29 November 2009

Sunday 29 November 2009

I was astonished at the joy I derived from the art galleries we visited. Soon after my return, I saw the Cubbington exhibition with my sister, and that made me really happy too! As a not-particularly-visual person, I would have thought I’d need to go to more concerts in order to have a good time. The fact that I remembered that Manet asparagus for 33 years should have tipped me off.

(Asparagus tips!)

Perhaps the scooter helped. I was able to sit down while contemplating paintings. (I don’t remember where – or, indeed, why! – I read, while H and I were in Paris, instructions for enjoying art galleries. Could have been a Lonely Planet guide, could have been a book from Rosemary and Sybil’s extensive library. Anyway, it said that galleries were tiring and that you shouldn’t rush about: you should pick something you like and sit down in front of it and have a good look at it. In the scooter, I was ideally placed to do this!) I saw a fair few galleries while standing up, though. No, I have to conclude, it is just a lovely feeling being in an art gallery.

In general, the scooter was tremendous fun, and enabled me to keep up with Helen and Chloe as they rushed about the countryside, on foot or on bikes. I loved:

  • being able to keep up
  • being outdoors so much (the weather also came into that)
  • being able to bring essentials such as handbags and coats and water bottles and hats without having to carry them and hurt my arms
  • having somewhere to sit, wherever we were
  • going fast (except when I crashed )

I won’t be getting one here, however, until I absolutely must. The temptation never to walk again would be too strong. Walking continues to be awful – painful and difficult, with numb bits having to be willed and forced. I resent having to think about and plan every step I take. It’s supposed to get easier the more I do it, but I don’t find this to be the case at all. It stays painful and difficult and, when I’m tired, becomes almost impossible. So I will keep walking lest it becomes so.

I loved Denmark to such an extent that I’m now learning Danish and trying to figure out how I can go again. I have a vision of myself staying at the Danhostel in Ribe and wandering around there, looking at the wetlands, and going to the Viking Centre that we missed, and studying every inch of the town. And speaking Danish. 🙂

When I think about going again (which definitely wasn’t meant to happen, because of the expense) I realise how much I owe to Helen and Chloe. They did all the lifting and carrying, and most of the domestic work. Chloe helped look after “Gwandma”, saving me from many tight spots with the scooter, and generally rallying round. Helen anticipated and planned and organised and calmed and accompanied and shared. Without all this help, none of it would have been possible.

I knew I couldn’t travel unassisted, but I’m a bit overwhelmed at the extent of assistance I need.

The expectation that, if you’re out and about, you can do everything everyone else can do – even down to producing your passport quickly – is a great pressure. Because I can’t. I can’t even turn it to the right page in what anyone considers to be a reasonable time, to judge by the foot-tapping and finger-drumming.

Not being able to carry stuff is a huge problem. Not being able to walk miles and miles and miles carrying stuff in airports is a problem that can be overcome by requesting a wheelchair, but it’s not without hitches. Being wheeled through airports on the way, when I had two carry-on bags, I was obliged to transport both on my lap. I had to stretch my arms up and over them so they didn’t fall off, and hang on tight. It hurt at the time, and it hurt and impaired me for days afterwards. Schiphol was the only airport that approached a solution: staff-driven electric cars with room for luggage. Even then, you got to a point eventually where the car couldn’t go, and it was back to being smothered in bags.

It’s been suggested to me that, for next time, I could find a travelling companion. It’d have to be someone pretty saintly, and I’d probably have to subsidise them.

Nevertheless I hope to see Denmark again, the country where even the road signs are elegant!

* * * * *

It was excellent being away from all my Canberra responsibilities. Apart from one bad moment when I heard that C*mc*re had sent a letter overruling (yet again) one of their own determinations (to my detriment, as always) I didn’t think about clerical tasks. The time I spent getting organised for the trip paid off. All the bills that allow direct debit are now being directly debited.

I expected that a few things would go wrong: the fridge is due to blow up, and the automatic garage door, but they haven’t done so yet. The arrangements I thought I’d made about lawnmowing fell through, but that was soon fixed. For 2.5 months I had no correspondence to deal with – what a treat! In between minding the cats, who managed to stay out of trouble, Dac opened all the mail and decided whether I needed to know about it. Mostly I didn’t. There was a heap of stuff to go through when I got back, but I was able to rip most of it up and put it in the recycling. I enjoyed that.

My email was calmer than it’s been in years. Before I went away, I unsubscribed from everything I could think of. It continues calm because I haven’t resubscribed, and don’t intend to.

I adored not cooking. I hope I did enough peeling and chopping (and buying of takeaway) to cover my irresponsibility. There were things I did while I was away that are really hard for me to do, and that I’m relieved I no longer have to do, but I was spared many other tasks. Swings and roundabouts. Chloe did a lot more of the washing than I did! I didn’t have to go grocery shopping, although I often went along and carried stuff home on the scooter. A couple of times, I walked down to the corner shop for emergency groceries. I was happy never having to decide what the meals would be.

There were some guilt-inducing aspects to being so idle when H & C were almost out of their minds with busyness. I would have liked to be able to help more. They would have liked, they said, for me to stop doing things and have a rest. Just do what I liked. Paint some pictures. I did no painting while I was over there, but I wrote most of this diary, and I feel quite proud of that. It’s the first large-scale writing project I have ever undertaken and finished, and it took being away from home to do it.

It’s taken two months to finish the last month of the story, now that I’m back in my routine.

While I was away, although I swam regularly and did my hydrotherapy exercises, I kept forgetting my strengthening exercises. H & C were always asleep when I woke up, so I’d creep downstairs and answer my email and write this travel diary. When they came down, I didn’t want to drag myself back up to my room and be out of circulation. This act of omission doesn’t seem to have done me any irreparable harm, but then I was being protected from so many tasks, including driving. Now I’m back to doing everything under the sun. I think the exercises make me more conscious of how I am carrying myself, so I’m back doing them at the start of every day.

Swimming takes out three half-days; clogging class takes out another. I’ve decided to get rid of my hated exercise bike and substitute 30 minutes’ clogging practice instead – it’s working, and selling the bike is on my famous list. The rest of my time disappears. Some of it is spent happily with friends, and at concerts, and learning Danish, but quite a bit of it is frittered away on what Helen calls “boomerang errands”. Modern life, eh?

