Sunday, 25 January 2015

A Tale of three Cities

Accor Hotels is a chain we use both in the UK and in Europe - good value, good service and plenty of choice. So when I saw their competition 'A Tale of three Cities' I wanted to enter straight away.

Just one problem ... which city to choose:

Paris - Cardiff - Lille - Brussels - Birmingham - London - Bergen - Rome - Leicester - Athens

to name but a few we've visited over the last 30 years. So which was my favourite and what three things could I say about them. The competition ends tomorrow and I was still thinking ....

.... until yesterday and our day trip to London -  walking around the city in the winter sun made me realise that London was actually my favourite place. Why? well here's my three reasons:

Atmosphere: typical answer I hear you say but seriously it is. The streets were full of people from so many different places, backgrounds and reasons for being there. And yes you can say that about any city but where Paris would be special, London is a treat, a treat for everyone.

Families were enjoying a stroll along the South Bank, children on scooters, parents talking to grandparents - a treat to be altogether.

Couples young and old enjoying time in the city, oblivious to everyone else just enjoying their treat time together.

Students in groups, laughing and joking, enjoying some treat time away from their studies.

Special times for some but visiting the city is an affordable, accessible treat for everyone to share and enjoy the hustle and bustle noise.

History: It's everywhere - you cannot walk more than a few metres before another piece of history jumps out. The fire of London, trading in tea and spice from India,  parliamentary uprisings, royal coronations, royal weddings, Jack the Ripper, Shakespeare plays, beheading at the Tower, bridges being bought ship shipped to America - there is so much history all around in many genres.

London's events are filled with tradition; State Opening of Parliament, Changing of the Guard, The Lord Mayor's Parade, Remembrance Sunday - history is all around.

It does not matter what your interests there is something for everyone all evident and linked by my third reason....

Buildings: What a collection, what a skyline, old and new overlapping each other in a comforting not conflicting way.

Monument was once one of the tallest buildings, standing near Pudding Lane where the great fire of London started and not far from Samuel Peeps London, now it's almost invisible with modern glass fronted office blocks all around. Just along the river is Greenwich with it's imposing buildings linked to the nautical aspect of London with it's tidal river providing an inlet for trading - which leads to the breath taking Tower Bridge. Standing ornately as the river entrance to the City, confused in the past with London Bridge, now a replacement as the original was bought and shipped to America with the buyer thinking he has purchased the stunning opening towered structure.

Sitting alongside is the Tower of London, in itself a collection of buildings spanning many centuries, just across the Thames on the South Bank are examples of old warehouses converted to modern shopping galleries and restaurants. Further along the Oxo Tower and Shakespeare's Globe theatre, so very different but sitting so comfortably looking across the Thames to the magnificent St Paul's Cathedral.

The Royal and Parliament buildings stretch right across the city, magnificent in their architecture and brought to life on not just on special occasions but hourly with the unmistakable sound as Big Ben strikes.

The Shard and Southwark Cathedral
In the midst
Riverside pub on cobbled streets
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
St Paul's from the South Bank
Amazing skyline down river
Nelson and Westminster Abbey

The Thames and Millennium Eye
Modern architecture
HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge
The Tower of London
Tower Bridge
London is such a full city, every changing, ever moving, a place for everyone to be anyone, with anyone. It feels a treat, it feels expensive yet affordable, you feel part of the city and it's mix of people. London is amazing as you can see from my photos taken yesterday - definitely my favourite city.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Embarrassing but ....

.... I did my best. No not wine tasting or holidaying but at home, Maison Hearnden. I have not been able to feed the birds for the last few years as Ruby loved to chase them and had no concept of the conservatory doors being closed !!

Anyway this winter I have been putting out feeders and slowly the birds have started to arrive. In fact being winter there are probably more feeding stations than flowers. I absolutely love sitting in the conservatory doing my online work, stitching or reading watching these feathered friends pop by.

The embarrassment? well I have tried to take some photos using my phone or my mini camera which is a Nikon 5x so does not zoom very far. With my MS I have internal tremors so although I appear not to be moving my hands can be shaky - not the best when trying to take a photo. There is of course the problem of reflection on the windows and staying hidden in a conservatory ....

.... so many many apologies to all photographers but I did try :-)

Firstly the Thrush, but it took a while to decide whether she/he is a Song Thrush or Mistletoe Thrush - vote is leaning towards a Song Thrush

On top of the conifers checking it's all clear
A little closer but still hiding
Still hiding
Safely made it

and she/he is hiding because we have a very aggressive female Blackbird who thinks our garden belongs to her. She chases the Thrush, male Blackbirds and small birds - her dive bombing skills are amazing.

It's my garden !!
We also have a number of Blue Tits and Great Tits flying in to grab a morsel before darting off again - I hope one day they will learn to pose for the camera but I have managed a few photos.

