Islandmomma

Searching for Stories Around the Islands of the World and the Freedoms of Third Age


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So, Again, I Didn’t Get to do York’s Ghost Walk

My trip to England took me, as is my custom these days,  to York. It’s a city I know more for its shops, cafes and restaurants than for its historical sites, though its history is as rich and colorful as anywhere in the country. I go to visit family, and there is rarely time to revisit the famous places I remember from youthful visits. This time too I went on family matters, so neither as tourist nor even as traveler, because I was born in England. It is, at the same time, both familiar and novel. The streets run in the same direction they always did, but the facades change, new structures rise, things improve, things have been left to rot. Change and renewal in the city as in the countryside.

York – again – and yet again I didn’t do one of those ghost walks I so much want to try! My time to explore and wander was mainly early evening or early morning. I have two memories from this trip. One is the Big Wheel. I’m sure it wasn’t there in October, the last time I visited. Folk told me it was, but in a different location. Clutching the best Cornish pasty I’ve ever, ever had (bought at the train station when sorting out tickets), full of chunks of moist and mellow meat and the pastry crunchy but light, I approached it around sunset. That seemed like a really good idea, to photograph the city from its heights, bathed in the light of the setting sun, or even just enjoy my supper from that vantage point. Sadly, no food allowed, and I’d bought the large size, and it was far too good to rush, so I wandered off, intending to return at the same time the following day. The price was certainly right at eight pounds.

The next day, wandering along the riverbank, having some time to kill before sunset I became entranced by Spring. Often said I’m an Autumn gal, but not having been anywhere in Springtime for a couple of years, and then it was the “back end” of the blossom season, I was drawn to the daffodils and narcissi, the blossom and the buds.

The way the colors of the fresh, crisp flora glowed in the late afternoon sun seduced me.

The reflections and shadows on the river fascinated me.

The way the sun appeared, unexpectedly  between the skeletal remains of centuries-old shells of building, intrigued me.

And before I knew it, I’d lost the moment, because although sunsets do last longer this far North than they do at home, I still didn’t have time to make it to the Big Wheel in time…….so that’s something else, along with the ghost walk, that gives me a reason to return.

Another day, whiling away time whilst my aunt was at the hospital, I trotted into town quite aimlessly. I didn’t have time to commit to a tour of anywhere in particular, so I joined the throngs of other tourists, meandering the city’s narrow streets until I spied a Book CloseOuts-type place…..well, now, broke or not, there is always a few coppers for cheap books, isn’t there! My haul was very moderate compared to past times (thanks, also Ryanair!), but I took them off to a coffee shop to gloat. On the way I passed this shop, and fell just a little in love with its facade. Back when I’d have dived in, looking for treasures, but what with one thing and another I content myself with a photo of its pretty displays now.

Maybe the best thing about my few days in York, though, was meeting Mike Sowden of Fevered Mutterings. Mike is kind of a hero of mine (take a look at his blog if you haven’t already, and you’ll know why), and I don’t know if you’ve ever met a hero, but it makes you a bit tongue-tied. Standing outside of Marks & Spencer waiting to meet a strange man one knows only via the internet – hmmm, good job my dad couldn’t see me! Mike’s lovely, though, and funny and interesting, and he put me at ease right away, and we sat over chai latte and talked and talked. Afterwards he gave me a very brief mosey around the cathedral area, and fed me a couple of interesting facts I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

He’s also a true gentleman, and walked me to my train, because that day I was moving further north again. We walked along the city wall, and the picture below wasn’t actually taken that day because my stuff was all packed up for the journey (I haven’t mastered that art of keeping the camera out whilst juggling baggage too). However much of a hurry one is in, it has to give you a thrill walking the ramparts of a Roman city, knowing that 2,000 years ago soldiers patrolled the same stones, but there wasn’t time to dwell on it. We arrived at the station with minutes to spare for my train, and Mike kind of disappeared, leaving me grateful and wondering if I’d just imagined the last few hours!


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2011: A Mixed Bag: Posts-That-Never-Were

York, England

My visit to York was very personal, too personal to write about any time soon, but I did make time in the mornings for a walk in the chill.  There was a serious cold snap whilst I was there, unprecedented they said…..coming from some quite balmy weather in London, and a heatwave on mainland Spain I really felt it – to my bones!  Still, I loved the walking and managed just a few snaps.

Said if before and I’ll say it again, the thing I love about cities is the energy, and despite the cold there were people out running along the riverbank, and even people learning to kayak (goodness knows what would have happened had they overturned and fallen in!), and it was motivating to see.  York is a gentle city compared to many, but still has that buzz.

