Category Archives: Holidays

If You Go Down to the Woods Today…

Which is precisely what I managed to do last month for a few days. With Dave on the mend following his op, my friend Avis and I slipped away by coach, visiting the beautiful county of Warwickshire, England for a “Bluebell Walk”. The bluebells were out early this year, and are stunning. Knowing this and when combined with a touch of literary culture, Avis and I we were in for a treat.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

First to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (William Shakespeare’s wife). I visited here back in the 60s, as an 11-year-old on a school trip, and well remembered the thatched building and gardens, although 50 years on one now enters through a different building to reach the cottage, and the gardens have expanded. Following a brief history of the house we were allowed to wander at leisure with staff on hand to explain and inform. I’m certainly glad I didn’t live there – no mains electricity, no water on tap and no central heating; one could well imagine how difficult life was back in the 1500s. Outside, I was disappointed to see that the bluebells amongst all the colourful tulips in the beautiful front garden were the Spanish non-native type. They certainly wouldn’t have been found here in Shakespeare’s time. I hope the gardeners dig them all out soon.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Then on  to Stratford-upon-Avon. Again, it’s some 50 years since  first exploring this town. The main street on which William Shakespeare’s house  is located is now pedestrianised, thankfully, but a large visitor centre now sits incongruously alongside it. We decided against doing the house tour; instead we took a pleasant walk through Stratford and enjoyed a spot of lunch.

Walton Hall Hotel

A few miles outside of Stratford we arrived at our hotel, set in 65 acres of park and farmland. What a fabulous place! Although the main part of the hotel is modern, it’s built in the grounds of a large 16th century mansion (history & info link) recently owned by the late Danny La Rue.  The rooms were lovely, the beds so enormous they could easily sleep 4 persons! And joy of joys, I had a balcony too so as the dawn chorus started, I opened the French doors and enjoyed my early morning coffee outside as I listened. Bliss! The food was excellent, the staff faultless. In fact, it’s one the few hotels I’ve stayed in where I wish I could have stopped for longer, only the bluebell woods called and thus, after a delicious breakfast we were on the road again, heading for Coughton Court (pronounced Coat-un). I’d never heard of this National Trust Tudor treasure until this trip. Can’t understand why.

Once there, we headed straight for the woods and the bluebells, after all this was the main reason for our trip. There were swathes of them. And the scent glorious. If you’ve never smelt an English bluebell wood you are missing a treat. However, there is only so much one can say about bluebells, but I did take lots of photos, mainly for painting reference.

Of course, Thugs Bunny and Mr Tumble had to get in on the act!

We spent several hours wandering around enjoying the spectacle before heading back to explore the house itself. Coughton Court is still occupied by the sixth generation of the Throckmorton family, infamously involved in the plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I in 1583 and put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Inside, we could wander freely, allowed to touch things, sit on the furniture, even try on some of the Tudor clothes on display. Helpful guides were on hand to explain items and various histories of the house and family. Coughton also boasts magnificent gardens, better than Hampton Court apparently, but I have to admit we were too exhausted to venture further so settled on coffee and cake instead. This is definitely a place to go back to. To read more about the house and the Throckmortons I’ve included this link .

Coughton Court

Time eventually caught up with us to make our way back to the coach and home. A lovely, relaxing two days and a much needed break. Now patiently waiting for the next one.

PS: Meanwhile, I feel a painting coming on…

 

Venice

On Monday 20th February I set off for the airport to fly to Venice Marco Polo Airport. Very excited! I met Rhiannon, my niece, we had lunch and flew off at 15.20 in fog. We were assured by Easyjet staff that our plane had extra sensors so no worries.  We landed at Marco Polo safely on time at 18.30 Venice time.  Only had hand luggage so cleared quickly and went to the Alilaguna Water Bus to Lido.  I had done this in the past but all was changed, much larger and modern!  Very exciting but dark of course and yes misty.  With the help of a handsome young official we boarded our vaporetto (water bus) at Lido for our hotel at St Elena. He was concerned that “it was dark there and did I know my way!”  Rhiannon was slightly disconcerted by this conversation (in perfect English) but I quickly reassured her that I knew where we were going.  We arrived at the hotel and I explained who we were BUT I was speaking bad Spanish instead of bad Italian!  The Reception Staff were amused by this but it set the tone for our whole stay of friendly, helpful service.  We had a wonderful supper in the hotel restaurant, with our first bottle of Prosecco of the stay, and an early night.

