Sunday, 31 May 2009

A Yarn of William Shakespeare

For the last time... 5 June 1994. This entry finishes the tale of our long weekend in the Cotswolds. If you've been following this holiday you will know that after mixed weather the day we have to go home is the most gorgeous British summer's day and we have stopped off here and there on our way home. We are heading north and out of the Cotswolds now.

The yarn of the title comes from this - the ancient yarn market at Chipping Campden. It was a market, meeting place, somewhere dry to shelter from rain and ancient pestilence and generally a spot where local elders could gather and moan about teenagers and the lack of a decent day care centre...

One chap in 1437 sat there for a full week thinking it was a bus shelter, before someone told him buses hadn't been invented yet. Once they had been invented three turned up at once...

We had dinner in a pub and then went into the local museum which was so crammed full of things that the presentation didn't make sense! But who cares? It was like rummaging through a junk shop without a single uninteresting thing to find. It was brill!

The old projectors from the local cinema, probably closed down in the 1930s at the end of the silent era, were resplendent in one room with a pile of clutter around them, only some of which was relevant to the world of film. A huge balloon of the wicker basket type was propped up in one room, as apparently a local, before the days of flight, decided man could and should fly and built this contraption to prove it.

I can't believe I've never made it back there, the place was a goldmine of treasure!

We carried on north and into Warwickshire, coming to this delightful cottage, familiar through countless Christmas biscuit and chocolate selection box lids and jigsaws.

Quite how William Shakespeare ever managed to find a bit of peace to woo Anne Hathaway amidst all those hordes of Japanese and American tourists flocking all over the gardens I'll never know.

"Sweet William, let us take to the sun lounger and ... lounge ..."
"Hark! What is this I see before me? A camera lens? Oy! Piss off!!!"

It couldn't have been easy...

A couple of miles further and we are in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon - always a good trivia question to trap the unwary: what's the name of the river that runs through Stratford-upon-Avon? Almost as good as: what's the name of the ship in Mutiny on the Bounty?

Anyway, this is Shakespeare's birthplace. In the house, rather than on the pavement we hope. You can imagine him as a boy staring out of the bedroom window and saying "Those patterned bricks in the road look nice now, but I bet it won't be long before they're tripping people up..."

And so, in a blaze of wordly thought, a tumultuous crescendo of prose and textly passage (Shakespeare wasn't above making up words so why shouldn't I?), we end this tale of Cotswoldian (see!!!) wanderings and head off back up to Blackpool. Forsooth... and Roger, Sooth's lodger...

Friday, 29 May 2009

The Canals of Venice

Venice 3 May 2009. We walk from St Mark's Square towards the Rialto Bridge, through narrow alleyways, crowded shopping streets and small piazzas, squares with just a narrow doorway as an exit. Almost always you can find small signs saying "Rialto" or "S. Marco" to guide you as to which way to go.

You come into a small square with exits almost hidden away in a corner and as soon as you find your way, you find yourself on a bridge over one of the many canals.

Gondolas weave in and out of other traffic on the canals and tend to stay close to the walls of buildings so that gondoliers can "scoot" along using a foot. The buildings on either side make the canals a contrasty mix of light and shadow.

The Rialto Bridge. We found it safe and sound without the aid of a map, though not without Fran casting doubt on my navigation at one point!

It was extremely hot. We spotted a slush machine - fruity ice and I nipped into the shop. "Due granitas, per favori," I said confidently. Hey!! I got it right too! In the heat, the ice drinks were delicious. I've always thought you can get a long way and make people more inclined to help if you can count to five, say please and thank you, including thank you very much for extra brownie points, know left and right and know what basic foodstuffs are called. Which is fine if I'm in a french, german or italian-speaking country and I'm almost there with my spanish. But on this holiday, croatian and greek would be good!

We spend a bit of time at and near the bridge before making our way back through the alleyways, piazzas and canals towards St Marks Square and the waterfront. We pass one of many glassware shops with some glass penguins and Fran prompts me to take a photo (it's on the Flickr site). Unknown to me the shopkeeper is standing next to me, enjoying a cigarrette. Luckily he is quite amused and nods quite amiably at us and shares our laughter at being found out!

We wander along the waterfront back to our rendezvous point for the shuttle boat. We have a look around a couple of shops looking for some souvenirs to take back and wait as a party of Japanese file onto a boat for a lagoon cruise. Our shuttle boat is forced to wait whilst they embark and then we set off back towards the Ocean Village II.

