Sunday, 15 May 2011

Northumberland in a Motorhome

Travelling north to rural Northumberland is to leave behind congested roads and workaday stressers.  Mind you getting there on the main routes from south to north is inevitably long and slow because of endless roadworks especially if you are travelling in an 8m motorhome, towing a trailer and a noddy car. 

It is worth the journey though.  Once you get past Blackpool, traffic is less and the scenery more breathtaking.  From the west, if you aren't towing I recommend you leave the M6 at Penrith and take the route across the North Pennines via Alston to Hexham.  You will travel over wild moorland, through wooded valleys and midst lush green pastureland.  The UK's varied landscape encapsulated in only 35 miles!

If you are towing you should take the A69 from Carlisle heading towards Hexham and Newcastle.  It's a longer and  less stunning route (still pretty) but safer if you are driving anything with more than 4 wheels and a mobile rear- end that needs a lot of stopping. 

The Abbey in Historic Hexham

Fallowfield Dene - a warm welcome awaits you.

Our home for the week was a lovely peaceful caravan and camping site at Acomb, near Hexham.  It's approached by a narrow road with passing places and the final turn into the entrance is over a narrow wooden bridge, so if you've any doubts about the size and shape of your rigg 'phone ahead first to book and check suitability.  At 8m plus a trailer, we just manage.  The owner told a horrific tale about a large RV that was stuck all day and plans to dismantle fence rails at the bridge if the painfully slow, inch-by-inch manoeverings came to nothing.  It worked eventually - so the bridge was saved.

When we arrived at Fallowfield Dene Caravan and Camping Park (listed with the Caravan and Camping Club) we got a wonderful warm north-east welcome from the owners. 

We were allocated a suitable pitch in one of the large clearings reserved for tourers.   This being Hadrian's Wall country all of the clearings are named after Roman leaders.  We weren't aware of the size of the site until we had a ramble around the curving paths through the woodland.  The 10 static and 120 base pitches for regular weekend and holiday visitors, are all are set up in little clearings, with natural gardens that are beautifully kept by the owners. 

Tidy Loos at Fallowfield
The separate ladies' and mens' loos and shower blocks are pristine.  Showers are free with plenty of hot water.  There are the usual drinking water and chemical toilet emptying points.   There is a laundry room, disabled facilties and an open washing up and veg prep area.  The motorcaravan service point is difficult to get to if you have a larger unit so we drain ours into a container and empty it by hand.

We settled in feeling at home straight away. Putting the kettle on for a cup of tea is one of the first jobs we do.  The electric hook ups are 16 amp so you have no problems if you want to boil a kettle and put the heating on at the same time. 

Go to http://www.fallowfielddene.co.uk/ if you want to find out more about this lovely rural retreat. 

We're so impressed I've just written a review of the site for MMM Magazine which I am hopeful that they will publish.  Keep a look out for it in mag and on http://www.outandaboutlive.co.uk/

Grasshopper spent most of the week polishing Wanda (motorhome).  I spent time exploring, taking out separately Mam and Sis (who live in the area) in our two seater Smartcar.  More about the interesting places we visited in later blogs.




European Song Contest

Congratulations Azerbaijan and singers Ell and Nikki for their winning performance.  That fabulous hair was a worthy winner on its own! 

I enjoyed listening and watching Blue perform ''I can'' and felt it should have been higher up the leader board.  Still - what an improvement on last year's score. 

Wasn't the sand artist who accompanied the Ukraine's Mika Newton, fantastic?  Those skilled hands creating beautiful pictures were hypnotic. 

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Hasta Pronto Lanzarote and Club Tahiti

In the Countryside

To sum up our view of Lanzarote in three words - we loved it.   Would we go back?  Definitely! 
Why?  Well there is lots to do and see which is my reason for holidaying anywhere. The landscape is inspiring and obviously does inspire creativity.  This is evident everywhere.  Plus the Lanzarotian people we met are friendly and helpful.  They also take pride in their island.  Everywhere we visited and drove through is clean and tidy.  We saw no vandalism or scruffy buildings or dirty streets.  There are a lot of British people living and working there.  They seem to like the island lifestyle.