Romeria Vilaflor, Tenerife, Canary Islands

There is no doubt that, as a foreigner at least, you can get romeria/fiesta burnout, which is probably why I wrote about an abandoned house by the roadside and not about the Romeria in Vilaflor the day I went there. It was a charming fiesta, more casual than the huge event I’d been to in La Laguna a few weeks before, but still with all the traditional ingredients – oxen pulling carts laden with children or folk in traditional dress….and the whole village seemed to be in traditional dress….the plaster saint, to whom homage was paid with folk dances and songs, strolling minstrel groups, goats and horses, toiling along dusty roads in the afternoon heat.  Vilaflor is Spain’s highest village, and steep, it trails down a hillside, so he was carried from the church at the bottom to the church at the top, followed by, well, everyone, plus some tourists like us.  It was very mellow, marred for me  by some young drunks, which is surprisingly unusual at these events.


Fiesta in Amparo, Tenerife, Canary Islands

This is likely the best fiesta I didn’t go to! 20,000 artificial flowers were made by residents of this barrio of Icod de los Vinos to celebrate their saint’s day. I passed through twice during the time of their celebrations, but never at a time when there was anything happening!  Still  the decorations were stunning, quite the most elaborate I’d seen on the island, and in this rich arable area many contained real fruits and vegetables, so rather like a harvest festival in England. Tradition has the women out collecting poleo (so far as I can make out this is pennyroyal, not a herb with which I’m familiar) which is also used prominently in the decorations.

Katrina’s Visit, Tenerife, Canary Islands

Making new friends is always something nice to look back on at the end of a year, and getting to know blogger Katrina Stovold of TourAbsurd.com was a great pleasure in early Fall. Her posts about the island can be found here.  Katrina is a witty and inquisitive person and I’m sure we would have gotten along in any event, but I was secretly delighted that the places she chose to visit were not the usual tourist haunts. Sure, it’s hard to get away from tourism on Tenerife if you only have a week to spend here, but there were a few places on her agenda which most don’t bother to see. We went to  Garachico, Icod de los Vinos, Santa Cruz’s Museum of Man and Nature, and the Pyramids at Güimar, for instance….where Katrina displayed her amazing affinity with cats! As luck would have it, the one day we decided to chill on the beach at Los Cristianos fierce winds blew in from the Atlantic and sent us scurrying!

La Caleta, Tenerife, Canary Islands

I mention La Caleta because I had several seriously good meals there during the course of the year, most at Restaurante La Caleta or at 88, and one over the other side of the bay at Celso. Some of it was in the course of research for this wee post for Tenerife.co.uk but truthfully I didn’t need the excuse, this what-was-once-a-small village really is the gourmet capital of South Tenerife so far as I am concerned, and it’s also very pretty at night and has terrific ocean views by day.


Guildford, England

Guildford has become a staple on my English itineraries since my son moved there, but I was so glad to have discovered it! This is why:

Waiting for him to finish work on the day I arrived, I grabbed a sandwich and coffee from Starbucks and sat on a bench by the river. It was warm, but refreshingly so after the heat of Sevilla and Barcelona. It felt very…..English!

Las Galletas, Tenerife, Canary Islands

Las Galletas I mention mainly because it’s an illustration of my mantra “Always have your camera with you”.  It’s somewhere I go reasonably frequently.  I had breakfast there just a couple of days before Christmas.  Driving back from Santa Cruz a few weeks ago I could see the sunset shaping up to be memorable, and even though I put my foot down I knew I wouldn’t make the best part of the coast to photograph it there,  so I dodged off  the autopista and headed for Las Galletas.  It turned out to be not quite as spectacular as I’d expected, but it was worth the detour :=)

Pinolere, Tenerife, Canary Islands

The annual craft fair at Pinolere was delightful, as always, though very frustrating this year on account of being broke!  There were wonderful jewelry, musical instruments, scarves and shawls, woven baskets and more on which I could have spent fortunes.  I contented myself with edible goodies on the basis that at least they were fodder, and came away with delicious cheeses, honey and some coffee liqueur for my dad. The highlights were this ecological carousel, which knocked me out, and performances of medieval-style plays by a local group, both of which proved that yesterday’s entertainments are quite as valid today.

Of course,  I can think of dozens of other things I didn’t record here, but, yes, I think I am done with 2011 now, in more ways than one. Not sad to see the back of it, bring it on 2012!

 


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2011: Postcards to Myself

2011 was, well, ok. It had several challenges and some very low spots, but there were plenty of good times too, and those are the times we remember.

It was another slow travel year, though, this recession bites deeper all the time. That said, it was Sevilla and Barcelona, York and London and the English Lake District, not exactly the armpits of the world, eh! It was also Cirque du Soleil, Las Tablas de San Andres and snow, lots of snow this year :=) (well, up in the mountains at least). There was also lots of sunshine, waves, fiestas, visits from friends old and new; some wonderful hiking and delicious food and wine. It was a chance to improve my photography, and some stunning scenery to inspire it, both near and afar-ish.

