Friday, December 02, 2016

Poland revisited

My last post mentioned there would be something of a hiatus in my postings because of the NaNofiWriMo challenge I was undertaking, didn't it? Well, I'm happy to report I kept up the challenge and although I haven't actually finished my travelogue yet, I now have fifty thousand words of it instead of the fifteen I started with. Another week should see the first draft completed, so I'm really happy with the progress I made.

There was another reason for my blogging hiatus though, and that was a visit to Poland that began last Wednesday and finished yesterday. Koos and I had planned it well in advance as it was at a hiatus in my work schedule as well. I must admit, I booked it then because I was worried that any later would be too cold. Well, this last week was already much too cold for me. I love Poland and the Poles, but I've learnt that their winters are just not for me.

That aside, we had a great time and visited some beautiful places. The highlights for me were Toszek and Mikolow, two towns we went to just by sticking a pin on the map and catching buses. Toszek had a magnificent castle on the top of a very high hill, a huge surprise. There has been a fortification or gord there since the tenth century, and today, only parts of the castle are habitable, but I loved the combination of ruins with a fully functional and restored castle building. We spent some time just sitting on a bench there watching the sun go down. A magical interlude.

Toszek Castle from the bottom of the hill

In the grounds of Toszek Castle

The main gateway to Toszek Castle, fully restored

 Mikolow has seven hundred years of history and in one of its guises it had the German name of Nikolai and was home to a huge printing/publishing works. Silesia, the region of Poland where we have spent most of our time, has been a conflicted area for so much of its history, it's hard to know which influences have been the strongest, but German architecture is quite prominent in this area. 

The rynek or main square at Mikolow

We arrived on an icy cold morning and had to dive into a café to warm up quite quickly. All the same it was a lovely place with a pretty square (rynek) and a lively market. Quite a discovery given that we thought we were on the bus to nowhere.

I just loved the colour on these buildings

Street off the main square

The three clocks
Lovely shop fronts in Mikolow

One other special trip we did was into the mountains to Zwardon. Our train took us through Bielsko Biala, meaning white-white (yes, seriously! They are two different dialects and both refer to the White River on which the town was built), a beautiful classical town that has the added attraction of being the starting point for a cable car up into the mountains. We only stopped here on the way back, by which time it was dark, so it's somewhere to revisit, perhaps in the summer when the days are longer. Nevertheless, Zwardon was quite an experience. The further we climbed, the more it snowed, so by the time we arrived three hours after leaving Gliwice, the snow was more than ankle deep.

Zwardon church


We had a wonderful guide in our train conductor who was full of fascinating information and kept us entertained for most of the journey. He even invited Koos into the driver's cabin as a special concession so he could take photos and film a bit of our ascent. Thank you so much, Tomasz!

Our train at Zwardon

Zwardon hillsides. It is only 640 metres altitude
at the station, but the hills rise higher around it

The rest of our trip involved many tram and bus rides courtesy of our seven day travel card that cost the princely sum of about €11 and covered the entire network. We visited the mining museum and the Silesia museum. These were both quite moving experiences because I learnt so much about the struggles the people in this region have been subjected to, during centuries of conflict and even as recently as the 1980s when contamination of the environment by industry was at national disaster levels and then martial law was imposed, followed by mining strikes that cost many lives.

Gliwice town square


Lastly there was the Katowice Christmas Market, a beautiful set up in the centre of this much improved city, and a bief visit to my favourite town of all, Gliwice. But I have to confess, a lot of the time, we were diving into coffee shops just to get out of the cold. I love Poland, but next time I go, it will be in spring again. For me, that is the best time, and then, it might even be by boat....who knows?

Christmas market food

Stalls at the christmas market

Trinkets at the Christmas market

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A hiatus in my blog

I've just realised I never did a post last week and now the weekend is almost upon us again, so this is just to apologise and say there might be a few (What is the plural?) in my blogging and also in my blog reading this month.

