Un, deux, Troyes

Mention the French city of Troyes to any English person and you’ll probably get the response, “I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never been there.” This is because it is efficiently by-passed by the A5 autoroute, meaning that anyone travelling from the Channel ports to the South of France will have seen Troyes on signposts scores of times but probably won’t have stopped off for a visit. This is an error!
To clear up the first question everyone asks, the pronunciation is as in un, deux trois, and not as in “Helen of …”. Troyes is the capital of the Champagne region, and large amounts of the sparkling nectar are drunk here, even though the bottling plants and cellars are mainly in nearby Reims.
The medieval city of Troyes is a charming place to wander round and, because it’s not nearly such a tourist magnet as it ought to be, it’s pleasantly quiet. Fairy-tale half-timbered buildings, impeccably restored, cluster round the market place and down the numerous narrow alleyways, the best-known of which is the “Ruelle des Chats”, or “Cat Alley”.
The city centre is enclosed within a network of roads which, on a map, exactly resembles a champagne bottle cork, and is thus known as the “Bouchon de Champagne”. Within this area, you can stroll from restaurant to creperie to bar unhindered by traffic. Just outside the central area lies the Catholic cathedral, which dates from the twelfth century and contains some of the most stunning stained glass windows to be found anywhere in France. Just adjacent to the cathedral is the Museum of Modern Art, with an ever-changing collection of top quality abstract works.
Once you have soaked up sufficient history (the Seine, incidentally, flows through the city), Troyes presents unusual shopping opportunities. The area’s main industry is clothes manufacture, so on every corner there are “bonneteries” selling “seconds”, and also a large number of full-scale outlets offering designer clothing at bargain prices. Among labels manufacturing in the Troyes area are Le Coq Sportif, for sports gear, and Le Petit Bateau, for children’s clothes.
During the day, there is much to explore. Within half an hour’s drive lies the Forêt d’Orient, a vast wooded area rich in wildlife and ideal for walking, cycling and picnicking. At the centre of the forest is a large lake with extensive water sports facilities and even its own artificial beach!
Dining in Troyes is extensive and traditional, with the emphasis firmly on meat. The local speciality is Andouillettes de Troyes (coarse sausages). And before you leave, don’t forget to head up into the hills and visit a few of the local small champagne vineyards, where you can taste the goods and buy at bargain prices.
So next time you’re on the A5, don’t ignore the Troyes signs – follow them!
From the Hampshire Chronicle

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My Holiday Disaster

To be fair, we were warned. When in Poland, the guide book said, be prepared for the public toilets to be challenging. Snort. For veterans of the original, now fast disappearing French “Flush and Run” specials, what possible terrors could Poland’s conveniences hold?
You can’t avoid them, unless you’re teetotal. The seductive nature of the extremely strong and outrageously cheap beer (“piwo”, such a sweet name, don’t you think?) means that an occasional visit is essential.
It was my wife who first alerted me to possible problems. Disappearing into the depths of the cellar of the central arcade in the “Reynek” (market place) in Krakow, she took a worryingly long time to reappear. It transpired that, after a lengthy queuing procedure, she had been severely told off by the “babcia klozetowa” (brutal old lady in charge of handing out the regulation two sheets of toilet paper). My wife had had the temerity to protest (via sign language) that this wasn’t much of a deal for 40 groszy. But the main hold-up had been caused by a fruitless search for a flushing mechanism and a fear of public humiliation if she re-emerged without having flushed. It was only after having finally given up hope that she discovered that the mechanism was activated by opening the cubicle door.
A couple of piwos later, I had no choice but to follow. Sure enough, I promptly had a run-in with the babcia klozetowa, who tried to claim that I had performed a function other then the one I had. You see, a pee costs 40 groszy, something more substantial costs 50 groszy. On this occasion, I was accused of trying to get away cheaply, despite the fact that her beady eyes had been on me throughout the operation.
What happened at the gloriously down-at-heel Hotel DomTurysty in Zacopane (jewel of the Tatra Mountains) was, however, more than a joke. Taken short (50 groszys worth) in the breakfast room, I wrongly assumed that the hotel’s facilities would be free. I had already entered the loo when I realised that I had no money. Pounced upon by the duty crone, who thought I was leaving, not arriving, I had to suffer a tyrade of abuse as I tried to explain that I was just going back to fetch my fee.
On returning, I proffered the 50 groszy, which were quickly pocketed. Unfortunately, she thought it was in payment of my alleged previous foray, and now refused to let me in. When all pleading failed, I had no choice but to return to the dining room yet again, to get another 50 groszy.
This gained me admission (thank God), but in the kerfuffle, the guardian hadn’t given me my two sheets of loo paper, a fact which I didn’t actually realise until I physically required it. A furtive peer out of the cubicle door revealed that the crone had now gone off for a break. The only way to get hold of any paper was to hop, trousers round ankles, to the attendant’s kiosk and remove the paper from where it lay, enticingly, on a shelf. I don’t think the two Dutch backpackers who witnessed this operation will ever get over the trauma.
From the Independent on Sunday

