Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Madeira - Funchal & Monte


The following morning we awoke to a thick blanket of cloud and a weather forecast that didn't bode well for a relaxing day lounging around the outside pool. 'Madeira had it's June hat on' so we were told. The cloud covers all but the highest peaks. Once about a cloud level the sun would be out and glorious. Time for a gentle stroll into the capital city Funchal.

View of the Marina

The city has a population of 111,892 and has been the capital now for 5 centuries. It is also the leading Portuguese port for cruise liner dockings. We didn't see any during our stay and I was told that it was one of the most expensive places to dock in the world. We took a slight detour up a very steep hill, and believe me there are a lot of steep hills in Madeira! I wanted to have a look at 'Estádio do Marítimo', home of Maritimo FC, who finished a creditable 7th in the Primiera Liga last season.

'Estádio do Marítimo'
Not much going on at the ground out of season sadly , but I did pick up a souvenir T Shirt of my now adopted Portuguese team. The ground itself holds just under 8,000. There is also another stadium 'Estádio da Madeira' standing high in the hills and home to rivals Nacional. The Madeira Derby is often associated with the clubs' followers differing culture and way of life. The fans of Nacional, being of a higher socio-economic status than those of working class Marítimo.

 
Talking of football you can't miss the statue of Cristiano Ronaldo down on the marina. In fact right outside of his very own hotel and museum. Unveiled in his presence in 2014 it shows him in 'ready for it' pose. In my opinion the greatest footballer currently playing the game. Born in 1985 in the suburb of San Antonio to working class parents who supposedly named him after President Reagan. He started his career with Nacional before moving to Sporting Lisbon, Manchester United and then in 2009 sold to Real Madrid for 80 million. The most expensive player ever at that time. A regular visitor to Madeira where his mother still lives, he does a lot for the island, donating signed shirts and trophies to good causes.

'Estádio da Madeira' at the top of the mountain

At The Beerhouse
Despite the overcast conditions it was still very humid and time to savour a 'home brewed beer'. The main brand is Coral lager (5.3%) and is everywhere just about. It was fine but served far to chilled most times for my liking.
The 'Beerhouse 'is Funchal's only microbrewery. At the time of our visit they were serving a sweet 'Passion Fruit beer', a German style lager and a house lager. I couldn't quite get my head around the strange Bavarian style lederhosen garb the waiters wore though.

 It was tempting to catch the cable car up to the suburb of Monte (Teleférico do Funchal).Built
to replace the old Monte Railway, which ran from 1886 to 1943.
The length of the cable car line is 3,718 m and the height difference 560 m; the journey takes approx. 20 minutes.This major engineering project was completed in 2000 providing spectacular views over the red rooftops and plunging gorges. Instead we chose the bus !


Monte is famed for it's 'dry toboggan run'. The Monte Toboggans first originated in the early 19th century as Funchal´s first means of "downhill" public transportation. Nowadays  the "Carro de Cesto" is used to transport tourists for 30 euros for 2 people. The  toboggans are driven by two men (carreiros) dressed in white, with straw hats and black rubber boots which seem to double up as the braking system. The runners on the toboggan are greased up for additional speed .The ride starts off below the steps of the Nossa Senhora do Monte Church and follows a 2km steep downhill route.  Again we were not tempted and opted for the bus option once again....

 Senhora do Monte Church (Church of our Lady of Monte). It was well worth climbing up the 60 or so steps even with my dodgy knee to this little gem on the hill. 

The church is the most important pilgrimage site on the island. The original church was built in 1741 on top of the foundations of an old chapel that was said to be built by the son of the settler of the island, but it was soon destroyed by an earthquake.
The church that stands today dates to 1818. 
The interior features elegant chandeliers, a statue of 'Our Lady of the Mountain' and the tomb
of Charles I of Habsburg, the last emperor of 
Austria who lived in exile on Madeira 
until his death in 1922. 
Senhora do Monte Church

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Madeira - Arrival

Part of the plentiful gardens at Porto Mare

With it's subtropical climate warmed by the Gulf Stream the volcanic island of Madeira lies 323 miles off the coast of Africa. It's is Portugla's very own floating garden. Landing at the 'Christiano Ronaldo' (more of him in further blogs)is an interesting experience... Hailed as being in the top three of most dangerous airports in the world, we got off fairly lightly. Once infamous for its short runway which, surrounded by high mountains and the ocean, make it a tricky landing for even the most experienced of pilots, particularly with a cross wind.

