The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Thursday 27 April 2023

So where did April go????

I can't believe it's the end of April already. Well I think of it as end April because my pension gets paid today, as the last working day of the month. I know I went away for a few days but I can't believe April has already come and gone all the same!

Since I've been back from Holland (I know I should say the Netherlands as Holland is a region of the Netherlands but ....) it's really weird because when I start watching anything on Youtube I'm consistently seeing ads for the cruise company we travelled with. It's all the more strange to me because we didn't actually book this company - it was done by our local travel agent (GAL Voyages) - so how the algorithm is picking me out for these ads I don't know. That being said, I did pick up their brochure on board and they seem to do some lovely cruises, with the Vietnam and Africa cruises really piquing an interest! But talking of algorithms, lately I've also started getting loads of Youtube video suggestions of hair styling for afro hair which is really odd! I did click on the first video where a stylist was working with ladies suffering some pretty extreme hair loss and working with them to cover it. Okay she used hair extensions and weaves in some cases but the end results were a work of art! One lady who was seriously balding insisted she wanted to use only her own remaining hair, and the stylist created a style for her which was out of this world! And just now I've watched a video of little boy with a huge afro having his hair cut and styled and boy did he look gorgeous by the time the stylist had finished with him (although truth be told, I kinda liked his afro even better)! So maybe there is method to the algorithm's madness as now I'm hooked on afro hair styling videos! That being said, I went to the hairdresser's today to get my decidedly non-afro hair cut and thought I'd come out with my usual little old lady cut, but nope, I'm now sporting a "wonky" cut (although I think the technical word is "asymmetrical") and I love it. Whether I'll be able to keep it up myself remains to be seen (I doubt it), but who knows, maybe I'll go the whole hog and get it dyed green next time (another one of my madcap ideas)! I also finally got round to downloading a VPN onto my computer but I'm not so sure about it. It's supposed to prevent sites from being able to track me (like sites looking to sell you stuff), but it seems to me that it's actually preventing me from checking in on some of my regular reads (and even my email address!!!) unless I disable it, so I reckon I'm gonna have to delete it unless I can figure it out properly!

Anyway, back to our trip. Next stop was the city of Rotterdam and our guide spent some of our travel time telling us more about the Netherlands. One thing that did surprise me a little was that the average wage is not as high as I thought it would be (I always got the impression the Dutch were pretty well off, comparatively speaking). Of course many people make much more than the average wage, but it surprised me nevertheless how relatively low it was - even if it was still higher than France. Another big surprise was that taxation starts at 37% (yeah, I know), but I think there must be an awful lot provided out of that taxation (as in Denmark), like health care, education, etc. Still, that was also a bit of a shock! I must say I enjoyed the boat trip but would not want to go on a big cruise liner. Somehow it's just not my thing, but this boat being small it was easy to hop on and off and I didn't feel so trapped! Maximum capacity was only 180 people, most of whom were French, with about 10 Spaniards also on board, so you can see it wasn't a big boat! 

I don't know what happened but there was yet again a bit of a cock up and we ended up arriving in Rotterdam later than planned so didn't really have time to explore - which is a shame as some of the architecture looked pretty interesting. It must have been heavily bombed during the war because so much of it was modern, but interestingly modern and not boring modern so, as I said, it was a shame we didn't get much chance to visit!

Arriving in Rotterdam!

This is a google pic as mine was rubbish!

Another google pic as I got a large truck front
and centre of my picture!

Early next morning we were up and off to Keukenhof, home of the tulip gardens. Apparently it's only open eight/nine weeks of the year so you can imagine what the car park looked like, but once inside it wasn't bad at all, and there was room to sit and admire the view without feeling like you were in a mass stampede. Not all the flower beds were in bloom yet, but it was still very beautiful, so I'm guessing the rest of this post is likely to be pretty picture heavy!


We had the option of buying bulbs at the gardens or just down the road (the place was surrounded by tulip fields), but in the end I picked up a catalogue and will order something when I've had a chance to go through it as there is no way I could make my mind up with so much to choose from. There was also a very colourful exhibition of paintings by Dutch artist Anja Keijzer which was right up my alley. Just remains to be seen if I can afford any of her work!

After that it was back to the boat for the "gala dinner" where the chef and his staff exceeded themselves yet again, after which we hit the sack to get some sleep ahead of our departure for Antwerp (Belgium) the next day!

If I tried that I'd probably end up
having to move house!

Tuesday 25 April 2023

Movin' on!