Next morning we were up refreshed and raring to go.  Had a good breakfast for 9 Euros each and set off. We bought 3 day Vaporetti passes which were so useful in that we could hop off and on as many times as we wanted without hassle of buying tickets each time.  That morning we walked into San Marco alongside the Grand Canal, sadly still in fog, but in good spirits. We passed the Giardini Gardens, the site of the Biennale Exhibition featuring International Artists shown in 1920s Pavilions representing the different countries staged every 2 years. It is also the start and finish of the Venice Marathon, yes a full Marathon!  We passed The Arsenale where the great shipbuilding industry was based helping support the power of Venice.   It was Carnavale which is a very special time in Venice, lots of people in elaborate costumes posing in the hope a photographer will feature them.  I spoke to several international photographers over our stay who said people queue up to be photographed free and just want a copy.  For the photographers it is an ideal opportunity to expand their portfolios.  Two of our favourite subjects are featured below, in many ways it was like stepping back in time.  Venice was packed and buzzing with excitement.  We walked miles that day until we were exhausted and went back to the hotel for another superb dinner and yes more Prosecco.  Our hotel was on the tip of the main island but in a less crowded residential area with a park and small restaurants.

I was pleased to remember my way around and Rhiannon enjoyed being guided to familiar sites including St Marks Square, the Campanile, the Doge’s Palace and less famous parts which featured Venetians going about their daily lives including the police boats, ambulances, garbage collections and delivery men all on the canals.  Everything is transported in by boat which adds to the traffic on the Grand Canal.  We walked through the Fish Market and Rialto Market, hence the statutory photo of Rhiannon on Rialto Bridge.

One morning the hotel arranged a special water taxi for us to Murano to a glass factory.  It was fascinating to see glass blowing skills in the tradition which dates back to at least the 15 century.  We didn’t buy any but it was wonderful to see.  Sadly our video didn’t come out well enough to show you.  That day we also visited the Guggenheim Museum as an antidote to the beauty of La Serenissima.

A high spot of my trip was meeting up with a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen for 18 years.  We studied together for our Masters’ Degrees, although Louisa was 30 years younger we became firm friends.  She married a Venetian after returning with her degree and now has three beautiful daughters and lives on Lido.  She lectures to Art Tours, Cruise Ships, at the Biennale Exhibition and to various visiting University student courses so continues the experiences we had.  Louisa took us to a wonderful Venetian restaurant, Anice Stellato, which was hidden away where we had one of the best meals I’ve had for a long time.

Sadly it all ended too soon.  Rhiannon will return with her boyfriend Jon and take a trip on a gondola, not something to do with your aging aunt! I think it will be my last trip but one I will treasure.  We took off on Friday 24th February in fog! Whilst I had wanted Rhiannon to experience Venice set against a bright blue sky the misty, foggy conditions added to the glamour and mystery of this beautiful city.

I’ve attempted to give you a flavour of Venice but please try to visit yourselves if you haven’t been already, if you have I hope it brings back good memories.

 

Gallery

Winter Solstice

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Today, Winter solstice, is one of my favorite days of the year. From this day until June the days will start being longer. I took the picture here yesterday around 5:00. It’s dark out there, really dark. I’m not a … Continue reading

