The first Capital of Britain – Colchester

Considering I have a husband who went to school in Colchester I had strangely never visited this town in Essex, the very first capital of Britain.

I was given the guided tour by hubby and mother-in-law both keen to show me around their town; the weather for once being exceedingly good helped us to wander and explore comfortably.

On our way into the centre of town we passed a beautiful ornate water tower, a red bricked army garrison and some rather gaudy 1970-80s architecture. I discovered a magnificent mix of ancient and more modern architecture.

We headed to Colchester castle where we plumped for a guided tour of the historic landmark.  Our guide although rather frail was very knowledgeable about the entire region and we even discovered he was a fellow alumni from my husbands old grammar school!

He explained the castle was built by the Normans on the foundation of a giant Roman temple that was built to honour deceased Emperor Claudius, back when the town was the official capital of Roman Britain.

Apparently Colchester was soon replaced as capital once the Romans discovered another place at the end of a great tidal river that they named Londinium what is now London. The reason Colchester was usurped as a capital was that the River Colne that passes through the town was tidal and ships could only pass along it at high tide so restricting sailing times. The River Thames on the other hand although tidal was so vast that the centre of the river remained deep enough for ships to sail down it even at low tide.

The temple fell to disrepair once the Romans were finally driven out and this castle was eventually built in 1076 in its place. This is the biggest and best-preserved Norman keeps in Europe. It was even used as a prison during the 13th-16th centuries where it held notorious witch trials amongst other atrocities.

The views from its ramparts are truly spectacular and you can also see evidence from the years it was used as a place of residence as there’s a lovely stain glass roof !

We were also taken into the cellars underneath the castle to look at the foundations close up and also the vast spaces once full of sand, that were used as air raid shelters during the Second World War. Worryingly our guided highlighted that what appeared to be rocks cemented into the walls of the foundations of the giant castle, were in fact just congealed dried mud from the river bed and large cracks are visible in the basement’s arched ceilings – thank god the council thought to add in concrete supports at the end of the 20th century!

Colchester castle is home to the Castle Museum today that reveals many fascinating layers of history to visitors. Archaeological collections of international quality covering 2,500 years of history are beautifully showcased, including of the most important Roman finds in Britain.

For more information see www.cimuseums.org.uk

For information on visiting Colchester see http://www.visitcolchester.com/

 

In Florence, even the graffiti is ancient

We began our first proper morning in Italy with a trip to see the “Duomo” or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore giving its full name and for our morning exercise, instead of climbing up the inside of the cathedral’s dome, we ascended up the Giotto’s Campanile tower next to it. This gave us stunning views of the city of Florence and also more importantly of the Duomo itself.

I immediately regretted not bringing water and snacks with us as the ascension was much steeper and narrower than expected. Clearly the narrow staircases were only designed for a bellboy to go up and down not huge numbers of tourists, that somehow had to pass each other on the steps, travelling in both directions. At one point I found myself hugging the stone pillar in the centre of the staircase for over 10 minutes as a stream of larger than life tourists squeezed passed me on their way down; one lady slipping almost taking me down with her. There are no handrails or ropes to grab hold of here so if someone slips…. I don’t recommend this venture to anyone who is claustrophobic or afraid of heights and certainly not if you have high blood pressure or heart issues but the view you get from the top is truly amazing!

Once we descended from the Campanile we visited the Baptistery located opposite and still within the Piazza Del Duomo. The Baptistery is one of the oldest and I believe finest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style. The interior is truly divine and it formed the basis for Renaissance architecture. The east doors of it were actually dubbed by Michelangelo as the Gates of Paradise.

Following a busy morning we stopped for lunch in Trattoria San Lorenzo and it was warm enough for us to sit outside in the sunshine while we ate bruschetta and drink their house Chianti.

After lunch we had a look around the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore then we wandered to look at Palazzo Strozzi and then the Basilica Santa Croce.

Basilica Santa Croce is the burial place of Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli, and Galileo and as such it is known as the Temple of the Italian Glories. Primo Chiostro is the main cloister of Santa Croce and houses the Cappella dei Pazzi, built as the chapter house, completed in the 1470s and designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.

Part 4 – Nevis with kids

There are lots to do for families on Nevis and the island is such a family friendly place that children are welcome wherever you go.

