Sicily 2: Alcantara Gorge

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Sicily 2: Alcantara Gorge. This morning, Friday 14th April, was billed as a nature trail, which I think gave some of us the idea that we were in for a gentle stroll.  We did not imagine that we would be climbing up and down a gorge!

Claudio, of Etna Discovery, was our guide along the three areas of the Alcantara (stress on the second syllable) Gorge. Very knowledgeable he was too, and his strong arms at tricky passages were also most welcome.  He took us first down a shady path to a viewpoint over a particularly narrow part of the gorge.

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Showing the basalt columns through which the river has worn its way

 

Then back up and along a top path to a stretch which gave an impression of a wider part of the Alcantara river valley.

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This and other frogs were in a puddle in the wide path.  Most however buried themselves in the fine mud at our approach

P1260162001Return to the vehicle and then down to a spot where we were able to access the river floor.

 

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A rapidly shrinking pool at the side of the gorge. These tadpoles would be doomed even without the fact that a young snake has discovered them

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One gorged colubro snake (about 18 inches, 45 cm, long). Ibelieve that the English name is the smooth snake.

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Geoff, Claudio, Emma, Alec, Isobel and Francesca, as we emerged once more at the top of the Gorge

 

Finally, after a debate as to how we might best use the rest of our time, Claudio drove us some way away to another spot, where a quite lengthy rising walk took us to further views of the river upstream – to find that others had got there before us.

 

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Distant view, much zoomed, of Castiglione, where we were find ourselves that evening for the procession

 

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Hints of Mount Etna, and its vapours, in the distance

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Views upstream…

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… and downstream, from a footbridge

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A better view of Etna snatched on the drive back to the agriturismo (a farm used partly for tourism purposes)

 

Unfortunately on the way back down to the vehicle, I stumbled on a stone, and twisted my right ankle rather nastily.  This meant that for the rest of the holiday I was having to walk very gingerly, especially where the surface was not totally flat, and when turning corners, though this didn’t prevent me from joining in any of the activities. (Dancing was not on the menu.)

Sicily 1: Edoné

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Edoné. I’d last been to Sicily in 1975, and had longed to go back again ever since.  At last I had the chance, when I booked on to Geoff Andrews’ Sicily Unlimited trip, to spend a week at Edoné (stress on the last syllable), about an hour’s drive north west of Catania, studying a few aspects of Sicilian culture, with appropriate visits.  Geoff organised, and Francesca Marchese, a Sicilian journalist (mainly TV), now living and working freelance in London, was our local guide.

We – a group of just four people – arrived late morning on Thursday, 4th April, and spent the rest of the day quietly settling in, exploring Edoné and getting to know each other.AP1260105 copie001AP1260106001

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The building on the hill is another holiday residence

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Alfresco eating location

I was very pleased with my room, and its very modern bathroom.

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Entrance

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View from

P1260086001Once unpacked, I made the acquaintance of some of Edoné’s personnel.

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Enzo in his kitchen

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Nerina

 

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Luna

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I only ever saw one species of lizard, very green with an amazingly long tail.

P1260114001We had had a delicious lunch, and soon realised that superb food was to be a hallmark of the week.  This is the dining room, and the antipasti at dinner.  (While I was tempted to, I did not take a photo of every dish we were served during the week.)P1260115001P1260116001The next day was Good Friday.  A nature walk and a most extraordinary Good Friday procession will be the subject of the next two posts.

 

Greylake Nature Reserve

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Greylake Nature Reserve, owned by the RSPB.  I’d visited it just once before, and that only briefly. The prospect of a guided tour with birding experts, set up by the Somerset Wildlife Trust, and led by an RSPB volunteer, was too good to miss, so this was my third outdoor outing this week in near freezing temperatures.01-p1250803001The briefing told us that the land had been in cultivation until 2003, when it was bought by the RSPB and converted into wetland for wildlife.  We would make our way to the main hide, where we would spend about half our time, and then walk around those parts accessible to the public.  Most of the area was kept behind electric fencing for the tranquillity of the birds and animals.  It was good to come at all times of the year, but this season was the best time because of the thousands of different birds over-wintering there.

