Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bye to Barcelona - 26 February 2007

Heron in the parkOur final day in Barcelona was a bit of a missed opportunity as we mis-read flight times and consequently arrived at the airport 2 hours before we needed to. We could have used the extra time in the afternoon to take a guided tour around the Palau de la Musica. Alas, we may never have that pleasure.

Nevertheless, it was another cloudless day so we ventured over to the area of the city that was Olympic arearedeveloped for the 1992 Olympic Games. Nearby is a ‘village’ that was created as a show place for different Spanish architecture for the 1929 Universal Exposition. It is a tourist trap with many little artisans and craftsmen selling their wares direct from their workshops. It also includes a gallery of modern art, so we could tick off a bit of culture and admire the works by Picasso and others.

Fountain in the parkArc de Triomf

We wandered through the park close to the Hotel and looked at the Arc de Triomf and still had time to browse a couple of the markets and stroll La Rambla once again before we made our premature departure.

Flower stall on La RamblaMarket stall

Back at Luton, we collected our car at 1 a.m. and found that attempts to access the M1 southbound at Junctions 10 and 9 were blocked by roadworks, with no prior warning signs and no suggestions as to alternatives. We wondered how a newly arrived traveller, having just collected a rental car would get on.

Gaudi gazing - 25 February 2007

Parc GuellParc Guell

Barcelona's most famous architect is Antoni Gaudi (1856-1926). It is reported that his Professor said that he did not know if he was awarding a degree to a genius or a lunatic. We made an early start to the day at Parc Guell, which is well towards the lunatic end of the spectrum, and ended with the unfinished Cathedral, which is sheer engineering brilliance.

In between we visited an apartment building he designed and a building that he re-modeled, changing it extensively.

His work is full of ‘new’ ideas and concepts that he freely admitted he, with his keen sense of observation, stole from nature . Consequently the structures have a ‘flow’ and empathy to them that is not ‘natural’ in a building but is entirely ‘natural’.

Sagrada Familia

Barcelona - 24 February 2007

The CathedralAfter a rushed start to catch an early morning train, which never arrived, we reached our hotel in Barcelona late morning. The Ciutat Hotel in the centre of the historic area, is an excellent base for exploring Barcelona.

The nearby Gothic area has the Cathedral amid a maze of narrow streets encircled by the old Roman wall.

We then wandered down La Rambla, the ‘place’ you have to go to stroll. Street ArtistsIt is lined with Street ‘statue’ artists, buskers, pickpockets and the traditional areas for selling art, birds and flowers. Such is the significance of the street that there are two words coined in its honour; an adjective (ramblista) to describe Columbusthose addicted to the act of the act of ramblejar (walking up and down La Rambla.)

La Rambla finishes at the waterfront with a column topped by Columbus pointing meaningfully out to sea (in the direction of Italy!). Street sceneFrom there we explored the new bridge to a shopping mall, and ended at La Barceloneta – the old fishing village. After lunch, we walked along the beach and back through La Barceloneta and the old city to our hotel: twisting and turning in a rather random fashion to explore the old streets.

Girona - 23 February 2007

Chapel towerWhile in Morocco we met a gentleman from Gerona, as opposed to Two Gentlemen From Verona, and he highly recommended his hometown, especially the old city.

Chapel tower in lily pondAs it happened, we were planning to visit Barcelona and the cheap airline we used, fly passengers destined for Barcelona into Girona airport (which is closer to France than Barcelona) so we decided to squeeze a day in Girona (as they spell it) into the schedule.

River OnyarAfter flying in late at night and finally getting off to sleep in twin beds, we were awakened at 8am next morning by a concrete mixer, right outside our first-floor hotel room window. It wasn't possible to block it out, so we emerged to find a beautiful day. (The concrete mixer stopped soon after and did not appear to be used any other time of the day when we were near the hotel!)

Cathedral across the roofsThe most photographed sight in Girona is the old houses reflected in the river Onyar: they looked wonderful in the sunshine.

We toured the Cathedral, which has the widest Gothic vault over the nave, the Arab baths, then walked along the extensive, restored, ancient city walls:Jewish Quarter a trip which provides wonderful views back over the multi-coloured tile roofs back to the Cathedral that dominates the skyline.
After a delicious salad at the River Café at the foot of the stairs to the Church of Saint Feliu, we started our afternoon wander around the old Jewish quarter, with its narrow winding streets and stairs, and on to a tour of the Monastery of Saint Pere de Galligants.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Flash flushing - 18 February 2007

Crossness Pumping StationThere are only two Grade 1 listed Industrial buildings in South London. One is a very well known, and much photographed, London icon (Tower Bridge) and the other is known to very few people, and given its location, seen and photographed by even fewer.

We had booked a tour of the Crossness Pumping Station for Sunday afternoon. This was a magnificent Victorian achievement, commissioned after the Crossness Pumping Stationyear of the ‘Great Stink' (1858) to deal with the problem of raw sewage in the Thames.

It was designed on a large and impressive scale. Not only was the machinery impressive, the building to house the 4 huge pumps, was named the Cathedral in the Marsh. Crossness Pumping StationThe Victorians surely knew how to get things done. The station was commissioned in 1865, just 7 years after the ‘stink’ and in only three years, 318 million bricks had been used to make 82 miles of intercept sewers to divert flows from discharging into the Thames and re-route the sewage downstream to Crossness on the Crossness Pumping Stationsouth bank and Abbey Mills on the north.