It had a service boat alongside which I jokingly called the "shit ship", but I've no idea really what it was taking off, or loading on, for that matter! I apologise unreservedly to the crew!

It was late afternoon. The sun is starting to slide down the sky. The sail out will be against the backdrop of Venice seen under the rich colours and shadows of sunset. Next entry, though will be a look at some of the cruise ships next to us in the docks.

Large versions of the photos: canal, Rialto Bridge, waterfront, Ocean Village II

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Broadway Sights

5 June 1994. We're back in the Cotswolds again. Actually my mate Alex commented it is a bit confusing trying to follow three holidays at once and I suspect he's right. It was just about ok with two but then I had to stupidly go away and have another! However, this one is coming to an end with the next entry so we'll be back to just two again very shortly. Unless I go away again...

So we've left the deserted village of Snowhills and we are now at Broadway. Our trusty Fiesta is parked on the main street and all we can get for free is half an hour and time is marching on, so that's all we're staying!

Broadway is a town of stone buildings, many of which could have been the inspiration for one of Fran's Liliput Lane models. There are some large hotels, at least one of which look as though you'd need a second mortgage to stay! There's thatched cottages and shops a-plenty and certainly enough to fill half an hour. Is that all we've got? Right, let's get moving then!

In any quaint and ancient town you should expect to see shops selling quaint and ancient things and Broadway is no exception. There are antiques shops in abundance and I can quite happily spend hours in them (as long as they are not just about furniture and pottery). A row of three bright red telephone boxes caught my eye as they were starting to disappear around this time to be replaced with the bland glass kiosks familiar today.

And there was this unusual bicycle combination with a push cart in front and trailer behind, each with insulated tubs for carrying and selling ice cream cones.

We bought one each and just had time to wolf them down before our half hour was up and I had to move the car. So a bit of a whistle-stop tour of Broadway but a nice place to look at as I'm sure you'll agree!

Large versions of the photos: fiesta, house with ivy, antiques shop, ice cream bike

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

St Marks Square, Venice

3 May 2009. I've already described how we got to Venice, so in this entry we'll have a look at St Marks Square and in particular the exterior of the cathedral itself.

The first thing that strikes you when you look at any cathedral and stop to think about it is how long it must have taken to build it.

In fact that's a source of frustration for many people in Barcelona, where Gaudi's cathedral, La Sagrada Familia has been coming together slowly since 1882 and it is not due to be completed until 2026. Gaudi shrugged this off with the comment "My client is not in a rush..."

I quite like the idea that every time I go to Barcelona there is something new to find. And when you think about it, it really makes no difference whether that's because it wasn't actually there to be found the last time, or whether there was just so much to take in that you missed it. With any large cathedral there is always something new to find and see when you visit.

Above the central arch with the fabulous mosaic that we'll look at in a minute, there are four horses cast in bronze in Roman times.

The Horses of Saint Mark were part of a Ben Hur type racing chariot statue. They were looted from Constantinople, modern day Istanbul, around 1204 by Venetian forces in the 4th Crusade.

I've mentioned them before, because in 1797, Napoleon stole the horses for the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, in Paris. They were returned in 1815 after Napolean's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.

In the 1980s damage from air pollution forced their replacement with exact replicas. The originals are displayed inside - something else I have yet to see...

The mosaics in the arches of St Marks are worth a look with real gold having been used in the making.

And let's tear ourselves away from the cathedral for a moment to spare a glance around the rest of St Marks Square. I've been lucky in that I've never been there when it has flooded. The drains of the square apparently lead straight to the Grand Canal and whilst it works perfectly at most times, when the level of the Lagoon rises because of storm surges, the channels of the drains work both ways... St Marks Square is the lowest part of Venice.

I mentioned the Doges Palace in the last entry so let's look to the other side of the cathedral, where we find the clock tower.

The tower is an imposing building with the Venetian winged lion standing out against a blue and white chequerboard design at the top of the facade, on a single storey tower. On top is a bell with two giant blackened bronze figures who strike the bell on the hour.

In the next entry: gondolas, alleyways and the Rialto Bridge.

Large versions of the Photos: St Marks, horses, mosaic, clock

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Under The Spell of The Eagles

You know, it's ages since I wrote about what I was reading about...

