Monday, 18 October 2021

West of Madeira bus trip

Excellent start to the day as our mini bus is really spacious, there are only eight of us on the tour and our guide, called Katya is great. She is fluent in at least four languages, can fit the minibus into the tiniest spaces and best of all, is very bossy. She insisted that I have the passenger seat next to her, and there is no way that anyone would dare to be late back at any of the stops.

First up was Camara de Lobos which is a lovely fishing village just along the coast from Funchal. 

We think that this display is made from rubbish washed up on the shore, and I am trying to get out of the shot. 

Next, up very windy and steep roads to a glass walkway 590 metres above sea level that jutts out from the edge of the second highest sea cliff in the world. 

I am not totally happy in this photo, but I lived to tell you the facts. 

This is a picture of the view below me.

We then carried on upwards and reached a deserted plateau about 1,500 metres above sea level called Paul de Serra. For some reason Katya thought it would be a good idea to get us to pose for the photo lying down in the middle of the road. Don't show your children, she said, which is fortunate because we don't have any.

Then we reached Porto Moniz at the very tip of the north west of the island where we stopped for lunch. Katya suggested that we try the local fish speciality called the black scabbard fish or espada. She told us that it lives 800 metres under the sea and is caught on very long lines and when it is brought up to the surface it dies in a way similar to the bends for scuba divers. It's skin turns from silver to black and it's eyes almost pop out of its head. She says that it is always best to eat it before you see one because if its the other way around then you might not try it.

Anyway, it was very nice in a non fishy, fish finger kind of way. Darren had his with banana on top and I had passion fruit. One of our friendly fellow German bus trippers insisted on taking our photo, and then did it sideways. It was just that kind of a day.

Porto Moniz was beautiful and it had a James Bond style helicopter landing pad over the sea. 

In an action packed day we then drove to see a big waterfall, although I lost track of its location. To give a bit of scale, I have highlighted the old road in blue, although now that I look at it again, it is hard to actually see the waterfall. Try zooming in. 

We didn't drive this way as there is a new tunnel and there have been too many rock falls along the old road, so it is now closed.

We stopped at another viewpoint, and Katya took photos of everyone on the swing instead of the view. 

Then there was a beautiful church or two and another view, but I don't think that we took photos of those, before getting back to the hotel at the end of a very full day. 

Sunday, 17 October 2021


I only took a couple of photos today, but we have booked a lot of trips for the next two weeks, and so our holiday admin is sorted. 

This afternoon we did a bit of promenading and enjoyed the sunshine and seaside. 

All was going well until we took the low road while unknown to us, the route took the high one. We ended up on a little pier and I have drawn in our preferred route, but unfortunately it did not exist. 

So we retraced our steps and went shopping instead. 

Short on details today, but coming up as they say on the telly, is a catamaran trip to look for dolphins, bus tour of the west of the island, bus tour of the east, levada walk at 1,600 metres above sea level, trip to the Nun's Valley, glass walkway off a very high cliff and much, much more!! 

Arrived in Madeira

Our first day in Madeira, after an incident free and on time flight. Our hotel is just behind the famous Reids Palace and we arrived after dark. Our room was a good size, but we could glimpse outside and see that we were on the ground floor and surrounded by huge tree trunks.

When we awoke it was like being down in a dungeon, so I asked to change rooms. We are now on the first floor and have a view of a road and some tall trees, although we know that the sea is out there somewhere. I think that it is pushing it to call it a garden view though, and this wasn't even one of Darren's special deal holidays!

Anyway, Madeira is as lovely as ever, and the Flower and Wine Festivals are both on at the moment. Today we concentrated on the flower one first.

Not sure what happened to these flower fairies but their dresses were beautiful.

In fact the whole of the town was filled with girls in lovely outfits.

We eventually found out why, and they were all appearing in dancing shows throughout the day. 

Some of the music was surprising and this group danced a bit of tango, then Coldplay and eventually twisted off the stage to the sound of Chubby Checker.

Christiano Ronaldo is a huge presence on the island having been born and raised here. The airport is named after him, there is a hotel and museum called CR7, and of course there is the statue.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Kew Gardens in the nighttime

We went back to Kew Gardens for a special event called Japan After Hours. 

It was almost dark as we arrived and followed the lights towards the Temperate House. Just outside it was a stall selling Japanese food so we bought a okonomiyaki each. Very tasty savoury pancake with cabbage, okonomi sauce and bonito flakes. I don't know what all of that means, but it was lovely.

At the entrance to the House was a lady giving out origami flowers and butterflies, with a message attached. We got 'shooting stars burn bright, clinging raindrops magnify shadows lengthening' and 'when I ate a persimmon the bell rung the Horyuji Temple'.

Once inside there was red lights shining on the plants, Japanese electronic music, but best of all, a Sake tasting bar.

They were very generous with the samples and Darren managed six of them. The variety was surprising and I liked the sparkling sake and Darren the plum flavour.

We briefly stopped to see a bit of ikebana - flower arranging, wagashi - traditional Japanese sweets making which tasted of the bean paste that we really don't like, and then chatted to the Kew bonsai expert.

All good fun and very interesting, particularly when combining it with the sake tasting.

Things got extremely strange though at the Butoh Dancing performance.

The brochure says that the dancers embody the flower in its stages of blooming, fragrance and decay.

It was all in extreme slow motion, and they were definitely not happy flowers, particularly in the decaying stage, and I don't know what else to say about it. Except that it didn't get people up on the dancefloor.

Friday, 8 October 2021

Kew Gardens in the daytime

We have tickets for Kew Gardens and it opens at 10am. We arrived at the Lion Gate Entrance at 9.52am and wait impatiently for it to open. 

