Sunday, 20 September 2015

Surprise trip to Prague

My lovely Hubby surprised me with a trip to Prague for my 50th birthday - what a beautiful city. We stayed at the Golden Star Hotel, part of the AVE Hotel chain. It is an old Baroque building just below Prague Castle with panoramic views over the dome of St Nicolas Church and Prague centre. The rooms, restaurant and 270 year old stair case were all impressive  - it was the perfect place to stay. It was dark when we arrived but the view over a twinkling Prague was amazing.
Prague at night 
After settling in we went for a stroll up to the Castle and back along. We were surprised to see lots of old fashioned wagons, stalls and carriages covered over and straw on some of the cobbled streets. On our route back we walked down a long set of stairs which ended next to our hotel but were also full of straw stalls and other old fashioned items. We thought it was an ancient farmers market and wondered what would be on sale the next day.....

 .... to our amazement the next morning, breakfasting on the outside terrace, we were on the film set of Outlander series two. All the items we'd seen were in fact the set. It's not a series we had watched (we will now) but it made a very special start to our trip.

Outlander filming outside our hotel
Enjoying breakfast whilst watching the action

Outlander carriage with Prague Road Train
coming up the hill
The alley steps we walked down 
Outlander filming 
Taking a break in our hotel entrance
The first day we visited St Nicolas Church which although looks quite plain on the outside is unbelievable inside and quite took my breath away.

Outside St Nicolas Church 
Goldwork everywhere
Such an ornate interior
One of the amazing sculptures
Afterwards we took a stroll over Charles Bridge with all it's statues along the way. It's a beautiful town with so much to see, lots of walking and all the streets and pavements are cobbled giving a real sense of history. Trams and cars travel together along the clean streets. There were many street entertainers on Charles Bridge but one man in particular caught my attention as he played a set of wine glasses -

Our first evening we enjoyed dinner on our hotel terrace and then walked down the hill to enjoy a classical concert. A five piece string orchestra played a variety of music including pieces from Mozart, Dvorak, Ravel and ending with Bizet's Carmen. A beautiful evening as we walked back up the hill, pausing for a traditional chimney cake on the way.

Rolled over metal bars and cooked over a flame
Our second day was filled with visiting Prague Castle and Cathedral. A huge complex at the top of the hill with guards outside - quite a formal change over but unlike the UK the crowds were only held back enough for them to walk through. Just outside the Castle was a small food fayre where we enjoyed a glass of wine watching the segways and tourists.

Tourists outside Prague Castle
Enjoying a glass of Czech wine
Castle Guards
The Cathedral was stunning, very different to St Nicolas Church with high columns and stained glass windows. A beautiful silver tomb glistened in the light gleaming through the windows, the highest figure being God looking down on his crucified son - quite a moving sculpture.

St Vitus Cathedral
Beautiful windows
Amazing columns and ceiling height
Silver Sculpture
Gold window
The Castle is a huge area; we visited the Old Royal Palace, St Vitus's Cathedral, Golden Lane and Basilica of St George. Although a popular place with tourists it was not over crowded with plenty of rest areas and cafes. We walked through to the outer gate, again guarded, and a little way down the hill to see the vineyard. Not quite the location you'd expect in the middle of a city but full of flourishing fruit.
Vineyard in a city
Flourishing grapes
As we'd eaten out at lunch we decided to have what we thought was a small plate of cheese to share. I also tried Sivovice Jelinek which is a traditional Czech spirit - plum brandy - very strong but very nice.
Small plate of cheese
 Our final full day was spent across the Vltava river in the Old Town, there were many river boats and cruises but we decided to save that for another visit. The Old Town Square is huge, lined with impressive buildings and outdoor cafes. We enjoyed a glass of beer before visiting Tyn Church, another amazing place with the added atmosphere of a service being held. the outside of the church is hidden amongst other buildings but its towers, with their mid panel of solid gold, loom high over the square.
Old Town Square
Tyn Church
Pausing for a beer
 On the opposite side of the square is the Astronomical Clock which is 600 years old. It's a beautiful mechanical structure and a photo point for all tourists and newly weds, of which there were many in Prague strolling around with their professional photographers.

Astronomical Clock
There was so much more to see and we will return to Prague, maybe staying in the other side of the city on our next visit. our hotel was in a superb position and my favourite time was eating breakfast sitting looking through the open doors down the hill with views of the city - a memory I will treasure.

