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St. Albans & Canterbury

I apologize for the length of this post which really should be two blogs but I am very behind with 2017 posts!

St. Albans:

I spent a great deal of my youth in St. Albans, and as we were staying in High Wycombe last Summer, it was a relatively easy destination (albeit after the dreaded Handy Cross double roundabout!) and we set off on a rather cloudy day to visit the site of my misspent, but happy youth.  St. Albans is about 20 miles north of London in the county of Hertfordshire, formerly the site of a Roman city called Verulamium. Poor Alban was executed by the Romans for the crime of being the first British Christian (at least who was caught), and a lovely cathedral was erected on the site of his untimely demise by some pious local converts to Christianity. Shortly afterwards the Romans said, “Screw this bloody cold place called Britannia, let’s go back to Italia!”

I always loved growing up there so it was a pleasant surprise to see that little had changed other than the addition of a multi story car park. The lovely wide, tree-lined High Street still exists as the site of the wonderful market that is held twice a week as farmers and local merchants sell their produce. From light bulbs to locally grown cabbages, pashminas to potatoes everything is available among the hustle and bustle of ‘market day!’  I used to love shopping with my mother for soggy celery and bloody beetroots that were inevitably hauled home under a cloud burst of rain after we had huddled in the bus shelter waiting for a number 8 bus back to Woodland Drive and later Colney Heath Lane.

The day we visited all kinds of memories flooded back walking along the ancient 15th century Christopher Row past the Old Clock Tower and across George St to the Abbey School and the Cathedral enclosure.

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Clock Tower and Christopher’s Row (I believe the tower is the only medieval free standing tower in the UK – in other words not attached to a church).

We ate our sandwiches, purchased at Marks & Spencers delicious food hall, in a garden by the Abbey grounds before heading down to a famous pub in Verulamium Park. ‘Ye Olde Fighting Cocks’ is reckoned to be one of the oldest pubs in the county, as the crooked building attests to the march of time and the many drunken brawls that undoubtedly echoed in the surrounding alley.20170829_14145420170829_141544 (1).jpg

Circling back to George Street this view of the Abbey was quite lovely. There is an ancient oak tree at the side of the Abbey that is reputed to be haunted by some poor  woman in white who was left at the altar or some such rubbish – probably the tree rustled in the wind and terrified a local drunk staggering up the hill from ‘Ye Olde Fighting Cocks’!

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St. Albans Abbey

Finally as we passed St Albans School (one of England’s best public grammar schools for boys) and puffed our way back up George Street, to what was once my parent’s favourite steakhouse, The Tudor Tavern. I was a bit upset to see it is now a Thai restaurant, but as long as this venerable old site is being taken care of then all is good. After all nothing like a good Pad Thai in a good old British setting.

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The old Tudor Tavern with the ubiquitous orange cones signifying nothing!

We didn’t venture over to the Roman ruins (of which many are being unearthed) after this morning of memories but decided to tootle off to Ayot St Lawrence – a nearby tiny village, to see Shaw’s Corner, where the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw lived from 1906 until his death in 1950.  It was here in his garden shed that he produced some of his most famous works such as Pygmalion and Major Barbara. The shed is constructed on a turnstile  so he could always have the sun shining in the right position to write his masterpieces. I must remember to have Bob build me a shed that turns around…….with air conditioning, a wine ‘fridge and a 78″ screen TV.

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Shaw’s Shed

 

 Canterbury:

So……we actually went to Canterbury on our last trip to the UK back in 2015 but I feel I must mention it as it is such a beautiful cathedral city with much historical significance and a vibrant university life. Bob and I had gone ostensibly to see our niece and nephew who were studying at the University of Kent. Kent is a lovely county known as the garden of England and the Eurostar train hurtles out of the Channel Tunnel from the beautiful Normandy countryside into Kent where travellers are treated to a bit of bucolic British countryside views.

We were fortunate enough to stay in the grounds of the cathedral at the Cathedral Lodge Hotel and it was absolutely heavenly! I recommend this lovely, peaceful hotel, even for non Christians, as it has a wonderful library within the hotel and in such an historically interesting site.  Laying in bed at night and seeing the great cathedral lit up from our bedroom window was a truly spiritual experience. Entrance to the cathedral itself is included if you are a guest at the hotel, as is parking. I almost had a nervous breakdown negotiating the one way maze of tiny streets to find the hotel, and after an embarrasing 12 point turn in front of several bemused locals who no doubt found my potty mouth a good source of interesting new vocabulary, we finally arrived inside the cathedral grounds.

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The view from our bedroom window

Here comes a history lesson –  zip forward if you wish to remain ignorant – carry on if you need sleep medication!