Half of Nevis Island has the Caribbean sea and other half has an Atlantic coast so make sure you select your swimming beach carefully. Great beaches for swimming and water sports are Pinney beach less than 5 minutes drive from the capital Charles Town and Ouailie beach that has water sports with stunning views across to St Kitts.

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Ouailie beach, Nevis

Activities include horse riding, sailing, hiking, cycling, quad bike tours, jeep tours, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming and other water-sports.

A must see for families is the authentic Nevisian home farm and inn – Lindbergh Landing named after Charles Lindbergh’s Trans-Atlantic flight of 1927. The land Lindbergh Landing is on was purchased by Ernest Hasting Hanley in 1929, who was the first Nevisian born laborer to earn Certificates of Title to land on the Hamilton Estate. The resort, now run by his son Spencer and wife Jacqueline, consists of Nevisian cottages are nestled in lush rainforest 1,200 feet above sea level with breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea. Children can watch Green Vervet monkeys at play in mango trees and meet a plethora of farm animals including a pair of colourful peacocks.

Restaurants that are kiddie friendly include –

  • The Yachtsman bar & grill is located right on Paradise beach so perfect for spending a leisurely lunch there as kids can play on the beach while you watch them with a cool drink in hand.
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Paradise beach, Nevis

  • Chrishi beach club is another good one for families as again it is situated with tables right onto the beach. This small beach also has volleyball nets and with a large grassy area off the beach too it’s perfect for ball games.

The best historic plantation inns for families include –

  • Montpelier for the pool and bar/restaurant area for lunch is lovely for children.  If it’s good enough for Princes William & Harry then it’s good enough for yours!
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Montpellier plantation resort pool

  • Hermitage has a pizza evening every Friday that’s family friendly even the owners bring their children along to join in with playing with the other children in the beautiful lawn and gardens.
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Hermitage plantation inn

  • Nisbet plantation has a bar/restaurant right on Nisbet beach which is a lovely sandy cove perfect for a game of beach cricket but as the sea is the Atlantic the currents are far too strong for swimming. Paddling would be perfect and the beach great for picnics especially when you can watch the brown pelicans diving in the shallows for fish.
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Nisbet beach

For more information about things to do on Nevis for families see the tourist board website here http://www.nevisisland.com

Nevis – Part 3 – Plantation inns

There are many old plantation inns on Nevis that have been renovated and turned into boutique hotels that can be visited if only for a spot of lunch.

Once the site of Horatio Nelson’s marriage to Fanny Nisbet (the tree they wedded under still stands there today), now it is a luxury Relais & Chateaux hotel. It has the remains of a mill tower now restored and turned into a private dining room; I’m told it is popular for weddings. The original plantation house and buildings have been turned into luxury accommodation and a bar/restaurant area with amazing panoramic sea views. This was the hotel Princess Diana chose for her first holiday with the little Princes following the announcement of her divorce over 20 years ago and you can see why as it’s tucked away in the hills. A haven of luxury and the food was amazing too. They understood the meaning of “dairy-free” perfectly.

This plantation has been family owned and run for generations. Also tucked away on the side of Nevis peak Volcano, surrounded by luscious gardens and rainforest it still retains the feel of it’s historic past. When you visit this place it feels as though you’ve stepped back into the best from Britain’s colonial past. All the accommodation is in small wooden Caribbean huts that are brightly decorated lovingly by the owners wife who also owns a gift shop on site called Fanny’s Closet full of arts, crafts and original gifts made by local people. Their Friday evening pizza night is a must if you have children as this is relatively informal and even the owners own children join the guests for games on the lawn.

Once owned by the famous Nisbet family and childhood home of Fanny the wife of Nelson; this plantation sits on Nevis’s Atlantic coast and is situated right by the beach. The resort has its pool facilities practically on the beach with a gorgeous raised decked area that offers panoramic coastal views from your sun lounger. There’s also a lovely bar/restaurant right on the beach that has shuttered open windows so you can feel the salty air breezing through whilst you eat local and international dishes. We sat and watched a local fisherman line fish stood in the waves competing with diving brown pelicans for his catch. This beach was much rougher than the ones on the Caribbean sea coast so I wouldn’t advise it for swimming but it certainly had breath taking views and a heavy dose of drama.

