Sunday, 9 December 2018

A GRAND CASTLE IN A VILLAGE: LLAWHADDEN


There is enough left to imagine how glorious Llawhadden Castle was in its heyday, the 13thand 14thcenturies. The entrance towers soar above you, impressive, imposing.



The Bishops of St David’s built this castle. It was a sort of second home, or third or forth. They were keen out putting places up so there had somewhere to stay when they were touring their patch. Each bishop made Llawhadden grander as the years rolled on.

However in the 16th century the place was abandoned; the last incumbent was short of cash and sold the roof. Llawhadden’s decline was part of the chaos that occurred at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Thereafter much of the stone was purloined for buildings close by, a common practise in those times. 

Curiously enough a squad of workmen, drawn from the ranks of the unemployed, organised by the newly established Ministry of Works, set to and smartened what was left up, clearing the moat and ditches, removing ivy and undergrowth, well done them.

On the morning of our outing here it was wet and dull, yet these magnificent viridian coloured stones sparkled in the moist air giving a clear sense of how splendid Llawhadden once was.


More on these wonderful stones here http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Llawhaden_Castle
The writer is a regular donator to The Wikipedia Foundation 

Friday, 7 December 2018

A CASTLE ON A HILL: WIZO'S CASTLE

Castle on a hill: Wizo’s castle

In the middle of south wales nowhere. Actually, this is incorrect; Wiston Castle is in the village of Wiston. Wiston can be reached from the A40, which runs from London to Fishguard. The village is seventeen miles south east of Fishguard. 

Brave a few very narrow roads and park on the road close to the church.

What you see once through the gate and along a footpath is a Keep upon a hill. Impressive. Walking across wide green field, which would have once been built upon and fortified, there are a set of steps up to the top. 



This castle was built by Wizo, a Flemish settler, who under the patronage of Henry I, forth son of William the Conqueror. So, assume this to be another move by the Normans to wrestle Wales to the ground.

Wizo settled in and apparently called upon some of his fellow countryman over to do the same. Wizo meanwhile moved up to Scotland and did stuff up there too.  He was indeed early-day property developer.

So we are seeing the best-preserved Motte and Bailey castle in Wales.

I was fearful walking down the steps from the top so slithered down through the grass and brambles back to the field of safety.

What would I say to someone who introduced himself at a drinks party: 
Hi, my name is Wizo.  

More on Wiston Castle here http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Wiston_Castle
The writer is a regular donator to The Wikipedia Foundation 

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

THE CASTLE BY THE SEA AT MANOBIER

Four minutes walk up from the beach at Manobier is a castle in which people still live. 

Six miles or so southeast of Pembroke, its impressive walls and towers host all manor of celebrations. 

The day before our visit there had been a grand wedding, the decorations of which were still adorning the Great Hall and Chapel.
Across the valley the church of St James the Great affords a good view

 This castle has a graceful feel and in its history it was seldom directly involved in conflict. Cromwell’s troops turned up and the castle’s then owners meekly surrendered.

Easy to imagine:
Cromwell’s troops: “Give us your castle pray”
Incumbent: “OK, we’ll toss the keys of this window, Oh and sorry, we are out of toilet rolls.”

























More on Manobier here http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Manorbier_Castle
TB  donates to The Wikipedia Foundation regularly 

Monday, 3 December 2018

THE TRAILER, HOME



Row on row the serried* ranks of mobile homes stand contemplating the grey November sea. We are staying in Pendine Sands Holiday Park.
They are called holiday homes with ‘double glazed and domestic style central heating’.

Site owners Parkdean resorts have you covered. They own 66 parks around the UK.

These are caravan holiday homes, towed into place and parked up on blocks. This has been a popular business for more than 50 years and there are at least 23,000 such homeowners around Britain.

For us it was an experiment, a way to explore another accommodation avenue near Laugharne and closer still to Pendine Beach.

The caravan we stayed in was well appointed, all the fixtures and fitting and equipment appeared new, in the bedrooms (3) there were cotton sheets duvets and good pillows. It was comfortable and toasty warm and with a sea view, just. The model was called a Trieste and sells for £36,995.

