Monday, July 27, 2020

Here and there

I'm feeling like a yoyo at the moment, bouncing up and down between Rotterdam and Zeeland. Each week since lockdown was lifted, we've been spending some time on the Vereeniging as although my work is over for the summer (it finally finished in mid July), my barge still needs attention and I've embarked on a project I almost wish I hadn't started. 

As you can see from the numerous photos below, the stern of the Vereeniging has always been painted a kind of old-fashioned olive green. Since I've had it, I've just sanded the surface every couple of years and repainted it. The snag is you can only do this for so long. The paint builds up into a kind of thick, glassy layer, but then it starts to crack, allowing water (my nemesis) to creep in underneath. Water, as you might know, is great buddies with rust and the two of them conspire to create mischief, especially in places I can't see all too easily.

As a consequence of this potentially worrying situation, and knowing I would need to investigate, I've been stripping the paintwork down to the steel beneath, but not with a machine. I've been doing it by hand with a special hardened steel paint scraper (made by Sandvik for any of you who are interested). If I could shroud the boat in a tent and have it on land, I could attack it with a rotary steel brush on an angle grinder, but I daren't do this in the Oude Haven. The paint chips and dust would not only get into the water, but also cover my neighbours' barges as well – a move not designed to engender good relations with them or, even worse, with anyone in authority.

So far, I've managed to scrape just over half of it (believe me, it's tough stuff) and to my great relief, the steel beneath is good. It's only along the edges where it meets the trim that there are rusty places. Part of me thinks I shouldn't have started because it's already taken me about ten hours to get this far, but the other part knows it's a job worth doing. At least I can be satisfied my home isn’t developing holes underneath the paint, and I can put that 'what if' scenario back in its box.

I'm committed to finishing the job now in any case, so I'll continue my yoyo trick until all the paintwork is done –  if that ever happens. 

Koos, bless him, has also been working on the engine, and for those who like the oily bits, you'll be interested to hear we now have an alternator to charge the batteries when we're on the go, thanks to his hard work. That's a big whoopee for me. 

It's not been all slave labour, though. The weather's been lovely much of the time and the photo below shows just how beautiful our harbour is on a perfect summer's day. I really do love it and I'm very happy I can still call it home.

Oude Haven in the sun

Back at the crumbly cottage, we've also been enjoying some lovely weather and wonderful rural walks (between scraping and painting on the Hennie H!). I took the photos below yesterday when we were out in the borderlands.

Not our crumbly cottage; just a very pretty house seen on our walk
This house has a vine as a creeper and I was surprised to see it had big clusters of very healthy looking grapes on it. If you open up the photo below, you might see some of them, but the leaves were doing a good job of obscuring much of the fruit. Do I smell wine in the making here? I wonder.

Close up of the creeping vine.

 I liked this old bakfiets (bike with a trailer) hiding in the leaves too. I must say I find the whole place quite idyllic. There's always a sign for honey on the gate and just along the road, there's another smallholding with goats, chickens, a pig and a couple of sheep too. Just gorgeous.

 And this is the scenery around the house. Not dramatic. Not drop-dead stunning, but its forever horizons and calm beauty are real soul food. Koos and I agreed we were very fortunate to be able to walk in such quiet, unspoilt country without having to go far for it.

I also indulged in a longish bike ride yesterday too and I snapped a couple of these photos on my route. Below is my trusty steed, which I inherited from our former neighbour, Tim, who's sold his cottage (and whom we miss). I have to say it's the best bike I've ever had, which I must be sure to tell him sometime. It seems to just roll along, and although it has three gears, I only ever use the 2nd, even to climb the long, slow hill up to the bridge where I was waiting when I took the photo below. 

So that's it, folks. Nothing of great import to report, but all the same, I'm busy enough not to have time to write a blog every week. We're still being careful here and keeping to the Corona rules. Case numbers have been rising since tourism and holiday travel opened up again, but hospitalisations aren't rising correspondingly, so I hope the situation won't escalate too much again. Fingers crossed!

Keep well allemaal, and enjoy the summer sun.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

A return to normal

I don't know quite where the time goes, but it's already two weeks since I posted a blog, and yet I'm hard put to remember what I've been doing in that time. I know we've been very busy: two family birthdays and a lot of heen en weer (to and fro) trips between Rotterdam and  Zeeland seeing to the two boats. 

Fortunately, Corona virus restrictions have been largely lifted here, so we've been able to have family get togethers. I'm very relieved to know that none of my family or friends has been ill, and if they've had the virus, they haven't been aware of suffering from anything more than normal fluey symptoms.  I must admit, we all wonder whether we might have had a bit of it, even me. 

Early in March, I was suffering from what I took to be hay fever as I had a dry cough and some trouble breathing along with the usual sneezing, but I didn't have any other symptoms. Nightly applications of good old-fashioned Vick's Vaporub did wonders and within a week or so it was over, so I don't know whether it was allergies or not. However, I'm guessing lots of people may have had it without ever realising. 

Our health authority isn't even doing daily reporting anymore. We're just getting weekly updates, and I can see that in our part of the country, there haven't been any cases at all since 24 June. There are still quite a few in Rotterdam, though. Actually as of the beginning of June, anyone who suspects they might have it can be tested and the number of positive tests has gone up slightly, but the hospitalisations and demises have gone down. That said, we still have to keep the ander half meter (one and a half metres) distance and we see the signs everywhere reminding us of its importance. 

