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Adventures in Limburg

Considering the fact that we never left Amsterdam until halfway through the afternoon, it's hardly surprising we barely made it to the border on the first day of our holiday. But what the heck - we were free! And Maastricht is actually quite a nice town for a stop-over. It's quite un-Dutch in appearance, boasting stone-clad houses with French mansarde roofs, cobbled roads and pavements, with the rolling Limburg hills surrounding it and the wide, fast-flowing Meuse dissecting it; and its inhabitants that speak an incomprehensible dialect to our spoilt Western ears. I'd been there before, but not recently, and it was nice to reacquaint myself with it again.

We checked in to a cheap hotel in the seedier part of town and while I had a leisurely soak, Peronne, ever the gourmet and wine buff, wasted no time in booking us a reservation in a top cuisinier's restaurant - which in these times of economic recession, proved not as hard as it could have been. Besides, Mondays are always a slow night in any restaurant - or so I'm told. The food was excellent, the wines scrumptious, but when the bill arrived, it took me quite an effort of will not to blanch.

The following morning, we were glad to discover that the car and all its wheels and hubcaps was still there (locals had warned us it might not be, parked where it was, ominously adding "especially a car as fine as that"), enjoyed our breakfast, then packed up our things and checked out...and found that we'd mislaid the car keys. Well, Peronne had mislaid the car keys. I was sure of that. Last I had seen them I'd put them on the desk in our room. Right next to the television. I could picture them there clearly. But according to her, they weren't there when we went downstairs. "Oh go on up and check, you'll see', I said and rolled my eyes meaningfully at the desk clerk. Vicars!

She came down again insistent that they were not in the room, and suggested we search my luggage. What?! I didn't have them! Muttering that if you want a job done properly, I went up to the room next. And searched and searched. Nothing. The cleaning staff came in and helped me look, but in a small space such as our en suite, there were only so many places we could look; so many waste-paper-baskets to overturn. Nothing. Not a thing.

Downstairs, Pee was quietly going insane, going through her luggage and bag once more. She arranged with the desk clerk that we could leave our stuff in a closed off room in the hotel while we went to find a solution to our problem, and we were going over the possibilities when I absent-mindedly dipped my hand into the secret compartment of my handbag, and -much to my total surprise- produced the missing car keys. How on earth had they gotten in there? I couldn't remember putting them away. Still can't.
We were elated. We did a little dance of joy in the hotel lobby. And then decided to go out and celebrate our narrow escape in the time honoured tradition of women everywhere: this called for a shopping spree! So we left the hotel and headed back into town.

Nothing could spoil our good mood. Not even the occasional showers that caused us to take refuge in several pubs. Not even the cold blasts of wind that prompted us to order tea and rum in every one of them. Suddenly, we found ourselves in front of an Australian restaurant. Australian! Bush tucka! Now this bore investigating! Turned out they didn't serve any koala, termites or kangaroo; but big hunks of BBQ-ed meat with a side order of chunky chips and a pitiful amount of salad. The meat tasted fantastic though - the secret must be in the marinade.
Peronne, ever the weltfremd vicar and wine buff, caused a bit of a stir when she asked for champagne, and when told they didn't serve any, compounded her gaff by asking to see the wine list. The proprietor, who came from Perth, went back behind the bar, scribbled something on a slip of paper, and handed it to her with a flourish. It read: 'RED, WHITE'. I thought I'd die laughing.

Having had our lunch, we went out exploring again. There are some lovely design and antique shops in Maastricht and we spent the rest of the afternoon ooh-ing and aaah-ing in several of them. Peronne thought she might buy a ruby glass decanter and glassware but decided against it on grounds of practicality. We were only on the first leg of our tour and who knows whether she'd be able to bring them back home safely and in one piece? I fell in love with a pair of shoes and matching handbag, but after taking several turns around the centre, couldn't find the shop again...so those will forever be engraved on my memory as the ones that got away.
Never mind, it started raining again. I pressed up to a shop window to get out of it...and spotted one of my other passions: millinery! Rows upon rows of the most beautifully designed hats. They called to me, I had to go in. Peronne needed no prompting. She loves hats as much as I do. It's a residual thing from our time in England (we both studied there: I in Leicester, and Peronne in Oxford) - The Netherlands is a fine country, but not very hat-friendly. Only the Queen and her daughters-in-law wear them, and I shouldn't wonder if they get theirs in London, too.