Clogging, second term 2009

Clogging, second term 2009

Of course there were some downsides and difficulties while I was away. I’ve said more than enough about them. My overwhelming feelings about the trip are exhilaration and gratitude. I’ve seen so much that has made me happy. So many fascinating places and works of art. Paris again, at last! Denmark! I’ve shared life with Helen and Chloe, and can see them in context in my mind’s eye. Strangers have been kind and helpful; friends and family have been amazing. My encounters with old friends in Britain will live on in my heart. What wonderful memories!

The little houses

The little houses

The little Delft houses remind me that I have Dad to thank for financing the trip. I think he would have approved. Then there are Chloe’s remarkable photos, and this diary, now finished.

Tuesday 29 September – Thursday 1 October 2009

25 November 2009

Flying home – Schiphol to Narita

The trip home was long and utterly sleepless. By contrast with the trip over, business class was packed to the rafters. The staff were extremely pleasant, if busy, and I enjoyed the meals and the fillums. The major disadvantage of the crowding was that the toilets seemed to be occupied just about all the time.

I was tired. Occasionally I imagined that my eyes were closing, but as soon as I stopped reading I’d be in tears. Weeping isn’t like me, but it certainly was a feature of my trip home. While all the other passengers curled up and slept, I watched a Bollywood movie – well, half of it on the first leg, and half on the second, since it was at least four hours long!

The business class seats, which are meant to adjust limitlessly and enable you to lie down flat, don’t. Not for me, anyway. I was too close to the sides to be able to move around so, if I flattened the seat, I was stranded on my back (my worst possible position from a sleep apnĹ“a point of view) and found it almost impossible to get upright again. (Yes, like a beached whale, so there was the embarrassment factor as well.) Theoretically I could have plugged the CPAP machine in (not that it prevents apnĹ“as if I’m on my back – it just keeps waking me up when it finally succeeds in blasting my throat open) but I couldn’t work out:

  • how to haul it down out of the locker,
  • where to place the machine, or
  • what to do with the case.

Other disincentives included:

  • subjecting my fellow-passengers to all that extra noise, and
  • wearing the facehugger mask in public.

So I just stayed awake.

Waiting at Narita

I had a seven-hour wait at Tokyo Narita. The first thing I did was have a luxurious shower, with one of those wicked old-fashioned huge shower roses, in a peaceful stone-floored room, and change into clean clothes. Then I settled down in the Business Lounge, relieved to have been able to stow my jacket and seven kilograms of CPAP machine in the nearby lockers.

I’d hoped my Dutch SIM card would work in Tokyo, but no such luck: once again I had to send my “Down and safe” messages via email. I also started drafting the England section of the travel diary.

There were various excursions to the upstairs bit of the Sakura lounge, where the meals were, and to the downstairs cafe, where I had lashings of tea and iced water. At 3pm I’d booked in for a free 15-minute massage, and that was a big help. I recharged my Palm so that I’d be able to go on reading my book after takeoff. So as not to flatten the newly-charged battery, I flipped through some of the very business-like literature provided in the lounge.

It wasn’t just raised consciousness from living with Helen and Chloe that caused me to notice that Newsweek and Time were packed to the gills with laudatory articles about eco-warriors, and exhortations about environmental matters. There was almost nothing else in them! If the mainstream is publishing stuff like that, perhaps there’s hope of change.

Eventually the man with the wheelchair came for me, and I was put onto the next plane, once again with a big crowd in business class.

Narita – Sydney

I finished the Bollywood movie, and goodness knows what else, but still couldn’t sleep. All the other passengers were asleep. By this time I was extremely tired, and quite full of Rescue Remedy. I went out and chatted to the flight attendants for a while, and one of them made me hot milk. She asked to see my photos, but both camera batteries went flat, so I figured out how to plug in the recharger and sat down to do a few hours’ more reading.

The flight seemed endless. In the course of it, I had:

  • a Japanese meal,
  • a European meal,
  • Japanese tea, and
  • English Breakfast tea.

I read my book. I watched documentaries. I watched the man next to me play Go on the entertainment system. The one thing I didn’t do was sleep.


Last off the plane in Sydney, I got a hug from the Thai flight attendant who’d been kind to me during the night. The plane was met by someone dressed up as a kangaroo – apparently it was the 40th anniversary of flights to Australia by Japan Airlines.

I’d already shoved my Telstra SIM back into my phone, so I was ready to message my sister about finding me. We’d arranged to spend the time between my arrival and the plane to Canberra together. It was more than two hours, after all.


At every other airport on my trip – Narita, Schiphol, Birmingham, Stansted – the wheelchair ensured a fast exit. Presumably the staff wheeling the chairs can’t be spared for hours on end, so they use the staff security, customs and immigration queues, and whiz people through. This was particularly helpful when luggage had to be collected: we were first on the scene, and didn’t have to fight our way through the crowds.

Not so in Sydney! Wheelchairs were bumped and crashed along in the general queue. Once, my wheeling chap stopped to help some people behind us, and other queuers actually took it upon themselves to shove in front of me. When it came to getting from the international to the local terminal, the people in wheelchairs were unceremoniously tipped onto the bus. Our hand luggage was draped over us. It was extremely difficult for me to keep hold of the blasted CPAP machine, but I had to be grateful I’d booked my small port through – I’d have had no chance of hanging onto that. I suppose I should have been grateful to have had a seat, as well, but to counterbalance that, I had people and luggage thumping into me all the way.

On arrival, we were told to stay put till everyone else got out. Then finally we were bundled along to our departure lounges. I cannot imagine how I’d have managed if I couldn’t walk, rather than merely being mobility- and manually-impaired.

It took all of the time between arrival and the Canberra plane to get me to the departure lounge.

An aside

There’s been uproar in the media this week about Paralympian Kurt Fearnley who :

“was forced to crawl through Brisbane Airport because the airline would not let him take his wheelchair on board the flight. The airline offered him one of their chairs, but he says he could not move it properly.”

-ABC News, Tue Nov 24 09, Jetstar investigating Fearnley complaint

Now, I’m pretty sure airlines always do that, supposedly for security reasons. And I’m quite sure it’s an appalling imposition on wheelchair users who can’t walk. Airport wheelchairs are very basic. If you can’t walk, you’re stuck waiting for an airport staff member to push you where you need to go. You don’t get to take yourself anywhere, including to the toilet. I bet it’s in the conditions of carriage that you either put up with this treatment, or you don’t fly.