Things that stand out:

  •  I actually got paid to write something! OK not going to either win the Pulitzer nor keep the wolf from the door, but it was an ambition achieved.
  • I went rappelling, which just shook my whole world up in terms of having done something I didn’t think I could do.
  •  Kew Gardens, which was amazing (and I only saw a fraction of it!) and proved to me that even in a place you’ve known for years you can still find new and wonderful things.
  • The forth was the first time Maria and I went in search of the stars and instead found the amost overwhelmingly beautiful sunset ever (We did find stars in the end too, but it was the unexpected sunset which took away my breath).
  • “Discovering” the Anaga Mountains was memorable too. It was the last place on Tenerife I hadn’t been, and within a half hour of hiking it had become my favorite.

Mostly what stands out are the times I spent with my wonderful family and friends every one of whom is a blessing to me, and whom I am very grateful to have in my life. Not all those times are represented in this mosaic because not everyone is comfortable being splashed around online.

Since I began this blog I’ve never used New Year’s Eve for musings much.  I did hit a big birthday this year, and that has given me pause for thought, but more of that another day, for now it’s just what I’ve always done – paint a wee mosaic of my year.


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Grasmere : An Autumnal and Eternal Slice of Real England

I think I was around 10 years old when my aunt and uncle moved to the Lake District.  Until then my experiences had been lovely Sunday excursions of the sort we used to make in the 1950s, the family all piling into a chunky car (wow, but cars were SO different back in those days!), eating ice cream, feeding ducks on lakes and going across Lake Winderemere on the ferry if I was really lucky!

When Uncle Jim and Auntie Dot moved to Bowness-on-Winderemere my vacations and experiences took on a whole, new meaning, especially when I was old enough not to be accompanied by my grandmother, and we had freedom to explore the countryside in a very “Swallows and Amazons” sort of way.  Back in the 1950s it was safe for kids to roam a bit, and let our imaginations have full rein…..but that’s the subject of a whole other post one day.

I have the most vivid memory of the first time I saw the village of Grasmere.  We’d walked en famille from Rydal Water, through knee-high bracken and over hills, my stoic grandmother, handbag on the crook of her arm, as was the habit then, more like a Sunday stroll than a hike, but I knew that it was my first real hike, even then. Grasmere gave me a little thrill when we arrived.  It was so like the villages I imagined from books, quaint, pretty, with a neat church alongside a brook, and a few scattered houses. In essence, despite the increase in traffic and the hoards of tourists who now come from every corner of the world,  it hasn’t changed. Off  the top of my head, I can think of nowhere else I know which has retained its atmosphere in the face of the modern world in the way which Grasmere has.

When I came to study Wordsworth in high school it added interest that I’d seen his grave and the village he loved.  I like to think I wouldn’t have needed the extra encouragement. Wordsworth remains one of my favorite poets. He has always filled my soul with his words, produced an almost physical response in me. Later in my high school life there would be visits to Dove Cottage, his home for 8 or 9 years, and then and still a museum.

Grasmere has drawn me back so many times over the years that I couldn’t possible even attempt a guess at how often I’ve visited – there have been family afternoon teas in the cafe beside the river on whose other bank lies the churchyard, both with my  parents and later with my own children; it has been the starting point and the finishing point for hikes around the area; and in the last few years somewhere for a gentle amble and a re-living of memories with my father.

That was what October of this year was. A stroll along the main street, these days much, much busier than it was in the 1950s of course, although in October not too bad, and tea and scones in one of the excellent cafés; a turn around the churchyard ……..and a visit to the Gingerbread shop.

Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread is world-famous to those in the know, and the story of how it came to be is both heartbreaking and inspiring, take a minute to read it in the words on their website, which are far more eloquent than mine would be.  As you approach the tiny shop your nose begins to twitch, and when you enter, the warm and comforting smell of ginger fills the air. It’s very addictive! Moreover, the taste totally lives up to the anticipation the aroma produces! The gingerbread is hard and crunchy, but then disintegrates in the mouth in a burst of flavor, leaving the sugary, gingery crumbs to be licked off the lips. Oh, yes, it’s addictive!

The only problem I have with it is that it’s also dense and heavy, meaning I can’t bring too much back with me in these days of low-cost travel consequences, but perhaps that’s just as well!


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A Forgotten Post and a Forgotten Lifestyle

Travel is partly about contrasts, even when it’s to places you know fairly well. The contrast jerks you out of the rut which is inevitable if you stay anywhere for any length of time, and makes you look at things in a different way.  I scribbled most of this when I was flying back from England last month, but with thoughts of marathons, American football and pretty Welsh villages crowding my mind, I must have forgotten about it, and it only turned up yesterday as I was sorting through some papers.

I journeyed from a familiar place to a familiar country, albeit an unfamiliar part of it. This was my second visit to Guildford, the first was only in April. A true northerner, outside of London, I don’t know the south of the country of my birth at all. I had forays to Torquay, Dover, Bournemouth, Plymouth and places en route, but I never spent any significant time south of Birmingham, let alone of Watford.