It took me about 2 minutes to decide which one out of the hundreds of hats on display in the shop was the one for me. A wide-rimmed classic design in black and white, with a wriggly bit and three small white feathers on the side. Pee took a bit longer to find hers, and practically tried every last one in the shop. Meanwhile, we chatted with the proprietress, about the quality of English millinery (I'd been right about the provenance of the items in the shop), belcanto (her hobby) and being in love (turned out she was having a torrid affair with a fine upstanding but very married citizen of note in Maastricht, and was now in the fifth year of her illicit passion). In return, Pee bent her ear about her recently discovered Mr. Wonderful, and finally settled on a dark blue, beautifully crafted but otherwise unremarkable hat...very suitable for a vicar but missing that certain je ne sais quoi...I took another look around and spotted a red one with a stylised flower on the front, and persuaded her to try that one instead. Once she saw her reflection, she agreed that that was a much better choice for her, and we got our hats at a discount; because the woman had enjoyed chatting with us so much. 32 and a half euros off mine, and 10 euros off Pee's (mine was the more expensive choice still), and she threw in a pair of hand-crafted beaded jewellery boxes as well. All in all, we were well-pleased with our purchases!

We now went back to the hotel, collected our luggage and showed off our hats to the desk clerk still on duty, and were relieved to find that the car was still there were we had left it. It took us only a minute to find the car keys, and with David Bowie prophetically singing 'Weaving down a byroad/singing the song/that's my kind of high road/gone wrong!' in the background, we hit the motorway.



( 21 Speak Like A Child — Shout To The Top )
May. 20th, 2003 04:30 am (UTC)
I am living vicariously through you, G - loving the commentary about your trip! I look forward to hearing more.

May. 20th, 2003 08:13 am (UTC)
*snort* - sounds fun - was he married?

You should do this professionally. Ever considered travel journalism?

May. 20th, 2003 10:39 pm (UTC)
You should do this professionally. Ever considered travel journalism?

Professionally? You think so? I'm flattered! Excuse me a moment while I daydream of sandy beaches and palms swaying in the breeze, and someone paying me for jotting down a few more clichés like that...
Jun. 3rd, 2003 06:35 am (UTC)
Oh, I must second that. This is fun, moves along, and is very vivid. Okay, and I do keep thinking that you might pass through a little town called Triere, but that's not likely, really.
Jun. 3rd, 2003 07:20 am (UTC)
No, not on this trip...but maybe next time! Who knows, Germany is a big place, and somehow I always seem to end up there when I least intend to. Hanover in 2000, Berlin last year; I'm starting to feel quite at home there really...

And as for the other thing - well *erm* you have me blushing now.
Jun. 3rd, 2003 07:40 am (UTC)
Re: Triere?
Good writing is rare,and as bitchy as I can be with bad writers, I feel it's also important to encourage good ones.

I have family members from Triere, but I'm not sure which ones, frankly.

And your bio says you're an archeologist? Any chance you've a speciality in Egyptology? Mum's family had lots of Egyptologists in some branches, at least when I was a tiny kid. I used to have a favorite Pharaoh when I was a kid, the way others have favorite rock stars. Terribly geeky. It was Akhenaten, which is totally useless information, but I haven't had nearly enough tea yet.
Jun. 3rd, 2003 08:05 am (UTC)
Re: Triere?
Actually, my speciality is in Etruscan/Roman/Byzantine architecture and city planning...but as I was married to an Egyptologist once, some knowledge of that discipline's rubbed off on me as well.

Akhenaten's always been one of my favourite pharaohs as well. Him, Seqenenre Tao and Usermare Setepenre (Ramesses the Great). Have you ever been to Egypt?
Jun. 3rd, 2003 08:10 am (UTC)
Re: Triere?
No, not yet. I swear, if I ever get this book published and become a successful writer, I have a list of places I really, really, want to go. Thus far, I've pretty much covered Europe, mostly the countries of the former USSR, and Asia. Ironically enough, I've yet to go to an English-speaking country. I love to travel. I just love it.

See, I've always had a great deal of affection for Hatshepsut, too. Never been much impressed with Nefertiti, although her image appears everywhere. Her mother in law seems like she was a fascinating figure, though. Have you read Evelyn Wells? Out of print, now, unfortunately, but she, more than my relatives, got me hooked on history, and Egyptian history at that.
Jun. 4th, 2003 12:14 am (UTC)
Re: Egyptian personages
I love to travel, too - for some reason, I'm always at my best when I'm just passing through. I've met most of my friends that way!

Joyce Tyldesley's done some excellent biographies of both Nefertete and Hatshepsut (as well as one on Cleopatra, but we're talking Egyptian, not Ptolemaic history here), and her study on the daily lives of women in ancient Egypt is also very much worth a read; and Donald Redford's published a very informative study of Akhenaten back in the 80s which was re-published, with new chapters added, a few years ago. Can't say I've read Evelyn Wells (name doesn't ring a bell), but there's Patricia Gedge and Christian Jacq, although neither author's writing style has succeeded in fully drawing me in yet.

