Beautiful Brugge

Hi Everyone. I was absent from blogging last week because we were in the beautiful city of Brugge (you may have seen it more commonly spelled as Bruges). We sailed over on a two-night cruise to spend the day for two reasons. One of which was curiosity. We had heard both good and bad reviews of the flagship Britannia and wanted the experience and to make up our own mind.

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The Atrium

Our view is short is that while well conceived overall the ship is seriously let down by a few design flaws, most importantly the lack of a central staircase, which would ease congestion on the lift (even if unable to walk up, many would have used them going down). There were stairs mid-ship but only for the crew or to be used in an emergency. At least we found points we did like, including a good bottle of wine in the wine bar.

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Wine Bar, Coffee shop, and shops surround the Atrium

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Decided if this were a long cruise this would be my spot in the library.

On to Brugges. I was shocked to hear a few less than complimentary remarks when we said we were going. We’ve been three times. This occasion, we went to do some shopping.

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The famous Belfry (I’ve climbed twice), over 36o steps.

What is Brugge famous for? Most chocolate, beer, and lace. My tip for chocolate is don’t opt for the cheapest as you’ll be eating butter not cocoa. Of course, there are also cakes.

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Just one of the bright ‘eat me’ displays.

Beer…it’s an acquired taste for some so it’s one of those flavours that needs experiencing rather than recommendation. Belgium beer is very different from other parts of the world, though can be more refreshing. Lace…I bought my first pieces, both with Halloween/Autumnal themes. I also bought an Autumn Mix bag of chocolates that is too cute to eat…but I’m sure I will manage, though I may save them until the end of the month. But for the writer in me, I love the architecture, which screams story setting and fairy tales.

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Looks like something magical should happen.

For now…life returns to normal with a shiver or two not created by anything I’ve written. There’s a definite nip in the air.

A Pictorial Narrative

I confess I missed last week’s blog. I had my laptop, I had interview access, but I was away on holiday, which also involved some semi-research and it all got a little too much. Started to feel more like work than a break so something had to get overlooked. So this week while I get catch up with everything I thought I’d take you along with me to some of the fun things.

Hard to spot but on the way down spotted all these people floating in the sky. Not bad shots considering we were in a moving car and this wasn’t my best camera.

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    The perfect sunset greeted us as we arrived. Love this sky.

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A lovely stretch of Cornish coastline.

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Minster Church, not easy to get to.

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If in the area it’s a must to visit Davidstow Airfield & Cornwall at War Museum, whether interested in the subject or not. All put together by the exhausting work of volunteers who deserve recognition for their efforts. They’ve taken my box brownie camera to put on display.

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Launceston Castle.

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IMHO English Heritage charge a little too much to get into the castle but it’s worth doing once for the views.

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Love the zoom on my camera.

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Lisbon and Obidos

Whenever there are claims that a place may be the most beautiful capital city, I’m skeptical. I admit this is largely because I’m not much of a city person. Whenever we visit a capital I tend to like to pass through as quickly as possible, and often it’s amazing I visit any at all. While Lisbon is still too much ‘city’ for me, it is a place I won’t hesitate to return to if the opportunity allows.

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We weren’t there for more than a few hours, and I was more taken with the tiled buildings, and the view of the river than anything else, so am unable to report what the city has to offer. I would recommend a trip on the water to fully appreciate the expanse of the bridges.

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P1060776The most famous of these is the one modelled on San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. 230 above the water, it is possible to view the cars passing overheard and it’s a good opportunity to make use of a camera with a good zoom function.

P1060777The bridge was originally called Salazar. These days its official name is the 25th April Bridge after the 1974 revolution, but some also refer to it as the Tagus Bridge (the waterfront lying along the River Tagus), or more simply, ‘The Bridge’.
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On one side stands the towering statue of Christ, resembling the one in Rio de Janeiro, this one paid for by the women of Portugal to give thanks their men were not involved in the Second World War. The plinth is 270 feet high served by a lift and steps and a promise of a good view. The statue is 90 feet high. I struggled to get this shot of the statue, bridge and boat, taking several and hoping for the best. I got the shot I wanted.

