Friday, March 17, 2023

Absence makes the blog seem dearer

It's been a few weeks since I've felt able to write a blog post, and I have to admit I've missed it, as well as reading all my blogging pals' posts. 

As I mentioned in my last blog, one-handed life takes on disproportionate difficulties, the worst being that I've had four online writing courses to keep up with. Of course I don't have to produce papers and assignments myself, but I have to give feedback on everything they do, plus answer questions, give advice, counsel them on their emotional and psychological issues with keeping deadlines, wipe, sorry, I don't mean that, but you get my drift. I sometimes feel like a guidance counsellor as well as a writing skills teacher. And all of this with one hand. I'm exhausted... 😆

And then there's the mounting dust in the corners being exponentially inflated by dog hair (I thought spaniels didn't shed – I was wrong), a problem I'd forgotten about. When my beloved Sindy passed on eight years ago, it was a good two years before I stopped finding her hair trapped in folds, under mattresses, and in the weave of my rugs. Now I have a small golden mutt whose hair is providing cohesion for dust bunnies gathering under the table and in the cracks between the floor boards. Hoovering is quite a mission with one usable arm, I can confirm, so I've been postponing it. And it shows. I get tired just looking at it. 👀 😄



So the time and opportunity for blogging and social media in general has been quite curtailed. However, in a more exciting vein, and leaving aside all the maintenance, gardening and boat work I haven't been doing, in two weeks we'll be setting off to take my Vereeniging to her new home. It's going to be an adventure, that's for sure. I'm hoping my wrist will be more functional than it is now, but luckily, there are only four locks in the entire 190 km trip, so we'll manage, I'm sure.

Now we are gathering necessary equipment, fuel and supplies. The only uncertainties are the weather and the tides on the Schelde, but we have timetables, phone numbers and names, thanks to my lovely friend, Voirrey Johnson, whom we might even see coming the other way. It will be a journey for the records, and worthy of a blog post or two, at least.

Home for the last year and a half. I won't miss that tree!

Enjoy your weekend allemaal. I hope it's a good one for you, and I'll be back soon!

Sunday, February 26, 2023

A day's respite

Picture this: I'm trying, with one hand, to pull on my jeans in the morning. On the other end of the leg I'm pushing my foot through is a small determined golden dog who is pulling as hard as I am, but in the opposite direction. Koos is just watching, laughing. 

Then, I'm putting on my coat with said small dog hanging from the hem, after which getting my scarf around my neck without having it snatched and dragged across the floor is a lesson in speed and agility – mine, not hers.

This is much of my life at the moment. 

What with my plastered wrist, which makes every task take twice as long as usual, and this little comedian who is absorbing our time and entertaining us in equal measure, I haven't managed to do anything beyond my regular teaching work. The boats are feeling as neglected as the house work and all my plans for gardening, painting and renovating are on hold.

My greatest triumphs this week have been teaching Zoe to sit and to come when she is called. Yes. That's it.

Today, though, I had some respite from my restrictions. My daughter, Jo, drove me and small golden dog to visit my other daughter, Mo, who is Mack's mum. Some of you may remember that Mack is also a cocker spaniel puppy. He arrived in December and is now four months old – a perfect play date for Zoe, whom we left with Mack and Mo while we went to check on the Vereeniging.

It was marvellous to spend time in the sunshine sweeping her decks and top, rinsing the dust off and generally spending a quality hour or two on my old girl. Jo teased me for talking to my barge as if she were a dog, but not being able to drive has been a great limitation and I've missed her. She needed some of that TLC from me. Hopefully some of these constraints will be lifted when the plaster comes off next week and I'll be more mobile in both smaller and larger ways. 

Anyway, thanks so much to my generous-hearted daughters for making it such a lovely day and helping their handicapped mum so readily. 

Here are some of the gorgeous photos Jo and Mo took of the pups today. They had a fantastic time together and were both totally tuckered out by the time we left to come home (the pups, not the girls ... although they might have been too!).

Is it time for a treat?

Happiness is contented chew sharing

Best friends forever :)

On Tuesday, Zoe is going to dog hospital to be spayed. I wonder how long her stitches will last? With Sindy, my last beloved pooch, her cone of shame survived all of 30 minutes and her stitches just a few days... we shall see! Watch this space allemaal.

