Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Malta

Mrs P and I have been to experience the delights of Malta, the tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean, just south of Sicily. And why not? It's the perfect short getaway for a resident Bournemouth. Flights from the local airport, just a ten minute drive from home, are cheap - from £60 to £100 return - and it's just three hours away. We set off early on a Thursday morning, enjoyed two full days in the sun and flew back mid-morning on Sunday, lightly bronzed and thoroughly relaxed.

What did I know of Malta before I went? It's small and rocky. The islanders bravely fended off the Nazis in WW2 - the Maltese flag features the St George cross, awarded by their then imperial master, the British. There's a bit of an issue with organised crime and suppression of the press. There's the Maltese dog. That was about it. Mrs P and I argued over just how small Malta is. I said smaller than the Isle of Wight. She disagreed. I have checked. And I was right. 

What didn't I know about Malta that I am now better informed of? Maltese is the only recognised semitic language in the European Union. It's a confusing tongue. Half the words are of Italian origin. English makes up anything from 10 to 20% of the vocabulary, with whole phrases abruptly interrupting an otherwise unintelligible stream of chatter. And a Tunisian would be able to understand about 30 to 40 per cent of an average Maltese conversation. Indeed, Malta seemed in many regards - language, food and architecture - to have something of a confused sense of identity. It doesn't, of course. Cultural blends are to be found in every land. It was I who was confused.

We also discovered that Malta itself isn't the cheapest European destination once landed. Buses are good value when getting around, at €2 for two hours travel. Food and accommodation are a little pricey. Not extravagantly so. But closer to what one would pay in Paris than in Budapest or Sofia. But for a long weekend, Malta is worthy of consideration. We may well return, particularly when we are in need of a little bit of southern  European sunshine. 




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Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Secret Garden


We Brits have few nice things to say about our weather. We do not receive the amount of sunshine that we would like. But it's not just about the gross amount of solar rays that reach our little island. It's the useable quantity. Let me give an example. Last week we set off on a day trip, deep into rural Wiltshire. It had been sunny all week, so why not make the most of it? Needless to say, the sun disappeared the moment we departed. And stubbornly refused to to reappear until the moment we returned home. We Brits have been playing this game of galactic hide and seek for millenia. It's a game that we are handsomely losing.

The garden? It's a strenuous half hour walk from the nearest train station at Avoncliff, up and down a steep hill. But that is all I can say. Mrs P has declared it a 'secret garden', just for us.
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Thursday, 23 May 2019

Queen Mother



Given that it seemed like the Queen Mother lived for all eternity, it somewhat surprised me to find she's been dead for more than fifteen years. I only remember the last couple of decades of her life, when she closely resembled a breathing corpse. She would be trundled out on her walking frame to be waved at by an adoring crowd, before being trundled away again. Quite often to hospital to have a fish bone removed from her throat.

This statue is a recent creation, on display in Poundbury, Dorset. The Queen herself came on her Royal Train for the grand ceremony. Made from a fairly solid chunk of stone or metal, this Queen Mother may well survive for all eternity. Or at least, until the revolution...


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Monday, 20 May 2019

Victoria Pubs: Real Ale and Real History


Have you arrived in London to immerse yourself in its rich culture? Learning about London and its history would be incomplete without a visit to the best pubs near Buckingham Palace, where you can enjoy pints of quality ale, while having a lively conversation about the culture capital of the world. And, if you need a good place to stay in the meantime, there are some great yet affordable hotels near Buckingham Palace, the Passport Office and the London Eye, offering easy access to the pubs and major tourist attractions in the city, says Sidney Hotel, one of the leading Hotels near Buckingham Palace

Here’s a look at some of the best pubs in Victoria.

1.       Cask

If you're after craft beer, then you cannot go wrong with Cask. Moreover, this pub in Pimlico is among the best-stocked beer bars in the UK. Even a person who considers himself a connoisseur of beer would be overwhelmed by the range on offer here. And, if you happen to go there on a Sunday, there's a live folk band playing that adds to the whole ambiance. 

2.       The Thomas Cubitt

The Thomas Cubitt in Belgravia is best known for its food, but it also offers a wide variety of cocktails. It has a bar on the ground floor and has a French-style dining area on the first floor. You can eat and drink in whichever part of the pub that suits you the best. Roast rack and pumpkin wellington are their specialties. This is a fine dining restaurant, so the prices are on the higher side.

3.       The Orange Public House & Hotel 

This hotel cum pub on Pimlico Road is another one of Cubitt House Group's upmarket gastropubs. It attracts a wealthy crowd, just like The Thomas Cubitt. The bustling ground floor bar is The Orange's heart. You can enjoy classic British dishes, along with a good variety of drinks here. But, if the bar is packed, then there's a vintage dining area upstairs. 

4.       The Albert

If you're a tourist looking for some cheap breakfast early in the morning, then this Victorian landmark, situated between the Parliament building and New Scotland Yard, is where you must go. Portraits and photos of past prime ministers, members of the Royal family and leaders can be seen on the walls here, which give the place a historical feel. Also, this place is popular among the locals for its puddings.   

5.       Speaker

If you're like old-school pubs, then this one is a must-visit for you. This pub prides itself on having created an atmosphere of a classic English pub. There's a sign in the front of this establishment that proudly states, “This is a real pub.” There are no television screens or music being played in this pub. This is where you go for a drink, some great food and some good conversation. 

