Wintry splendour in Wales

The same weekend we visited Hay-on-Wye we had packed our walking boots. Since we were now going to be in Wales we were intend on doing a nice stroll. We stayed at the Caer Beris Manor in Buith Wells. Powys, www.caerberis.com. Since it was the end of January I think we were the only guests. It’s a very nice hotel. Staff were friendly and the room was perfect. Also I simply have to mention the WONDERFULLY tasty shortbread which was in the reception area offered complementary to the guests, i.e. us! I must admit we helped ourselves freely since it was just soooo good. Below a few shots of the hotel from the hotel grounds.

The house has a long history dating all the way back to AD406. However it has been damaged and rebuilt many times. The foundation stone of it as it now stands is dated 13th October 1896. It was remodelled into a manor by Captain Charles Gam Harcourt Wood, late of the 15th Hussars.The dining room panelling dates from about 1570. Other rooms which are now hotel bedrooms include the Servants Hall, the Nursery, the Butlers Pantry and the Housekeepers sitting room. The original servants’ call bells are still to be seen on the ground floor. I loved the sight of it, made me feel nostalgic and I got visions of Mrs. Bennet ringing the bell for Hill..

After a hearty breakfast we set off. It was cold, but who cared, the wonderful spectacle of a hazy winter morning was awaiting us. I do not exaggerate if I say that the scenery during this walk was one of the most beautiful I ever experienced. It was a combination of things: the weather, the landscape, the stillness. The frosty early morning haze covered nature with a thin layer of white pearls. It was magnificent.

From the hotel you can do several walks. There is a hanging bridge crossing the river Irfon. The hotel has been built just in the bend of the river. Across the bridge we turned left. There is a little holiday housing estate we had to cross in order to cross the road to continue our walk. Although we had taken our fantastic book with walks in Britain, which we actually picked up in a book sale at a National Trust House for 50p (!), the hotel also provides some maps with walks.

In the distance we noticed a little church. I was very pleased because I love churches. In truth I am a silence seeker and often silence is to be found in a church, or in its graveyard.

 

The angel stood out in the cemetery. It looked eerie and almost surreal. The entire setting did, it was the silence combined with the soft wintry light. The little pearls everywhere. We felt as if we had landed in a fairy-tale.

   

Then we came across this tombstone in which was displayed this fabulous spider’s web. It looked as if an artist had deliberately put it there. And it was true: Mother Nature is the artist.

Notice the stillness of it all. The only noise one could hear were our footsteps.

 

As a Dutch person, undulating landscape always appealed to me massively. I still remember the first time we drove from Holland to France. As soon as one leaves Lille behind one finds this softly hilly landscape with all these hues of green. Wales is a bit like that. The difference being that it is even more sparsely dotted with villages The calm and peace of Wales have utterly touched me.

The pictures above have been taken with my new camera, I did not used to have a camera, just used my Iphone. However Santa offered me this precious gift last Christmas and I am so happy with it. I’m still learning to shoot nice pictures, and above you can see what a different angle and light does to a pic. I like experimenting with it.

It almost looks as if there was a filter on the camera lens, but of course there wasn’t.

As you can see the early morning haze was lifting very very slowly as the sun chased the clouds and gave us this spectacular light show. Just for us.

And after the little pearls had melted, a soft green, almost mossy coloured landscape revealed itself to us.

I thoroughly enjoy walking in the UK. I’m only just starting, but I already love it. It has been my wish for ages, but as a devoted mum I never wanted to leave the kids while they were little. So now with them having grown into young adults its MY time and boy am I enjoying it. The pictures above were taken in the morning during our walk around Builth Wells. In the afternoon we were heading back to the Cotswolds where my partner lives, but we stopped along the way to do another walk. We did 4 miles in the Breacon Beacons of which the pictures are to be found below.

A totally different scenery of course, now we were no longer walking between meadows on a narrow country road, we were on the footpath which took us through much rougher ground.

 

We reached the top. Boy it was cold. I know it’s a silly hat but it kept my ears warm.

After this walk it was definitely time for a cuppa. We were really pleased with ourselves. It’s lovely to make the most of your day and the outdoor exercise makes you feel so alive. So now I got a thorough taste of Wales. It made me resolve on one thing: I will come back. Actually I am going to do a long distance walk in a few months. The Offa’s Dyke path. And you will be reading all about it on this blod if you choose to.

 

 

Corfu – the Durrell’s trail

first part written on the 20th September 2010

This post is about Gerald Durrell, protagonist of the Durrells, and about the synchronistic events which led me to Corfu. Life can be miraculous at times. Makes one feel certain there is more to it than meets the eye. Take today for instance, sitting on the lush garden settee under the enormous umbrella at Isabella Country House in Gouvia, Corfu. Just a few feet away the blue swimming pool shimmering in the sunlight is begging to come enjoy her. The garden, well kept, with a perfect, green lawn, bordered by huge bougainvillea and oleander, still flowering although maybe a bit more sparsely than at the beginning of the summer. Tall grown palm trees and other exotic ones of which I don’t know the name, softly moving in the silky wind. While autumn was setting in in the UK where we flew in from only three day ago, the summer seems to linger on lazily on this paradise island where the sun warms our milky white bodies which need intense protection with high factor sunscreen to avoid the massive sunburns. The sun is lovely. Such a delight.

 

I am reading the enchanting, very well-written and thoroughly detailed authorised biography of Gerald Durrell, authored by Douglas Botting who takes you on a fabulous journey through Durrells life. Page after page you feel the admiration of the biographer for his subject, and page after page you get more and more immersed in the passion and enthusiasm of a person who, although described as an eccentricity due to his quaint upbringing, you sense to have been a credit to humanity and a truly lovable person.

