Not my cup of tea

BEFORE REACHING MADEIRA, many people insisted that we should visit Reid’s Hotel in Funchal and to take afternoon tea there.

Pool at Reid’s Hotel in Madeira

Located in the western part of Funchal,  Reid’s was founded by William Reid, a Scotsman who arrived in Madeira in 1836. The hotel was his idea but he died before it was completed (in 1891). The massive seafront establishment was designed by George Somers Clarke and John Thomas Micklethwaite. It is not great architecture.

Since its opening, the hotel has hosted many famous guests including Winston Churchill,  Albert Schweitzer, George Bernard Shaw, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Apart from its celebrated guests, the establishment is famed for its afternoon teas. We decided against partaking of this treat because it contains far too many sugary confections. We had morning coffee and a pot of tea by the swimming pools on a terrace overlooking the ocean. By Funchal standards, it was costly (10 euros) but not outrageously so.

Undoubtedly, Reid’s is luxurious with good service. Its position overlooking a rocky cove is superb even though it is located in a part of Funchal, which resembles unexciting slightly upmarket seaside resorts on Italy’s Adriatic coast. However, the well-appointed hotel seemed somewhat sterile. If sun and sea is your top priority, then Reid’s is the place to go if you can afford it. However, it lacks the charm of other places in Funchal.

Well, we did visit Reid’s as people had suggested before we left London but I must say that it is not my ‘cup of tea’.

A ladder by the sea

GENESIS CHAPTER 28 describes a dream experienced by the biblical Jacob. In it, he dreamt that there was a ladder set on the earth that reached up to heaven. In his dream, he watched angels of God ascending and descending what is now called ‘Jacob’s Ladder’.

The small town of Sidmouth on the coast of Devon has its own Jacob’s Ladder. Unlike the one seen in the dream, it neither reaches heaven nor is it being used by angels. Often rebuilt, Sidmouth’s Jacob’s Ladder is made of wood and consists of three flights of stairs which connect Connaught Gardens with the magnificent stretch of sandy beach (at the western end of Sidmouth). This lovely, gently curving strand, known as Jacob’s Ladder Beach, is flanked by red stone cliffs and is about a mile in length. The views from the top of the Ladder and the café in the Connaught Gardens are spectacularly beautiful.

The Ladder was first constructed in 1853 on the instruction of Mr Lousada of nearby Peak House. It was rebuilt in the late 19th century, and then again following WW2. The Connaught Gardens on the clifftop overlooking the beach were first laid out in 1934 by the Gardens Department of Dartington Hall Ltd.

It is unusual features such as Sidmouth’s Jacob Ladder that give many British seaside towns great character and individuality, and makes them fun to visit.

Two historic hotels by the sea

MOST OF SOUTHEND in Essex was built after the Victorian era. The town on the estuary of the River Thames was and still is the nearest seaside resort to London. According to “Encyclopaedia Britannica”, Southend:

“…became fashionable as a seaside resort when visited by Princess Charlotte of Wales in 1801 and by her mother, Princess Caroline (wife of George IV), in 1803.”

Originally, Prittlewell, once a village north of Southend but now one of its suburbs, was the only settlement in the area now occupied by the modern town of Southend. South east of it on the coast was a tiny village called Leigh, which is now the much larger Leigh-on-Sea. The resort now known as Southend-on-Sea was developed at the end of the 18th century in Prittlewell’s  southern district of South End. Today, more than seven miles of buildings extend from Leigh-on-Sea through Southend to Shoeburyness.

The High Street, part of a road heading south from Prittlewell, runs from near Southend Victoria Station towards the sea, ending at the edge of a steep slope that falls to the seashore below. Various roads and a lift can be used to descend this incline. At the top of the slope, the High Street meets the eastern end of Royal Terrace. At the corner where these two streets meet, stands the Royal Hotel. Next to the hotel and lining Royal terrace, numbers 1 to 15 were built in the 1790s at the same time as the hotel. These were backed by the Royal Mews, a road still in existence. These constructions were part of a then new phase of development of the town, which was known as ‘New Town’.

