Sunday, March 17, 2019

Citizen Val

Last Thursday was my big day. I became a Dutch citizen in Terneuzen, Zeeuws Vlaanderen, after having lived here since the beginning of this century and it felt just great! I'll admit Brexit prompted me into action, but I've been thinking about doing it for years. I'm at home here in the Netherlands, my daughters are here, Koos is here and I have my barge and a small (if crumbly) cottage here too. Why would I leave?

I took my Dutch exams back in 2010 with the possibility of becoming a citizen in mind, but to be honest the cost of applying put me off for a while. It's not a cheap business and I guess they want you to really feel committed. Still, there are undoubtedly expenses for the authorities too as they do all sorts of checks to make sure you're the kind of person they want. All the same, until Brexit came along, it wasn't such an issue that I felt impelled to spend the money and take the step.

Having finally taken the plunge last year in February, it was an exercise in patience and chewed nails to wait for the decision. Would they kick me out? What would I do if I received a negative response? My daughter applied months after me and got her citizenship last year in November. Why was it taking so long for me? What had I done wrong? "Aah," my friends nodded, smiling. "You're in Zeeland. Everything takes longer there." And with that I had to be content. Making jokes about slower country folk didn't do much to ease my anxiety (or make my nails grow) but it was a nicer thought than any of the alternatives.

When the decision finally came, I was more relieved than delighted; so were my nails. However, I was pleased to see the King himself had accepted my application. That made me stand up straight again. "Zijne majesteit, Koning Willem Alexander" had given me the stamp of approval. Phew! "I didn't get a letter like that," said my daughter. "Aah, but you're not old and potentially expensive like me," I replied, laughing. 

Well, I have no idea why the king had to give the nod to mine and not hers but it made for some entertaining speculation and it helped me feel a bit special for a while.

Anyway, that was at the beginning of February this year, just inside the 12 months they had, by law, to make the decision. Then came the wait for the naturalisation ceremony. As this was going to be local, I accepted another long wait. Thinking I might be one of a very few, we joked about having to wait until they'd collected enough of us in Zeeland to make the ceremony worthwhile. The invitation finally arrived two weeks ago, so imagine our surprise when on the day itself, we turned up to find I was one of thirty three new Nederlanders in Zeeuws Vlaanderen and one of quite a crowd.

The downside was we didn't have tea, chats and cake, which we did at the small intimate affair that my daughter's ceremony involved. The upside was that I didn't have to give a speech about myself in Dutch, which she did (with great fluency and ease, I might add).

Despite the numbers at Terneuzen, which more than doubled with all the supporting relatives, it was a friendly and very cheerful occasion. The mayor, a very tall, very Dutch local man was smiles and charm incarnate and made us all feel genuinely welcome, but I need not say more now as Koos' great photos show the atmosphere even better than I can describe it. 

"Ha," the mayor said, "Poore met een e. Welkom"

And the deed was done

And then we had to have a group photo...
But only the mayor is looking at the camera. Oh dear...
So we had to be directed by this lady here....
who told us to say cheese, although I'm not sure everyone understood!

But then we all got it. She did a great job and this was it
My next challenge will be applying for a Dutch passport, following which I will have to surrender my British passport, another major cost. I'm a bit peeved about that. I thought I could just go along to the consulate and hand it over, but no, I have to pay close to €450 for the privilege of giving it back. Since dual nationality is not permitted in the Netherlands if you aren't married into or stem from a Dutch family, it has to be done. Such is life and long may I live in my Flatlands – the home I have chosen to call my own.

Have a good week, allemaal! Till next time!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Stormy weather

This last week has been a seriously stormy one, weather wise. While I was in Rotterdam, I spent time on the Vereeniging after work emptying my little boat during the few dry minutes, then listening overnight to the rain pounding on the hatches and having to empty it again the next day.

The wind has been ferocious, but luckily, my spot is quite sheltered. Even so, there was plenty of rocking about and I couldn't manage to get much of an internet connection. It kept dipping on and off, which is quite tedious when I'm trying to do my online course work.

On Thursday when I drove to Steenbergen, the wind was so strong it buffeted my poor little jam jar of a car about as if it were a punch bag. I felt the wind was shoving me sideways constantly, especially on the highway, so at the first opportunity, I took the back way where it felt inexplicably safer. It probably wasn't, though. There are far more trees close to the road, so my ideas of safety were illusory. Judging by the number of fallen trees we've seen today, I'd say now that it was worse than illusory and quite possibly deluded of me, but then on Thursday we hadn't had the real storm.

