Thursday, 26 August 2010


I have twiddled with the settings and I hope you will now be able to comment on my blogs. Please do.

The last day of the holiday - at home

No regrets about getting home early. Slept soundly in own bed. Started reading William Dalrymple (unopened during trip) who says travel writers should write down interesting things they hear from people along the way. I fear that I didn't do this in the Denmark travel accounts, because we spoke to so few people about anything other than the mundane matters of checking in or out of our accommodation. Being in a twosome can isolate you from everyone around you, though there were many moments on this trip when I thought how very nice it was to have a hunky bloke with me (my h).
So, some recollections of people along the way:
the chef in rainy Belgium who gave us free frites as we were his first ever English customers; the helpful girls who opened up the Information office for us at Mol, Flanders, to find us a bed for the night; the very camp young men who sat beside us at dinner that night in the square, only to be joined shortly afterwards by their girlfriends; the Vietnamese man (with no English) selling fresh and smoked fish from a stall in the grounds of a supermarket, who chopped up a delicious eel for us for our picnic - we communicated in smiles and handsignals; Ingse and Thomas at Varde who gave us a bed for the night: Thomas speaks no English and was out playing bridge when we arrived. In the morning he shook hands and then fled to the TV to watch the news, but two days later when we met them again at the party he tolerated a hug and a kiss and seemed pleased to see us again. Their son Nicolai is 40 or so, still living at home, and no-one seems sure quite when he'll move on. Ingse with her lovely inherited things from Falkensteen: the silver, the Royal Copenhagen, the oak furniture and paintings. At the party, seeing John Turtle and Jenny again... he gave me my very first BBC job in Manchester when I started at university, showing me how to use a Uher and sending me out to gather stories from students. He is still 'the same' as he was in 1966, just a bit thinner and with glorious white hair. Meeting Fionan again, who used to hang about at Chris and Bente's in Stockport when I was a studenty-refugee at their house the same time. All the cousins - Claire, Fiona and Helen all very plush and with new men in their lives, looking happy and renewed. The Danish cousins: Louise, John and Emma with their families - all so tall and yet I can see them still as they were when they were little round things, clustered round their mother and good as gold. How wonderful to see a cousinly similarity between John and Nicolai, too. Obediently they let me photograph them together. The contingent from Guernsey, not looking as rich as they must be to live there, but all good at connecting, and looking as happy as larks. Then, out from Espergaerde - the fat young man in the farm shop who said he found his wondrous little flour mill in the barn kitchen: the place is run as an educational establishment for local schools, so they can grow their own food. He and Jamie Oliver would have something in common I think.
In Gentofte, Per and Anne-Margaret in their half-done house, perfect though it is they have plans to continue to improve it. Per laments that the new floor was wrongly laid with a tiny step up instead of a smooth sweep through from sitting room to kitchen: the workmen got it wrong, it was too late and too expensive to do it properly by the time the head man realised, and to Per's bitter disappointment it went down exactly as he did not want it to be. The man never pursued the bill. Outside, Per leaps onto a flat roof to hack away at a huge magnolia, and later tells us he nearly loses his grip and falls, swinging out on the ladder and then gently swinging back to safety. He also has a selection of electric tennis-racquets for killing wasps, which come to our lunch on the terrace on Saturday. His mother hates the wasps but is keen on pruning huge magnolia trees, so she leaves the table and goes after her great tall son to help him in his gymnastic gardening.
Anne-Margaret shows us the cellar or basement of the house, equipped with utility items (freezer, washing machine, etc), and Per's workshop which has tools identical to Andrew's here at home. He finds the basement a bit shallow, but he is 6'5" or something. Then at the front it two lovely well-lit rooms which are meant to be office-space, but (all-too-familiar) these are piled with papers and files and unwanted furniture. I am seeing my own life in front of me in someone else's house, and my resolution to have a proper clearout is strengthened.
On the road again: in Lubeck, being seduced by the waiter into ordering a cooked meal instead of a salad, and then not being able to eat it because of the colossal amount of food on the plate.
In Holland, the billiards players so businesslike and intent, sharp as can be.
I didn't say how I changed my bra as we sped along the Dutch motorways yesterday, stripping down to nothing and then dressing again to get more comfortable, and giggling all the while about the lorry-drivers. In the event, no-one saw, nothing happened, but it was funny all the same.
So, really there wasn't anything momentous about all this, just a series of little vignettes. It was a successful trip, and full of wonders. It gets clearer to me that it's not what happens to you, it's how you react that matters. William Dalrymple is writing about how some things have not changed for thousands of years (a fish cult in Anatolia for instance, which arose as a form of Venus-worship, became Christian, Islamic and is now just a quaint oddity which nonetheless has huge carp in deep pools being fed by visitors and NEVER EATEN). We have been visiting towns and churches which have been lovingly kept or rebuilt after wars, to keep them the same. We saw flour milled on granite stones and in a little electric mill, and we met the farmers whose crops are near-ruined by this prolonged wet August: the harvest is what keeps everyone alive. We have seen thousands and thousands of little farms on the flat lands, some sparkling and some dreary, but all full of families working away doggedly at their task. The villages and towns and cities have their churches and cathedrals, some with runestones and burial mounds in the grounds, some with modern stained glass, some with cafes inside them, and some just quiet. Everywhere now there are the dark faces of new residents, settling in to become Danish or Flemish or German. In the pub at Coevorden is a print on the wall, showing what Holland used to look like: the archetypal wooden windmill with canal, bare trees, watery dykes, muddy fields and tall sky. Holland today has the new windmills, churning electricity out of the air, steadfastly facing into the wind and whirling, whirling. Below them, the bright clean suburbs of red brick spill out over the immaculate fields. Some old mills survive of course, but the old look has gone forever. I feel I have lived to see a really great change, as if Europe has shifted from one era to another almost imperceptibly, day by day, year by year. The new gadgets like iPhones and apps beckon us onward, but underneath the old ways are still functioning. It's just that they look different and slowly that different look will make the old ways seem almost unbelievable. The horses in Holland are now pets, whereas they used to be the engines of life, for work, travel, war, etc. This is all happening faster than we think, and spreading across into Poland, Russia, India, China, Africa too, at last. The mobile phone is transforming everything. But we still need the harvest home.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Coming Home