The hotel, a fine Georgian edifice, opened with a grand ball in 1793.  Princess Caroline House that adjoins the hotel. number 1 the High Street, is a listed building, which looks as if it is contemporary with the hotel. The gardens on the slope in front of the hotel and the Terrace are known as The Shrubbery and were originally for the exclusive use of residents in the Terrace, but now they are open to the public. According to www.southend.gov.uk/historic-southend/history-southend/2:

“The Terrace was named “Royal” following visits by Princess Caroline, wife of the Prince Regent, in 1803 and for a short time attracted fashionable society. But difficult access from London by road and river discouraged further development until the construction of the railway in 1856. Royal Terrace is the only surviving Georgian terrace in Southend.”

Just east of the High Street and dominating the shoreline is the massive Park Inn Palace hotel, formerly the The Metropole. Built in 1901, this hotel that looks like an oversized liner had 200 rooms, a billiard room, and a splendid ballroom. During WW1, it was temporarily used as a Royal Naval Hospital. An online article (http://beyondthepoint.co.uk/first-world-war-southend-the-palace-hotel/) related:

“The Palace Hotel was built in 1901 and served great use in the war effort. Messrs Tolhurst; the owners of the hotel, were generous enough to offer the building up for free as a naval hospital for the rest of the war. Its glorious five star interior would’ve been quite bizarre with hospital beds placed amongst its lounges and ballrooms. It held possibly the world’s first purpose-made x-ray department. It recently underwent refurbishment by Park Inn to bring it back to its former glory.”

Both hotels overlook both the sea and Southend Pier. The older, Royal Hotel, is less of a blot on the landscape than the Palace hotel.

The Zigzag path

MUCH OF FOLKESTONE, a seaside town in Kent, is perched on slopes leading down to cliffs overlooking the shoreline. The Leas, a wide promenade running along the top of the cliffs to the west of the centre of the town, affords fine views of the beaches and rocks far beneath it. Various staircases, a lift (out of action nowadays), and paths lead from The Leas down to the seashore and the park that runs alongside it. The most fascinating of these, The Zigzag Path, begins close to a cast-iron bandstand a few yards west of the statue of the scientist/physician William Harvey. I loved it so much that I walked down it three times in the three days we spent in Folkestone recently.

With five hairpin bends and a couple of short tunnels as well as blind ending caves, The Zigzag Path takes pedestrians down from the Leas at 150 feet above sea level to lower than 42 feet above the sea. The path is like a winding mountain road in miniature and provides endlessly changing views of the seashore and the trees and other vegetation growing near it. In more detail:

“The path is in five sections, and covers a substantial vertical area of about 75 metres across and 50 metres high.   It incorporates steps, seats, plant pockets, low walls, and with tunnels, arches and caves at each turn.” (https://pulham.org.uk/2014/10/13/chapter-40-1920-21-the-leas-zigzag-path-folkestone-kent/).

The steep path was built for Folkestone Corporation in the early 1920s. The first attempt was not brilliant. So, the Corporation employed Mr Pulham of the company of James Pulham & Son, who specialised in the construction of rock gardens, follies, and grottoes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Pulham_and_Son). The company’s founder, James Pulham (1820-1898) was the inventor of a manmade (anthropic) rock-like material known as Pulhamite.  This composite material simulates the appearance of natural rock so successfully that sometimes geologists are fooled by it. Pulhamite is a mixture of sand, Portland cement, and clinker, which is sculpted over a core consisting of rubble and crushed bricks (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulhamite). The Zigzag Path was built with Pulhamite. While walking down the path, I spotted several places where the surface of the Pulhamite had worn away leaving fragments of brick exposed. If I had not seen this, I would have found it difficult to believe that the path was not created using natural rock. Recently, interesting ironwork railings have been added to the side of path facing the sea. These incorporate metal features that resemble plant tendrils wrapping around a support.

The wonderful Zigzag Path is just one of many of the Pulham’s ornamental creations. A full listing can be found in “Rock Landscapes: The Pulham Legacy: The Pulham Legacy: Rock Gardens, Grottoes, Ferneries, Follies, Fountains and Garden Ornaments” by Claude Hitching and Jenny Lilly. A visit to Folkestone would not be complete without experiencing the beautiful and rather fantastic Zigzag Path, preferably by descending it. If you decide to ascend it, you will have done sufficient exercise not to need to visit the gym that day.

