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To Chris from Cricket (our naughty cat) October 26, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Cats, Travel Diary.
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Dear Chris,

This place is great. There are lots of geckos and bugs to chace and even when they get me inside i can still climb the inside of the windows and give them a fright from the other side of the glass.

The girl is here less than the woman and even though she is ok i like to sleep on the womans bed because it is twice the size.

The woman sometimes buys something she calls ‘fish’ and i find i like it alot. In fact i like most things she has on her plate and would steal it off her plate if she let me.

My breakdance leg slides are coming along nicely , both the girl and the woman enjoy indulging me in this. When the woman wears her satin pj trousers it is an especially fast trip down her leg! As always i finish the move with a roll-over/ have a go at a bite or scratch …….its a classic.

The girl bought a new bike. Its a avanti hybrid, no more suicide gears. She seems to be enjoying it quite a bit.

Still got that ringing in my ears every time i move and even more so when i scratch my neck… hope its not a tumour!

Anyhow, Rock on.
Cricket Bovinkin

Translated and transcribed by the luscious Meredith

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To Chris from Ruby (our fat cat) October 26, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Cats, Travel Diary.
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Dearest Chris,
The establishment in which you have housed us during your sojourn is turning out to be quite satisfactory.
The girl insists on sitting on my seat so i have to sit on the arm of the chair. I need to prompt her to brush me by constantly tapping her on the arm until she complies (too interested in watching the TV).
The woman sometimes has some good food upstairs so i visit her also, she is less inclined to brush but does enjoy my falling asleep on her head whether on the armchair head rest or in her bed.I was a little daunted when she said she might turn me into a winter hat in the russian style.

The food is ample and i think i may have put on a little weight but the girl finds it hard to catch me to get on the scales.

I go outside occasionally but the sun is so much brighter up here that i get a bit hot.

Regards .
Ruby Dellvink

translated and transcribed by the fabulous Meredith, also known as ‘thegirl’

Dutch house October 24, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Architecture/Design, Travel Diary.
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Dutch houses

Originally uploaded by dellvink.

Dutch house October 24, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Architecture/Design, Travel Diary.
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Dutch house

Originally uploaded by dellvink.

Architecture future and past October 24, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Architecture/Design, Media, Travel Diary.
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In Alain de Botton‘s televison series based on his book ‘The Architecture of Happiness‘ he talks about how nostalgia for the past is so prevalent in contemporary residential architecture. He discusses how an older style, particularly 19th century and early 20th century architecture, is hailed as better and more beautiful than modern design, even though it often does not fit with the needs of our lifestyles.

There is a section where he visits a new housing estate in Britain based on traditional architecture and compares it with a similar development in the Netherlands that uses very modern design.
This has struck us so much since we have been in Holland. Many of Chris’ relatives live in new estates in houses that are less than ten years old. The thing that struck us straight away is that these developments are so different from the McMansion style that dominates the Australian new housing market. Each street of each development seems to have a different contemporary architectural style. This has the effect of a streetscape that flows because the houses in one street are similar but the next street will have a totally different look. This makes for a refreshing amount of choice.


This love of modern design can be seen in many aspects of Dutch life. Interiors, household products, clothing- so many things seem to be beautifully and simply designed, even at shops the equivalent of Target or KMart. Where there are antiques or older objects, they are placed within a modern context.

This brings me to another peeve about the harking back to the past- so often we only regard architecture in Australia to be valuable if it is pre-war. In Brisbane, you can’t demolish a pre-war house but if it is postwar there is no assessment of it’s value. This applies even when the building is by one of Australia’s most successful architects like Harry Seidler. The SMH reports today here that at least two Seidler houses are under threat of demolition only seven months after his death. While there is some debate about the architectural value of one of these houses, there should at least be some sort of assessment process for houses of possible historical value. This has long been a bugbear of mine that some amazing examples of architecture from the 50’s and 60’s are demolished or altered without any regard for their historical and architectural value. Why are we so short-sighted?

Thrice Belgium October 19, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Travel Diary.
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Now Belgium is a much maligned part of Europe. Many will tell you that it is boring and bland. However, if you are a chocolate lover, a history lover, a beer lover, a chip (frite) lover or a waffle lover (and surely that must cover everyone), then Belgium has something for you. As Chris and I encompass at least three of the above, this is our third visit.

This time, it was fortuitous that Chris’ Uncle Ed was coming to Bruges on Monday for work and said that we could hitch a ride. Chris has been doing some research into his great-great Uncle (paternal grandfather’s uncle) who died in Belgium in 1918 and we decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to visit his grave. Chris’ grandfather is named after his uncle and Chris too has Leslie as one of his middle names.

We went to Ieper/Ypres/Wipers on Tuesday morning. We have been to Ieper on every trip so far as it is at the heart of the Salient battlefields and has a fantastic museum called In Flanders’ Fields. If you are ever in the area it is one of the best museums we have ever been to. Ieper also has a number of chocolate shops which have free tastings. I made my way down the main street making sure I got the free chocolate in every one. No wonder I felt a bit ill by the end but it really is the best chocolate I have tasted. 

