Atocha Station, visit to Toledo and walk up Lammer Law

October 23, 2014

Two different countries and two different experiences this week. When my pal Roger and I were in Madrid, we took the advice given to us by many people to catch the train to Toledo. We travelled from the architecturally striking Atocha Station. This is not your ordinary railway station, as the exterior (photo below) is made of steel and glass, and the curved roof is also of glass. As you walk into the station, you pass the extensive botanic garden, which gives a freshness to the environment. At the end of the a garden is a pond, where we saw goldfish in the water and lots of small turtles wither swimming or lying on the rocks.

Atocha Station, Madrid

Atocha Station, Madrid

The train was full – a good piece of advice is, if going to Toledo, always to book the day before via the ticket machine – and very comfortable. On reaching Toledo, you have the option of a 6 Euro taxi ride or a 1.50 Euro bus ride or a mile/1.62k steep walk. It says a mile walk at the station but it seemed longer on the bus. We headed for the famous Toledo Cathedral (many good photos on this site) and bought tickets, which included an audio tour. The cathedral, both externally and internally is a stunning building. The audio tour was excellent as it told you the history of the building e.g. it was built on the site of a mosque, and took 267 years to complete, and pointed out the different architectural and design features in the cathedral. It also indicated the religious significance of parts of the cathedral. Humanist or theist, you cannot help but be impressed by the grandeur of the internal pillars, the painted ceilings, the frescos, the impressive metallurgy on the many altars, and the world famous paintings by El Greco. We were only in Toledo for 5 hours and that is not enough. The streets are thronged with tourists and full of little alleyways. We happened upon an exhibition about Leonardo the Inventor which was a fascinating display of wooden models of some of Leonardo’s inventions relating to lifting weights and – the most interesting – flight. While he did not actually invent a flying machine that could actually fly, Leonardo da Vinci designed machines with all the elements of modern aeroplanes. You could easily spend a couple of days in Toledo, seeing its many other attractions, for example  the very attractive Toledo Station (good photos on this site) – see photo below.

Toledo Station

Toledo Station

Last week, my wife and I went for a longish walk to the top of Lammer Law (good photos on this site). We parked at woods near Longyester Farm and there it was a steady climb up the Law (Scots word for hill). As you climb, the views get more panoramic. Interesting sights on the way up (and down) were extensive stone walls (1st photo below), autumnal grasses (2nd photo), glimpse of the Hopes Reservoir (previously featured on this blog here) (3rd photo),  a stunning view of the 3 volcanic edifices, from left to right  – North Berwick Law, the Bass Rock, Traprain Law and  (4th photo), and a determined looking bullock (5th photo).

Stone wall near Lammer Law

Stone wall near Lammer Law

Autumnal grasses on Lammer Law

Autumnal grasses on Lammer Law

Hopes Reservoir from Lammer Law

Hopes Reservoir from Lammer Law

Panoramic view across East Lothian from Lammer Law

Panoramic view across East Lothian from Lammer Law

Staring bullock at Longyester Farm

Staring bullock at Longyester Farm

 

 

Trip to Madrid: Prado Museum, architecture and Santiago Bernabeu

October 13, 2014

Last week, my pal Roger and I flew to Madrid for 5 days – to see the city and to go to the football match between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. Madrid is a stunning centre of European Culture and also a lovely city to walk around. In terms of culture, pride of place goes to the world famous Prado Museum. The Prado is more than just an art gallery, as it is housed in a very impressive building, surrounded by tall trees and well kept gardens. Inside, it is a succession of halls which contain some of the most important works of art in the world. You can’t successfully get round the Prado in one day, or if you do, you are not likely to remember what you’ve seen. We did part of the Prado in 2 x 1 hour sessions, and there was much, much more which we did not see. In the first hour, we concentrated on Spanish painting and in particular, Velazquez (See photo of his statue below – taken on my mobile phone). The Velazquez paintings cover a range of topics, including some religious works, but it was the portraits and images of the king and queen of Spain on horseback that most impressed. One outstanding work, in terms its amazing detail is of Queen Isobel on horseback. If you click on this link, you will see the amount of work that Velazquez must have put into the painting e.g. the intricate detail of the queen’s dress. Another famous Velazquez work is The Drinkers, or The Triumph of Bacchus  and if you click on the link to see the picture in detail, you will see how the artist has captured the slightly inebriated faces of the men brilliantly. On the return visit, we focussed on Rubens e.g. the intriguing and beautiful The Three Graces and El Greco e.g. Caballero anciano. Again, if you click on the link and see the detail in the ruff and the man’s beard, you cannot but be mightily impressed. A good tip here is to book online and doing this, we avoided what looked like up to an hour’s queuing.

