Category Archives: Food

Thetford, A Disappointing Hotel and a Revolutionary

Thomas Paine Hotel

After leaving Oxburgh Hall we headed south towards the town of Thetford where we would be staying overnight.

The road took us across a stretch of land called The Brecks which is quite possibly the most dreary piece of countryside in all of East Anglia with a landscape of gorse and sandy scrubland.  Eventually we came to Thetford Forest which relieved the tedious boredom of the open countryside.  The Forest was planted in the 1920s as part of a UK project of reforestation.  Environmentalists complain that the Forest has destroyed the true nature of the area but I thought it was all rather attractive.  Even the surface of the Moon would be an improvement on The Brecks.

Arriving in Thetford we struggled with the confusing one-way system and drove around in circles for a while until we came eventually to our overnight accommodation at The Bell Inn.

The reason for staying in Thetford was mostly because the TV show Dad’s Army was filmed around these parts. This little nugget will mean nothing to readers from outside the UK but Dad’s Army is one of the most successful sit-com programmes  ever from the BBC in the last fifty years and remains one of my personal favourites.

Bell Hotel Thetford Norfolk Dad's Army

I had chosen the Bell Inn because  the cast of the show used to stay here fifty years ago and I wanted to stay there too.  I hoped I might get lucky and get the very room that Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe) used to sleep in.

Sadly the Bell Inn turned out to be a massive disappointment, yes there was some Dad’s Army mementoes but the place was a complete dump and the room we were allocated was tired, uncared for and dirty.  Kim refused to stay there and sent me to reception to get a change of room.  I was told that this was not possible so we decided to leave immediately.  A real shame, I was so looking forward to staying there but I had to agree with Kim that it most likely hadn’t been decorated or cleaned since Arthur Lowe himself stayed there in the 1960s!

Close by we found (after inspection) a suitable alternative and checked in there instead.  This was the Thomas Paine Hotel.  I may not have got to stay in the same room as Captain Mainwaring but at the Thomas Paine we got the Ronald Regan suite!

Ronal Regan Room

I was happy about that because in 2005 in an American TV series poll of viewers Ronald Reagan was voted the Greatest ever American, coming in ahead of Washington, both Roosevelts and even Abraham Lincoln.  You might find that hard to believe and may need to Google it to confirm that I am telling the truth!

The 100 Greatest Americans

Before he turned to politics Reagan was a Hollywood actor; in 1951 he made a movie called “Bedtime for Bonzo” which was a silly film about a clever chimp living with an American family which is somewhat ironic because now all of America has to live with a silly chimp living in the Whitehouse.

Satisfied with our choice of hotel we wandered around the attractive town centre and came eventually to the statue of Thomas Paine, the most famous son of Thetford and arguably of Norfolk and all of East Anglia, perhaps even of all of England.

Paine was a radical revolutionary, a sort of proto-Marxist, a latter day Leveller, a real trouble maker, an all round (excuse the pun) pain in the ass to the establishment of late eighteenth century England and he didn’t come from London or Bristol, not even Ipswich or Norwich but from sleepy little Thetford.

In his writings he explored the origins of property, openly challenged the concept of monarchy, introduced the idea of a guaranteed minimum income, supported the abolition of slavery, questioned the very concept of Christianity and inspired The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen of 1791.

How wonderful it is that history often delivers theses delicious little curve-balls and reminds me that I am privileged to live in the greatest country in the modern World.

In a BBC television viewers poll in 2002 “The Hundred Greatest Britons” Paine was included as one of only two British political philosophers.  He was voted thirty-forth and Thomas More thirty-seventh, no place then for Thomas Hobbes, John Locke or David Hume.  By comparison the list included ten modern pop stars and a radio DJ!

Thomas Paine Memorial

Paine supported both the American Revolution (one of the Founding Fathers no less) and the French Revolution and his most important work was The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen which became the basis for a nation of free individuals protected equally by the law.  In 1792 he was elected to the French National Convention.  The Girondists regarded him as an ally, the Jacobins, especially Robespierre, as an enemy and eventually he was arrested.  He only narrowly escaped the guillotine during the reign of terror and was then (not being welcome in England) allowed to travel to the USA.

The Declaration is important, it is included in the beginning of the constitutions of both the Fourth French Republic (1946) and Fifth (1958) and is still current. Inspired by the philosophers of the French Enlightenment like Voltaire and Rousseau, the Declaration became a core statement of the values of the French Revolution and had a major impact on the development of freedom and democracy in Europe and Worldwide.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is so significant that it is considered to be as important as Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, the United States Bill of Rights and inspired in large part the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That I suggest is a fairly important legacy and it is rather smug to sit here and think that an Englishmen shaped the American Revolution and the Constitution of the USA except of course we now have Donald Trump and poor Thomas Paine in his grave somewhere in the state of New York is probably on a permanent Hotpoint fast spin-cycle.