I was a bit down on Coevorden, but in the event it did us proud, with a copious meal, an interesting display of proper billiards, a clean, dry comfortable bed and a very nice breakfast. OK - it's a town with a sort of hang-dog feel, a bit dusty or down-at-heel, but so what? The old guys playing billiards were terrific.

Our room also had BBC1 on the telly, which turned out to be very useful as we saw the weather forecast... yet another belt of very heavy rain heading up the Channel and due to smother Holland and Belgium for the next two days. We'd been wondering how to spend theses last two days of our holiday but seeing the forecast made it easy to add a new choice to the list: hit Dunquerke and get home tonight. In fact that is what we did, but decided to spend the morning off the motorways and exploring a bit more of inner Holland. Two places in particular were well worth the wait: the lovely national park which fills the middle of the Netherlands (including forests and the Hooge Veluwe, sorry if I have spelled it wrong); and Deventer. This gorgeous little town seems to have very little bombing damage and has in any case been lovingly restored, with its huge Grote church with its romanesque crypt, lovely worn slate memorial stones, and painted vaults in the nave, and also having Holland's oldest stone house. There was a queue of (admittedly middle-age and older) people waiting for that to open at 10am. Stone is so rare, or was so rare, and almost all the buildings are brick. We had a coffee in a smashing place in the 'New' Market (ie mostly 17th? century), with books everywhere and a special barstool arrangement built round the little grand piano. The coffee there is traditionally served with a tiny slab of the local cake, which is fruity and with ginger and other spices.

Then we made it across the lovely open heathland of the national park and eventually reached the motorways. It is hard to know how anyone managed without satnav. Even then it can be quite difficult, frightening even, to negotiate which lane you are meant to be in to get through the huge spaghetti junctions.

We called in at Ede to buy some provisions for a picnic - in a greengrocer we bought red and green plums, and also some fresh salads which were laid out most invitingly in chilled trays. We had our lunch eventually on a hill top covered with wild flowers, overlooking the Neder Rhein. True, it was not far from a recycling plant and there was a steady stream of rubbish lorries behind us on the road, but we had peace, fresh air, the beauteous fields and flowers, the light, a flock of crows messing about in the long grass (were they playing hide and seek?), and friendly cyclists wishing us a good day. A perfect meal, and the rain stayed off too.

I must say, the horses in Holland are marvellous: they look like real pets, and of all kinds too, palominos, tiny ponies, herds with foals, piebald and skewbald groups, solitary mares in little paddocks, long-haired golden things, some carthorses. All in fine fettle, all shining and looking loved. And without the ghastly 'equestrian' mess in the landscape that we seem to acquire. We also saw a few small private pet flocks of deer, a couple of llamas, some large birds (could they have been storks?), and one amazing thing - three black cows in a small field each with a perfect white stripe round the middle. I wish, I wish I had stopped to take a photo of them.

Another unexpected glory was the fact that most of the old windmills in that part of Holland are thatched - ALL OVER! Not just their caps, but the whole structure, sometimes with the date of origin or reconstruction cut out of the reed, or left in relief.

We belted through Belgium, getting past Antwerp before the rush-hour thank god, and thence down to Dunquerke. We queued in the rain. Could we change our booking and come home 26 hours early? Yes, perhaps, but we would have to be quick. We skidded through the customs etc and ran through the puddles into the Cash Ticket office. The girl said yes... and then her computer seemed to lock. The people behind us in the queue were told it was too late, they would have to wait another two hours. But, we did eventually get our ticket, and were nearly the last car aboard.

Unusually, Andrew thought we should eat aboard, which has never really happened before, or not recently, as we usually take a picnic. The meal was disappointing, and we exchanged commiserations with the couple on the next table. They are house-master and house-mistress for the international college of a public school in Dorset, although they live and have their own house in York. They told us about some of their young charges, the children of Russians, Arabs, or Chinese families who can afford to send their young to England to be educated for a year or so. Some of these youngsters arrive speaking no English but manage A* GSCEs in one year. Some have only ever had servants to do for them, and don't know how to dress or look after their clothes. Some have drivers based in London, who they summon when they need anything brought for them. Some say how nice it is to be treated as an ordinary person. Some leave and go on to other schools and then say how they miss having bedtime stories read to them. Some travel unaccompanied from the furthest places on earth, and may not go home again for 18 months even though they are barely 12 or 13.

