We’re going on an adventure…

Well, sort of. Mr Esther and I are on our summer holiday right now.

As I type this I’m in a little cottage at the bottom of the Vesuvius, near Pompeii, in Italy. Mr Esther and I drove here, we arrived Saturday evening and it took us seven days to get here. This is our first summer holiday for just the two of us in 21 years and I admit that especially at the beginning it felt very weird to me to not have at least one kid with us. But we’ve been keeping in touch, so that is something. Missing the kids doesn’t mean I am not loving our time away, though. Mr E and I do really enjoy each other’s company and that is no different on this holiday.

Day 1 was Sunday, July 17th. We covered the longest distance that day, some 550 km to Würzburg, taking turns driving and eating our first Käsekuchen (German cheescake) of the journey in a little village called Münzenberg just off the highway to the north of Frankfurt.

We arrived in Würzburg at the end of the afternoon, dropped our things at our hotel and then walked into town to do our first exploration. After dinner we sat along the Main river and read while we also chatted and watched the people stroll by.

Incidentally, that was the last evening my e-reader worked! It has since died… Luckily I also have loads of books on my laptop and was able to transfer a few to my phone to read from there. Not that I particularly like reading from my phone but needs must. Anyway, we had booked two nights in Würzburg and good thing too because I was tired after working so hard leading up to my holiday, then of course the Ed Sheeran concert, then Saturday packing and Sunday travelling all day.

Day 2, Monday, was also spent in Würzburg. We slept in for a bit and then walked around town, visited the castle (no pics allowed to be taken inside) and also bought cheap but functional summer hats because we really needed them to protect us in the heat. I was annoyed by some of the tone in explanatory texts pertaining to last century’s German history (or lack thereof) in one of the churches, the cathedral and also the castle, which left a slight bitter aftertaste. Despite that, Würzburg is quite beautiful. Then in the evening we got a few groceries and sat down for a picnic on the other bank of the river Main for our dinner. It was lovely.

Day 3, Tuesday, we were back on the road again for our next leg of the journey which was about 420 km. We were driving past München and I had always wanted to visit the Dachau concentration camp, having studied the Holocaust and read so much about it. I just wanted to get an idea of the place and so we stopped there for a few hours. I did take a few pictures but it doesn’t feel appropriate sharing them in this post, it needs attention all on its own. Such concentration camp visits are always sobering and deeply depressing visits and a reminder of how low humanity can go.

From there we drove on to Austria. We stopped just across the border in Kufstein at the end of the afternoon for a little break and an ice cream…

…. and in the evening finally arrived in Innsbruck. Our hotel was in the center of town, so we walked into town for a late dinner there. Innsbruck is really beautiful, right in the valley between some mountains in the Alps.

Mr E had had a few days off work before our summer holiday started but I hadn’t and it was taking its toll. I wasn’t sleeping well, was finding it hard distancing myself from thoughts of work (even though I know I left everything fine and under control). I think I found it hard to let go because I am still new at that job and just needed to make sure over and over again in my head that all was fine. That and the travelling left me exhausted and so the next morning, Mr E let me sleep in a bit while he did a little sightseeing in Innsbruck on his own for an hour or so.

Day 4, Wednesday, we walked into town in Innsbruck again for lunch and a last look around…

… and then left town to drive through the Alps on the Brenner Pass road. We took the old road, not the highway and it was beautiful. When we left Innbruck we drove by one of the the oldest still functioning companies I have ever seen (Grassmayer Glockengiesser, i.e. maker of bells since 1599) and left the pretty city in the valley for our trip through the mountain pass. Pictures never seem to do the views justice.

