Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Well Dressing

This week is our village Well Dressing and above is the well dressed by the local Guides. They chose to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll's book 'Alice in Wonderland'. The characters are based on the original illustrations by John Tenniel.

The main well dressing commemorates the granting of Magna Carta at Runnymede on June 15th 1215 where it was sealed - not signed - by King John and witnessed by twenty five barons. Magna Carta or The Great Charter was drawn up after a rebellion by the barons because the king had demanded heavy taxes to finance his unsuccesful wars in France. It enshrined the rights, privileges and liberties of the nobles and clergy and limited the power of the Crown.

Magna Carta was written in medieval Latin on parchment made from dried sheepskin and the words were often abbreviated to save space on the parchment. Many copies were made and sent out to bishops and sheriffs all over England. Only four of these copies survive, two in the British Library, one in Lincoln and one in Salisbury. I've seen the one in Salisbury Cathedral and it's much smaller than I'd imagined. It's an iconic document and inspired the American Declaration of Independence of 1775 and the 1948 UN Charter for Human Rights. Only three of the original clauses in Magna Carta are still law. One defends the freedom and rights of the English church, another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns, and the third paved the way for trial by jury by stating that no man could be arrested, imprisoned or have their possessions taken away except by “the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land”

This is the seal of King John who was the younger brother of Richard the Lionheart. John succeeded to the throne of England after Richard's death in 1199. John is also of course the villain, along with the Sheriff of Nottingham, in all the stories of Robin Hood. So there we are - that's the end of today's history lesson:)

Friday, July 03, 2015

Madrid Again

On Sunday morning we took the train back from Granada to Madrid arriving early in the afternoon. The rest of the day was spent eating, drinking and relaxing. Our flight home was late on Monday afternoon so we checked out of our hotel early but we were able to leave our luggage there until mid afternoon when a taxi would collect us and take us to the airport. We decided to walk up to Retiro Park again and spend some time exploring the areas we hadn't yet seen. The photograph of the Royal Palace was taken at 7.50am on our way to get breakfast.

Chocolate and churros for the last time:) Just as well with all those calories!

This is the Puerta del Sol - the very heart of Madrid. The Puerta del Sol means Gate of the Sun and it was where one of the gates in the city wall that surrounded Madrid in the 15th century stood. The statue of King Charles III and the Tio Pepe sign are famous landmarks. Charles III reigned from 1759 to 1788 and was generally a good egg who tried to do his best for his country.

I love this bronze statue of the Bear and the Madrone Tree which have been the symbols of the city of Madrid since the 13th century.

The sculptured shapes of these trees really appeals to me in this setting though I wouldn't want them in my garden. They need a lot of space around them to be seen at their best.

This is the formal part of the Retiro with lots of colourful bedding plants and specimen trees. The building in the centre right at the far end is the Prado Museum.The park covers about 320 acres and in the 17th century when a royal palace stood on the site only the Royal Family were allowed to use it.It was opened to the public in the 18th century.

The boating lake is popular with both tourists and local people. The enormous Alfonso XII monument dates from 1922.

Retiro is filled with statues, monuments and many lovely fountains both large and small.

This is the Crystal Palace which stands by another lake in the Park. It was built in 1887 and was originally used to house exotic plants but these days it houses temporary exhibition.

Aren't these trees fabulous? I wish I knew what they are.

We walked all round the lake enjoying the autumn colours and the ducks, there were turtles sunning themselves as well. On the far side there was this little grotto and waterfall.

If you walk further round you can look out through the grotto and across the lake.

