Friday, 31 December 2010

Friday 31 December

And the year is rolling to a close. 2011 is beginning to march across the world, with the South Sea Islands and New Zealand already there, and the east coast of Australia set to join within about 10 minutes of this post being put up. The year 2010 is ending on an extremely slippery note, after freezing rain covered the eastern half of Holland this morning. The city of Arnhem was brought to a complete standstill - the problem is that it is a very hilly place, and many of the steeper streets are paved with bricks or cobbles. The city bus service was suspended for a while, and several motorways and regional highways were closed to traffic. Even the highways agency's vehicles slid off the carriageway in places. Several accidents were reported from this area, but none serious. That contrasts to the two fatal accidents which occurred yesterday afternoon in the province of Groningen, 120 miles north of here. The freezing rain had been so light that the rainfall rada had not picked it up, and once on the ground, it is virtually invisible.

I was due to have gone to a family birthday in the west of the country with my father, but he is down with a cold, which he prefers to keep to himself. The cancellation of the local bus service also put paid to the trip. I went into Velp to post a letter; all the letterboxes are sealed up round here to prevent them being vandalised with fireworks. Over the next 12 hours, this country will let off €65 million worth of (legal) fireworks, which equates to about €4 per person. I am not wasting money on fireworks, but some people spend up to €1,500. The walk into the next town took me double the normal amount of time, as the pavements were extremely slippery. Everybody was hurrying round the shops, and buying the obligatory oliebollen 
This image dates back 3 years, when I made them myself.

If I have anything else to blog about I will post again, otherwise I'd like to wish y'all a very
and all the best for 2011

Thursday, 30 December 2010

School's out

I'm going to take you on amble round the village, which I did undertake this afternoon around 4pm. It leads past two of the three schools which I attended as a child. One of those schools is no longer in existence; it was a temporary structure, long since removed to make way for housing. I went on the walk to picture the hoarfrost (-3C this afternoon) and fog. The fog had dissipated when I ventured out, but the rime was still in place. Enjoy.

Heading home

New school, built in 1973, now due for replacement

Still think Holland is flat?!

Misty skies

And you were wondering about school #3?

Thursday 30 December

Keeping a quiet day, as it is slightly foggy and definitely frosty. Last night, the mercury dipped to a chilly -9C, and as I type, we're still below zero. The fog is not helping, even though there was a sunny interlude around lunchtime. Tomorrow will be a busy day, as it's a family birthday elsewhere in the country, and of course New Year's Eve, which always gets rather late. It is customary in Holland to let off fireworks around midnight, and people will be spending €65m (about £60m) nationwide on bangers and what not. Some individuals spend well in excess of €1,000, all of which will go up in smoke in a matter of seconds. The main concern is of course safety. There will be a number of missing eyes, limbs and potentially even lives once dawn breaks on January 1st, 2011.

Wednesday 29 December - Theatre

Went to Arnhem this evening to attend a performance of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles in the local theatre. It was a version where a group of friends decided to reenact the story. The start of the performance was very dramatic: the auditorium was plunged in darkness, a flash of bright light, accompanied by an ear-splitting peal of thunder on the sound system. I was unfamiliar with the story (yep, I'm really into my Sherlock Holmes, not), but found the side-story slightly distracting. Otherwise, once they did get into the nitty-gritty of it, it was quite good. The play lasted for just over 2 hours, leaving us time to catch a bus to the Geitenkamp area of Arnhem, from where we walked home for the last 2 miles.

Wednesday 29 December - picture post

Picture post

This is a public highway. It's obviously closed to all traffic.