Monday, February 13, 2023

A break in tradition

What tradition is that? I hear you ask. Well, it’s my habit of writing blog posts that are always much longer than I intend. This week, and maybe for a few weeks hence (unless I find a way to type at speed single-handed), my blog will probably be shorter – the reason being another kind of break.

Last Thursday, we were walking Zoe in our nearby nature reserve when I slipped on a muddy patch, fell, and broke my wrist. Contrary to what everyone thought, the only connection it had to Zoe was the fact we were walking her at the time, but it could have happened anyway. I’ve always walked a lot. Since our old Sindy died, I’ve put myself on my imaginary lead and taken myself off for a constitutional every day, so it’s lovely now to have the extra reason to go. Anyway, Zoe wasn’t pulling at all; it was my own silly slip of the foot, or off the foot, in this case.

Now, of course, I’m learning how many things are difficult with one hand, but I’m finding the challenge of workarounds quite fun. Shove a jar in the crook of your arm and you can unscrew the top, or put tubes between your knees to do the same. I haven’t found a way to chop carrots yet without having the pieces shoot across the kitchen and disappear under the fridge, but I will. On the other hand, I’m having to chop sleeves off tee shirts to get them over the cast, but at least I can dress myself. In the end, it could be worse as it’s my left hand, and being very right-handed, I can manage quite well.

So, before I give myself RSI as well, I’ll love you and leave you with a photo of my jaunty red appendage.

Till next time allemaal. Have a good week!

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

The new family member

Our life has changed radically since my last post and I didn't even know it was going to happen. We have a new dog. 

After eight long years, we've taken the plunge and acquired a little American cocker spaniel. In the last few of those eight years, I'll admit that barely a week or even day has gone by without my looking  at dogs for adoption, but I've hesitated time and again over what kind of dog I wanted and whether to do it at all. The main criteria were that our dog had to be small enough for me to carry (on and off boats), a female, and of an 'easy-going' breed. As everyone who's read my blog over the years knows, I loved our old Sindy without reserve and missed her terribly when she died, but she was big and heavy for one thing, and the complete antithesis of easy-going for another.

But then one of those things happened that put paid to all my procrastination. Two weeks ago, an ad popped up on the internet asking for someone to give this beautiful little lady (see pics below) a home. The ad said she was a year old (I didn't want a puppy), female and very sweet-natured. It also said that no breeders should apply because she had an allergy. Well, having had Sindy who rattled with pills every time she shook, a mere allergy wasn't enough to put me off. 

The ad had been placed the evening before, so I wrote immediately, hoping that for once I wouldn't be too late. Sadly, the owner wrote back and told me someone had already reserved her. We had a bit of a chat online and I must have convinced her how disappointed I was because she asked if I'd like to know if the people who wanted her didn't show up. 'Yes please,' I wrote, but in all honesty, I'd given up and was almost (but not quite) relieved ... I could postpone making a decision; in fact, I didn't even tell Koos anything more about her.

Well, imagine my surprise when at the weekend, the advertisesr sent me a message to ask if I could still give little Zoe (as she was called) a home. I panicked for a moment. Now I'd really have to make a commitment, which was something I'd been avoiding, if I'm truthful, for several years. After chatting to Koos, though, we decided to throw caution out the window for once and go for it. 

So it was that with my heart in my mouth, we set off last Tuesday to go and collect her. To cut the story short, we stayed overnight in Valkenswaard, a town near the address where we had to fetch Zoe. Being over in the east of the country, it would have been a very long journey to go there and back in a day. Anyway, we collected this little bundle of nerves on Wednesday morning, popped her in the car and drove home in one shot. 

She was as good as gold as a passenger, a huge plus in her favour (Sindy had always been a dreadful car traveller). But, the poor little thing had clearly been very neglected, not well cared for at all and was very scared to begin with, although she was very happy with her cosy donut bed when we got home.

To be fair to the people we got her from, we don't think she'd been with them long either. They had a houseful of male poodles and were hoping to breed cockerpoos, but when they saw her skin problem, decided they'd better not and put her straight up for adoption. The neglect and poor care probably came from where she'd been earlier after being imported from Slovakia. It doesn't bear thinking about too much, does it?

