Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bruges: Part III

With just 2 hours left, we took a canal boat ride.  The ride took only 30 minutes, but we ended up waiting for 45 minutes to get on the boat.  Here are some pictures I took - not great ones, but they give a flavor of the town from the canals.

 This is just a gratuitous Belgian Ent, captured on film from the water.
 This illustrates the difficulty of picture-taking on the boat trip.

 This was in an area of town where the Tanners worked. I wonder if the Dyers were nearby. Both smelly occupations.

I just love these old houses with the basements with docking facilities.

 I think the tour guide said this unusual house with the wooden facing was used in the movie, In Bruges.

So that was the tour.  Quick, but interesting and I learned something by listening to both the English and the French dialog.  The word 'Burgher', as in the wealthy ruling class of a medieval city is translated in French as 'Bourgeois'. Which might be the most interesting (to me) thing I learned today. 

After the tour, we needed to make our way back to the bus, so we meandered a bit, and bought Belgian Waffles for a snack.  Mine was Caramel, the COG asked for 'Slagroom' not knowing what it was. Isn't he brave. It was whipped cream, so he was rewarded for his courage. 

They were very sweet and not a life-changing experience. I'm sure there are better ones somewhere.

Then, back to the bus; back through the Chunnel; back home by 10:30 or 11:00.  The COG now feels satisfied that he can check Bruges off his lifetime list. I haven't told him I'd like to go back and spend a couple of days in a room overlooking a canal and visit every church and museum in the town.  

Bruges: Part II

Bruges is a very pretty, very old town. It was important early on, then its fortunes declined, saving all the pretty old buildings from redevelopment. It also survived WWI and WWII, probably because there is no industry there except tourism.

We found it to be oddly laid out. Because we are Modern Dorks, we downloaded apps instead of maps and guidebooks. They were all crap. So by the time found the tourist office and a proper map and obtained .50 euro pieces for the toilets, 2 hours had passed. Then, by the end of lunch, (Moules Frites and local beer for the COG, Lamb Carbonnade and local beer for me) 3 hours had passed. 

 Notice the excellent dragon park benches.  

The Tourists - we were tourists, of course, but there were so many tourists. And it's not even high season.  There did not seem to be any business in Bruges except tourism.  Which always feels a little odd. Like Disney World, only without cartoon characters to pose with.

There were other things to pose with, of course.   Like Living Statues of Gargoyles. 


But mostly it was just pretty.

There's a horse drawn carriage at the back of this street. There are many of these and you can hear them coming by the soft clop clop of the hooves. To keep the streets clean, the horses wear a kind of chute under their backsides, with a hefty container attached. 

As always, check the COG's blog for better pictures.

A Day Out in Bruges: Part I

The day started very very early.  We caught the bus to the coach stop at 5:20am. Not my finest hour.

When we got to Pool Valley, where the coach was to pick us up, we met fellow travelers. The instructions about exactly where in Pool Valley the coach would stop were unclear, so we all raced around looking for a likely bus stop. When the coach arrived, we were flushed with running around and we had gotten to know each other a little. 

We drove a couple of hours to the Chunnel, where the coach drove into an enormous train car - the largest ones in the world, according to Wiki. The train car held our coach and two cars, one in front, one behind, with similar cars stretching in either direction. This was taken from the back window of the bus.

 We were able to get out of the coach for the 35 minute (25 mile) trip from Dover to Calais. It was crowded. with only a couple of feet on either side of the bus.  It was such a weird experience because you couldn't tell you were moving very very fast.  The windows were black outside, so no visual suggestion of speed and because we were inside another vehicle the only motion was a slight rocking underfoot. It was very quiet.   

Once in Bruges, they dropped us off outside the main center of town around noon, telling us they'd meet us back there in 5 hours.  We crossed a canal into a small park called Minnewater Park.  I felt right at home - Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnehaha, Minnewaska etc.  

Bruges Part II is next.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Reasons Why I Love Britain/ The British

Their sense of humor and the way they can find humor even in adverse conditions.  These were tweeted to the Live Blog for the storm in The Argus, the local paper.

 A 'wheelie bin' is a garbage can.

Storms Past - Cool Pictures

The Brighton and Hove Museum tweeted this old picture today saying it as another reminder of the power of a storm:

The Chain Pier was the first pier of its kind. It was intended as a landing stage for ships to and from Dieppe, since Brighton has no harbor.

Toadstones - Something I Forgot to Mention About the Cheapside Hoard

These are Toadstones. They are the fossilized teeth of a fish from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Instead of sharp teeth, they had a kind of pavement of teeth they used for grinding mollusk shells.  In the middle ages they were believed to come from the bumps on toads backs. Because toads were believed to be poisonous, the stones were believed to guard against poisons and disease - even the Plague, Leprosy, and Epilepsy.

There were a bunch of them found with the Cheapside Hoard.  They were frequently made into rings and other jewelry and worn as protection. Here's a pretty example.

