Sunday, February 25, 2018

An afternoon in Ghent: my favourite of all cities

The news from here hasn't changed much in the past week. It's still bitterly cold, but we are fortunate that the sun is shining and that makes a tremendous difference to life. Still, going out for walks, which is something I like to do routinely, is quite an exercise in resolve because of said cold.

Today, then, we decided to make the incentive greater by going to Ghent for the afternoon. With so much lovely sunshine and the beautiful, almost bleached look that everything acquires in this kind of weather, Ghent was going to be even more appealing...and it didn't disappoint us at all. I'll keep it brief this week and let the photos speak for themselves. Needless to say, we walked along the Leie as it winds its way through the city, a route we've done so many times by boat. It is such a lovely city; I never tire of being there.

The old lock through which we normally arrive in Ghent

We've been along here by boat a few times now

Looking down on barges we've fared alongside

This was someone's bike once. It's clearly been
fished out of the water and left to dry.

Walking a route we cannot do by boat as there is a lock
that has been closed off

Looking back at the bridge

I love the shabby chic of these old houses

This waterway is alive with boats in the summer

A waffle cart in the city

Dreaming spires on an icy cold afternoon

Even in winter, the banks of the river are alive with people.
Note the renovations in progress. I'm glad to see the old
buildings being maintained

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Rotterdam's lively library: a lesson in how to keep libraries alive!

As you might expect (me being bookish and all) I am a member of Rotterdam's central library. There are many branch libraries in the city, but the main branch is my local simply because my barge lies just a couple of hundred metres from its entrance. But you know what? even if I didn't like reading, I would go to the library just to be there. It is possibly the most invigorating place in the whole city, and I mean that.

Founded in 1604,  Rotterdam Biblioteek is a community hub like no other. According to Wikipedia, it's one of the largest libraries in the country and it's the most visited cultural institution in Rotterdam boasting around 2.5 million visitors every year. That's really something, isn't it? But it doesn't surprise me at all.

Courtesy of the library's website

This last week, I had a moment when it really struck me what a special place it is.

You see, far from being a quiet and restful, Rotterdam library is a lively, busy, noisy and intensely active place. Not what you'd expect, is it? It's also quite huge, so if you really want to find a peaceful corner to pore over books or do some research, you have to make your way up to the top floors (there are seven) and find a desk or table where all is still and hushed. But even there, it's normally pretty packed with students and quite difficult to find space. It's a favourite place for the young and learned to go and work, so empty spots are at a premium.

This aside, there are plenty of other reasons to visit the library and whenever I go through its revolving door, I feel an energy that you wouldn't normally expect from a place full of books.

On the ground floor, apart from a busy information desk, there's always an exhibition of some kind on display. Last week, it was on photos from Aruba and Kazakhstan. There was also a big screen where the olympic skating was being shown and benches were arranged for anyone who wanted to sit and watch. There were plenty of takers.

On a more permanent basis, there is a huge walk through chess game, also with benches around it. This is where you can usually find a number of elderly gents parked while they watch the game in progress. It's played with giant chess pieces that are shuffled across the floor from square to square. The 'board' is made up of black and white floor tiles and it's always in use. Always, yes. Next to it, there's a café, which is where I often meet prospective students. The whole ground floor has such a vibrancy about it it's just a lovely place to be.

Upstairs, each level has a different focus: the first is devoted to media and information. There are large, lecturn-shaped tables with reading lamps where anyone can go and read the newspapers available. Last week, I was just one of a number of – shall we say – mature ladies and gents occupying these spots. Then there are the books but of course these are categorised and spread over the various floors, along with other media such as music, film and other audio. As an information centre, it really has no equal.

Right at the top of the building, there are small rooms that you can hire as a study space and even sound proofed rooms with pianos for musicians who want a private place to practice. There are also meeting rooms for hire for small groups. If you're a library member, meaning that you've paid a subscription, the individual rooms are free, but I should say anyone can use the library, spend time in it, browse through the books and read there. No one is at the door to check you have paid. It's just that if you want to borrow books, or use the internet or other facilities, a subscription is needed. I'm pretty sure there are plenty of visitors who only go there to enjoy the community feeling without feeling obliged to fork out for membership.

Rotterdam has shown how important a library is to the community and ours is such an example. I absolutely love it and often spend time there between lessons, it's such a stimulating place to be. The council have managed to make sure it's still an appealing place to go and it is extremely well run. I can definitely recommend it as a place to visit too. The building is fascinating quite apart from anything else, with its bright, yellow exterior pipe work. It's just one of those off the wall designs for which this city is so well known.

