Saturday, April 30, 2011

Louisiana Trip

We met D for breakfast again in our hotel then collected the car and drove him down to the outskirts of NO where we rendezvoused with S and her friend M. On the way we saw the egrets in the swamp, and what looked like a bald eagle, white head and tail, perched on a tree stump. D also spotted some red cardinals, but they were too quick for me. They went off to Jazz Festival and Bon Jovi, and we drove back up I10 to visit Vermilionville in Lafayette. We stopped by the enormous outlet village, Tanger, for a Starbucks coffee, but no shopping!
It rained along the road to Lafayette, on the elevated section over the Achafalacha Basin and someone spun their car a mile or so ahead of us loosing their front end all over the road. Police and ambulance came hurrying by us, and soon got the traffic moving down one lane.
By the time we reached Vermilionville the rain had stopped but it was very humid. We went in and by reception there was a jam session of Cajun music going on. It sounded very good, but as the place closes at 4pm, we decided that we should concentrate on the village first. The houses are placed along a winding concrete path and set among some interesting native trees. With the help of the walking tour guide we discovered a history of each house and met some people inside who had a story to tell. There was the woodworker who carved 'sandwiches' of different coloured woods that he puts together, cuts in curvy ways and rearranges only to cut them again, and so on. He showed us some beautiful carved ducks that he had made this way. Further on was a woman that was making corn shuck dolls and baskets. She told us about drying the Spanish moss from the trees and using it for everything from insulating the house walls to stuffing mattresses. It is quite inert, unlike the corn shucks that many people are allergic to. Later on we met her daughter who is allergic and she makes peg dolls. Her little girl was very interested in our accents and asked us where we were from. She also wanted to know if we had seen the Eiffel Tower as she would like to see that herself.

Lastly, in the School House we met Frank Fontenot who was 88 years old and told us how it was banned to speak French in school for most of the twentieth century. That and the building of roads across the swamp by a certain Mr. Hughey Long, did much to destroy the Cajun/Creole way of life. But he did say that as a result he was bi-lingual, something not many Americans can claim today. He gave us a tune on his fiddle, and we had to move on.
We peeped into the village hall that was being prepared for a wedding taking place this evening, and made it back to the entrance just before closing time. The jammers had finished and we looked around the little shop admiring the handiwork of the people we had met and others that was on sale.
We then drove back to Baton Rouge and were delighted to see that the Art Fair was still on - more like a craft fair, really. We wandered along the tents of painters, wood carvers, jewellery makers, photographers; all very good. It is a two-day festival with food outlets and loads of children's activities, too.
We dined at Stroubes, again, but just simple steaks tonight with a glass of Sin Zin.



Friday, April 29, 2011

Louisiana Trip

We went down to meet D for breakfast to find that the Royal Wedding is all over the news on the Lobby TV, with live commentary from various correspondents in strategic position around London. We overheard one couple saying that they had been up at 3am to see the live broadcast! Not us, though! The Royal couple looked radiant on the balcony of Buck House and we wish them well.
After our buffet, we decided to head out on foot to explore Baton Rouge, starting with the walk up to the new Capitol building with its 34 floors and panoramic view of the state capital, Baton Rouge. The weather is very pleasant, warm but not too humid, which it can be more often than not at this time. We saw a lot of thirties style buildings as we walked up the road, and of course, we could see the tower from a long way off. It is a lovely building and very Art Deco in design with stylised pelicans in abundance as they are the state bird. It was built in 1932 replacing the Gothic castle at the other end of town. Here Governor Huey Long was assassinated in 1935 – we saw the place. We saw the rooms where the laws are passed as well as some historic displays going back to Baton Rouge’s origins with the French colonists. Then we took the lift to the viewing platform on the 27th floor. We could see for miles – not just the city, but also the big refineries to the north and the busy port.