After our visit to the open air museum it was time to move on to the main attraction (for me anyway), which was the city of Amsterdam - and it certainly didn't disappoint! While there is obviously some traffic in Amsterdam, most of its inhabitants use bikes rather than cars, for the simple reason that there is nowhere to park! Bikes are everywhere and you'd better be pretty careful crossing the road because bike lanes are crowded and those bikes move! Our first stop was a guided tour of the diamond quarter, but quite frankly my friend and I weren't interested in that so took ourselves off to visit the flea market nearby (selling pretty much the same tat as they do in Geneva, to be honest). We wandered around for a bit and then sat and waited for the others to get back - which was a good move, as it turns out, because everyone said the people at the diamond place weren't interested in "the likes of us", but rather in the people getting out of the Bentleys! Or as one woman said, "if I actually had €9,000 to spend on a bracelet, I doubt I'd be travelling on a bus tour"!


Apparently the houses are so narrow because
people were initially taxed on the width of their
homes (just as in England centuries ago people were 
taxed on the number of windows in their homes - so
they took them out)!!!

And of course you can't visit Amsterdam without visiting the red light district, although our small group of women was adamant that we did not want to visit "the prostitute windows". This is an area where virtually naked females stand behind glass so that potential clients can "take their pick"! Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands and prostitutes are expected to pay tax, although I'm pretty sure they don't pay that much tax as I doubt many johns pay by credit card! Even assuming it's the personal choice of the woman, I find it degrading that they should be on display like meat at a butcher's shop so we decided not to visit that part of the district. That being said, I'm pretty sure some of these young woman are trafficked and not actually prostituting themselves freely, and I well remember seeing the very effective campaign video put out a few years ago by anti-trafficking campaigners (you can see it here if you are interested)!

A dance show put on by the young "window" women!

... with this sign as the finale!

We wandered through a few back alleys and happened to pass in front of three "windows" off the beaten track, where older, fatter Asian women were standing "plying their wares" dressed in next to nothing and looking bored out of their minds, so I guess we did get a sad glimpse of what the main prostitute area is like! There were a few sex shops in these alleys and the goods in the store fronts were eye-popping, with the miniscule "sexy" outfits being the least of it! And the smell of the place - I'm surprised we didn't get high just walking around, as weed is neither legal nor illegal, but can be freely smoked in places called "coffee shops"!

After leaving the red light district (it's pretty small), we took a walk through the flower market with its amazing array of flowers/bulbs. The bulbs were humongous so I can just imagine how big the flowers would grow to be, but I decided against buying anything to lug round with me and save my money for Keukenhof the next day!


Sunday 23 April 2023

I'm baaaccckkkk!

Well for such a short trip I have to say it was pretty exhausting so I'm glad to be back home and able to sit for a while. That being said, it was a good trip generally speaking, but as it was the first time the company had run this trip I'd have to say there was room for improvement too!

We travelled yet again with a local bus company that we've used several times before and have always found to be very good. We set off at 6 a.m. for a pretty miserable trip in the pouring rain, arriving at a place called Amnéville - near the Belgian border but still in France - at around 6 p.m., so it was a long day. In reality it wouldn't take nearly that long in a car but obviously our driver had to take regular breaks and we also stopped for a typical French (read "long") lunch at mid-day. So we arrived in Amnéville just in time to get settled into our hotel and then head out for dinner. And as ever with this company, they managed to pick out really good restaurants because the food (all inclusive) was  excellent. We didn't have much time to visit the complex where we were staying but it was located in a very well thought out hot springs and amusement park which seemed to cater for all interests!

Amnéville resort

Next morning we were up and out of there to head west towards The Netherlands where we picked up our boat at a place called Lelystad, cruising through the night to end up at the port of Enkhuizen. The boat was, of necessity, pretty small (you can't cruise down canals in the QEII, after all), but our cabin was nice, the crew were helpful and the food was consistently out of this world! What I hadn't actually realized was that from this point on we would spend every night on the boat and eat all meals on it too and by golly was the food good! The portions weren't big but the menus were so well thought out and cooked it was a real pleasure. Anything you wanted from the bar was also included (yay me) so I barely spent anything at all in the end (just a few souvenirs for the kids) and felt the whole trip was really good value for money!

Our boat "L'Europe"!

Port of Enkhuizen

At Enkhuizen we were met by our local guide who took us on to the fishing village of Volendam which was very pretty - if a little cold and wet! It may (or may not) still be an active fishing village but I suspect most of their income comes from tourism!