Can you see the Thrush hiding?
Blue Tit
We've had a resident Jenny Wren for a number of years and the other day she/he had a huge green caterpillar. It was fascinating to watch her manoeuvre such a large morsel but down it went - quite weird seeing the large bulge in her/his throat. I tried to get some photos but they are very blurry.
Jenny Wren and the caterpillar
'It's almost as big as me!'
We also have a pair of Robins but as yet I have not been able to catch them on camera. I think the other day there was a Coal Tit and maybe a Marsh Tit with it's predominant black cap. There has also been a small brown bird, on its own and staying hidden most of the times in the bushes, that visits most days. It's very quick and likes to feed upside down on the feeder. I have caught a few shots and am wondering if it's a Dunnock as it does not have the markings and characteristics of a Sparrow. I would appreciate any comments on it, thanks.

Of course we have pigeons and it is amusing to see them land on the bird table, look at the food and try to work out just how to land in the right place. I have been putting a few tip bits on the gravel for them to ground feed, they always look so dopey.
'I'm sure there is a way in somewhere'
Finally we have some none feathered visitors who consume as many nuts as I put out - but if I keep their feeder filled they leave the others alone. They have finally stopped eating my spring bulbs too so hopefully the crocus, daffodils and tulips will appear soon.

'These nuts belong to me'
Family feeding time
As I said I tried my best with my limited camera - Sunday is the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch which I am really looking forward to as previous years I have seen no birds in the hour. I might get the better camera out with the zoom lens too.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Mini Break to Portsmouth

Hubby and I have had another fabulous time. We always go away between Christmas and New Year, when our children were young our trips were to London to see a show, now it's just us two we pick somewhere new each year ..... and this year was Portsmouth.

After the Christmas fun had quietened down we drove south, I think most of the UK had the same idea as although it was Sunday it was like rush hour.

We found our hotel and parking with ease, we like Accor Hotels and so chose their Ibis near the centre. The reception staff were very friendly, great bar area and lovely clean rooms. Some reviews have said they are small and yes the bathroom was cosy but for a budget hotel it had everything you could need - we use Accor Hotels in France and occasionally I did wonder if I was overseas again, as the interior is so similar !!

Sunday afternoon/evening we went for a stroll and found just across the road The Brewhouse and Kitchen - it would have been rude to pass by without stopping for a craft beer, especially as there was a live band playing.

Brewhouse & Kitchen
Micro brewery
A short walk towards the sea brought us to Gunwharf Quays which is a shopping outlet centre, every brand you could think of had an outlet shop. After lots of browsing we decided to have dinner at Carluccio's. Although we've seen this restaurant in other towns we have never eaten there but having joined their mailing list online and subsequently receiving a free bottle of wine voucher it seemed the perfect time. The food and wine were just lovely added to by the view of the Spinnaker Tower lit up. We'll be visiting again !

Spinnaker Tower
Monday morning we were up bright and early and walked back to Gunwharf where we enjoyed a super breakfast at Café Rouge - vouchers again as when we visited them in Leamington the receipt had on a 'Two for One' breakfast voucher - hee hee.

Café Rouge
And so to the Historic Dockyard - all I can say is WOW - we have visited before but there is so much more to do. The last time we visited The Mary Rose Museum was 25 years ago - the weekend before our wedding. They have done so much more restoration with even more to come. HMS Victory was so full of history (low ceilings and steep stairs), amazing how they lived and fought; and HMS Warrior 1860 was a real surprise. A wooden ship a little similar to HMS Victory but in the basement a huge (and I mean huge) steam engine with massive pistons working !!.

It's hard to put in words so here's a few of our photos at the fantastic Historic Dockyard.

HMS Victory
Nelson's Uniform and table
Ship's Wheel
Eat, sleep and maybe your overboard coffin?
Gun deck
Captain's windows
White ensign as HMS Victory is still in service
HMS Victory in full - taken from the museum window

The Mary Rose (pipes are to dry her out)
Mary Rose cannon
The Mary Rose length ways

Mary Rose anchor
HMS Warrior 1860
Masts and semaphore flags
Fire power
HMS Warrior 1860 ship's wheels
Ready steady .... fire
Muskets at dawn
Officers room
Piston power
After our amazing visits back in time we took a harbour tour just as the sun was setting. A beautiful trip round the harbour, along side some of the modern, currently serving Navy ships. Fabulous views of all the ships and boats and Spinnaker Tower.

Royal Navy
Spinnaker Tower
After all the excitement of the day we called at Brasserie Blanc for a much needed cocktail - Long Island and Long Beach - perfect

Brasserie Blanc cocktails
To finish our day we called back at The Brewhouse and Kitchen for dinner, the best starter ever - pork crackling and apple sauce. In fact we were so impressed with the pub we called back the next morning for breakfast too.

Pork Crackling starter
Before travelling home on Tuesday we called at Porchester Castle and St Mary's Church. The castle itself is only open at the weekends but you can walk around the grounds and through to the water's edge. The church is open and serves tea and coffee. Another beautiful place, so much history and great views across to Portsmouth.

Porchester Castle
St Mary's Church
The Altar
Portsmouth in the mist
What a lovely way to end 2014 - I am so lucky in the places we visit - thanks so, so much to my lovely Hubby Nick. As you can see we always have a good time :)

Happy New Year - here's to many more adventures in 2015