All the plantations on Nevis are unique in their own way and Golden Rock is no exception. This plantation was once completely reclaimed by the rainforest and the current owners renovated the old stone buildings and mill tower cutting away the forest and replacing it with amazingly tropical botanical gardens. The gardens and grounds extend for a great distance and there are a variety of different styles of accommodation to choose from including staying in the original mill tower or a small Caribbean wooden hut or even a quaint stone cottage. The main bar/restaurant area is set in a large stone courtyard area that’s multi-level, containing designer pools containing koi carp and other fish with waterfalls and gentle fountains. It’s an architectural delight but not advisable if you have any mobility issues or young children as steep drops abound! The staff here also seemed a little less friendly than elsewhere on the island and unable to understand allergies too which was a surprise as the guests we met that were staying there seemed to be mainly American.

There are also several old ruins of sugar mills that are clearly being renovated but can be visited

  • New River Estate is situated a five minute drive from Golden Rock just outside a town called Brick Kiln and has lots of stunning ruins that are very accessible to look around but you might want to do your research before hand is there is only one historic sign about the site.
  • Hamilton estate was and is the largest plantation area on Nevis. There was a plan to restore the buildings and turn them into a visitor centre but apparently this has now been shelved. The mill buildings from this estate can be found almost exactly inland from the capital city Charles Town as you head up the side of Nevis Peak. Follow signs for the popular bar/restaurant Banana’s and you will pass the ruins now overgrown by rainforest on your way up the hill.

 

If underwater ruins are more your thing then there are also lots of famous shipwrecks off the Nevisian coast so perfect for those who love scuba diving.

For more information go to the tourist board siteNevis tourist board

Paphos today officially became European City of Culture 2017

Tonight there was a grand opening ceremony marking the European Capital of Culture – Pafos2017 in the Town Hall square in centre of Paphos.

The opening ceremony showcased the history, the multiculturalism and the modern culture of Pafos as an integral part of wider European culture. The ceremony was designed and produced by a Creative Team of Cypriot artists and intellectuals, working with Walk the Plank.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.pafospress.com

Inspired by the myth of Pafos, it has at its heart the founding myth of Pygmalion, the Artist and his creation, Galatea.

The celebratory performance attempted to portray the core concepts of the Open Air Factory, such as creativity, originality, artistic excellence, and also multiculturalism, diversity, as well as the hope for a unified country in the future.

Young people, children and volunteers from all over Cyprus joined professional performers from all over the island. Both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot musicians and singers sang in unison with a Danish choir and a Jazz Orchestra from Aarhus, the partner Capital of Culture. As Pygmalion invoked the spirit of Aphrodite to breathe life into the statue he had carved, light and fire illuminated the sky above Paphos’s newly restored city centre.

Original compositions, as well as adaptations of music, choreographies and projections were brought to life by actors, dancers and hundreds of children who illuminated the moment of Pafos’ birth and marked the opening of the European Capital of Culture – Pafos2017.

For more information on events planned for the rest of 2017 see pafos2017.eu   Or for more information call +357 2693 2017, info@pafos2017.eu

For more details of Paphos, Cyprus and a great house you can rent there to enjoy the European Capital of Culture year long festivities please see http://www.bellavistacyprus.com

Part 2 – Historic Nevis

As a seasoned traveller to America and parts of the Caribbean I’m used to Americans’ telling me somewhere is steeped in history that there are really ancient buildings to look at, only to find once I arrive that the “ancient” building was built in 1906, so actually more modern than the house I own in the UK! Often when they say historic they mean 20th century history… so when I was told that Nevis was steeped in history by an American, again I took it with a pinch of salt…oh how wrong we were!

We were impressed by the sheer amount of history crammed onto such a small island, don’t get me wrong it’s not Pompeii, but for a tiny Caribbean island there is more to see historically than you would think.

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The Hamilton museum & Museum of Nevis history has amazing sea views!

The Hamilton museum in Charles Town tells the history of one of America’s founding fathers Alexander Hamilton who was born illegitimately on the island and orphaned at a young age but taken in by a cousin. He landed an apprenticeship for a local plantation owner, whom he impressed so much he gained a transfer to a role in Manhattan but he also to witness first hand the torturous life experienced by slaves working in the Caribbean. Hamilton was one of the people who helped to drive the passing of the anti-slavery laws in America, which is why he’s an even bigger hero to those who are descended from former slaves on Nevis.