The Archbishop of Canterbury is Primate of the Church of England and as such he is the spiritual  head of the Anglican church.  Originally the Archbishops were under the Roman Catholic Popes but Henry VIII had a bit of a quarrel with the Pope when he refused to annul his marriage to the Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Henry was a second son and not destined to be king but his older brother, Arthur, died at age 15 and Henry subsequently became the monarch at age 11. For political reasons with Spain, he ended up marrying his dead brother’s wife (who claimed her marriage to Arthur was never consummated) and they were married quite happily, it seems, for 24 years until poor old Catherine was put aside in favour of Anne Boleyn, who Henry was completely besotted with. He desperately needed a male heir (and prevent the former Plantagenet rulers coming back into power) and Catherine, now 40 years old had only managed to produce one child who lived, a girl – Mary. After much begging, pleading and creative reasoning as to why his marriage should be annulled, Pope Clement obstinately still refused to countenance it, and Henry married Anne anyway and said ‘screw you’ to the Pope. A lot of unfortunate beheadings followed and Henry declared himself head of the Protestant Church of England (a bit like Catholic church really, but not quite so theatrically flamboyant and easier to understand as the Mass is said in English, not Latin). Henry discovered that the church was very, very wealthy indeed and as he was the King, all the revenue, lands and priceless jewels would revert to him. “What a brilliant idea,” he thought as he rampaged through England, destroying all the monasteries and churches that did not convert to Protestantism and the Reformation in England was forthwith born. Why am I telling you all this? Well, with Henry being very annoyed and chopping off heads hither and thither, Archbishop Cranmer wisely decided that the king was always right, and so he obsequiously agreed that Henry should be married to the beautiful Anne and ditch boring old pious Catherine. He became the very first Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and the inheritors of this illustrious title have always been spiritual Primates of the Anglican church and the monarch (today – Queen Elizabeth II) is the figure head of the church. Does that explain it?

Inside the beautiful cathedral are relics of important figures in British history. The Black Prince is buried there and his amour is on display…a very brave warrior, he  won many medieval battles.

The most venerated icon though is of Thomas A Becket, the rebel-rouser, cohort and dearly beloved friend of Henry II. (see Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole in ‘Becket’ when you get a chance). Like Sir Thomas More with Henry VIII, he also would not kowtow to the concept of the King’s divine right as God’s stand-in on earth. He believed that God was the supreme deity  – for this Henry II raged (not in earnest, it is believed) to his knights “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” Well, off some of the more brown-nosing knights rode to Canterbury, and killed poor Thomas on the Cathedral steps.  Subsequently, the Pope declared Thomas a Saint and Henry never really recovered from the loss of his friend, and performed many pilgrimages to beg forgiveness for his foolish words. His Ancestor Henry VIII had Thomas’s bones and grave removed during the dissolution of the monasteries but a shrine to him is now inside the great cathedral. He is revered as a saint by both Catholics and Protestants.

 

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Interior of Canterbury Cathedral, the site of Thomas’s stabbings

 

Cannot write abut Canterbury without mentioning the Canterbury Tales written by Geoffery Chaucer. Supremely funny and very bawdy medieval tales about a group of pilgrims going to Canterbury to worship at the shrine of Thomas A Becket. Wonderfully relevant tales of every day life in England during the Middle Ages. All brought to life with such clarity and understanding of everyman’s predicaments. Lots of opportunities in Canterbury to experience these marvelous tales as there are several daily performances of Chaucer’s stories within the city walls, performed by very funny actors.

 

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A lovely spot for lunch

 

Besides all the historical significance Canterbury is now a  very hip town with lots of great shops. restaurants, pubs and artistic, cultural life! Most definitely a wonderful place to visit especially if you are staying  in London. Also it’s close to Dover for any European vacations.

Postscript:

The other great ancient cathedral cities in England are York, Lincoln and Winchester, Wells, St Paul’s in London, Christ Church in Oxford, Exeter, Durham, Ely, Norwich, Liverpool, Truro, Chichester, Gloucester, Carlisle, Worcester and Salisbury just to name a few!  There are other majestic Abbeys in other spots around the British Isles, but to me the beautiful old Norman churches in the small villages are the epitome of British life when the world was a much simpler place. Rather like the church in Fryerning, Essex, where my grandparents and father and other members of our family are all laid to rest.

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‘St Mary the Virgin’ church in Fryerning – Essex. An11th century church with a 15th century tower

 

All for now – next blog will be about Arundel, West Sussex and Cornwall, with a tiny mention of a sweet place I loved called Dove Cote!

 

 

 

 

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The Chilterns Part 2 – High Wycombe, West Wycombe & Hughenden

My last blog focused on Marlow, Henley-on-Thames and Windsor – more frequently visited places but in this blog I want to mention some lesser known spots that we loved and are often overlooked on tours of the UK.