Statue of Velazquez outside the Prado Museum, Madrid

Statue of Velazquez outside the Prado Museum, Madrid

Madrid is also a city of architecturally outstanding buildings. When you walk around the main part of the city, you come across grand plazas, surrounded by huge buildings, often with statues on the top. Walking up the wide street of the Gran Via towards the city centre, looking up to your left, you see the Banco de Bilbao V A building, with the two Quadriga on top. The Quadriga is a Spanish word meaning a chariot drawn by four horses. This is what it looks like from across the road (taken on my mobile).

BBVA Bank with 2 Quadriga on top

BBVA Bank with 2 Quadriga on top

A second example of grand architecture in Madrid is the Plaza Major, which is right in the heart of the city. This large square, which reminded me immediately of St Mark’s Square in Venice (click for 360 view on this site), is a large open space, surrounded by elegant looking apartments and lined with cafes. There is an imposing statue of King Philip II on horseback and this dominates the square – a clear message in 1616 to the locals about respecting the monarchy. The photos below show the square and the statue.

Plaza Mayor Madrid

Plaza Mayor Madrid

Philip II King of Spain

Philip II King of Spain

There are many, many more visually attractive buildings in Madrid, such as The Royal Palace and next to it, the Gothic Almudena Cathedral, which was built on the site of a former mosque. It is highly decorative inside, with one room containing intricate mosaics. The photos below show the Royal Palace and an example of superb metallurgy in the cathedral.

 

Almudena Cathedral Madrid

The Royal Palace, Madrid

Silver metallurgy in Almudena Cathedral, Madrid

Silver metallurgy in Almudena Cathedral, Madrid

The sporting highlight of our visit to Madrid was to go the football (aka soccer) game on the Sunday night, between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. We got the metro to the magnificent Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The stadium holds 81,000 people and there were 78,000 on the night we went. The atmosphere inside the stadium is one of pulsing noise, enthusiastic songs yelled out by the Ultras – a large group of flag waving zealots, loud cheers (Real Madrid score) and whistles (a RM player is fouled). The football – featuring some of the best players in the world, indeed Christiano Ronaldo, who is arguably the best player in the world at the moment – was of a very high quality. The leader of the orchestra was Luka Modrich some of whose passes, struck with the outside of his right boot, were sublime. He split open the Bilbao defence on a number of occasions with consummate skill and apparent ease. The game finished 5-0 to RM, so wasn’t a great contest between 2 evenly matched teams, and our tickets were expensive, but this was an experience that will be reflected on for many years.

A Word a Week Photograph challenge – spray

October 9, 2014

Here are my photos from a stormy day at Dunbar Harbour. See Sue’s website for many more.

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Seal in the harbouring ignoring the spray

Seal in the harbouring ignoring the spray

Lisa Hooper, Start the Week and Dunbar harbour (from the west end)

October 2, 2014

At the weekend, we paid another visit to the excellent Waterstone House in Aberlady, to see an exhibition of original artist’s prints by Lisa Hooper. This is a varied exhibition, not just in the wide variety of birds on display, but in the different techniques that Lisa uses to such striking effect. The techniques, including Japanese woodblock and paper batik, present the viewer with a range of effects, including some which make the birds stand out on the canvas. This exhibition has some stunning works, such as Pinkfeet Rising in which the artist presents three pinkfooted geese taking off against a background of stark black trees and a harvest moon. Lisa has kindly sent me 2 photos of her work, Pinkfeet Rising and Oystercatchers and these are shown below. There is a new book by Lisa Hooper – First Impressions - and my wife has bought it for my upcoming birthday. As with my other bird books, I will put the book on a small lectern and turn a page every day. I find that doing this – rather than having the book lying on a table – means that I go through the book slowly and pay more attention to the individual paintings. If you can’t get to the exhibition, visit Lisa’s website and of course, buy the book!