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Echo Beach

The sound of the Rainstick is a melancholy one. It’s a noise which attracts a bizarre collection of addicts to the beach at Eype, just outside Bridport, on the West Dorset coast. In the case of the Rainstick, the sound is created by little stones tumbling through a network of twigs. At Eype, it’s the waves breaking with metronomic regularity onto the steep bank of pebbles which form the shoreline.
So timeless and reliable is this sound that it tends to induce laughably frightening thoughts such as “How many pebbles are there in the world?”. These are thoughts which may or may not cross the minds of the small but dedicated number of people who, rain or shine, winter or summer, day or night, can be found sitting on the pebble bank, staring out to sea for hours on end. What it is about certain places which gives them the power to mesmerise in this way?
In the week we spent at Eype, rain fell ceaselessly for 72 hours and it was shrouded in fog for the rest of the time. Yet the (well-hidden) caravan park was full, the campsite was full, the B & Bs were full and no one showed any discontent or desire to leave. They must have been regulars, since it takes a real effort to get there. The lane is so winding and narrow that some people assume they’re on the wrong road and turn back; anyone attempting to approach on foot has to negotiate steep, tortuous cliff paths.
One afternoon, I was stopped by a middle-aged gentleman who pretended he wanted to ask the way. He introduced himself as being a Russian poet from Leningrad and, within moments, had produced from his rucksack a slim hardback book containing his own poems, all dedicated specifically to this small stretch of Dorset coastline. The almost spiritual sincerity shone through so brightly that I read them avidly. Each poem had also been painstakingly translated into Russian. He hailed a passing walker to take a picture of me studying his literary work.
Leonid is by no means the only one to find Eype beach artistically inspirational. The African master drummer Noah Messomo holds highly atmospheric drum workshops here (“turn right”, say the directions) and the artist John Skinner leads beach sculpture sessions. Musician Jackie Leven credits the locality as influential in his work, and the singer and songwriter Polly Harvey is specifically inspired by these very waves and pebbles.
At 1 a.m. one night, we met in the lane a woman called Fiona and her young daughter who had driven that day all the way from Rotherham. Their husband and father had deserted them ten days earlier and they’d chosen Eype beach as the place to “find themselves”. Overcome with emotion as they told their story, they nonetheless were obviously gaining in strength and determination from their pilgrimage. They had two Rotweilers. “Don’t trust them,” said Fiona. “They don’t like men.”
Even in the middle of the night, there are figures hunched up on the top of the pebble bank. With their Hurricane lamps and their Thermoses, the dedicated shore fishermen of Eype spend most of their lives there. They never seem to catch anything, so what are they doing? It’s obvious: They are composing songs, writing poems and discovering the true meaning of life.
From the Hampshire Chronicle

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Tobagonian Paradise


Sometimes on holiday, things just work out well. For a start, our boat trip over to Little Tobago turned out to be an individual tour, as there was no one else on board except the guide. We had an hour on this desert island bird sanctuary, making contact with Blue-Crowned Motmots, Frigate Birds and Boobies. On the way, we snorkelled off Goat Island, the private island where Ian Fleming wrote many of his Bond novels. It’s up for sale for £1.25 million, which would seem quite a bargain if you had the cash. The only trouble is, there’s nothing to do there, but it’s only a five-minute boat ride from the decaying but still splendid Blue Waters resort.

Literally the moment we arrived back on dry land, the heavens opened and a tropical storm lashed the shores at Speyside. We were fine, though, safe in the sanctuary of the amazing Gemma’s Tree House restaurant, tucking into a lobster feast of unrivalled excellence, before heading off to bathe in the cooling waters of the Argyll waterfall. As I said, sometimes things just work out well.

