Showing posts from 2020

Algarve Portugal - Prince Henry Disappoints Me

There are some very attractive destinations to visit in Portugal, so let us begin by naming four of them. There is Estoril, a coastal resort near Lisbon. Estoril was a popular destination for royalty who had been forcibly retired by their subjects. If former kings and queens decided to spend their exile in Estoril, it must have had something going for it.

Then there is Oporto in the north of Portugal, the city that port wine comes from. There are dozens of different companies in Oporto producing port wine, and even more opportunities to taste and compare their various blends.

Then there is the university city of Coimbra, midway between Lisbon and Oporto. Founded in 1290, at about the same time as Oxford and Cambridge, the university dominates the area. It has filled the city with medieval monuments and writers and artists, not to mention tens of thousands of students.

Finally, there is Lisbon itself, the capital of Portugal, sitting on the banks of the Tagus just where that river flo…

Long Beach California - RMS Queen Mary

As time passes and as new birthdays arrive for me, it is becoming harder than ever to improve on previous birthday celebrations. For example, on this website, I am to be seen in a video celebrating my 73rd birthday by drinking burgundy wine in Burgundy, France. What can beat that?

Last week Pat and I undertook the task of celebrating my 75th birthday. We chose to do so with a lady, whom I first met many years ago and who is my age. She is world famous under the name of the RMS Queen Mary and it was the Cunard Line that built this magnificent ocean liner. The initials ‘RMS’ are short for Royal Mail Ship and have been much prized in the shipping industry since 1840, when the postage stamp was invented. They signify that the ship is one that has been commissioned by the Crown to carry the Royal Mail. The liner made her maiden voyage in 1936, just as I was preparing to make my own entry onto the world stage.

Cunard had planned to call her The Queen Victoria and told the King of their int…

Oxford England - The Dreaming Spires of Oxford

Matthew Arnold, the Victorian poet who was a Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, had a friend who met an untimely death. Arnold therefore wrote in his memory in 1865 a poem entitled Thyrsis, which referred to Oxford as “that sweet city with her dreaming spires”. These words have attached themselves to Oxford ever since and so they should. It is indeed a city pleasantly free of high rise buildings and the spires of ancient colleges and churches predominate.

Pat and I visited Oxford, home of the oldest university in the English speaking world, in August 2012. We inspected it from the upper deck of a bus, and what we saw was no surprise to us. For many years in America, public television has shown a popular detective series set in Oxford. Therefore much of the architecture of the city was familiar to us.

The TV series centered on a fictional cop called Detective Chief Inspector Morse, superbly played by actor John Thaw who died. An episode was written where Morse also died, but th…

Nashville Tennessee - Music City USA

In October 2014, Pat and I made our first visit to Music City, USA, and attended an 89th birthday party.  It was not my birthday. Instead it was a birthday celebration by The Grand Ole Opry, the iconic 4000 seat auditorium that is the center of the country music world in America.

Music City, USA, is of course Nashville, a city of 1.6 million residents.  It’s the capital of the great state of Tennessee.  It’s also where The Grand Ole Opry opened its doors 89 years ago this month, although it has only occupied its present site since 1974. The auditorium was packed, but we had great seats from which to enjoy the concert being held to mark the birthday.  Only four years ago, the place was under water.  I do not mean financially, because I have rarely seen an operation in the entertainment industry making so much money.  It was under water, because the nearby Cumberland River had burst its banks and left The Grand Ole Opry under four feet of water.  It’s made a great recovery from that di…

Oceanside California - San Luis Rey Mission Indian Pow Wow

Charles III, the King of Spain, having heard from the Court of Catherine the Great in Russia that the Russians were building a fort in Northern California, decided he needed to grab as much land as he could with the least amount of expense. In order to save the vast sums of money it would cost to send an entire army to claim California for Spain, the King financed the missionary army of the Catholic Church. The Church sent a few dozen Franciscan Friars, accompanied by a small group of soldiers for protection, to lay claim to California. Twenty-one missions were formed in all, linked by the Royal Road or El Camino Real.

The 18th Mission to be built, San Luis Rey de Francia, lies in a valley just east of Oceanside on State Highway 76. The Mission was named for Louis IX of France, whose descendants occupied the Spanish throne at the time and whose claim to fame was leading two disastrous crusades to the Holy Land in the Middle Ages.

The grounds of the Mission contain a beautifully manic…

Berlin Germany - A Small Island With A Difference

I have sometimes written on this website about small islands.  For example, I have written about my visits to Madeira, Malta, Cyprus and Middle Caicos. Let me now write about a small island with a difference.

This small island was not surrounded by oceans like those other small islands.  Instead, from 1945 until 1989, it was surrounded by land under the control of communists and was therefore cut off from the western world. During those years, it was a tiny island of freedom inside the vast red expanse of the Soviet empire. This small island was of course West Berlin which, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has been reunited with East Berlin and has resumed its position as Germany’s capital.

Pat and I passed through the reunified city for the first time in July 2010. We were only there for seven hours, which is no basis for writing anything at all about such a large and historic city as Berlin. At least Pat has had the wisdom not to pontificate on the subject of Japan, simply because…

Jekyll Island Georgia - Birthplace of a Conspiracy

In 1886, the great Victorian author Robert Louis Stevenson published his famous novel entitled The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In the same year, the wealthiest families in America founded The Jekyll Island Club and built its magnificent clubhouse on Jekyll Island, Georgia. These two events were utterly unrelated to each other.

Jekyll Island was so named long before Stevenson’s birth by General James Oglethorpe, the founder of the colony of Georgia, in honor of an associate of his who was a judge in 18th century London.

To learn more about General Oglethorpe, please see my article on Savannah elsewhere on this website. The club ended its existence as such during World War Two, although the clubhouse survives and is now a hotel. However, in its early years, the club membership included Joseph Pulitzer, J P Morgan, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts and many of the other prestigious families of America’s gilded age, who built vacation cottages nearby.

Pat and I visited Jekyll …