Discovering Guildford last spring was a delight. The blossom, the willows bending over the river Wey, the neatness and the well-preserved state of the old buildings was balm to eyes accustomed to a desert landscape. Even in October, with leaves red and gold amongst the green, and some trees already bare, there was richness to the scenery. There is a long history there, although its beginnings are uncertain. It seems as if the area wasn’t of any interest to the Romans, but soon after they gave up on Britain, a Saxon settlement was established, and it’s been a thriving community ever since.

The origin of the name is uncertain, but there are two, main theories. It seems to come from the word “gold”, and refer to either golden sand on the river bank, or golden-colored flowers which grew there.

Modern Guildford is most definitely thriving. On the weekend I visited, the High Street thronged with shoppers, and the volume and quality of goods in the shops were quite breathtaking, really hard to believe that there’s a recession there. A disadvantage of living on an island is simply that there are some things which will never be imported. The market will always be insufficient for some traders. Hence my nose pressed up against shop windows in Guildford! A recent visit to the Meridiano shopping mall in Santa Cruz had been disappointing, every shop seemed to stock the same things, but in Guildford there were clothes of every type and hue and size, all the latest books, and, well, I have to admit to sheer confusion when I went to Boots to buy shampoo (pause for melodramatic sigh) there was just too much choice for me!

Wandering the main streets, evidence of Guildford’s history was all around. The guildhall dates back to 1300, although it’s been extended and altered over the centuries in between, and by contrast the town is now quite famous as home to well-known video games designers, producing world-famous products. This apparently follows a pattern in the area’s development. From a Saxon village of 700 souls to a population of almost 67,000 today, there has been a steady blossoming. On my first visit, last April, it crossed my mind that possibly it’s the kind of place which foreigners think of as “typically English”……a quaint, cobbled town centre, beautiful walks along a picturesque river and canals, rolling, green fields beyond and expensive houses to be glimpsed amongst the surrounding trees. It’s affluent and pleasant, most of the people we met whilst walking had smiles, including a lovely lady walking her Jack Russell, who spent a good while chatting with us. In addition, it’s only 35 minutes by train to London for theater, art galleries and history, and great sporting events.

There has to be a snag, right? English people will already have guess what it is ….. the cost of living in Guildford is said to be the highest outside of London. Still, it was a good visit. The high street is lined with great shopping, but also with excellent restaurants, most of them totally booked up on Saturday night, another sign that the recession is maybe be biting less there than elsewhere?

I considered it our luck, though, that we found a table in the delightful “Coal” bistro (so good I excuse them the glaring mistake of grammar on this page, one which always makes me cringe!) which I would recommend without hesitation. It’s a chain, but not a huge, impersonal one. Not only was the food delicious but the service was outstanding, and the atmosphere relaxed and mellow. The next night we tried Wagamama, which is a dining experience I’d been looking forward to since I first read about it. One of a chain again,  friendly but basic (as advertised), and the food was perfect. It really was Asian food with a new twist, which is what they say, and the touch of offering free green tea went down well with me, since I was on a health kick!

My favorite is Giraffe though. Guy took me for breakfast there in April, and going back was high on my to-do list for my October trip. No wonder it’s so busy, but we snuck in just before the Sunday brunch crowds, happily. Smoothies and Eggs Benedict (as good as I Hop’s), in fact, eggs just about any way you’d like them, plus other breakfast/brunch goodies. No wonder that I needed a brisk walk by the river to walk it all off! I didn’t even look at the evening menu – well you have to leave something for next time’s adventure.  I’ve made a note that they have a restaurant at Manchester Airport now, so I’ll remember that when I’m trip planning my next visit “home”.

The thing which strikes me now about all three of these places is that they are all chains.  When I left the UK 23 years ago, dining in a chain restaurant almost always meant lower quality, but all of these had that feeling of a privately-run business, pride in service and product, and a cosy kind of feel.  It brought home to me again that I’ve really become quite out of touch with everyday life in the UK.


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Yotel – like Sleeping in a Cocoon

Accommodation comes in all shapes and sizes these days, and I’ve had some variety in the little travelling I’ve done this year. I’ve stayed in a couple of “old-fashioned” hotels, those with dark and heavy woodwork, classic prints and red and gold carpets. The advantage of these is that they are predictable, and usually have good breakfasts. Also the older ones often have single rooms, which is a godsend if you’re travelling solo. In Guildford in April, I stayed in the YMCA, which was excellent. I had a private room, and it was comfortable enough for what I needed (i.e. to put my head down and shower). The breakfast wasn’t so cool, but the price was right. A couple of weeks ago in Guildford I stayed in a B & B, which was beautifully decorated, and had a private bathroom. If you were planning to spend any time at all in your room it was a great place, but since I wasn’t, and only wanted breakfast one of the two days, it didn’t work out that well at 70 pounds a night, not to mention I hurt my arm lugging my suitcase full of books up an exceptionally narrow staircase. The price had shot up from when I’d enquired in April, but I hadn’t realized! For a B & B to work for me the owners need to make me feel at home, and whilst they were formally friendly enough I still felt just a bit as if I was intruding in a private house. I cancelled a booking for later. I’ve also used  Ibis a couple of times, their prices in April were terrific,  39.50 at Gatwick and 45.00 in York, sans breakfast, but otherwise clean and basic, and, actually cheaper than the Y, and the private bathroom makes up for the no breakfast.

