Posted by: travelrat | August 26, 2014

Looe: Things Ain’t Wot They Used to Be

Looe 2

Looe: 6th June 2014.

I wonder if I was thinking of somewhere else, for when we arrived at Looe, it was nothing like the charming village I remember when I last visited 30 years ago.

Then, it seemed, every other person you met was an artist, and every other house or shop was an art gallery or a studio. Maybe the artists felt their work was getting a bit cliched, and moved on?

Looe 3

But, some things remain. The narrow inlet, the colourful fishing boats … and you still have to leave your car a fair distance away from the centre of things, for those narrow streets are difficulty to negotiate without much argument and unseemly language … and, if you do manage it, you won’t find anywhere to park.

But, any disappointment was soon countered, for, like anywhere else in Cornwall, there are still bakeries that do great pasties … and an establishment that sells superlative ice cream.

Looe 1

Posted by: travelrat | August 22, 2014

Xi’an

Xi'an City Walls

Xi’an: 9th May 2014.

Fortunately, the drizzly weather that greeted our arrival at Xi’an didn’t affect our planned activity too much. Most of what we came to see is indoors.

At the Shaanxi Museum, artefacts show some of the history of China … which helped understanding a great deal, for very little of this stuff was taught in our schools. There’s even a few of the famous Terra Cotta Warriors here. We were going to visit the actual site next day, but I took some pictures, lest report be true that photography isn’t allowed on the site.

(In actual fact, it is, as long as you don’t use flash …. which, as you’ll see in my upcoming video, most visitors seemed to disregard)

Kites

Outside the museum, there was a stall selling colourful Chinese kites. I thought that they might make good presents for our grandsons, but I got overruled. I could help them to play with kites, but not with cuddly pandas!

The rain eased off enough for a quick visit to the imposing city walls … along the top of which some people were walking and riding bicycles. They’re even firm and wide enough to drive on … but only if you work there. Maybe we’ll get a better sight of them at the Xi’an Light Show tomorrow night … weather permitting.

Terra Cotta Warrior at Shaanxi Museum

Posted by: travelrat | August 22, 2014

Technical problem

Monitor on main computer just packed up. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible

Posted by: travelrat | August 20, 2014

Pendennis Castle

Pendennis 1

Pendennis Castle: 6th June 2014.

Pendennis Castle, said the guide, wasn’t, strictly speaking, a castle. When it was originally built, it wasn’t anybody’s home, as older castles were; it was simply a defensive position.

In the Middle Ages, it wasn’t thought necessary to put more than a token defence around England’s coastline. But then, King Henry VIII upset the Spanish by divorcing his Spanish Queen, Catherine of Aragon. Fearing an invasion from that country, he looked to strengthening his defences, and one of the links in that chain was Pendennis Castle.

Like many late Tudor castles, the keep is round, for cannon were increasingly coming into use, and the lack of corners would make it less vulnerable.

However, the castle didn’t really see any action until the Civil War, when it was the last Royalist stronghold to hold out against the Parliamentarians.

After the Reformation, King Charles II was so grateful for their having held out for his cause for so long that he granted them a Borough Charter. Thus, the nearby fishing village of Falmouth became a town, and grew into a busy port.

Military presence continued at Pendennis until 1956, and there are many displays within the keep … a diorama of Napoleonic gunners and the kit layout of an artilleryman of the First World War.

If you go through a short tunnel nearby, it will lead you to the Half Moon Battery, where gigantic guns from World War II … decommissioned, of course … still point out to sea.

They looked vaguely familiar … then I realised the tune I was humming was the theme from ‘The Guns of Navarone’ !

Pendennis 2

Posted by: travelrat | August 13, 2014

Shooting the Moon

It’s getting to be almost a rule. Whenever anything happens in the skies, be it the Aurora Borealis or a comet or whatever … the skies in my vicinity are almost always covered by 8/8 cloud!

The last ‘event’ I actually saw was the solar eclipse of 1999. People flocked to Land’s End, the only place on the UK mainland where it would be total … to see nothing! In Wiltshire, we saw almost a total one, albeit through a veil of thin cloud.

Then, the other night, we had a ‘supermoon’. That’s when the moon is at perigee, or the closest point of its orbit to the earth. Then, it seems to be 14% bigger, and 30% brighter than at its apogee … another clever-sounding word, which means the furthest point of its orbit.

Moon 1

It’s not all that rare an occurrence, but the papers and social media were full of it … maybe because we’re in the so-called ‘silly season’?

I thought that, as usual, we were going to miss out on seeing it, for the day was dull and cloudy … but, about 2 a.m., I was awakened by the moonlight streaming through my bedroom window. I’d be exaggerating if I said I could read by it … but not much!

I didn’t read … instead, I went for my camera. The results, as you can see, weren’t very good. Certainly (I thought) not good enough to post on social media, or send to the papers or the TV station, as the world and his cousin seemed to be doing.

Moon 2

When I got up, although dawn had broken, the moon was still visible, although, again, the results weren’t completely satisfactory. But, (Fox-Talbot forgive me!) a little jiggery-pokery with photo editing software produced a slightly better result.

I’m not going anywhere for the moment, though; neither is the Moon. So, maybe, next time …??

