All things bright and beautiful, All creature great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.
Those words take me right back to my infant school assembly! Everyone knows this hymn, even today – and most of us can say we know the words by heart – to the first two verses anyway!!
I’ve been trying to think of inspirational themes for my photography outings – much more successful with a theme!! Now it so happens that the theme for the 2021 BBC Countryfile Calendar Competition is ‘Bright and Beautiful’ so I think I might just give that a whirl.
Of course it’s light and dark that create all those great photographic effects: the photographer who can capture light falling in a special way on a scene or lighting up a person’s face (to minimize those wrinkles!) holds the key to success – candle light, the glow of an open fire, reflections bouncing back off office windows, sunlight streaming through stained glass – Christmas lights! – all lovely, but Nature’s light has the most appeal – glorious sunsets, or dappled sunlight through the trees in a forest, light caught in water droplets on a leaf or clear blue skies over snow capped mountains. I’m going in search of some of those now but in the meantime here are some I prepared earlier !
We have just returned from four rainy days in Cornwall and Devon from St.Austell on the bottom coast to Lynmouth on the top coast. The Eden Project was our main objective. Of course, these days it has little to do with sustaining life on Mars – it’s a tourist attraction, albeit with a message but, that said, it was still interesting. Whoever thought of naming the car parks after fruit had a brainwave! – you’re not going to forget you parked in Lime Parking Zone, are you?
These pictures were taken in October – it was a fairly dank and dismal day but on the plus side there was not the crush of visitors that they must get at the height of summer. We went for a wander outside first while the rain was still only drizzle. The grounds are full of interest: mock ups of mines
bee hives with glass panels so you can see them hard at work
wacky large scale sculptures
metallic commemorative leaves
and at this time of year a superb display of colourful gourds all ready for Hallowe’en celebrations.
And then you come to the biomes themselves, nestled into the landscape like giant hexagon sided bubbles. Up close you realise the challenge they would have posed for their creators: they must cope, on the outside, with the onslaught from wind and rain, and, inside, maintain the correct temperature and levels of humidity to sustain the incredible range of plants and vegetation and the bird and insect life within their strange translucent ‘domes’. To create the right curvature, there are a few pentagons in amongst the hexagons and each section has a double skin – all very technical!
It was our intention to do a bit of cycling in Cornwall and Devon and my son did just that. I chickened out of most of it because, especially near the coast Cornwall and Devon are far too hilly for me!! My son cycled from St.Austell, where we stayed for the first two nights, to the Eden Project, and although the short distance between them would imply that it’s not an arduous ride, the hills tell a different story!! The west Country doesn’t appear to have any flat surfaces or straight walls or level roads! It is wonky!
Supper on our first night was delicious, but then you would expect a bowl of moules mariniere and a sea food platter to come up to scratch on the coast!
We travelled north on day three through Bodmin and Bude, where we stopped for a coffee (and a scone – although we ended up with an almond croissant!) We ventured out into the rain to stretch our legs and walked past a big Adventure centre situated down towards the sea. By this time we were being blown off our feet by the wind and were astounded to see a group of tiny children in crash helmets and wet weather gear, standing under dangling ropes and tyres and looking aghast at what they were being expected to do – yes! assault the assault course!!
En route to Lynmouth, our final stopover, we had lunch at the Pig on the Hill in Westward Ho! (drawn probably by the place names as much as anything!) This was our view out of the window!
But i was fortified by the soup
and we were both fortified by the skinny chips! I wasn’t. however, too keen on the sign they had chosen for the ladies’ toilets!
I know! I know! It was a pig-themed restaurant, but you can take things too far!!
We arrived in Lynton, the ‘upstairs’ part of Lynmouth – and it was all very picturesque. And even hillier than St.Austell. Despite this, we decided to go for a spin on the bikes as far as the beginning of the cliff path – just to blow the cobwebs away. And then we came to our senses, put the bikes away, unloaded the car, had a shower and went out on foot to explore instead.
We went in search of dinner – which turned out to necessitate a walk down through about 4 ridiculously steep hairpin bends and across the bridge where the River Lyn crashes thunderously down towards the sea and into the little town of Lynmouth (well, more of a settlement). I could feel the tendons and ligaments in my legs stretching to snapping point and wondered when they were actually going to snap! We gathered momentum just from our body weight and were in danger of going headlong down this 1 in 4 hill like a couple of bowling balls. There were escape routes for cars at regular intervals on the way down in several different languages – so they have clearly had the odd mishap in the past!!
We definitely felt as if we’d earned our supper that night! Even so we got a taxi home!
A long held ambition of mine has been to visit South America, in particular the city of Buenos Aires, so this Spring I did exactly that. First stop was Santiago, Chile. The capital was disappointing – very polluted and, to my mind, just not that attractive. On the other hand, Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, on the Chilean coast were a delight. Valparaíso is where you will find La Sebastiana, sitting atop a steep hill and looking out to sea – this is the quirky house which belonged to the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Now a museum, it’s everything you’d expect from an eccentric artist. His portrait on a wall near the house announces its presence
Pablo, by all accounts, loved the sea so he positioned his splendid abode in the best place to appreciate it!
Valparaíso has around 16 functioning ‘elevators’ – more akin to funiculars than lifts, as they rise on an angle, rather than vertically. They help you up the steep slopes which the town is built on. The traditional dwellings look very precarious but, as our guide explained, Chile suffers 2,000 earthquakes and tremors a year so rebuilding is far easier if your house didn’t take long to erect in the first place!! What they lack in architectural sturdiness they make up for in decoration – the street art is something to behold – skilful, unapologetic – a joyous blast of colour.