So I reckon good on Kurt Fearnley for drawing attention to this, and amen to his observation that “longstanding cultural prejudices still exist for people with a disability”. Maybe the airlines will take some notice of him, and improve matters. Meanwhile, the charmers who rang the local radio station saying “Who does he think he is? Why should he get special treatment?” should pray every night that they don’t acquire a disability through accident, illness, or old age. Plenty of people do.

Sydney continued

Even though it was getting so late, I kept trying to let Fiona know where to find me. Messaging was difficult while being bounced and jounced between terminals. Next thing I knew, I was about to be wheeled onto the plane without even having set eyes on her. Someone finally noticed that I was wailing that I couldn’t get on yet. By the time Fiona found me, we had ten minutes together. For that, she’d driven 40 minutes from home at the crack of dawn, and probably had to drive a good deal more than 40 minutes back through morning peak hour. I felt terrible.


I’ve already written about what a joy and a relief it was to see Jo waiting for me at Canberra Airport at the end of all those flights. The kindness of being met and helped with luggage and driven home was a big help in reconciling myself to being back. And being so far from Helen.

Hamsterjam: Tuesday 29 September 2009

21 November 2009

I think I must have started packing on the Monday night, otherwise I’d never have got away. Packing to leave is of course easier than packing to go, but I find it nerve-racking nevertheless. I had slightly more to fit in my bags than I arrived with, including the little Delft houses, which Helen wound up in acres of bubble wrap for me. As I’d decided not to stop over in Japan on the way home, I was going to book my small suitcase through, although I still had the CPAP machine to drag around. And I didn’t have to organise an elaborate division of toiletries, with all that 100ml business – although I did have to remember to declare the Rescue Remedy.

There was a complicated method of getting to Hilversum station. My luggage and I had to be driven there, but it’s impossible (prohibitively expensive even if you do manage to find a spot) to park anywhere nearby. Somehow there had to be two bikes at the station to bring Helen and Chloe home. Somehow this was organised!

Station; churches

Amsterdam station; churches

The two churches above are, I believe, the Church of Saint Nicholas (Sint Nicolaaskerk) and the Western Church (Westerkerk) in Amsterdam. For the full photographic record, see our Amsterdam set on Flickr.

At Amsterdam station, there are luggage lockers! Helen figured out how to work them, then she and Chloe bunged my ports in, and we set off to find a canal tour. All I’d seen of Amsterdam during my stay were the Friends’ Meeting House, the Vondelpark over the road, a couple of restaurants, the Rijksmuseum, and De Hortus. Excellent things to see, I should point out, but it was felt that I should get a more comprehensive look at the city before going home.

Amsterdam has one of the largest historic city centres in Europe, with about 7,000 registered historic buildings. The street pattern is largely unchanged since the 19th century … The centre consists of 90 islands, linked by 400 bridges. Its most prominent feature is the concentric canal ring begun in the 17th century.

– Guess who? Actually, Wikitravel this time

Bridges; multi-storey bike carpark

Bridges; multistorey bikepark

I have various photos of bike parking places in the Netherlands, but the multistorey bikepark above is really something special.

In keeping with my sadness about leaving, rain was pouring down. We weren’t quite reduced to the disposable blue raincoats, but perhaps we should have been. Certainly Chloe, who stood outside on the boat in the interests of better photography, got pretty wet, and we have distinctly grey skies on the record.



Top left: the big green sinking ship in the background is actually NEMO, the science museum. Top right: “See a houseboat inside”.



Approximately 2,400 families are living in houseboats in the Amsterdam canal system. There are even houseboat hotels. The last picture above shows a houseboat garden. I have since read about De Poezenboot (the Cat Boat), a floating refuge for stray and abandoned cats, but we didn’t see it on our tour.

Rooflines 1

Rooflines 1

I was too agitated to take much in, to be honest. Lucky there are photos to remind me of what we saw!

Rooflines 2

Rooflines 2

I do remember eating the famous rumballs, and looking at a blur of quaint houses and monumental buildings.

Rooflines 3

Rooflines 3

As always, Chloe captured the strange as well as the straightforward:

Quirky images

Quirky images

After the canal tour, we walked a little way into Chinatown – “There is a concentration of Chinese shops at Zeedijk / Nieuwmarkt, but it is not a real Chinatown”,  says Wikitravel.

Elephants; Oriental buildings

Elephants; Oriental buildings

Top right and bottom left are in the unreal Chinatown. Top left and bottom right are on the canal tour.

Live heron, painted stork

Live heron, painted stork

Spiral clockwise:

  • heron in the tunnel as we set out on the canal tour – this helped to make up for the heron we fruitlessly chased across canal after canal on our way to Kinderdijk
  • another stork reference
  • Zeedijk sign in two languages in the unreal Chinatown
  • Helen and Val and a cheery Buddha in the ditto ditto
  • bird on a buoy, passed on the canal tour

We found a Chinese supermarket that H & C are fond of, and they bought themselves a pillowslip full of dried garlic chips, and a few other essentials. Then we found a pleasant Chinese restaurant for our late lunch. All along the way, there were big, confident cats in shop windows and on the street, and I have the photos to prove it. Patrons at our restaurant had to distribute themselves around the big ginger cat that lived there.

Then it was back to the station, back to the luggage lockers, and onto the Schiphol train.

We registered my arrival at the airport, checked my luggage in, and were sent off to wait for someone to come and wheel me through customs, immigration, security and all that. They seemed to turn up awfully quickly, and I had to go. I started crying when I tried to utter the word “Goodbye”, and I find I haven’t quite stopped. The last I saw of Helen and Chloe, they were shrilling “Tot ziens!” and waving like berserk windmills.

“Tot ziens!” is what many Dutch women say to each other in farewell, in extremely high-pitched voices. It means “See you soon”. It used to ring out along van der Sande Bakhuijzenstraat in the late afternoon. I physically cannot get my voice high enough to say a convincing “Tot ziens!”. I wish it were true that I’d see H & C soon, but it will be quite a while. Apart from online.


Hilversum: Monday 28 September 2009

21 November 2009

It was Chloe’s birthday. Helen had to go to work from 9 till 3. I had a swim and wrote some of this diary.

