A London walk – Rotherhithe, the Mayflower and more

I first moved to the SW London area, as an 18 year old student. I haven’t lived in London since I had my family but I still enjoy visiting the capital and discovering new areas. I especially enjoy walking in London. When I was younger, I was always rushing everywhere and I’m not sure that I fully appreciated my surroundings

This latest walk began at Rotherhithe station. It is located on the South Bank of the River Thames in Southwark. I had caught the train from Clapham Junction which is always frantic. I was surprised by how quiet it was when I came out of Rotherhithe station.

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I was with a friend who had done the walk before and she suggested that we start at the Mayflower Pub. This is said to be the oldest pub on the Thames.

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The pub is named after the ship which left from here in 1620. Aboard were the Pilgrim Fathers bound for America.

Apparently, the pub is the only place in England licensed to sell American postage stamps.

There is a very attractive outside decked area where you can sit and enjoy the incredible views across the Thames.

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The pub is very quaint, traditional and atmospheric. It is filled with interesting artefacts. The sign below is on the way into the pub. It made me think!

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The Mayflower’s captain, Christopher Jones, is buried in the nearby St Mary’s Church. He was buried here in 1622, aged 55. The sculpture, representing Captain Christopher Jones, was made by Jamie Sargeant and unveiled in 1995. It’s very impressive.

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Our next stop was through the churchyard to St Mary’s Free School. This was founded in 1613 by  Peter Hills and Robert Bell. It was originally set up to educate 8 sons of seafarers from the parish. By the early eighteenth century, the school had expanded to educate 65 boys and 50 girls.

I  particularly liked the two stone statues of the school children who ‘guard’ the entrance.

As we continued on our walk, I was surprised by how much there was to see along the way. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see the remains of King Edward the Third’s Manor House. It was built in 1350 and was probably used as a place where the King could practise his falconry.

Our next stop was to look at the bronze sculptures known as ‘Dr Salter’s Daydream’. Dr Alfred Salter and his wife Ada were well known for their community work in the Bermondsey slums in the early 1900s. They treated their patients for free. This was before our wonderful (in my opinion) NHS was available. Ada became Mayor of Bermondsey in 1922. She was the first female London Mayor. They had a much beloved daughter, Joyce. Sadly, she died after catching scarlet fever at the age of eight.

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There are bronze statues, created by Diane Gorvin, of the whole family and Joyce’s pet cat. Unfortunately, I only managed to get decent photos of two of the figures.

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I love the sculpture of the cat on top of the wall, looking as if it is about to pounce. You can just glimpse the Thames behind.

In the other photo of Ada Salter, I like the sky line and the different London sights that can be spotted.

IMG_0824We then concluded our walk back to London Bridge Station. This walk could easily be extended by continuing along the South Bank until Waterloo and beyond!

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little stroll with me to a lesser known part of London!

Heatwave

It is very hot here in SW France. Temperatures are currently 38C. We were in the UK when the previous heatwave hit France. Not this time.

I follow the official Castelnaudary Facebook page. It has all sorts of useful information. Like this:
IMG_0425Luckily, at our house we have these:

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Shutters. These are invaluable when it comes to hot weather. We keep our bedroom shutters closed as soon as the sun is on the front of the house. They stay closed all day and help to keep the room as cool as possible. They are so effective that we are considering investing in some internal shutters for our bedroom in the UK. We do have blackout blinds but they don’t seem to work as well. Or perhaps we should go back to good old fashioned curtains!

We also have fans. Not quite like the one below but very efficient, just the same.

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Last but not least.

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When we were looking for our French home, a swimming pool was never a priority for me. But it’s given such pleasure to our sons, their friends and other guests that I’m pleased we do have one. In this very hot weather when I can’t do my usual amount of walking, I’m very pleased to be able to swim a few lengths and get my exercise that way.

I can remember when sunbathing was something that most people did. At the time we weren’t aware of the risks. As a hard up student in France, I can remember when we bought cooking oil and covered ourselves. The result being that we ‘fried’ and a fair skinned friend ended up in hospital with sunstroke.

