A Visit to Moco

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Near to the Rijksmuseum, there’s a much smaller gallery called Moco.

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They had, and still have I think, a substantial exhibition dedicated to the work of Banksy. I found it immensely enjoyable. I think this Mickey Mouse swallowing constrictor was my favourite, but it was a close run thing.

There was another exhibition – which sadly looked more interesting on their web page than it did in reality.

They also had artworks from their permanent collection which I think had been selected as being precursors of Banksy or in some way relevant to his work. I seem to remember works by Warhol, Koons, and Lichtenstein amongst others.

I was more impressed by these paintings by Keith Haring…

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…and this…

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…by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Little S, meanwhile, not always a lover of art galleries, was very taken by this sculpture in the small garden outside…

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A Visit to Moco

Amsterdam

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One reason, possibly, why I’ve fallen so far behind with the blog, is that I’ve struggled to know what to say about Amsterdam. TBH and I have wanted to visit Amsterdam for a very long time, but when we got there is was extremely busy and much, much too hot. I didn’t want to go to the Anne Frank house, the kids weren’t really struck with the idea of the Rijksmuseum, and we couldn’t book a boat to tour the canals despite all of TBH’s efforts.

I took lots of photographs of massed bicycles, and impressive architecture and canals and such like, but looking at them now – they’re a bit rubbish to be honest. My heart can’t have been in it. So – just a couple of photos. The first, taken by a waitress, is from a little road side cafe where we had a superb lunch. Decent vegan food even! The boys had burgers, which became a bit of a theme for a while, although in Germany they discovered the delights of Schnitzel, which became their new favourite. I had a delicious salad and really enjoyed the cafe’s soundtrack of 70’s reggae and 80’s rap. I even managed to smile for a photo, which is virtually unheard of.

We did walk ‘through’ the Rijksmuseum – there’s an archway/tunnel which walkers and cyclists can use – and were all impressed by the giant spider sculptures in the gardens…

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These are the work of Louise Bourgeois apparently – you can find out more here.

We were on our way to another, much smaller gallery, of which more to follow…

Amsterdam

Wormerveer

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Wormerveer was the first stop off on our summer tour, chosen due to its proximity to Amsterdam.

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I rather liked the place. The river Zaan flows through, and there’s lots of traffic on the river to watch. Canals abound too. Chocolate is made there and the smell of cocoa is pervasive.

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We didn’t book breakfast on the overnight ferry and by the time we’d found our accommodation, settled in and had a bit of a wander, we were all starving. Time to find something to eat. The boys tucked in to huge burgers whilst the vegans had lettuce and chips – from our limited experience, not all restaurants in Holland are geared up to serve vegans.

I had the house special…

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…a croquette, a glass of onion soup and carpaccio, which I enjoyed, although it seems like an odd combination with hindsight.

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Our home, for the couple of days that we were in Wormerveer, was an old wooden house, by a canal. Charming, but quite small. The kids loved the fact that it had a pinball machine and an arcade machine with lots of old games on it – Pacman, Space Invaders, Defender and probably lots more. It was hard for me to get a look in, but I enjoyed the pinball, at least, that was, until the boys started posting scores which exceeded my own best effort, at which point I found that I much preferred to hide behind the book I was reading – ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’, which, fortunately, was very entertaining.

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The temperatures were a bit crazy whilst we were there, which made sleep a bit elusive. A late night stroll did bring some relief – and some interesting views of the Zaan.

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Wormerveer

An Unexpected Windfall

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This photo, of the footpath through the woods at the edge of Holgates Caravan park, is the only one I took during yet another weekend ascent of Arnside Knott. Once again, I waited too long, on a bright and sunny afternoon, hoping to catch a spectacular sunset, but fell foul of a huge mass of cloud in the western sky which swallowed up the sun without putting on any kind of show.

I’m trying to climb the Knott as often as I can at present. I am in training after all.

I’ve used the Knott as an outdoor gym in the past too. Most notably in the winter of 1999 and the spring of 2000, when I was preparing for a summer trip to the Andes.

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My first view of the Cordillera Blanca.

This was an expensive trip, lasting a full five weeks. The kind of thing I’d never done before, and haven’t since when I think about it. It’s unlikely that I would ever have saved up enough to go, but the impetus came from an unlikely source. Cutting a long story short, I was involved in a high speed collision on the motorway with an articulated lorry. Miraculously, I emerged from the wreck of my car almost unscathed, physically at least, but I did eventually receive a small compensation payment which gave me a head start towards the money I needed for the holiday.

I’d booked to join a trek in the Cordillera Blanca, around Alpamayo, which is considered by some people to be the world’s most beautiful mountain, although that’s highly subjective, of course.