Our drive that day was 275 km and we drove to Verona. That is, Mr E drove as I wasn’t feeling too well. We dropped our things at the guesthouse in Verona, freshened up and then walked into town for dinner and our first impression of the town. Especially the old Roman amphitheater is impressive! We saw that there was an opera festival happening and saw all the equipment for an upcoming performance of Aida already stored outside the theater. We walked around after dinner and also passed by the little courtyard to “Juliet’s house” but it was closed. It’s a bit weird that a fictional character has a real house but whatever. 😉

With the whole opera festival going on, Mr E and I decided to see what would be on the next day at the amphitheater. It was to be opera Carmen. Full disclosure – neither Mr E nor I have ever been to a live opera. There were still cheap tickets availabe so we figured that trying out opera in an old Roman amphitheatre would be the perfect thing to do! And so we booked tickets online for the next night as were staying in Verona for two nights anyhow.

Day 5, Thursday, turned out to be a perfect day to not be travelling on. I was really not feeling well by then, so I decided to stay in bed in our guesthouse for the whole day and nap and read. Mr E had to further discover Verona on his own that day and he did. He came back for a little rest himself at the end of the afternoon and by the early evening I felt fit enough to walk into town again. Mr. E pointed out a few more highlights, we had dinner and then headed off to the theater.

Boy, was it special experiencing our first live opera there! We bought little pillows to sit on and sat up on the old Roman stones to watch Carmen by Georges Bizet. It started at 9, after the sun had left the theater, and lasted four hours, including two 20 minute intermissions and one relatively quick scene change where we were asked to not leave our seats. The supporting cast was huge, we think there may have been around 200 people on stage at times, which made the choir portions of the opera sound absolutely stunning. This was an experience I won’t easily forget.

Day 6, Friday, was a travel day – about 300 km to Siena. I was still not feeling great, so Mr E did all the driving again. We stopped in a little town not far from Siena called San Gimignano, which is apparently sometimes referred to as the ‘Manhattan of the middle ages’ because of its still intact 12th -14th century towers. It’s quite small and sadly overrun by tourists but still beautiful.

At the end of the afternoon we arrived in Siena. At the guesthouse we had booked I sat down on the bed for ‘just a minute’ and promptly fell asleep for an hour! That did the trick, though, as I felt refreshed enough to walk into the old town after, which started basically around the corner from our guesthouse. We had dinner on the main square, which is so pretty! Late in the evening, just before we were to go to sleep, a drummer and guys waving flags, followed by a whole group of people, with some men wearing women’s wigs and dresses, passed by our window. It looked like it could have been a gay parade but the banner with coats of arms is usually associated with the horse racing in the streets of Siena on two days in the summer. so we had no idea what it was about. We waved and enjoyed the little show, though.

Day 7, Saturday July 23rd, was yet another travel day but we couldn’t leave Siena before first visiting the Duomo (cathedral). I especially loved the ceilings and those 15th century hymn books.

Near where our car was parked in Siena I saw this statue which totally reminded me of my tattoo! Spot the differences…

We had another long drive in the afternoon, some 450 km to a little cottage we rented at the foot of the Vesuvius right outside Pompeii. Mr E again did all the driving, even though I am starting to feel better. We got there in good time, at around 6 pm and it sure is very pretty here. It’s a little, simple, one-room cottage in the middle of a vineyard and we were welcomed by cats, which to a cat lover such as myself, is paradise. On one side of our cottage we look straight up to the Vesuvius mountain that once spewed its lava and pumice over Pompeii and on the other side we can see the bay of Napels! We have this cottage for a week.

Humid heat and mosquitoes do take a little away from the charm but we have airconditioning too so we will happily survive here. More adventures to follow in later posts…

A London trip

My daughter and I are back home again after a long weekend away in London. It’s a little trip we made as we await her final exams results. We booked it for this past weekend as Monday was a holiday here (Pentecost), I had also worked a little extra to compensate for taking Friday off as well and we flew out Thursday evening.

