Tuesday, 29 August 2017

What am I reading?

At this moment, I am enjoying the last week of the Summer vacation, I cannot believe six weeks flew by like this, but the end is coming closer.

I did some great things and really enjoyed my vacation. I went to Paris, saw some beautiful exhibitions, met friends and family and had plenty of time to relax and do fun stuff.

This last week I have a few good things lined up, but I am also enjoying the time (while I still can) to read.

I am into a Jackie Kennedy phase at the moment, and I am re-reading the excellent biografie America's queen by Sarah Bradford. I read it a couple of years ago, but I am really enjoying reading it again. It is well written and very interesting.

I also ordered the film with Nathalie Portman as Jackie and the series about the Kennedys that was made a few years ago. I will tell you more about that later, I think!

Saturday, 26 August 2017


Last week I attented a workshop on how to make flower arrangements. It was something I have never done before, but a friend asked me to come and I was very happy she invited me. This workshop must have been one of the best things I did this Summer vacation!
There was a vase and a sharp knife for all of us
In The Netherlands there is the company Bloomon, that delivers a bunch of flowers every week to your house. (you can also choose for a bunch every two weeks, or every month, what you prefer).
These flowers are choosen by the company and it is a different bunch each week. The amazing part is that the bouquet is not a traditional one, but has several unique flowers, in different heights. This makes sure the flowers look absolutely stunning in the vase and each flower can truely shine.
Beginning with our own bunches of flowers. A bit daunting!
But getting an unusual bunch of flowers into a vase, making a pretty sight, is quite an art, and this is what we learned that afternoon.
First the different types of flowers were explained and how to begin a flower arrangement. After that, we could practize with our own bunch of flowers.
My end-result!
It was amazing to see how each one of us managed to make our vase look different, despite the fact we all used the same flowers.
Don't you just love this combination? 
I loved the result and subscribed to the delivery service. Since the flowers are fresh from the nursery, they last longer than average bouquets.

For a time now I said to myself that I wanted more flowers in my life, so this is perfect. I subscribed to the delivery every two weeks. There are three seizes you can choose, and we worked with medium in the workshop, but that is a bit too large for my small dining table. So I opted for 'small'. I think this will be enough for me. And if not, I can change things immediately.

So, as you can tell, I am very excited for my new bunch to arrive in September, and for now, I am really enjoying the beautiful flowers in my house.

I had a great afternoon, but then, working with flowers is always amazing.
The flowers on my dining table

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

A place called Winter, Patrick Gale

Harry Cane is a lonely little boy. His mother died when his brother Jack was born and their father send them to a boardingschool as soon as possible. 

Harry grew up to be a shy and stuttering man. He lead a pleasant, but uneventful life with set routines. Even when he married, nothing much changed.

Until he fell in love. A passionate affair that scared him, but that he also could not turn his back on. Knowing, that if word got out, he and his lover could lose everything and even end up in prison. 

Harry Cane had fallen in love with a man and it is a few years before WWI.

When there is a blackmailer, his family wants to prevent a scandal and Harry is forced to leave his wife and move to Canada to become a farmer. In this desolate place he must try to survive the wilderness and the loneliness, overcoming loss and hardship.

I never heard of Patrick Gale before, but I saw a documentary about him a few weeks back and somehow this struck a chord. I wanted to read his books and I was recommended this one, A place called Winter.

And I can tell you I was most certainly not disappointed. Patrick Gale used his own family history for this story, the fact that his own great-grandfather also left his family and moved to Canada. The rest of the story is filled in by the novelist, as a good novelist knows how to do.

The story of Harry is well written. It begins with a heart-breaking scene in an asylum, so you know something terrible has happened. After that, Harry is transferred to a therapeutic community and here we learn about his life in flash backs.

Patrick Gale (1962)
Despite the fact that Harry has to endure a lot, he never loses hope. He draws comfort form the beautiful landscape around him and the fact that despite everything, life is always worth living in the end. That makes this also a very hopeful tale.

I also like how the historical setting is correct, especially the mindset of the people around 1910. Often, modern writers have the tendency to plant modern ideas and sympathies into a historical period, which says more about the writer than about the period the story is set in. But in this case it is done very well and utterly correct.

But knowing your kind of love may land you in prison, does not mean nothing is possible, it does mean you had to be more subtle, careful and creative. But also in that respect there is hope for Harry, and that really pleased me.

