Posted by: travelrat | December 20, 2014

View from the Loo

We’re staying at the Cumbria Grand Hotel in Grange over Sands … and I’ve got to say this is the best view from the khasi I’ve seen for a long time!kr

Posted by: travelrat | December 18, 2014

Quick Post from Chester

Unfortunately, the concert at Birmingham we were going to last night had to be cancelled, so we went to Chester early & had a slightly longer stay.

We’ve seen two connections to our Welsh blog trip in September; at the Chester Lodge, where we’re staying, we were offered Gareth’s yoghurt for breakfast. And, at Chester Zoo, Margaret’s ‘Patchwork Pate’ was on offer.

More later; meanwhile, here’s a couple of pictures. kr kr

Posted by: travelrat | December 17, 2014

The Great Buddha of Leshan

DAA Giant Buddha Leshan_copy

Leshan: 16th May 2014

From Chongqing, another coach took us to Chengdu. The main attraction here, of course, is the Panda Research Base. But, we’re not going there yet; the Wendy Wu people believe in keeping the best to the last. We were taken to Leshan, which stands near the confluence of three rivers, the Minjiyang, the Dadu and the Qingyl.

In ancient times, this was a very turbulent stretch of water, and many boatmen were lost trying to negotiate it. Around 700 AD, a monk named Hai Tong suggested that the waters might be calmed if a gigantic statue of the Maitreya Buddha was carved from the hillside, facing the sacred Mount Emei.

Construction began in 713 AD, and took 90 years to complete. Of course, Hai Tong passed away before it was finished, but two of his disciples continued the work after his death.

Surprisingly, the statue did have the desired effect, for the vast amount of stone and rubble falling into the river from the construction served to calm the waters.

D9 Giant Buddh Leshan_copy

The sitting figure is 71 metres (233 feet) tall, and, since the destruction of the statues at Bamyian, in Afghanistan is now the tallest Buddha statue in the world. A sophisticated drainage system within the statue ensures some protection from the effects of the elements. Originally, additional protection came from a 13 storey stone structure, but this was destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th Century, and the statue has been open to the sky ever since.

Although many people set out to climb the stairs on either side, I don’t think this is really the most satisfactory way to see it. Even disregarding the number of steps to be negotiated, you also have to deal with the hordes of people climbing them. Also, you won’t be able to see the statues flanking the giant figure from the land; the best viewpoint is from the river. But, the crowds swarming ant-like up those steps did give an idea of how big the thing was.

We took to the river, for a more complete view of the statue. A veritable flotilla of boats awaited us. Somehow, we managed to find the correct one, and all set off in a convoy; a sort of cross between the Cowes Regatta, a Le Mans start and the ‘Little Ships of Dunkirk’. The boats are almost identical; rectangular flat-bottomed ferries with a inside cabin and an open deck, usually finished in blue and white.

The boats sailed close enough to the immense statue to ensure a good close-up view, then was able to move further away, to give a better overall view … something that wouldn’t be possible from the shore. Then, it sailed closer in once more, and we were able to get a better idea of the size of the effigy from the myriad of people swarming ant-like up the steps up each side.

How many steps are there?

I certainly didn’t intend to go and find out; the boat seems the better option for viewing the Buddha. But, maybe, for those whose visit is more in the nature of a pilgrimage, a climb up the steps is essential?

DBA Leshan - Copy_copy

That is the end of the ‘regular’ blogging for the moment, as I shall be away from home until after Christmas. I shall, however, be posting on the move, on an ‘as and when’ basis … if I can find a wifi connection.

Posted by: travelrat | December 15, 2014

Bodelwyddan Castle.

Bodelwyddan 1_copy

Bodelwyddan Castle: 24th September 2014.

This has been quite a day for castles. This morning, we awoke in a hotel in the grounds of a ruined castle; we’ve visited another ruined castle and now we’re going to see a castle that’s a castle in name only.
Bodelwyddan castle was never a defensive work; it was originally a manor house built in the 15th Century, and only became a ‘castle’ in the 19th Century. In those days, ‘castles’, ruined or otherwise, were quite the thing. If you didn’t inherit one, or couldn’t buy one … you could, if you could afford it, have one built.