Then it was dash back to the bus for a visit to the Gouda cheese factory and a local clog-making shop (and no, I didn't see much point in buying a pair of clogs), before heading out to the open air museum of Zaanse Schans, where it was again pretty cold - not that that bothered us. It goes with the territory after all! The downside, however, was that we were a bit rushed so I'm thinking that the bus/cruise company might want to rethink some of their itineraries!

Windmills at Zaanse Schans!

When we got back to our boat I was talking to the guide about the Dutch farmers' party recent victory and she was pretty surprised that an outsider knew about it as their mainstream media had been trying to play it down, of course. As we were talking a couple from our group started heading towards another identical boat to ours when she called them back and explained that it was the wrong boat - "that was the migrant boat". If you stopped for a second and looked you could see that it obviously wasn't our boat as it was full of young men just hanging around smoking. Someone made the mistake of calling it a refugee boat and our guide said nope, that was the boat that had been commandeered to house illegal immigrants, not refugees - "I mean, do you actually see any women and children on that boat?" You could tell that she was pissed off about the situation and when she mentioned that they were also being given an allowance of €1,000 a month by the Dutch government half our party almost fell off their chairs in shock, outraged that illegal immigrants would be housed, fed and given cash! The same thing is obviously going on in many European countries (although I don't know about the cash part), but I was surprised to read just yesterday that Mark Drakeford, the First Minister for Wales, was trying to push through a similar scheme (where illegals would be given £1,600 per month) but it was squashed by Westminster this week! Then just this afternoon I saw this report about how the army barracks where migrants were being housed in Kent has been wrecked so I'm not surprised people have had enough (you can see the report here)! The trouble is, it takes sympathy and ressources away from genuine refugees who need it most! Greater minds than mine don't seem to be able to solve this issue so I'm sure I don't know what the solution is either!

Anyway, I'll write more about the rest of my trip soon, but before I go I just wanted to mention the sad passing yesterday of the inimitable Barry Humphries. Thanks for all the laughs, Edna, and RIP Barry!

Barry Humphries, aka Dame Edna Everage!

Monday 10 April 2023

More this and that!

For those of you that celebrate Easter/Passover, I hope you had a lovely time, either with family/friends or just doing your own thing. Jen's mom very kindly invited us to her place for lunch on Sunday and we lucked out because the weather was lovely and we were able to have the windows and doors open! Charlie's foray into Easter egg hunting wasn't exactly a roaring succes as he was more interested in his new bike, but still, it was nice to get together with everyone and be able to sit outside!

My gardener came earlier this week for the first cut of the season and everything just looks so nice now. As he'd brought his tractor I asked him if he would cut the island in front of our houses at some point, so he set to and did that too - which means I'm now off the hook for the rest of the season! The menfolk round here generally take it in turns to cut the island but there's no way I'm doing it. Heck I don't even cut my own grass any more so paying the gardener to do it for me leaves me with a clear conscience - and the island looks good too, so win/win!

I stayed away from the French news for a few days and boy does it all seem to go mad when I do that! There was an apartment building that collapsed in Marseille a couple of days ago, with a second one also being evacuated. I haven't heard the final death toll from that tragedy yet but I imagine it's still climbing, sadly. Then two days ago there was an avalanche just up the road here that killed six people (two guides and four clients) who were skiing in an area that was marked as only a 2/5 risk for avalanches. So they seemingly were following the guidelines and yet still got caught out! And then just the other day a fire broke out on a ride at Futuroscope (a theme park in western France) where people were trapped on the ride as they couldn't get their seatbelts off. They think it was caused by a lithium battery catching fire, yet again calling into question potential safety issues with electric vehicles. I saw this article (here) back in January, where a Norwegian ferry company has banned electric, hybrid and hydrogen vehicles because of the safety risk, so I'm guessing we won't all be switching to EVs as early as the powers that be would like us to, all the more so given their limited range and difficulties in finding recharging points. My neighbours were just telling me the other day that they drove down to Lyon (about 90 minutes away) a couple of months ago, ran out of battery and had to get the train back, so nah, I think I'll hang on to my old jalopy as long as I can!

April Fools came and went, with Jen sending us a picture of a pregnant belly, but I knew it wasn't her (not yet, at least) because just a couple of weeks ago she was as flat as an ironing board (unlike me)! But that reminded me of an April Fools prank that I saw on TV when I was a kid. I actually fell for it, but in my defence I was a very little kid! At the end of the news bulletin they played a short clip showing that year's "tremendous spaghetti crop" in Ticino (Switzerland), but since they were having problems bringing the harvest in they were looking to recruit temporary workers to help. Sounded like a great idea to me (and again, I was a very little kid - it was filmed in 1957) and I believe quite a few people actually contacted them about temporary contracts! Ha ha, it must have been a good one if I remember it all these years later (spaghetti harvest in Ticino)! I've been a bit restless recently - you know, thinking of chucking it all in, buying a one-bedroomed apartment and a decent backpack - but at least I wouldn't fall for this gag now second time round!