After dinner we walked around the town after dark and came across another interesting feature of Thetford.  It has one of the largest Eastern European communities in all of the UK and if you want to know what it is like to go out in the evening in Poland then Thetford will give you a clue as the town was busy and vibrant as people sat outside and spoke together in foreign tongues which created a very pleasing ambience in complete contrast to many bleak and soulless evening town centres across the UK and it seemed entirely appropriate that this was in the town of Thomas Paine.

Thomas Paine Thetford Norfolk

Later I had great pleasure in giving the Bell Inn a really poor review on the Booking.com website.

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Northumberland, St Mary’s Lighthouse

 

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Get timings wrong and you will get wet feet coming back.  Local people regularly turn up here at high tide and watch and see if any unsuspecting tourists get cut off and have to either swim for it or spend the night on the island.

Clearly entertainment in Whitley Bay is seriously hard to come by!

St Mary's Lighthouse Whitley Bay

Travels in Spain, Plaça d’Espanya and Poble Espanyol in Barcelona

Palau Nacional de Catalunya

The train from Montserrat arrived back at Plaça d’Espanya in the middle of the afternoon and this was our chance to take a look at another famous district of Barcelona – Montjuïc, a flat top mountain area which overlooks the port and the city.

The Plaça d’Espanya was included in the plans for the expansion of Barcelona in the mid-nineteenth century and was laid out with wide boulevards and six main roads all converging on the centre of the square where there is a monumental statue surrounded by a Baroque colonnade.  It was completed in 1929 on the occasion of the International Exhibition which was held in this area of the City.

The statue at the centre is designed as an allegory representing all of Spain. Three sides with sculptures that symbolize the three principal rivers of the Iberian Peninsula,  Ebro, Guadalquivir, and Tagus, around the central sculpture, three decorated columns which symbolise  a Spanish/Catalan self-assessment of the qualities of themselves as a Nation – Religion, Heroism and Arts.

Plaça d'Espanya 2

The Plaça d’Espanya is a busy roundabout, on one side is the old bullring, now a shopping centre (because bull fighting is banned in Catalonia) and on the other are two bell-towers known as the Venetian Towers, on account of the fact that design and construction was heavily influenced by St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice.  From there a walk up a gentle gradient towards the imposing structure of the Renaissance style Palau Nacional, built in 1929 as the main exhibition hall and today The National Art Museum of Catalonia.

This is a lovely part of Barcelona that has a national and international ambiance with architecture borrowed and copied from across Europe and with buildings designed to give a representation of all of Spain.  A shame then that large areas of it were destroyed in the calamitous Spanish Civil war of 1936 to 1939.  Fortunately everything is now rebuilt and restored in the original style.

To illustrate this, at the centre of this Spanish showcase, next to the Palau Nacional, is an attraction called Poble Espanyol, built in 1929 and still there now as a tourist attraction.  I found it to be a rather odd sort of place that aspires to celebrate the various regions of Spain but, for me anyway, failed to effectively capture the spirit of the country and it isn’t really a museum but rather a collection of shops and restaurants claiming to sell and serve regional specialities.  For anyone who has been to Disney World EPCOT World Showcase you will probably know what I mean.

Poble-Espanyol-2

The Disney view of the World doesn’t include Spain in the World Showcase, which is an oversight if you ask me, but if it did then something like Poble Espanyol would be exactly what it would most likely look like.

An interesting thing about the attraction is that it claims to introduce the visitor to the heritage and culture of each of the Autonomous Communities of Spain and yet it only showcases fifteen of the seventeen and as we left I couldn’t help wondering why the Canary Islands and La Rioja didn’t rate a mention or at least a shop? So, I have looked it up; apparently the research designers were unable to organise a visit to the Canary Islands for economic reasons and LaRioja didn’t exist as an Autonomous Community of Spain until 1980.

We stayed around the area for a while but it was too late to visit the museum or the shops of Poble Espanyol so we stopped for a drink in the park and then made our way back to the metro.

Magic Fountain Barcelona

The route took us past a cascading waterfall and four ionic columns originally erected in 1919 to be a symbol of the Catalan Nation and its aspiration for self-governance and independence (the columns represent the stripes of the Catalan flag). The originals were demolished in 1928 under the orders of Madrid but were rebuilt in 2010. I understand the symbolism of the columns but to be honest I found them to be a little inconsistent with the area and a bit jarring on the eye.

Not so the adjacent Magic Fountain which was providing a fountain display where the water was dancing and leaping into the air with a cycle of changing routines. The fountain was commissioned to replace the four columns in time for the National Exhibition. It is a great spectacle but the best time to see it is at night time when the fountains are accompanied by a light show and music.