High Wycombe itself is a small town north west of London in the county of Buckinghamshire and is an ideal location for a London commuter – our 6 week stay house-sitting at my cousin’s beautiful converted barn house was full of wonderful days outings some of which were related in the last blog.

 

 The market in High Wycombe and a typical flower bed in the town.

 

West Wycombe Park, Village and the Caves are a must see! We went on the Bank Holiday Monday and a lovely sunny day dawned to herald the end of August.  As we were staying in High Wycombe we had been told about West Wycombe Park and the caves that Sir Francis Dashwood, the local landed gentry who lived in Wycombe Park, had the local villagers dig by hand, back in the 18th century. Ostensibly to provide work for the townsfolk they were eventually used for far more nefarious doings of dastardly deeds! Tunneled into the chalk hills the caves are a labyrinth of twisting narrow passageways with ‘rooms’ for hidden trysts and soirees of the notorious Hellfire Club. The Dashwood family still live in the graceful Palladian styled home that features lavishly painted ceilings, classical frescoes and overlooks an Arcadian scene of green fields, a glistening lake and wooded walks! This beautiful home and grounds has been featured as a location for Downton Abbey, Bridget Jones’ Baby, Cranford and Endeavour to name a few. As a fascinating aside – Bob was playing golf at Temple Golf Club with a friend who told him that they were actually playing behind the current Lady Dashwood! When my gauche American husband went into the 19th hole for a drink after the game he was soundly reprimanded and told to remove his cap! Poor Lady Dashwood must have been positively prostrate with horror!

West Wycombe Park & the Mausoleum overlooking the Chiltern Hills

 

The creepy Caves are tunneled under the mausoleum and go for miles!

 

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Perfect spot for a Halloween party!

Our next day’s outing was to Hughenden Manor in the Wycombe Valley and the former home of that esteemed British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. Adored by Madam grumpy herself, Queen Victoria, he rose to the highest office in the land after a difficult education and childhood. Born Jewish in Victorian times he nevertheless strove to improve the lot of his fellow Brits. Benjamin was 12 years old when his father fell out with the local Rabbi and had all his children baptized in the Christian faith and in doing so he paved the way for Disraeli’s future career.  Educated at a lesser public school (private, exclusive schooling for upper class children), he rose to prominence and was subsequently very instrumental in creating the modern Conservative party as a Democratic political party. He wrote several novels but became heavily involved in politics and was elected Prime Minister twice. He was famously quoted, “I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole.” Apparently he spent much time flattering Queen Victoria in the most obsequious manner imaginable and when he heard that she was extremely jealous of her granddaughter, Alexandra Feodorovna, spouse of Nicholas II, whose title was Empress of Russia, whilst she was a mere Queen, Benjamin decided that Parliament should bestow the title ‘Empress of India’ upon Her Royal Peevishness! She was greatly mollified and continued to reign and marry her 13 or so offspring into all the Royal families of Europe, thereby spreading haemophilia and ultimately setting the stage for World War 1. She detested her nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm, as he had behaved very badly at one of her daughter’s weddings.

‘Dizzy,’ as Disraeli was fondly called by his wife, Mary Anne, whom he married for money but ultimately loved very much, built a very beautiful home overlooking the Chiltern Hills at Hughenden and Mary Anne designed the lovely gardens. Definitely worth a visit – the docents in each room are only too happy to explain historical significance and relate ‘Dizzy’ stories.

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Mary Anne Disraeli’s Parterre
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The view from Hughenden House on a rather gloomy summer day
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Disraeli’s living room with the portrait of his wife, Mary Anne, over the mantelpiece
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Dizzy’s library

Next up is Bletchley Park, Dove Court and my old home town St. Albans!


 

 

The Norwegian Bliss – A Cruise in the Caribbean.

20190330_132110When my husband proudly announced that for my birthday he had secured a cruise on the Norwegian Lines biggest and newest ship, Bliss, I was overjoyed. My idea of a vacation is not packing, unpacking, trekking hither and thither like a an impoverished student with all I own stuffed into a smelly backpack and trying to find suitable accommodations at the last minute. So the thought of finally packing my Louis Vuitton luggage and not having it tossed about by careless baggage handlers was a thing I treasured. I imagined being piped aboard like royalty on the QE2. Nothing was actually further from the reality. Now, I know I sound like a disgruntled, spoiled, entitled old lady (which I am!) but imagine my horror when we arrived at the parking lot near the Port of Miami and my lovely luggage was tossed  willy-nilly into what can only be described as a dirty pod, along with other battered old bits of Samsonites and horror, even some backpacks! Didn’t they know where they were going? Now in all fairness, this wasn’t the fault of the cruise line. We had arranged to have our car parked at a private lot that in turn ferried us to the ship. We were taken to the embarkation area in an equally dirty, but much loved old jalopy and thoroughly vetted by security before our bags were unceremoniously dumped at a loading dock and we proceeded to follow the other sheeple, until we embarked on a rather lovely floating city. We had been told to book any meals and tours as soon as possible and as we had purchased 3 upgraded dinners at their high end restaurants we raced off to the appropriate spot on the ship along with everyone else. When I say ‘everyone else’ did I mention 4000 other passengers? The ship is absolutely humongous – like a veritable floating Las Vegas  hotel. Albeit a very nicely appointed ocean vessel and as we were soon to find out the crew and staff were completely lovely. Utterly professional and helpful, polite and always smiling these people work 14 – 15 hour days and never have a day off. It seems they have 8 month contracts and hopefully take a break afterwards. We eventually booked our restaurants and after a delicious lunch we were able to head to our very nice stateroom (with a balcony) on the starboard side of the ship. Do you know the origin of the word POSH? “Port Out, Starboard Home.” Only the very wealthy could afford the stately kind of travel that originated this acronym. The north facing cabins going to British India in the 19th century were shaded and cooler for the aristocracy and therefore ‘posh.’