The stay was spoilt by the much-heralded Wi-Fi service not being available in our place. There is no phone signal; the reception desk murmured something about the MOD presence in the area not allowing it. 

On our second evening we went into the Bar to use the camp’s Wi-Fi and were greeted by screaming children, no lime or lemon for a gin and tonic, filthy tables and dads shouting at the football game on TV. They had to shout perhaps because there were two TVs on competing for attention.

One TripAdvisor contributor said in August Don’t bother complaining, as it won’t be dealt with and you will be called a liar and greeted with an attitude even from the so called manager at the Park!

It was a mixed experience, to stand outside on the deck that adjoined our caravan and look out to sea in the early morning, wonderful. Inside our rented home was warm and lovely. Time in the camp bar was abhorrent. Our stay was game of two halves.


*Mid 17th century: past participle of serry 'press close', probably from French serréz 'close together', based on Latin sera 'lock'.


Saturday, 1 December 2018

PERFECT PARSNIPS




These were harvested from Sian’s allotment on Tuesday and later that day were part of a delicious, rich soup!

I am smitten by their twisty-turn shape. And that rich colour unlike their anaemic cousins in the supermarket. 

Parsnips can be baked, boiled, pureed, roasted, fried, grilled, or steamed. When used in stews and casseroles, they give a rich taste. Good for you: they contain antioxidants, which may potentially have anticancer, anti-inflammatory andantifungal properties.

Most importantly, the parsnip was much esteemed in ancient times. The Emperor Tiberius accepted part of the tribute payable to Rome by Germany in the form of parsnips.

Monday, 26 November 2018

VLAD LAND SATURDAY A castle and a palace

SATURDAY – A CASTLE AND A PALACE 

Today we have two objectives: Bran Castle and the King’s summer Palace both close by and both swarming with tourists. These places are Romania’s equal to Times Square, St Mark’s Square, or the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo.

THE CASTLE
Bran Castle is in the immediate vicinity of Brașov, is a national monument and landmark in Romania. It is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia. Commonly known as "Dracula's Castle" (although it is one among several locations linked to the Dracula legend. 

The castle is now a museum dedicated to displaying art and furniture collected by Queen Marie. Tourists can see the interior on their own or by a guided tour. At the bottom of the hill is a small open-air museum park exhibiting traditional Romanian peasant structures (cottages, barns, etc.) from across the country stalls and huts settling all kind of tourist jumble.

My journal records:
People too much 
Noise too much.

Every nationality was represented tramping round the rooms and floors, scrabbling for a selfie.



THE PALACE

PeleșCastle is Neo-Renaissance pile in the Carpathian Mountains, near Sinaia. Like Bran Castle it is on an existing medieval route linking Transylvania and Wallachia. It was built between 1873 and 1914 for King Carol I, under whose reign the country gained its independence. 

On his first visit to the area in 1866, he fell in love with the magnificent mountain scenery and decided a nice palace would be a good idea. 

A German architect got the job, inside and out there is a distinct Germanic solidity to the place.

Queuing for a considerable time; “we found this when we went to the Taj Mahal” 

remarked at fellow traveller for a rapid tour,  round some of the state rooms for which we donned blue plastic overshoes. Wise  move  given that between half to one million feet schlep through the place each year





Saturday, 24 November 2018

VLAD LAND FRIDAY - The road to Brazov


A sort of Gutenberg-affair 
Early in the morning members of our coach tour are emerging from their rooms, unsure of which is the way to the stairs or elevator shatters the peace. Another day of fussing and politesse has begun. 

Chaos in the Breakfast Room and a big crowd we count one woman going to the cereals counter eleven times 

However before we got on the Friday bus to Brasov we walked round the town, climbed the steep steps up the Tower of the Citadel where people used to muster to pour hot oil on any passing invaders. I made some drawings of 14C wooden chests use to protect or transport peoples’ possessions and headed back to the street. (Later that day I wondered why I’d drawn them. ‘Oh yes, I remember to avoid climbing to the top of the tower and unveiling my vertigo’.