Victoria is among the best places to stay for tourists visiting London. Hotels near the Victoria Tube Station in Central Londonand pubs in and around this area can offer you a real cultural experience of Britain.
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Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Lost and Found



I have recovered another batch of photos from a recently rediscovered set of CDs that I'd long assumed were lost. This set featured three photos from our flat in Mexico City, which brought back memories. The remaining hundred or so photos were from a trip Mrs P and I made to see her family in Milwaukee. With a day trip to Chicago thrown in. The year? Twas 2005, a few months after I moved to Mexico.

The photo I've chosen was for more than a decade my most viewed image on Flickr. For a while it was used by Wikipedia, and can still be found on dozens of other websites. And it was published in a book about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It's hardly the greatest photo I've ever taken, but it is the most successful. For much of the last decade, I've had only a 640 pixel copy of it. Now I have the full size original again. Which is nice.
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Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Egypt 2001



I visited Cairo in 2001. It seems a long time ago. It was a long time ago. The world has changed hugely since then. Shortly after a visit to the pyramids of Giza where this photo was taken, I learned that Timothy McVeigh had been put to death whilst I relaxed beside the hotel pool. One associated terrorism with white christian males back then. Either of the US far-right variety, or the Irish unionist/republican kind. 

That said, there has been an horrific Islamic terror attack on tourists at Luxor four years earlier which left over sixty people dead. But this was before 9/11, which changed everything. Anything before 9/11 was a 'one off' tragedy. The Arab Spring that rose up a decade later did the tourism industry of the Middle East additional harm. I visited Cairo at a good time. A simpler time. 

I took this photo with a 3.3mp Nikon  Coolpix 880. It was a great little camera that cost me a small fortune. I was impressed with the photos I came back from Egypt with. Sure, low light shots in the museums were a little blurry and grainy, but the ones taken outdoors were sharp and vibrant. They printed out onto A3 paper just fine. 

I recently found the CD I had the photos backed up on. I hadn't seen it for years. I wasn't sure I even had it anymore. I'm glad I found it, because my digital copies are all at small resolutions. I transferred them to my iMac and processed them. I learned that while the photos looked great on my old HD laptops, they do not look so great on a 27" screen with 4k resolution. Far from it. This made me a little sad. Still. The Nikon 880 was a great camera, back in 2001.
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Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Lordification of Kings Cross

London has changed aplenty during my lifetime. Parts of the capital have been utterly transformed. Mostly for the better? That depends on who you ask and which part of the city you are referring to. It's a big place. Great swathes of the centre have undergone a process known as gentrification. Balham in the south, for example, where I lived in the late 1980s. And its neighbour Brixton. When I was in residence, if being kind, one would have described Balham as having character. 

If pushed, but remaining diplomatic, one would have described it as gritty. Between friends, one would have labelled it with more vulgar Trumpian language. As for Brixton, for most of the last two decades of the 20th century, the area was still best known for some of the the worst rioting London had ever seen. But times change. They have become smart, trendy places with a vibrant cultural  scene and skyrocketing property prices.
  
Then there's Kings Cross, the raison d'etre of this post, and a 'hood that Mrs P and I visited at the weekend. Twenty years ago, visitors to Kings Cross arrived for one of three purposes. To catch a train from either Kings Cross or St Pancras to elsewhere in the country. To engage the services of a cheap street hooker. Or to consume ecstacy and other illicit drugs whilst raving the night away at Bagleys, a night club set up in one of the disused railway warehouses. 

Nowadays, one can catch trains not only to elsewhere in the country, but to the continent too, courtesy of the Eurostar services. The unwashed ladies of the night have been banished from the streets, replaced by expensive escorts advertising their wares online. The last of the nightclubs shut down in 2007, as the grand redevelopment project began.The huge Grade II listed gasholders? They've been given a lick of paint and filled with pricey flats.

And, of course, there's a substantial area set aside for retail outlets and dining options in this prestigious N1 postcode zone. Granary Square opened a few years ago. Coal Drops Yard opened recently. The redevelopment is a clever use of modern design and planning to retain much of the old historic brick built warehouses alongside the new constructions and keep the industrial atmosphere alive and kicking into the 21st century. 

Unlike other gentrified parts of London, the shops and restaurants you'll find here will not include the likes of Prezzos, Olivier Bonas or Waterstones. Nor will you find any quirky, arty independent stores selling cheap tat. There is a Waitrose. Naturally. Granary Square and Coal Drops Yard are filled with high end stores selling high end goods at prices that only the nobility of the land could possible afford. Aesop sell a range of skin care products that will make your eyes water. A kitchenware store stocked a vast array of lethally sharp, ornate knifes, meat cleavers and axes. The display would make a murderous Saudi jihadi giddy.


A luxury chocolatier sells the most exquisite bars and jars of the good stuff. But what might cost £1 elsewhere costs 10£ here. Perhaps a scientific consumer study has shown that the incorrect positioning of the pound sign will make the price easier to swallow. I settled for a free sample. That went down nicely. Next door is a homeware store that sells the most fabulous set of copper light shades, polished so thoroughly that you can see your reflection in them. If that reflection displays anything other than a gentleman in top hat and waistcoat with a man servant by his side, then you can't afford them. Sorry. Welcome to the Lordification of London. Gentrification is just so last decade...


The dining options we looked at, however, were priced with the clear intent of appealing to a wider economic range of  clientele. We chose a suitable establishment, took our seats and prepared for a pleasant Sunday afternoon feast. With the date being 5th of May, there was only one establishment that we would consider suitable. A Mexican. To our delight, it turned out to be an authentic Mexican restaurant, selling barbecoa rather than burritos. With a mariachi band. An all female band, which was something of a novelty. The food was good. Very good. We'll go again.

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