Friday, September 7, 2012

A Journey Through England - Part Two

Continuing across the country... From the mystical Stonehenge in the south to the middle of England we journeyed up to Nottinghamshire.  There are just a couple more photos from the southern part I wanted to share.

Beautiful drive through tree canopy.
In between tiny villages, we often went through either gently rolling fields, or thick forest land.  The trees had grown up and over the roads so thickly in some places, that my camera demanded the flash - although a few minutes later the motorcycle would slip out of the dark green tunnel and into blinding sunshine.
I have never been in a country where the other drivers on the road were so respectful.  They do drive fast; most people, including trucks, go over the posted speed limit.  While the trailer was attached, we always went rather slowly - and of course being in a unfamiliar area without GPS or a map (and that we were driving now on the left) also meant we were extra slow compared to normal drivers.  Even while we were on the highway, about 90-95% of all other drivers put on their indicator and went around us with several large car-lengths of room.  On the roundabouts, of which there are a gazillion, no one ever jumped in front of us, or pulled around us.  Of the few incidents where there were careless drivers, most of those had plates from foreign countries. 
There were also a lot of street signs and information signs that were fun to see.  Next holiday I'll make it a point to take photos of some of those.  For my partner, all the steep road grade signs and runaway truck areas were fun, since he's native Dutch where pretty much everything is flat.  I liked all the various animal and people crossing signs.  For both of us, some of the more traditional signs translated into British English sound funny; "Way Out" instead of "Exit" always had me adding -man at the end.  In the petrol station: "No naked lights" had us stumped for a while, although I think it's "no open flames" in American. 

   Cute attack dog, can kill with kisses.
We stopped in Devizes to look at part of the Caen Hill Locks, and got to chatting with a nice group of locals who were happy to share their knowledge with us.  They were enjoying a drink out with their dog on the warm, sunny banks as we lumbered up, camera in hand, overdressed in full biker leathers (quite sweaty).  Our helmets were with the bike, parked some distance away.  Finally one lady inquired if we were motorcyclists.  Grand hilarity ensued as the rest of the group supplied their own answers.  "No, they're not bikers.  Just very kinky foreigners in leather." 
(Small) horse tunnel along the canal.
It was probably a perfect summer day if one was dressed for it.  We walked around the canal and several of the locks.  There was a great documentary about the locks and how they were abandoned, trashed and then rescued and restored.  What's really cool about the narrow boats and the locks is that it is all designed to get heavily laden boats up and down hills with horse and/or manpower. 
One of the Caen Hill Locks.
The local assured us it was not generally sunny, that one out of every three days was grey and rainy, but by this time I didn't believe them.
The first of many narrow boats we saw.
Nothing a Dutchie likes more than to see how canals and boats work in other countries.  The narrowboats are quite unique, and if you don't mind traveling slowly, they are a very relaxing way to travel.  Some of them have also been transformed into homes.
Our travels continued north, up to Nottinghamshire and the Horn Motorcycle and Boat Rally.  Those are (coal) cooling towers in the background.
Bike and Boat Rally
Great food, great bands, great people, and great weather!  Everyone was so nice, it really made a lasting impression on me.  I thought I knew what hospitality was, but I've never seen anything like what the British do - they can make you feel so welcome and included, that you forget that you ever came from somewhere else or were until recently, strangers.
We went with a lovely group from the bike rally into Nottingham on the train, as one must sample the local ale, safely.  We visited a brewery, and then went on to visit the oldest Inn in England.
Nottingham Railway Station
I saw a couple Bobbies just outside the entrance, and asked if I could take their photo.  They said yes, and even posed for me.  Having lived in other places, I was anticipating a different reaction - and was pleasantly surprised.  I thought in fairness I would keep the photo for myself and not post it to the Internet without their express permission, though, so you'll just have to take my word for it - even the police are pleasant and nice in England.

The inn is built below the Nottingham Castle (of Robinhood fame) and partly into the caves.  I was shown through much of the inn by a local - taking care to stop by to see the Cursed Galleon - and of course delicious food and more ale was in order.

