Bornholm – island memories 2023

In June the heatwave in Britain was intense. For most of July it rained, sometimes heavily – the humidity scrambled my brain. It was as if I struggled each day through hot, suffocating treacle.

A Danish friend invited us for a few days in August to Bornholm, an island off Copenhagen where her mother used to live. A cousin rents out a rustic farmhouse and we were soon on our way.

The farmhouse is surrounded by fields. A home for leaping hares. Supper was smoked salmon, herring and mackerel with potatoes in a Danish mayonnaise. There are smokehouses in each little town and the fish is fresh and delicious. Alongside potatoes and salad, I could live on this all summer together with the bread and sweet pastries we enjoyed at breakfast. Plain yoghourt, juice, jam from all kinds of berries – and lots of coffee. All taken with loads of fresh sea air. It was a real treat to be transported from the world of populism, politics and the problems that are engulfing us and our planet. It’s so restorative to have a breathing space …

Bornholm – smokehouse at Nexø

The island’s location is strategic, 105 miles south east of Copenhagen and 22 miles south east of Sweden. It has been a Viking stronghold, then owned by Sweden and for a while Lübeck in the 16th century. During WW2 the Russians took it from the invading Nazis. Today it is Danish. A ruined fortress, Hammershus, once the largest medieval fortress in northern Europe, still towers above the cliffs, confirming the brutal struggles it has witnessed.

ruined remains
these ‘boots’ are made for walking …
a small visitor to the castle

This picture reminds me of Leonora Christina Countess Ulfeldt (1621-1698), who was one of the many children of King Christian IV of Denmark. She was imprisoned here for many years, often in solitary confinement (except for rats and fleas) but during this time she wrote a book, ‘Jammers Minde’ – translated as ‘Memory of Lament’. It was only published in 1869 and is now regarded as a classic of 17th century Danish literature.

flourishing plant life

Today Bornholm is a haven from the rough and tumble of the commercial world. There is artisan glass blowing, ceramics, painting, screen printing and schnapps making – all of high quality – to be found in the picturesque small coastal towns.

Baltic sea glassGudhjem, Bornholm

There are sandy beaches, one of which – Dueodde – has the finest, silkiest white sand in Europe. Our friends went swimming every morning – I should have but the Baltic felt super cold as I paddled along the shoreline. Given longer, maybe I could have become a mermaid …

Bornholm – a beach on the Baltic sea

… fortified by a glass of the local Snaps.

there are many different natural flavours
the ‘beech’ one came home with us

‘Round’ churches abound on Bornholm. Why round? Because they doubled as fortresses against the many invaders.

round whitewashed church at Østerlars
church interior

Bornholm uses a lot of renewable energy – old and new windmills and turbines. It’s a favourite place for the Danes to come on holiday but it retains a simple charm – a world away from the normal tourist tat. I hope it stays that way.

Bornholm – gathering clouds outside the Granite Museum

I came out with some polished stones – not made of granite – but which held the light of the sun within them. I’m sleeping well here with only a light duvet that is enough to keep me warm. I need one of these for heatwaves at home!

sun stones’ – what are they – where do they come from?

Next morning …

Dog Flossie was delighted to go for a walk in the woods, carrying around a big stick as she explored deep, dark places …

if you go down to the woods today …
one man and his dog …
in discussion with trees

Exploring the seaside towns, we found lots on offer besides cosy cafés. Ceramics and wood carving at Svaneke, mirror art and silk screening at Gudhjem, with hand knitted jumpers, hats and gloves. A cornucopia of temptations … some of the artists live here all the time, others spend the winter months in Copenhagen.

Gudhjem – view from Café Klint
where I am eating a warm bowl of spicy stewed apples + cream – delicious
Gudhjem – towards the harbour
hollyhocks – Gudhjem

I would have liked to look at more of this artist’s work but could only peer into her workshop as she was nowhere to be seen. Somewhere to go back to …

We ducked down a narrow alley way where all our dreams came true – retail dreams, that is!

down the rabbit hole
outside the shopUldall + Hansen
!creator of originals in her workplace!
more upcycled tablecloths
it has its own beauty
this is a special place

I hope we come back here one day. Meanwhile, our chosen purchase comes home – it needs to be a wall hanging to really appreciate it!

a lasting memory of Bornholm

A quick pit stop at the smokehouse on the way to the (tiny) airport.

plated up – and some to take home

We’ve only been here a few days but Bornholm has connected with my Scandinavian genes. The small island plane is waiting to take us back to Copenhagen. Then we are back in the flow to London.

indtil vi mødes igen

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Lake Geneva/Lac Léman with friends …

John had had problems with eyes (a detached retina) and ears over the past year but he was mainly recovered – although age doesn’t let that happen so quickly or easily. When a colleague and friend of his invited us to stay with him in Nyon it couldn’t have come at a better time – and it’s a favourite part of the world for me too!

On our way

Switzerland lived up to its reputation – it’s just so easy to hop on an efficient, clean and comfortable train (take note British Rail) to Nyon from Geneva airport. We were there in less than half an hour. It was warm and sunny and Pavan was waiting to meet us. He lives five minutes from the station – his terrace looks out over the lake with a view of Mont Blanc on the opposite (French) side.

view of Mont Blanc from the terrace

I must put in this little ‘hitch’ in case it helps another traveller. Searching through a drawer at home I was delighted to come upon a little hoard of Swiss francs, left over from a holiday long gone. At Geneva airport there are machines where you can buy your train tickets. I view machines with suspicion – they have frustrating limitations. No social interaction for one. John is fine about machines – he understands how they work – until they don’t.

I insisted on finding a a ticket office with a human being in charge and luckily there was one. Lucky too, because my Swiss francs were so old as to be out of date and I was told you could only change them at a bank or a Post Office. ‘But I will change them for you’, said the human being. Human being 1 – Ticket machine 0. This is the problem with automation – you can’t go ‘off piste’ with an individual problem. Take note!

But we were here. Somewhat like opening a new book with all the anticipation that brings, a new place was waiting to be discovered.

Nyon is a small town right on the edge of the lake with its own impressive château, which we reached by steep and narrow cobbled streets leading down to the lakeside. Lac Léman – how can I describe it – you need to go and experience it for yourself in all its moods. I hope you will feel like I do!

dramatic view of the château – like a fortress
Nyon – old town
old town with post box
on our way to supper
someone ‘up there’ is checking us out!

The Hotel Le Rive is right on the lakeside and the outdoor terrace was packed full of people already enjoying dinner. We joined them and were given a warm welcome … excellent food on offer, including perch from the lake.

Nyon – lake view – summer evening

As we later made our way home the sky and the water mingled into shades of blue. I thought of the book I had brought with me – ‘The World According to Colour’ by James Fox. He’s a great discovery. Here is a quote from the colour blue in his book.

The Earth is known as the ‘Blue Planet’. This is how astronauts saw it from space. Here is JF’s last paragraph on the colour blue. ‘For most of history, blue was the quintessential colour of other worlds; distant mountains, unfathomable oceans, unreachable skies, the uncharted territory of the soul. But when we finally escaped our world and voyaged beyond its horizons, we discovered all along that blue was the colour of home’.

I have always been drawn to shades of blue.

time to sleep

As we breakfasted on the terrace next morning with the sun sparkling on the water, the air clean and fresh, I was also delighted with the arrival of a posse of sharp shooting wasps who were very much attracted by Pavan’s mother’s (delicious) marmalade. You may raise an eyebrow here but John and I noticed that the number of wasps has declined in London in recent years. As a child in Scotland, I remember sitting on the beach having picnics, surrounded by wasps. The best way to fend them off was to walk into the sea up to my neck to eat my sandwich.

But despite the downsides, wasps do a good job in the garden, killing many pests and they are also pollinators, although not as good as bees. They build beautiful nests which look like ghostly footballs in shape – but beautifully ethereal. I like their bands of yellow and black too – chic and snappy. They are called ‘guêpes’ in French – onomatopoeic! Wasps are territorial and can be very aggressive but they are also an important part of the ecosystem. They love sweetness – fruit and jam – but they don’t like the smell of peppermint or citrus and they don’t live very long. I was happy to see them buzzing about here. There are more fascinating facts about them on the Internet. (I don’t feel the same aboout flies but they are useful as prey).

European wasp – with thanks to Fir0002 via Wikipedia

Next – a visit to the château, which is beautifully restored inside.

not at the château but he would look good on the battlements!
ghost in the biscuit box …
climbing the stairs in the château
part of a painted historical storyboard surrounding the walls …
Yes please!
a poster for Swiss grape juice

I love these strong colours.

a glass of this would go down well
in her element!
Tintin memories

We have all the Tintin books at home, lovingly gnawed around the edges by our children. Blistering barnacles!!

The ground floor of the château is full of many posters like this – advertising local aperitifs, exhibitions and concerts. Vineyards abound along the lake. Later on Pavan introduces us to the owner of one.

On the next floor is the most exquisite wooden chess table inlaid with marquetry. I know how to play chess but I don’t know how to win …

exquisitely inlaid chess table
I’d like to take this home and fill it with flowers
drinking fountain

On the way back we stopped here and watched the sparrows drinking. Another pleasing thing to see, as there is a dearth of sparrows at home.

The yellow crossing on the road breaks up into yellow stars. It leads appropriately to a circus school!

extraordinary and fun

Pavan has organised a trip across the lake to Yvoire, a picturesque village on the French side. I told him about our daughter who was making a huge installation, creating a giant spider engulfed in flowers. He seemed quite intrigued and I was about to find out why!

Nyon – waiting for the steamer
the castle at Yvoire – privately owned
Yvoire – waiting for John and Pavan

I’m not sure how I took this photo of myself but I was in a reflective mood. Yvoire is just so picturesque and it was a joy to be on the steamer with the breeze ruffling my hair.

There’s a garden here which is built around outdoor rooms, each one adding up to the five senses. It’s a lovely idea. We spent some time identifying flowers and plants using John’s app on his phone.

Yvoire – in the garden of the Five Senses
a well camouflaged cat in the garden

I wanted to give Pavan something to remember our visit. We finally found something quite original.

scarab beetle ? + campari

There is a shop, La Cristallerie, selling everything made of blown glass and it’s here that Pavan reveals his interest in Gaia’s spider installation. A French man makes a small number of glass spiders every year to sell in the shop and they have just arrived. They look both intimidating and super fragile. In the end, I choose one and it’s packed up very carefully – but I’m sure I won’t get it home in one piece. (I did!).

Yvoire spider – apologies to those who are freaked out by spiders – it is made of glass!

Time to leave. Here’s a ‘chocolate box’ photo I took of one of the Belle Epoque steamers.

a great way to travel!

Pavan has a beautiful lamp which reminds me of one of my favourite books. It’s called ‘Lost Horizon’ by James Hilton and is a much recommended read! Written in 1933.