From here we caught a bus to Ploegsteert or Plug Street as it was known by the British Troops. There we were able to visit the London Rifle Brigade cemetery and Leslie Harrison, Chris relative’s grave. As has happened with many of the war sites we have visitied, it was a surprisingly moving experience and probably more so than most. It is hard to comprehend that a blood relative has lain in this soil so far away from home for 90 years and that perhaps no other family have been able to visit the grave. It was quite a privilege to be there.

On Tuesday night we were able to do something else that we have wanted to do for a long time. Every night at 8pm, the fire brigade of Ieper play the Last Post at the Menin Gate. The Menin Gate is a monument dedicated to missing British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in the battles around the Ypres Salient area who have no known grave. Many Australians died in this area and the ceremony has been performed every night since the liberation of the town in 1918. At this time of year, I didn’t expect there would be so many people there but there were at least 1000 and a contingent of Dutch soldiers as well.

Today we went to Talbot House which I mentioned in the Relgious Architecture post. It was a retreat for soldiers in the Salient area and it again was a very well presented museum. A couple from Wales who are volunteering at the house for three weeks made us feel as welcome as I am sure the soldiers felt when they went into this amazing piece of peace in the middle of a war. They told us a lot about the history and the house. There is a huge garden and the house itself is very welcoming. During the war the house hosted about 500 soldiers a day. Next time we go to Belgium we will try to base ourselves here as there is also accomodation available in the house.

So we are loaded down now with chocolate, shell casings, rifle cleaning kits, spoons, postcards, artillery fuses, books, ceramics etc most of which were dug up from the fields around Ieper- I’ll let you guess which ones weren’t dug up.

Tomorrow we head back to Holland and to the Delta Works which keep the water out of the Netherlands.

Religious architecture October 14, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Architecture/Design, Travel Diary.
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 See my pics of religious architecture here

On this trip we have seen some amazing churches that have really moved us and it makes me think about the nature and purpose of the architecture and design of these buildings.

I’ve grown up with the notion that the building doesn’t matter and it is what goes on inside the people inside the building that is important. However some of the places we have been have altered this perception, along with the fact that I think good design enhances our lives in lots of ways. I am thinking now that these buildings focus our attention towards the spiritual and there is something special about being in a space like that.
The first building that we saw on this trip that fits this is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. This is a cathedral completed in 2002 and is a fantastic modern building that maintains the awe of old cathedrals and uses really modern design and techniques. We thought that it felt wonderful inside and was a really welcoming space. More info about the Cathedral here.

At the other end of the scale is the Chapel of the Reconciliation in Berlin. This chapel replaced a church in the death strip that was blown up by the East Germans. It is made of rammed earth including some of the rubble of the old church. It is extremely simple and the building and everything in it is made of natural materials. I can’t express the feeling of peace that I have in this place the times I have been there. It is like the smell of earth and wood pervades the air and brings a calmness. more info here
The final example is the incredible Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. This cathedral isn’t even finished but the architecture and art is a sermon in itself. The first thing that strikes me is the sense of joy that I see in Gaudi’s architecture. There is colour and text and ornamentation and storytelling. It really is an exhilarating experience to climb the towers and examine all the aspects of the facades. I found the design to be very sincere in its telling of the gospel stories. It was probably the most spiritual experience I have had on this trip. The text that is included in the design is particularly affecting. I am afraid again I can’t express in words what you need to see. Sagrada Familia website
But suffice to say this has changed my mind and made me think quite differently about church buildings. I have made a set on my Flickr site so you can see my photos and hopefully get an idea of what I am talking about here.

PS: To add some more to this subject, today we went to Talbot House in Poperinge Belgium. This was a retreat set up for soldiers in WWI by an organisation called Toc H. In the attic of the house is a chapel and it was so simple and beautiful that I had to include it. The furnishings were made of found objects. The altar was originally a carpenter’s workbench and the priest who set up the house thought this very appropriate. Candlesticks were made from the uprights from a four poster bed and the baptismal font was sent from Maryborough, Queensland by the chaplain’s mother. It also has a number of carvings and objects from churches destroyed by the shelling in the war and found by soldiers who brought them to Talbot House.

So my thoughts are now that the design and construction of church buildings can be a form of worship by the architects/artists and this is as valid as any other form of worship even if we disagree with how much it may cost.

Style Stakes October 14, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Fashion, Travel Diary.
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Ok my assessment so far is that the style leaders are

in at number 4: New York. Now this may be a bit harsh but although I saw lots of amazing stuff in the shops, I didn’t see as much on the streets. Maybe I wasn’t in the right place?

#3 position goes to Berlin: funky, cool, oh so hip and pushing the boundaries of fashion. Lots of vintage and interesting design. I sooo wish I could get back there before we go home but alas I don’t think it is going to happen.

