Greece’s Peloponnese in September 2019

This was a long-planned trip to go to our favourite country Greece with our Amercan friend Nancy. We felt that the Peloponnese, which is the southern part of the mainland, was the best area to visit in a week. The scenery is typical Greece and there are plenty of archaeological sites and churches.

Go here for a picture gallery.

I have loved this country ever since I first went there with two school friends in 1967. You can find out why here.

The Peloponnese has three peninsulas (prongs) jutting out to the south. It’s well worth visiting all of them.

The West Prong: Methoni and Pylos

We met up with Nancy at Stansted and flew from there to Kalamata in the south where we picked up our rental car. After driving to Pylos in the dark we had our first meal outside. Most of the people eating there were Greek which meant that the food was good.

It was only about 10 kilometres to Methoni, our first stop. Settlement in Methoni dates back to ancient times but it is best known for a Venetian castle built on a promontory.

Methoni Castle

Our hotel looked across the bay to the castle which covers a large area. We did it justice and Martin just about found the place where he slept outside in 1965.

Then it was back to Pylos for some lunch. It’s a lovely Greek small town with plenty of restaurants by the water.

The remains of what is called Nestor’s Palace have been excavated a few kilometers north of Pylos. This site dates back to Mycenaean times and artefacts discovered there have been dated to c.1300 BC. Named as Pylos it appears in the Trojan War and in Homer’s Odyssey. The whole site is covered by a large roof and you go round on elevated walkways. There is a good explanation of how the ancient bath there was used.

Mycenaean bathroom, Nestor’s Palace, near Pylos

The Middle Prong: the Mani

We stayed three nights just north of Areopoli which is where the Mani really begins. This is rather a wild and barren area and the Maniots have had a reputation for fighting each other.

View from our hotel, Limeni near Areopoli

All the houses are made of stone and plenty of the original stone tower houses remain, although few of the older ones seemed to be occupied. Recent road improvements have opened the Mani up to tourism, but it was still rather quiet.

On our way to the southern tip we stopped at Vathi which is the archetypical Mani village. Sadly a good many of the houses were falling into ruin, but the spectacular view from the road south of the village remains the same.

Vathi, in the Mani

It was very hot. Two of the three of us attempted to walk to the southern tip of Cape Tenaron which is the second most southern point in mainland Europe. One came back fairly quickly and other did not go right to the end as we had done years ago. The other one (guess who?) had a nice cup of coffee and admired the view from the cafe above the car park where we also had lunch.

Barren land near Cape Tenaron

On the way back we attempted to find the tiny church which Martin and I visited years before. From the outside it looked like a pile of stones, but inside were amazing frescoes on all the walls. Sadly this time the path to it was so overgrown that we had to give up. Sadly too, the nearby village was almost deserted. We found plenty of other churches but all were locked.

Church in the Mani

One village welcomed us with writing on the road, the Greek for “welcome”.

Welcome – a village south of Areopoli

Next morning we drove up to Dekoulou monastery which the guide book recommended, but it was locked. Apparently the person who has the key lives in the house attached to it but nobody was at home.

We moved on to the Dirou Caves. You visit on a boat which holds up to 7 people. The boatman propels the boat like a punt by pushing on the wall at the side with a kind of paddle. In some places the roof was so low that we had to duck. You have to walk the last 300m to the exit and then another 500m in blazing sun back to the car park.

Dirou Caves, nearly at the end

Lunch places are few and far between on the east side of the Mani. We stopped at tiny Kotronas where the lunch choice was between a burger bar and a tiny Greek restaurant. We chose the Greek one where the menu was somewhat limited, the food was fine and the decor and ambience went straight back to my 1967 trip.

The main road through the new part of Areopoli is fairly dull but on the way back to our hotel we looked round the old part. It’s pedestrianised with plenty of churches. We did get manage to get inside one to admire more frescoes (no photos allowed) and we did get tea which actually came in a teapot.

Church in Areopoli

At dinner in a smarter restaurant down by the water in Limeni we spotted a turtle in the water very close in. It was about 2 feet long and was enjoying a meal of scraps thrown into the water by a man filleting fish.

You can just see the turtle, Limeni

The turtle missed some of his meal when a rather large tender from a yacht arrived. Five very well dressed people plus what must have been a bodyguard got off and walked straight through our restaurant and out to another one. We wondered if they were Russians.

The East Prong: Monemvasia

Leaving the Mani, we first stopped at Gytheion which was the port of ancient Sparta and still retains a nice Greek atmosphere. Across a short causeway from Gytheio is a tiny island Cranae where legend has it that Paris of Troy spent his first night with Helen wife of Menelaus King of Sparta, after he stole, or eloped with her. This event started the Trojan War, the subject of Homer’s Iliad and other works in Greek literature.

Church on Cranae, Gytheion

Nearer Monemvasia we had to stop suddenly for a tortoise as he made his slow way across the road.

Living dangerously – he made it

Our destination on this day was Monemvasia, a Gibraltar-like rock connected to the mainland via a causeway.

Monemvasia

We ate lunch at Gefyra at the mainland end of the causeway where I finally managed to have some stuffed tomatoes and peppers one of my favourite Greek foods.

Stuffed tomatoes and peppers, my favourite

Monemvasia was an important Byzantine fortress. It has retained its old character with a maze of narrow cobbled streets and steps with plenty of churches. You cannot drive any further than the gate to the town and so Martin dropped Nancy and myself at there and parked the car some way down the hill up to the gate. While we waited for him to walk back some porters were unloading laundry into wheelbarrows to transport it to various hotels. We managed to find our way to our hotel, almost certainly not by the shortest route.

The main street in Monemvasia

It didn’t take too long to look around the old town. Once again most of the churches were closed, but there were some nice exteriors some with animal carvings.

We had a very good dinner at Matoula, the oldest restaurant in Monemvasia.

Buildings are squashed together almost on top of each other in Monemvasia but there was still room to eat breakfast outside.

Breakfast in Monemvasia

Mystras and Going North

Next morning we set off in good time to drive north heading first for Mystras just outside Sparta. On the way we passed the foot of Mount Taygetos, the highest mountain in the Peloponnese, and marvelled that Martin and I had climbed it about 40 years ago.

Taygetos – did we really once climb this?

Mystras is another Byzantine settlement and it covers a huge area on a steep hillside. You have to walk up or down steep cobbled paths to see it. We decided to go to the top car park which is as far as you can drive up. Martin and Nancy walked up a lot further to the ruined castle on the very top. I was glad I decided against it, but just amused myself watching the faces of the people who had walked up from the bottom car park and then saw how far it still was up to the castle.

Mystras has a plenty of churches, many from the 14th century and now partly in ruins. This meant that we got to see many more frescoes as we made our way down over the uneven cobbles – thank goodness there was no rain which would make them very slippery.

Frescoes at Mystras

If you go there, don’t underestimate how much time you need, as there is no cafe and no other facilities at all. We had to walk down the road further to get a very late lunch at the Xenia Hotel. The waiter there woke up the hotel’s taxi driver to take us back to our car.

Deciding to take the old road north was a good choice as we saw plenty of typical Greek mountainous scenery without having to deal with Greek motorway driving. Surprisingly for us we didn’t see any goats.

The scenery is a bit more industrial around Argos but we were soon at at Palaia Epidaurus on the Saronic Gulf. There we stayed at a typical Greek hotel, basic and clean with a lovely view out to sea and restaurant tables by the water.

From our hotel room, Palaia Epidaurus

Epidaurus and Mycenae

The next day we visited two big tourist attractions along with many bus loads of people. It’s a day trip from Athens and there were far more people than when I went there in 1967.

First we went to the theatre of Epidaurus which is the best preserved ancient theatre in Greece. It dates from the 4th century BC.

Theatre at Epidaurus

The acoustics are amazing – and plenty of tourists were testing this out. Greek plays are performed there in July and August. I would love to see this some time.

Epidaurus is a lot more than the theatre. It was a sanctuary of Asclepius where, from the 6th century BC, the sick went to be healed. The remains cover a large area, which is easily explored with good information boards in English and Greek.

Stadium at Epidaurus

Mycenae was a major centre of civilization from about 1500BC to 1200BC. The Myceneans built their walls from huge blocks of sandy-coloured stone. The name Cyclopean walls was given to them by the ancient Greek geographer Pausanias and it has stuck.

The site of Mycenae is on a hill and is fairly compact with information boards and a concrete trail around it – no slippery cobbles here. There was the obligatory photo at the famous Lion Gate.

Lion Gate, Mycenae

The only big herd of goats we saw anywhere on our trip was about 100m away.

Goats near Mycenae

Again we ended up with a late lunch down in the town of Mykines – there is no cafe at the site, only drinks and crisps.

Back at the site we couldn’t miss huge the Tomb of Agamemnon also known as the Treasury of Atreus. It is a large example of what are known as beehive tombs because of their shape.

Tomb of Agamemnon

It also has huge Cyclopean walls leading up to the entrance.

Cyclopean walls at the Tomb of Agamemnon

Rain had been forecast and the clouds were gathering as we walked around Nafplio, the largest town in the area.

Storm clouds over Nafplion Castle

Fortunately the sun umbrellas where we got some tea were not porous and we managed to keep dry when the heavens opened with thunder as well. It was a wet drive back to our hotel and we had to eat dinner inside.

Next morning the rain had stopped but it was still cold. We had breakfast in a large plastic cage, technically outside, but out of the wind.

Corinth and Athens

We took the coast road to Corinth, stopping briefly at Agnoundos Monastery with yet more well-preserved frescoes (no photos allowed). We also stopped at the Corinth canal along with plenty of other people.

Corinth Canal

We had to go into the town of Corinth to find an ATM. Acrocorinth, another fortress on the top of a hill, looked tempting. We drove up as far as you can. Two of us walked up some of the way to the top, but the path was more uneven cobbles and we were running out of time.