The backs of these rings were open so the stone could be in contact with the skin of the wearer, to give them more potency.  Queen Elizabeth I was known to wear one and Shakespeare wrote about them in 'As You Like It'-  

Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.

Blowmaggedon: The Movie

You may wish to turn down the sound - the wind makes it very noisy.

Blowmaggedon in Brighton

Winds of 99 mph were clocked on the Isle of Wight. Apparently the storm came north around the Isle of Wight, then turned East to go up the Channel, hitting the South East coastline, before turning inland. Trees are down all over the place. There's some flooding and there are power outages, but we're fine.

There's a huge old tree down in front of the house immediately behind ours. I may have heard it come down - there was a huge double thump in the middle of the night that woke me.  It was probably planted when the houses were built in
the early 19th century. There's a car completely contained in the branches. The owner moved it last night to what seemed a 'safer' place.

The day dawned bright and sunny after a night of howling wind and driving rain.  The wind is still fierce - 35 to 45 mph. We went to the seafront to have a look around. A version of this exact picture appeared on the front page of nearly every national newspaper this morning.  That's a news crew, taking pictures, by the way.

You can see what happened to the poor boat, Placebo.  It is very battered and it moved about 100 yards down the beach from where it was yesterday. This is at low tide. I'm curious to see what high tide brings at 6pm.

The water is so white with the foam whipped up by the winds, that it looks like milk when it crashes on the beach.

Even in the lee of the marina breakwater, the sea looks almost white with foam.  I hope you can see it - it's not a great picture.

This picture is from the BBC - kids playing in the foam by the marina this morning.

And here, for no reason except that it made me laugh is a big dog who wanted to play in a puddle despite his owner's wishes.

We're home for lunch and then we are going to walk toward downtown on the seafront. We've heard nothing about damage to the pier, but there are definitely amusement park rides missing at the end of the pier - they may have been dismantled as a precaution. There was plenty of warning. Clacton-on-Sea lost the roller coaster from their pier.

Despite trees down all over, there are only 3 deaths reported. A 17 year old died when a tree crashed down onto her house and hit her in her bed.  A 50 year old man died, in another tree falling incident and a 14 year old was swept out to sea while swimming yesterday. They called off the search when conditions became too dangerous for the life boat crews.  Tragic, all of them.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Interesting Storm Interlude

We saw this boat, beached on Black Rock Beach, next to the Marina.  We are pretty sure it's the boat that we read about in The Argus.  It was beached yesterday and after it was searched, the owner was arrested. No more information, though we imagine that alcohol or (more likely) drugs are involved in some way.

The boat's name is 'Placebo'. interestingly.  It's surrounded by Coastguard tape. and secured by one chain.The Coastguard must know what they are doing, but it seems unlikely that it could survive high tide and higher winds.  It could do some damage if it is driven into the supports of the Brighton Pier, just down the beach.

Weather with a Capital W

We are having Weather.  I mean we always have weather, but right now we are having the Capitalized Version.  These waves are battering against the massive breakfront of the Brighton Marina.

News media tell us to expect the worst storm in 20 years, or possibly the worst storm in 5 years.  We started the day with pouring rain, but that cleared and the sun came out, but we had gale winds of 43 mph with gusts up to 63mph.  But tonight is the night when it is getting really bad.  We are told that we could reach 12 on the Beaufort Wind Scale, which is Hurricane Force- winds up to 85mph.  The worst should be over by midday tomorrow - about when people in the US are getting up.

Here's more breakfront.

It's quite interesting to see the difference between the weather forecasts here and in the US.  Several times a season, we get Nor'easters which can be pretty bad, though mostly not as bad as what is predicted here.  There's always a lot of panicky advice on the radio - Fill your bathtub! Get plenty of drinking water! Buy hand sanitizer! Flashlights! Candles! Cold Food! Prepare to Lose Power etc.

They've been so laid back here. Possible power outages have scarcely been mentioned. We think it might be because most power lines are underground here. But still, we have heard that some areas are already experiencing power outages.

The biggest warnings have been for people at sea.  That makes sense.  And the advice we have heard here is to batten down, bring in things that might blow around and break something. And to be careful at the sea front. The wind can blow rocks, which can hurt you. Also, gusts and wave action can wash people off precarious places, like the groynes.  We have already heard about a teenager who has disappeared while swimming in the sea today.  Stupid but tragic.

Naturally, we took a walk along the sea front today, along with half of Brighton.  We were careful, and never in any danger of anything worse that getting wet. We didn't even go under the Coastguard tape, which most people were doing. The waves were fantastic to watch.  The wind was full of salt - so that my lips were salty when I licked them.  My hair also tastes salty. I came home and washed my face and hands.  The COG took a direct hit from a wave while taking a photo, but that was the worst damage.

Here is the COG's hair, during a warm up coffee break at MacD's:

Did I mention there were surfers?  Here are 3 of them.  They seemed to be enjoying themselves, though it's hard for me to understand how. They mostly bobbed around in rough cold sea, diving under the waves. If they got a chance to stand on their boards, their run lasted 3 or 4 seconds, tops. 

