Category Archives: Eco Living

Biking Bits of Brussels, Belgium

I have long admired the European attitude to cycling within cities as both an economical and eco-conscious mode of transportation. So I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see so many references to bicycles as we travelled in Brussels, Belgium.

Can you see that small red child’s bicycle mounted on the street lamp? The sign below it indicates that you have arrived at a Point Velo Fietspunt where you can rent a bicycle or leave your own for repairs. That would be a comforting feeling to know that if you had a flat tire or your chain came off, you could just look for one of these Fietspunt signs sprinkled around the city.


Bike mounted on lamp post indicates a Point Velo Fietspunt bicycle hire or repair pick up spot in Brussels, Belgium

Bike mounted on lamp post indicates a Point Velo Fietspunt bicycle hire or repair pick up spot in Brussels, Belgium


This poster on the window immediately below the bicycle-in-the-air shows the range of services that they offer.


Bike shop for small repairs or bicycle rentals in Brussels, Belgium

Bike shop for small repairs or bicycle rentals in Brussels, Belgium


Not owning a 2nd car (and in some cases a 1st one) if you live in an urban environment with good public transportation AND a respect for cyclists when you choose that mode of travel? What a healthy and sensible way to live!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Emerging From The Twilight Zone With Chutney

Seriously, when I realised that it had been a month (and a very odd month indeed!) since my last post, I felt like I had stepped inside an episode of The Twilight Zone and time and space had eaten me. There have been rather a lot of ups and downs with medical issues, but I am hopeful that things are on the upswing now. (fingers crossed!)

We did our very-few-blocks walk across the river to the Saturday market here in St. Girons yesterday and came back with a new digital kitchen scale and all of the ingredients for something wonderful — tomato chutney!

9 completed jars of tomato chutney

I laughed at the online instructions that said that the chutney took half an hour to prepare and one and a half hour of simmering before it was time to jar it. Perhaps if someone works a lot faster than I do they could do the prep in half an hour, but it took me an hour of peeling, chopping, and stirring. And Mark, the darling man, had to step in right at the end because I was gasping from chopping the onions.

This simmered for over 2 hours before it became the colour and texture that made me happy, but here is the recipe for anyone who’d like to try it. And it made 9 jars of recycled-marmelade-jar size final product. I tweaked the basic recipe with lots of spices after reading several versions of tomato chutney recipes online and deciding that just tomatoes, sugar, and onions was going to be a bit too bland for our taste.

Spicy and fragrant tomato chutney simmering atop the stove as it thickens

This totally fits in with our ethos of trying to live in an eco-conscious manner. We didn’t spend a penny on fuel since we walked to the market, we bought local produce with very low food miles, and we used recycled glass jars. The total cost for the ingredients was just about €7, I got 9 jars, and frankly that’s a much more sensible economic idea if you enjoy cooking than spending €3-4 or more per jar for quality chutney.

Glass jars simmering in boiling water to sterilise them

Here’s the recipe below. The amount of seasoning can be adjusted up or down according your own idea of what is spicy enough. Enjoy!


2 kilos of ripe tomatoes
500 grams of sliced and slightly chopped onions
8 fat cloves of garlic
8 cm piece of ginger peeled and chopped
375 grams of brown sugar
325 ml of cider vinegar
Juice of one lime
1 large or 2 medium apples — peeled and chopped
1-1/2 to 2 cups of raisins
10 cardamom seeds
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp smoky paprika
1/2 tsp chili powder
4 tsp cumin
4 rounded tsp allspice
3/4 tsp cinammon

Bring all ingredients to a full boil in a large kettle-style pan with a heavy bottom. Once boiling, reduce the heat and allow the mixture to simmer for at least 2 hours, perhaps longer, until you see the liquid significantly reduced, the mixture thickened, and the colour of the chutney change from bright red to a brown-red.

