Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Je Suis Inadequate

This morning I took our dirty washing along to a local launderette having decided that the indignity of washing clothes in a shower cap in the sink was getting too much. Now, after a month in New York I am more than au fait with the workings of a laundromat - change machine, washing powder machine, put coins in slot and away you go. Unfortunately here in Luxembourg I managed to pick a 'service wash' type of launderette, along the lines of the one Pauline & Dot ran in EastEnders. So, there I was looking around in a vague fashion for the change machine and desparately trying to work out what to do when a young boy of about 14 approached me and started talking. Clearly my blank expression led him to the conclusion that I didn't have the foggiest what he was saying. So he tried 'Francais?", to which I mumbled in response "Un petit" while holding my thumb and index finger a millimeter apart to help demonstrate exactly how 'petit' this was. And then he said 'English?', to which I gratefully answered 'Yes!' and he proceeded to explain exactly what I needed to do and how the process worked in perfect English. I don't doubt that if I had shaken my head to 'English', he would have been able to speak to me fluently in German or Italian, such is the level of multi-lingualism (is that a word?) over here on the Continent which constantly puts us to shame. I studied French for 5 years at school and even managed to get an A in my GCSE (don't know how, must have been a lenient marker who looked at my paper and listened to my oral exam cassette) and yet put me in any situation where I'm expected to say anything more advanced than 'Je voudrais un baguette' and it all goes terribly, horribly, embarrassingly wrong. Hubby announced that we should take French classes but I'm sure that anything we learn will go in one brain cell and out the other. Is there any hope for us?

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Luxembourg - It's a Tick!

Tick number 58 to be precise. That means in my lifetime I have now visited 58 of the world's countries or dependencies. Sounds like a lot, but there are an awful lot more still to visit and without the use of air travel it could be somewhat tricky to get to some of them. Looks like I'll just have to pull myself together re airplanes if I want to maintain the status of No.1 in the tick chart (number one out of only six of us, so it's not exactly a huge competition we're involved in here!)

So, today we (meaning hubby) drove from Haarlem to Luxembourg, with a brief stop along the wait at a Carrefour hypermarket - the first we had seen on our trip so far. Hubby always goes on about how much he likes foreign (particularly French) hyper/supermarkets because of all the nice food they have. I'm inclined to agree with him in terms of "foreign" food, which they seem to have in abundance, but surely they are no match for the good old English supermarket. Where, for example, are the baked beans, the bourbon biscuits (they're even named after some foreign bloke yet you still can't get them abroad), the custard creams, the HP Sauce, the Ribena, the Vimto (for hubby, due to him being from oop north), and every other staple of our weekly shopping basket?! Nowhere to be seen, unless they are hiding behind the mountains of freshly baked baguettes, grapes the size of ping pong balls, bottles of wine at 2 euros a pop, framboise flavoured beer and shelves of gooey patisserie goods. Ah, it's a hard life this food shooping lark.

Monday, 28 July 2008

A Trip to the Dam

Amsterdam, that is. Today hubby & I went to the capital. The original plan was to go to the seaside but when we woke up it was rather overcast so we thought a trip to the big city was in order. Hubby & I don't really do cities (except NYC, which is a whole other ball game) so we only spent a few hours there, most of which involved sitting next to a canal (of course) eating lunch.

Needless to say, almost as soon as we arrived in Amsterdam the sun came out and it got really, really hot so clearly the beach would have been the best place to be, but we soldiered on and took in a few sights. We had planned to visit Anne Frank's House in an attempt to be cultured but when we got there the queue was huge and, as well as not really doing cities, we don't do queues either (except in Starbucks...) So we had lunch, had a bit of a wander and then went to the Flower Market. And, in all honesty, that was that and so we toddled back to Haarlem which is a very pretty town with, you've guessed it, lots of canals and a large central square surrounded by grand olde worlde buildings.

When we got back to our hotel I had to undertake a little chore, namely washing some underwear (it's all glamour, this travelling lark). I'm sure you didn't really need to know that, but I think you'll all be impressed by what I would like to call "Traveller's Tip of the Week".
So, here you go - this is how to do your washing in a sink with no plug. Although, of course, you do need a shower cap. And you might not want to use the shower cap on your head afterwards...

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Delft and the Beach

Friday we drove all of 13km from Rotterdam to Delft - we have been constantly amazed so far by how compact the Netherlands is, which is perfect for a driving holiday. And so to Delft - what a pretty, pretty little place it is. A typical Dutch town full of winding cobbled streets, canals and olde worlde buildings set round a huge central square. Lovely.
Except for all those darned cyclists absolutely everywhere. I can't cope, they're all over the place swarming around like wasps ready to strike me down if I make one false move and dare to try to cross the road. Still, at least Delft doesn't have a tram system in the centre like Rotterdam. Honestly, between trying to dodge cyclists and cars in order to get anywhere, you also have to look out for the trams hurtling around. And all of this ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD! Take me back to good old Blighty where the car is king, public transport is practically non-existent and cyclists take their lives in to their hands even going to the corner shop.

