Thursday, 10 January 2019

A very different winter

One or two storks!!

Here we are in the Western Algarve region of Portugal again but this time we have rented an apartment instead of driving all the way from the UK with the motorhome. It's different, very different but we wondered if we would like it and you never know until you try!

It's great to have more space, especially to welcome guests, good to have wifi and basically to have all the amenities in situ that we have to drive around to replenish (water, waste disposal etc.) in the camper. But it has been strange to be in one place for so long and we've been just a little green on occasions when we've been to some of our favourite wild spots in the car and found other campers there on "our" spot!!

Beautiful goldfinch

We came out at the very end of October, sailing from Portsmouth to Bilbao with Brittany ferries quite full of trepidation about how the dogs would take to being on a ferry for 32 hours, albeit in a pet friendly cabin and how we would cope with the trauma if the answer was "awfully". But we were pleasantly surprised, they settled really well, the cabin and the crossing was comfortable and trauma free and after that it was a two day drive from the north of Spain, stopping overnight in an Ibis hotel in Salamanca to our destination just outside Lagos. Our accommodation is right in the heart of "apartment land" and as our son said when he came to visit, not somewhere that we would ever have thought to see ourselves. But we have a sun terrace which gets the morning sun and we have good dog walking and cycling opportunities right from the door. It's a ten minute walk down to a lovely beach but sadly, our eldest dog, Dash can no longer manage that walk so we drive down when we are having a staying local day.

Our local beach, Porto do Mos
Arriving later in the year meant that we missed the best of the autumn bird migration this time but  early November on arrival found us heading to our bird spotting areas most days until the numbers dwindled and we did have some good days although nothing like the volume we saw last year. We checked in on the Eagle Owl we saw last December and were pleased to see him perching proud and tall on the same cliff ledge.  The birding highlight of this trip has probably been the Green Heron who we had heard before we set off from home had been blown in on the tail end of the American Hurricane in November.  He/she shouldn't be here but was one of two rare American vagrants, the other being spotted North of Lisbon and has made himself quite at home on the ornamental lake at the Quinta do Lago Golf course near Faro Airport. As far as we know he is still here, we've had several trips to and from the airport and call and try to see him each time. 

Green Heron

Avidly feeding every time we saw him
Yours truly keeping B and D out of
the way so that  the photographer
can get close to the heron

Talking of airports, we've had two lots of visitors so far, Richard and Aoife came out at the end of November and then our friend Philippa arrived for a few days a week or so after they had left. It was a lovely social time and although it was not the best weather when R and A were here, they got a real flavour of why we like to be here and away from the winter gloom of the UK. Luckily for her, when Philippa arrived, we had wall to wall sunshine and apart from a few drizzly days in late December, that continues now. It's cooler now but extremely uplifting to wake up to sunshine and blue skies every morning.

Richard and Aoife's first morning,
just warm enough for
breakfast on the terrace
Amazed how warm the sea was,
paddling in November
at Figueira beach

Our mate Philippa sending enviable
sunshine pics home to
her kids in Manchester!!

Just before Christmas I flew home to Bolton for almost two weeks to see the family, it was Nigel's suggestion back in the summer when we were still boating because he knows how much I miss them. It was the longest we've been apart in 45 years but it was lovely to see the littluns and be part of their Christmas and New Year celebrations. I was made very welcome on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Alana's parents and was delighted to discover that Alana's sister is expecting her first baby in May, a cousin for Hattie and Percy.

Proud Grandma!!

I was on hand via WhatsApp for culinary advice for Nigel and he took great delight in telling me he had successfully made white sauce to accompany his individual Christmas Puddings that he'd managed to purchase!! I of course had company some of the time, met up with Philippa again and Richard and Aoife came up and stayed overnight with me before spending a Sunday with Andrew and Alana and the grandchildren.  Rare to have them altogether and it was a joy which even the grotty weather couldn't spoil. Nigel was alone apart from the dogs but he enjoys his own company and kept himself busy walking them, cycling and watching whatever he wanted to on the box! 

How could he be lonely with these
 two for company?
I returned a week ago to sunshine and blue skies again which are scheduled to continue as far as the forecast takes us. We want to get up to the Alentejo region again in a few weeks in the hope to see cranes, bustards and lesser kestrels but the kestrels won't be coming back to the area till nearer the spring so we'll postpone that visit till February. We like to spend a few days in the area but this time of course, it'll have to be a day trip.

Here's a few more wonderful bird pics to finish with......

Very handsome male gadwall

Glossy Ibis

Bonny little redshank

Meadow Pipit

Chiff chaff

Pair of little owls

Saturday, 6 October 2018

A boating season in the Netherlands

It's been a hot one!! In the middle of July when I started to write this blog post we were on the outskirts of Amsterdam moored in the small town of Weesp.

One of 3 opening bridges in Weesp,
the bridge keeper dangles a clog on a
fishing rod into which you place
your 3€  for passage

We have come to realize over the years that with boating, plans set in stone  are never a good idea. This season we were going to cruise into France again and then into Germany before heading back to Belgium for the winter. But things didn't work out that way mainly so that we could keep within easy travelling distance for Nigel to head back to the UK twice when “summoned” for some medical tests.
Beautiful canalside cottages in Weesp

Not so beautiful!

One such trip was undertaken shortly after we arrived on Meander, having only had time for a short shakedown cruise of a week to Turnhout, not very far from our base at Leopoldsburg. I stayed on the boat because of the dogs but made sure I got some grandchildren pics whilst he was home!

