Category Archives: travel

On the money day

Back in 344 BC, the Kalendae Iuniae, the Romans dedicated the temple of Juno Moneta on the Capitoline Hill. The site is now occupied by the neat (from the exterior)  basilica church of Santa Maria in Arceli.

She was Juno “the warner” because of the legend — or even a verifiable story, since it had happened just forty years earlier  — of the sacred geese giving the alert of the attack by the Gauls.

During the third century BC, Rome started issuing coins. The mint was set up in the temple of Juno Moneta. So, from that came the terms for “mint” and “money”.

 

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“Affordable and easy”?

Last weekend’s New York Times had a superbly self-contradicting travel article:

Luxury Trips for Less in Spain and Portugal

Despite that headline, the whole piece was about:

how to get maximum luxury for the lowest prices on a Spain or Portugal getaway

So far, so good. And some of the “tips” are valid — or self-evident, depending on your mood. For example:

Spain and Portugal have an abundance of small, family-run luxury hotels, which are often half the price of five-star chain properties… these locally owned properties, in some respects, could be more luxe than chains because their rooms tended to be comparatively more spacious and the service more personalized. If you mention during your stay, for example, that you are interested in the local architecture, don’t be surprised to find reading material about the area’s top architectural sites waiting for you in your room.

Well, stripe me pink and call me ham!

The one that really, really got me was this:

… AND THE TRAIN IN SPAIN The country’s reliable, clean, service-oriented high-speed train system, Alta Velocidad España, is an affordable and easy way to get around. A one-way ticket from Madrid to Málaga, in southern Spain, for example, costs as little as 50 euros.

I defer to nobody in my enthusiasm for travel by rail. And were I wanting to travel from Madrid to Malaga I’d certainly be tempted to do so by AVE. I would book ahead, on-line, and reckon on rather less than €50. Then, both at Seville and Malaga, the AVE arrival is a wee bit away from the centre. Still …

Bucket listing

My interest in this page-filler was, just a few weeks since, I ticked three items off my bucket list: Granada and the Alhambra, Cordoba and the Mesquita, Seville.

The joys of low-cost air travel meant we were in-and-out through Malaga. The commuter trains through Malaga Airport station go all the way in to Malaga-Centro Alameda: €1.80 — not AVE standards, but regular and efficient.

Now we could have made that Andalucian circuit by train, especially the bit from Seville back to Malaga. In fact we found that it was quicker, and cheaper to use the ALSA coach services. On top of which there would be no changes, and more frequent — at least hourly —  departures. Not to mention that the coach stations are, in at least two of those cities, more adjacent to the tourist centres.

Time and tide waits for the retired

The other dimension here is we didn’t racket around. We took a fortnight, which allowed several days in each city. That was just as well: the Alhambra for one allows only a ration of visits each day; and to do the whole site — the Nasrid palace, the palace of Charles V (no where near as spectacular, but worth the trip) and the Generalife — is going to take a full day.

Then, in Seville, you are not going to get into much of the cathedral, or climb the Giralda, on a Sunday …

And, doing it that way, meant it allowed us to rent an apartment in each location. It also gives access to a washing machine, so less baggage.

The bottom line is: luxury shouldn’t trump convenience.

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Filed under New York Times, railways, travel

“More honey for the same expenditure of material”

That’s Pappus of Alexandria, one of the last Greek mathematicians, commenting on why the hexagons of the honey-comb are so efficient. Just one of the infinite interpretations of bees in our language, literature and general culture.

There’s a lot of bees around at the moment, and I’ve just had to respond to a question about why they are so prevalent in the context of Manchester. And Manchester is currently on all our minds, and tongues.

I first saw Manchester — oh! — over sixty years ago. I was not impressed. I instantly made the mental association with Dickens’s Coketown:

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage.  It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled.  It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.  It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.