While in Delft poor hubby made the mistake of climbing the 100-metre spire of the church on the main square. I would have gone with him had there been an elevator, but since there wasn't I decided to sit on a bench at the bottom and wait. Am I glad I did. Hubby came back dripping with sweat (it was a very hot day) and very shaky of leg having tramped his way up and back down again. Still, he did take some nice photos out over the town.

Saturday we decided to have a day at the seaside at Scheveningen, just outside The Hague and about 15mins drive from Delft. since hubby & I have yet to get back in to any semblance of a routine whereby we can actually get up in the mornings, it was after lunch by the time we finally got to the beach, but that was still plenty of time to soak up the sun. In true "Brits abroad" style we hired deckchairs and made ourselves comfy. There was one extremely good thing about the beach - it was crammed full of people who were very, very pale so hubby and I looked rather tanned in comparison with the remainder of our Central American weather-beatenness still hanging about us. Hubby said he felt like an Italian on the beach at Blackpool. Unfortunately, there was also one very bad thing about the beach and that was the tendency of ladies of a certain age to be sunbathing topless - not a pretty sight, and hubby & I just didn't know where to look half the time. Hence we settled down in our deckchairs behind our books while the Continental types and their wobbly bits sprawled this way and that on sun loungers.

On our way back to Delft we passed the prison where Radovan Karadicz is set to be held while awaiting trial - you wouldn't believe the number of television crews already set up outside.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Europe - It's Not That Bad

To tell the truth I’ve tended to shy away from spending a “proper” holiday in Europe; in my opinion, Europe is great for a short city break or a long weekend but not for the “two weeks in the sun” vacation. My reasoning behind this is that Europe is so close to the UK that it can be saved for a later date, perhaps when travelling is more tricky (ie when I’m a bit doddery). However, now that I have become an anti-flying wuss, Europe is a very attractive option since it can be easily reached by the lovely ferry.

And so, here we are on the Continent; a long way from Australia, but nice and close to good old Blighty. The first stop on this part of our trip was actually in London, where we spent Monday night at Kesh & Kate’s swanky apartment in Canary Wharf.

How’s about that for a view from your living room window?! Kate fed us up on traditional English food – sausage, mash & beans followed by trifle AND Victoria sponge – in preparation for not getting anything half as good while away, and we left the following morning still feeling thoroughly stuffed to the gills.

Tuesday at noon saw us aboard the Norfolk Line ferry from Dover to Dunkirk - cheaper than Calais, and actually closer to our destination, so a double whammy. The sailing was great, very calm and not a sweaty palm in sight from yours truly. I even commented to hubby that cruising might be the way forward as far as holidays were concerned, although I’m not too sure about the whole dressing up/Captain’s table palaver. And it doesn't look like hubby's a smart dresser either, does it?!

After disembarking, a short drive brought us to the lovely town of Ypres in Belgium where we spent two nights. We didn’t do an awful lot on our first evening in town – just a short wander around the main square, a trip to the Menin Gate to see the Last Post ceremony which is performed every evening at 8pm, and then a hearty meal and a couple of drinks.

Wednesday we started the day at the German trenches, then went to Hill 60 and finished off the afternoon with a trip to one of the many war cemeteries in the area - not your standard holiday outings, but interesting nonetheless. And the cemetery was, in fact, very beautiful. We ended our trip to Ypres with a walk round the ramparts and another hearty meal in the town square.

Thursday we drove north in to the Netherlands, to the city of Rotterdam which prompted hubby to continually sing the wrong words to the Beautiful South song. Rotterdam isn’t a bad place all in all, but we decided that one day/night is enough to do it justice.

Two other things that are so far making Europe not such a bad place: 1) it is lovely and warm and sunny; 2) we can pick up BBC1, BBC2 and ITV on the TV over here – no need to miss Corrie!!!

But from hubby’s point of view one thing that takes Europe down in his estimation is that over here in the Netherlands a pepperoni pizza doesn’t come laden with tasty slices of salami, but instead with red peppers and anchovies – quite a shock to the system.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

International Jet-Setters Oop North

Hubby and I have been spending some time with the in-laws (mine, not his) oop north. From our base in Wigan we have sallied forth on a few day trips and outings.