It’s That Time of Year Again

So, here we are again at that time of year when everyone seems to go crazy, often completely overboard just because it’s Christmas. A special time of year, yes, but Christmas is only 1 day. One day, not 3 months, which is how it now seems to be. It was back in August when I first spied Christmas cards and mince pies for sale in the supermarket; mince pies with a use-by date of 31 Oct 2016! And as we hit December running, I can’t find my usual things in the supermarket, because shelves have been reorganized for Christmas stock – row upon row of chocolates and sweets and all the good things to eat. Horrendous queues at checkouts; one would think we’re going to be snowed in for 6 months with the amount people buy “just in case unexpected visitors arrive!” The stress and worry, never mind cost, usually on credit cards that take over a year to pay off, of buying gifts for everyone including neighbours, the cat, and anyone else who happens to pass or ring the doorbell. Houses in our town decorated since October with icicle lights blinking from the guttering, and Christmas trees on sale in November, which will have shed all their needles by 25 December.mr-mrs-snowman

I may sound a bit of a grouch, a kill-joy, Scrooge, a person who hates Christmas, but I am not. Quite the contrary. I think it is a magical, wonderful time of the year. I just wish it didn’t start so early, that the commercialism wasn’t so intense because nowadays, that sparkle, that anticipation has been killed. It just isn’t the same any more.

In my childhood home, the Christmas tree didn’t go up until Christmas Eve, long after we kids were in bed so that in the morning, there it was in all its glittering glory with our presents – mostly handmade by my parents: clothes and toys, just a few each, stacked underneath. As children in the 1950s and early 1960s we were extra lucky, although we didn’t realise it at the time.

Every year my German grandmother would send over a large parcel to us in England. It would be packed with all the lovely, delicious treats of Christmas that were then unobtainable here: glittering Advent calendars, iced gingerbread hearts and Lebkucken, and Pfeffemusse, marzipan filled Stollen, and so much more. I think it was smell of that parcel I remember most, that wonderful spicy cinnamon and ginger smells that said “Christmas is coming.”

tree Christmas in the Domino house is a very quiet affair now. We do have a tree, an artificial black one with gold baubles and one two other little sentimental decorations. We stopped doing presents years ago, except for the littlest children, and how much simpler and more enjoyable it has become. We’d rather folk spent their money on themselves, not on us. We don’t have turkey to eat, we don’t like it. We might indulge in a Christmas pud and a few mince pies, but no crackers to pull on the table. No fuss, no hassle, simply a large enjoyable meal in good company in an atmosphere of calm serenity to relax in.

Don’t get me wrong. I love large family gatherings. The noise, the laughter, the company, and I do so wish I could have all of my family at mine one year, but we are many and scattered far afield. Thank goodness for the telephone and internet so we can at least speak to each other even if we can’t share a hug and a kiss. The thoughts are with family. With friends. With those we have lost and those who are new to the fold. With memories. To me, this is what Christmas is all about: Family. Not the gifts, not the food, not the decorations, as much as I love seeing them. It’s also about magic. Father Christmas and sleigh bells, and the Christmas movies to make you laugh and perhaps shed a tear.

I’ll leave you with what is one of my favourite Christmas carols. Apologies if you’ve heard it before but I’m sure many haven’t. Whatever Christmas means to you and whatever you do this Christmas, do have a good one. A safe one. A warm one, from the heart.

Silly me: I meant to include the English lyrics. These are the closest and best I’ve come across for translation.

The Bells Never Sound Sweeter

The bells never sound sweeter
Than at Christmas-time.
It’s as if angels would sing
again of peace and joy,
How they sang at blessed night!
How they sang at blessed night!
Little bells with their holy ringing,
The earth chimes along!

Oh, when the bells ring out,
As soon as the Christ child hears them,
He swings from the sky
Hastily down to earth.
He blesses the father, the mother, the child
He blesses the father, the mother, the child.
Little bells with their holy ringing,
The earth chimes along!

It chimes with a sweet sound
Far across the seas,
So that all will take delight in
The blessed Christmas-time.
All rejoice with beautiful song,
All rejoice with beautiful song,
Little bells with their holy ringing,
The earth chimes along!

 

 

Turkey Stuffing Makes Me Cry by Valerie J. Patterson

Who knew?  I mean it’s not something that’s ever happened before.  I had no idea that stuffing and I were so close it could make me cry.  But it did.  In a very big way.  And I was caught unaware right there in the aisle of the grocery store.  Unaware and unprepared for the force of emotions that washed over me and left me sobbing and left my husband bewildered.