I think I know why really - it's because I hardly ever read a stand-alone book these days. The sort of books I like come in series that follow on from each other.

At the moment - which means for the last few months - I've been working my way through Simon Scarrow's Eagles series about two Centurions who are part of the Roman invasion of Britain in AD43. But you know this already because I mentioned these books in my entry of 17 April.

So have I only read two books since then? Er... no actually...

These two are worth a read and both deliver a good chuckle.

The first one; An Utterly Impartial History of Britain or 2000 Years of Upper Class Idiots In Charge by John O'Farrell tells the history of Britain from prehistory to sometime around a quarter-to-now. All the bits you might think would be in it are here and every one of them is told from a completely different point of view than you would find in a history book! Hilarious and brilliant!

The second one is by an author I've read and enjoyed before and is an omnibus edition of two books by Tom Holt; Here Comes The Sun which is a brilliant comedy where the celestial bodies are creaking machines patched and creaking until the gods in desperation take on a human manageress to sort things out; and Odds and Gods where, in these days of science and indifference, all the old gods live in a retirement home where an eternity of stodgy rice pudding for afters could drive them to rebellion - especially as Thor, Frey and Woden have got their traction engine fixed, but Woden's forgotten the map... The first book is the cracker out of the two, but there are some clever ideas and situations and some good laughs in the second.

Lieutenant Fury by G.S. Beard is not the first of a series. It's the second (I think) but I've not managed to get hold of any others yet. There are loads of books about naval heroes of the late 18th Century and many of them can be found in fours - Midshipman X, Lieutenant X, Captain X and Admiral X. I've read quite a few. Hornblower has never been beaten for me and I followed Bolitho through some brilliant adventures and some utterly tedious "romantic" twaddle and I'm afraid I tried and failed to get to grips with Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin series. Perhaps I picked a bad one to start with - it wasn't the first in the series.

Fury is more of the same - so if you like this sort of book - and I do - then it doesn't disappoint.

Bill Bryson does two distinct types of book and I love them both. There are the travel books which are brilliantly funny, but which always teach you something about the places he visits; and there are the more serious subjects which teach you loads of stuff, but which always make you laugh throughout! Mother Tongue is one of the latter - I read it on holiday and loved it. It entertained me and I know much more about my own language as a result. I couldn't understand anyone telling me they'd read any of Bill Bryson's books and not been spellbound.

So, until this blog comes out in paperback... go buy one of these!

Monday, 25 May 2009

A Trip to Venice

3 May 2009. Ocean Village II crawls almost imperceptably into the lagoon at Venice. We were up at the ship's rail on Deck 14, as the crew had all said that we shouldn't miss the entry into Venice. The ship would sail right past St Mark's Square and the Doges Palace.

And it may well have done but we were booked into the Spa for a massage at 10 o'clock and just as the best bits came in sight we had to leave the rail to the amazement of all the crowds pressed behind us and leg it!

We did have time though to see these beautiful sunrays hitting the waters of the Adriatic before we entered the Lagoon.

The massage was very relaxing and afterwards we got a couple of tickets for the shuttle boat that was ferrying passengers from the ship's berth to the waterfront in Venice.

It was cruise ship reunited day. MSC Musica was moored behind us, Costa Serena at our side against the opposite quay.

Just round the corner was P&O's Regatta, seen here being passed by one of Venice's many tugboats. Also on this stretch of canal was one of the most beautiful motor yachts I've ever seen. More of that in a later entry, because the shuttle boat has already moved on and we're approaching bits of Venice I recognise.

The larger church on the right is the church of S. Maria del Rosario, built in 1726-1736 by the Dominican order of friars. The smaller church to the left of the photo to the right is the Church of S. Maria della Visitazione which belonged to the Jesuit order.

There is, of course, a large number of churches in Venice and the most famous of them is coming into sight as we pass the entrance to the Grand Canal and sail onwards towards the Londra Palace Hotel opposite which we will disembark.

First though is a sail past the most famous sights in Venice.

The Doges Palace (Doge is Italian for Duke) was the courts where prisoners were tried. If found guilty they were transferred to the gaol next door by way of an enclosed bridge over the canal. Lord Byron imagined that they would take a last look at the Lagoon from its barred windows...and sigh for their lost freedom. The bridge became known as the Bridge of Sighs.