Day Trip/Outing Number One: Southport
Well, it wasn't a day trip in the strict sense of the words since we only spent an hour there, the majority of which was spent in Waterstones and Starbucks (nice to be back in the UK enjoying these twin comforts.) Hubby had fond memories of Southport from when he used to go there in the last century with his gran "on't'buzz" (Wiganese for "on the bus".) Unfortunately, Southport didn't live up to those fond memories; Lord Street was very pleasant, with some grand buildings and a lot of shops but the seafront was somewhat let down by the recent appearance of a large retail complex featuring such delights as Matalan and McDonalds. Tell me, who goes to the seaside to shop at Matalan? Hubby was also a bit upset that the old wooden rollercoaster, the bingo halls and the train that ran the length of the pier were no more. He doesn't like change.

Day Trip/Outing Number Two: Mediaeval Fair at St Thomas the Martyr Church

This was a tip-top outing since it combined a love of food and old buildings in one fell swoop. Hubby enjoyed a glass of Mediaeval Ale and we both enjoyed a Mediaeval Hot Dog with Onions. After filling our boots we decided to go on the Church Tour, which turned out to both informative and entertaining. Who knew that we were standing in a Grade I listed former Benedictine Priory built in 1307. Yes, 1307 - that's old! Apparently it survived Henry VIII and his Reforming ways due to the fact that the monks had pawned all the silver and several of the nuns who lived there had managed to fall pregnant (and not due to the immaculate conception.) The graveyard there is also home to the last highwayman to be executed in England.

Day Trip/Outing Number Three: Grange-over-Sands & Cartmel

This was my first ever visit to the Lake District, and what a very pretty place it is, especially Cartmel (Grange-over-Sands was a little too hilly for my liking.) Cartmel had another thing in its favour, being the home of the world-famous Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding, as sold in Waitrose no less. There was also a very pretty priory (which had also survived the Reformation, although we don't know why - perhaps the Reformers were too full of pudding to do anything else.) And on the way home, we made a slight detour along a country lane where, two days earlier, we had lost the hub cap from my parents' car after hubby drove somewhat speedily through a pothole disguised as a puddle (it was a bit like the famous puddle from The Vicar of Dibley.) And, lo and behold! There was the hub cap, sitting in a water-filled ditch. It is now firmly re-attached to the parents' car; shhh, don't tell them.

Monday, 7 July 2008

A Big Thank You, and Please Keep Reading!

Just a little posting to say a big thank you to everyone who has been kind enough to email or phone following my somewhat girly behaviour regarding aeroplanes! It's great to know you're all reading the blog and, on that note, can I encourage you all to keep reading as hubby and I will be embarking on the next part of our trip (minus the air travel, so we won't make it quite as far as Australia) just as soon as we can get the old Peugeot in roadworthy condition.

Watch this space to find out where we go next!

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Who Needs NYC When You've Got Bristol?!

How many weeks did we spend in NY? Four. And how many in the USA altogether? Ten. And how many celebrities did we spot in that entire time? One - JP from The F Word. And how many days we were back in Bristol before I spotted a celebrity (I use that word in its loosest sense)? One. Yes, siree, you can take your New Yorks and Los Angeleses (nice pluralisation there), all you need is a trip to Marks & Spencer at Cribbs Causeway for your fill of celebrity-spotting. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you none other than Big Brother 2 runner-up, Helen Adams. And I don't want any comments that it's sad that I recognised her! And, just so you know, I didn't ask for her autograph or try to get my photo taken with her because I am one cool customer when it comes to celebrities - I just watched her, in a very subtle manner, whilst pretending to be very interested in a display of cheese.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Greetings From... England!

No doubt you were all eagerly awaiting the next blog installment from the Land Down Under. But here's the surprise - we're still in England. Some of you may know that all the way back in New Hampshire (goodness, it seems a lifetime ago already) I had a panic attack as we drove up Mount Washington. Poor hubby was forced to turn the car around at about 5 miles in to an 8 mile uphill drive and escort his sobbing wife off the mountainside. To tell the truth, this is very unlike me - I've never had an issue with heights before, nor really with journeys up mountains, as the various bus rides in Mexico & Guatemala testify. Anyway, this weird behaviour then reared its ugly head on the flight back from NY to the UK. And then, when we got to Heathrow on Sunday morning I had another panic attack and just could not face the thought of 21 hours of flying. We'd made it through check-in, security, everything and were just minutes away from getting on the flight with boarding cards in (sweaty) hand, and I was in fits of tears. What a wuss I am! So, the most lovely Rachel & Gordon rescued us from the airport and looked after us for the day and night with fab food and general loveliness and then on Monday we drove to Bristol to hole up in my parents house while they are in Canada. Now we just have to decide what to do with the rest of our lives (as long as it doesn't involve flying, in the near future at least.) Any suggestions?!