Patrick Gale has written an absolutely beautiful book and I am glad I finally discovered him, because now I can add him to my list of favourite writers. I can also tell you I already have many of his other books here on my shelf already, waiting to be read.

Published in 2015

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Basilica of Saint Denis

Basilica of Saint Denis
In the north of Paris is Saint Denis. This neighborhood is named after the first bisshop of Paris, Denis, who was murdered in 251. He was decapitated at the mountain where is now Montmartre, but took his head into his arms and walked to where he wanted to be buried.

A shrine was built over his grave and it soon became a place for pilgrims to pray. The shrine became a church with an abbey and a very powerful one.

There were several churches, each new one more beautiful than the previous church, reflecting the growing importance of Saint Denis. It became a church for the kings of what would become France. They choose Saint Denis as the church they were buried in.
Being connected to Saint Denis, and to their predecessors, gave each king and each dynasty more legitimacy.

In total there are 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses buried here and 10 people who played an important role in French history, like the Constable of France Bertrand du Guesclin!

Bertrand du Guesclin. Much smaller than I expected!

It was in this church that the Gothic building style began. Abbot Suger (1080-1151) of the Abbey of Saint Denis was an important man. Not just the abbot of one of the most important and rich abbeys of France, but also the advisor of King Louis I. He began to rebuilt the church to make it more fitting for the many pilgrims that came to visit and this is seen as the first example of what would be known as gothic style.
The church is very beautiful. As most gothic churches, it it high and light, almost higher and lighter than you can imagine from such a large stone building.

In the church you can find different tombs and grave monuments. It it exciting to see the grave of king Clovis (the first Frankish king to become baptized in 500), or that of Bertrand du Guesclin or all the kings that played a role during the Hundred Years War. And even King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are buried here.
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
The church itself has free access, but if you want to visit the part where the kings and queens are buried, there is an admissionfee of 9 euro's. Which is worth it! And do not forget to visit the crypt, that is also amazing to see.

Saint Denis is easy to reach by metro, just exit at the stop St. Denis Basilica.
More information can be found HERE

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Bletchley circle (2012-2014)

Since last week I finally have Netflix. I think I must be one of the last people in the world to get Netflix, but I am sursprised by the diversity of the series and films they have.

I already saw The Crown and loved every minute of it, but I also discovered another series that I thought was really good.

The Bletchley circle is set in 1950. It is about four women who worked at Bletchley Park during the war, meaning they were working as codebreakers trying to crack the German codes to get information. This work was secret and they were not permitted to speak about it during the war of afterwards.

Then in 1950 women are murdered in London, and one of the Bletchley girls, now a wife and mother, sees a pattern. The police is willing to listen to her in the first place, but when it turns out she is wrong about the finding place of the next body, they do not take her seriously anymore.
Susan then brings the different colleagues together from Bletchley and together they work out who the murderer is.

I love, love, love this series.

First of all, the four women are all different characters and are well written. Each one of them has their speciality, Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin) is good at seeing patterns, Millie (Rachael Stirling) has a knack with maps and languages, Lucy (Sophie Rundle) has a photographic memory and Jean (Julie Graham) is the organiser.
The four of them together
Secondly, the atmosphere of the fifties is really done very well. The furniture, the clothes, but also things like rationing and how the war was still very much a vivid memory for most people is realistic and feels true.
Rachael Stirling as Millie
These four women have a difficult position. They played an important role during the war, but nobody knows what they did and how intelligent they are. Susan's husband is nice, but he, (and most of the people in those days) cannot imagine how any woman would want something other than being married and being a mother.
The actresses are good, as is usually the case in a British costume drama! (can I say how much I love Rachael Stirling?) I also like very much how they react to the crimes. In most detectives there is almost a casual feeling when a corpse is discovered by a civilian, as if this is not a traumatic event. In this series the women are shaken up and upset and have very human and understandable reactions to what they discover. But this does not stop them.
I love the clothes and the hairstyles and they feel very true to the timeperiod as well. (although I did not like Susan's hairstyle, it is very ugly).
Millie especially has amazing clothes, she is a bit more glamarous than the others!
The murder cases are also well done, not over the top gory, but with enough suspense and surprise.
There are two seasons, the first season has one story told in three episodes, the second season has two stories, told in two episodes each. It is a shame there is not third series, because I would have liked to see a lot more of these amazing clever women!
Susan and Millie
If you love British drama series, and a murder mystery, try to watch The Bletchley circle. I do not think you will be disappointed!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Four days in Paris

Last week I was in Paris for a few days, with my oldest friend (we met in teacher's college and have been friends for 19 years now).

