The Queen and I, a swimming adventure

I read this absolutely lovely piece by James Stuart, owner of the wonderful Califa Hotel in our town in Andalucia – he is embarking on a swim to Africa from Tarifa and he writes some beautiful stories about the coastline and his adventures. To continue reading the whole short story, go to my Guest Writers page, where I add little vignettes of life through words from several writers.

The Queen and I, a swimming adventure by James Stuart

My original title for this site was ‘The loneliness of the long distance swimmer’, stolen of course from Alan Sillitoe’s famous story about a young lad whose prowess at running takes him on a mental escape from the reality of the institution he lives in. Loneliness in the water is an irrevocable part of swimming great distances where the activity becomes an entirely solitary pursuit, even when accompanied by others in the water. Head down, arms churning, the roll of hips, the turn of the head, the deep suck of breath, the slow exhalation under water and only very brief glimpses of sky relieve the monotony and loneliness of the challenge. Talk is impossible, contact pointless.

Yesterday I took my swimming adventures to a whole new level with a 10,5km. solo swim from Atlanterra to Barbate. It’s an almost arrow straight stretch of beach running south east to north west from the edge of the cork oak studded Sierra de la Plata, past the village of Zahara de los Atunes and then along an almost endless empty stretch of coast lined with golden sand and scrubby palmito bushes. I took a companion of course, just to have a conversation with. I find this is the easiest way to break up the heady wet loneliness. In the past I’ve swum with Ernest Hemingway (“this is man’s stuff, you’re not made for defeat, you can do it”), Winston Churchill (“If only I could keep my cigar alight I might become a tad proficient at this game”), Charlie Chaplin (who swam with great proficiency and inevitably we ended up talking about women and sex), Enid Blyton (I switched her off before she became too polemic – she started asking if we might meet gypsies on the beach in Barbate), Sean Connery (James? Look here young man, we can talk about anything but just not about you know who) and even on one memorable occasion a teacher from school whose name I couldn’t remember – I spent an hour trying to get an answer from him as to why he always wore a sharp ironed crease in his jeans.

The Queen was very much in my mind as I slipped in to the morning stillness of the grey green water. She’d died the previous day, news about her was everywhere, I’d even been asked by a local newspaper wanting the reaction of the British community in the province to her death. What could I say that hadn’t been said by tens of thousands before me? Somewhat irreverently I said that I preferred licking stamps with the Queen on them than licking stamps with King Charles on them. Probably won’t be published.

to read the rest of this story, go to the Guest Writers Page.

photo courtesy of James Stuart.

Holbox

From Chichin Itza, we took a taxi to Cancun airport to pick up our daughter Maude who was in Mexico City – you could hire a car, but we felt it was easier to take a driver. remember that distances are quite big, but the fares are at least half the price it would be in the UK, and in some cases a third of the price. It’s another 2 and half hours from Cancun to Holbox ferry, which I guess is why it is not yet innundated with tourists; from the ferry you pick up a public ferry or a private taxi boat, which costs about £12 more. The boat journey takes about 20- 25 mins and then you hop onto a buggie taxi to your hotel. The island is not too big, but it still took about 20 mins to walk from the town centre to the part of the beach we were staying at, which was at the furthest end – much quieter, less built up and fewer hotels and bars. I would definitely recommend that end – it was the end away from Punta Mosquito. The crystal clear waters are just so warm and make the journey worth it. We usually go to the less touristy west coast, Costa Carayes, but the sea is the Pacific and much wavier and not so clear and calm, but nonetheless beautiful.

A lot of the places that you stay offer bikes to get around, but its actually lovely to walk into town once the sun is going down, along the beach to the town. We stayed in 2 places, Ensuenos Beach Club and Puerta Azul – the first is more family orientated and the second is adults only. Both are very close to the sea, the 2nd being right on the beach and both not overly expensive. The first place offered a nicer communal area, pool and rooftop terrace, but the rooms can be dark.