The statue of Robin Hood outside the castle.

I'm going to continue (again) in another post for the last part of the journey.  I've been trying to get to this blog when I can, but continuing health issues demand my time and attention, so I ask for your patience in the meantime. 




Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Journey Through England

After spending nearly two weeks in England (and almost not making it home - see entry from Aug 25) I am convinced that it must be the best country on Earth.  I took far too many photos to share more than a small selection here, and saw so many wonderful sights that I missed capturing on film.

Above and beyond how beautiful everything is, I cannot say enough about how kind, generous, and open-hearted the British people are.  They happily share their history, their homes and their culture with foreigners, and one cannot remain a stranger for long. 

They think of others and take care of each other.  We noticed lots of charities and volunteers who did everything from restoring the canals for the narrow boats, to giving tours, caring for the elderly, raising funds for every cause, donating works of art for the public to enjoy, and maintaining historic monuments and buildings for everyone to enjoy for free.

The one thing we missed was the so-called famous British weather.  It was never hot, nor did it ever get cold - and it was sunny or dry straight through.  It rained on us once, for less than an hour while we were in the Cotswolds.  I was, after all the stories I had heard, expecting to get wet while we were there.  I like the rain!

On the way, at the gas station.
All loaded up and ready to go.  Yes, the trailer is mainly for girl things.  I'm so spoiled in my old age!  It's a single-wheel Freebird trailer, and rides so nicely that I forget it's behind us.

Waiting for the ferry on the non-freight lanes.

The main highway was closed after an accident, so we missed the ferry.   We were taking Transeuropa Ferries from Oostende, Belgium to Ramsgate, UK.  I can recommend Transeuropa as being the cheapest (only 40 Euros for 2 people plus a motorcycle), and very nice.  They had no problem switching us to another sailing, the next day - free of charge.   
The ship's passenger dining room.

They are primarily a freight ferry - only one other car joined us for our sailing.  The restaurant, lounge (with TV and DVDs), sun deck, and bar were just for us.  The truckers have their own section of the ship.  I felt like I was a VIP!
Ship's Captain!
The Captain was not just distinguished-looking, he was extremely nice, taking a few minutes to talk with us.  Sailing was smooth, the weather good, and I enjoyed meeting a real VIP.
The Port of Ramsgate.
Taken from the deck, you can see the white cliffs of Ramsgate.  The water is a pretty green-blue, which reminds me of the Caribbean.  JJ didn't have any trouble adjusting to driving on the left - he found it feels more logical to him.  There are also signs at every roundabout to indicate the direction.  I was shocked at how politely everyone drives in England!

Around the corner from our camp in Orcheston.
Our first stop was a cute little campground really close to Stonehenge.  The owners are a nice couple, extremely helpful, and we met a nice Dutch couple also staying at the Stonehenge Touring Park.  Free Wi-Fi throughout the park too! 
Polite English bird and cat.
Even the animals are well-mannered.  This was the owner's cat, I believe, who ate what he liked while the bird stood patiently behind him.  The cat left some food in the bowl, and strolled away without even a sniff at the bird.  Then the bird ate from the bowl as well, and no one disturbed either one.
Free to visit, and the ideal vantage point.
It's nearly eight pounds per person to visit Stonehenge, and you can only walk around the stones, not get right next to them.  If you're on a budget, it's free to go here - you can see more, and there's this lovely sign that explains all the details of what you're looking at.  My secret, just for you.
Mystical Stonehenge
If you have a good camera with a zoom lens, you can get as close as you like.  From the "secret" location (above) you can also clearly see the barrows, avoid all the crowds, and with the money you save you can enjoy a nice meal.
The Green Dragon in Market Lavington
If you only have one English breakfast in your life, have it here at the Green Dragon.  It's a short drive from Stonehenge, and incredibly delicious.  It's also the local pub and meeting place, and they have a B&B.  The people who work there are super, super nice - and everyone takes the time to chat with you.  They really know the meaning of making one feel welcome, and I haven't had a better breakfast in all the world.  Not yet, anyhow. 
Ancient rock in Avebury
Again, a short ride from breakfast (not far from Stonehenge) and you're in Avebury, a Neolithic henge circling a village - the largest stone circle in Europe, predating Stonehenge.  In between Stonehenge and Avebury is a very mysterious military installation with all kinds of activity - including air battle simulations with explosions, extremely low-flying radar planes, and unidentifiable lights in the sky.  
We found motorcycling through the countryside to be quite fun with the rolling hills and snaking roads, and the views across fields of gold and green was so beautiful.  You'd pop in and out of tiny villages, most seemingly remaining largely unchanged over the years.
High Street in Avebury, pop. 486 (in 2001)  
High Street (in the U.S. Main Street) with this horse and another behind him tied to the sign - all loaded with groceries and supplies. 
 Details on a house
Just riding by, saw this and thought the craftsmanship was cool.  Much of England, particularly outside of the larger cities, is breathtaking.  There is a lot of preservation and restoration that will keep the beauty available for future generations to enjoy as well.  So many buildings we visited were built well before my country existed as America!
I think I'm going to publish this entry and you'll have to wait for the second half of the journey.  I haven't been feeling well since I returned home, and at least you'll be able to see a little.  I will return to posting when I'm up to it.  In the meantime, be safe and well wherever you are...