Thought to have been found by Ulysses, during its history Lisbon has been occupied by both the Romans, and the Moors, taken by English Crusaders who assisted the King of Portugal. This history is far more complex than I’m stating in a couple of sentences but is useful to bare in mind when viewing much of the architecture.
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There’s much to see and do beyond Lisbon and I can think of several places we heard about that tempt us to return. We had the chance to visit only one outlying area and so chose Obidos.

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Though busy with tourists if you’re looking for a picture postcard it’s a good choice. With it’s towering 12th century castle ramparts around a walled city of bright colours and cobbled streets, it’s a romantic spot.
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One word of warning we were given — there’s no one ‘policing’ people going on the wall and many like to walk around the city from the top. However, we were told that they’d already had several accidents this year as they do every year. Tourists taking photos forget there’s a drop to one side, step back to take a photograph, and…you don’t need me to explain the rest. If unsteady don’t make the attempt and don’t become distracted!

P1060713We went in a few of the seemingly tiny shops and discovered they extend far back room upon room in some cases. There’s plenty to find for the browser or shopper. Having cleared much from my house in recent months and having a couple of pieces of Portugal pottery all I bought home was the photographs.

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Seems two passengers can get in the back of these and the driver gives a little guided tour. Didn’t get a chance but wouldn’t mind one of these to use in some of the country villages we often visit in the UK.

P1060726And so as not to leave you with this as the final image, here’s another beautiful example of Portuguese tiling, and the wonderful countryside around Obidos.

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A quick stop at Fuerteventura

This week’s hop takes us to what was our least favourite stop on our five island tour: Fuerteventura. This is just personal taste. It’s a beautiful place in many ways and, having considered a holiday there many years ago, we were delighted to finally see the sand dunes. However, we’re not beach people and find the typical tourist spots unappealing.

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Fuerteventura is closest to the African continent, second in size to the largest, Tenerife, with Lanzarote being the nearest of the other islands. Fuerteventura is part of Las Palmas province, a self-governing collective of Spain. The original inhabitants likely came from North Africa.

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Few attempted to settle permanently moving on to more hospitable areas. The island has seen its share of conflict, conquered, disregarded, considered to be of little interest, the populace sold into slavery, and the island raided by pirates during a turbulent history. The island’s fortunes didn’t change eminently until the 1960s with the introduction of mass tourism.
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We decided to head to Corralejo, the largest area of dunes. The full stretch runs 10 kilometres along the coast, reaching as far as 203 kilometres inland, the area–know as Parque Natural de las Dunas de Corralejo–being a protected region.

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The harbour is pleasant and there’s plenty of available shopping. Touts attempting to drag tourists into restaurants or to attend presentations were easily ignored (I suspect more easily and less aggressive than on some islands), but this was still too much of a typical tourist trap for us.

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The dunes are impressive and beautiful, but for people who don’t like to sunbathe, a walk and a few hours were good enough.

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Hola La Palma

I continue our hop around the canaries this week with a stop at La Palma. We were told La Palma is the world’s steepest island. Whether true we were also informed it’s lush and green, and that’s definite. We’ve never seen so many banana plants.

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Drive from one side to the other and emerge from a tunnel between contrasting landscapes; this is because the climate varies on the two sides. The north is divided by deep ravines and surrounding mountains. The south has small volcanoes with smatterings of volcanic scenery that in pockets of land reminded me of Iceland, while the whole isle enjoys high temperatures all year and plenty of rain.

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Though the island has a turbulent history, more recently it’s a peaceful, prosperous place. Locals have no wish to see huge holiday resorts or high-rise hotels so though welcoming it’s more unspoilt than some islands.

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I want to finish with one highlight. We heard good feedback on Plaza La Glorieta in La Las Machas. It’s much smaller than we imagined and one comes upon it quite suddenly in a landscape where it’s unexpected and even seems a little out of place. We anticipated a more typical tourist location, not this small quiet, tranquil area. The mosaic park is open with no admission charge. Designed by Luis Morera, a local artist, the detail on the mosaics made this a delightful place to stop and is artistically inspirational.