But, by far the most novel, cleanest, most comfortable and definitely most fun is Yotel at Gatwick Airport. I’m in the happy position of being able to write exactly what I think and feel here, so if I recommend something, it’s because I found it a really good experience.

The Monarch schedule flight which I like to take from Tenerife gets me into London at around midnight, so all I want to do is tumble into bed. When I planned my April trip I totally forgot about Yotel. Austin had used it a few years back, just after it first opened, and if I’d remembered it would have saved me time and cost of taxi fares, and probably I would have had at least an extra hour’s sleep……which I badly needed then, after a delay of about an hour, but then a much longer delay waiting for the baggage to appear, and an early start the next morning. This time I planned better. Even though I had an 8 hour delay it still worked out really well.

The concept is Japanese. Remember how shocked we were by those programs about the pigeon-hole sleeping accommodations for workers in Tokyo? Well, think that…..only luxurious. Creator, Simon Woodruffe, according to the group’s website, actually, was inspired by the sleeping arrangements on BA long haul, first class flight, but for me it spoke of days-of-yore train travel. I once had the hedonistic delight of travelling on the Orient Express, but, honestly, this is more comfortable, and the space is around the same size from what I remember.

This was my snug bed on the first night.

I arrived weary but uncomplaining (first rule of travel, always have a good book with you), and found that the entrance is happily located right opposite arrivals at the South Terminal. Nothing fancy about it, just a lift, which deposits you outside the glass doors of what appears to be Babylon 5. It was all prepaid, so the formalities were cheerfully over with quickly. I’d booked online. You can ring to book, but booking online is cheaper, and it’s credit card only. Within a few minutes of making my booking I’d received a text message to my cellphone, so I didn’t need to worry about printing the confirmation off, which was great the second time, because I didn’t have access to a printer.

A charming young man asked if I needed to avail myself of any of their services, which, other than the bed at that moment, I didn’t – it was 3am. He directed me to my cabin, and I wandered quietly along a corridor which made me think even more of a spaceship, and then down a couple of steps into my womb-like space.


TV right at the end of the bed

To my right was the bed (above), complete with tv (above), shelf and reading light. It looked so inviting I could hardly wait to find my toothbrush and crawl in. To my left was the bathroom, divided by glass doors which ran the length of the cabin, and with the best shower I had in all the time I was there. There was one towel, but it was soft and comfy, and so big I could have used it for a sheet.

Straight ahead was a mirror with a hook and a large coat hanger, and a folding table, and hooked onto the back of the door was a folding stool.  In other words, all you might need to overnight when travelling, or even just to freshen up and nap.  Rooms can be rented on an hourly basis.  On the inward journey I was too tired, but on the return journey I had plenty of time to check out the wifi, and it was so fast it would break the heart of anyone living here in Tenerife.  I almost cried!

On the second visit I ascended rather than descended a couple of steps to the cabin, and the bed was higher up, with a step to access it, like a bunk bed, but everything else was the same.

Not being mathematical I couldn’t figure out exactly how the layout worked, but obviously it maximized the space, and obviously my upper bunk probably fitted above a lower bunk in the cabin below or something.  Whatever, it’s very clever.  The only thing which worried me was that given this design it might be noisy, but I didn’t hear a thing the entire time, so obviously it is well sound-proofed (unlike some hotels, or even my apartment at home!)  It was also a delight to find the temperature was perfect, unlike the hotels I’d used, where they always seem to assume that one needs to feel as if one’s being cooked for Sunday lunch.  There was a control, but I didn’t need to touch it.

The staff were friendly and gave every appearance of being willing to be helpful, had I needed it.  Shampoo is provided and there are lots of power points, so you can charge up your phone and dry your hair whilst you’re online if you like.  There is room service, but I’m afraid I didn’t check it out, tempted as I was to curl up in that inviting space with a huge bowl of popcorn and a Jack Daniels, and watch t.v.    I paid 59 pounds for a standard room for the length of time I stayed.   A couple of days afterwards I got an email asking if everything had been ok, which was a nice touch.

The two nights I spent there were easily the two best night’s sleep I had on the trip, but mostly it was fun.  I felt like a kid again, especially on the second visit, as I climbed into my personal cocoon.  Maybe that’s why I slept so well, I don’t know, but I do know where I’ll be sleeping over on future visits.

Overall assessment:  it was fun, comfortable and it all just seemed so easy, stagger off the plane and into bed almost, or on the return, a great wake-up shower before setting off, instead of arriving by train or car all hot and sweaty and already stressed out.  It’s almost a Zen experience!

