Tag Archives: European travel

From OMG to OILS!

May I just say — the roller coaster nature of life some days/weeks/months lately is adding to my quotient of grey hair. And smoothing out to much milder dips and swoops would be rather nice.

Two days ago, I discovered that thousands of dollars had disappeared into thin air — out of our bank account in a scheduled transfer — but then missing from the destination bank. Minor panic and some genuine anxiety set in. It wasn’t until last night when I could call across the world at 10 PM to that bank that was just opening at 9 AM in Australia that I discovered what had transpired. Apparently quite a lot of people were left feeling just an anxious as me when their own transactions also disappeared into thin air.

My personal explanation to my husband’s parents this morning? “The bank farted!”

There must have been some sort of security situation for the bank to completely lock down bank transfers — but five days later — the money was all back in our accounts and we had to REPEAT the original transactions. Can you imagine how many people were inconvenienced who were buying houses or businesses or cars or doing something much more complicated than our own personal banking? Still, it’s an uneasy sensation to not know what the heck is going on with your OWN money. A serious OMG moment.

Then today, a friend in France sent me an update from Brittany Ferries about an issue that might affect our own sailing in a few days. Under the ‘you couldn’t make this up if you tried’ category — the harbour in Portsmouth had been SHUT because an unexploded World War II bomb had been discovered this morning!

“Portsmouth to Caen/Ouistreham – Caen/Ouistreham to Portsmouth
16/11/2016 – We’re sorry to inform you that your sailing from Caen/Ouistreham to Portsmouth this afternoon at 16:30 has been cancelled. An unexploded bomb has been found in Portsmouth which has resulted in the harbour being indefinitely closed and your ship is therefore unable to arrive or depart from the port. The Royal Navy are currently in the process of dealing with the situation. Please call us on +44(0)1752 648637 for advice and to discuss alternatives. Once again, we’re very sorry for this inconvenience and we thank you for your understanding.”


I called Brittany Ferries for an update as instructed on their website — the Royal Navy has snagged the bomb and are going to haul it out of the harbour late this afternoon to detonate it. They said that yes, there would be a backlog of departures and arrivals that lasted into tomorrow, but they fully expect everything to be fine within 24 hours and weekend sailings should be normal. Whew! #europeanhistoryneverreallydisappears

What put me in a ‘Happy Space’ today was having a ramble through a huge homewares store after lunch and discovering a substantial art department! The ranges of paints made me say, ‘Oooooo!’ out loud and the woman who walked by at the end of the aisle had a wee giggle at me.


You just never know when you wake up lately — you never know… but there is ALWAYS an opportunity for another espresso — right?


©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Tour De France Photo Essay

One of the many joys of being an ex-pat resident of a country like France is getting to attend events like the Tour de France live without the hassles of around-the-world flights from Australia. We never imagined when we left Australia in December of 2010 that Mark would get to watch a stage of this famous race for two years in a row.

I’m turning the photo essay over to my husband Mark today since he’s the one who braved the drizzly weather to watch a Midi-Pyrenees stage of the 99th Tour de France on Sunday, the 15th of July.

Instead of being crunched by the crowds at the finish-line in Foix, Mark chose to watch from the village of Massat which is only about a 40 minute drive from our home in St. Girons. Here are some scenes in the village prior to the arrival of the caravan of floats and then the peloton of riders.

5 Jersey Display in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


Man Waiting for the Tour de France in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


Gendarmes in front of building decorated for Tour de France in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France

The caravan passed steadily by as people of all ages eagerly awaited the ‘goodies’ which are flung out to the crowds.

The pre-peloton caravan parade begins in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


The Haribo (candy) parade car in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


The Big Yellow Rider at the pre-peloton parade in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


The Mickey Mouse comic book car in the pre-peloton parade in Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


Waiting and watching for the Tour de France cyclists to arrive

Zoom! After all of the waiting, it was quickly over for another year and people began returning to their homes.

Tour de France cyclists passing through Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France


Walking home after watching the Tour de France pass through Massat, Midi-Pyrenees, France

Caps, keyrings, fridge magnets, packs of candy & snacks, wristbands, tote bags, blow-up pillow, glasses case, and more. Mark was much luckier this year since he picked a spot that had less people than his position in Normandy a year ago and he thus increased his odds of catching the ‘goodies’ that are flung out by the caravan of floats prior to the arrival of the peloton. He came home a very happy-chappy with a huge grin on his face!

