Saturday, January 30, 2010

The snow came back

The snow came back, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Yes, well, it is not even the end of January and still a good month of winter to go. Nice to wake up on Saturday morning and see it all white again, with the snow still on the branches of the trees with the sun trying to come out. Lovely cold crunchy snow. Mmmmm...

Spent the morning inside watching the Ladies Final at the Australian Open, between my two favourite tennis playes, namely Serena Williams and the recently returned Justine Henin, whilst chatting to my brother Richard on facebook and organising photos on the computer. Nice and relaxed.

Went for a cycle ride in the afternoon - following the New Year's Day route - across the bridges across to Waterland and the lakeside village of Durgerdam. The Ijsselmeer is still frozen, which surprised me. Now altogether white under the fresh fall of snow - as pictured in this photograph.

Later on I would cycle past the ditches and ponds and pluck up the courage to walk on the snow on the hard and thick ice. Wonderful to play around in the virgin snow.

It started snowing again when we cycled over to some friends for dinner but by the time we were done the snow had turned to rain and then, anoyingly, just as we were on our bikes, it turned into very hard hailstones, leaving a grey slushy mess. Oh well.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Harry with his new camera

Harry with his new camera, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here is my nephew Harry, who recently turned eight, with his new camera. He seemed to enjoy taking photos and videos with this new camera so I look forward to seing the results. I think it might have been better to have got him a camera more in the SLR range where he could learn more aboutr how a camera works, rather than have a camera where much of the functionality revoloves around the computer processes within the camera, but still, he can always graduate onto that later, if he is interested.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bedouin beauty

Bedouin beauty, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Turning up at the livestock market in Salamiye, it is always a question of time before you can find the most handsome bedouin of the day and this time it was Ibrahim, who, fortunately was also interested in the camera and not shy about having his photo taken. Apart from his handsome facial features he has beautifully coloured eyes, which I tried to capture by taking the photo at this angle. However, in the photo they just come out looking dark. Anyway, you can sense part of his friendly and jovial nature through the smile he is just revealing above his scarf.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Attack is "highly likely"

Guarding Number 10, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The Guardian reported recently:

"The threat of international terrorism to the UK was raised from substantial to the second highest level of severe last night, meaning an attack is "highly likely".

Alan Johnson, the home secretary, said there was no intelligence to suggest an attack was imminent.

The escalation reversed a decision in July to downgrade the likelihood of a terror attack from "severe" to "substantial".

Johnson said the change was not ­specifically linked to the increased threat from international terrorism following the failed Detroit plane bombing on Christmas Day or to any other incident.

He said the Joint Terrorism ­Analysis Centre (Jtac), a unit within MI5, had taken the ­decision based on a broad range of ­factors, ­including the intent and ­capabilities of international terrorist groups in the UK and overseas.

Johnson said: "We still face a real and serious threat to the UK from ­international terrorism, so I would urge the public to remain vigilant and carry on ­reporting ­suspicious events to the appropriate authorities, and to support the police and security services in their ­continuing efforts to discover, track and disrupt ­terrorist activity."

I say:
Remain vigilant? How does that work? What are we supposed to look out for apart from police carrying guns? What is the point of telling us this unless it is to make us afraid? The biggest thing we can be afraid of is more so-called anti-terrorist laws which take away our freedoms. Is not the whole point of terrorism to make people afraid and isn't that what the Governement is doing by issuing such 'security' alerts?

Yes, it is terrible if there is an attack but in most cases there is not anyone can really do apart from being normally vigilant and sensible to avert such an attack.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Regrets about Iraq

Shoeshine boy in Damascus, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This young chap is an Iraqi, probably a refugee from that country, fleeing the war that was started by the US and the UK and in which The Netherlands were implicated and which they supported.

After some bad experiences with shoe shiners in Kenya (1991) and Mexico (1998) I am a bit wary of them but I thought I would give this chap a chance. He humbly asked for 55 Syrian pounds, or just less than a Euro and I let him polish my shoes.

All the time I was thinking I would like to give him a thousand pounds, to give him a lucky day, but I had a whole load of notes in my pockets and I didn't want to show them on the stree. Plus I was a little embarrassed to do so and would wonder what Fred would think, so I took the easy option of giving him his 60 pounds and spent the rest of the day regretting it...

In the meantime, I wonder how much time Bush, Blair and Balkenende have spent regretting going to war against and destroying the wonderful country of Iraq.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mum and Diana down in Lyme Regis

Posted by Picasa

The day after Mum's birthday, I took Fred back to Exeter airport and then met up with the rest of the family back down in Lyme Rgeis. This is one the nicest photos which I took.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mum!