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Almost Dead Again

So... Here's the story:
Yesterday was my birthday.  I'm 44 now, which seems like a good number to be.  I had the best present ever - a trip to England - and I'll blog about that later.  It was amazing. 

My partner and I rode around England on our motorcycle.  The journey was over a thousand kilometers, and we were pulling a little one-wheel trailer behind us.  Because of that, we took our time, driving on the highways and motorways at around 55 miles per hour.  Naturally, everyone else was faster, but we had no trouble at all until we returned to the Netherlands.

As you may know from reading my blog, I rarely have anything to complain about.  Overall, I feel safe here and find the Dutch to be peaceful, relaxed and down-to-Earth people.  One lady changed that when she deliberately and without regard for others used her car as a means to cut us off and push us out of her way. 

You're always more aware when riding a motorcycle, as simply a bump by a car can crush a leg or worse.  Since I sit behind on the bike, I can only see to the sides and the rear normally.  We were exiting the highway when the lady (term used loosely) came at us from the left, from the main road, pulling her vehicle suddenly beside us on the exit.  She was speeding, and slowed only for a second when her door was exactly next to my leg.  I screamed, my partner swerved, narrowly avoiding a collision with her car.  She slipped the car directly in front of us on the exit and sped off.

There's a traffic light at the end of the exit, and a line of vehicles was sitting there, waiting for a red to change.  She was stuck in that line when we caught up to her.  My partner is Dutch, so he was asking her if she was crazy and why was she was trying to kill us?  She didn't roll down her window, but was mouthing something back and making hand gestures at us, which included giving us the finger.  She was clearly unconcerned, and so calm that her dog, in the back seat, didn't even get excited or bark.

I was shaking, but had the presence of mind to snap photos of the entire event after she used her car as a weapon.  I also have a photo of her giving us the finger, and a clear shot of her license plate.  She started rummaging for something next to her on the floor.  I didn't know what she was going to pull out.  There is that moment where I look over and there's the entire side of a car, mere centimeters from me, frozen in my mind.  One second, and if anything else had been different, I might not be able to write this blog.

The light turned green and we took off.  I don't know what she was searching for next to her.  I also didn't know whether she would follow us and try to finish us off or not.  We paused the bike a little bit, as there is a roundabout after the traffic light, but she didn't follow.  I was in a bad way emotionally, and developed such a fierce headache that I took acetaminophen and went to bed early.  Happy birthday, and almost my death day.