View from Acrocorinth

The motorway to Athens was much improved since the last time we had been there and thanks to our new Tomtom we delivered Nancy to her hotel in a narrow street by the Acropolis going via the two main squares in Athens.

Martin and I drove down the coast a bit from Athens, but found it rather disappointing. The real Greece had gone, replaced by burger bars, western music as well as too many private beaches. We did get a meal in one of them which was not really Greek food then it was back to Athens airport to drop off the car before the flight home.

Practicalities

We flew from Stansted to Kalamata on Ryanair. They are survivable if your expectations are low. While Nancy stayed on for another tour round the islands, we came back on Wizzair who had a flight with good timings for us. This was also passable. As usual, we booked our accommodation with booking.com. A one-way car rental was easy to organize with Sixt. Wifi was good everywhere and mobile signals were better than in the UK.

We have an assortment of maps from previous visits – there are some really good detailed ones of Greece now. We do like to see the big picture on a paper map before using a satnav (GPS), but our new Tomtom was amazing in detail and completely accurate.

For guidebooks, we used the Sunflower book Landscapes of the Southern Peloponnese, and a very recently published and excellent Bradt guide: Greece: The Peloponnese. Our copy of Greenhalgh and Eliopoulos, Deep into Mani had gone awol, but we easily got another one from abebooks. If you are serious about exploring the Mani, this book is highly recommended.

Why I love Greece

Early morning at Palaia Epidaurus


Just a few reasons:

  • the food: Greek salad, souvlaki, fish grilled with herbs, slow-cooked lamb, stuffed tomatoes and peppers, aubergine salad, the bread, baklava
  • eating outside, especially by the water
  • sunsets (and sunrises) over the water
  • there’s so much history
  • the little cats – they are everywhere
  • tiny villages up in the mountains
  • churches everywhere, but don’t expect many of them to be open
  • hiking, although we didn’t do any this time
  • the people, always cheerful and helpful
  • it’s always clean
  • bright blue sea – I never under stood why Homer called it the “wine-dark sea”
  • hearing goatbells tinkling in the mountains

Picture gallery: Greece’s Peloponnese in September 2019

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The Bad Side of Social Media: Brainwashing

An encounter with a leave-supporting protester outside Parliament this week led me, as an information scientist, to look again at the role of social media and the Internet in the Brexit debate.

I asked this person, who I call X here, what I thought was a simple question. The conversation went like this

Me: “Why do you want to leave the EU?”

X: “We voted out”

Me: “Why?”

X: “We voted out”

Me: “Why did you vote out?”

X: “It’s the Lisbon Treaty”

Me: “What’s the issue with the Lisbon Treaty?”

There were some rather vague responses to this which seemed to me to have come directly from a post which circulated widely earlier this year on leave supporting social media. Comments on this post by Steve Peers, Professor of EU Law at Essex University, have identified several items of seriously misleading information in the post. Peers cited the actual treaty legislation in his response. Nothing can be nearer the truth than that.

X continued…

X: “They are the Fourth Reich”

X repeated this several times and so I asked X what the evidence was for this.

X: “A youtube video”

A person standing next to X whom I call Y, then informed me that the published EU referendum result was a fraud and that the real number of people who voted remain was 6 million. I asked Y what the evidence was. Y had read it on the Internet.

I have read plenty of misleading and incorrect information about the UK’s membership of the EU online but this contact with real people who believe these things gave me a big jolt. Just how many voters have been influenced by misinformation peddled by those who have ulterior motives?

I felt both sad and angry. Sad that people can be so easily influenced by such misleading information. Angry that this had led them to support an extreme right-wing view which is at odds with the tolerant and fair society which the UK used to be, and which, in my view, is being driven by wealthy hedge fund owners trying to escape the EU’s clampdown on offshore tax avoidance and by wealthy business owners who want to get rid of the EU’s regulations which protection workers’ rights and the environment.

I have been in computing long enough to have witnessed the beginning of the Internet and have participated in meetings which have discussed the likely impact of a free for all information platform. Overall the Internet has been a force for the good, but early on there was concern that it would be used to disseminate misinformation and influence people in this way. This is clearly now happening in a big way.

The onus is placed firmly on the user to evaluate what they see and read, but there do seem to be serious concerns about people’s ability to do this. I think the problem is compounded because the Internet encourages people to gravitate to sites which support their views. This reinforces their views rather than encouraging them to examine alternative approaches.

The seeds of this have been around for a long time, but they were exploited mercilessly by Dominic Cummings, the architect of the leave campaign. Cummings now appears to be running the country as Johnson’s senior adviser and using similar tools again to influence voters as the Brexit debacle continues.

The two messages Cummings concentrated on in 2016 were (1) that we send £350 million per week to the EU, implying that this money could be spent on the NHS, and (2) that Turkey would be joining the EU.

A little research shows that the annual contribution from the UK to the EU is £9-10 billion per year – the amount varies slightly each year because of the way this figure is calculated. The actual weekly contribution is therefore around half of £350 million.

The implication that this money could be spent on the NHS is misleading because (1) it implies that the UK would save the EU contribution to spend on other things; it does not allow for the fact that the UK gets back about 5 times what it contributes to the EU in benefits and cost savings and (2) it was not known how much Brexit would cost – it turns out that this is billions already.

There is an excellent wikipedia article on Turkey’s application to join the EU. It is clear from this that Turkey, especially with its current government, has a long way to go to meet membership requirements. More than likely this was Cummings’ second message because Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country and he was inflaming concerns about immigration which people may remember was the focus of much of the debate in 2016.

This morning (29 September) I have seen that there are thousands of comments on an article on the Mail Online using the emotive words which have been so roundly condemned this week. I’m waiting for a response other than a down arrow to my simple question asking why the so-called Benn bill is a “surrender”.

Where to go now? I do think that our education system has plenty to answer for. It is perhaps no coincidence that the demographics of leave voters show a majority of older people and of people who have not had so much education as they could have had. Many of them may have come into computing later in their lives once they acquired a smart phone.

It is understandable that they feel disaffected but it makes me angry that the Internet and social media, aided by the press, have focussed this disaffection on the UK’s membership of the EU rather than the policies and failings of successive UK governments. People who are studying the rise of populism can legitimately ask why state education funding has been cut so much.

I won’t dwell on specific Internet tools but I have worked with many computer programs over the last 50 years and am no fan of Facebook. It is designed for a rapid response to any post in the form of the like button which just promotes and builds up support for that post. It does not encourage much reasoned discussion on any topic. I think Facebook has a lot to answer for in the current political debate in the UK and elsewhere.

Update

Just I was about to post this I found two replies to my post on the Mail Online asking about the use of “surrender” for the Benn bill. Both replies attempted to argue that it is surrender because it removes the negotiating position of No Deal. But No Deal cannot be a sensible negotiating position. It will harm the UK far more than it will harm the EU because they are so much bigger and can spread the harm across 27 countries. It seems like saying “if you don’t do what I want, I will shoot myself in the head”.

This is yet more of Dominic Cummings’ brainwashing. As also is “Get Brexit Done by 31 October”. If we leave without a deal, which is what the plan appears to be as there has been little sign of any new serious proposals from the UK, there will be years of wrangling over trade deals when the UK is in a much weaker position. If we leave with a deal there will still be wrangling over details and what to do about the trade deals with about 70 other countries with which the EU has a deal.

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Cyprus in Spring 2019: Nicosia, North Cyprus and the South

This is the second of two blog posts on our visit to Cyprus in May-June 2019. The first post is here.

Go here for a picture gallery.

In Nicosia, which is now more usually called Lefkosia, we stayed 2 nights at the Asty Hotel. This hotel is outside the old city but has parking, an excellent breakfast and coffee and tea available all day. For some reason we were put in an “executive themed room” with red striped furnishings. It should have been almost twice the price of a standard room which we had booked and paid for.

The choice of eating places in a Nicosia suburb on a Sunday evening is not great and so we followed the advice of the guide book to the Syrian Arab Friendship Club a short drive away. There we had a very good meal, marred only by a group of noisy Russians nearby who were smoking a hookah pipe.

Mercs, BMWs, Audis and Range Rovers were everywhere in Nicosia and we began to suspect that most of them belonged to Russians.

North Cyprus – Nicosia and Kyrenia

The hotel told us not to drive at all to the old city saying that parking and the traffic were awful. Instead they took us there in the hotel shuttle. There was not much sign of a lot of traffic or any parking problems outside the old city.

We walked down the pedestrianised Ledras Street, presented our passports at two border posts and were soon in Turkish North Cyprus.

We had originally thought about going to North Cyprus for a couple of days in the car, but your car insurance is not valid there. Various rumours online said that you could buy more insurance there for 15 euros but this would only be third party and so we soon decided just to do a day trip.

We walked through a street of shops and bazaars selling mostly tourist things and clothes and went first to see the Selimiye Mosque which dates back to the 13th century and with its tall minaret is a major landmark in all of Nicosia.

Selimiye Mosque, North Nicosia

Next was the Buyuk Han a 16th century Ottoman caravanserai. This was nicely done up with cafes in the courtyard.

Buyuk Han caravanserai, North Nicosia

As we walked further beyond the border green zone there were more modern buildings and wider streets. We visited the Armenian Church, thought to have been established in the 13th century and now renovated.

Armenian church, North Nicosia

This church was close to the green zone and we saw a big metal barrier and barbed wire at the end of a nearby street, quite a contrast to the houses in that area which have been done up.

By then it was almost lunch time and we realised that we had seen the sights of North Nicosia. After some tea we found the dolmus (service taxi) station and were soon on our way to Kyrenia on the north coast once the minibus had filled up. It’s a fast road and we were there within 40 minutes in spite of there being plenty of traffic as we left Nicosia and in Kyrenia.