We have been on holidays together before and this has always been good fun, and I am happy to say that Paris this year was no exception!

So what did we do in our four days in Paris?

Day of arrival
We are very lucky that there is such a good connection between Amsterdam and Paris. With the Thalys you are in Paris in a little more than 3 1/2 hours. We took the 8.17am from Amsterdam and arrived at 11.35am at Gare du Nord.

We booked an hotel near the station, as I hate having to cross half the city with my suitcase before I can get to my hotel. We stayed at the Mercure Gare du Nord Lafayette and this is just 5 minutes from the station and is an excellent hotel.

That afternoon we went to Montmartre. We visited the Sacré Coeur, and then we walked the little streets of Montmartre. We really enjoyed our visit to the cemetery of Montmartre and were surprised by the seize of the cemetery.
After a good meal we walked back to our hotel.
Steep steps in Montmartre
In total we walked 12.5 kilometres. (more than 7 miles)

Day two
This morning we took the metro to the north, to visit the Basilica of Saint Denis (more information HERE).
In this amazing church you can find 15 centuries of French history, since many of the French kings were buried here. From Clovis (500 AD) to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
The church was beautiful and I loved this visit, especially since it was new for me.
Admission for the part of the church where the graves are is 9 euro's.
Basilique du St. Denis

Several graves of French kings and queens
Then we took the metro to the Champs Elysées, because we booked a guided bicycle tour that afternoon. Being Dutch, we are known to love our bicycles and we were looking forward to riding a bicycle through Paris.

We booked the Secrets of Paris tour and this was really good. It took us from the Eifeltower to the little streets of Saint Germain and the Quartier Latin, and along the Seine back to the Arc de Triomphe. We stopped regularly at interesting spots and the guide would explain a little history. We also paused to get something to drink for half an hour.
Visiting quiet little squares during the tour.
We booked through Baja tours (more information here) and they also have tours in English and German. The tour we took was 32 euro's per person.

Warning: Make sure you are comfortable on a bicycle if you want to do something like this. The traffic in Paris is much more used to bicycles now than it was ten years ago, but you still have to be careful. If you are not a good cyclist, don't do this.

The tour was supposed to take 3 hours, but it was 4 1/2 hours later when we handed in our bikes!! But is was amazing. I loved the little streets, but we also cycled on the Boulevard St. Germain and even for a little part on the Champs Elysées. (how cool is that!)

In total we walked 14 kilometres (over 8 miles) and we cycled for 16 kilometres (over 9 miles)

Day three
This morning we took the metro to the cemetery of Pére Lachaise. We wanted to find the grave of Jim Morrison, but somehow we missed it completely. We also did not find the graves of Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde or Yves Montand. Yes, I know, I am not sure what we did there, but we did enjoy it!
At Pére Lachaise cemetery
Afterwards we walked toward the Galerie Joseph, that had an exhibition about Steve McQueen. I had seen the posters of the exhibition the previous day and I was very pleased it was in the middle of the centre. This was an unexpected little gift, since I am a huge fan of Steve McQueen. It was a very interesting an divers exhibition and I loved it. My friend, who is not a fan of Steve McQueen, also enjoyed herself very much.
Galerie Joseph is located at 116 Rue la Turenne and the admission is 8 euro's.
Part of the exhibition
After a good cup of coffee in a little café, we walked towards the Jardin du Luxembourg. We visited the park during our cycling tour the day before and both loved how beautiful the park looks. It is a very chic park, picknicking on the grass is not allowed for example. But there are plenty of chairs and benches to sit on and this is what we did. We sat in those lovely green chairs and read and rested and looked at people for the rest of the afternoon.
Jardin du Luxembourg
After dinner in the Quartier Latin we spend some time sitting near the Seine and then took the metro back to the hotel.