How lucky I am, we are, to have been born into this time and place. Free to travel, think, write without censorship. With good health, education, enough money to take holidays and go abroad. Able to use the internet, and cars, and phones, and able to see our children grow up healthy and I hope happy. As a female, in the history of the world, this is a truly remarkable thing to have experienced.

On our holiday we saw so many things. I have tried to capture some of them in this blog, but have missed out loads I wanted to say. I will try to scoop those things up within a day or two. I loved my swims in the sea in Denmark, and the churches right across Benelux, Germany and Denmark. I loved the castle at Egeskov with its wonderful toy museum in the huge roof. I loved seeing a red squirrel at |Gentofte. I loved the beautiful flat lands of NW Europe. I loved the granite blocks which have been used so widely to make broad paving and clean streets. I loved the ancient houses, some artificially reconstructed after the wars, which so many generations of people have chosen to live and work in for so long. I loved hearing the different roots of English (in French, Flemish, Dutch, German and Danish) so close together one after another, and I was impressed by how so many people speak English so graciously and so well in all these different communities we saw. I took loads of photos which I will try to inset into this blog to show you some of what I saw... even though the words may have given you something to go on.

Dover, the A2, a police car racing ahead of us in the dark and wet, ringing various family members to say we're back, watching for too much water on the road as the rain plummeted down, thinking about the notorious aquaplaning section of the A2 London-bound by the turning to Chartham Hatch, finding the police-car beside a smashed-up car at that very point when we finally got there, coming into the house, picking up the mail, ferrying things in from the car while the rain hammered down, padding about the house which looks as if we had never been away.... So, home at last. All those things we saw are already slipping away into 'the past'. It feels like a transitional moment, so I have one self still in Denmark, or Germany, or Holland, and one self here, now, back in the 'real' world.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Into Holland

Sorry if this is all reading a bit disjointed... getting tired and also the keyboards are all different. Outside there is a ferocious thunderstorm and pouring rain. We are in just in Holland, in Coevorden. I might be a bit rude about it, but am very pleased we are inside and dry.

I am so glad we went back into Lubeck this morning... there was a nagging feeling we should set off to battle the distance and roadworks, but I wanted to see inside the Dom. In the event I had the wrong church: Lubeck has two ancient brick churches with twin copper-clad spires, and we went into both. They were both reduced to blazing rubble by the British in 1942, and rebuilt in astonishing detail since. Neither is entirely square (ie, the towers lean alarmingly) and both are made of brick. Both have awe-inspiring photos showing what they looked like smashed to pieces and with smoke and flames still rising. The Dom (Cathedral) is all white inside and Romanesque, and the Marienkirche is Gothic and with flamboyant coloured stripes... but each in its own way is completely dazzling. They also have treasures from the middle ages, miraculous rescued from the bombing, or carefully stowed away beforehand. One of the best things about Lubeck is discovering that Hitler didn't like the place. The city had refused to let him campaign there in 1932, and he never forgave them, removing their Hanseatic status, and incorporating the municipality into Prussia. The town is filled with treasures – buildings, passageways, stories, statues, shops, waterways and so much more, and we should all go there.

My reading, as you know, is Alan Bennett. He provides an interesting snippet about Hitler, who apparently only spoke 4 words which were not German: 'Vous etes mon prisonnier'.

Andrew's reading, he reminds me, is Sandi Toksvig who reveals this little item. If you take 111,111,111 and multiply it by 111,111,111 you get 12345678987654321... You will have to put the commas in for yourself, and in fact your domestic calculator may not be able to display the whole number. I did it on my iPhone and could only get it in by swivelling the screen sideways. Heh heh!

Back to today.... An unexpected bit of street theatre was provided in a square in the middle of Lubeck by a workgang laying big marble slabs in the pavement. The slabs were hoisted up like feathers on a little suction pad, which dangled from a generator on the arm of a standard digger.... The suction pad just lifts these huge blocks as if they weighed nothing. The man doing the actual laying just arranged the stones using a piece of string as a baseline, and then tamped them into place with a rubber gavel. Easy!

The drive out of Germany was dogged by prolonged roadworks on the main road, so we made slow progress, but had our picnic on a byway – lovely Danish dark bread, sliced cheese, some herring and beetroot salad, and some fresh Reine Claude greengage plums. Yummy.

We tried and failed to find any megaliths, despite following the wellsigned Megalithic culture route...

And we have ended up tonight in a rather grubby pubby place called the Marktzicht Restaurant in Coevorden, just in Holland. This is a very poor plittle town, reminiscent of Kings Lynn in the old days, with a grand past and a rather hopeless feel today. Maybe a local employer has closed down? There are nodding donkey oil wells nearby, and gasfields. But we feel it's maybe a place where nothing happens, a wasteland in a parallel universe. Our room has one central not very bright light. No loo, but a shower and a tv. Again we have been served an evening meal of huge proportions, but all v acceptable and only 11.5 euros. We decided to eat here because yet another huge black storm overtook us, with thunder and lightning and torrential rain. Again, thank god we are not in a tent. Also, we had walked round the town and seen the other eating options.... a (Jewish?) steak house, a couple of Indian-Chinese places, one or two very plastic fastfood places and everywhere else resolutely shut. It's the sort of place with tumbleweed rolling down the street. Yet it has a lovely old canal port, a beautifully restored Kasteel (now a v smart restaurant), and one or two fine buildings which survive from the middle ages. Downstairs the local billiards team have gathered to play, getting ready for the new season which starts in September. Three balls, no pockets, and some very impressive play even during the warm-up.