Autumn was in her glory in the two-hour coach dash from Sighişoara to Brasov. I made a drawing of the medley of colours, terrains and vegetation, which was every shade of ochre, gold, hello and orange. Sometimes along wide planes and at others in to deep valleys which where the sun filtered through impossibly tall beech trees.   
The School Room Museum in Brazov

By noon we were on the outskirts of Brasov. We stopped at swish and swanky gas station so everyone on the bus could have a piss. There was the customary disruptive queuing and fussing in the shop. Mike reported that men’s room was awash (with water) so I crossed as busy single lane road and dived into some bushes along a dirt track nearby which was all to the good as far as I was concerned.

Walking in Brasov.

On the Agenda was a visit to The School Museum and curious building to the left of St Nicholas Basilica. We were given a lecture in Romanian, simultaneously translated by TGA, about life in school in the 1700’s and then shown a printing press built in 1640. A sort of Gutenberg-affair and shown a block of type. It used to take two years and 800 blocks to make one book; had they not heard of blogging? In ten years of high Communism, most of the books of Brasov where burnt, this is according to the old priest giving the talk.

We took a late lunch in the main square. We were dismissed and walked back to our hotel by 16:00 hours. We were grateful beyond imagining for three hours in our room at the Aro Palace.




Friday, 23 November 2018

VLAD LAND THURSDAY - GOING GOTHIC

THURSDAY

BUS CHATS Each day on the bus TGA gives us all a mini lecture on given topics. Thus far we have covered history (several talks on this) and some geography, taxation, education, healthcare, cars in Romania, talks on politics, with more promised, also opened up for us; the Roma people, the referendum last weekend, the former royal family, and promised for today, Thursday, the Jewish community – origins and current state in Romania. TGA’s political and social disposition is thinly disguised and I have yet to come to a view. There will be more time for this on these bus-chats.



The museum tour in Sibiu
Thursday and a museum tour in Sibiu - This is a delightful collection of Romanian art and artefacts from homes and churches across the country. The whole collection and was brought together by a Samuel Bruckehthal, a wealthy nobleman who also gave his house, in the main square, over to have all these knickknacks properly housed.  Worth the wander, lot of Baroque decorative pieces, silverware and paintings and icons from churches, plus a Gothic font which was lovely to look at. 

More coach time. It is another day of medieval rooftops; cobbled streets and line wash ochre walls. Our morning coach takes us to Biertan and then onwards for an afternoon arrival in Sighişoara. 

We arrived in the fortified church in Biertan. 


The church, which sits in the highest point of the village, was encircled by three sets of walls. Graceful inside the church had been heavily restored by its worth and character shone through on this warm morning, the sun blistering through the East window and onto a small font which was situated in the chancel, afore the alter which was unusual.  However outside a view across a hundred rooftops and once the other visitors; our tour party, a gaggle of Japanese and two delightful Italian boys had defended back down into the town, all was peaceful.

Cake, coffee and back on the coach.

These places, in spite of the punishing schedules, time deadlines; rendezvous points and such, these places can be delightfully quiet. This morning when I awoke at just before 5 there was silence apart from the distant and consistent barking of one dog high up in the town here, Sighişoara. No traffic, no airplanes and no builders’ din which where we live is constant. From morning to night.

By just before 3pm yesterday we were deposited at the hotel and given the rest of the day off.  

After unpacking the four of us went exploring. One hundred and seventy nine steps took us up to the top of the town to a lovely church ‘The Church on the Hill’. A real piece of Gothic loveliness restored yet unbowed. On this occasion the late afternoon such crept in through the windows as I made a drawing, the first piece of serious Gothic draughtsmanship I have attempted for sometime. This church, like that that at Biertan was taken over and loved-up by the Saxons of Romania.



Wednesday, 21 November 2018

VLAD LAND WEDNESDAY - I FOUND THE POST OFFICE

MORNING 

Bright dawn

Wonderful night’s sleep with the promise of less time on the bus today. We will see.
Wednesday morning finds me in better, akin to cheerful, spirits. The breakfast room is large and lovely in glass aquamarine blue however fellow coach buddies (!) sit scarily close which is worrying given this room is so very huge.