There are lots of local places to eat along the beach front, but definitely more choices in town. We loved the food at Luuma – Mexican/Oriental fusion but very tasty. There was also a very good wood burning pizza close to our hotel, otherwise the food is the typical Mexican tacos etc… unfortunately as we were at the least tourist and more beautiful part of the island we did have no electricity at times and no running water in the bathrooms – especially at Luuma, where they had to use the pool water to feed the toilets – this happens when there have been big storms, which had just happened the day we had arrived. Apparently water is pumped from the mainland, but some hotels do seem to have their own back up. Remember that this is a Robinson Crusoe type island – and fortunately the sea is crystal clear so bathing in the sea became a several day habit.

We left Holbox for Cancun airport to return to Mexico City for the night; in hindsight we should have just flown directly back from Cancun to London, but we had already rebooked our tickets before planning our trip, but in fact it was nice to get back to the city, see some more sights and unlike our last time, not have to deal with the stress of missing a connecting flight. we stayed at Downtown Hotel, which is so central to the main square, its a perfect place to stay for one night. Caracol de Mar is a modern Mexican restaurant serving mainly seafood, but beautifully presented; it is set in a courtyard of a historical building and is a very pleasant place to sit and enjoy the good food. in contrast, the Churreria El Moro is a noisy busy cafe that sells churros and chocolate. From the 1930’s, its where the locals queue for their cinnamon churros – long tubes of sugared donuts dipped in chocolate – even vegan for Maude…… it’s very difficult to not resist those sweet local treats.

All in all the trip was a great adventure – fast moving – and ideally it would have been great to have stayed an extra night in each place, but if you want a taste of Mexico with its culture and beautiful seas, then I would highly recommend this journey we took.

churches

going back to my post about churches – its so lovely that these grand places of worship that were once the centre of people’s lives in days gone by, have now become more modern and creative with their usage and unite the community again. we have listened to Gregory Porter singing the beautiful lyrical songs of Nat King Cole with an orchestra in St Lukes Church in Clerkenwell, as well as been introduced to new jazz by up and coming new artists.  apparently the roof was missing for years, until the london symphony orchestra decided to use it as a rehearsal space and hence its now intact again.    some may criticise the point of religions and blame the divide in countries and the onset of war, but we wouldn’t have these wonderful buildings without religion.

i love the songs of nat king cole – so romantic  – they take you away from the stark realities of real life.  my favourite being unforgettable

we have seen numerous artists at the union chapel – what an amazing venue!    churches now have to be very flexible with their uses  – with high maintenance costs, they are all opening their doors to help pay the bills.  the actors church, st paul’s church, in covent garden has its own theatre company, so look out for future productions. the garden is haven in the midst of the bustle of the market .

its lovely to walk around smithfields on a sunday when its quiet and explore – its strange how tranquil parts of london become on a weekend; but if you are there in the week, its good to visit st bartholomew the great – its a beautiful old church originating from the 12C – the cafe is open for breakfast and some evenings its open for cocktails – its very atmospheric! i saw a spectacular theatre performance there, so keep an eye out for events that go on there.

st pancras old church, which has been a place of worship since the 4th century,  is another atmospheric church that holds concerts.

i first saw st barnabas church in soho recently and was taken back by this gem of a church right in the busy centre;  its attached to a member’s club now,  but non profit making aiding homeless people into work;  there is also the added benefit of a beautiful garden.

and here are the details of the beautiful church of Blythburgh in suffolk, with its carved wooden angels, its simplicity really makes it one of my favourite interiors.

Unforgettable, that’s what you are
Unforgettable though near or far
Like a song of love that clings to me
How the thought of you does things to me
Never before has someone been more

Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that’s how you’ll stay
That’s why, darling, it’s incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too

Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that’s how you’ll stay
That’s why, darling, it’s incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too

Irving Gordon

Chichen Itza

Getting around Mexico is pretty easy – we thought about hiring a car, but in the end we decided it was not much more expensive booking a driver or taxi to take you around. Its just over one and half hours from Merida to Chichen Itza – one of the main Mayan sites that you must visit, especially if you are in the area of Merida. we booked the Hacienda Chichen – a lovely peaceful hotel only 10 mins drive from the ruins – set in beautiful tropical gardens within the jungle area. It’s an old style colonial building with little houses dotted around the grounds, with swimming pool and areas to walk around. The trees are some of the most incredible that I have ever seen. Food at the hotel is perfect – light Mexican food and apparently all the vegetables are grown on site – we actually saw the mangoes, papayas, almonds growing o the trees in their vegetable garden plus all the lovely chickens – now I know why there are a lot of chicken dishes on the menu!