Pinkfeet Rising by Lisa Hooper

Pinkfeet Rising by Lisa Hooper

Oystercatchers by Lisa Hooper

Oystercatchers by Lisa Hooper

Now that it’s October, some of the radio programmes which have had a summer break are back. One of my favourites, which I listen to (safely) as a podcast while out cycling, is Start the Week.  The programme has a theme each week and typically features authors who have written books on the theme. This week’s programme (available across the world, not just in the UK) featured guests Karen Armstrong, Justin Marozzi and Christopher Coker who discussed war and religion e.g. is religion to blame for most of the wars in history or is religion used as a cover for the power hungry? There are no right and wrong answers and the listener is presented with a variety views, which may or may not influence what s/he thought about the subject prior to the programme.

My wife and I regularly walk  to Dunbar Harbour, as it is just along the road from our house and I’ve featured the harbour many times on this blog. What we don’t often do, is cross the harbour bridge which separates the harbour from Lamer Island, and walk along the north side of the harbour. You get a different perspective on the harbour from the north side and, looking back from the end of the pier, just across from Dunbar Castle, you notice that the small yachts in the harbour are facing you directly, and that you can see past the harbour, giving you a view of the Lammermuir Hills. The photos below show the harbour at its best – on a warm, sunny September evening.

Yachts in Dunbar Harbour

Yachts in Dunbar Harbour

Dunbar Harbour and bridge

Dunbar Harbour and bridge

Dunbar harbour and Lammermuir Hills

Dunbar harbour and Lammermuir Hills

1950 Whales, cycling and the Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

September 24, 2014

One of the most striking events that I’ve uncovered in my local history research project on Dunbar in 1950 is the beaching and death of 147 whales at Thorntonloch, near Dunbar. The whales were discovered by two local boys who could see a few whales on the beach but many more in the water. There was an attempt to put some of the whale calves out to sea, but they immediately swam back to their parents. The whales attracted huge crowds and it was estimated that around 33,000 people came to the site. This is a remarkable figure, given that very few people in 1950 had cars. The local paper The Haddingtonshire Courier (now the East Lothian Courier) reported that “hundreds of vehicles, including specially chartered buses” arrived at the scene and people had to walk 2 miles in some cases to see the whales. The photo below – from the Illustrated London News of 1950 – shows the whales and the onlookers. As part of my research, I’m going to be interviewing people who went to see the whales.

Stranded whales at Thorntonloch, near Dunbar, in 1950

Stranded whales at Thorntonloch, near Dunbar, in 1950

We’ve had a great summer here in Dunbar and we’re now into an Indian summer, a term which  has its origins in North America, where the native Americans needed warm and settled weather in September in order to get their crops in. The fine weather has meant that I’ve been able to do quite a lot of cycling. This week’s cycles around the East Lothian countryside have seen me accompanied overhead by huge skeins of pink footed geese, heading for Aberlady Nature Reserve. The extended V shapes in the sky are a great sight and you can hear some of the geese calling out. These calls are to keep the younger geese in line and to prevent them from getting separated from the main group. The countryside itself is changing. The harvest is over and the ploughs are back in the fields, turning the fields from the post-harvest yellow to shiny brown. The poet A E Houseman features ploughs in his poems, including Is my team ploughing? which opens with “Is my team ploughing,/ That I was used to drive/ And hear the harness jingle/ When I was man alive?”/ Ay, the horses trample,/ The harness jingles now;/ No change though you lie under/ The land you used to plough”. Horse ploughing in small fields is no more and today’s satnav enabled tractors with their shiny, flashing blades ease across the fields, leaving a glistening brown wake behind them.