For a start, the “villa” we’d booked turned out to be the height of luxury, complete with private pool, maid, four bathrooms and a security guard. Conveniently, it was a mere couple of minutes’ walk from Pigeon Point, probably the most photographed location in the whole of the Caribbean. Also within easy walking distance were a cornucopia of fabulous and reasonably priced restaurants. We tried them all and were disappointed by none: Iguana, Pelican Reef, Dillons Seafood restaurant (yet more lobster, mmm). Just by Store Bay beach, you can take in the sunset with a cocktail (you can’t beat a good rum punch) at the mildly decadent Crown Point Hotel. Generally speaking, we found better value at the least posh places: the only establishments which seemed over-priced were the luxurious Coco Reef and the over-hyped Seahorse Inn, while the gloriously down-market Golden Star offered fabulous value with its combined three course meal and Wednesday talent show, a crazy event which was worth the journey alone.

As for culture, well, it’s the steel pans which are the trademark of Trinidad and Tobago. You can hear them everywhere, but the most popular opportunity is at the weekly Sunday School in Buckoo, an anything-but-religious experience. For people with less traditional tastes, fantastic reggae booms nightly from some of the rum shops, not strictly legally, it seems. Another Sunday experience not to be missed is a visit to Luise Kimme’s castle-like art gallery, where this eccentric but lovable character presides over hundreds of brilliantly colourful semi-abstract life-size sculptures.

We decided not to bother with hiring a car, since the tours offered by Tour Tobago are so comprehensive and such good value. With the help of proprietors Reuben and Carrie, plus the ever-informative Lynden, we found out everything there is to know about the history, culture and wildlife of this outstandingly beautiful country: the rain forest, the music, the art, the climate, the history, the food and, of course, the huge range of tropical birds.

Getting to Tobago and back isn’t hard or too tiring. You can fly direct or stop off in Grenada. We were there for ten days and would have happily stayed on for double the time. It’s beautiful, friendly, unspoilt and welcoming. You could hardly ask for anything more from a holiday.