A selection of 'goodies' that are tossed out to the crowd during the pre-peloton Tour de France parades through villages & towns

©Deborah Harmes and ©Mark Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Europe Travel Plans And A Health Hiatus

The bulbs are beginning to bloom in the garden as I write this from the family home in Norfolk UK. So in spite of the icy temperatures both day and night, spring certainly is on the way. A bit of a health hiatus has been forced on me and these next few lines offer a brief explanation about why nothing has been posted on either blog for several weeks.

All of my writing and photography uploads have had to go on hold for a short time because I came down with pneumonia twice in a 10 week period. I’ve been intensely ill, it’s is so BORING, and frankly, I am sick of being sick. Thank heavens for multiple rounds of strong medication, the wonderful medical care I received from the doctors and nurses at the Ballarat Base Hospital in Australia and the prompt attention of the local NHS practice here in England.

Now, for the FUN news — there are going to be some VERY interesting travel entries coming up quite shortly! We’re about to launch ourselves off into some long-term travelling and we have a wonderful first location for short-term work lined up in Edinburgh at the end of March and potentially into April. We’ll come back to Norfolk in mid-April to do the large pack-up prior to going to the Netherlands on the ferry. Then we will ramble across Germany before our next locked-in time period from the 20th of April until the first week of May in Berlin. We are quite excited about that! After that we will travel around middle-Germany for awhile and then begin to loop back toward France.

We have a longer term assignment of a month or more in Normandy that should have June and perhaps part of July sorted out. And our next very interesting “yes — please do come!” host after our time in Normandy is in rural Tuscany. I have a feeling that we will be there for more than a month as well. Right now I am on the laptop for hours every day, sitting here diligently planning all of our adventures, trying to set up a time-slot for each of the people we hear back from, and shopping for a left-hand-drive car.

We’re leaving a few gaps for pure-and-simple travel in France and I’ll be looking for some more work hosts on our way back across the country toward Italy. And before we leave France this time, we also plan to go down to the Limousin to meet a transplanted British man who is real estate agent and we’ll look at some run-down houses to potentially buy, renovate, and then sell on.

Did you know that the buying and settling/closing process in both France and England takes about 90-120 days??? There are no 30-45 day turn-around times over here the way they do it in Australia or the USA! If we find something to buy as an investment, we would put in the contract and the deposit, go off and work somewhere for awhile, and then come back a few months later when it’s time to sign on the dotted line at the notaire’s office. Sheesh!

We’re going to leave our Brit-drive car here with the family if they are fine with that and take our LHD (left hand drive) car (which we will purchase in the next week or so) over to the Netherlands on the overnight ship. We are already booked and paid for with another lovely cabin and good meals. It is so much more civilised than flying!

Mark got his British driving license this month and I just got my new NHS medical card in the post last week. Ooooo — paperwork and official documents. Such excitement! (grin!) But it just means that we are getting more and more officially European now. We have made no firm decision about where to settle and don’t plan to for many months ahead as we weigh up the housing costs and employment options in each country that we visit.

Life is good over here other than the non-stop cold & damp and the annoying chest infection. It seriously took us over a month to feel like our bodies and consciousness states had arrived in this place and weren’t floating in the ethers on the way over. And it wasn’t just me either. Mark said that he didn’t feel quite right in his body for the longest time.

Even though we have chosen this huge change and were excited about moving back here, this has still been a huge adjustment process. Something as simple as shopping in a new country has been a grand adventure (smirk!) — even for everyday things like groceries or health food items. Buying a car in England took a lot of time for paperwork and bank transfers — and don’t even get me started about how crazy it is to try and get car insurance in a timely manner!

Time to end this now and go make a nice hot cup of tea.

Hope that all is well in YOUR corner of the world!


Teeny Tiny Transport

What fun! I have recently seen some of the tiniest motor vehicles possible on the streets of Amsterdam — so here is a selection of them. Pay particular attention to the size of the vehicle compared to whatever vehicle or bike or person is next to it.

Microvan chained to a ship's anchor to prevent theft

The first vehicle was so brightly coloured that it caught my eye several times during the week and ended up being a repeat performer in my photos. Apparently since these vehicles are so small, they are quite easy to steal. As a result, I noticed that they were frequently not merely parked, they were often chained to something sturdy. The vivid green microvan was spotted the first time chained to a ship’s anchor at the side of a canal!