A Creative Landscape at Jameos del Agua
The weather we had in April was (mostly) like a pleasant warm spring in England.  We had rain showers twice and it was windy for 12 of the 14 days, which I could have done without.  However if you could get out of the wind it was very hot.  This is why people get sunburned so easily there.  They sunbathe, the wind cools their skin and they don't realise how hot and burning the sun is.  While we were staying at the Club Tahiti, three girls  got so burned on the first day they were there they spent the next three days huddled in blankets on the sun loungers.  What a waste of a holiday.  So if getting a tan is your reason for holidaying, you'll get one here if you use a good screener and do it slowly.  Find out more about Lanzarote go to http://lanzaroteguidebook.com/

The Club Tahiti. 
Our first favourable impressions of the apartments proved to be correct.  Grasshopper and I found all of the staff very friendly and helpful.  We got the feeling that everyone truly wants the guests to enjoy their holiday and of course return to Club Tahiti.  The light meals and drinks at the pool bar were good - all cooked and served with a smile and chat by a great team.  We enjoyed the toasties, omelette and bacon butties.  You could also play pool or darts in the pool bar area.

Chris leads the entertainment team who all work very hard and are great fun.  There are activities during the day and entertainment most nights.  There is no pressure to join in anything if you prefer to have your own drinks on your balcony, or lounge on your sofa and watch TV (all UK Channels).  The bar staff are all friendly and work their socks off.  The 'a la carte' meals we had in the restaurant were good. We enjoyed the Canarian night.  This was part of a package of three meals including Sunday lunch and a paella night. It wasn't the best paella we'd ever had. 

The receptionists were very pleasant and spoke good English.  I am grateful for the help I got when trying to use the internet to begin my blog.  I hadn't dawned on me that all of the information and instructions would be in Spanish (naturally).

The housekeping staff were absolutely fantastic.  The apartments are cleaned every day, with towels and sheets changed very frequently throughout our stay.  Grasshopper returned to our apartment one day to find the housekeeper standing on the work-top cleaning on top of the kitchen cupboards.  The gardens are well planted and maintained.  The swimming pools, jacuzzi and surrounding area are immaculate too.  There is a nice children's play area.   We were impressed that the General Manager who is based in England regularly visits Club Tahiti.  She was introduced by Chris to everyone in the restaurant one night and made herself available for people to chat to.

It is a longish (but level) walk into Costa Teguise - perhaps about 2 miles.  However the nearest supermarket and a few bars are situated just 8-10 minutes walk away - so you can always refresh yourself on your way.  We like walking so it wasn't a bother for us and we did find a short cut across waste land in the second week. 

If you want 5-star luxury, Club Tahiti may not tick all your boxes.  But if you like a nice place to stay with good clean facilities, equipment that works, a comfortable bed and decent furniture, as well as happy and attentive staff then you will love Club Tahiti.  We will definitely go back.  See more by clicking on:
http://www.seasonsholidays.com/clubtahiti 

By the way we swapped into Club Tahiti through Dial an Exchange.  Go to http://dialanexchange.com/

Sunset from Our Balcony

Jacuzzi Walking

You may not have heard of it but there is a new sport called Jacuzzi Walking.  Our very nice neighbours in the next apartment at Club Tahiti, (I shall call them Bert and Gerta) practiced it every day all day when we were there.  Gerta invented it and told me all about it. 

Every day after breakfast Bert and Gerta entered the Jakuzzi, leaving only for lunch and calls of nature and finally when the sun went down.

The sporting moves are mostly carried out when lying on your back in the water, although it is necessary to rotate from time to time.  Gerta explained that when she lies back and paddles her feet she is in fact hiking to a volcano in the distance.  She asked Grasshopper how far he thinks she has walked up the volcano by the end of the day.  He promises to work it out and let her know the next day.  This he does and she is delighted to find out that at a reasonable walking pace of 3 miles an hour she will have walked 21 miles in her 7 hour day, probably the distance to the volcano and two thirds towards the top.  Say she walks 12 of the 14 days then she will have walked 252 miles during her holiday.  Bert and Gerta have stayed at Club Tahiti 8 times.  That's a fair bit of walking over the years.