The reason for this is that I'm doing something I never imagined I'd do and that's the NaNofiWriMo. You've all heard of that, haven't you? Right, then its the National Non-fiction Writing Month (I don't know what's national about it as it seems to happen everywhere). The aim of this challenge is to write the first draft of a book in a month. Now I have never put pressure on myself like this before and in truth, I don't really believe in it, so why am I doing it?

Well, when we came back from our summer travels I had a diary full of the stories from our faring adventures, and I was intending to sit down and write a full-length travelogue. For some reason, however, I just wasn't able to write more than a couple of chapters, and I've come to the conclusion that it's the diary that's proving to be the stumbling  block.

I've never before used a diary  to write a memoir. Actually, I've never been good at keeping them, so the most I've had are a few anecdotes that I've written in notebooks and scrappy journals that have lasted a matter days. For the rest, I've used photos, talked to people who were there (or should I say 'person', because mostly, it's been Koos), studied maps and looked up historical details or weather situations on the internet. And above all, I've relied heavily on my memory, which I'm happy to say is still pretty good. I've always been able transport myself back in time to a place and situation and re-live the moment with all the feelings, scents and sights it has evoked. I'm also quite adept at recalling conversations, especially funny ones (although I should say I can also remember arguments I've had with people almost word for word, and that's not so healthy as I sometimes re-live those too. This can leave me in a filthy mood that's quite mystifying to anyone I happen to be with who hasn't been in on my mental processes).

That aside, what is all this leading to? Well, it came to me that if I was ever going to finish this travelogue, I should ditch the diary and just get on with writing it from memory. I was getting far too bogged down in details and losing the magic of the impressions I had on the journey. But, because it's a travelogue that covers just a month and not a few years, I couldn't afford to let any of the sequence of events fade or lose the vivid recollections, so I knew I needed to write it fast...which brings me back to why I'm doing the NaNofiWriMo.

I just want to get it all down and then I can edit it. I forget who it was who said somewhat cryptically 'you can't edit a blank page' but that's what has driven me to do this. And it's working! I'm averaging about 1400 words a day, so if I can maintain this pace, I'll have my first draft done by the end of the month.

As to when it will get published....that's anybody's guess at this stage. It depends on how many re-writes I have to do; at least there will be something to work on! All the same, it does mean I'll be blogging less and reading less too. I hope you'll all forgive my lack of attention to your blogs, but in the now famous words of one Arnold Schwarzeneger...'I'll be back'. I promise! I love blogging too much to miss it for long.

Have a good weekend everyone, and whatever despair you are in over the world today, just remember that lovely song of George Harrison's, All Things Must Pass.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Up and Down...stairs, ceilings and other jobs

This past week I've been up and down to Rotterdam like a yoyo, yet somehow I've managed to get a few things done besides the normal paid job.

I don't know if any of you remember, but this time last year, I wrote a post reflecting on my watery life, in which I described how I would just gaze around my barge looking for all the ways I could improve it. Funnily enough, it's become my most-read-post ever and still gets a steady trickle of views as the months goes by.

Anyway, in that post, one of the jobs I said I wanted to do was to neaten up the panelling above my bed and re-paint it. There was a gap in the middle where one of my offspring had removed a section but not replaced it, and following a shuffle round with the wall that covered the water tanks, the electricity cable was left running across the middle of the ceiling where previously, it had been behind said wall.

Rather a noisy photo, but the gap is now filled

It's taken me all these months since then to decide how to sort it out, but I've finally done it. Over the past few weeks, I've moved the cable to the edge of the ceiling, repaired the gap in the ceiling with a nice piece of trimmed wood, filled in the plethora of screw holes and painted everything a creamy colour instead of the green it used to be. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Well, like most things boaty, it took a lot longer than I thought it would, and was much more work and much less efficiently done than my  imagination had...erm...imagined? Even now, I might say it's finished, but it isn't really. I would still like to have a conduit or housing for the electricity cable, but I haven't yet found one big enough. I might need to improvise, though, as I did in fact buy one, but it wasn't deep enough for the cable which is quite thick, and I haven't seen another one with the right dimensions.