I know I tend to exaggerate about the wind; I actually hate it with a passion. Ever since I was a child, I've found it gets under my skin and bothers me; makes me grumpy and unsettled. But yesterday was awful. The wind howled and I was really quite worried about the amount of damage it was doing.

As it happened we lost a roof tile at the crumbly cottage. Not much in the greater scheme of things, but it happens to be about the most expensive tile it could have been. It was one of those edging, finishing off ones that has an L shape which hooks over the side of the facia board. Where the normal flat tiles sell for around €2 a piece, this one goes for whopping €70. I was staggered. We still have to put it up, but I'm wrapping it in cotton wool tonight, nurturing it and making sure it doesn't get cold. It needs some serious TLC at that price.

Lovely Gent

But when we drove to Gent this morning we were made aware of the real scale of the storm by the large number of trees either down or snapped off mid-trunk. There were dozens of them. There's no doubt it was a baddy, and it's been blowing quite hard most of today too, so I sincerely hope we've had our share for a while.

I think Koos does as well, but not for the same reasons. I'm not particularly nice to know with this kind of wind in my hair. I prefer a peaceful life and if storms are some kind of gauge of what people like and are like, I'm definitely not one of those that appreciates drama in any form.

Looking forward to spring and a more peaceful life

I'm back in Rotterdam and on the boat again tomorrow, hoping there's no damage there, but I'll be up and down and round and round this week. Reasons include the great citizenship shift, but more on that later.

For now, keep safe and have a good week allemaal

Sunday, March 03, 2019

The first post Portugal post

Last week I promised I wouldn't post anymore about Portugal, but now I have a problem. What should I be writing about instead? I know I've been very busy, but in the past weeks, none of what I've been up to is terribly blog worthy.

Since the end of January, I've resumed my treks up and down country to various teaching locations and I've enjoyed catching up with the group of teachers to whom I'm giving exam training in Roosendaal (town about 60kms south of Rotterdam). I've also been to Amsterdam again to the first session of a new online course and to Steenbergen (another town south of Rotterdam), where I've been teaching an elderly lady and a young Afghani man on Thursday afternoons. Other than this, I've had my usual academic writing courses at Erasmus University and a couple of workshops for a company in Steenbergen, which I thoroughly enjoyed as a change from the academic English.

It was fun to set up the workshop in these pleasant surroundings

When I first started teaching, I mainly did business communication, but that's changed in recent years and the focus has shifted to academic writing. It was lovely to go back to my training roots again and work with business people on the simple art of writing a good email.

But what else has been happening? Not much to be honest. I've spent most of the time enduring the cold weather and confess I've neglected the Vereeniging by staying in Rotterdam as little as possible, but yesterday marked the beginning of spring for my barge. After I had my stint on the helling in December, I didn't put my gangplank back on the quay. It seemed safer then because we had Christmas and New Year when the harbour can get a bit lively and as I wasn't going to be there (remember said trip to Portugal) in January, I just left it off.

A winter scene just before I went on the helling
We had more of the same in January; hence
the halt to the work
For the last month, I've been clambering over my neighbour's barge to get on and off, but now I want to start working on the boat again and for that, I really need it, so yesterday, we put it back in place and now I'll be getting on with my ongoing projects again. Believe you me there's plenty to do, and the first step was to wash it down and get some of the winter greening off. I hope I'll be resuming my panel replacement work in the coming weeks, but of course today it's been raining...just to spite me.

One other and perhaps more important event that's coming up is that on 14 March, I'll finally be taking the oath at the official ceremony to become a Dutch citizen. I'm doing the deed in Terneuzen, Zeeland, which is where I'm registered as a resident (not so far from the crumbly cottage), and following that, I'll be getting my Dutch passport.

Bye bye British Passport
The downside is that I have to surrender my British passport. Unfortunately, Dutch law doesn't allow for dual nationality except in specific circumstances, none of which apply to me. Such is life, and that is how it has to be, but it will feel quite strange, I must admit.

Still, I'll be posting again before then, so maybe I'll have more to say on the lead up to the great event next week.... will I or won't I feel more Dutch? That'll be interesting to see.