Jacuzzi Walking - the Volcano is in the background.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Fundacion Cesar Manrique, Top of the 1001 Ways to use a Volcano

Anyone reading any of my previous blogs will know about Cesar Manrique by now, even if you hadn't heard of him before.  I must admit that I hadn't, until visiting Lanzarote.  Artist, architect, sculptor and environmentalist Manrique was born in Arrecife in 1919, and was to have a profound influence on the shape, spirit and direction of modern Lanzarote.  After graduating from San Fernando Fine Arts Acadamy in Madrid, he travelled the world, before living and exhibiting in New York.  He returned to Lanzarote for good in 1966.  It is as a result of his influence that there are no very high buildings in Lanzarote.  There are many examples of his work everywhere on the island.  His public art is unmissable - giganitic mobiles on roundabouts, huge sculptures of wood, metal and concrete on sea fronts and imposing sentinels at harbour mouths. The interesting Castillo de San Jose, on the outskirts of Arrecife was thoughtfully restored by Manrique.  You can see his signature style in the spacious restaurant (and loos!).  We had coffee. The menu looked good and not too pricey.  We plan to enjoy a meal there at a future visit.  The Castillo houses a modern art collection which looks well displayed on the ancient stone walls.

For me the best of Cesar Manrique is encapsulated in his home in Tahiche  A house that uses the lava bubbles to create unique rooms to fit your mood and the time of day, as well as a delightful swimming pool and barbeque area has to come top of the list of imaginative uses for lava rock.

The gardens are a delight, as expected - a blending of nature and art.  I came back armed with photos and ideas of creating a more modest sized version of the colourful mosaic in our garden. 

There are plenty of places to sit amongst the flowers, or in the shade and enjoy a sandwich and a drink bought from the kiosk. The small shop sells reasonably priced jewellery and gifts  some made by local artisans.  The ground floor of the house is modern with displays of Manrique's work.  His paintings, drawings, designs for buildings are exhibited.  There are also many paintings by other notable artists. 

Descend the stairs into the best cave dwelling you are ever likely to see.  Troglodytes never had it this good.  Each 'bubble' is strikingly furnished, lit from the open sky or by subdued electric lighting.  You move through tunnels cut in the rock to the next bubble and the next mood.  Did he use one breakfast, have lunch in another, chat over after dinner drinks in another... etc etc?

The swimming pool is a miniature version of the blue lagoon at Jameous del Agua.  What parties he must have had.  I wanted to move in immediately.

Dive In.
A big screen in the gallery upstairs runs photographs of the artist throughout his life.  He died in 1992.  By that time he was living in Haria.  Because of the numbers of visitors to his house in Tahiche, it no longer felt like his own.

Monday, 9 May 2011

1001 Ways to Use a Volcano (continued)

When you are visiting La Cueva de Los Verdes, if you haven't had too much of caves, you might want to pop across to the other side of the crossroads to another of Cesar Manrique's brainchilds - Jameos del Agua.  This is quite a different experience, so like Grasshopper and me, you may prefer to make this another unique day out.  Go to http://www.centrosturisticos.com/ for details of the Jameos and other places that combine art, culture and nature.

The Jameous are craters formed when the roof of the lava tunnel from La Corona Volcano caved in millions of years ago.  They are at the sea end of the tunnel and are an example of Manrique's mission to meld nature with art.  We weren't sure what to expect, especially after meeting a couple in the Jardin de Cactus who raved about the place and it's layers of surpises.  We weren't disappointed. 

