Thursday, October 28, 2010

Autumn at the seaside - 24 October 2010

A fabulous sunny day, after the second frost of the season, seemed the perfect time to visit a British seaside city, so we did a circular drive starting from the bottom of the M23 down to Worthing.

Our morning-tea stop was by the ruins of Bramber Castle. One of the many fascinating places with just a few bits of castle walls left behind.

Before reaching the coast, we detoured to have a look at the chapel at Lancing College. This private school, has a beautiful chapel which is open daily to the public. Building started in 1868 in 14th C Gothic style like the grand university chapels, but looking almost new, this chapel is truly beautiful, and worth the detour.

Worthing has a seafront typical of many British towns, the main features are the wide stony beach, a promenade, beach huts,Victorian rows of fine boarding houses and the pier, once used for shipping, but now a place to find food and amusements. It's a great place to spend time on a slightly chilly day.
We continued our tour through the wonderful town of Arundel, to Parham House. This magnificent Elizabethan house was bought and restored by the present owners family in 1922. The house is full of well preserved antique embroideries, collected by the original restorers.

The last stop of the day was Shipley to check out Hillare Belloc's windmill. I think living beside this would inspire anyone, although the rest of the tiny village of Shipley was extremely boring.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

150th Anniversary – 23 October 2010

London's canal system provides a very scenic walking/cycling route around London, and today we set out to walk half of the Regents Canal, a 13 mile canal around the centre of London to the docks.
We joined the canal at 'Little Venice' near the Warwick Ave tube station. This area is home to many permanently moored narrow-boats. In fact they have their own private tow path running alongside. Further along the tow path is open to the public, but access is only until 6pm (or dusk in winter), which must ensure security, as we saw many 'back-yards' and 'sheds' set up beside the tow path.

The direct route for the canal would have been directly through Regents Park, but it was deemed undesirable to have the coarse sights of trade passing through this very high class housing/recreation area, and the canal had to detour around the back of the Park. Today of course, this same canal has attracted apartment blocks simply to enjoy the canal-side views.

After passing London Zoo, we took a detour from our route to have lunch at The Albany, on the other side of the Park. Having read this week, that fish & chips are now 150 years old, we decided to celebrate this anniversary, and The Albany does an excellent traditional pub dish of 'Fish & Chips with minted mushy peas and tartare sauce'. Yummy! We enjoyed our celebration of the 150th, a little older, historically, than last weeks 80th.

The walk took us next through three markets, the first – Camden Market – is soon after leaving Regents Park. Camden Market is a wonderful place to wander around, enjoying the colourful displays of both food and goodies for sale, as well as the colourful characters.

The canal then wended its way through areas with a more industrial heritage, to Islington, via Kings Place, a music venue and art gallery, also an lovely canal-side stop for coffee.

The final two markets at Islington were Chapel Market, a typical small London street market, and Camden Passage, a series of wonderful shops and some market stalls, as interesting, although not as large as Camden Market.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

MG80 Part Two – 17 October 2010

Today we joined up with the official MG Car Club Headquarters' celebration, which started at Roebuck Inn, the site of the first open meeting of the Club. After morning tea, we left from here to do a scenic route to lunch at the Lambert Arms. This was also a historic choice, as it was the base for many pre-war trials events.

The excellent 3 course lunch was in a conference room set aside especially for the Club members. After lunch, there was just enough time for the second part scenic drive around the Chilterns, to finish at Kimber House, Abingdon. The MG Club Headquarters' route was very scenic on a beautiful autumn day.
We arrived at Kimber house in time for afternoon tea, and the cutting of the official cake. People had come from all around the SE region to this celebration. We learnt that the idea had originated with a New Zealander who visited Abingdon headquarters a year ago. Links to all the clubs' celebrations worldwide can be found here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

MG80 Part One – 16 October 2010

All around the world this weekend, local branches of the MG Car Club celebrated the 80th birthday of the Club. Today we joined with the SE Centre Club, who chose a celebration based around the theme of the Greenwich Meridian Line, as it is an international event and the SE Centre is one of only three Centres that the Meridian crosses. The venue they choose to celebrate in was the Bluebell Railway, as the Meridian Line crosses through the Sheffield Park Station, at the start of the 19 mile steam train line.

As the railway is next door to the Sheffield Park Gardens, we left London early enough, to enjoy a stroll around the gardens. These are very popular in the autumn, when the red and golds of the foliage contrasts beautifully with the blues of the sky and lakes.

Once we had finished enjoying the gardens, we moved on to the Bluebell Railway for the MG event. After admiring the MG's in the car park, we took a ride on the 1pm steam train, and enjoyed our table for two, in a spacious uncrowded carriage. At Horsted Keynes, we decided to explore the town, before the 2pm train came through to continue our journey. Unfortunately, this was a bad move, as the town turned out to be 1.5 miles from the station, and when the 2pm train arrived, it was chockka full, with the unexpectedly high numbers of MG enthusiasts. We were rather fortunate to actually find a seat.

On our return we formed a small convoy for a scenic trip back through the narrow country lanes to the M25.