I'm still doing pretty well decluttering and am trying to drop stuff off at the tip every time I go into town and, if possible, do a charity shop run once a week. Last week I actually got rid of a couple of leather carry-on bags that belonged to my brother. They were lovely and had a sentimental value for me, but I know myself well enough to realize that eventually there will come a time where I'm ready to pass these things on and now was the time. I also dropped off a brand new ice-cream maker and a bread machine (used just once), both with the instruction manuals, so I'm hoping someone will get more pleasure out of them than I did! 

Talking of travel gear, I lugged a suitcase up from the basement today as I'm off to Holland on Saturday. I used to have a list of everything (non-clothes) I needed to take with me (you know, phone charger, adaptor plugs, etc.) but I'm buggered if I know what I did with that list as it's been four years since I went anywhere. So I've drawn up another list on my computer and am adding to it as I think of stuff, and as long as I don't add it to my "freezer contents list" by mistake I'm good to go. The other day we received notice to say that the itinerary had to be changed slightly. I think we might get a little less free time in Amsterdam and more time on the cruise, but I'm not sure. Still, as long as I get to wander round Amsterdam I'm good with that! I also have a course on Ayurvedic medicine tomorrow night, which I'm quite excited about as it's something that really interests me, so I'm curious to see how that turns out!

Again in the spirit of letting things go, I gave Jen four cake moulds that I'd had for ages. Well obviously I'd had them for ages because they were for a dalmation dog cake, Winnie the Poo, a dinosaur and a lion - and my kids are in their 30s! As it was Charlie's second birthday the other week, Jen had us over for birthday cake and made a lovely brownie cake using the dinosaur mould. It came out perfectly as she obviously greased the mould much better than I did because I remember making a Winnie the Poo cake for one of my kids and it stuck to the pan so badly poor Winnie looked like he'd got a bad case of psoriasis! They'd blown up a bunch of balloons too so Charlie, me and another little one ended up having a few balloon fights. Charlie was strangely obsessed with fighting only using the green balloon, so me being a nasty granny would rush over and grab the green balloon first - at which point he'd throw a hissy fit. Tee hee! But jeez Louise, he's now two years old - you'd think he'd be a bit more mature about it!

Anyway, I don't know if I'll get round to posting again before I leave, and I'm pretty sure I won't be posting using my phone (fat fingers), so I hope you all keep well and I'll try to post lots of nice tulip photos if we don't get rained out!

Saturday 1 April 2023

This and that!

It's been another pretty decent week here in that I got quite a bit done and the weather was ok-ish. Well ok-ish until two days ago and now we seem to be back in the dark ages. Piddling down rain, howling winds and thunder storms rolling down the valley non-stop. Actually I quite like listening to the storms but the dark and wet I could do without. Every time the sun would break through the clouds for a few minutes I'd think "great, I'll go work in the garden" and then it would start pelting down again. So I ended up working in my basement the past few days and slowly but surely I can see a little progress! There is a very large unit on one end of the basement (it's split into three parts) that was left there by the previous owners and where my ex used to collect screws, nuts, bolts and god knows what else. Well I went through that sucker and put like with like - plumbing stuff, nuts and bolts, tools, paint, wallpapering stuff and now it's all sorted and looking infinitely better. I also lugged two more 25 kg buckets of rock solid paint up to the garage so that I can make another trip to the tip sometime this week. They're finally delivering my bathroom stuff on Thursday so I want to clear as much of the garage as possible so I can store all the bathroom fittings and 41 cubic metres of tiles. Exciting stuff - but again I'm not looking forward to the mess!

On Wednesday I took a trip out to a big garden centre as André had given me a gift voucher for Christmas and they were having a 15% off sale. It's still an expensive place to shop but man every time I go there I want to throw everything I own away and start over, their stuff is so beautiful! A bit like when I visit IKEA and want to redo my home completely - I mean, their showrooms are so lovely aren't they (well to my mind, anyway)! Walking through the outdoors areas I saw the most beautiful olive trees for sale. They were well established and ran about €1,000 each so even assuming I could get one in my car (I couldn't) there's no way I would buy one. I've always felt that olive trees wouldn't grow well round here but I suppose if they sell them they must do, right? To me it's more of a Provençal thing but maybe not. All I know is that they are beautiful and if I ever move further south you can bet I'll have olive trees galore and to hell with the cost!