One of the reasons we stayed there was to get up early and be the first at the archaeological site when it opened at 9am – but even though we got there for 9am, there was already a queue and you could see the coach trips starting to come in. Luckily its such a big area, you can find peaceful quiet spots to sit, contemplate and be in awe of what had been achieved over a 1000 years ago. I don’t know much about the Mayan culture, but it’s fascinating learning about another culture. Be warned, its very hot and although there are shady parts, the main pyramid is quite open, so take a hat or like me a parasol. I bought a white umbrella to shield from the direct sunlight – it’s a nuisance to carry, but if you get a folding one, it really does help protect from the 35 degrees heat.

There are 2 sections of the site – the older Mayan part with the main pyramid and the later Mayan buildings, which had much more variety of buildings – actually my favourite part as a lot of it is still surrounded by its original jungle of trees and plants, so felt more in situ. You must also see the 2 cenotes – water caverns that the Mayans worshipped for water and is one of the reasons they set up towns around this source. I would say 2 – 3 hours is enough time to stay, especially if you are in this 35 degrees heat. July/August is actually rainy season in Mexico, but generally it rains quite hard for 1 – 2 hours, then clears up. Occasionally there is a storm with thunder, lightening and more persistent rain lasting longer – it actually cools the air making it more bearable, but watch out for the mosquitoes.

Merida

Merida is an hour and half flight from Mexico City – its a colonial town in the centre of the Yucatan province – also one of the hottest spots of Mexico as its central. we stayed in a boutique hotel, housed in an historic building just steps away from Palacio Canton, Yucatan’s anthropology museum. it was hacienda style with a lap pool in the centre of the garden, and although it did breakfast, it didn’t have a restaurant. It took us a while to warm to Merida, it’s not as obviously pretty as San Miguel de Allende, or Oaxaca – a blend of provincial and cosmopolitan, heritage and modern, its charm reveals itself with its peoples who are full of warmth and happiness, enjoying the cities squares and many events that the town puts on for the locals – dancing, music – at first you see a mix of colonial buildings, 1950’s interspersed with tumble down unused buildings…. parts of which remind me of Havana. the streets are named by numbers and are in a grid . The Main Street being Calle 60, with numerous boutiques, restaurants and a lot of squares radiating from the street. walk down to the Cathedral in Plaza de Independecia and there always seems to be some entertainment going on in the square. strangely its the least touristy of the squares, the others filled with restaurants and bars and locals selling hammocks and embroidered tops. there are a lot of shops selling guayaba shirts, the traditional shirts for men with embroidery ; you need to check that they are not cheap copies, but there are a few good co operative shops around and a few artisan selling more finer handiwork. my favourite was Kukul Boutique, which was a bit more pricey than the usual stuff, but very lovely individual pieces, especially the cute children’s embroidered clothes. I always buy myself a handicraft item to remind me of the places.

Avenue de Montejo is a long wide Main Street, sometimes known as the Champs Elysees de Mexico. its lined with restaurants and shops and lots of live performing musicians, street buskers and artisan sellers; at first I thought it felt like LA, but in fact it was visited by lots of locals and Mexican tourists too. As its hot by the day, average 35C, its much more comfortable to walk around as the sun is going down. Plaza Montejo is where they set up a stage and host traditional folklore dance and music and singing – its where the locals all congregate and is really fun to see. it was actually very nice to be amongst all the locals enjoying these outdoor events once the heat of the day has gone by. Apparently every Thursday in Plaza Santa Lucia, there is singing, which has been an tradition for more than 50 years – la serenata. On a sunday morning the long Avenue de Montejo is closed for cars and locals cycle up and down with their kids enjoying a car free zone

there are a lot of restaurants to choose from, but we ate lunch at Chaya Maya, which is alongside the Parque Santa Lucia, housed in a pink building, there is a lovely central courtyard full of tropical plants, a collonade filled with tables – a lofty colonial style, which is very atmospheric – you can watch the ladies making the lovely tortillas as you come into the restaurant. Food is typically Mexican traditional. Note that breakfast is as big a meal as lunch, but we mostly ate a big lunch followed by a lighter meal of tacos, panuchas, Salbutes which are lightly fried tortillas . These are simply filled with chicken or beef, spinach, onions, so are both nutritious and tasty and light. There are also lots of choices for vegetarians and vegans. Tamales are soft corn tortillas wrapped up. another good place for lunch or dinner is Hacienda Teya – more modern in style, but very clean and tasty food. There are a lot of modern designed restaurants in Mexico, so you can do a mix of traditional or contemporary.