With some assistance, I filed a police report today.  I don't know why this one lady didn't like bikers, or the motorcycle - maybe she has her own story to tell.  She thought the situation was funny.  I disagree.  Any bikers out here in the Netherlands, you can ask me for her photo and keep an eye out for her.  She doesn't care, and since I don't personally know her, I can only assume she'll try this with other motorcyclists as well.  Watch out, and remember to cherish each day that you have.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Flowers in the Garden

Summer is almost here, and it looks beautiful!  After saving for ages, I finally got a "real" digital camera, and took it out into a garden (not my own, not yet) to see what it could do.  These were taken in Schoorl - a small village near Alkmaar. 

In Dutch, a 'bij' is collecting pollen. 

Now he just thinks I'm following him...

Beautiful colors and textures.

I know I keep saying this, but flowers are my favorite to photograph.

There is an infinite variety, adding beauty to our world.

So many people in this part of the country have amazing gardens.

The Pansy has been a favorite of mine since childhood.

Doesn't it make you feel happy to look at flowers?  May your day be filled with beauty too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Juni in Nederland & Duitsland

June has been a busy month for me, working on a lot of screenplays and coverage reports - but now that I'm done I have time to 'see' the world through a lens.  Since my own eyes don't work well, sometimes snapping a photo is the only way I can catch the details around me.  At the moment I have glasses that help me see things in the distance a little better, but no prescription to help with seeing things close by.  I know things are there, but pretty much the entire world is (all three of them with my vision) is always blurry.   

I have a few photos to share that were taken with my old camera - and some taken with my new (used) Olympus (thank you to Used Products Alkmaar for a special deal). 

Both my cameras have auto-focus, thank goodness!  I love to be able to study the details of images; colors and textures, and as you may have noticed, I also love flowers - so there are a lot of those images in my blog.  Makes me feel happy to see them.

I'm not sure where this is, but I love going through a canopy of trees.

This is the route the GPS told us to take.  Not sure how to open the gate...

Somewhere in Germany.  A castle overlooking a medieval village.

Also in Germany.  Raining, but still gorgeous.

Back in the Netherlands.

I was told these used to be grain silos - now it looks like they are apartments or offices.  Beautiful recycling!

Thought I'd add a photo of industry.  Not normally my thing, but also something I don't normally see around here.

Somewhere in the Netherlands, as seen from the back of a motorcycle.

Modern life in front of us, waiting for a (swing) bridge to close, and reflected in the mirror are old homes, and old me.

I'll try and add some more later, but right now it's the Dutch-German football match, so I have to go!


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Winter Snow & Ice

I've been waiting for the colder temps and snow to get here, and for about a week it was amazing.  It's back to normal now; no more snow, a bit of rain and wind, sunshine only at rare moments.  I've taken the art of layering to new extremes, as my non-Dutch blood is used to Los Angeles and Florida weather. 

I'm working on a script that is also rather dark and set in the winter months, with the weather cooperating nicely to set the mood for writing.  Inside is so much cozier now!  I took a walk, though, to take a break, get some much-needed exercise and snap a couple photos of the iced-over canals.

This was taken right at the beginning, before the snow was deep. 

There was quite a bit more snow later, with temperatures down around -15 here. 

We have a new bird in the yard, a Merel, who has learned how to dig out the frozen apple pieces and will eat the inside, but not the skin.  He's rather a picky eater.

  On the way to the grocery, by foot.  There were other people riding bicycles, but I didn't dare.

They do clear a lot of the major roads and public areas - this is the train station near me - but it's slippery. 

A little boy was pulling along a snowman on a sled.  The snowman's floppy hat had just blown off.  Lots of parents pull their kids along on sleds when it snows, as it's easier than bicycling.  I also saw a grandpa in a motorized chair pulling along three kids on a sled behind him.  Unfortunately they went by so fast (must have been a souped-up, customized wheelchair scooter) I missed getting a photo.

 The main canal near my house.

Lots of people have dogs here, and they all seem to love playing on the ice. 

The front door of one of the windmills.

I live just a short walk from here, how cool is that?

To me, even a shed looks interesting here.

My favorite - sheep! 

I'm hoping that everyone else enjoyed a little break from daily life too.  And now back to it!