Anyway, it didn't take long for things to change. She soon discovered we didn't mind her being on the sofa and neither did her 'Aunty Jo' who looked after her for a day when we had to go and see to the Vereeniging. Jo took some gorgeous photos of her, as you can see below.

It's now a week since she arrived and I'm delighted to report she's already a different pup. The tail is up and wagging, she's become playful and cheeky and she's loving the attention of all our friends and neighbours who, predictably, melt when they see her sweet face. The vet has confirmed her skin is improving, and that the allergy may have been stress-related. She has an eye infection that we hope will clear up soon, but otherwise her coat is already shinier and she's a happy, delightful doglet. 

As for her bed, she rarely sits in it anymore. Being next to one of us is much more to her taste :)

Have a good week allemaal  and all the best till next week from the three of us: Koos, Zoe and me. 

Monday, January 30, 2023

Branching out from Seville

I promised to write a second post about our week in Seville, and as it’s now Sunday again, I realise I’d best get on with it. 

A week in one place is generally more than I can cope with, especially if it’s a city. My wander lust is much more geared to seeking out other more rural places, and since Seville has a pretty good public transport system, we extended our reach beyond the end of the metro line by taking buses to Gines and Sand Lúcar la Mayor and the train to Huelva on the coast.

Buses in the Seville urban area are amazingly cheap the further you go. We were very fortunate in that the main bus station was very close to our shabby digs, so we wandered across the road one day, picked a name from the board, and waited for the bus to arrive. Okay, it wasn’t quite as random as that; I’d seen where Gines was on the map and thought it might be a nice place to aim for as a destination. Only 15kms from the city, I thought it would be easy to return if we didn’t like it. As it happened we were completely charmed. It cost us the grand total of €1,40 each to get there, exactly the same as it would have cost to do a trip across town in Seville. What we realised was that it doesn’t matter how far you go, the price is the same for any trip inside the urban area of Seville.

Gines, however, is very much its own place and very pretty. Our bus took us through other towns we’d have liked to see as well, but we had to decide on a goal and were very happy with our choice. It is a small town where people live, congregate and lead their lives without apparently needing to go to the city. The main street was lively with locals chatting to each other, the architecture of the houses and buildings was as charming as it can get, and we enjoyed a refreshing cup of coffee on an expansive outside terrace where families were eating and a group of men were clearly having a regular gathering of the (older) lads. We bought a few groceries in the local Spar shop, where the grocer himself was more than welcoming and friendly, and Koos even felt relaxed enough to have a kip in the town square.
Here are a few snaps I took of the town.

I loved this staircase with it tiles and garden courtyard in Gines

Our second outing was to Huelva, a town on the coast. I'd read quite a bit about it before we went to Spain and was told it wasn't favoured by tourists, which somehow made it more appealing. We took the train from Seville's Santa Justa station on Monday the 15th and arrived in Huelva at a little after 11:30 following a journey of an hour and a half. The scenery on the way was gentle, rolling hills without much to distinguish them  but we enjoyed both the trip and seeing a little more of what was probably the coastal plain.

The weather was somewhat grey in Huelva, but we liked it all the same. It's a place where people live, like Gines, and it doesn't put on any airs. Two things appealed to us no end: one was the discovery of its industrial history as represented in the restored pier: now a pedestrian walkway, but once the loading quay for ships transporting copper from the nearby open cast mines.  If you watch the brief video, it  gives you a glimpse of the scale of the mining in the area. They only stopped operating about 25 years ago. 

In addition, if you dig into the history of the mines and the pier (apologies for the pun), you will find the latter was designed and built by the British who had interests in Huelva’s developments. 

Huelva was also the place where Christopher Columbus (Christobel Colon in Spanish) was said to have embarked on his travels to the New World. There's a statue of him in the centre of town, and an even bigger sculpture of him outside town which we didn't actually see.