We had been told to get to Schiphol airport (Amsterdam) three hours ahead of time as there have been big delays at security due to staff shortages. As I finished work early on Thursday, we decided to leave sooner and just have a little extra time. In hindsight absolutely not necessary; we got through security 16 minutes after arriving at the airport by train! That included getting to security, an extra search of both our small suitcases (apparently Dutch cheese can be mistaken for explosives!) and an extra pat down for my daughter. We figured we’d have enough time to get dinner but several restaurants were closed and in the end all we had were very overpriced sandwiches. To add to the endless wait our flight to London Gatwick turned out to be delayed by an hour and a half! After killing over 5 hours at the airport, we finally departed…

… and didn’t land in Gatwick till close to midnight. When we got off the plane we were stuck behind locked doors at the end of a hall for another 15 minutes, before they were apologetically opened and we could proceed on to passport control. That meant that the train we had planned on taking wasn’t running anymore and the underground we were supposed to connect to wasn’t running anymore either. We were lucky to find a train into London, then were able to switch to a nightbus and finally got to my brother’s house in Hampstead at just after 2 am. Things did get better after that.

On Friday it was my brother’s birthday. His 18 year old daughter, my niece, was home for the weekend (studying for her final exams that she’s in the middle of right now) and had arranged a delicious birthday cake for him…

…we had brought a few gifts and after the little celebration, my daughter and I went into town. First walking to Camden market, about 20 minutes away from where my brother lives. We went into this huge, trendy fashion store, Cyberdog, where an actual DJ was playing music and I was very tempted to buy a smiley t-shirt (if only they had had it in old lady large sizes!)…

We then took the underground to Central London and walked around Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Chinatown, we walked up The Mall until we got to a closure, so we couldn’t get closer to Buckingham Palace than in the pictures below. We hadn’t realized it at the time when we booked, but our trip coincided with the Queen’s 70 year Jubilee and as you can see, boy was London crowded, with flags everywhere.

At the end of the afternoon we were quite pooped. We ducked into St. James’s park, just off The Mall, and along with so many others, rested and relaxed on the grass for about an hour before we were due to meet my brother and my niece for a nice birthday dinner at a delicious Turkish restaurant. As a surprise my niece had also arranged to have some friends and her maternal granddad come to the restaurant and we had a really nice birthday dinner for my brother there.

The next day was Tower Bridge day for mini-me and I. We decided on a very late warm lunch (mini-me picked Five Guys with view on Tower Bridge) so we wouldn’t have to deal with that in the evening when we had other plans. We walked along the South Bank for a while, then went on to Westminster for a quick look, ending the afternoon by taking a bus back to my brother’s house to drop off our bags.

In the evening we stopped by Covent Garden and ate simple crepes before heading to the theatre to watch Mamma Mia. The musical was a lot of fun! They asked the audience to not sing along to the songs during the show but to wait for the end. Then indeed, during the finale in no time everyone was was up and clapping, dancing and singing along. It was joyous.

Afterwards we walked on to Leicester Square, took the underground to Camden and met up with my brother and niece to go clubbing in a club my niece had heard of but never been to. My niece and daughter had been talking about wanting to do that, to see how we ‘old people’ would fare. They just couldn’t imagine that when we were younger my brother and I had gone to dance clubs together as well. While we were on the dancefloor my brother admitted to me that the last time he’d been out to a club to dance was maybe 10 years ago and I think that may be pretty much as long since I’ve been to one as well (a 1980s night, if I recall correctly). I think the girls wanted to see us go all out and get drunk but while we all did have a few drinks, no one went that far. My daughter did learn that she likes a gin & tonic (my brother’s drink) and my niece learned that she liked the taste of Baileys (my drink)…

For the next day (Sunday) mini-me and I had planned to spend a few hours in the Victoria and Albert museum and then also walk through nearby Harrods. As the previous night had gotten very late and we slept in long, we had to make a choice as both would be closing at 5 pm and we wouldn’t be getting there until 2 or so. This was mini-me’s trip and she picked Harrods. We walked around, wowed by prices and oppulence (not only in Harrods but also in the cars you see outside in the nearby streets) and as we were quite tired, we ended up in a nearby pub where we had a pie (me) and a burger (she). We were getting a little chilly and our feet were quite exhausted from all the walking and dancing we’d been doing, so we opted for an early evening movie at the cinema close to my brother’s house (while he was driving my niece back to school in Cambridge at that time), away from the crowds in the city. We watched the Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum film The Lost City. Not great, not terrible, just enjoyable light fare for our exhausted feet and minds.