One thing I promise, though...I won't be writing my blog in Dutch. For one thing, I'd lose all my readers, and for another, it would take me hours to write a post! I have my Dutch exams, but real proficiency is a long way off. You could say I'm still working on it...have a good week, allemaal. Tot volgende keer! (Till next time).

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The last (Portugal) Post

Since I have actually been alive and busy since we went to Portugal, I realise I should get on to blogging about my current doings rather than wallowing in one week in January. So this is definitely my last post about Portugal, but it's visually a feast.

We spent most of our time to the east of Faro and Olhao and loved our visits to Vila Real, Ayamonte and Tavira (which I haven't yet mentioned...oh dear). Olhao stole our hearts and I've no doubt we'll be back there next winter as it seems an ideal place to find some warmth and sunshine. Anyway, I digress. Two days before we left, we took the train to Lagos in the west, mainly because I wanted to see the amazing rock formations at the coast there. The journey took more than two hours to cover the 100-odd kilometres from Olhao, but it was worth it.

I was afraid Lagos would be horribly touristy, but it wasn't at all. It's a charming town with some very steep hills, narrow streets and typically Portuguese architecture. It definitely owes its living to tourism, I admit, but not in a tasteless way. I found it friendly, attractive and quite appealing.

View from the upper town over the harbour

In the heart of the tourist centre
As we walked through the main street in Lagos, we noticed the tourist shops and the cafés with English boards, but it was very pleasant, and we were greatly entertained by a sixty-plus Englishman busking on the street doing a sterling job with well-known folk songs by the likes of Johnny Cash.

Cafés and restaurants abound on this hilly street

Boats always draw us

We had lunch at one of the more outlying cafés, which was served by some very friendly local ladies, and then we walked towards the end of the harbour where we found what I was looking for. The headland to the west of Lagos harbour is the most amazing lace-work of stratified and eroded rock that result in some stunning formations. I realise we only saw a fraction of them and had we taken a boat tour, we'd have seen much more, but for us, this was enough. I shall let the photos speak for themselves.

I think it is all amazing and very beautiful, but it's also quite dangerous as the rocks crumble easily and are prone to falls. We trod through the holes that enabled us to go from beach to beach very carefully.

Here's an aerial photo I pinched from Google just to give you an idea of the headland. It's astonishing.

After crawling from one section to the next, and gazing at them in complete awe, we made our way back through the upper town before descending to the station to make the homeward trip back to Olhao. We'd only spent a couple of hours in Lagos and by the time we got back we'd spent a total of five hours on the train, but we wouldn't have missed it for anything. 

And now back to normal life again... have a good weekend allemaal!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

I spy with my little eye things beginning with S (in Portugal)

It's hard to believe it's a month since we were in Portugal and I'm still processing everything we saw there. 

Three special things that really grabbed me and keep coming back to me were the storks, the salt pans, and the traditional Portuguese side streets. Okay, so they aren't unique to Portugal. Lots of places have storks and the Carmargue in France is also known for its salt pans (and maybe storks as well). Many more have fascinating back and side streets, but for me they were special here in the Algarve: nothing to do with tourists, totally natural and with a sense that these are essential to Portuguese life.

Take the storks here, for instance. I love the way they utilise all the high spaces to build their multi-storey nests, which can also be home to other birds and small critters. I watched them with fascination, awe and amazement as they circled the high buildings looking for the best spots or finding older nests that could be recyled...the stork version of being environmentally friendly. They are part of life in the Algarve and as such, they are as inherent to the atmosphere and colour of the region as the buildings and the people.

And then there are the salt pans. The Algarve, like the Carmargue in France, produces sea salt in the most natural way possible. Huge pans are flooded at regular intervals during the warmer seasons and allowed to evaporate to the point where the salt is harvested. It is quite a long process, but I was intrigued to see these pans as they lay waiting, ready for the operational activities of the hot months. It seems a marvellously traditional method and a special feature of these coastal marsh and lagoon lands. I'm so glad they still maintain the custom of producing their salt in this time-honoured way.

And then finally, there were the side streets with their colourful tiled houses and their rooftop terraces. I loved seeing this little dog peering over the roof and the wonderfully random tiling that you can see everywhere if you duck down a back street in Olhao. It's intimate, it's charming and we wandered around for hours taking it all in and enjoying the friendly greetings of the people who lived in these neighbourhoods. These are folk who've probably lived there since childhood and the streets are as much a part of their homes as their rooftops. We saw old ladies sweeping the paving in front of their houses, old men sitting outside their doors and children skipping through the alleyways. Lovely!