There are also many hidden inner courtyards which are little markets – some selling art, some just food and drink – this whole concept of food stalls all in one place where you choose what you fancy and then sit down seems to be a worldwide thing now.

Another interesting shop is Ensemble Artisan – a collaboration of design and crafts, supporting local artisan and making sure that they are paid fairly. There were so many beautiful items from wooden stools, woven textiles, stone bowls and embroidered cushions, and it ensures that the craftsperson is being paid fairly.

Walk down calle 47 – a street full of trendy bars and restaurants – apparently they are trying to revive this street, and so you will see beautiful restored Casas with courtyards laid out for dinner alongside derelict properties. we ate in Mikaela’s, a modern Mexican restaurant, which would not look out of place in London or Barcelona. Lunch at Oliva – an Italian is very good Italian food if you would like a change from Mexican. Monday did seem a day when a lot of the restaurants are closed. The food was pretty good and the prices cheaper than London, though higher than when I was there previously a few years ago. Covid seems to have really hiked up hotel and restaurants prices throughout the world. we strolled back via Ave Montejo and had a drink in Bar Impala – a 1950’s style diner that plays a lot of Elvis. A lot of Mexico seems to have had a boom in the 50’s and hence there are a lot of these buildings alongside the colonial style. Merida is definitely a mish mash of architecture, waning towards Havana derelict but there is definitely a charm to the city; the locals have a quiet melancholy about them and everywhere they serve you with respect and kindness and warmth.

take a walk down to the market – Lucas de Galvert, just a few blocks from the main square. it was just what we expected, bustling, full of locals, selling everything from fish, fruit, baskets, hammocks. we wondered where the locals bought their fresh food, as there are very few supermarkets.

one of the main reasons Merida is popular is because its relatively close to much of the Mayan ruins, the coastline with its fishing villages, and the Cenotes, natural phenomena pools of water. we decided to do one trip out from Merida, to the Cenotes, of which there are many to go to in the surrounding area. These natural pools of water, some hidden underground in caves are a big attraction, but the water to swim in is so amazing. we went to Santa Barbara, which was about a 45 minute drive away as there are 3 together that you can visit. one you have to climb through a hole in the rock and then they have built wooden steps down, but it really is worth the visit. Swimming in the open air ones are so magical – they are basically sink holes, which in Mayan days were seen as very spiritual places, and also a big water source, which is why many of the Mayan ruins are around the Cenotes. we actually booked a private taxi who took us there, but then on the way back we stopped in the local towns.

we absolutely fell in love with Homun, which was just holding their annual fiesta. There was a makeshift bullring with metal structure faced with hay to create the walls – access was by steep ladders on the outside. Apparently there were rodeo shows and bulls, with their horns sawed off, which we saw being delivered in a truck. it was such a colourful event, watching the young boys in their rodeo outfits, the religious processions, and the locals dressing up for their celebrations.

I found driving through those villages with their many pastel painted houses, their interesting colourful churches as pleasurable as the big tourists sights.

Mexico City

it’s actually my fourth time to Mexico, but as Mexico is so big, there is so much to see without ever getting tired of visiting.  I remember the first time was when I was pregnant with Maude, which must have been over 23 years ago.  Mexico City has definitely changed since then, a thriving city where design and culture just seem to grow with each of my visits. 

