Monday, October 31, 2011

Back to England: WINCHESTER

Now that we're back from Atlanta, I want to finish the trip we made to England in early September. There were two more days when we were "short of eyes," in both Winchester and Bath.

First, Winchester, the former captital city of England, dating back to pre-Roman times.

Host Chris kept each day's whereabouts a total secret from us till we got there and needed to know. The "got there" part began at the Hospital of St. Cross where we drank tea until our two mystery guests arrived.

Ellie (bottom left with Chris) and Alan were our mystery guests, both from Shutterchance!
Ellie's real name is Joy but I didn't know that till last year. She was one of the very first persons who welcomed me to SC when I started there 5 years ago, so it's been a real treat to see her now 2 years in a row.
Chris must have known. And also that we'd want to meet Alan.

Of all the cities and places to visit, we couldn't have chosen better!
The Hospital of Saint Cross is "England's oldest and most perfect almshouse" of noble poverty.
It's not a hospital per se but a place of hospitality for providing food and shelter
to the Brethren of St. Cross for over 850 years.
If you know, you can ask for the Wayfarer's and a morsel of bread.
What a gorgeous day for visiting!

We made our way through the inner courtyard to the Norman Church from 1135.
(If you click to enlarge, you might see the graffiti in cement from 1770, bottom right above.)

Chris knew we'd be enthralled. And we were!
Ellie says the parrot lectern is the only one of its kind in the world.

Stained-glass windows were even in the nooks and crannies, everywhere.

Then we walked over to the Brethren's Hall where the Brothers gathered to eat for centuries.
The buckets are there for in case of a fire! Notice Chris guarding the brew in the cellar.

Following the Brethren's Hall, we strolled through the nearby gardens.
We could have spent the rest of the day there!

(Click here to see a YouTube of this magnificent place.)

While the above Hospital of St. Cross was our main attraction of the day, and since we were only a 20-minute walk away from Winchester's city center, we headed off to see as much of the city as possible.

You know me. I love these signs.... the varied architecture and trivia that makes England so English!
Novelist Jane Austen died in Winchester on 18 July 1817 and is buried in the cathedral below.

And as we headed to city center, there she stood.
Winchester Cathedral, one of England's largest,
with the longest nave of any Gothic cathedral in Europe, begun in 1079.
Alas, alack. It was not the day we would go inside. Another time, perhaps.

Lunch was fun, especially with Thatcher's Gold Somerset Cider.
Did I mention that Astrid and I are SOLD on hard ciders everywhere we go. :)
But notice how even in England, with 3 tap choices, Holland's Amstel was very THERE.
(click on all collages to enlarge)

Then it was the City Cross...or High Cross or Buttercross. Take your pick.
In the High Street, from the early 15th century...

...with King Alfred the Great keeping an eye out nearby!
Alfred was King of Wessex from 871 to 899 and is known as the king
who defended southern England against the Vikings...a long time ago!

By now it was late afternoon and we had one last see Wolvesey Castle. But along the way, we stopped and clicked our cameras at every little know me.

That's the Guildhall from 1791 in the top-right above.

A couple of you will notice the play on images in the collage above: Boots and me. :)
(For the uninformed, my family nickname has been Boots since my first month of birth in 1945.)

Last but not least, we stopped by Wolvesey Castle just before it closed.
The Old Bishop's Palace dates back to the 12th century.
"The last great occasion here was on 25 July 1554, when Queen Mary and Philip of Spain held their wedding breakfast in the East Hall."

And with that, we bid our adieus to Alan and Ellie and headed back with Chris in his delightful Fiat 500 to the farmhouse in Bath.

It was a fabulous day out on the town and doesn't get much better than that...until you see our next and last full day, in Bath itself.

See why we say it would be a sin for us not to go back to England every year!

Monday, October 24, 2011

We're In Atlanta Still!

But not for long. Tomorrow we head back to the other side of the Big Pond, arriving home in the Netherlands Wednesday morning.

However, till then....

It's my turn again at Vision and Verb. Trick or Treat???
That's always what I think when I think about chestnuts!

After last week's post, we spent Monday to Friday with Bob and Peggy south of Atlanta and had plenty to keep us busy.

First, we went to the nearby Monastery of the Holy Spirit, part of the same Trappists near us in the Netherlands....

...and under the rule of Saint Benedict: peace, prayer and work.
Peggy and I had visited there a few years back so I was glad to share it with Astrid.

Asceticism: The practice of self-denial as a spiritual discipline.
An ascetic is someone, like a monk, who follows this way of life.

They even have their own water tower: Holy Water!

Monastic values are human values: Prayer, Work, Silence, Solitude, Community

I fell in love with him and his hands!

Then one day we went to both the Fox Theatre and the Atlanta Botanical Garden....

