Christmas in Haarlem

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Our daughter, who is currently living and working in Haarlem in the Netherlands, wasn’t able to get enough time off over Christmas to come back home this year. So, as Mohammed wasn’t able to come to the mountain, the mountain went to Mohammed.

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This was the first time we’d ever stayed away for Christmas. In recent years, since the children have grown up, Christmas has been a little underwhelming as we mainly stay in the house watching the telly, reading, and eating and drinking. So this was going to be a bit of an adventure. In the Netherlands the main winter holiday is 5th December, ‘Sinterklaasavond’, the evening before St Nicholas’ day,  when Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) brings Dutch children their presents! Consequently, Christmas is lower key than in the UK, although the claws of commercialism were still evident (but to a lesser degree than back home).

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We’d visited Haarlem a couple of times previously on day trips from Amsterdam, but this time we’d be staying almost a full week there. We did venture out to Amsterdam for a day but mainly spent our time in the pleasant little city.

Early Saturday morning before Christmas we drove over to Manchester airport to catch an early flight to Schipol airport where, within a few minutes of leaving the airport terminal, we caught an express bus to Haarlem arriving 40 minutes later at about 1 p.m. local time.

We’d booked a cosy little Dutch house close to one of the canals in the centre of the city for a week and made our way there to drop our bags before popping out to get a bite to eat and do some shopping.

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A short walk took us to the Grote Markt in the heart of the city centre where we called in to Tierney’s bar, the Irish pub where our daughter works to surprise her. After a drink and a bite to eat we set out to do some shopping, starting by looking round the market in the Grote Markt.

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We bought some bread, cheese, dips and a Christmas decoration for our Dutch house and then made our way through the pleasant shopping streets (plenty of individual shops rather than just the big chains) to the supermarket to stock up with items for the cupboard and fridge. Then it was back to the house to settle in and unpack.

After a few hour’s rest we headed back to Tierney’s

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where we were able to eat and have a few drinks (non alcoholic in my case😢 ) and, later, enjoy (!) the karaoke. Our daughter was working but took her break and joined us while we ate and also at the end of her shift. There was a good atmosphere in the pub, which is frequented by a group of Irish and British ex-pat regulars as well as Dutch locals.

The next day it was grey and rainy but after a lazy morning decided to venture out and visit the Molen de Adriaan.

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We’d been before but our son hadn’t had the chance to look inside as when we were there back in February it wasn’t open. But this time it was and we were able to book on to one of the guided tours. As during our first visit, the guide was very good and as each guide has their own angle we picked up some new information about the windmill and the history of Haarlem. Afterwards we headed into the town centre for a mooch before returning to base.

Christmas Eve was a fine, sunny day

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and I went out for a wander round the city with our son to take a few photos and to pick up some shopping.

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My wife went out later with our daughter to pick up some more supplies for our traditional Christmas Eve buffet.

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Our daughter and her boyfriend came over for the meal and afterwards we set out for the Grote Markt. After a drink in Tierney’s

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we joined the crowd that were packing into the large square. The Christmas service from St Bavo’s church had been relayed onto a large screen and afterwards, just after midnight, we joined in with the crowd singing Christmas carols and songs led by a singers and a band on a stage that had been erected in the square.

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The square was packed for the communal singing, which lasted for a good hour and half, but we managed to find ourselves some space next to the Christmas tree.

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There was a great atmosphere and we really enjoyed ourselves. Afterwards, at close to 2 a.m. (late for me these days!) we were back at base for a nightcap before turning in.

Christmas day itself and we were greeted by another bright and sunny morning.

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After opening our presents (which we’d brought over with us)

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we took it easy for an hour or so before setting off to the house which my daughter and her boyfriend share with a couple of friends. (As their friends were away we had it to ourselves). It’s an old building on one of the old shopping streets in the city centre, not far from the Grote Markt, and they have 3 floors over a hairdresser’s salon.

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They laid on a very delicious (and filling!) Christmas meal for us. Afterwards we sat and chatted before going out for a short mooch around the quiet streets to walk off some of the carbs!

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After that a couple of their friends came round and it was time for a game of Taskmaster!

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Boxing day – ‘Tweede Kerstdag’ (second Christmas day) in the Netherlands – is always something of an anti-climax after the big day. We took it easy during the morning and only went out for a couple of hours for a wander round the city centre before returning to base for a relaxing evening.

