Saturday, January 25, 2014

A place of rest for the royalty of the rail tracks.

An old steamer resting in the African sun

This post is again a departure from my usual watery ways and looks back to my previous life in South Africa. I was reminded by the lovely Lynn Moorhouse of the wonders of steam train travel. Her recent blog is a beautifully evocative account of train journeys she has experienced on steam trains in both Africa and India, and she weaves this account around photos she has taken in both countries alongside quotes from her captivating novel, Aunt Coco and the Marionette Man (also set mainly in South Africa). I am reading her book at the moment and am completely immersed in the images, scents and atmosphere of South Africa again. It is a very special book.

On sidings for all the world as if they could belch out the steam
and  rumble into life again

Anyhow, back to the trains. When I lived in Krugersdorp, a town on the outskirts of Johannesburg, we were very close to the steam train graveyard and it was a place we visited a number of times. The last time was in 2006 when I took Koos there. He was equally smitten and saddened by this haunting place, for it is where hundreds of old and magnificent steam trains have been put to rest.

Their graveyard is mostly well maintained these days
We both took a heap of photos. Now I look at mine, I see flaws in the photos themselves, but even so, they are a fond reminder of a place I loved to wander round. It sparked my own imagination about stories of travel in the days when children used to spend several days on the school train from northern Zambia to Queenstown in South Africa at the beginning and end of each term. Back in the fifties and sixties and probably even before, children living in Zambia or Zimbabwe were often sent to boarding school in South Africa. The train took around five days in total, and friendships - often for life - were made on these journeys.

But this is the state of the train's maintenance - a rainbow
of rust

There are probably more than a hundred of them in this
highveld plain

Now when I see these wonderful stately old hulks lying at rest in the African highveld sun, I wonder what dreams and ambitions they have witnessed in the making. If they could only talk…

The photos above and below are most of those that I took on our last visit. For those of you who love old steamers, I hope you enjoy them.

Even old carriages are rested up here

The driver's cab. I wonder who was the last to sit here

What power these engines had - all those wheels to drive

Koos doing what Koos has always loved best

As if they had a future

How many dreams and ambitions have been formed in
these old carriages here,

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Spoil yourself coffee - Verwen Koffie

The day job and the studies are keeping me very busy at the moment, so I don't have much time to post, blog, share, FB or tweet. All the same, there's something I've been wanting to blog about for ages, so I thought I'd do a quick post to show the flag.

Have you ever heard of spoil yourself coffee? If you've been to Belgium, you will have, but not otherwise, I suspect. It's something you can get at any café in Flanders, but I've never seen it anywhere else. It's called Verwen Koffie and it really is a treat.

If you order it, you get a little tray with a cup of black coffee, a biscuit and either a bowl or a small glass filled with Advocaat and topped with a scoop of ice cream and whipped cream. The combination is just divine and feels like truly sinful luxury. Amazingly, it's not very expensive (depending on where you go of course), but in Zelzate just across the Belgian border, we indulge in this heavenly concoction for a mere €2,50 each - which I think is pretty reasonable. Last time we went, Koos took a photo of his, so here it is:

The empty space on the little tray had another mini delight. A small chocolate wafer 'bowl' that was also filled with advocaat, but I think he must have eaten that before taking the photo. Looks good doesn't it? We've become quite conoisseurs of this unique regional speciality, and so far, the café where we imbibed or rather munched into this delicious sample has turned out to be both the best and the cheapest - what joy it is so close to our weekend getaway!

Enjoy the rest of your week, one and all and I'll be back soon with more news of watery ways during these watery days.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

From Zeeland to Cambrai

We are very fortunate in where we live. The Netherlands is a small country and we are in the south, so it takes us very little time to cross a border or two and be in a different European country. Most of the time we confine ourselves to Belgium for day trips out, but every couple of months, we go to France, or sometimes to Germany. 

I was looking through the photos on my little pocket camera the other day and found a bunch that I'd forgotten about. They were taken on one of these days out we took, and this one was a trip just before Christmas when we went to Cambrai for the day.