The second shot gives you a true insight into the diminutive scale of this vehicle as it whizzes by the huge blue truck parked on on the street.

And if you click on the third picture and enlarge it, you will see that the head of the bicyclist nearby is actually higher than the top of the green vehicle.

How delightfully funny it was to approach the entry of the Rijksmuseum and see this tiny white expresso van parked alongside the footpath.

When you click on the picture on the right and allow it to enlarge, can you spot what is inside? It isn’t your imagination — that really is a crystal chandelier hanging on the ceiling of that wee vehicle!

We were walking back from a cafe one afternoon when we spotted this blue vehicle a few feet away. The first thought that sprang to mind was that it looked like a toy — or like one of those cartoonishly tiny cars that full-sized male clowns drive into the ring at the circus.

Over the next few days, I saw several versions of this car called a Canta. I did a bit of research on them and at a starting price of £12,000, these are not inexpensive in spite of their size since they are primarily designed for people with mobility issues.

According to several websites, no driving licence is required and these micro-cars can be both parked on the footpath and driven through a shopping centre quite legally.

Wouldn’t that do your head in a bit to be walking through the mall and have a car glide past you — a car that you towered over? Boggles the mind!

For my final example we have another Canta. — a bright red GLX version this time. We watched the woman driver and her child passenger pull up outside the movie theatre and stop to check the times of that day’s screenings. Look what a tiny portion of a parking space is being used!

Copyright ©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.

Life Amongst The Bikes in Amsterdam

Look left, look right, and be aware! There are more bicycles in Amsterdam, used on a daily basis for every purpose imaginable, than any other city in Europe. According to GreenAnswers.com, 40% of the total traffic is made up of bicyclists.

Many other cities around the planet now aspire to be equally bike-powered and green, but ask yourself these questions while you peruse the photos.

Could you ‘car pool’ your children to school without a car — or shop for a week’s worth of groceries and get them home via pedal-power?

Bike riding parent with children

Bike riding parent with children

What if you purchased a piece of furniture, didn’t want to pay a delivery fee, and decided to just have a go at bringing it home on your bike?

Walking the table home

Walking the table home

Can you hitch a sidesaddle ride on a bike for a breezy afternoon outing?

Hitching a ride on the back of a bike

Hitching a ride on the back of a bike

And as to parking them? Bikes are chained up simply everywhere including along the railings of bridges and fences, to window grilles along building fronts, and to lamp posts.

Bike on a bridge

Bike on a bridge

Even though bikes in this city are chained/latched/attached to anything that seems remotely stable and firm — as you can see by the sign below, that is not always appreciated by the owners of various buildings!

No parking sign for bikes

No parking sign for bikes

Another option is to park in someplace safe and secure like this 3 story garage for cycles which is looked after by security guards and is situated quite close to the front of Central Station. BELOW: 3 level bike parking lot. Photo by Mark Harmes

3 level bike parking lot. Photo by Mark Harmes

3 level bike parking lot. Photo by Mark Harmes

During our recent 8 day visit, I was especially impressed with the Bakfiets that I saw simply everywhere carrying children of all ages and sizes in the front section as the parents steered from the back. And whether used with or without the hooded ‘convertible top’ to keep the child passengers or shopping dry, the families that we saw using these sensible vehicles all looked relaxed and happy in spite of the winter temperatures.

Bikes with attached cart-style child carriers

Bikes with attached cart-style child carriers

This is one of the most charming cities in Europe and any visit to Amsterdam is made all the more delightful by being able to navigate through this beautiful city and enjoy scenic streets which are not clogged with noisy or air-polluting cars.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photography is by Deborah Harmes.
©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.

Marching Through History in Amsterdam

How small they were, those suits of armor. How diminutive were the heroes that defended the realm and bore that metallic outer layer upon their arms and chests. Marching, marching — doing what was expected of them.

Suits of Armor

Suit of Armor

I was surprised when I stood quite close to several of the exhibits and realized that the men who wore those metal suits were, in many cases, quite a bit smaller of frame and shorter of stature than most contemporary 20th or 21st century women. And these tiny men fought quite furious battles on land and sea to conquer lands or defend their homes. They were certainly smaller than I am and I’m not a very big person at 5 and 1/2 feet tall.