We weren’t staying close enough to return later (mid-June and not getting dark until quite late) so instead we returned to the same restaurant as the previous evening and instead of the fountain took night time pictures of the Sagrada Familia as an alternative.

Montjuic Columns

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Looking Back, France 2017

A year ago I spent a week in Northern France with family and friends.  Click on an image to scroll through the pictures…

A Previous Visit to Morocco

Epcot World Showcase

The Disney Web Site introduces Morocco like this: “A realistic Koutoubia Minaret leads the way into this faraway land of traditional belly dancers, intricate Moroccan architecture and swirling mosaics made by native craftsmen. The Morocco Pavilion has 2 fascinating sections: the Ville Nouvelle (new city) and the Medina (old city). Discover a bustling plaza with a variety of shops and be on the lookout for some familiar Arabian Disney friends throughout the day.”

Read the Full Story…

Travels in Spain, Guadix and the Cave Houses

Guadix and Sierra Nevada

Not a great picture – it was on the wall of a bar and the lighting was poor but still better than any picture that I could get of Guadix!

“For almost the first time I felt I was really in Spain, in a country that I had longed my whole life to visit. In the quiet back streets of I seemed to catch a momentary glimpse, a sort of far-off rumour of the Spain that dwells in everyone’s imagination.”  –  George Orwell

It didn’t take long to reach Guadix, it is only a few miles east of Granada and we arrived there about at lunch time and instead of going straight to the city centre we took a detour into a neighbouring village in search of something to eat.

We were in a coach trip tourist sort of place lined with shops selling local earthenware and pottery but being just out of high season there weren’t any tourists there today, the shops were empty and we found a bar/restaurant with outside tables and busy with local people, which is always a good sign, so we selected a spot on the pavement in the sunshine and ordered a small selection of tapas.

The owner must have thought that we looked under-nourished because the food just kept turning up, we thought that we had ordered a light lunch but very soon the table was in danger of collapsing under the weight of rustic tapas and plates of fine food. It was rude not to eat it all but this took us some time and after we had finished our glutinous challenge we settled up and continued on our way.

Guadix Street

Guadix was quiet, almost as quiet as Puerta de Don Fadrique and we needn’t have worried in advance about car parking because the streets were empty, the shops were closed and there was almost no one about.  We found the hotel easily enough, checked in, unpacked only what we needed for an overnight stay and then went back out into the centre.

I liked it, it wasn’t Trujillo in Extremadura or Almagro or Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha, it wasn’t Santillana del Mar in Cantabria but it was authentic and rustic, Spanish and Andalusian and I was glad that we had chosen to spend some time here.

We walked around the centre, along the banks of the crusty dried-up river bed and through some lush public parks but in late afternoon there was never much sign of life.  I looked for a shop to buy some wine but I had forgotten my corkscrew key-ring thingy that I can smuggle through airport security and there were no screw cap bottles anywhere in my price range so I was forced to buy a carton of Don Simon Vino Tinto which is really cheap and tastes just the same.

The product manufacturers make this extraordinary claim…  “Don Simon Vino Tinto Wine offers an expertly and exquisitely manufactured wine with fruity aroma; light fruit flavour, crisp acidity, light body and dry, tart finish. Good for every occasion. Best when served chilled. It looks as good as it tastes.” 

No grape variety information or expert tasting tips and in truth it is the sort of wine that at about 1.50 a litre, if you have got some left over you don’t mind pouring down the sink when you leave if you are not too concerned about environmental damage or taking the risk of destroying the hotel plumbing system.

Don Simon wine in a carton

We sat for a while in the lonely Plaza Mayor which was abandoned and quiet but decided anyway to return later for evening meal.  Two hours after it was transformed, the square was busy and there was fierce competition for tables but we swooped on one and the owner talked us into a Menu Del Dia which, as it turned out was a brilliant bit of salesmanship by him although not a brilliant decision on our part, but we had a hearty meal which filled us up including a truly enormous portion of Tiramasu for sweet for Lindsay which arrived just as she was explaining her planned dieting schedule.

I liked Granada and I liked Guadix, two completely different places which all adds to the richness and diversity of Spain and keeps me wanting to go back again and again.

The following morning we had a good breakfast at the hotel and we cleaned them out almost completely of tomato for the tosta and then we checked out and drove a short distance to the cave houses.

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This is the main reason for visiting Guadix.  It is like Bedrock and the Flintstones.  People still live in caves.

People still live in caves!

Just outside of the City old town there is a community of residents who cling to and persevere with the old ways which includes digging a hole in the limestone cliffs and then setting up home inside.  Not just any old cave however and today the mountain homes have brick façade and all of the modern home conveniences inside.

After a walk to the top of the village to an observation platform and then down again a man asked  us in to his cave home and invited us to look around.  People in Andalusia used to live in cave houses because they are cool in summer and warm in winter and they are cheap to build.  Some people, like those here in Guadix still do!