When Chloe came down, she took me to a Garden Centre on the edge of town. It was a vast emporium, full of Halloween displays, flowers, and other things we didn’t at all want to buy, although we tried some of them on:

Chloe and Val at the Garden Centre

Chloe and Val at the Garden Centre

One thing the Garden Centre had that we were interested in was a pet shop with aquariums. Chloe was looking for fishies for Helen’s birthday in October, but she didn’t like the state of health of the fish we saw.

(Fortunately, the following week, a neighbour took her into Hilversum to what is claimed to be the biggest aquarium shop in Europe! That town is full of undiscovered treasure.)

Stopping to marvel at the pumpkins which weren’t going to be eaten…

Halloween at the Garden Centre

Halloween at the Garden Centre

…we made our way out of the Garden Centre, realising that there wouldn’t be time to visit the llamas on the other side of the canal (?river – as usual, I had no idea where in Hilversum we were) if we were to be in time to meet Helen at the pub.

It was the very couth pub we’d been to on 31 July, near the library. I think it’s called something like The Young Rooster, so naturally it’s known as The Cock. Helen was waiting for us there, with colleagues Hannes, Matt (cat-minder extraordinaire) and Mitchell. We had an uproarious afternoon drinking Chloe’s health and eating that Dutch delicacy, chips with mayonnaise.

The preceding week, Mitchell had been rung in by the Song Company to sing frantically difficult contemporary music in Ghent, which gives you some idea of his musical status. He’s also the writer, with his wife, of an intriguing website called Boots & Bowtie, setting out the idea for a book on gourmet walks in the Benelux. I was reminded of Helen and Chloe’s friend Siobhan, author and photographer of a book called Quiet Amsterdam, about formerly unsung places where you can sit down and enjoy peace and quiet in the bustling city. Lovely and useful ideas.

Eventually it was time to go home to Teesy, and to the special birthday dinner I helped Helen prepare. (One of the best aspects of my time away was that I did no cooking: none. I did however chop up a lot of veg.) She made a spectacular moussaka, and the compensatory rum balls depicted in my 6 September post.

I don’t think I’d started packing at this stage, although I was leaving the next day.

De Hortus: Sunday 27 September 2009

16 November 2009

De Hortus is short for De Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam’s Botanical Gardens. It’s Chloe’s favourite place in the Netherlands. We’d been planning a trip there the whole time I was in Europe. With Chloe’s birthday on 28 September and my departure on 29 September, we finally made it.

Us (and a stork's nest) at de Hortus

Us (and a stork's nest) at de Hortus

I’m writing this account of our day at De Hortus at the start of the week in which Chloe takes up a job there! Above, we have:

  • Chloe on the raised walkway in the Palm House (photo by Helen)
  • Helen and me with the Three Climates Greenhouse in the background
  • A stork’s nest on the administrative building
  • Me in a jungle in the Three Climates Greenhouse

Once again Chloe took most of the responsibility for the photographic record. I reckon she excelled herself, and I urge you to go to our Flickr set on De Hortus and watch it as a slide show.

In the garden

In the garden

Some outdoor photos: banarners, gunnera manicata and a cycad

We drove to Amsterdam and Helen took me in and settled me into the Orangery, de Hortus’ lovely cafe, while she and Chloe found a parking spot. We had lunch then set off, me in the wheelchair provided by De Hortus. They do warn on their website that not all areas of the gardens are accessible, and that there are gravel paths, and indeed this was a problem. Helen and Chloe took turns pushing me about, but it was extremely hard work on gravel. There were also some insurmountable door sills, which could be pretty easily fixed with a wedge of wood – good for preventing people from tripping, as well.

So I walked more than I’d expected to, but managed pretty well. It’s not a huge site (1.2 hectares) although they pack plenty in (more than 6,000 plants in the garden and seven greenhouses). Chloe thought afterwards that they needed a scooter to lend people, like the one at Den Gamle By in Århus. Annabel was telling me that the Botanic Gardens here in Canberra have a scooter to lend out, but they’ve had to tamper with the controls to stop it going too fast. Scooter drivers have a tendency to mow people down in their enthusiasm. I’ve noticed this phenomenon in the shops round here, and I have to admit, I was no different!

Giant lilypads; sculpture of giant lilypad

Giant lilypads; sculpture of giant lilypad

I was astonished by the giant lilypads: they were more than a metre across, and had lovely turned-up fluted edges, like a quiche base. No wonder frogs are depicted, in the European books of my childhood, sitting around on them! You could fit about a hundred frogs on one of these, unlike the waterlily leaves I’m used to, which would be lucky to hold one. From the website of de Hortus:

A specimen of the giant water lily, Victoria amazonica, flowered for the first time in The Netherlands in 1859, in our Hortus. Since then, this enormous plant occupies a central position in the Hortus. Until 1968, there was even a separate Victoria greenhouse. The Victoria returned to the Hortus in 2002. This time, it was grown in a special heated outdoor pond.

I gather there are even night viewings of the Victoria when it’s in flower.

One of the charms of de Hortus is seeing Amsterdam peeping through the foliage – see the outdoor photos above – but you easily forget the city is out there. De Hortus is a beautiful, peaceful place.

It specialises in South African plants, palms, cycads, conservatory plants, and carnivorous plants. My well-known aversion to palm trees didn’t stop me from enjoying the Palm House…

The cupola of the Palm House

The cupola of the Palm House

…which included the largest and oldest cycads of the Hortus.

I was interested to see all the other plants as well, including my first Wollemi pine.

Some palms, some others

Some palms, some others

While the Orangerie and the Palm House are gracious old buildings, the Three Climates Greenhouse is modern (1993). A computer system automatically controls the temperature and humidity in the different areas of the greenhouse: tropical, subtropical, and desert. The temperature changes with the season. The subtropical area (very hot in summer, dropping to 8 degrees Celsius at night in winter) is mainly for South African plants, but there are a few Australian plants in there as well.

Round plants at de Hortus


I thought the Two-leaves cannae-die (Tweeblaarkanniedood – Welwitschia) was at the bottom right of the following picture, but Chloe says not, describing it as “ugly as sin and very missable”!

More round plants at de Hortus

More symmetry

Not all the cactuses/succulents (I have yet to learn the difference) above were in the Three Climates Greenhouse: there was a Mexican greenhouse full of ’em, and I gather Chloe will be looking after that when she starts work. She keeps an impressive collection of such plants on the windowsill in Hilversum.