Hilary Mantel, the author of the excellent Thomas Cromwell centred novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies has a new collection of short stories out, under the arresting title of The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. The title story was published in full in The Guardian at the weekend and an intriguing read it is. A woman in a flat near a hospital where Mrs Thatcher is being treated answers her door, expecting the plumber and lets the man in as he might be the plumber’s son. The man turns out to be an IRA assassin. I’ll let you read the story yourself via the link, and decide for yourself whether this is up to the high standards set in the two Cromwell novels.

Weekly photo challenge – endurance

September 23, 2014

Another word with different meanings for this week’s challenge. Here are mine and see many more suggestions at Sue’s website.

Brad Khalefeldt from Wagga Wagga winning the 2006 Commonwealth gold medal for the triathalon

Brad Khalefeldt from Wagga Wagga winning the 2006 Commonwealth gold medal for the triathlon

Runners on the tough Traprain Law Race

Runners on the tough Traprain Law Race

Horse stoically enduring a very hard frost

Horse stoically enduring a very hard frost

The ruins of Dunbar Castle - 900 years old

The ruins of Dunbar Castle – 900 years old

Evening sun on the Bass Rock - 350 million years old

Evening sun on the Bass Rock – 350 million years old

Flowers and trip to York

September 14, 2014

There’s a distinctive floral theme in this week’s blog. Firstly, my gladioli and sword lilies are now in full bloom. Searching for information about gladioli, I came across the British Gladiolus Society, which has the intriguing website name britglad.com, which sounds as if it might be a website for people glad to be British. Given the upcoming Scottish Referendum, this might have been a great website name for the No Thanks campaign – which we are strongly supporting. Gladioli are of African origin and the name is derived from the Latin gladius meaning sword. Now sword lilies are a bit harder to pin down as they are known as gladiolus murielae and Abyssinian gladiolus and Abyssinian sword lily. No matter, they have beautiful, delicate, multiple heads with a white flower, which has a glowing purple interior. The two photos below show gladioli and sword lilies on our decking and a close up of a sword lily.

Gladioli and sword lilies

Gladioli and sword lilies

Sword lily

Sword lily

Last week, we went to spend a couple of days in York, in an apartment not far from the centre. Like Edinburgh, York is a wonderful city for walking around, taking in the old and new architecture and reading the history. The main focus tends to be on the magnificent York Minster which towers above the narrow streets. The Minster is out of view mostly and it can be a shock when you emerge from one of the streets and are met with this extensive structure. It’s a very pleasant walk around the outside of the Minster (see Photos 1 and 2 below) and we visited the Treasurer’s House (good photos on this site) which has a charming garden in front, with anemones in full bloom (Photo 3).

York Minster

York Minster

York Minster through the trees

York Minster through the trees

For a real ale enthusiast, York has an extensive range of pubs, serving beers from all over the UK. I went into the eccentric and wonderfully named  House of Trembling Madness . On the ground floor, there is a shop with a huge range of bottled beers from across the world, and upstairs there is a bar, which has 800 year old beams. It’s a small bar, with a low ceiling but the beers on offer, which change regularly, are very tasty. On the wall, they have a Yard of Ale glass (Photo 4). I remember this from my student days – the advice was always to spill as much as possible down your front.

Yard of Ale

Yard of Ale

One of the busiest places in York is the famous Betty’s Tea Room, an upmarket shop and restaurant. There was a long queue , so we went to the Café Tea Room. Bettys is much more expensive than your normal café but what you pay for is exquisite cakes, such as our pear tart (Photo 5), white-aproned waitresses and waiters, silver tea pots and very personal service in a very well furnished tearoom. On the first the evening, we ate in Café Concerto which, despite its name, is an excellent restaurant serving very good quality food – their courgette, pea and mint soup was superb. The second evening saw us in the very busy Rustique restaurant. Again, very good food here but not of the quality of Café Concerto.

