Posted by: travelrat | October 24, 2014

Italian Food: Not All Pasta.

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Brighton: 9th October 2014.

Fortunately, it didn’t rain on the parade, but we drove into it on the way to Brighton, where we were to meet Ellie. The M27 is a reasonable drive, but, after we left the motorway, the A27 seems to have a roundabout every mile or so; sometimes, it seems you can just about get into top gear before you have to shift down again for the next one.

So, where to go for dinner? An Italian restaurant, Zizzi, overlooking the Marina, was selected … there’s a balcony where you can watch the boats while you eat. Not that anyone used it today, but we did manage to get a table by the window, where we could watch the sea crashing over the breakwater.

Of course, Italian cuisine isn’t all about pasta with everything, any more than English cooking is chips with everything (although it seems that way sometimes)

I had the Lamb Rosemario … a leg of lamb cooked to perfection, on a bed of creamy mashed potato. It seemed faintly familiar … then I remembered a similar dish I’d eaten up in the Lake District. But, that was called Lamb Henry.

Was this a parallel development, or did the recipe ‘move’? I recalled a cotelette Milanese I’d had in Venice some years ago. I remarked that it was very similar to a wiener schnitzel.

‘It is!’ said the waiter ‘The Austrians stole the recipe form us!’

I wonder what they say about it in Vienna?

Posted by: travelrat | October 22, 2014

Ruthin Castle

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Ruthin: 24th September 2014

We woke early at the Ruthin Castle Hotel. Today, we were going to visit Denbigh and St. Asaph. But, we still had plenty of time to explore the garden and the old castle ruins and take some photographs before breakfast.

The present building isn’t actually a ‘castle’ at all, although the Myddleton family had owned the land on which the ruins of the ‘old’ castle stood since 1632. In 1826, the then owner, Maria Myddleton, built a castellated, two-storied house of grey limestone, which was extended in red sandstone in 1849. The castle remained as a private residence until 1923, when it became a ‘Clinic for Internal Diseases’ until 1962, when it was converted to a hotel

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The castle itself has been in ruins since the 17th Century. But, it wasn’t ‘slighted’ in the Civil War by the Parliamentarians, as many other castles were. It was partly demolished on the orders of King Charles II after the Restoration, to prevent it being used in any future uprising. Much of the stone went for house-building in nearby Ruthin … the name of which is said to derive from the Welsh for ‘Red Castle’, from the sandstone from which the castle was built, so it’s rather appropriate.

However, enough of the original castle remains to make a fascinating exploration.

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The castle was first built in 1277 by Dafydd ap Gruffud, the younger brother of Llewellyn ap Gruffud (aka ‘Llewellyn the Last’) the Prince of Wales. At the time, Dafydd supported the English King Edward I against his brother, but was noted for continually changing sides. Even Welsh historians seldom have a good word to say for him.

Dafydd changed sides once too often, though; and Edward eventually invaded Wales, captured the castle and strengthened its defences, to form part of the ‘Iron Ring’ of his castles around North Wales.

Although it was in a very poor state of repair when Sir Thomas Myddleton bought it from the King, it was quickly repaired, and held by Royalist forces for four weeks against the Parliamentarians.

We had breakfast in ‘Bertie’s’ dining room’ which was named after Albert Edward (later King Edward VII) the eldest son of Queen Victoria, who spent a lot of time there … mainly because he was said to be having an affair with the owner’s wife

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Disclosure: We travelled as the guests of North Wales Tourism (www.nwt.co.uk) but all opinions expressed are my own.

Posted by: travelrat | October 20, 2014

Up the Dragon Stream

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Yangtze River: 12th May 2014

So quickly and efficiently did we get away this morning that we hardly noticed it. Breakfast was a bit of a scramble, but buffets usually are.

Our first excursion was the optional one for that day. It looked like chaos at first, with all the crowds, and the guides trying to outshout each other, for ours wasn’t the only ship moored here in the Xiling Gorge. But, some sort of order emerged from the confusion, and the ‘Tribes of the Three Gorges’ turned out to be an unmissable trip.

It’s a hike following the Dragon Stream, a tributary of the Yangtze, and almost the first thing you see is a traditionally dressed lady in a sampan on the stream below.

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All the way up the gorge, you pass traditional buildings, water wheels, cormorant fishermen … they’re showing China as it used to be … or, maybe, as we imagine it used to be. The jury’s still out on that one.