Maude had just graduated from Uni with a modern language degree and decided to spend the summer in Mexico;  we had some flight vouchers to use up since 2020 and Covid prevented travel, so we decided to join her for part of her trip.  we arrived in Mexico City late in the evening, staying at Hotel Casa 9.  we didn’t know what to expect – usually we book bigger hotels with all the usual facilities of concierge, restaurants, but this was house in a palacio style old house in the Condessa area.  as Maude had booked an airbnb with a family, it made sense to choose somewhere close to her.  this was a different experience, more like staying in an apartment, but sharing with 3 other people.  there is one large enrrance salon, probably triple height with large windows leading onto a balcony overlooking a beautiful tropical garden.  the rooms were around the courtyard.  it was beautifully designed with retro style furniture and there was a lovely collection of books and an hono bar for coffee and drinks.  breakfast was served on the terrace or in the lovely big room;  it really suited us because the area is made for walking and taking coffees in all the numerous trendy cafes.  

it felt like New York with its juice bars, coffee shops, but the wide boulevard streets were lined with tress and tropical plants – its a suburban area full of locals walking their dogs, so felt very safe.  we had fresh juice in Ojo de Agua  – sitting on the sidewalk watching life go by – its very different to downtown Mexico with is much more tourist driven.  we ate lunch in the Green Corner, which was also a health food shop on Avenida Mazatlan – I was amazed how much stuff you can get in there from the well branded herbal teas, chia seeds, etc…   it was especially great for Maude who is vegan.  i did notice that now most menus offer at least a few vegan options, and several vegetarian too.  i think that worldwide veganism is making its mark, and especially with the younger generation. 

We visited 2 museums, the Gallery Museo Tamayo – a wonderful brutalist designed space showing contemporary art and then the Museo de Arte Moderno, which is set in the nearby Chapultepec Park.   There is some amazing Mexican art in the Modern Art gallery and just nearby is the circular library, which is hosting the diaries of Frida Kahlo at the moment.  You will find that on a sunday, a lot of the museums are free. Palacio de Bellas Artes has some amazing murals, including some famous ones by Diego Rivera. Museo Diego Rivera is a little private gallery that houses the Alameda park mural, which Diego paints 100 characters who represent Mexican society and tells a story of life in the park. All the murals are fascinating to see close up.

We have always visited the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera house, which is now a museum in Coyoacan, but this time we decided to opt for other things, but I would highly recommend them for first time visitors. we did try to get tickets for Luis Barragan museum, but as the tickets are now sold online a week before the day you require, it is so difficult to get tickets for a particular day. we missed buying them by a few seconds, managed to get them in the basket online, but then by the time we put in the credit card, they were all sold out….. next time…. Trotsky’s house and the Anthropology museum are also high on a must see list. we did do a boat trip on Xochimilcho though as the last time we did it, the children were very little. its very touristy, but its still a fun thing to do. Reminding you that Mexico City was once all built on a series of lakes – until the Spanish drained the canals and lakes in the 16C in their search for gold and treasure. I love that families take the boats to have their family get togethers, taking picnics or gathering their food from the passing boats who are cooking up local specialities. you can be serenaded by boats of mariachis – its a colourful bustling hour of fun. something the kids will definitely like.

what you need to work out is distances – Mexico is so big, it can take up to 45 mins to get to say Frida Kahlo museum – Ubers are very efficient, and are very cheap. the local yellow taxis are not that much more, but seem harder to get and apparently as uber drivers are regulated and you don’t give them any cash, its quite a safe way to get around. some of the Ubers we got cost only £2, and to the airport, we were only paying £3 – it all depends on the time of day, the traffic…… so if you are in a certain area, I would explore that area for food and culture, rather than spend another hour crossing town.

There is also a castle in Chapultepec Park which you can climb to the top and apparently have great views of Mexico City. I have never managed to do this. watching the indigenous peoples dance, and perform their ceremonies is very interesting around the main square Downtown and around the Cathedral – you can also see the ruins from cities and temples that have been discovered – one recent find was a circular wall built of skulls – many skulls, probably those who have been sacrificed in the belief that the next morning wouldn’t appear, unless they appease the gods.

We had wonderful food at Azul Condessa, Ave Neuvon Leon – fine Mexican style in a traditional setting.  You can watch the tortillas being made at the front of the restaurant.  There is also a branch of Azul Historical Downtown, set in a courtyard. Caracol de mar is a modern Mexican restaurant serving mainly seafood and fish, but all beautifully presented. Again set in a courtyard of a historical building, its a pleasant place to sit and all around are little boutique shops. Churreria El Moro is a noisy busy cafe that sells churros and chocolate. its been going since the 1930’s and its definitely a place that the locals queue for their cinnamon churros (long tubes of doughnuts that they dip in a thick chocolate sauce). Restaurant Tetetlan is housed in a horse stable in Jardines del Pedegral, an elegant suburb on the outskirts of town, restored recently by an art collector who still lives in the original adjoining house, which was originally designed by Luis Barragan – the acclaimed Mexican architect famous for colour, light, shape and form. there are a few private houses that you can go and see, we did see one last time we went, and they are worth the visit.

