Sunday, October 25, 2009

Water taxis are wicked!

Today was Mo's birthday, so of course we stayed in Rotterdam instead of heading south as is our wont. What to do on such a day, though? We thought of taking the Vereeniging out for a spuddle about, but the weather looked so unsettled this morning, and it was pretty breezy anyway, so we decided against it.

After collecting Mo and Craig from the Marion Aagje (their own ship) in Diemen, Jodie and Baz came to join us and that was when I had a brainwave. Why not all of us go to Dordrecht on the Fast Ferry and have tea? Well, after thinking of how long that would take, it got scaled down to taking the water taxi across the river to the Hotel New York. This of course is even more fun, because these small boats toss around on the river like corks, and the ride, although short, is brilliant.

The Hotel New York is also quite special because it's where the big cruisers used to leave for America (the old Amerika Line), and it still retains much of its old world decor and charm. This, then, is what we did, and the river gave us a grand crossing. It was very choppy so the taxi plunged in and out of the waves and the bows got well sprayed. Fortunately, being inside, we didn't get wet, but it was quite exciting all the same. The tea was also good and after stuffing ourselves to the gills, we worked off the cream cakes by walking back over the bridge and home to the harbour.

The day finished with supper and a great game whose name I can't remember, but it involves firstly describing, then acting out and finally giving one word to sum up the names of famous people which are written on small pieces of paper. I'm not normally much of a one for games, but this was really good, and quite a challenge too. It was something Mo came up with, which didn't surprise me as she's always enjoyed puzzles and puns, and I remember when she was small, we used to do endless quizzes in the car on long journeys.

The photos here are just a couple I took in the Water Taxi, but this little movie really shows what fun it was, despite the oh so cool attitude of the 'driver'!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ready? Almost!

Well, this is the temporary cover for The Skipper's Child. I'm having a copy printed at just to check it through, read it again and see if I want to have a go at some publishers.

As you can see, the name hasn't changed. I had quite a bit of feedback on Facebook, and the general concensus was that the title was just fine as it was. Who am I to argue then? I'd love to have some illustrations done and a pen and ink drawing on the cover, but that will have to wait. For now, I just want to read it like a proper book.

I've done a fair amount of editing since I finished the story, but sometimes, you just have to read something in print to know if you're going to be happy with it. I had four or five versions of my other two books before finally letting them out into the big wide world of Amazon and Bol. By that time I was heartily sick of them both, and it's only recently that I've been able to pick up either of them again. No doubt, Arie will suffer the same fate, but I hope the first time I receive a printed copy, it will feel good!

I'll keep you posted....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Florence and Lucca

The Cathedral in Florence. Quite incrediblly ornate

The skyline of Florence from the Palazzo Pitti

Okay, so before I put Italy back in its box of sunshine and accept the fact that its autumn here in the Netherlands and distinctly chilly, I'll just post a few pics of Florence and Lucca.

I was quite overwhelmed by Florence with its phenomenal art and history. Every street seems to have some great church, museum, gallery, palazzo or historic piazza, and I spent three hours in just one of them. There is so much to see, you could spend a month there and not get round to everything. Maybe there's even too much altogether.

Two views of the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio

The day I went, there were wall-to-wall tourists because the museums and galleries were all free (for the weekend) - just my luck! It didn't help me though because I couldn't get in to the places I wanted to see at first and I ended up at the Palazzo Pitti, which is more of a walk from the centre, but worth every step. What a wealth of paintings and sculptures they had there! To see Titians, Del Sartos and Raphaels that I have only ever seen in books was quite amazing, and the Roman sculptures on display were..well..quite breathtaking.

The highlight, though, was going down a backstreet and into a beautiful church where three young musicians were practising. Maybe I've mentioned this before, but it was so lovely to listen to the organ, flute and clarinet of these three youngsters being played with so much love and joy in such heavenly (Yes, I mean it) surroundings.

The following day I went to Lucca, which is also very beautiful. Surrounded by high fortifications and with its narrow medieval streets leading to the old Roman amphitheatre, now a market place, it is a history lovers dream. The cathedral is magnificent as is the old baptistry with its archaeological ruins on display beneath the main aisles of the church. I thought of Maria when I went there!

