Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas Market in Cologne

We have just come back from a Mediaeval Christmas Market in Cologne. Yes, it's not even December yet, but the Germans don't care. If there's an opportunity to eat and drink something outdoors in the cold, they go for it. And why not? We went with some friends who live there.

There were various kinds of entertainment ...

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... and little Noah seemed happy ...

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... possibly because we all had some mead, which was served hot.

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No, no, no, Noah did not have any although the picture might indicate he did! On the way back in the dark along the river we came upon this boat with an inflatable Father Christmas on the lookout for ...


... customers, since this turned out to be a well-lit, floating Christmas Market as well. There's no stopping them, is there? Mark my words; Christmas is upon us! You have been warned.



Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Historic Memories

AA Pic of the Week 125 w ... this week features two photos in fact. The first one is taken in August 1968, five years after the second one. 1968 was the year of student revolts in many countries and the year when the Soviets crushed Dubcek's dream of a better life for Czechoslovakia after his "soft revolution", the Prague Spring. I was sitting in a 5th Avenue lunch bar in New York at the time with my sister when suddenly people started flooding in. There was a tangible buzz in the air; everybody was talking about the big news; the Russians had rolled into Prague to smother any chance of "socialism with a human face", as it was called. Shocking news!

That summer I was staying with my sister in Washington D.C. for eight weeks. I enjoyed the company of a group of Scandinavian air hostesses and their friends. I had a great time. My sister took me sight-seeing, as one does, and I saw all the sights, including a three-day trip to New York.

Looking at this picture, with my sister walking towards the Lincoln memorial in Washington, I can't help but think about today. At the time, I was obviously thinking about the events that had taken place five years earlier (second picture). Martin Luther King had been standing on the steps of that historic building in the background delivering his momentous "I Have A Dream" speech, which still today can bring tears to my eyes. I was walking where all those people had been standing, and I had a feeling of something I could not find words for then, and not even today.

But today when Barak Obama is waiting to take over and I look at this old slide photo, that same feeling comes back. President Obama, will he perhaps have a memorial building named after him in the future? Who knows?

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

First snow!

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Yes, it's here! I am sitting here with a mug of hot chocolate, mit Schuss (Stroh from Austria), as we say in German. That's my reward for walking in this heavy snowfall coming from every direction. I did my duty and had the first go of the season at clearing the pavement from snow, and then I just had to put our wooden snowman on the doorstep.


Clothes Moths!

Look what they have done to my jacket, the little ba ****ds!


I thought we had got rid of them. Do they ever go away? I have found holes in various sweaters and cardigans before, and the odd jacket or suit. It's terrible! I have used various tricks to deal with them, like lavender, some bits of wood that were supposed to act as a repellant and also some trap which sends out a sexual hormone smell to attract them and then they get stuck on a surface with tough glue. Did all that help? Apparently not! Oh, and I keep my Sunday bests in plastic covers, and they are fine luckily. I'm fed up with the little so-and-so.

There are other ways of renewing one's wardrobe you know! Can anybody suggest a foolproof way of ousting these wardrobe terrorists? Pleeease!


Friday, November 21, 2008

Guck Mal, ein Klassiker!

Old "Guck mal, ein Klassiker", was what the shop assistant said to his colleagues when I pulled my old running shoe out of my bag. I had come to Runners Point in Düsseldorf to get a new pair of shoes, bringing an old one to show what type of shoe I wanted. I have not done a lot of running over the last few years, I have to confess, so I have not bothered getting a new pair, which any runner knows is a deadly sin. Your poor body normally has to pay for such nonchalance, and my knees reacted to the lack of cushioning from the tarmac last time I tried to use them.

The three shop assistants looked long and hard at the footwear relics of yore. The one who was the most excited kept repeating the word "Klassiker", which is not difficult to understand even if you speak no German. I honestly cannot say how old the shoes are, but we are talking decades here, rather than years, I fear. The situation reminded me of the time when my rather old Omega watch was passed around among admiring watchmakers on a sight-seeing coach. That watch is now 30 years old and is still working perfectly. Not so my running shoes; they are now more like a pair of rubber tyre flip-flops.