As well as Gatwick, there are Yotels in Heathrow and at Schipol in Amsterdam……and they are creating one in the heart of New York too.   Check out their website:

https://www.yotel.com/


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How Do You Spend a Half Day in London?

Being in London, with all it has to offer, and having only a few hours to spare, remembering that luggage has to be collected before journeying on, how was I going to spend those few hours?

Eventually, I narrowed it down to either the National Gallery, or a picnic in St James’s Park, and in the end I decided that if I got carried away in the National Gallery I might miss the train, and as it was quite warm and sunny St James’s Park seemed like a fine idea.

It was. The trees were resplendent, the day was calm and bright, and, considering it was half term, the park was lively but not crowded. It certainly was much quieter than the last time I saw it in April, when the London Marathon was taking place all around it. Back then it was all pinks and yellows and bridal whites, last week it was all golds and reds and every shade of green. If there was a contest between Autumn and Spring it would have to be a tie. They both dress the park magnificently.


Late April and the last daffodils grace the lakeside (above), but six months on the colors are all changed, and Autumn hues are reflected on the waters (below).

Strolling around the park, it was hard to imagine that this was all once marshy wasteland, hard to imagine any sort of countryside here in the heart of London, which, along with Paris, seems to me to have always been citified, however pretty parts of it may be.  It wasn’t until 1536 that Henry the Vlll decided to create a deer park on land that had, up until then, housed a leper hospital.  Not that it was for public use, it was fenced off for the pleasure of the king’s hunting, and the hunting lodge which was built is now St James’s Palace, so I suppose things have improved a bit since then!

“Our Scottish cousin”  (James l of England, 6th of Scotland for you furriners) who came to the throne in 1603 was, apparently not so much of a hunting man, and he had the parkland landscaped, and had what amounted to a private zoo, which was home to crocodiles, camels, an elephant and a collection of exotic birds in aviaries along one side – which is, as you’ve already guessed, now Birdcage Walk.

Fast forward through a Civil War and a depressing Puritan dictatorship and we find Charles l on the throne.  He’s been almost ten years living in elegant France, and has become a fan of the formal gardens there, so he commissions a redesign, probably by a French architect, but that seems uncertain.  The main feature is not the pretty lake which is there now, but a long, straight canal.

Charles being dedicated to pleasure (Nell Gwyn, nudge, nudge, wink, wink), it seems he was also more in touch with his subjects (or better at marketing the monarchy, my but he must be turning in his grave these days!) because he opened the park to the public.  He  introduced a game called pelle melle, which he had also picked up in France, which, it appears was akin to croquet, and a court was constructed in the park, and thus the name of the other main road, flanking the park took shape – Pall Mall, The Mall.

The park began to take its present form in the early 19th century, when the canal was done away with and the lake created.  The designer was famous architect John Nash, and since then there have been few major changes.  Buckingham Palace, which sits at the opposite end of the park from Horseguards’ Parade was enlarged and became the official, royal residence, and Marble Arch, which used to be sited outside the palace was moved to its present position, at the end of Oxford street.  Now the palace looks out at the Victoria Memorial, and thence to St James’s Park, which still has the title “royal park,”  and that’s my potted history of the same.

Certainly on this mid-Autumn day it was giving a lot of pleasure to the masses.  There were lots of people taking in the last of the sunshine on deck chairs or just lolling on the grass.  They won’t be able to hire those chairs again now until the Spring, October is the end of the “season”.  I found a sunny bench, and happily opened my paper bag containing lunch I’d picked up at the Camden Food Co, a succulent and healthy sandwich and a luscious fruit juice.  Honestly, it was so nice to be able to enjoy something healthy, and to be able to pick it up so easily.  Fast food in the UK all looked delicious.  It seemed like the days of curled up, corned beef sarnies have gone forever, even on the smallest station caff, but they have been replaced with way too much temptation.  American muffins, caramel slices, cookies, carrot cake and brownies all pleaded with me, and sandwiches bulged with chicken tikka, salmon with caramelized onions, falafel, humous and goats cheese, all wonderful, imaginative fillings, at least they appeared so to this backwater dweller.

I thought I might read for a while, but it was far more fun people watching.  I was sitting just behind where you can see that group of people in the photo above.  They are all gathered there because, unlike me, they saved some of their lunches to feed the numerous varieties of birds which make their homes in the park.  Countless numbers, I imagine, are totally “uninvited”, but the Royal ornithological Society presented the first “official” birds to the park in 1837, so I guess there are some with historic lineage too :=)   It was then that the pretty Birdkeeper’s cottage (below) was built.  It is an absolute gem, like something out of a children’s story book.    The garden is so typically English country style that you wonder if the plants are real.  There is even a vegetable patch.  The post of Birdkeeper still exists, but I’m not clear on whether the cottage is still his home.

It’s odd how I felt, strolling around.  It’s many years since I lived in England, and I never lived in the South, but there was a certain sense of comfort about being there.  I’ve always said Fall is my favorite month, and I don’t budge on that!