On Monday, our final day in London arrived. My brother worked from home while mini-me and I decided to go to Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath. We had wanted to try the V&A museum, but there was a strike by underground stations staff and we figured it best to avoid the underground altogether that day. We took the bus to Kenwood House, had a scone and some tea there (and mini-me fed a little robin) and walked around Kenwood House. We then went back to where my brother lives, walked around the neighbourhood there (and past Emma Thompson’s house, which is maybe 20 minutes away on foot from where my brother lives – her house isn’t in the pictures I share here) and did some last minute pre-packaged scones and Jubilee magazine (for my mother) shopping before heading back.

My brother drove us to Luton airport for our return flight and we got there two and a half hours before time. Again we were lucky: no long queues for security and we were through pretty quickly. We had enough time to actually sit down for a dinner. Then, after dinner, we got the news that our 8 pm flight to Amsterdam had been canceled, like so many other flights had been recently! Our only option was a flight home the next day, on Tuesday afternoon at just after 4 pm! We also had to book our own hotel for the night that they said would get refunded (it made more sense for us to book a nearby hotel than to travel all the way to my brother and then back again the next day). I immediately got on to Booking.com and found the closest still availabe hotel, which was about a 10 minute walk away.

When we got to the hotel the lady at the desk was telling other stranded passengers who had also just booked on their phones that the hotel was overbooked! I started checking other hotels while we waited, just in case, but there were no vacancies anywhere near where we were. When it was our turn we were lucky, there was a room available for us after all (and in the end for those two women who had been ahead of us as well, it turned out). Mini-me and I eased the pain with a Smirnoff with coke for her and a Baileys for me and I had to get in touch with work, letting them know I wouldn’t be there on Tuesday. We were also able to arrange a late check out of the hotel for the next day, and after refreshments, made our way back to the airport and finally flew home again yesterday afternoon.

Despite the weird end with a canceled flight, we’d really had a great time and it was so good to re-connect with my brother and niece again. There were also some lessons learned from this trip:

  • I’m glad our summer holiday this year will not involve any flights.
  • I need to get better (newer) walking shoes before the summer.
  • Jubilees are better watched on TV than experienced live. It was just too crowded and we avoided being where the celebrations were for most of the time.
  • If I do get Covid, then I must have gotten it while in London. Time will tell.
  • Clubbing – been there and done that for the most part. It is only fun when you like and know the music but the club we went to (despite a nice dance beat) only played 3 songs I knew in the 3 hours we were there. If it hadn’t been for the girls and seeing them enjoy themselves, I would have left way sooner.
  • I wish I could go out to a London theatre every week.
  • It’s always fun having some alone time with one of my kids.

I have no idea when, but I am already looking forward to my next London trip.

Holiday during Corona, part 2

The last overdose of pictures of our holiday is coming up right now. First, some relaxation shots…

… and then last Saturday afternoon we drove just across the border to Belgium, to the little town of Remouchamps which houses caves. You can walk through the caves and actually ride a boat inside. We had done that once before with the kids back in 2005 when they were 4 and 19 months young respectively.

Of course they don’t remember but why not do it again and have at least our daughter remember it this time, we thought? So, we returned again now, 15 years later, with the difference being that this time we had to walk through the caves wearing masks. The boat ride at the end to get back to the entrance was still a lot of fun to do.

We then drove on to Germany, to Aachen again, to have dinner there.

Yesterday, on Sunday, we went into Maastricht again, this time for the sole purpose of visiting the inside of the St. Servaas church and see the treasury there.

I always love when there’s a crypt to visit and there was one in this church where Servaas from the 4th century (him after whom the church is named) is buried.