Three towns in Devon

WHEN YOU LEAVE THE A38 road near Buckfastleigh and head southwards, you enter the Devonshire district of South Hams. This picturesque part of southwest England contains three towns that attract many visitors: Dartmouth, Kingsbridge, and Salcombe. Each is located on hilly terrain and has its own distinctive charms. All of them have steep streets that lead to places with great views.

BLOG HAMS 2

Dartmouth, the home of an important large naval college, occupies a position on the estuary of the River Dart. Although it attracts many holidaymakers, it has the feel of a working town. The river is filled with boats, some used by pleasure seekers, and others (including ferry boats and fishing vessels) are working craft.

Salcombe, like Dartmouth, perches on the slopes of the shore of an inlet of the sea. Of the three places mentioned in this essay, it has to win first prize for its setting and attractiveness. I have visited Salcombe both in August (high season) and in May (before the season began). During the high season, the small town is flooded with holidaymakers, day-trippers and those staying in the place (including many owners of second homes). The streets are almost clogged with people. In contrast, when we visited it in May, the tiny town was delightful and relaxing.

We have just returned from staying in Kingsbridge, which is a few miles up the same inlet as Salcombe. This is, at first sight, the least obviously alluring of the three towns. Hence, it attracts fewer visitors than Dartmouth and Salcombe. However, as you wander around the small streets in the historic centre of the town, its charms reveal themselves to the viewer. The town is rich in buildings from the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Quay, where the tidal inlet meets the town is beautifully landscaped. Visitors tend to congregate here to enjoy paddle-boarding, boating (when the tide is high enough), crab fishing, eating ice cream,and just passing the time of day. Also, the town has several excellent restaurants. Of these, I would single out: The Old Bakery (for well-prepared Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern style food), the Dodbrook Arms (with first-class cod and chips as well as other perfectly prepared dishes), and Woodys, which serves very good locally reared beef. Like Dartmouth, but unlike Salcombe, Kingsbridge gives the feeling of being more than a holiday destination; it is a real working town.

In between the three towns, there are many villages and beaches worthy of exploration. Of the three places, Kingsbridge has become my favourite and we hope to return to it soon to use it as a base to get to better acquainted with South Hams.

Denmark in the tropics

I HAVE WANTED TO VISIT TRANQUEBAR (now called Tharambangadi) since I first heard of the place when I was a teenager in the 1960s. Danish settlers established a fort and their first trading post in India there in 1620. I had already visited the former Danish colony at Serampore (established by 1770) on the River Hooghly, and was keen to see what remains of Tranquebar.

We drove south from Pondicherry for three hours through flat terrain, passing huge rice paddies, negotiating sprawling towns and villages, and crossing numerous rivers and streams.

Tranquebar, a sleepy little place on the wave washed shore of the Bay of Bengal, contains a sizeable collection of buildings constructed by the Danes during their tenure of the town, which finally ended in 1845, when the Danes sold it to the British.

During the Danish era, there were three main churches. One of them built by the seashore was been destroyed by the sea long ago. The Zion Church, the oldest Protestant church in India, was consecrated in 1701. It is now used by the Church of South India. It was founded by a German Bartholomew Ziegenbald (1682-1719). He was educated at the University of Halle, where my great great grandfather received his doctoral degree in the early 19th century, and was sent (with his fellow student Heinrich Plütschau) by the King of Denmark to become the first Lutheran missionary in India.

Ziegenbald was a remarkable man. During the last few years of his life, which were spent in India, he was involved in Lutheran missionary work (countering the activities of Catholic missionaries), literary work, translating the Holy Bible into Tamil, running a printing press, and conducting church services.

The New Jerusalem Church, larger than the nearby Zion and designed with its nave equal in length as its transept, was consecrated in 1717, two years before Ziegenbald died. He was buried in it. The church remains a Lutheran place of worship. Its parish priest, Mr Samson, guided us around its plain interior and told us that about sixty local families worship there regularly. The church is partly surrounded by a small cemetery, some of its gravestones bearing Danish names.