It was a very innocent trip to the store to stock up for Thanksgiving dinner.  Had everything in the cart and turned down the aisle with the bread crumbs and the premixed stuffing selections and the seasonings.  I looked up at the canister of bread crumbs and instantly, tears began to stream down my face as I choked back sobs.  Steve came beside me, placed a hand on my back and rubbed gentle little circles between my shoulder blades.

“What’s wrong?”

“S-s-stuffing…”

“I don’t understand.  What happened?”

“I saw the bread crumbs and it reminded me of my mom.”

“Okay…”

My mom passed away October 20th, and I’m in that phase of mourning where just seeing something or hearing something brings a flood of tears.  Mornings are the worst for me.  I’ll be getting ready for work, see the time on the clock and break down.  But stuffing caught me off guard.

From the time I was old enough to wield a knife, I sat in the kitchen with my mom and dad and–while they did other things–I chopped onion and celery into microscopic slivers for my mom’s homemade turkey stuffing.  Mom liked the flavor of both in her stuffing but hated biting into chunks of either one.  After I got married and moved away, my dad took over my dicing duties unless by some stroke of luck we arrived early enough for me to do the honor.

It’s been many years since I last chopped any onion or celery in my mom’s kitchen, which is why I was taken aback when, right there in the aisle, I was overtaken with emotion.  I guess I just never expected a canister of bread crumbs to affect me in quite a personal way.

Mom was an excellent cook.  She was the best friend I never expected, but was blessed to have.  She was strength and grace and beauty and charm.  She was warm and funny and loving and tough.  She was heart and soul and faith and light.  She was generous and giving and sympathetic and compassionate.  She and my dad were active participants in my life and I have equal parts of both of them inside of me–of the person I am.  And because of all of that, stuffing can make me cry!

I miss my mom.  I will miss her for the rest of my life, but we will meet again, and what a reunion that will be!

2016 has been a year of hard knocks and loss, but it has also been a year of great blessing, and I have much to be thankful for.  And I am indeed thankful.

Until next time, may you always be able to see the blessings in your life and may the memories you share add flavor to your days!

We’ve Gone A Little Potty

So, here we are: the start of August, middle of summer, and yes, it’s tipping with rain for the second day running. After the driest July on record for the UK, we’ve had more rain in the West Country in one day than for the whole of last month. Typical! At least it isn’t cold, but this dismal weather is a disappointment. I was looking forward to spending the week enjoying the sunshine in the garden with my mother, who’s staying here for a while. The trip was planned for some time but bought forward by an unfortunate accident, one that has brought amusement to the family.

Mum is unable to walk far or do a lot around the house or her large garden due to an ongoing back condition. My sister, who also lives on her own, has been taking care of her for the past year, doing her shopping, helping around the house, and looking after the garden. A few weeks ago, Ursula tripped on a damaged paving slab in the street, fell and broke her wrist in several places, needing surgery to insert a metal plate, such was the severity of the injury. Obviously, this means she is now out of action for some weeks and unable to do much for herself, let alone for Mum. Fortunately, my other sister, Ursula’s twin, lives near both of them, and Lydia has been doing all the driving, errands, personal help, and shopping etc, for both.  Mum was upset because she could doing little in return for Ursula,  having broken her own wrist several years ago so knows what it is like to cope with one arm in plaster. So Mum thought now was a good time to come and stay in order to give both my sisters a break (excuse the pun!).

What amused the family, although it is no laughing matter, was the coincidence that the very same day Ursula took her tumble, our brother in Spain, also fell over, and broke his wrist too! They are all now waiting for it to happen to me; I’m the only one in the family not to have broken a wrist.