The other thing that struck me about Valparaíso was the ‘tinglado de alambres’ , as my father in law would say, that chaotic overhead ‘tangle’ of electricity cables which just add another layer to the haphazard nature of the place.
Our visit to Valparaíso was fleeting. It was March – the seasons are topsy turvy – our Spring is their Autumn so they were heading towards the end of the tourist season – it was fairly quiet, much nicer for us. We had lunch by the sea in Viña del Mar, a bit further along the coast, and next day we were packing our bags again and boarding a coach to Mendoza, in Argentina – just a hop across the Andes! Again, the town itself was unremarkable and there seemed to be a lot of building work going on which didn’t help. But the journey across the Andes was anything but unremarkable! There was a geologist in our party who was in seventh heaven, studying the rock formations and strata, which even to the untrained eye like mine was fascinating.
Of course, as every wine drinker knows, Mendoza’s claim to fame is its wine production, especially Malbec. And we were not short of opportunities to sample it! Our hotels laid on wine tastings and there were also excursions to local wineries to sample their wares – we were spoilt for choice. I made a pleasant discovery – a locally produced port called Malamado – inky black and velvety smooth – easily the best port I have ever tasted (sorry, Portugal!!) Needless to say, I brought some samples home with me!
The highlight of this trip turned out to be, not Buenos Aires, though that came a close second, but the Iguazú Falls on the border between Brazil and Argentina. The river Iguazú forms a natural border between the two countries, with Paraguay to the north. There are around 275 separate waterfalls – and many islands dotted about – and together they are a truly awesome sight. The most impressive is the Devil’s Throat, a huge chasm in the middle of the horse shoe shape fault line, the volume of water tumbling down into it over the rocks just takes your breath away – and the noise is thunderous!
Our accommodation in Iguazú was a beautiful two storey hotel with a lovely pool where you could relax with a cocktail and watch the sun go down.- a welcome change from the high rise modern hotels we stayed in most of the time with a ‘bird bath’ on the roof. The town of Iguazú itself is nothing to write home about and had we stayed any longer my time would have been spent in the swimming pool – or very near it!!
We had the opportunity to see the falls from both the Argentinian and the Brazilian side. Overkill you might think, but not a bit of it – they are very different experiences. Personally, I preferred the Brazilian side. Not being a sun worshipper, I found the long, exposed walkways over the river in the blistering heat on the Argentinian side very tiring – no shade at all and a lot of walking. It was a relief to get back to the train for the ride home that day. The set up on the Brazilian side was quite different. Yes, there were lots of steps to go down to get to different walkways and viewpoints but we had the luxury of a lift to get back up to the exit. There was also a lot of lush vegetation providing welcome shade, so the whole experience was a lot more pleasant. There was a certain amount of queuing involved but, as with everything else we did, our guides used their experience to time our visits to minimize time spent hanging around – and for the most part it worked! Food outlets were geared up to cater for all tastes – the food, mostly burgers, chips, pizza and the ubiquitous empanada – was mediocre, as it tends to be when large numbers of people are being catered for quickly, but the system they had in place was slick and we were dispatched efficiently. BUT – we weren’t there for the food!! The critters we came across, however, WERE! In the UK you might see the odd squirrel or gull but here the animals were a bit more exotic: – coatíes (a type of racoon), marmoset monkeys and even a resident family of capibarras (those giant rodents that to me look like a cross between a guinea pig and a beaver), grazing contentedly for us to admire!
From Iguazú it was on to Buenos Aires. We hit town the day a political demonstration was in full swing so had to wait till the next day to fully appreciate the ‘Pink Palace’ where Eva Perón made her emotive speeches. Of course, you have to visit La Boca, that colourful ‘barrio’ first colonized by immigrant Italians and now an artists’ colony and – it has to be said – a tourist trap. Even so , it’s pleasant wandering around the stalls and bars, watching the couples dance the tango to entice the punters to stay and spend their money – it wasn’t a difficult decision – shall we sit in the warm sunshine with a drink and soak up the atmosphere of this unique little patch of Buenos Aires or go back to the hotel?
It’s true what they say, Buenos Aires does have the feel of a European city about it – small wonder it’s called the Paris of South America. Some beautiful buildings, some fancy shops, lots of good eateries and, of course – more tango! We were treated to dinner and a tango show at a theatre near our hotel. Dinner was, of course, more steak and more red wine – I wasn’t complaining! Delicious – both!
Another highlight of this tour was the gaucho ranch – we glimpsed a bygone era when we looked round the old farmstead, now a museum, but still fully furnished with all the trappings of family life.
But best of all were the horsemanship of the gauchos – and the fantastic barbecue: steak – I think the best I’ve ever tasted anywhere – and also chicken, homemade sausages, morcilla and salad, all washed down with more red wine.
Gaucho skills have evolved to wow the tourists – at least on this showcase ranch, so instead of using the traditional bolas to lasso a steer, they now spear rings dangling from a cross beam and then propose to the first attractive girl they see in the crowd. It’s still pretty impressive stuff!
Our final destination was Río! And what better place to end our tour! Our hotel was directly opposite Copacabana Beach – we’ve all heard of Río’s famous attractions – the Sugar Loaf, that other beach – made famous by the sixties ballad ‘The Girl from Ipanema’, the Christ the Redeemer statue, visible from practically everywhere! We visited all these and they did not disappoint. I will definitely be going back!