Tuesday, 31 May 2011

A Village Fete

  My last day in London is also the day of the Richmond festival. Although Richmond is a suburb of London it is surprisingly rural with a real village feel about it.  My daughter in law has a meeting to go to so Jacob and I take Eddie to the festival.  Today Richmond Green is covered in stalls representing  schools, scout groups, sporting groups and many other clubs and societies.  We meet up with some friends and wander along the rows of stalls  eventually coming to the fun fair area. 
Richmond Meadows, London

I am captivated by the beautifully ornate  fairground organ, dating from the 1880s which runs on a pianola card system and the fairy tale old merry go  round with its magical painted horses. I can't resist temptation and just have to have a ride myself....ahhhhh childhood memories!  Eddie loves the model cars and has four rides on them, his smile growing wider and wider with each ride. The festival atmosphere is wonderful, with candyfloss, barbecued sausages and steaming mugs of tea sold by disorganised but smiling volunteers. The community spirit of the day is uplifting.
Eddie loves the car ride.....
Catherine arrives and we decide to walk along the river to lunch at Steins...no, it is not Rick Stein's it is a German restaurant on the edge of the river which serves generous portions of sausage and sauerkraut at very reasonable prices.  It is a great place to take a two year old with its fenced in play area  which Eddie loves. We enjoy a leisurely lunch and a final walk along the river path to Hammerton's ferry...one pound to cross the river....and home.  It has been a          lovely way to spend my last day.

...and I relive my childhood
Then, sadly, it is off to the airport for my flight to Hong Kong.  It has been a fantastic trip.  I've especially enjoyed spending time with my family and my delightful, lively grandson, Eddie.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Tracing the ancestors - Bradford on Avon

For much of 2010 I worked on my sons' family tree.  The New Zealand side of the family had never tracked their ancestry back much beyond 3 generations and I decided that since I now have a grandson it was timely to prepare a family tree for him and for future generations.  Although I am not the same family by blood I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process and became very involved in the history of my late husband's family.  By good fortune I made contact with a distant  relative in England who was good enough to share his family tree to the point where his side branched off from ours.  The common ancestor was William  who died in 1802.  My job was to work forward from there which I managed to do with the aid of the many brilliant on-line ancestry websites.
2nd building from left is the ancestral home
Being in England gave me the opportunity to visit at least one of the ancestral homes and villages so this particular day I took the train from London to the delightful and picturesque Saxon Cotswold town of Bradford on Avon, the home of my sons' great grandparents.  Bradford on Avon is 8 miles from Bath straddling the river which meanders through the town.  I was captivated from my first moment there.  Unlike some of the more well known Cotswold towns Bradford on Avon is not over run by tourists allowing for a blissful day wandering the quiet streets and lanes soaking up the history and atmosphere of the town.  My first aim was to find the home of Winifred, my sons' great grandmother so I headed to the main street, Church St.  Now a solicitors office, the building  was once both her family's home and their haberdashery/tailors shop and dates back to the 16th century.  Two doors away is the attractive 16th century hotel, The Swan.  Adjoining Church St is The Shambles, a short quaint alley now filled with pretty tea rooms and gift shops, once the home to the town's butcheries. I loved the idea of the lock up for the drunk and disorderly in the middle of the 13th century town bridge, we could do with a few of those these days.
The Shambles
Bradford on Avon was a centre for wool and cloth for six centuries and some of the cloth mills still line the river.  Now used for general office space they are handsome buildings.  High above the town are rows of simple weavers cottages.  I enjoyed strolling the tiny lanes through and past these cottages with their rambling roses, hollyhocks and panoramic views across the town, the valley, and across to the giant white horse on the hillside at Westbury. Once humble workers cottages they are now sought after by trendy young things who commute to the cities of Bath and Bristol to work.  At the end of the rows of cottages I gently pushed the door open and let myself in to the tiny peaceful medieval pilgrims chapel of St Mary's, its modern stained glass window behind the altar coming as something of a shock. In the hour that I wandered the lanes I saw only one person, a man walking a dog, I relished the peace and tranquility.

