Lockdown eases and ‘normality’ returns in the Netherlands

Getting out and about again
The lockdown has been eased a lot quicker in NL than in the UK. Hairdressers, restaurants, cafes, some museums and non-essential shops opened on 1st June. So it was with some excitement that Frank and I headed to The Hague to see the Stubbs exhibition in het Mauritshuis last week. I booked a slot for 2pm and as we arrived early spent some time looking at the building which houses the seat of government next to the museum.

It had been something of a trial cycling through the busy and noisy city (We parked on the outskirts of town with bikes in the back.) But once inside the museum an oasis of tranquility embraced us. We were the only customers in the cafe and it felt slightly surreal to order food (chocolate and carrot cake) and sit down and be served by someone. It was the first time we had done that in months!

Horse Painter
The George Stubbs exhibition comprises 13 paintings and 10 anatomical drawings of horses within one exhibition space. Although Stubbs is recognised as one of the most important painters of the eighteenth century in Britain, he is relatively unknown in the Netherlands and it is the first time his paintings have been shown here. Stubbs is most famous for his equestrian work but he also painted other animals such as dogs and even a kangaroo!
The life-size portrait of Whistlejacket really steals the show, dominating the room with its presence. The story goes that when Whistlejacket saw his portrait he acted as if encountering another stallion, snorting and pawing the ground with macho bravado. The owner purportedly told Stubbs he didn’t need to add a background to the painting because it had convinced the horse of its life-likeness and that was good enough for him.

Stubbs, the obsessive
In 1756 Stubbs moved into a farmhouse in a village in Lincolnshire. During an eighteen- month period he dissected 12 horses and made detailed drawings as he worked. He was particularly interested in the skeletons, muscles and tendons. In order to study the horses they were suspended from the ceiling so in the drawings they appear to be walking or standing. I will spare you the gruesome details but because there was no refrigeration in those days for transportation of carcasses, the horses did not die of natural causes although they were reportedly old.
Stubbs must have had a strong stomach and a stoical nature! Imagine the stench and horror of it all. Essentially, he needed the knowledge of horses’ anatomy to improve his skill as a painter, but in 1766 he published his drawings in ‘The Anatomy of the Horse,‘ a work which was also of great interest to scientists and vets.

Iconic Paintings
Of course, ‘the Girl with the Pearl Earring’ by Vermeer is also on display, as is, ‘the Goldfinch’ by Fabritius, along with many other iconic Dutch paintings. It was a privilege to view these artworks in so much peace. Each exhibition space allowed limited numbers of visitors. The maximum number was displayed on the threshold of each room. I highly recommend a visit to this museum, but don’t forget to reserve a slot. And above all, don’t forget the excellent chocolate cake!

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Apartment for Sale in #Amsterdam

With some sadness in our hearts, Frank and I have decided to sell our apartment in Amsterdam. Hoping to garner as much publicity as possible I am sharing it with you here! Please feel free to share on FB or whichever social media channel you prefer. Alternatively, you can use that old-fashioned but probably more effective method, word of mouth! Thank you! Click on picture below for the full ad or on Funda.

Screenshot from 2020-08-06 12-47-54

With a view over the picturesque Kostverlorenvaart, we offer a unique opportunity to live in a spacious apartment of approximately 80m2 square meters in the popular Westerpark neighborhood. From the balcony window you have a view over the canal towards one of the few remaining windmills in Amsterdam. Here you have all the amenities of the city nearby, but the apartment is very quiet if you have to work from home or just want to relax.

An elevator takes you to the first floor on your private terrace outside your front door; a lovely place to sit and dine in the summer months. Inside you will find the intercom system and a spacious bathroom on the right. On your left is a built-in wardrobe and the sleeping area. The kitchen has a hob with two induction plates, refrigerator and dishwasher. A food preparation table also serves as a breakfast bar. In the pantry is the connection for the washing machine

The seating area with floor-to-ceiling windows offers fantastic views over the canal where you can watch the boats sail by. The sliding door can be fully opened.

The apartment has a beautiful cast floor.

The apartment has a living / working destination

There is a common bicycle shed.