On the way to the hide, I managed to get an indifferent picture of a fieldfare.

02-p1250804001Once at the hide, we had this general view ahead of us.03-p1250869001Looking round, and closing in a little with binoculars and camera, here are other aspects.

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Wigeon, shovelers and coot

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Wigeon, shoveler, coot and gadwall

08b-p1250834001Experienced birders were soon exclaiming at this clump, just 20 metres or so from us.09-p1250825001A pair of teal can be seen easily, especially the male.  But are there really snipe there? And four?10-p1250830001In due course I managed to find three, and indeed once you knew that they were there, it was even possible to pick the nearest one out with the naked eye, they were so close.  But what wonderful camouflage!  They didn’t move the whole of the time we were there.

 

It was not possible to get photos of all the species we saw, but here are some. (If birder readers wish to comment with further names, or corrections to any of these photos, above and below, please feel free!)

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Shovelers, the male’s bill demonstrating just why they bear that name. The female has the same bill, but that is hidden here.

 

I just love lapwings, (also known as peewits) for their green iridescence, their cheeky crest, their wonderful courtship flight, their flappy way of flying (I call them flapwings).  This one all alone entertained us close to the hide for ages.12-p1250850001

13-p1250856001And as at Ham Wall, there was a Great white egret in the distance.14-p1250862001

 

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Three in fact. and here is one of the others flying around

 

Not long after leaving the hide, and keeping to the established path, we were shown by one of the RSPB volunteers, to the right of the path, some otter poo and some mink poo, the former more welcome than the latter.  The otter spraint was on a well-established otter path.16-p1250871001To the left, the other part of the otter path could be seen.17-p1250874001We were pleased then to see crowds and crowds of lapwing flying around, as if there had been a signal to the thousands in the area all to rise up at once. Here are just a few of them.18-p125087700119-p1250878001Swans have no need to fear humans, and they know it. This one made for an easy photo, just a very few metres away from where we were walking.21-p1250882001A distant view of another great white egret.20-p1250881001Evidence of a recent hare boxing match.22-p1250886001And of a sparrowhawk kill.23-p1250890001We hoped to see more small birds, and indeed we did see redwing, and stonechat, but I couldn’t get photos.  We went on to a viewpoint:24-p1250892001But few wetland birds were favouring this area of the reserve. 25-p1250894001Perhaps, along with the small birds, they were favouring the more sheltered areas on this chilly day.  But I, usually spending far too much of my life in front of a computer, had really enjoyed my three outdoors outings this week.  I must do it more often, and certainly return to Greylake at other seasons.

Snowdrop garden

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Snowdrop garden.  For two days, Friday and Saturday, the owners of Higher Yarde Farm, Staplegrove, near Taunton, are opening their wonderful early spring garden to visitors, in support of the Somerset Wildlife Trust.  Last weekend they did the same for the NSPCC.

There had been many visitors before me, despite a typical temperature of around 2°C, but as the last to arrive I had the large garden to myself, and almost missed the tea and cake on offer at the end.   I wondered whether the delightful building I had seen in the grounds was a holiday let, and learned that it was.  If I lived further away, I would be very tempted to use this as a base to explore the Quantock Hills and the Blackdown Hills, not to mention the wonderful Edwardian Hestercombe Gardens by Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll just a few miles away.

I’d never seen so many snowdrops in one place before, but just as enjoyable were all the other signs of spring on its way, in this garden clearly designed not only to please the human eye, but to be as friendly as possible to wildlife.p1250700001p1250702001Ap1250704001A little bridge soon tempts you off to the right…p1250705001p1250706001p1250708001p1250711001…towards a pond.p1250712001p1250718001p1250725001p1250727001p1250721001Onward to some glades and woodland.p1250730001p1250733001p1250735001p1250736001p1250739001p1250741001p1250745001p1250747001p1250754001p1250756001

 

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The sun came out for a few minutes

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I think this may be a hedgehog shelter

p1250766001Then another bridge leads you on towards the house, and tea and cake (so much choice).p1250767001p1250769001p1250776001p1250780001p1250782001p1250788001p1250789001p1250791001p1250795001p1250800001This is the converted barn holiday let.p1250802001

 

p1250801001And back down the snowdrop-lined drive.