‘Lost Horizon’ by James Hilton (1933)

John has just found out that he knows somebody else in Nyon – an explorer called Paul Rose, who lives above the town in St. Cergue. Next morning we take a small train about forty minutes up the mountain where he and his Swiss wife, Joëlle, welcome us.

They had a walk in mind through the forest and above. A field of cows reminded me of the time in Switzerland when a bold cow came up to me unawares. I was holding my sandwich in a brown paper bag and just about to sit down and eat it. Bad move. The cow swiped it and ate it, paper bag and all! I am quite anxious of meeting cows now! But we loved seeing Paul and Joëlle’s rural retreat and had the good luck to see a chamois nearby.

Next day Pavan has a treat for us. A trip on a Belle Epoque steamer to Lausanne with lunch on board.

Belle Epoque steamer – this one is the ‘Savoie’
a special treat!
castle at Morges, Lac Léman
yachtsman with heavy clouds gathering
going fishing anyway …

I don’t know how many castles there are around the lake – but it’s a lot in a small space! Cézanne painted one of them which is in the Courtauld Art Gallery in London.

On the way back we were intrigued by a boat that passed close to us …

I don’t know much about boats but this one was very elegant and out of the ordinary.

lovely lines

As we docked once more in Nyon the grey clouds had dispersed and the evening promised a great sunset … one day I will see ‘Le Rayon Vert’ – from the film by Eric Rohmer … when the sun dips below the horizon …

back in Nyon – leaving the boat

That evening we went out to a lively dinner with Pavan’s friend and her husband, who is a serious ‘vigneron’. He even brought his own special wine glasses with him – unfortunately, the waiter broke one of them …

a mythical beast at the steamer port – what is it? what does it signify – I don’t know… one can’t know everything …

On the way back John was delighted to see some bats as we were making our way through the medieval alleys in the twilight. Suddenly, somebody called his name. ‘John – are you John Elkington?’ It was a young woman who had worked with him for a short time in London over ten years ago. And even later, just as we were about to leave for home he got an email from someone else, who also now lives here in Nyon – a visit for another time. I’d really like to come back. But there’s still more to come, another treat in the offing …

Gosh, I’m so tired – but in a good way. I leave John and Pavan to their discussions over a glass of whisky.

remains of a lovely day …

I had been telling Pavan how much I loved the Marché aux Puces in Bordeaux. ‘Oh, we have one here all the way along the lakeside on the last Sunday of the month’, he said. Tomorrow! What serendipity! We invited Paul and Joëlle to join us. Exciting.

There are a lot of jazz concerts here in the summer – Montreux is just a steamer ride away. I remember seeing a statue of Freddie Mercury there. He truly was a phenomenon … and not forgotten.

down by the lakeside – Nyon
under a beautiful tree – waiting for me – always slow!
delights of the past … Marché aux Puces
a kind of harp? – intriguing – a snip at 85 euros …
cradle of the dolls

I didn’t buy any of these things but I could have explored the stalls all day.

I found three French plates for two euros each. They are from the south of France with the name ‘Varages’ on the back. And another plate for five euros shows an interesting way to shred garlic (ail).

We don’t particularly love cars but for some reason we have collected various ones over the years and they zoom around in our glass cupboard. The one thing is – they have to be a shade of yellow.

a French ‘Varages’ plate – perfect for strawberries and cream
an old deux chevaux – ready for ‘les grandes vacances’!
I can imagine going to stay at ‘Hotel du Lac’ driving this car

Another of my favourite authors is Anita Brookner, who was also an art historian. Her book, ‘Hotel du Lac’, was made into a very good film. It’s about a woman whose love affair ends and she flees to Switzerland. A quiet, reflective but memorable story with an intriguing twist or two – just the sort of thing to read when staying on Lake Geneva! ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ by the French writer, Françoise Sagan, is another novel to be read by the lake – and a way to keep up my French.

!always a favourite!

Time was catching up with us and we were soon at the train station, waving goodbye to our friends on the platform. Thank you, Pavan, for a very restorative few days. it was a lot of fun and very relaxing.

Nyon with the sun sparkling on the water – Au Revoir …

PS I have just read an article in the paper about the invasion of Asian hornets into Europe. They kill lots of insects, including bees and wasps and are a menace. They look like a very large wasp but don’t be deceived. They can also be dangerous to humans if you are stung. I’m still holding up a flag for wasps though!

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The Coronation weekend – 6th of May 2023

Aloft were seven men, putting a new roof on our house at 8am, one of them wearing a fine silk, pale pink turban. I wondered how Charles and Camilla were faring. I expect they were brought a very early morning cup of tea. I had one as well. Made just how I like it, by myself … one for John too.

New swift nesting boxes put up with the new roof …

The roofers even brought their own kettle – along with a giant carton of milk. The sky was overcast – heavy and milky too. When I threw the coffee grounds from yesterday onto the paeonies in the garden I could feel the air, full of pinpoints of rain, pricking into my nightdress.

Roofers in the rain

John had said that my hearing was fading but the doctor found out that my right ear was full of wax. An appointment at the local clinic to have it extracted was at midday. That would mean missing the Coronation on TV but, given the option, I thought I would much rather hear properly again – and I did. It took two minutes and suddenly everything was very noisy. In a good way!

A sophisticated, ‘dewaxing’ machine, designed by somebody who has brought relief to so many people. All these unsung inventors who anonymously improve other people’s lives beyond measure – why don’t we hear about them rather than the often gauche celebrities that fill up our newspapers with too much self promotion … who can even become a little bit boring after a short while … (perish the thought).

After the visit to the clinic we jumped on a bus to Richmond. Lunch overlooking the river Thames was a special treat at ‘Casa Brindisa’. Squid in its own ink accompanied by the freshest of salads – one warm with wilted spinach and crushed hazelnuts. A very moreish Spanish wine – ‘El Tesoro Monastrell Syrah’, with gelato to finish – vanilla for me. All of it delicious – and a nice, chatty waiter giving us a warm welcome.

The tide was on the turn as we walked down the steps to the river’s edge in the falling rain.

We noticed five guardsmen nearby in their red and gold uniforms, wearing their busbies, who were starting to play their trumpets despite the downpour. It was somewhat surreal as I suddenly realised they were playing a ‘Monty Python’ ditty – ‘Look on the Bright Side of Life’ – music and words composed by Eric Idle. Perfect!

For the video, click here

I’ll always remember King Charles’s Coronation Day for that. John has an audio/ video of them. I felt I was one of the chosen few standing there in the rain with a beaming smile on my face. There couldn’t have been more than fifteen of us – what an unexpected, exclusive privilege – and so typically British.

We stopped off on our way home at a local bookshop, ‘The Open Door’, just close by the now defunct Dickens & Jones building. It’s a goldmine for a satisfyingly huge variety of cards as well as books. The bookshelves fade into the distance in a long narrow space with obscure corners. Another perfect memory for Coronation Day.

I read that Michael Frayn had just brought out a new book – a sort of memoir – called ‘Among Others – Friendships and Encounters’. I spied a pile of them, signed by the author, on a shelf above my head. Having managed to take one down I turned round to find the almost nonagerian Michael Frayn standing in front of me. He had just walked into the shop, purely by coincidence. I don’t think AI is up to that very satisfying sort of serendipitous happening.

Highly recommended

Clutching a pile of books and cards, we then ran headlong for the 419 bus home, which very kindly waited for us. I don’t think AI would wait for us either. It’s too sterile for kind deeds but I fear that it will take over in time – and finally extinguish human feeling. But then ‘progress’ always has its good and bad sides. There will be some good ones too …

We missed the Coronation, we missed the street party but we had a day packed with good memories, finishing off with the highlights of ‘Fawlty Towers’ on television. I felt there was a feeling of a farewell in the air. A farewell to my now quite long, past life. It made me a little bit sad but also glad that I lived when I did. As Hunter Davies said, ‘Lucky Old Me’.

With Sunday and Monday holiday still to come we were back in Water Lane, Richmond to see the film of the Vermeer exhibition, which is sold out in Amsterdam. This is a great alternative way to see it with a backdrop of comments from well known art critics.

They didn’t mention the artist who painted ‘The Goldfinch’ who became a friend of Vermeer in Delft – Carel Fabritius. He was trained by Rembrandt van Rijn. I wish they had talked about him because he too would, I think, be well known today if he’d lived. Fabritius and Vermeer both painted a (quite different) ‘View of Delft’. Different and fascinating. Vermeer’s painting takes you to a different level of consciousness which I can’t explain. Fabritius’s is almost modern with its unusual perspective.

Sadly, Fabritius was killed in an explosion when he was quite young. Many of his paintings were destroyed at the same time. Much later, he became an inspiration for a book with the title of ‘The Goldfinch” by a contemporary writer, Donna Tartt. His painting of the goldfinch survived.

‘The Goldfinch’ is in The Royal Picture Gallery, Mauritshuis, in The Hague

A visit to Barnes Books, our local independent bookshop, made me start as I looked in the window. Laura Cumming, a well known art critic, has just brought out a book about Fabritius, called ‘Thunderclap’, which is brilliant. The artist would have been thrilled if he’d been around to read it. It’s sad that his friendship with Vermeer as well as his art was so tragically cut short.

‘You are never going to read a better book about the experience of art – and of love’ – Philip Hoare

Another contemporary writer, Tracy Chevalier, wrote a book called ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ – which is one of my favourite paintings by Vermeer. The book was made into a film. And it was well made, starring Colin Firth, Scarlett Johansson and Cillian Murphy.

Vermeer is so very special – I wish we knew more about his life. But I can always retreat to that silent wonderful space that his paintings engender and feel the better for it.

A day or so later the talented spy writer, Charles Cumming, came to the Barnes Literary Society to talk about his latest books. A friend invited me along. The heavens opened up once more, the rain was torrential but it was a stimulating evening, even though the audience was mainly white haired!

Life continues in a familiar, day to day sort of way … though I wonder for how much longer … there are deeply worrying, major changes afoot … climate change now showing with heatwaves, devastating fires and floods, dictators in charge of many countries. I just finished Michael Frayn’s memoir and felt both disturbed and comforted by it at the same time. I especially enjoyed the chapters ‘Stranger on the Hearth’, ‘Fire and Ashes’, and ‘Mantower’. Well chosen memories. He was a close friend of Bamber Gascoigne, the first presenter on television of ‘University Challenge’, first aired in 1962, which is still alive and well and bursting with intelligent life! There is hope!

Having never met Michael Frayn – except for the bookshop interlude – I understand where he’s coming from. A life well lived which is on the way out – to what, to where? I don’t know but I fear there will be no tea and cake on offer. But maybe some answers to our strange existence in an unknown universe … unlikely, but you never can tell …

Meanwhile on Earth, all best thoughts to King Charles and Queen Camilla. They have come to this job late in life and I wish them very good luck.