Mind you, I did a lot of long-distance running as late as 15 years ago, and I managed to run a half-marathon in 1hr 28 min once, which is quite a respectable time I believe. I would not bet against me wearing those old Nike shoes then! So it was about time I got myself a new pair. I am determined to keep fit (not letting these become "Klassiker"), so I tested the new ones this morning, and they were wonderful. I was running on air, fluffy clouds, anything soft you can think of. Tomorrow will tell if I overdid it the first time in a long time, but so far so good! Here are the treasured beauties.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

On The Right(eous) Way

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Signposting is not always easy, and it never was. How did our ancestors find the way when they travelled long distances? They could follow a river or the coastline, aim for some hills or mountains or walk along a winding path. But if they travelled over land in particular, and they had many days or weeks ahead of them, how did they find the way? They would most likely be dependant on guides or people who pointed at an object on the horizon.

For the pilgrims of the past there were markers on the ground that led them on the right way, to the next cathedral or perhaps even to Santiago de Compostela.  Scallop shells on the ground would guide them, eventually all the way to, what is supposed to be, the relics of St. James. Still today you can find metal markers in the shape of a scallop shell in many European villages, towns and cities. This one I spotted in Liège, Belgium.

Scallop Shell (pilgrim route) Liege

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Summer Flowers with Granny

AA Pic of the Week 125 w I just love the closeness and the friendship that this picture (old, salvaged slide) demonstrates between grandmother and grandson. They are out to pick some flowers in the meadow to decorate the summer house.

They are still close despite the 600 km that separate them today. She is now an almost 86-year-old lady and he is a proud father of two children himself. She takes a loving interest in him and his family and he keeps in contact much more often than duty demands. I am proud of both of them. They are my mother and my son.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Don't I Know These Ladies?

Duckhead Duckhead says: They look familiar, I thought, as I spotted these two beauties in the window. Maybe they look too sophisticated, and they have no fags glued to their lips, but surely... or ...

I had just paused for a moment on my way up those 406 steps in Liège to get the view when I caught sight of these two women who looked strangely familiar. They reminded me of two Scottish ladies, acquaintances of mine, who write this wonderfully funny, quirky and interesting blog, Scottish Natterings.

It turned out that they were indeed relatives of 1st Lady and Lady Muck of Edinburgh. They invited me and Mrs D for, not tea, but strawberry beer and chips with mayo. They are after all Belgian; but since my French is only slightly better than my Flemish, the visit did not last very long. However they did ask me to send their love to 1st Lady and Lady Muck of Edinburgh.

!st Lady's and Mrs Muck's Belgian Relatives - framed

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Soft Focus

AA Pic of the Week This week's picture is without a real focal point, so maybe it is misleading to use the word focus in the title. But if *you* focus on the soft texture in the foreground and then let your eye travel further and further away, it is like plowing through different layers of solidity/hardness, first the delicate, soft, plume-like grass, then the main field, which I believe is rape-seed after the yellow flowers have disappeared, and last the harder-textured, dark forest under a grey sky.

Or, if you don't like too many words to describe it, I could say that I simply like the muted colours and the calming effect the view has on me.


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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Child Danger in Düsseldorf

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How often do you look down when you are on the tourist trail or just visiting a place for the first time, or indeed in your own neighbourhood? Most of the time we look ahead or possibly slightly up. We look at people, buildings and the sky, and only check occasionally where we put our feet. We don't very often look down unless we are botanists searching for some rare species or have a fear of stepping in dog faeces.

I have started looking at what is in front of my feet as well sometimes, and to my amazement there is quite a lot to discover in various cities. I have come across all sorts of ornamental metal objects like manhole covers, trail markers and remembrance plaques. I thought I would share those with my readers, and so far I have assembled a small collection, which I hope will keep growing with time.

My first piece of street art, if you like, is a manhole cover in Düsseldorf. It informs you that it is the capital city (of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia) and also displays the coat of arms. What is puzzling is the fact that two children are doing a one-armed handstand on said coat of arms, or are they doing cartwheels? I don't know.

The more drastic interpretation is of course that it is meant to be a warning to children not to play in the street, otherwise they might end up flattened by a car or a bus! On a more serious note though, I think of the length they have gone to to make an entrance to the sewers rather attractive. What do you think?  

Manhole cover Duesseldorf

Monday, November 10, 2008

Are You Prejudiced?

Duckhead    Duckhead says: Look at his menacing back! Would you dare ask him to move aside to get a better view? Scary tattoos and everything. Is he armed with some nasty bike chain, knuckle-dusters or knife? Will he headbutt you? Spit in your face? What might he have in common with the little boys on the bench paying close attention?