The apartment is a short distance from the Westerpark and the Jordaan. The Westerpark neighborhood has markets, festivals, galleries, a cinema and restaurants, which gives it a creative atmosphere in an oasis of green.

The apartment is easily accessible by both private and public transport. Various roads, including the A-10 ring road are a short drive away. in the area there are various tram and bus connections and the Central Station is also quickly accessible.

Particularities:
• Living area approx. 80m², NEN2580 measurement report available
• Double glass and cast floor in the house
• Annual land lease payments surrendered to September 30, 2048
• Owned HR central heating combi boiler from 2014
• Professional, active and healthy VVE with 64 members. Monthly contribution € 139.54
• Availability: directly

 

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Give us this Day our Daily Exercise

In these troubled times when the Corona virus is dominating our lives and restricting our freedom, it can be a challenge to find a secluded place to exercise if you live in a city like Amsterdam. Finding quiet places is especially important if you fall into the high risk category. As I have two underlying chronic conditions; asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, it’s essential I exercise somewhere not too overcrowded. Our nearest park, the Erasmuspark is only really accessible to me early morning or late evening because of excess crowds. So this morning I headed out west on my electric bike and was delighted to stumble across the oasis of peace, Heemtuin Sloterpark

Heemtuin doesn’t have a direct translation but it means that the garden only has indigenous plants and is left to grow without too much human intervention, save to keep it accessible to visitors. The spring birdsong was so calming to listen to. I love to see and smell bluebells in the UK, but as that won’t be possible this year, the Dutch variety will have to suffice! The visit to this little natural haven offered me solace in troubled times. The Heemtuin is an enclosed section within the Ruige Riet,a 10-hectare park which has walking and cycle paths meandering through it. Before 10 am it is practically deserted with only the occasional runner or walker so it was easy to keep the advisory 1.5 metre distance from other people. There is a red walk of 3 km or a blue walk of 1.5 km. It is also dog friendly and dogs are welcome in the Heemtuin provided they are kept on a lead.

The cycle ride to and around Sloterplas (lies adjacent to Ruige Riet) is approx 5 km so I have done 10 km on my bike as well as 5000 steps this morning. It’s ironic that the weather is so glorious when we are supposed to be mainly staying at home! A lot of people appear to be flaunting the rules and picnicking in groups of more than three in our local park. Occasionally, a police car drives through and hands out fines but the police seem to be turning a blind eye or have other more pressing concerns. I think that the difference in Dutch and English mentalities regarding authority play a big role when it comes to observing social-distancing behaviour. Here many folk seem to take it all with a pinch of salt.

Anyway, let’s hope if we are all sensible we will remain safe and healthy. And I hope you manage to find some quiet and inspiring places to exercise where you live!

 

 

 

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First House-sit of the Year

Unless you are a Buddha living under a tree you will have noticed we are in the grip of a pandemic which has severely restricted our freedom of movement. It now seems like some distant dream when we could move about unfettered! In February this year Frank and I had a two-week house sit in SW France in the region of Lot-et-Garonne. The weather was truly awful with almost non-stop rain each day so it will go down in history as a memorable house-sit for all the wrong reasons. I had some health problems too, but hey, we survived.

We had to care for two cats, an elderly brown lab and four horses. No trips to the vets fortunately but plenty of trips for me to the doc’s for an infected salivary gland. (With thanks to my cousin, Cheryl for her kindness in taking me back and forth to the surgery.)

I got in two decent rides on the Fjord pony, Carmen, then unfortunately she went lame but it was far too wet for riding anyway. The last night before our flight back to Bergerac we decided to stay in a grand chateau, Le Stelsia The chateau has been restored in bright colours and is owned by retail mogul, Philippe Ginestet, local man and owner director of the Gifi group. In 2011 he purchased the estate and, with his friend and architect Jacques Bru, decided to create a unique hotel complex. Several months of work was necessary to get their audacious architectural project up and running and thus give birth to this exceptional place.