Kyrenia (Girne in Turkish) is a much nicer place. There’s a row of restaurants around the harbour where we had some excellent fish and a nice chat with the owner who had been to the UK several times and spoke excellent English.

Kyrenia harbour and castle

We also visited the castle which has an excellent view of the harbour. This is much bigger than it looks with a large open area in the middle. Some of the rooms contained life-size models of people dressed in armour.

Inside Kyrenia Castle

One highlight is the Shipwreck Museum which contains the remains of a wooden ship which sank off Kyrenia about 280BC. Its cargo included a huge quantity of almonds which have been dated to around that time.

Ancient almonds

I declined the walk round the ramparts but Martin did most of it and got some good photos of the harbour.

We finished our visit to Kyrenia with more tea – in a real Turkish tea glass this time.

Real Turkish tea from a glass – at Kyrenia

Getting a a dolmus back to Nicosia was no problem and we soon walked back to the Republic. There are plenty of good restaurants there and we had another great meal at Piatsa Gourounaki. As instructed we phoned the hotel which sent the shuttle to take us back there.

Next day we easily found a space in the car park near where the hotel shuttle had dropped us and spent much of the morning looking round the republican part of Nicosia. We did go back to the north briefly as I had seen a picture I liked in a shop near the border. When we got there we found that almost every shop was closed for the end of Ramadan holiday. So I didn’t get my picture but was very glad that we had done the north the day before.

The old city in Nicosia is now quite modernised with pedestrianised streets and plenty of coffee shops and trendy clothes shops. The Leventis Municipal Museum is one of the major attractions and turned out to contain useful displays on the history of the city. After the museum, we wandered round a bit more and had lunch near the border crossing (and an excellent ice cream for me while Martin took a long walk to the Famagusta Gate) and then went back to the car to drive south on the motorway.

The South

The Stavrovouni Monastery is in a stunning position at the top of the only hill for miles around and reachable only via a series of hairpin bends on a narrow road. The views from there are amazing.

Stavrovouni Monastery

I had plenty of time to admire the views as women are not allowed in the monastery. I did go into the small church by the car park.

Church at Stavrovouni – the only part I could go into

Martin went into the monastery but did not stay long.

Our last night was spent at Teacher’s House, a traditional building in the village of Maroni near the south coast. We drove down to Zygi on the coast and had another fish by a pebble beach watching the sunset.

Sunset at our last dinner at Zygi

Breakfast at Teacher’s House was the only really traditional one we had with scrambled eggs mixed with green vegetables.

We were due to fly out late that evening and so essentially had another day. We started at the neolithic site of Choirakoitia not far north of Maroni. This is the oldest permanent human settlement found in Cyprus going back to 7000 BC. Steep steps (with just a few trees for shade) take you to the top of the site where there are also some good views.

Choirakoitia, the oldest settlement on Cyprus

There’s an easier way down on a track at the back of the site which also goes past some reconstructions of round huts which represent how the people lived.

Reconstructed houses at Choirakoitia

Nearer to Larnaca we stopped in the village of Kiti to see the 11th century Panagia Angeloktisti church which was open and contains a 6th century mosaic of the Virgin Mary. We also found a large supermarket nearby to get some picnic food for lunch which we ate overlooking the Alyki salt lake near Larnaca.

Hala Sultan Tekkesi is a late 18th century mosque on the edge of the lake and is one of very few mosques we saw in the Republic. It stands on a sacred place in Islam where an aunt of the prophet Mohammed fell off her mule and died.

Hala Sultan Tekkesi mosque

Navigating through Larnaca was easy as we drove further east to Agia Napa. We did stop there to buy an ice cream, but Agia Napa consists mostly of a very long street 2-3 blocks inland and full of souvenir shops, bars, burger places and quad bike rentals. If there is a way to drive along by the sea, we did not find it. A short stop there was enough for us. If I was going to stay in Cyprus for a week in the sun I would definitely choose the Paphos area over Agia Napa.

The very south-east tip of Cyprus is a national park called Cape Greco. The scenery is mostly scrub and there are some hiking trails. You can drive along parts of the park but an assortment of masts has ensured that the road to the very end is blocked off. There’s a really nice modern white church at one stopping place complete with paintings inside.

Church near Cape Greco

Our last meal was at another guide book recommendation, Voreas in the village of Oroklini just off the motorway near Larnaca. It took a while to find this restaurant, because, as we found in other places in Cyprus, the signs to it petered out some way away from it. I ordered souvlaki and it was delivered to our table with the skewers hanging off a metal rack which seemed to have been designed for this specific purpose.

My last dinner – souvlaki as delivered to our table

The flight home from Larnaca to Leeds was uneventful except that it was an hour late. We arrived home in daylight at 4.30am.

Impressions of Cyprus and Practicalities

This was our first visit. We kind of expected something like Greece, and found it to be quite like Greece with a veneer of Britishness. They drive on the left, drink a lot of tea, refer to the ground floor as number 0 and have British-style bacon and even sometimes baked beans for breakfast.

Reconstructed houses at Choirakoitia

Familiar shaped postbox, Nicosia

Apart from breakfast the food was mostly Greek with some Turkish influence. It always came in huge quantities. Except for the restaurant owner in Platres all the people were very pleasant and friendly. As in Greece there are plenty of cats, usually hanging round outdoor restaurants, but unlike in Greece, we saw only one goat.

It was hot, reaching 35C some days. Another time I would think about going in late April or early May when the wild flowers might also be better. But bougainvilleas were in full bloom and we saw oleanders in flower everywhere, even growing wild.

We flew on Jet2 from Leeds/Bradford, which is the most convenient airport for us, and rented a car from Elephant car rental in Paphos. The car rental agent met us at the airport at 11pm and was very helpful. There was no extra charge to drop the car in Larnaca. The roads are generally good with fewer potholes than any near our home. Traffic is fairly light and there is only the occasional mad driver usually on the dual carriageway motorway. Parking was free every where even in Paphos and Nicosia.

Always using booking.com we only booked accommodation in Paphos and Polis before we arrived and arranged the rest once we were there. It was all very clean and very cheap at 50-60 euros a night for a double including breakfast. Wifi worked fine everywhere including in plenty of restaurants as well as hotels.

For guide books we used Lonely Planet Cyprus, which also includes North Cyprus, and the Sunflower book Landscapes of Cyprus which has car tours and walks.

As when we were travelling in Spain and Portugal last summer, I did get a sense that the UK is falling behind with its failure to provide adequate Internet and mobile services and its failure to upgrade its airports. Both Paphos and Larnaca airports were infinitely better than Leeds/Bradford with ample space, free wifi and plenty of choice for shopping and eating. Larnaca also has jetways and so you don’t have to walk out to the plane in the rain.

My first blog post on this trip is here.

Picture gallery: Cyprus in Spring 2019: Nicosia, North Cyprus and the South

Click to enlarge

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Cyprus in Spring 2019: Paphos, Polis and Mountains

This is the first of two blog posts on our visit to Cyprus in May-June 2019. The second post is here.

Go here for a picture gallery.

When our planned trip to Sri Lanka in May 2019 was postponed after the FCO travel ban following the Easter Sunday attacks, we decided at the last minute to spend 9 days in Cyprus. Why Cyprus? It had been on my long list of places to visit for some time, it’s relatively close and it might be like Greece.

Paphos area

We arrived in Paphos on the west coast very late at night on Jet2 from Leeds/Bradford and managed to find our hotel in our rental car without too much difficulty. We had picked a fairly large hotel not too far from the airport as we knew would be arriving after midnight when reception is likely to be closed in smaller place. The Amphora Hotel turned out to be close to the sea but fairly stark and soulless. For some strange reason the restaurant was not by the sea but overlooking the car park. Breakfast was good but one night there was enough.

On our first full day we drove to the harbour area, where it was easy to park.

Paphos harbour

There we first visited the castle. Its location right by the harbour was probably the best part of it.

View towards Paphos Castle

We had lunch in one of the many restaurants on the harbour and then tackled the archaeological site next door. This involved quite a bit of walking in the heat but was well worth it because of the large number of well-preserved mosaics from the Roman period. Many were outdoors in the remains of houses but the best ones in the House of Dionysus were under cover.

Covered mosaics, Paphos Archaeological Site

Many like that of Pyramus and Thisbe tell stories from mythology.

Pyramus and Thisbe Mosaic, Paphos Archaeological Site

I really liked the animals.

Mosaic, Paphos Archaeological Site

The depictions of human faces were good too.

Mosaic, Paphos Archaeological Site

We spent our second night in the Paphos area in the Anna Apartments to the north of the main town in Kissonerga. The British owner was very helpful and recommended a favourite restaurant of theirs supposedly 15 minutes drive away. Finding it was interesting as our new satnav was not as knowledgable about Cyprus as its maps claimed to be.

When we finally arrived we were presented with a huge amount of food which all looked great but which was far too much for two people. This was the first of many huge meals which we were served. I hope the owner was not too much offended when we left a lot of it. I noticed that other diners were taking the rest of their food home in boxes, something I have only seen in the US and Canada before.

Our last stop in Paphos, apart from Lidls to get some picnic food, was the area known as the Tombs of the Kings where there are the remains of underground tombs used by residents of the area in the Hellenistic and Roman times. You can go down steps into most of them.

At the Tombs of the Kings

One was carved out all around like the rock churches we saw in Lalibela in Ethiopia.

At the Tombs of the Kings

We drove north to Agios Georgios and ate our picnic tiropites (cheese pies) by the harbour before attempting to take a look at the Avgas Gorge, one of the main sights in the area. Martin walked down some of the way while I tried to get out of the sun.

The only goat either of us saw – in Avgas Gorge

There’s a nice cafe at a viewpoint at the end of the driveable track to the Gorge and we got there just in time for some tea before it closed.

