Saturday, August 30, 2008

Off to the beach

A cheeky look A beautiful summer's day today, after a week of dark clouds. Good timing too, as the only decent weather we have had this last month has been at the weekend.

Fred and I took our bikes out this morning, cycled through Amsterdam, across to the west towards Halfweg and Haarlem, past Overveen, along the dunes and down to Zandvoort-by-Sea, a ride of about 35 kms, which we took nice and easily. Only disappointment was the fact that our favourite cheese shop in Haarlem, Sansom, had closed down after 40 years. I had a feeling it might have, as the cheese shop in our street has also just closed down this summer, after probably about 50 years. Seems like hard work selling cheese. We used to stop off and order delicious rolls filled with camembert or gorgonzola, or whichever other cheeses we decided upon, with tomato and lettuce. We only turned up once or twice a summer, but we were always recognised.

The beach was quite full adn we spent teh evening, sleeping and reading as the sun beat down, me hiding under a towel to protect myself. Then another 20 kms cycle ride through the dunes and the woods, as in this photo, before catching the speed ferry back to Amsetrdam: a lovely day out.

Tomorrow promises to be even warmer and there is the Amsterdam Uitmarkt, the opening of the cultural season, with all sorts fo performances, centred on the eastern docks area.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ivan bringing the drinks, with his winning smile

And then here was the nice chap who served us Chopska salad, rakia, beer and fish at the fish restaurant we were taken to near Kratovo, in the eastern Macedonian countryside.

Monday, August 25, 2008

People of Skopje

People of Skopje, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here is a photo of a man we came across standing with his friends in the souk area of Shkup, a real character.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Skopje colours

Macedonian melons in Skopje, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Skopje was exactly the most colourful place we visited during out holidays but we managed to capture a nice mix of colours here. The stall keeper looks to be ethnic Albanian.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Macedonian melons in Skopje - wasps are optional

A urprise in the markets of old Uskup, were the large numbers of wasps feeding off the opend watermelons, like these. From a distance they look like pips/seeds, but were yellow and black and moving.

A recent photo from Kosovo of watermelons was used for an article discussing how the scientists ar trying to genetically manipulate the seeds away from the water melon (for the US market). Needless to say, the complaint is that they know longer have any taste.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Red bicycle in old Üsküp

Red bicycle in old Üsküp, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

There is a par of Skopje, the other (north) side of the river which houses the old souk area, with lots of cute old shops, mingled with mosques, hammams, fruit markets and a very large caravanserai. Overseeing this is the massive castle on the hill. This area represents Skopje's Ottoman past and seems to be the area mostly inhabited by ethnic Albanians. In all honesty, it lacked a bit of charm, but presented us with some nice photo opportunities.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Back to the (bad) old Olympic days

Well, it has been a great Olympics for the GBR team, wuth 17 gold medals already in the bag. I have spent so many Olympics watching in disappointment of just missing out on the medals, but this year the medals have been coming every day, it seems. Quite wonderful and very surprising. Well done!

A pity maybe that they are won in sports like sailing, where it is very difficult to see who is winning and so on.

I had a day at home today, a I am not feeling 100% and it was the 13th day of the Games, unlucky 13. It rained a lot and it was a day of heartbreak - just like old times.

First up, we had an heroic swim from David Davies in the 10 km swim in open water, where he became delirious just before the end of a race in which he had led most of the way, where he lost his sense of direction, went off his line and was beaten at the last minute by a bald Dutchman. Just like the two women yesterday, yet whereas they were always destined to lose (to the favoured Russian champion), this chap could very well have won if he had kept his line.

Then there was a silver in the triple jump, when it could have been gold, the men's Olympic champion 4*100 metre relay team being disqualified due to a stupid (very very stupid) mistake, the showjumpers having a hance to win gold but cluttering their fences down in their last round and other such nonsense.

And not only that, but the Dutch hockey team went 1-0 up against Germany inear the end of their semi-final, only for the Germans to score in the last minute and win on penalties... sounds oh to familiar.