There are lots of interesting restaurants, from local cafes to high end fine dining – some are just great interiors with atmosphere worth popping into and even just getting a coffee and snack. Sanborns de los Azulejos has a great 50’s style interior, they are like mini department stores, but there are a few in Mexico City. La Opera Bar, which is close to the historical centre and Cathedral is housed in a lovely 19C building.

we were only there for a couple of days, but there is always so much to see and do, but like any city, it can be tiring.

summer solstice

today is the longest day of the year and the shortest night and is officially the start of summer.

Primrose Hill is is famous for pagans and druids to visit on summer solstice. The hill’s position to the north of London, offers a great view of the city, and makes it a prime location from which to “charm” London.

As well as Stonehenge another place that is frequented is Parliament Hill – was once known as Traitors’ Hill, as during the English Civil War, it was occupied by troops loyal to the English Parliament. The hill is not, as the name might suggest, home to the Houses of Parliament – though it seems possible that its name, together with its ability to give good views over London, was used by the Druids. Many Druids now believe that the hill – known to them as the Llandin, from a Welsh name signifying a “High-place of worship – is part of a sacred grid. A ley line between here and the White Hill in the Tower of London is to them the Midsummer’s day azimuth – the line in which the sun rises on Midsummer’s day.

With the Tower of London, we have come to the third primary location of “Druid London”. For example, in 1956, the Ceremony of the Spring Equinox was renewed at the Bryn Gwyn or Tower of London. The site was, of course, the primary royal residence for much of Britain’s history. It remains connected with the tradition of sacred kingship, through the presence of the nine ravens.

I am sure Stonehenge would be an amazing place to celebrate with its mythical stones.

in spain, its celebrated on 23rd June and is celebrated by people gathering around a bonfire, eating and drinking and teens jumping over fires.

seville

We always like to stay a night in either Seville or Malaga on the way to Vejer – its a good opportunity to experience the colourful and vibrant Spanish city life, and then go to a smaller town and the sea. This time we flew into Faro, Portugal and visited a friend and then drove over the border to Seville, about 2 hours.   It’s amazing that there is no time difference in Portugal, but as soon as you cross that border,  you are an hour ahead.  a lovely hotel right next to the border is the Grand House Hotel , St Antonio, with the beautiful surrounding beaches of the Algarve.

Seville is a difficult city to navigate around in a car – I would really suggest parking in a car park near the centre and then walking in – getting caught in those narrow old streets can be not only frustrating, but also nerve racking.

Seville is the perfect city to visit for the weekend.  We stay at the lovely hotel Casas de la Juderia, perfectly situated in the old quarter, or nearby the 1950’s style Hotel Fernando III.  A friend just recently stayed at the Eme Catedral Seville, right opposite the Cathedral and of course there is the  Hotel Alfonso VIII which is ultimate luxury.

Bear in mind that Seville is always hotter than the coast, and not recommended for visiting in the summer months – great for the early evenings, but you can’t walk around in the day without getting hot and bothered.  start by crossing the bridge for a walk along the river, watching the rowers go by, have a drink on calle Betis, Triana , then cross back to the imposing cathedral and make your way through the windy streets of the Barrio Cruz taking in some of the many tapas bars.

There are so many good places to eat, but eating tapas in a variety of restaurants is a good start, especially on an evening when it is cooler. For many years we have eaten at restaurant modesto, it’s a trusted restaurant popular with the locals and next to the Jardins de Murillo.  Other favourites are la bodeguita gongora,  bar alfalfa, taberna aguilas, and Mamaraacha for more modern tapas. E. Morales is a lovely old traditional bar,  as well as Bodega Diaz Salazar. Tapas in Cerveceria La Giralda is quite atmospheric, though in a busy street, but is housed in an old hamman and the tapas is usually quite reliable.   my all time favourite area is Alfalfa, its not so touristy, young and vibrant with real life – there are also some great flamenco  shops and antiques in this area, especially on street acetres.