It was a short drive to our next stop at Polis on the north coast.

Polis and Akamas

We spent two nights in the Bay View Apartments in Polis close to the sea and just outside the main town and had dinner (choice of fish or calamari) on our first night there. Our room was more like a maisonette with a living/kitchen area downstairs and a bedroom and bathroom upstairs. The gardens at Bay View were lovely with masses of flowers everywhere.

As we found when we were looking for an ATM and some food, the town of Polis is pleasant and has not been taken over entirely by tourists. The main town centre is not on the sea.

The Akamas Peninsula at the northwest tip of Cyprus is a national park with no development, but plenty of trails and picnic places. We found an excellent one to eat our tiropites, and then set off walking. I soon gave up as it was so hot once we got out of the shade of the forest, but Martin carried on for an hour’s circuit. A few tourists were coming along the track in a variety of quad bikes and all terrain vehicles. It would be possible to drive further in a four-wheel drive but we didn’t want to try it in a small car.

We had a quick look in a little church on the way out of the park and then decided to miss the Baths of Aphrodite, a local beauty spot, preferring some tea in another nice restaurant overlooking the sea.

Tea stop view towards Polis

Back at the apartment Martin decided to try the pool there but was soon out – we have got too used to our heated pool in Florida. We had an excellent dinner at Moustakallis which seems to be the main restaurant and something of an institution in Polis. It’s on the edge of the old town and you can park just opposite it.

Troodos Mountains

The Troodos range are the highest mountains in Cyprus with the appropriately named Mount Olympus the tallest at 1952m. The drive there took us first past banana plantations then up through the national park forest.

A rare kind of sheep called moufflon live there. The chances of seeing them in the wild are almost non-existent, but the park authority has made a large enclosure for some near a forest station and we saw about 30 of them including some lambs. They have large curved horns but generally look thinner than the dales sheep near our house in Nidderdale.

Moufflon sheep

We took a detour through Cedar Valley where there are plenty of examples of the Cyprus cedar tree. We ate our picnic at the bottom of the valley and saw people coming down from a hike up Mt Tripylos. The information board said it was about an hour or 2km to the top and so we decided to tackle it. The walk was on a wide track but up all the time.

From the trail up Mount Tripylos

I was struggling after about 40 minutes and, after sitting on a very hard rock for about 15 minutes, set off back. Martin did get to the top and caught up with me when I was only about half way down.

Because of our hike we arrived rather late at the Kykkos Monastery which is the richest one in Cyprus. We had time to look at the wall paintings but the museum was closed. I doubt if we missed much because these museums tend to contain only a lot of icons all very similar to each other.

In Kykkos Monastery

The road past Kykkos leads to the Throni Shrine to the Virgin Mary. This monument is an elegant octagon – all its four doors were closed.

Throni Shrine of the Virgin Mary, near Kykkos Monastery

You walk past almost life-size representations of various religious figures in niches on the way up. The tomb of Archbishop Makarios, whose name will be very familiar to those of us old enough to remember the turbulent period of history on the island of Cyprus in the 1950s and 1960s, is located in a dingy cave nearby. There is also a bronze statue of him 10m high and immediately recognisable to those of us who do remember him.

Archbishop Makarios

We drove on fairly quickly from Kykkos to the Two Flowers Hotel, our overnight stop in the Troodos in the village of Pedoulas. We passed almost no habitation on the way there until we came to the village of Prodroomos 4km from our destination. Pedoulas is built on a hill side and the Two Flowers is on the main street. Fortunately we were placed in the much quieter annex down the road away from the noise. This was a much more local kind of place. We ate dinner in the hotel where the only other diner appeared to be a Russian lady who told us that she lived in Larnaca.

The next morning we walked down to the older part of the village to see the UNESCO-listed church of the Archangelos Michail.

Church of Archangelos Michail, Pedoulas

This tiny building, unprepossessing from the outside and dating from 1474, contains a series of amazing post-Byzantine frescoes which are highly regarded.

Interior, Archangelos Michail, Pedoulas

We were well armed with information so as not to confuse it with the much larger modern white church which stands out all over the village. This church was firmly closed.

Then it was off to the Mt Olympus area. We stopped at a tourist shop on the edge of Prodromos to buy a not very nice tiropita and were served by some Russians, the first (after the lady in the hotel) of many we were to see later. With some difficulty we found the tourist office down a path from the tourist area Troodos Square. The office has a good video which they put on in English for us and we got some helpful advice on hiking.

I had read about the Artemis Trail which goes all the way round Mt Olympus about 100m from the top and was determined to tackle all 7 km of it. You can drive up to the start of this trail. Much of it was very pleasant in the forest but the area between km 3 and km 5 was mostly on ledges built on landslips on bare hillsides.

Scary part of the Artemis Trail

I was very pleased with myself for finishing the trail, the longest walk since my hip operations. The temperature was just right and the views were stupendous. When we got back to the hotel my Fitbit had clocked over 20,000 steps for the day, by far the largest number since I bought it in November 2018.

There were more people about back at the hotel, presumably because it was a Saturday evening. The next day we saw very many more as we drove round Olympus again to Platres where all the world seemed to have escaped the hot weather near the coast to have Sunday lunch. We finally found an empty table in one restaurant, waited over 20 minutes to order some dips and meze only to be told by a brusque server “main dish only”. There was no indication of this on the menu. Thankfully we did get our meze further up the road in another very crowded place.

Towards Nicosia

It was an easy drive down the mountains and along the motorway to Nicosia. On the edge of the mountains we stopped at Kakopetria a traditional village which has been renovated. There is a lovely long street where many houses have overhanging balconies on the upper floor rooms.

Street in Kakopetria

According to the guide book a couple of churches on the way were worth a stop. The Panagia Podythou was nicely set back from the road but the door was firmly locked.

Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis is another UNESCO-listed church and there we found a party of summer camp children viewing the church, or rather mostly playing around outside it. They weren’t speaking Greek or English and we suspected that they were Russian. At least this meant that the church was open to visitors, but no photos were allowed inside.

Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis, near Kakopetria

My second blog post on this trip covers Nicosia, a day trip to North Cyprus as well as the south coast.

Picture gallery: Cyprus in Spring 2019: Paphos, Polis and Mountains

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Florida Day Trips February 2019

It was quite cold when we arrived in Florida in mid-January 2019 but once the weather got better we took a few day trips from our house in February.

Go here for a picture gallery.

Lake Louisa State Park

Much of Florida is wild and empty. The Florida State Parks system showcases the best of this wilderness and some historical monuments with over 190 parks spread throughout the state. For a modest entry fee per car, you get a map of roads and hiking trails at the entry gate and can then drive to the visitor center where there is usually an exhibition and often a food service (probably only burgers). There are well-equipped campgrounds for motor homes and tents, but in some you can rent a cabin or pitch your tent in the backcountry (with a permit). Park rangers and volunteer staff are always very friendly and helpful.

Lake Louisa State Park is under an hour’s drive north from our house. We had been there before but only to have a picnic by the big lake.

We decided to tackle a 3-mile hiking trail and set off walking through the typical Florida scenery with trees and open spaces of grass and scrub. The scenery changes in Florida with a very short change in the elevation. You can be walking by a swamp and go up just a very few feet and find yourself on firm ground.

Trail, Lake Louisa State Park

Most of the trees are covered in Spanish moss which we really like. It is not actually a moss, but an epiphyte or bromeliad which lives off rain and airborne dust etc. We learned later that it can harbour a nasty bug which can burrow into your skin. That’s probably why it’s removed all the time from the trees on Southern Dunes where our house is.

After a while realised that this trail was 3 miles one way and it wasn’t clear how we would get back to the car. We decided to turn back when we reached a small stream which we would need to wade through. You do have to be a bit wary of snakes although we have rarely seen them in Florida.

Martin took a slightly diferent route back from me and saw a deer. I didn’t see any wildlife but there was a warning sign on the road, and of course one by the lake.

We didn’t see any, Lake Louisa

Back at the car park we had a snack on the beach by the lake and watched the sunset. We had walked about 4 miles in 2 hours and it was about 85 F.

Harry P. Leu Botanic Garden

This is the major garden in Orlando. It’s about 50 acres including the lake, and was created by Harry P. Leu and his wife who travelled all over the world bringing plants back to their house. They deeded their house and garden to Orlando in 1961.

We went there many years ago before we started to create a tropical garden at our house. This time we recognised a lot more of the plants. There’s a nice walk round on easy paths and a lake where we had seen small alligators on our previous visit. This time we saw only a group of turtles sunbathing just outside the water.

Turtles at Harry P. Leu Gardens, Orlando

A brown-coloured owl stared down at us from its perch in a tree. From the Internet I identified it as a barred owl.

Owl, Harry P. Leu Gardens

The garden is renowned for its 2000+ camellias with over 240 cultivars. Many were still in flower but we were just a bit late in the season to see them at their best.

Camellia, one of 2000+, Harry P. Leu Gardens

The bromeliads were excellent and they have several thriving specimens of the beautiful green, cream and pink stromanthes which we have been trying to grow at our house – this plant suffers in frost which can occur once or twice a year in central Florida.

Stromanthe – wish ours was so healthy

Some of the plants are huge.

Wish my monstera plant could grow like this, Harry P. Leu Gardens

This garden is a pleasant oasis in suburban Orlando. It’s easy to get to it and to park outside.

Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek

Our friend Nancy came down from New York to stay for 4 days. We had made various plans but the weather forecast was not good for our first full day together and so we decided to stay close to home and visit the pioneer village just outside Kissimmee. This contains a number of early (i.e. very late 19th century) buildings constructed by some of the first settlers in Osceola County. All the buildings have been moved to the village from elsewhere in the county.