Alba
Baroque Alba
It was a day of sun for sure and up to 23deg. C in the afternoon. The bus time was less than Tuesday. Medieval cities were the theme. Morning it was Alba Julia (White Castle) 


and the afternoon was Sibiu.
In the evening we ate in the Jules Bistro and restaurant. White and stylish beyond credulity. Our first red wine of the trip. Local, full bodied and of mature fruit. It was hard to decide whether to sip it or dab in behind one’s ears. Food equally satisfying.

I’d found a post office in Sibiu. This was a longed for experience and I was not disappointed. There was a long queue, of folk tut-tut-ing and only one serving area open. The place was all drab marble, old wood and crumbling posters. Most excellent! I managed, sort of, to jump the queue for seeing one of the counter staff move to where I was standing I beckoned her over and asked for ‘timbres’ Romanian for stamps as we discovered the day before. (Where I had asked for stamps in a children’s clothing shop mistaking it for a Post Office.).
Anyway, yesterday, in a real post office Maria served me with ten stamps for the USA and UK. I was also given some Air Priority stickers as well; my charm and anxious body language did not fail me.

Both cities were reached by the same AutoRoute one of the few in Romania. There is funding for more from the EEC/EU however the current government have not figured out away to skim the funding for their own aggrandisement and for the health and wealth of those road and infrastructure companies who are lucky enough to be awarded the contracts, according to our local guide.



Sibiu  Cathedral Interior 
So, two medieval cities today. Both polished to perfection by EEC/EU funding. Cobbled streets, young people, parked cars, every church either being refurbished (and sadly closed) or freshly painted and open for business. 

Sibiu, with its communist apartment blocks and factories well away for the city’s centre, was another cobbled and polished confection. A remarkable number of pharmacies and phone shops all designed to blend in with the overall medieval charm of the place. 

Monday, 19 November 2018

VLAD LAND - TUESDAY AND THE BIG BUS TRIP

A day of mixed fortunes. Siân sick in the morning, suspected cause: pineapples to which she has an allergy that induces projectile vomiting. Fortunately this latter manifestation did occur. 

We left our hotel near the motorway at 0830 by 10:00 we had our first toilet break of this six hour ride. One toilet, twenty-five people, in the group, chaos and queuing and much displeasure. Siân languishes in the back of the bus. I make plans to escape, with her, back to Bucharest and wait out the remaining days until the flight home on Saturday.

Decided I (we) am (are) not bus tour people! Whole idea becomes an anathema and will remain so.

The huge coach trundles up alpine slopes and I expect to see Julie Andrews and Von Trapp brood at any moment. Lovely scenery huge sun and blue skies. Trees just turning orange and gold. The morning starts with a mist, a thick band of across a broad landscape then up into hills and more mist. 

By toilet time we had bright sun. Onwards, higher to and through a mountain pass at which a hotel was built (by the Communists) to be Dracula’s Castle Hotel. There is no such place except in Bram Stoker’s imagination. 

People have clamoured for another piss break so we stop and admire the mountains and Stoker’s Castle.

Sun and then a steep decent onto a broad plain another ‘breadbasket’ of rich agricultural land. 

By 13:30 we are in Bistrita (another former fortified town – 

there are nine in the region) and Tour Guide Alex lets us off the bus for lunch. Twenty-five slightly dazed people walk along a broad boulevard of houses and closed shops. Looking for lunch is the common purpose. We circle back to where TGA is and have beers and mici (sausage things per Sunday’s lunch). Sian recovering so all is good and she has the Greek Salad.

I look for a Post Office and find one however the coach is back at the RVP and Alex is a fiend for punctuality so I dare not risk crossing a busy road to by stamps. 

Two more hours +/- in the coach or there abouts and so we enter Cluj (our overnight halt) in the low later afternoon sun. Much exciting abandoned agricultural buildings on the outskirts of the city and on the edge of town some of the MOST EXCITING soviet-style architecture I have seen so far. Now I want to PAINT IT. 

Shit, shave, shower and shampoo in the hotel (excellent) and off into the main square for a lovely walk around. 