When we emerged from the building it seemed quite warm at ground level; we were now off to the Museum and also looking for a cup of coffee. But the Museum does not have that facility, so we left again and wandered further on, passing the old fire station, full of old fire engines, but very closed. Eventually coming to the lovely café, Strands, where delicious coffee, cupcakes and pie was being served. It’s a popular place – and rightly deserved. When we were ready, we strolled along towards the Old State Capitol and again passed some interesting buildings, including the first ‘skyscraper’ in Baton Rouge – the Roumain Building with its six floors.
The Old State Capitol is in an amazing Gothic Castle style with stained glass windows, from the mid nineteenth century. Outside we saw the Merci Train; a WWI freight wagon given by France (there was one for each State), after WWII. Each French Department is represented by its coat of arms on the outside. Inside there is a fabulous spiral staircase that takes you up to the two chambers that are lit by the arched and colourful stained glass windows. Downstairs there were several exhibitions and we could stand at a podium and read several historic speeches on the autocue machine.

From the OSC we went to find the Baton Rouge sculpture on the river bank. Similar red sticks marked the boundary between neighbouring Native American tribal lands when Iberville came and founded the city. We also looked for a statue of Christopher Columbus, but never found it – it must have been moved. But our walk took us back to the OSC and the Shaw Centre where people were setting up stalls along the streets. Apparently there will be an art fair here at the weekend. We dropped our stuff off at the hotels, then met up and went to Stroubes Restaurant for dinner. It was very jolly and A&D had special beers and I had a cocktail – a mix of a margarita and a mojito.

Baton Rouge
Strands Cafe

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Louisiana Trip

Arrived in New Orleans and D&S were there to meet us. We got the car organised and then went upstairs for a coffee with S and caught up with the news. Then D came with us to Baton Rouge where we are in the Hilton and he's across the road in the Indigo. We met up for a quick dinner and are now about to fall asleep. The room is on the 2nd floor and has a wonderful view of the river.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter in Godalming

Easter Saturday, St George's Day - what a day for a festival, which is just what Godalming Chamber of Commerce, Godalming Town Council and Waverley Borough Council organised for today. The Farmer's Market, craft stalls, food stalls and kids activities were in full swing at 10am after the Launch of Heroes Welcome at the Pepperpot. The Pepperpot was the location for entertainment by local artists scheduled to continue throughout the day.

Godalming is a very ancient place, it is thought going back to the early 8th century when Saxons of the clan of Godhelm settled here. In the Domesday book of 1086 'a thriving community with three watermills' is recorded and by the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, its success in the wollen industry caused her to grant Godalming borough status.Apparently in 1698 Peter The Great visited Godalming and stayed at the Kings Arms. In 1764 the Godalming end of the Wey Navigation opened providing an important route for commerce with London. Many of the old buildings are still standing today giving the town great character.

Outside Waitrose Fleur de Lys Morris prepared themsleves for an afternoon of entertaining the visitors as they went on to perform around the town.

History of Godalming
Fleur de Lys Morris

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Breakfast at . . . .

 Le Pain Quotidien - a stroll down to Exhibition Road from the Holiday Inn, Cromwell Rd where we stayed overnight after the concert. Granola served like a Knickerbocker Glory, then brioche with Noir for some and delicious jam for others - there was also marmalade. The OJ, coffee and tea were spot on and it rounded off a great couple of days!

Le Pain Quotidien

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Buena Vista Social Club - a birthday present!

Today was a beautiful day as we walked down to the station to catch the train into London. We actually had to hurry up the slope to make sure we were on the train, then ten minutes after we started off it ground to a halt - we waited. Eventually the guard and then the driver apologised for the delay - a red signal and then the news that the points were stuck. Nothing for it but to back up to the previous set of points, wait for the line to clear before we could get on our way. Half an hour delay, but then we were off again and arrived in Waterloo half an hour late. Nothing for it but to get the tube, when we were going to bus it up to Gloucester Rd and our hotel for free.We had booked to see The Cult of Beauty at the V&A at 3pm, and we just made it in time. It's a lovely exhibition all about the Aesthetic Movement, 1860-1900 that 'sought to escape the ugliness and materialism of the Victorian era by creating a new kind of art and beauty.' There were indeed some beautiful artefacts on display from pottery to silverware, fabrics and wallpapers to furniture, fashion, photography and interior design. Paintings by the likes of Rosetti, Burn-Jones and Whistler; designs by Morris and Dresser; architecture and interior design by Godwin, Aitchison and Webb were on display - even a projection of the 'famous Peacock Room'. We had a lovely time.
By the time we had finished, returned our audio guides and bought some postcards, we needed to find somewhere to eat before our evening's entertainment. We headed off to Carluccio's and seemed to be followed in by the world and his wife as soon all the tables were full and the place was buzzing. We had a delicious meal with a glass of wine and coffee to follow, and then strolled up Queen's Gate towards the Royal Albert Hall and the concert about to be given by the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club featuring Omara Portuondo. It was a sell out and so the Hall was packed. We had a superb view of the stage, and the lights went down and the first band, Papayera came bursting on, the music started.