I am deeply pleased the biography counts over 600 pages and contains some photographs showing Gerald during his adventurous life. I believe I paid less than 2 pounds for it on Ebay, the cost of shipment exceeding the price of the book. What amazes me is that someone would want to part with it in the first place. But even more so, that Gerald Durrell might fade into oblivion. However, maybe I am not the adequate person to be the judge of this, since I cannot know how popular his books still are in the UK. Being born on the continent in Holland, I simply don’t know his popularity in Great Britain. I do know that in Holland the film ‘My family and other animals’ starring Imelda Staunton, impersonating Gerald’s beloved mother, to whom, we readers, are greatly indebted for raising this special child without dis-forming him. Obviously, Durrell will always be remembered as the founder of the wildlife foundation in Jersey, which will be familiar to any living zoologist and naturalist. (Note added in 2017: the 2016 tv series ‘the Durrels’ proves that no one has forgotten Gerald Durrels books, and very rightly so in my opinion.)

 

On discussing where to go on a weeks vacation after the summer season, two requirements had to be met. Firstly: we needed the sun, and secondly: it should not be too far a flight away. Last year we had visited Luxor. I had been absolutely thrilled by the wonderful weather and exotic surroundings. Floating at the edge of the infinity pool, watching the cruise ships go by on the Nile, while silver herons, funny Egyptian ground peckers (I suppose them to be related to the woodpecker or the jay, they had this long curvy beak which they used to peck the earth) and, ‘honest to Gods’, real pelicans flying by without any awareness of the exotic impression they made on this not so well travelled tourist from the Netherlands.

It would by no means have been a punishment to return to that lovely place, however the world was so full of unknown places, so after some thorough consideration we decided Greece was to be our next destination.

The problem with Greece was just the countless number of islands to pick from, and since decision making isn’t one of my qualities, I wondered where to go. Luckily a colleague of mine happened to offer the solution to this decadent problem. Upon her arrival at a reunion in my practise, she was much admired for her colourful blouse adorned with a lovely coloured necklace made of painted wooden buttons. I complimented her on her attire, asking her if she had made them herself. Which would have been highly probable since we are all art therapists. ‘Actually I got it from Corfu, where we just were on a weeks holiday last week.’ She told me.’ So I jotted down the name of the place she had been staying at: Isabella Country House, Gouvia. A few weeks later I mentioned this to my partner and next thing I knew he booked us up for a week at that same apartment hotel. Already something must have been stirring in my subconsciousness, I got out my old yellow paged penguin copy of ‘My family and other animals’ and leafed through it. And yes, I remembered correctly, Gerry had spent his magical youth on Corfu which was now exactly where we were going. I hope, you, who are reading this, can relate to the feeling of bubbling excitement and inner anticipation which you sometimes get when joy overwhelms you. Like a three year old. I simply could not stop smiling. There was no way to hide my happiness at the foresight of visiting Corfu, where the author of my all time favourite book had lived and developed his passion for animals.

 
Old Penguin copy 1964 versus modern version

And so there we landed at Kerkyra airport. It was 22.00 pm and the sky was pitch black. During the drive in the taxi from the airport to Isabella’s, we managed to catch some outlines of dark mountains against the even darker sky. We got a glimpse of lights surrounding a half moon shaped bay, but that was it. The taxi dropped us inside a gate and drove off. There were two villas. Which was the one to turn to? My friend baldly went up the steps of one of the villas and returned with a gentleman by the name of Mr Socrates. I forget his last name. A friendly rather slim Greek gent with smiling soft dark eyes and a strangely careful demeanour, almost as if he was moving constantly in a room filled with priceless crystal and Lalique glass ornaments or so, which his every move was intent on preserving with all his might. His English was adequate although limited to my ears. Being Dutch, the Greek accent needed adjusting to. It was a sweet accent cuting up his English, but to me somewhat puzzling. For instance, when he kept referring to the bath as the tube making me wonder what tubes could be and confusing me into thinking there was an underground on the island. All was cleared up to me in due course, when after Mr. Socrates’s carefully trodden departure, as if going through a mine field, my partner informed me there was no bath in our apartment and did I mind? As it dawned upon me that Mr Socrates had been referring to a tub not a tube.., I pondered the question for a moment concluding we would see about all that in the morning. I proceeded to put the kettle on. Since the act of tea drinking to me is as normal to me as endless smoking is to a chain smoker, one of my traits which does not distinguish me from the Brits and which rather inclines me to think I must have been British in a former life.

How to describe the feeling after awaking in the morning and opening the door to the little patio of our studio? Let me attempt it, but mind you the real thing was way better. The patio was overlooking the lawn and the lovely green garden. Considering the heat on this island, I was astonished to see everything so green. Out of nowhere a very slim, although skinny is probably the better word, cat appeared. Her ear was strangely askew which gave her a bit of a shabby look. She was friendly and started meowing to me, clearly she had just had kittens since her teats were swollen. She was craving food incessantly. Incidentally, the weak hearted guests staying in other apartments all bought her food, as I understood from the number of saucers on the patios.

I walked over to the pool where luxurious wooden sunbeds were neatly arranged to compliment rather than to disturb the picture of quiet luxury of the premises. Standing at the pool I looked at the villa in which our apartment was situated. I smiled: the villa was  strawberry pink. Just like the villa’s the Durrells stayed at when they got to Corfu (after they stayed at the Hotel upon arrival). A little more to the front, closer to the pool, there was the other villa. Reader, I promise this is no fib and I kid thee not: this villa was daffodil yellow. My heart made a little leap. It was such a thrill. I felt this was going to be a lovely week. For those familiar with the book, they need no further explanation. For those new to it, please take a look at the contents:

So there I was, sitting on the huge garden settee, absorbed in the autobiography, while continuously aware of my luck and filled with gratitude for the marvellous temperature and surroundings. We were transferred from the Strawberry Pink Villa to the Daffodil Yellow one, since my decadent luxury loving ego wanted a tube, I mean bath. This was the only thing missing in the tiny apartment really, which otherwise was very sweet. What with the pale yellow furniture and the Greek blue tiles it looks a picture to be sure. However we wanted that bath, and were just waiting for the Greek housekeeper Angela to tell us when the cleaning would be done. A discrete young man apparently from the Philippines was charged with this task which he carried out meticulously and almost like a fly on the wall, since one did hardly hear him, we just saw him move about silently, starting early mornings when he took care of the pool and garden furniture. Angela, both housekeeper and manager made sure the guests were completely satisfied. She was in her late thirties with black hair and a pleasant smile. In a sudden impulse I asked Angela could I ask her a question and in her Greek accent she immediately welcomed me to it.