There are four houses, one of which, belonging to the Tyson family, had only one room, even though they had eleven children. A larger house built by the Cadman family who were originally from Yorkshire has several rooms and is furnished. They lived in it until 1980.

Inside a house, Pioneer Village

Cattle ranching was an important business at that time – there still are plenty of cattle in Florida. The citrus industry also got going at the end of the 19th century. Helpful information boards described the role of these families in setting up these industries.

With summer temperatures in the high 90s F, life must have been tough for the early settlers with no refrigeration, no air-conditioning, and plenty of mosquitoes as well as snakes and alligators to deal with.

There are replicas of a train depot, a church and a schoolhouse which did look rather familiar to those of us on the wrong side of 70.

Familiar-looking school room, Pioneer Village

The site also has a replica Seminole village which shows how the original inhabitants of central Florida lived before the arrival of European settlers.

Like many similar places in the US the village is run entirely by volunteers. The sign boards are excellent.

The forecast rain didn’t come. We went into Kissimmee for lunch and ate a nice quiche at a place which described itself as a tea room. Saying that it was “overstuffed” (a favourite word with American furnishers) with decorations would be an understatement. Christmas decorations seemed to be everywhere. The owner was very pleasant but we did have a conversation with him about making tea. There was a teapot, a rare object in the US, but it only contained hot water to go with a biggest choice of tea bags I have ever seen, but no Yorkshire tea.

Dalí Museum St Petersburg

Rain was forecast again the next day and so we decided to drive the 80 or so miles to visit the Salvador Dalí Museum in St Petersburg. We had all been there before but they now have a completely new building not far from where the old one was. Once you get past the traffic on the interstate in Tampa it is easy to get to St Petersburg where there is little traffic on the wide streets and plenty of parking.

Dalí Museum, St Petersburg

The museum was very busy indeed. We decided not to join a group tour but instead used the excellent iPod-based audio guide which also shows a photo of each picture which is being described.

Martin and I went to the Dalí Museum in Figueres and Dalí’s home in Port Lligat in north-east Spain in 2013 and what we had seen and learned there helped us to understand more about this strange and eccentric artist.

There was also a special exhibition of Dalí and Magritte who were appeared to be competing with each other to create the weirdest painting. In this area we played with a digital tool which allowed us to appear to be part of a Dalí painting.

Fun at the Dalí Museum

The museum has one downside, a cafe which is much too small for the number of visitors. We decided to eat there as we fancied some Spanish food but had to wait a very long time for a nice tapas meal. It being America, the gift shop was huge with some lovely and rather expensive souvenirs.

The promised rain finally arrived in a downpour just as we were leaving but it didn’t last long. After a visit to Haslam’s, which is the largest independent bookstore in Florida, where we managed to buy only one book, we had dinner outside at 400 Beach, a very nice restaurant by the marina.

Sunrail and Winter Park

The weather was very much better on Nancy’s last day with us and so we went back to plan A and did something we have never done before in Florida which was to take a train. A new commuter rail service called, not surprisingly, Sunrail opened in central Florida last year. It goes from Poinciana just south-west of Kissimmee right through the downtown part of Orlando to various commuter towns north of the city.

Sunrail

There are just a few trains outside in the rush hour. We arrived at Poinciana Station in good time to find the platform crowded with grey-haired snowbird seniors taking a day out. This train is amazing value, $2.75 roundtrip for seniors for a journey of 50 minutes each way to Winter Park.

The train is double deck and we went past parts of central Florida which you don’t see from any of the major roads.

Almost everyone was going to Winter Park which is where the wealthy built their mansions so that they could escape the winter cold in the north. A very short walk from the train station takes you to an excellent narrated boat tour where you can see the huge houses and also the buildings of Rollins College, one of the best-known colleges in southern US. The guide said that a number of the houses had been pulled down and rebuilt even bigger.

The boat visits three different lakes, going on narrow canals between them.

Canal, boat tour Winter Park

This is definitely not a trip for a bad day as the boats have no top as the bridges over the canals are so low.

Boat tour, Winter Park

We saw some cormorants perched in three trees in one of the lakes.

Cormorants from boat tour, Winter Park

After lunch at a Turkish restaurant we went to the other major tourist attraction in Winter Park which is the Morse Museum of American Art. This building houses a large collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, he of the coloured lampshades and the posh jewellers on Fifth Avenue, New York.

Tiffany lamps, Morse Museum

Besides the lampshades there were many stained glass windows and mosaics and some excellent glass vases. There are even tops of columns decorated with glass daffodils.

One of four stained glass artworks depicting the seasons, Morse Museum

Many of the pieces came from Tiffany’s Long Island home Laurelton Hall. This includes a chapel interior created by Tiffany for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. After this event finished the chapel was re-installed in a separate building on the Laurelton estate. After the hall was destroyed by fire in 1957 the founders of the Morse Museum Hugh and Jeanette McKean moved the chapel to the interior of the museum. The glasswork in it is stunning, especially the globe-shaped font.

Font in the chapel, Morse Museum

There is no audio guide at this museum but instead a pile of well-designed and well-written small leaflets in each room. You can take these away. I really really like the Tiffany stained glass and ended up buying a big book about it.

There were some real commuters on the train back and some of them had bicycles. It seems that the new train is beginning to solve a few of the traffic issues in central Florida.

Garden at Florida Breeze Villa

Our efforts to grow a papaya tree continue. There are several others now in gardens nearby, but the one we planted in November had fallen over when it got to about 4 feet high. However I did plant some seeds from a fruit we ate in November and when we arrived in January there were about 50 4-inch high papayas in two pots. We bought another plant after we came back from the Dominican Republic and the weather had warmed up, and planted it in a different place accompanied by 2 of the little ones.

Papayas – I live in hope

The hibiscus and azaleas were in full flower in February and we even had some flowers on our bougainvillea which is still quite small. You need to be careful with these plants as they are prickly.

Hibiscus flower at Florida Breeze Villa

There was plenty of blossom on the lemon tree, and a few lemons, when we left and my olive tree was now taller than me. The avocado I grew from a stone was 10 feet tall in January.

From our pool deck you can just see some of our tropical fruit trees and little papaya pots on the left here.

Pool at Florida Breeze Villa

Our Florida home

Picture gallery: Florida Day Trips February 2019

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Put it to the People March 2019

There comes a time when you absolutely feel that you have to do something. That happened for Martin and myself when we heard that on Saturday 23 March 2019 there would be a Put it to the People March for a public vote on the government’s proposed EU withdrawal bill. So we booked a hotel and drove down to London on the Friday afternoon.

Go here for photos.

We stayed by the M25 and then left the car on Saturday at the nearest tube station High Barnet. The Central Line train from Tottenham Court Road was very full and huge crowds got off at Marble Arch, some, like me, carrying placards or draped in EU flags.

Ready for off

We were early, at least we thought we were, so we went to a nearby Patisserie Valerie for coffee. A couple of a similar age to us at the next table jokingly accused us of being wimps – they had come on a coach from Durham leaving at 5am. There was a very long and friendly queue for the loo. Everybody was talking about where they had come from.

We had intended to join the Yorkshire for Europe group who were meeting outside the Grosvenor House hotel or the LibDems meeting outside the Dorchester at noon but there was no way we were going to get to them. Park Lane was already full.

Park Lane full when we got there

The police opened up the area of grass between the two carriageways and we managed to make a bit of progress on that but came to a halt again for a long time.

There were some impromptu speeches much further down Park Lane. We couldn’t hear but joined the cheers. We sat on the barrier next to some friendly policemen and ate our lunch.

A friendly policeman

The front of the march left about 1pm. Eventually we shuffled forward down Park Lane and reached Piccadilly just about when the main speeches were starting in Parliament Square at 2.45pm.

There was a great sense of camaderie and plenty of laughs at some of the placards, but there was also a great sense of steely determination to stop this impending disaster. Like us many people were angry and upset that our country is being subjected to a right-wing coup run by wealthy disaster capitalists.

There were people of all ages, but plenty of the same generation as ourselves, putting paid to the story that all older people are Leave supporters.

Plenty of grey hairs

There were children, too, carrying placards pleading for their future. A baby in a pram was labelled “Erasmus baby”- his parents must have met when they were benefitting from the EU scheme for exchange and study abroad.

Plenty of people were draped in EU flags or waving them, but the Yorkshire flag was out in force too. The placards showed the best of British humour. Most were a lot better than my own feeble effort, but then I had never made one before. We didn’t see the Guardian’s favourite “Fromage not Farage” but there was a limerick, a “900,000 here, 90 on Nigel’s march” and “a complete Mogg’s dinner”.

Rees-Mogg: one of the best

You can find the best ones we saw among our photos here.

Some placards highighted links with Putin, and demonized Trump as well as Theresa May. Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were widely derided.

Scientists for EU, who I have followed for 3 years now, and NHS for EU were prominent on the march as workers in those fields really understand how damaging leaving the EU would be.

Support for the NHS

At the bottom of Park Lane, we caught up with a lady carrying a placard Ripon for Europe with a picture of sheep in the dales. Later when I looked at Twitter she was on the front row in a photo of the bus from Ripon which was posted by Lord Dick Newby the leader of the LibDems in the Lords who lives in Ripon.

It took ages for everyone to get round the corner and funnel into Piccadilly but then we were moving forward, a bit.

Waiting to turn into Piccadilly

It was stop and start all the way from there. Every ten minutes or so somebody started a loud cheer and there was much waving of banners.

The phone signal was up and down. People kept checking the petition to revoke Article 50 which already had over 4 million signatures when the march started.

When we turned into St James, Piccadilly behind us was still full of people. Drummers from Notting Hill were trying to keep people moving.

Drummers from Notting Hill

Their conductor was walking backwards. I smiled at him and he rushed over to me while his companion took a photo of us together. I suppose I might be on his Facebook page somewhere.