When I arrived I had to buy a ticket to go in and see the ruins. I always head for archaeological sites when I know they are there as this was originally my career choice back in my student days. The ladies at the desk asked me where I'd come from, so I told them I'd come from Holland. Looking very crestfallen, they said they had information about the ruins, but only in German, French and English. Would English be alright for me? I answered yes, of course, with suitable seriousness and thanked them kindly before walking away chuckling. As it happened, it wasn't much use as the English was so incomprehensible, I couldn't follow the information easily at all, but it was kind of them to offer, wasn't it? Maybe they'll organise some Dutch leaflets for next year. I wonder what they'll be like...

Anyhow, I explored the rest of the town and liked it very much. It's a bit too touristy -again- for me, which is why in the end I preferred Pisa, but it's well worth a visit.

The medieval streets and Piazza's of Lucca are beautiful

One thing I should say about Italy is that the trains are fantastic - cheap, frequent and everything is in both Italian and English, including all the announcements. Given this, I'm still very surprised at how little English the Italians themselves speak.

One part of the old amphitheatre in Lucca

Well, I think I've done with the Italian blogs now...get back to reality again, VallyP. That Tuscan sun is now just a memory.

Friday, October 16, 2009


With my current taste for novels of a quirky and slightly odd flavour, I've just finished reading a great piece of nonsense fiction by New Zealand author Sarah Kate Lynch. It's called Eating with the Angels and much of it is set in Venice. It's written with tremendous flare, considerable wackiness and quite a passion for Italian food, so of course it reminded me of my own recent visit to that wonderful country.

I have just looked through the photos I published of Pisa, and see I never added the other places I visited. Seeing the sea was mandatory on this trip, so one afternoon, I took myself off to Livorno. A nice enough town, and much larger than Pisa, it exists mainly for its port, which is the third largest in Italy - so I'm told.

Its best feature is its harbour, and what is even better is that the river through the town is also used for mooring thousands of small cruisers, fishing boats and even just rowing boats. I never think of Italians as being great boaters themselves. Having romantic trips in gondolas is one thing, but steering themselves around instead of chowing scrummy delicacies on a sun drenched terrace does not seem to me to tie in with the Italian thing. I must be wrong though. There were throngs of them (boats, I mean, not Italians). I must admit, however, they (the boats again) were all in the harbours and NOT out on the water, so on this occasion, I guess the terraces won!

Now the autumn rain is soaking us every time we set foot outside, these photos help me to remember those golden days. I hope they bring a little sunshine to you too - if you should need it, that is.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Finally No, almost, finished

A red letter day today! I've finally finished writing the Skipper's Child story!

Now I have to print it and edit it, prune it here and flesh it out there, give it to my daughters to read and edit (my best and worse critics), and then hopefully print off a few copies before Christmas. I will also then start sending it to a few publishers to see if I can get any positive response.

There is one point I need help with, though. I want a different title. The Skipper's Child was just a working title, so if anyone would like to help me by suggesting one, I'd be very grateful indeed!

Many many thanks to String, Anne Marie, Koos and Hans, who have all been the inspiration that has kept me going with this tale. Also, to those readers who have had to leave it in its progress - probably because it's taken me so long to write it, they've all found other priorities along the way! Thanks anyway to Margie (where are you?) CM and to Mo and Jo who have given me lots of comments and great support as well.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

More about Pisa

As promised here is the link to a set of photos of Pisa.

I have to say the town was quite a surprise for me. It's much smaller than I expected, and while it has more of the atmosphere of real Italy than Florence, it also reminded me quite forcibly of Holland. This was mainly because I found myself in serious danger of being mown down by speeding students on bicycles. Amazing! They were everywhere (the bikes, that is) from packs and racks of tens and twenties to abandoned solitary frames with all but the baskets stripped off them. As often as not, these were being used as substitutes for rubbish bins as well.

The students were everywhere too, giving the town a vibrancy and life that I found lacking in Florence, Livorno and Lucca. Pisa's larger neighbours focus so much on tourism that they seem to have lost their soul. I was therefore very happy to spend some extra time in this place of the absurdly leaning tower.

It is everything I associate with Italy - a bit scruffy, a bit smelly, but so incredibly charming with its golden building, lazy old river and secret alleyways. There are small markets in tatty piazzas; nearly every street has a university faculty housed in it somewhere, and the paint seems unable to stay on the walls of the buildings. I really loved it.

My main impressions were of clattering noise, sparrows in every tree, golden light, early dusks, pigeons on every ledge (with whatever was below them suitably soiled), the smells of heat and the feeling of being somewhere very old and experienced. If I had the chance to live somewhere in Italy, Pisa would definitely be high on the wish list.