From the Hampshire Chronicle

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Blues Traveller

I can remember it in detail. The most emotionally charged performance I’ve ever seen was at the Boar’s Head in Wickham, Hants (now sadly razed to the ground). Hearing John Campbell’s supremely musical rhythm section introduced as being “from Austin, Texas”, I determined: Austin Texas, there I have to go.
When Joe Ely turned up at the same venue mere months later with the same musicians accompanying him, it simply confirmed this determination. This hard, taut, electric country / blues / r & b was totally my kind of music and I had to get me some more.
Then an odd thing happened in Southampton. On an ordinary Tuesday night, Bobby Mack and Night Train appeared at the Brook and blew me right away. Bobby says goodbye individually to all his audience members after each show. All I could find to say to him was: Bobby, you made me want to visit Texas so much, I’m going out to buy the tickets tomorrow.
So now I’ve done it. I’ve savoured the “Live Music Capital of the World” and there could be no more thrilling destination for a music lover. Austin has over 100 live music venues which function seven nights a week, all year. You could stay there for months and never repeat a venue or a band. Bliss and sore ears.
Hopelessly jet-lagged and not caring at all, I staggered down the hill and along 6th street in pursuit of an in-store appearance at Waterloo Records by Billy Bragg, plugging his Mermaid Avenue album of Woody Guthrie songs. Bill had already been and gone, but it didn’t matter. Arriving on 6th is exactly as you’d dream. Suddenly, you are aware that the humid air is filled with the sounds of booming bass guitars, chunky Stratocasters and thwacking hi-hats and snares. Like in New Orleans, the only problem lies in deciding which doors to enter, but it doesn’t really matter because the beer is cheap everywhere and nobody troubles you at all.
The majority of the bars have traditional “blues bands” as we know them, but greatly more authentic than you’d find in British pub. In true Hamburg style, they play for hours and hours. I was looking for something special, though, and as Blues Travelers have to accept, was constantly frustrated.
When the Hoax played in Austin, they opened for Guy Forsyth and it was Guy I was trailing. Good news! He’s playing at Flipnotics today! Bad news! The asterisk in the listings mag means it was a lunchtime session and we’ve missed it. Good news! He’s playing at Carlos ‘n’ Charlie’s on Wednesday evening! Bad news! We’re leaving on Wednesday afternoon! It would have clashed with Joe Ely at Antone’s anyway, but you could have taken in both, Austin’s that kind of place.
So it was time to access some true funk. Antone’s on 5th Street is a world-famous blues cavern with heritage and musical excellence dripping down its walls. But each September it devotes four nights to the funktastic George Clinton style soul-rap of legendary James Brown saxist Maceo Parker. This impossibly hard-edged ensemble features Fred Wesley, JB lookalike Sweets Shirell on backup vocals and the world’s most sublime Hammond player. We danced till 2 am and only gave up because of exhaustion. By the way, Antone’s has a novel way of making sure there’s no crush at the bar. Out in the crowd are satellite bars in the form of fairy-light-decorated baths of ice filled with bottles of beer.
But were we going to find some blues? Following the guide-book’s advice, we headed away from 6th to Guadeloupe Street, where Texas State University students stumble from venue to venue (they’re only yards apart). The Hole in the Wall was great but Roberto Moreno’s band was deeply influenced by Crowded House, so it was into the car and out to North Lamarr and the Saxon Pub, which this week featured, among others, the ubiquitous Guy Forsyth as well as Omar and the Howlers, who have a residency.
We took a chance and chose a real thriller. The unpromisingly-named Monte Montgomery does things with an acoustic guitar you’d never dream possible. His country-rock craftings, his truly “Austin-tight” trio and the lovingly-created roadhouse atmosphere of the venue (plus the odd Tequila or two) made this the best evening of the jaunt. More bad news: I was compelled to buy albums by both Maceo Parker and Monte Montgomery.
The blues quest now shifted to New Orleans. A quick glance at the line-up at the House of Blues revealed that we would be missing Dr. John, Gregory Isaacs and Jimmy Cliff, but … oh, joy: Tonight, the Fabulous Thunderbirds.. Who would the support be, I enquired at the box office. “Get here early, sir. It’s Guy Forsyth.”
Deep was the disappointment when we arrived at the House to find “cancelled” notices on the door. Wherefore art thou, Guy? We are destined never to meet. Compensation was at hand, though. The legendary R.L. Burnside was to step in.
This unbelievable venue (busts of the blues greats are built into the ceiling and the rest rooms dispense free after-shave and condoms) had grabbed R.L. from his gig the previous night at the Maple Leaf and also found a support. The uninviting-sounding Willy Jaye Band turned out to be a cleanly-rocking, power bar-room trio influenced clearly by Stevie Ray Vaughan but with a nod in the direction of Hendrix too. It was interesting that this most discerning of audiences snapped up all Willy Jaye’s CDs in record time. Oh, and another thing: The bassist was a dead ringer for the Hoax’s Jesse Davey. So cut the jibes about Frank Spencer berets; they’re cool in New Orleans, you know.
R.L. Burnside is definitely one of a fast-disappearing breed (whiskey-addled, ancient, toothless bluesmen) but a lot of fun once you’d got over the initial shock at the presentation. There was no bass guitar, a guitarist who looked like a German footballer and acted as guitar roadie and general physical support to R.L., with a drummer who was disturbingly prone to solo outbursts. Chuckling away at his own incomprehensible between-song raps, R.L.’s take on the blues is indeed fascinating: extra bars added here and there kept the band on its toes and you really felt this was a pointer back to a tradition which is becoming so watered-down as to be virtually unrecognisable. The lush environment provided a nicely ironic touch.
Our last night was sad, for similar reasons. Lured by the legend of Tipicino’s (all the blues greats have played here), we found a tourist-oriented venue plagued by the dreaded blandness of a digital sound system. John Carey (latest album featuring the Memphis Horns) was completely emasculated by this awful environment and must have been devastated at the poor reception he received. We took our leave and would advise: New Orleans, cool, but for real music lovers, Austin is unmissable.

From Blueprint magazine

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Bergidylle


Although I am just about vegetarian, I don’t have the discipline to be successful at the vegan lifestyle. My wife is a Wurst-eating German but was happy to try out the “Bergidylle” (mountain idyll), which I had found on the internet. It advertised macrobiotic breaks in the beautiful Fribourg region of Switzerland.