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A couple of bears …

The picture framers by the river is also a small gallery, selling paintings, sculptures, prints and cards. As I was passing one day my eye was caught by somebody looking at me from within. He was an old bear with a very direct gaze – as if he wanted to tell me something. I stood in the front of the window, taking in his comfortable, blue cardigan and his wet, black, shiny nose. I knew at once that his wise eyes, so penetrating, and his general demeanour would give me comfort as I sat writing at my desk.

So it was easy. I went in, bought him and took him home. I’m looking at him now, as I write. He was beautifully made by Victoria Coleman.

Bear by Victoria Coleman – cup and books by Sarah Spencer

My friend’s birthday was coming up and I thought he would also love the bear. But in the end I couldn’t BEAR to let him go! I tracked down Victoria and asked her whether it would be possible for her to make me another bear who looked similar. I was lucky – she could.

In time jaunty bear number 2 was ready and one dark and stormy evening turned up at our front door – care of Victoria’s partner. The bears loved one another on sight and seeing them together was a satisfying treat.

Yesterday, following a delicious birthday lunch, bear number two went to his new home and now has a name – Bernard. I’m sure the bears will be reunited sometime in the future but for the moment bear number 1 keeps a close eye on my untidy desk – and me. He’s a wise character and a kindly soul, giving me both company and inspiration.

A promising start to 2023.

Two lovely bears enjoying one another’s company

Thank you, Victoria. This has been a fun adventure. You have a huge talent for capturing personalities in your art.

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Tigers in Bond Street

We were invited to Sotheby’s who were hosting a specially commissioned limited edition of art rugs for sale by celebrated artists on behalf of WWF. The subject was tigers. 6pm rendezvous.

Twilight was gathering as I started out from home under a fine drizzle. On the way to the station I tripped over the edge of the pavement and found myself flat on the floor. Nobody was near at hand. Oh no, what if I couldn’t get up? I was very annoyed and thought that whatever state I was in I was still going to the exhibition – even if I had to call a taxi. There was blood on my hand which I licked off. I got up with a certain amount of anxiety but all seemed well. And I caught the train.

I hadn’t managed to get many pictures of Christmas lights in central London because of rail strikes, so I made my way to Bond Street from Green Park in the hope of something spectacular, especially as it was now very dark.

Angels on Piccadilly – glad I’ve got here!
Woozily taking care crossing the road
Christmas lights – Bond Street
Reflections – jewels in the gutter
Stylish Jaguar outside Sotheby’s

It looks like a jaguar – the new ones just don’t. I’m in awe of those sensationally beautiful lines …

Night owl + teazles

As I was waiting a few shop windows took my eye.

Eye catching

Time to go in. The rug designs are eclectic. We meet somebody who is thinking of buying one. The one by Ai Weiwei was already sold.

Tibetan door painting

This was an ancient painting on a door found in Tibet – not a rug! But magical.

Stuff of nightmares
An unhappy outcome for onesupper for the other
A tiger rug with 3D pzazz

I think this is the rug our companion was tempted to buy!


What a wonderful evening looking at so many original creations. Thank you to WWF and Sotheby’s and all the artists involved. A post Christmas treat.

Christmas reindeer at Waterloo – homeward bound

WWF are not only raising funds from this exhibition but also aiming to give a high profile to help protect tigers all over the world. Tigers are one of the top predators who need to be conserved if their ecosystem is to maintain a balance and survive.

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Bordeaux! Eau eau, let’s go …

A pre-Christmas present!

One minute I was suffering from rainsoaked doom and gloom. A split second later a sudden ‘ping’ heralded an unexpected invitation to Bordeaux. Ho ho, I thought – let’s go!

Flying into Bordeaux

We are here already, staying at ‘Chez Dupont’ – a restaurant with rooms nearby. It’s sunny and warm and the long weekend stretches out ahead.

Bordeaux – room with a view

Our room is spacious with interesting antiques, a separate niche with a writing desk and a super modern bathroom. Two big windows look out onto ‘la rue Notre-Dame’. Outside it’s sunlit and warm as we make our way to the local ‘Jardin Publique’ and enjoy our first coffee abroad.

Bordeaux – Le Jardin des Plantes
Bordeaux – Le Jardin des Plantes café
Bordeaux tableau

Moving on …

Lunchtime – grilled veg + cheese
faire de la bicyclette – ou ‘en vélo’
Bordeaux – chez le fleuriste

The city is a mix of old and new. Old fashioned narrow streets open out into large, sunlit squares, full of restaurants and fountains.

exploring long, tall alleys
large sunlit squares

The air here is clear and fresh but I wondered why the Garonne river is the colour of ‘café au lait’. This is because it brings down a lot of sediment with it from its headwaters in the Pyrenees and when that mixes with the salty sea water coming in from the Gironde estuary that sediment is brought to the surface. The river finally meets with another, the Dordogne and the two flow out together into the Atlantic ocean.

A wide promenade now leads us along the river to ‘La Citè des Vins’, an extraordinary modern building upstream.

La Garonnne – pour se promener

The walk along the river is very popular – it takes us about half an hour to reach the ‘ La Cité des Vins’. We are made very welcome – there’s even a sofa in the library, which I stretch out on for a few languorous moments …

La Cité des Vins – Bordeaux
Inside La Cité des Vins, Bordeaux

Nearby is the former submarine base, built by the Germans and used by the Italians in WW2. It is massive, ugly and threatening, a dingy, merciless, concrete building which still holds the water for the submarine berths inside. The ceilings are four storeys high with classical arches between the rooms. The whole building has been converted into a huge centre for the arts, which show mind blowing ‘Bassins de Lumières’.

I hadn’t experienced this way of showing art before. You enter into darkness. We find ourselves in Venice during the Renaissance as flickering, moving images of the city flow over the walls, the high ceilings and the floors. I was somewhat disorientated, feeling as if I might fall into a canal as the water where the submarines were berthed also reflects the light. It was an intense experience.

Venice suddenly disappeared and our eyes were bombarded by the colourful, sometimes Sargentesque paintings of the Spanish artist, Sorolla. Little children ran around in the dark shadows calling excitedly to one another, like birds. I felt I was immersed in a dream world.

Sorolla painting

The paintings are blown up so that you feel you can just walk into them.

Back to reality and returning to ‘Chez Dupont’ was a different story. We waited endlessly for a bus in the twilight. Then we had a brainwave – could we get an Uber? Surprise, the answer was ‘Yes’ and a lovely lady soon hove into view. We enjoyed trying out our French on the way back and the restaurant was open for dinner. Sometimes things do work like a dream!

The waiter introduced us to a glamorous bottle of Bordeaux liqueur called Lillet. Dinner was excellent and we retired to bed for an early start next morning. We are off to the food market.

stairs up to our room
must be Picasso – bonne nuit

Awake to sunshine and blue skies – it’s a perfect day for exploring and we are soon bowling along on a modern tram to the ‘Marché des Capucins’.

on our way to the market for ‘petit déjeuner’

It hasn’t been raining – the streets are all washed down at dawn. Merveilleux.

Fruits de mer – Marché des Capucins
More fruits de mer – Marché des Capucins

We found a table and enjoyed a delectable ‘petit déjeuner’ …

Oysters for breakfast!
La fromagerie – le Marché des Capucins – Bordeaux
carottes, poireaux et pommes de terre’
Bordeaux salt cod – a speciality

We needed a little sweetness now and made for the patisserie counter. What are these? They look delicious!

Les ‘dames blanches’

Small, round, light and airy ‘choux’ patisserie filled with cream – perfect!

Next on our list – la rue St-James – picturesque and full of interesting boutiques …

La rue St-James – Bordeaux

There are those sort of places that just spill over with a cornucopia of temptations – especially when you’re in a country not your own.

a treasure trove
a place for a rest – ‘pause café’ in la rue St-James

They also do a wonderful brunch. Don’t miss it.

I’m inquisitive
Bordeaux graffiti

We’re on our way again …

Bordeaux – a city of spires inspires …
Bordeaux – bâtiment fleurie
Bordeaux – lunch at LouLou
I like this!

We didn’t eat here – just passed by and I liked their sense of humour!

It’s amazing what you can find down an unassuming side street!

We stopped for a coffee at ‘Paul’. There was a woman sitting with a boy near our table who reminded me so much of an actress in one of my favourite programmes – ‘Dix pour Cent’ or ‘Call My Agent’. I love that show! It can’t have been her though! Could it?!

We finally get to ‘Le Marché aux Puces’. I could stay here all day!

One man and his dog – ‘Marché aux Puces’ – Bordeaux
Bordeaux – Marché aux Puces

There is something in the photo above which I bought for two euros – on show later!

Marché aux Puces’ – Bordeaux, November 2022

Much as I love looking at paintings, they wouldn’t fit in my case. I was drawn to an old master portrait of an Italian gentleman – I even returned to have another look – but it had already gone. Just as well … sigh …

My companion fared better. She bought a wooden, carved and colourful cock-a-doodledoo. Vintage. She went back to the stall later on with it in her bag and heard a customer asking if the seller still had it. ‘Non, c’est déjà vendu’, he replied … it clucked softly in her bag.

the vintage cockerel – a bargain!

My two euro buy intrigued me and I was able to find out more about it as there was an indented stamp on the back with the shape of a windmill plus the letters ORCHIES underneath.

It came from a factory in Flanders, opened by two brothers in 1886 and is listed as Old French Art Nouveau majolica. It’s so astonishing that you can find all that information so quickly on the Internet. And it’s such a very decorative plate.

my cherry picking vintage plate!

Next on our list was the famous ‘Bourse’ reflected in the ‘Miroir d’Eau’. We had just about time to get there before making our way back to collect our things on the way to the airport.


A flying visit to a wine ‘cave’, where we chose a suitable Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m mentioning this partly because we had a long conversation with the proprietor, who complimented me on my French accent – probably being kind but definitely encouraging!

I haven’t mentioned the Bordeaux ‘Canelés’ which are sold in their own small shops around the city, along with shiny gold boxes of soft caramels, which are so bad for your teeth and so unputdownable.

The Canelés are actually more like a dessert – crisply caramelised on the outside and soft within. They are actually described as ‘un dessert onctueux’. A wonderful onomatopoeic word.

the shiny gold box full of soft caramels (toffees!) – but not full for long …

This turned out to be the last warm and sunny weekend in Bordeaux before rain set in. We were lucky. Next time we’ll try the Eurostar, as the TGV is super fast from Paris to Bordeaux . Meanwhile, this trip was a jewel, lighting up the end of 2022.

Au revoir et Bonne Nouvelle Année

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A Waiter in Paris

Adventures in the Dark Heart of the City

By Edward Chisholm

This is an unputdownable story of the author’s trials and travails in ‘The City of Light’ – Paris. The only other book I can compare it to is ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ by George Orwell, which was fascinating and utterly grim at the same time. Edward Chisholm manages both those things and adds a wonderful, self deprecating, noir sense of humour coupled with a sensitive understanding of his fellow waiters. I feel as if I am the fly on the wall, the voyeur who keeps on looking, unable to tear his eyes away from what is going on.