I have a third outdoor visit for this week tomorrow…

Starlings at Ham Wall

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I hadn’t been to see the local starling murmuration this winter, so yesterday mid-afternoon I decided to rectify that.  It’s always chancy, and for a good display the ideal weather is clear skies. Yesterday there was mainly thin cloud, but I knew that the birds would soon be migrating back to their north European breeding grounds, and I might not have many more chances.  The Avalon Marshes starling hotline informed me that the previous night the starlings had roosted at both Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath, each accessible from the same RSPB car park at Ashcott, (recently created, to the great relief of those using the nearby country road from which the reserves are accessible.)

Once there, I decided, I’m not sure why, to go east along the rhyne (pronounced ‘reen’) or drainage ditch, making for Ham Wall, rather than westwards to Shapwick Heath.    I made my way slowly to the main viewing platform, 400 metres down the path, enjoying what other birds were to be seen on the reserve, as night started to fall.

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Glastonbury Tor in the distance

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The water levels are carefully managed with sluices

p1250640001p1250646001p1250651001p1250662001p1250663001p1250665001En route I observed Stephen Moss, naturalist, author and TV producer, and President of the Somerset Wildlife Trust, with a small group of people, and I reckoned I must have made the right decision as to direction.  Once I was at the platform, the Avalon Marshes representative advised going on another 600 metres, as a thousand starlings had already  made their way in that direction.  “There’s another half million due, and earlier on in the season there were a million here, but they’ve started leaving.  We have had as many as five million in years gone by.”

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On maximum zoom, in the far distance from the viewing platform, a great white egret, a species that has just begun to breed in the UK.

I walked on the extra distance, taking more photos.

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When I’d gone the 600 metres, I was not alone – this was about a third of the people gathered there.p1250679001

I moved slightly away and lower, to the bank of the rhyne, where there were fewer people. It wasn’t long before I became aware of birds streaming way up high over my left shoulder.  They were all making their over to the north and doing a bit of their murmuring there, but at a low level and not very photographable.  But I got a few pictures over the next 20 minutes or so.

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Then they were gone, into the reeds, for the night.  The moon was up, behind the cloud,

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Tardy small groups of starlings continued to fly over my head for a little while to join their roosting companions. How do they know where to go? What more pleasant way to spend a late afternoon? Why don’t I visit one of the UK’s most famous nature reserves, just 20 minutes from where I live, more often?

I’ve just rung the starling hotline again.  Yesterday the starlings only roosted at Ham Wall.  Good call.

An orgy of exhibitions, concluded

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Ardizzone and Rodin.  Neither of us had before heard of the English illustrator, Edward Ardizzone (1900-1979).  But when I had read of the exhibition at the House of Illustration devoted to his work, I realised that I, like probably everyone else of my age who had read storybooks as a child, must have seen so many of his pictures.  And how familiar his style turned out to be!  And how delightful!  However, Ardizzone was also an official war artist in WW2, and in due course worked for the magazine ‘Punch’ .

But I’m getting ahead. The House of Illustration is on Granary Square, part of the Kings Cross development  project, and has been open there for a couple of years.  Mary and I stopped for coffee first at the café of a well-known supermarket housed in a very attractively converted old industrial building.

“A cappuccino and a flat white please.”

“We don’t do a flat white. Would you like a coffee?”

Well, that was a first!

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Photography was not allowed, and they had run out of postcards.  I have picked these images up from internet sources (and will of course remove any subjected to protest that they are copyrighted.)

Illustrations for children.

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Illustrations for adults

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Many of his enticing book covers, for both adults and children, were exhibited.

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War pictures

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But this next really got to me.  (It is owned by the Imperial War Museum and is definitely in the public domain.)  It is called ‘A Drunken Dutchman in a Street in Bremen’.  So much more poignant than any photo.  And it reminded me of my visit to Oradour-sur-Glane a few years ago, that town sacked by the Nazis in 1944 as they retreated from western France, killing almost every single inhabitant, man, woman and child, many of them after they had been been herded into the church which was then set on fire.  The town was left as it was in 1945 as a memorial and is now a tourist ‘attraction’.