View from reception bar

It is always a 'heart in mouth' scenario travelling to a hotel you know nothing about really. Dropping off other holidaymakers along the way and either sighing with relief or regretting not going to that particular hotel. First impressions were good with the 'Hotel Porto Mare'. It looked to be in a lively but not too lively area. A decent, modern looking building and a nice cool spacious reception.

View from our garden room

We were quickly assigned our room , one with a garden view and a glimpse of the sea if you stretched a bit to the right. The room was bright and spacious and the all important bed seemed comfortable enough. It was by now early evening so just enough time to have a scout around to gather our bearings.

Outside pool- Our room on ground floor in the distance

The Hotel Porto Mare is part of a three hotel complex that are all interlinked through a warren of corridors and floors which initially was very confusing. Never mind initially I was still getting hopelessly lost on the day we were due to leave! I wanted to check out the gym and health suite as it's important to keep in trim even when on holiday, or is that just me? A nice big indoor pool was discovered but wait , it's also an outdoor pool too. You swim under a bridge and you are outside , best of both worlds . Not only that there is a Jacuzzi too , I can see me making good use of both.

Outside part of the indoor pool


The gym wasn't bad really , typical hotel set-up . But it was roomy and mostly machines, also a dumbbell rack which only went up to 20kg. But better than nothing  for sure. So first impressions very good , time to venture outside and find somewhere to eat for tomorrow we shall explore .

Friday, 1 June 2018

The Rolling Stones Review - London Stadium


As far as concerts go they simply don't get much bigger than the kings of rock royalty themselves 'The Rolling Stones'. This was the second night at 'The London Stadium'. Former Olympic venue and now bedecked in the claret and blue of West Ham Utd. The 'No Filter' tour began in Hamburg on 9th September 2017.some 28 concerts later it will end in Warsaw on 8th July 2018.

However before the main course is served we have a very tasty starter in the shape of 'Florence and the Machine.


I will confess that despite knowing the name of the band I wasn't familiar with any songs. Or so I thought ? I actually recognised three songs which I think had been absorbed into my brain through an osmosis process at the gym. It can't be easy opening up for the Stones in such a massive setting and she put on a great performance , full of energy and exuberance. 'Hope you are all planning on getting drunk tonight' ? She bellowed out to the audience. Not at £6.50 for a pint of IPA was the thought that immediately went through my head. I'm no Olly Reed when it comes to necking beer but it would have been the best part of 50 folding to comply with her request.

 It is a quick turnaround and The Stones hit the stage around 8:15 and being June it is still light. 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' sets the tone for the night ahead as Mick Jagger bounces on to the stage with more swagger than your average 74 year old. The sound is awesome and this is far more than just a nostalgia trip. By now the stadium is virtually full right back to the top of the 'Bobby Moore Stand' a long way to our left.


There will be a few set list changes from the first show earlier in the week . In fact they kicked off with 'Street Fighting Man' previously. The next three songs are all heavyweights; 'Lets Spend the Night Together', 'It's only Rock 'N' Roll '( but I like it) and 'Tumbling Dice'. It is clear that this is going to be the equivalent of a greatest hits show.

We get the old old blues number 'Just your Fool' from 2016’s Blue and Lonesome album. As I understand some sort of poll had been completed for the next song 'Dead Flowers' which got the most votes anyway. 'Just as well really 'says 'Mick I know all the words to that one.

'Hope you're all feeling nice' ? He enquires . Something of an understatement really given the state of fever pitch the audience has reached already. 'Newham has never  seen so much excitement' has it !

Also from the 'Sticky Fingers' album (1971)  we then get 'Wild Horses' which sees Mick dueting with Florence Welch and it is superb.