Pear tart with fruit and cream

Pear tart with fruit and cream

We also went on a Cruise on the Ouse (pr Ooze) which was an informative trip up and down the river Ouse, with the captain giving us a commentary on the history of York and its bridges, such as the Lendal Bridge from where Photo 6 was taken.

River Ouse from Lendal Bridge

River Ouse from Lendal Bridge

Blazin’ Fiddles, Borders cycle and sunlight on rocks and bridge

September 6, 2014

On Sunday, we went to Haddington (11 miles/18K from Dunbar) to see the final act of the Trad on the Tyne Festival – the very lively Blazin’ Fiddles. This is a 6 member group, led by Bruce MacGregor, who hosts the excellent Travelling Folk radio show (available worldwide, so check it out). In the group, there are 4 fiddle players, one guitarist and one keyboard player. The show is a mix of fast and furious group fiddle playing and individual cameos by the fiddle players. One of the outstanding individual sets was a a very melodic slow air played by Jenna Reid. The band have a well rehearsed set of often humorous introduction to their sets of tunes and they do appear to enjoy playing with such gusto, especially at the end of the show, with a few rousing tunes to send the audience home happy. It was very enjoyable to sit in the tent on a warm summer evening and be entertained by a set of lively and highly talented musicians.

Yesterday, Val and I ventured down to the borders with my cycling pal Alistair and his wife Di. We drove to the tiny village of Heriot, unloaded the bikes from the rack and set off on a very pleasant, quiet, rural route to Innerleithen, down a long 4 mile descent, following the Leithen Water. This attractive wee town is most famous for Robert Smail’s Printing Works which is a National Trust property now but was once a prosperous business in the town. The Smail Archive  contains many examples of the variety of publications produced at the works and much of the machinery survives and is well maintained. This is well worth a visit if you are in the area. We had coffee/tea and scones at the excellent Whistle Stop Café (good photo). We were given a friendly welcome and were even given locks for our bikes. The café has attached rings to the outside wall on to which cyclists can lock their bikes – what a service!. From there, the route took us to Clovenfords where we had lunch, having cycled 22 miles (36K). Thereafter, there was a 15.5 mile (25K) cycle which took in some stiffish hills but also exhilarating downhill freewheeling. At one point, we passed through the extensive Bowland Estate and to our right, for about 10 miles, we could see the construction of the new Borders Railway which will go from Edinburgh to Tweedbank.  So, a great day out and a lovely part of the country – must go back and take my camera with me.

Two recent walks with my camera were on sunlit evenings and I captured some different effects of the late sunlight. Firstly, a walk along the promenade at the back of our house. When the tide recedes, there is revealed a series of rocks of different shapes and some appear to be landscapes in miniature e.g. ragged mountain ranges. If you can catch the sun on these rocks at the right time, there are some wonderful colours, as in the 3 photos below (click to enlarge).

Sunlight on the rocks off Dunbar's east promenade

Sunlight on the rocks off Dunbar’s east promenade

Sunlight on the rocks off Dunbar's east promenade

Sunlight on the rocks off Dunbar’s east promenade

Sunlight on the rocks off Dunbar's east promenade

Sunlight on the rocks off Dunbar’s east promenade

The second walk went past Belhaven Bridge – featured before on this blog. There was a biggish sun on the horizon which brought out the bridge’s structure well and the sun reddened the shallow water under the bridge.

Belhaven Bridge at sunset

Belhaven Bridge at sunset

Belhaven Bridge at sunset

Belhaven Bridge at sunset

 

 

 

Weekly Photo challenge: Technology

September 2, 2014

Here are my suggestions for this week’s challenge. See many more excellent examples at Sue’s website.