This all happened within the last eight years.

The book also reminded me of my own adventures in Paris. A different era, the early sixties. Looking back, it certainly forged parts of my personality that I still recognise as coming from being sent on my own, via the boat train from Victoria, on what was to become an eye opening experience at the age of sixteen.

Primarily, I was sent to learn French and ended up without the supervision my mother was expecting from a French lycée in the summer holidays.

Unlike the author, I did have ‘O’ level French, which both got me into and out of various risky situations. My mother didn’t like ‘abroad’ so I owe a lot to a friend of my father’s, a French woman called Ninette, who organised my first trip to the city she was born in and later left – to marry an Englishman. I regret that I never even thanked her because at the time I was a typical, navel gazing teenager. ‘J’ai eu de la chance’, even though I didn’t know it.

As well as enjoying the unexpurgated freedom of exploring Paris, I also realised that life was a lot more fun if you could speak French, so I’ve kept that up over the years. Everyone should be able to speak at least one other language. It opens so many doors.

This is Edward Chisholm’s first book (with a wonderful jacket photo) and I do hope it has success. I feel very much on his wavelength and impressed by his perseverance against multiple odds. I became absolutely obsessed by his story.

‘Chapeau’, Ed. A sparkling début – may your success continue.

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Sailing the Dodecanese islands …

In 1970 we drove an old Land Rover from London to Greece and back over two and a half months. We said then that this would be the first of many journeys to Greece – but we never made those journeys. I’m hoping these islands will make up for it …

Our boat

I booked this trip hesitantly during Covid, knowing that it might be postponed, even cancelled. As we got nearer the date I began to have grave doubts, dithering about sailing in a ‘gulet’ with eight (as yet unknown) other people. It just conjured up ‘mal de mer’ on many fronts.

But as the date grew closer, I had to accept the uncertainties that stalked my psyche and – after long and probably Covid ridden queues at chaotic airports – we finally made it safely to Bodrum, where the Aegean Clipper was berthed in the harbour, ready and waiting.

Finding a plane to take us had meant we had had to go two days early (a big thank you here to Dennis and Stan from ‘Dial A Flight’, who saved us not once, but twice).

The Su hotel in Bodrum was a welcome haven – a small, Turkish, hidden paradise, only ten minutes walk from the harbour. A perfect retreat in which to acclimatise ourselves.

Su hotel, Bodrum
Su hotel, Bodrum – steps up to our room
Su hotel – cherry juice and a favourite author
Su hotel – nightlight
path to the harbour from the Su hotel

Bodrum castle is a favourite and next day it was a treat to have the chance for a return visit – Turkish ice cream is a treat too …

Bodrum – down by the harbour …
playpark by the harbour – Bodrum
old fishing boat – Bodrum
Bodrum – boats

One of these boats is ours – Peter Sommer Travels –

Bodrum – jacaranda tree
inside Bodrum castle
Bodrum castle – cannon balls
elegance personified – Bodrum castle
ancient stone anchors

There’s even more to see from the last time we were here. A new room shows another shipwreck, which was full of glass ingots and vases as well as amphorae. I can’t imagine how some of these survived intact, sunk and buried in the sand. Also, how painstakingly other objects have been repaired. The archaeologists have done a magnificent job.

green glass
shipwrecked cargo of glass ingots and amphorae
glass bowls found on the sea bed
cracked vaseatmosphericmagical
more luminous finds …
and did this vase capture the sun?
two portly jugs enjoying a joke (belly laugh) together
two of a more elegant (posh) demeanour having a ‘seriousdiscussion
a couple of ducks
eyes – with a description underneath …
a princess has her eye on John …
John studies inscriptions carved in the stone – English Tower, Bodrum

The castle was built by the Knights of St. John from 1402 onwards, although it changed hands many times throughout history. There are four towers – English, French, German and Italian. If you are interested in heraldry, the English tower has a wealth of it to pursue. At some point fourteen cisterns were carved out of the rocks beneath the castle. The location is stunning with great views over the open harbour and sea.

Heraldry – English tower

Later on, the castle lay empty but in the early 1960s it became the location for the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. The sinister calls of the peacocks which roam the battlements are a fitting backdrop to a violent history.

and the pigeons even have their own castle …

Time for a cup of sage tea which we find at the Maritime café, looking out over the water. With a little lemon and some sugar or honey, it makes a very refreshing drink.

patisserie sweetness

A concatenation of cats prowl around town in the hopes of sharing whatever you’re eating. They are bold and a law unto themselves.

You can skip this section if you don’t like cats. I don’t have a cat but was curious to see how many different types there were in Bodrum and among the islands.

café cat
I’ll have what you’re having …
Mafia-esquethe old bruiser
Bianca sits by the pool staring at her reflection … miaow
harbour cat – Bodrum
maritime cat – Bodrum
macho perfetto
glamour puss
Orlando – the marmalade cat
colour coordinated
I think I’d rather catch a tasty mouse …
piebald, young and frisky
The Godfather – not to be tangled with …
watchtower cat
inscrutable …

We’re now on board the Aegean Clipper, meeting our fellow travellers, captain and crew with our two guides, Michael and Nota. Setting sail for Kalymnos – island of sponge diving.

Pothia harbour – Kalymnos

We’ve arrived in Greek waters, where the bronze statue of The Lady of Kalymnos (4th or 3rd century B.C.) was dragged up in the nets of local fishermen in 1995 and is now displayed in the archaeological museum here. She looks sensational, even if on the very heavy side! There must be other statues on the sea bed waiting to be discovered and hauled up …

The Lady of Kalymnos – 4th or 3rd century B.C.
Kalymnos – pebble mosaic in the town square

These attractive pebble mosaics can be found throughout the Dodecanese islands and in other parts of Greece. They were to be seen both in public places and private houses. Some are black and white, but coloured pebbles were introduced later on. Where did all those pebbles of a similar size come from I wonder?

We had docked in the main port of Pothia and since this is the last Greek island which still has a sponge diving fleet, we were shown a warehouse by the harbour to see the different types of sponges and how they are treated to make them ready for market. They are cut off the rocks and what is left continues to grow again. There’s one called an elephant ear sponge – unmistakable. I bought two very fine ones for washing your face, which are known as ‘silk’ sponges.

sponges for sale – Kalymnos

I was rather charmed by a man who has a shop nearby. He told me that he’d been diving for sponges his whole life. I had to buy some from him as well as from the warehouse so as to remember this delightful encounter!

Lovely chap!

We have a fish dinner on board, cooked by the captain and tomorrow morning we leave early for Patmos and its famous monastery of St. John.

I wish I had brought less to wear as the cabins are small and John is not very tidy – but the shower and the loo work very well and that’s really what matters. There’s a stash for books at the bottom of the bed. I finished ‘Trio’ by William Boyd, which is very entertaining. John has kindly lent me ‘What Strange Paradise’ by Omar El Akkad. Worth a try … I wonder what we will have for breakfast…

Turns out to be brilliant and very touching – pause for thought …

The monastery of St. John on Patmos attracts both pilgrims and tourists. It’s a long, meandering walk uphill to The Cave where Saint John is said to have had his vision of The Apocalypse. A painting is pointed out, said to be by El Greco – but looking at it doesn’t convince me.

Patmos – intense colours
Patmos – frescoes

Some parts of the monastery are closed due to Covid, which makes Nota frustrated. However, she takes us to the museum, where there are a number of paintings.

One stands out primarily because it’s a portrait which looks 3D rather than the usual flat way of painting portraits at that time. In fact, this person (angel) looks to me very like Pierce Brosnan of James Bond fame!

Patmos – reminiscent of Pierce Brosnan’s face (James Bond)?
Patmos – mother and son

We were waiting for the others to come down from the museum and I thought this made a lovely picture by the entrance.

There are a number of tempting small galleries and cafés on the way up to the monastery. I nearly bought an octopus plate but decided to be sensible. I already have no room in my case and it could easily break if I stuffed it in. Here’s a photo of what I didn’t buy!

Mmm … I rather regret my common sense approach now!
probably best to have these plates if you lived by the sea

I do like them!

Walking back down the hill to the boat these colours in the window with that delicate pattern appealed. I get a ‘high’ looking at intense colours.

Patmos blue …

At the harbour I came upon this tiny car – I think it’s a Messerschmitt. My friend had one in the sixties/seventies called Roger Radish. I wonder who this one belongs to?

Roger Radish turns up on Patmos …

I’d like to come back and do a bit more exploring here. John managed to get a great photo of the library, which is a boon for researchers of ancient Greek manuscripts.

We now have a long crossing ahead of us to Samos, which I’m looking forward to.

Michael and Nota compare notes on the boat

A slightly blurry photo which I can blame on some lively wave power …

Gaye arrives with tea and something very delicious.

tea time

I feel very cosseted and it’s a joy to be cooked for. And to learn new things every day with Michael and Nota. I’m sitting reading in a corner, watching the blue of the sea and the white foam as the boat surges onwards. I also appreciate just having time to think and collect one’s thoughts together without being interrupted by domestic chores – none of that to be seen. Somebody else is doing it all!

I think I made a good choice after all to come on this trip. I’m beginning to feel the ‘pull’ of Greece again very strongly – the way I felt for the first time when we came in 1970.

towards Samos


arrival at the village of Pythagoreio, Samos – named after Pythagoras, who was born here

We are sharing space with a coastguard protection vessel.

There is time to do a bit of exploring before making our way back to the boat for supper.

evening shadows – supper is waiting …

Next morning we make our way to the site of Heraion, where Hera is meant to have been born and to which she returned for her marriage to Zeus. The pilgrimage to her shrine every year by the populace was an important event..

Unfortunately, although the site was magnificent with temples supported by huge pillars, the ground they were built on was very marshy and the pillars kept sinking, which meant buildings kept having to be renewed.

One lonely pillar remains, which looks slightly wobbly. Shades of Ozymandias. But the site is very atmospheric, preparing us for the immense surprise in the museum later on.

site of Heraion, Samos
inscriptions carved in stone, Heraion, Samos

The museum is in Vathi, the modern capital of Samos. We have to remember to wear masks and to bring our audio sets, which are a very good idea. You can ramble around at your own pace and still hear Michael and/or Nota cramming our brains with Greek history. I like this way of learning.

A few seconds later I’m ‘bouleversée’ as we enter the museum and and see a giant 5.25 metre statue of a ‘kouros’ which was discovered when excavating the Sacred Way at Heraion.

Michael introduces us to the ‘kouros’ at Samos

‘Kouros’ was the name given to free standing, ancient Greek sculptures that depict nude males, glorifying youth. This is one of the tallest ones found. The museum has lots of interesting objects; people came to Heraion bringing votive offerings and bearing gifts and many of these have been found at the site and preserved in the museum.