We also still have to wear masks on public transport, and I see a lot more people wearing them at the shops now, which are busier than they were earlier. For the older and the more vulnerable souls, I think this is quite wise, and I do it myself at the larger city stores. Hand sanitiser bottles and paper towelling are also still the norm at the trolley stalls. Mind you, I wouldn't mind if they kept that even after the Corona worry is over. I've kept hand gel in my bag for several years now, but it's helpful to have it made available.


All this aside, it's lovely to see the return to normal life again, and I'm heartened to see barges and cruisers taking to the water too. The photo above is from the end of a quay where there is normally a beautiful old tjalk (see photo below). Since it's not there now, I'm guessing the owners have taken it off on a trip and almost daily now I see cruisers and all kinds of pleasure boats out on the water. In all honesty, it's probably the safest way to take a holiday as you're on your own personal, moving island.

In the photo above the last paragraph, I was standing at the end of the quay

We've also noticed that the local camper site has been completely full recently, something that's never happened before. We counted 46 campers on a recent evening walk, so I have a feeling people are keeping their travels fairly local. Most of the registration numbers on the site were from Belgium, which for them is just a quick nip over the border (and I mean just over the border). Perhaps this 'toe-dipping' into the Netherlands has satisfied their need for going 'abroad'!

This was my favourite in the camper park. The tent was reached by
a ladder on the other side. Brilliant!

As for us, we hope to take a couple of long weekends away in the coming weeks, perhaps to northern France, but for the most part we'll be staying in the Netherlands, I think. Any flights out of the country are likely to be packed and we don't do 'packed' well at the best of times. For us, it's just as much fun to stay on the Hennie H for a weekend because it already feels like a holiday. We did just that this last weekend and loved it. The weather was perfect and the family came on Sunday for my daughter's birthday picnic.

I'll just be watching the weather tomorrow to get a feel for the rest of the summer. It's St Swithun's day and what we used to call Apple Christening day when I was a child. The story goes that whatever the weather is on July the 15th will be how it remains for the next 40 days. The forecast here is for rain, so I hope it's sunny somewhere else just to foil St Swithun's fun!

Have a great week allemaal, keep well and have fun in the sun!

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Summer cycles

It's been another week of mixed blessings. Firstly, although my work is winding down (a big blessing), I still seem to be very busy finalising courses, urging students to do that bit more work to get them through their exams, and marking significant numbers of assignments (a lesser blessing). Still, the end is in sight. I've completely finished one course and with my stint as a speaking examiner over, the pressure is definitely easing.

As a result, I've been able to enjoy the scenery a bit more on both my bikes: the pedalled and the motorised, both of which are great fun. The only downside is that the weather's now more changeable (mixed blessings, as I mentioned). The two photos below show some dramatic and stormy skies we’ve seen, but also the brilliant sunshine that's punctuated the rainy spells.

I've been trying to build up my cycling fitness a bit too, so my rides have been between 12 and 15 kilometres; Hardly a marathon, you might think, and you'd be right, but it's ages since I've done more than two or three Kms at a time, and that's mostly been to work, to the shops and the ship. Functional and furious, but not exactly fulfilling my fitness needs (I do love a bit of alliteration). Right now, 15kms on an old 3-speed bike is quite enough for my rear end. I think I need to build up some protective muscle on my nether regions before I go much further, but I'm not quite sure how successful I'll be at that in the short term, so I'm using a padded seat cover to help. Even so, I spend quite a bit of time hovering precariously above my saddle to save myself from soreness (sorry).

Posterior pain apart, I've had some lovely rides, and cycling along the canal is always a joy, especially when the weather's as fine as it was in the snaps I took below.

For anyone who's curious, the above photo is of a Belgian border marker, of which there are at least 1843 indicating the Dutch/Belgian boundary. I know because they’re all numbered and I've seen a photo of that one, but what the total is I cannot yet find out. Anyway, there are dozens of them near us and we often come across them in unexpected places, almost as if they’re clues in some huge treasure hunt. I was standing on the Belgian side of this one, but fortunately, the borders had been opened so I wasn't making an illegal crossing; not that anyone would have noticed, since behind me there was a high fence preventing access to an industrial site, and hence any further wanderings.

And across the road from the border post, I found this sign. It tells the reader there used to be a fortress here, evidence of which can still be seen in the field behind it. It's a shame that my photo didn't really show anything, but apparently it was one of a number of fortresses protecting the Dutch border from the Flemish neighbours, a probable product of Dutch possessiveness over its sea port at Terneuzen. What's odd is that we've often been to this spot, but never seen the sign, so I think it must be a new one. It also says the fortress extended over land now sacrificed to the canal, which has been widened three times since it was first dug in the middle ages. This region has a very interesting history which I'd like to research more one of these days. It's amazing what we can see when cycling around, isn't it?

Meanwhile, Koos is going great guns with preparing the Hennie H’s engine, when the weather permits.  I’ve also been beavering away on the Vereeniging each time I’ve been in Rotterdam, but it’s all piecemeal work until I can spare some extended time for it. 

Well, that’s it for this week, allemaal. Enjoy the rest of yours! Take care and keep well.