in 1963.

For those interested, there's an interesting article about Seville and the Guadalquivir here.

We had a lovely walk along the riverside, which is very popular with the locals. I liked the sculpture above; it was created for some very philanthropic purposes that I'm afraid I've forgotten now. I completely failed to make a note of the plaque that told us who the sculptor was and what it was for. Maybe one of the readers here knows what it commemorates? 

My apologies for the slightly skew photos below. I normally straighten my snaps as it drives me nuts if things aren't level or properly vertical, but my usual laptop has crashed and I don't know how to use the photo editor on this machine yet. Anyway, these were some of the sights from the river I captured when we went on a passenger cruise on our second day there.

Traditional Spanish galleon moored on the riverside

The Golden Tower, first built by the Moors

This bridge was designed by Santiago Calatrava. 
It reminded me of our own Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam

One thing that surprised me was the extent of the very good public transport system. We tried it all. The tram is just one line, but it's modern, electric and very good. The buses were excellent, and there was even a metro, which we travelled from one end to the other, right out into the furthest suburbs. I'll tell you about some of our trips the next time.

Like many cities focused on tourism, there was the possibility to do a tour of the sights from the comfort of an open carriage. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the horses, however. They seem to spend hours just standing there with no water or food and, in the summer, no shade either. I hope I'm wrong and that they’re relieved or at least given water at regular intervals. They’re very lovely, though, so I had to take some photos of them.

Beautiful, patient horses. 

The photos below are of Seville cathedral. It is apparently the third largest church in the world and the biggest gothic church in Europe. We managed to visit it on our last day and were really impressed by its immense size. I also liked the mix of styles. It was an add-on (if you like) to an Arabic mosque and I loved the simplicity of those early parts of the building. The opulence of the ornate nave and sanctuary were less to my taste, partly because of the extreme demonstration of affluence they represented, but also because it was bordering on overkill. I took dozens of photos but it's hard to decide what's worth including.

One of the many elaborate screens

Unbelievably ornate and opulent

I preferred this

The simplicity of the earlier structures
was more to my taste

It isn't possible to talk about Seville without mentioning the oranges. They’re a real feature of the city streets, and if you are wondering what happens to them, they’re collected and cleared now and then by the city council. Apart from the fact they're far too bitter to eat, it isn't permitted to pick them as they belong to the local authorities. From what I've read, they're used for a number of purposes, including medicinal and culinary. I remember my mother buying Seville oranges to make marmalade when I was a child, but we never ate them raw. It was lovely to see them on virtually every tree in the city streets, though.

And the last thing to mention about Seville itself in this week's post is the music. We saw and heard music everywhere from day one, even being serenaded while we had our meal the first evening. Koos was also given the chance to play by one kindly busker, which made his day. 

The man in the photo below was playing flamenco guitar with great skill in a passage.

These three were busking next to the tram stop and were doing an excellent job of covering great rock songs. The guitarist, in particular, did a very professional and convincing performance of Brian May's guitar solo on Bohemian Rhapsody. I have to say it was a very pleasant way to wait for the tram.

We also saw some wonderful impromptu flamenco dancing at the Plaza de Espana (more on that amazing place next time). I find flamenco very inspiring and soul stirring, and loved seeing this young group performing in public.

Well, I think that's enough for this time. I'll write more about some of the other places we went and the people we met in my next blog, but for now, I hope you've enjoyed this snippet of our experiences in Seville, allemaal. 

Have a good week and all the best from a very cold and frosty Netherlands. That Spanish sunshine is already becoming a distant memory.

Monday, January 09, 2023

Photos I have enjoyed taking

The Netherlands isn't known as much for its scenery as it is for its beautiful towns, but there is much about this country to love in terms of its open vistas, numerous canals and reed-lined waterways. This week, I'm just posting a few of my favourite scenes of the last year. I'm a bit busy, so I hope you'll forgive the lack of news this week.

A frosty walk along the creek

The great sea canal near our harbour

Horses in a nearby nature reserve

Stunning light before a storm

Nature reserve horses again

Smallholdings abound in this area

Springtime baby

I love poppies and we have them in profusion

Till soon allemaal and have a good week!


Sunday, January 01, 2023

What's new in our year


The past week has sped by and here we are at the 1st of January, 2023. Incredible! Actually, this is the first time I've written the new year as the date, so I hope I'll get used to it soon. There's nearly always an overlap period when I mistakenly write the old year on invoices and letters, but we've been looking forward to leaving 2022 behind so much, I have a feeling 2023 won't take long to embed itself in my writing mind. 