I agree with you that Teye must have been a fascinating woman, and I hope some day someone will be able to find enough material to get their Muse busy and write a brilliant book about her. I'm also quite fond of her granddaughter, Anchsenpa'aton, who took the unprecedented step of begging the Hittite king for a husband; and rather curious as to Sobekneferu Sobekkare's history (last pharoah of the 12th dynasty, she ruled for a mere 4 years and left very few monuments behind).
Jun. 4th, 2003 04:11 am (UTC)
Re: Egyptian personages
Okay, I've got a confession to make---for a while, I was so immersed in this stuff, that we had nicknames for the various pharaohs, just so we could tell the Amenhoteps apart. Ah, yes, the problems that dogged my adolescence; telling three-thousand years past ancient historical personages apart.

Most of the newer research has passed me by, I'm afriad, as the older members of my family have passed away, but now I'll have something to bug the librarian about. I'd forgotten about 'Sobek', though---God, how embarrassing is it, to be so intimate with a figure like that, that conversations about these figures with my uncles took on the aura of gossip, with nicknames and scandalous stories!

Oh, about travel, I love it. I can't get enough of it. I've had the good fortune to do all my travelling professionally, so I've gotten very spoiled, even if it does wind up in eighteen-hour train rides from one end of the Ykraine to the other. As long as I don't wind up in a tent, I'm a happy camper.
Jun. 4th, 2003 05:23 am (UTC)
Re: Egyptian personages
Tents...not too fond of them myself; they're just too much hassle. I'll sleep in a bed or under the stars; but in a tent, very, very rarely. Of course in Egypt, it's easy to sleep out under the stars - it hardly ever rains and when it does it's soon over. There's something very fulfilling in bunking down in your sleeping bag in an empty desert and looking up to see the moon and stars so close you can fool yourself into thinking all you have to do is stretch out your hand to pluck them from the sky.

I was in Berlin last year, and remembered to visit the Aegyptisches Museum there. Apart from the famous Nefertete bust that's right next to the entrance, and that really is stunning; there's a very small wooden carving of Teye's face in the downstairs hall, which is absolutely wonderful. She must have had such strength of character - it shows in the set of her mouth. Really lovely.

Jun. 4th, 2003 05:31 am (UTC)
Re: Egyptian personages
Are you talking about the partial bust of her as an older woman? The one that struck me was sheared off from about the top of one ear to below the opposite ear, but it showed resolve, some bitterness, and the most ferocious determination. It was interesting to think of her as Akhenaten's mother.

Damn, don't get me all interested in this stuff again! I have too many books as it is already, and this is such a wonderful interest that it demands that one buy the relevent books, and fondle them periodically.

I'm really looking for a way to send my character to Egypt, but I don't think she's going to manage it this trip. I like infrared photography, and the thought of photographing Egypt's monuments in infrared---Karnak! the Temple of Hatshepsut!----is enough to make me gulp.

Infrared film registers invisible heat, as I understand it, so stone that's been out in the sun tends to shimmer, while the sky tends to appear as black. It makes one's environment look as if it's in a perpetual thunderstorm---which sounds like heaven to me, frankly.
Jun. 4th, 2003 05:44 am (UTC)
Re: Egyptian personages
Damn, don't get me interested in this stuff again!

Pffft - you know you were never not interested in this stuff before - but I'll take the rap if it helps make you feel better...

I have too many books as it is already
One can never have too many books. They're like shoes in that respect. You know, the kind of things one cannot do without when marooned on a desert island.

And ooooh! another thunderstorm lover! My birthday's in August, and it isn't a proper one unless it ends in a thunderstorm or a few streaks of lightning at the very least.
Jun. 4th, 2003 05:58 am (UTC)
Re: Egyptian personages
Oh, I have a big old enclosed front porch, with climbing honeysuckle, climbing roses, morning glories, and lillies of the valley all about. We get thunderstorms that turn the sky so dark that the streetlights come on, and the smell of rain just permeates the house. I swear, my flowers grow an inch after a thunderstorm. I just planted pumpkins, hollyhocks, and forget-me-nots by the garage---weird but satisfying mix----and I've already got three-inch tall shoots after threedays.

I've got a friend who's trying to lure me to a 'better' neighborhood, but I'm sort of a snob, so the idea of a neighborhood full of yuppies is sort of a deterrant more than anything else. But he keeps waving built-in bookshelves and sunny breakfast nooks in my face, not to mention inglenooks with more built-in bookshelves, and fires crackling away on chilly nights. I saw one of these places, and had one room full of built-in bookshelves. And a fireplace. My books are leading me into temptation, I swear. It's all their fault.

