Monday, 13 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Just a few Christmas pictures - don't be fooled with the beach.  That is where I used to go on Christmas Day when living in Florida!  I've included that one for those who prefer a nice warm Christmas!

Wishing you all Happy Holidays and, of course, a Calm, Peaceful and Healthy 2011!


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Medieval Bruges

I love the beautiful old city of Bruges with its fascinating architecture. It is definitely a walking city. Strolling is the only way to see and admire all of the streets and buildings.
With such a sumptuous variety of architecture on offer it is difficult to know where to begin. But the canal boats beckon. A smooth, serene sail along narrow waterways which give views, not otherwise seen, of wonderful buildings, with an informative guide giving a potted history of the City.
The buildings vary from bricks and wood to plaster-faced, plain, ornate, square, hexagonal and octagonal. Some are satisfied with simply edging the water, others hang out over it and at least one spans the canal.
Back on dry land the Main Square is a popular place with residents and visitors. It is dominated by medieval buildings such as the 13th century covered market, a hexagonal belfry (366 steps to the top – for the energetic), and the 14th century Town Hall - very erect, with towers and turrets reaching to the sky and tall, narrow windows ornamented with the coats of arms of surrounding towns. Across the Square are several 17th Century houses of varying designs.
Feeling peckish? There are a number of restaurants and cafes in the square and nearby.
For a view of the towers of the St. Salvator Cathedral, the church of Notre-Dame and the belfry, I strolled along to the Green Quay. It also gave me a chance to sit down and rest, admire the tree-lined gardens and the hump-backed bridges. Seeing a bas relief pelican over the main entrance to a cluster of pretty little houses I went for a closer look. It is actually De Pelikaan, homes for the elderly, which was founded in 1714.
Returning back towards the centre of town I detoured around the back streets and discovered a small square where I found a delightful metal statue - a small carriage with a lady stretched across the back seat, a startled looking horse and bowler hatted driver.
Not far away is the Dyver with its tree-shaded river banks, gabled houses, ivy-covered bridges and, behind, the church towers – again. Very quiet and peaceful and, if the ground is dry, another opportunity for a sit down or maybe eat a picnic.
Two popular museums are the Groeninge with a fantastic collection of early Flemish paintings and the Gruuthuse (House of Groats) which is a museum of arts and crafts.
Bruges is one of those delightful cities that can be visited time and time again. If you haven’t been, I strongly recommend a visit even if it is a one day trip from Brussels – it can be reached very quickly by train.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Ancient and Modern in York

In September I finally did something I have been promising myself for many years – visited York in the north of England.

This city is probably most well known for its Minster and the Roman Walls, much of which still exist and, yes, I did ‘walk the walls’! Less well known is York Castle. What is left of it is high on a mound with a steep flight of steps. I stood at the bottom and thought ‘no way’. Then girded my loins and toiled my way up, a few steps at a time. As I live on the second floor (third floor in US terms) I am practised in stair climbing. Once inside the roofless tower I meandered then climbed some more. This time up very ancient twisting stairs thinking about all of the people since Roman times who have climbed them. Awesome. Out on the top there are some fantastic views across York and the countryside.

There are several museums and historic houses about the city which are somewhat newer. Such as the Treasurer’s House with rooms covering 400 years of history, the medieval Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, the Barley Hall (a medieval townhouse) and, one of my favourites, the Georgian Fairfax House.

I have to confess that I spent more time at the National Railway Museum than at the other ones. As it is so large, that is understandable. Situated outside the city walls within a short walk of York Station, it is divided into sections. The Station Hall has railway carriages on display – some very special ones: Royal ones such as for Edward VII, George V and Queen Victoria. The Great Hall is where the engines – from the Rocket to a Japanese Bullet train (the only one outside of Japan) are on display. This Hall is very popular with Harry Potter fans as it is here that the wine red engine for the Hogwarts Express is kept.

Fortunately for me, the few days I was in York the weather was fine, unlike the end of September and start of October – torrential rain and gale force winds. Best place to be? In bed with a good book!!!! (Dream on, Barbara).