Frank and I first visited the spa within the hotel complex and were very impressed by its design and the friendliness of the staff. The deluxe room was on special offer for Sunday night and it most certainly did not disappoint. Definitely a high point of our trip. The lawn and gardens and topiary animals were also very impressive! Afterwards we took a trip up to Penne d’agenais and admired the mighty river Lot winding through the landscape. Atop the hill is the impressive Basilica of our Lady, needless to say I lit a candle and prayed for the safety of humanity.

 

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Central Library, Oosterdok – The Jewel in Amsterdam’s Crown

OBA which stands for Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam boasts in total 26 branch libraries, 177,000 members and has 1.3 million books, CDs and DVDs in its collection. Amsterdam Central Library, Oosterdok is one of my favourite places in the city. The Central Library was designed by architect, Jo Coenen, the former state architect of the Netherlands. The Central Library project cost an eye-watering 80 million euros! It was completed in 2007 and was selected as the best library in the Netherlands in 2012.

Fond Memories?
When I moved to Amsterdam in 1986 I remember the rather shabby library on the Prinsengracht. Although I preferred its location along the historical ring of canals, and its homely feel, I was less charmed by the first thing that always greeted you as you entered the building; the smell of the public toilets! So it was with some excitement that I visited the new library in its location in 2007! And I still feel the same excitement and anticipation of enjoyment when I visit nowadays.

Membership isn’t Free
Unlike the UK, library membership is only free for those under 18 years old. Currently, an annual basic membership is 35 euros per year. However, you do get bang for your buck as it is not only a place to loan books, the Central Library (spread over 10 floors) has 600 computer work stations, 1200 seats and a floor entirely devoted to help those seeking work. There is also an auditorium, an exhibition room, the Gerard Reve Museum, and (not unimportant in Amsterdam) 2000 parking spaces for bicycles! On the seventh floor is a restaurant and summer terrace which offers fantastic views over the River Ij and the city. If you are visiting Amsterdam do go to the library even if it’s only to enjoy the views from the top floor.

Multi-Language Sections
One quarter of the second floor is entirely devoted to English language fiction. Also available are books in French, Spanish, Italian, German and Arabic, so that those who don’t speak Dutch as a first language still have plenty of literature to choose from.

Access to Libraries
It makes me sad to read about libraries in the UK closing down. It’s so very important that children and young adults have access to books. It is heartening to go to the Central Library, or indeed any of Amsterdam’s smaller local libraries, and see them being well used by people of all generations from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Libraries are one of the institutions, alongside schools, which enable social mobility and help young people to better themselves.

Back in the Seventies
Growing up in the English countryside, our school only had access to a mobile library. Being a pony-loving child I always devoured the Jill pony books by Ruby Ferguson, and of course the series by Elyne Mitchell about the wild Silver Brumby horses in Australia. If I had experienced the children’s section of the library in Amsterdam I would have exploded with excitement at all the choice on offer! The circular shelves, big stuffed animals, and soft chairs create a playful space for parents and children to enjoy together.

Children’s Section
My favourite thing in the children’s section is, The Mouse House,  made almost entirely by hand and inhabited by mice created from felt. Its creator is Karina Schaapman. The two main characters are Sam and Julia, and Schaapman has written a series of children’s books about their exploits. I could happily spend hours perusing each tiny room in the Mouse House, admiring the hand made details, imagining what Sam and Julia get up to when the library closes at night…

The OBA café
I also like just sitting in the OBA cafe situated on the ground floor and reading through the magazines. A regular thing for me is reading the short story in, The New Yorker. The stories are usually far too literary and go way over my head but I enjoy it nonetheless. Also, I find it more relaxing to catch up on UK news when reading from paper rather than a screen. The experience of smelling the news print and turning the pages helps one absorb the information more deeply. Anyway, I hope I have convinced you that the Central Library is worth a visit. Perhaps I’ll see you sometime in the OBA café! I’ll be the one reading The New Yorker with a puzzled expression on my face.

 

 

 

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The End of the Dutch Golden Age

A Night in the Museum
Only last week I was invited to an evening in the Rijksmuseum by a girlfriend who is a friend of the institution. The event offered a chance to speed-date with various experts dotted around the museum and you could linger by paintings or artefacts and learn from the specialists’ knowledge. Our first port of call was the doll’s house that featured in the book, The Miniaturist.