For those who don't know it, Cambrai is a very charming town in northern France, quite famous historically for being the centre of the League of Cambrai during the sixteenth century, and in the twentieth century for one of World War 1's battles. These days, it maintains grace and charm, but is neither very big nor very important - except to us that is - for it is on a serious waterway route into France and is just one of those places Koos and I like to go to boat watch.

Zeeland Brug - 5kms long

 From Zeeland, where we spend most weekends (see the great Zeeland bridge above), it takes about two hours to drive to Cambrai. This is very do-able and an easy, pleasant trip. One of its main attractions is the restaurant on the canal side called the Jolly Sailor. This appealing hostelry is run by an Englishman and Frenchman partnership who own a lovely old Dutch barge that they keep moored up in the canal just outside the restaurant. David, the English partner, is an accomplished pianist and singer and loves to entertain the guests during their busy lunch times. Alain, the French side, runs the show, keeps the customers happy and is equally convivial and entertaining in his own way.

Alain from the Jolly Sailor and Koos

We love going there even though we rarely eat much, but it feels like such an occasion. Since we can also finish off with a lovely walk along the canal, there is nothing much more that can make us content. Below are some of the photos I took on our last visit when the sun was shining and the reflections on the water were particularly vivid. Just one of those special days that live on in the senses and sentiments.

Road and Rail bridges over the canal

Canalside walls are always covered in graffiti

A very 'des res'

Reflections are always appealing

I love roofscapes like this

Monday, January 06, 2014

The Hoop from my book Watery Ways: what it was really like (very cramped indeed!)

In the last few weeks, I've had two lovely reviews on my book Watery Ways, which really focused on my life as a tenant of The Hoop, the beautiful barge owned by our friend Philip (the teeth). In the next month or two, I'll probably be publishing Harbour Ways, which is the story of my own barge, the Vereeniging, and how I converted it to a live aboard home. Before that happens, though, I thought those of you who have read Watery Ways might like to see the tiny space I called home for a year and a half.

I moved on board in January 2001 and moved off in late August 2002. When I bought the Vereeniging in December 2001, it was in no state to live on (being an empty hull), and so I stayed on the Hoop until I had at least a floor and a bed on my own barge. I adored the Hoop, and really wanted to make my own home as close in style to it as possible. The pictures below are of the interior of the roef, the space in which I lived. I've also added a photo of the exterior of the wheelhouse and the whole barge. The ruim or the hold, as we call it in English, was unconverted on the Hoop when I lived on it. These days it has been fully restored, converted and, in some ways, improved beyond repair. The new owners wanted to replace rather than restore the old fittings - their barge, their choice, but it wouldn't have been mine.

My photos are very bad, but I hope you can get at least some impression of my living space as it was then. They are scanned from old analogue prints, and something went wrong with my flash, so I've had to crop out the bottom of each one. I've put descriptions below them just incase you can't really see it! If I find any more photos, I'll add them. I know I've got some others somewhere, but haven't been able to find them as yet.

This first image is one of the small box beds I had. If you look closely, you might see that Sindy is lying on it. I didn't even realise she was there until I upped the exposure. The other bed is identical but on the other side of the cupboard that you can just see to the right of the bed. They were built in to the shape  of the hull, so not completely rectangular. The white strip to the right of the image is the frame of the sliding door that I could close off for privacy (not that there was much need for that!)

The entrance to the roef is immediately to the right of this image and the bedroom is right on the left. As you can see, the space is pretty small. I loved these old cupboards which were built to the shape of the barge. Nothing was straight!

On the left of the fireplace here, you can just see the stairs up to the wheelhouse (the entrance). At the bottom of the stairs, there was a tiny cupboard sized space where I had my portapotti, but it had its own beautifully panelled sliding door. Note the screwed on tiles behind the old oil stove and the kettle on the stove itself. I remember Philip bringing the mirror and telling me every barge had to have its own mirror. He gave me one for the Vereeniging too. On the right is the kitchen.

Okay, everything was a squeeze! This was the kitchen. There's a bit you can't see that went behind the mantel piece of the stove and that was where I had the famous fridge with a two plate cooker on top.