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Mobile, Alabama

When I arrived in Mobile (Alabama) it was raining - a great start to my visit. As it was also before 10.00 a.m. Dauphin Street, which I had been told is “where it’s all happening”, was as dead as a Dodo. I looked around and decided that Mobile was like a Southern Belle past her prime. Fortunately the sun soon put in an appearance and I quickly fell in love with this gorgeous Southern Belle.
For an immediate cheer up I found a muffin shop and settled in a corner with hot coffee and a delicious lemon and caraway muffin. By the time I’d finished Dauphin Street was coming to life. Businesses were opening up and people were strolling up and down.
My first visit was to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Bienville Square. With its rather stern classical frontage, complete with Corinthian columns it is a surprise when you get inside. A fabulous soaring azure blue ceiling (complete with gold stars) arches across the nave, at the end of which is a blue sanctuary with a red and gold ceiling. On the front of the altar is a wonderful carving of the Last Supper and above it is a bronze canopy.
As I left the Cathedral I looked over to the right and noticed a small white wooden house. My curiosity was piqued. It is the Portier House and was built in 1833 for Michael Portier, who was the first Bishop of Mobile.
Bienville Square (pictured), is one of several restful corners in the city and the sun was causing the water of the fountains to glitter like a multitude of sequins.
The best thing to do before beginning to discover the joys of Mobile is to do what I did next. Go to the Welcome Center and Historic Museum at Fort Conde.
As well as picking up lots of information about the city, including self-guided walking tours of the historic districts, there is a video about Mobile to watch. Fort Conde itself is a replica of the 18th century French fort and is where costumed guides give free tours.
I love the story about the streets of Mobile. They were originally paved with wood blocks which, when the roads flooded, would float away. That wasn’t the only reason why the wood blocks disappeared – homes in those days had open fireplaces and what more convenient for lighting the fire than wood blocks!
While giving a demonstration of the firing of a musket our guide explained that the saying “flash in the pan” comes from the flash in the pan of the musket as it is fired. He had lots of other bits of information like that.
In the museum are two rooms, one representing a room where the regular soldiers bedded down – very basic - and the other is an Officer’s bedroom. While looking at the Officer’s room some schoolchildren were asked to point out the differences – such as the bed, chest of drawers etc. What was the first thing they noticed? A certain item of pottery ware – the chamber pot.
Leave it to children to provide a laugh!
Not far from Mobile are places such as Bellingrath House and Gardens, the Estuarium (an aquarium) and some beaches.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Summer Has Arrived!

Summer has at last arrived in Rustington with plenty of flowers but, unfortunately, almost no rain. With the judging of the various Britain in Bloom competitions expected in the next few weeks, we are all hoping for some rain - preferably at night!

In days gone by several well known people spent holidays in Rustington, including J.M. Barrie (the writer of Peter Pan) who stayed in the house in today's picture.

For me the past few weeks have been very productive. I had a brilliant idea for a crime novel set in 1958. How many readers remember that year, I wonder? It was fascinating because it called up so many memories. For example, did you know that it was still Cliff Richard and the Drifters? Ladies, do you remember wearing cardigans back-to-front? You didn't dare do up the top button for fear of strangling yourself. Incidentally, does anyone remember anything about men's casual wear? I seem to remember grey or white flannels and shirts with their sleeves rolled up.

Oh, yes, I did sit down and write the book. All I have to do now is a little more research, print it off and read it through. I suspect that there are lots of changes to be made.

Now it is time to catch up with the housework (boring!), try to clear my desk and do the filing (no comment).

Until next time - enjoy the summer and do remember to wear plenty of sunblock!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Easter Parade in Florence

Florence – the heart of the Renaissance in Italy – has two wonderful processions on Easter morning. One has an 18th century chariot drawn by two white oxen with gilded hooves and flowers on their heads. The chariot is blue, burgundy and gold and contains flint-stones from the Holy Land. At the end of the procession it is placed in a central position between the Cathedral and the Baptistry and the oxen led away.
At the time of the Resurrection a "dove" (a rocket), which is connected to the chariot, is lit and sets off a deafening explosion. The chariot is full of fire crackers!
This is the "Scoppio del Carro" (explosion of the cart), the roots of which go back centuries. To the times of the First Crusade in 1099. Several Florentine knights, led by Pazzino de' Pazzi, joined Geoffrey of Bouillon on the Crusade to Jerusalem.
It was supposedly de' Pazzi who hoisted the standard of the Cross on the battlements of Jerusalem. He was rewarded with fragments of stone from the Holy Sepulchre. On his return to Florence his family had the privilege of carrying the blessed fire (lit with these precious relics) around the City, on Holy Saturday.
This privilege was withdrawn in 1478 when the family was banished from Florence. They were implicated in a conspiracy to murder Guiliano de' Medici: a particularly horrible crime as it was committed in the Cathedral during Mass.
Now the city fathers are in charge of the mainly symbolic ceremony which is held on Easter Sunday.
Like all ancient traditions, the Scoppio del Carro has good and bad omens. If the fireworks explode as soon as the rocket makes contact then there will be good harvests and prosperity for the City. Everyone cheers. If the explosion isn't immediate the air is filled with groans.
During the rest of the year the chariot is kept in Via del Prato and the flint-stones at the Church of SS. Apostoli.
The other parade is made up of church and civic dignitaries - a wonderful sight with people in colourful medieval costumes. Both processions meet at the Cathedral where entertainment includes the famous flag throwing.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Getting Around in San Francisco

I had some good news this week - an American magazine called Mature Living has published one of my articles. It is about San Francisco and the best way of getting around.
San Francisco has a fantastic transport system quite apart from the Cable Car. There are plenty of buses, the Historic Trolleys on the F Line and BART (the Bay Area Rapid Transport). Did you know that you can take this train from the airport to downtown? Much cheaper and quicker than taxis.