Of course I have a Museumjaarkaart, (an overpriced 64,90 euros per year) and I can visit the Rijksmuseum whenever I want, but I hadn’t seen the doll’s house since before the 10-year renovation, so pre 2003. More pertinently I hadn’t seen the doll’s house since reading historical novel with magic realist elements by Jessie Burton. The TV adaption was broadcast over Christmas 2017 and in the Rijks I recognised the house instantly from BBC set designs. Just the three of us alone in the room with the doll’s house was quite an experience. Usually one would have to shuffle behind endless amounts of tourists to admire this priceless, miniature world.

I told my Dutch girlfriends what a great novel The Miniaturist was and quickly googled to find out what the book was called in Dutch. Het Huis aan de Gouden Bocht. Literally translated; ‘The House along the Golden Bend.’ The Golden Bend is the curve in the Herengracht (one of the ring of canals) where the most prestigious houses were situated during the Dutch Golden Age.

het Gouden Bocht

Painting of The Herengracht in the Golden Bend

Lost in Translation
It amazes me how book titles can change so radically in translation. And it also got me wondering if now with the controversy around the Dutch Golden Age terminology, it hadn’t been a poor choice. The book is good, do read it, but pay no heed to the Dutch title, which to my mind makes it sound like a rather dull history book.

In September this year, the powers that be at The Amsterdam Museum, announced that they were going to scrap the term, Golden Age. In a bid to be more inclusive and truthful about history, this period will be known in the museum simply as the 17th Century.

The name Golden Age was coined because the Netherlands was an economic and military world power in the 17th century, said curator Tom van der Molen. “The term ignores the negative aspects such as poverty, war, enforced labour and the slave trade.”

Post-Colonial Guilt
Generally speaking the Dutch do not suffer greatly from post-colonial guilt, so this announcement has met with quite some resistance. The Rijksmuseum announced that they would continue using the term Golden Age because it also represented a flowering period in the visual arts and in their exhibitions they strive to show all sides of the the era, warts and all. Changing the name would simply be a whitewash of history.

The Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, said the discussion was rather silly (I’m paraphrasing)  and that a small country like the Netherlands should be rightly proud that it had achieved such power on the world stage. Of course there were things that wouldn’t stand the light of day nowadays but we should mention those too.

While I agree it wasn’t a Golden Age for everybody, I’m not entirely convinced that the term should be scrapped completely. Probably two generations from now youngsters will never even have heard of the Golden Age, and whether that’s a good or a bad thing, well I leave that up to you.

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Balloon Flight over the Chateau

Frank and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary in September. On our ninth house-sit of this year we decided to book a balloon flight. Paying for our accommodation in kind (offering pet care) means we free up cash which can be spent on experiences otherwise beyond our budget. We’re staying in the Perigord Blanc region which is in SW France and the flight company which caught my eye, Montgolfiére Chateaux, operates from Beynac-et- Cazenac. Beynac is a picturesque town (arguably the prettiest in France) on the Dordogne which boasts an eponymous chateau. The chateau is much photographed because of its dramatic location on top of a rocky outcrop.

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You know how it is when you arrange something online with a few clicks of the mouse then the day of the event dawns and you wonder what on earth had you been thinking? I did my maiden balloon flight in 2011 but when I looked on Tripadvisor the baskets used by this company looked worryingly tiny and cramped. Suddenly the idea of being more than 2,000 metres above the ground in a flimsy wicker basket gave me the collywobbles. During the last minute phone call to check weather conditions were good before we set off for Beynac, I was half wishing it would be called off…

Strangely enough though, when you are up in the air your nerves disappear completely. You don’t experience that giddy feeling and the pull of gravity that you get from the top of a high building. I wore ear protectors because the gas blowers are very noisy, but this isn’t obligatory. Not very flattering on the photos but anything is better than even more hearing loss! Pictures tell much more than words can. The camera was fixed on one of the balloon strings so that’s how the shots from outside the balloon are made.