Maybe it’s because I grew up just about in the countryside, on the very edge of town, where the houses petered out and gave way to fields, and the seasons were important.  The first time I saw the movies “You Got Mail” (and there have been many, I blush to add) I totally identified with this quote:

Joe (Tom Hanks): “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address………….”

Maybe it’s because the school year began in September, but I can’t get the idea out of my head that Fall rather than Spring is a sense of renewal.  Does anyone else remember the exciting smell of newly-varnished desks, and the pleasure of seeing friends we’d missed all Summer?

So, I strolled, and remembered, and imagined, and, all of a sudden, I realized that the shadows were growing longer, despite it not being 4 o’clock yet, but it was time to pick up the luggage and take the train North.  Maybe next year I should try the park in Summer and Winter for an old-round impression of it.


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Autumn Colors in the English Lake District

Truth is that my stay in the Lake District was molded by how much my father could get around, which, at 87, is getting to be less, of course. The other thing is that – he won’t admit it. This meant that when I said I was going to, say, Grasmere, to take some snaps, he wanted to tag along, and since I knew that he wouldn’t be able to walk as far as I wanted, nor would it be good for him to stand around waiting for me to set up pictures, I had to cave and agree to going somewhere not so far, and with plenty of places to stop and rest. That said, I think I probably had missed the best of the foliage by maybe a week or so in any event. The trees there had lost a lot more of the leaves than they had down south, but here are a few pictures, just to give you an idea of how pretty it is there, and hopefully for my next visit I can work around this somehow!

Bowness-on-Windermere

Bowness has been a village on the lake for centuries, whereas, it’s close neighbour Windermere (village, not lake) was a Victorian invention.  That was where the railway station could be built that ferried the masses for their annual holidays.  I suppose this was the beginning of package holidays even, and, indeed, why should travel have been the right only of the hoi polloi?  Which also means that the currently fashionable debates about travel vs tourism, or sustainable tourism actually go way back.  Apparently even William Wordsworth lamented the opening up of the area by the railway…..mugwump that I am half of me totally agrees with him, and the other half thinks “snob”.  The village church, of St Martin dates back to at least 1483, and apparently there is debate about it dating back even further, though the nice lady in the  local tourist information office couldn’t office more advice than to try the library in Kendal (which I will do one day!)

 

That’s Belle Isle in the center of Lake Winderemere, where, as you can see, the colors still lingered.  Maybe I’m just getting older, but I can remember, literally, my breath being taken away by this view when I was younger.  I still find it awesome.

Boats are moored up for the winter. Summertime sees more boats on the lake than probably is good for it, but rarely in Winter.

Glorious, glorious colors!  Now this is what I came for.  Sitting majestically right on the main road through the village.

Depsite the mild weather, the bird population of the lake still was crowding the shore, waiting for scraps.  Authorities now have given up on asking people not to feed them, and merely ask that they not be fed too close to the road – because they don’t have any road sense!  There seem to be lots more swans than I remember here.

Lancaster

Strictly speaking, Lancaster isn’t a part of the Lake District, being the original county town of Lancashire. It is, however, sometimes refered to as the “gateway” to the Lake District.   It does have lots of history, and it’s a fascinating place for me, but this day I had to content myself with a tour around the lovely market in the center of town, where local produce was offered alongside second-hand books, homemade candy and chocolate, local cheeses, water colors by homegrown artists, and, of course, because it was a a few days before Halloween, pumpkins.

The goods on this homemade candy stall were mouth-watering.  The lady told me that everything was personally made by her friends.  I was SO restrained, and limited myself to a couple of items for gifts!

I even resisted these croissants, and the rest of my haul included one second-hand book, and two cheeses, also for gifts.

Kendal

True to form (it is, I think, the wettest town in England) it rained for most of my time in Kendal, so there are only a couple of pictures, and not too brilliant ones at that.  Were my father not there, I would find Kendal utterly resistible, I think.  It seems drab compared to other Lake District towns, and the people more like harrassed townsfolk than laid back country folk.  That said – who can blame them, given the weather??

The potentially bright spot was that there was a food fair the day after I arrived, but it was a very bedraggled sight – people and animals (yes I really do want to look at the cows and sheep which I am going to eat tomorrow……..and yeah, I know, I shouldn’t eat them if I’m not willing to do the killing, but truth is I hardly ever do) sheltering under tarpaulins, with the people on the  produce stalls looking more ready for home than for selling.  I did buy some scones from a nice man who I kind of took pity on because he’d come from a village where I used to live, quite a long way away, to stand in the downpour, and promote his goods, but it was all a bit kind of weird in the rain for me.  I suppose I am spoiled by the food fairs here, which have sunny days or balmy nights on which to push their wares.  Still, it might have been just that I was in a grumpy mood again, my camera battery was almost dead, the rain was running off my brolly and down my neck, and I was worried about my dad getting wet, since he seemed to carry his umbrella but not use it.  I did wonder what possessed them to hold this fair in the Autumn and not in Summer, but I also had to marvel at the resilience of the stall holders, chatting away as if the sun was shining.  Made me think how nesh we all get, living on a sub-tropical island.