‘Of courrrse you can, please’
‘I wonder if you can tell me if there is a tourist office in Kerkyra town?’ Angela listened intently to me, but the frown on her forehead caused me to think she did not seem to know what a tourist office actually was.
‘Do you know what I mean? A place for tourists to collect information and maybe a map and ideas about the sights to be seen on this island?’ I explained.
‘Ah, I see yes, but no we don’t have that, I think. Maybe tourrrists shops will have maps, yes in Corfu town, and maybe in Gouvia. Why you need?’ It was obvious that being a tourist probably was not so much on Angela’s list of daily activities. I now said I was looking to see if there was any information about Gerald Durrell. Frowning again Angela did not understand the name clearly I suspected. I held up the book and showed her the cover, pointing out the name of the author to her. Rather expecting her to look even more puzzled I was happy to see that she wasn’t.
‘Ah yes, I maybe heard about him before. Wait. I will go ask Mr Socrates and let you know.’
Now that was very sweet of Angela, I was pleased but did not expect much of it. I had not been able to trace anything of great help on the internet before leaving. Which surprised me, as it was such a shame.
This expectation was very doubtful of me and not showing any confidence in my fellow human being. On Angela’s coming back I was both humbled and wonderfully delighted.
‘Mr Socrated knows very well about Misterrr Durrrrell’ She hesitated about the name.
‘Mr Durrell’ I pronounced showing her the name on the cover of the book again.
‘Yes Misterrrr Durrrrrel, Mr Socrates has asked Doctor Giourkos who is the person who arrrrrranged forr the making of the statue of the Misterrr Durrelll in Corfu.’
My eyes must have started to shine instantly because Angela smiled broadly at my great enthusiasm.
‘A statue? Of Gerald Durrell? Where is that? In Corfu?’
‘Yes, the statue is in the park in Corfu.’ Angela explained to us in detail how to get there. Thanking Angela profusely I looked at my friend who smiled. He knew the lazing by the pool was over. We were heading to Corfu town. A hire car had been delivered to us an hour or so earlier and so we got ready and headed for adventure.

Rest of this post written 27th March 2012

There we were. This is the park. The sign on the gate says it all. Not only is there a statue of Gerald to be found, but also one of his elder brother Lawrence Durrell, also a well-known author. Gerry actually became an author by chance, Larry had always been an author by choice. As from the age of two Gerry had a fascination for nature. When one day the family moved to Corfu, Gerry could feed this fascination because of the lush flora and fauna at Corfu. He was destined to become a zoologist and a biologist. Durrell dedicated his life to the preservation of wildlife. He went on expeditions to collect species on the verge of extinction in order to prevent exactly that. Because he needed money to fund his expeditions, he started writing. Little could he know his books were to become best sellers making him a famous author. Gerald Durrell founded the Jersey Zoological Park in 1959. It still exists today. His first book was My family and other animals which is truly a bewitching book, not only to the Sunday Times, but definitely to me. I will share with you a few excerpts of the preface:

 

It already gives a very good hint of the modesty and wit of this exceptional Englishman. The book is a joy to read. Now let’s go back to the statues I promised:

Plaque would be more accurate probably than calling it a statue, however it’s a true tribute and a well deserved one in my opinion. Since both Gerald and Lawrence Durrell wrote about their lives in Corfu, which actually affected the island economically in a very positive way.

Lawrence Durrell has written quite a few books. His first was the Pied Piper of Lovers, another, Prospero’s Cell, is set in Corfu. He won a the Duff Cooper Prize for Bitter Lemons and it was later speculated he would win the Nobel prize for literature, but this was not to be. Larry was born in Jalandhar India 27th january 1912 and died in Sommières Languedoc, 7th nov. 1990 aged 78). Gerald was born in Jamshedpur, India on the 7th of january 1925, he died the 30th jan. 1995 aged 70.

I was thrilled to have found these statues and was to live even more joy soon. On returning to Isabella’s the excellent Angela had collected for us the telephone number of a Doctor by the name of Giourkous, who would be able to tell us more about the Durrells. By now I felt like a hound on a trail. I was determined to find out where the Durrells had lived on the island. So we called the doctor. It was his pleasure to receive us and give us more information. So off we went again to Corfu city.

Above you can see me standing in the doorway of the doctors surgery. A poster was hanging in the waiting room. This told us we were in the right place. Lee Durrell was Geralds wife. Another interesting frame in the waiting room:

It’s an article in the Guardian stating that Corfu plays a belated tribute to the Durrells. We were asked in by the doctor.

He was true to his word and gave us a treasure of information. Not only could he tell us a bit about the whereabouts of the Strawberry-Pink, Daffodill-Yellow, and Snow-White villas, he also told us there actually was a Durrell ‘School of Corfu which had been founded and could be found in Corfu city. The wonderful doctor showed us a map and indicated the whereabouts of the school. Furthermore he was happy to show us some locations himself if we would like and would come back another day. Unfortunately we had no time to do so, and anyway the doctor already had been more than helpful. We set off to the Durrell School..

Below in italics  you will find a part of the introduction of the schools webpage:

The Durrell School of Corfu offers a variety of activities, ranging from a series week-long seminars to excursions that explore the rich cultural history of the Mediterranean basin. Past and future field classes include Butrint (Albania), Old Perithia (Corfu), Lia (mainland Greece) and Kalami (Corfu) as well as walking tours of historic Corfu Town and its colonial architecture.