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The Thursday was a busy day. We took the train into Amsterdam (just a 15 minute journey) with son going off with daughter and her boyfriend to the Games cafe in Haarlem, joining us later in the day. The city was hectic and packed with tourists – a bit of a shock after spending several days in a much more relaxed Haarlem.

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We wandered down the canal ring, stopping off at a “brown bar” for a bite to eat – a traditional Dutch meal of a bowl of pea soup followed by apple tart. – before visiting the Huis Marseille, one of two photographic museums on the Keizersgracht .

Son, daughter and her boyfriend joined us and we had a wander up through the Jordaan before stopping for a drink in another nice Brown Bar. After that we carried on along the canals back to Centraal station as we wanted to book on a boat trip to see the Amsterdam Light Festival. Unfortunately, we hadn’t done our homework as it seemed just about every other tourist had the same idea. I managed to book us on a trip, but we had a 3 hour wait. What to do? we decided to head over to De Pijp (a 10 minute trip on the new Metro line) and get something to eat in one of our daughter’s favourite eateries. Then it was back on the Metro to catch our boat, stopping off at Dam Square to take a look at the Christmas Tree.

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I expected the Light Festival to be a more upmarket version of Blackpool illuminations. It wasn’t quite that. 30 artworks were scattered around parts of the canal ring and could be viewed from the water or via a walking route.

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We were returning home on the Friday, but our flight wasn’t until 9:15 p.m. so after we’d packed our bags we took them over to our daughter’s house and set out for wander around the streets Haarlem, taking in a number of the Hofjes – small groups of alms houses clustered around a garden courtyard – of which there are a considerable number in Haarlem.

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Unfortunately we weren’t able to get ourselves on a tour of the Corrie Ten Boom house as they were all fully booked.

We managed to spend a few hours with our daughter and went out for a bite to eat with her before catching the bus to the airport for our flight back to Manchester.

We arrived back home close to midnight to a cold house, feeling tired. We’d had a very enjoyable break in Haarlem. It made a change to go away for a family Christmas somewhere different. It made a very refreshing change and, to be honest, it was the best Christmas we’d had since the children were little! We’ll have to go away again next year.

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Kate Rusby at the Bridgewater Hall 2018

Last Wednesday afternoon we travelled over to Manchester. We called into the City Art Gallery to take a look at the Martin Parr exhibition currently showing there, then had a look around the Christmas Market. But our main reason for the visit was to see Kate Rusby’s Christmas concert at the Bridgewater Hall.

Kate Rusby is an award winning folk singer from Penistone in South Yorkshire, very well known on the folk circuit, who’s had a number of albums that have sold well and made the album charts. Her Christmas concert is based around old traditional versions of carols as sung around the pubs in South Yorkshire . Some of the songs were well known carols but sung to a different tune – for example While Shepherd’s watched sung to “On Ilkley Moor B’aht ‘at”. She performed 3 versions in all of this well known carol, all set to different tunes. Other songs  included the familiar carols, “O little town of Bethlehem” and “Joy to the World”. 

She played with her band – a guitarists (her husband), a bouzouki player,  an accordionist, a double bassist (who also played a Moog synthesiser) and a drummer, plus a five piece brass ensemble. The brass band gave it a real northern Christmassy feel.

For someone who isn’t so tall (!) she has a big stage presence and twinkling eyes and a smile almost as wide of the stage and chatted away between the songs. She really did seem to be enjoying herself, a true performer. 

As with other of her Christmas shows we’ve seen, the concert was in 2 halves, finishing, after the encore, at 10. So they were on stage in total for over 2 hours, but it didn’t seem that long. So another enjoyable night out. And Christmas starts here!

A weekend in (a foggy) London

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It’s become a tradition that we have a “family day” before Christmas. This year, I had to be in London the Monday before Christmas and would have to travel down on Sunday. So we decided to extend the stay, travel down on Saturday and have a family weekend down in the big smoke.

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It was a foggy weekend – flights had been cancelled at Heathrow and Gatwick – so it wasn’t great for trying out my new camera, but we had an enjoyable break.

We stayed just south of Tower Bridge so the first afternoon, after we’d dropped our bags at the hotel, headed along the south bank where there was a Christmas Market

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We crossed London Bridge, passed the Monument to the Great Fire of London

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and caught a bus to Somerset House to visit the Courtauld Gallery.