The weavers cottages

Sauntering back down the hill I was astounded to see the Piha Surf and Ski shop on a side street.  Piha is a Maori word and the name of a beach in Auckland.  I simply had to find out two things; why it was called Piha and why there would be a surf and ski shop in the middle of Bradford on Avon, so called in to ask.  It turns out that the owner is a New Zealander who still dreams of home and that many of the locals go to Cornwall to surf or Europe to ski and find it convenient to buy their gear in Bradford before they leave for their holidays. The owner told me that business is brisk.

Lunch time called and so did The Bridge Tea Rooms, a higgledy piggledy former blacksmith's cottage dating from 1675.  With thick walls, deep set windows and a low door, that even I had to stoop to enter, it is as copy book picturesque as you could wish for.  The waitresses dress in serving maids outfits and the cream teas are delicious and substantial.

Once fortified I walked  beside the river and through pretty fields to Barton Farm and the stunning Tithe Barn.  This took my breathe away.  Dating from 1341 it is 168 feet long and has a colossal timber roof spanning it. The building is still in perfect condition and is so vast it inspires  awe and wonder.
Bradford - on Avon thatched cottage
 Bradford on Avon is a delightful town and it was balm for the soul after the hustle and bustle of London.  It was also satisfying to look at some of the places I have researched and thought about so much for the family tree. I now look forward to passing on my knowledge of the town to other family members.

White Swan Hotel 1500..
ancestral home 2nd building to the right


The Bridge Tea Rooms 1675

The old cloth mills beside the river

Inside The Bridge Tea Rooms

Bradford on Avon

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Up North to Leeds

My son commutes from London to Leeds to his work each week so one week I went with him to spend some time with him and also to get an idea of what his commuting life is like.  He leaves London  each Sunday night and returns late on Thursday night.  All going well it takes three to three and a half hours each way.  Our trip north entailed two train trips and one on the underground taking a total of four hours, due to work being done on the railway tracks. I found it tiring and am pleased it is not something I have to do every week, however, I do like the way the trains in England have Quiet Carriages where the use of cell phones is banned and any conversation must be kept low and to a minimum.  It is restful, peaceful and Jacob finds he gets a lot of work done during the commute.

This was not my first trip to Leeds but nevertheless I had first impressions. We arrived at around 11pm and it was cold, much colder than London, and I was struck by how dirty the pavements were.  Not littered, just looking as if they needed a really good steam cleaning.

From my son's flat in the heart of the city it was easy to wander around the city centre.  I love the way the main streets are pedestrianised and Leeds has some stunning, perfectly preserved, Victorian shopping arcades.  In fact Leeds is pretty much a shoppers paradise with the only other Harvey Nicholls outside of London and every other shop you can image from tiny exclusive chocolatiers to Moorcroft to the usual high street chain stores.  Shame I'm not a shopper!  Still, it was fun to look. I had expected to find an air of depression in the north, due to the world wide recession which has hit Britain pretty badly, but there was no evidence of it.  This, no doubt, has something to do with the fact that Leeds is second only to London as England's leading business, legal and financial services centre.   The city market, contained within a large building, is like a step back in time.   Stalls there sell everything from craft supplies to meat, clothes, flowers and jewellery with the usual shouting, barrow boy patter filling the air.  This is the working man's realm and here you can buy a thick, steaming mug of tea for 44p at one of its many glassed in cafes.  If you prefer you can wander along to Harvey Nicholls and pay an outrageous price for coffee in more glamorous surroundings.  The choice is yours.

I always enjoy a visit to Leeds' fine art gallery which, apart from an excellent selection of paintings, has the world's biggest collection of their famous son, Henry Moore's, sculptures.  Adjoining the art gallery is a magnificent tiled hall, now a cafe and a favourite coffee stop of mine.

The Royal Armouries, further along the river, is famous for its collection of weaponery both old and new.  Housing over 8500 items which include war, tournament, oriental, self defence and hunting weapons it is a weapon enthusiast's delight.  Adjoining the Armouries is a new development, Clarence Dock, poorly designed it is a bleak place.  Although it contains large sparkling new apartment blocks and moorings for canal boats it is cold, windswept and of the twelve shops originally opened there only one is continuing to trade.  The others look sad and neglected with abandoned fittings lying about.  Somehow the designers got it wrong at Clarence Dock. What could have been a vibrant and happening place is sad, neglected and depressing.