Everything is now painted a creamy white instead of green
Another job I've managed to do is to put a shelf in the top part of my hanging cupboard. I realised fifteen years down the line (I don't rush these things, do I?) there was some wasted space in there as I don't wear long coats and dresses. It occurred to me (better late than never) that an extra shelf would come in really handy. So, after lowering the hanging rail, it was a quick matter to find a piece of left over wood in my store and make this shelf. And guess what? It's already fully occupied and it's only been there a couple of days. What's that they say about always filling your environment to capacity? As a footnote to this, I've also repaired one of my stair treads which had virtually collapsed under a long ago visitor's weight. For several months, I've been harping on a bit like the London Underground's 'Mind the Gap' man with my own version of the mantra called 'Mind the Step'.  I even thought of recording it and setting it to play any time anyone opened the hatch, but I didn't get round to that either. As a result the hammer and nails were out in full force this week and not before time.

Last but not least, I was inordinately excited to receive a package in this week's post containing a very small, but hopefully powerful fumigation 'bomb' to finally put the mockers on the woodworm in my little back cabin. It probably sounds a bit sad to be so excited about something so utilitarian, but believe me, this is a problem that's been occupying my mind and energy for so much time, I'm hugely relieved to have what I hope is a real solution to the problem. Even better, I activated it this morning with much ceremony, aplomb and coughing. After a couple of hours of letting it all penetrate every part of the cupboards and ceiling (during which time I beat a hasty retreat),  I now feel I can get on with replacing the floor and putting the room back in use. Before that happens, however, I think I'll have to give everything a detox first. I've used so much woodworm killer in it I'm risking ending up like a doomed bug myself...on my back with my legs in the air! I actually hate using persticides, but it was really necessary in this case as I have already completely lost the floor to the little burrowers and was in danger of losing the original cupboards and panels as well. This will, I'm praying, be the end of it.

So...are you all now totally enthralled with my Mrs Fixit activities? Yes? Haha, I know the real answer to that. Suffice to say, it all fits in with my aim to make sure I do something for the barge every week. In a way, I'm glad it's never finished, and never will be really. Planning, preparing and doing all these small jobs is my relief from work. While I'm teaching, I rarely have time to write, so these DIY efforts are my relaxation and also my reward. And did I mention that I love my barge? I do, and with something approaching fanaticism, but I try not to be too noisy about it.

Just to finish off by looking back to my last year's post, I now wonder what I'll have done by this time next year? I have so many plans it'll be interesting to see how many of them make it to reality!

Have a good week everyone!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Still fair for faring

The weather is definitely becoming more autumnal now and the trees are turning such a beautiful colour, but despite a few days of very heavy rain and chill winds, we are still having some lovely sunny days. So much so that we have had yet another quick spuddle out on the canal this weekend.

But before I get to that, I wanted to add some photos here of the very special sailing barge event that we went to last Sunday the day after I wrote my last post. I'd read that the Bietentocht (as it is called here) was starting with its traditional 'warm-up' event at the town of Goes, not that far away from where we escape to at weekends. Bietentocht means Beet tour and it is just that: a tour of sugar beet loaded barges that sail from one town to another in Zeeland over a period of four days. The boats are all traditional Dutch sailing barges and the event begins when they are towed by magnificent draft horses from the lock (sas) at Goesesas to the harbour in the centre of Goes itself. The horses used for this event were Belgians, apparently. They were not quite as tall as some of the English draft horses I have seen, but still noble and beautiful.

Koos and I agreed we would like to go and see the event, so we jumped on his motor scooter and sped 50km along the highway to arrive at the start just as they were beginning to match horses to barges. In the sunshine, at the water's edge with the bright autumn light, it was a truly captivating scene, and I think the photos speak for themselves:

Horses taking up the slack lines

And then pulling the barges

Without too much effort at all - one gentle
nudge was all it took

In their Sunday best

Bargees in traditional costume

And glorious paintwork

More dressed up gee gees

Barges in the lock waiting to be released

Barges waiting to enter the lock from the
Well of course, we had to wait and see them arrive in Goes, and that was also a terrific sight. The barges were literally crammed into the harbour.