Back to the bedroom. A photo of Sindy in her proper place on the floor, but you can also see that below the beds there were cupboards and drawers. Very useful! No space was wasted at all and there was a remarkable amount of storage room for such a tiny area.

And here is the wheelhouse that I loved so much and spent hours sitting in. It was also where the real toilet lived upside down on the bench. You can't see the roef so well from this angle, but it sits behind the wheelhouse. What you can see is the windows of the roef  on the barge next to the Hoop, which had a very similar accommodation area.

And finally a photo of the Hoop from the quayside. You can see my loopplank perched on the bows. This was the one I had to use to get the two big dogs (Polly and Daisy)  up and down to the quay, come rain or shine. I have photos of them too and also of Sisha, but I'm still a bit sensitive about them, so will not post them here. Maybe I'll do a post of my doggy paintings one day instead.

I had forgotten how cramped it all was and how basic. I had things crammed on every surface and I see the tiles behind the stove were quite stained. I spent hours cleaning them and in my memory everything is much brighter and shinier than it looks in these photos, but time tends to put a rosy tint on memories,  and it fades the colours in the photos (or makes everything yellow), so the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Anyway, it was a heap better than when I found it as I painted everything.

As I said, I adored it and will always remember it with love. Everyone should have their Hoop at some time. If not a boat, somewhere else they cherish as a special place in their lives.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Happy New 2014 - and off to the beach we go

Some of you will know that every year at New Year, Koos, Sindy and I go to the coast or the beach - not to swim, I hasten to add, but to have a good walk. It's probably the one time of year I really enjoy the beaches here in the Netherlands, and the only time I would rather be on one than cruising the canals (although I've done that at New Year as well). If the weather is sunny, I don't even mind the cold, and that's something I find hard to cope with on the canal.

New Years Day - yesterday - was not nice at all, so we stayed at home, but today dawned sunny with scudding clouds, so we took full advantage of this break in the stormy weather and hot footed it to the Zeeuws Vlaanderen coast. There is a spot about ten kilometres west of the town of Breskens, where we can park by a café and get to the beach from behind the car park, so we headed for this. The idea was to have our walk and then go for coffee and gebak, a typically Dutch treat consisting of strong black coffee with warm apple pie and dollops of whipped cream. When we arrived, though, the café was shut. There was a notice on the door announcing that it would be closed on the first two days of the year. Never mind, we thought, we'll go somewhere else afterwards. And so we headed up the huge sea dike to the dunes on the other side and then down onto the beach.

It was stunning. The light was perfect: brilliant sunshine contrasting with dramatic dark clouds drifting up from the south. I took my trusty and very old Leica with me - it comes to the beach every year and never disappoints me - and took some photos for the blog. The wind was strong and chilly, which it has been for days, but there were dozens of people out walking, many with their dogs. There were also horse riders and cyclists in the dunes. Altogether, a lovely mix of people just out enjoying the sun and taking some good solid exercise. I think these photos show what I mean better than I can in words without going into writing mode and waxing lyrical.

The dune path at the top of the great sea dike

A great coastal cycling route for the whole family

Koos being stalked by a collie in herding mode

Shadow play on the sand creating brilliant contrasts

Whole families out for a walk

Cold, but if the sun's shining, who cares?

Koos stalking good photo material

After our walk, we drove back a different route trying to find our Dutch treat. However, it seemed that Zeeuws Vlaanderen takes two days off for New Year, and everywhere was closed - well almost everywhere. We eventually found a small café in the town of IJzendijke which provided us with our much sought after coffee and apple pie. Since it was the only place open in the whole town, I was surprised that we were the only couple in there, but then I suppose everyone else was still on the beach. I am still getting used to the different customs in every part of this small country, but I've learnt that Zeeuws Vlaanderen is really Belgium in disguise (although never tell the Zeeuws people that) and their customs are much more catholic than those of the more calvinist northern provinces. So... only one day to get over their New Year's hangovers? Nah, they think, we'll take two…and so they do.

And the regulation New Year's pic of me on the beach with Sindy