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Outside once more, we walked around the Kings Cross development, not yet finished.  To my delight I found that it abutted, over the Grand Union Canal, the Camley Park nature reserve, which I have yet to visit.

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St Pancras Station in silhouette

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This coot was almost literally under our feet, on the ‘wrong’ side of the canal.

A short bus ride took us round to the sunny side of St Pancras Station, where we changed routes.

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We were heading for the Courtauld gallery, housed in Somerset House, which has a very varied history.

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Our view at lunch, taken in their café, would have been more interesting a few days either earlier or later.  Today they were clearing away the ice skating rink which had been there from mid-November to the middle of this month.

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St Mary le Strand peeping over to the right

 

Making our way back to the Courtauld Gallery entrance, we heeded Bacchus’s warning.

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Photography in the Rodin and Dance exhibition was not allowed, so here are scans of a couple of the more publishable exhibits.  Most of the others were studies (for sculptures) much too explicit for a nice girl like me to share. Rodin himself shared them with only a few friends.

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The exhibition was small and quickly viewed, so we completed our visit to the Gallery by looking at some of the many other wonderful, well-known, exhibits. These are my photos.

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Cézanne, The Lake at Annecy

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Cézanne, The Card Players, one of Mary’s favourites

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Pissarro, Lordship Lane, Dulwich

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Rubens, Landscape by Moonlight

 

I had only visited the Courtauld Gallery once before, decades ago when I lived in London.  I had fallen for and bought a postcard of this picture of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza by Daumier. I still have it, very dog-eared from years of use as a bookmark.  So I treated myself to a new one:

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Many, many thanks to Mary for her company and hospitality over this couple of days.

An orgy of exhibitions 1

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Mediaeval embroidery and John Lockwood Kipling. Earlier this week I spent a couple of days in London, staying with my friend Mary, to catch three exhibitions before they closed, this Sunday.  But the first astonishing exhibit was in Mary’s garden:  a rhododendron bush in full bloom!

01-p1250479001My father’s favourite bus route when my parents lived in London was the number 14, because it passed so many places of interest. Over all the years since, it has remained the same, as far as I know.  Certainly the small part we did, on the way to the Victoria and Albert Museum, gave me plenty of photo opps from the upstairs front seat, through the tinted window.

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Shaftesbury Avenue

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Piccadilly Circus

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Piccadilly

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Hyde Park Corner

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Knightsbridge.  Better hoarding or the naked building works?

 

As for this, seen several times along Knightsbridge, we wondered if it was OK to drive anti-socially elsewhere.07-p1250488001We considered this building  virtually opposite the V and A, not particularly beautiful in the context of South Kensington, though when I went over later to see what it was – the Ismaili Centre – I could see that close up it had merit in many smaller architectural details.

08-001The desire for coffee obliged us to walk across the central square of the museum.09-p1250492001

Our principal target of the day was the exhibition, ‘Opus Anglicanum’, a style of English mediaeval embroidery which spread far into continental Europe.  We were astounded by the intricacy of the work, and although we were able to discover who these embroiderers were, we could gain no insight as to just how long it took to create these masterpieces, especially as those commissioned e.g. for visits of foreign rulers, and for funerals will have had tight deadlines.  The stitching was tiny in the extreme, and will have needed excellent light to execute. It was interesting to catch snatches of conversations of other visitors, some of whom clearly  had specialist knowledge.

Photos were not allowed, so the following are scanned from postcards. Sadly it is not possible to see the individual stitching in them.

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The Clare Chasuble

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The Syon Cope

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Detail from The Jesse Cope

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Detail from The Steeple Aston Cope

 

Exhibits were not only of embroidery:

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The Becket Casket

 

Having spent a good long time at this wonderful exhibition, we crossed the central square once more,

15-p1250498001and over lunch decided to visit another special exhibition in the Museum, (not in our original plan), that of work by, or inspired by, John Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard (whom his parents named after the village in Staffordshire where they had met.) Lockwood was a designer, illustrator (including of his son’s books) teacher, journalist and curator.  Among other things he was an architectural sculptor to the South Kensington Museum, (now the V and A). He moved with his wife to become Director of the Mayo School of Art in Lahore. ‘His contribution to the impact of the British Empire on India’s artistic heritage is still recognised and debated today’.