Samos – feet

These feet reminded me of the trip six of us made in an old Land Rover from London to Greece in 1970. We were approaching Nafplion as darkness fell. Somebody said ‘Let’s pull off the road into this field’, which we duly did. The Land Rover had a tail gate which made it possible to lie down flat in the back to sleep – the canvas top covered us except for our feet.

I was woken early following a nightmare where someone had chopped off my feet with an axe. I lifted up the canvas and saw a man standing there, an axe in his hand. My feet still seemed to be attached but it was a mighty shock.

The field was part of an open prison and the man was chopping wood. John found out that he had murdered his wife but was sorry about it and still loved her. He didn’t plan on having another wife when he was set free… the feet in the museum are prettier than mine.

Museum at Vathi, Samos – votive offering
Samos museum at Vathi – votive offering
breaking loose at the museumSamos – look out!
Vathi, Samos – the lion pounces …
belligerent or what? – Vathi, Samos
eyeballed? – Vathi, Samos

This was a great museum to spend time in. It warrants a return visit.

We had the most delicious seafood lunch in a taverna by the water’s edge. I should have taken a photo of all these delicious fish dishes but I’d eaten them before I thought about it. Greedy genes … vegetables and salads in Greece are very tasty too.

It was extremely hot and although hats helped, John needed a scarf around his neck to stop getting burnt. There are some attractive shops here and a scarf was duly found. I think he should wear one all the time – reminds me of Monty Don wearing his while exploring gardens in Italy. Or Richard E. Grant looking glamorous, telling stories as he wends his way around the Côte d’Azur.

the scarf … lovely, soft and stylish – does its job …

It was time to return to the boat. In the bus we passed a roadside shrine at speed. There are lots of these shrines along the way. Do they wish drivers godspeed or do they mark accidents?

Samos – speedy shrine …

Now we are back to Pythagoreio with time to explore the village before supper. More inviting shops but I was chivvied along by John and we finally arrived at the church which overlooks the sea.

Adjacent to the church and graveyard is an archaeological site which needs more investigation but funds are needed.

Archaeological site by the church – Pythagoraio, Samos
beautiful graveyard, Pythagoreio, Samos
flower edged icon – church in Pythagoreio, Samos

I love Greek Orthodox churches. We lit two long, thin beeswax candles before leaving, along with a wish … although world peace is probably too big an ask …

This church reminds me of the one in Arachova in the Peloponnese which we visited just before Covid hit in early 2020. I don’t know what all the icons mean but they seem to create some sort of stability in a chaotic world. Perhaps this is wishful thinking …

pretty in pink

Next morning we take a trip up the mountain to the famous Tunnel of Eupalinos. This was cut through the rock for over a kilometre in the 6th century BC so as to supply the city secretly with fresh water. It’s an amazing feat of both endurance and perfection, the two ends meeting in the middle. Very well worth looking up more about this and a definite must for a visit if you go to Samos.

about to visit the tunnel of Eupalinos – Samos

In the end, I didn’t go because there’s a ladder to contend with and I was feeling somewhat unbalanced that morning. I wish now that I’d done it … bof !

In the afternoon we were taken to the local archaeological museum, showing artefacts from the time that Pythagoreio was the ancient capital – Samos.

artefacts from the ancient city of Samos
found on the ancient site of Samos, now Pythagoreio
snake worship from the ancient city of Samos
snake vase found at ancient Samos site
candlestick rabbit? !
stone lion sculpture from ancient site of Samos

I’ve put in this lion because it reminds me of the massive Lion of Knidos, a place we are bound for later. Knidos is an astonishing site except for the fact that the massive lion now greets you at the entry to the British Museum, rather than looking out to sea from its original mountain top.

just a rather pleasing picture of a cock …

Ancient Samos had connections with Egypt and at some point the Egyptian ruler sent this to Samos as a gift.


The next island is flagged up as Léros but we make a short stop at tiny Lipsi, which looks inviting.

ever onwards – shearwaters ducking madly in and out of the waves …

Lipsi is only four square miles in area and quite green. The wine it produces is meant to be good – also cheeses. Officially it is owned by the monastery at Patmos, a day excursion away. It is also a good island for swimming, with many sandy beaches. A small haven.

the harbour at Lipsi
church dome at Lipsi

We climbed up to the church but sadly it was closed. I wanted to see the icon of Panagia Hárou known for its lilies, which apparently bloom within the frame on 23 August each year. (Info from DK Eyewitness book on Greek Islands – much recommended).

On the way back we pass an art gallery (closed) and a small chapel.

Lipsi – shades of blue and white
Lipsi – a tiny chapel

We sit watching boys playing with a giant chess set by the harbour, kicking a football inbetween moves. I really like the feel of this small island …

I’m thinking that we are almost half way through the trip. The only downside to date is that if you wash any clothes they have to be hung on deck and can be at risk of an early grave if you don’t attach them firmly.

The upside is that the sea is calm this evening and I’m all for an early bed with my book on the Greek islands.

at the end of the day

I wake up hungry, have a quick shower and make my way on deck. It isn’t long to wait for breakfast, which looks very tasty. Nota has bought a jar of pistachios in mastic which I find very moorish (more-ish). She is very good at bringing all kinds of delicacies as an extra treat to the table. Much appreciated.

breakfast on board …

Our next stop, the island of Léros, has a strange atmosphere, unlike the other islands we have been to. Lakki, the main port, was occupied by the Italians from 1912 to 1943, when it was taken over by the Germans.

Blocky, fascist architecture, Bauhaus modernism and Art Deco lie uncomfortably together. The town could be a film set for a dystopian vision of the future. We visit a circular building open to the air, which used to be a busy fish market. It would have looked very picturesque with all the stalls laid out but is now completely empty and dilapidated, except for a few scrawny pigeons. The town feels empty of people and a little melancholy.

As we walked along the harbour I saw lots of black sea urchins in the clear shallows and remember being shown how to eat them by two grizzled fishermen when we were travelling around in 1970.

Our main reason for being here is to explore the castle which means walking up many steps to the top of a mountain, overlooking the sea. It’s impressive.

view of Léros from the castle of Panteli
Castle of Panteli, Léros

The castle has gone through various changes, from Byzantine (11th century fortification) to the Knights of St. John in the 14th and then 15th centuries and it does look very cobbled together in parts and somewhat run down. A caretaker arrives and complains to Michael about lack of funding.

Michael, whose knowledge of military history is vast, gives us a virtuoso soliloquy of how these islands have fared throughout the ages – taking us right up to the end of the Second World War. ‘Awesome’, as our American companions might put it. Michael is a great guide, always to hand with answers to our questions. And offering support up the steep bits of castles too.

Léros – Castle of Panteli – hot and dry
Léros – Castle of Panteli – ancient ramparts
Léros – Castle of Panteli – watchtower
another example of Dodecanese pebble mosaics
on our way down the mountain – an impressive succulent survives the heat

We are back in the bus which takes off along the shoreline. And then we stop. Michael and Nota shepherd us into a graveyard for so many British young soldiers that died out here in World War II. It’s a sobering experience and I can’t help but shed some tears. A swathe of youth whose lives and hopes were brutally cut short. The gravestones look out to sea.

When I complain about things I must remember how lucky I am to have had a long and interesting and rewarding life, (well, mostly!) – much of it owed to these young men. We spend about half an hour here – I’m glad to have had this time to reflect.

Léros – World War II British graveyard
WWII British graves at Léros

I was hungry but had no idea that we were about to have the best lunch ever, sitting on a terrace in a vineyard run by a delightful family. This was a different side of Léros – a delicious side.

Michael and Nota have a wealth of knowledge about where to eat among these islands and we are just the happy recipients of this. Many plates appear and much is consumed.

The white wine they make here is excellent – so much so that we bought two bottles. I think we’ll have to quaff them before going home.

If you find yourself in Léros, track down ‘iokallis’ – Chatzidakis wines … and enjoy lunch on their terrace.

Our next stop is the island of Kos, so time on board now to read, chat, have a siesta … a drink … cake …

a classy yacht passes by …

I’ve just read ‘Skios’ by Michael Frayn, which is about what happens when two identical cases are mixed up when taken off the carousel at the airport. I’m mentioning this because that is what happened to us at Bodrum.

My case is quite distinctive – Samsonite – grey, furnished with a noticeable pink taffeta ribbon. John took the case off the carousel and put another bag on top of it, so the ribbon was covered. I then joined him, vaguely thinking that my case looked bigger than I remembered. I’ve never seen another case like mine and it’s fairly old and easy to pick out.

Everyone had now left. I was waiting for John who had been ‘caught short’ when a Turkish man came up to me and indicated that my case was his. I was suspicious. However, I lifted up the small bag on top of said case – alarm bells – there was no pink ribbon underneath. The man then pointed to the carousel. Oh no, perkily pink ribboned and jauntily making its way round and round on its own was my lonesome case.

The two cases were exactly the same, except his was a bit bigger. Disaster was averted at the last minute – I clutched the man’s arm in grateful thanks, and we both looked relieved and happy as we went our separate ways.

I’m glad I had the happier ending – but they deserved what they got in the book!

Kos is a large island with a lot of tourists and it was a bit of a shock when we manoeuvred into the packed harbour.

arrival in Kos
the castle Neratzia is right next to the harbour
view of bicycles from castle walls, Kos
palm trees, castle walls – and a hat – Kos
a small group visiting Kos
Michael, Nota and John – Kos
The demise of ancient pillars – Kos

This island is prone to earthquakes. The 1933 quake uncovered many ancient ruins, many of which have been restored. However, there was another worrying tremor in 2017 and some sites are still temporarily closed.

The Archaeological Museum has many treasures and we got to see them …

a mysterious embrace

I would love to know who or what is being embraced here!

Greek pot

The Greeks loved to portray animals on their pots. I don’t know what this animal is but whoever painted it had a sense of humour!

interesting jug painted with sea snakes and fish
Greek figs or apricots – well past their ‘sell by’ date!
I don’t know what these are but they look good enough to eat … on closer inspection – maybe not! Lovely colour though …

Blue black figs masquerading as a bunch of grapes – ?

a lovelorn youth ?

This was a great day and there’s lots more to see tomorrow.

On our way to Asklepion

Next morning we make an early start to a site a little way out of town, built in the 4th century BC, after the death of Hippocrates, (who was born in Kos) and is known today as the legendary ‘father of medicine’.

It is set on a slope, with three levels, served by flights of steps and surrounded by pine trees with a view out to sea from the top. Asklepios was the god of healing and this location was chosen to encourage rest and recuperation after illness in beautiful, natural surroundings.