Family group, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here we are down in Lyme Regis after celebrating Mum's 75th birthday with a delicious buffet dinner at her house. Diana and the boys came down from Sheffield, Fiona and Thomas from London, while Fred and I had come over on Friday. Fred had to catch the 12.00 flight from Exeter back to a snowy Amsterdam and Nick stayed at home.

We were treated to lovely weather down in Lyme Regis, as can be seen here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

From Bedouin Red to English Hunting Red

We came across the Seavington Hunt today, out in a filed near Drimple while we were on our way to Lyme Regis. We had to stop and before long we had become paid up foot-followers and being given a filled glass of whisky and ginger wine and talking to the local Lord (Michael). Great fun!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fresh bread, early in the morning in Hama

Early next morning in Hama, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here is the lovely sight of a shy young man with his hands full of freshly baked bread, as seen early one Saturday morning in downtown Hama. We were out for a quick breakfast in town before being picked up at 8 by our friend Abdul Kader who was going to be asked to take us to my favourite spot in Salamiye and Qalaat al-Shmammis. We would normally go to Palmyra as well, but it is a long drive and I quite fancied spending more time in Salamiye and also at Qalaat al-Shmammis. It turned out later that the desert towards Palmyra was quite green after recent heavy rain and was consequently full of my favourite bedouins. Never mind, we had a great day, taking lots of lovely photos.

Monday, January 18, 2010

On the streets of Aleppo - Tom and Jerry

Here are a couple of cousins we came across in Aleppo on Christmas Day. They are known locally as Tom and Jerry. We managed to give them a couple of souvenirs from Holland (fridge magnets with cows and windmills) which we happened to be carrying around with us.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Elections in Ukraine

At the Flea Market, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Ukraine is holding its first Presidential elctions since the Orange Revolution today.

Nothing too much seems to have changed in Ukraine however as Sergey tells us that all the politicians are just as corrupt as they were before, maybe just a bit richer.

It seems like the pro-Russian Yanukovic from the east of the country will probably win the first round and that the incubent President - Spongeface - will lose straight away.

A History of Christianity

The BBC showed the first episode of its 'History of Christianity' series this evening, concentrating on the early Christian times, centered on Syria, Edessa (Urfa) in Turkey), up to Constantinople and then right across to China. Very interesting and well presented. Good to see so many of the places which we had been to adn a nice reminder to many people who have not been to Syria or Turkey about how the early Christian church started off.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Allah is the Arabic word for god

Armenian Cathedral in Aleppo, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Allah is the Arabic word for god. When we visited a church service at this Armenian cathedral in Aleppo on Christmas Day, we heard the priest mentioning 'allah' very often in his service, Arabic being the local language of the Syrians.

In Malaysia, it seems some Muslims of teh silly variety are causing trouble by trying to stop Christians from using the word 'allah' to describe 'god' as they think the Christians are trying to confuse people, or so I read.

They do have a bit of a point though. If one ios talking in English, teh word is 'god', if they are speaking Bahasa Malysia, they should use whatever the Malay word is for 'god', which according to wikipedia appears to be 'dewa'.

On the other hand, there is according to both Christians and Muslims and Jews only one god so why should they quibble too much about which name people use for him?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A handsome and enigmatic young shepherd

This photo seems to have become the most popular and most commented on photo in my current Syria collection. He is handsome, clean and very well dressed and has an enigmatic look to him. Also, the mist in the background helps to accentuate the colours and pose of the subject. It took a bit of cropping to get to this state, but obviously it worked well in this case. A good discipline ot take photos which don't need a crop but that is not always possible, with people constantly moving and getting in the way, as they do in real life...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Young swan

Young swan, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Keeping up with the winter theme, here is a scene from my cycle rode last Sunday, when I disturbed a young swan from his very comfortable position. I had to be a bit careful as I was very cose and swans can be a bit aggressive and this one had been hissing at me, anyway, I wanted a photo of him in motion.

Today, I had the joy of seeing a small flock of redwings by the side of the footpath from the station to the office, which path is still covered in hard packed snow. There si an area to teh right which ahs been cleared of snow and which has attracted the birds. I had seen chaffinches there on Monday and , today, I saw the redwings, which are winter visitors to Holland (as well as England). A delightful sight.