Papayera is a combo made up of expat Colombians living in London and they play traditional instruments from the Caribbean coast of Colombia including tambora, alegre, llamador and a gaita. The first three are types of drum and the gaita is an indigenous flute, commonly used by the Kogi, Zenu and Kuna Indians located on the Atlantic coast of Colombia. Apparently a gaita is made from a corazon de cardon, which is a plant that is hollow when dry, beeswax and duck feathers. It sounds like a penny whistle but with a bit more tone - it is much longer, maybe a couple of feet long.

The lead singer, Angelica Lopez, was full of enthusiasm and captivated the audience, encouraging all to clap along with the beat, dancing and dazzling us with her vigour. How quickly their hour passed and it was interval time before we knew it.

 Then came the 'main event' and there was a huge roar as Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club came on stage - maybe with not such speed as the first act, but as the music started and the fans quietened down, we were treated to some fantastic sounds and rythms of Afro-Cuban jazz.

 There were several members of the original BVSC band playing and when Omara Portuondo came on to sing, the place went wild. She was a picture in pink and soon the whole of the audience was on its feet clapping and dancing along to the beat. There were encores and cheering, but finally the band left and the audience made their way home.
What a wonderful birthday present!

Buena Vista Social Club
Cult of Beauty at the V&A

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Glutton & Glee

Today a new café has opened in Guildford. Called Glutton & Glee it serves food sourced only from the South East of England that includes breakfast favourites such as two boiled eggs with sourdough soldiers, yoghurt with fruit compote and granola; lunches that include homemade quiches with a choice of salads; sandwiches, cakes and pastries.There are gourmet coffees, special teas and soft drinks that include locally made Gran Stead's gingerbeer.
The little shop on Tunsgate (no 6) has been completely remodelled and now sports a tiny outside terrace with white tables and chairs as well as the cosy upstairs seating area. Everything gleams with fresh white paint, light wood and pastel shades. Their food for sale is artfully displayed in square spaces on the shelving along one wall upstairs. Here are locally sourced jams and chutneys, biscuit mixes, biscuits and chocolate - Easter themed at the moment.

We enjoyed cappuccino and americano coffees with almond croissant and pain au raisin. This was brought upstairs to us, although the coffee machine seemed to defeat the user as the americano took some time. All will be fine with a bit of practice, no doubt. Everything was delicious. Other people were sampling the boiled eggs that came complete with delightful egg cosies; quiche and salad; and filled baked potatoes that looked very generous portions.

Glutton & Glee look like a welcome addition to the Guildford scene.
There is a web site, but at time of posting it is just an announcement.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Going to the Ashmolean

Oxford is more or less on the way home from Birmingham, so we decided to park and ride into the city  to visit the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. Situated on Beaumont Street it is a very short walk from the bus stop and we were soon at the gates, and then walking up the steps in to the historic building. Through the ever rotating doors, we were greeted with a very different interior. The historic facade gives way to the modern new building designed by architect Rick Mather - all but the Cockerell Building, Grade I-listed has been swept away. A volunteer handed us a plan and a list of key exhibits that would take us to every floor and corner, so we began our adventure.

Starting with the Lower Ground, we worked our way up the magnificent new staircase to the third floor, leaving a visit to the roof terrace and restaurant for another day.
Our highlights included Lawrence of Arabia's Ceremonial Dress, Guy Fawkes Lantern, The Shoemaker design pot, Cycladic figures, Iznic tiles, a cylindrical Japanese 'Waterfall' vase, Stradivari 'Messiah' violin, the Alfred Jewel, works by Titian, Uccello, Pissarro, Turner; but in visiting these items we saw so much more of the Museum. Impossible to see everything in a single visit, we will definitely be returning to seek out more treasures.