Ziegenbald’s home, now located within the grounds of a school, contains a small museum. The groundfloor contains a portable reed organ, some manuscripts related to Ziegenbald, and two printing presses that were acquired long after Ziegenbald died. One of these presses, made in London in the 19th century, was being demonstrated to a group of Tamil Lutheran visitors.

I watched as Tamil letters were covered with red ink before being covered with a sheet of white paper. The press was then operated manually. When the paper with Tamil letters was removed and shown to the visitors crowding around with cameras poised in readiness, everyone applauded. Then, the demonstration completed, the group sung a hymn in Tamil, praising God for creating such a technological miracle.

The Ziegenbal house museum is currently curated by a German, Jasmine. She encouraged us to see a small bur lovely exhibition of artworks by two German artists from Halle, where Ziegenbald studied long ago. Then, she introduced us to an Indian artist Asma Menon, who is creating a Cabinet of Curiosities similar to a very old one that is kept in Halle and contains objects collected in India long ago. Her creation that will be housed in a cabinet similar to the one in Germany will contain a series of object that captures the ‘essence’ of Germany, as she found it on a recent visit to Halle and other German cities. We spent time talking with Asma and a young volunteer from Germany.

Aaron Hall, next to the former home of Ziegenbald, is named in memory of Reverend C Aaron (1698-1745). A Tamil, he was the first ever non-European to be ordained as a Lutheran pastor. He was ordained in December 1733. He had been baptized earlier by Ziegenbald. Jasmine told us that when Aaron was ordained, there had been massive objections to this back in Germany, but the ordination took place despite these.

The Neemrana “non-hotel” hotel at Tranquebar is housed in the picturesque former British Collector’s Bungalow close to the sea shore. Unfortunately, its restaurant proved to be rather a ‘non-restaurant’: poor food and very poor service. Most of the other diners were late middle-aged Danish tourists nursing cans of Kingfisher beer. Foolishly, I ordered pasta with “aglio olio”. What turned up was penne drowning in an a virulently bright reddish orange coloured sauce that tasted as if it contained tomato ketchup as its main ingredient.

Lunch over, we strolled along the beach passing a monument recording the arrival of Ziegenbald in India. This overlooks a small harbour surrounded by partially ruined stone walls. Men were bathing in its water which was calmer than the sea around it. From where we were walking, we could see row after row of foam crested waves breaking on the shoreline that stretched away to the southern horizon.

The fort built by the Danes under the command of Admiral Ove Gjedde (1594-1660), Fort Dansborg, is still pretty much intact. It contains a small museum with an odd assortment of exhibits – a bit of a jumble. I was intrigued by several fading Maratha paintings and a 12th century Indian stone carving in good condition.

As I stood by the well in the large central open air courtyard of the Fort with the afternoon sun beating down on me at the temperature well in excess of 30 degrees Celsius, I wondered how the Danish settlers and soldiers coped with a climate so different to what they were used to in Denmark. I was able to dive back into our air conditioned taxi after a few minutes in the sun. This option was not available in the centuries when the Danes and Germans spent months and years in Tranquebar. Even the interior of the Fort, with its thick walls, was not greatly cooler than outside.

The Fort is separate from the former British Collector’s Bungalow and the former Danish Governor’s House by a spacious sandy maidan. The Danish Governor’s House neighbours a smaller and more recent edifice named “Danish Indian Cultural Centre”. This contains a library and a small museum. Amongst the exhibits, there are several drawings and paintings by the former Danish Governor Peter Anker (lived 1744-1833; governed 1788-1806). All of his attractive artworks on display are of Indian subjects.

The former Danish Colony of Tranquebar is in Tamil Nadu. About ten kilometres or less the coastal road leading south from Tranquebar leaves the state of Tamil Nadu and enters a part of the Union Territory of Pondicherry separated from the city of that name by over a hundred kilometres of Tamil Nadu. Like Mahe, a tiny part of Pondicherry on the coast of the Arabian Sea and Chandernagore in West Bengal, this southern territory, containing the town of Karaikal, was a French colony. Yanaon, surrounded by Andhra Pradesh, was yet another French colony and is now part of the Union Territory of Pondicherry.

