Monday, 26 November 2012

Fall(ing) Leaves on the Skyline Drive



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We went to Skyline Drive to admire the autumn (or fall) foliage, thankful that we'd arrived just as the leaves were turning. Skyline Drive is a popular tourist route through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. There's a small charge ($15 a ticket, valid for one week), a low speed limit, and the road is dotted with "overlooks", lay-bys designed that you can pull in and enjoy the stunning views over the surrounding valleys. It would take three or four hours to drive even without stops, but with my addiction to photography, it naturally took us a while longer.

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The next day, we drove back along the same route. The first winds of Hurricane Sandy had started to swirl into Shenandoah. The beautiful leaves of the previous day had all but gone, leaving the landscape stark and wintry, and we could have been driving through a different season entirely.

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Saturday, 24 November 2012

The KGB Museum in Vilnius




Vilnius, Lithuania

Behind the imposing facade of what used to be the KGB headquarters in Vilnius, a museum now delves into some of the darker moments of the region's Soviet history. The extensive displays range from the living arrangements of prisoners, to the technology used to spy on locals and visitors alike. There are guns and gadgets, identity cards and codebooks. In the basement are what can only be described as torture cells, designed to keep prisoners on edge, forced to balance on tiny platforms when the room was flooded. We spent a couple of contemplative hours here, soaking up the sobering stories and learning about the bravery of Lithuania's underground resistance. On the outside wall, names of victims provide a modern memorial to those who perished.

Vilnius, Lithuania

Meanwhile my mother-in-law (who thought the whole thing sounded a bit grim) enjoyed a stroll through the local streets, and read a couple of chapters of her book in the colourful park across the road. Yep, the KGB definitely picked a gorgeous part of the city for their HQ.

Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, Lithuania


Thursday, 22 November 2012

The 29 Steps: Locks at Devizes



The stunning flight of locks at Caen Hill, just outside Devizes, consists of 29 locks which between them take the Kennet & Avon canal down 72m (or up, depending on your perspective).

For the main run of sixteen continuous locks, there is no mooring available between one lock and the next. If you're unfamiliar with canal boats, what this means in practice is that if you start, you'd better be prepared to finish the same day. The locks are only operational for a few hours each day (basically only the mornings, in winter), and it typically takes five or six hours to navigate the whole flight by narrowboat, so you really do have to be well prepared if you're going to tackle it.

Fortunately, it's much quicker to walk, and the views along the way are truly stunning.

Devizes Locks

Devizes Locks

Devizes Locks

Of course, once we reached the bottom, we turned around and walked straight back up again. We had brought my mother-in-law along for the trip, and she decided to walk to the nearby village of Rowde and get a coffee while we fetched the car. Unfortunately the map by the canal wasn't really to scale, and it took her almost as long to reach the village as it took us to get back up the hill.

Devizes Locks

Devizes Locks


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Westbury White Horse



Westbury White Horse

Cut into the side of Salisbury Plain, the white horse at Westbury may be one of the later ones in Britain - it's first mentioned in 18th Century records, and has a more naturalistic shape than prehistoric figures such as that at Uffington. It's pretty impressive, and hard to miss as you drive along.

Westbury White Horse

We parked up at the top of the hill and walked along to see the horse up close. It was a blustery day (perfect for the gliders and paragliders circling overhead), and the shape is cut into a very steep bank, so we stayed near the top. There were several anchors set in to the ground, alongside the path, where maintenance workers could rope up when they come to work on keeping the horse gleaming bright white. The natural chalk of the ground provided the original white colour, but I'm not sure if it's currently maintained solely by cutting down to more white chalk, or if they now paint it instead.

Westbury White Horse

Westbury White Horse

Gliders by the Westbury White Horse


Friday, 16 November 2012

House of the Blackheads, Riga



Riga, Latvia

The gorgeous House of the Blackheads is one of the most striking buildings in Riga, forming a useful landmark as we attempted to navigate the city. I love the ornamental weather vanes and clocks. The Blackheads were German merchants in medieval Latvia, and they certainly must have had a profitable trade to splash out on such an ostentatious headquarters. The current building is actually a reconstruction built in the 1990s, after the original was bombed during the Second World War - so it still looks incredibly new and shiny.

Riga, Latvia


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Cheesey Potato Wedges with Sweet Chilli



One of the regular starters at the Ashbury Hotel consists of crispy potato wedges smothered in cheese and sweet chilli sauce. This isn't a combination I'd thought of before, but it really works (although they add a bit too much cheese for my tastes, so I scaled back the quantity and just used a stronger flavoured cheese).

Cheesey Potato Wedges

Cheesey Potato Wedges with Sweet Chilli
Serves 4 as a side dish

6 medium potatoes
1 large onion
100g extra mature cheddar cheese
Sweet chilli dipping sauce
  1. Bake the potatoes for an hour at 200°C.
  2. Finely chop the onion, and grate the cheese.
  3. Cut each potato into six or eight wedges, and arrange on a deep-sided baking tray.
  4. Sprinkle onions and cheese evenly over the potatoes.
  5. Bake for a further 15-20 minutes at 200°C.
  6. Serve with sweet chilli sauce, either as a dipping sauce on the side, or drizzled across the top of the dish.


Saturday, 10 November 2012

Nunney Castle, Somerset



Nunney Castle

Nunney Castle is a compact keep which somehow survives almost intact in the pretty Somerset village of Nunney. It's surrounded by a moat, which is not only still filled, but not stagnant - rather, the water is crystal clear and home to shoals of small fish. Dragonflies flitted across the surface and fluttered around our legs as we walked around to the bridge. The castle's four corner towers have suffered only a little crumbling over the years, making it easy to imagine this as a grand, palatial home.

Maintained by English Heritage, we were surprised to find that this castle is open all hours, with no admission charge. Such a beautiful sight could surely attract paying visitors, and would certainly benefit from a tea shop! As it stands, we wished we'd brought a picnic.

Nunney Castle

Nunney Castle

Nunney Castle

Nunney Castle


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Gustav Bekereja, Riga




Riga, Latvia

In our three days in Riga last summer, we became regulars at Gustav Bekereja, where we enjoyed savoury pastries for our lunches as well as sampling the sweet treats. Our favourite was a strawberry crumble cookie, which I'm still planning to recreate one day. And given the insanely low prices (mere pennies for a delicious cake or pastry), we weren't breaking the bank by coming back time and again.

Riga, Latvia


Sunday, 4 November 2012

Berlin's Holocaust Memorial



Berlin's Holocaust Memorial - more formally known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe - is about as stark and bleak as you might imagine, given the subject matter. I'm not sure I understand the symbolism, but as a piece of installation art it's utterly absorbing: you can walk deep into the maze of grey concrete blocks, the ground gradually sloping away until you find the walls towering above your head. This clever design also means that, however busy the passageways, looking from outside the centre will always appear empty and desolate.

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin

Berlin


Friday, 2 November 2012

A Stone Circle on Dartmoor



Stone Circle

It seems you can hardly drive along a road through Dartmoor without passing by a stone circle or ten: the local OS map is positively littered with them. But whenever we get close enough to spot one from the road, we have to stop and take a closer look.

The circle, which we later found is known as Soussons cairn, is a Bronze Age burial site with a tomb at the centre, surrounded by a number of standing stones. Centuries of wind and rain have worn down the rocks into odd shapes, and the effect somehow puts me in mind of a mouth full of jagged teeth. Nevertheless, I always find stone circles to be a relaxing spot for a break and to take in the scenery.

Stone Circle

Stone Circle

Stone Circle


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