Breakfast with a view
and what a view !!
 Thank you Nick for an amazing birthday holiday x x 


Monday, 7 September 2015

Stately Home and a Vineyard

Bank Holiday weekend offered a rare opportunity in Nuneaton - Arbury Hall (our stately home) was open to the public. The house on the Arbury Estate is the home of James FitzRoy Newdegate, the 4th Viscount Daventry, his wife Georgia and their three children, Humphrey, Hester and Sophia. The house is open just four times a year - Bank Holiday weekends. I visited when I was very young but as Nick had never been we decided to take the opportunity this August.

Arbury Hall (entrance view)
Front of Arbury Hall
Arbury Hall is an outstanding example of the Gothic Revival style and it's amazing ceilings are prime examples of this style. The family chapel, completed in 1678 has an intricate plasterwork ceiling costing the grand sum of £39, but is simple in comparison to the grand Saloon ceiling which is fan-vaulted and copied from the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

As well as being a stunning stately home Arbury is also famous for being used in many of George Eliot's novels. Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot was her pen name as women could not publish works) lived on the estate as her father was the estate agent. Cheverel Manor in Scenes of a Clerical Life is Arbury Hall and George Eliot describes it as 'growing from ugliness into beauty' a description derived from the house's transformation.

The gardens are as stunning as the house - so tranquil and peaceful. The best time to visit is spring or early summer when all the rhododendrons are in flower.

The Round Towers (gateway to Arbury Estate)
Garden Gate
The wing where the family now live
Stable Block which now houses the cafe
Stone Gateway
Arbury Hall entrance
Hidden pathway
Yesterday we moved even further back in time as we visited Wroxeter, a roman city just outside Shrewsbury. It was featured in a tv show a few years ago when they rebuilt a Roman Villa using methods and tools as the Romans did.

Rebuilt Roman Villa

Roman remains
Wroxeter Vineyard is just outside the city boundaries and produces 17,000 bottles a year. The wine tour started with complimentary tea and coffee in a bright airy dinning room with Martin (Wroxeter wine maker) explaining some of the Roman history of the city.

The tour continued at the top of the vineyard amongst the vines, namely Madeline Angevine. Martin's passion and knowledge (his father planted the vineyard and he has always worked on the land) was evident in his explanation of planting, pruning and picking. Moving nearer the buildings Martin described how he used nature to tell when the grapes are ready to pick - by checking the badger droppings!!
Madeline Aveline
Growing nicely
Rows of vines with the Villa in the distance 
Moving into the production area Martin explained how the press worked and the difference in making red and white wines, hence the various vats. Finally we moved back into the dinning room and the tasting began. We tasted five wines from the Wroxeter Range:

Noble Roman: a crystal clear very pale white wine with a light slightly floral nose with a hint of citrus. A medium bodied wine leaving a long finish - neither too sweet or to dry this wine could accompany most light dishes.

Regner: An even paler white in the colour, very clear with a nose of floral perfume. A little dryer with a shorter length to it's finish. A crisp wine suited to fish dishes.

Shropshire Gold: A medium bodied wine slightly sweeter than the first two. A light nose of grapefruit and a soft citrus palate with a touch of pear. A wine suited to drinking unaccompanied or as an aperitif.

Emily Rose: This wine was named after Martin's daughter and has a light strawberry colour with a sparkly hue. A dry finish with slight tannins - soft fruit flavours making this an easy drinking rose.

Shropshire Red: A very cherry red in colour, the highest alcohol content with a nose of cherry and slight oak. Fairly light in body, some tannin but with more fruit and a smoothness to its finish.

The Tour and Tasting was full of information about wine and the surrounding area. Our day continued as we had also booked lunch, a super game pie with new potatoes, salad and coleslaw followed by either carrot cake or blackforest gateau. With lunch we had two more wine tastings:

Roman Red: A deep claret colour with a redcurrant and hedgerow nose. It was a dry wine with plenty of redcurrants, a little tannic with a medium length to its finish.

Madeline Angevine: A white wine with a golden yellow colour and a quince nose. A lovely crisp wine with an apply palate. Nice and crisp with a medium finish, this was my favourite wine.

Our complimentary wine to bring home.
A super day - we have not actually toured a vineyard before, either in France or here in the UK. We have tasted wine at vineyards and toured distilleries but not vineyards. Wroxeter Vineyard is in a super location, full of history and produces some lovely wine.