After the mandatory safety meeting at our designated gathering spot a rather cross sounding purser told us all to ‘Shut up & Listen!” which we did. Well, most of us did as it was rather difficult to hear what they were actually telling us above the screaming children.

Bob’s luggage had arrived and so had our hand luggage but no sign of mine! We had set sail by this time so I was slightly alarmed until they assured me my bag just needed to be claimed on Deck 6 where all the other wayward items of belongings were kept. Relief washed over me although I did rather fancy shopping for some new resort wear. Drama over, we unpacked and had a glass of champagne at one of the many bars on board and headed off to The Local for some prime rib which was excellent. The restaurant overlooks an area called the Atrium where many games, day events and karaoke nights are held. In a word – ghastly.  The crew obviously had to get passengers ‘in the mood’ by yelling at the top of their lungs in unison.  We found it extremely irritating for people to scream and yell every time they felt it appropriate – like downing a shot. Noise pollution at it’s worst!

The first couple of days we were at sea and trying to get an elevator was a nightmare. Fortunately, we were on the 15th deck and the gym and spa were one deck above us and the ‘adult only’ bar and sunbathing area was on the 17th deck aft and easy to walk to. We were very disappointed as there was no ‘adult only’ pool located here- only a rain shower and hot tubs although they do have a ‘Haven’ for the more affluent passengers, at a cost of $215,00 per day extra – basically $1,500 more for a week of peace. We did try to use the pool in the mid section of the ship one day but it was utterly crammed with parents and kids. Lesson #1 – Never go on a cruise of this size at Spring Break!

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The Observation Lounge – my favorite part of the ship. They served delicious healthy snacks and salads here all day.

Everything seems to be an upgrade with hidden costs and/or ‘up selling’ procedures. I had a massage at a 50% discount for $100, for only 50 minutes, then the masseuse tried to sell me a product that was the oiliest, greasiest lotion I have ever used. Rubbish stuff…baby oil mixed with some oil of rosemary or some such new age garbage.

The third morning we arrived on the beautiful island of St Thomas. A lovely island but still showing the effects of Hurricane Irma, I think. The locals were very helpful and they must rely a great deal on the passengers from these huge ships. We docked with another huge ship so our friends who had booked a snorkel and dive day at a wreck site could barely get on the beach! They were very upset and rightly so. Maybe things could be coordinated slightly better?

Sadly we did not go over to St John, the Rockefeller owned island that we heard was beautiful. Instead we took a bus tour of the island and stopped 3 times at the obligatory souvenir shops but felt compelled to buy somethings to help support the local economy. During the bus tour I had an interesting chat with a very nice young man from Ohio who along with his Mom was from another cruise ship. After a short while of listening to me blather on about the vagaries of British life such as driving on the left, he became fascinated by my British accent. He was eager to know if we spoke French in the UK! I desperately wanted to say that we spoke all kinds of dialects but French was not one. I wonder what American kids learn in school? Probably the same as British kids. The Art of Tweeting?

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This iguana caused quite a stir with some of our Canadian passengers!
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The view from the ship of St. Thomas harbor.
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Sunset from our cabin, leaving St. Thomas USVI

The next day we arrived in Tortola. I wish we had had more time there,  The British Virgin Islands, where people drive on the left with left hand side steering wheels, as the cars are mainly US made! So pretty ……lots of off shore banking there! And did I mention the fabulous yachts?

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Sweet school children in their school uniforms in Tortola.
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A very British roundabout in Tortola

After another sea day, the last day of the cruise we arrived in Nassau, Bahamas. We docked alongside 4 or 5 other enormous vessels including a Disney ship so we were able to enjoy”It’s A Small World After All,” from from their ship. We ventured forth only to find ourselves in a sea of humanity. Literally, thousands of people all trying to enjoy a leisurely stroll about a pretty town. It was horrible. We turned around and only took a couple of photographs. I was so disappointed. Getting back to the ship was a relief. Went to the gym then the bar! It looks as though the harbor is being extended to accommodate even more of these monstrous ships!