So we have left Germany, and Lubeck (the city of marzipan), and are now in pretty Holland. We have to decide our route tomorrow, whether to make for the coast and risk the winds, or stay inland and get down to Belgium that way.

I am really tired because last night, in the Lubeck Ibis, sleep was disturbed by various heavy goods deliviries behind the hotel right outside our window, culminating in a crane-lorry which left its engine running of course while the man went up to inspect the roof. This started at 6am and was still in progress at 8.30 when we went down to breakfast. Our quiet complaint resulted in an apology and a small refund (20 euros, which was the cost of breakfast). The work was being done by an outside contractor, and the hotel management had no control over his timing.....

So, an early night tonight.

Monday, 23 August 2010


Here we are in Lubeck, a Hanseatic cty with marvellous brick architecture dating back to the 13th century, partly modelled on French Romanesque, and becoming a pattern for the whole Baltic region. There are lovely squarish gables rising up on top of windowed facades, all pointing to prosperity among the merchant class, and of course the huge churches to keep in with the almighty. Helpful signs tell you what's what, and mostly point to 1942 when the centre was bombed to bits, so what you see is largely reconstructed. Still, it has a scale and texture designed to charm, and our quick recce this evening before checking into the hotel has been uplifting. We tried to get into the youth hostel but it had no double rooms left. All we could have had was a dormitory bed and my snoring makes that one would get any sleep. Next time we will book in advance.

We had a lovely time in Denmark, staying with Anne-Margaret and Pers in Gentofte (which is a suburb of Copenhagen) so we could meet up with family for a party a little further up the coast. They could not have been better hosts, and we had long and interesting conversations. Talking to them I realised there are lots of apps I ought to have on my phone. Actually that was borne in on me yesterday afternoon when we were at Chris and Bente's eating left-overs from Saturday night's party... this was an afternoon party at Espergaerde, and we were blessed with dry weather, BUT in the distance we could see a HUGE storm spilling out from Copenhagen just 20k to the south, and banking up over the sound to Sweden. One or two people could get a radar fix on all this on their iPhones or whatever... amazing graphics showing the actual places where the lightning was striking. I could load this app onto my iPhone but it would cost a huge amount because I am outside the UK. It really is ridiculous that the charges are so high when you travel abroad. Why does it have to be like this? It is a ripoff and I hope something is done about it.

Chris and Bente's house sits in the most beautiful place imaginable, on a plot of land right on the sea, with a generous garden around it. The view is across to Sweden, about 5 miles away. The light changes every moment, making it almost impossble to tear your eyes away from the view. Chris remodelled the house which I think was originally built in the 1920s, so it has a balcony extending over an open room downstairs. The plannng laws are very tight – he was not allowed to make it one square centimetre bigger than it was before, but luckily he found an old fisherman who said there had always been a shed at the back, and that was enough to make a tiny extension to the footprint – a tower with the bathrooms in it, one on the ground and one on the first floor. The house has a private sandy beach, and yesterday I swam twice – once before, and once after lunch. We were driven out of the water the second time because of a poisonous jellyfish, which looked innocent enough but Martin (Emma's husband) said it was too risky. Another amusement was Chris's numberplate which is easy enough to read: GOODWIN.

Just before we left Gentofte this morning I saw a red squirrel...the first I have ever seen. It had quitte large ears, and its tail bushed and streaming out... It looked like a tiny fox. How lovely. There are no grey squirrels in Denmark.

We had a little walk in Copenhagen on our way south... how gentle and pretty the city is. We also bought stuff for a picnic lunch which we ate at a place called Ore Strand, near Vordingsborg, overlooking the sea at Stor Strommer. It was almost deserted, with soft rain and strong wind forcing us to stay in the car to eat... but we had the waves to watch and wild birds, and afterwards picked ripe rosehips (delicious). There was a small free loo there too, not lit but absolutely clean and with paper. A lovely place.

Denmark's southern reaches are pretty much like what we saw coming across from Jutland... the farms spread over the gentle countryside, but now having talked to so many farmers or their families in the last 48 hours we are grieving for them.. the rain has beaten the harvest fields flat. The rain comes in bursts, never allowing the grain to dry... the harvest-teams rush out, seize any possible moment to get more corn in, but we saw field after field of wet crops, only half-harvested.

The ferry from Rodby to Puttgarten is Scandinavian, the sweetest little service. It set off across the sea almost the moment we came aboard (that was in thrashing rain). But the sea was amazingly calm. Everyone was queueing up for coffee, cakes, chips, handbags, all the usual stuff you find on ferries these days, but it was on a very small scale and rather fun. We were on the Princess Benedict, and saw the sister ship Schleswig-Holstein half way over. Very smart. It's a nice way to get into or out of Denmark. The names of the islands all about are great fun too, like Asbo, Garbo, Harpo, etc... I am making these up, as the roadmap is in the car, but you get the idea.