The Durrell School now also hosts visiting courses and workshops, providing unparalleled organizational support and background to the history and culture of the area, as well as an introduction to the work of Lawrence and Gerald Durrell and other writers connected with the region. If you are interested in bringing a writing workshop or a visual arts workshop to the Durrell School, please click here.

Moderators and Distinguished Visiting Writers for 2008 and 2009 included David Bellamy, Hugh Bennison, Joseph Boone, Jan Morris, and Mark Morris.

By the way. I’m sorry about the quality of some of the pics. I did not know I was going to write a blog at the time and so please forgive me. However if you want to know more about the school please visit their website:  www.durrell-school-corfu.org

We were expected since the good doctor had called the school to announce our arrival. We were ushered in by a very friendly British lady who told us she was working as a secretary (I think) at the school. We went up some steep wooden stairs. I was thrilled to find this school existed. I felt Gerald and Lawrence deserved it. Some pictures of the library:

Anthony Hirst was introduced to us and he explained us about the intention of the school and he obligingly allowed me to take some pictures of the library with books by both  Durrells in various translations.

We did not want to take up too much of Mr Hirsts valuable time, we had already come rather unexpectedly. We thanked them very much and were given some books. Upon leaving I was determined to write about this experience in a blog. It took me a while, but here we are..

We managed to find the hotel the Durrell family first stayed at upon their arrival in Corfu:

The family arrived at Corfu in 1935. It consisted of Mother (Geralds father had died), Lawrence, Leslie, Margo and Gerald. When they arrived on the island, they met a formidable Greek named Spiro. When you read the book I hope you will enjoy Spiro’s accent just as much as I did. He somehow managed to add an s to nearly every word. When the family just arrives at the island, they need to find a taxi. Since they only speak English and the Greek people do not, they are in a bit of a predicament, then suddenly:

‘At that moment everyone was startled into silence by a voice that rumbled out above the uproar, a deep, rich, vibrant voice, the sort of voice you would expect a volcano to have. ‘Hoy!’ roared the voice, ‘whys donts yous have someones who can talks your own language?’ Turning, we saw an ancient Dodge parked by the kerb, and behind the wheel sat a short, barrel-bodied individual, with ham-like hands and a great, leathery, scowling face surmounted by a jauntily-tilted peaked cap. He opened the door of the car, surged out on to the pavement, and waddled across to us. Then he stopped, scowling even more ferociously, and surveyed the group of silent cabdrivers. ‘Thems been worrying yous?’ he asked Mother. ‘No, no,’ said Mother untruthfully; it was just that we had difficulty in understanding them.’ ‘Yous wants someones who can talks your own language, ‘ repeated the new arrival; ‘thems bastards… if yous will excuse the words… would swindles their own mothers. Excuses me a minute and I’ll fix thems…”

Just a tiny example of the delicious read…

Presently we were off on a hunt for the three villa’s. Unfortunately they have not been preserved as museums. We managed to find the location but the strawberry-pink villa has vanished alas. In my opinion a terrible mistake. But then again the header of the article in the Guardian says it correctly: Corfu pays BELATED tribute to Durrells. Such a shame, this means some things have been lost forever.

The only picture I can produce of the daffodil-yellow villa is one from Gerald biography, here we see the family posing in front it.

 

Picture taken by Leslie (Geralds other brother) in the winter of 1936. From left to right: Margo, Gerry’s sister;  Nancy, Larry’s girlfriend;  Larry;  Gerald and Mother.

 

 

 

In this picture we see the young Gerald with an owl. In one of the woollen pullovers which at some point his mother allowed him to stop wearing, since Corfu was way to hot.

The picture below is the Snow-White villa, last of the Durrells’ three houses. It was built at Criseda as the weekend retreat of the British Governor of the Ionian Islands in 1824.

We did manage to find the house in which Lawrence Durrell lived when he married. It still exists, oh joy of joys, and actually is a taverna annex hotel.

 

It is called the White House. There is a sign:

And so we turned the corner and walked down to have tea and take some more pics. The White House is located in a lovely spot overlooking one of Corfu’s sweet beautiful bays and where one starts to wonder what the heck one does living in cold Holland…

There are some books for sale. Gerry’s biography and of course My family and other animals. And needless to say books by Lawrence who lived in the White House.

The taverna rents out boats. I was enthusiastic about that. I thought Corfu would be great to see from the water. It would give us a feel of the life on an island, since all islanders have boats. Gerald had a boat : the Bootle-Bumtrinket, made for him by his brother Leslie. I thought it was a great idea to hire a boat. I needed to convince my dear friend since he was a tiny bit concerned about not being able to steer a boat. I must say I did not have any experience with a motor boat myself, since in my youth I used to only do canoeing. However I managed to persuade him and after getting used to the driving of the boat he was pleased I did push him into it.

 

See how well he managed? I felt elated. I was trying to think how it must have been in the days of the Durrells. Hardly any foreigner on the island of course. No tourists, hardly anything to disturb the peace. Boating from lagoon to lagoon and diving into the wonderful blue water warmed by the ever present sun. It was heavenly.

 

Turning a corner and feeling a little peckish we just steered the boat to this little jetty and got off to sit ourselves on the terrace of one of the many tavernas. It felt great to be able to enjoy such a wonderful time. Totally unexpected and savoured to the core.

 

 

 

 

  

These pictures I joined to show you what a true animal lover Gerald was. Unfortunately I never met him. It’s a weird thing to say but even though I never did meet him, I feel such warm feelings for him. A person who writes such books and who loves animals so deeply I can so relate to. I hope I was able to convey my love for Gerald Durrell on this page. Unfortunately I have not yet been to Jersey. But as soon as I have, you will be able to read all about it on this blog…

 

Tea and veggie food in Prague

On our way to the Kafka museum we passed a tearoom with a sign stating it was the first ‘non-smoking’ tearoom in Prague. This tearoom we obviously had to visit. We decided to do so after visiting the museum. By the way: when you are walking through Prague, you pass through all kinds of nice streets and find lots of little treasures. Galleries, small shops, cafés and restaurants. During our weekend in Prague we did everything on foot even though there is a very adequate network of trams, metro and buses. We never took any. This time there was no need for us to do so, however when we will go back to visit the city in another season, we intend to take a tram to the end station and see what’s cooking on the outskirts. Back to the first non-smoking tearoom.