But well done to Turkey on winning their first gold in the men's wrestling yesterday.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Leaving Prizren - yes this is the bus to Skopje... (or Shkup)

It was a strange thing but we had arrived early at the bus station and made contact with our bus boy who wa very cute and very friendly and who arranged to get us seats at the front. Eventually, it was time to go and he sat next to us on the right hand side. Then just pulling out of the bus station, the bus stopped and there appeared to be some problem with the papers. After some discussion, our new friend hopped off the bus and the bus drove on. Our new friend was gone. Just like that. All of a sudden there was a big gap in our day, in our journey. It was altogether a bit sudden and a bit sad... a hole ripped open in the day.

I thought maybe we would drive round in a circle and come back to pick him up but the bus drove resolutely (if slowly) through Prizren and out onto the main road to Ferizaj, going at every turn away from the bus station... At every turn our cause felt useless, we would not see our happy cheery friend again. How typical.... but then all of a sudden we stopped at a petrol station. Along came a taxi and out hopped our friend, with the papers and altogether the day seemd complete again.

We chatted most of the way to Ferizaj, him in Albanian and me in English and I took a few photos. Kept meaning to print them and hand them over to someone working for the Vector bus company to give to him, but it never happened. I have a business card from the bus company so will send them by post. Anyway, a very nice way to say goodbye to Kosovo.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hartjesdagen 2008 - Ooh la la!

It was the weekend of the Hartjesdagen and after we got back from the wedding we popped inot town to observe and join in the festivities. Men dress as women, women dress as men, there is singing and poetry reading and plenty of beer to be drunk, friends to meet an photos to be taken. We spent our time with our friends Rob and Ghislaine, until we bumped into Ineke, Henk and Martin, and all went together for a tasty Chinese dinner at the New King restaurant on the Zeedijk, for teh second Saturday in a row.

This is my favourite photo of this year.

Monday, August 18, 2008

At the wedding

Here we were at the wedding last weekend. Getting married was our niece Monica and her fiance Jan. They got married in Sellingen, a pretty village just north of Ter Apel in the south-east of the Province of Groningen. The weather was mostly good, sunny all morning, a short shower after the marrigae ceremony in the Town Hall before the sun came out and gave us a nice evening.

I was the official photographer and have put some photos on a picasa site and will put some more om later.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

No Tazer guns, please

On duty, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The Minister of Interior Affairs, Guusje ter Horst, who was on the gay parade in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago is in the news again because she wants to buy the police force a large number of Tazer guns, from some American manufacturer. These gusn emit a large dose of electricity and so incapacitate the person who they are aimed at. This is supposed to be better than shooting them dead with a real gun.

The police have just been told that they will not be pursued for shooting dead a young Turkish man in Amsterdam West last year, when he had entered a police station in a bad state and had cut the throat of a woman policeman with a knife. Maybe a Tazer gun wiuld have been better.

But, with my recent experience in mind, being had-cuffed and thrown to the ground by a number of police officers before they had botheredto find out what was going on, I cannot help but think that had they had a Tazer gun on them they might have felt tempted to use it and I might nw be dead or suffering the after-effects of having 50,000 volts sent through mwe.

These nasty things are always brought in on the promise that they will only be used in extreme cases, only for mistakes to start happening, which later get excused.

Please Guusje, stick to being friends with the homos (it suits you) and don't waste our money on expensive American weapons.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kosova and South Ossetia

The US has its Kosova and Russia seems to want its South Ossetia.

My friend Mar said yesterday that I was not often short of an opinion, but I really do not know what to think about the business in Georgia these recent days, beyond deploring the bloodshed.

The serious paper which we take, the NRC, had an article today which put most of the blame for the current dispute and fighting on the shoulders of an opportunistic Georgian President who last week 'invaded' the province of South Ossetia and provoked the Russian retaliation.