A busy day at work, spemnding most of the time on one conference call after the other, a we go around our offices trying to get a feeling about whether we will make our numbers this month. Bad weather is good for us and we are hoping for a quick thaw which leads to burst pipes and lots of insurabce claims. As usual, it is the UK which is doing the best out of the current bad weather, with colder temperatures and poor maintenance leading to many burst pipes and more work for our people. Unfortunately, the UK isn't part of 'my' region at work...

But who would want to live in the UK? There, people are advised NOT to tidy the snow in front of their houses. Why? because if they do, the lawyers might get them with a claim if someone has an accident. Here, in Holland, the Prime Minister called on people to actually tidy the snow in fromnt of their houses to make it sfaer for everyone. Much more sensible.

Mind you, he is under fire at the moment for having gotten Holland involved in the illegal US/UK war against Iraq. A real independent report was published yesterday which WAS very critcial of the Prime Minister including his lack of leadership. The Cabinet (his fourth) might fall as a result. Far more healthy than what is going on the other side of the North Sea...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A real photograph

1991-1992 - a skating winter, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I posted this on flickr a few days ago, a photo from the icy winter of 1991-1992 and received a few nice comments, one being that you cannot get this sort of detail with a digital camera.

I am not so sure and this IS a digitalised/scanned version of the original but it doed have some certain depth to it which is probably missing from the digital photos, howver bright and colourful and vivid they may be.

I became disappointed with film as so many of the photos were badly developed and printed as competition for lower prices led to the use of cheaper and worse chemicals. To this extent, digital was a welcome change.

However, there seems to be a movement or an undercurrent of people still hooked on film, often using a lo-fi Lomo camera or the such like and they seem to be obtain various effects and finishes which we are mssing from our digiytla pics.

The films these dys are brought in to be developed and scanned into a digital format from where the best can be chosen to be printed out, or published on a website.

Anyway, I am very proud of this photo.

Outside, the snow is still lyimg, the pavement in front of the house is white and paved with crunch snow. Many roads are clear and wet whilst ours is grey scrunchy ice/snow, which is much nicer than dirty puddles. It doesn't look like we will see much of the sun this week. Oh well, it IS winter and it will just make usall the happier when we DO eventually see the sun back. In the meantime, the evenings are getting noticeably lighter, the mornings still dark.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Snowman on dyke

Snowman on dyke, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Snowmen often have quite a character and this must the happiest snowman I have ever seen, despite being on top of the dyke and exposed to the bitter winds from the north east.

I took a cycle ride back along teh route which I had followed on New Year's Eve, into Waterland. This time, the lake had frozen over and was covered with ice, as snow blew along the surface. It was dull and grey and difficult to get any sort of a good photos.

Still, it was good to be out in the elements, well wrapped up, even though I came home soaking wet as a combiantion of melted snow from outside and sweat from inside. More fun that sitting inside and admiring the snow from teh cofort of a centrally heated house, although it was nice to come back to that. Followed by a nice hot bath.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Skating in Roswinkel in 1993

Skating in Roswinkel in 1993, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Here is Fred back in the winter of 1993 skating on the canal which linked his parents' house and his own birthplace to the local village of Roswinkel.

Notice the perfect ice with just the marks of the skats scratching the surface.

Today it snowed all day. I went out for a cycle ride into the country and got soaking wet, but it was good to be out and to feel the winter. It looks like we will have a dryish week ahead with maybe some sun on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

1991-1992 - a skating winter

1991-1992 - a skating winter, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

2009-2010 is a snowy winter, which in a flat country such as Holland is not particularly useful, even though with the sun on the snow as we have had, it does look very pretty. Every Dutch person prefers the icy winter like we had last year, were the ponds. lakes and ditches freeze over to give us endless skating opportunities.

Here is Fred on the ice somewhere in the wilds back in the winter of 1991-1992.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Lens contact

Lens contact, originally uploaded by steblina.

A photo of me taking a photo - of a horse on New Year's Day, with thanks to Sergey and his Lomo.

Syria at Christmas

A bit late, but here are some brief scribblings about what we did over Christmas:

Friday Flight to Istanbul – delayed – snow in Amsterdam, rain in Istanbul – late arrival in Istanbul – to hotel – I go to Tekyon and meet Ibrahim, exchange presents

Saturday – Fred not feeling well – walk through Cihangir and Cuckarma, Istiklal, pomegranate juice, Galata Bridge, taxi back to hotel to pick up Fred – same route down to Eminonu. Ferry across to Uskudar, met shoeshine man, Murat, then Marc from flickr in posh tea house. Ferry back to Besiktas and taxi to hotel, sleep, dinner at posh kebab house, after seeing the intestine places in Balik Pazar, drink with Turkmen friend, miss out on music bar, go back to hotel for sleep.