Cranes next to the pier and riverside

The amazingly well restored pier as a monument to Huelva’s mining past


Christoper Columbus…Go west, my sons…

More pretty Spanish tiles

What made our visit even more special, though, was a meeting with dear friend and renowned author, Stephen Powell. We met him at a bus stop in Estoi in the Algarve three years ago and have kept in touch ever since. It was really lovely to see him again and we spent a few very enjoyable hours catching up at a very pleasant restaurant, followed by a walk along the pier. I should mention that Stephen is the author of two excellent travel books: one about Portugal and the other about the Caucasus, both of which focus on the marathon walks he made in these countries. You can find his fascinating accounts here on Amazon. Given that he was a Reuters correspondent for around 27 years, the quality of his writing speaks for itself.

A Happy meeting

There's a lot more I could say about Huelva, but I think it would need its own post. Suffice to say we enjoyed our visit very much and can recommend it, not so much for its eye candy as for its history and its wonderful rivers.

Our last excursion was again by bus to the beautiful, and probably touristy, town of Sanlúcar la Mayor, which is roughly twenty-five kilometres from Seville. Again, the bus ride was incredibly cheap and cost less than €4 return for the two of us. It was quite a walk from the bus stop down to the town centre, and since it was a bit drizzly we first had coffee at a café on the main through road. This proved to be a feast in itself. Just for something extra, we ordered a piece of chocolate cake, which eventually appeared smothered in chocolate sauce and with a large scoop of ice cream. It was quite a creation, and utterly delicious.

Luckily for us, the skies cleared and it turned into a beautiful day. We first walked to the station, another of the region's classic Moorish designs, and then we strolled to the church square, which was quite captivating. I wouldn't be surprised if it's heaving with tourists in the summer. During our visit, it was quiet and peaceful in the sunshine; the station was deserted; and the cafés in the square were empty. Nevertheless, we loved it. It was only later we discovered how much more we could have seen there had we done a bit of research beforehand, rather than just picking a name on the bus timetable. There's a bit more about it on this website.

There’s heaps more I could mention about Seville and all the the beautiful sights we’ve seen, but that would fill a small book. On our last day, we finally visited the cathedral, which is apparently the third largest church in the world, after St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London. The immensity was something to behold, but like the curate’s eggs, I only liked parts of it. Impressive, yes, opulent, yes, but beautiful? Not inside so much. I felt it lacked coherence and had an overdose of medieval bling. The exterior is, however, stunning and quite magnificent.

Here are a few of my photos of the interior areas:

So that’s about wrapped up Seville. Apologies to Tom Williams – there are absolutely no barges in this post, but I hope the cranes, the pier and the river at Huelva make up for it a little.

Enjoy your week, allemaal and I’ll fill you in with news on the home front next week.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

A sojourn in Seville

As some of you may know from my postings elsewhere, Koos and I went to Spain on January the 10th and have only been back a few days. We had a really lovely time, the weather was beautiful (although not hot at all), and we were met with more kindness and friendliness than I could have imagined.

We flew to Seville and made the city our base for the full week we were there. The first and last days were spent travelling - always a complete day, however we do it - so we had eight days to explore Seville and its environs.

The only downside to the whole trip was the room we'd booked. We wanted to be quite central and not too far from the bus and trains, so to keep costs to a reasonable level, we opted to stay in a cheap hotel/hostel in one of the narrow backstreets of the old town. While it was a fantastic location, our room was at the back of the building with no window onto the street. In fact, the only window it had was onto one of those typically Spanish shafts that provide an opening for houses that back onto each other. Being high and narrow, virtually no light gets in and our room was simply dark the whole time. I couldn't wait to get out into the light every day. 

In addition, the city sewage system in that area has clearly seen better days, so the smell of dirty drains pervaded everything. Other than that, though, we were in a very good position and were able to walk to the heart of Seville within ten minutes or so, which was great!

Most readers here probably know that Seville is deep in Andalucia and flamenco is everywhere. Even the little corner shop in our street had these delightful little dresses for small girls. Interestingly, this shop, like hundreds of others we found in Seville, was run by Chinese people, all of whom speak Spanish, but with the standard confusion between L and R, which made me smile. It reminded me of so many of my students who have the same problem.

The rather grand Moorish building in the photo above used to be the city's railway station but is now a kind of enclosed market with small kiosk-type shops inside. (We won't mention the McDonald's, which seems to be everywhere). This kind of building design seems to have been quite common for train stations as we saw others with similar arches and decorative detail.