These photos are mine.

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Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and three of their children at the Indian Pavilion of the Great Exhibition, by Prosper Lafaye

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The Great Exhibition: India No 4, by Joseph Nash

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Pearlware jug, decorated by Lockwood Kipling

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These nineteenth century saddle cloths had embroidery every bit as rich and intricate as we had seen in the morning

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Student at the Mayo School, by Rudolf Swoboda

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Rudyard Kipling illustrating his own stories

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Lockwood Kipling for his grandchildren

 

This next picture was I think my favourite exhibit.  I just loved how the reflected harsh Indian light had enabled the colourful details on the near, shaded, side to be picked out.

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A Peep at the Train by Rudolf Swoboda

Then as we returned again to the tearoom for final refreshment before making the journey back to Mary’s place, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this in the Japanese section as we went through it.

 

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Sprouting Box, by Suzuki Masaya, 1978, in acrylic

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Teatime

Two concluding exhibitions the next day…

Madeira 8

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Madeira 8. Plans were for culture in the morning and a boat trip in the afternoon. Slightly thwarted before lunch, and a huge (literally!) bonus in the afternoon. I was intending to go to the Museum of Sacred Art in the morning.  A short walk took me to the Plaça do Municipio.

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(The city hall is the lower building on the right).

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And I arrived a few minutes before 10.00 when, according to my guide book, the museum was due to open.

It didn’t.  I was astonished at this fundamental error in the book, and sat on a bench nearby to study what I could do instead.  After a few minutes, a couple arrived, looked at the opening times, studied their guide book, and looked puzzled.  I saw them later – they had decided the same as I had for an alternative, the Quinta das Cruzes museum, which was originally the home of Joâo Gonçalves Zarco, the Portuguese captain who ‘discovered’ Madeira.  It promised to be filled with priceless antiques from all over the globe.

madeira-8-35This had involved a steep climb.  If you go south to north in Funchal that is inevitable, and there are limits on what you can do by just strolling east-west.  When I got there, the receptionist told me that the sacred art museum used to open on Sunday mornings until recently, (so you are forgiven Lonely Planet).  She also told me that today this museum was free.  What she didn’t tell was was that only the ground floor was open.  But I did see some priceless antiques.

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And then wandered around the garden, not taking many photos.

madeira-8-31madeira-8-30madeira-8-29After much needed refreshment at a nearby café, I wandered back down north to south, aiming for the municipal gardens where I had had my first meal six days previously. But first I went to right to the seafront to book my passage for the afternoon.  Again I took not many pictures in the garden.

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I’d seen a kapok tree in flower earlier in the week This is one in fruit.

I took time over my lunch, and rejoiced in seeing at a great distance a gorgeous butterfly I didn’t recognise, on the extreme leaf of this tree.

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madeira-8-26It was only on arriving home that I was able to identify it.  A Monarch!  That’s the butterfly that in its thousands flies all those thousands of miles between, say, Canada and Mexico each year.  I didn’t know that it was found outside North America!  Wow!

In due course, it was time to join my fellow passengers for the boat trip.madeira-8-24But no, I didn’t go on this ship in the event.  A little bird in the group had alleged to me (I’d better be careful) that it had not passed all of its latest safety tests.  I was already tempted to go on the whale- and dolphin-watching catamaran trip, (run by VMT Catamaran) and that decided me.  How glad I am that I did, for reasons that will becomes apparent!

There were only about 15 passengers, and a crew of four, which made moving around very easy.  Very good commentary in (always first and quite right too!) Portuguese, and then English.

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It was this sort of boat, looked identical to me.

We set off eastwards, on water that was very blue because very deep. The island of Madeira being only the protruding top of a volcanic complex that is six kilometres high, the land falls off immediately to the depths at the water’s edge.