Perhaps it was the gloomy palette of the winter day outside and the icy-gusty rain, but between the paintings and exhibits of military life or the life aboard a sailing ship in both the Rijksmuseum yesterday afternoon and the Amsterdam Historisch Museum today, I experienced a strong sense of sadness for those lives that may have had intense boredom or bodily discomfort layered into their daily existence. I actually shuddered at one particularly vivid picture of two ships, side by side, engaged in a fiery, bloody battle. None of it seemed remotely stirring or the least bit grand or glamorous.

Exterior of the Rijksmuseum

Our afternoon at the Rijksmuseum was quite pleasant in spite of the mid-winter crowds and it was marvelous to revisit the work of Rembrandt after two decades, see his evolution as a painter, and compare the work of his contemporaries.


Corbel known as The Milkmaid

Corbel known as The Milkmaid

Wooden statue from 15th century

Wooden statue from 15th century

1960s-70s Kitchen

1960s-70s Kitchen

For me personally, the most enjoyable parts of our visit to the Amsterdam Historisch Museum were the fine wooden carvings that were displayed on the exterior of buildings during the 15th through 17th centuries and the exhibits on daily life in Amsterdam. There were cross sections of model houses that showed how the citizens of this city lived in various eras and set-ups of entire period rooms.

Some of the exhibits were both difficult to view and eerily fascinating at the same time. We had walked through room after room, era after era until we reached the top floor of this large museum and we came upon an entire series of displays that illustrated what life was like for Amsterdam citizens during the 5 year long German occupation of World War II. It was compelling viewing and I have included a few photos below of propaganda posters that can be enlarged if you click on them.

Picture of Judenstrasse during German occupation

German Propaganda Posters

This is a particularly comprehensive one-city-only historical museum that is housed in a splendidly large building. The exhibits are quite easy to understand, even if you don’t speak a word of Dutch! In fact, almost all of the museum has both Dutch and English captioning. A visit to this museum is a highly recommended way to spend several hours in Amsterdam.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website.
All rights reserved.

Scooting Through The Stedelijk

Icy, icy cold and gray. With skies as flat and colourless as a dull nickel coin, we headed down the street to catch the tram and the wind set our eyes streaming as soon as we walked out the front door.

Our destination was the Uitburo (ticket office) at Leidseplein where we planned to purchase a Museumkaart, a museum card for both Amsterdam and the rest of Holland that covers more than 400 museums or sites. Two trams later we arrived and noticed that the lights were on in the area around the ice skating rink and on the front of the Uitburo. They didn’t seem out of place because, even at 10:30 in the morning, it was rather dim outside.

Uitburo (ticket office) at Leidseplein

Lights on in Leidseplein at 10:30 AM on a dim winter morning

The charming young woman inside the ticket office apologized to us and explained that she had sold the last of the Museumkaarts the previous day and another shipment was not expected until later in the afternoon. Our plans were rescued when she phoned the Stedelijk, the modern art museum and they did have some in stock. So we thanked her and backtracked via tram to the museum district.

Central stairwell at the Stedelijk Museum

Upper central stairwell at Stedelijk Museum

What we expected to see versus what we did see was altogether different than those expectations that we had as we left the apartment in the morning. The museum is currently undergoing a massive renovation and a new wing will be constructed that will transform both the amount of space needed to house the collections and the climate control for preserving what is on display. As a result, well over half of the building is a series of empty rooms and that was quite disappointing since we hadn’t known that prior to entry.

When a young woman with a clipboard approached me as we prepared to leave an hour later and asked me to rate my experience on a 1 to 10 basis, I told her quite honestly that it was a 5 at best since there was almost nothing to look at.

None of the permanent pieces such as the Bauhaus or Post-Impressionist works that I had been expecting were there. What is within is sparsely sprinkled over two floors with long walks through empty rooms in between.

We had a nice coffee and pastry in the cafe which is still open and fully functional and oddly, that ended up being one of the highlights of our visit to that particular museum.

Here are a few examples of the artwork that is still ‘in residence.’

Exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum

Modern art exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum

Thank you to the staff at the Van Gogh Museum. Someone sent them a copy of my article from two days ago, A Visit With Vincent and they sent a note on Twitter around the world that increased the number of visitors to this site dramatically over the next 2 days. The museum staff also took the time to write me a personal thank you note for the article, so I am reciprocating by letting you know about that charming courtesy.

Copyright © Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.