Two icons of modern technology: Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House

Two icons of modern technology: Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House

Traditional technology in Rutherglen (Victoria) blacksmith's forge

Traditional technology in Rutherglen (Victoria) blacksmith’s forge

Early record player in Gaudi's house in Barcelona

Early record player in Gaudi’s house in Barcelona

Four Wells Square in Zadar, Croatia

Four Wells Square in Zadar, Croatia

Anchor in Paphos, Cyprus

Anchor in Paphos, Cyprus

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Osteria, making soup and natural shapes and contours

August 30, 2014

Last week, we went up the coast from Dunbar to North Berwick to have a meal at the Osteria Restaurant. We’ve been before and once again we were treated to excellent personal service and high quality food – most of it locally sourced – cooked in a way which brought out the depth of flavour of the ingredients. Osteria is an Italian restaurant but not in the normal pizza and pasta sense. In fact, many people go to Osteria without having pasta dishes at all, although these dishes are a treat e.g. from the Primi menu “SPAGHETTI ALLA CHITARRA CON GRANCHIO: Homemade guitar string spaghetti tossed with crab meat, monkfish and cherry tomatoes”. If you talk to customers who’ve been to Osteria, the main word they will use is fish. I had prawns and scampi on skewers for a starter and my wife had asparagus and pea risotto. We had a taste of each and they were delicious. For mains, I had the fish platter – delicately cooked monkfish, sea bream, scallops and scampi. The fish is cooked so that you enjoy the individual flavours of each fish/seafood. My wife had chicken but not just any chicken dish. The menu describes it exactly as “POLLO CON SPECK: Succulent chicken breast stuffed with smoked italian ham served on a bed of warmed fine beans and potatoes and drizzled with a pesto sauce”. This dish has superb depths of flavour. The service is very attentive but not in an intrusive way, and there is always a very good atmosphere in the restaurant, which was packed on the night we went. Quality is the keyword for Osteria and while it may not be a cheap option, the value for money is way above what you get in most restaurants. Osteria kindly let me copy 2 of their dishes from the restaurant website.

Prawn dish from Osteria

Prawn dish from Osteria

Fish of the day dish from Osteria

Fish of the day dish from Osteria

The summer is nearing its end here in the south east of Scotland but my garden has been productive in terms of courgettes/zucchini, runner beans and coriander. I have made courgette, leek and basil soup a few times but decide this week to use up some the coriander which is growing at a rate of knots in my herb tub. Coriander has a long history of use in many countries and the word has Greek origins. It also has medicinal applications and is recommended for people with indigestion related problems. You will mostly find recommendations to use coriander in carrot and coriander soup but we prefer to include a sweet potato with the onion, carrots, ground/dried leaf coriander and fresh coriander. It’s the simplest of soups. You sweat the onion, add  the ground coriander, then the chopped carrots and sweet potato, cook for a few minutes and add the fresh chopped coriander. You then add 2 pints (1.1 litres) of chicken or vegetable stock – I use stock pots – and cook for about 25 minutes. Let it cool, then blitz the soup to your own preferred thickness – I blitz on normal for 10 seconds and then on pulse for 10 seconds, as this makes it not too smooth. I like to add some crème fraiche when the soup is served. The photo below shows the finished product. It’s very tasty – although not at the Osteria level!

Carrot, sweet potato and coriander soup

Carrot, sweet potato and coriander soup

I looked up from my book yesterday and saw that there was crane fly (aka daddy long legs) which had attached itself to the outside of the window. When you look up close, you can see that the crane fly is a delicate creature with geometric legs, a slender body and constantly flapping wings. It was the shape that attracted me as it’s almost abstract. The legs appear to have been created by adding lines at different angles, and the body resembles an early aeroplane. The photo below shows these aspects.

Crane fly on the window

Crane fly on the window

A little while later, I looked up again from my book and the day had changed from bright sunshine to heavy clouds and rain. Above the horizon there was an unusual sky – dark and looming, but what attracted me (and my camera) was the shapes and contours in the rain clouds – see photo below. The dark and threatening sky reminded me of some of Ruth Brownlee’s paintings – see the website for many examples of her new work.

Looming sky over the Firth of Forth

Looming sky over the Firth of Forth

 


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