With the stunning efficiency for which the Swiss transport system is renowned, we were whisked by train and bus from Geneva (a short hop from Southampton) to the tiny village of Schwarzsee. There, our hostess Edeltraut Peissard picked us up and we scrunched our way up and up through ever deeper snow until we reached the indeed truly idyllic apartment which was to be our home. With an incredible view over the mountains (1200 metres up and with hardly another house for miles), two beautiful rooms and a cosy wood-burning stove, it was a perfect hideaway.

Breakfast (included in the extremely reasonable price) was our first taste of Edeltraut’s strict “Rohkost” diet. Not only does she not eat meat or any dairy products, she also only eats raw fruit and vegetables – and looks enviably trim and healthy on it. The trolley wheeled into our room was groaning with every possible variety of nut and berry, each impeccably annotated with a neat yellow label explaining its provenance (mainly from Bergidylle’s garden). A minor crisis was averted when we admitted we couldn’t do without milk in our tea and also didn’t fancy rice water on our muesli. Edeltraut wasn’t at all judgemental and undertook a major expedition into town in search of milk.

The breakfast was such a revelation that we ordered the optional evening meal, which turned out to be a variation on the Fondue idea, whereby we dipped raw vegetables into a hot broth. Challenging on the old molars, it was nonetheless delicious and something unique to savour. It was a relief, too, that the accompanying basket of goodies contained various organic wines and beers.

We feared we’d be blotting our copybook by requesting a visit to the extremely carnivore establishment at the bottom of the mountain, the Mösli-Restaurant. But, keen to support the local economy, Edeltraut drove us down there (for some obscure reason it has a Rolling Stones theme) and cheerfully provided torches for the return hike – quite a challenge after a few schnapses.

We’d been enjoying walks round the lake and visits to various waterfalls and ski-lifts, but the greatest treat was Edeltraut’s half-day snow-walking extravaganza. The tea-tray size shoes, complete with lethal spikes, enabled us to get right off the beaten track and up into the clouds, feeling quite like Hillary and Tensing as we scaled peaks that would otherwise have been inaccessible, and looked down with scorn on the skiers below.

And all his hardly more that a couple of hours away from home. We’d go back tomorrow.

Find out more at www.bergidylle.ch

From the Hampshire Chronicle

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On A Swiss Roll


Everything you have read about Swiss railways is true. They are clean, fast, efficient, run to the millisecond and are more than a tad expensive. The private ones, I mean, the ones that creep up and down the mountains like caterpillars, rather than the pleasingly economical state-funded ones which ply the cities.
Anyway, we had explored the beautiful cobbled streets of Zurich, done some serious hiking in the Berner Oberland, shopped like crazy in Lucerne and Interlaken, and now we were on a mission, namely to scale the Eiger and conquer the Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe, as it is branded). What? No, by train, of course.
If you are going to tackle the Jungfraujoch in this way, choose the right day to do it. We didn’t. After paying a cool £70 each, we boarded a train otherwise populated by Japanese touring parties and headed on up towards the highest railway station in Europe. Unfortunately, two thirds of the journey is spent in a tunnel inside the mountain, surreally watching on-board videos of the outside world you can’t see, while stopping at subterranean stations whose sole point is to allow the tourists to look out of a window and admire the view – which, on this particular day was an impenetrable fog of nothingness.
When you reach the summit, even on a good day, it has been turned into something along the lines of a theme park, with restaurants, exhibitions and ice sculptures. On a bad day, such as the one we chose, two thirds of the facilities were closed, which I would have thought would have merited a discount. No chance.
Undeterred, we set out the next day on an altogether more rewarding adventure. The Rigi is a mountain adjacent to the Vierwaldstättensee, an hour’s boat ride from Lucerne. As the boat glides soundlessly into the village of Witznau, the rack and pinion railway is waiting to haul you up to the summit, dropping off post and schoolchildren along the way. And the destination is simply magical.
The reason is that, when you are at the top, you are actually above the clouds. Above you, all is a stunning azure blue, while below, the peaks of lesser summits poke out from the cotton-wool clouds like islands in an ocean. The silence is total and the utter purity of the air you breathe is the most refreshing thing you’ll ever experience.
If you want to, you can stay overnight in this unspoilt paradise, a good idea if, like us, you choose to go out of season and take advantage of the tranquility. Well-signed pathways allow you to walk or sledge your way either all the way back down to the lake’s edge (it will take you three and a half hours) or to one of the tiny stations, where the returning train will pick you up again.
We reckoned that, travelling by Easy Jet from Luton to Zurich, you could be at the top of the Rigi in six hours from Winchester, making this a more than sensible weekend destination. We’ll go again.
Oliver and Birgit Gray travelled with Easy Jet from Luton to Zurich.