Karaikal became a French colony in 1674 and remained as such until about 1954. At first sight, it looks like a typical, unexceptional modern Tamil urban area with a few decaying old buildings stuck within a mass of architecturally unexceptional buildings. However, our driver, a Tamil named Pierre, drove us to see what little remains of French colonial Karaikal.

The most notable souvenir is the former French Governor’s mansion. Well conserved, the Governor lived on the first floor and his administration used the ground floor. This building, which is well over 200 years old, is now the Collector’s Office of Karaikal. Nearby, there is a French war memorial commemorating those who died in the two World Wars. The monuments single out campaigns in Algeria and Indo-China. Near this, there are a few architectural details that might have existed during the French era, but little else.

Unlike Pondicherry, which has retained its colonial charm and attracts many tourists, there is little to attract the average tourist to Karaikal. I am glad we went there because I find places like this, which hint at their largely forgotten history, very evocative and fascinating.

While I would not reccomend a visit to Karaikal, a few hours or more spent in Tranquebar will be very rewarding both to those interested in history and to lovers of the seaside.

Pink flamingos

WHEN I WAS A SMALL CHILD, I used to be taken to see the small menagerie at Golders Hill Park in Northwest London. In addition to wallabies and deer, there used to be, and it is probably still in existence, an enclosure containing a few flamingos. Until a recent visit to Mandvi in Kutch (Gujarat, India), these were the only flamingos I can recall seeing.

Every year, flamingos migrate to Kutch during the winter months to escape from the cold that affects their summer habitats during winter. They might fly in from central Asia, or from parts of India that get particularly cold in winter.

We were keen to see these flamingos in Kutch. A keen bird watcher, who lives in Baroda, told us that flamingos had been sighted at Modhva beach, a few miles east of Kutch Mandvi.

We drove to Modhva beach, arriving there about twenty minutes before sunset. At first, the only birds we could see were seagulls. There were no flamingos to be seen. We asked some local fishermen about them. They pointed at the sea.

Our driver, who must have keen eyesight, pointed at some specks on the surface of sea, maybe more than one hundred yards from the water’s edge. Using the twenty times optical zoom on my digital camera, I could see quite clearly that the specks were flamingos with pink and white plumage.

I managed to take a few photographs before the sun sunk rapidly below the horizon. I had seen flamingos in the wild for the first time in my life. It was an exciting experience.

Cured by the sun

eggs with meat in cooking pan

 

For several years in the 1970s, I used to visit my friends Robert and Margaret while they were spending summer camping near to Platamon on the Aegean coast of Greece. 

Every morning at Platamon began with a ritual. Before we were allowed to eat breakfast, we had to take a dip in the sea. This was no hardship; it was quite an enjoyable way to wake up. Washing in the sea was the only form of bathing possible at our camp in Platamon; there was no bathroom in the caravan. Robert and Margaret, who used to spend at least 6 weeks there, did not shower or bath in anything but sea water at Platamon. Robert was not worried by this, but after a while Margaret began to miss the daily soaks in a hot bath, which she enjoyed at home.

Breakfast at Platamon resembled that at my friends’ home. It consisted of a cup of tea, bread with home-made marmalade, scrambled egg, and a minute slice of sliced bacon. In 1975, and for a few years after, my friends travelled without a refrigerator. Butter was stored in a moistened terracotta container. The evaporating water kept the butter inside it cool. My friends carried a whole side of smoked bacon from England. This was not refrigerated in any way, but somehow remained more or less fresh enough to be edible. It was kept swathed in white muslin. When needed, it was unwrapped, and Robert used to cut little bits off it using one of his folding French Opinel knives.

I remember once that he spotted that part of the surface of the bacon was going green. I asked him what he was going to do about it. Without replying, he began scraping the mould of the unwrapped chunk of bacon, and then placed the ‘naked’ meat onto the Land Rover’s roof rack, saying to me:

 “The ultraviolet rays from the sun will disinfect the bacon.”

 

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