Asklepion, Kos

You feel a sense of calm and tranquillity as you enter the site – a sanctuary from the busy world. Many more of these ‘asklepieia’ can be found all over Greece, a famous one being Epidauros in the northern Peloponnese.

Asklepion – amongst the trees

Hippocrates was first to proffer the philosophy that illness was not a punishment from the gods but happened from natural causes – for example, environmental factors, diet and living habits. Doctors should only prescribe beneficial treatments and the Hippocratic Oath, symbolised in Western medicine even today has the message ‘Do No Harm’. The symbol is of a snake wound around a rod. I wondered whether that is why so many snakes are portrayed, painted on the pottery we have seen? There is more to find out here … snakes were powerful in some way …

Asklepios – view from the top of the site towards the sea

This setting is glorious and stirred something dormant deep inside me. My father was a doctor and I’ ve always been interested in the history of medicine, preventative medicine and how to stay well and healthy. I wish I could have brought Dad here.

We’re in the busy harbour of Kos again tonight but the captain is planning to take us to the islet of Giali for a welcome swim en route to our next island.

On the way we pass a place where obsidian is mined. Obsidian is black and shiny – natural volcanic glass – which, for example, is used to make jewellery. We are on our way to explore the crater of a massive volcano on the island of Nisyros, which spewed out obsidian and pumice amongst other things at its last eruption. I hope it continues dormant during the next twenty four hours – you never can tell! There were strong earthquakes here last in 1997 …

Arriving in Nisyros
Nota holdng up the castle walls at Paliokastro – Nisyros

These massive, tightly hewn together blocks of stone (how did they manage this?) are extraordinary. Sort of unbelievable in a way, as if they were slotted together by giants. And Nota’s knowledge of Hellenistic history is just as amazing. Both our guides are terrific.

Michael as king of the castle – the steps were dangerously steep and uneven!
Nisyros – John on top of the walls at Paliokastro
Nisyros – starry flowers
dolphin coin found on castle site
coin showing youth with crown of laurel leaves
Nisyros – Spilianis monastery dating from about 1600
Nisyros – one half of the crater
standing on the edge of – the other half !

The crater (caldera) is 260 metres across at its widest. Michael said that it used to be possible to walk across it but a fence has stopped that now. Maybe it claimed a victim … Mud bubbles just underneath the surface. The threat of eruption or perhaps the equivalent of ‘hot’ quicksands lies in wait for the unwary explorer …

Obsidian and Pumice

The yellow colour in the crater is sulphur.The smell comes out of vents in the crater floor, and the stink of sulphur is so strong that I feel quite nauseous – but the view standing on the edge of the caldera is magnificent.

There’s a small café and a stall selling pieces of pumice stone and obsidian, which this sleeping monster has scattered around. I have to buy some of course. I’m also thinking of Mount Etna, where ladybirds live amongst the ash and black lava – I’m very lucky to have been so close up to both volcanoes in their dormant state. Like being in a lunar landscape without having to travel to the moon!

Glasses of a kind of local nut milk are provided – delicious – as we sit under blossoming eucalyptus trees, vibrating with the buzz of honey bees above our heads. In heaven, on the edge of hell. I am totally happy!

info on obsidian at the stall on the edge of the caldera

This volcano visit has been utterly fascinating. There’s a television programme, presented by Iain Stewart (a geologist) on Eurasia – he shows how all the continents have moved so much in the past and continue to do so now and explains the parts played by volcanoes and earthquakes. A violent and fragile planet lies beneath our feet.

path leading to mountain village of Emborios – and dinner!
the lonely donkey
Michael and Nota – our guides outside The Balcony restaurant
in the village of Emboriós – Nisyros

The restaurant has a beautiful terrace at the back with a breathtaking view over the Stephanos crater. As we went in for supper I noticed a shattered mirror and an old photograph of a military man.

The story is that the Germans came here in WWII and a Greek captain was shot. The original shattered mirror is still on the wall along with the captain’s photograph. I took a (rather blurry) photo, which shows the current owner of the restaurant reflected in the mirror. A sad occasion but important to keep the memory.

look up for the full story

The restaurant pulled out all the stops for us this evening and gave us a delicious meal, full of fresh produce. This day has been so rewarding on so many fronts. It’s now ‘Goodnight’ from me, the underlying movement of the waves rocking me into sweet oblivion …

night closes in as we return to the boat

I’ve rather fallen for Nisyros. It’s so original – with the massive volcano and yet the peace and quiet of this little port with its flags from many countries fluttering along the jetty.

Next morning we have a short time to explore the village – Mandraki – by ourselves before setting off for the ‘green’ island of Tilos. I always enjoy some time on my own to find things out, say hello to the locals, potter about and do a little shopping. Perfect! John is staying on the boat to read. He doesn’t like pottering.

on the way to the village – I love these trees …
how Nisyros came into being

This scroll was painted on a wall. Glad I wasn’t here when it was happening. I look out to sea to check that Poseidon doesn’t have his eye on me!

fabulous example of Dodecanese pebble mosaics

Sea horse, starfish, dolphins – I’m just sorry my camera couldn’t fit in the whole mosaic. It’s very impressive and very beautiful.

Dodecanese pebble mosaic – anchor and dolphins

This is a smaller version but I thought I’d just squeeze it in – these pebble mosaics are special and can be found in different areas of Greece from the fifth century onwards. I must find out more about who did them and how they found the stones.

pot of yellow flowers by the blue sea
Mandraki village – Nisyros

This is a most delightful seaside village . I need more time to explore. However, I did buy olive oil soap, some mixed with seaweed, some with honey. Small Greek cookery books for friends – I could have gone on but ‘tempus fugit’ and I must make my way back to the harbour.

Mandraki – more gorgeous flowers …
farewell Nisyros

Our first week seemed to go quite slowly as we familiarised ourselves with living on the boat and getting to know our companions. The captain has found small coves for swimming along the way and there’s a special one coming up, he says. I love climbing down the ladder into the water which is very clear even twenty feet down. Swimming here is a joy.

Meanwhile, Tilos is the next island on our itinerary. It’s the first Aegean island to rely entirely on renewable energy and the only island to ban bird hunting.

arriving at Tilos

This island is very fertile, growing citrus and almond trees. I can’t help but buy two jars of Tilos honey. They will have to be wrapped up in the laundry – fingers crossed. My case is getting heavier …

Tilos – entrance to the monastery

The star turn is a visit to the monastery of Agios Panteleimon. A long, winding road leads ever upwards on the edge of cliffs beside the sea to a dramatic location where the isolated monastery is tucked into a ravine between high mountains with sheer drops to the sea far below.

source of the spring at the monastery

We are greeted by the priest, a youngish man with dark hair who is very welcoming, offering us a drink from the cold water spring. The views from the top of the monastery out to sea make you want to take off like a bird. The air is pure and fresh and the atmosphere of this sacred place is of peaceful solitude. I light a candle. I’m glad places like these still exist.

floor of the monastery courtyard

I didn’t manage to take many photos as the camera’s battery ran out. But John took some good ones for his journal. Apparently, Eleonora falcons have been seen, plunging down the cliff faces, enjoying the air thermals.

Tilos also has a strange story to tell of pygmy elephants, whose remains have been found here. We didn’t have time to visit the elephant museum at Megalo Chorio but apparently these creatures lived here until 6,000 years ago, survivors from an ice age, who became smaller and smaller as they were trapped.

Tilos doesn’t attract tourists who come for sea and sand and night life. Here you can walk, go birdwatching, and enjoy good Greek food and hospitality – time slows down away from the busy world.

It’s a short hop to Hálki with a stop for a swim from the boat on the way.


Hálki has a very picturesque waterfront. There are many cafés and restaurants to choose from and an Italianate clocktower and some fine villas. I’m tempted to sit here all day and just look at the comings and goings with a drink to hand.

The flâneur part of me is insidiously taking over but Michael and Nota have other ideas and we’re soon all in the bus making our way to the highest crusader castle we’ve visited to date.

High in the sky, overlooking the sea, was our goal. Would I manage to make it to the top? Perhaps not but it was worth a try. Step by step, slowly but surely, with a little help from Michael here and there, the castle was finally in my grasp. And it was glorious … spectacular.

Hálki – these plants grew by the steep path to the castle
almost there!
made it!

The views out to sea are just fabulous …

Hálki – John on the top of the crusader castle
Hálki – sunlight
Hálki – where the sky meets the sea

This reminds me of paintings by Mark Rothko. They are contemplative and in the same way I am drawn to the meeting of sky and sea – the mystery of infinity.

Reality bursts into my musings as I gingerly pick my way down, avoiding loose boulders on the path. It’s a long haul.

Two of our group opted to stay behind this time and we went to chat to them on a small bridge, where they were waiting for us to return. John said he would take my bag – he can be forgetful, so I was reluctant to hand it over – passport, money, the lot. But for some contrary reason, I did.

Everyone was now assembled and we got back into the minibus. I was in the front, John in the back. Ah, my bag. I asked John to pass it over and he looked puzzled. ‘I don’t have it’, he said. Panic stations. ‘But you took it from me on the bridge’. I didn’t wait for an answer – I raced back. Abandoned but still there, it was propped up against the wall. Phew! (Grrr!)

We were back at the harbour, looking at the astonishing teeny police car. I wonder how much it’s used. The café was inviting but after a long drink I couldn’t help but do a little exploring and found a white nightdress. Soft, luxurious cotton – rather too large but edged in very pretty lace. Twenty five euros. I am content …

Hálki – the police car

I think I’ve managed to buy at least one thing on each island to date. The Greeks have been through a bad time these last years and I hope the tourists will put some money into their pockets this summer.

Time to move on again. The next stop is Rhodes. There will be a lot to see and I sort out the cushions on deck to read up about it with my DK Eyewitness book on the Greek islands, which is well written (with illustrations).

John outside the castle – Rhodes

There is the old town and the new town. I am rather shocked to see a ribbon of concrete hotels and beach sunshades as we approach Rhodes via the new town. But we don’t stop there. The boat comes into harbour and moors next to the old, medieval city, surrounded by castle walls. There’s a bird’s eye/drone view of the old town in my book, which proves useful.

The Marine Gate with the twin towers
Rhodes – spyhole view out to sea

Michael and Nota suggest we go out to look around the fortified medieval city on our own for a while after giving us some of the history.

The city is enclosed by walls and what was a moat, where you can walk. In 1988 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city was founded in 408 BC and has gone through many changes of ownership from Classical, Roman, Byzantine, and from 1310 taken over by the Knights of St. John (Knights Hospitallers) followed by the Ottoman Empire, then the Italians right up to WWII.

The Knights Hospitallers built over thirty fortified castles throughout the Dodecanese islands and owned the island of Rhodes for over two centuries.

Rhodes – the famous street of the Knights Hospitallers

Maybe I should mention the Colossus of Rhodes as it still intrigues even though it isn’t there! It was a thirty three metre high bronze statue of the Greek sun god Helios, erected in 280 BC to celebrate the island defending itself successfully against the enemy. There were many enemies!