Jars of hot chutney turned upside down as they cool to give a tight seal

Spoon mixture into hot, sterilised glass jars making sure to wipe the rims clean before sealing the lid tightly. Turn the jar upside down whilst cooling to allow for a tight seal.


Cooled jars of tomato chutney


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Hot And Humid in Summertime France

Ah yes — another installment of our adventures in ex-pat lifestyles.

Each glass of water slides down easily. Adding half of a lemon is rather refreshing, but truthfully, a quick dip in a cold swimming pool wouldn’t go amiss right now.

Don’t believe that little weather widget on the right side column because it is NEVER completely accurate — but it’s the best I can do since Yahoo removed their weather widgets which were actually quite reliable. Even the MSN weather forecast is quite wrong with their humidity index because the air is like suspended water globules right now.

Record-breaking heat is nothing new to my readers in Australia, the USA, and parts of Europe. But I haven’t felt humidity like this in quite a few years and it’s bringing back hot-and-sticky memories of a childhood in the South of the USA and hot-and-sticky memories of living for 18 months in Brisbane, Australia to blend with my hot-and-sticky present in the South of France. Oh my!

No matter how large their big houses might be, no one we know has air conditioning and, with the exception of the larger grocery stores, it seems to be a rarity here. We all cope through a variety of methods that are interestingly ‘retro’ after years of freezing-then-boiling as I came in and out of buildings and cars in Australia.

Keeping the heat out is the first step so I keep both sets of shutters all but closed in the daytime. The heavy old timber shutters block a vast amount of heat and then the roller-blinds that are right outside the double-glazed windows add another layer of heat blockage. I actually brought the shutters up quite a bit for the picture below so that you could clearly see the two layers of shutters.

Double shutters help to keep the heat out in the South of France

Yes, the rooms stay darkish all day long, but that’s certainly better than the bright and blistering sunlight! And yes, I can cope with that tiny square of light from each window. There is even a roller shutter over the French door to the back garden balcony and I moderate the amount of light on each side of the building as the hours pass.

The bedroom stays especially cool with both sets of shutters all but closed.

I’ve made it into a bit of a game so I don’t find it overly tedious — trying to see just how cool I can keep it indoors so Mark has a refreshing home to walk into at the end of the day after he’s been out in the heat on whatever building site he’s working on. The fan may not be as ice-cold as an air conditioner, but it is my friend and that’s all I have to say about that.

It may not be air conditioning, but it moves the cool air around JUST enough!

My pretty new red shopping trolley is thus far getting NO USE whatsoever because it’s too bl%!@y hot to wheel it down the charming streets of St. Girons right now. Ah well — it will be waiting when I need it.

Bright red shopping trolley awaiting a cooler day for adventures in St. Girons

All in all, sarong-on-body and water-in-hand, I am managing just fine. And thanks for asking!

P.S. Just to add a frisson of ‘How’s that?’ from the heavens, as I was ready to post this, the skies darkened, a rather noisy and fast-moving thunderstorm rolled through, the sun came BACK out, and now the wet streets are steaming below my front window. (groan!)

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Photo Of The Day: London Cycle Network Sign

London is proud of its status as a cycle friendly city — and these signs seen in the heart of the financial district attest to that encouragement to be more eco-conscious by getting out of a car and onto a bike.


London Cycle Network sign in the heart of the financial district.


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Picture Of The Day: Taking Home The Groceries Via Bike

So what do you do if you live in a small town near Dresden in eastern Germany — Ortrand to be specific — and you either don’t have an automobile or you choose not to use it? How do you take your groceries home?

This man rode his bike past the pretty, pastel buildings after I watched him filling the cart up with plants from the garden shop and groceries from the greengrocer. No traffic stress, no petrol bills, a nice bit of exercise, and definitely a way to live more lightly on the planet!

Taking home the groceries via bike in Ortrand, Germany


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Berlin – With Earplugs In Place!

Working our way around Europe, being very frugal, living like a local, interacting almost exclusively with each local population, and being prepared to be a bit inconvenienced at times was always firmly in our minds.