They are having a Japanese festival and we went straight to one of the biggest glass houses to see the beautiful plants, and a giant artwork called One Thousand Springs. It is made of 5,000 red threads hung from the ceiling and 1,000 paper notes covered in Japanese writing celebrating the Autumn season.

We then went to the Treetop Walkway which has been closed on our previous visits. I wasn't expecting it to be very high, but actually it was enormous.

We climbed the stairs right to the top of the trees and were transported to another world. Lots of the trees were sweet chestnut trees and green parakeets were flying from branch to branch and just helping themselves to the nuts.

We were then joined in paradise by what sounded like 1,000 screaming overexcited school kids and their exhausted teacher, but on closer inspection there was only actually about 30 of them.

We made a quick getaway before we were surrounded and trampled under foot.

We carried on around the garden ooing and aahing at the lovely plants, before making another new find - the Marianne North Gallery. Miss North was a great Victorian artist and traveller, before women did such things and she painted 833 botanical paintings in such countries as Borneo, Japan, Australia and India.

When she eventually arrived back in England after 13 years away, she gave all of the paintings to Kew Gardens and also paid for a building to house them all. It has just been renovated and is stunning.

Ps, one thing that the Victorian's didn't do was minimalism.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

The sights of Reading

We are on a little adventure, and today we took the train to Reading. We haven't been here before, so I looked up the best sights before we set off. 

Worryingly, one of the top ones was the train station that we arrived on, but it was actually quite good. We only walked through it, but it was very shiny and modern, and the escalators to the platforms were all lined up in a row. They looked like lots of ski jumps, only without any skiers on them.

Once we were out of the station the town looked quite nice, just like many other towns across England. We went to the Hexagon Theatre where we were due to pick up tickets for tonight's performance. The prestigious Royal Philharmonic Orchestra were playing Sibelius. 

We couldn't find the way in and we watched as members of the orchestra couldn't find it either, but then we met a very helpful lady who let us in the building. Then she said that we were too early to get our tickets as they hadn't been allocated yet. Hopefully we will get some good ones.

The Hexagon Theatre wasn't very attractive, but right next to it was a very attractive large allotment. We were told that it was on the site of an old council building and it will be built on again one day, but at the moment it is rented out for the very low cost of one flower per year.

We then walked along the river Kennet through the centre of town, taking a detour to see a very disappointing mural, and back along the river on it's journey to join up with the Thames.

At the junction was a graffiti covered bridge, which could have been scary, but there was lots of people around and we carried on our sightseeing tour.

Next was an island in the Thames called View Island and we got to it over a canal lock and then a bridge.

There was an interesting mini hydro electric power plant with a much better mural painted on it.

We walked the whole way around the island and felt obliged to admire the view, while looking out for faces hidden in the trees. We didn't see any at all then suddenly I nearly jumped out of my skin as a giant face was hiding round the last bend.

After all of this excitement, we went for a drink and dinner then on to the show.

At the theatre the lady who we met earlier recognised us and gave us our tickets, and they were great. For once we got to see the whole orchestra rather than the violinists feet or a really distant view.

The orchestra was great, loads of musicians who played very loudly, catchy and cheerful music although we didn't recognise it.

Back to the station and a journey to the Premier Inn at Richmond.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Grand Designs Live

We drove to the NEC at Birmingham today to meet Elaine and of course, Kevin McCloud.

Unfortunately, he head was rather large and his feet quite small, and he wasn't smiling as much as I expected, but we all enjoyed meeting him.

For the first time ever, he didn't have a lot to say, so we left him and explored the show. It seemed a bit smaller than in previous years and there was a lot of outdoor furniture. 

This settee was very comfortable and we could have sat there for longer, but we had things to look at and buy, so we reluctantly got up and got on with the trip. 

Monday, 4 October 2021

Women's Tour of Britain

Exciting morning today. Susan and I set off to Bicester to join in a small way with the Women's Tour of Britain.

A few weeks ago we heard that the Tour was inviting women and girls to cycle ahead of the peloton for the first few kilometres of the race, so we quickly put our names down. 

We all met in Garth Park and then cycled round to the start on Sheep Street, where we had an excellent view of the riders as they were introduced to the crowd.

Then at 10.45am we set off slowly along the route. There was a big crowd and they cheered and took photos while we went past waving and having a good time.

The best bit was when we turned a corner and a whole school was on the pavement cheering us along, and it's a pity I couldn't get a photo, but it was really nice. 

Above us I noticed that the tour helicopter was on the move, which meant it must be 11am and that the real race was beginning. Darren was there to get the photos. 

We turned back in to the park, locked the bikes together and headed back to stand and cheer on the road, and then they were gone. 

They headed off to Banbury taking a very long route to get there and we cycled back home. 

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Build it live

 Quite an exciting day today as we were appearing at Build it live Bicester show!

Graven Hill had a stand and they were releasing new self build plots today. We were asked to appear to talk about our build, and we were interviewed by Karen Curtin who is the managing director of the company.

Not sure what the audience thought, but we enjoyed ourselves, and I think that quite a few of the new plots are now reserved. 

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Succulent picture

At the end of August we went to RHS Wisley and really liked their succulent pictures that were mounted on easels.

Darren made a frame for me yesterday....

..... and he used the frame to surround a plastic plant tray that I filled with soil and perlite (to keep the weight down a bit).

We then covered it with a membrane to hold the soil in, and a metal grid to hold the plants in place, and then topped off with the wooden picture frame.

I have lots of succulents growing in the garden, and I found that you have to put fairly small ones in to fit around the mesh. I am going to leave it lying down in the greenhouse to grow over the winter and hopefully put it up next spring.