Holland: Haarlem

On day 3 i visited a town called Haarlem, this is another pretty town (ok, you are getting the idea lol…Holland is a beautiful place to go and visit). The history of Holland is worth reading up on. This town was occupied by the Germans during World War II, and so has a story to tell. To learn a bit of it’s history we visited a house /museum at Barteljorisstraat 19, 2011 RA Haarlem called the Corrie Ten Boom House. This was originally a watch shop and home (the home is attached behind and above the shop) that was lived in by Corrie Ten Boom and her family. She was a Dutch Christian who, along with other family members, helped Jews escape the Nazis during World War II. Her family  acted as a ‘safe house’ and refuge for Jews during the occupation. A secret room was built in Corrie’s bedroom to hide the Jews in.  It was small (no wider than a young man’s shoulders and long enough to hold 6 people (cramped). A buzzer was also installed to alert everyone of danger.  Hundreds of Jewish people were saved by this family.  Ultimately, Corrie and her family were arrested after being betrayed by a fellow Dutch countryman.  The day they were arrested Corrie had been ill and was in bed.  The man who betrayed them came to the house seeking help from her family to get his wife released (whom he said had been arrested). He said he needed money and knew that they helped Jews, so could they help him.  He was sent upstairs to see Corrie.  Though she said there was something odd about the man’s eyes, she offered to help. He left the house and later the Nazis came to the house.  Fortunately Corrie and her family had enough time to hide the Jews who were in the house, in the secret room.  The Nazis came, arrested Corrie and her family and searched the house for the Jews, but didn’t find the hiding place (which was behind a solid wall with access via a linen closet). The family were taken to concentration camps and all died except for Corrie. (The 6 Jews, who were hiding in the house, were later rescued by the Resistance 3 days later).  Corrie was released unexpectedly soon after her sister died (10 months after they were arrested) and just before the Nazis made a new rule of sending all women over 45 years to the gas chamber (Corrie was 50 years old). As a Christian Corrie could see God’s hand in all that happened and, while her sister was alive, was continually reminded by her sister that Jesus is Victor (they had a plaque on the wall in their house that reminded them of this as they grew up) and that one day they would tell the world their story and what God had done for them during this time. As i mentioned, only Corrie survived but she spent the rest of her life travelling around the world and sharing her story of Jesus’ victory. This is a great place to visit, you will see the small space the Jews hid in and also have a tour of the home.  Entry and tour is free and the tour lasts about an hour.  You will find the entry to the house behind the watch shop, be there early as they only let in 20 people at a time for a tour.
   

     The plaque translated as ‘Jesus is Victor’

The rest of my time in Haarlem was spent looking at shops etc.  went into my first Lush store (lol ok this information is probably only for you female readers), great place and the prices are considerably cheaper than in America.

Germany: Gottingen

I arrived in Gottingen, Germany by IC train (from Paris) 2 weeks ago.  On the first leg of the route I was served a full meal and given free drinks which was great.  The second leg of the trip I was served a tiny (or rather miniscule) bag of sweets and the tea/coffee was not complimentary.  Quite a contrast between the two legs.  The trains were on time and the connections on route were easy to follow.  I found that the staff on both trains spoke English and were very helpful.  

Some things I have observed about Germany so far: 

1) The Germans are very friendly, though not many smile at you when you smile at them…my son explained that it was a cultural thing.  

2) The Germans LOVE cakes etc and they are very cheap to buy, in fact food is a lot cheaper here than in France.  

3) They use bikes here like the Dutch, sooooo many bikes around. Saying that, while walking you need to make sure you are walking on the correct side of the path (one side is for bikes, the other for pedestrians), otherwise you will get ran over. 

4) Using buses is easy, and they run very frequently and on time.

5) You can’t buy large packets of ANYTHING 😳. Everything is sold in small packets, makes buying ingredients for baking frustrating, but hilarious to try to work out what is what ingredient in the shops ie baking powder lol.  I must look very strange to the Germans, I walk around with my phone held up to items to use Google Translate to read what the labels say lol.

6) During the war, Germany and the UK agreed not to bomb university cities, that has meant that Gottingen still has lots of buildings from the 1500’s etc.  

7) The Germans love to practice their English.  Often I ask if they speak English and they say ‘ohhh only a little’, and then promptly hold a conversation with me in perfect English…wow I wish I knew German ‘only a little’.

All in all Germany has been a big surprise for me. It is a beautiful place with very warm and welcoming people in it.