As we walked back through the Paseo del Prado we saw these figures in period costume leaning over the balconies gossiping and watching the crowds go by. Rather fun:)

Back in the Plaza de San Miguel we had a late lunch at our favourite little eating place - The Secret Garden. We discovered it on our first day in Madrid, the food is excellent and it's right next to the Mercado San Miguel handy for last minute purchases of chocolates:) We really enjoyed our visit to Spain and I would love to go back again one day especially to Andalucia.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Alhambra - The Gardens and The Alcazaba

The gardens of the Alhambra are lovely and we enjoyed wandering round them. It's a very peaceful place in spite of all the people who were also looking round. The Generalife was the summer palace of the Nasrid kings and was built between 1302 and 1309.

One of the lovely fountains in the Lower Gardens which were replanted between 1931 and 1951 on the site of what were originally the palace orchards. It had become seriously neglected prior to its restoration. This fountain stands at the intersection of four rectangular pools which represent the Four Rivers of Paradise - water, milk, honey and wine.

As well as all the tranquil green of the trees there were also wonderful splashes of colour like this. I think that the building that is visible above the trees is the south pavilion of the Patio de la Acequia.

The Patio de la Acequia or Court of the Water Channel was originally designed as an enclosed interior garden following the Muslim tradition of an enclosed paradise but in later generations it was opened up with archways being let in to the west wall to give views over the surrounding countryside. The south and north ends were closed by pavilions - this is looking towards the south pavilion.

Originally the outside could only have been seen from the central Mirador of the Patio de la Acequia which stood in the centre of the west wall . A mirador is a balcony or small turret where one can look out over a garden or the countryside.

In this photo you can see the portico of the north pavilion and the archways that were made in the west wall.

The mirador in the north pavilion which  looks out over the city of Granada.  It was added in 1319 and it apparently always catches a little breeze to help alleviate the overpowering midday heat of summer.

The Cypress Courtyard which is also known as the Sultana's Courtyard because of the legend that the wife of the last of the Nasrid kings kept secret trysts with a knight of the Abencerrages family in a hollow in the trunk of the ancient cypress tree on the left of the photo. The Sultan was not amused when he discovered what was going on and as a result all the men of the Abencerrages family were put to death. We aren't told what the fate of the Sultana was! This may be just a story but the cypress tree is genuinely about 700 years old and is supported by the iron band that you can see round the trunk.

I can't quite remember where this charming little grotto is but I think it's a part of the Cypress Courtyard. I must say that I love the whole ethos of Muslim gardens - they are to be enjoyed with all the senses, the sight and scent of the flowers, the sound of water and the feel and taste of fruit as you pick and eat it from the trees as you walk beneath them. It's certainly my idea of Paradise!

After the gardens we went to explore the Alcazaba or Old Citadel. This was a fortress,the oldest part of the Alhambra. It was built in the mid 13th century by Sultan Alhamar founder of the Nasrid dynasty,and it certainly looks formidable. It was known in Arabic as qu'alat al-hamra which translates as the red castle. The Plaza de las Armas is where the soldiers were garrisoned along with blacksmiths, armourers etc. All that remains now are the foundations of the buildings but it's an impressive sight even so.

The centre of the five niches that you can see in the wall of the Plaza contains a pile of stone cannon balls.

The Alcazaba had its own bath complex with hot, cold and warm rooms and underfloor heating - baths were an essential part of Moorish culture. These are in ruins now but you can still see how it is divided up into the different areas.

The Alcazaba has several towers and if it was possible to climb them I did. This is the top of the Torre de la Vela or Watchtower, it's nearly 90 feet high and has a winding stone staircase. I don't know how many steps there are but it's an awful lot! I finally tottered out onto the top and leaned against a wall ostensibly admiring the view until I'd recovered a bit:) The original bell was brought to Granada and placed on the tower by the Catholic monarchs who finally took the city in January 1492. The current bell is still rung on January 2nd each year to commemorate this event.

There were wonderful views from many parts of the Alcazaba, here we are looking out over the city of Granada with its magnificent background of the Sierra Nevada which still has snow on some of its peaks.

We left the Alcazaba via the Parapet Gardens which were made at the beginning of the 17th century when the gap between the inner and outer ramparts was filled in with rubble and earth. It makes a very pleasant shady walk now.