In that inevitable way that you know in any major city, something is going to be hidden by scaffolding... Yup! It's the turn of the Bridge of Sighs...

Gondolas do a roaring trade at around £75 for a half-hour trip along the canals. It's the price for the gondola regardless of how many people are in it. Hence only lovers can afford (or are desperate enough) to go only two to a boat...

The last time we went in one, on a previous visit, we had the most grumpy gondolier imagineable. Fran was convinced he was going to swamp us and he spent the entire time steering with one hand whilst having an argument on his phone... I asked him if he sang and thought for a moment he was going to actually shout at me!

In the next entry we'll have a closer look at the most famous square in Venice - the only square in Venice, because all the rest are piazzas!

Storm Clouds in Positano

22 August 2005. A rainbow morning! As we set off from the hotel to walk into Sorrento to catch the boat to Positano on the other side of the peninsular, a rainbow stood out clear and bright over the rooftops.

"That's a good sign!" we thought but changed our minds a little when the boat turned out to have been cancelled due to an approaching storm. We looked out over the Bay of Naples, resplendant in bright sunshine, not a cloud in the sky.

"But..." No buts. The boat was definitely not going and he firmly gave us our money back. We decided we would walk up to the bus station and catch a bus there instead. In retrospect this was brave. Actually...in retrospect it was downright stupid but anyway, we reached the bus station and found a couple of Irish girls who were going the same place and we congratulated ourselves and each other on being the only ones waiting.

Half an hour later the place was crawling with people. Hardly any tourists, they were all locals and they were all determined to be on the bus first. The bus, labelled a Sita bus was about half full before I could force a way in, usher Fran and Mum under my arm and then turn to grab the hand of one of the Irish girls and pull her in through the crowd. She in turn was pulling her mate.

"Aw, t'anks fer that!" she gasped. We had managed to get seats but by now the bus was absolutely full and the girls and around far-too-many other people were standing in the aisle. The bus set off and across the mountains via numerous hairpin bends that the driver took with contemptuous disdain without hardly slowing. The locals were obviously all used to the people standing suddenly sitting on their knees, but it was a new experience for us.

"Jasus! Would ye keep a hold o' me? begged the Irish girl standing next to me, grabbing my shoulder. I looked up just as the sun shone through the opposite window, turning her top into a glowing orange screen against which the silhouette of an A1, prize-winning, absolutely perkfect breast added its plea for holding onto... I manfully grabbed her forearm and looked the other way. It didn't make any difference, because for the next half hour and at intervals over the next few days I could still see that breast... Men of a certain age, you know...

Eventually we came to Positano. Actually we came to a clifftop about four or five hundred feet above Positano which is where the bus dropped us off.

"Never mind, Mum, we'll be able to get a bus or a taxi up again," we said confidently, setting off down. We stopped halfway down to rest the knees and had a coffee in a small bar which had a terrace on the cliff side.

Eventually we reached the bottom and by then there were a few clouds.
"We might actually get that storm! I said brightly. We had a little wander, finding a row of Martello towers along the coast and then remarking how the sea had started to crash up a bit on the rocks.

We found a little street winding its way back up the hill and went a little way, enjoying the colours and bustle of a market and street of shops.

When we came down again it was getting towards lunchtime so we found a restaurant on the edge of the beach called Chez Black which did superb marguerita pizzas.

As we sat there we watched it get darker and darker and darker.
"I think we'll head for the bus when we come out!" Fran said. We hadn't seen any buses going up the hill and there was just one taxi on the rank. My Italian isn't upto all that much and it was a struggle before I understood that he wasn't a local taxi but had just dropped off someone after driving them all the way from Rome! He was therefore very reluctant to let us get into the cab in case local taxi drivers reported him. He wouldn't budge even when we gestured at Mum who was obviously going to struggle to walk up the hill. But in the end we had to. With frequent stops whilst it got steadily darker and clouds thickened overhead.

By the time we were about three quarters of the way up we were tired, never mind Mum. We were starting to get worried about her, although with the frequent stops to catch breath she was doing ok.

We found three girls sitting on the wall at the side of the road taking photos of each other in Spanish. They asked me to take their photo all together so I did and then was handed the next camera, "and mine!", so I did again and then was handed the next camera, "and mine!", so I did it again. By then I'd got into a habit and so I lifted my own camera and said "and mine!" to which they all fell about laughing and posed for this. Nice fun moment.