Don't worry. He must be as soft and sweet as spun sugar because he and all the others are at a flax market watching a demonstration how to comb and brake flax! What I was doing there? OK, I'm a bit soft too, but I did not stop to watch, honest!



Saturday, November 08, 2008

Hello Grandson!

Last weekend I met my grandson for the first time. When we arrived, big sister was proud to show us "her baby" and pointed to where he was sleeping in his pram after having been for a walk earlier. He was just starting to wake up, so we simply followed the sound. It felt very special to be able to pick him up and comfort him the very first time I saw him. Him seemed happy to see me, because he stopped crying. That was one of those magic moments to remember.

It took some digging and rooting around in the pram to pick him up, since he was well wrapped up deep down there, as you can see in this picture out in the garden. He usually slept outside in the fresh air during the day, very healthy!


Indoors he sometimes sat in his baby sitter, i.e. if he was not being fed by mother or carried around over somebody's shoulder, which he liked the best. Big sister was very sisterly, and you could see that there was this natural bond between them. He was fascinated by her and there seemed to be some silent communication between them, the kind of which you often find between children without words, or indeed foreign words.

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When Amanda was not busy with her little brother, she played with LEGO or her Pippi Longstocking jig-saw puzzle.

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We were often outdoors; the adults could stretch their legs and tire out the children so we all slept well. Amanda was on her little pink (!) bike (see previous post) and I happily did my duty, pushing the pram everywhere we went, you know, the sort of thing a granddad does.

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As you can see from the pictures, autumn is in an advanced state and winter is approaching fast, which means that the winter tyres have to come on, one of those dreaded annual tasks. In Sweden most people use the kind of winter tyres that have metal studs in them to get a good grip on ice. My son was very deft at it, did it methodically and even had white plastic bags to keep the stored tyres in. How's that for clean and tidy? He is my son after all!


My best memory is when little Hampus was fed, dry and comfortable, and he looked at me with a smile and made some guttural sounds that I am sure was his way of taking part in the conversation. Bliss!

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Boy or Girl?

AA Pic of the Week Before I tell you about the latest visit to Sweden to see my son and family, in particular my new grandson, which will be in a separate post, I want you to take a look at this photo.

My son and partner (they will eventually get round to getting married one day) always claim, and rightly so, that they do not want to treat a girl or boy differently, purely based on gender. Amanda has both dolls and toy cars, and she is particularly fascinated by tractors, diggers and other big machines. They also try to avoid pink clothes and toys, but despite all this effort I spotted this lot all pegged up last year. It is not easy being a conscientious parent. Will little brother's clothes line look the same, I wonder?

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Time For Change


Congratulations to all US blogger friends!

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Before I forget it - Liège

Ten days ago we visited Liège, which is only a little over an hour on the motorway. Often when we have passed the traffic control tower at Liège airport on our way to France, we have said we must go there some time. Otherwise you are normally more inclined to go through Belgium as quickly as possible because the motorways are in such bad condition. You tend to just sit it out, listening to music or planning the rest of your life or similar cerebral activity. But now we thought we would give it a go!

We had no time to book an interesting hotel or B&B and ended up staying at a central Ibis, which caters for your basic needs at a decent price. Since the country is made up of (still a very distinct division!) two regions-cultures-languages they sometimes find a third language a bit hard to master, hence this example of "English".

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Is that a particular species of bird that descends from above and inserts its sharp claws into your soft flesh?

We found the writer George Simenon still sitting on a bench plotting his next Commissaire Maigret case.


Liège is an old industrial city, which has seen some hard times, but now seemed to be on the up, exemplified by all the building work going on. It reminded me of Liverpool, which also saw a downturn and is now being rejuvenated. There was an interesting mix of old/degenerated, old/ugly-sixties and trendy modern. Along the river Meuse we found lovingly restored houses on one side and high-rise blocks of flats on the other. On the pretty side were quite a few houseboats, making it all very attractive.

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Interesting art was abundant.

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We walked a lot, and had to climb these 406 steps ...

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... to see this view of central Liège.


All that exercise made us feel a "craven" and we were lucky enough to find a floating restaurant.

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The menu was, as expected, rather short, but they served a good snack/lunch and I felt compensated for all the plodding along the river and up steep hillsides. I knew the place better now, not only the local football team, Standard Liège, beaten not long ago by my team, Liverpool FC. Perhaps that was why I compared Liège to Liverpool before, and perhaps also this picture above my head in the restaurant.