We then went into the treasury which housed St. Servaas’s bowl and key…

There were many other beautiful and very old and sometimes also weird treasures, like a severed head plaque of a saint…

There were relics with the bones of saints in them…

… and very old silks from the 10th/11th centuries…

… and some really old crosses! The cross here below on the left is from the 5th/6th century, the one on the right is even older from the 2nd/3rd century (Syrian or North-African).

The inner couryard was filled with wonderfully flagrant lavender…

It was really hot, so we went back to the coolness of our holiday cottage before heading into Maastricht again in the evening for a sushi dinner in a Japanese restaurant that housed a huge Buddha statue…

We ate so much, we needed a little walk around the city before heading back again.

This morning we packed up our things and left the holiday cottage at 10.30 am. We drove to the nearby US military cemetery in Margraten where over 8000 US soldiers are buried who fought to help free The Netherlands and Europe from Nazi terror in World War II. Such places are always very sobering to visit.

We then took a scenic route to Roermond and had lunch there. As from today you need to leave your name and phone number at all restaurants in The Netherlands so that you can be traced should a Corona outbreak happen again in the area. This already happens in Germany, now with Corona cases on the rise again here in The Netherlands, it is also done here. After lunch we walked around a little bit before we headed to our own home again.

It was lovely to see Mr Esther junior again when we got home (we really missed having him around on holiday – first time in 19 years that he had not come with us). He was extremely happy with the NBA basketball jersey we got him (from his fave player Giannis Antetokounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks, bought at an NBA store in Aachen) and he admired his father’s ever growing Corona beard…

And now it’s back to quarantine at home again. Mr Esther and I still have one more week off work left to enjoy.

Holiday in times of Corona

I never only take one picture when I’m out and about, I take tons and Mr Esther takes even more. We’ve been quite busy on holiday, seeing a lot. Today is a day for doing nothing so I thought I’d post pics of what we’ve been up to. If reading people’s holiday stories and looking at endless slide shows are a chore, feel free to skip this post!

Our holiday cottage in the southern tip of The Netherlands near Maastricht is nice.

On our first real day trip we went to the Three Countries Point where the borders of The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet. It’s also the location of the highest point in The Netherlands. My country is very flat, so being here in the southern tip of The Netherlands almost feels foreign in itself as the scenery is so different from the rest of the country (OK, technically the following first picture is just across the border in Belgium).

There’s a marker right near the Three Countries Point that shows the highest point of The Netherlands in Vaals (322.5 meters above sea level). Peanuts in a lot of countries but a small matter of pride here.

A few meters on at the Three Countries Point we were told in German and Dutch that wearing a mask was desired but in Belgium that wearing a mask was mandatory.

So we donned our masks for the first time this holiday (not everyone did, but better safe than sorry, we figured)…

… and admired the pie-points that signified where The Netherlands is (smallest part of the pie), followed by Belgium, and half the pie belonged to Germany.

From there we drove on to Verviers in Belgium which turned out to not be the most amazing place but we did sit down there for drinks. In the center of town masks were mandatory, so we donned ours again.

We drove through the Belgian village of Limbourg, which is the source of the name of the Dutch province Limburg (our holiday cottage is in Limburg).

We ended the day with a little stop in the woods. Mini-me chased butterflies and we even saw deer.

The next day we went into Maastricht for the day, to get to know it a bit and walk around.

Except for in public transport, masks aren’t mandatory anywhere in The Netherlands. It was quite busy, though! We did our best to keep a distance but it felt like many people didn’t pay that much attention to how much distance they were keeping. There were signs up reminding people to avoid crowds, keep a distance, stay right, adhere to one way traffic…

Mini-me needed a shirt to sleep in, so she and I went into two or three stores until we found something while Mr Esther went to a bookstore inside an old church building. We were going to join him there but by the time we got there it felt too crowded for me, so mini-me and I sat down for some drinks instead on the square in front of the store and awaited Mr. Esther. It had been doable inside, he said, but it was good to be out again.

We soon left the busy shopping streets, visited the Basilica of Our Lady Maastricht and explored the somewhat quieter other streets of Maastricht.