Leeds is largely devoid of green spaces.  What they call gardens are generally paved areas with a few large trees in tubs.  This is disappointing and makes the city somewhat of a concrete jungle.   The other thing that strikes me when I am in the north of England is the northerners' complete fixation on high visibility vests.  Everyone seems to wear one. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a large school group walking through the town centre, every student kitted out in one.  

Unfortunately I developed a tummy bug and for most of my time in Leeds lay around my son's apartment feeling sorry for myself but I did enjoy the little time I had wandered around, looking forward to going back to the warmer south nevertheless.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Sauntering the South Bank

Having a full three weeks in London is a real treat.  In the past I have spent two or three days here and that has meant racing around to fit as many sights as possible into a day.  So this morning I have decided to take a long leisurely stroll along the South Bank.  It is a glorious sunny day, around 25 degrees.  I arrive at Waterloo Station and head straight towards the London Eye.  I've already ridden it and enjoyed its stunning views of London so  it is a good feeling to walk past the hordes of children queuing up for a ride.The area around London Eye seems to be busker central...there are so many, some brilliant, some expecting coins for merely being in costume.  I loved the two young men from the Caribbean who did the limbo, twirled tin bowls and did acrobatics, all to a calypso beat.  They certainly earned their money and put a smile on everyone's face. A bit further along a "seaside" has been set up in honour of the coming summer.  Far  from the real thing it is nevertheless a valiant attempt.  There are colourful beach huts, some set up as art installations, some as museums to English seaside life and some as craft shops, a long narrow sand pit filled with the finest golden sand, and a stretch of artificial grass laid out with deck chairs.  Two old ladies, clutching their hand bags are reclining blissfully in the chairs as I pass, their faces turned resolutely towards a watery sun.

 The South Bank book seller stalls are doing their usual roaring trade with tourist eagerly sorting through their vast stock . The recreated Shakespeare's Globe Theatre looks enticing but I am not prepared to stand at the back of a queue of thousands of screeching, shouting and desperately annoying European school groups, the plague of London in summer, so I simply admire the exterior and walk on. I round a corner and there is Sir Walter Raleigh's Golden Hind, amazing, just sitting quietly and relatively unnoticed outside a pub, patrons happily sipping their pints with their backs to it. I'm aiming for Burough Market, an artisan food market with a good reputation, and I am not disappointed.  Tucked away down old cobbled lanes (images of Dickensian London spring to mind) and under the railway the market is a wonderful hive of activity.  Stalls are piled high with cheeses, meats, breads, cakes, wines, sauces from far flung countries, jams from the Cotswolds.....how do you choose?  
Burrough Market

Is that a cheese sandwich, or what?
My son had told me that  a well known food writer has said the cheese and onion toasted sandwiches were the best he had eaten anywhere so I make it my mission to find them.  Armed with a glass of sangria I scour the market and am on the point of giving up when I spot them, hidden in a corner and with an enormous queue....word has clearly got round!  I wait my turn and am served a thick sandwich with a mountain of cheese inside which I eat in the grounds of Southwark Cathedral.  Next it is on to the Tate Modern Art Gallery.  The museum is set in the cavernous interior of what was once a power station and is crammed with riches.  I loved the gigantic Monet Waterlily pond, and was particularly taken with a vast Jackson Pollock and the Picasso room but there is so much to enjoy.  Two hours go by in no time. I stroll back to the train, drinking in all the sights along the river, St Paul's, The houses of parliament, Westminster Abbey etc.  It has been a perfect day, crammed with things to do and see.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A History of the World in 100 Objects - The British Museum

Over the last few months I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to the BBC radio series, "A History of the World in 100 Objects" presented by Neil MacGregor, the museum's Director.  In this series Neil examines key objects in the museum which relate to the development of civilisations and history, from the earliest times, and puts each item into its historical context.  I have found the whole series enthralling so seized the opportunity to spend a day at the British Museum to see the objects up close and personally. And what a fantastic day it was.  I managed to see nearly all of the 100 items, I think I missed around six, and saw much, much more besides.  I never cease to be amazed by the quality of artifacts produced 1000s of years ago and am in awe of the skills and patience required of the craftsmen who produced them. 