In mediaeval times, if you wanted to build a castle, you needed a ‘licence to crenellate’ (planning permission, if you like) from the Monarch. But, by Queen Victoria’s time, this law had either been repealed or forgotten about.

The family that owned it made their fortune from lead, and when the mines played out, they fell on hard times. After use as a military hospital in the First World War, it was leased to the Lowther College for Girls, who occupied it until 1982, when it came into the possession of Clwyd (now Denbighshire) County Council.

In 1994, the castle was taken over by the Warner Hotel Group … but only part of it. The remainder is a satellite of the National Portrait Gallery, and this part has been restored to best display the paintings therein. They can’t do a faithful reproduction, because most of the castle records were lost in a fire in the 1920s. Nevertheless, they’ve done a good job of it.

It’s also noted for its 260 acres of gardens and parkland, but we didn’t get much of a chance to see this. It was getting late, and dinner and a concert awaited.

Bodelwyddan 2_copy

Posted by: travelrat | December 12, 2014

Chongqing

Chongqing_copy

Chongqing: 15th May 2014

We settled down for a four-hour coach ride to Chongqing, where we had lunch before going on to Chengdu. But first, of course, there was a bustling market to be visited. I didn’t make any video … once more, I’d forgotten to charge my camcorder … so I’ll do a slide show instead.

We ate in a first-floor restaurant, with a covered balcony giving good views of the busy street below. A good location for some candid street photography.

We had a dish of minced beef mixed with noodles, and a thought came to me. Was it possible that Marco Polo was familiar with this dish, and the dumplings of Xi’an, and took the recipes home with him … to develop into ravioli and spaghetti Bolognese?

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Posted by: travelrat | December 10, 2014

English Christmas Markets

Salisbury Christmas Market

Salisbury Christmas Market

For years, Britain has been trying to copy the hugely popular Christmas Markets, which had their origin in Germany, but now can be found almost anywhere on mainland Europe. The first British attempts weren’t very successful; they mainly consisted of tacky pop-up stalls selling tat.

But, of late, they have been improving. For the last two years, the one in Salisbury has been nearly as good as anything you’d find on the Continent. There’s still something missing, though … and I identified what it was at Southampton, where they have a similar market.

The smell! A sweet, sugary smell I always associate with the gingerbread without which no German market is complete.

Gingerbread!

Gingerbread!

The Southampton market does seem to have more food stalls than the Salisbury one does. German food, of course, with a sprinkling of British-style bacon butties. There are stalls selling Greek, Arab and Turkish food too, which does seem a bit incongruous … but maybe that’s also the norm in the rest of Europe these days?

Our original plan was a beer and a sausage at a ‘German’ bar, but a stident blast of rock music from an overloud-speaker put paid to that.

Maybe that’s another thing missing from these markets? An ‘Oompah’ band! They did, however, have a Salvation Army band at Salisbury. Now, I have every respect for the ‘Sally Anne’ and their good works … but, if you’ll permit me a rant I have almost every year … I question why they make Christmas carols sound so dismal?

After all, as their founder, General William Booth once said:

‘Why should the Devil have all the best tunes?’

Southampton Christmas Market

Southampton Christmas Market

(You can see my video of the Salisbury Christmas Market at https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=681072345343843&set=vb.100003232515261&type=2&theater )

Posted by: travelrat | December 8, 2014

Gareth’s Garden

Llaeth y Llan 2

Elwy Valley: 24th September 2013.

Really, this post should be called ‘Falmai’s Garden’, she’s credited with it in the handout we were given. But, in the interests of alliteration, I took a bit of a liberty with the title.

Anyway, when we finished the tour of the yoghurt factory, lunch wasn’t quite ready, so Gareth was instructed to show us the garden in the meantime.