We're supposed to get thunderstorms today, too. I full believe that the humidity does something to the scent of all these flowers, because for a while, every scent seems more intense. It's total sensory overload.
Jun. 4th, 2003 06:49 am (UTC)
your front porch
...sounds like heaven to me. But then, so does a room full of built-in bookshelves and a fireplace...Maybe you should hold off your decision until your friend can tempt you with a house that has both the porch and the bookshelves?
Jun. 4th, 2003 07:07 am (UTC)
House porn!
OH! Oh, yeah, sorry---that's a given. I hate these modern McMansions, which have these pitiful little stoops, and fourteen-foot 'cathedral ceilings' in the kitchens, like monks make dinner or something.

I've compiled a shameless wish list for the dream house that may or may not exist, and my own house is pretty damned dreamy. It's a little two-bedroom bungalow with built-ins and three stained glass windows, plus a corner lot and all the original woodwork. But my friends all live across the river from me, and they've been bugging me forever to move back. So here goes my shameless wish list--and did I mention this is utterly shameless? Totally and utterly?

Front and back porches.
Wood floors.
Corner lot.
A breakfast nook.
A real pantry.
An inglenook.
French doors somewhere.
Built-ins galore.
Lots of stained-glass. (Yes, you can find lots of this here.)
Built in bookshelves. (I've got some.)
All sorts of nooks and crannies.
Sleeping porch.
Ceiling fans. Far superior to air conditioning. I hate air conditioning. First sign of spring is that first night one can leave the windows open over night and not be chilled.
A fireplace in the bedroom. (I just missed winning a bid on a house like that, not that I'm bitter or anything.)
Big yard. Lots of space to garden, and to put bird feeders. Heaven is sitting at an east-facing breakfast nook with the morning papers, with a bird feeder outside the window and my laptop ready to go, with all the flowers climbing and curling around the window. Oh, did I mention the clematis I've got growing at the back of the house? :)

I know I'm forgetting stuff, but I just saw the most wonderful Cass-Gilbert house, and I got the contractors to let me peek inside. It had fireplaces, a pantry, a quirky floor plan, lots of nooks and crannies, but it had no yard. The third floor was the old servents' quarters, and one reached it by way of a very scary spiral staircase with three-inch wide steps, and I swear, at this / angle. Once you got to the top, it was just adorable, though. I thought it was really weird that the stairs led separated the two halves of the attic, and that there was a railing flat against the wall. I didn't want to have to jump across the stairs to get to the other side of hte attic, but it turns out, that weird little railing? Was attached to a little pull-out platform.

The attic had a bathroom and a sleeping porch (I almost said 'slapping porch' and now I'm tremendously amused) but the real piece de resistance was the loft. It was above the 'living room' space, a littel cubbyhole under a gable, not big enough to be a room, but just big enough for an almost secret little space. I was charmed.

Really, there needs to be porn about houses and floor plans to ooh and ahh over. I'd single-handedly support that industry: "Hot BREAKFAST NOOKS, waiting for YOU!" "Get a load of THESE built-ins!"

Ahem. I need to get out more.
Jun. 4th, 2003 07:36 am (UTC)
Re: House porn!
Really, there needs to be porn about houses and floor plans to ooh and ahh over. I'd single-handedly support that industry.

Sometimes I think I already do. I've got a bookcase full of books on houses, complete with the most sexiest photos, iso- and axionometric drawings, and floorplans...and when I'm feeling naughty, I take 'em out and flip through 'em!
Jun. 4th, 2003 07:39 am (UTC)
Re: House porn!
Oh, yeah, I totally agree. Really, this is a shamefully neglected porn market. I am buying a digital camera today, I hope, just for the purpose of taking pictures of a house I saw yesterday. Every one of its windows was made of stained-glass. I about died.

I'm so...easy.
Jun. 4th, 2003 07:51 am (UTC)
Re: House porn!
Stained-glass windows are so ::uhhhhhh::, wouldn't you agree?

I grew up in a house that was built around the turn of the last century, so that meant marble on the groundfloor, parquet on the 1st and floorboards on the 2nd floor; high, skilfully sculpted and plastered ceilings, fireplaces, French windows and a conservatory big enough to house several potted palms; a pantry; elaborate staircases in the 'public' part of the house (a simple one at the back for the servants) with the widest skylights you'd ever seen over them...and lots of interesting nooks and crannies that for me as a child were a delight to explore.

When my parents divorced and my sister and me went to live in a flat with our Mum, I was always walking into doors and walls at first because I just couldn't get my head round how small our living space had suddenly become.
Jun. 4th, 2003 08:03 am (UTC)
Re: House porn!
Oh, boy, the house sounds wonderful. The divorce sounds ghastly.

I live in a little bungalow now, and when my brother saw it for the first time, he gasped, "It looks just like Mamie's house!" Mamie was a great aunt I'd never met, but I'd spent time at her house. And he had pictures to prove it, too.
Jun. 4th, 2003 07:41 am (UTC)
I can also frequently be found in the catacombs of the Institute of Architecture, going through the blueprints in their collection.
( 21 Speak Like A Child — Shout To The Top )

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