There is so much to see at the museum and it would take several visits to get around everything however I was very happy with what I achieved.  Highlights were the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone as well as the many Egyptian antiquities, including the mummy of Horneditef and the statue of Ramesses II but the item which tickled my fancy was the 18th century mechanical gold galleon, a model  about two feet long which would be placed in the centre of a banquet  table and when the hour struck would roll along the middle of the table, shooting cannons and playing a triumphant march.  One way to stop a boring conversation! Something else I noticed was how many more teeth the ancient egyptians had compared to modern man, 16 teeth both upper and lower.  My dentist told me that our diet of refined foods has gradually reduced the number of teeth we require and that he has noticed more and more children without the tooth adjoining their front tooth, i.e. their eye tooth is next to their front tooth, this includes one of my own sons.  Seems we  are still evolving.

I loved my day at the British Museum but can't help feeling uneasy and conflicted about the  collection.  So many of the items were pillaged from their place of origin and it must be a matter of distress to these countries to be denied so many of their treasures.  On the other hand the artifacts are enjoyed and studied by many more people at the museum than would be otherwise possible and the museum conserves and cares for them in the best way possible.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Loafing in London

The Thames pathway is a stone's throw from my son and daughter-in-law's flat making it an ideal place to while away the hours.  Winding along the river's edge amid lush greenery the path is popular with locals and visitors alike.  I have spent many hours strolling along it in either direction always finding something new and interesting to enjoy or simply  finding some calm and peace in the hugeness and busyness of London.  

Tranquil views from the Thames pathway, Twickenham, London
You are never far from a pub or a cafe along the river's edge and a popular pastime in Richmond is to buy a pint and sit basking in the sun on the sloping river bank in the heart of town.....all very civilised.  I have been astonished at how high the tides rise on the river and on a couple of occasions have seen it come right up over the river bank to flood the pathway.  Watching the pathway flood appears to be a local sport, people will sit for a couple of hours waiting to watch the spectacle.  A couple of nights ago I joined the locals, bought my half pint of cider and sat on the bank.  It was so enjoyable, both people watching and river watching, that a couple of hours went in no time. 
Sitting on the bank waiting for the pathway to flood, Richmond, London
A bit further along the river is Hammerton's ferry where for a pound you can travel from one side of the river to the other.  My grandson loves it.  A number of stately homes line the river in this part of London too, some open to the public.  One day we picnicked with friends in the grounds of  Ham house.  It was the perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday, reclining in the immaculately groomed gardens of a stately home amid perfectly clipped hedges and huge shady trees. On one of our river strolls, from Richmond to Kew, we came upon the grave of Gainsborough, the artist, in a graveyard by Kew Green. Sadly it is overgrown and neglected but apparently there is a move is afoot to restore it.  That's part of the fun of London, you never know what you will find on your walks here. I am beginning to feel almost local here.  The many hours I have spent in the childrens' playgrounds along the river's edge with two year old Eddie have enabled me to get to know quite a few local people.  It is fun to go out and meet up with or recognise people and have then greet me with a cheery hello.  The view of the river from Richmond Hill is protected by law and may never be built out or deliberately changed.  It is truly beautiful. Nevertheless, for all it's beauty the pathway is often congested with people at the weekends, particularly when a multitude of cyclists race up and down amongst the strollers causing people to duck and dive to avoid them.  It is lovely, though, a great place to stroll. loaf and just enjoy being.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Santa Margherita