The problem is that it is easier to get into these things than to get out. We ahd heard of all these places in the early 1990's when the Soviet Empire ws crumbling. It seems that the wounds and abd feelings have not gone away and we have areas such as Abkazia and Nagorny-Karabakh still to be resolved.

Kosova was one of thos eplaces and we have a sort of resolution. The US has built a massive base in that country, plum in the middle iof South-East Europe and doesn't look liek it will be leaving despite the announcement today of a 70% reduction in the UN force in that country.

We saw Italians, Spanish, Turkish, Swiss and German troops doing their work in protecting and rebuilding that country. I even met that English policeman. We never saw a single US military person there - they were all at their massive base camp in Ferizaj (Urosevac in Serbian). We did see a massive miliatary aircraft take-off from Prishtina while waiting to board our plane. Nothing said in the media about this new US build up of troops in Europe.

In the meantime, we were asked in Amsterdam last weekend to sign a petition against the continuous placement of over 60 nuclear missiles on Dutch soil. How many in the UK? How many in Turkey? How many in Kosova?


Sunflower, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This is not growing in our garden, as we did not lant any sunflower seeds.... but comes from teh garden of neighbour Mehmet. Mehmet adds fertiliser to his soil so grows massive plants, giant tomatoes, oversized marrows, bursting sweetcorn and giant sunflowers. But already at teh start of August, most of the vegetables have been harvested and the garden is past its best.

In the meantime, in our organic garden, things are starting to get going, the courgettes being most productive at the moment, but beetroots are doing well, as are the onions and the assorted cabbages. The broad beans are ready for picking too.

Tomatoes are growing profusely and are slowly turning re. Even if they do not,w e can pick them and watch them turn red indoors. We get the odd aubergine and pepper and have to pick them fairly young before they get eaten by pests or just drop off. Once in a while there will be a bright red raspberry to be picked.

Agian, it is not teh greatest of summers and we have to be happy with whatever few hours of sunshine we can get in any day. This afternoon was nice, as was Saturday during the day and Sunday afternoon. It is the bits in between which are depressing but at least we are not having to go to the nearest canal and fetch the water.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

One million photostream views

One million photostream views, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Yes, we made it!

One million views of our flickr photostream. After just over three years since starting and after one year and a week since we made the half million.

Quite phenomenal when you relate numbers like these to the number of people living in a city, where, say, Amsterdam has just over 700,000 inhabitants.

For sure, there is a certain type of photo which attracts more attention than other types of photos and I do make sure that almost every day there is at least one new photo placed onto the site and this all certainly helps. But I have had some very nice comments from people and these especially make it seem worthwhile.

This was us at Gay Pride in Amsterdam

.... a day after coming back from Prishtina, in an area of Europe where gay pride marches have a habit of being disturbed by neo-fascist thugs. We are a lot more fortunate in Amsterdam and it was particularly nice to see on one boat in the Canal Parade the Mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen and on another, three government ministers (all from PvdA), namely Rob Plasterk, Guusje ter Horst and Bert Koenders.

Unlike in London, we did not see many Muslim people either in the Parade or watching from the side of the canals but, then again, there are not usually many Muslims wandering around Amsterdam city centre on a Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


This is some of the nicest, more picturesque rubbish that one can see in Kosovo. Mostly it is a lot worse, lots of plastic (bags and bottles) or heavy insdutrial (car wrecks and so on).

The country has 60% unemployement and many live off handouts from the State, which in turn is financed through the EU and other governements. While everyone is looking at Kosovo in terms of its geo-political importance and lots and lots of money is bening spent in the country, no-one seems to be too concerned about the rubbish, as if rubbish is not an important issue in life.

It is bad for the environment, bad for health and bad for tourism and it is not sustainable.

Fred and I think that a good idea would be to stop giving handouts to the country and to the unemployed until they start really tidying up the country and learning not to just drop their rubbish and litter everywhere. There are so many piles and areas of rubbish, it surely cannot be too difficult to organise it. And having learned to tidy it up maybe they will be more careful what they do with their rubbish in the future.

