Monday, April 22, 2013

Cruising in another dimension

Last week I was cruising both down and upstream on the River Guadalquivir. You may well wonder where that is, and if I'm truthful, I had never heard the name before I went there. Geography was never my strong point at school, and the only rivers I ever really cottoned on to were the really big ones. You know, the Thames, the Avon, the Ouse…okay, I'll admit it, the English ones. About other rivers, I might have given you the Seine, maybe the Nile, and perhaps the Amazon, but not much more than that.

It's living on a boat that's done it. Now I know more rivers than you can point a stick at and probably know my way across Europe by water better than by car. No kidding!

I think that is the Puente de la Cartuja in the distance

Anyhow, the Gudalquivir is the river that runs through Seville in Spain and has its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean. It is wide and lovely as it passes through the city, but sadly, you cannot get much further north than Seville because they've built a dam across it, probably to prevent flooding. There is also a canalised stretch that reaches round the city and which is probably there for the same reason.

Even so, you can hire boats or take a boat trip up and down the river, so as I happened to be in the neighbourhood last week, or as Christina James might say, I found myself in Seville, I decided the boat trip was a must, and very very agreeable it was too.
Going downstream from the town centre

Back upstream and the Puente de Triana is in sight

The Puente de Triana with its beautiful ironwork
We started off at a jetty in the middle of town almost opposite the Bullring (which I would prefer not to acknowledge, but which is rather a beautiful building). The boat then cruised downstream for about a kilometre before turning and taking us upstream to the northern most reaches of the city. We passed under some lovely bridges, one of which is the Puente de Triana, the oldest and most elegant in Seville, originally called the Isabel II bridge. Another is one that is mentioned in the Guiness Book of records for having the longest unsupported span. It's not particularly beautiful, but it is remarkable. It is called, romantically, the Puente de la Cartuja. The third and most familiar bridge to me is the Puente del Alamillo designed by Santiago Calatrava. It looks very much like the Erasmus Bridge here in Rotterdam and in fact, Calatrava designed another bridge here in the Netherlands of a similar style.

Apart from the bridges, we had a wonderful view of many of the sites for which Seville is famous and I learnt a good deal of the very noble history of the city into the bargain. Did you know that three Roman emperors came from Sevilla? I didn't! One of them was Trajan. It's so odd as I always think that Roman emperors must have been Italian, but it seems they were much more international in those days than I gave them credit for.

On a purely selfish note, the weather was just gorgeous - up in the thirties and wall to wall sunshine. It was just what I needed and had ordered. An added bonus was witnessing the first days of the famous Feria de Abril where Sevillians dress in their finest and ride their most elegant mounts around the city before drinking and partying the night away for six full days. Now I'm back in a chilly, but sunny Netherlands with a heavy cold and a temperature. Ah well, it was great to feel the sun on my skin and to be out on the water again. Simple pleasures are what it takes and the water is always a pleasure.

This bridge used to open for water traffic, but does no more

Attractive waterside buildings

The river traffic control tower

The Puente del Alamillo

The trip boat with my partner in travel

Friday, April 12, 2013

The beast that bears the beauty

Aren't these just beautiful? I think they are too lovely and I would give a lot to have a collection of this charming British canal art on my barge. Unfortunately, it wouldn't really go - my barge being Dutch and authentic (meaning, according to our harbour authorities, no infiltration of narrowboat features, thank you very much!) - added to which, it would probably all fall off given that I have no neat side rails to hold stuff in place on our somewhat choppier waters. I can just imagine launching myself after a set of painted teapots as they lurch overboard into the drink...canal performing art...

Nevertheless, I feel the need to say something about them here as these works of canal art are produced and sold by a very good friend of mine, Jan Nichols. She and her husband have a narrowboat and cruise continuously on the English waterways. It's a pity I can't give you a location as they'd be there today and yes..well.. gone tomorrow.

Still, Jan is beginning to get known on the circuit, so if you're doing a cruise or a walk along the canals one of these days and you see the Beast Carrying sign out, knock on the window and ask to see some of Jan's lovely wares.

Oh and yes, don't forget! Most importantly...give her a big hug from me and tell her I miss her.

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Reality Blog Award

Warm, witty, funny and above all spunky. That's how I think of Jo Carroll. She has become a true blog pal so I was just as truly honoured when my blog was one she nominated in The Reality Blog Award. Luckily, I just have to answer some questions, but they are quite challenging and really got me thinking, so...first the picture and then the answers:

This picture certainly describes many of my blogging friends, so let me see if I can come up with something to do justice to this idea and then pass on the baton to some of the others:

1.  If you could change one thing what would it be?  

All forms of racial prejudice. I know that's fairly broad, but as I teach in a very international environment, I come across it from the most unexpected sources at times. Apparently DNA archaeology has pretty much proved that we are all originally from the same stock, so no one really has a reason to see other races as different other than culturally - and cultural differences are surely to be celebrated.