We are back in the hotel now, having walked up from the city, having been served gargantuan meals in a Kneipe (pub). We left most of it even though it was delicious. Andrew is on the bed reading Sandi Toksvig, whch makes him howl with laughter from time to time. It is so distracting I have to ask him to say what's made him laugh each time, and it usually is very funny.... for instance she tells of some poor bugger who was in life struck by lightning not once but several times and when he finally succumbed, his tomb was then also struck by lightning and demolished. I am reading Alan Bennett which is melancholy but also v funny. I am glad A has also removed the duvet from its cover as it's all far too hot. What weird weather this is.

Lucie texted to say she tried to leave a comment on the blog but it wouldn't let her. What a shame. I have been missing all your comments, and I have no idea why it's not working. Damned system!

I am now going to try to get this loaded online... have to get through the Ibis password system which may take a bit of doing on this fiddly little Asus pc. More when I can manage it. I think we are touring Lubeck tomorrow morning, then heading for north Holland.

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Today Sunday (22nd) it's raining again, but the forecast is for a dry day with more rain tonight. Yesterday after a wonderful night's sleep in Gentofte, Anne-Margaret took us in to a see a food fair at Norre Bros, an area which has been rundown but is coming up again. Two bus rides brought us to the district, but very little sing of a food fair... Eventually we found a few stalls selling sheeps wool, home-made hand creme and shampoo, some nice little potatos, artisan bread and cheese. It was very noticable how many young families and little children there were around. We had a coffee and observed a police bus, lying in wait for any trouble which might attend the Gay Pride march which was due to pass through later on. We also spotted a childrens' playground consisting of a crashed aeroplane, with a slide inside the fuselage. There were some wrecked boats a little further on, slewed crazily into place on the concrete. Nice.
Home to prepare for the big party... shower, hairdo, etc. The drive up to Espaergaerde is absolutely stunning, an old beach road probably thousands of years old but now naturally enough filled with pretty houses and smart hotels and spas. The view across the water to Sweden is breathtaking. This must be one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
Chris and Bente's house sits about 20 clicks up from Copenhagen, almost into Helsingor (Hamlet's Elsinore), right on the beach with a broad garden around it and a deck on the first floor so that when you are inside you might almost be on a ship. It is divine.
They got ready, we piled various necessary things into the cars and headed to the party place, with Chris leading the way but getting lost. The party was in an old farmhouse (Egegaarden = Oak Farm), and was a great great success. People gathered from all over Denmark and the UK and Ireland... One I had not seen for 45 years... Fionon (sp?) who used to work with Chris at UMIST. He, like a few others there, had been sailing.. Denmark must be a marvellous place to sail with so many islands and almost no tide. At least, very good with good weather... there was a horrible sailing accident in the last few days, with 6 Danes in a boat which overturned in the storms.. 4 missing, one swam 7 miles to get help. His face, and the one he pulled to safety on an island, have been on the front pages of the newspapers for the last few days. Not reading Danish we had not realised what the story was.
We drank, ate, sang, hurrahed in the Danish style, danced, heard speeches, picked up broken glass from the floor, had long conversations with long-lost buddies.... it was all lovely. The only people missing were the farmers who had seized the chance of a relatively dry day to work. They have had a terrible time, with so much rain and now frantically seizing any chance to bring the crops in.
My cousin Emma leads a terrific band, and they gave us set after set, real cool music. I also loved hearing Bente's friend Marianne singing.. she is half Inuit and comes from Greenland. A wonderful deep voice.
Today we are going back to Chris and Bente's house for lunch (left-overs) and more talk. I tried to record some of the funny songs last night so maybe we can listen to those.
One very good thing was being able to talk to John, who faces more surgery for cancer this week, but was looking fantastic and talking very openly about things. I am glad he is taking Juice Plus... I thought he might have stopped but he tells me he is taking it every day.
Do tell your mates about this blog... I want more followers!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Fyn and Sjaelland

We spent yesterday crossing Denmark from west to east, starting with a pilgrimage to Tratholt, a shrine to Arne Jacobsen and with a chair museum. This turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, being expensive, not fully open (exhibition spaces cleared out between shows), and with few English explanations. The cafe space is glorious and the coffee and fruitslice with cream was delicious. We saw one very interesting show, the work of a Danish artist called Clausen, who trained in Weimar between the wars with a lovely passionate ability to draw the human figure, and some splendid shining portraits, before she moved on to flatter images, looking like Leger, and also making posters. She lived from 1899 to the age of 87, smoking a pipe and looking like trouble, according to her photos.

I also enjoyed a special temporary exhibition of white plastic buckets laid out on the floor of one salon, to catch the drips during this period of torrential rain. The buckets also were hung from the ceiling and if the staff had put a label up saying 'Rainy Season' or some such, people would have regarded it as art, I have no doubt.

The setting of the Tratholt museum is spectacular, on a calm sealoch, and on the lower road (which turns out not to be the way in, but a little satnav trick), there is a wonderful array of houses built by those who can afford it. These are a wonderful thing to see, and I wished I had a video camera to show them all, for there are dozens and dozens, reminiscent of the Belgian suburbs, but here an expression of affluence and satisfaction.