A bagpiper playing the EU anthem “Ode to Joy” almost brought tears to my eyes.

Ode to Joy nearly brought me to tears

When we were nearing Trafalgar Square we saw the first big screen, but not an official one from the march, but a mobile one from the wonderful Led by Donkeys – you can find them on Facebook and Twitter. It was cycling through some of the most mendacious statements of the Brexiteers. The blank one of Jeremy Corbyn drew plenty of laughs and a chorus of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?”

Led by Donkeys’ screen

The first of the march’s own big screens in Trafalgar Square simply said “People’s Vote Thank you for coming and have a safe journey home”. It was 5pm when we got there and the main speeches had long since finished.

In Whitehall there was a sizeable crowd making uncomplimentary noises outside Downing Street where the gates were firmly closed.

Outside Downing Street

After over 5 hours, we reached Parliament Square about 5.20pm when the staging for the speeches was already being dismantled. There were many people still behind us.

Arrived in Parliament Square – after 5 hours

The march was entirely peaceful, with no riots and no arrests. The gammon Leavers, who said online that they would disrupt it, knew they would be outnumbered and stayed away.

So we missed the main speeches. Tom Watson had already said that he was going to say that he would support a confirmatory referendum on the withdrawal agreement. I read that 86-year old Michael Heseltine had reduced some people to tears when he said

We can debate the motives and obligations of those in public life. What cannot be in doubt is our responsibility to our young generations to pass on to them a country richer, more powerful, safer than that we ourselves inherited. Our partnership with Europe is that destiny.

Walk tall. Keep the faith. Go back to your villages, your towns and your cities. Tell them you were here. Here, In parliament square. Outside the buildings that inspire parliamentary democracy. Fighting for our tomorrow. In peace. Secure. The bitterness and bloodshed of Europe’s past buried with its history.

We stayed in central London for dinner. Later in the evening a Danish family who were visiting London approached us while we were waiting for a bus. They had seen that I was still wearing my “Bollocks to Brexit” sticker. They had been following the Brexit saga, but couldn’t understand why the UK had voted to leave the EU and wanted more information. Their teenage son knew more about the implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement than most British people do.

What Now?

The BBC has abandoned all sense of impartiality over Brexit. As expected, it played down the significance of the march, trying to balance the million people on it with the hundred or so on Farage’s Brexit march.

The only arguments left for leaving were still being touted by Liam Fox on the Today Programme this morning (Monday): that (1) people voted to Leave and (2) that the 2017 election manifestos for both major parties supported Brexit. But it was a narrow majority almost three years go. Time has moved on. People can change their minds. The Conservatives lost their majority in 2017. No party won the election.

Many of the placards drew attention to the lies that were told in 2016. People have seen through this now. They know that that the aim of the wealthy Brexiteers is to get rid of all the EU regulations which protect people and the environment. They know now that Brexit is all because of a civil war in the Tory Party, that Leave broke the law and that money from dubious sources was used to fund their campaign.

The Brexiteers want the UK to be out of the customs union so that they can seal the trade deal that Trump says will be so great (only for the US of course), that is to sell out UK business and healthcare to the US. There are reports that American big pharma thinks our drugs are too cheap and that it wants to charge the NHS five times what it now pays for drugs.

Ordinary people just want this awful divisiveness to end, and their country to return to normality and prosperity. They want a strong government which cares for its people. They do not want to see what we saw in London on this our first time walking about in Central London for years, that is homeless people sleeping in doorways and people begging for money on the streets and on the tube. The large balloon shaped like a banana with “Banana republic” written on it encapsulated where the UK is headed if Brexit is not stopped.

Last Words

My MP, none other than the Chief Whip Julian Smith, assured me at the end of January that “it is not the Government’s strategy to run down the clock until 29 March”. Can you believe anything that these people say?

The petition to revoke Article 50 has reached over 5,500,000 signatures as I finish this early on Monday afternoon. It was started by a 76-year old lady. She has received death threats. Is this really the country that you and I want to live in?

People’s Vote March London 23 March 2019

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Dominican Republic February 2019

After our failed attempt to see anything of the Domincan Republic (DR) on a cruise last year we decided to fly down there for a week while we were staying at our house in Florida.

Go here for a picture gallery.

Our flight from Miami on American Airlines was excellent on a brand new plane later identified from the internet as a 737 Max 8, the same model as the one which crashed in Ethiopia a few weeks after our trip. American Airlines has 24 of them.

Santo Domingo from the air

Santo Domingo

We spent two nights in the capital Santo Domingo. I had not realised before how old some of the buildings there are, and how important Christopher Columbus is in their history. Our hotel El Beaterio had once been a convent built in the 16th century. The rooms surrounded a pleasant courtyard.

Courtyard, El Beaterio Hotel, Santo Domingo

We were right in the Zona Colonial. We arrived mid-afternoon via a slightly hair-raising taxi drive from the airport. This was a fixed fare of $40 but the driver gave us his card and said he would take us back there for $25.

On the first evening we just wandered round a bit and had a falafel dinner nearby.

The next day was sightseeing in earnest. There was some competition as a German cruise ship was in port and in several places we had to battle past groups from the ship. We started with the cathedral which was built in the 16th century and is the oldest in the Americas. It was beautifully restored for a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1992 and is light and airy in contrast to many Catholic cathedrals we have seen elsewhere.

Inside the cathedral, Santo Domingo

There were small chapels along both sides. One contained a life-size tableau of human statues and animals. The humans had no faces. We were later to find out why.

First of many faceless statues, inside the cathedral, Santo Domingo

Next up was the fort overlooking the Río Ozama. Construction began in 1502 and it is the oldest colonial military building in the Americas. The main part has good views and I liked the design of the information boards. There is not too much to see inside.

Fort, Santo Domingo

We walked further up the Calle las Damas, which is the oldest street paved street in the Americas and got its name because the wife of Columbus’ son enjoyed walking up and down on it with her female friends. We briefly visited the Panteón Nacional which is a mausoleum with a soldier standing guard, never blinking as tourists filed past.

The Plaza España is the main square in Santo Domingo, although it is not an actual square. Its main building is the Alcázar de Colón where Columbus’ son Diego and his wife lived in the 16th century.

Alcázar de Colón, Santo Domingo

This building contains furnishings of the period. Some of the items belonged to the Columbus family including a small trunk which I think the guide said was made of elephant skin.

Then it it was time for lunch, a huge pizza in a nice restaurant overlooking the plaza.

On the way back to the hotel we visited the Museo de las Casas Reales (Museum of the Royal Houses) which was also built in the 16th century and was the seat of Spanish government in Caribbean. Of most interest to us were some maps of the earlier voyages of discovery, but there were also plenty of historical artefacts.

Historical map, Museo de las Casas Reales, Santo Domingo

After a rest we found we were only 2 blocks away from a long pedestrianised street with shops and cafes and more larger than life-sized human models with heads but no faces. Our hunt for the map shop listed in the guide book turned out to take some time, but during it we met up with a Canadian lady, now living in Florida, who was also planning to rent a car and needed a map.

We had an interesting dinner in a rather up-market Dominican restaurant Mesón de Bari and just hoped the rest of the country would be a bit cheaper.

Sosúa-Cabarete

With the aid of the hotel receptionist, we summoned the same taxi driver to take us to the airport to pick up our rental car. We had read fairly dire things about driving in the DR which has a reputation for dangerous driving and plenty of accidents. But we felt it was the only way to see some of country.

Our car seemed OK and after photographing all the scratches on it, we set off towards the north east. To get there from Santo Domingo you have to go on an elevated so-called “expressway” through the city as they haven’t finished building the ring road yet. We found ourselves in an enormous traffic jam with cars trying to get on to the road at the many junctions by pushing (almost literally) their way in. There was no hard shoulder and finally, after well over an hour, we reached a car which had broken down.

After that we were soon on the so-called “autopista” towards Puerto Plata. There was quite a hefty toll but people were wandering about by the side of the road. It was some time before we reached a cafe on our side of the road and had a very welcome coffee and a visit to a very clean loo.

We had planned to take the ruta panoramica over the mountains to the north coast but had to divert to the shortest route as we were in danger of not getting to our next hotel in daylight. In the end we just had to drive about 20km along the coast road in the dark.

We stayed two nights at a bed and breakfast called Garden by the Sea halfway between Sosúa and Cabarete. The room was very good, as was breakfast, but as we only know the Spanish for scrambled eggs (huevos revueltos) we had to have our eggs cooked the same way on both days.

Here, as we saw everywhere in the DR, there were many bougainvilleas.

Bougainvilleas everywhere

It was about 100m from the B&B to Playa Laguna which was an empty beach lined by apartments.

Playa Laguna near Garden by the Sea

Our one full day in the northwest was taken up by a long trip westward to La Isabela, a settlement founded by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Driving turned out to be fine as there wasn’t much traffic. You do need to have eyes all round your head because there are so many small motorbikes dodging in and out. They were just like those we had seen in Vietnam a few years ago.

We stopped for lunch (another pizza) at Puerto Plata in a restaurant on the malecón, which is the Spanish generic name for an esplanade running along by the sea. After some road works just past Puerto Plata it was an easy drive across some low hills to La Isabela where we found a neatly laid-out and well-tended archaeological site and a small museum.

La Isabela archaeological site

Columbus had picked his spot as it was a beautiful location by a small beach just inside a bay.

Where Christopher Columbus landed in 1493

One other couple was just leaving. There were no other visitors.

Driving back was OK in the rush hour at Puerto Plata and we even managed to stop at a supermarket to pick up some food for the next day.

At Sosúa we did something we rarely do which was to eat at the same restaurant on successive nights. There wasn’t much other choice near to the B&B and a Swiss-German restaurant called El Choco had a good choice of food.