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There’s a skating rink in the central courtyard and after visiting the Gallery we stopped a while to watch the skaters

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and then went for coffee and cakes in a rather nice café in the east wing

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After looking round the book shop next to the café we headed back to our hotel to check in and freshen up before setting out for a meal in a bust restaurant  in Katherine’s Dock.

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Heading back to our hotel afterwards, we stopped to take in the views as we crossed Tower bridge. The fog was still lingering.

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After the Deluge

Didn’t it rain, children
Talk ’bout rain, oh, my Lord
Didn’t it, didn’t it, didn’t it oh my Lord
Didn’t it rain?

(Song by Mahalia Jackson)

The north of England has been battered by heavy rain for several weeks now. Cumbria being particularly badly hit before Christmas with repeated floods. Then on Boxing Day it was the turn of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Although we got off lightly compared to places like York, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd on the other side of the Pennines and Ribchester, Whalley and Croston over here, the River Douglas and othe watercourses in Wigan burst their banks. The flood defences on the Dougie, a dam built upstream of the town centre, were overwhelmed – water can be seen running over the top of the dam in the following picture.

It happened so quickly. I’d popped out to Tesco’s and took the path down by the river and could see that the river was running high. When I came out again a few minutes later it had overflowed and was beginning to submerge the path. The shortest route home was blocked by flood water.

For the rest of the day the news was dominated about the effects of the deluge on the north of England, with local reports of houses and shops flooded and roads closed. But the next day the clouds had cleared and I woke to blue skies. Feeling in need of some exercise after indulging ourselves for a few days we decided to go out for a walk so laced up our boots and set out towards the Plantations.

The flood waters had receded and although the Dougie was full and flowing fast, we were able to walk along the path towards the dam. It was now holding back the water, forming a lake up the valley. “Look out for the Loch Whelley Monster” shouted out a passer by walking his dog

The bridge over the Yellow Brook and the main path up through the Lower Plantations were submerged

So we took the rather muddy path through the woods on the hill above the brook, crossing higher up the valley.

The rest of the route was generally fine, if a little muddier than usual.

We headed up through the Plantations, crossing the canal

and headed up past Haigh Hall

Stopping at the stables cafe to buy some drinks, we continued along past the car park and then down Sennicar Lane

back towards the canal and Leyland Mill. Then back home for coffee and stroopwafels which we’d bought on Manchester Christmas Market a couple of weeks ago – bringing back memories of our short holiday in Amsterdam in August.

With more rain to come over the next few days, memories of Christmas and New year are not going to be so pleasant for many people in th eNorth of England.

Family Day in Liverpool

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It’s become a tradition that a few days before Christmas we have a “family day” where we do something, and/or go somewhere to spend some time together. This year we decided to go to Liverpool the day before Christmas Eve. We were lucky. It was a beautiful winter’s day. Blue sky and sunshine. A relief from the seemingly endless days of rain we’d had for several weeks – and, as it turned out, from the days that followed.

First stop was St John’s tower. It was a great day for looking over the rooftops and taking in a panorama of the city and the outskirts.

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On a good clear day we could see out to sea and as far as the Welsh mountains. And the ferry crossing the Mersey

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Afterwards up Mount Pleasant, stopping off for a coffee on route, towards the Philharmonic Hall for a lunchtime concert. Merry Brassmas featured five members of the Liverpool Philharmonic brass section playing arrangements of Christmas songs for a brass quintet interspersed with some readings and with audience participation, singing carols.

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An enjoyable hour’s entertainment, and I was now beginning to feel “Christmassy”.

Then we walked down towards Albert Dock

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to the Maritime Museum.

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After that a walk along the old docks towards the Pier Head

 

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for a quick visit to the Museum of Liverpool Life

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The views from both ends of the building

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As we left the museum, night was beginning to descend.

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After a wander around the Liverpool One and Church Street (window shopping only) we went for a meal at Jamie’s

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Then it was time to make our way back towards the Anglican cathedral where we’d parked the car, passing the Chinese Arch

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In the Bleak Midwinter

I might be an athiest (although not a militant one) but I still love a good Christmas carol. In the Bleak Midwinter, adapted from a poem by Christina Rossetti with musivc by Gustav Holst, is one of my favourites. Takes me back to carol concerts when I was st primary school – a long time ago.

This version by the Welsh folk duo Paper Aeroplanes is beautifully sung and sends a shiver down the spine.