We crossed into Fyn, regretting the low grey light for it might take blue skies and sunshine to illuminate the real character of this flat gentle farmland. Every farm has its flagpole with the long Danish standard flying. We were able (with some help by phone from our friends) to locate Egeskov Castle, which was not shown on our map but is near a place called Kvaerndrup. This is a medieval brick and moated castle in private ownership and something of a Woburn.. opened to the public in the 60s, and with a gorgeous interior, a huge collection of cars and motorbikes, enormous gardens, and a museum dedicated to the Danish company Fahlk which offers firefighting and rescue services in many European countries. It has a terrific collection of ambulances etc and an interesting history during the Nazi period, when the company helped the resistance and did a fair amount of people-smuggling or rescuing on its own account, the water-tanks of the fire-engines actually containing secret compartments. There is also a very pretty windmill where we had a picnic lunch and regretted it was not open to the public as we are now out of the holiday period. I love the ancient granite hand-milling stones they have there, just like the ones we saw being worked at Nymandebag on Jutland.

Eventually we reached Copenhagen to meet with our friends, have a marvellous suppper, drink too much wine and fall into bed.

Friday, 20 August 2010


(We have just reached Copenhagen, and able at last to post yesterday's blog....)

We had a great time with Bente's sister, and left after breakfast, with instructions about where to go and what to see. This kind of lead has always proved to be of first class value. We went up the coast to Nymindegab, a nothing-looking place with grassy dunes and small houses, a bit like the back of Camber, or Leysdown on Sheppey. But a strange black near-pyramid building invited us to stop and there we found a marvellous little local museum, home of the local carpenter Larsen and his family between the wars, and stuffed with all kinds of treasures. There is art, 19th century and later, depicting local people, and with some slightly squirm-making commentary about blond giants and racial types. There is a whole sperm whale, in skeleton, with detailed explanations about this marvellous creature and its life (only 500,000 left btw). There is a terrific reconstruction of an Iron Age burial, showing a woman clothed in brilliant blue robes (woad). Her male companion had a similar grave but it was robbed out. The archeologists wring their hands over modern deep ploughing preparatory to forestry work... in a few seconds, a machine can crunch through the fragile burials, which for a long time were both cremation urns and inhumations. A 17th century pastor was executed as a witch. Outside we can see the sunken vegetable garden of the Larsen family, and see Iron Age cookery in progress... a soup cooked in a pot on a hearth, with barley and apples smelling delicious. Children use large stones to grind corn and love it. In the shop you can buy amber, and see how the last Ice Age scultped Denmarks' coast and gentle hills.

Then within half a mile we leave the village and enter a fabulous ancient landscape of the fjord with its dunes, absolutely beautiful, with space for the civil guard to practice warfare, cyclists to whizz along in safety away from the road, little houses mostly with thatched roofs, and the entire area managed for calm, and a completely natural unspoiled feel. This alone is worth coming to see. It is wonderful.

Then we turned back to cross Jutland, most of which is like the countryside around Thetford. We pickn icked by a stream with cattle grazing nearby, and herons flying in the nearby trees. I was stung by a wasp which I felt was bad luck as I was at that moment absolutely revelling and worshipping the beauty of nature, so I thought I didn't deserve it.

We went on, to Jelling, called the baptismal place of Denmark because here Harold Bluetooth dug up the corpse of his father Gorm the Old and had him reburied in a church which was dedicated to Gorm and Gorm's wife Thyra. All this is recorded on two huge granite stones, in runes (are these boulders left over from the Ice Age? probably). The church is plain outside and stunningly modern inside, and sits between two huge pagan burial mounds, and is surrounded by a lovely churchyard where all the plots have box hedging and topiary to make it friendly.

It is worth noting that the farms in central Jutland have a definitely French look to them, with a courtyard arrangement, and I suppose that dates from the time of Bernadotte, when Napoleon really had conquered all of Europe apart from England. The rationalising ideas he instigated, to make things the same, including the layout of farms, the timing of meals, etc. can be detected everywhere on the continent, but not in England, where we still worship the haphazard, the local, the eccentric.

Our next call was Kolding, pronounced more like Cooling.... where an enormous brick castle towers over the town and port, but during the Napoleonic period (1808) someone just let it catch on fire, and of course the night watchman had gone off home early, and the man in charge of the firewatch had gone home ill, and the local guys were all snug at home ,and the moat had ice on it so they couldn't get to the water..... so, it just more or less burned down. The huge tower was partly held up with timber props in the ceiling of the great hall, and when those burned through, the tower crashed down and smashed the hall, the chapel, the apartments..... what a mess. Recently the Danes came up with a whizz method of restoration, (not re-creation), with laminated columns supporting a new roof and inserted floors, and all the outer walls exposed and left as they were. It is a museum for silver and porcelain (Danish culture), and is a really exciting place to walk round, with circular staircases, towers, modern steel walkways, stunning exhibits, etc etc.

We did not have time to get to our other recommended place today, the chair museum (Arne Jacobsen), so we have booked into the excellent youth hostel for the night, and will see that tomorrow. Youth Hostels are excellent value if you are ok with very basic facilities. We have our own 'family' room with two sets of bunks and a lovely big shower room. We will cook our supper int eh communal kitchen, and have the breakfast provided in the morning. All for about 65 quid (can't find the pound sign, sorry).