Las Terrenas

Our last three nights were spent at Las Terrenas on the north coast of the Samaná peninsula which is in the north-east of the DR. Getting there on a Sunday was no problem as the main road along the north coast was quite empty. We stopped briefly at Río San Juan to see a lagoon with some colourful boats.

Río San Juan

Playa Grande, a beautiful sandy beach lined by trees and almost a mile long, was a good place for our picnic where I had company. We didn’t encounter a single nasty dog anywhere in the DR, unlike many of the countries we have visited.

Company for lunch – on Playa Grande

Plenty of locals were enjoying Sunday there, but most of the beach was deserted.

The last part of the drive was over a spectacular new mountain road (with a hefty toll), but the views were amazing. It reminded me of Hawaii with steep mountains covered in lush green and a variety of trees and vegetation.

Las Terrenas has grown from a village around a small river into a major tourist area – this is not at all surprising as there are so many spectacular sandy beaches in the area. There is a complicated one-way system and hardly anywhere to park in the town.

This area also turned out to be favoured by the French which meant one thing: good food. We stayed at the Iguana Hotel, a group of bungalows run by a French lady where the breakfast was wonderful.

Bungalow at the Iguana Hotel

In the first evening we ate at a restaurant on the beach which was about 100m from the hotel. It was very quiet.

On our first full day we set off to explore Samaná, going first to the El Limón waterfall in the middle of the peninsula. At least, Martin went to the waterfall which was a tough 2-hour round trip hike with a guide.

At El Limón waterfall

I was looked after very well at the cafe at the start of the walk where we then had lunch of chicken, rice and fruit.

After lunch we drove on to Samaná town on the south side, photographed an interesting church and then enquired about whale watching as it was in the middle of the season when hundreds of humpback whales come to Samaná Bay. The news from the whale watching company was not good. They had only one trip going on the next day which was already full. It was going to be rough and we would very likely be seasick. Since we had seen these whales before in Hawaii we were not too bothered about this.

We drove on to Las Galeras at the end of Samaná where there is also a substantial French influence and where we found a nice cafe/patisserie.

Beach at Las Galeras

On the way back we did just see a big splash in the bay which must have been a whale.

Ignoring a road closed sign we found our way back on a road along the coast, which was under construction but not closed, thus avoiding the lengthy one-way system in Las Terrenas. Dinner was at Baraonda, another restaurant further along the road from our hotel towards the town centre. We waited almost an hour for our food.

On the morning of our last full day we walked along the beach to the town centre, had coffee at Paco Cabana on the beach, then looked at the shops. Lunch was at another French place with a typically French set menu. We were the only non-native French-speaking people there.

In the afternoon we took another drive over the mountains on a different route to the south of Samaná. We passed through plenty of villages and saw a number of small horses ridden by people who were rounding up cattle. Everything looked lush and green and there were some spectacular views from the mountain road and huge coconut groves by the sea.

Samaná Bay

We waited in vain for a whale to surface off Samaná town. Then it was back past El Limón and along the coast road. Miraculously we found place to park in the town and had dinner at Paco Cabana by the beach. Highly recommended.

The drive back to Santo Domingo airport next day on a good road was uneventful, but again expensive with more tolls. At least they are building some better roads now. If you look on the map you will see how few roads there are. The car had no more scratches and we had made it with no mishaps in this country of terrible drivers.

Impressions of the Dominican Republic

We liked the country a lot. The mountainous scenery is quite something. Apart from the craziness of Santo Domingo outside the Zona Colonial, much of the country is rural with small villages. There are flowers everywhere. Almost every tiny house in a village has flowering plants – bougainvillea was the most popular. The people are very friendly and helpful and we saw nothing of the crime and traffic accidents which the guide books warned about.

Santo Domingo was a very nice surprise. We knew there was some history there but had no idea that there was so much or that it was so old. The historical buildings were well looked after and included in the modest entry fee was an audio guide with a headset which was available in several languages.

Outside Santo Domingo we found prices to be very reasonable and you can use a credit card with a pin number (are you listening, Americans?) almost anywhere. We didn’t need to buy much petrol but that was all easy too, with an attendant to fill the tank.

The beaches are quite possibly the best we have seen anywhere in the world. There are just so many of them, all golden sand and kept clean.

You can get by without knowing any Spanish, but a little knowledge helps a bit.

We finally solved the mystery of the faceless figurines when one shopkeeper in Las Terrenas told us that this was because there are so many different races and mixed-race people in the DR. But it’s then odd that some of the figurines we saw had black faces and others white ones.

It was sunny or partly cloudy with a pleasant breeze all the time we were there – a contrast from cold rain when we landed in Miami.

We would definitely go again especially as it is only a 2-hour flight from Miami, but perhaps not in a 737 MAX 8.

Picture gallery: A Week in the Dominican Republic February 2019

Click to enlarge

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Anatomy of a Daily Mail Comment

My anger boiled over late yesterday when I read comments on the Daily Mail’s report on the article it had published at 5pm on 22 February by Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke “If we don’t get a deal next week we MUST delay Brexit”. So I wrote a comment at approximately 10.45pm.

Here is what I said:

susan, Harrogate, United Kingdom, 17 hours ago

Brexit died weeks ago. Most MPs and most of the population know this. The referendum was over 2.5 years ago and much has happened since then. All the promises made by the leave campaign have turned out to be false. We are indeed being led by donkeys as this group’s billboards show. All Mrs May needs to do is to be like the strong women who have stood up for what they believe in this week, and tell the nation that the Brexit that was promised is undeliverable. To save face she must organise another vote to let all those people who realise they have been sold a dud make their views clear. She must stop being weakly held to ransom by all those old white males in the ERG who are only interested in making money out of the impending disaster.

Within an hour this comment had acquired 56 red down arrows, 15 green up arrows
and 6 replies. After 17 hours when I am writing this it has 87 down arrows and 37 up arrows.

Here are the replies, and their totals of up and down arrows up till now, with my thoughts on these:

somersetsue, taunton, 17 hours ago

That vote could still return a leave result, I have heard remainers change their mind having seen what bully boys the EU are!

17 up arrows, 5 down arrows

I am aware that the vote could still return leave result. I think remainers are more likely to accept this if the vote was shown to be fair.

There is an endless narrative in the pro-Brexit press about the EU being bullies, but nobody ever gives any examples. I think that the EU leaders have behaved very well. They did not start this and it has caused them a huge amount of extra work while they have observed the UK government going nowhere negotiating with itself for months.

kemali, Blackpool, United Kingdom, 17 hours ago

My goodness Susan..in just one post you have revealed your lefty, undemocratic and man-hating views! Wow!

16 up arrows, 6 down arrows

I don’t know whether some of this is a compliment or not, but I was pleased to see that 7 of the 11 new Independent Group are women.

Professor Prune, LONDON, United Kingdom, 17 hours ago

Nonsense. The delegated instruction given by a mature and democratic eletorate trumps everything else.

13 up arrows, 4 down arrows

I don’t know how many times I have read this kind of comment before. I don’t know about “mature” but this person makes no attempt to argue against me except the endless repetition of a version of “we voted out”. Does he not know that things have changed since June 2016 and that what most of what Leave promised has turned out to be lies?

kemali, Blackpool, 17 hours ago

Rudd has been a problem since May brought her back… amazed that May hasn’t sacked her! Has she got something on her??

16 up arrows, 3 down arrows

Same person again. Just an insult.

guitarist16, London, United Kingdom, 17 hours ago

The only people who have been eating humble pie since the referendum are those that favoured remaining as their predictions and exaggerations have been proved to be futile. The referendum had the biggest turnout for a vote in recent years, every eligible person, who could be bothered voted freely, £millions was spent on campaigning beforehand, especially for remaining, registration was extended and as we are a democratic country, the majority decision is final, since then the same remain favouring MPs, have and still are, trying to stop what the country voted for, when Scotland had their referendum the majority decision was final, so why isn’t the UKs

19 up arrows, 3 down arrows

Where are the examples to support his (I use “his” although his gender is not clear) statement “those that favoured remaining as their predictions and exaggerations have been proved to be futile”. Surely it has become clear now that the opposite is true. Leavers appeared to think that the economy would fall apart the day after the referendum but it was always obvious that it would be a slow but accelerating decline as businesses move out of the UK. This is visibly happening now – we have seen another example this week with Honda whose “business reasons” must surely include Brexit.

This response also parrots the often repeated “majority decision is final” and “biggest turnout for a vote in recent years”. He does not address my point that much has happened since 2016. There are plenty of examples of people being asked to vote on the terms of a deal once this has been agreed by two parties, notably in the trade union movement where leaders are asked to negotiate new terms and then put them back to their members for acceptance or rejection. In the case of the 2016 referendum it seems to me that this is essential because, as I said in my original comment, “All the promises made by the leave campaign have turned out to be false.”

Emma Harrington, London, United Kingdom, 16 hours ago

So let’s advocate treason on a public forum that will be popular

8 up arrows and 4 down arrows

Perhaps the people who liked or disliked this comment had less trouble parsing it than I have. I am not at all clear what it is intended to mean. Is it one sentence or two? Is she advocating treason by the three authors of the article or accusing me of treason or suggesting she should be treasonous herself? In any case you could interpret this statement in more than one way. Is it the public forum that will be popular? Or is it advocating treason on a public forum, and saying that to do so would be popular?

In any case I hardly think that disagreement is “treason”. There are many instances of politicians who have publicly disagreed with their leaders.

I did make an attempt rather late to reply to guitarist16. Here is what I said

susan, Harrogate, United Kingdom, 15 hours ago

To guitarist16. We haven’t left the EU yet, but jobs are going (Honda this week) and financial organizations are taking their capital out of London. You haven’t mentioned the huge amounts of money spent by Leave in telling lies to people on Facebook about Turkey joining the EU etc. Nobody has yet said where Arron Banks got this money from. I’m so sorry for the people who fell for these lies. If this isn’t stopped the UK is heading for steady but accelerating decline in isolation from the rest of the world. It will be ripe for asset stripping by US businesses – as the Brexiteers have planned for years. See the 2012 book Britannia Unchained by Patel, Raab, Truss etc and the more recent books by Tim Shipman.