P1060601P1060593Adios, La Palma

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La Gomera

When people talk of the Canary Islands one instantly thinks of noise, lager louts, and the party scene reputation of tourism, none of which are to our taste. One of the main reasons we travel is to view stunning scenery, of which the islands have plenty.

Our second stop on our recent wanderings was the little-known island of La Gomera, which lies fifteen miles west of Tenerife, and thirty miles south-east of La Palma. In fact, it’s easy to see Tenerife on a clear day and one of my favourite photographs I took on the whole trip had to be of the highest peak seeming to grow out of the clouds.

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The roughly circular island is just thirteen by fifteen miles and is full of contrast. No one is certain from where the original inhabitants came to this small island where there is little to do, though North Africa is a possibility, and the Greek and Romans definitely knew of the area. Mediterranean civilisation knew of the islands as the Elysian Fields. Its population of 24,000 (10,000 of which live in the capital of San Sebastian) largely subsist on fishing or agriculture, with a small but growing tourist industry. Note: Columbus came this way, and though we didn’t have time to see it, the house in which he stayed and drew water from the well for his voyages has been fully restored.

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Though essentially arid, La Gomera is varied in its landscape. With cliffs and deep valleys at first glance one might expect to spot a film crew shooting a wild west movie in a place like this:

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I could picture this as a movie set.

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The average temperature ranges between 65 to 75, though to us it felt far hotter for the time we were there. This was definitely the hottest island we visited in the area that is known for year round ‘springlike’ weather. In fact, we wanted to get out of the heat for a bit so decided to head for Garajonay National Park, which, we had been told, was liable to be cool and misty. Not so the day we went. Take your rain jackets they said. People were giving us funny looks.

P1060506Reminded us of Puzzlewood in the UK.

P1060521No, I didn’t take the tree shot at an angle–that’s how it is.

The forest looks primeval in places and we had heard many good things and read some wonderful reviews calling the place magical. Our own take… Yes, we loved it, and it was good to get a chance to really ‘walk’, get away from crowds, take in the trees and flowers, but maybe one needs a misty day to find the place magical. Indeed, the online photos I’ve found look far more mystical than the views we saw on a dry, sun-baked day.

P1060514Maybe we weren’t the only ones who wanted to rest in the heat.

We’ve also been rather spoilt by our visit to Puzzlewood near the Forest of Dean in the UK, which rivals the national park in scenery if not size. Anyone who has been to and loved the forest on La Gomera might be amazed what is on our own doorstep.

Bom dia, Madeira

Over the next few weeks, I thought to share some holiday snaps with you as I sort through them. It takes time. I do tend to get carried away with the camera and it’s difficult to choose a ‘few’ shots. We went somewhere new for us in the world.

When visiting the Canary Islands it’s too easy to forget where you are. We’ll start where we began: Madeira. The archipelago lies in the Atlantic Ocean, north of the Canaries, and west of Morocco. I’ve been to Portugal a few years ago yet never spared a thought for the Portuguese islands lying 600 miles south-west of Lisbon.

Bom dia (Good day), Madeira.

MISTY MORNING AT FUNCHAL (Madeira’s Capital)

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Though a comparatively short stop, I knew right away I’ll happily revisit (and hope to). I opted not to ride the cable car this time, though I would if we ever return. If interested, footage can be found on someone’s trip aboard on youtube. There’s much else to see and do in Funchal, not least of all to try Madeira cake which puts our supermarket variety to shame. I was also rather taken with Poncha — the traditional alcoholic drink made from the island’s sugar cane, containing honey, and aguardiente de cana (a distilled spirit) and different fruit juices, though we were told usually orange, and the best way to describe ours is as ‘alcoholic orange juice’. Locals imbibe to ‘ward off colds and flu’; I guess the orange juice makes it healthy, right?

My second highlight has to be the good reason it’s referred to as an island of flowers. I was naturally going to be instantly fond of Madeira because it’s green. Mountainous with deep valleys, it’s scenic qualities is one of those I love best.