We spent an hour or so investigating the intriguing village and then we left and set off back east towards Rojales and the Mediterranean coast.

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Travels in Spain, Granada Old and New

Alhambra Walk

If you were to visit just one city in Spain, it should be Granada” –  Ernest Hemingway.

We had a leisurely start to the day with breakfast in our apartment and it was gone ten o’clock when we finally left and walked back into the city.

We began the day in the Albayzín neighbourhood which is an important cultural area of the city which is recognised by inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage list for the protection of cultural and natural heritage.  The area has a distinctly Muslim heritage with architecture and street arrangement based on Almohad, Berber design which stretches back over eight hundred years to when the North African Moors were in control of almost all of Spain but strongest here in Granada and nearby Cordoba.

Of all the foreign nationals living in Spain the greatest number are Moroccans and as we pushed our way through the busy streets, politely declining invitations to take tea or to look inside the shops I was immediately transported to Marrakech and Fes, Meknes and Tangier.  This was an interesting part of the city which reminded me once again at just how varied and diverse is the country of Spain.

Alhambra Gate

Although we didn’t have entrance tickets to the Alhambra Palace we decided to walk there anyway because we had been told that it was possible to gain access to parts of the complex without tickets.  It wasn’t very far away but once again the walk involved a steep climb especially towards the latter stages through the woodland approach to the city gate.

Once inside it was indeed possible to see quite a lot of the Palace grounds even without admission to the formal gardens, the Palace or the Alcazaba but we could walk around the battlements and enjoy the views over the city, visit the Palace of Charles V and some minor buildings outside of the main complex.

In a moment of mad optimism we did visit the ticket office  but it was not to be and so an hour after we had walked up to the Palace we began our slow walk back down.

After a light lunch we now went our separate ways, Kim and Lindsay went to the ships and because men don’t do shops, Mick and I didn’t.

Granada Cathedral

So I visited the Cathedral.  Mick doesn’t do Cathedrals so he sat outside and waited.

An interesting one this, unlike most cathedrals in Spain, construction here was not begun until the sixteenth century as it had to await until after 1492 and the acquisition of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada from its Muslim rulers.  While its earliest plans were Gothic the construction of the church in the main occurred at a time when Spanish Renaissance designs were supplanting the Medieval preference in Spanish architecture of prior centuries.  As a consequence of this the interior is light, bright and airy with soaring white columns and high windows and a fine collection of Renaissance paintings to boot.  I liked it, it was different to so many other Cathedrals in Spain.

On the way out I visited a small museum with examples of Muslim architecture which I didn’t really understand and there were no interpretation boards to help so didn’t linger and then the City Hall, the Ayuntamiento, but as I wasn’t registering for citizenship or applying for a Spanish bus pass this didn’t take terribly long either.

Granada Balcony 5

We all joined up again at a pavement café in front of the Cathedral and wasted away the last of the afternoon over beer and wine and then returned to our accommodation to prepare for the evening.  This didn’t take a lot of planning because as I have mentioned before once we find a place that we like then we generally tend to use it again and tonight was no exception.

The food was good but the highlight was the street entertainment, not a musician or a dancer or a singer but a street corner beggar who was an absolute professional when it came to wagging a paper cup at people and putting on a show that ranged from high drama to low despair.  He was quite successful too and every time a coin was tossed into the cup he scooped it out, examined it and swiftly put it in his pocket so he could present an empty cup to the next victim.

Granada Donkey Picture

The next morning we got caught in a ‘sting’ ourselves.  We were leaving Granada to move on to nearby Guadix and we were doing quite well navigating our way out of the city until a moment of hesitation was spotted by a man on a tatty old scooter who approached us, went in like a stiletto and convinced us that we were going the wrong way (even though we had a perfectly reliable SatNav) and invited us to follow him and for some unexplained reason we did.

The SatNav was frantically giving instructions to turn around but we just blindly continued on until we reached a point at the opposite end of the city to where we really needed to be and he pulled up, approached us, told us to follow signs for the motorway and held out his hand for payment.  We were going to give him €5 but Lindsay, feeling generous offered 10 at which point he demanded 15 which was completely absurd but Mick didn’t want a screwdriver being run down the side of his shiny new car so we meekly paid up and went on our way.

We made our way to the motorway junction and drove a completely unnecessary ten miles or so to get back to the place where the Satnav would surely have taken us thirty minutes sooner.  We should have got a discount on the €15 for all the extra fuel he had wasted for us!

We had been thoroughly tucked up, completely skewered, absolutely kippered but once on the open road and heading towards our destination we soon saw the funny side of it and laughed about it all the way to nearby Guadix.  People have got to make a living somehow I suppose.

Granada Matador