After a short while the sails went up. First the mainsail,

madeira-8-23madeira-8-22and then the jib. (I think it’s that).

madeira-8-21And then they came down again.

madeira-8-17We were into the serious business of watching whales and needed the manoeuvrability that the engine would give. No dolphins, but Sperm whales!  A first for me.  Some were fairly close. I took literally hundreds of photos, and many would say that these selected results are not that wonderful if so.  But the fact is that whales stay largely below the water surface, and are not easy to capture on ‘film’!

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First sighting

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and the obligatory…

 

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… disappearing tail flukes

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The head is one-third of the length of the sperm whale, and contains, in a space the size of a small car, the very valuable spermaceti, oil so sought after by the whalers.  Sperm whales are now of course protected.

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Not a small fin but a very large vertebra

 

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Blowing

I reckon we must have seen and sailed alongside about five different whales before I thought I saw at a great distance, on the other side of the boat, the characteristic splash of a whale that had just breached – that is, completely jumped out of the water.  I just couldn’t be sure of my identification, so I kept my mouth shut and my eyes peeled, and did indeed see the whole action, once or twice, by which time the crew had seen it too. (I hadn’t liked to draw attention to the initial splash for fear of being proved a fool, though I am quite used to trying to spot distant cetaceans.)

And – poor things, but mine own – I managed to get these photos!

madeira-8-10madeira-8-09madeira-8-07Once we had sailed on – the time you can stay by a group of whales is limited, in function of the number of boats there are around, and there were two today of course – I had to share my excitement at my pictures.  The main commentator insisted I show them to firstly the captain, and then to the professional photographer on board.  Then a young German couple asked me to email them to them in due course.  And bought me a drink.

We sailed on further eastwards and I got this very zoomed shot of the airport runway extension. Tomorrow!madeira-8-06On the way back westwards, this half volcano tip was pointed out to us, the rest eroded by the sea.

madeira-8-05Setting off for her next destination.

madeira-8-04Late afternoon views of the coast, around Funchal,

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To the west

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To the east

 

And we arrived back just a smidgeon too early to get the perfect sunset shot.

madeira-8-01What a fantastic end to a most enjoyable week.  Madeira may be a little too built up for my liking, but I think I have been spoilt previously by some far-off wildlife holidays where there are no buildings or any signs of humans for tens of miles at a time.  I see that one of my favourite holiday companies does three consecutive and different trips here in June each year.  It is certainly my hope to return to Madeira in the fairly near future, and may well do one of even two of those trips. I’d really love to go back.

Madeira 7

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Madeira 7. Saturday 19th November.  A grand tour of the East of the island, certainly my favourite organised day.

We set off along the new roads towards and past the airport, which has recently had it runway extended – by building over the sea.  I managed to get a shot of how it works as we whizzed past.

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We were soon passing Machico, said by Lina to be the second largest town on the island, Wikipedia says third.  Whatever – at some 22,000 its population is only about 8% of that of Funchal.  It does boast one of only two yellow sandy beaches in Madeira – sand imported  since the island only produces black volcanic stuff.

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On to the easternmost accessible part of the island, the Ponta de Sâo Laurenço and the Baia d’Abra.

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Looking back westwards

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Looking eastwards. I love the way the spray frames the cliff.

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For the second time in the week we observed a photoshoot going on. Madeira’s a good wheeze!madeira-7-33The tour continued.

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Porta da Cruz

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Faial

 

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Hibiscus, Santana

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There used to be many houses like this all over the island. These at Santana are kept for tourism purposes

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Cats just love drinking anywhere but their bowls.  Is this a mini levada I wonder?

madeira-7-22After lunch in a very nice restaurant back near Faial, I had a little wander,

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Faial village

before we moved on to Ribeiro Frio, where the main point of interest is a trout farm – though it looked as if there was some great walking to be had from there as well.

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It was grey and overcast at this last stop, so as we then climbed and climbed to the Pico D’Arieiro we feared that there would be no views because of the cloud cover.  No need to have worried.

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Supermoon?

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No, a military radar station

Remember I said something previously about no elephants on Madeira?