Turtle in the Three Climates Greenhouse

Turtle in the Three Climates Greenhouse

The tropical section features a warm, humid climate and resembles a real jungle. We were thrilled to see the little friend above – I wouldn’t have known it was there if Chloe hadn’t pointed it out to me.

The last section we visited before closing time was the Butterfly House. Chloe went off to talk to someone about becoming a volunteer at de Hortus while Helen and I went in.

Flying Dutchman butterfly

Flying Dutchman butterfly

Quite a small greenhouse in a row of greenhouses, and there were butterflies everywhere. We even saw a glasswing butterfly – transparent! – but by the time we fished out the camera, it had flown away and didn’t appear again. The orange “Flying Dutchman” butterflies were everywhere, but we also saw several other sorts. It was wonderful. The whole visit had been wonderful: more than five hours had passed in a flash!










Leiden: Saturday 26 September 2009 Part 2

12 November 2009

From Kijkduin, we took some back streets and admired the palaces people are living in around there. Eventually we ended up on spaghetti heaps of roads anyway, then suddenly we were in the middle of Leiden, surrounded by canals and pretty things.



I’ve tried to find out about the red and white shutters we saw so often on Dutch buildings, but have had no success. This building has a Renaissance facade – the rest was burnt down at some stage, and restored. It was a timber trading place, and it’s located on the Galgewater – where the gallows used to be.

We parked near a windmill (this made the car easy to find at the end of the day), Helen and Chloe rebuilt the scooter, and we set off at random. We didn’t do a canal tour of Leiden. I’m not sure why – perhaps because we were planning a canal tour of Amsterdam before I left. And I was leaving on Tuesday – three days away. Every so often the thought of my imminent departure occurred to me and I took a bit more Rescue Remedy. Not sure if I hate packing more than flying, or vice versa. And I wasn’t all that happy at the thought of saying goodbye, either.

To return to Leiden:

Bridges of Leyden

Bridges of Leiden

Paraphrasing Wikipedia (where would I be without it?): Leiden was built on an artificial hill at the confluence of the rivers Oude and Nieuwe Rijn (Old and New Rhine).  It received city rights in 1266. During the Dutch Golden Era, it was the second largest city of Holland, after Amsterdam. At the close of the 15th century, weaving was its major industry, and printing and publishing were important. The Pilgrims lived in Leiden before their departure for the New World. Economic decline occurred from the 17th to the early 20th century, leaving much of the 16th and 17th century town centre intact. The Constitution of the Netherlands was written in Leiden in 1848.

And from Leiden’s official website:

The spirit of the Golden Age lives on here, a place where Rembrandt was born and inspired so many other influential painters. But even after this era Leiden continued to attract scientists, artists and industry. The canals, the historical buildings, the alleyways, the treasuries of knowledge, culture and science: Leiden is where Rembrandt was born and learned the art of painting, where the physician Boerhaave taught and where Clusius cultivated the first Dutch tulips 400 years ago. In fact, Leiden’s entire downtown area is a historic monument in its entirety. Located within such a short distance from one another, a walk along the canals to view the most conspicuous monuments hardly takes any effort and is well worth the time!

It was a place where we could have spent a lot longer, if we’d had a lot longer to spend. Chloe found plenty of interesting photo opportunities, and there are 101 photos in our Leiden set on Flickr.

Strange sights around Leyden

Strange sights around Leiden

All the shops were open, and there were street markets, so we had a bit of a look at everything. And we stumbled upon De Burcht, the citadel, where Chloe shinnied up the stairs while Helen and Teesy waited below with me, and took some splendid views of Leiden, including:

Church of St Pancras

Church of St Pancras

The enormous Gothic pile is the Hooglandsche Kerk or Highlands Church, also known as the church of St Pancras. I keep wondering if it’s called the Highlands Church because it’s on a bit of a hill, and hills are pretty rare in the Netherlands. I have found no explanation of the name as yet.

We didn’t go in, and that was my decision. I was feeling all churched out after Denmark. In fact I should have insisted we go in: Helen has sung in that church, it would have been impressive, and we might have found some explanation for the numerous doors built in odd places – sometimes very odd places! – all over the exterior of the building.

Chloe's silhouette

Chloe's silhouette at de Burcht

More roaming.

Plaque seen on a building

Plaque near a butcher's shop

Under the horse it says:

Wilt u verblyden
Hier is het paert
Laet ons ryden

and under the cow:

Den os is tyt geslagen
Hy is vet
Hy cant niet langen dragen

It’s 1644 Dutch, and I’ve found no translation. I’m not sure what it all means, but I think the first bit is something about riding cheering you up, and the second is about the ox being fat and unable to carry anything for long.

Added on 15 September 2010: a translation has been provided by Audrey Falconer‘s Dutch friends Erik and Helen:

If you want to be happy
Here is the horse
With its rider

For the ox the time has come
He is fat
He can’t carry any longer

Ornate bike shop

Me passing an ornate bike shop

This is a stitching-together of three photos. I did not feel much like a gazelle at the time.

Seen in Leyden windows

Seen in Leiden windows

Above are a couple more idiosyncratic shots. The expression on Helen’s face pleases me!

Sunset in Leiden

Sunset in Leiden

The light was fading. It was time to go home to Hilversum. Teesy was even tireder than I was, having capered about on the beach while I was slowly wandering past paintings in the Mauritshuis. She was quite subdued for the next couple of days, which was just as well, as we had to go without her on our next two trips.

The Hague: Saturday 26 September 2009

9 November 2009


Went to physio. (This meant my long-suffering daughter and daughter-in-law had to drag the scooter out of the car and reconstitute it, then pull it to bits and put it back in the car for our excursion next day.)

Saturday morning

On the way to Leiden, we stopped off in The Hague. The plan was that Chloe and I would go to the Mauritshuis (details later) while Helen and Teesy had a walk on the beach.

Getting to The Hague was the usual bunfight on the motorways. We were just in sight of its skyscrapers and flyovers when a big bird flew down from a light pole and over the car. Chloe was driving but she misses nothing, and she was very excited: “That was a stork!” None of us could believe our eyes – we saw six more. Seven storks on this enormously congested motorway. We’d seen stork nests in peaceful Denmark (see stork section of my post on Ribe 2: The Town) but never a stork, and here we’d seen seven!