We descended again into a hole in the ground and came into a large, open area where you can enjoy refreshments and light meals.  Very nice we thought, but lets see what's in the next bit.  Going downwards  into the dark again we entered a domed grotto with an underground lake which has water filtered through the rock above.  The lake is the unique home of rare blind albino crabs that are only about 2cm long. To see a photo of these creatures visit http://randomwritingsofagrasshopper.blogspot.com/
After admiring the crabs, and tut tutting at the evidence of people who had thrown coins into the water despite notices requesting people not to (it harms the crabs apparently), we walked on hoping there would be more opportunities for a coffee.  Sure enough tables and chairs were set out in another large area on numerous levels, divided by plants of all types.

There are huge sail-like sun shade/rain covers which are suspended over the gaps in the rocks above. It had been raining, so we mopped down a couple of seats that had missed the overhead protection. Coffee was good and not too pricey, and we shared our muffin with the very colourful and tame sparrows that beg for food.  Go to Grasshopper's blog (see above) to see greedy spuggies. 

We climbed again towards the light, and were gobsmacked to find ourselve in a huge crater, rocky walls towering above us, open to the sky, and beautifully masquerading as a South Sea Island blue lagoon complete with palms, figs and an array of exotic plants, surrounded by a wide, white walkway looking for all the world like a sandy beach.

Off this lagoon, you can choose to descend into anther auditorium grotto, or climb up rocky steps and lush planting to the next  restful gardens.  We bought inexpensive, tasty local ham and cheese bagettes here, and ate them under the protection of an arbour as it was very windy the day we visited. 

Winner of the Curious Fish Smart Loo Award
At the risk of looking as if I have a thing about loos, I must tell you that toilets we went to on this top level are pristine, complete with plants and terracotta pots (not glued down -  they would never last in the UK).

The Jameos del Agua is so large that there is also a musuem displaying equipment used in measuring seismic activity.  There are different types of volcanic rock exhibited and information about the important research and educational work being carried out in field of vulcanolgy. 

I saw some nice peridot and silver jewellery that seemed reasonably priced in the gift shop.  Apparently it is possible to walk along the beach at Playa de Janubio, picking up pieces of black lava rock that hide the green gemstone olivine (or peridot) inside.  I didn't get to do this nor did I give in to temptation in the gift shop, so there's another treat for our next visit.

Jameos Del Agua is a fascinating place to visit.  Next time we go we would like to have dinner there one evening and attend an event in the auditorium.

1001 Ways to Use a Volcano

I wrote in a previous blog that I think that the Lanzarotians must be a most resilient, inventive and creative people.  The Canary Islands erupted from the sea millions of years ago. 
Lanzarote's dramatic, mountainous landscape is the result of a fractured Earth spewing molten rock from it's core   The most recent eruptions devastated the agricultural heart of the island between 1730 and 1736.  Clearly never subjugated by the earth's power, the island's people have used the results of these cataclysmic events resourcefully to keep themselves safe, fed, refreshed and artistically enriched. 

Entrance to La Cueva de los Verdes, Monte Corona in the background
Lighting the way through the grottoes 
We visited the Cuevos de Los Verdes, which are impressive grottoes connected by lava tunnels deep below the earth's surface.  The multi-lingual Lanzarotian guide explained that the tunnels were formed between three and five thousand years ago when Monte Corona erupted and lava streamed the 6km to the sea.  The surface cooled, but lava still flowed beneath the earth's crust.  Gas bubbles exploded, forming huge cathedral like caves.  We walked the 2km now open to the public.  This is fairly easy to walk, although there are steep steps in parts.  The tunnels and caves are lit to show the grottoes and underground lake to advantage. 

The guide explained that the tunnel stretches all the way to Monte Corona, and within the remaining 4kms there is a laboratory where vulcanologists monitor seismic activity around the Canary Islands. 

He told us that when the Lanzarote was a frequent 'stop over' for pirates and slave traders, the inhabitants used to hide in the caves until the coast was clear.  It is easy to imagine people being able to live quite comfortably.  The caves are dry and temperate.  You feel a flow of fresh air, and there is fresh water filtered by the rocks above. 

Is this auditorium the deepest in the world?
Most amazingly there is a huge auditorium, where concerts are frequently performed.  There were no productions during our stay, but the acoustics must be wonderful in this huge cavern.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Jardin de Cactus


Cacti, but not as we know them. 