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Just a short report today. We drove about 600kms from Munster in Westfalia, to Varde which is north of Esbjerg.We are staying with Ingse, the sister of my aunt by marrige. These two women look and sound very alike. I have known my aunt pretty well for 45 years and only met Ingse a few times, but feel I have known her a long time. Her house is filled with furniture and pictures and photos from their old family farm, some of those things I have known all my life too, so it is like being at home. Danish antiques have a wonderful elegant style and spacious presence, and this whole family are very knowledgeable about all these things. We learned over supper how the best Royal Copenhagen porcelain should have tiny holes pierced round the edge, and we were shown how this slowly changed over time to small painted marks and then just a plain blue line.

Breakfast in the Ibis in Munster was ok. The d├ęcor was execrable. The best thing was a huge mangled cactus by the window. I also liked going in the car lift again, which brought us up from the basement to the pavement as smoothly as if we were in a dentist's chair. Great. Very amusing watching a blonde woman in a huge Volvo trying to manoeuvre her way into the lift ahead of us. She would have qualified for those wonderful 'Woman parking' clips on Youtube, taking about 30 goes to end up the wrong way round.

Our journey from western Germany up past Hamburg and through the flat lands of Schleswig-Holstein was marked by savage rainstorms which came and went from time to time, making the motorway into a waterski track for a while, or a blinding slushing onslaught of spray from lorries. Then it would fade away to nothing, dryness even. Prolonged roadworks kept things frustratingly slow when the weather conditions encouraged a faster pace. We didn't go into Hamelin after all, maybe we can do that on the way home.

Picnic lunch with smoked eel and black bread in some tiny plush llttle village, and then up and on and on and on, and eventually into Denmark. We called in to the fabulous antique town of Toemden with its elaborate doors and marvellous facades. Feasted on hot chocolate and cream cakes. Everyone speaks good English....

Then finally through the empty farmlands to Varde. We noticed a lot of car showrooms, a big change from 10 years ago, when the whole politik was steadfastly against cars and in favour of bus, train and bike. It looks like that old idea is being challenged now. We can't, by the way, think of a single Danish make of car.

Tomorrow, we go to Jelling to see the archaeology and the runestones, and to Fyn to see some castles and if the weather holds, find a campsite. All good so far. Very tired.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010


Those who read about our cruise to Morocco ('Sun and Soukhs') in January 2009, which led us through one of the great storms of history in the Bay of Biscay, and ending in Antwerp in bitterly cold weather, may wonder if our holiday excursions are doomed to find horrendous weather. We wonder this ourselves. Along the road today, we saw a forest where the storm had toppled a third of the trees, and huge greenhouses smashed to the ground, all in the last 24 hours or so, I should think. That was in Holland.

The rain has barely ceased in Germany today, with terrifying spray cast up on the motorways forming a near-impenetrable mist or fog. The lorries of Europe pound along at high speed, and their drivers are up above this nuage... us mere mortals in cars can only pray we will survive the next mile or so. We were aiming for Hamelin (however it is spelled), but have only reached Munster. I know now, when you see 'medieval city', this means 'ring road'. Still the place is noticeably circular, has a fine reconstructed Dom (cathedral) in the middle, several other old churches, and a university. We are in the Ibis hotel tonight, as it has a secure underground carpark. The entrance to this carpark is in a lift straight down from the pavement, very smart.

We wandered around, in the rain, with macs, umbrella, waxed hat, etc. and did some shopping, and have just eaten in a sort of pub-cafe local, again a place I would recommend if you come here. Delicious freshly cooked food, great atmosphere, lots of local people eating, cheerful service, and not an ounce of chic anywhere. It's called Restaurant Kopi-Stuben, Bergstrasse 73, 48143 Munster. I can't do umlauts on this machine, so you will have to excuse me that.

I was cross with my chauffeur for not letting me stop and photograph houses in our last bit of Belgium, which I thought was the deal, but maybe I can do that on the way home. Houses in Holland are also quite interesting but much less whacky... in my experience the Dutch have no problems knowing who they are, so they don't need to make any kind of statement in their domestic architecture. This confidence is even more marked as you move into Germany. But we did see some marvellous buildings in Belgium around Venlo, with their extraordinary front gardens.... (think Tesco landscaping but done with utmost loving care). We passed several tree nurseries with all this shrubbery being raised in straight lines. Gardens in Holland and Germany are also ok, and very different from English gardens, but again not as whacky as the Belgian ones.

We picknicked in Germany by a little river, (the Nier). We bought a map of Denmark at a decent scale, but had to wait till the motorway to find a readable roadmapbook of Germany. The AA map of Europe is a disgrace... it is expensive and useless. being at such an unreadable scale it gives you a migraine, anxiety and anger all at the same time. NEVER buy it.

Today's missive is probably a bit bland, as I am tired and fed up. This was meant to be a camping holiday and so far the weather has been unrelentingly cold, dark, windy and very very wet. (I know this is nothing compared to Pakistan's experience but it IS August and the temperataure has barely risen above 17 degrees). What's more we are having to use hotels which are eating into our budget.