Well, having seen this and after being so inspired by it all, I decided I wanted to see the end of the tour when it reached the small town of Willemstad, which is in Zuid Holland on the south side of the Hollandsch Diep. I knew they would arrive on Thursday, so after work, I met my daughter and her family and we set off to see the barges coming in. What a difference! In contrast to the previous Sunday, it was pouring with rain, and we had to make for the safety of a café, but not before I managed to snap a few pics of the boats crowding into this small harbour.

Reversing in to the harbour was the only way

Clippers, possibly the most beautiful and elegant of the
Dutch barges

Barges like sardines in a can

Wonderful shapes and colours

The clouds started to clear just as we left
But that wasn't entirely the end of the barging week. We had a couple of days of excessively high water in Rotterdam, which is always quite exciting. Would the water wash over the side of the harbour this time? It never has and didn't this week either, but it did lap over the steps where the café puts its tables, and many's the time they have had to evacuate that part in the past.

Water lapping over the top steps of the café opposite

Getting close to the top, but not quite there.
We can relax...

Back in Zeeland again, the sun peeked through the clouds yesterday and the air was balmy and sweet. We were supposed to be cleaning the Hennie Ha, but the pull of the open water was too strong. It was still fair enough for faring! So we cast of the ropes and took to the canal. It also happened that friends were visiting in their camper van on the other side of the bridge, so we picked them up and took them for a spuddle too. It was unexpectedly lovely and a real treat. We made it back just before the heavens opened again.

Today has been a bright, clear and sunny too, but much colder and I really feel that autumn is upon us. It's dark in the mornings until eight now, which makes hauling myself out of bed even more challenging than usual. In another week, the clocks will change, which will give my body clock time to catch up a bit; the leaves will be falling hard and faring will be fully finished (or maybe not if we are brave). But what wonderful trips we've had this year to feed my soul through the winter....and as I still have a book about it to write, I can live it all over again. Aren't I the lucky one?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

From fighting to faring in a week

I expect you're wondering what I mean by the title and it's not as bad as it sounds - well, the fighting bit isn't. To you, anyway.  My fights are not against the world, or countries or even people. As anyone who has read my recent posts knows, I have taken on the task of beating the beetle, lambasting the larvae and thoroughly whacking the woodworm on the Vereeniging.  Little bugs in the greater scheme of life, I know, but boy can they cause some (brain) damage.

As I mentioned last week, I'd ripped out the floor of my small aft cabin (we call it the roef) as it was riddled with woodworm. I've now cleared everything else out of the room, only to find they have started attacking the old cupboards and seats too. Luckily, these are all varnished, so they haven't got too far, but it's awful - a nightmare in fact. I have just now managed to order a smoke bomb from the UK to get into all the nooks and crannies that I might have missed, so I hope that once I have it, it will be the end of the little blighters.

Other than that, I've been working, as in teaching some very nice courses at the university, and also continuing with operation paint pot in my sleeping nook  on the barge. It's becoming almost smart now, so I'm really pleased about that. More photos soon, but I forgot to take any this week.

Now I'm back in Zeeland again, and there are other jobs to do. At least that was the plan. Today, we intended to go to the Hennie Ha where it is moored up and give her a good clean. But roads and good intentions have a way of getting diverted down a slippery slope. We arrived at the marina, and the sun was shining, the sky was what skies in holiday brochures look like and the canal called. What could we do? There really was no choice, so we took ourselves off for a bit of a faring fix. It was just wonderful as these photos will testify.

leaving the marina

Himself in relaxed mode as always

A regular at the Cargill plant

large commercial heading towards Terneuzen

Us steaming across the canal

to s small side branch harbour

where we watched the ships pass

Also heading for Terneuzen

Coal barges being pushed south

following the biggies

for a distance up the canal until we turned

And headed back past the regular visitor
and back to base
We managed some cleaning when we got back to the marina, but it was a half hearted affair. We were much too euphoric over our faring forth! Hoping you've all had a good week and wishing you some continued sunny weather.