You must go.  Yes I know it feels a bit desperate to visit a cactus garden for something to do, yet I can tell you that you will be amazed and happy you did!  http://lanzarote.com/jardin-de-cactus 

The huge botanical garden (designed by Cesar Manrique, of course) houses the late botanist Estanislao Gonz├ílez Ferrer's grand collection of cacti from America, Madagascar and the Canary Islands.  They are landscaped amongst some of Cesar's sculptures in the dramatic setting of an old volcanic ash quarry.  Volcanic ash is used by farmers to cover crops to retain moisture from the early morning dew. 

We looked for the cochineal beetle that feeds on one variety of cactus.  No luck. Perhaps it was the wrong time of year.  The whole place is well kept and there is an interesting little gift shop.  There is also a restaurant where the waiters can quickly come up with a first aid box, if you do as I did and lacerate your calf on a cactus when you step back for a photo. 

Once again there are very clean public toilets.  They also benefit from having more creative signage than normal.

No mistaking the ladies loos.




Monday, 2 May 2011

Driving in Lanzarote.

Lanzarotian Art in Teguise
Grasshopper and I were pleased we'd hired a car for the fortnight.  Not only did it cost about the same for the hire as it would have done to get a taxi to and from the airport, we could explore Lanzarote and discover the many treats it offers inquisitive holiday makers.  I found the roads easy to drive on, in good condition and well marked.  They are not too busy, apart from in and around Arrecife in the rush hour.   Car parking was free everywhere we went!  Fuel is much cheaper than in the UK.  We booked the car in advance from Goldcar Rental and picked it up (with no fuss from a pleasant English speaking assistant) at Arrecife Airport on arrival.  It gave us no bother the whole time we were there and the drop off on our return to the airport at the end of the holiday was also conducted pleasantly and easily.  Hire cost was very reasonable as was the cost of additional insurance.  Go to http://www.goldcar.es/

In between pick up and drop off, we enjoyed stress free drives to numerous places of interest including the fishing villages of Arrietta and Orzola in the North, peaceful Haria and Teguise in the mountains, Timanfaya National Park, the fertile central wine growing region, and some of the varied artistic, historic, architectural and natural attractions that Cesar Manrique was involved with. 

Inland Teguise, once the capital of Lanzarote, is a picturesque small town with 17th century buildings and cobbled streets.  We loved it. Interesting individual shops and galleries cluster off the tiny square, where  the main church - Neustro Senora de Guadalupe is situated.  In the square we visited the Palacio Spinola (also renovated by Cesar Manrique.  Is there anything he didn't have a hand in?).  As well as being a beautiful building, it houses the Timple Museum.  The Timple is a small Canarian stringed instrument.  We enjoyed the videos being shown.  One of the instruments being lovingly made, and another of musicians playing wonderful music.  Other beautifully crafted similar instruments from around the world are also displayed.  Entry is free.

A quiet corner in the Palacio Spinola
The Sunday Market takes place in the huge square on the outskirts of the village.  Below is a photo of the market square.  We visited midweek and as you see it was very quiet.  There are very clean public toilets in this square.  With only a couple of exceptions, loo hygiene is splendid everywhere on the island. 


The Spacious Market Square in Teguise
 


Remembering Carnival Time in Costa Teguise

Movers and Shakers

Although the Carnival in Lanzarote is now a month ago, the holiday snaps have brought back memories of duelling drummers, gorgeous dancers, exotic floats, with whole familes dressed in fantastic costumes.  Local people and holiday makers enjoying fun together.  It seemed that the whole population was out having a wonderful time.  Witches, gladiators, Egyptian Pharoes and handmaidens, little devils and even curious fish marching and dancing.  When the chilly wind got too much, there were plenty of bars and restaurants open if you wanted a meal or just a coffee.  All ages mixed happily together. Although there was a police presence, we saw no trouble.  After a few coffees and local brandies we danced our way back to Club Tahiti.  Grasshopper and I enjoyed the most belly laughs together we'd had in a long time.
Angel Fish