There’s natural beauty here, too. Everyone stopped to photograph or video the monkeys; the waterfall was pretty, rather than spectacular and, on the way back, they showed us a re-enactment of a wedding ceremony … I nearly got ‘jiffed’ to be the ‘groom’, but I got out of the way in time, and another was chosen instead.

When we got back around lunchtime, we found the laundry we’d left out before we left had already been delivered. Full marks for that!

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Posted by: travelrat | October 17, 2014

The Parade.

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Winchester: 9th October 2014.

There’s an old saying ‘The Navy/Army/Air Force (delete as applicable) isn’t the same as it used to be … and it never was!’ We’d gone to the Sir John Moore Barracks, near Winchester to see grandson Jack receive his cap badge after six weeks basic training in the Army.

I noticed a difference to ‘the bad old days’ right away. Everyone was so nice! But, it was a ‘Family Day’ … I thought back to many years ago, at a similar event, when I heard ‘Corporal MacNasty’ telling my mother: ‘He’s a good lad! One of the best in my section!’ Which was exactly the opposite of what he’d called me not 24 hours before.

However, I did make a supreme effort not to start any sentence with ‘In my day … ‘ and I suspect I wasn’t the only one present who did the same

This isn’t about me, though, it’s about Jack. And I don’t think I was the only one who had difficulty recognising the smart, handsome young soldier who came to meet us after the parade. He hasn’t finished yet. There’s more to do at Winchester before he passes out and goes on to trade training as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers.

Best of luck, Jack … and, if they have photographers in the RE, you’ve got it made!

Posted by: travelrat | October 15, 2014

The Paté Factory

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Ruthin: 23rd September 2014

It took me many years to get used to paté, and to realise it wasn’t all made from the livers of overfed geese. One of my favourite treats nowadays is a crusty baguette spread with Ardennes paté. That’s not the only way to eat it. It’s often served as a starter, with thinly sliced toast, and there are other ways too numerous to list here.

We had dinner at manor haus (all lower case, and no definite article, we were told) in a listed Georgian townhouse once owned by Cynthia Lennon and now an elegant restaurant. We were served a starter here … chicken and smoked bacon terrine … but we’d already had a ‘starter to the starter’ at ‘Patchwork Paté’, where they make paté in a myriad of flavours.

Duck and apple; rum and ginger; Stilton and Guinness; chili and lemongrass … I don’t do shorthand, so I couldn’t list them all. But, all were delicious. Except one; I can’t remember which one it was, and maybe it’s just me, but I detected just a hint of those childhood fishpaste sandwiches, which I was never too keen on.

Margaret

More fascinating, though, was the story told by Margaret Carter, who started the business in 1982. She was a single mother, with no training in cookery or business whatsoever, who produced her first batch of paté using just £9 she’d saved from her meagre housekeeping money.

The local restaurant to which she took her product loved it, and her little business expanded rapidly. It wasn’t long before she moved her operation from her kitchen to a purpose-built factory unit in Ruthin. But, one thing didn’t change, and that was the way Margaret originally cooked the paté … using no additives whatsoever, and sourcing her ingredients as responsibly as possible. And, eventually, it met with the approval of no less a person than Prince Charles.

I really didn’t know whether to be more impressed with the paté or the determination of the lady who built up a thriving business from almost nothing.

But, the personal touch is still maintained. On the way out, we saw the gaily painted VW Kombi van used to deliver the goods ,,, and that’s one of my favourite vehicles. It just had to be the icing on the cake … or, in this case, paté

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Posted by: travelrat | October 13, 2014

Yangtze Cruise: Day One

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Yichang: 11th May 2014

From Xi’an, we flew to Wuhan, followed by a four-hour coach ride to Yichang. We passed countless rice paddies, and I tried to get some video through the window of the fast-moving coach, without much success. But, when we stopped for a break, I was able to get slightly more satisfactory results. What I didn’t know was I’d have the opportunity to get some really good stuff later.

When we arrived at Yichang, we boarded the Yangtze 2 for our cruise. We weren’t going anywhere that night, though; the ship wasn’t going to sail until the morning.

We’d upgraded to an Executive Suite, although all cabins have a balcony. We were also impressed by the glass elevator. Both of these sometimes give views of the scenery outside the ship … and sometimes, just views of a rather dilapidated dockside, or the ship moored alongside.

The food was, of course, Chinese … a pick-what-you-like, all-you-can-eat buffet.

Two programmes are on offer each day; one is included in the fare, the other an optional extra that you have to pay a supplement for.

The ship is only a couple of years old, and well presented. Our cabin was roomy and spacious, in which we settled comfortably while we waited to see what the next day brought.