The Watch Tower

Take a break under the tree

Snow drift curvatures

Polar landscape

Snowy forest

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Wednesday 29 December

The snow has by no means gone, as the mercury continues to hover around zero. It has certainly thinned out quite a bit, particularly in open and exposed locations. In the middle of the forest, you can still come across thick wads of the white stuff on conifer trees. Went for a walk this afternoon to the Heathlands, which presented a polar landscape. Tufts of heather stuck out above the snow, but otherwise it was a very bleak landscape. Made even more so by the mist, caused by the evaporation of the snow. The sun was shining fairly brightly, until a bank of cloud moved up from the west. A thaw is on its way in, however slowly. Tonight, we may see the mercury dip to close to -10C, but after that, we're on the up. Probably to the seasonal norm for eastern Holland, +4C / 39F. The roads in the hillier parts of the district are still closed, and gratefully used by those on skies or sleds.

I shall have a picture post and one additional blogpost later today or tomorrow morning, as I am attending a theatre performance in Arnhem tonight. The bus will provide the necessary transport.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Tuesday 28 December

Kept a quiet day today, as my cold is taking its time to go away. Walked to the shops, which are about 20 minutes walking away for a few bits and pieces. I normally ride there on the bicycle, but away from the main roads, the residential streets are in an appalling condition. So, I walk. The pavements [sidewalks] are no better than the minor roads, I should add. The snow is melting only slowly, as the mercury is hovering around freezing. I am hearing tales of woe about people whose properties are flooded when their frozen pipes thaw. The motorways in many parts of Holland also require emergency repairs, to prevent major potholes from forming. Wish they would do the same in the UK - when I return to Stornoway on January 5th, I fully expect to find the town's roads full of potholes.

I've just finished reading a very interesting book, The Great Lone Land, by W. F. Butler. Lieutenant Butler traversed the west of Canada in 1871 on a commission from the British government. He had to investigate conditions in the Saskatchewan Valley and beyond with regards to natives, trade and lawlessness. He did the journey in autumn and winter, with temperatures going down well below zero in Fahrenheit.
The only minor niggle was that the Echo Library (who supplied the copy) did not weed out all the OCR errors (I have advised them of that). What happens is that they scan the pages of the original text, then download the resulting digital file into a text file. And it tends to be full of errors. I know all about it, as I am applying the same process to the Napier Commission, whose report I have been going through in the past couple of months (see the posts on my blogs Atlantic Lines and Pentland Road).

Monday, 27 December 2010

Polizei! Ausweis!

That was the greeting from a German policeman on the train to Cologne last Thursday. It means "Police! Identification!". Although I was born well after the Second World War (when Holland was occupied by Nazi Germany), the expression did heark back to the dark days of the early 40s. In this case, the burly PC flashed his policeman's badge in my face, upon which I had to comply with his request for my passport. The guy could at least speak Dutch, as I was too flabbergasted to muster my rusty German for an appropriate reply (no, don't even think of it). He demanded to know whether I lived in the UK (my passport is marked as having been issued in London) and what I was going to do in Cologne. He shone in light in my rucksack, which only contained a folder for my travel documents, so he quickly realised that I was just an innocent tourist, out for a daytrip. A fellow passenger, travelling to Leipzig, intimated that sometimes passengers would be taken off the train in instances like this. In retrospect, I realise that "undesirable elements" can use the ICE trains to smuggle themselves into a country. Formally, there is an open border between Holland and Germany, but checks are being carried out nonetheless.

Monday 27 December

Sniffles subsiding gradually, thank you, just as well, as I'm running out of paper hankies. I nonetheless went for a short stroll in the woods. The snow is beginning to melt slowly, although we have another cold blast heading our way until the end of the week. Overnight lows -12C by Thursday, brrr. The stroll in the woods led along some incredibly slippery roads, I nearly needed ice skates there.

Tonight, there will be a news review on Dutch television, to showcase what cannot really be called the highlights of 2010. It is usually a litany of disasters, mishaps and what not.

The old school

Anyone lost their bonnet?

Slide down the slope, through the fence and on to the duckpond. Oh, the ice is rather thin there...

The Arnhemse Allee (which leads into the city of Arnhem) - an Allee is a treelined avenue.

