Biscay Cruise (Part Two): Sea Days

The two sea days crossing Bay of Biscay were wet and blustery.  The pools were wave machines in their own right, and most passengers stayed in the enclosed areas of the ship and made the most of the dining and lounge spaces, as well as the entertainment venues.

One of these oases of calm is the Anderson’s Lounge.  This is a beautiful space with upholstered couches, a marble mock fireplace, and hardwood paneling. My wife and I had some high quality chill time in these luxurious surroundings.

Another quality space is the Curzon Theatre. This was one of the main entertainment venues, and we attended a really wonderful presentation of the life and work of Nat King Cole.  This was a well researched bio talk interspersed with clips of his music and television performances.

Other entertainment spaces included the casino (which I passed through on a couple of occasions-not really my kind of pass-time) and the Playhouse Cinema which featured several recent release films.

Food is a big part of any cruise holiday, and while we took most of our meals in the Alexandria Restaurant (Greek theme),  there was also the Medina Restaurant (Arabesque decor) with an open seating arrangement as opposed to Alexandria’s first and second seating style), and the Horizons Buffet which had something on offer for over 16 hours each day.

We soon had the rough bit of the Bay of Biscay behind us, and the weather warmed as we approached our port of call of La Coruna in Galicia, Spain.  Here comes the sun!

Padre

 

 

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Biscay Cruise (Part One): The Run Up and Embarkation

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Aurora

I have just returned from a seven day cruise on the P & O ship Aurora.  Our journey took us through the Bay of Biscay to Northern Spain and the west coast of France.  While the crossing of the bay itself was damp, blowy, and at times rough, each port proved sunny and very pleasant.

As we were departing from Southampton on the Sunday, my wife and I set out Saturday so we could be rested on the embarkation day.  We had booked a room in the Days Inn at Winchester services, so checked in, and went to our budget room.  We had never previously stayed in a Day Inn, so there were some things we had not expected. First, there is no decor, and not even drawers or a closet. Plain white walls, a couple of hooks with hangers on the walls, a desk, a TV and a bed. The bed was overly firm, and made for fairly uncomfortable night’s sleep.  Breakfast was from the Costa Coffee at the adjoining services.  All in all cheap, basic, and not to be repeated.

 

We arrived at Southampton Docks about noon, and were met by the porters and parking team, who took our luggage and car respectively, and we were shown into the terminal.  The mobility assistance team were great and checked us in quickly and assisted us onto the ship after a brief security check.

When we boarded the cabin wasn’t ready quite yet, so we were taken to the Alexandria Restaurant where a welcome aboard buffet and a drink had been put on for Peninsular Club members.  We had a light snack and our cabin was soon ready.  We were on Deck 11 midships and while the cabin was a small inside one, it had a comfortable bed, a small settee, and loads of wardrobe and drawer space.

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Cabin A227

There is always the muster/lifeboat drill to deal with, and this was done well with the minimum of disruption.  We went to our muster station and were briefed, and then the captain spoke over the intercom giving us our welcome, and some general ship’s policies.  All in all, one of the better drills I have experienced.

We then settled in, unpacked, and went for a small exploration of the ship before our first night’s dinner (casual).  We had a nice 4 course meal (starter, soup, mains, and dessert) and then were off to bed to make up for the poor night’s sleep on Saturday.  The following day would prove to be a blustery one on the Bay of Biscay, but that’s a different story.

 

Padre

Gainsborough Museum

Gainsborough House

Gainsborough House

We have visited Sudbury on several occasions, but one of the more interesting was when we took in the Gainsborough House Museum.  This was the home of the great artist, and it now serves as a museum to his life, a gallery for his works, and a research hub for other artists.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) was portrait and landscape painter, and print-maker. He was also a founding member of the Royal Academy.

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The museum has several gallery spaces, a library, an archive of his prints, and a nice little shop.  On the day of our visit there was an additional exhibit of the works of other period artists as well.

Painting by Joshua Reynolds

Work by his rival, Joshua Reynolds

I really enjoyed Gainsborough’s work, some of which had photographic qualities.  These are really masterful portraits.

The museum also has really lovely gardens, and as we were visiting in the early summer, tulips were in bloom.  This added to the beauty of the visit.  In the middle of the garden is a 17th Century mulberry tree.  This is a great reminder of Sudbury’s legacy as a centre for silk weaving, the source of much of the town’s wealth.

After our visit we went to David’s Deli/Cafe a favoured retreat of ours.  The restaurant offers fresh locally raised produce, and regional meats, but also a wide and very high quality assortment of continental cheeses.  David’s is unique in the area as it has an adults only policy owing to its seating capacity and the desire to provide a more relaxed, chilled environment for its customers. David himself makes no apologies and a few jokes about his policy including the assertion that “child catchers” are always welcome.