Now I am careful. I’m fortunate to be olive skinned but I’m much more aware of the damage the sun can do. I wear a moisturiser with a high SP factor, every day, even in the winter and I always carry sunscreen in my bag.

Currently, the advice here is to stay out of the sun between 11.00 and 21.00h.

I still love sunlight but I find I just can’t take the sun and the heat the way I once could. Is it part of the ageing process, global warning or a combination?

Early in June, when we were back in the UK, there was a cold spell and we resorted to putting the heating on in the evenings. I did mention to Mr FF that if I ever say I’m too hot, just shoot me. Oops!

Are you a sun worshipper? Do you love the heat? I’d love to know!

 

Monday market, Castelnaudary.

I love wandering around a French market. I always have! You might be wondering why? To me French markets are a symbol of  French life and tradition. Not to mention that they are colourful, lively and full of tempting goods and interesting characters.

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Photo by Dennis Dude: freeimages.com

Our local market takes place on a Monday morning and I would say it’s fairly typical of a small French town market. It has local produce as well as products bought in from further afield. You can buy fruit, veg, wine, cheese, meat, bread, eggs and many other food items.

You can see, in the photo below, that the school holidays have already begun in France!

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There are also stalls selling clothes, shoes, belts and other accessories. Not forgetting tools, kitchen items and baskets. Here is the basket I bought a couple of years ago. I mainly use it for transporting all the materials I need for my English lessons but I do take it to the market as well.

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Markets are not necessarily cheaper than supermarkets and you are likely to pay extra for quality and freshness but you can’t put a price on the atmosphere!

When I first visited the market in Castelnaudary, I was overwhelmed by the choice. Although I knew it would be a useful indication to look out for the stalls that have queues.

Luckily one of my English students, who is very much a local resident and has been for many years, offered to give me an insiders guide to the market. We met up bright and early and she introduced me to the stalls that offered the best local produce (in her opinion!) and also to some of the stall holders. Very useful!img_0174.jpeg

The stall pictured below has local produce. One of the clues is in the sign. Castelnaudary is in the Aude department of the Occitanie region. This was formerly known as Languedoc Roussillon. This area is well known for its link to the Cathars. I am fascinated by the history of the Cathars. Perhaps a future blog post?

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The stall above only sold two products: apricots and nectarines. It was very popular and had a long queue. As Brits, we are stereotypically known for our queuing abilities. I have to confess that I find it hard to accept the inability of some nationalities to queue ‘properly’!!

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I was most impressed by the person in front of me. She took out her brown paper bags for reuse.

The original market was, and still is, held in the Place de Verdun. It has recently been renovated but remains a shady square edged with shops and cafés .  This is just one part of the market which extends into the Place de La République.

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The square and surrounding streets also have  some interesting and decorative 18th – 19th century grand townhouses. Not in these photos, however!

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As we walked from Place Verdun, we looked up to see these colourful kites.

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To make the most of the market, we had got up early and going from stall to stall is hungry work. We decided a pain aux raisins and a strong coffee was needed.

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It was now time to make our final purchases, a jar of honey and a rotisserie chicken.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed a brief glimpse of our local market.

36 hours in Perpignan – worth the visit?

Absolutely!

But what I’d like to know is if you have a list of places you want to visit?  Maybe in your home country or further afield? In the UK, for example, I have never visited the Lake District (I am ashamed to say!) yet. Further afield, India would be top of my list.  Here, in France, my wish list of places to visit seems to get longer by the minute. This brings me to Perpignan.

I have wanted to visit Perpignan for ever. It was even one of my choices when I did a teacher exchange. Therefore, I was delighted when we actually spent some time there, recently. We took the train from Carcassonne which goes all the way to Barcelona. It’s a fabulous journey and only takes an hour as it is direct.

Perpignan station is famous for its links with Dali.  He claimed that he was inspired simply by sitting in the station’s lobby. In 1963, Dali said that Perpignan  station was ‘the centre’ of the world. He later created a painting entitled ‘La Gare de Perpignan’  which hangs in the Ludwig Museum in Cologne.