It’s got a nice painting of a sheep above the door and for art overs an art gallery next door.

Inside it was like this:

 

Note the crockery. It had been made by an artist and was for sale. As it happens I needed a little burner like that so that is now neatly sitting underneath my teapot at home:

 

Looks nice doesn’t it? Name of the café which theoretically is not a tearoom is Café Kafíčko, addres  Míšeňská 10, Praha 1-Malá Strana, close to metro Malostranská or Malostranské náměstí.

The cakes were home made, I had a honey cake which was quite nice. My friend had a carrot walnut cake which he ate with considerable speed so it must have been a treat as well. Real friendly staff although communication was a little difficult due to our non-existent Czech skills and their modest English skills. I must say I actually rather like that when travelling. It makes you resort to a lot of gesturing and even doing little drawings to make yourself understood.

As related elsewhere in this blog on Prague, we found this fantastic veggie restaurant named Maitrea.(Týnská ulička 6, Praha 1 (behind Tyn’s Church, street off Old Town Square) tel. +420-221-711631 ww.restaurace-maitrea.cz

Hay-on-Wye

Paradise on earth for the book lover. That’s Hay-on-Wye in one sentence. I visited this little town in 1991 with my husband. We had heard about this village which was at that time described as the village with most bookshops and second-hand books in Europe. So we went. Indeed it was a great find. I still remember our surprise upon finding that some of the shops had a message up saying: please put money in the tin.

Years later I eventually returned to Hay.

It was January 2012. The weather as you can see was not particularly appealing, but Hay was and I insisted on taking a pic of the sign with the name of the village on.The sun came through several times though.

We left the car at the car park and walked into the village. At that point we did not have any map so we just followed our noses and I haphazardly took pics of any bookshop that came in sight. It’s quite amazing to see such a small village with such an amount of book shops. Every corner you turn you bump into a new one.

The name of another shop caught my eye:

In 2000 I trained with Deepak Chopra to become a meditation teacher at his network. The type of meditation we were taught was PSM (primordial sound meditation). Seeing this sign made me smile. One of the things we were told was to always beware to meditate in the sun. So seeing PSM outdoors made me reminisce..

The Hay castle bookshop has two departments (so to speak) outdoors as seen above right. The sheet attached to the pole says:

Honesty bookshop! Just put your money in the red box. The books were rather casually stacked in the cases and some had suffered some severe damage caused by dampness. This of course accounts for the very low prices. The other department is inside the castle and in there one can browse for a considerable amount of time. Not us though, since we arrived at this particular shop quite late. We walked out and around the corner only to find more ‘departments’ (or maybe book sheds) filled to the brim with books. There were at least 4 of them. My friend said: ‘give me any number between 1 and 4’. I said: 3. ‘Okay you go to the third book shed. Stand in front of it and close your eyes. Now start walking straight ahead’ So I walked straight ahead eyes (semi) closed. It was very dark inside anyway. At a certain point near the back he said: ‘turn left’ which I did. ‘Walk on 6 paces’ which I did. Now lift your hand above your head and point forwards. Lower your hand, a bit more, a bit more, more, stop. Bring your hand to the shelf. Open your eyes. Start with your hand at the left and very slowly move it in front of the books. Stop. Now take out the book which is right there in front.’ And I did and it was:

The fun thing about this was that a friend of mine in Holland had told me the week before that I should pick up Conversations with God part 1 again and do a re-read. And there it was, it fell right into my hands in Hay while playing this fun game. And there were no other books on spirituality on that shelf nor on the shelves above or underneath. I checked.

I was of course intrigued so picked up the book standing next to this one. It happened to be the diary of Teresa of Lisieux. This book I purchased years ago in France while on a personal pilgrimage to Lisieux visiting the Basilique and doing the Teresa walk through the village. Teresa was a very devout girl who wanted to join the Carmelite convent at the age of 13. However it was not allowed for anyone that young to take such a vow. The next year the family went on a pilgrimage to Rome to see the Pope. Teresa was instructed to not look up and definitely not speak to the Pope. He would bless each pilgrim while placing his hand on their head. When it was her turn, the by then 14 year old Teresa looked up and asked the Pope if he could please allow her to enter the convent right now. It is said that the Pope smiled and was somewhat amused but said to her she should ask her local bishop.

Anyway, at the age of 15 she was admitted and she took up the brown robe. Little Teresa was now a Carmelite nun who chose the name: Teresa of the little child Jesus (actually when Mother Teresa took her vows she chose her name in honour of this Teresa and not after Teresa of Avila).

How come I am writing all this? Well to me the little saint Teresa has been a stunning example of a person who was content being only a small flower, a simple daisy.  ‘Dear God let me be a tiny daisy which is nothing compared to the splendour of the Lily and the Rose, let me be this little flower which makes the others shine and stand out  to even greater advantage’. She was modest and totally fine with being so. She trusted Jesus would shed his love on her as he would on every blade of grass. She was forever trying to not be judgemental and praying while doing her work. I was very touched by her life. She was asked to write about her life in the convent by the Mother superior. When she was 23 she contracted tuberculosis and was severely ill. She died with a smile on her face. Totally trusting she would be awaited by Jesus. She said: ‘Je veux passer mon ciel à faire du bien sur terre’, meaning I want to spend my time in heaven helping those who are on earth. After her death her diary was found and published. The purity of her mind and the unconditional trust and love of the girl were such that she was made a ‘docteur de l’Eglise’, i.e. she was made a saint by the Pope. Saint Teresa of the Small child Jesus. Everyone who prays to Saint Teresa when in need can ask her for a sign. This will mostly come in the form of a flower on your path. I myself have had flowers appear miraculously on my path in times of great distress.