We fall into the arms of a very trendy young person’s bar and restaurant called BOEMA and stay for a wonderful meal. Good beer, pizzas, ribs for Lucy and salad for all. 

After naughty deserts we walk back to the Double Tree by Hilton.


Saturday, 17 November 2018

VLAD LAND: MONDAY - PAINTED CHURCHES


Outside our bedroom window was a field of good produce: tomato’s, apples, faggots of kindling wood, gourds, green peppers, all basked in an early light. Fecundity was to be a characteristic of the entire week as we raced through the Romanian countryside.

Through villages, up hill and down dales and low hills we visited two painted churches; Voronet and Sucevița. 

Round these parts you’d build a church to celebrate a victory (Voronet) or for defensive purposes (Suceviţa) to help protect the land from invaders, the Ottoman hoards. 

Either way the nobles who sponsored this activity also hired the very best of decorators to cover almost every inch of the church with wonderful characters and objects to depict every story in The Bible. Languages were not established and certainly not the written word so these wonderful portrayals was the way to go.
 
It is remarkable that these places were decorated inside and out.  And God’s work has stood the test of time. Seeing all these paintings and have them enthusiastically explained by Tour Guide Alex was a blessing. Inside each was an almost pungent atmosphere of Holiness that even the ungodly tourist hordes with cameras and smart phones could not banish into the outer darkness. 

Both establishments, Voronet and Sucevița were policed by nuns who took your 10 lei for a permit to use your camera, sold you post cards and ensured that you did not take photographs in the interiors of these treasured places. People did.




So these were the churches of Moldavia. A land that has been ruled by Dacian, Romans, Hungarians and Ottomans all before finally forming a country from three principalities; Walachia, Transylvania and Moldavia itself. 



Tomorrow, Tuesday, we would be travelling west through the Carpathian Mountains to Transylvania proper.  





Thursday, 15 November 2018

VLAD LAND - SUNDAY IN CEAUSEȘCU - VILLE



The Palace of Sighs


Out in the Open Air (Museum)


A palace, bigger than most: Second only to the Pentagon in size!





This morning, our coach wizzes us along the wide streets of Bucharest, light traffic because it is Sunday. Clear skies and sunshine. It was comfortable night in the Crown Plaza hotel. Its breakfast room was reassuringly populated with half of Asia. Good breakfast sets us up for the day.

Open Air Village Museum
In 1930 someone had the bright idea of uprooting a hundred houses across the entire country and plonking them down in the OPEN AIR VILLAGES MUSEUM. What a good idea it was. For in sixty minutes or more, if you have the time you can get an appreciation of Romania’s vernacular architecture and way of life of its people. This is an important primer for our time here. I was smitten by the 18C sub Carpathian pigeon loft. Also enjoyed the most excellent espresso.

The Palace.
Ortillia is our tour guide, she was quite brilliant shepherding us round the Palace of the People. It was an edifice only second to the Pentagon Building in size. This was Ceausescu’s great memorial. He never saw it completed as he was topped in late 1989 and democracy established. It is a remarkable place. Over 1000 rooms, built at a cost of US$ 3 billion (gold leaf does cost) with 220,000 square metres of carpet. The list of incredible facts goes on.


Our 1.5 km tour with Ortillia took us up and down 200 stairs. Marble everywhere and rich brocades and chandeliers. The place dripped with these ostentatious accoutrements. Wonderful, wonderful and so much off it and we saw a mere fraction. And were impressed as Mr and Mrs C thought we should be.






A view from the balcony showed that Mr C thought the whole area surrounding his impressive gaff should not be unlike the palace. He achieved just this with a wide boulevard leading off from the main entrances leading down into the city centre  - fountains, playing water canons, completed the effect.

The Old Town of Bucharest
Ceaușescu thought old towns were a waste of time and tried to lay waste to the one in Bucharest. 
But not quite and now the EEC are pouring money into this part of town to turn it into ‘the Old Town’ that every Eastern European capital should have; to trap tourists and bring money into the country.

We had a kick  a beef and pork confection. Skinless sausages 

The Sunday flight north 16:00
We take off in something with propellers into the late afternoon sun after an excellent stay in Ceaușescu-ville.