This got 7 up arrows and 8 down arrows, but by then most of these people had moved on to repeat the same comments again and again.

All this has depressed me, not because I have been criticised by these people but because they do seem to have some difficulty in actually addressing the points that I made. I have seen this over and over again in the comment forums of the tabloids.

I do wonder what people think they are achieving by repeating the same comments over and over again. Are they paid trolls? Is it brainwashing? I would seriously question whether any of the responses to my comment, and their up and down arrows, have any effect at all except to reinforce existing prejudices. Sadly, I believe the Leave campaign took advantage of this and kept pumping out misinformation on social media and encouraging more and more people to believe it and to “like” it. It appears to be continuing to do this with more misinformation about the WTO and the Lisbon Treaty.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people could look at what is actually being said, and have a reasoned argument supported by evidence?

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Three Little Trips in Florida Autumn 2018

We spent six weeks at our Florida house in autumn 2018. It was wonderfully warm, over 80F most days, and we ate almost every meal outside by the pool. It was even warm enough to sit out in the rain as the chairs are under cover. There was plenty to do in the house but also time for some trips.

Go here for a picture gallery.

Cedar Key and North West

Cedar Key is a laid back clam and fishing village on the west coast about 160 miles north west from our house. We went there for the first time about 9 years ago. It was definitely time to go back.

On the way we took a detour to Rainbow Springs State Park. Before Disney arrived in Florida, this park was a major tourist attraction. It had elaborate gardens, waterfalls, glass bottom boat trips and a zoo. Now most tourists, but not us, go there to swim in a colourful lake, which is hopefully alligator free. My camera couldn’t quite do justice to its colours.

Rainbow Springs State Park

About an hour after we arrived, the heavens opened with a big thunderstorm, luckily when we we not far from the visitor centre and could shelter. There were sheets of rain – and the sun shining nearby. I had a good conversation with the ranger and the volunteer in the centre who really appreciated our preference for the Florida State Parks over Disney. I’m glad that the state is putting plenty of funding into these parks where there is only a modest charge for a car to go in.

We had decided to try airbnb at Cedar Key and found ourselves in a nice room in a newish house which was built on stilts in case of hurricanes. The owner told us that building regulations now require living areas to be at least 18 feet off the ground. We were about a mile from the old area of Cedar Key which is now mostly tourist shops and fish restaurants.

View from our airbnb, Cedar Key

The Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge consists of many islands off a complicated coast line and is home to abundant wildlife. Next day we took a boat trip around some of the islands. The boat took 12 people, but all but another couple and us got off at the first island Atsena Otie Key for the beach. When we picked them up on the way back, it turned out that they had had an afternoon with the mosquitoes. I managed to grab a picture of the hat in front of us.

There was a long disused jetty off Atsena Otie Key, occupied by a long row of cormorants.

Cormorants on the jetty on Atsena Otie Key

Almost all these islands are uninhabited, but Seahorse Key is occupied by a research station, and, apparently, plenty of snakes. We could not get off there but came close enough to see the research buildings and the lighthouse.

The islands vary in size a lot. Some are just grass which can be covered over at high tide.

Grassy Key – with one inhabitant

Further out we finally got to see some of the huge white pelicans which we had seen on our previous visit. They are far larger than the normal brown ones. Some had got caught on a sand bank and were swimming to land as the tide came in.

Great white pelicans

We wondered why two small dogs had come with us on the boat, but one of them suddenly started barking like mad. It had heard some dolphins whose sound is out of range for human hearing. Several dolphins then started leaping around the boat and in the wake.

We stopped off briefly at Manatee Springs State Park on the way home. It was too warm for manatees which come to these warm springs in cold weather, and so we walked out on the boardwalk to the Suwanee River. We saw plenty of birds including vultures which we have rarely seen in Florida before. There were no alligators.

Vultures at Manatee Springs State Park

Jupiter and Jonathan Dickenson State Park

It’s about 150 miles south east from our house to Jupiter which is both a town and a barrier island off the east coast. Much of Florida is empty and this route goes through some of the emptiest area with almost no houses and just a few cattle spread around. In 89 miles of Florida’s Turnpike (a major route from north to south) there is only one exit, Yeehaw Junction where we were disappointed to see that the Desert Inn, a historic landmark building, is now closed and delapidated. It was an enormous contrast from 4-lane highways and endless unplanned development in the Orlando area.

We were rather late setting off and arrived at Jupiter Island in the late afternoon in time to walk on the beach at the north end of the island to watch the glow from sunset in the eastern sky.

Sunset colours at Jupiter Island on the east coast

There are very long sandy beaches on the barrier islands on east coast of Florida, but it all does become rather boring after a while as the coastline is straight and there are no hills or cliffs, only empty space punctuated by clusters of tall apartment blocks.

We stayed in a motel in the town of Jupiter and, after getting a nail removed and puncture fixed in one of our tyres (no charge for this), we went to the Jupiter Lighthouse and Museum where there were a few displays about the Seminole Indians who were once the only inhabitants of the area.

The lighthouse, painted red, was built in the 1850s and is on a “hill” which rises all of 50 feet. I declined the 105 spiral stairs but Martin made it to the top and can just be seen half-hidden behind the left Christmas decoration bow.

Martin behind the left bow on Jupiter Lighthouse

There was a huge tree at the base of the lighthouse. We thought it was a banyan but were told that it was a kind of oak.

From Jupiter we drove north on route 1 to the Jonathan Dickenson State Park which covers a large area just east of the main road. There we decided to do the boat tour which took us on the Loxahatchee River to Trapper Nelson’s homestead. Nelson was an eccentric who lived off the land in what seemed more like a clearing in the jungle. He had assembled a kind of zoo of raccoons, alligators, snakes and other wildlife, and charged people to visit in the 1940s and 1950s. He was found dead in 1968 due to a shotgun, but nobody knows whether it was suicide or murder.

Arriving at Trapper Nelson’s on the Loxahatchee River

We were on the last river trip of the day and the guide clearly thought it was too late to see much wildlife. There were a few canoeists and people in their own boats. What amazed me was how anybody could find their way on a fairly narrow and winding river with plenty of side canals, all edged with apparently the same mangroves and then the same trees as we got further away from the sea. True to the guide’s prediction there were no alligators.

Before we left we walked up all 82 feet to the highest natural point of land in south Florida then up the Hobe Mountain Observation Tower from where you could see for miles.

Hobe Observation Tower at Jonathan Dickenson State Park

After the long and empty drive on the Turnpike then another on route 60 we had a nice fish dinner at a very local old Florida restaurant in Lake Wales about 25 miles from home.

Kissimmee State Park

Our third little trip was very little, only a short trip from home for a picnic in Kissimmee State Park. It’s the nearest park to our house but still about 45 minutes away. We took a picnic there in the hope of finally seeing some alligators, but, even though it was a Sunday, we found the park almost deserted except for a few birds .

Can anyone identify this large bird, Kissimmee State Park

The last time we were there a few years before we saw plenty of alligators in the water near the visitor centre area but there were none this time and none in the channel to the lake, where we walked alongside for a while.

There’s an observation tower in the park from where you can see across the prairie to Lake Kissimmee which is the fourth largest lake in Florida.

Camp Mack Fishing Camp is at the end of the road a couple of miles past the park entrance and so we decided to drive along and take a look. The Sunday activity was definitely there. Pickup trucks were parked everywhere and a crowd of a hundred or so mainly large people were sitting in picnic chairs watching the results of a junior fishing competition. A line of teenagers wearing their fishing club t-shirts were waiting to have their catches weighed while an MC conducted proceedings through a loud sound system.

Fishing competition at Camp Mack Fishing Camp

Florida is very multicultural but there was not single hispanic or black face there. My immediate reaction was “Welcome to Trumpland”. Polk county, where our house is, did vote for Trump. Much of it is rural and small towns, totally different from the Orlando area, although it is close enough to Orlando for Disney and shopping.

We stayed about 15 minutes and took some photos. The fish were mainly bass. One weighed over 12 pounds – no kilograms in the US.

Miscellania

One day as we were eating our lunch outside, we saw a small plane writing in the sky with its vapour trail. The letters soon began to disintegrate before it finished. We saw it again another day as we were eating lunch by Lake Tohopekaliga at Kissimmee. The letters disintegrated again.

Airplane sky writing, from Florida Breeze Villa

The Americans really go for Christmas decorations. Some houses had lights all over and a menagerie of 4 foot high illuminated metal reindeer in the front garden. They also go for huge inflatables and I managed a to grab pictures of some in two stores.

Inflateable Mickey Mouse for Christmas

One evening when we got home we saw that a house across the road from us had a row of 3 smaller inflateables outside which were singing some monotonous music. Thankfully they had collapsed the next day.

Another day we saw a car with decorative “antlers” on its aerials. In fact we saw this twice but have no idea whether it was the same car.

The papaya tree we planted in March was dead. It had grown to about 4 feet and had one small papaya on it, but it was laid on the ground and had been either struck by the hurricane or by the lawn mowing guy who rides round too fast.

Most Americans are not into gardening and their idea of a neat garden is a lawn and few bushes, including even hibiscus, pruned into box shapes, but one garden on our development is amazing. A Mexican family lives there and the owner showed us round one day. He has 8 papaya trees, each about 10 feet tall with plenty of fruit on each. He told us that he had grown them from seeds. He also had guavas, lemons, avocados and many other tropical plants. We came away with two large papayas.

Picture gallery: Three Little Trips in Florida Autumn 2018

Click to enlarge