So what's new so far? Well, we had a lovely time with the new grandpup over Christmas. He is such a sweetheart it's impossible not to be soppy about him (sorry, if you're not a dog person, feel free to skip this part!). He's already settled in and is enjoying family life with my daughter and her boyfriend. Much to our pleasure and surprise, he's getting on very well with Mini, their little cat who was so ill. She's now recovered so well she's twice the size she used to be and seems completely unafraid of puppy Mack, even encouraging him to play with her. 

This, if you remember, is Mini

Mack, chewing Grandpa's toes

Here's Mack fast asleep under the table while we were having Christmas lunch.

And here he is sleeping over the toy bone my daughter crocheted for him. It was so sweet the way he'd play and then suddenly just fall asleep.

In other news, which my readers here are the first to know, we are moving the Vereeniging again. Surprised? Yes! So are we! 

To explain, the mooring in Oudensbosch has been lovely and we've enjoyed being there, but I'm working less and less in Rotterdam and am increasingly working online. As a result, I have only occasional need of an overnight stop on the way to the city, and it is still quite a journey to reach her from the Crumbly Cottage, where I have my office set up. With fuel prices being so unpredictable and train travel costs escalating, keeping her there is becoming a financial burden I could do without. But what to do and where to take her has involved some intensive investigation.

As luck would have it, the answer lay much closer than I ever imagined. We have a historic harbour in Sas van Gent, and after quite a search to find the right person to approach, I applied for a mooring and the Vereeniging has been approved. I am delighted because it will be much more convenient for me (only a short run from the cottage) and it will allow me to spend time on her more easily. She will fit in very nicely, I think, as there are several very lovely sailing barges in the harbour already. Here's a photo of the probable mooring. I love the super safe gangway!

And here are a couple more photos of the resident barges in the harbour. I may have posted them before, but I think they're worth repeating.

So when are we going to be moving? Well, that will depend on the weather to a large degree. My contract at Oudenbosch expires at the end of March, so we'll need to have left by then. It's a trip of around 170 kilometres (I think), so it'll take us a few days. From Rotterdam to Oudenbosch was 85 Kilometres and it took us two full days, so that'll be four given good conditions. The days will also be a little longer in March, which will give us a bit more advantage, but whatever the case, we'll be looking for a good weather window to make the trip. 

As you can imagine, these are exciting times for us as we plan the journey. However, there are also other journeys coming up this year, which I'll write more about later, so for now, allemaal, I'll wish you all a wonderful start to 2023. I sincerely hope this year brings peace (especially in the troubled and war-torn regions of the world) and positive fulfilment for you all. Until next time, have a great week!

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Wrapping it up for the year

Here we are again. It's my Christmas post and it's time to wrap up the year as well as the gifts. I won't be sorry to see the back of 2022 (where have I heard that before? Oh yes, here, last year), but then again, the upside is that we've all seen it through and are still here to bravely go where none have gone before...into 2023.

So what has this year seen?

Well, in January, we were still enjoying the novelty of having the Vereeniging in a new location. I wrote posts about the town of Oudenbosch, where she is moored and also about our visit to Roosendaal, a nearby city with an interesting waterways development. We enjoyed our explorations despite the winter weather, although we weren't able to go by boat even though we'd really hoped to do so.

An interesting feature in the waterside
at Roosendaal

Locally, February brought us a triple whammy of dreadful storms. In quick succession, we had Dudley, Eunice and Franklin, all of which inflicted considerable damage in the flatlands and had us haring around trying to prevent damage to the Vereeniging when flooding increased the levels in the river to (rope) stretching point. I've never had to paddle to my barge before, but on that occasion, we had to wade through the water to reach her and release the over-taut ropes that were causing her to list alarmingly. On an international level, it was, as we all know, the beginning of the tragedy that is the Ukraine war. I'm sure we all believed in February that it would be over by now. As usual, our optimism that peace would prevail was misplaced. 

High water on the river

March was a most peculiar month. Not only did we have our first severe frost, but we were also plagued by dust storms from the Sahara. The year was throwing more than a few weatherly tantrums. I think everyone in Europe was complaining about the red skies and sandy dust that found its way into every nook, cranny and crack, as well as onto every surface. The Vereeniging and the Hennie H both changed colour over night. And it wasn't just a one-off incident either. We had repeat performances of the Sahara sensation over the whole week. I wrote a blog about it here.