The stork - symbol of The Hague

The stork - symbol of The Hague

Helen lived in The Hague from her arrival in the Netherlands in August 2003 to study at the Royal Conservatory, until December 2008, when she bought a house in Hilversum. According to Wikipedia, The Hague:

  • originated around 1230
  • is the seat of government, but not the capital of the Netherlands,
  • is the third largest city in the Netherlands

The city has a limited student culture due to its lack of an actual university … The city has many civil servants and diplomats … [T]he number and variety of foreign residents … makes the city quite culturally diverse, with many foreign pubs, shops and cultural events.

When I first visited The Hague in 1975, I thought it quite a gracious city. This time it seemed very commercial and full of skyscrapers. There is a good photo of the skyscrapers on the Wikipedia page.

The Mauritshuis

The Mauritshuis, the Royal Picture Gallery, has around 800 paintings, with a focus on Dutch and Flemish artists (Brueghel, Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, Vermeer and more). It’s a 17th century Dutch Classicist building and has been open to the public since 1822. Chloe and I had a wonderful visit:

  • kind, helpful staff
  • not too many visitors
  • no one attempting to take photos
  • nice cafe
  • many magnificent paintings
The Mauritshuis

The Mauritshuis

Vermeer’s Girl with a pearl earring is what the museum chooses to advertise itself by. There’s also a poster on the fence featuring a Rubens: Old woman and a boy with candles. I’ve inset a couple of things.

  • Top right: Carel Fabritius’s The Goldfinch, one of Chloe’s favourite paintings, which she hadn’t known would be there
  • Bottom left: Hans Holbein’s Portrait of Robert Cheseman from around 1533another painting used on Mauritshuis posters

I benefited from Chloe’s eye for detail, and saw much more in the paintings than I would have on my own. F’rinstance, there was a painting I really liked called A young woman composing music and a curious man, by GabriĂ«l Metsu. (It’s on Wikimedia Commons if you feel like having a look.) I was taken with:

  • the subject matter
  • the faces
  • the fabrics – satin, velvet, rich carpet…
  • the pewter on the tray and the silver candelabra

but do you think I noticed the little dog in the corner? There were lots of little dogs in the paintings of people, and I’m glad my attention was drawn to them. GabriĂ«l Metsu was also responsible for The Cat’s Breakfast, which I mentioned in my posting on the Rijksmuseum.

The Mauritshuis has a room where there’s almost nothing but Rembrandt, or school of Rembrandt, paintings. Helen had mentioned how strange it felt to be standing in front of a wonderful and extremely famous Rembrandt and realising you were in a whole room of similar works. Strange, and amazing!

Things we weren’t so fond of included still lifes (lives?) with lovingly-detailed poor, dead creatures in them, and most of the classical allegory stuff. One of the portraits was perplexing: Wybrand Hendriks – Portrait of Jacob Feitama and his wife Elisabeth de Haan. I wish I could find a reproduction of this painting online to show you, but the only one is the thumbnail on the Mauritshuis site. Jacob and Elisabeth look so awful – caricatures of ugly, grumpy people, and E. has an absolutely enormous head – that we wondered if the painter had been commissioned or if he was trying to get back at them for some slight!

The Binnenhof

Eventually we’d seen everything we could see, so we ventured forth with detailed instructions from Helen on catching a bus to the beach at Kijkduin. On the way to the bus stop, we walked through the Binnenhof.

At the Binnenhof

At the Binnenhof

According to Wikipedia:

The Binnenhof (Dutch, literally “inner court”), is a complex of buildings in The Hague. It has been the location of meetings of the Staten-Generaal, the Dutch parliament, since 1446…

We are also told that the fountain shown above is neogothic, a style popular in the early 19th century with those who sought to revive mediaeval forms, in contrast to the classical styles prevalent at the time. Good on ’em, I say. I particularly liked all the gold!

I got quite anxious while we were making our way through the Binnenhof, because there was a large demonstration going on in the street outside and it appeared to be heading straight for us. We managed to emerge from the courtyard unscathed and the demonstration (with its entourage of mounted police) headed off along the route our bus was soon to take. We were held up by it for a while. No matter how I craned my neck, I couldn’t read the banners to find out what it was all about.

Helen was waiting for us at a cafe at Kijkduin, and Teesy was quite pleased to see Chloe.

Teesy at Kijkduin and Leyden

Teesy at Kijkduin and Leiden

We had lunch and then proceeded to Leiden. That’s for another posting, but the bottom part of the photo above shows what a hot day it was: Teesy was prepared to drink out of a bottle!

Delft: Thursday 24 September 2009

6 November 2009

The car was getting hard to start through lack of use, and it was busily being turned into a guano mountain by the birds in tree-lined van der Sande Bakhuijzenstraat. No wonder there were always people out there hosing down their cars. (It’s years since I’ve seen anyone cleaning a car with a hose, and my instinct is to be horrified at the waste of water – but there is so much water in the Netherlands…) I think it was during preparations for the Delft day trip that Chloe found the petrified rum ball in the car!

Because the camera hadn’t been needed for a while, its battery ran flat in Delft. The spare battery saw us through quite a number of photos, but there was so much to see that even the spare ran out before we were done. There are 254 photos in our Delft set!

Off we went, with a roar of diesel engine and a cloud of smoke, onto the motorway with its terrifying traffic and wonderful skies.


Helen went round the art galleries of Europe, identifying Lowlands paintings by their skies. It can be done! The flatness of the land is made up for by the enormous spreads of sky and the vast shifting cloudscapes. Back in Canberra we’re coming into summer, and I look at the vivid blue of the almost cloudless sky – one of the sights that means home to me – and it’s beautiful. (And terrible, as Dorothea Mackellar says.) Soft pale stormy Dutch sky is also beautiful, and one of my fond memories.

Views of Delft

Views of Delft

This photo is out of chronological order because I wanted the clouds here. At the top is Vermeer’s view of Delft (he’s one of its most famous children); underneath is our view of almost the same spot, from the canal boat.


We parked near the railway station and set off through Delft – Helen and Chloe, Teesy, and me in the scooter. From the first moment, there were fascinating sights. We weren’t sure what we were going to have time to do, so we set the minimum at seeing some Delftware and making a canal tour.