I learned about Saint Teresa through my nan. My grandmother once told me a story. It was during the war and she had no money. Nothing to buy food for her 3 children. Grandmother always used to pray to Saint Teresa. She would then ask for a sign that all would be well. After leaving the church she crossed the street and found a ten guilder note on the pavement. In those days that was a lot of money.

I have always felt that it was all right to be small and modest. Not everyone can be a rose. That is probably why Teresa struck such a deep chord within me.

This is Teresa as a child. The caption says:

I am happy to be small because only children and those who resemble them are to sit down at the celestial banquet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In catholic churches you will recognise Saint Teresa by her brown clothes and by the flowers (roses) she holds. The roses are covering a cross she carries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This bust of Teresa sits in my house. I came across it one day while visiting the Museum of Holy statues in Enkhuizen, the Netherlands. The lady of that little museum has over a hundred statues in her basement. She also had a nice statue of Teresa.

I asked her which Saint she preferred and she told me Saint Nicolas, he is what Santa Claus is to the English and Americans. She asked me which Saint I preferred. I told her Teresa. She turned out to have this bust of Teresa which she was happy to sell. I said I probably could not afford it, but she gave it to me for 10 pounds. That made me realise this bust was meant to be with me. And it has been for over 10 years now. Reminding me of the purity of this little French girl.

And then one day I am in Hay-on-Wye and I pick up not only Neale Donald Walshes book, conversations with God, but also come across the English version of Saint Teresa’s book. Is that a miracle? To me it is miraculous that is for certain. And before you ask: no I am not a catholic. I am a person who believes in this great big field, this reservoir, this field of full potential, from which we all come and in which we all thrive, even when unaware of it.

And in this field of consciousness, miracles happen. I have lived many.

The red box for the money at the Hay castle book shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is also one of those typical shops that makes one just want to step inside and browse endlessly. I love detective stories and have read a great many. Unfortunately we did not have time to visit this shop. Still I console myself saying that I will shortly return to Hay and then will make up for all the things I missed last time..

Terrible goose me, I forget the name of this shop. However I will find out later and let you know. In any case this is a wonderful shop. It’s all wood and books. And a very nice tearoom to add to that.

Notice my wonderful walking boots please. Not elegant, but soo comfy..

 

     

Great shop innit? And then I suddenly came across a heron. As you can see above. Now to me the heron has a particular meaning. (yes, yes, I attach great meaning to things other people raise their eyebrows over. I consider myself the Fool, the numberless number in the Tarot, so just bear with me ok?). In the secret language of animal totems the heron means: going after your goal aggressively, without hesitation. Also it means: do things alone. Don’t wait for other people’s approval. Just go your own way and you’ll be fine. The heron has been my totem for umpteen years. In Holland, where I live, herons galore, but very often one specifically crosses my path. Sitting down on the roof of my house, or at the pond just below my house. Or sitting down on the street lantern in my alley. Really quite conspicuous. Anyway. I hope the pic below is clear: you can see both the heron and me mirrored in it.

For any information on the language of animal totems I can refer you to the books by Ted Andrews or to his Totem Animal Tarot deck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above shop sign is a tyre. Name of the shop: Rest when tyred…


I like drawing as well. This sign above left is simple but to me lovely with the drawn books. And the trompe l’oeuil above I found in a street painted on an outside door. The man is stealing upstairs with a pile of books in his hands. I can relate to that. Nothing better than coming home from a second-hand-book-find-spree with a stack of books. Making a cup of tea and nestling oneself on the settee with the new found treasure.

So this was Hay in January. Good news: there is a book festival in Hay-on-Wye which takes place in June. This years dates: 31st of May – 10th June. The Hay-on-Wye festival is a must for book lovers. Find out more on the official website: www.hayfestival.com

Kafka

Wandering through Prague we bumped on the poster of Kafka as displayed in the header of this blog. Actually a very alluring poster for the art lover. We decided to visit the Kafka museum. Even though not a connoisseur of his books the memory of reading the Metamorphosis at the age of 17 was still vivid. The uneasy feeling I got while reading this story, even though at the time I probably had no clue about the deeper meaning of it, never left me. Whenever reminded of Kafka this uneasy feeling came back. Therefore a) he must be a fantastic author, b) I must have been quite vulnerable to the atmosphere of the story and c) it was imperative I visit the Kafka museum. 

I must say I also was a little apprehensive. This feeling of unease was nothing but a foreboding of the gloomiest museum I ever visited.Upon arrival we were surprised by the work of ‘art’ in front of the museum: a little pond with two men in it, peeing..

The entrance of the museum. So far so good. A huge K indicating this was it. We entered. Once again it was very quiet. No tourists around yet. When we were at the Mucha museum we purchased the tickets for the Kafka museum. This way we would not have to stand in line and we got a 50% reduction. There was no line. We were the only ones there. The girl at the desk gave us directions and urged us to keep our coats on since it was very cold upstairs..

It was very cold indeed, and very dark. The windows had been blackened to create a dark atmosphere. Everything was black. The cold spread out from physical cold to emotional cold after reading Kafka’s life’s story which is being told in pictures. The more one reads, the more uneasy one gets.

Kafka according to Wikipedia:

Kafka was a culturally influential German-language author of short stories and novels. Contemporary critics and academics, including Vladimir Nabokov,regard Kafka as one of the best writers of the 20th century. The term “Kafkaesque” has become part of the English language.

Kafka was born to middle class German-speaking Jewish parents in Prague, Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The house in which he was born, on the Old Town Square next to Prague’s Church of St Nicholas, now contains a permanent exhibition devoted to the author.

Most of Kafka’s writing, including the large body of his unfinished work, was published posthumously.