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Child Catcher Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

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David’s link

Museum

Let there be light

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Southwold Lighthouse and Green

 

With no deliberate disrespect to the words of God in Genesis 1, I choose a title which is the heartfelt plea of many a mariner.  On dark, stormy nights, the glow of the beacon of light either welcoming them to a haven, or warning them of the shoals is a welcome sight.

To make these life-giving signal greater visibility, they have long been placed in towers.  These light tours and light houses are not only cherished “friends” to seamen, but they provide picturesque landmarks for travellers and tourists as well.

 

The lighthouse at Happisburgh in Norfolk is a red and white striped tower which stands 26 metres above the coastline.  It was opened in 1790, and today is operated by volunteers. It is oldest working light on the Norfolk Coast and the only independently operated lighthouse in the UK. It is open to the public for tours on bank holidays and weekends in the summer and visitors can climb the 112 steps to the lantern.

Flamborough Head Lighthouse in Yorkshire is a white tower of 26.5 metres, and was opened in 1806.  It is now automated, but it provides some wonderful photo ops.

Also at Flamborough is the chalk tower opened in 1674, making it the oldest extant lighthouse in England.  It was this tower that John Paul Jones would have seen in his 1779 battle with HMS SERAPIS.

Lights also mark the entrance to safe havens, such as the one at the harbour entrance at Arrecife, Lanzorate.

Gibraltar Lighthouse

Europa Lighthouse, Gibraltar

The Europa Point Lighthouse, or Victoria Tower, in the British Territory of Gibraltar marks the entrance to the Mediterranean.  It opened in 1841 and is run by the British lighthouse authority, Trinity House. It is 20 metres tall and is white with a single central red band.

Another red and white beacon is the Beachy Head Lighthouse in East Sussex.  It is 43 metres tall and is positioned at the base of the cliffs not at their summit.

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Beachy Head Lighthouse

These beautiful (and important) historical buildings make for great pictures, and enhance the experience of visits to the seaside.

Padre

How Fast Do You Speak: Long Drawl or Motor-Mouth?

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Are you a motor-mouth when your speak? Do you speak with a slow deliberate pace? There are several things that influence your speaking rate.  These include nervousness, tiredness, word choice, and the weightiness of your topic, and even where you come from.

We all start with our natural speaking speed.  This is the general conversation rate that we are used to.  This may be influenced by regional dialects, or personal speech impediments (such as slurs and stutters).  Most English speakers average around 160 words per minute.

However, when it comes to public speaking stress tends to make people rush their presentation.  When you are nervous it increases not only your heart rate, but your word rate as well.  If you feel yourself starting to rabbit on, it is time to take a pause, a breath, and to chill before continuing.

Fatigue on the other hand will tend to make you speak slower. It also tends to induce more mistakes in either pronunciation, or the losing of place.  These can slow you down even more.

Big words and big ideas also will slow down your rate.  Longer or more complex words tend to be approached haltingly, especially if they are not part of your day to day vocabulary.  The use of unfamiliar, or multisyllabic words really should be limited in order to maintain a natural flow.  The same is true of complex constructions using multiple sub-clauses.  While such phrases give a more precision to your speech they do tend to slow down your speaking rate.  Don’t get me wrong, informative, and technical presentations sometimes need these, but remember they will affect your timings.

Remember too that there are external factors which may impact your timing.  These include applause, laughter, and even coughing.  These environmental factors may cause pauses, so need to be factored into you calculations.

So are you an Al Gore (133 wpm in a TED talk) or a “Motormouth” John Moschitta (586 wpm for The Guinness Book of World Records)?

Padre

Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle

 

 

As a Christian, I am a bit dubious of things occult.  As a teacher of religion, however, I had an academic interest in visiting the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall. This museum is dedicated to witchcraft, magic, and the occult more generally.

The museum is really interesting and has several very good displays. It covers a wide range of witchcraft and pagan topics and while initially giving the impression of “clutter” the displays soon show themselves rich and informative.

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Cunning Woman

A large portion of the collection is upstairs, but visitors with mobility issues can still see a number of informative displays downstairs (and view the downstairs for free as well). Displays include information of traditional nature craft, ancient pagan groups, voodoo, and more.

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Grotto and Green Man

While much of the displays and themes are serious, there are some tongue in cheek aspects as well.  Notably there is a broom parking area outside the museum.  That said there is a wealth of information available for those interested in the history of magical belief.

 

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Pagan Circle

The staff are helpful and there is also a small gift shop area. All in all, it is a worthwhile place to see if in the area.