Sunday – another grey morning, Fred stays in bed, I walk down to the other side of Istiklal Caddesi, through the steep streets of poor houses with colourful washing across the streets, find church, gypsy flea market, fruit market then go back to pick up Fred and do the same. Afterwards take taxi to Edirnekapi for closed Mihrimah Mosque, St Saviour in Chora, the Theodosian Walls and pigeon market. Back to hotel, late checkout, Fred sleeps, then a snacky dinner before taking taxi to airport. Big frustration, plane cancelled, finally go back to our hotel and a quick drink at an empty Tekyon.

Monday – walk down to fruit market from yesterday but it is closed. Frustration again at the airport and take taxi back to fish market at Kumkapi, walk through Sultanahmet, visit Kucukayasophia, up to Blue Mosque, the Great Bazaar, buy felt Father Christmas and fake jeans, try to find Suleymaniye Mosque, have orange juice down in Sirkeci before dinner at Cesme restaurant near Kucukayasophia. Back at airport, finally get the flight to Damascus and arrive at about 02.00 am.

Tuesday – picked up by Kaldoun at Damascus airport and taken to al-Zaetona hotel, for large comfortable room and much need sleep and rest.

Wednesday - Damascus

Thursday – Damascus, Seidniye, Maalula, Misyaf, Aleppo
Driven around by Fred's driver Kaldoun, who had picked us up from the airport. I find the Christian areas a bit boring but better when we get off the motorway and Homs and take the backroad through to Misyaf. Flat, misty, green and damp, villages strewn along the road. Some rustic scenes such as cows, ducks, turkeys, pony and traps not to mention the odd shepherd with his flock of sheep on the dyke above the road. Stop ofr photos of a young chap making rounded sweets and later for three shepherds and their herd by the side of the road, before speeding up from Hama to Aleppo. Check into al-Gawahir (not exactly to be recommended) before going to to see Mostafa, from the olives, who I had seen from the taxi. Given a wonderful wlecome as Mostafa showed me my number on his mobile phone and offered us first juice, then shish tavuk dinner and some presents of olives and cheese while we help him with the English on his olove oil labels. Greta, just a pity to hear that he will not be there tomorrow - its is Friday and everything closes for Christmas - hmmmm... again! Find Mohammed for a fruit juice and wander to teh quiet Christian area where we have a quiet dinner in the place we first hqd dinner five years ago when we first came to the city. Not a lot of activity on Christmas Eve,

Friday – Aleppo – wrong place to be for Christams, souk closed as it is Friday and only a few church services, BUT a lovely sunny day and we find some streets going off to the east of the Christian area, with lots of life. It is Christmas so I try to concentrate on taking photos of the children in the streets, most of them very willing, many of them very cute. We take some videos at the Citadel, which is very green and quite crowded, no brokeback mountain boys though. Walk through to the western gate and see many people playing football under the walls, and some little ones decide to start the third intifada by throwing stones, no idea why. Bought some cakes before finding Bab Antakya, going back to our not very nice al-Gawahir hotel and getting a taxi to the out-of-town bus station in the ever-thickening mist, before catching an al-Aliydah bus down to Hama, where Abdullah is waiting for us!

Saturday – Hama, Salamiye

Sunday – Hama, Apamea, Serjilla, Damascus

Monday – a late-ish start for a terrible breakfast. No news about our flight so we take the 10.30 shuttle bus into town, where we soon find out that we are on the 17.35 flight to Istanbul. Disappointing in that we miss a day in Damascus but at least we will be flying before the fog comes down. As it happens, the day is cloudy, so no fog to worry about. Wander down to main road and the market just below the Citadel, no time to develop photos of the butchers from the other market. We meet up with Omar, the Egyptian guy from New York and the Syrian guy from Coventry. Bus to airport, check-in, wait, catch flight, problems at Istanbul airport, finally get taken to a dreadful Corendon package tour hotel, rubbish buffet dinner but great company. We are just too tired (and have a bit of a cold) and an early start and no money so no trip into town. Pity. In the meantime, Sergey has been delayed and has to fly through Vienna. I have arranged for Henk to pick him up from the airport and after about 40 sms’es and some telephone calls, it a;ll wporks out and Sergey makes it safely to his hotel.