In retrospect, I’d qualify that: Manchester might once have been Coketown; but its great days were already passing. To be absolutely correct (and here comes the teacher of Eng. Lit.), Dickens probably had Preston in mind, where he had visited to give a reading in early 1854 (serialisation of Hard Times began in April), just after a cotton workers’ strike.

Today, Manchester still wears the masonry of the industrial centre it had been. Now it is buffing up, the air is breathable, new buildings are in-filling and are as uniformly and crassly modern as anywhere else. It does have, to its credit, a developing and efficient mass-transport system.

One enters Alfred Waterhouse‘s vast Town Hall, and walks on bees:

That same bee turns up world-wide in the punning trade-mark for Boddington‘s beer: now a gruesome fizzy, frothy concoction brewed way-out-of-town, but once a staple for the cotton workers. Both brewery and employment long gone.

Dickens’s “black canal” has been bourgeoisified: it is now couth and well-scrubbed-up. When I’m through Manchester (and its our closest international airport of substance), I would head for The Wharf. The full address is Slate Wharf, Castefield, thus linking the industrial pedigree to a somewhat-imaginative Roman castra. The Wharf will offer as many as a dozen decent brews, not fizzy, but real ale, and several of them local. There’ll be no cotton-workers in sight: today this milieu is all professional and media types. Manchester may not make as much in the way of physical goods, but it sure knows how to make money.

So the bees buzz everywhere.

They are on the coat-of-arms of Manchester University (as right). They are featured on the crest (as left) of  HMS Manchester. The first (well, actually the second, if we include the down-market supply ship of the Napoleonic wars) of that name had a short, but spectacular — even controversial — life in the Second World War. The name was sufficiently re-habilitated to be applied to a Type-42 destroyer which did its bit in the Falklands and the Gulf.

There is another connection.

The co-operative movement started in Rochdale, just down the road from central Manchester, in 1844. The symbolism of “co-operation” meant that bees were carved on the buildings of the Co-ops. And remain a symbol to this day.

I’d reckon Pappus would approve.

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Filed under advertising., Beer, Britain, travel

Lightening a grim day

I dozed off early (Neil Gaiman can be as soporific as Mr. MacGregor’s lettuce). Only in the early hours did I hear of the Manchester horror.

So, come this morning, it was good to have some light relief:

Catty uncornered

Years ago, we were doing the chateaux of the Loire, and stopped off at La Flèche.

Just as we were moving on, a dispute broke out between two authentic French ladies of certain years. Madame A’s lap-dog had taken offence at Madame B’s cat. The cat had taken refuge in the nearby tree, and was spitting down at the dog.

The cat was not coming down. Words were being exchanged.

The aid of les pompiers was called for.

The first stalwart arrived on a bicycle, with what looked like a window-cleaner’s ladder. Too short. An appreciative audience was growing.

The next reinforcement was a small van, with a longer ladder. The boy apprentice was sent up the ladder. The cat headed higher. The quite considerable circle of on-lookers were warmed by such an act of resistance,

Finally, the full panoply of les sapeurs-pompiers de La Flèche showed up with a resplendent red carriage and extendable ladder. Cheers all round.

As the ladder was being raised, the cat came scampering down the tree, and was quickly purring in Madame B’s bosom.

Excitement over, we headed on our way.

Doggy doo-dah

Perhaps it was on that summer trip we composed the game to entertain young daughters along the kilometres of routes nationales.

The dog on a string is a frequent feature, wherever one goes.

We established that every French dog had to come in one of three types: rat, rug or demi-cheval. Because the daughters, even at that early age, were perceptive creatures, very quickly those simple definitions were not enough. Depending on size and hairiness, long disputations ensued to determine a ratty-rug from a ruggy-rat.

No: I do not claim ownership of this entertainment. We simplified it from Macbeth:

Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men;
As hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves, are ‘clept
All by the name of dogs: the valued file
Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
The housekeeper, the hunter, every one
According to the gift which bounteous nature
Hath in him closed.

Sheer Rattiness

When canine distinctions palled, we reverted to the on-going rat-wagon competition.