seville’s marie luisa park  is undoubtedly one of my favourite parks in Europe  with its famed Plaza de Espana – which was the centrepiece of the expo, this decorative Palace has beautiful tile work that represents each of the provinces of Spain.   at another end of the park is the Plaza de las Palomas (Plaza of the the Doves), where you find the home of many doves.  you will find that the  children love to feed the doves – you can usually buy seeds to feed them with.     the landscape architect, Nicolas Forestier who redesigned the gardens in 1929 also designed the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.    either take a leisurely walk through the gardens, or take a horse and carriage ride through the wonderful old city of Seville and through the park too.

 

 

 

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Exhibitions

I always seem to see exhibitions all at once – and then nothing for ages – but there is so much to see at the moment. All the exhibitions are so very different, some poignant and full of messages, others showing the dark side of the artists’ personality, and some just portraits. I find that paintings that are pretty or nice to look at with no obvious message can be criticised for being frivolous – for me art can be so many ways of self expression – it shouldn’t be judged whether its serious or not. Art is there for everyone to appreciate – we all have our own tastes….

Louise Bourgeois ends tomorrow; in intriguing mix of art pieces – some very dark and abstract, some feminine with a twist, some delicately put together with pretty textures and shades. Her personal life experience obviously had a great impact on her and this is very interesting to see. The Hayward Gallery is the perfect space to show her work.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye are beautifully painted stories about fictitious people, either from found images or from her imagination. They speak identity and representation and are colourful and almost graphic in style – at Tate Britain. I particularly love the characterful clothes.

Also at Tate Britain is Walter Sickert, which I absolutely loved – dark, mysterious, his images of naked women in Camden are challenging and must have been controversial at its time; he liked to picture everything theatrical from performers in music halls, individuals from the newspaper articles – he definitely liked to paint real people at work.

Whistler’s women in white is romantic depictions of women dressed in white, and especially the model Joanna Hifferman. her red hair went onto influence the pre raphaelites and their style of portraiture – at Royal Academy. wildly romantic and ethereal – I too have taken to wearing white dresses …..

At the Whitechapel we can revisit the artists studio from 1920 – 2020 – an interesting curation of works from lesser known artists to Picasso, Schiele and Bacon. its celebrating a century of image makers and artists through their studio. Some are actually painting in their studio, some are actual mock ups of their studio – its a loosely named theme, but is an interesting mix and gives you an opportunity to see a wide range of artists in one exhibition.

Postwar Modern at the Barbican brings together an amazing display of paintings, sculptures and photography from 1945 -1965. This is an incredible body of work put together – and introduced me to some amazing artists and photographers previously unknown.

There is so much to see in London at the moment; its definitely inspiring looking at the real paintings – we recognise so many of them from postcards and books, but actually seeing art in life is the best thing. Purchasing a national art pass allows you to visit galleries at half price, so if you are going to see a few, it maybe worth it. I now buy a gallery membership for my friends’ birthday presents, it gives them so much pleasure to be able to visit freely, so worth putting on your birthday list.

April feria

I am so missing visiting spain with its wonderful traditions and colour. its about this time in Vejer de la Fronterra that the annual  april feria occurs 10 days after Easter.  Easter, or Semana Santa as it is called in Spain is such a big occasion , more important than Xmas, with its evening street procession carrying the statues of Jesus  on Good Friday and  Easter Sunday bull run in the narrow streets, it is a sight that you never forget. The feria, that follows is a mini version of the seville feria, which if you have never seen is just spectacular, horses and carriages,  flamenco dresses and full of colour and splendour;  vejer’s feria is held in the new town, which is only 15 mins walk from my house, but mainly consists of a few casitas (tents for eating drinking and dancing) and an enormous fairground!  but for 4 nights there will be numerous flamenco shows and horse riding events.   the local school children clamber on their floats and there is a procession through the old town to the new town – there are so many festival days in spain, you need to check the calendars before you go so that you can watch them – there is a feria in almost every town in spain at some time of the year – its what makes Spain a wonderful country still steeped in tradition and fun.  sadly due to the pandemic, it will have been more than a year of disruption – so I am not even sure what celebrations will be happening;  I am so hoping that by the end of the year, life will resume as it used to be……

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