Big tiles

Expanses of tiles

I was looking for little Delft blue houses. My late father brought three back from business trips in the 60s and 70s and gave them to me. When he and my mother separated in the early 80s, he lost all his souvenirs and ornaments, so I gave him the houses back. (I’d drunk the contents, which I thought was apricot brandy.) I didn’t know anything about them except that they were Delft pottery. He’d visited Delft and loved it, so I thought he’d bought the houses there.

Seen in Delft

Seen in Delft

In and out of pottery and souvenir shops I went, and while many of them had little houses, they weren’t the right little houses. Some of them were coloured rather than blue (and very expensive!) and some of them were blurry, and so on.

While I was looking, I bought some tiles from this antique shop:

Where I bought the tiles

Where I bought the tiles

As well as pottery and tiles, you can see a wooden form for making bricks (or tiles?) on the left, a colourful display of clogs on the right, and numerous wooden skates hanging above.

It wasn’t till we started strolling through the street market that I found my little houses.

Market stall with huisjes

Market stall with huisjes

Turns out they are a series made by KLM originally for first class, now business class passengers. There are 89 in the series, with a new house added every year on 7 October – the anniversary of the founding of the airline. They contain not apricot brandy but genever.

The stall-holder above knew all about them and had heaps, so we chose the six with the most interesting rooflines: three for me, and three for my sister, whose birthday I’d missed in early September. If we’d gone on any other day of the week, the market mightn’t have been on. I was very happy to have found the huisjes. And my sister loved them.

Delft rooflines 1

Delft rooflines 1

Above are some Delft rooflines to be going on with. The two at bottom right are a very characteristic shape – we learned that it’s called “the neck”.



Another view of the market, above. Wheels of cheese were a common Dutch sight. The cheese was very hard: the stall holders shaved slices off it with vegetable peelers to give people a taste.

Canal tour

We had lunch outdoors at a cafe near the markets, then made our way to the canal and got our tickets for a tour. The chaps in the ticket booth kindly agreed to look after the scooter while we were gone. A large group was climbing aboard the next tour boat, and Chloe was quite concerned about persuading Teesy to join them. In the event, there were precisely three seats left, spread around the back of the boat. We really didn’t want to be asked to occupy them, but we were surprised when the organisers said they’d take us on another boat. A whole boat just for us!

Spacious canal tour of Delft

Spacious canal tour of Delft

Teesy didn’t have to be persuaded on board this time: she leapt on! Clockwise from top left: Rutger, our guide; Chloe and Helen; Teesy patrolling her new domain; me.

We hadn’t gone very far when a colleague walking along beside the canal threw Rutger a hamburger – nice way of receiving your lunch order! Teesy was his best friend from that moment on.



Above: Teesy is distracted from Rutger’s lunch by Chloe.

The canal tour was excellent. We were already happy because of finding the little houses – Helen and Chloe were just as pleased as I was! – and became even happier as we travelled around Delft with our exclusive boat and guide.

More rooflines

More rooflines

Delft is an old town (it received its  charter in 1246) with an extensive canal system and many lovely sights. Even the houses and shops are lovely, and the churches and public buildings live up to them.

Rooflines 3

Rooflines 3

Rutger told us that students make up around 30% of the population of Delft. Most of them are undergraduates at the University of Technology (where the vehicles come from that often win the World Solar Challenge in Australia). Many students live in houses like the ones depicted above.

We saw grebes, ducks and moorhens on the canal.



I thought the birds above were moorhens or coots, but now I think they might be grebes. Too much white on them for moorhens. These are babies, sitting on their nest made of rubbish at the side of a canal.


After the canal tour, we had afternoon tea and roamed around the centre of Delft till the camera batteries (and the light, and our energy) ran out.

Coats of Arms outside the Water Board

Coats of Arms outside the Water Board

The Gemeenlandshuis or Huyterhuis, built in 1505, has housed the regional water authority Delfland since 1645. Water matters!

Street scenes

Street scenes

Despite the presence of many engineers and prospective engineers in Delft, the tower of the Oude Kerk (Old Church) – top left – can’t be made straight. I believe the steeples in the middle photo are attached to the one remaining city gate, and the white tower (bottom right) could be the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), burial place of the Dutch Royal Family.



Chloe took wonderful photos for me, and this is one of my favourites. Someone had drawn this face in a shop window, and Chloe’s face is reflected taking the picture.

It had been a terrific day.

Hilversum: Thursday 17 – Wednesday 23 September 2009

5 November 2009

England photos

I forgot to mention that there’s a set of 126 photos (and one video!) taken in England on Flickr.

Swimming report

To be honest, I don’t remember the details of the days between getting back from London and flinging ourselves into a frenzy of last-minute sightseeing. I know I went to the physio once, and swimming a few times. Because of the erratic opening hours at Hilversum pool, I went back to Baarn to swim at least once. My swims were crowded and consisted, as usual, of dodging the meanderings of people doing leisurely breaststroke and chatting. The worst one was at Hilversum, when some clown came and hosed under the doors of the change rooms while I was in there trying to get dry. I hope my outraged yelling was loud enough to frighten someone.

(This sort of thing happens all the time in Canberra swimming pools: if the people in charge want to change the lane configuration, they’ll drag the ropes across your neck while you’re trying to swim, and they’ll think nothing of sticking cold water hoses and long brushes in your face if they feel like doing some cleaning. Better that you should half drown than that they should have to wait for the pool to be empty!)


Late one afternoon, I went out with Helen for a combination of grocery shopping, walking Teesy, and picking up a takeaway. For the sake of a quieter life, Teesy and I waited over the road from the supermarket. Teesy was tethered to my scooter and lay down in the cycle path (a risky decision!). Every cyclist who whooshed past did a big double-take. Not everyone at the supermarket went to the trouble of crossing the road to talk to us, but a fair number did. Teesy wasn’t in a very good mood and barked at some of her admirers. We then festooned my scooter with the groceries and our Thai dinner, so I felt quite useful. By the time we headed home, it was dark and a little bit cold: summer seemed to be over.

We still managed to have some lovely walks on the heath.

On the heath

On the heath

There were mushrooms everywhere. Helen took the clever mushroom photo above.