 Charlie Watts must be playing one of the smallest drum kits I have ever seen at a live concert. He is totally unphased and is the antithesis of the stereotypical rock star. At times seeming to be in a world of his own. I love the quote when  talking about 25 years in the life of  a Rolling Stone, ' It's been work for five years  and 20 years hangin' around'.  Priceless.



'Anybody in from Dartford' ? Asks Mick. 'Well there's at least two of us' . Referring to him and Keith Richards when a chance meeting on platform 2 of  Dartford Station on  17 October 1961 started the ball or should I say stone rolling. Talking of Mr Richards he takes centre stage for two solo outings, 'The Worst' and 'Happy'. Allowing the rest of the band to nip off for a cup of tea or maybe something stronger?


 As darkness falls they are re-united  for 'Sympathy for the Devil' a song i've stuggled with in the past  but it sounds awesome tonight.

'Miss you' sees bassist Darryl Jones  occupy the stage; his solo is  technically perfect, and groovily funky.He has been a touring member of 'The Stones'  since 1993 when Bill Wyman decided to call it a day.

Having played with the likes of Clapton , Madonna , Sting and Peter
Gabriel he knows what it is all about !


Ronnie Wood 'the Hogarth of Hounslow' as Jagger calls him is probably the more versatile of the two guitarists these days. But during the brilliant 'Midnight Rambler' they both seem to be trying to outdo each other.


The energy and enthusiasm levels are relentless as we  move into the final furlong with 'Start Me Up' and 'Brown Sugar'.

With a back catalogue spanning over 50 years there are plenty of songs to choose from. I don't think anybody will be disappointed  with what has been offered up so far.

The band disappear to rapturous applause and this particular part of London's East End   is buzzing nicely as Mick might say?
 

The encore sees my favourite 'Gimme Shelter' where the backing vocals of Sasha Allen provide a powerful almost gospel sound.

Last song of the night and everybody is on there feet , (as they have all night to be fair). No prizes for guessing (I can't get no) Satisfaction. Well satisfaction is guaranteed tonight that is a certainty. No- one will be going home disappointed.


It's exhilarating , exciting and electric , that is the essence of a Rolling Stones concert. All that is left is for a few pyrotechnics and fireworks to round off the evening. This has been epic, and will live long in my memory as one of the best I have ever been to.



Full Set List 

  • Jumpin' Jack Flash
  • Lets Spend The Night Together
  •  It's Only Rock 'N' Roll (but I like it)
  •  Tumbling Dice
  •  Just Your Fool (Buddy Johnson & his Orchestra)
  •  Dead Flowers
  • Wild Horses (with Florence Welch)
  • Youcan't always get what you want
  • Paint it Black
  • Honky Tonk Woman
  • The Worst (Keith Richards vocals)
  • Happy (Keith Richards vocals)
  • Sympathy for the Devil
  • Miss You
  • Midnight Rambler
  • Start me Up
  • Brown Sugar

Encore

  • Gimme Shelter
  • (I can't get no) Satisfaction



Thursday, 24 May 2018

Walking The Ridgeway - Princes Risborough to Chinnor



Continuing from the northerly end of the walk we began in the village of Radnage, the next leg of the walk. As usual a circular walk incorporating a stretch of the Ridgeway and surrounding countryside. In total a walk of 9.6 miles.

 On this Royal Wedding day it was nice to just escape all the hype and get out into this green and pleasant land of ours.
We quickly had to cross the railway line going over the roof of Saunderton tunnel. The path then took us through Princes Risborough Golf Course which was strangely deserted for a glorious Saturday morning? More wedding watchers probably.   One of the holes looked particularly tricky with its pond right next to the green. The graveyard of many a golf ball I shouldn't wonder. Maybe the Carp are feeding on them? Some of them were massive and very tame too. Literally feeding out of my hand , either that or I am 'The Carp whisperer/ tickler ??




Once again we are treated to some amazing scenery and views and hardly a cloud in the sky. There is so much greenery it is quite re-assuring in these times of over-development. Above us there are plenty of  Red Kites that are so familiar around the M40 corridor and The Chilterns.