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Having met up in Lima, the group spent a week acclimatising in Huaraz. The photo above shows a view across the town to Huarascán, Peru’s highest mountain.

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Perhaps because I’d climbed Arnside Knott so many times in preparation for the trip, it became the measure of all ascents during the trek. Some of the climbs to passes were huge, so I made them seem more manageable by dividing them into 150m sections, and ticked off each multiple of Arnside Knott as it passed. It’s a habit that has stuck, and which I seem to have passed on to my friend the Tower Captain. I estimate that my 10 in 10 challenge entails close to 13 Arnside Knotts, which is hopefully not an unlucky omen.

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Later in my Peruvian trip, I also travelled to Cuzco and Machu Picchu. I took hundreds of photos on my old Nikon SLR and when I got the films developed I took up the option to have electronic copies on compact discs as well as prints. Sadly, the discs all seem to be corrupted in some way and so I’ve only managed to download a handful of photos, all from the Cordillera Blanca.


In the summer, I shall be attempting to complete the annual 10 in 10 challenge. Briefly, the idea is to walk a route over 10 Wainwrights in 10 hours or less.  You can find out more here.

The event is a fundraiser and I’m hoping to get some sponsorship for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. My Just Giving page is here. All donations, however small, will be most welcome. I should add that the sponsorship is not a condition of my entry and that I’ve already paid a fee to enter which covers all costs, so all sponsor money would go directly to charity.

 

An Unexpected Windfall

Grand Falls and the Billy Goat Trail

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Apparently, the weather we had whilst we were in the States was unseasonably cool. Living as we do on the 54th parallel, in the North-Wet of England, we’re used to cold rainy summers, so we thought it was hot, hot, hot. With an open-air swimming pool just around the corner, I think the kids would have been happy if we’d never ventured far from our base for the fortnight.

But we did get out to explore the area a little. The wide, watery expanses of the Potomac were a bit of a draw.

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I’m pretty sure that this is a bald eagle flying high over the river…..

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I didn’t really mention birds in the last post, but the bird-watching opportunities were every bit as fantastic as the entomological  and herpetological delights on offer. Once again, I rarely knew what I was seeing, but colourful and striking kingfishers, several humming birds, red-winged blackbirds, goldfinches (quite different from our goldfinches) and the bright pink cardinals which are a symbol of Virginia.

We saw lots of mammals too. As well as the beaver/muskrat at Huntley meadows, lots of deer….

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…. a groundhog, foxes red and grey, but no racoons, which we’d been led to believe are ten-a-penny locally.

One particularly memorable outing took us along the Billy Goat Trail, alongside the Potomac, but a little upstream of where we staying.

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It was bouldering walking through low trees, but little W was determined to do it all himself.

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It wasn’t exactly a wilderness walk – Saturday morning and there were lots of people about, but we saw no end of wildlife, including a snake, lots of large birds of prey by the river, turtles, herons, fish…

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In places the path crossed entirely rocky areas, where the route was marked with splashes of paint.

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There was even one section of scrambling – where an orderly queue had formed to clamber up the rocks.

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It was a superb little outing, but the heat and the exertion had completely taken it out of W….

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But our trip wasn’t over yet, we had a picnic to come. And there was an added bonus nearby….

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…Grand Falls. Not a high waterfall, but wide with an awful lot of water flowing through. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that this photo conveys just how large and spectacular they were. I’ve certainly never seen anything quite like it.

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A final shot of the pool. There’s something very exotic about being able to swim in an unheated outdoor pool in the evening without the need to first lather-up with goose fat.

The first thing S asked me as our plan touched down in Manchester?

“Dad, when can we go to America again?”

Grand Falls and the Billy Goat Trail

Virginia, plain?

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So. Back in the summer – yes, we really had a summer, seems a long time ago now doesn’t it? – back in the summer, when the weather was, for the first time in living memory, genuinely summery, we went away. Can you guess where we were?

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Now you know!

We went to visit my in-laws: the Professor (hi A!) and the Rocket Scientist – how fulfilling must it be to work in a place where you can say: “It is rocket science!” But I digress, both from the truth* and from the story of our holiday. We were staying in Virginia, close to Alexandria, which in turn is close to Washington DC – hence the photo with good ole Abe.

We did many of the things you might expect tourists to do – the presidential memorials, the Smithsonian’s many museums etc, (try the Native American museum’s cafe – superb!), Mount Vernon (George Washington’s house), and some less obvious ones – Fort Washington on the Maryland bank of the Potomac, Chicago live at Wolf Trap (an interesting experience – my sister-in-law was given tickets, she thought at first for a production of the musical Chicago – when she realised that in fact it was the band Chicago, I think she thought they might be more age-appropriate for TBH and I. You know Chicago – all the hits, like ‘If You Leave Me Now’, and, erm, er…..Well anyway, TBH liked the singing, but hated the musical interludes (“Too many notes”). I felt the opposite – a bit Jack Spratt and spouse).