The crowd that gathers

The crowd that gathers

Above is an example of what happens when you go out for a walk with Teesy. It also shows the truth of what Chloe kept assuring everyone: Teesy is small for a Great Dane. The other dog in the picture is a good 30cm taller than Teesy. I took this photo down Helen’s street, near the pond where the geese live.

Van Gogh Museum

On Sunday 20 September I came down with a cold – the first time I’d felt anything other than quite well since I left home. Chloe was also feeling crook. Helen and I went into Amsterdam to the Meeting, and then to the Van Gogh Museum.  I’m very glad I got to see it, even if it was through a feverish haze! What I remember:

  • the impact of the colours
  • learning about the different stages of his work
  • reading of his determination to teach himself to paint (the man whose work seems to have taught everyone since to paint!)
  • being surprised by the Japanese-style paintings (like The Bridge in the Rain)

Standing face-to-face with extraordinary works of art is one of the joyful and enduring memories of my trip.

My cold got worse. I had to cancel a physio appointment early in the week, and sat around for a few days like a stunned mullet, wondering if I’d be let on the plane home.

Evening with Elma

I wrote about Sunday before Saturday because we had a lovely outing on Saturday, and I’m quite sure it had nothing to do with my cold. Elma, one of Helen’s colleagues in the choir, invited us over to her place for late-afternoon soup. It was a fine day with some warmth left in it, and we sat in the garden, playing with the pets and chatting with Elma and her family, well into the evening.

The rabbit and the pusscat

The rabbit and the pusscat

These pets chased each other round the garden a fair bit. The little cat didn’t seem to like us at all, but suddenly she jumped into Helen’s lap and had a long nap. Helen didn’t move!

At Elma's place I

At Elma's place I

L to R: Maurice, Elma, Chloe, Val, Helen, Maaike

At Elma's place II

At Elma's place II

L to R: Helen and the little cat, Corné, Maaike, Maurice, Elma, Chloe

It’s really special when a European invites you home, and we felt honoured. Elma had been the first ever visitor to Helen and Chloe’s house, popping in on her way home from rehearsal one day. Her interest and kindness meant a great deal to them. Spending time with this happy and welcoming family was great fun. I was grateful (as so often during my stay) for the excellent English they all spoke. We covered a lot of conversational ground, and we ate considerably more than soup!


England – Netherlands: Wednesday 16 September 2009

2 November 2009

To make good use of our final morning in England, I tried to contact Justin, who used to work for my osteopath in Canberra, to set up massage appointments for Helen and me. I’m not sure exactly how long he’s been living in London, but it’s several years. I’d heard tell he went about with his portable massage table, even lugging it onto buses.

There kept being no answer to my calls and texts and I’d given up, when the phone in the flat suddenly rang on Tuesday night, shortly after Lesley arrived. It was Justin, just back from holidays in the Lake District. Unfortunately he was completely booked out on Wednesday morning, but we had a quick chat and I learned that he’ll be visiting Canberra in 2010. He says he’s working a day at the clinic with his old clients, so I’m signing up for that!

A massage would have been nice, but we had to clean up the flat. First we had leisurely showers, and then we whacked another load of washing into the snazzy machine. Then we ate up the leftovers and the last of Betty’s greengage plums for lunch, and did the dishes. It proved to be quite a busy morning.

Helen had worked out a route to Stansted Airport which involved bus travel from Wood Green to Tottenham Hale, and then an express train. The bus was quite an experience. If you sit in the disabled people’s seats (and if I hadn’t, I would have had to stand, which isn’t a good idea because I can’t hang on) your legs are at the mercy of prams and pushchairs.

I felt for the young mothers, glamorous and bejewelled though they were – they had to stand up, hang on, hang on to the pram/stroller, stop it from rolling all over the bus, entertain offspring who were jammed in facing a wall, pacify offspring who were blinded by the sunlight striking straight down into their faces (between the showers of rain, you understand), not stick the baby parasol too hard into the legs of people nearby, and so on. I breathed a sigh of relief every time one of them struggled off the bus, but without fail, another got on.

The bus took much longer than we’d expected. It stopped at every stop and people slowly fought their way on and off. On one occasion it stopped for a really long time for a change of driver. Both the drivers (I seem to recall) drove really fast and ran into kerbs and caused everyone to fall about, but not in a good way.

Finally we arrived at Tottenham Hale, where the bus stop had recently been moved away from the station, so we had quite a long walk with our luggage. Helen had one last item to buy, at a particular hardware store which was near the station, so she bought our tickets and deposited me on the platform with the luggage. I was a little anxious, I have to admit, because she’d been worrying on the bus that all the stopping and starting was going to make us late to the airport. I took a few more drops of Rescue Remedy and hoped for the best.

After all that, the item from the hardware store was out of stock. Helen returned in time for us to catch the next train. It was pleasant to sit back and watch bits of the green and pleasant land roll by. We had a bit of a walk to the check-in, then they asked us whether Helen would wheel me or wait for one of their staff. I dopily said Helen would wheel me, thinking it would be better than hanging about, but it turned out we had to hang about anyway. Something to do with lifts needing to be unlocked, I think.

We made it to our budget flight and were conveniently put in the very front row. I took a few more drops of Rescue Remedy, and off we went to Schiphol. As usual it was peak hour, so our best bet was to catch a train to Hilversum, which we did, with the help of a few more drops of Rescue Remedy. Helen rang Chloe from the train and she drove down and was waiting for us when we came out of the station. She released Teesy, who ran down the slope towards Helen’s waiting arms, then did one of the best Teesy dances I’ve seen. She loves her mummies!

Back home, we admired all the progress Chloe had made with the renovations while we were away: more tiles in the hallway, more plastering, and Helen’s study was finished – perhaps with electricity still to go, I’m not sure. But it had gone from a complete wreck, lacking even floorboards, to a reasonable guest room in time for the wedding, and now it was a beautiful room with smooth walls and limewashed floors and extensive shelves and a built-in desk. Helen’s music stand was up, and her Judy Horacek diva cards were framed and on the wall! Unfortunately I only have pictures of Stage 1 and Stage 2, but you get the idea:

Before and during

Helen's study, before and during renovations

We also admired Chloe’s garden…

Garden before and after

Garden before and after

…which was still producing oceans of food.

Greenhouse, Katten, apple cucumbers, cherry tomatos

Greenhouse, Katten, apple cucumbers, cherry tomatos

All was well.