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Photo of Alexander Hamilton from Biography.com

The Nevis museum, in the same building as the Hamilton museum down on the seafront in Charles Town, gives the history of the island from it’s early American Indian days to the battles during the 18th and 19th century as the British, Dutch, French and Spanish fought for control of the sugar industry in the Caribbean. Nevis earned its name as the “Sweet Island” as it was the most prolific producer of sugar cane in the entire Caribbean, in its heyday producing nearly double the volume of its closest rival island. The British called the island the Queen of the Caribee and as the majority of merchant boats needed to collect sugar cargo from the island it meant they off loaded there too so it also became the largest slave market in the region. There are lots of artifacts in the museum from the various periods of Nevis history including salvaged items from some of the shipwrecks, as the waters around St Kitt’s and Nevis are some of the most treacherous in the Caribbean.

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Tree on Montpelier plantation where Nelson married Fanny Nisbet

Horatio Nelson visited the island during its heyday and was introduced to a young widow called Fanny Nisbet whose family owned a plantation on Nevis and whom he wedded on the island at another plantation inn called Montpelier. There’s a museum that charts his life and that of his love Fanny’ s family on Nevis. More interesting is that Montpelier is now a Relais de Chateaux resort, where Princess Diana stayed for a holiday with the Princes following her divorce to Charles, and you can visit the big old tree there that Nelson married Fanny beneath.

Stay tuned for more details about the plantations you can visit….

Part 1 – Nevis – The Sweet island of the Caribbean

After an eight-hour flight (if you don’t count the hour spent on the ground at Antigua airport) we eventually landed into St Kitts International airport located in the Lesser Antilles in the West Indies.  St Kitts airport is about a 10 minute drive from the main capital city Basseterre so is ideally situated if this is to be your final destination, however our journey’s end was sister island Nevis, known fondly by the 19th century British as the Queen of the Caribees.

Our accommodation provider arranged airport collection for us and we were greeted by Almon who then gave us an impromptu tour of St Kitts on our way through to our transfer.

We drove along the road where the Atlantic and Caribbean seas are separated by a tiny strip of land so you can easily walk from one beach to the other!  We learnt all about the cheeky Vervet monkeys that inhabit both St Kitts and Nevis, who are the main reason the island often has to import mangoes in from overseas for the annual Mango Festival!

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Once we reached Reggae Beach, at the furthermost tip of St Kitts, we could clearly see our destination Nevis across Cockleshell Bay – our target Oauilie Beach was only 2 miles across on the other side.  We boarded a speed boat with 3 other newly arrived British tourists and enjoyed our first bottle of cold Carib beer, whilst watching our first amazing Caribbean sunset over the sea.  This type of airport transfer we discovered is by far the best way to arrive!

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Speedboat transfer

We clung onto the open deck of the speedboat in order, to enjoy the cool sea spray after our long haul flight. The boat danced on the waves, as it propelled us through the water and we arrived onto Oauilie beach 15 minutes later feeling extremely refreshed.

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Ouailie Beach

Almon off loaded our luggage into his pick up truck and we departed to our apartment within the Carina complex in the vast Hamilton Estate.  One of the many old sugar plantations on the island; Carina is set off the beaten path half way up the side of Nevis peak, the largest and main volcano on the island. Virgin rainforest is above the apartment building and the land below contains the ruins of a sugar mill and factory, that have been reclaimed by the rainforest; the top of the mill tower protrudes onto the skyline.

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View from Carina

Carina is just a 5-minute drive up the hill from Charles Town the capital of Nevis.

To be continued…

 

 

Journey Down Under – NZ not Aus

We decided for baby’s first long haul holiday that it had to be a journey of epic proportions so we booked flights to Auckland via Singapore outbound and then back via Bali and Singapore on the way home.

Everyone we had spoken to advised that the best time to fly with a baby was before they can crawl or walk so we set out to New Zealand with our 7 month old daughter who surprisingly turned out to be a natural born traveller!

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Enjoying the in-flight entertainment

 

An air-steward on Virgin Australia even asked could she adopt her and disappeared with her on board for over half an hour.  It seemed our daughter was having fun playing with the rest of the cabin crew and babbling to passengers so we got to actually enjoy the inflight programming for a while.

Stay posted for more…