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Another cruise ship docked near us, with a restaurant that moves up and down on an elevator. What will they think of next?

A pretty building in Nassau

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The restaurants were excellent on the ship. We ate at the French restaurant, Le Bistro, the Teppanyaki – Japanese style, and the steak house, Cagney’s.  They all served smaller portions but we found we could order two appetizers and an entree and dessert in our upscale dining package. On the other evenings we liked Taste & Savor – two smaller restaurants that basically served the same food as the main Manhattan dining room, but in a more intimate setting. The service, food and decor was really top notch and I cannot fault this ship in anyway other than the fact it was too big for us. However, for a family and younger people it is perfect and I would highly recommend it. I also liked the fact that they are very aware of ocean conservation and very little plastic is allowed on board. All bags for laundry are paper as are straws. Generally you are not given a straw to drink through. There are many hand sanitizers located in strategic places especially in front of restaurants. They have areas for little babies (the guppies) and ‘Entourage’ which is a club for teenagers,  so perfect for bored youngsters and tweeners! 

Entertainment was excellent also and I loved ‘Havana’ and ‘Jersey Boys’ which we had previously seen in Las Vegas. We did not get tickets for the Prohibition musical but heard it was fun. Every evening we received a schedule of the following days events along with a sweet towel folded by our wonderful cabin steward, William. If  I could I would have adopted him! 

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As I write this blog we are still enjoying the after-effects of this cruise. Despite all the gallant efforts of the cruise line we both caught a bug in the form of ‘flu’ like symptoms and have been coughing and hacking since we arrived home over a week ago. Unfortunately, mine turned into pneumonia. Neither if us have been sick for years so I can only surmise that other people sneezing on us are the culprits! All in all it was a fun experience and as we don’t have to fly to the ports in Florida it makes it an easy vacation option. However, next time I think we will look for a much smaller ship. If you are a family with young children and teenagers then this would be a perfect cruise for you. The race track and the water slides are great fun and the movies in the pool are a wonderful treat also. Non stop activities for one and all.

One thing we both commented on, having worked for so many years in Las Vegas hotels, was the notable absence of gun-toting security guards. We actually asked one of the very rare guards we sighted and he  proudly noted that they had excellent security but it was kept’ under the radar’ so as not to alarm passengers. I guess their biggest problem is alcohol abuse!

Tortola

Spain – A Catamaran in Cartagena

During our stay in La Manga we drove to nearby Cartagena on the recommendation of my cousin and we liked it so much we returned several times. Not to be confused with the very popular Cartagena on the northern coast of Colombia, Cartagena Spain has been a relatively important Mediterranean port since the Carthaginians discovered it’s easily defend-able location, but it really flourished during subsequent Roman and Moorish invasions. Nowadays cruise ships do make it a port of call but they only seem to allow one ship at a time  to dock so this lovely town is not overrun by tourists and maintains it’s Spanish authenticity and charm.

We drove about 30 minutes into town and easily found a parking spot on a hill to visit the ruins of the Roman amphitheater. We walked down the hill and as we turned a corner we were taken aback by the sheer size of this well preserved ancient structure. Apparently it had lain undisturbed for many years under a cathedral and an extinct bullring! Concerts and events are often held in this beautiful outdoor arena.

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1st Century BC Amphitheatre in Cartagena

 

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Discovered in 1988 beneath the ruins of an old cathedral that was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.

Heading down to the harbor we easily found underground parking opposite the Arsenal of the Naval barracks. Cartagena has always been an important naval port and base owing to it’s sheltered harbor and natural geographical outlooks. We wandered through the attractive plazas and encountered one of the most beautiful shopping malls I have ever seen – a street built entirely on blue and white marble. Eat your heart out Rodeo Drive! Upscale eateries and inexpensive Al Fresco dining spots interspersed with high end boutiques and all set in lovely early 20th century Art Nouveau buildings. The bank was once an elegant grand hotel and the city hall is now a museum – all so architecturally evocative of a different time with iron balconies and intricately carved stone facades.

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This bad photo does not do justice to the architecture of Blue Marble Mall!

After some delicious tapas in the mall we walked down to the harbor and as it was getting near to late afternoon we decided to take a catamaran tour to enjoy a lazy sail between the headlands. Laying on the netting between the two parallel hulls we were able to see and enjoy more Roman remains along the headlands and even a Christian Castillo de la Concepcion erected long after the Roman period in the 12th century upon the site of a Moorish Alcazaba, and only recently discovered.  This town is a hidden gem and a must see!