Padre

 

Tips for Public Speakers (Mark Twain Style)

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Mark Twain [Samuel Clemens 1835 – 1910] was man of experience, he had been a soldier (and deserter), journalist, and traveller.  He dabbled in technology, and he was an outstanding public speaker. His knack was for bringing his experiences and insights together and presenting them in an “unpolished” natural way.

Herein lies one of his first speaking “tips” practice to seem unpractised.  Kraid Ashbaugh has said that Twain’s diction and public presentation was cultivated to seem natural.  He worked at being familiar and turning catchy “home spun” phrases.

This was seen in his Missouri drawl as well.  He practiced and accentuated his image of the homely local wit.  He used his regional accent as an asset, rather than trying to cover it up to become “staged articulate.”

In his humorous speeches, he focused on getting the audience to laugh at itself.  He did this in a simple unthreatening way which endeared rather than alienated.  He famously gave a speech in German in Vienna entitled, “The Horrors of the German Language.”

So what can we get from Sam C?  First speak about the things you know.  Use your experiences and interests as the basis of what you share.

Secondly, be or at least seem natural.  Don’t be too formal (unless you are the formal type), but be yourself.  Audiences prefer the “real.”

Use your weaknesses as strengths.  If nervous, go with it.  If your voice is unusual, maximise it.  It can make you memorable.

Have fun with having fun.  It’s okay to point out the humour in things including in yourself, and your listeners.

Padre

South Yorkshire Getaway

Kenwood Hall Hotel

Kenwood Hall

We decided to give South Yorkshire a bit of an exploration, and made Sheffield our base of operations.  Despite any southern biased view about anything “up North,” we found Sheffield a vibrant and cultured location with great restaurants, museums, and nightlife.

We started out by settling into our hotel, Best Western Kenwood Hall for a three night stay. We found the building and grounds beautiful, and the general feel relaxing.  The hotel is a converted stately home, and has the associated luxury, without breaking the bank.

We had a mobility friendly room, with no stairs, and  very near reception and the restaurant area. The room was clean, though it was in need of some fresh paint, and there was some staining on the upholstery of the chairs. These were minor issues, however, and more cosmetic than substantive. On arrival we found the staff very busy, but polite, and the check in process was fairly smooth, if not a little long with one receptionist dealing with the arrivals.

On the plus side, as noted before, the grounds are beautiful and well kept. The bed quality was very good, and the sleep quality generally good. The shower had good pressure and plenty of hot water (though the bath had very limited cold water pressure).
The WiFi was free, and average in speed. The staff provided us with access codes for multiple devices which was nice as well.

The restaurant is well set up, and the breakfast is buffet style, but additional items (kippers, etc.) can be ordered from the staff.  We had breakfast at the hotel each day, but  ventured out for our evening meals.

We had dinner at Rowsha on our first night in Sheffield. We found the welcome warm, the atmosphere pleasing, and the food excellent.

The dinning area is done out in a deep red colour with arabesque lamps and mirrors sending wonderful patterns on the walls and ceiling. The music also gave a feel of the exotic as well. The server was friendly, very diligent and attentive.

For starters we had the batata harra and kallj halloum. The potato dish was wonderfully spiced, and in an excellent portion size and the bread was well made with a really tasty cheese. For mains we had sayadieh and kafta khashkash. The fish dish was flavourful, with a rich tasting sauce and peppers, while the lamb was tender and beautifully spiced. We have eaten Turkish, Moroccan and Egyptian cuisine in the past, but if Rowsha is typical of Lebanese fare they have made converts to it. It was almost worth making the journey to Sheffield just for this meal.

On our second night we went for the Latin feel, and had dinner at Cubana.  It was fairly easy to get to at Leopold Square, and the main dining is upstairs. The décor is very much in the Havana bar style, and has very well painted murals and a bold bar feel.

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Cubana Mural

The service was polite, interested, and professional. We ate from the tapas menu and had six dishes between us. We found four to be excellent, and two good. The chicken and chorizo dish was very good indeed as was the paella mariscos. The risotto while nice, didn’t quite have the “umph” of the other dishes. The calamares andaluza was beautifully cooked, and was golden and well seasoned. The merluza al horno was also well cooked, but paled in flavour to the patatas dulces y pimientos which was probably the best sweet potato dish I have ever had.  With this we had cocktails (her) and mocktails (me).  This was a great meal, great atmosphere, and well worth visiting again.

We spent the day times either chilling at the hotel or exploring the city and the surrounding areas.  But this is a topic for a different post.  Our final dinner was at the hotel, and it was a well worth staying in for on our final evening. More on South Yorkshire later.