In April, I finally managed to visit my family for the first time since Covid struck us. I hadn't been to the UK since December 2019, so it was a real joy to fly to England without being subjected to restrictions. Although I stayed with my sister, our family reunion took place at the beautiful village of Lechlade on Thames where we had lunch overlooking the river and enjoyed a glorious walk along the narrowboat-lined banks. The trip was definitely one of the highlights of my year. Later in the month, we had the Hennie H lifted out and inspected; much to our relief, she passed with flying colours.

The following month of May was one of mixed blessings, or should I say curses? On the upside, the weather was beautiful and I had the pleasure of exploring the gorgeous city of Middelburg with my daughter in hot sunshine. The city was at its best with the trees in full leaf and bloom. The downside was  our increasing awareness that we had a serious problem with the Hennie H's engine, a problem that reared its head when we came back from our inspection and that was to persist until July.



Looking back through my blogs, I notice I didn't post much in June, mainly because I was very busy with work, but the first post I wrote focused on the fun we experienced when the bridge over the canal at Sas van Gent was closed for maintenance, the fun part being that we had to take a ferry across. For more than a week, I made a point of going to Sas every day just so I could enjoy a daily boat trip while we were stuck in harbour with the engine problem. 

The ferry with cyclists boarding

During June, Koos also took a break to make a trip to Hungary, a short and much needed holiday. Then, following his return, most of July was spent testing the Hennie H's engine, which continued to give us problems until eventually, the company that sold it to us supplied us with an electric fuel pump, which, thankfully, solved the problem. However, as they say, when one door opens, another closes. We approached the end of the month full of optimism that we would be off on holiday within a week, but the fates had other ideas for us.

In the last week of July, Koos started getting pain in his arms, an alarming signal we both knew well. This meant his heart was acting up, or at least the blood wasn't circulating through his heart properly. He'd had two previous attacks like this, both of which resulted in surgery to insert stents. Sadly, this was a repeat performance, but it took some time and three ambulance calls to persuade the medics that it was serious. This was the post I wrote about it after a week of constant to'ing and fro'ing to doctors and hospitals.

Eventually, though, he and we were fit to go and go we did. We had the most wonderful month faring  through Belgium and northern France making magical memories again. I wasn't able to blog while we were away, so all my travel blogs were written in September and October. You can find them here, herehere and here.

The most peaceful of French canals at Tupigny

Going through the Historic lifts at La Louvière

We were back in our home port of Sas van Gent on September the 10th, however. This urgency was because we had another lift out organised; this time with the Vereeniging, which was also being inspected. Again, much to our relief, she passed and we enjoyed a lovely short cruise to and from the yard. I blogged about this in October as well.

October itself saw my return to work and routine life. We cat sat for a week for my daughter and enjoyed having furry friends in the house again. I also spent time doing up some old kists (blanket chests), which is something I have always enjoyed. Both cats and kists are in this post.

So that brings me up to November, a special month that had me taking a trip to Leiden to see the older of my two daughters graduate, an event that resulted in two blog posts: one about the graduation ceremony and the other about the city of Leiden, a beautiful and ancient seat of learning.

And now, here we are in December. To even the balance, my last post was about my other daughter's achievements as a karter, a sport she has embraced since being here in the Netherlands. However, something I haven't written about this year has been the two very sad losses we've had in the family. Both girls lost their beloved dogs to sudden and fatal illnesses, neither of which can be explained. They were devastated and I too was deeply saddened about losing my beloved grandpups, Charlie and Luna. They were such important members of our family.

But now Mo has a new spaniel puppy who is doing his best to fill the space. The delightful Mack has joined their household, and last weekend, Koos and I puppy-sat for Mo and her boyfriend while they attended a previously arranged commitment. He was an absolute delight; so sweet and so affectionate. An adorable bundle of wiggling, piddling joy 😊

Needless to say, he will also be joining us this weekend at the crumbly cottage and will be very welcome. It seems fitting that the new year will begin with such a charming addition to our lives.

Welcome to little Mack

So to end this endless post, allemaal, here's wishing you all a lovely festive season, a blessed Christmas (if you celebrate it) and a peaceful and positive new year. Look after yourselves and I'll see you in 2023.