One of the fountains that are tucked into corners as you walk down. I wonder whether the niche was to hold a lantern to light the pathway in the dark? By now it was nearly 5pm and we were more than ready to go back to our hotel for a shower before getting ready for dinner. I would love to go back to Granada, it was my favourite of the three cities that we visited. Just one more post to come now on our final day in Madrid then I can get back to writing normal posts:)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Granada - The Alhambra

On Thursday morning we took the train from Seville to Granada where we stayed for two nights. Our main objective was to visit the world famous Alhambra.

This photo was taken from the train, these are olive groves with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. We saw mile upon mile of olive groves as we travelled.

Once we had checked in to our hotel and had some lunch we set off to explore Granada. It was late afternoon by this time and Juliette announced that we had to find the Plaza de San Nicolas as this is the place to take photos of the Alhambra as the sun is setting. It soon became apparent that Granada is definitely in the mountains! We climbed and climbed and climbed up steep narrow lanes many of which were really pretty.

When we finally arrived, having seen hardly a soul on the way up, we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of crowds of people all desperate to get into pole position for the best photographs. My effort has already appeared at the top of this post.

As we walked back from the Plaza de San Nicolas we passed this wonderful brick edifice which I think is a bread oven.

The Moorish influence in Granada is still very much in evidence. After dinner we wandered up through the narrow streets of the Albaicin - the old Moorish quarter of Granada. It is filled with tiny shops, places to eat and places like this where you can have a coffee and also partake of the delights of a hookah! Needless to say Juliette insisted on trying it while I had a glass of mint tea. The herbal mixture that she had was quite pleasant but  it wasn't a new experience for me as I've tried the hookah when I was in Jordan some years ago.

The following morning brought  the main event of our trip to Granada - a visit to the Alhambra for which we had booked tickets before we left England. A long climb up through the welcome shade of a woodland area leads to the Justice Gate which is the most important gateway to the Citadel of the Alhambra and has stood here since 1348.The name  comes from the inscription on the gate which reads 'May God allow the justice of Islam to prevail within'
All my photos of it are from this odd angle so I think it must have been because the sun was shining directly into the camera if I stood square on.

The tickets to go into the Nasrid Palaces are timed so we looked around the outer areas while we waited. There is a hotel at the top of this pleasant avenue where we were able to have a drink and, more importantly, a sit down in a nice cool room! It was a really hot day and there was very little shade outside.

I can't even begin to explain the complexities of the Alhambra so I shall just say that the Nasrid Palaces were the residence of the Moorish kings. This is the Courtyard of the Myrtles in the Comares Palace which was the focal point of all political and diplomatic activity. Water plays a very important part in Moorish architecture and here the Comares Tower is reflected in the pool that fills the courtyard. The myrtle bushes which flank the pool give the courtyard its name. I waited ages to get this photo without too many people in it. The whole place was absolutely packed even though October is low season. What it must be like in August I dread to think. The timed ticket is just for actual entry, once in you can stay as long as you like hence the crowds.

There was the most beautiful stucco work everywhere. if you click and enlarge this you will see it in greater detail.

You walk through from the Courtyard of the Myrtles into the Courtyard of the Lions, this shows the beautiful carving on the arcades surrounding the central courtyard.

The lovely Fountain of the Lions stands in the centre of the courtyard and was carved sometime between the end of the 10th century and the beginning of the 11th century. The symbolism is from pre-Christian civilizations - the lion with water flowing from its mouth represents the sun from which all life springs. The twelve lions represent the suns of the zodiac - I haven't made a typing error here, the word is suns and not signs:) This is another photo where I waited ages until it was relatively free of people. When that happens you have to be quick before the next lot emerge!

I love the effect of the arches in this photo.

This may or may not be the Mirador of Lindaraja overlooking the garden of Lindaraja. It's really beautiful anyway.