From The Hampshire Chronicle

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Cream of Jersey

If you are at all concerned about flying, a trip with flybe to Jersey needn’t worry you at all. You wander down to Eastleigh, climb aboard, fasten your seatbelt and you’re there. Well, there’s just about time for the ignored duty free trolly to blast up and down the cabin, but that’s it. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are commencing our descent …”

To be frank, when we returned from our Jersey weekend, the feeling we had was more or less that we might as well go every weekend, so simple was it. A lot simpler, for example, than battling with the traffic to get to Devon or Cornwall. The initial impetus was to attend the first-ever Jersey Rock Festival (see below), but a brief search of the internet had thrown up the following ridiculous bargain: The Les Charrières Country Hotel was offering three nights’ bed and breakfast for £99, including a free car. I’ll repeat that, including a free car. And it had a nice swimming pool, fitness centre and carvery restaurant as well. It turned out to be every bit as attractive as it sounded, witrh no catches. Who knows what bargains they have on offer this summer? Check their website for details (see below).

The car is actually quite important, in that Jersey isn’t a place you can wander round on foot with any degree of success. Yes, the island is small, but the road system is dense. They are narrow and seldom have pavements, so cycling also isn’t an attractive option, outside of the specially designated cycle routes. But driving here is relaxing, as (unless you are Jim Bergerac with your little red sports car) you have to adhere to a 40 mile an hour limit, even on the token few hundred metres of dual carriageway around St Helier.

Our visit coincided with a heatwave, so most of the time was spent on the beach. Having checked out several equally appealing stretches of sand, we settled on St Brelade’s, which was just perfect, with every facility, yet pleasingly quiet. The feel is very much that of being somewhere like Granville in Normandy, except that St Brelade’s has the ubiquitous branch of Pizza Express. Two tips for St Brelade’s: Don’t tangle with the man who rents out sun loungers (he doesn’t do deals), and do take a master’s degree in understanding the incomprehensible scratch’n’sniff car parking system.

Rather like the Isle of Wight, Jersey has a wealth of things to do should the weather misbehave. There the similarity ends, however, as Jersey is a far more attractive proposition – and that’s coming from someone who actually loves the Isle of Wight as well. The world-famous Jersey Zoo, founded by Gerald Durrell and dedicated to conservation, is unmissable, as are the stunning Mont Orgeuil Castle at Gorey and the fascinating Jersey War Tunnels. The island also specializes in special events, such as the international Air Display (September), the Festival of Motoring ((June) and of course, the famous Battle of the Flowers (August), to name but a few.

We couldn’t resist the deliciously tacky “Jersey Experience”, in which the island’s history is enacted in a baffling audio-visual extravaganza, presented, for reasons unknown, by a lugubrious John Nettles disguised as a Captain Nemo character. I’m not knocking it, as it was great entertainment and also included a free round of mini-golf, set up in such a mad way that anyone useless at golf (me) can still win.

As a festival bore par excellence (every Glastonbury since 1980, numerous Readings, Knebworths and heaven knows how many others), people often ask me what is the best festival I’ve ever attended. The perhaps surprising answer is Jersey Rock. After the success of the original festival in 2004, this year’s effort promises to be even better. It’s hard to explain what the magic is. The community feel, perhaps; the fact that it is compact and doesn’t involve camping; and most of all (in stark contrast to other festivals) an intelligent coherence in the bands they book. The 2005 festival featured Southampton.s excellent Delays, plus two bands whose profile has risen enormously in the intervening twelve months: the charming Subways and newly-crowned megastars Razorlight. Razorlight’s dummer Andy Burrows, who is from Winchester, commented, “The Jersey Festival holds great memories for us. It was the first time when we were able to tell from the audience reaction that things were really taking off. The atmosphere was incredible.”