More like the French Riviera than the Italian Riviera, Santa Margherita is a bustling small town just south of Portofino.  John and I made this our base ten years ago so it was good to see it again.  Large expensive hotels line part of the shoreline and the busy little town buzzes with traffic.  My son, daughter in law and I were all amused to find that we had eaten at the same pizzeria on separate occasions a number of years ago...and the town has dozens of pizzerias.  I spied out the hotel John and I stayed in and the restaurant where we had enjoyed our best meal in Italy.  It was a real trip down memory lane.  We strolled out to a small restaurant on the marina ready to enjoy a leisurely lunch but the rain came together with a chill wind so we had lunch but it wasn't leisurely.
Santa Margherita on a rainy and wind swept day
 Catherine was keen to revisit a fine 500 year old villa on the hill overlooking the town and since the rain had stopped we made our way up there.  Unfortunately it started to bucket down when we reached the top of the hill, and the villa was shut.  Everything looked bleak so after a quick glance at the stunning but rain swept view and  sheltering for a long time under the trees we made our way back down the hill again.  An english wedding party were at the villa having photos taken and having to shelter under umbrellas in the rain, their romantic ideal of a wedding in Italy rather spoilt by the weather. We felt sorry for them  but they looked joyous enough. We caught the train back to Camogli to find glorious sunshine, no sign of rain and another perfect evening to hang out around the boat harbour.
A glorious evening in Camogli

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Portofino and the Cinque Terre

I cannot believe how blessed I have been with the weather.  The Italian Riviera has been bathed in sunshine, hot, but not too hot, and with the gentlest of sea breezes.  Perfect weather for a cruise along the coast to Portofino.  My small grandson loves boat trips, I think there is more than a little of his grandfather in him. We called into a small isolated bay which contains nothing more than a now abandoned monastery and a restaurant.  It is accessible only by sea, the idea being that the monks would not be tempted by worldly things. 
The beautiful, but abandoned monastery
We wandered around the monastery, and sat for a while on the stony beach before catching another boat to Portofino.  Portofino is the home of the "beautiful people" and there were plenty of them parading around the tiny village when we arrived. It is wonderful to approach the village by sea as its harbour is concealed behind a headland and the bay suddenly opens up before you as you turn the corner.  It is truly picturesque with it is beautifully painted apartment blocks surrounding the boat harbour and a church and fort, nestled among cypress trees, high on the headland overlooking the bay.  The scene is reminiscent of the background to some of the great classical paintings. 
Remembering John, same place, same table...Portofino
We wandered around the bay, had drinks at the same bar on the waters edge that John, my late husband, and I had been to ten years ago and caste a cursory eye at the shops....we didn't shop...the prices are for the "beautiful people" on the luxury yachts.  Portofino is, there is no doubt, lovely and, as tends to be the case, lovely places get over run by tourists so we were happy to scuttle back to the tranquility of Camogli at the end of the day.

The next day we visited the Cinque Terre, the five tiny fishing villages which cling to the cliff sides and are a popular hiking route.  John and I also walked this ten years ago so I was more than happy to just get to whatever villages we could, given that we had a two year old with us.  In the end we were thrilled to make it to three of the villages, including my favourite, Vernazza.  It was about an hour on the train from Camogli to Rio Maggiore, the southernmost of the villages.  We spent quite a while walking around the village and climbing some of the steep paths away from the crush of tourists.  I love observing village life and the way the villagers quietly go about their business.  They must all be incredibly fit having negotiated steep staircases through the villages all their lives. 

 We walked to the next village, along the via dell amore, a spectacular pathway hanging out over the cliffs with cloister like arches in some places. The sea was calm, smooth and crystal clear. The tradition along this part of the path is to place a padlock on the wire netting covering the cliffs to show your true love for
View from the church
someone.  There are thousands of padlocks displayed.  The path to the next village, Vernazza, was washed away and closed.  This must be very disappointing for some who come here specifically to walk the five villages but it certainly looked dangerous and  and impassable so we caught the train to Vernazza.  I love this village.  The path is a gentle slope down to the fishing harbour, old men sit comfortably chatting in the square, fisherman go about their business ignoring the tourists.  The church is built of stone, cave like, and right on the water's edge with windows along the side looking out to sea, very atmospheric.  To end our visit we bought drinks at an open air bar and sat admiring the romantic scenery.