It was a great trip –  a fabulous family get together, great to meet two nephews who we’ve only ever spoken to on Skype before.

And….all the wildlife! Who knew? Not me certainly.

Close to where we stayed was a fabulous place called Huntley Meadows. The land here once belonged to George Mason (one of the Founding Fathers) and was farmland, but it’s now a wetland surrounded by forest.

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The wetland is amazing, with an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. The first striking thing was the number and variety of turtles around. These were relatively small specimens, but we also saw much larger ones swimming out in deeper water.

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On our first visit, we struck lucky and this fellow….

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…swam along a channel straight towards us, then under the boardwalk where we stood and into a large beaver lodge (well it seemed large to me, though I’m not really qualified to say – it’s the first one I ever saw!). The kids were adamant that it was a beaver, and they may well be right, but if it was, it was relatively small for a beaver. Maybe it’s a muskrat? B is sure that it had the wide tail characteristic of a beaver and he’s pretty sharp where natural history is concerned. Either way – we were all very excited.

Less dramatic, but equally fascinating, several bushes nearby had been completely stripped of leaves by these large caterpillars….

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..and these too….

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On subsequent visits we spotted some smaller cousins….

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And in many places we visited we saw tent webs, some quite large…

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…which were full of little wrigglers….

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Of course, where there are caterpillars, there are likely to be butterflies and moths too. And there were. We saw them everywhere we went. In the car park of the local mall, a huge dilapidated hawkmoth. In the woods at Huntley Meadows, this rather muted and well camouflaged butterfly, which perversely, is perhaps my favourite amongst the many we saw…

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And there really were a lot. Large swallowtails were most notable, but the variety in shape and size and colour was astonishing. And all of them new and unknown to us – except, surprisingly, for a handful of Red Admirals. Here’s a small sample….

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As I say, we saw butterflies just about everywhere, but most of these photos were taken at River Farm, the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society, which is on the banks of the Potomac. A wildflower meadow there was particularly rich in insect and bird life. (Imagine a British wildflower meadow on steroids – everything way over head height, huge flowers, huge bees and wasps etc)

Huntley Meadows also had a huge variety of dragonflies. but they were even more elusive than the butterflies and so will have to be represented by just one photo…

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One memorable feature of our stay was the constant loud racket of cicadas. At Wolf Trap – which is an outdoor venue – they were louder than the band. These insects live initially underground as nymphs, but then crawl up a tree to emerge, like a dragonfly does, from their skins. Here is the exuvia (discarded exoskeleton) of a cicada….

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We saw three on the bark of a tree by the Potomac in Washington. And sheltering under the bark of the same tree…

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An adult cicada.

I suspect that this is another….

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…probably of a different species. B found it at River Farm.

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It was dead, and therefore very amenable to being photographed from different angles.

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Another River Farm tenant…

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Here’s the building at River Farm….

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…taken from one of the paths through the meadow. The gnarly old tree in the foreground had my attention because I was both interested and slightly wary of the bustle of activity around the small hollow in it’s trunk…

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I had decided not to take my ‘bulky’ camera away with me – a decision which I began to regret almost immediately we arrived. The rest of the family all had point and snaps with them and at various times I borrowed them all. Some of these photos I took, but not by any means all of them.

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One insect we took a close interest in, but didn’t photograph, were the fireflies which whizzed around the garden every evening as it grew dark. Prof A organised a hunt and the kids had soon filled a jam-jar with them. (Well – not filled, but they had caught a lot.)

Of course wherever there are bugs, there are bound to be predators.

I’m not sure whether this arachnid, photographed in the woods at Huntley Meadows, is a spider or a harvestman.

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These frogs, very green and quite large relative to British frogs, were numerous at Huntley meadows…

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I think that it may be the American Bullfrog.

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These two species of tiny frogs…

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…may have been equally numerous, but we only saw a few, and then only thanks to eagle-eyed B spotting the first of them.

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I found a helpful website on the frogs of Virginia (there seem to be many species) and I think that this may be the Spring Peeper.

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The centre of these large leaves seem to be popular with small frogs. This…

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….is a green treefrog, the pale stripe is pretty distinctive. Here’s another….

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I’ve never seen a treefrog in the wild before, but this was only one of many firsts.

We saw a couple of small snakes during our visit, and quite a few lizards.

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Including a Komodo Dragon (another first)…

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But that was at Washington Zoo!

*I’m not sure that, strictly speaking, Dr A is a rocket scientist, although she is an astrophysicist and she does work for NASA, so how much closer can you get?

Virginia, plain?