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I decided to visit the caves at Sao Vicente for personal grounds I had heard these caves were like visiting no other and it’s true. It’s cool and wet so I needed my rain jacket, not outside once on this holiday, but underground exploring Madeira’s geological past. The display at the end of the cave walk is a little dated but the film shown enlightens the visitor on how the islands formed and change. A volcanic eruption 890 years ago created the caves, and after creating the inner world for my Space 1889 story ‘A Fistful of Dust’ set on Phobos, I wanted to explore. These are lava tubes. The idea of walking where lava once flowed was too good for me to ignore.

(What do you think, Andy? A good setting?)

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Adeus (Goodbye)

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Happy Anniversary

Been absent for a couple of weeks, away on holiday to celebrate a special anniversary. Some highlights on what we saw in other blogs but for now I’ll say the holiday was good, never as relaxing and restorative as people hope they will be, but we had an amazing meal on our anniversary in a special restaurant. Another couple we met went the night before so told the staff it was our anniversary and they decorated the desert plates.

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Mine was the rectangle plate and smaller dessert, a chocolate pudding with sorbet. Best chocolate creation I may have ever tasted. Want the recipe. The husband wondered why they felt he needed to chill. lol

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A Blast from the Past

It’s April 2007 and I’m watching Night at the Museum. Mickey Rooney is in the cast. I’m experiencing a blast from the past, but one of those synchronous moments, a weird coincidence. I’ve recently lost my father. The connection — as tenuous as it can be between people and families at times — has been severed. When grief is fresh, it’s often difficult to invoke a good recollection and, depending on the relationship, sometimes those are scarce. Seeing the thespian conjures a welcome memory.

Many years ago, I booked tickets for Sugar Babies at the Savoy Theatre in London; the performance starred Mickey Rooney and Anne Miller. I don’t know why but at the last instant, I instructed the agent to add an extra ticket. I didn’t check with our friends whether they minded, or if my father were free. I took a spur of the moment chance. Our friends didn’t mind, and I told him to make sure he was available. I did not tell him where he was going except to see a show.

Sugar Babies is a musical revue, a tribute to the era of burlesque. Some might have thought it strange that our age group wanted to attend, but many of us had grown up watching musicals airing on a Sunday afternoon. The production was as nostalgic for us as for someone of my father’s generation.

A fabulous evening was had by all, though if you were to ask me now to note the songs sang, or the skits performed, I couldn’t. I can remember the moment Mickey came onto the stage too soon then had to stand pretending to be invisible until he could step in on cue, much to the entertainment of the other actors and the crowd. That Anne still had those fabulous shapely legs, which I rightly knew my father would enjoy viewing for real and not just on the television. That the saying not to work with children or animals, applies, at least when TV and stage is concerned: namely, a sketch where a woman had to stand covered in birds; the enactment went well except for the ‘little presents’ left on the floor, which created more laughter in a scene that should, and otherwise did, look beautiful.

We all had a wonderful night, but my father enjoyed himself most. He laughed his proverbial socks off and watching him laugh added to our amusement. I spent the evening sitting by his side while he chuckled, grinned, clapped and whistled. He did these things to the point of embarrassing, was the last one to stop, the last person to leave his seat — wonderful! Not only do I have this recollection, he took pleasure in a marvelous evening during a hard working, stressful and, at times, painful life. My impulsive decision gave him enjoyment. For a few hours, he was able to set everything else aside.

This reveals a routinely overlooked truth: entertainment serves more than one purpose. A good book, a film, a play, music… Such things are part of our lives to a greater extent than we realise. The books I read as a child, many of which I still own, are friends, much as the people who remain a constant presence, and are as priceless. Not only do these things entertain, sometimes providing us with a much-needed escape, the moments they create shape our future, present, and our past.

The format doesn’t matter. What makes us laugh, gasp, cry, jump or stare in wonder — all these are markers, our companions along the way, part of the journey from birth unto death, and they form the blasts from the past that help our loved ones recall those happy moments once we are gone.

I owe a thank you to the creators, organisers, and performers for a precious memory…and to the writers, without whom such shared experiences would never happen.