Those were the days when progress along any route nationale could regularly be impeded by being stuck for long periods behind a trundling and corrugated Citroën van. There were after all the better part of half-a-million of these.

Doubtless those which are not serving moules avec frites along the Belgian coast, or gussied up as crêperies on London’s South Bank, now serve duty as chicken hutches.

Not only were such automotive slugs obstinately slow, they had an even greater propensity to rust than any Lada or Kawasaki.

A true rat-wagon had to be not just rust-streaked (they all came that way) but pitted and — preferably — see-through.

So we designated local champions, provincial champions, and — at the end of the trip — a national champion.

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Aemstelredamme revisited, and a personal trauma

This weekend involves a quick flight from Leeds-Bradford “International” (yeah: better believe it) Airport to Amsterdam. Since the other end is Luchthaven Schiphol, that’s a trip from the pretentious to the ginormous.

amsterdam“Aemstelredamme” came about when the river Amstel was … err … dammed, and a passage created over it. Makes sense, huh? Once you have a bridge, some bright spark will start charging to cross over. Whereupon the Count of Holland, Flores V (whose name alone would seem more redolent for an air-freshener) issued a decree that the local bods were exempt from such an impost. This document, dated 1275, proves the existence of a settlement at that time.

By the way, the last time the Lady-in-my-Life and I dropped in, Amsterdam was hosting some mega-LGBT freak-out. There wasn’t a room to be had, this side of Nebraska (another bitter, cryptic, personal joke, as in looking for a bed in the neighbourhood of Sturgis at the wrong moment). We ended up in a palatial, marble-bathroomed, penthouse suite: doubly-nice, since we beat them down to “superior” costings.

Broads, in any definition

When I was a bright young thing at Fakenham Grammar, I was not taught the Norfolk Broads were artificial. Only later did the business of peat-extraction get raised (or excavated). I see a similar suggestion being floated how Amsterdam got those concentric canals.

In all truth, I like Amsterdam — though I seem to get to the “Low Countries” only in winter. Now — and, I beg you, don’t take this amiss — in my recollection that means the visit can have its whiffy moments. Deploy the Flores V.

Born on the North Sea littoral, and not-quite-flooded in January 1953,  I have this fellow-feeling that drains across vaguely-sea-level zones always have problems of not-quite-managing. And so can be a trifle aromatic. The same problem occurs in Venice, of course — but there nasal and optical experiences are hardly improved by characters who never feature in the tourist guides, but who can emerge, at random, blackened, in full diving kit, from the city’s necessary cess-pits. At least the Venetians are explicit (and it must be a select but secure choice of career) about it. Perhaps, as well, it is to make sure the affronted tourist doesn’t return too soon. I’m sure the excellent Donna Leon must incorporate this in one of her Commissario Brunetti teccies.

The Belgians and the Dutch, though — as in other matters  — let it all hang out, and seem to let the miasma creep up on one. Memo to self: avoid De Walletjes, though I know for certain my outspoken daughter (who arrives two hours previous to her aged parents) will make a point of inspecting, and commenting. Myself: I just don’t wanna know.

Reading
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OK: I finished Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle (for the second time): it took over a full month, and two continents. Then, in a day (actually, an extended evening), the latest Rankin. That required an hour reorganising three shelves to get this new arrival to fit. As a result, I found Fleshmarket Close has gone missing from the assembled oeuvre.

Which brings me to the crunch here.

What’s for the weekend reading?

The Economist, in the post-Trump moment, has to be a must. I feel I ought to pick up the London Review of Books if only for the Neal Ascherson essay: though the problem is an early flight, and a very limited news-outlet at LBA.

I’m suddenly very aggrieved about the missing Fleshmarket Close.

So: what next? What next? Problems! Problems!

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Filed under air travel., Economist, History, leisure travel, Norfolk, travel, Yorkshire

Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig

Sounds a good definition of what I expect in a decent beer.