‘It’s a bit of a rarity’ he said ‘When did you ever see a farmhouse with a garden?’

I hadn’t thought about it before, but he was quite right. I’ve lived on a farm, and I have several friends and relations who are, or were, farmers but the only gardens I’ve ever sen at their houses are the occasional vegetable patch.

I won’t describe it, though. I’ll put up a slide-show, with a bit of an assist from Lorraine. And, for those who don’t know, Ty Bach is Welsh for ‘little house’. It’s used as a toolshed …  I’ll leave you to guess at its original purpose!

Finally, lunch! I can’t describe it without sounding lip-smackingly effusive, so all I will say it was well worth waiting for.

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Posted by: travelrat | December 3, 2014

Yangtze Cruise: Video

CK Yangtze Cruise Sips_copy

Yangtze River: 15th May 2014

So, we come to a premature end to the Yangtze River Cruise. We’ll be taking more boat rides later on, but they’ll be day trips, and don’t, in my book anyway, count as ‘cruises’, (But, I do tick the ‘Cruises’ category when I put such up!)

As usual, to round it off, here’s the video ….

(You may see the Shenong Stream video here; just click on ‘Playlist’ and select the one you want!)

Posted by: travelrat | December 1, 2014

Queen Victoria Slept Here

The Battlements_copy

Arundel Castle: 10th October 2014.

When mid-day struck, the castle itself opened. The first place we made for was the coffee shop, for our ‘Gold Plus’ ticket included a voucher for a free coffee, as well. But, we also bought some cake, because it was lunchtime. The coffee shop is in what used to be the kitchen, but the rest of the castle is left pretty much as it was when the family ceased to live there.

Like other ‘stately homes’, there are paintings of family members through the ages hanging on the walls, and on the tables, there are photographs, not only of the family, but also the prominent people they mixed with.

It’s not only photographs. It’s their proud boast that one of the bedrooms was where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were accommodated when they stayed at the castle. And she’s only one of several historical people who have visited.

Now, as I said before, photography is prohibited within the castle; if you want pictorial souvenirs, you’ll have to buy a guide book or a postcard. But, I assume, this prohibition doesn’t extent to the Keep and the battlements outside … because, as is usual in a castle, there’s some great views of the surrounding countryside.

View from the Top_copy

Posted by: travelrat | November 28, 2014

The Yoghurt Farm

Tal y Bryn_copy

Elwy Valley: 24th September 2014.

Before we leave Denbigh behind, I must pay tribute to Robert, the driver of our coach. The lane up to the castle is narrow, with unyielding stone walls on each side. Robert was a bit reluctant to drive up there, so let us off at the foot of the hill to walk up. But, while we were inspecting the Castle, he checked the lane on foot, to see if he could indeed drive up there.

So it was that he met us with the coach just outside the castle, and … just … managed to get it downhill without leaving any paint on the walls.

Having visited the ‘Wireless in Wales’ museum, we then headed up the beautiful Elwy Valley, to lunch at the Llaeth y Llan yoghurt factory.

But, when we got there … no lunch! They weren’t expecting us till tomorrow! But, if we did the tour of the factory before lunch, instead of after, we could be accommodated.

Llaeth y Llan_copy

I won’t say too much about how the yoghurt is made. What struck me was, once again, how old buildings have been adapted to modern use, without losing their atmosphere. For Tal y Bryn, where the factory is located, was, in the not too distant past, a dairy farm. But, Gareth Roberts and his wife Falmai had the foresight to study food production, and look to the possibility of diversification if needed.

Times did indeed become difficult for dairy farmers, but Gareth found he had hit the spot with his yoghurt. Indeed, so popular did his product become that he gave up dairy farming completely, and sourced his milk from a neighbouring farmer.So, everything’s as natural as possible … and the final product is delicious.

The former farmhouse is now a comfortable guest house, and a restaurant can provide afternoon tea of a delicious home-cooked buffet. You do have to book a day in advance, though

Gareth Roberts

Gareth Roberts

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