Atlanta's Fabulous Fox Theatre is one of the jewels in their crown.
I'd need the fingers and toes of several people to count how many times I have been there, for concerts and plays. But this was my first time to tour behind the scenes. Notice the Moorish designs. That's because it was originally planned to be a Shriner's temple.

It was well worth every minute...and a gift from Bob and Peggy.
Thank you!

The Atlanta Botanical Garden is another gem in Atlanta's crown:

What I love about it is the Midtown skyline in the background...

...and the whimsy, depending on the time of the year.
This time it was Scarecrows in the Garden.

And the flowers, of course!

Nothing topped any of that better than our one-on-one time with Bob and Peggy at their wonderful home in the boondocks.

They both love to cook and Bob also makes his own beer.
We were the lucky queens for several days in a row.

Any place where you can totally relax and be yourself is a home away from home.
(Plus 2 more water towers and a weathervane!)
Thank you, Bob and Peggy!

After we rejoined the kids on Friday, it was time for the north Georgia mountains! Our third year in a row, Astrid's second. It's one of those traditions we never want to end.

Everything you'd want for R&R:
Nature, napping, good food (thanks to Amy and Dennis who did the cooking),
walking, puzzle-making, hot-tubbing, Spades (cards), pool, and something new this year:
Facebook's Words With Friends app, similar to Scrabble.
I'm still trying to beat my kids!

Nicholas had his own "pursuits" this year that put him into his own world.
He was on vacation, too, and got to play his computer games as much as he wanted.
Still, he went on a walk with Astrid and me...always a highlight of my time here.

But Astrid did most of the walking, several times a day. We just don't get weather like this in the Netherlands, day after day. She was in heaven:

All of the above images are from Astrid from her first morning.
The foggy start to each day in the mountains is part of the magic of this place.

Thank you, Amy and Dennis, for once again inviting us to this heaven in the mountains!

All good things come to an end, as they say, so we're now in the packing stage for our flight back over the Big Pond tomorrow, arriving on Wednesday morning. Thankfully, Astrid has the rest of the week off from work. We'll get to relax back into our normal routines....

...while you prepare for Halloween a week from now! Which reminds me of my Vision and Verb post again: Trick or Treat!

Monday, October 17, 2011

We're In Atlanta Now!

Just to prove we really did fly over the Big Pond, here are a few images to prime the pump on our arrival since Thursday evening.

We really hit the road running! By the time we got to daughter Amy's house, around 5 p.m., we turned right around in the car to take grandson Nicholas (age 11, 6th grade) to the county fair. The same fair he hasn't missed since he was 2! If we didn't do it that night, we'd miss it altogether this year, which wasn't gonna happen.

Because it was supper time, we ate first!
The standby is roasted corn-on-the-cob AND a gigantic turkey leg.
The turkey leg got gobbled up so fast I didn't even take a picture of it.
The other standyby is homemade strawberry ice cream, which we ate at the end before leaving.

Then off we went to the Indian Village, one of our favorite "shows."
As Nicholas said, we needed to let our food settle before the rides.
I love the autumn/October flare that takes into account this time of the year.

Before leaving at 9:30 p.m., we had time for 3 rides, one of which included our favorite skylift.
But even Nicholas was satisfied. Half a fair is better than no fair at all!

By the time we dropped into bed that first night, it was 4:30 a.m. Dutch time. We had been up for almost 24 hours straight! That's what second wind is all about.

On Friday I had an appointment with my financial advisor, after which we met up for lunch with Bob and Marc, our dear friends. Very nice.

We have to teach everyone the left-right-left Dutch kisses on the cheeks, of course.
Thanks to Bob and his iPhone for these pics!

We ate at Jason's Deli, where you get unlimited soft-serve ice cream...a treat for us all kids.
Again, thanks to Bob and his iPhone...but no pics of him. Arrgh.

On Saturday I swore myself blue in the face watching Michigan State beat Michigan in football. DON'T EVEN GO THERE, Ruth! But afterwards Amy, Astrid and I went to see the new movie, The Help, which eased the pain. Totally worth seeing, if you ask us.

Yesterday we had the chance to meet up with Jerry and Josh for lunch, a former boss of mine and his son, before they move to Orlando, FL, in a couple weeks:

Isn't it wonderful how we can stay up on each other over the years!
Jerry "came out" shortly after I did in 1990, so we have been there for each other over the years.

Then for dinner last evening, we continued our annual tradition of treating everyone to Outback Steakhouse for all the birthdays we missed since last year.

While we waited for our food, Nichoals played with Mommie's iPhone.
Man! That Steve Jobs sure knew what he was doing!

Even son Mark was there. Fine eating, if not dining.
Happy campers all around.
[Remember that the 'A' means Astrid took the picture.]