Of course, the first place Koos and I always go is to the waterside (eerst naar de waterkant, as they say in Dutch), and we were much impressed by this amazing old tree leaning over the banks of the Guadalquivir. On the subject of the river, the stretch that runs through the city is actually still water. Its main tidal course was re-routed to the west of the city in the 20th century to prevent flooding, and continues on to Cordoba and beyond. Apparently, however, navigation is only possible up to Seville, and only when the tide is coming in. The port of Seville is in the reach of the river that runs through the city, and is behind a large lock. From what I've read, though, flooding can still be an issue as in both 2006 and 2010, the city suffered from severe floods, and it was even worse in 1963.

For those interested, there's an interesting article about Seville and the Guadalquivir here.

We had a lovely walk along the riverside, which is very popular with the locals. I liked the sculpture above; it was created for some very philanthropic purposes that I'm afraid I've forgotten now. I completely failed to make a note of the plaque that told us who the sculptor was and what it was for. Maybe one of the readers here knows what it commemorates? 

My apologies for the slightly skew photos below. I normally straighten my snaps as it drives me nuts if things aren't level or properly vertical, but my usual laptop has crashed and I don't know how to use the photo editor on this machine yet. Anyway, these were some of the sights from the river I captured when we went on a passenger cruise on our second day there.

Traditional Spanish galleon moored on the riverside

The Golden Tower, first built by the Moors

This bridge was designed by Santiago Calatrava. 
It reminded me of our own Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam

One thing that surprised me was the extent of the very good public transport system. We tried it all. The tram is just one line, but it's modern, electric and very good. The buses were excellent, and there was even a metro, which we travelled from one end to the other, right out into the furthest suburbs. I'll tell you about some of our trips the next time.

Like many cities focused on tourism, there was the possibility to do a tour of the sights from the comfort of an open carriage. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the horses, however. They seem to spend hours just standing there with no water or food and, in the summer, no shade either. I hope I'm wrong and that they’re relieved or at least given water at regular intervals. They’re very lovely, though, so I had to take some photos of them.

Beautiful, patient horses. 

The photos below are of Seville cathedral. It is apparently the third largest church in the world and the biggest gothic church in Europe. We managed to visit it on our last day and were really impressed by its immense size. I also liked the mix of styles. It was an add-on (if you like) to an Arabic mosque and I loved the simplicity of those early parts of the building. The opulence of the ornate nave and sanctuary were less to my taste, partly because of the extreme demonstration of affluence they represented, but also because it was bordering on overkill. I took dozens of photos but it's hard to decide what's worth including.

One of the many elaborate screens

Unbelievably ornate and opulent

I preferred this

The simplicity of the earlier structures
was more to my taste

It isn't possible to talk about Seville without mentioning the oranges. They’re a real feature of the city streets, and if you are wondering what happens to them, they’re collected and cleared now and then by the city council. Apart from the fact they're far too bitter to eat, it isn't permitted to pick them as they belong to the local authorities. From what I've read, they're used for a number of purposes, including medicinal and culinary. I remember my mother buying Seville oranges to make marmalade when I was a child, but we never ate them raw. It was lovely to see them on virtually every tree in the city streets, though.

And the last thing to mention about Seville itself in this week's post is the music. We saw and heard music everywhere from day one, even being serenaded while we had our meal the first evening. Koos was also given the chance to play by one kindly busker, which made his day. 

The man in the photo below was playing flamenco guitar with great skill in a passage.

These three were busking next to the tram stop and were doing an excellent job of covering great rock songs. The guitarist, in particular, did a very professional and convincing performance of Brian May's guitar solo on Bohemian Rhapsody. I have to say it was a very pleasant way to wait for the tram.

We also saw some wonderful impromptu flamenco dancing at the Plaza de Espana (more on that amazing place next time). I find flamenco very inspiring and soul stirring, and loved seeing this young group performing in public.

Well, I think that's enough for this time. I'll write more about some of the other places we went and the people we met in my next blog, but for now, I hope you've enjoyed this snippet of our experiences in Seville, allemaal. 

Have a good week and all the best from a very cold and frosty Netherlands. That Spanish sunshine is already becoming a distant memory.