One compensation has been to buy some stuff for my cousins' children, little presents and stuff which I hope they will like. Tomorrow, we head east and north, to Hamelin and then perhaps up into Schleswig-Holstein. Being off the motorways is much more interesting of course, but takes a long time and we have a fair distance to cover. The map of Denmark is very temting.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Mol, Flanders

This was an irresistible destination. We have driven for a large part of the day through torrential rain, on Belgium's atrocious roads (concrete slabs), and arrived here just as the Tourist Office was closing. Luckily the efficient girls coming out of the front door and locking up saw us waving from across the traffic, unlocked the office and found us some brochures. We came round to the Corbie Hotel and negotiated the price of a room down from 130 to 110 euros including free drink, breakfast, underground parking, and wifi. :-)

The ferry could have been named the vomit comet. Every ten minutes or so, the announcement came: Would "Nelson" please go to Information, or the Cafe, or wherever.... What a name to choose for the clean-up man. Still we had lovely coffee, did the crossword, had a sandwich, watched ships in the Channel ploughing through the swell.

Belgium is quite a densely developed country, not much open country before you hit suburbia (again). But my god what marvellous houses they build. I suppose so much needed to be rebuilt after the two world wars they have become absolutely confident about their architecture. Deco, Gothic, Moderne, Plain, Fancy, Stark, whatever the labels are, who cares? I love the houses and factories and shopping estates. Unlike the French (who can also show us Brits a thing or two about house-building) the Belgiques are not in love with concrete. They tend to use brick, but in wonderful colours. Even someone with a modest plot to build on will not hesitate to create a house in an ultra modern style... cubic, or utterly plain, or something with gold finials on all points of a slate roof. The gardens are exquisitely coiffed, planted by design and using dozens of small conifers, or huge banks of white hydrangeas, or with perhaps one huge spreading flat juniper. The whole character is different from anything you see in England... spooky in that you hardly ever see into a house, because of blinds or net curtains, but so jaunty and feisty outside.

I have tried to take photos but it was hard to do it properly on the move and in the rain, and maybe we can do some slower drives and or stop along the way tomorrow.

Today we decided to come to Mol, Flanders just for the name. We came through Duffel (presumably where the coat originated), and also passed the amazing Van Hool plant, where the day shift were pouring out of the gates of the huge factory. Buses of every shape and glamorous colour are all lined up on the forecourt for various things to be fitted and tested, and in the doorways of the plant you can see all tomorrows coaches waiting to emerge. Another design heaven. In a big carpark across the road, you can even see Van Hool trolley buses waiting to be smart. I remember trolley buses from London when I was a child, and I wish we had them again now.

We had two main anxieties during the day... finding somewhere for lunch on a Monday when most cafes are shut, and then later finding somewhere for the night. Our lunch was in the middle of a tiny village called (I think) Lichtevelde. The rain was tipping down but we were so pleased to find t Gildeke eethuis which served us a fab home-made soup, followed by spiced chicken breast with jazzy vegetables and rice. As we were their first ever English customers we also had a free helping of Belgian frites with mayonnaise presented to us, and delicious chocolate cakey things with our coffee. I recommend this place and its charming young owner-chef Herbert Vanzieleghem, who has a monthly gastro-menu at 43 euros, and worth checking out. is his website.

Hotels do not generally exist in Belgium, apparently. The rash of cheap motel/hotel brands which now grace every main road in the UK have not arrived here, and only touristy places have hotels. We passed precisely one Bed and Breakfast place, all day, as far as we could see. And due to the pissing rain we decided our camping could be postponed in favour of a real building for tonight, so looking for a place was a genuine mission. Anyway, here we are, with Andrew watching BBC2 I think, and we have herbal tea to drink (made with strange perforated tubular ali sachets). Now we can go for a walk down to the river, find a pancake house, then come home to our comfy room. So far so good. Quite a tiring day but very pleasant to be here, and I am still elated at the memories of all those amazing houses in every town and village we passed. Tomorrow we head into Holland and turn north.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Camping again

We are off to the continent first thing in the morning, camping and heading to Denmark for a family party, and back again after a few days. As usual I shall try to keep some sort of running description going.
For the first time I feel a sort of pre-travel anxiety along with the excitement. I'm a bit of a kid when it comes to camping - it's a thrill.
My only grievance has to do with the breakdown of comms between airbed-makers and tent-makers. In the old days, the air mattresses were made of rubberised cotton and their side walls were concave relative to the thing as a whole. Nowadays, airbeds are made of plastic, with seams at the very corners, so the side walls bulge out. They no longer fit properly into the wonderful tent inners as they are fractionally too big. It makes it almost impossible to put the sheets and bedding into place, and we've found you are more likely to get dampness problems as the whole thing sits too high.
At some point the manufacturers will hear the squeaks and curses from people like me, and adjust the sizes accordingly... it would only take a couple of centimetres to make a massive difference.
Unless anyone happens to have an intact old-style airbed we can use?
Now I am off to pack some tee-shirts, toothbrush, etc. and a party dress for the fest next weekend. Our house sitters are arriving in half an hour.
Why not follow this blog? I'd be pleased to hear from you as we go.
Pray for good weather, and think of us visiting Lubeck and Hamelin en route.