The Courtyard of the Lindaraja is a lovely tranquil place. The Alhambra is definitely one of those places that you need to visit more than once to appreciate it properly. After a spot of lunch we went into the gardens but that will be a separate post as otherwise this one will be much too long.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Seville - Casa de Pilatos

On our final day in Seville we followed the advice of the lady who owned the hotel where we were staying and went to visit the Casa de Pilatos. As usual we took the local bus into the centre of the city and then decided to walk there using a combination of a local map and Juliette's GPS. This proved to be easier said than done, the morning was hot and sunny and not only was it quite a long way but we definitely took the scenic route rather than the direct one. A warren of narrow streets didn't make life any easier but it did have its compensations such as this beautiful little courtyard garden glimpsed through tiled archway with its lovely wrought iron gate. By this stage I'd have given a good deal to go in there and sit in the shade with a long cool drink! The frequency with which the word 'walk' occurs in these posts will probably have told you that we walked miles and miles and miles while we were in Spain:) You see a lot more by walking than driving or taking buses though.

This is what was on the other side of the gate - taken through the bars of the gate of course, I didn't trespass any further than that.

One of the narrow streets, many of them are really attractive. We passed this church several times in our attempts to reach Casa de Pilatos! The Iglesia de San Isidoro was engraved upon my mind after our circumnavigation of the area, we passed it several times approaching from various directions - it seemed to be round every corner!! However eventually we succeeded in finding the Casa which is hidden away on one side of a small plaza and not especially well signposted so you aren't immediately aware that you've arrived at your goal.

Casa de Pilatos was built in the early 16th century and it is still the residence of the Dukes de Medinaceli. It's built around a central courtyard with a lovely fountain in the centre. I haven't included a photo as the central area was roped off and there was a man on a ladder who was doubtless doing something essential but he didn't add much to the beauty of the scene:) Our entry ticket included a guided tour of some of the rooms on the upper floor but no photography was allowed of the interior as these are the private apartments of the family. There was only a limited time to take photographs outside as well. Originally the family lived in the lower part of the house in the hot summer months - the walls and floors downstairs are all tiled to help keep it cool. In winter the family moved to the upper floor where there were tapestries on the walls and fireplaces in the rooms.

There are some wonderful frescos on the walls of the upper gallery though they are very faded now compared to how they must have looked originally. I love the effect of the roof tiles in this photo as well.

This is one of the frescos in close up - I have no idea what it represents but my guess would be that it is a saint.

Once back through the locked gate that led to the upper gallery we were free to wander as we liked. The walls are covered with the most beautiful Azulejos tiles in many colours and designs. I'm afraid I couldn't resist having my photo taken in this lovely setting.

A close up of one of the tile pictures - a coat of arms but I have no idea which family it belongs to - probably an early Duke of Medinaceli.

The staircase which connects the upper and lower floors - it's just fabulous. so many different designs in the tiled panels.

There are two lovely gardens called, with a distinct lack of imagination, the large garden and the small garden. The large garden is a courtyard garden which is laid out like a parterre with a central fountain and has two Italianate loggias with triple arcades set along the surrounding walls. The loggias have several niches containing classical statues.

There was some really beautiful stucco work all around the courtyards and archways in the Casa.

The small garden is divided into four areas on different levels one of which contains this rectangular pool with a statue of the young Bacchus. I love the pots of geraniums that stand round the edges of the pool.

Bacchus isn't very clear in the previous photo so here's a closer view of him.

This is the final courtyard as we made our way to the exit. I love the fabulous terracotta colour of the archways here. Juliette and I both thought that Casa de Pilatos was the best thing we saw in Seville. It was beautiful and peaceful and there were very few people there apart from us. Maybe we were just lucky or maybe the fact that it's a little way out of the centre puts some people off. It's well worth the effort of finding it though so if you are ever in Seville don't miss it.