There, these huge pumps each lifted 100 tonnes of effluent per hour into a reservoir where it was held until the tide began to ebb and the gates were opened to discharge the raw sewage into the Thames.

Crossness Pumping StationFollowing its closure in 1956 it has lain abandoned and vandalized until restoration began in 1985. The restoration is a huge project, where you can see plenty of evidence of before and after and one that will keep the willing enthusiasts busy for years to come.

Year of the Pig balloonWe intended to catch some of the Chinese New Year's celebrations both on the way in and way home, but managed to time it wrong both ways. However, we did enjoy the sense of humour displayed by the Metropolitan Police as they distributed hundreds of red balloons in honour of the Chinese year of the Pig.

Dulwich - 17 February 2007

Dulwich ParkA ‘Canaletto in England’ exhibition is currently on in Dulwich, so we decided to base our day in the Dulwich area.

We started the day with a look at the Horniman Museum. This is one of the many legacies left by wealthy Horniman MuseumVictorian merchants that people in the UK can enjoy today. The free museum is based upon a collection of items from his travels, but subsequently enhanced and expanded.

Old toll chargesWe followed this with a walk around Dulwich Park and College, passing the only remaining privately owned toll-gate in London. Since 1789, tolls have been collected on a road that runs through the grounds of Dulwich Public School and the proceeds are used to pay for the upkeep of the road.

London's only private toll gateWe finished the walk at the Dulwich Picture Gallery where the Canaletto’s were being displayed, joining the queue just before they put up the 'sold out for the day' sign. While the English pictures are obviously Canaletto’s they don’t quite have the appeal of the Venetian scenes. (Not that we are ever likely to own either sort …)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Snowdrops - 11 February 2007

Part of the old wallSunday cleared to become a beautiful day and we focused on snowdrop gardens, exactly a year since we last went snowdrop 'hunting'.

Our first visit was to Easton Walled Gardens, which had the best snowdrops of the day. These were only opened a few years ago, after becoming totally overgrown, when the large house was pulled down in 1951. Photos of it show a beautiful, gracious house. In the 60 years from 1900 to 1960, over 1700 grand country houses were demolished. SnowdropsWhat a waste of British history: victims of high taxation post-war labour changes and shortages and, after WWII, shortages of building skills and materials. How much history over the years has been lost as a result of taxes designed to fleece the supposedly wealthy classes?

Winter gardenThe second stop was to re-visit Anglesey Abbey Gardens, itself a victim some 500 years ago, under Henry VIII. They have a superb winter garden that features foliage and bark colours only seen in winter that is stunning both in concept and execution. It is such a dramatic feature that we cannot understand why every landscape park garden does not have one.

Audley End HouseFinally, we stopped at Audley End House, which had special snowdrop open days. They planted 4,000 bulbs in 2004 and these are making a good show. The normally tranquil dammed river had flooded its banks and was flowing over the lawns even though the overflow channel was a raging torrent. This was, however, a bonus for photography: it is not often that one gets reflections from a lawn!

Chestnut CottageIn stark contrast to the grandeur of Audley End House was Chestnut Cottage, one of the smallest houses in Britain it measures just 3m x 2.4m. We found it the village of Clavering, Essex, on our way home.

Peterborough - 10 February 2007

Peterborough CathedralPeterborough is these days visited by people making in-person applications at the Passport Office, but originally was a religious centre with one of the country’s early Abbey's, dating from 650AD. The Abbey was sacked and rebuilt a couple of times and ultimately dissolved with all the rest by Henry VIII.

Fan Vaulted ceilingThe cathedral, about 800 years old, is huge: an impressive statement of its time that, apart from the ‘new’ addition (15th C) at the eastern end is largely the same as it was when first built.

Ceiling from 1250The vaulted ceilings in the ‘new’ addition were, apparently a trial run by the architect who perfected them in the fabulous chapel at King’s College, Cambridge. The wooden ceiling in the nave is original and unique in the UK. Only 3 others from this period (1250) survive in Europe.

The town centre is pedestrianised and consequently very pleasant to wander around.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Stowed away - 4 February 2007

The GrottoLeaving London languishing in lugubrious layers of low-lying fog we fled its folds for fields afar furnished with forty follies, forty busts and fifty statues, flung fearlessly, and thus fashionably, across the landscape by Lancelot (Capability) Brown.

Stowe Landscape Gardens are the remains of Capability Brown’s Palladian Bridgefirst major commission and the size, number and scope of the temples, follies and monuments that he casually scattered across the landscape for the viewing pleasure of the select few on the Duke of Buckingham’s guest list is quite astounding.

We had previously visited the Duke’s mansion, Gothic Templenow a school and although this was our third visit to the park it was the first occasion when we had the time to fully explore all the paths inside the ha-ha: the area the National Trust charges admission for, as well as the old Deer Park outside the boundaries.

Temple of Concord & VictoryThe wealth involved in building quite sizeable structures (some now lived in) purely to make a distant vista to impress one’s guests is incomprehensible.

Wey to go - 3 February 2007

Wey NavigationIn a rare departure from a typical British winter’s day, the forecast for the whole of Britain was for fine, balmy weather.

Reflections on a NarrowboatNewark Lock, the first in the UK

We headed south to walk along part of the Wey Navigation, the first scheme to install locks on a river to create a transport route in the UK. Opened in 1653, it predated the canal building era by around 100 years.

Newark Piory ruinsJust near the start of our 10-mile jaunt we viewed the picturesque ruins of Newark Priory: another casualty of Henry VIII, some 114 years earlier.