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Posted by: travelrat | October 8, 2014

Zoo Train: Video

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Marwell Zoo. 20th August 2014.

While it’s no substitute for just wandering around and taking your time, the train does give a good overview of what’s to be seen at Marwell Park, and you can take a closer look later.

Besides, what’s a trip without at least one train ride?

Posted by: travelrat | October 6, 2014

Ruthin

Nantclwyd y Dre

Ruthin: 23rd September 2014

When you walk out of the grounds of Ruthin Castle, and venture out into the town itself, you’re almost immediately confronted by Nantclwyd y Dre. This house was built in the 16th Century, and is believed to be one of the oldest town houses in North Wales. It’s open to the public at weekends in summer; see www.nantclwydydre.co.uk for details.

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There are older houses than this, though. Turning into Well Street, you’ll pass the quirky Siop Nain, a hundred years older than Nantclwyd y Dre. Here, in 1860, the Welsh National Anthem was first printed. Sometimes, it seems every other house in the centre of Ruthin bears a plaque saying someone famous either lived or stayed there, or a notable event took place. Only a few paces away, the timber-framed Wynnstay Arms was host to George Borrow, the author of ‘Wild Wales’, one of the earliest guide books, in 1854.

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The County Assize Court, in Record Street is an imposing Palladian style building raised in 1785. It’s a court no longer, though. In 1970, it became the Public Library … and, from outside, it has the air of yesteryear, when talking above a hushed whisper would earn you an icy glare from the ‘book dragon’. But, once inside, all is light and friendly.

The best of the buildings are in St. Peter’s Square, at the top of the hill. One of the first things that struck me about Ruthin is how businesses of all kinds have adapted those old houses to their purposes without wrecking their ambience. There’s a stone outside Barclays Bank, where King Arthur is reputed to have beheaded a rival in love.

Another bank, the National Westminster, is housed in the Old Courthouse, a lovely old building erected in 1401; only a year after Owain Glendower razed the town, and left only three buildings standing. If you look carefully, you’ll see the beam where they used to hang convicted criminals; the last person to be so treated was a Catholic priest in 1679.

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One particular building that catches the eye in St Peter’s Square is the Myddleton Arms. It was built by Richard Clough in the 16th Century, based upon designs he’d seen in the Low Countries’ when he lived in Antwerp.It’s the earliest red brick building in Wales … although the red brick is now whitewashed. Its most striking feature, however, is the ‘Seven Eyes’ or the ‘Eyes of Ruthin’ … seven dormer windows, arranged in three storeys in the roof.

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I’ve only scratched the surface of the quirky and unusual buildings to be seen in Ruthin. If you go, and are the slightest bit interested in architecture, be prepared to spend a lot of time there. And, take plenty of memory cards!

Disclosure: We travelled as the guests of North Wales Tourism (www.nwt.co.uk) but all opinions expressed are my own.

Posted by: travelrat | October 3, 2014

Xi’an Video

Xi'an By Night

Xi’an: 11th May 2014.

We flew from Xi’an to Wuhou, from where a coach took us to Yichang, where we were to join the ship for our Yangtze cruise. To sum up our time in Xi’an, of course, I have a video. The making of it presented me with the problem which sometimes faces anyone who produces any form of art, be it sculpture, writing or photography.

What to include, and what to take out?

Writers have a saying ‘Kill all your darlings’ … which means, if it doesn’t quite fit, even if it’s a phrase or paragraph you’re proudest of, it should go.

So, quite a fair amount of ‘good stuff’ finished up on the ‘virtual cutting room floor’ … but I shan’t throw it away. Maybe, one day, I can make another video out of it?

Posted by: travelrat | October 1, 2014

Marwell Park Zoo

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Marwell Zoo. 20th August 2014.

There’s a wide choice of attractions around here to which we could take our two youngest grandsons when they visited. But, when they heard there were dinosaurs at Marwell Zoo … not real ones, of course … it was no contest.

I swear, those lads were more interested in the fibreglass model dinosaurs then they were in the real animals.

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Marwell is a pleasant little zoo, not as crowded as some of the more popular ones. You can, of course, walk around it, but, if you don’t want to walk, there’s a ‘land train’. That cost nothing to ride, but you sometimes have to queue for a short while. Or, there’s a more conventional miniature railway, for which you don’t usually have to queue, but you have to pay.

There are, of course, lots of animals here. Possibly the high point, which the boys found fascinating, was when a pygmy hippos spreads its dung when it ‘goes’

More efficient, I’d say, than even the most sophisticated muck-spreader!

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