Boxing Day 2010

Full of sniffles, I nonetheless headed west with my father today, to visit my sister and her family in a town some 20 miles east of Amsterdam. The train took us there in good order, although I cannot imagine that the ICE passengers alighting at Utrecht were very pleased at their 90 minute delay. And being taken there on an old NS [Dutch Railways] rattletrap. My sister was waiting at her local station and took us to her house. She had a new addition to the family, a young dog. Not a small one by any description: he is a St Bernhard cross. The animal is only 8 months old, and still requires training. We had scones, jam and cream, followed by a session of what is called here "gourmetten" [Google Translated, beware]. Difficult to translate - you have a set of small (handsized) pans, which sit on a hot plate. You fry small chunks of meat or fish and serve it with various garnishes. We returned east by train, and reached home at 10.45pm.

My sister's family cat 7 feet up - he wanted to go there himself

Waiting for the bus along the Schelmseweg [Scoundrel's Road]

Christmas Day 2010

Went to the Christmas morning service in the local church, once more as temporary member of the church choir. It is customary in the church here to have a few moments of quiet contemplation - well, it was far from quiet. Just beforehand, a group of small children had rejoined the congregation after they had been to their own Christmas "service", if you like. And, small children being what they are, they had to obviously tell mum and dad what they had been up to. It was quite funny really.

The day was quite sunny (but not warm). My father served Xmas dinner around 1.30pm (turkey, stewed pears and potatoes), after which we went for an amble in the Castle Country Park to walk it off. It was still very snowy, and the ponds were mostly covered in ice. Nobody was skating, an indication that the ice was not thick enough. At the end of the walk, we visited my uncle and then returned home for the evening. Sunset here is at 4.30pm, which was the time we got back. Watched a bit of telly in the evening, including a film about a young lad in wartime Holland - the film is called Oorlogswinter (Winter in War).

The Shell Gallery - covered up against the frost

800 year old tree

Trees, bent under their load of snow

The Castle and Orangerie

The Torck School

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Friday 24 December

Christmas Eve is upon us, and I make use of the daylight hours by going for a walk. First into the next town to buy some mobile phone top-up. Only to discover that my SIM has been disabled for non-use. I have not used it for more than 6 months. The other gripe is that although my credit expired, the €33 is still shown on the phone. Annoying. The roads in Velp are atrocious. No gritting or clearing has been done, and the snow sits on a substrate of sheet ice. You can imagine the slipsliding away that goes on, and not just by pedestrians.

Our aim for the walk is the Emma Pyramid, a viewpoint on a hill in the forest. The only problem is that the trees have grown too tall to see much beyond the confines of the forest, apart from the Rhine valley to the southeast. There is a thick layer of snow on the ground, up to 8 inches (20 cm) in places. The roads in the forest and heathlands areas have been closed; you need to know that this is actually a hilly district in Holland, and roads are steep and winding. The highest point stands at 370 feet above sealevel.

In the evening, I attended the Christmas Eve service in the local church. I was invited to join the tenor section of the church choir, as they are always short. I'm out of practice, but hope I made a useful contribution.


Emma Pyramid

Road closed

Ducks - unusual ones

Slippery roads in Velp

Friday, 24 December 2010

Thursday 23 December - picture post

Cologne Cathedral, from closeup

Stained-glass window in Cologne Cathedral

Christmas Market, Cologne

Dionysus Mosaic, German & Roman Museum, Cologne

Cologne Central Station

Thursday 23 December

Although I had not hit the pillow until 1.15 am, I had to get up only 6 hours later to catch the ICE train to Cologne, Germany, where I was going for a daytrip with my father. The bus took us to the station in Arnhem, and ICE 105 left at 9.06 am. It is a luxurious train, and I had booked seats for the 100 minutes to Cologne. Well, it turned into more than 2 hours, due to a signalling fault at Wesel and the generally snowy conditions. Arrived at Cologne at 11.15 am, and the weather was downright unpleasant: sleet and freezing rain, and freezing temperatures.