We had got almost to the very top to join the main road when the rain started. Over the course of the next few steps, thunder crashed, lightning flashed and the rain really started...

Ten minutes later, whilst we were still walking along towards the bus stop, the water that was falling on the mountains above us had started to run down them. The road was two inches deep in running water and the amount of rain falling was ridiculous. We had no coats of course - you can see from the earlier photos how sunny and warm it had been.

We found an open door and sheltered in the front hall of a business building for a while, feeling very guilty, but not having been able to make anyone hear us to ask permission. Then finally the rain slackened off and we carried on to find the bus stop. The bus was absolutely crowded. Thankfully someone gave up their seat for Mum but Fran and I had to stand all the way back, hanging on to the luggage rack as it hurtled around the hairpins. The locals must have really strong backs...!

And finally, the day ended with a perfect sunset over the Bay of Naples, as seen from Sorrento. A cruise ship has left Naples and is sailing past Ischia, on its way back out to the Mediterranean.

Photos from this holiday are available as a set of montages at my Flickr account

Saturday, 23 May 2009

We Almost Visit Dubrovnik again...

2 May 2009. The coach leaves Cavtat and we climb the hillside for another set of spectacular views on the way back towards Gruz and the Ocean Village II cruise ship.

Far below us Costa Serena is slowly making her way through the smaller islands towards Dubrovnik. In fact the entire week we seemed to be almost in a convoy of three with Ocean Village II, MSC Musica and Costa Serena. Not as funny a name as her stable mate, Costa Fortuna, but there you go...

Dubrovnik comes into sight and we are told that we will skirt the wall in order than we can drop off any passengers who want a quick look round the city at Pile Square (pronounced "peel").

We drive around part of the city wall which towers above the roadway, looking as formidably unscaleable as it was originally designed to be. I snap a couple of photos through the coach window.

Pile Square and Pile Gate is an ancient part of Dubrovnik and has been the main landward entrance to the city for a good few hundred years. Entrance through the gate was guarded by a still impressive gatehouse, overlooked by towers on the walls and no doubt by a drawbridge over the moat, though from the coach I couldn't see whether the modern stone bridge still incorporated a drawbridge portion.

Pile Square itself is bustling with people. Most of them, in fact the queue that you can see to the right of the photo and which 5 minutes later extended right round to behind the tree and the statue, were waiting for the shuttle buses to take them back to the ship and, having dropped off a few of our passengers, we took on some of them. Not until the courier had asked our permission, I have to say, which was a nice touch.

The statue, by the way, was a touch strange as it featured a naked woman berating a naked man who seemed reluctant to hand over a strangely attractive sheep... Best not to enquire too deeply, I thought...

The passengers who got on were not particularly effusive in their praise of the organisation of traffic. The place was obviously a well used bus terminal as buses filled the road - three abreast, and all stopped to let off and pick up passengers. There were no pedestrian bits, those getting off one bus alighted in the middle of the road and in a fog of exhaust fumes, had to dodge other buses that were trying to squeeze through the gaps. Buses left the square as soon as they could worm their way through from the back of the collection of buses to the front.

We got back to the ship and had something to eat, then I went up on deck to lean on the ship's rail and do this sketch of the hillside at Gruz. Not a photographically accurate one as there were some high-rise flats in the middle distance and I left those out with an uncharacteristic shudder of artistic licence.

Hey up! We're moving! Time to have a last look at this part of Croatia and look forward to our day tomorrow which will be in Venice.

Large versions of the photos: Costa Serena, Dubrovnik, Pile Gate, Pile Square, sketch

Snowhills in the Cotswolds

5 June 1994. Snowhills. We reached it just before lunchtime and I had a wander around the village, taking photos whilst Fran and Gill went into a craft fair in the Church Hall.

It was a little eerie actually. Either the entire population were in the craft fair, or they were peering anxiously through their curtains as strangers rode into town... Perhaps they were eyeing us up and wondering what the chances of sudden violence were as though it were the wild frontier town of the Cotswolds. Or perhaps not.

More likely they were indoors watching the footie and it probably passed their notice that I was wandering around with a camera, looking in vain for a shop to buy a drink...

"Here, Henry - there's a chap passed out from heat exhaustion in the middle of the street!"
"Anyone we know?"
"No..."
"Bloody tourists..."