Still,  the walk was wonderful - so exhilarating!  Now we are home, hunkered down.  Plenty of food and water and a flashlight and some candles - though I have to find some matches. That's the fatal flaw.  There is a heavy rain splattering against the windows and lots of wind.

It's possible we could lose power, though I doubt it.  I"m just going to enjoy the storm, and let the COG worries about all the bad things that might happen.

The Chattri

Friday, the weather was finally good enough for us to do a short walk. We decided to walk to the Chattri, which is up on the Downs behind Brighton, overlooking the town and the sea. Chattri is the Urdy, Punjabi, and Hindi word for umbrella. You can see the white memorial from all around.

The Chattri is a memorial to the 1.5  Indian soldiers who fought and died for Britain in WWI.   The 12,000 casualties were treated at sites around Britain - including the Pavilion and some of it's outbuildings (which are very grand and in the same "Indian/Chinese" style.) Because of their religious beliefs, some of those who died were cremated on the Downs and their ashes scattered at sea.  The Chattri is on the spot where the cremations took place.

So that was our goal - a short 3.5 mile loop from the village of Patcham. The bus dropped us in front of Ladies Mile Pub and we easily found our way up the hill, across the footbridge over the London Road, and up the Downs to the Chattri. Although it was supposed to be 3.5 miles, we ended up doing 5+ miles, according to both our fancy pedometers.  No complaints, however.

It was sooooo lovely to be out walking again.  It's impossible to capture the experience in photos.  The sound of the wind, the mooing of the cows and baaing of the sheep and, in parts, the heavy traffic from the London Road.

Here's the view from the Chattri. That's Brighton in the distance and the sea beyond. Our flat is not visible - it's one the other side of the hill on the left.

I don't know what it is about the Downs that I love so deeply.  There are all the drunken angles of the hills coming together, just so. The cows and sheep are really beautiful - clean, with shiny full coats and just altogether healthy and contented looking.  I like the distant views - I don't like hiking in woods or where there are no views.  And the sound of the wind, which is always present, really soothes my soul.

Afterwards, we took the bus home - stopping at the grocery store for provisions - feeling wonderful.

The Cheapside Hoard: Part II Sparkly Things

It is almost impossible to describe the objects in the hoard. My voice gets higher and squeakier and I can only say things like 'OMG', 'Fantastic', 'Amazing' etc.  Here are some of the Things, arranged to look like they might have, when found.  All the pictures here are from the internet - since we couldn't take pictures inside the exhibition, which was guarded by Gurkhas. Really.

There were so many jewels, far more than I imagined. And I couldn't get over incredible skill of the jewelers - who were working with tools that hadn't changed much in a thousand years. And the jewels were exquisite-  To wit:

The Emerald Watch. I didn't even know there were watches in the mid 17th century. But there were two in the hoard and the other is also beautiful. This one is a watch, embedded in a single, enormous, beautifully faceted emerald. The face of the watch is a hinged slice from the emerald, thin enough that you can see the time through it.

Then there's this tiny scent bottle.  Things didn't smell so good in the 17th century, and so the wealthy carried scent bottles with them for times of need.
This little thing is exquisite and it's made of moonstone and emerald and ruby and enamel and gold.

Then, what about the lizard brooch?  I love this - gold and Colombian emeralds in a cabochon cut, African diamonds, with enamel underneath and around the feet:

And this brooch of amethysts, diamonds and gold:

And all of these: 

There were quite a few variations on the grape cluster earrings in different stones.  How did they make the tiny rounded clusters from extraordinarily hard emeralds with no power tools?  And the thing on the right - it's a little rounded cage, once set with dozens of pearls (only a few remain) and with a dingly dangly umbrella like structure on top, that had pearls hanging from it.  No one knows how it was meant to be worn - there were several in the hoard, but there are no other examples and none appear in pictures.  They are clearly meant to dangle, but not as a pendant against a dress - because they are rounded.

This thing reminds me of a cross I have from the COGs mum, only mine is garnets not diamonds and amethysts and it's Victorian.

Look at the skill involved in this cameo of Elizabeth I carved from stone:

And look at the fine work in this piece carved in bloodstone.  I think this may have been a Catholic piece, in a time when it was dangerous to own them:

The thing is - the items above are just a tiny sample of the hoard, and there are so many lovely things I haven't mentioned.  There were rings and brooches and bracelets and delicate necklaces and unset stones, not to mention the stones carved into a tiny squirrel and a parrot and a monkey. So many lovely things.  

And, Oh the necklaces - lovely delicate looping enameled necklaces, the kind Elizabeth I wore that hung down to her stomach:

Such pretty pretty chains:

And there were buttons - lots of very pretty buttons. And Aiglets.  Such a lot of lovely things.

To find out more: watch this terrific BBC program You can watch in 2 parts on You Tube.  To watch Part 1, click here. To watch Part 2, click here. The woman who is featured extensively is Hazel Forsyth from The Museum of London, who spoke with the Dunnett group (sometimes called, we are told, "Du- Nutters") and who wrote the book about the hoard.