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, Sunday 3 May 2009. We walk from St Mark's Square towards the Rialto Bridge, through narrow alleyways, crowded shopping streets and small courtyards (campis) 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 favore," I said confidently. Hey!! I got it right too! I've always wondered what the Italians would make of it if you translated the English Slush Puppy literally, not knowing that they call it a granita: "due cuccioli di fango, per favore." "What? You want two rotted corpses of dogs???" Actually if you translate it back it would be cubs of mud...

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. Unknown to me the shopkeeper is standing next to me, enjoying a cigarette. 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 Two.

The sun is sinking in the sky and the colours are getting warmer. I wonder whether we will get a sunset on the way out, but realise it will be shining on, not from behind, Venice.

The shuttle boat takes us under the bows of MSC Musica, giving us an unusual perspective of the size of these ships.

Ocean Village Two 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.

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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

Sunday, 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.

At the waterfront to the west of St Mark's Square are several ranks of Venice's famous gondolas. There are many other places to find a gondola, but from here you have the best chance of being guided underneath the Bridge of Sighs. Hence, the gondolas here may not be the cheapest to ride.

The Doges Palace. Doge is the Italian equivalent of Duke and the Duke of Venice was also the Magistrate, hence the judicial hearings were heard in the palace. It was largely constructed from 1309 to 1424 and following a fire in 1574 was reconstructed in the original style.

St Mark's is the only "square" in Venice. All the other spaces are called a "campi" rather than a "piazza". It had its origins in the 800s but only reached its present shape and size in 1177 when waterways, including a dock that separated it from the Doges Palace, were filled in.

The bell tower is 98.6 meters tall, and separated from the basilica. It has an arched belfry, housing five bells.

The belfry is topped by a cube, with walking lions and the female representation of Venice. It is capped by a pyramid with a golden weathervane of the archangel Gabriel. It reached its present form in 1514 although it is a reconstruction, completed in 1912 after the collapse of 1902.

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 Napoleon'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 have already mentioned the Doges Palace. 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 fa├žade, on a single storey tower. On top is a bell with two giant blackened bronze figures who strike the bell on the hour.

Right! It's time to plunge into the maze of streets and see where we end up!

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Monday, 25 May 2009

A Trip to Venice

Sunday, 3 May 2009. Ocean Village Two 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. We did have time to see these beautiful sunrays hitting the waters of the Adriatic before we entered the Lagoon.

The first little bit of Venice comes and we round the corner to keep to its shoreline, heading up towards the heart of the city.

There's a hint of early morning mist hanging about, muting the colours of buildings and green spaces. Then, tanalisingly, 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!

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, looking huge as we pass round it on the single-deck water bus. 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 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) held 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 (2009 prices) 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 imaginable. 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, but I'll tell you why in the next article!

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Storm Clouds in Positano

Monday 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, resplendent 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. The Italians make their latte-style coffees with hot milk, without all the froth that our UK coffee shops - no matter how "Italian" they claim to be - insist on ladelling on the top. To me that makes it a cappuccino not a latte. Anyway, don't forget that in Italian latte means milk. If you want one of these then ask for a latte macchiato.

The climb down the steps and narrow streets winding their way towards the sea may have been hard on the knees, but there were plenty of shops to keep Mum and Miss Franny distracted. Many times I turned round to see where they were and had to climb back up before I found them again!

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 up to 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.

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