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Bob & Liz on the catamaran in Cartagena harbor.

Next blogs – the wonders of Sevilla and Granada!

 

 

SPAIN – La Manga

One of the most magical and unforgettable experiences we had during our summer in England was a trip to Southern Spain. We left Gatwick on the low cost carrier, Jet Blue, each toting our obligatory carry-on bag (and nothing else!) for a week of glorious sunshine, after a rather dismal July and August in the UK.  (This was 2017, not the recent heatwave experienced by the UK in 2018). Basic, frugal packing is beginning to make sense to me in these days of mass tourism and cramped flights. I will devote an entire post to packing for all climates and occasions as I now feel I am an expert.  My husband has also mandated if I can’t carry it, it isn’t coming. Bastard!

After a surprisingly comfortable flight we arrived about ninety minutes later at Murcia’s San Javier International aeropuerto and walked across the tarmac and out the door (hassle free for EU members, but that could all change for Brits after Brexit). A bus took us the short ride to the Eurocar rental pick up, and we made our way to La Manga to stay for a few days at my cousin’s beautiful villa in  La  Manga Club  –  an upscale resort bordered by the Mar Menor and Calblanque Natural Park.  La Manga itself is built out on a strip of land separating the Mediterranean Sea and a lagoon called El Mar Menor. The sand bar was originally open at each end and used by the Romans as a natural port but volcanic rock eventually held back the sea currents to form the present day sand bar.  Underground channels keep the two oceans in contact with one another and the stunning beaches that resulted helped La Manga boom in the 1960’s when jet travel and tourism escalated in Spain and along with it, all the hotels and resort infrastructures.

 

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La Manga ‘Strip’ bordered by Le Mar Menor an The Mediterranean Sea

 

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Map  of Mar Menor and La Manga

My cousin’s villa is in the beautiful hills of La Manga Club surrounded by 3 stunning golf courses. The vistas are beautiful and summer rentals can be found easily by checking in with the Club realtors and property management. Besides first rate golf the Club facilities are fabulous with restaurants, bars, grocery stores, pools, tennis and many walking trails in heavenly weather with views of the ocean and the mountains. For information regarding buying or renting please contact http://lamangaclub.com

 

 

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View from our villa’s roof top terrace.

The nearby drive through the National Park to Calblanque beach was through unspoiled fossil dunes and rocky winding  hills. This natural preserve is glorious with hikes down to secluded beaches for a swim in clear azure water. The beach is a stunning golden color and completely devoid of any facilities or high rise buildings.  Surrounded by flora and fauna it is a beautiful escape from the  commercialized strip of La Manga. A few topless and nude sunbathers scattered the beach as nudity is not unlawful in Spain – nobody cares, but personally I always find that the people who should keep their clothes on invariably feel compelled to take them off!

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The golden sand at Playa Calblanque Natural Preserve

While in La Manga we had dinner one evening at the quaint nearby fishing village of Cabo de Palos. A delicious fresh catch of the day was devoured by us but as you can see the local Spaniards eat dinner much later than our 7:30pm reservation. They don’t normally appear until 10:00pm at night for dinner but the oceanside restaurant manager obliged us two old farts!

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Dinner in Cabo de Palos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Las Vegas, Eclectic City of Contrasts

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Some of these posts have been related to our search for a full time home after our ‘jubilado’ retirement, but as we lived the last 27 years in Las Vegas I do believe that it is only fair to include this wild and crazy town!

Many retirees from all over the world and the USA, move to Nevada in search of warm weather (plenty of that) many affordable restaurants, solid health care and a choice of entertainment options to dazzle and satisfy all tastes. From unbelieveable Cirque du Soleil productions, wonderful Broadway shows, to quirky cabaret and campy drag shows there is a positive glut of things to do and see. You’re probably asking yourselves why leave this mecca of all things decadent and self indulgent? Well, for us the jury is not completely out, but I think that psychologically it was a place of work and the memories of working all holidays and long hard hours in corporate environments (hotels), those wearisome associations will always be there. ‘Old’ Vegas does not exist anymore but there are many pluses for a lot of retirees (jubilados!) and I can name a few of them for the discerning among you who desire a pleasant and fun life, with our personal favorites in no particular order.

We liked Green Valley Ranch hotel as it was fairly close to our home and has a lovely pool to hang out at! All the restaurants are good and as we played a little (video poker and blackjack) we had access to the players club and special offers it was fun.  Green Valley Ranch is one of the  Station casinos and the Red Rock Casino on the west side of town is comparable and very nice also. They book high standard, affordable concerts and have great lounges that harken back to the old style of Vegas entertainment.  We also like the South Point Casino (south end of the Strip) and Sun Coast Casino, (west side of town) both owned by Michael Gaughan who understands the value of local and senior customers.  They both have excellent shows in their lovely showrooms, with dance and salsa nights and great acts like Wes Winters who is a brilliant pianist and singer.  The arena has loads of wonderful free horse shows also and some fabulous rodeo events like Professional Bull Riding!