I specifically went out there on Wednesday because that's one of the days when the big charity shop is open for drop offs and it's not too far from the garden centre. So thinking I had a vague idea how to get there I set off in that general direction, exiting the highway at a place called Lucinges - and started climbing and climbing and climbing with the road getting narrower and narrower and narrower - until I ended up half way up an alp on a goat track which dead-ended in someone's driveway!!! I had to do a 300-point turn relying on the handbrake to stop me demolishing this guy's fence and getting hotter and hotter under the collar until I finally "did a Muttley" and made it out of there! Still, at least that was ultimately another pile of stuff out the door!

When I got home I got a message from my nephew with a very old picture of my mom and dad, asking if I knew where it was taken (I didn't). He said his brother had joined and someone had posted a picture of mom and dad and they couldn't figure out who it was. Now there are only four of us siblings left and it was none of us, so I'd be curious to know who posted that picture. They also posted a picture of a gravestone belonging to two of my dad's brothers - Charlie, who died aged 25 (in the 1930s I think) and Billy, who died aged 22 after drinking bleach over a bust up with some girl!!! Dad also had a sister, Cal (the only girl after seven boys) who died aged two after falling down the cellar steps! I know a little of the background but my brother Phil, who died in 2019, would have been able to tell us so much more if he were still alive. That being said, this same nephew also joined whatever that site is that can supposedly tell you your ethnic origins (I don't know how - do they take a blood sample?) and he basically came back a Viking but with no Welsh blood in him, and this despite the fact that three of his four grandparents were Welsh! I'm not so sure about that one, to be honest!

In other news, yesterday I took a trip out to a fabric store a little bit off the beaten track for me, since the ladies at sewing club were saying that the assistants at this particular store were far more friendly and helpful than our usual haunts - and indeed they were! One lady spent a good 30 minutes with me picking out fabric for two projects I have in mind and was so helpful that I posted on their FB page to give credit where credit is due! At the check-out I spotted that they were shortly going to be offering appointments to get your sewing machine serviced so I booked mine in for 11 April, and when I asked how much it would cost they told me it was free!! So score there then too, but I suppose having a bunch of women hanging around in your shop waiting to pick up their sewing machines is probably a savvy sales technique too!

When I got home I saw I'd received an email from my electricity supplier about "my revised tariff" and thought "oh dear, here we go", but when I opened the message it turned out to be just a €3 monthly increase in my standing charge, so I can live with that. A couple of my neighbours have asked if my solar panels have made any difference to my electricity costs but to be honest I haven't even gotten round to looking yet. Note to self, I must pick up the instruction manual soon and take a look! I also got an email to say that a game I ordered to play with Charlie should be delivered soon as "Ji Nan Yi Ming Wang Luo Ke Ji You Xian Gong Si" had already sent it! Huh? I thought it was coming from France (but that doesn't sound very likely, does it)!

And has anyone else been having problems with comments on blogger? For the past week or so I've been finding comments in my spam folder, most of which (although not all) were my own comments dating back ages ago and which I know I had published! I'm also having problems backing up my blog too so I'm thinking it might be time to get my own domain name and move my blog over to that as I don't want to potentially lose it after eight years (eight years??? crikey)!

And finally, like quite a few UK bloggers, I was very sorry to hear of the sudden death of comedian Paul O'Grady. Paul found fame some years ago with his alter ego Lily Savage. I can't say I found Lily very funny, to be honest, and I'm not really into drag queens - well except for Dame Edna, and oh British pantomime dames - oh and yes I once went to a drag club in Geneva years ago and had a great time - so maybe I like drag queens more than I thought!

The inimitable Dame Edna!

Panto's ugly sisters!

Paul retired Lily a good few years ago and then went on to host game shows and appear on other media where he gained popularity with his acerbic wit. The other side of Paul was that he was great animal lover (particularly dogs) and worked tirelessly with Battersea Dogs' Home and with his show For the Love of Dogs! But I think where I learned to really appreciate what a kind and gentle man he was was when he shadowed The Salvation Army for a few days, out and about helping the homeless and those down on their luck. He was just lovely to everyone and helped raise quite a lot of money but, tellingly, at the end of the show, when he asked if he would be accepted as one of their "soldiers" (I think that's what the Sally Army call them) he was told that they couldn't accept him because he was gay! Says it all really doesn't it! 

Paul and "Lily"!

RIP Paul O'Grady! You were a good man!