Speaking of Mark, when we got back to Amy's, he, Amy, Astrid and I played 2 games of Scrabble before going to bed. He soundly beat us all...twice.

Now it's Monday and I'm off for my annual dermatology appointment, after which Peggy (from our Bob and Peggy friends, remember?) will pick us up and take us to their home for our stint with them till Friday. Then back to be with the kids in the Georgia mountains at the cabin next weekend. By now you know the drill!

These are the rituals and traditions that are now seeping deeply into our family psyche. And all of this thus far in 3+ days. Still kicking and going strong. We love it....

Monday, October 10, 2011

TEXEL: Heaven on Earth 2

So, to continue the story from my last post, you really had to be there. I was one of the lucky ones!

Texel Island, just 15 minutes by ferry from Den Helder, is 9km wide by 25km long. Easy breezy if you know it like the back of your hand, which Astrid does, after 29 years. All 8 of its little hamlets can be seen in one day, as well as the lighthouse at the northernmost tip. But to have 3+ full, lazy days to take our time was just what the doctor ordered.

(Click map to enlarge. And yes, they even have an airport.)

Before the lighthouse(s) and windmills and seashells, the bikes, the kite and koffie met appeltaart, we first drove south to nearby Den Hoorn and walked through its sleepy little burgh of approximately 500 residents.

I fell in love with their church and its slanted clock tower.
It was a great start to the long weekend.

While driving from here to there, I started seeing these little barn-like structures out in the middle of the fields.
They supposedly exist only on Texel Island and are called schapenboeten = sheep sheds.
They store hay but the flat side protects sheep from the southwest wind off the North Sea.

Look at what wasn't protected!

But as houses on Texel go, there are some beauties.
Even the one in the bottom right corner is still being lived in...with dilapidated thatch.
Astrid says it's been that way for years!

I knew the Texel lighthouse would be a highlight of the island stay, so we went there twice, to the tippy-top-north of the island:

It was built in 1864 with 8 stories.
We were allowed to climb to the 6th floor observation deck where we saw the bullet holes from WWII.
It's a long story but the Germans occupied the lighthouse when the Georgians from Russia fought to rescue it at the end of the war...., of course, we had to stop by 1 of 2 war memorials in honor of the Russians.
165 Russians were killed trying to protect the Netherlands while on Texel Island.
The Georgian uprising on Texel against the Germans at the end WWII, April-May 1945,
has been described as Europe's last battlefield.

Our spirits were lifted when we drove south again to the commercial fishing harbor in Oudeschild.

On Saturday and Sunday, the boats are in harbor for repair and rest.
If we had gone on Monday, all of them would have been out to sea.

My guess is there is work for anyone who wants/needs it!
Even fishing boats need to be cleaned, inside and out.

Besides climbing the lighthouse tower, and getting the lay of the land, we had the chance to climb the church tower in Den Burg, Texel's largest town of 6K+ inhabitants...the size of the town where I grew up in Michigan. Almost half of Texel's population lives there.

I love these old Dutch Reformed churches. This one is from 1400....

...but its tower is from 1604!
I love seeing the world from this perspective.
See the church in the middle right image? That's the one from Den Hoorn above.

And see that windmill in the middle left image? That's Het Noorden in Oosterend, north of Den Burg, built in 1878:

This is a polder mill, which means it's used for pumping out water.
That large "drill bit" is a vijzel/waterschroef, which pulls the water up out of the ground.
See what Granny Towanda learns by looking and listening!

We got our education, too, when we asked what this gentleman was doing next door to the mill.
He was drying beans for winter storage...which would later be hydrated and cooked.
So THAT'S how we get our dried beans!

We saw so many things on Texel. As Astrid says, we were short of eyes!

You already know from last post we ate some of these.
Astrid has made jam out of the two middle berries in her past life.

All kinds of fungus among us...except for the red ones with white spots.
Astrid wanted so much for me to see the red ones...but none were to be found this time.

But we did see highland cows and llamas, horses and belted cows,
and enough sheep and rabbits to shake a stick at...

...edible chestnuts (left image), acorns, and honey clover...but NO STORKS.
Just minutes after asking Astrid if the island had storks, we saw the fake ones (above).

I saw 5 churches in all and was mesmerized by the blue clock faces...

...and everything else that is just so Dutch!

When it was time to leave the island and go back home, we took time for one last bit of sightseeing in Den Helder, after getting off the ferry... see the water tower from 1908,
and the Lange Jaap lighthouse from 1878.

Now you know why I did this trip in 2 posts...and why I'll now go back to England's trip to finish 2 more posts from there. The thing is, we don't want to forget or have the memories relegated to the archives somewhere.

And all this while preparing for our annual trek to Atlanta to see the kids on Thursday for almost 2 weeks. And I thought retirement was supposed to be...relaxing!