20160802_113026

20160802_113410Mum is/was an avid gardener, loves plants and enjoys pottering about outside a little but nothing that involves bending. She loves seeing our garden and we share lots of tips, hints and advice, all of us always eager to learn. Spring provided  a lovely display but the summer show isn’t at its best this year. We’ve not done a lot because the beds are being ripped out this autumn, ready for the big revamp (new larger patio, larger greenhouse, new fencing etc; at least, that’s the plan). To make up for the shortfall, we’ve gone rather overboard with pots and containers; far more than usual. We love bold colours, colour clashes and perfume and the bright colours do bring rays of sunshine to the garden despite the rain.

20160802_113743But with the pouring rain, all we can do at the moment is enjoy the display from the patio window. With luck, the weather will improve over the next few days to enable Mum and me to get out there, put up the sunshade and enjoy some summer sun in the garden, preferably reading a book and enjoying a cocktail or two.

Hold on a moment… is that a bit of blue sky I can see creeping over the horizon?

Lake District Escape

2016-06-21 07.52.41Mr Tumble here again, popping up to say hello and introduce my first outing with Kit. I shall leave it to Kit to tell you about it as Thugs Bunny and I stayed mostly in the hotel, it had such lovely uninterrupted views of Shap Fell, approx. 1026 feet above sea level and we were more than happy to spend the day watching the sheep, rabbits, hares and birds from our window. Poor Kit hardly had a look in (or should that be out), but I don’t think she minded. She took us out for the steam train ride, though, great fun sitting in an open carriage as the lovely countryside ambled by. Good job it wasn’t raining else it would have been pretty miserable! Enough of me… here’s Kit.

It seems longer than a week since we’ve been home from a coach tour of the Lake District, England. The beautiful dales and valleys, lakes (obviously), mountains and wildlife as well as the lovely hotel we stayed in but a memory but one I shall treasure. An 8-hour drive north with frequent rest stops found us at Shap, a small village in the middle of nowhere. Our hotel, an old eighteenth century inn nestled within its own forest, is unique for being one of the few remaining locations with a red squirrel population, now exceedingly rare in the UK. I spent many hours in the forest watching the squirrels, which are fed each morning by the hotel staff, and although wild, many came close to inspect me, in the hope that I too had some nuts for them.Squirrel cropped

Shap Hotel has a vast, interesting history and even used as a prisoner-of-war camp during WW2. Surrounded on three sides by the Birk Beck stream with several small but attractive waterfalls, I could have happily stayed here all day, but our busy itinerary meant touring the region with our friendly guide and coach driver a mine of information about each place we visited (well, it was the reason we were there). Kendal, Ambleside and Keswick were just a few of the many towns along the lakes we stopped at for morning coffee or lunch with long drives in between. I can well understand why people love the area, it is certainly pretty and we were lucky the weather was perfect – warm and sunny – for us to enjoy it all at its best.

No visit to 2016-06-22 17.44.20the region is complete without a visit Grasmere. A lovely lake and an exceedingly pretty town to wander around. This is Wordsworth country, although we were too late to see the daffodils out. It’s no wonder William Wordsworth fell in love with the area. He and his family are buried in the local churchyard, a peaceful resting place wafting in the smell of ginger from the famous gingerbread cake that is baked here.

For me, there were four highlights of our tour – a leisurely cruise on Lake Windermere (England’s largest lake), following by a steam train ride. As we alighted from the train we were greeted by my favourite birds – owls. Given the opportunity to hold one, stroke it and even give it a kiss was wonderful, the barn owl I held was so soft and cute I wanted to bring it home with me but its owner shook his head.My new friendOur final day included another steam train ride through beautiful countryside in the morning and a visit to Muncaster Castle in the afternoon. I’d never heard of this castle but was well worth visiting. Still lived in, it also boasts a ghost or two in one of its bedrooms. Whilst most of our group disappeared to watch the hawk and owl display in the grounds, my friend Avis and I explored the castle building and then waited with a cup of tea for the feeding of the wild herons from the castle bank, a fine spectacle indeed.

2016-06-23 12.00.33

All too soon our brief 5-day holiday was over and we began the long ride back to Bristol. So would I go again? Yes, as there is still a lot more to explore here, our tour being only a taster of what is available and one definitely needs time to wander.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
(William Wordsworth)