Homes for seniors are very affordable and the Del Webb Sun City tracts are world famous.  They have good golf courses, lots of pools and activities for the over 55 residents and excellent classes and further education courses. Outings to theatres and special events are offered along with gyms and health advice.  McDonald Ranch in Green Valley is also highly recommended as I have done several shows there with my senior dance group, the Ovation Dancers!

Nevada is one of seven states that has no state tax which makes it an attractive option for retirement and as far as home taxes it is always best to consult your realtor or legal advice upon purchase of a property. Home prices range from the million dollar variety to affordable condominiums and townhouses.

Dining options are out of this world – from cheap, fast food to upscale high end restaurants Vegas has it all! Please remember the following are our recommendations and personal favourites and maybe not to your particular taste, but believe me you will find your own and what fun it is finding out!

So in no particular order……

Lotus of Siam in Commercial Center – fabulous Thai food.

Italian American Club on East Sahara (the shrimp are the size of a lobster tails!).

Black Bear Diner – cheap and cheerful!

Crown & Anchor – British pub fare. Great Shepherd’s Pie and dart games!

Don Vito’s –  South Point Hotel – Italian for a special occasion.

Michaels’s – at South Point Hotel – upscale, for a special occasion.

Silverado Steak House –  South Point Hotel, ditto above.

Mon Ami Gabi – Paris hotel – for lunch (more expensive for dinner but a great view of the Bellagio fountains!) Tres French and delicious seafood crepes.

Vic & Antony’s – Golden Nugget hotel downtown – steak house – a bit high end but not exorbitant

Bellagio and Paris hotels buffet – pig out time!

Bally’s Sunday Brunch – one of the first Sunday brunches and still the best!

Sinatra’s at The Wynn hotel – OMG amazing! For a very special occasion.

Table Thai – A very small Thai restaurant on Sunset Rd. in Green Valley – great Pad Thai!

Mediterranean Cafe on Maryland Parkway – Delicious Greek and Mediterranean food.

Casa Don Juan – Downtown on Main St. for authentic Mexican food! Really good after or before The Smith Center or Mob Museum.

King’s Fish House – The District – great fresh fish!-

Lucille’s – also at The District for southern barbecue ribs etc.

215 – Good Happy hour food off the 215 freeway at Durango exit.

Bahama Breeze – A chain but really good Jamaican island food.

Brio – at Town Square or Tivoli – a lovely place for lunch with friends!

Piero’s – Old Mob hang out – really great Italian food on Convention Center Drive.

Don Frisco’s – Pricey for dinner but great for Happy Hour. (You have to sit at the bar but the food is great!)

and finally, a romantic spot where Bob proposed to me in 1990! Still wonderful with tableside Caesar’s Salads and a long stem red rose for the ladies:

Hugo’s Cellar  at The 4 Queen’s Hotel, downtown Las Vegas!

Las Vegas has truly evolved into a world class city with cultural events galore also! The Smith Center for the Performing Arts downtown presents wonderful national Equity tours of Broadway shows and Nevada Ballet Theater also performs there. I love the intimate Cabaret Jazz room, now renamed after Myron Martin, the man who was the driving force behind this beautiful structure and its cultural events.

‘First Friday’ in the Downtown district is a monthly calendar event with quirky and innovative new artists displaying their works of art. Many galleries in Las Vegas exhibit new works along with the upscale galleries in the hotel malls.

Museums and art galleries abound but two of our favorites are The Mob Museum downtown and the National Atomic Testing Museum on E. Flamingo Ave. Do not be put off by the words ‘Mob’ Museum. It covers a very interesting part of American history from the start of  the 20th century all the way through to the present day.  Completely fascinating and not at all what I expected. Housed in the old post office downtown it evokes a very real atmosphere and the exhibits are well displayed.  The Atomic museum documents the history of the Nuclear Test Site in the nearby desert, including one section devoted to the eerie, top secret research place known as Area 51 and it’s unusual UFO phenomena and sightings.

For shopping I love Town Square at the south end of the world famous Strip and Tivoli on the west side of town is comparable. Lovely, well laid out complexes of restaurants and shops with a park in the center and a children’s play area, movie theater and lots of easy parking.

For hiking, both strenuous and leisurely, Red Rock mountain range on the west side of town is beautiful. The sunsets over this range are breathtaking with blazing reds and purple colors. We have the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen here in Las Vegas!  Lake Mead and Hoover Dam are a must see for the visitor and the old railway tunnels near the lake are a great walk…flat and easy to do with a wonderful view of the lake.