2.   If you could repeat an age what would it be?

Jo said her choice was the sixties, but I can pinpoint mine to a single year. For some reason, I loved being 22. Maybe that was when I felt I became my own person rather than simply my parent's daughter.

3.  What one thing really scares you?

Oh dear, there are too many of them really. I'm the worst 'what if' worrier in the world and I anticipate disaster round every bend in the river, but, and you're going to find this curious from a boat dweller, I'm really scared of drowning. Luckily, I can swim - I made sure of that very early on!

4.   If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be?

I've never wanted to be anyone else, but let me think now. Whose shoes would I like to walk in for a day? Maybe Alison Krauss the singer. Firstly, I love her voice, and secondly, she's a brilliant fiddler. I'd love to know what it's like to be able to play the violin with such ease and dexterity instead of making the horrible squawking noises that come out of mine when I try.

Okay, so now it's my turn to nominate some of my favourite bloggers. It might be hard to find some who haven't been nominated yet, as there are so many worthy ones, so I'll branch out and suggest the following:

Fran of Bonnie of Clyde

Carol of Carol Hedges although I suspect she might well have been nominated already

Christina of Christina James

Thanks again, Jo, this was fun.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The joys of an open steering position

The Vereeniging on the day we arrived next to the Hoop in the Oude Haven

Back in 2001 when I bought the Vereeniging, I didn't really stop to think of much at all other than the fact that I wanted this barge. It had meant a great deal to find a boat that was so very much me. Firstly was its name - the Vereeniging, spelt with a double 'e' and not the single 'e' used for the word 'society' here. As many of you know, I lived in South Africa for much of my life and the town of Vereeniging (with a double 'e') to the south of Johannesburg, was a favourite with me. It seemed just right that the barge I'd fallen in love with from a photo should have such a special and familiar name and one which I associated with calm tranquillity and the warm sunshine of my former adopted country.

There were of course other bonuses to Vereeniging, the barge. It wasn't too long (19,8 metres), it wasn't too wide (3,2 metres), and it was low and sleek, meaning I could creep into places other more muscular, barges could not follow. In fact, with the charm of its ancient engine (a single cylinder hot bulb installed in 1921) and its old fashioned good looks, there was not much that could have dissuaded me from making the offer. Which I did. There and then.

Still, before I bought the Vereeniging, I'd had something of a checklist of requirements. The length and overall size checked out perfectly, but one thing I'd wanted very much was a nice, cosy wheelhouse. My early days as a resident of the Oude Haven were punctuated by spells of sitting in the wheelhouse on the Hoop, the barge I was renting from my friend, Philip. I'd sit there next to the upside down toilet (which never found its intended position and aim in life) and watch the ducks while I drank endless cups of coffee. The dogs also liked sitting there and watching Sea TV (okay, it's a river, but they didn't know that). The cast of characters never changed much: Mr and Mrs Mallard and their hundred and plenty offspring, varied occasionally by the Cantankerous Coots, hustlers of local notoriety and now and then Ma and Pa Swan whose main line seemed to be 'Give us a snack' in varying tones of aggression. At least it wasn't too challenging a script as they never seemed to forget what they had to say. Anyhow, it was really great to sit there and I was determined that any barge I bought should have a wheelhouse for sitting in too.

Well of course I forgot this completely the moment I saw the Vereeniging. It had everything I wanted, that is, barring two rather important features: firstly it was totally empty. A shell with a rotten wooden floor and only rusting iron for walls, so zero accommodation. Secondly, it had no wheelhouse. Still, I reasoned, the price was good, and I couldn't afford the Hoop anyway, so the selection committee was down to beggars, and we all know about them.

My first reminder of what I'd so conveniently overlooked was our maiden voyage from Grave (pronounced a gutterel Hraava in case you had other ideas) near Nijmegen in the east of the Netherlands. It was December, 2001 and we had a journey of some 120 kilometres to make. The day was arctic with winds that slashed at us in icy shards. And there we stood - at our open steering position, exposed to it all. Oh joy!

There is a an article here published by the tugboat owner who assisted us on this trip, and he took this photo of me looking clearly huddled and miserable (yes I did have dark hair in those days, but not naturally even then). It was an exciting journey for all sorts of other reasons (to be found in Watery Ways, the book), but it was also an extremely cold one.

While I have never regretted buying the Vereeniging, I still think wistfully of the Hoop's lovely wheelhouse and often scheme about how to add one to my little barge. Sadly, I have been through all the possibilities mentally and on paper, and it would not work. More importantly, it would look so out of keeping, it is not even thinkable really, but still I dream. To be confined to travelling in the warmer months in this part of the world is somewhat limiting to say the least, so if anyone has any bright ideas, feel free to send in your plans! I want something like this (see the Hoop below). What do you think?

The Hoop as it was when I  was Philip's tenant.

Sindy on the hatchboards as a youngster