And then to come across the train track, in the middle of nowhere, but on the edge of a quiet neighbourhood. It's still the line that runs all along the coast.

Now I've had a chance to absorb it all, I know I'll want to go back. For longer next time. The eastern Algarve is not 'wow' kind of country; it's a 'yes, I like this; in fact, I love it' kind of place. Gentle, charming, scruffy, warm and friendly, but also calm, open and untamed.

Next week, I'll post my photos of Lagos and its amazing rock formations...really wow stuff, but for now, I hope you enjoy these more serene scenes.

Have a good weekend allemaal.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

A short delay

How does life get in the way of blogging? Discuss...

Well, there’s not much to discuss really except that this is a busy time of year when everyone wants a piece of me. Admin is my biggest nightmare. The taxman’s axe threatens and I was up until 2a.m. compiling my defence which had to be delivered to the lawyers accountants today...okay, it’s just my paperwork for the year, but needs must, or I shall find the results more than taxing...sorry. It’s also a time when lots of other people come knocking at my virtual door for renewals, repairals and, scrub that last one. I seem to be in morbid mode this morning.

Anyway, suffice to say I’ve been a tad occupied but normal service will be resumed very shortly.

On a final note, I do wonder why it is that every time I go to Amsterdam, it’s colder, wetter and generally lousier than it is anywhere else in the country. Monday was a case in point...maybe it’s the price they pay for being more of everything else, e.g. prettier, livelier, hipper etc. Perhaps we should discuss that instead!

Have a good week, allemaal. I’ll be back with a bang and some more pics soon.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Hiya Ayamonte

I'm a bit tardy with this post. I'm sorry about that. I'd intended to try and write one every couple of days but I've been nose to the screen editing my latest book. Anyway, now the weather's about as appealing as a wet woollen coat on a snowy day (actually it's sleeting, so just as bad), I'm happy to look at these photos and enjoy the sunny skies again. 

How lovely it was to be in Portugal. It's hard to believe we came back more than ten days ago. The photos below are actually of Ayamonte, which is in Spain. The border between the two countries is the lovely Guadiana River. 

Now why are you surprised we went there? And also that we took the ferry across the river instead of taking a bus? 

You're not, I know.

As you might imagine the boat trip was the highlight for me, just as the ferry to Farol was last time; I just love boats. The Guadiana is a tidal river that flows straight out to sea a kilometre or so downstream from the ferry, but considering it flows into the Atlantic, it is remarkably calm with a very slow running tidal current.

The approach to Ayamonte across the water is lovely. The boat follows a diagonal route and it takes about fifteen minutes, so not very long, but enough to give us that 'aaaaah' feeling of being on the water again.

 The views were marvellous. Above is Castro Marim, a castle we didn't manage to get to, but I've promised myself we will next time.

Ayamonte was very pretty straddling the hillside with its brilliant white homes and colourful waterfront.

I was fascinated by these fishing boats too. Apparently they are trawlers and those ramp things are where they haul the nets in.

And here we were saying Hiya Ayamonte. What an attractive town it is: full of colour and cheerful liveliness. It was odd that we suddenly went forward an hour and the difference between a not quite awake late morning in Vila Real on the Portuguese side and a lively Ayamonte in full lunchtime mode was quite striking.

The tidal harbour waters run deep into the town. I think this landing stage was for fishermen, though. It's too shallow for navigation and anyway, the bridge was fixed. The rest of the photos are just impressions from the backstreets that we found. I enjoyed it very much, steep hills and all.

Well, that's it for this time Allemaal. The weather here is quite horrible, so I'll keep posting about sunny Portugal until things improve a bit. I hear it's going to snow again tomorrow and Wednesday. Ho hum.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

A ferry island trip

Now, I'll bet you're all thinking the lovely building in the image above is where we stayed in Olhão, but I'm afraid that's not the case. I realise to my surprise I didn't take any photos of our hostel/hotel. I put it like this because it didn't seem to know quite what it was, but whatever the case, it was a lovely place to stay in a quiet (well, mostly...when the local football team weren't practising their cheering) neighbourhood close to the town centre. 

Last time I came to Olhão, I wasn't all that taken with it, but it intrigued me enough to keep looking at information on the internet, and I'm so glad we decided to use it as a base. It's a lovely place, very Portuguese as opposed to touristy, and full of character. The building above is just one, but the back streets and 'largos' of the old town are a visual feast. 