Safety while travelling alone: being followed

Today I was followed by a man, when I walked from the city centre to Montmartre, in broad daylight. Though this was disconcerting, I automatically slipped into ‘alert’ mode.  For those that I have taught self defence to, what I am about to say will just be a reminder.  When out walking, don’t walk with your ear buds in (it means you can’t hear what or who is approaching you), keep to busy areas, be aware of your surroundings, if followed either slow down and look in a shop window (to let them pass), or try to outwalk the person or run. Head to a shop or busy restaurant/coffee shop and above all try to keep calm.  I did all these things; I tried to outwalk him, then slowed down to let him overtake me (but after overtaking he would slow down until I had passed him), I crossed the road and he followed (did this numerous times) I also kept a ‘proximity awareness’ of where he was at all times (eventually he was walking so close to me I could hear his breathing). At this stage I headed to a supermarket where they have security guards (here in Paris). My plan was to approach the security guards, if he followed me into the shop, and tell them about him. Fortunately for him (after following me for 25mins) he wasnt game to enter the shop and literally disappeared.  Before leaving the shop I looked around and checked he couldnt be seen before heading back to the studio. 

Some additional advice: if he produces a weapon, scream and run towards people, and don’t stop screaming. If he threatens to shoot you, still run, it’s harder to hit a moving object and if you don’t know him then he is less likely to start shooting at you but instead will head off for an easier target. If he grabs you then fight, scratch, kick and continue to scream. Try to get away to a busy area, shop/home etc and seek help.  And ultimately my advice is: learn self defence…it empowers you, helps to protect yourself and may one day save your life.



Moulin Rouge, Montmartre graveyard, Montmartre vineyard

So, to get to the graveyard you walk up the main street past the Moulin Rouge…well I was kinda expecting the following pretty scene (but in daylight):

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but instead this is the scene:

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IMG_7767Ok, I’m going to be honest here and say…it looks tacky, the signage is getting old and faded, the windmill doesnt look that good either. I have to admit I was a bit surprised and really let down, my expectations of it were from paintings and photos I had seen around, but it isnt anything special. Also note the very long queues outside of it (see pics) and there were many people taking pictures of it.

I moved on, not far from there is the turning to head to the Montmartre cemetary. Now, don’t do what i did and get to the end of the road and head up the stairs instead of entering the cemetery at the base of the stairs. This is the only entrance at the moment, the other one at the other end of the cemetery was blocked off.

The list of names of ‘famous’ people buried there was long, and the cemetery has laminated maps you can take around with you, just at the entrance on the left past the building (before the map on the sign). This is REALLY helpful because this cemetery is packed with graves, and it would be like playing ‘Where’s Wally’ if you tried to find certain graves without that handy map. The oldest grave i found was from the 1700’s. It was a peaceful place to spend some time (one guy was even asleep on a bench in there…well ummm I think he was asleep 😳).

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I headed to the Montmartre vineyard after this, it turns out that the vineyard is right by the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. The walk to the vineyard from the graveyard was really pleasant (here are some pics of the streets I walked through

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It didn’t take me long to get to the vineyard from the graveyard (approx 15 mins) with a steep climb up a hill. The vineyard is on a small block of land on the corner of two residential roads, it is filled with grapevines, but is a very small vineyard. I personally wouldn’t go there again.

IMG_7772 from there I walked back up to the Basilique and then back down towards my studio. Again, as like last Sunday, there was a large number of police and army around the base of the Basilique.

Basilique du Sacre-Coeur and Pigalle

Walking up the steps to the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur today made me realise I am getting fitter. I managed to get to the top without looking like someone who should be offered an oxygen mask lol (ok the other day I was recovering from a bad virus I had brought with me from the USA…well that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it 😉 )

Today the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur was a lot busier. I heard mainly French and other European accents. There were still guys trying to give you a tread bracelet and again I said ‘Non!’ But this time one of them grabbed my arm (fortunately for him I just pulled it sharply away, my self defence training would say grab his fingers and bend 😳). I read up about what these guys are doing. It seems it used to be kids that did this in the past, and once you took the bracelet they then demanded payment :-/

Later I walked towards Pigalle to try to find a place that sold a large mug (a girl needs a large cup of tea in the morning). Once i got to Pigalle station the shops changed from places with the normal tourist souvenirs to sex shops. The area past Pigalle is the sex trade area and also where you find the Moulin Rouge. What surprised me, was that this change in shops didn’t happen gradually it just suddenly changed and yet there were still couples and families walking down the road past all this. As a friend said to me today…this is all part of the French culture.

Here’s some photos of the area around the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur:

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