For the 2005 festival, promoter Warren Holt (an islander whose dedication and energy is crucial for the success of the festival) has secured an even more stellar line-up, with glam New Yorkers The Bravery (who will no doubt disrobe in the sun, since they stripped at Glastonbury in the rain), plus the nu-baggy of Kasabian and chirpy Geordies The Futureheads. He could scarcely have selected a more promising set of up-and-coming acts. The venue is the same as in 2004, namely the Jersey Royal Showground in Trinity. If you want to go, act fast, as the capacity is only 7500.

The highlight of our weekend last September came in an unexpected way. Searching for an idyllic harbour-front meal (we considered Rozel, but settled on the even more attractive Gorey), we stumbled upon the Moorings Hotel, in the shadow of Mount Orgueil. Hesitant at first (we feared it would be too posh), we were rewarded with a quite sensational five-course gourmet extravaganza for just £25 a head, served with impeccable courtesy and attention. You are unlikely to find a better culinary bargain anywhere in the UK. Will we go back this September? You bet!

From the Mid-Hampshire Observer

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Puffin’ round Iceland

Puffin’ round Iceland
The name of the gourmet restaurant was “Lakjarbrekka” and one of the principal items on the menu was a “Puffin Feast”. Naturally, we recoiled, although later, I couldn’t work out why. If chicken and turkey are okay, why should we worry about eating puffin? Because they are more cuddly? It’s like eating cows and being shocked at the French for eating horses – illogical, really.
Anyway, I opted instead for a “Lobster Feast”, and, overlooking the fact that the poor thing had probably been boiled alive, sat down for the best meal of my life: The king of crustaceans, prepared in about eight different ways and served with as much ceremony as if we were visiting heads of state. Our visit to Iceland was getting off to a great start.
The next morning, we received the explanation for why the shower in the apartment smelt of rotten eggs. It was on account of the sulphur in the water, created naturally in the geothermal springs which supply hot water and central heating to the whole island. The Blue Lagoon, near Keflavik airport, is where you can try out he waters. Not quite as idyllic as it sounds (the architecture is austere and the lagoon is actually the overflow from a power station), it is nonetheless quite an experience, not dissimilar to a sauna, as you alternate between the surprisingly hot baths and the sub-zero temperatures outside.
Wandering round Reykjavik is a relaxed and pleasurable experience, as the capital is so charmingly laid back. The waterfront is beautiful; the range of excellent art galleries is wide and the cafés and bars so warm and welcoming (and not as wildly expensive as you may fear). Naturally the music of Björk is ubiquitous. Our highlight was an hour spent in the architectually sensational Hallgrimskirkja church, where a gentleman was playing free-form jazz on the organ and the building benefited from having no decorations whatever – no flowers, stained glass, candles, nothing, a refreshing contrast to a recent visit to Rome.
The back-packers among you are well catered for in Iceland, with a huge network of hostels and bus routes which could last you a month. We weekend-breakers had to settle for a minibus tour, one of many which can, if you have time, develop into snowmobile rides, glacier safaris, horse trecking or dogsled excursions. Our knowledgeable driver (a Devonian who had established the Ba’hai faith in Iceland, don’t ask) took us first to Pingvellir, where the tectonic pates shift and Europe meets North America. A visit to the stunning Gulfloss waterfall led on to the highlight of any visit to Iceland, an encounter with the hot springs of – guess where – Geysir. The idea is that you go as close as you dare, then run for it as they erupt. That’s when you realize the almost humbling uniqueness of Iceland, a country of great prosperity, ecological purity and virtually no crime.
And we were glad we had spared the puffin.