Kafka was born into a middle-class Ashkenazi Jewish family in Prague (now the Czech Republic). His father, Hermann Kafka (1852–1931), was described as a “huge, selfish, overbearing businessman”and by Kafka himself as “a true Kafka in strength, health, appetite, loudness of voice, eloquence, self-satisfaction, worldly dominance, endurance, presence of mind, [and] knowledge of human nature”.Hermann was the fourth child of Jacob Kafka, a shochet or ritual slaughterer, and came to Prague from Osek, a Czech-speaking Jewish village near Písek in southern Bohemia. After working as a traveling sales representative, he established himself as an independent retailer of men’s and women’s fancy goods and accessories, employing up to 15 people and using a jackdaw (kavka in Czech) as his business logo. Kafka’s mother, Julie (1856–1934), was the daughter of Jakob Löwy, a prosperous brewer in Poděbrady, and was better educated than her husband.

Franz was the eldest of six children.He had two younger brothers: Georg and Heinrich, who died at the ages of fifteen months and seven months, respectively, before Franz was seven; and three younger sisters, Gabriele (“Elli”) (1889–1944), Valerie (“Valli”) (1890–1944) and Ottilie (“Ottla”) (1892–1943). On business days, both parents were absent from the home. His mother helped to manage her husband’s business and worked in it as many as 12 hours a day. The children were largely reared by a series of governesses and servants. Kafka’s relationship with his father was severely troubled as explained in the Letter to His Father in which he complained of being profoundly affected by his father’s authoritarian and demanding character.

During World War II, the Nazi Germans deported Kafka’s sisters with their families to the Łódź Ghetto and they died there or in extermination camps. Ottla was sent to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt and then on 7 October 1943 to the death camp at Auschwitz.

Some sources have claimed that Kafka possessed a schizoid personality disorder– rather a rare type/trait according to some authors. His work, they claim, not only in The Metamorphosis, but in various other writings, appear to show medium to low-level schizoid characteristics which explain much of his surprising work. However, a study of Kafka’s family and early life by psychoanalyst Alice Miller in her book Thou Shalt Not Be Aware offers a different angle on the sources of Kafka’s psychological anguish and his expression of his painful early life in his writings.

There are speculations regarding Kafka’s sexuality and a possible eating disorder. In a 1988 paper published by the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Munich “evidence for the hypothesis that the poet Franz Kafka had suffered from an atypical anorexia nervosa is presented.” 

After visiting this museum the term Kafkaesque makes much more sense to me ..

My portrait in pencil of the tormented author…

 

Prague Bookshops

Every person has their addiction. Mine is reading. I think I must have been reading as from the moment I could sit up. Reading is a second nature to me. Apart from tea I think books are the only thing I can’t live without. Voracious reader, I think, is the term. Not to say that I have a perfect memory, so nothing special there, but still books, and consequently book stores are to me like a casino to the gambler. Problem one might encounter in Prague would be the language barrier. So I wifi’ed English book stores and found two. One we tumbled upon unexpectedly while staring at the entrance of a church was the Big Ben book store.

As you will find on below pictures this book shop is a delight.

I’m a Woody Allen fan.

Not only I found a book of his, but Big Ben Bookshop also turned out to have a bookmark with a Woody oneliner on.

When my friend finally managed to tear me away from the shop we walked through an alley and tumbled

upon this announcement board. Some czech stand-up comedian was announced.

He did Woody Allen comedy. (top right hand corner)

 

 

 

Was I satisfied with this one lovely bookstore? Are alcoholics ever satisfied with one pint of beer? So on we toddled and that in the direction of the Globe..

 

 

And joy of joys, the Globe turned out to have a tearoom as well. Entering the shop you will find the books, second hand books upstairs. At the back there is a café where you can eat as well. It was quite crowded with people in there and it seemed to us they were meeting up for happy hour.

The sales lady was a friendly girl who happened to speak English quite well. She said we could order our tea in the bookshop, advice we most readily followed.

Fun thing was that a friend of mine happened to mention a new book she had recently purchased. She told me it was really interesting and I told myself to look out for

a second hand copy myself. And lo and behold, in the second hand section of the Globe, neatly displayed for me to grab a hold off I found the copy of Ask and it is given. The name says it all, n’est-ce pas?

Yet another brand of Earl Grey tea

 

 

 

 

 

After a very nice intermezzo at the Globe we continued our wandering in the city.

A perfect façade, however even in Prague modern life has found its way into the well preserved architectural beauty: the hardrock café is situated in this building…

This idyllic shop we encountered and I was enraptured by the simplicity of the enamel signpost. Besides it featured the picture of my all time favourite dog: a teckel..

And on our way to the Kafka museum we totally unexpectedly tumbled upon yet another English Bookshop called Shakespeare.

Oh reader, such a delight, the Shakespeare is a shop in which you easily think yourself to have been transported directly to Britain itself.

It’s an English language book readers paradise. Please look at the pics below and marvel at the sheer splendour of nooks and cranny’s of this shop. Easy chairs galore and books, books and books..

In the shop window an English version of ‘Die Verwandlung’, the Change, by Kafka. Gloomy story I read in highschool and which I never forgot for the sheer pessimism and loneliness portrayed in this story. I remember I wondered at the person who had written this book. Where would one get such horrid fantasies from. The Kafka museum we were to visit later was going to answer that question. But I am ahead of myself. Please take a look at the Shakespeare and enjoy!

 

 

 

The bookshop was a delight. Easy to spend hours and hours leafing through books on all kinds of topics, art, biographies, novels, you name it, this bookshop had it. I even found a new book with work of my all time favourite artist (cartoonist for the New Yorker and all) Sempé. Unfortunately the books were rather pricey so we came away out of this shop empty handed, but I must admit this was due to the fact that the sales person was chatting with another customer and was so lengthy that we gave up and left. Of course we had no clue what the conversation was about, but we did not want to wait any longer. Ah those impatient people from Western Europe..