In 226 BC an earthquake destroyed the statue. It was never rebuilt. The remains lay on the ground for eight hundred years and were finally sold to the Arabs. The bronze would probably have been melted down and maybe made into coins or tools.

Rhodes – a choice of icons …

It’s fascinating to immerse yourself in this enclosed walled city, which includes a mosque, a library and a Grand Palace. Walking around at your leisure makes you motivated to learn about all the different peoples that have made it their own through its complex history.

Rhodes – entering the Grand Palce

Besides the grander buildings there’s a plethora of market stalls, places to eat and drink, narrow alley ways and houses where people live.

Ancient buildings vibrate to the sound of buzzing velos and motor bikes. It is somewhat like a beehive, except that it’s full of exquisite architecture. These walls can’t talk but they are steeped in blood, sweat and tears – a cliché but a very apt one here!

Rhodes – market place
Rhodes – a sunlit cul- de- sac
Rhodes = winding alley way
Rhodes – mosque + moon

I’d now completely lost any sense of where we were and a long drink was top of my list of things to do next. We finally muddled through to the main gate. Nearby was an entrance to a secret garden with a huge tree spreading shade – a mysterious white statue glimmered through the leaves.

‘Let’s go in here’, I said. It turned out to be the most enchanting garden café called the ‘Auvergne’. The best place! It’s such a great feeling when you come upon somewhere special by chance! My strong tendency to be a flâneur was sated as we sat down to fresh orange juice and sweetmeats. Heaven – or its equivalent …

Café Auvergne – in the historical garden

We had a great time exploring the Old Town by ourselves but next morning Michael and Nota gathered us up early and off we went, audio sets at the ready. This is the type of travel which suits me best. Interactive learning with Michael and Nota about the history of places we visit, time to explore on our own, taking photos, looking forward to convivial meals, being looked after so I don’t need to organise every day and, of course, a bit of shopping thrown into the mix, like icing on the cake.

I love these islands and this is a great way to visit them by boat. Lovely crew too!

I’m just putting in a few photos of what I enjoyed looking at and to give a window into what Rhodes has to offer in the Old Town. I’d love to go back.

Rhodes – tower built by Knights Hospitaller
Rhodes – Old Town
Rhodes – bougainvillea


through the keyhole …
dark corner
mysterious faces
what happened to him?

These are a few of the things that caught my eye but you could spend so long here. My history of it all needs much improving but I hope I’m giving you a flavour of what is on offer that may whet your appetite for more …

We then came upon the mosaics, which are truly wonderful. This was a day to remember.

floor mosaic
birds and flowers
handsome sea god – with wings?!
winner takes all …
an intriguing scenario

All the same, poor bunny!

I’ve gone a bit mad showing the mosaics but I find them fabulous – just one more, a favourite …


I’ve always been both fascinated and repelled by Medusa with her wriggling snakes for hair ever since I read the Greek myths as a child. There was a picture of Perseus escaping her clutches in my book. If you looked at her face to face you would be changed to stone. Perseus had a very well polished shield and was able to chop off her head by looking at her reflection. I found this both clever and terrifying.

The book I was given as a child on the Greek myths was called ‘Once Upon A Time’, published by Ward Lock with memorable illustrations, many in colour. It was a well loved bedtime read and unknowingly shaped my future love of Greece.

Perseus with the head of Medusa

Rather violent – but it was him or her – I expect the snakes died too … she has rattlesnake eyes …

When we were in the Peloponnese just before lockdown, we stopped at a petrol station, where there was a gift shop. I came upon a roughly made ceramic head of Medusa. I so wanted to buy it but how would I have got it home in one piece … also, it did fill me with horror – children’s memories live on … where did that story originate?

Petrolhead Medusa – rather crude but still fills me with horror!

And that reminds me of other Greek myths – Narcissus and the water nymph, Echo, Icarus flying too near the sun on his wings made of wax, Jason, Medea and the Golden Fleece, Andromeda and the Sea Monster, Atalanta and the Golden Apples, Pan Pipes, Midas, Hero and Leander … they were all there. And of course, all the gods!

I must pass this book on to our grandson …

On that note, we say farewell to Rhodes. The captain is taking us to a secret cove for swimming.

secret cove – accessible only by boat
Robinson Crusoe on the beach …

It’s actually a member of our crew, attaching the boat to a large boulder for safety – you can see the rope in the water.

après swim – John enjoying his book in the sun
on our way to SymiSafak and Gaye

After a peaceful night we are feeling in good shape – Nota has more pistachios in mastic in a jar at breakfast and I must ask her where I can find some. I don’t want to appear greedy but they just hit the spot!

Ergun, our captain- in full flow …

We are making for the island of Symi – not too far away. I am making the best of these glorious moments as we plough on through the swell of indigo seas. To be here is to be without a care in the world – of course it can’t last … but it is lasting right now …

Sailing into Symi harbour is like sailing into a picture postcard. It is so unbelievably pretty. This island was once very rich because of sponge diving and shipbuilding and there are many beautiful neoclassical villas cascading down the steep hillsides. I can’t helping thinking about which one I would choose to live in. Oh, forget it, any one would do!

Symi – arriving into harbour
Symi harbour – later in the day
Symi – Customs House
Michalaki – a fisherman by sculptor K. Valsamis
a rope of garlic drying in the sun
staircase to the stars
Greek denizen of the deep …

We explored winding alleys, up and down, until we all met up for dinner in a taverna by the harbour.

Symi – taverna

Later, having drunk a wee bit too much I’m careful not to go too near the water’s edge. Arrived back safely at the boat, just time to look up into the hills of Symi at night before bed.

Goodnight !

Another sunny day and after breakfast Michael and Nota take us on a trip up the hill to see how people live here – beautiful mansions often cheek by jowl with neglected ones, ready to be rehabilitated. I think there are quite a lot of expats living here permanently – somebody mentioned British and Italians. Luckily, Symi doesn’t seem to have attracted too much of the noisy nightlife – I hope it stays that way.

Nota leads us uphill, explaining the history of Symi as we follow.

Nota answers our questions

There are hundreds of steps, quite steep in parts. Deterrent for cars, Daleks, etc. And it preserves the old way of being, which is very attractive. I’m slightly out of breath as we climb higher and higher.

it just needs lots of money and time spent on it!
like this one, nearby
more old fashioned with a beautiful pebble mosaic to welcome you
the silent heat of the dayde Chirico-esque?
just for the colours! Plumbago?
octopus pebble mosaic – spectacular!
Greek summers – the scent of the fig
Symi – bird’s eye view
had to put in this ‘maritime’ table – the creative restaurateur makes the salt, pepper and napkin into a sailing boat – brilliant!

It’s time to retrace our steps. We are now also homeward bound but the double harboured site of Knidos is en route.

leaving Symi
a house only accessible by boat

We have to make a stop at Datça as we are once again in Turkish waters and our passports have to be shown in the port. Photos are also taken and we are well and truly stamped.

The interesting thing about stopping here is that for us it’s a return visit from a time maybe seven years ago when we sailed along the Lycian coast in a similar type of boat (gulet). I’m curious to check something out. On my quest I find a shop which sells Datça almonds. They are known for their high quality and will make perfect presents.

Two of our companions, Gail and John, are eating ice creams down by the port. They look good. ‘Yes’, said Gail, ‘they are made of goat’s milk and really delicious’. She pointed out a low building with a picture of a goat on the wall. Thanks, Gail, that was a highlight of my day!

Goat’s milk has a slightly more viscous consistency when made into ice cream and I had crunchy honeycomb added. Oh my, was that the most special treat ever! I was tempted to go back for seconds but there was something more important to resolve.

‘Le Flâneur’ bookshop in Datça

The last time we were here our guide, Andrew Wilson, pointed out a small bookshop a few minutes away from the harbour. It’s called ‘Le Flâneur’ and is owned by a very delightful couple. And it was still there! And so were they …

They sell both new and second hand books in twenty languages – we bought one in English and I bought postcards – old ones of Knidos with those wavy white edges of yesteryear. And I was absolutely so happy to see the two of them again. And because I was so happy I took a lovely photo!

the delightful owners of ‘Le Flâneur’ bookshop in Datça

Leaving on a high note, Knidos was in our sights …

The lion of Knidos now welcomes you at the entrance to the British Museum. It is a massive sculpture made of marble and was initially found by a young archaeologist. It was part of a tomb, looking out to sea near Knidos. 150 years ago the tomb was excavated and the lion ended up being transported to the BM. To learn more there is an attractive, small book by Ian Jenkins, published by the BM.

Michael points out where the lion used to reside as we pass.

where the lion of Knidos was found

On top of the cliff at the front you can see the remains of the tomb that was excavated. I expect the lion misses his view over the Aegean …

I should know which island this is – but I don’t it’s dramatic
cake by Gaye

While we were getting our passports checked Gaye was making a cake which appeared at teatime and was duly demolished.

We’re in harbour with fishing boats for the night – I think the site at Knidos has been developed a lot since we were last here. I remember our group doing a Greek play in the amphitheatre last time, directed by Andrew, our guide. Ian Parmenter, a celebrity Australian cook took the main part and made it his own!

fisherman – Knidos

This is a spectacular location at the end of a peninsula. There has been a lot more excavation since we were last here. I didn’t take a lot of photos this time. Instead, can I direct you to my journal dated December 2014 ‘The Lycian Shore – take 2’ when I did take some good photos. It was interesting to get up to date but I was aware that the site would attract more and more tourism. But that has a positive side too. It’s a very special place.

Now we’re in Turkish waters again I’m thinking about how so much has changed since 2014 when we were last here and wonder about the outcome in both the near and distant future. It’s an unsettling time.

And we’re about to enter that world again …

arriving back in Bodrum

As we arrive back in Bodrum, cases are being packed and we have a last night on the boat. It’s lovely to meet some of the families of the crew as they are welcomed home.

Dinner is a mix of exchanging emails and thanking Michael and Nota for being terrific guides – Nota leaves early next morning for Athens and Michael goes later on to Italy. Breaking up is always hard to do, even though we knew our companions for only two weeks but I hope we may keep up with some of them.

John and I have a day in Bodrum as the plane leaves in the evening. We put our cases in a safe place organised by Michael and having said our goodbyes, decide to visit the castle once more.

Bodrum castle – stone anchors
Bodrum castle – stone carving 1
Bodrum castle – stone carving 2
Bodrum castle – a hedgehog?
Bodrum castle – an intriguing three legged pot
Bodrum castle – plant pods

I saw these pods on the ground and wondered where they came from as there was no tree nearby. I just find them very beautiful. I’m including them as at the moment I’m watching a programme on botany – about photosynthesis and how plants grow. It’s especially relevant in the present climate.