 

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Sailing along the Amsterdam Canals

Dear readers, I promised you a blog about Amsterdam and here it is! You might remember that Frank and I are OOPOEHs. Omas en Opas Passen Op Een Huisdier, which translates into the rather unflattering; Grandpas and Grandmas look after a pet. Oopoeh is an award-winning social initiative to bring people over 55 together with dog owners who require dog-sitting services. Oopoeh is an exchange model which hopefully leads to canine and human companionship, enhancing both the dog’s, the owner’s and the Oopoeh’s lives. It’s nice if a friendship can blossom and that certainly has been the case with Rakker and his owner, Joanna. But sadly for us, they both have been away the last six months in Peru. Good news though, Rakker and his mummy and daddy are back in town. So to celebrate we organised a boat trip together!

There are loads of canal boat companies vying for the tourist euro in Amsterdam so instead of being bored listening to a dull commentary squashed next to a stranger on one of the bigger boats, I suggest you fork out a little extra cash and take some friends/family out with this smaller company which enables you to sail independently through the city; Boats4rent

Boats4rent B.V.
floating dock next to
Polonceaukade 2
1014 DA Amsterdam
+31 6 263 264 20

It costs a reasonable 79 euros for 3 hours on the canals. Maximum 6 passengers and room for a well-behaved dog too! No previous experience required. Tips for the best routes and a map are given by Boats4rent employees before you set sail.

Some useful tips (in English) to make your trip go well from the Boats4rent website. Have fun and maybe see you on the water!

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All Good Things…

After two months of house-sitting it is sadly almost time to go home again. We’ve travelled through Hertfordshire, Nottinghamshire, East Riding of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Leicestershire and spent the last two weeks in the smallest county in England, Rutland.

We’ve had truly wonderful experiences in each of the four houses we’ve stayed in, and have cared for in total; 3 llamas, 6 dogs, 2 cats, 6 horses, 2 sheep and 6 chickens. We have also had to make 4 trips to the vet in that period. One for an elderly Jack Russell’s gippy tummy and 3 trips for a grass seed in a Spaniel’s eye. The more often we house-sit the likelier trips to the vets are going to be of course. I tend to take it in my stride now and not get in too much of a panic about it. Happily all the pets made quick recoveries from their various maladies and we could hand them over fit as fiddles.

High points have been so many it’s hard to choose but I’ll give it a go!

  • Fabulous half-day ride from, Flash, the highest village in England, through the stunning Peak District. Courtesy of Northfield Farm Riding Centre and 16 h.h skewbald gelding, Marmite. (You either love him or hate him)
  • Monty’s chippie in Leek! We visited it thrice. Fortunately there’s no scales in present house sit but because they were small F&C I hope I won’t have put on too much weight.
  • Walking in the Chilterns and stumbling across Tring’s quirky National History Museum of stuffed animals including famous racing greyhound, Mick the Miller. (Yonks ago our derby donkey, Mick was named after him)
  • Guided tour giving solely for us about the silk weaving industry in Macclesfield by guide, Daniel, at the Paradise Mills.
  • Visiting Edale, Peak District, and stumbling across glamping site, The Gathering listed as one of the best ten escape-to-nature getaways in the UK. Going on the bucket list!
  • Walking around Rudyard Lake (Rudyard Kipling’s parents liked it so much they named their son after it) and visiting the carvery afterwards.
  • A sublime day at Chatsworth House.
  • Sunday dinner at The Star Inn, Sancton, East Riding (is there a food theme emerging here?)
  • Visiting York’s lesser known but equally beautiful little sister, the cathedral town of Beverley.
  • Discovering Stamford in Lincolnshire. Reputedly England’s prettiest town. A bit like the Cotswolds but less touristy.
  • Seeing my sister compete at Staffordshire Horse Trials.
  • Getting to know all the owners and the pets in our care.
  • Waking up each morning and looking out onto the fabulous Roaches. (escarpment in Peak District)
  • Cooking on an Aga
  • Collecting fresh eggs from the chucks every morning
  • Sampling the fabulous Rutland Pippin (posh pasty)
  • And the absolute icing on the cake, our final house-sit on this trip turned out to be almost as grand as Downton Abbey. Yes, I am totally Downton-struck; even the dog looks like Isis.