Monday, October 18, 2010

White Villages – 11 October 2010

Rather than the direct route back to Seville we plotted a route via several of the White Villages the south of Spain is famous for. A coffee here, a view there, a photo here and so forth filled in the day nicely as we visited Grazalema, Zahara, Villamartin, Bosco and finally Arcos de la Frontera. Like Ronda, Arcos de la Frontera is perched on the edge of an escarpment.
By the time we reached Arcos de la Frontera it was time for a late lunch, early dinner so we cast a critical eye over the various establishments offering food to the passing tourists but nothing appealed. Finally, down a little side alley was Boadbil whose sign offered 'The sweet charme of eating'. We arrived at the door and wondered if it was open as the tables were all empty and although the door was open the darkened interior of the cave, as that is what it was, did not appear inviting. However the owner appeared, seated us and asked if we wanted tapas and salad and what we would like to drink; and that was that. From that point on, the meal (feast) just kept appearing unbidden as we sat in the sun on the terrace enjoying the view.
The appetiser was pickled carrot and nuts, followed by a platter with a selection of cold tapas and a plate with a hot vegetable salad. Then we were treated to a gastronomic tour of various cities in Spain with seven different samosa-like delicacies. Desert was a fruit platter with generous servings of six different types of fresh fruit and hot mint tea, Moroccan style. Dates and a spiced apple-juice digestive finished the best meal we have ever had in Spain; an extremely pleasant memory to take back to London.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The answer to life – 10 October 2010

Today's date was 101010 the binary representation of 42 which, according to Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, is “the answer to life, the universe and all that.” So was today life's answer to anything? We didn't discover anything particularly earth-shattering except noting that our visits to Ronda have a certain symmetry to them as our previous visit was on 030303..

Since our visit in 2003 we have been reminded of Ronda many times by romantic pictures of it brought back from Grand Tours and now adorning walls of stately homes in England. The appeal it held for the 18thC grand tourists still holds sway today as the town is full of tourists, all trying to get the perfect picture of the “New Bridge”. When built in the 18thC it changed the name of the then “New Bridge” to “Old Bridge”, which is a little further up the gorge. The then “Old Bridge”, just a little bit further upstream, is now called the Roman Bridge although, confusingly, was probably built by the Moors who held Ronda until the 14thC.

A town trail took us to all three bridges as well as the Arab Baths, town walls and the gardens of the Casa Del Rey Moro which were visited by Michele Obama two months ago. Apart from the splendid views over the gorge, the garden visit gives access to a “mine” which, in reality, is a steep stepped shaft cut through the rock below the house to give access to the river and ensure water supplies in times of siege. Once the Christian slaves had cut the access they then had the task of carrying water up the 200 steps. We had enough trouble negotiating the damp dark stairs without having to carry a pitcher of water as well.

Once the sun had swung around sufficiently to light up the photogenic side of the bridge we made our way down to the various viewpoints that only the more energetic tourists visit, delightfully free of tour guides and their flocks.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cordoba to Ronda – 9 October 2010

Unfortunately the MSN forecast for Cordoba that we had seen 4 days ago in London, was uncannily accurate and we awoke to very heavy rain. Fortunately, the prime attraction in Cordoba is La Mesquita, a mostly indoors attraction. It is the third largest “mosque” in the world, but has not had Muslim services since it was captured by Fernando in 1236 and now contains a large cathedral.

It was worth a walk in the pouring rain to visit and once inside, in the half-light, the presence or absence of sunlight or rain was irrelevant. It was still deluging when we emerged, so we had a long wet trek back to the car which, in the heavy rain, seemed to be in the least convenient park in town.

On our way out of Cordoba we stopped at the Medina Azahara where a new visitor centre was opened exactly a year ago today. Entry was free as the star attraction was closed but the audio visual about the city the Caliph built in the 10thC was very well done. Amazingly, this fantastic city lasted only 80 years, which is probably longer than the new visitor centre will last as they were rushing around placing buckets under the various leaks in the year-old structure.

Staying one step ahead of the rain we stopped at Ecija, “the frying pan of Spain” that hits 52C in summer – no such luck today, and Osuna and then Ronda where it was surprisingly difficult to find a room.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

To Cordoba – 8 October 2010

After a mediocre breakfast in the local cafe we walked across the city centre to Casa de Pilatos, supposedly built to the same dimensions as Pilate's House in Jerusalem. It has since been enlarged, modified, changed, upgraded and “modernised” at various times in its history but still retains, in a small chapel named after it, a marble pillar supposedly the same dimensions as the one to which Christ was tied when he was flogged. The truth is no doubt lost in the mists of time but the building is well worth visiting as it has the best collection of tile work in Spain adorning the walls and is a true visual feast.

By the time we had returned to our part of town, the Cathedral was open for paying guests. They have a strange arrangement, you can visit during the morning when the service is on and wander around at will but all the side chapels are dark and if you are caught taking photos you are severely chastised by the security guards.

However, in the afternoon, if you pay €8 each, the lights are on everywhere and you can photograph to your heart's content. You can also climb the tower, which we did, for a great view over Seville. The tower has no stairs except for the last flight and is ascended using a ramp installed so that horses could be ridden to the top (Why?), quite a contrast to some of the narrow stairs we have ascended climbing other towers.

After a wander around the Arenal area by the Bull Ring we left Seville to head for Cordoba only to discover that the cigarette lighter in the rental car was not working and thus our sat-nav would not charge. Knowing that we would need it long after the battery had run flat we reluctantly headed back to the rental car depot by the airport to get it fixed. They took the easy option and simply swapped cars but the process still wasted useful sunlight hours.

Once on the road to Cordoba we detoured through several small villages on a route in a travel book but none of them held any appeal until we reached Almodovar del Rio where the Castle set on the hill has the “most romantic silhouette in Spain”. It certainly is quite magical but, as with many things, was a product of an early 20C major restoration. Sneaking in as the last visitors for the day we had a rapid tour around the walls and headed off for Cordoba.

Unfortunately, because of the car trouble delays the sun set as we wandered through Cordoba from the car park. The hostel we had read about in the guide book had one room left, a suite, so we took it, and it was a rather special treat.

Both Cordoba and Seville claim to be the “home” of Flamenco but the shows at Cordoba are only half the price of Seville so we chose Cordoba to enjoy a fabulous show which, fortunately, began at 2230 allowing us plenty of time to fit it in to the evening which had got off to such a late start.