On the first morning, we did as recommended by the young man who acted as hotel receptionist, and went to the street market, which is on every day in the morning. It was a bustling hive of activity and we loved milling around amongst all the locals. The veggie stalls looked great and there was much lively trading to be had, not that we had any, but you get the drift. 

Then we continued obeying our host’s instructions and found the ferry terminal to take us to the Ria Formosa island stops of Culatra and Farol. The previous day we'd been offered a boat trip to these islands for €25 each. Granted they included a tour round the nature reserve and explanation of the bird life, but I'd already done that two years ago, so we were more than pleased when we found that ferry tickets to the same island were just €4,30 return each. The ferry trip took 45 minutes with a stop at Culatra before taking us further round the island to Farol.

Bird Island. I would have loved to get closer to see all the different 'makes'
of bird there were.

A water taxi steams past us

The ferry was pretty big. This was before it filled up

Locals waiting to disembark at Culatra
We watched with pleasure as most of the ferry passengers disembarked at Culatra. This was real local life and these people had been into Olhão to do their grocery shopping. The various designs of what we always think of as granny trolleys were amazing. They are quite the thing here and obviously a must have for the lively islanders. Everyone seemed to be pulling one loaded up with vegetables and other bags. There was even a man with a TV, which was passed to him over the railings of the boat. Too risky to take down the stairs, I suppose. Anyway, that took care of most of the passengers and then we were on our way again across the windy bay.

As it says 

Shopping trolleys are de rigeur and all the rage here

And even islanders need a new telly sometimes

The wind was blowing quite hard. A few shopping trolleys nearly got swept
to their death 
45 minutes to the second after leaving, we arrived at Farol. We decided our skipper must have done this a few times before as we were exactly on time. I'd peered through the bridge window on the boat and seen his hands on the wheel. One of them was sporting a large plaster, so I wondered whose nose had brushed up against him the previous evening. Speculation aside, he was very much in command and brought us safely to the landing stage, where we were greeted by an anxious looking dog waiting for her master. Very focused, she was. I didn't even get a look in.

And a local dog came to greet her master

Farol is stunning. The houses are just gorgeous and I would love to stay there a while. Imagine being able to hole up in one of these for the winter!

Then, there is the famous (well I think it is) lighthouse that stands in a very beckoning beacon like way close to the headland.

And on the other side of the island is the ocean, the Atlantic with proper waves and rollers. It's amazing how peaceful the Ria Formosa is by comparison. Despite being open through to the sea, the lagoon type delta is incredibly well protected.

The Atlantic as it really is. It even feels bigger, wilder and more untamed

Meandering back over the island we spotted more gems, not to mention the curious television aerials in the photo below. I wondered if it had anything to do with the distance they are from...well...anywhere.

Even here, they manage to have TV. Spot the aerials 
An African rondavel on Farol. Lovely!

And when your chimney needs fixing, there's always duct tape

And another cutie just waiting for me

The call of boats
We found a café open to have coffee and a cake (for Koos) on the island. We were the only customers but the coffee was perfect and just what we needed. An hour after arriving, we were ready to take the ferry back again. The return trip seemed faster, but it  took exactly the same time. On the way, we were passed by a kind of pontoon boat travelling at some speed. I was charmed to see a dog standing in the bow clearly loving the ride...dogdems, not dodgems.

Back  in Olhão, if you don't have a garden, use the roof

Back in Olhão, we explored the back streets of the town further. There's no doubt it's a bit scruffy, and even less doubt that it's a bit cramped, but we loved it and I was even more glad I'd chosen it as it has all the curiosity and local colour that both of us like.

The delight of the back streets

 It also seems incredibly safe. People leave their washing out on the street without any fear of vandalism or theft. There is a depressing amount of graffiti in much of Faro and also some on the outskirts here, but in town, evidence of that kind of random destruction seems to be much less.

As for the washing, leave it out on the street. No one will pinch it

So I'll leave you here with this special image of a special 'largo' (which I think means square). This is one of a few back street spaces where artistic representations of local legends are presented. This one is the legend of the Enchanted Moorish Boy. You can read the story below my photo. It saves me having to tell it :)

So that's it for today, allemaal. Tomorrow, or the next day, I'll take you to Ayamonte just across the river into Spain...