This looked a bit like the hill in the Hovis advert except that everyone knows that that's er.. somewhere else. I'd be able to look it up if I wanted, but I need to set my readers a challenge every now and then because you're getting far too complacent! So comments folks - where's the hill in the Hovis advert?

"Eeh,mi Dad allus used ter leave it on t'step ter cool off. All brown an' steamin' it were..."
"Dirty divil...!"

There's a Snowhills Manor. We didn't go in, but when we showed the photos to the family later my auntie said "Ooh, I had to go out of there, it had a right spooky, oppressive atmosphere."

Like the rest of this deserted village then. It's probably fine when the people actually come out. But by the time Fran and Gill came out of the craft fair I was prepared for what they actually said: "That was weird - there was no one in there, just an honesty box and loads of In Memoriam cards on sale..."

Onwards - to the lights, theatres, glitz and showbiz razzamataz - to Broadway! Next!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Sorrento Hills and Markets

21 August 2005. We elected this morning to have a day in Sorrento itself. We had so enjoyed the boat trip to Capri that we thought we'd book another to Positano, a small town on the Amalfi Coast round the other side of the peninsula to Sorrento.

In case you missed the Capri trip (shame on you!) here are the entries:
Arriving at Capri
Wet Bottom, Make a Wish!
Capri Meanderings
Boat Trip Around Capri

So we dragged ourselves down all the way to the harbour and caught a bus back up after booking a ferry for tomorrow. Booking a ferry rather than an excursion made it a much cheaper option even though we would have to make do without a courier spouting boring facts at us. Sorry couriers, but you really do sometimes bore the pants off people!

Because Sorrento is built on the cliff tops and the cliffs drop straight into the sea, this is what they call their beaches. Wooden piers where you can rent a sun lounger. Apart from going into a cafe or bar and buying a drink there's almost a total lack of seating apart from these sun loungers, so sitting and watching the world go by is not an option unless you do it with a drink in front of you. Which means you are amongst all the smokers. This was one aspect of Sorrento we found put us off quite a bit!

However there's a marvellous little area criss-crossed by narrow streets which makes up the market and it just heaves and bustles with life, colour, entire families draped over a precarious motor scooter and souvenirs. If you like people watching (and we all do don't we?) then this is one of the must-see places on the planet.

We wandered up and down for a bit and Mum went into a shop to buy some new Scholl sandals and we had lunch in one of the many pizzerias along the streets before heading back to the hotel to spend the afternoon by the pool, reading and relaxing.

We'd gone to bed fairly early that night and the hotel next door had an entertainer on who we could hear quite clearly through our open window. It was a bloke with an acoustic guitar singing hits from the 60s to the 80s. His YMCA was hilarious, as he couldn't quite decide how fast or slow he was going to sing the chorus... But also he missed off the last word or syllable of every line of every song!!!

"And now, the end is ...
It's time to ...
The final cur...
My friends, I'll make it ...
"

We were killing ourselves laughing until finally he gave a big finish...

"I did it my ..."
"WAY!!!!" I bellowed at the top of my voice! Fran immediately howled laughing and then when we had quietened we heard uncontrolled gusts of laughter from the hotel next door and the sheepish voice of the entertainer saying "Ah... yes-a... ha ha... very good-a!"

Whoopsie in Cavtat...

2 May 2009. The coach arrived in Cavtat and we got out en masse, stretched our legs, wandered into the road and generally annoyed folk on scooters, in cars etc. What is it with tourists that they think because they are on holiday the rest of the world should stop as well - until they want something in a shop...

Our guide led us off away from the beautiful bay with its bobbing boats and at first I thought "Huh?" but then it quickly became apparent that Cavtat occupies a norrow strip of land between the sea and a large inlet bay and it was literally only a minute or so before we reached the sea front on the other side.

We were booked into a local place for a drink and had only about ten minutes before we were due there. We had a wander about up the waterfront - and I found the only example we saw of dog poo. Quite clever really... the odds were enormous... as was the pile of dog poo... So I spent the ten minutes with wrinkled nose, cleaning my shoe with tissues...