A Novel Excerpt.......

How's this for the opening of a crime novel?

Trudi couldn’t believe it! She’s done it again! she thought as she listened to Marcia reading the opening of her new book idea. Looking at the rest of the group of American ladies as they sat around the table she wondered if anyone else recognised the story. It seemed not, for when Marcia finished, carefully avoiding looking at Trudi, the other members of the writing circle proceeded to make their comments. Some praised, some suggested. And all agreed that it was a great idea for a book.
Yes, fumed Trudi, my idea, which I read out to you last month.
While everyone else around the table had their attention fixed on the tall red-headed Marcia, Trudi slipped her file from under the legal pad and put it on her lap. She then ‘vented’ on the pad in her own form of shorthand.
“You’re very quiet, Trudi,” Brenda, the middle-aged leader who had begun the New Arundel Writers Circle a couple of years earlier, commented. “Any comments? I saw you making some notes.”
Nothing you’d like to hear, the Englishwoman thought, “Same as everyone else. Good idea,” she said aloud. And she caught sight of Marcia’s sly grin as the woman bent down to pick up her document case and slip the pages inside.
Trudi Johnson tucked a stray strand of dark blonde hair behind an ear and worked to keep the wrath from showing in her hazel eyes. Honestly, wasn’t there something they could do to stop the plagiarism? she wondered.

Outside in the car park and under the hot Florida sun Trudi really got up a head of steam as she and her close friend, Lucia, headed for their cars. “She really has a nerve! That’s the second time she’s done it to me!”

Until someone publishes the book you'll have to read about it in dribs and drabs! What is usually called serialisation which is how many well known authors of the past were first published.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Micanopy a Small Town in Florida

This is the oldest inland settlement in Florida and was discovered by the Spanish in the 17th century then in 1774 the American naturalist, William Bartram, discovered a Seminole Indian Village. Soon after Florida became a US territory in 1821 a settlement was established here and Edward M. Wanton was hired to promote it. In 1823 Moses Elias Levy established a trading post called Wanton, after the first post office established in the County in 1826, not for its proclivities! The name was changed in 1834 to Micanopy after a Seminole Indian Chief.

To visit Micanopy is to step into a serene corner of Florida. With its antique shops, the oak trees dripping Spanish moss and giving plenty of shade, it is a delight to stroll and browse. As well as antiques the shops also offer collectibles.
There is a small Museum which is in what was originally the Thrasher Warehouse. The warehouse was built in about 1890 and was a stop for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad until the 1950s. It was used to store farm equipment, hardware, lumber and supplies.

Across from the museum is the Herlong Mansion which looks like a typical “Deep South” plantation house complete with balconies and pillars and set in a lovely garden. Originally it was a simple two-storey “cracker style” farmhouse built in about 1845 by the Simonton family who were some of the original settlers in Micanopy.
In 1910 Natalie Simonton married Zeddy Clarence Herlong. He was a prosperous entrepreneur and rich enough to remodel the original house into the present day Greek Revival mansion. Although the outside of the house looks like a model for “Tara”, inside it is of the Arts and Crafts style with leaded-glass windows, wood panelling and beautifully patterned floors in various woods.

When Natalie died in 1950 she left the house to her children but their father was to be allowed to live there until his death which occurred ten years later. The house fell into disrepair, none of which was helped by the ensuing eighteen year family feud until Inez Herlong Miller inherited her husband’s estate and was able to buy out her brothers and sisters. The money also allowed her to restore the house to its former beauty. Inez was a diabetic and at sixty-eight was found in a coma in her old childhood room. She died a month later.

It is a rumoured that her ghost is in the house.

Her son inherited the house but let it fall into disrepair until, in 1986, it was purchased and converted into a bed and breakfast. In 1990 a local businessman bought and restored it, including the attic and the cottages.

Visitors frequently feel that they already know Micanopy. That may be because they have seen it in films. It has been the backdrop for films such as “Doc Hollywood” (Michael J. Fox, Woody Harrelson, David Ogden Stiers, Bridget Fonda), and “Cross Creek” (Mary Steenburgen, Peter Coyote, Rip Torn).

Incidentally, I never did see the ghost!