It’s the motto of Amsterdam, by the way.

Which is where my diary says I’m spending the next weekend, doubtless with Jacques Brel as ear-worm:

After that, up yours, David Bowie (I award a beat-plus), John Denver (a good gamma for sheer effort, but far too sweet), and lesser lights.

My other problem is the eternal Interbrew/InBev crisis.

orval-mugOne of my Red Lines is to avoid anything from that Leuven monster. So no Stella (as if …), Bud (snarf, snarf!), Boddingtons (the froth of “Manchester” — now fizzed somewhere out in Lancashire) or Bass. Only the last of those four is any great loss. Leffe: hmmm … but I’d prefer any genuine Trappist, especially Orval (I’ve still got the pot mug, bought 1967, and awarded originally to Dear Old Dad).

What’s going to make Amsterdam easier is I’m hearing good things about some new boys:

  • the Amsterdamsche Stoombierbrouwerij (an in-house brewery in De Bekeerde Suster, Kloveniersburgwal 6-8, Amsterdam);
  • Butcher’s tear, who allegedly do a sequence of seasonal beers, with the winter Ex Voto coming particularly recommended;
  • Brouwerij ‘t IJ, down by the docks, again with seasonals and a formidable triple Zatte.

There ought to be a PhD thesis in here somewhere, how the emergence of monopolies leads inexorably to a re-emergence of better, smaller rivals. Despite the heavy hand of InBev, the Low Countries have a flourishing small brewing industry. It happened, too,  in East Anglia, when Watneys took over both the remaining Norwich breweries (Bullards and Stewart & Patteson — the latter’s winter Old K-ale being another lost national treasure). As sure as night follows day, lesser lights eventually shone through the gloom — Woodforde’s of Woodbastwick do a more-than-decent winter ale, the Norfolk Nog.

And after Amsterdam, in almost weekly slices, the Black North of Ulster (highlight: back to Bushmills) and Prague (conveniently, but not accidentally, close to Novoměstský pivovar — The New Town Brewery).

Gezondheid! Guid forder! Na Zdravi!

It’s a hard life, this retirement business.

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Filed under Beer, Belgium, Europe, Northern Ireland, travel

Easy on the madeleines

We each have triggers for involuntary memory.

I’ve just recovered some lost time.

It was a prompt from a prompt about Tesco and the Great #Brexit Threat of a Marmite Famine.

iu

So I had to rush out and buy a pot.

Ah, but it brought back the Old Times.

For, you see, there was a time in my chequered career when “lunch” was a couple of Ryvita, with a smear of Marmite, washed down with two mugs of tea-bag tea (as likely as not, both made from the same tea-bag) — milk optional. Then back to the chalk-face.

When retirement intervened, I lost the taste, in large part because the Lady-in-my-Life remains sternly anti-Marmite.

Now the pot is almost empty, and I may be suffering withdrawal symptoms.

Stratford and Hook Norton

9781472577542Recently I was down to Stratford-upon-Avon for a double header: Aphra Benn’s The Rover for the p.m. matinee (which I would gladly see again), and back for the evening session for Two Noble Kinsmen from Bill Shagsper and John Fletcher (though the new Arden edition puts those two names in alphabetic order).

I have to say, it came close to reversing the old Himalaya pun: “Loved her; none too keen on them”.

Which isn’t the point; because the pub on the corner of Bridge Street (where Lady-in-my-Life and daughter expect to find me when I go AWOL) is The Encore. And the beer on the bar was Old Hooky. At 4.6%, the odd decimal point or two above a sessional quaffing beer; but just what a drouthy man needs during and after a culture-fest.

Also, another memory trigger, rewinding the counter many years to a well-spent day being driven around the Cotswolds with a long, leisurely, late and liquid lunch at the Pear Tree, within sniffing range of that excellent brewery itself.

Pear Tree.jpg

 

 

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Filed under Literature, pubs, Shakespeare, travel