Friday, 25 November 2011

The Christmas tree on the lawn

Today the 2011 Christmas tree made its first appearance on the lawn in front of my house. Hopefully this Christmas will be good for as many people as possible.

Ghent, an often overlooked gem in Flanders

The Graslei is a scenic place in Ghent´s old city centre

Bruges is maybe the most popular city in Flanders for foreign visitors, but the capital of East Flanders, Ghent (or Gent in Dutch) should definitevely not be overlooked if you plan to visit these parts of Belgium. Ghent is a prominent UNESCO World Heritage Site full of splendid medieval architecture to explore. The city centre is also the largest carfree area in Belgium.

The opposite side of Graslei

The Old post office on the left and the Saint-Nicholas church in the middle
The Saint Bavo cathedral

The tower of the Saint Bavo cathdral

Part of the portico of Saint Bavo

The Gravensteen - the Castle of the Count - dates back to 1180
The Ghent city hall

Detail of Gravensteen

A late November day along one of the Ghent canals

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The rooftops of Amsterdam

"Amsterdam was the first centre of bourgeois capitalism. It had become, since the decline of Antwerp and the Hanseatic League, the great international port of the north and chief banking centre of Europe. Drifting through its leafy canals, lined with admirable houses, one may speculate on the economic system that produced this dignified, comortable and harmonious architecture." (Lord Kenneth Clark)

The canals and the old waterfront houses make Amsterdam a particularly appealing city. Especially the beautifully decorated rooftops are wonderful.

To illustrate what I mean, below are a few photos from my visit last week:

But, of course, it´s the canals that create the special "Amsterdam feeling"
This contemporary canalfront house is an architectural gem
The vintage canal boat Hilda is another gem
The Dutch East India Company cargo ship Amsterdam was wrecked on its maiden voyage in the English Channel in 1749. (The present ship is a replica).
Veteran ships in a nice row

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Channel ferries

The Pride of Kent and the Delft Seaways in the Port of Dover

In spite of the Eurotunnel, the Channel ferries, at least last week, seemed to be as busy as ever. The largest ferry operator, P&O, carries over 8 million passengers and a huge number of lorries annually between the UK and France. In January P&O will launch the "Spirit of Britain", the new jumbo ferry with a capacity for 2000 people and 1000 cars.

Sadly, the SeaFrance ferry remained in dock last Thursday

However, the future for the French ferry company SeaFrance does not look very good. Since last Wednesday its ferries reamain in dock as the operator was placed into administration on November 16. Hopefully SeaFrance will soon find a new owner, because from a consumer´s point of view it is always better with many operators.

P&O´s European Seaway on its way to Dover

The Delft Seaways, operated by Danish DFDS, in the Channel

The Pride of Kent approaching Dover

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The coastline of Kent

Kent is, not without reason, called "the Garden of England". But there is another aspect of Kent which is equally appealing: The hauntingly beautiful coastline.

Here is a small selection of coastal photos from my visit last week:

The view from the White Cliffs of Dover is breathtaking

The Dover Castle, spectacularly situated above the White Cliffs, has guarded the shore from invasion for over 20 centuries.

The White Clifffs from another angle

The view from St. Margaret´s Bay is rather spectacular

A nice holiday home at St. Margaret´s Bay

When visiting St. Margaret´s Bay, breakfast, lunch or dinner at "The Coastguard" is highly recommended. The Sunday breakfast menu has had a winter restyle with "whisky porridge proving a firm favourite on wintery mornings."

In late November the beach and the pier in Deal are mostly empty, waiting for the summer season 2012

The Deal castle, built on the orders of King Henry VIII, is one of the finest Tudor artillery castles in England

Deal has a marvellous beach, which can be enjoyed even in November


During the war years the song "The White Cliffs of Dover" was very popular in Britain:

The future of the British pub

The Star still shines in Belgravia

When living in London in the late 80´s and early 90´s, I learned to appreciate the pub, “one of the basic institutions of English life” (George Orwell). Sadly, it appears that the traditional British pub is still and endangered species - up to 25 pubs still close every week.

Fortunately there are some small positive signs, which hopefully will stop the decline of the pub. Some pubs, the so called gastro pubs, are e.g. increasing their popularity by offering delicious food in addition to the traditional  beveridges. Even ordinary pubs tend to pay more attention to the quality of food they are serving.

Last week I was pleased to notice that my old favorite London pub, the Star Tavern in Belgravia, is still as pleasant as it was when I left London in 1994 - and as a matter of fact, the food they serve is even better than then.

The Star, tucked away behind the German embasssy in the middle of mews cottages, has an interesting history. The tavern, now a Grade II listed building, was built when the mews were stables of the nearby Belgravia houses, whose staff and servants the pub served. (Now the fashionable - and expensive - mews cottages are mainly owned and inhabited by millionaires).

According to one source, Billy Hill, who was one of the main players of the 50´s London underworld, was one of the regulars at the Star before he fled to Australia after the attempted murder of his rival Jack ´Spot´ Comer.

It is also thought that the Great Train Robbery (1963) was planned upstairs in the pub.

The Thomas Becket in Canterbury is another nice pub. Also this pub is connected with murder - although it happened already in 1170, when the then Archbishop of Canterbury was killed by four supporters of King Henry.