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Leaving the station, we decided to head into Perpignan for a coffee and croissant and as we wandered into the city centre (about 15 minutes walk) we walked past the statue of Dali ‘en Levitation’. He is seated on a high red chair, outside FNAC, on the Place de Catalogne and facing towards the train station. The FNAC shop is located inside the original ‘Dames de France’ building which was opened in 1910.

I’m a fan of ‘hop-on, hop-off’ buses when arriving in a new city for a short visit. These aren’t available in Perpignan. We did the next best thing and caught ‘Le petit train’. The journey lasts for about 50 minutes and takes you around 34 of the main sites. Mr FF doesn’t share my enthusiasm for these ‘little trains’ but he had to admit that this was an excellent introduction to Perpignan.

After the train, we dropped our bags at our hotel. We often stay in Airbnb’s but, on this occasion, had opted for a hotel as we would be there for only one night. Location was important, as we would be doing a lot of walking! Our  hotel ‘Campanile Perpignan Centre’ was situated opposite a lovely park: le square Bir Hakeim.

Our room overlooked the old city walls.

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There was so much to discover and only limited time. This is what we manged to see:

  • Le Castillet 

This is a distinctive red brick tower and the only remaining one of the old town walls. It was built in 1368 to repel invaders and serve as a gate into the city. It was turned into a prison in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Casa Pairal Museum is located in the Castillet. The highlight, for me, was the views from the top of the monument. There are 142 stone steps to get to the top but it’s definitely worth the effort!

  • Le cinema Castillet

This is round the corner from Le Castillet and was completed in 1911. I loved the art nouveau style and this cinema is said to be one of the oldest and most beautiful in France.

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  • Le Palais des Rois de Majorque 

This magnificent 13th century palace was built as a residence for Jaume 11 of Mallorca. Perpignan has strong Catalan roots having belonged to Spain for long periods of its history. It only became French in 1642. Street names in Perpignan are written in French and Catalan.

To reach this impressive palace, there are  zig zagging steps until you reach the beautiful gardens. Here there are breath taking views of the Pic du Canigou. The day we went, entrance was free. I don’t know why. I believe it normally costs 4 euros; well worth it. We opted for the self-guided tour and there is plenty to see.

  • Cathedrale St-Jean Baptiste

On the day we visited, there was a small, family service taking place but we were still able to appreciate the nave, side chapels and stained glass. The foundations were laid in 1324 but it was elevated to cathedral status in 1601. The style is Gothic and the dimensions are impressive.

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There are many beautiful squares in Perpignan where you can people watch and enjoy a coffee, beer and a snack. We were there on a beautiful, warm sunny day. Perfect!

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This brings me on to food. There is no shortage of restaurants in Perpignan. As we were only there for one night, it was quite difficult to chose! In the end, we decided on Casa Santa which is known for being the city’s best Catalan restaurant. It was established in 1846 and is very popular. The inside is best described as ‘intimate’ as there isn’t much space between the tables. We didn’t mind as the food was extremely good! I was enjoying my meal so much that I forgot to take any photos. Here’s one from the restaurant’s Facebook page. I’m sure they won’t mind as I’m singing their praises!

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I’ll finish with a selection of photos which I hope will give you a further flavour of Perpignan. We certainly didn’t manage to see and do everything and we will definitely go back as we enjoyed the city so much!

Have you visited Perpignan? What did you think? I’d love to know!

 

Lou Messugo

Joyeuses Pâques! Happy Easter!

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A very short post, today, just to say  ‘Joyeuses Pâques’ or ‘Happy Easter!’ wherever you may be.

This is a photo I took last weekend in Perpignan. I thought the display in this shop window was delightful.

No wonder that French people call window shopping: ‘le lèche-vitrine.’ This equates with ‘lick a shop window’.  In this case, never was a phrase more appropriate!