Moon 2a

Posted by: travelrat | August 11, 2014

Beijing Wrap-up: Video

Beijing 1

I think everyone who’s seen our video and photographs from Beijing remarked how lucky we were with the weather throughout our four days there.

Just about everyone admired the clarity, and bemoaned the fact that they were beset by smog, or worse, while they were there.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. When we flew to Xi’an, we arrived to pouring rain. But, since most of our planned activity there took place under cover, it didn’t really matter.

Anyway, to sum up our time in Beijing, here’s the video.

Posted by: travelrat | August 8, 2014

St. Michael’s Mount

St Michael's Mount 2

St. Michael’s Mount: 5th June 2014.

In the 11th Century, King Edward the Confessor gave the Benedictine order a rocky islet in Mount’s Bay. Here, they founded a priory, said to be the ‘twin’ of Mont St. Michel, in Normandy … the situation is the same, and the two islets roughly the same shape.

It had a fairly diverse history, being used as a stronghold in many wars and rebellions, the main event was its being held by Royalist forces in the Civil War until 1646.

In 1659, it was sold to Colonel John St. Aubin, whose descendants still take an active part in the management of the islet, although it’s now in the care of the National Trust.

St Michael's Mount 3

You can get a boat to the islet, or, at low tide, you can walk to it along a causeway. I walked across, and spent some time inspecting the cottages and the little harbour, although I didn’t go up to the house itself, as it was getting rather late. So, I just wandered around taking photographs.

I did manage a word with the boatman who brought the mail over. The postman, apparently, didn’t deliver any more, although he used to. I recalled Piel Island, where the residents had to go over to the mainland for their mail, as the delivery service had been withdrawn for health and safety reasons. Maybe that’s the case here?

St Michael's Mount 1

Posted by: travelrat | August 4, 2014

The Bridge

Just behind the estate where I live, there’s a railway bridge. It carried Byway B1, better known as the Old Marlborough Coach Road over the railway to Amesbury and Larkhill.

I say ‘carried’, because it’s over sixty years since a train last passed under that bridge; even the track has long since been taken up.

But, when I passed by it the other day, I saw workmen, refurbishing the brickwork of the bridge. Was it possible, I wondered, that after all these years, Railtrack still had the duty to maintain that bridge, in the unlikely event that the railway was ever reinstated?

The foreman explained. When the developers bought the land on which the Solstice Park trading estate now stands, the bridge was included in the package. Then, along came the Health and Safety people, who declared it was neither healthy nor safe, and the landowners were obliged to make it so.

The idea of demolishing the bridge completely was considered, but it was decided that it would be cheaper to make it safe. So, in addition to the repaired brickwork, we now have a fence, and a sign saying the maximum weight which may be taken over the bridge.

Now, I can’t conceive of any reason why anyone would want to drive a heavy truck along that track … but just in case you were considering it … you can’t any longer!

Bridge 2

Bridge 1

Posted by: travelrat | August 1, 2014

Rickshaw Ride: Video

Trishaw

Beijing: 8th May 2014.

‘Rickshaw’ is a bit of a misnomer. Strictly speaking, it’s a two-wheeled carriage for two people, but hauled by a man, rather than a horse. They seem to be non-existent in China these days, having been replaced by the ‘trishaw’, which is propelled by pedal-power. Sometimes, they’re motorised, and are used for carrying bulky loads or entire extended families.

Motorised Trishaw

Through the narrow lanes we sped, passing small businesses, shops and houses. Many people were going about their business; some heavily laden, some just casually strolling. Occasionally, someone called out a greeting to the driver. Sometimes, we met a trishaw or other vehicle coming the other way, with the road restricted by a parked car or something. But, good humour and politeness always seemed to prevail … a far cry from the congested main roads of the city.

It was only a short visit to the hutongs, but gave us a taste of the place in the literal sense, as well as the metaphorical. When Wendy Wu Tours said they were going to show us the real China … they meant it!

Acrobatic Show

The evening entertainment was the Myth Jinsha Acrobatic Show. Acrobatics, of course, culminating in a development of the Wall of Death. Instead of a cylindrical track, the rider rode his motor bike on the inside of a metal mesh ball. That was impressive enough, but when he was joined by THREE other motorcyclists … !!!

I wonder how many bikes they wrecked practising that routine?

Posted by: travelrat | July 30, 2014

Mousehole

Mousehole 3

Mousehole: 5th June 2014.

The guide books tell us it’s pronounced ‘Mowzle’. But, remember we’re in a county where I once spent ten minutes trying to find ‘Snarstle’ in my road atlas, before realising he meant ‘St. Austell’.

Nobody really knows the reason for this strange name; in the Cornish language, it’s Porthenys … but local legend says it takes its name from a cave on the nearby islet of St. Clement’s, which it is said resembles a gigantic ‘mowzle’.

Mousehole 2

What a contrast to the tacky tourist trap that Land’s End has become! True, there are plenty of gift shops, craft shops and galleries, but these don’t really overshadow the main business of the town. Although it sees only a fraction of the fishing traffic it once saw, there are, as at Port Isaac and St. Ives, notices advising that this is still a working port, and requesting visitors to act accordingly.

Mousehole 1

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