The unbelievable Grand Canyon is close to Las Vegas for a day’s outing and helicopter tours and buses can take you there to view one of the most wondrous sights in the entire world. Word of warning – if you go to the west rim and want to experience the plexi-glass lookout be forewarned that your cell phone will be taken away!  We just stood further down on the rim and took our photos from there. (They take your phone and then expect to sell you photographs).

We loved going to Southern Utah’s Cedar City for the annual Shakespeare Festival every year and cooling off in the majestic scenery of Cedar Breaks and Zion National Park.  I am editing this blog in the most beautiful weather – October in Las Vegas is by far and away my favorite month here but Summer time is horrendous unless you enjoy sizzling in 115 degrees fahrenheit! (46 degrees celsius/centigrade). Avoid June, July and August in Las Vegas. Also if you prefer a dry climate this is for you…..personally I slapped on so much moisturizer a friend once said I resembled an oil slick entering the room!

Mount Charleston nearby is very beautiful and avid skiers take advantage of some great skiing and winter sports during the winter and beautiful hikes in the summer months where it is much cooler than the city.

On the sports front we finally have an NHL team, The Golden Knights (ice hockey) are here and the Oakland Raiders (football) are moving to Las Vegas. The betting question formally put a damper on Las Vegas applications for any kind of a national sports team but things seem to be improving and as we have the capability to house the huge sporting events in the new T Mobile, and other arenas I am certain that Las  will only have more professional teams based here.  I have always loved UNLV’s Running Rebels basketball team since the first year I was in Las Vegas in 1990 when they won the NCAA championship during March Madness! It was such a joyful time!

I know I have forgotten to tell you many things about Las Vegas – it is most definitely the entertainment capital of the world for adults and it’s phenomenal growth since we arrived here in 1990 is astounding. I have a massive love/hate relationship with this city of cement (as I rudely call it) and now nightclubs, but it certainly is never boring!  It has come a long way from the dusty little town in the desert where the unfortunate Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel built his famous Flamingo Hotel.  May she continue to be a city of the future and I hope you all visit one day to experience it for yourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

Bletchley Park

 

The significance of this rather dismal Victorian mansion in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire cannot be overstated.  Once described as a “maudlin and monstrous pile,” by the architect Landis Gores, it combines Victorian Gothic, Tudor and Dutch Baroque styles!

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“The maudlin and morose pile!”

The property was bought in 1938 for 6000 pounds sterling, by Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service (soon to be MI6), with his own money, as the government said they did not have the budget to buy it!  Purchased under cover for the purpose of ‘shooting parties’ Bletchley was seen by Sir Hugh and his colleagues as an advantageous site for code breakers from Oxford and Cambridge in the event of war. It’s proximity to a railway station and a main road to London, along with a repeater station for telegraph and telephone communication made it an ideal spot for what would become possibly the single most important place for cipher and the code breaking of the German Enigma machine. Much has been written about BP, as it was famously referred to, and the incredible work done by the finest mathematicians and minds of the era. Film and television dramatizations have portrayed the work the brave men and women performed there and finally we are able to pay tribute to their huge contribution to the Allied victory. The cryptanalysts and workers were sworn to secrecy and it was not until 1974 that their achievements were publicly acknowledged and recognized. Even today many who are still living consider themselves bound to secrecy. The tragic story of Alan Turing is but one of many. We may be glad that nobody suspected he was homosexual in those dark days when it was a capital offence in Great Britain for he would surely have been imprisoned and unable to perform his brilliant work in breaking the Enigma code.  Walking around Bletchley Park the feeling of secrecy pervades the walls of the dark, dingy little huts where the all important work was performed.

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Depressing, nondescript huts where all important war work was assimilated and verified.

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Alan Turing’s very dark office where his brilliant mind somehow flourished.

At first men and women from the upper class levels of society and university educated minds were hired, but eventually at the urging of Turing and his coworkers, who pleaded with Churchill, people of all backgrounds were conscripted to work at BP.  Cryptic crossword puzzle solvers, chess players, linguists, and lateral thinkers besides mathematicians and engineers were employed. An eclectic group of men and women worked together in close proximity sometimes never realizing the importance of their work. It was tedious, repetitive and demanded intense concentration sometimes resulting in major collapses of mental and physical illnesses. To counteract this, social and recreational  activities were implemented and I personally found this very interesting! They recognized the importance of balance and stress relief! When America entered the war in 1942 the nearby camps became very popular with the Wrens and I am including some rather innocent and sweet quotes!

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The stables.  Inside the adjacent buildings are motorbikes that couriers delivered top secret messages to and from Bletchley Park.

A truly thought provoking and interesting day. The model of ‘Colossus’ the first computer, the size of a room, is there as is an interesting exhibit on the dangers of today’s interconnected world of cyber terrorism and how to keep yourself safe from hacks and stalkers. Well worth seeing!