But for this one spot - spot?!? It must have been almost a mountain, how did I ever fail to see it until... Anyway, but for this one trap left by an obviously rebellious dog, the place was spotless. I put the shoe back on and walked through every puddle I could find, scraped my shoe against any edge of kerb or paving stone and feeling reasonably confident that I wasn't about to mess up everywhere I trod, we went for the drinks which were being served outdoors in a courtyard across the street from the cafe bar.

After which we had some free time to spend before meeting back at the coach. We walked most of the length of the short peninsula and I sat in the sunshine to sketch the tip of it, which curved to form the bay.

A few people stopped to watch before making comments in Croatian like "That's the pillock that spread that dog dirt all over the place..."

On the way back towards the coach we had a look in a couple of shops and then met up with everyone else to mill about in the middle of the road until the courier shooed us onto the coach.

Large versions of the photos: boats, waterfront, sketch, inlet harbour

Sunday, 17 May 2009

We Almost Visit Dubrovnik...

2 May 2009. Ocean Village II sails into Croatia and is moored up at the dock in Gruz, a couple of miles northwest of Dubrovnik.

I know very little about Croatia other than it used to be a part of Yugoslavia and all I know about Yugoslavia was a feeling of mild terror, formed as a child watching Cliff Richard forced into marriage by gun-wielding peasants in the film Summer Holiday. All in all, not the best preparation and grounding for a holiday visit. But at least I was going on a ship and not in a red bus...

As we sailed in, we passed another cruise liner, MSC Musica, anchored in the bay. She was putting her passengers ashore in tender boats.

We had elected to take an excursion this day called Easy Adriatic Coast, which was basically a coach trip with a stop in a coastal town called Cavtat.

We got off the ship and again marvelled at the sheer size of it. Then we walked over to the coaches and found our coach.

We were told to have our passports ready for examination, but the officer on duty was talking on his mobile phone and waved us through. The coach turned northwest out of the docks up to the Ombla River and then climbed the hillside, before turning southeast towards and past Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known as the "Pearl of the Adriatic" it was a major centre of power in the Mediterranean since the 1200s. Despite earthquakes and wars as recent as 1995, it has retained its ancient walls and churches. But we're not going there and it is already receding behind us as the coach continues along the coast... Next time: Doggy-doos in Cavtat...

Large versions of the photos: Gruz harbour, Ocean Village II, MSC Musica, Dubrovnik

Slaughter In The Cotswolds

5 June 1994. If you can follow the confusion of entries about three separate holidays all being posted at the same time, you may remember that after a weekend in the Cotswolds, we are now on our way home, having decided to take it at a slow pace and stop at places that take our fancy.

This is the two Slaughters, Upper Slaughter on the far side of the river and Lower Slaughter on the side from where the photograph was taken.

Whether there actually was some ancient battle and uncountable mayhem on this site is debateable and history hasn't set it down in writing but verbal tradition persists that Mavis at 23 Riverside in Lower Slaughter came over all ferocious when Betty at 42 Foxglove Close in Upper Slaughter borrowed a cup of sugar once without returning the cup. For days the river banks were lined with furious women dressed in battle pinnies and brandishing egg whisks and toasting forks before a skirmish broke out in the middle of the southernmost bridge.

People whisper that the bridge was held with single-handed determination by Elsie Winterthrop who swung her skillet with wild abandon until a pair of white knee-length knickers were flown from the roof of Mayoress Beatrice Bagthorpe's. Ever since that fateful day, when the river turned colour because Rose Daley had a dolly blue washing stick in the pocket of her pinny when she was knocked into the river by Elsie's skillet, the village kids have re-enacted the battle, every mid-summer, skimming stones at one another up and down the river whilst wearing a saucepan on their heads.

And whilst all of that may well be a load of rubbish (though if you get skilleted, don't say I didn't warn you) it has made this entry a little longer and allowed me to show more photos!

The water mill in Upper Slaughter has a water wheel, gently turning and seemingly perpetually in shadow - I have never been when the sun was shining from a direction to light up the wheel and bring it out of shadow. If you can't make it out in the photo, you'll just have to take my word for it - there is a water wheel there.

So that's filled a short period of time whilst we walked down one path, across a bridge and back along the other side of the river, taking time to go into the mill shop and back swiftly out again when I realised how small it was and I had a camera bag over my shoulder which might have done as much damage as Elsie's skillet...

I did also have a spot of doodling with the pencil!

Large versions of the photos: bridge, bridge, mill, bridge, sketched bridge - variation you see...
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