May 28, 2010


A few weeks ago, Aline recommended to me the Flickr site of someone who lives in Leiden. The girl is an excellent photographer who really captures the people and scenes of the city in ways I can't. Have a browse through her photos.

Also a few weeks ago, while searching for some information, I came across this blog that features photos of many details of Leiden. I'm happy how many of the details I recognize after such a short time living here. The recent post about the Bevrijdingsdag celebrations includes a couple of moving archive photos of Canadian troops being cheered as they drove down the Breestraat. Seeing the photos really brings the history to life for me, imaging the happiness and relief the people must have felt for the war to finally be over.

May 15, 2010

Lakes and fells (and, oh yeah, Nottingham)

Photos? They are here.

A couple friends of mine who I know from when they lived in Holland, but who now live near London, made the wise decision to get married in the Lake District in northwest England. The groom grew up in the area and it is a wonderfully scenic place for a wedding. As soon as they announced the wedding date, I made plans to arrive a couple of days before the wedding so that I could visit some of the area. It's one of the most rugged parts of England, filled with many hills and, you guessed it, lakes. There are a ton of activites for everyone, from hardcore outdoors-y people who want to go rock climbing or go on lengthy hikes, to families and older people who are happy to relax in tea shops in quaint villages.

I was somewhere in the middle. I'm not quite fit enough for climbing Scafell Pike (the highest point in England, though it's only 3200 ft high, which is nothing where I'm from), but I wanted to do some walking and enjoy the kind of nature that doesn't exist at all in the Netherlands. I also wanted to eat lots of cake in tea shops. I think I was pretty successful in accomplishing both tasks.

I stayed in the town of Windermere, near Lake Windermere, which is England's largest (though it's more long and narrow than broad). It's one of the more touristy parts of the Lake District, but at this time of year, it wasn't too clogged with visitors. There are B&Bs left, right and center, but I was lucky to find one that was like a home away from home. Broadlands is very near the center of town and is run by Janette and Brian, who were both so friendly and helpful. They served a delicious breakfast each morning and chatted with me about their family and local events. I had a cozy room and it was just a wonderful place to stay.

I managed to get in a couple of walks. The first was pretty short, up to the top of Orrest Head, the main point behind Windermere. It was quite easy, mostly up a paved lane first, then later some stone steps, before reaching the views of the whole surrounding area.

View from Orrest Head

I went down by a different route which took me through a few fields with sheep, as well as through some woods. All over England there is a network of public footpaths which allows you to cut across fields and woods as you are walking. It's a well maintained system, with clear directional signs and posts with arrows marking out the path. I sometimes had my doubts as I used steps to get over a stone wall to then trudge through a field with sheep who all started baa-ing to alert the others that someone was in their midst, but there was a vague path and then I'd find the next post and know I was on the right track. As a friend said, it feels a bit like a treasure hunt and it is quite fun. It's also beautiful, with many scenes reminiscent of the English landscape painters.

Return from Orrest Head

I went on a slightly longer walk the next day between the towns of Ambleside and Grasmere. The weather was great, not that warm, but I was warm enough while walking, and the sun came out enough from behind big puffy white clouds. The first part of the walk went along a gravel road between sheep fields. This part of the walk was called the Coffin Route because up until 1821 the church in Ambleside couldn't register deaths, so the dead had to be taken along this path to the church in Grasmere. On such a sunny day, it wasn't particularly morbid. It ended in a little place called Rydal where William Wordsworth lived until his death. His house there is now a museum. I then headed past first Rydal Water, then Grasmere lake before coming into the town of Grasmere. It's a well-worn path, but there is still some amazing scenery.

Walk from Ambleside to Grasmere

Walk from Ambleside to Grasmere

After my friends' wedding, which was so beautiful and a great time as well, I took the train (well, trains, 4 of them, in fact) from Windermere to Nottingham. Nottingham is a weird place to visit unless you have a deep fascination of Robin Hood, but I had lived there for about 6 months during the working holiday that first brought me over to Europe. That was 10 years ago now (eep) and I thought that while I was in England I should stop by and see how the city is doing, as well as visit one of my friends there.

Arriving in Nottingham after the charm of the Lake District was a bit of a shock to the system. It's not the most pretty of cities and there were many empty shop fronts and for sale signs. But it's not all horrible. I went to a movie at the art house Broadway cinema and it was bustling on a Sunday night. I mostly spent my time in Nottingham just wandering around (and cringing every time I saw Russell Crowe as Robin Hood on an ad covering a double-decker bus) and enjoying the cozy upper floor chairs of a cafe. I went past my old place of employment, the Odeon cinema, which is still empty and unused since it closed in January 2001 (about a year after I was working there). And I caught up with my friend who happens to be a Decemberists fan. Hurrah! In the end it wasn't such a bad little visit.

So it's about a month now until my trip home (I can't believe it's mid-May already). I'm actually hoping it doesn't come too fast because I think the trip will fly by and then I'll be back here with no holidays lined up and no Oregon-ness keeping me happy. But never mind that now, I'm really looking forward to it.