From The Hampshire Chronicle

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24 Hours From Tulsa


Tulsa is uniquely associated with one song. The only trouble is that the entire point of “24 Hours From Tulsa” is that dear old Gene Pitney is still a day and a night away from Tulsa as he sings of his indiscretion in a hotel room which means that he can “never, never, never go home again”. And neither Gene nor songwriters Bacharach and David had any connection with Tulsa anyway. It merely met the requirement of being a two syllable town beginning with a consonant.
Tulsa isn’t easy to get to. Despite the lonesome whistles of the freight trains as they traverse the downtown area, there is no Amtrack passenger service to Tulsa and nothing much in the way of buses either. Luckily, there’s Tulsa International Airport, accessible from Gatwick via a brief stopover in Minneapolis.
You get around by car, car and car. This is quintessential mid-America, where you drive absolutely everywhere: to the malls, to the bars and above all to the churches. This isn’t just the Bible Belt, it’s braces and corsets too. There are simply thousands of churches in Tulsa (I counted 3420 in the Greater Tulsa Yellow Pages): Methodist, Baptist, Adventist and any other kind of – ist you care to mention. Most of the buildings are gigantic, and on Sundays they need extra shifts of police to control the churchgoing traffic. Confusingly, the illuminated signs announcing guest preachers are identical to those advertising visiting bands in the nightclubs. Thus, cruising for some music on our first night, we pulled into several church car parks before eventually locating Fishbonz, a classic student-filled mid-West roadhouse.
The pervasive air of religious fervour in Tulsa had an unexpected spin-off when our daughter got her finger stuck in the car door on the forecourt of a shopping mall. As she writhed screaming on the floor, a lady pushed forward through the crowd. Good, we thought, a first aid expert. No such luck – the lady was kindly offering to pray for her!
The next day, I caused complete consternation by suggesting walking, ooh, all of 500 metres to the local gas station to buy beer. Walking? The very thought! But that was as nothing compared to my attempt, as a pedestrian, to purchase a burger at Sonic’s Drive-In hamburger bar. The system couldn’t cope with this unconventional behaviour, so I had to pretend to be a car, stand in a bay and communicate via intercom, the burger eventually being delivered on roller skates.
But the churches aren’t Tulsa’s only buildings of note. Tulsa is dubbed “Terra Cotta City” on account of some quite charming and very unusual art-deco landmarks, including many listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Probably the best known are the Brook Theatre and the Union Depot, but we were most impressed by the Adams building on Cheyenne and 4th. It felt more like Barcelona than Oklahoma. All the wealth in these buildings came from the oil boom in the 1920s, commemorated in the 8-storey high statue if the Golden Driller, who stands proudly outside the Exposition Center. Tulsa still has an air of prosperity. It’s a technological centre, with the rusting old oil pipelines now carrying fibre-optic cables.
So if 24 Hours From Tulsa could be virtually anywhere, how about 24 miles from Tulsa? Ah, now we’re talking. “Route 66” is a better song anyway, and Tulsa is the place to get a real feel for the Mother Road. The route of dreamers and drifters takes you out from West Tulsa to Sapulpa, with its restored Main Street and its Route 66 memorabilia shops and roadside diners. The rest of Route 66 has been subsumed into the interstate system, but here you can really get an impression of what it must have felt like in the glory days of the 40s and 50s, when Sapulpa was an oil boom town. The museum run by the local historical society is a gem.
Another place to get your kicks is in Tulsa’s parks. Far from the flattened dustbowl expected by readers of The Grapes Of Wrath, Tulsa is set in undulating hills and woodland. Our park of choice was Hunter Park. Here you can play disc golf, a gentle form of golf played with frisbees rather than clubs. There’s also a range of museums and art galleries, the most prominent being the Philbrook Museum, which houses Italian Renaissance art. Music lovers will be intrigued by Cain’s Ballroom. the Carnegie Hall of country music, as well as the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. Tulsa’s favourite musical son is Leon Russell, sixty years old this year.
There are plenty of other good day trips, especially if you’re interested in the 39 federally registered Native American tribes which reside in Oklahoma (the word itself coming from two Choctaw Indian words meaning “red man”). Just 70 miles south east of Tulsa, in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, lies Tahlequah, capital of the Cherokee Nation. The town itself is dull, but just outside it lies the Cherokee Heritage Center, a magnificent and profoundly moving tribute to the thousands of NativeAmericans displaced and forced to trek half way across America on the Trail of Tears, to their new home in Oklahoma. Here we were also given a personal demonstration of Indian crafts and a guided tour of the reconstructed Indian village.
At the slight risk of OD-ing on Heritage, another great day out is to Bartlesville, where Frank Phillips discovered oil (inevitably christening it the “66” brand) and used some of the proceeds to create his Woolaroc Ranch, nowadays a wildlife park and beautifully presented museum, largely filled with Western and Native American paintings. A hundred miles further on into the Ozarks, but definitely worth the effort, is Eureka Springs, a kitsch but irresistible mountain spa town and artistic community. Its speciality? Jacuzzis For Two in every B and B. Whoopee!
From the Independent on Sunday

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