To be fair we like to house-sit for nice people who take into account our needs and want us to feel welcome and comfortable their home. Social status isn’t important to us. We look after everyone’s house and pets with the same amount of respect and care whatever walk of life they come from. A few photos for you below.

I promise to live up to this blog name and write about Amsterdam next time!

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Llamas, Outrageous Wealth and The Black Death

Our fourth house-sit of 2019 got off to a sticky start. On Sunday we had a gruelling five-hour journey from Amsterdam to Dunkirk in 30 degrees heat (no air-con). Then long tailbacks at British passport control in Dunkirk because according to the official it was one of the busiest weekends in the year with kids going back to school after half-term. The ferry was overrun with marauding teenagers so a quick upgrade to the Premium Lounge meant we could at least relax for the three-hour crossing and have ‘free’ non-alcoholic drinks and snacks in peace. Once on English soil journey-wise things didn’t improve much and an hour-long tailback on the M25 left me wondering why we do this house-sitting malarky! But then after a good night’s sleep and awaking in a beautiful spot life seemed good again.

Pet-sitting Llamas
I agreed on this house-sit early in the year and I knew it was in a grand and spacious Georgian farmhouse in Hertfordshire, and that two dogs and a cat needed caring for. Only in the last email from the owner before we arrived did we hear about llamas. There is no work involved with their care apart from looking over the fence and checking that they haven’t keeled over, so easy peasy, till so far anyway as one never knows with animals! Today it’s cold, windy and wet and the llamas were shorn before our arrival so I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for them out in the field with their backs to the rain. The neighbour’s horse looks none too happy about the weather either…

Plague Village

Spring of 1349 in Hertfordshire came with a black cloud – a plague that would wipe out as much as half the population. It brought death but also major social change.

Before the owners left, we were told that the llamas’ field butts onto the site of an abandoned plague village. The only visible remains of the settlement is a hollowed out track that leads to its centre, but the plague-ridden bodies are still buried there. *spooky sound effect* The farmhouse further up the lane does have ghosts, or entities that move chairs around we were told. (What is it with ghosts that they constantly have to move the furniture?) But the lady of ‘our’ house assured me that  there are no spooks in this building. Read more about Ardwick Village and the surprisingly positive effects of the plague on survivors’ social mobility and bargaining ability here.

Outrageous Riches

Yesterday was a gorgeous day and we took advantage of it and visited Waddesdon Manor just over the border in Buckinghamshire. Some people’s wealth is unimaginable to mortals like you and me, isn’t it? The French-style chateau was built between 1874 and 1889 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild as a weekend residence for grand entertaining and as a setting for his art collection. The last member of the Rothschild family to own Waddesdon was James de Rothschild (1878–1957). He bequeathed the house and its contents to the National Trust. It is one of the National Trust’s most visited properties, with over 466,000 visitors in 2018, and in 2017 Waddesdon Manor won ‘Visit England’s Large Visitor Attraction of the Year category.’ The Joshua Reynolds’ portraits were outstanding and it is a NT property that will stand out in my memory because of its opulence and grandeur. Entrance to the house was half-price on the day we visited due to upcoming filming but even so cost 16 pounds per person. It was worth it as we spend the biggest part of the day in the house and grounds.

Home County
I didn’t know much about Hertfordshire before we came here. I always found it a vaguely annoying place because people always muddle it with Herefordshire where I grew up. But it’s a beautiful county, and not as built up as I’d expected. It seems generally affluent because of its proximity to London, but the villages have plenty of rural charm. Nearby Tring has a wonderful High Street and all independent shops. A Midsomer Murders episode was shot in nearby Watlington. That will probably be next on the itinerary once this rain clears up…

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llamas

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Hornless unicorn and llamas

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Llamas

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Waddesdon Manor

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Aviary

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Lafite by J. Vasconcelos

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In front of the country pile

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Over the top automaton

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Job for Grandad and Rodney

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Artist, Gerard Douw

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Subject Madam Pompadour

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Dining room WM

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Waddesdon Manor

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Got the summer dress out.

 

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