 

 

6 Amazing Adventures Beyond Cape Town

Having spent a fantastic week with Mr CT , as I shall now call him, (our friend who lives locally) showing us the ropes, it was time to set out on our own. We hired a car and hit the road! Driving in SA is easy for us Brits, as it is on the left hand side! The roads are also incredible – in general – but we were well aware of some of the crime  issues that are car related.  We were cautious and sensible but that didn’t spoil the driving experience.

Our first stop was an overnight stay at the Aquila Private Game Reserve. Before undertaking a Safari in the Western Cape, it is important to understand that it won’t be like staying in one of the iconic South African Game Reserves e.g. the Kruger National Park. However, it will be malaria free. You will still have the opportunity to see the Big 5: Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard but you need to bear in mind that all five of these species were reintroduced to the Western Cape, having been driven to the brink of extinction. Aquila is also home to the Aquila Animal and Rescue Conservation Centre.

Our accommodation was in a ‘luxury cottage’. It had a patio, corner bath and outdoor rock shower, plus fan and feature “coal‟ stove. The latter wasn’t needed. I liked the elephant towel arrangement that welcomed us!

We went out on safari on the afternoon of our arrival and also at six the next morning. Our driver/ranger was brilliant and it was a fantastic experience.  These photos give you an idea of some of the animals we saw, although there were many more besides, including giraffes, hippos and buffalo. These pics were taken with my phone. The ones (still) on the camera are miles better but I’m too impatient to wait for them to be uploaded.

Following this we set off on our next adventure which was to explore the Garden Route. Our first stop was Mossel Bay and our last was Plettenberg Bay. The natural beauty of the Garden Route is outstanding and the coastline is dotted with fantastic beaches. Many of these beaches are excellent for surfing. We didn’t have our wetsuits – haha!

We spent two nights in a lodge overlooking the beautiful lagoon in Knysna.

One of the high spots (literally!) of our stay here was driving to the top of two sandstone cliffs known as the Heads. The views were amazing.

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Soon it was time to go inland and travel along Route 62. We were heading for Oudtshoorn which is also known as the ostrich capital of the world! We drove away from the ocean and beaches and through a very different type of landscape.

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Oudtshoorn is located in the Klein Karoo between the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains. It is an area of surprising contrasts and has its own natural beauty. As we were in the ostrich capital of the world, we had to visit an ostrich farm.

We went to Highgate Ostrich Farm. It started over a hundred years ago. The tour we went on was very informative and hands-on. We now know everything there is to know about ostriches, from their conception to their transformation into ostrich products. We were able to hand feed some of the ostriches and hold a baby ostrich. Ostrich riding does not take place at Highgate (I am pleased to say!) because of the potential injury to the bird. I was so immersed in the tour that I forgot to take photos!

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29km from Oudtshoorn, we visited the amazing Cango Caves. These caves are home to some of the biggest limestone stalagmites in the world. The system of tunnels and chambers run for over 4 km but only about a quarter is open to visitors.

We were taken on a tour of the caves by an informative and amusing guide who demonstrated the cave acoustics by singing! He did have a very beautiful voice.

However, the most surprising element of the whole visit was bumping into someone I had once worked with! I hadn’t seen her for years and I couldn’t help but wonder what are the odds of meeting someone you know, in a cave in South Africa.

A trip to the Western Cape wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the  Winelands. We opted to stay in Franschhoek  which is known as “A corner that is forever France”. This is because about 200 French Huguenots, escaping religious persecution in France between 1688 and 1700, were offered a passage to the Cape and granted land here.

Franschhoek has a wonderful setting, surrounded on three sides by mountains. It has a very laid back, charming atmosphere. It was the ideal place to relax and recuperate at the end of a busy but fantastic trip.

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We also enjoyed eating at two of the many excellent restaurants. After all, Franschhoek is known as the culinary capital of the Cape!

And the wine tasting? We opted for the Leopard’s Leap Estate where we sampled 5 of their delicious wines.

To complete our trip, we returned to Cape Town and enjoyed a final fabulous dinner with Mr CT.

What I’d love to know is if you have ever bumped into someone you know, in an unexpected place; maybe on holiday!