The time at our winter port gave us the opportunity to do some work on the boat before we left. I say “us”, I was just a gopher. We now have smart new aluminium lockers to replace the old rickety wooden ones.

Belle approves of the new lockers
as long as she gets a cushion!!

Eventually we set off in the direction of Holland, we needed some work doing on the boat and when that is the case, Holland is the place to be.

The lovely Stadhuis in Gouda

Around Leiden by dinghy
unmistakably Holland!!

Very expensive marina in Almere where we had some
work done on the boat,  a few million euros worth of
fibreglass boats here! And it was very windy,
 the noise was incredible!!
Meander coming out to have her
bottom inspected!!

We were thwarted by an unexpected and unusual effect of the European heatwave this summer as we never did get into Amsterdam by boat. At the time we had wanted to do so, none of the opening bridges were functioning because the heat had made them swell so that they could not be opened or if they were they would not close again! However, we visited the vibrant city by train for the day on several occasions, albeit one at a time on alternate days! It was far too hot to leave the dogs on board with the boat closed up, so we had “turns eaches!!” Little did we know that this situation would continue for as long as it did, there were many more occasions when it was too hot to leave them and often too hot to walk them. The main thing is we have come back still with two dogs, one of whom we keep thinking won't make the next trip but he's still going (not strongly though) and a couple of weeks ago he reached the grand old age of 14!

The birthday boy
Two men in a boat!

We've visited many places we've not been to before and stayed in a mixture of paid and free moorings. We can be self sufficient for a couple of weeks and it's always good to be “off grid” and away from it all but now and again we like to be in towns or cities where there is usually electric hook up and water available if we need it. We've enjoyed having the dinghy and being able to potter around the small waterways in the middle of towns like Haarlem and Leiden where we can't go with Meander. I even went to the laundrette by dinghy in Leiden!



On the way to the laundrette
St. Bavo Cathedral in Haarlem


Along the way we've met some lovely people too and enjoyed some social times with them. One such lovely couple were Andy and Voirrey Johnson. We met them a few times, below at Heukelem near Leerdam they invited us for supper and we had a lovely evening with them. A day or two later they were a great help both practically and with moral support when we had an emergency in the form of a water filled engine room from a burst pipe joint! Voirrey is from the IOM and gave us some Manx kippers which we had for breakfast one day, delicious!!

Voirrey and I meeting for the first time
 at the bar in Leopoldsburg

Piper Barge Bella Fortuna

Bella Fortuna leaving the mooring and
heading off upstream where Voirrey
intended to bake her Christmas cake!!
Speaking of cakes, food and drink is always important of course, we don't eat out often but when we do, like many others, we have fallen into the trap of taking pictures! Here are a few!!

Cappucino, Belgian style

Dessert we had in Masstricht, Nigel's


Dutchman with a sense of humour
in Weesp, we asked for a
large and a small beer
and this is what he brought!

Local dish called Stèperite, those are
very fine potato chips and
underneath was steak cooked
in an onion and mushroom sauce

If you like gin, you'll love this.
Couldn't buy it in Holland but
it was recommended and
we got some when we got home.

Cheese mountain in Gouda,
so difficult to choose but wanted
to bring some home for the family
I decided on these, the black one is lemon,
then clockwise jalapeno, a cow and goat
milk speckly one
and the blue one contains lavender
Don't want this to turn into a travelogue but here are some of the places you may or may not have heard of that we have visited or passed through this season.

Maastricht, Roermond, Wansuum (great Chinese next to the mooring!), Nieuwegein (just south of Utrecht),Weesp, Almere, Amsterdam, Oudekerk, Uithorn, Alphen an de Rijn, Leiden, Katwijk, Cruquius, Haarlem, Aalsmeer, Brasem, Woerden, Gouda, Oudewater, Montfoort, Ijsselstein, Meerkerk (another good Chinese here just minutes from the mooring), Heukelem, Leerdam, Woudrichem, Biesbosch, Tilburg and then back to base in Leopoldsburg, Belgium.

We've covered about 1,100 kilometres in 160.2 engine hours, coped with floods in the engine room caused by leaky joints, Nigel's been backwards and forwards on trains to fetch the car which we needed in Weesp and cycled many miles for replacement parts. We've been on a mixture of small waterways and large canals and rivers, dodging the big boys!!

A bit choppy

Getting more than a little busy around Maastricht

Now the boat is in winter storage and hopefully will have the hull painted before we see her again next season.

Below are some photo's from the "proper" camera, the preceding ones having just been phone snaps.

Turnhout castle

Eisden,  most southerly town in the Netherlands

Great crested grebe chick

Oude Bassin, Maastricht


Amsterdam Maritime museum

Replica merchant ship in
Amsterdam maritime museum

Petra and Klaus Spithost
anchored on Braassemermeer,
 could only wave!!

Petra and Klaus's Harmonie

Opening bridges being sprayed with canal
 water in the heatwave

Our mooring in Leiden


  All that was left of the bulb fields at

Katwijk aan Zee

Pump museum at Cruquius
(and following 6 pics)

Inside Haarlem Cathedral 

The Choir stalls

The Mueller organ
played by Handel and Mozart

We listened to two free organ recitals
whilst we were in Haarlem

Leaving Haarlem

A massive multi million pound new build being
 towed from the shipyard in Aalsmeer to Rotterdam

Oi, move over!

Heavily laden peniche on the Waal

A few fence posts here!!

Yours truly being spied upon!!