Getting back

Pristina - our favourite beer, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

So here we are back in Amsterdam, with stories to tell from the holidays. It was nice to get back toa warm sunny day and to see how the garden and plants got on while we were away. Thanks to Eric, who caem to water them, they all lookd very good, and the tomatoes are now nice and big and turning a bit reddish. We have one small pepper whilst the aubergine plant still has a long to grow before it can think of flowering and beariung fruit and I fear the autumn will beat us to it.

The weather has not stayed good for too long and this afternoon it is just raining. Yesterday evening too at the end of the Canal parade, at drinking time it started to shower and drizzle and rain, which was a pity. A delay of five hours would have suited better.

Anyway, back to the holiday and we were last seen in Ohrid, enjoying the sunshine and the resort life by the lake, the last couple of days, us sitting in the shade reading our books, going for a swim and drinking a few beers. A nice way to end the holiday, only we had to get back to Prishtina (through Skopje) and then to Amsterdam (through Liege/Luik). Two days of travelling, which had us up early on Thursady morning to catch the 7.30 bus to Skopje, only it was full and teh next available bus would be at 12.45, meaning we would nto get to Prishtina until the evening. Hmmmm... frustrating.

After a coffee I hit on rthe idea on hiring a taxi to get us to Skopje and although it was as much as there days accommodation for the two of us, in Ohrid, it was still not much more than the cost of a taxi from Schiphol to home, a jpurney of 15-20 minutes, over a distance of less than 20 kms. Skopje was 170 kms away and over two hours away and tghis is how we got to Skopje, just in time to miss the bus to Prishtina, of course, so we took the Prizren bus and changed at Fereizen (the US army base) and caught a bus from there to Pristina, arriving just after 1, at about the same time our bus would have left Ohrid, had we taken it.

We were all set to enjoy an afternoon in Prishtina, after a beer and a sandwich at our favourite Leger bar, only I was nto feeling so well with a pain in my back and stomach, so decided to rest in the hotel. I could not rest and kept moving about in pain, getting up and down the whole time. Eventually, Fred decided it would be a good idea to see a doctor, which he arranged. And then just as I got dressed and ready to get into the taxi I felt about 80% better and then at the clinic I felt 90% better, which was good. The doctor gave me some medicines, which I haev already startde to forget to take, nothing serious.

So, not much time to see Prishtina as itw as after 7 now, but we ended up having a very nice evening with a friend off internet and one of his friends, back in the garden of the Leger bar.

Another early start to catch the 8,00 flight to Liege, which was delayed a bit and it was already 17.00 by the time we arrived at home.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Ohrid in the summer

Lake Ohrid - sexy Serbians, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

About 80 percant of the tourists in the summer come from neighbouring Serbia. Others come fom Bulgaria, Albania and Kosovo. There are a sprinkling of tourists from Holland, UK and Australia. The streets are full at night, as are all the bars, cafes, restaurants and night clubs. All very good atmosphered.
There are some places backing onto the lake with nice vine covered terraces, looking out across the lake to the lights on the hills all around. It felt very much like Bodrum, just not quite as noisy and the beer is cheaper.
We noticed that the town had been spared the worst excesses of Communist architecture, although away from the old town centre there were some block like hotels built in those days - by the 'architectural mafia'. In those days President Tito had his summer house on a nearby shore and now the President of Macedonia also has a place nearby. In those days there were no bars and cafes, just communist-style mass restaurants serving pork and cabbage, at least this is what our waiter from last night told us.
New Macedonia seems to be altogether much better.
And now the world food prices have risen so much, it seems that the economy of Macedonia can improve. It is a small country with only two million inhabitants but has some very fertile soil and produces a surplus of agricultural products and some excellent wines.Fortunately, they do not seem touse too many pesticides, poisons and chemical fertilisers and the fields are full of wild flowers, enhancing the natural beauty of the countryside.

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