Deborah's temporary office nook

We knew when we left Australia in December and then the comfort of the family home in Norfolk, England (that we have been using as our European base), we would need to maintain a good sense of humour and the ability to live in flow.

Also, if we were going to have this long-planned trip work out well and since Europe is not exactly a budget location for travel, we’d need to find ways to stretch the euros — hence the working along the way scheme. So far, so good.

So — alright already!!! I’m living in a very noisy flow!!! And here is exactly where I am sitting as I write this post — on a white plastic garden chair in the corner of our temporary kitchen.

Here in Berlin, in addition to having a wonderful time seeing this gorgeous city, we are helping our friend Stefan to renovate the house that he has purchased and which he hopes to be moving into in 4 weeks time. Fingers are firmly crossed on that one right now because most of the house still looks like a bomb site!

This will be a beautiful place once it is complete since the rooms are spacious and there is so much light flooding in from the front and back.

It’s the traditional European style of construction — thick masonry block walls covered with brick or render on the outside and hard plaster on the inside. And it is spread out over 5 levels. You’d never guess from the outside (which looks just fine!) what is going on within. So here below is a little peek at what will need to get resolved in the next few weeks if Stefan is going to move in as planned. CLICK on the photos to enlarge.

Rubble in one of the bedrooms

Mark checking the stability of a crumbling wall

Mark and Stefan discussing the renovation

Crumbling door frame

Crumbling entry door area

I am listening to a house FULL of contractors right now — the 2 or 3 electricians, the 2 plasterers, and the 3 heating contractors plus my husband Mark. All of the hard surfaces that this house is constructed of just echo any noise again and again.

It was a little bizarre to be sound asleep at 8:30 this morning with earplugs in and hear 3 voices open the door and say, “Ooops!” I kept my eyes shut tight, they closed the door, and I raced to the bathroom to quickly put some clothes and wash my hair in the sink (with not very warm water) before they turned off all of the water to move the pipes around before installing the new radiators.

We’ve had 2 days of very cloudy weather and the solar panels are not getting enough charge to heat the water in the huge tank up to nice-and-hot. Hence the lukewarm showers and hair washing. However, Mark has had instructions today in the art of oil-furnace back-up water heating. Sheesh!!! It’s quite an interesting contraption!

Right now I can hear normal drills, electrical sanders, trowels against hard plaster, the tapping of chisels, a hammer drill, and hammers — not to mention the sound of heavy feet as those fellows clunk their way up and down the stairs to all 5 levels of the house. I have my orange earplugs in, too!!! The whole house is vibrating with sounds and it’s making my heart race quite a bit.

At least at night it is beautifully peaceful and we sleep well. The neighbourhood is incredibly silent once darkness falls. A temporary small ‘apartment’ has been created out of 3 rooms up on the top floor and that’s where we are living for now.

We eat dinner, have a bath in the huge bathtub (not pictured), and then cuddle up side-by-side to watch a movie. Fortunately I have enough movies and British television shows in my computer to keep us occupied since there isn’t enough light in the bedroom to read by.

Late today the electricians are doing the final-fix (at least I hope that they are!) of the outlets and then perhaps we can have some lamps on in the evening instead of just one lamp and some tealight candles.

But at least it’s atmospheric with the candlelight. We are very relaxed once everyone leaves and we certainly have a sense of humour about it all!

Temporary bedroom setup

Temporary kitchenette

Blue bathroom - partially crumbling bu functional

Eco-Edinburgh — Part Four

Pictures, pictures, pictures!!!

Champagne time at GreenWorks

We celebrated the roof topping out with some champagne last night in the workshop. Now Mark and I are taking a break today to go out and about in Edinburgh with my cameras.

Soooooo — instead of a daily report, here is a click-on link to a slideshow of all of the action as it unfolded over the last week.


Enjoy! And please feel free to leave comments if you are so inclined.

Also, don’t forget to have a look at the website of Greenworks in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Bye for now!