The library to the left of the Pencil building from the Markthal

The library from the Markthal

Well that's it for me this week. Have a good weekend allemaal and I'd love to know if you have a special library. Do you think you'd like to have one that's as busy as ours, for example? What makes a library special for you?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

February freeze

It's been absolutely freezing this week, which has made me even more determined to find a place to winter in the warmth next year. I'm going to have to tighten a few belts, though, because that kind of luxury isn't going to come cheap. For one thing, it's a busy time of year for me work wise, so I'll be foregoing some courses that I know are good earners, and secondly, renting a property for six weeks or so might be pretty pricey. Does anyone know anyone who knows someone who might know someone else who would have somewhere I can rent? Cheap. Haha!

Well, anyway, it's in my scheme of things to make life easier and more pleasant for the remaining five years that I have still to work. Yes, still five years to go. That's the result of the increased retirement age here. Such is life.

Anyway, in the nearer future, we have a few things to look forward to and I am clinging on to these metaphorical pieces of driftwood to keep me going.

Spain...where I'm going in April!

The first is a trip to Spain to visit a friend in April. I visited her last year, and also discovered another former teaching friend from Rotterdam lives close by, so I'm hoping to see her too. It is a lovely area south of Valencia and inland from the sea. I loved it and although it's not quite warm enough for my winter plans, it would be a good contender otherwise.

The historic boat lift at Thieu near La Louviere

The second is a boating trip. In May, we are taking the the Hennie H to Belgium and going to the famous boat lifts at La Louviere and also to the really monster 72 metre one at Strépy Thieu. I am so excited about this I can barely wait and would love to just hibernate between these two trips so I can get this cold spell over and just go. The ascent of these lifts in our own boat has been on my wish list for years. I hitched a lift (excuse the pun) on the historic ascenseur on someone else's barge a few years ago, but I've never been up the monster at all. I'm so glad I haven't lost my ability to be awed by these things.

The seventy two metre lift at Strépy

And another view of it. This section on the right is the
upper canal. Now imagine starting at the bottom of
the building and ending up cruising along this top part!

As for the current situation, my group of Syrians are doing well, although we've hit a bit of a motivation plateau. I can't say I'm surprised as this time of year gets to most of us and I can only imagine what it's like for them being so far from their loved ones. I am aware some of them are really homesick, so it's quite sad and I really feel for them. I only hope I am helping them with some light and laughter during the lessons.

In other news, you may have noticed I've published a new book. African Ways Again slipped onto Kindle at the end of January, so I'll need to add a page about it here, but for now, I hope you don't mind if I shamelessly put the link below to the preview. Thanks a million, allemaal, and have a great week!

Monday, February 05, 2018

Terry Tyler Book Reviews: AFRICAN WAYS AGAIN by Valerie Poore @vallypee

I’m over the moon with this review of my new book. Many, many thanks to Terry Tyler!

Terry Tyler Book Reviews: AFRICAN WAYS AGAIN by Valerie Poore @vallypee: 4.5 out of 5 stars On Amazon UK On On Goodreads How I discovered this book : I've read all or nearly all Val Poore&#3...

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Dreaming of the sun

As most of you know by know, (and if you don't, you will) I don't like the cold; nor do I like the wind, and I especially don't like the rain.

So why, might you ask, am I living in the wettest, windiest country in Europe? Okay, maybe Britain beats the Netherlands when it comes to extremes, but we've had our share lately, haven't we? Which brings me to my next point and that is an idea that is germinating in my soul about spending winter somewhere else.

At the moment, it's just a dream, but it's one I'd like to try and realise. No, it's more than that. I'm determined to realise it one day because I really don't think I can endure too many more of these northern European Januaries. Actually, perhaps I should rephrase that. What I mean is that Koos won't be able to endure me if I have to...well, you get my drift.

So where would I like to go for the winter? I'm thinking of the Spanish/Portuguese border area. That looks a pretty nice place to dream about. There's a river, see. It's called the Guadiana and it is navigable for quite some distance upstream from its mouth at Vila Real de San Antonio and there's a very pretty town where the boats stop at Alcoutim. The river is also the border between Spain and Portugal for quite some way as well. I like what I see of it. I like it a lot, and I could imagine spending winter months there very easily. I could also see us spuddling about on that river too.

Sanlucar (on the Spanish side) and Alcoutim on the opposite
Portuguese (photo courtesy of Rightmove Real Estate)
Faro airport is not so far there seem to be plenty of practical advantages to this dream of mine, don't you think?

Marina on the Guadiana
at Sanlucar (again courtesy of Rightmove)

There's even a train that runs along the coast from the mouth of the river. I think it goes all the way to Lagos. I've been on the stretch from Faro to Tavira on the same line and it was lovely; delightfully informal and hopelessly late, but who cares? There is something warm, relaxed and very friendly about that part of Portugal. The eastern Algarve is not very picturesque, its scenery is a bit sparse and some of the towns are quite shabby, but it has great winter temperature, friendly locals and the kind of informality that I like.

The station at Faro
So you see my dreams have some form, even if they have little chance of early fruition. I can scheme, though, can't I?

Where do you dream of spending the winter months, allemaal? I'd be interested to know.