The Ridgeway joins up with The Icknield way sharing the same path until the IW takes a 
       straight course to Princes Risborough, while The Ridgeway meanders on a roundabout route. 


 Through the trees there are cracking views of Princes Risborough in the distance. There is a cricket match taking place , what could be more typical of a late Spring weekend afternoon?
The track at times climbs quite steeply and the chalk underneath is already parched and dry. Although it is nothing compared to the 'Chinnor Hill 'we encounter when we leave The Ridgeway which is a monster.








 Yoesden Nature Reserve is a beautiful sunny grassland bank and wood in the tranquil Radnage Valley near High Wycombe. It contains some rare and precious chalk grassland.

In summer the grassland is full of common and spotted orchids, bird's foot trefoil, kidney vetch, Devil's-bit scabious and later on Chiltern gentians. rare butterflies can be found including the Adonis Blue, Chalkhill Blue and Small Blue.


 The wild flowers are really looking their finest in the meadows.
The mature beech woodland has some important ground flora including wild garlic, primroses, birds nest orchid and wood anemone.

The picture to the left shows Allium ursinum – known as ramsons, buckrams, wild garlic, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek, or bear's garlic – is a wild relative of chives. It could easily be mistaken for 'Lily of the Valley' actually.


As we get nearer to our starting destination  the footpath takes us through the churchyard of St Marys Radnage. Built by the Knights Templar in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, it has been prayed in for over a thousand years and has an atmosphere that reflects this. The church tower is original and about 10 feet square and of a style which has elements of the late Norman and early English periods.


 I really liked the seemingly long forgotten graves , overgrown and unvisited. The sunlight through the tress shining on them gave them a prominence that didn't go unnoticed.

Back at our starting point we are conveniently close to 'The Boot' Public House .It is one of those ponsey 'Gastronome' pubs that charge ridiculous prices for food that gets served on a house brick or roof slate.The beer isn't cheap either but needs must when the devil drives and any port in a storm .

I had a pint of ' Marlow Rebellion Brewery' 'Legend' (4.2%) .A fruity Pale Ale with complex fruity notes of apricot, citrus and spice.

As we sat enjoying our well earned liquid refreshment in the pub garden, our old friends the 'Red Kites' sat in the trees looking down on us.


Thursday, 17 May 2018

Walking close to the River Nene - Commander's Spinney


Bit of a last minute 'impromptu' decision to go walking on this particular sunny Sunday afternoon. Found a nice route in my 'Walking close to the Nene' guide. Our starting point was The Square at Earls Barton, walking along West Street and crossing the B573 we soon found ourselves crossing fields filled with sheep and lambs. The next field was full of Broad Beans coming into flower before further fields of vibrant yellow Rape.

  

Leaving the fields we arrived in the pretty village of Ecton. Following the road out of the village we crossed the A45taking an immediate left and passed 'Commanders Spinney'. A dyke trickled along on our right side as we continued along a hardcore road path .Crossing two bridges we arrived at Cogenhoe Mill (pronounced cook-noe). There was a beautiful Heron (one of many we were to see) by the riverbank where we picked up the 'Nene Way' footpath.

 From there we followed the rivers edge as it gently meandered it's way along to Whiston lock.



I think the highlight had to be seeing a fleeting view of a Kingfisher flying down the river. A splash of electric blue before disappearing as quickly as it arrived. There are lovely views of Whiston Church in the distance beyond the fields No wonder it is known as 'A jewel on a hilltop'. A Common Tern circles above us while Mrs Duck swims downstream trying to keep almost a dozen unruly ducklings under control. It really is a scene from a perfect Summers Day.
 
We spotted several swans all sitting on their nests of reeds keeping their eggs warm and safe from predators. The only noise is the drone from the nearby A45 but it can't disturb the scene that is one of peace, calmness and tranquility. Sadly on reaching Whiston lock it is time to turn inland and begin an uphill climb back up to Earls Barton.



The striking landmark of the church tower tells us we are nearly home. It is one of the finest examples of Saxon church architecture in the country.