My primary objective had been the Dom, the Cathedral, but it was cold in there, and not just in terms of the temperature. The Cologne Dom is a massive structure, with the spire rearing to no less than 400 feet in height. But when you come in out of cold conditions, and being ordered to remove your hat: well, there are ways of conveying a message. And the clergy in the cathedral should be aware that in cold weather, people may come in wearing a hat, because it's cold, and not out of disrespect. A wee notice at the door would help. At least then you don't cause offence. As I said, the Dom is a magnificent structure, and I was as overawed as I was on my first visit in 1998.

After the Dom, we ambled through the Christmas market outside the Cathedral, then the adjacent Roman / German museum. A bit of lunch in the Früh cafe consisted of a small glass of beer (zwei Gölch?!), salt potatoes and Hungarian goulash, complemented by a fruit salad. The italicised phrase means "two beers" and was barked out by all the waiters at every customer. The Germans can be very abrupt, which is something I'm aware and familiar with. It was funny in the cafe, though.

The train back departed at 14.46, and got duly delayed due to the weather. We had to change into an old NS carriage at Emmerich for the rest of the journey back into Holland. The train was extremely busy, in both directions, due to the Christmas holidays.

I shall post a separate entry with pictures.

Wednesday 22 December

After yesterday's debacle at Stornoway Airport, today went well. The plane took off only half an hour late, and much of that delay was run up waiting for two incoming planes. Arrived at Glasgow at 10 o'clock, after a flight over snowy Highland mountains.

Loch Maree, near Gairloch

The bus transfer to Glasgow City Centre took less than half an hour, but it was noteworthy that the trees were thickly encrusted with rime. Had to wait for the Edinburgh train at Queen Street station, where it was so cold. Temperatures at Glasgow Airport were reported to be at -11C, and it felt like that at the station. Fortunately, they called the 1100 departure well before the scheduled time so all passengers could wait in the warmth.

The journey to Edinburgh ran up a delay near Croy, but I have many hours to wait at Edinburgh Airport. I have lunch on the very cold station, then jump on the bus to the airport, where I arrive at 1.30pm.

Cue a period of excruciating boredom, until I could check in for my flight. A queue of 25 minutes, after which I proceeded to departures. Cue another period of waiting, extended due to the late departure of the flight. Once on board, there were more delays. But we finally took off at 8pm, 90 minutes late. The journey to Amsterdam was made enjoyable as I struck up a conversation with a lady next to me, who had suffered the same sort of delays that I had. She had a journey of 2½ hours ahead of her once at Amsterdam.

Touched down in a snowy Amsterdam at 10.30pm local time. At the baggage reclaim, dozens of cases were lined up - these were awaiting collection by their owner. There were 3000 pieces of luggage still there. My train departed at 11.15pm, and for the journey to Utrecht, I was able to use my laptop to go on-line, as the NS train offered free internet access. They did rather better than Edinburgh Airport which wanted £10 per hour for the privilege. Arrived at Arnhem at 12.40 am, and took a taxi to my father's house.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

A tale of two journeys

I am quite tired after two days of travelling (preceded by one that was taken up by abortive travelling). On Tuesday, I made the trip to Holland, which lasted some 16 hours. Today, Wednesday, I took the train to the German city of Cologne, which required an early start. Bearing in mind I did not go to sleep until well after 1 am, you can imagine I'm slightly whacked this evening.

I therefore postpone writing up my travel diary until tomorrow.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas 2010

I'll be in Holland from 21 December 2010 until 5 January 2011, as plans stand at the moment. For those who are new to the Shell Gallery, I use it when I'm visiting my family in Holland. I usually stay with my father, who lives a couple of miles outside the city of Arnhem, 65 miles east of Amsterdam. The name Shell Gallery refers to a landscape feature in a castle garden near my dad's house. I started this blog in May 2008 following the death of my mother, memories of whom are strong in the village where my father lives. I'll be blogging here from Wednesday 22 December onwards. For now, you can browse through my Dutch picture collection on, where I upload under the username Veluweman.