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It was fabulous, above the clouds

madeira-7-09madeira-7-11But this was the best of all.  A ‘glory’! A phenomenon that can occur when you have the sun behind you and cloud below you. Amazing and wonderful, (and much clearer than it seems in this photo, as I think the camera probably had problems focussing on the cloud).  There was in fact a very clear second rainbow around the first.  The whole thing was just spectacular. (It may or may not have been a Brocken’s Spectre, when you see your own silhouette against the rainbow, but I think that in that case your silhouette is dead centre.  I think this was the shadow of a radio mast which was behind me and slightly to my right.)

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(Here I am looking at it – photo again by Charlie.)

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Yes, it was near a precipitous edge, but not as close as it appears.

On the way back, this time we stopped near Machico, and got a better view of the town, and of the extreme tip of the island where we had been in the morning.  And of the artificial sandy beach.

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These are the Islas Desertas, an uninhabited nature reserve, but full of lots of wildlife, particularly birds and monk seals, and you can go there on a trip.  I might, next time.

Finally, back past that airport, where I snatched these two photos through the windows of the coach.

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We were to take off over that runway two days later!

 

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Nothing was laid on for the last day. But I had plans…

Madeira 6.

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Madeira 6.  Friday.  Not a very photogenic day, so quite a short post.

Two opt-in outings today, and I opted in to both.  In the morning there was to be a very gentle 6 kilometre walk  along a levadaLevadas are water channels , 2500 km of them, irrigating people, crops and power sources, and they make for walks of various lengths and difficulties – and beauty.  This one had little to commend it, in my view.  It was crowded with three sizeable groups – ours was made up of people from British and French holiday groups – jostling to get away from one another.  The two levadas concerned had little or no water in them – it was not the season for irrigating crops (we were told by the excellent young specialist guide, Maria, coping very well in two languages), so the water was being kept up high to feed (water?) hydroelectricity. The countryside was really nothing more than agreeable to look at, and at times the view was of the backs of houses lining the path along which we walked. That said, I believe there are some absolutely fantastic hikes to be had for real walkers.

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Called a banana passion flower, because its yellow fruit is like a squat, straight, banana with rounded ends. Not very like a banana at all in fact.

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Dry levada, and walkers

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I fell to talking with a Belgian couple from Brittany.  Among other things Micheline said that she and the rest of her party had been a little disappointed at how built up Madeira was.  I responded that I felt exactly the same but I hadn’t dared say so to others in my group.

In the afternoon just five of us went on what was rather pretentiously called a jeep safari tour.  We were joined by a woman from Germany who was good and smiley company.  Jokes over about there being no elephants (but see my next post) or tigers around, one of our number was disappointed that we were in built up areas for so long and that we did not spend more time out in the countryside.  But, outside the new main roads, tunnels and viaducts, moving around the island is extremely slow, for topographical reasons! Personally I found it quite interesting to spend some time being driven through little back streets that no coach could get to, and well, we did go off road for a couple of short periods.  Moreover, we saw the Nuns’ Valley from a different angle, and in very different weather conditions. And one of my companions, Charlie, an engineer, got very, very excited about the workings of another cable car.  And I had another pastel de nata when we stopped for refreshments – a much bigger one than I had seen before.

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The grape harvest is over and the leaves are turning this gorgeous burnished colour

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Sometimes it’s bananas, sometimes it’s grape vines

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Optical illusion – that is not MY lower leg!  The fellow in the green tee-shirt is Joâo, our jeep driver and guide. Photo by Charlie.

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The mountains round the Nuns’ Valley, heads in cloud.

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Near Cabo Girâo

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Cost, if I remember correctly, some 2 million euros, or was it much more? Anyway, it paid for itself in two years in tourist trips at 10 euros a time

 

Back at the hotel, I had worked out several evenings previously that it was possible to hear live, but not download, The Archers on Radio 4, using the wifi area in the lobby, so by now I had got into the habit of making sure I was there by 7 pm, listening, then looking at emails and – sorry – Facebook afterwards, before going up to the dining room on the sixth floor for my meal. I know, it’s pathetic.