Bodrum castle – the old and the new

The ancient clay pot sharing space with a naval WW1 mine. Food for thought.

The blue and yellow colours made me think of Ukraine as we sit by the harbour with an energising drink of sage tea.

Bodrum – sage tea
in the heat of the day …
farewell Bodrum

Not so fast … when we got to the airport our plane was cancelled. What to do? We ended up in a mad dash by taxi 170 kilometres through the darkening night sky of the Turkish hinterland to Dalaman, where we managed to get on a packed flight home at 1.30am in the morning.

Luckily, we had booked our flights with a company recommended by our daughter. It was Dennis and Stan at ‘Dial A Flight’ who did a sterling job in taking all the hassle out of our hands. Dennis found us flights from Gatwick to Bodrum at a late stage and Stan now got us home. And they also refunded our flight back and saved me from filling in endless forms and waiting for a refund from Easyjet. I can’t thank them enough. They were brilliant.

And that’s about it! I hope this piece might be helpful if you’re choosing to visit the Dodecanese islands. Personally, I can’t wait to go back.

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And then we had Paris…

Having been confined to these shores for so long I realised that although I longed to ‘cross the Channel’ I was also afraid of ‘spreading my wings’.

When my daughter said she had Eurostar vouchers and invited me to join her, I was thrilled – but could I do it? I hadn’t had Covid, I did have my booster – my worry was just filling in all the forms for Covid and trying to organise them on my phone. She knew what to do and ‘voilà’ – I’m sitting at a table on the Eurostar, waiting for take off! Coffee arrives, followed by lunch with a glass of wine and suddenly, we burst out of the tunnel into another country. Unbelievable!

On the Eurostar to Paris
We are in France!

I had always wanted to stay at the ‘Hotel des Grandes Ecoles’ – but it was always full. This time there was a chance, probably due to Covid and we were soon installed in ‘The Garden Room’. The hotel lies behind a massive door to the street. A cobbled road inside leads to the old fashioned hotel and garden.

Paris – Hotel des Grandes Ecoles
Paris -The Garden Room

One of my favourite places in Paris is the Ile St. Louis. Fifteen minutes walk downhill from our hotel, it’s now bathed in the golden light of late afternoon.

Ile St. Louis – late afternoon

A favourite café, the ‘St. Régis’, is at one end. Very French, untouristy. Just the place to immerse ourselves for a while and enjoy the surroundings.

Paris – Café St. Régis
Paris – Café St. Régis

As we left, the sun was leaving too and the lights of the city were appearing. The bridge by the café seemed to be closed to traffic. There was a man sitting at a piano in the middle of the road, playing music which brought tears to my eyes. We stood there transfixed, along with others, including children and I could only believe that Paris had put on this show especially for us! We made a recording on the phone which I wish I could include here. It was just a very special moment and I was so happy to be here.

Paris – a one man concert in the middle of the road …

I looked around as we made our way to dinner and could hardly believe the Van Gogh sunset scene. ‘ Incroyable’!

Paris – Van Gogh sunset

We’d seen a restaurant – L’Ilôt Vache – on a corner as we came down to the Ile St. Louis and liked the look of it, so we retraced our steps. It was just opening for the evening, with a very tall, handsome man in charge. It turned out we’d made a great choice. ‘Confit de canard’ with ‘pommes de terre rôties’, followed by ‘crême brulée’ and ‘tarte aux pommes’. And a rich, red wine.

Confit de canard avec pommes de terre rôties
Paris – L’Ilôt Vache – crême brulée
Paris – L’Ilôt Vache – tarte aux pommes

Breakfast at the hotel was delicious too. Lace ‘doilies’ grace the old, round wooden tables and the waitresses are buzzily welcoming, asking how we would like our eggs done – nothing is too much trouble for them and hot coffee is on hand.

There are two middle aged men at another table with roguish eyes, a family with small, sticky fingered children, a lone dowager dressed in black, wearing a hat – the dining room is full. A monstrously furry cat explores silently under the tables.

We have tickets for an exhibition of Vivien Maier’s photography at the ‘musée’ in the Luxembourg Gardens. The sun is shining. We make an early start, walking past the Panthéon on our way.

It’s so good to get to places early and the Gardens looked wonderful, even though it’s the beginning of November.

Paris – The Luxembourg Gardens – November 2021
Paris – The Luxembourg Gardens – November 2021
Paris – The Luxembourg Gardens – November 2021

The weather is mild but it is Autumn and the trees are losing their leaves.

Vivian Maier, born in 1926, made her living as a nanny, mainly in New York, but her work as an amazing street photographer came to light when some forgotten storage lockers were found to contain over 100,000 photographs of ‘street life’ she had taken over many years.

A film called ‘Finding Vivian Maier’, has been made by John Maloof, the man who found these photos and Charlie Siskel. The exhibition we were going to see in the Luxembourg Gardens contained some of these.

The exhibition was fascinating and the way the photographs came to light after decades in a lock-up is astonishing. I bought some postcards and took a few photos but cannot for copyright reasons show them here. Looking up Vivian Maier’s life and work is really worth doing. Watch the film!

By this time we were thinking about a bite to eat and I really wanted to see if we could get into ‘Le Fumoir’, a restaurant opposite Le Tour St. Jacques by the Louvre. We had no reservation but were lucky. There’s a room which contains a small library at the far end but that was full. However, we sat under this painting and had ‘une assiette’, which satisfied our hunger. Much recommended.

Paris – at ‘Le Fumoir’

We hadn’t had much time to look at the shops and decided to walk along the Seine, enjoy the river views and maybe come upon some small boutiques and galleries. It was interesting to see that many seemed to have survived ‘lockdown’.

Paris – clothes
Paris – pumpkins and bouquets
Paris – cheese and wines …
Paris – sweetmeats

We passed by one of the celebrated landmarks of Paris – ‘Les Deux Magots’. I couldn’t help being ‘touristy’ and took a photo.

“Les Deux Magots’ – spot the twins!

Paris is always awash with small, quirky galleries. Time was precious, so leaving the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay for next time (!) we trawled through unknown streets, searching for windows catching our eye en route. It was probably lucky for my purse that some galleries were closed and we could only manage ‘lèche-vitrines’. Nonetheless, a little frustrating!

Paris – ultra chic
Paris – let me in!
Paris – mystère
Paris – ‘bonjour tristesse’ – grâce a Françoise Sagan …
Paris – yes, please …
Paris – ‘rouge et noir’
Paris – birds by Pylones

I’m not on Twitter but these enchanting birds ‘tweet’ when you pick them up. Fun presents for children …

All good things come to an end and our last evening is here already. And while our passenger locator forms are being processed by the lovely lady in reception, she recommends ‘Café Delmas’ – a restaurant just minutes away in ‘Place de la Contrescarpe’, where we are made very welcome.

It’s always a worry after Brexit but I think speaking French helps – we were treated with warmth and kindness everywhere. ‘Bonne nuit’ et ‘beaux rêves’ …

Time to return to ‘Le Gare du Nord’. It’s been a real treat but now the door closes on our little sortie to ‘the City of Light’. I hope we’ll be back soon …

Paris – ‘Au Revoir

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The Biscuit – The History of a Very British Indulgence

by Lizzie Collingham – a big thank you for an inspiring and very enjoyable book …

If somebody had given me this book to read at school – ( obviously not even written then!) – I would have fallen in love with history. Corn Laws didn’t do it for me. But at this later stage in life, I’m giving ‘The Biscuit’ my personal ‘book of the year’ award for a riveting account of why biscuits played a major part in encouraging world trade. And how their delicious success continues apace today. They really do ‘take the biscuit’!

You might think that the subject is pretty mundane – a cup of tea, usually accompanied by a ginger nut or digestive biscuit, preferably dunked in the cup for extra indulgence. And drunk (mostly every day) by the masses. But there is much more to it than that.

ginger nuts

Lizzie Collingham’s research is mouth wateringly more-ish. Starting off with the word biscuit coming from the French, ‘ bi-cuit’ (twice cooked), the origins of the first biscuits were from dried bread, used by travellers of all kinds, sailors and also the army, as it did not go mouldy en route. She also tells us that it was in the medieval Islamic world that sugar was added, eventually leading to the Empire’s global trading in biscuits which developed what is today a staple for entire nations, specifically the British.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on Huntley and Palmer’s biscuit tins with their colourful patterns etched onto the metal, making the biscuit tin into something of an icon. Packed full of biscuits, they were shipped all over the planet. Some people even put the empty tins on the mantelpiece as a decorative feature! I remember, as children, we filled the empty tin with the wooden animals which came with our Noah’s Ark in the toy cupboard.

These ‘large square tins’ (although they were to expand into all sorts of shapes and sizes) had much more fascinating uses.

In Uganda, bibles and other books were made to measure expressly to fit into these tins to save them from being destroyed by ants or similar creatures who ‘ate’ and destroyed books in the tropics.

In the Sudan a sword was found with bands of metal covering the scabbard, the name of Huntley and Palmer proudly displayed.

In Trinidad they were used as musical instruments and dustbin lids. In Bolivia a young mining engineer used an empty tin successfully to carry £1,000 across a dangerous mountain pass and fast flowing river to distribute his mens’ wages.

When Queen Victoria’s son-in-law died of malaria in Africa, the body had to be preserved in order to be taken back to Britain for burial. A coffin was constructed out of biscuit tins and filled with rum.

The writer, Thomas Hardy, apparently had his heart excised from his body to be buried in Dorset by the side of his first wife, Emma. The surgeon, having extracted the heart from the corpse, found he had nothing to transport it in. Someone came up with an empty biscuit tin.


In the First World War porridge was made over a fire using biscuit tins and they were also used as washbasins and, unpleasantly, even latrines. Soldiers used them as seats in the trenches. Temporary army camps made use of them filled with sand together with mealy bags to build most of the huts. During the Second World War the tins were used in an innovative (explosive) way to make tea or ‘char’. Obviously, given so many empty tins, the biscuits were very popular!

The author includes recipes for all kinds of biscuits – plain, iced and jam filled, followed by chocolate coated ones. The choice grew with the profits made. At first biscuits were the prerogative of the upper classes but with industrialisation biscuit factories brought the prices down to all and sundry.

something a bit more luxurious …

Biscuits are a bridge between bread and cake – they last longer and with the addition of sugar have definitely carved out a tasty and nostalgic niche – comfort food, which we all desire from time to time.

Do read this book if I have whetted your appetite and find out lots more about the evolution of the biscuit across the world – and of social history, packaged in an original and unforgettable way – preferably taken in with a cup of tea to make a good match with a ‘ginger nut’, a ‘digestive’ … or even something more luxurious. The choice is endless, a welcome indulgence, wrapped into our daily lives.

“A stellar observer of the day-to-day and the mundane, a social historian of extraordinary talent” (New York Times Book Review’).

The book also has illustrations – some of which are in colour.

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