This day we walked for 18.5 kilometres (almost 9 miles)

Last morning
The last morning we did not have a lot of time, because our train would leave Gare du Nord at 10.25am, but there was time for a short stroll along the Canal St. Martin. This is one of my favorite spots in Paris and I have a little tradition that I will visit the Canal St. Martin every time I am in Paris.
Canal St, Martin
Afterwards we picked up our suitcases at the hotel, walked towards the station and at 3 pm I was home again.
This morning we still managed to walk 4.5 kilometres (2 miles).

Four amazing days in one of the most beautiful cities on earth!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

What am I reading?

What am I reading at the moment? Well, I am enjoying my Summer vacation (four more weeks to go!) and I am so happy I have all the time in the world to read and do things I like.

Read last week
Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Paris. During the trip I read Big little lies by Liane Moriarty. I never read a bit by this author before and had no idea what to expect. The only reason I heard about it because it was made into a series and Nicole Kidman is in it!

Well, I loved the book, I thought it was tightly plotted and well written, and very funny at times.
I also watched the series, and really liked this as well. Of course, the element of surprise was no longer there since I finished the book the day before I saw the series, but it was very good nevertheless.

I loved Nicole Kidman especially and thought she was perfect for the role.
On the minus side I hated the actress that played Jane. I have no idea who she is and I have no intention of looking it up, but I thought she was wooden and horrible and terribly miscast.

Reading at the moment 
At the moment I am reading a Dutch novel about the Dutch colonial war in Indonesia and the effect this had on the father of the author. It is beautiful and at some points almost unreadable because so many awful things happened in those days. But is is very, very good.

I am also reading a beautiful novel by French author Patrick Modiano. I love his works and although I have no idea which one this is in English, I can recommend each and every one of his books!

I also read a book about the history of Paris, I can never read enough about the history of cities I love. This one is Paris, the secret history by Andrew Hussey. I am only on page 113 and I still have almost 400 to go, but so far I love it! It is well written, interesting and full of anecdotes and amazing little facts.

Bought today!
Today I met a friend in Amsterdam. We went to Mass together and then we had coffee and chatted. Afterwards I went to Waterstones, the English bookstore in the Kalverstraat and then I also visited the American Book Centre that is located almost across the street.

In total, I bought these four books.
The beguiled by Thomas Cullinan is now also made into a film with Nicole Kidman, and I had my eye on it for a while. I did not know it was based on a novel, but when I saw it, I had to buy it. After all, I do like that Southern Gothic vibe!

I never read a book by Annie Proulx before, but this one, Barkskins, sounded very good, so I took a chance.

The other two books I bought at the ABC. Bad days in history is a fun book with a terrible fact of something that went wrong in history for every day of the year.

The last book is To the letter, a history of letter writing through the ages, with examples of fine letterwritters in history and literature. I am looking forward to this and I think I will put it on my nightstand.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Absent in the Spring, Mary Westmacott

Joan Scudamore travels from Iraq back to England. In Iraq she helped her youngest daughter who just had a baby, but now she is on her way back to her husband.

Joan is quite pleased with her life and how things turned out. Her husband Roddy is a country solicitor, and both her daughters and her son are married and happy. She herself has a lovely life.

But when the train she is supposed to take is not able to be on time due to the rains, Joan finds herself stuck in a hotel in the middle of the desert. She read both her books and has no paper to write letters and no needlework. She had nothing to do but think.

And gradually she realizes that her life may not be so perfect as she thinks. Her husband is not happy, and her children were also not happy in her house. Joan always decided what was best for them, without giving any thought to what they wanted or liked. More and more she realizes she needs to change things, beginning the moment she will arrive home with Rodney.

This book was written by Agatha Christie, but under her penname Mary Westmacott. This is not a detective, but a novel, and I had no idea what to expect from it. But I can tell you that I really enjoyed it. The writing is very good, like we know Agatha Christie could write, with good observations and natural dialogues.

I liked how Joan first does not want to acknowledge what she knows deep in her heart, and how she tries to find excuses for all the little incidents that happened in the past, telling her how her view differs from that of everybody else. But gradually, in the hot sun and with no company or distraction giving her a way out she must accept that her life is not as perfect as she wants it to be.

And I also loved the ending. I will not tell more, because I do not want to spoil it, but I thought it was realistic and true.

Absent in the Spring is a perfect little novel, and I am glad I also have the other books by Mary Westmacott, because I think I will enjoy those as well.

Published in 1944
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