Powhatan's Mantle may have been aquired by John Tradescant the Younger during his travels to Virginia in 1637. It was certainly in the Tradescant collection by 1638, when Georg Cristoph Stirn  incuded a reference to 'the robe of the King of Virginia' in his account of the Ark at South Lambeth.
Despite its name, Powhatan's Mantle in not a cloak, as once believed, but probably a wall-hanging, perhaps from a place of worship. It is likely that, while hanging on a wall in the Ashmolean, shells from the lower section were removed by visitors, who kept them as souvenirs.
Early 1600s, North American (Virginia). deer skin and shell.

Jar decorated with a six-tentacled octopus and murex shells (partly restored by W.H.Young),Palace at Knossos, Crete, 1450-1400 BC, clay. Murex shells are the source for the purple-red dye, a popular colourant for textiles across the east Mediterranean.
Presented to the Museum by the Cretan Government, AN1911.608

The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Visiting Bilston and Brum

Today we bought Daytripper tickets with network west midlands and took the train and tram to Bilston. Bilston is mentioned as far back as 985AD, but was mostly a farming community until the industrial revolution brought coal mining, the steel industry and their associated populations to the area. The coal and steel have now left again, but the community remains and Bilston Craft Gallery is the largest dedicated craft venue in the West Midlands. It was built as a private house in 1905 by the Harper family who made locks and then between the wars it was a girls' school before being extended to become Bilston Art Gallery and Museum. Apparently, Professor Bodkin of the Barber Institute opened the Art Gallery in 1937 and it remained as such until the 1990s when the art collection was moved to Wolverhampton and the building was renamed Bilston Craft Gallery. Bilston Library also uses part of the building. We went to see their new exhibtion, More Than Floral, which runs until 25th June as well as their display, Craftsense, linking 18th century industry and modern crafts which is in place throughout 2011. Both exhibitions were excellent.

But it's thirsty work looking at stuff, so we were ready to find a café for refreshments. Café Metro looked inviting, so we went in and found a table. We ordered coffee and sandwiches at the counter and soon delicious freshly made coffees and cakes and sandwiches were being served. Very tasty, good value fare. On the way to the tram we crossed this amazing bridge with its story panels about the industry that put Bilston on the map and then we took the tram back to the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham. We strolled around the area, window-shopping along the displays of sparkling gems, enjoying the old door signs with their quaint wordings. We called into the Museum, looking around the shop, but we didn't take the tour.
Now we walked down to the centre, looking in at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists; stopping for a cup of tea at Saint Caffè on the Georgian St Paul's Square, where they serve great Mighty Leaf teas; following a route via the Art Gallery, bringing us to the Mailbox where we wandered up the escalators to the BBC shop, at the entrance to their Birmingham studios.  We could watch the DJs presenting local radio and there was the Tardis lurking in the corner.From here we could walk down to the canal towpath where there were plenty of people enjoying the outside eating areas of the cafes along the canal and several narrow boats taking others on canal tours. There is a stunning new building here called the Cube - just finished, it has shops, offices, a hotel, club and spa, and a rooftop restaurant by Marco Pierre White.

But it was time to have dinner and the plan was to go to Carluccios on Brindley Place. It was fun walking by all the sports bars as it was the final of the cricket World Cup and there were plenty of people watching the event on the big screens - plenty of cheers for boundaries and wickets. Carluccios was busy, but we were soon seated and enjoyed our meal before catching the train back to Kings Norton and a well earned rest!

Bilston Craft Gallery
Museum of the Jewellery Quarter
Saint Caffè
Mighty Leaf Tea
The Cube

Friday, April 01, 2011

Tasting wedding wine

This weekend we went to Brum and on Friday evening after tasting potential wedding food we went on to taste wedding wine. No firm outcome, but it was great fun! We didn't manage to finish any bottles, so the windowsill had an impressive display on Saturday morning.
Not all the 'corks' but an interesting mix of the traditional and the modern.