#2 is Spain. a very different vibe to Berlin with lots of beautiful clothes that I would have to have another life to wear. Much more dressed up than I am used to but some fantastic casual chic as well. We saw the most gorgeous female police officer in Barcelona who looked amazing in her uniform.

#1 has to be Italy- everything is fabulous, clothes, bags and shoes. Again it is high end glamourous stuff and I am more Berlin than Florence or Rome but it was all still beautiful. And I did buy myself a leather bag that will hopefully last me a long time.

*let me qualify the above by saying we haven’t seen enough of France to comment but I wish I could get to Paris … but it doesn’t look like it is going to happen this time.

Espana to Nederlands October 14, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Travel Diary.
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How time flies. I can’t believe it has been so long since I wrote in this blog. It seems like yesterday.

Last week we made it Barcelona and had a couple of days of great weather and seeing all the Gaudi sites. We loved the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. On Tuesday we drove to Valencia and spent the night there and then Thursday we drove to Granada and up to the Sierra Nevada.

We stayed at the youth hostel at the Sierra Nevada and at 2500 metres, I think it is the highest we have ever been. The sunset was incredible from up there- it was also very cold. I have added pictures on Flickr but have not had time to label them all.

The hostel was like the hotel from ‘The Shining’. It was had room for 500 and there were only eight people staying there so most of the time we saw no-one. As the sun set, the whole valley and mountain was enveloped by cloud in about five minutes which added to the creepy atmosphere.

The next day we went to Granada which has to have the largest ratio of dreadlocks per head (no pun intended) of population of any city I have been to including Nimbin and Byron. There is a big student population there and that combined with the north African influence makes it one big hippy paradise. It was an interesting city and the Alhambra was very intricate.

We flew from Malaga to Belgium last Sunday and went straight to stay with Chris’ relatives in Twente. It has been great to stop for a bit and regroup. Today we went to see some castles and then were lucky enough to be at one of the locks on the canal to see some ships coming through. The lockmaster showed us everything and how she worked the gates etc. Chris was enthralled and I found it fascinating as well.

On Monday we are going back to Belgium with Chris’ uncle for four days. We are going to find the grave of Chris’ grandfather’s uncle who was killed in the first World War.

That is the general overview but I think I will expand some more in other entries.

D´tour detour October 1, 2006

Posted by Amanda in Travel Diary.
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One thing about this sort of travel is that it gives you a lot of scope to change your plans at the last minute. We went off on a pretty major tangent this week. On Tuesday night we were at Pisa airport waiting to fly to Girona in Spain and got talking to an American guy sitting next to us. It soon came out that he was a keen cyclist on his way to the Pyrenees in southern France for a cycling holiday. As you can imagine, he and Chris had a lot to talk about and eventually Mark asked Chris if he wanted to hitch a ride and come cycling with him. After some hesitation (mostly involving something to do with a 42/23 gear ratio??), we decided that chance to first drive across the Pyrenees and then for Chris to cycle there was too good to pass up. For those of you who are not cycling obsessed, the Tour de France regularly goes through this area and it is usually the first of the mountain stages.

So we took a spectacular drive through the mountains and ended up in the small town of Ax-les-Thermes (Axe Lez Thurmees to some). Mark was staying at a B&B he had stayed at previously and we took a chance that we could stay there too. Chez2e is up above the village with a fantastic view over the mountains and Alan (the owner) and Globule (the cat) made us very welcome even though a misunderstanding meant that Alan had been waiting for us for about four hours when we arrived. Mark was even nice enough to let us share his room on the last night.
Ax is a spa town which also has ski fields and great walking and bicycling nearby. Except for one foot bath in the square, all the thermal baths are in hospitals that you have to have a prescription for.

The next day Chris went on two rides with Mark. In the morning they went for about an hour and a half up two ‘cols’ (mountain passes) that were about 1400m high. In the afternoon they did part of the ‘haute categorie’ Tour de France stage that Lance Armstrong won two years ago. ‘Haute Categorie’ means that the climb is so tough that is beyond the category system.

On Friday Mark and Chris rode to the Vallee d’Orlu and the Col-de-Choula which had a gradient of 8.5%.

What was I doing you ask? I was sitting on the verandah patting the cat, reading books and taking photos of clouds and giant bumblebees. It was great.

On Friday night, Alan cooked us a Moroccan feast that we shared with a French family that could have stepped out of a magazine. There was the beautiful and slim, dark haired mother, the handsome and funny salt and pepper haired dad and four gorgeous, incredibly polite children named Camille, Louis, Melanie and Florian. Each of the children kissed us all on each cheek and said ‘Bon Nuit’ before they went to bed. They had a golden labrador Cece who was also very well behaved. They were staying at L´Alpage for a mushrooming weekend.

Today we said goodbye to our new friends and caught the train to Barcelona.