Praha i.e. Prague

Never really seriously considered going to Prague (Praha). Of course I’d heard about it. Actually heard real promising things. That it was supposed to be really beautiful. Anyway, I got invited to go to this city in the Czech Republic and went. The weekend of 11th of february to be precise. We flew in from Amsterdam on an evening flight thus arriving in Praque by night. A taxi was waiting for us at the airport. Good job too as it was freezing. LIterally I mean, it was minus fifteen. The taxi ride through a seemingly deserted city was promising as well. Since it was snowing vigourously, the taxi could not speed and the city looked rather fairy tale like, what with the snow, the friendly street lanterns and the beautiful buildings. The mere sight of this gave me a hunch saying this weekend was going to be a real treat.

We stayed at the Deminka Palace hotel. Grand name for a reasonable apartment hotel. We had a King suite consisting of a bedroom, a kitchen annexe lounge, a good bathroom with bath, bidet and a spacious hall. A very nice suite indeed with balcony and high ceilings. Wonderful wooden parquet on the floor, yet also freshly stylish. Actually I can recommend staying here. The breakfast buffet was good and next door was the Deminka restaurant/bar/cafe so all very handy. Weirdest thing on the bar menu though:

Somehow drowned man with swollen stomach did not seem very appetizing…

Another surprising fact: non-smoking policy had not yet reached Prague. So in every bar, restaurant, café, smoking was allowed. Fortunately we found some modern places where smoking was not on.

The hotel was in a street next to the Narodni Museum (National Museum of paleontology and mineralogy etc) which is at the end off the  Wencelas Square. Although a tube station is in front of the museum we preferred walking. I must admit I had to cover my face with my shawl in order not to have my nose freeze off at times even though the blue sky was spotless. So we walked over to the Old Town square to find the Astronomical Clock.

  

Although a nice piece of craftmanship, I was not too interested in it. I’d seen a nice clock in Paris as well, so I was more interested in the square itself and the buildings surrounding it. It looked charming to me.

As a bit of a flora and fauna fan I immediately spotted a row of pigeons sitting closely together in the sun on the St Nicolas church.

This church was the first we entered and it was amazing. Unfortunately pictures are nothing compared to the real thing but here goes..

After visiting this lusciously decorated church we took to the right in front of the church, just around the corner is the birthplace of Franz Kafka. Since we were on our way to the Bedrich Smetana museum to kick off the weekend we decided not to visit the house just yet but this is what it looks like on the outside:

We walked to the river. Splendid sight. We were so very lucky to have this wonderful sunshine.

Then we passed the Charles bridge which we would cross after visiting the museum. The museum is but a block away from the bridge. It’s very happily situated overlooking the water.

The Smetana Museum is situated in a lovely building overlooking the Moldau. It is not a huge museum but it’s a little gem for the lover of classical music. Besides all the photographs and paraphernalia of Smetana, there is the following feature which I personally loved:

The conductors stand with examples of Smetana’s music. Just pick up the baton and point it at one of the chosen music pieces and the orchestra plays at your command..

For a minute you feel like a conductor yourself…


The Lafka is the café nextdoor. We asked to sit near the window overlooking the river. With a hot chocolate and the view we were quite content.

We continued our route and walked back to the Charles bridge. Since it was friday and february there were surprisingly few tourists about.

Everywhere you look, you find something beautiful, both the statues on the bridge and the views from the bridge are picturesque and lovely. The wonderful state of the buildings creates a sensation of being somewhere where graffiti and ugliness have not yet darkened the aspect of the city. Such a surprise. It gave me a feeling of having set foot in a place where beauty is revered and where time has nearly stood still.

Prague castle taken from the left side. Quite the fairy tale castle..

A little down the road we stumbled on a restaurant. They advertised their meals on this board outside, however instead of attracting us they repelled us with the following:

Pig slaughter soup and Pig slaughter goulash… all but appealing for a vegetarian..

Walking back to the bridge we passed the oldest vineyard overlooking Prague. We were starting to get a little peckish. A colleague of my friend had advised him not to eat in the places directly on the squares but rather look into restaurants a few streets off the main squares. Better value for money and nicer food, or so he said. So we walked up a street behind old town square. We could not really find the restaurant recommended to us, but I noticed a sign saying ‘Maitraya’. My attention was drawn and I proposed we try this restaurant. Oh and what a good choice that was! Not only it turned out to be a vegetarian restaurant but it had the Tibetan Mantra Om Mane Padme Hum painted delicately on the walls and it simply turned out to be a wonderful find..

Besides, the tea came in a soupbowl and the food was simply delcious. I had the loveliest selection of salads and as you can see on this picture indulged in a fantastic lemon pie with cream…  YUMMY!

 

 

 

 

 

In the evening we went to a concert that took place in a monastery. It was a modest concert with 4 musicians (harp, harmonium, violin, alt voice) but it was well played and we rested while enjoying the performance. When the harp played ma vlaste by Smetana in a smashing solo performance I felt really happy. I think this melody is so beautiful..

There weren’t very many in the audience, and those present were tourists, but still it was a nice concert so I wondered at the fatigued faces of the performing musicians.

The old town square looks very nice by night as well.

Then we called it a night. We walked back to the hotel, had a lovely bath and a nice cup of tea.

In the morning we set off to the Mucha museum. Alphonse Mucha is well known for his Art Nouveau posters. When you see them, you will probably think they look familiar. Nice posters. However, when you visit the Mucha museum, it will dawn upon you what an exquisite artist Mucha was. And such a prolific one. We were in awe of his work and I would recommend anyone to go to Prague if only to visit this museum.

Unfortunately taking pictures inside the museum was prohibited. The above pics are of the outside. We went over to the theatre designed and decorated by Mucha. I took pictures both outside and inside. Pics below are street view and view from the inside of the facade.

The grand café looked a marvellous place to have a tea, unfortunately we discovered in here that smoking in public places was still allowed in Prague. The only downer here.

The tea was good and the lovely ‘chariot de desserts’ made ones mouth water..

Calories galore, but since we did everything on foot, we could indulge and not get overweight in the process.