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Autumn’s In the Air

I have a kind of quiet confidence in my luck with weather.  One year I came to England for 8 months.  I arrived in late Summer, which rapidly melded into an Autumn worthy of a poet, or a movie.  Leaves turned from green to gold and yellow and red in a fashion so perfect it was breathtaking.  As I drove, early morning,  through country lanes, mists rose as if on cue, and and reflected the pale sunlight as they swirled and melted in the waxing day.  I don’t remember much rain, just crispness and sunshine.

Such a day it was here, in England,  both yesterday and Sunday.  Apparently, I slept soundly through a loud and nasty overnight storm (well, after an 8 hour flight delay one would!) , but Sunday dawned a stunningly, perfect, crunchy day worthy of the season …….my luck holds!  Fall is the only time I am “homesick”.  I’m not sure this qualifies as “homesick” because this doesn’t really feel like home, but I am enjoying the atmosphere, the colors, the food (surprisingly!).  Even the fact that it feels like the day is waning by 3 pm hasn’t really fazed me – though I’m sure it would if I lived here!

This is perfect weather for walking, even just strolling, admiring the landscape and snapping away.  It isn’t yet so cold that being outdoors becomes something of a trial.  I have hopes for some great photos for once!  More later!!

It does look, though, as if Autumn came suddenly and too soon for this poor bee, who, it seems, met his fate whilst still working at his pollen collection.


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Home Thoughts From Abroad

Somehow, a detailed description of a week in England just wouldn’t come, so here are some random thoughts.

Overall, once the airport idiots were history, people seemed much friendlier than I remember. OK Tube etiquette dictates no eye contact, but how can you resist commenting to the owner of a super-cute French bulldog about how much you like it? Response? Friendly-  probably relieved I wasn’t moaning about having a dog on the Tube? I come from the North of England, where, tradition has it, folk are warmer, but not my experience on this trip.

Surprised how little coverage the General Election is getting. Weird, in fact. OK, yes, it was on the news, but very few posters in windows, billboards, discussion unless you mentioned it first. Is this because people are apathetic or sophisticated? The few posters in windows I saw …. 100%  Lib-Dem. Should be interesting!

Spring is most definately sprung – obviously I lived in a seasonal desert in the North West, because I always thought Spring much overated, but in London and surrounds I could see it was luxuriant, vibrant and very pretty.

The London Marathon ROCKS!!! From the Expo to the (divine) Richard Branson news conference to the day itself it was an exhilarating, eye-opening, inspriring and awesome event…..and I was only a (partisan) spectator!

It is, according to Virgin, the biggest charity-venue-generating event in the world. Now, with that many people with good in their hearts how could it be bad? I didn’t realize until much, much later that I had lost my voice in cheering on the ones who looked on their last legs, the wheelchair participants, the ones who were joking and winding up the crowd. Guy’s presence was a matter of minutes for me, so it was the general atmosphere which had gotten me going!

And, afterwards, struggling down the Tube, waiting for a taxi, everyone seemed to be carrying the red bags which marked them as runners. OK – please don’t be cynical – yes, it’s great publicity for Virgin, and they freely admit it. So if they do well they will be able to sponser next year, if they don’t turn a profit ? What? Warm fuzzies knowing my son was greeted by strangers on the street with a thumbs up, asking his time, saying “Well done”. Marvellous feeling of community!

Food? Less expensive than expected.  Likewise hotels and hostels with the exception of the NH Harrington Hall, which bumped up its price from the advertised 97 pounds a night to 150 pounds per night for the experience of resting my head on one of their pillows overnight (no time for breakfast!) , because it was Marathon weekend.  Part of me thinks “They are trying to survive a crisis”, but the other part of me? Simply couldn’t really afford it.  I know it’s central London, but it really wasn’t anything special.  No way would I recommend it.  I would recommend the good, old YMCA in Guildford, and also Ibis Hotels from whom I got good deals in both London and York (cheaper than the B & Bs I looked at – whilst B & Bs (especially somewhere like York) have a lot of charm, there is also a lot to be said for the convenience of low-cost hotels.

Trains?  Great!  Scored good deals on London to York and York to Manchester Airport.  Clean.  Pleasant and helpful staff.  Sorry can’t remember which company ran each line.  I understand that if you book last minute it is expensive, but you qualify for advance booking only two days before the date of travel.  York to Manchester Airport was less than half of what I used to pay.

Manchester Airport?  Hate the changes.  This is my “home” airport,  the one from which I have flown most often, so I kind of liked it the way it was – thanks Osama, I put the changes down to you, with the exception of the dive through duty free one has to make to get a cup of coffee, but that, I suppose, is the times.

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