Tuesday – woken up at 4 and again at 5 and then 6, in plenty of time for flight back to Amsterdam, flying over sunny Europe and cloudy and frost Holland. Henk picks us up and then helps Fred with buying booze for the NYE party and I go out to find Sergey at his hotel in Sarphatipark. We go to Albert Cuyp, lunch at Bazaar, walk to Leidseplein, Rembarndtsplein, Utrechtsestraat before giving him a lift on back of bike (he falls off) back home. I cook the spaghetti all’amatriciana, Fred makes the salad. We watch Beautiful Thing while it snows outside, quite big flakes. We get a taxi for Sergey and then watch the Strictly Final. Video cuts out just before the result but we catch it on youtube and Chris and Ola win! YES! Fred not so happy but his fave won last year so he cannot complain.

Wednesday – most of snow has melted into dirty sludge, back in the office, no delays on trains, no snow outside of Amsterdam, Fred takes Sergey around Amsterdam, banned from red light district and Nieuwmarkt – ha ha!

Omar, the Damascene butcher

Omar, the butcher, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

It is always nice to come back to a place and see familiar faces, especially handsome friendly ones like Omar's. I was able to give him some prints of the photos we made in March as well as getting some of these printed.

We used to find it difficult to take photos of butchers in Syria, having been asked not to in the souks of both Aleppo and Hama. However, the Damascene butchers seem to be a lot happier to be photographed. I have some of Ibrahim and his friends to upload later/another day.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

While shepherds watched their flocks - С Рождеством

Merry Christmas to our Russian friends - here a Christmas scene from Syria.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A different three

A different three, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

While we are surrunded by another fall of snow - maybe another 4 cms to add to the one we already had, here is a flashabck to a fortnight ago on Christmas Eve on our journey up from Damascus to Aleppo.

Will start posting more of the Syria photos quite soon.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Time to say 'uvidimsya' to our friend Sergey

We had to say 'goodbye' and 'see you soon' or 'uvidimsya' to Sergey this morning as he caught his flight back to Odessa, through Warsaw.

It has been a real pleasure to have him to stay with us, not only to repay the hospitality he showed us in Odessa but to have such a cheerful, enthusiastic, interested and amusing chap around us for a week.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Here is Sergey in the snow in Amsterdam with his Lomo camera.

Money money!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Our local church

Shapes and shadows, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Having a guest to stay is often a good excuse to visit places in the city one usually does not visit. So, apart from the (very busy) Amsterdam Sex Museum, we also visited our (slightly less busy) local church.

It is a Catholic Church, built also in the Amsterdam School style, which used to be called the Martyrs of Gorinchem, to commemorate the Catholics who were raped and murdered by the Protestants a few hundred years ago, but has now taken on a politically-correct and insipid name which I cannot even remember. Anyway, it was Sunday morning and the doors were open and the church looked magnificent in the bright winter sunshine.

It was shortly after visiting the church that we saw the sign of the cross reflecting off the ice as seen below!

On ice - a sign from God, or Jesus, or whoever

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A first visit to Amsterdam for our dear flickr friend

Friday, January 01, 2010

On New Year's Day

On New Year's Day, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

A beautiful way to start the new year. After our wonderful party, we woke up to a beautiful sunny day with snow on the ground. Sergey and I took the bikes out for a ride around North Holland, to Waterland and back through North Amsterdam, while Fred took to his bed to recover from the hard work in preparing the partyand the stress of the problems with Turkish Airlines.

The track to the right is a cycle path, going through the countryside. One of the joys of living in Holland.

Welcome to a new decade

Welcome to a new decade, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

... my sixth!

We tsarted in the best possible way, with a delightful party at our house, not too many people, but just the right people for a relaxed and friendly evening, with plenty of drink and delicious food and eventually dancing, champagne, freworks and more dancing until 4 o'clock in the morning. Perfect-! And even better considering that I didn't have the least bit of a headache the next day, hence the wonderful cycle ride through the wintry landscape of Waterland.

The dancing started with a 12 inch record of Sabrina's Boys Boys Boys, with that irresistable bouncy beat, followed by gems such as Radar Love by Golden Earring, This Is My Life by Shirley Bassey, Blockbuster by The Sweet, Dynamite by Mud, Proud Mary by Ike and Tina Turner, Make Me Smile by Cockney Rebel, Umbrella by Rihanna and Knock On Wood by Ami Stewart. A perfect way to start the new decade.

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