 

Padre

Beyond The Blustery Sea

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Pastor Vince made a powerful side comment recently regarding his personal health.  In essence what he said was he that was not concerned with the outcome, as he is assured that the Lord is not going to take him, before God fulfilled his purpose with him.  The focus is on God and His plan, not our own.

Matthew 14: 25f reads, “Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them [the disciples], walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.  But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God. [Italics mine]”

Jesus was walking on water.  This is clearly the act of God. It defies the laws of reason and of nature.  But what happens next is powerful.  Peter, a mere man, is allowed, with Jesus’ invitation, to join Him.  His sight was on the divine.  His goal was to be with his Lord.

Then Peter is distracted.  He takes his eyes off the object of his desire, his goal.  He sees the wind and the waves, and he sinks.  Wow!  Aren’t we like that?  We start off with great intentions.  We are on fire for our Lord, but the world (the symbolic wind and waves) steps in.  We lose our focus and we sink.

Thankfully, as in Peter’s case the Lord is there to reach out a hand and remind us of His presence.

I am thankful to the Lord for that assurance in the account of Peter.  And I am thankful for the example of godly men and women like Vince, that look beyond the blustery sea of life, and into the face of the Lord.

May we all do like-wise.

Padre

Ancient Pubs and Inns (Constable Country)

Swan - Lavenham (15th Century)

In our exploration of historic inns, we turned back to East Anglia and Constable Country more particularly.  This area of Suffolk and Essex has an excellent assortment of late Medieval timber framed buildings (see my post for Kersey, Suffolk), and among them are some wonderful old inns.  Our first stop was to the Swan Hotel in Lavenham.  This beautiful hotel recently is on the main street of the historic town.  The Swan offers a certain sense of luxury, so we thought it would make for a wonderful experience. It did.

The black and white framed building would fit into any Medieval or fantasy film. It is well maintained 15th Century structure and much larger than might be imagined.  It has three bars and restaurants.  So with choices available we sat in The Airman’s Bar, rather than in the main dining area. What set this space apart was that they have preserved the graffiti and autographs of the World War Two flight crews that frequented the hotel bar during the conflict.

Airman's Bar

Airman’s Bar

The service in the hotel was very professional and courteous. The staff provided not only quality service, but information as well – on WiFi access, and on the history of the hotel and the bar.

We had various loose leaf teas, which were very good quality, soaked in the history, and the entire experience was wonderful.

The Bull - Long Melford (15th Century)

We next stopped in for an afternoon break at The Bull in Long Melford.  Melford is one of the longest main street villages in England, and boasts two listed stately homes.  The Bull (built circa 1475) is a really attractive “old world” building with large timber framing, small panel glass windows, and a real Tudor/Jacobean feel. We sat in a small alcove near the front windows looking out over another period building, dated 1610.

The dining/bar area had a large fireplace, and hardwood timbers and floors, and a well spaced table arrangement.

The service was friendly, and very quick in getting us served. The tea was of good quality, and there were several really nice offerings on the menu as well.

We had a leisurely chat, and (several) quiet cuppas. This is a really worthwhile and atmospheric pit stop and one we will visit again.

Colchester, Rose and Crown (14th Century)

The 14th Century Rose and Crown in Colchester was our base of operations while visiting Constable Country. The hotel itself is a fine old timber framed building with lots of character. While our room was in a newer annex, it was still in many senses a fitting place to keep with our Constable themed getaway.

Our room was on the small side, and was in need of some cosmetic care, and felt a little tired.  It has two singles which were pushed together to make a double, but these were not clamped and did slide apart a little during the stay.

The location of the hotel is good, and allows access to Colchester, the Stour basin and the Harwich. There is free WiFi, and parking as well. The sleep quality was good, and the room quiet.

Service at reception was professional, but the restaurant a little less so, which was a little disappointing. We arrived for Saturday breakfast a half hour before the posted closing time. The staff seemed impatient, and gave the impression of “just wanting to get this over with.” This was displayed in the fact that as guests finished, not only were tables bused of dishes, but the flowers and condiments were cleared as well, giving a clear of “unwelcome.” Added to this was the fact that portion sizes for the cooked breakfast were small (especially for the price). We requested vegetarian sausage, which they had run out of so they offered a chance at an alternative. We asked for the fish, to be told that that would incur a surcharge, We therefore, went without. This again seemed a failing of customer service by the dining staff.

All in all an okay stay, though not of the quality of our other Best Western stays, and I would not book the breakfast ever again.  The purpose in the end was to get a taste of the ancient inns, and if for nothing more than the architecture The Rose and Crown came through.

Padre