A Walk in the Woods on the Isle of Wight

Thanks to the glorious weather currently being enjoyed by most people in the UK, I’ve been able to explore some of the hidden gems on the Isle of Wight, England’s island in the Solent, and home for many years to Queen Victoria and her family.  Just ten minutes by fast catamaran from Portsmouth, or twenty minutes by Fast Jet from Southampton, the island is one of the UK’s favouite holiday resorts.

Apart from the delightful sandy beaches of Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor, and the pebbly beaches and rockpools of Bembridge and Seaview, there are miles of coastal, forest and woodland walks.  Yesterday I took myself into the woods at Borthwood Copse, near the ancient village of Alverstone, to view the bluebells.  To see these at their best I shall have to return in about a week’s time I think, but meantime, those that were in bloom, made a lovely misty blue carpet under the trees.

Before entering the woods, I popped into the Hide at the Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve to see if I could spot a red squirrel (the island is one of the few places where these delightful little creatures have managed to fight off the grey squirrel predators) and I was lucky enough to see one.  Just outside the entrance, there is a list of what birds have been spotted that day (see image).  What a wonderful resource for anyone visiting, especially bird watchers.  I spent far too long in the Hide, absorbed by the ducks, geese and other wildlife that had nested on the pond below, so had to cut my walk short in order to meet up with friends for lunch in nearby Godshill.

The woods were magical.  Few people were walking there, a few had well behaved dogs on leads, most had cameras and many took advantage of the tree stumps dotted around the place, to rest and gaze at the myriad shades of green that formed the woods.  There were copper coloured leaves on the ground which made a contrast to the young green of new shoots, the fallen tree-trunks stretched across them like an illustration from a fairy tale.  I could imagine Red Riding Hood wandering through just such woods as these.

The Palio, Siena, and Horse Deaths

The famous Siena Palio is under attack from politicians and animal activists who feel that too many horses are dying on the streets of ancient towns as horse racing in Italian streets continues to attract crowds.

Scene of the Palio, Piazza del Campo

The famous Palio in Siena which is staged on July 2nd and August 16th each year in the beautiful medieval Piazza del Campo has been pitting jockeys from different neighbourhoods against one another, since the middle of the 17th century.  Amid pageantry and crowds dressed up for the occasion, horses ridden by ten colourfully dressed bareback jockeys, earlier chosen from Siena’s 17 quarters, gallop three times in two minutes around the Piazza del Campo, during which they lash both their rivals and their horses with whips made from bull penises.

Spectacle without the Horse Racing at Siena’s Palio

For those who want to avoid the actual horse racing but who would like to see a little of the pageantry, go to Siena a few weeks before.  During the lead-up to the main event, and especially at the weekends, the neighbourhood support groups march through the streets and alleys of the town, narrowly avoiding confrontations with each other through luck more than route savvy.  These groups are magnificently dressed in medieval costumes as they strut through the town, accompanied by their bands and sundry followers.  The core group can be composed of the very elderly to the very young, all staunch members of one particular group, although I never saw any women marching.

If by chance two groups should meet, an exchange of insults is par for the course with the occasional brandishing of swords.  Worse for the onlooker is the discordance of two bands playing different local anthems!

Siena in Tuscany, near Florence and Pisa

There is accommodation around the square with balconies from which to view the racing, or there is seating on certain balconies rented out for those willing to pay a premium, but this needs to be booked up early.

Siena is a magnificent town, it rivals Florence in many ways, and is easily reached by train or coach from Pisa to which most of the airlines fly these days.  It is also within easy reach of Florence and could be the centre of a Tuscany touring holiday giving you access to a wealth of medieval hillside towns as well as the better known artistic centres.  And when in the area, do visit the magnificent little hamlet of Civita di Bagnoregio just a few miles away.  It has a population of only ten people as it was dying at one point but efforts are being made to restore the glorious medieval properties some dating from the Etruscan period.

I shall be returning this year, not for the Palio, but to enjoy the Piazza del Campo where it seems all Italian life is lived, to revel in the beauty of the town, and to eat some truly fabulous food.

Siena Tourist Office

Bangkok – City of Angels

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Orchids on display in  one of Bangkok’s markets

The City of Angels is one translation of the name Bangkok, but the reputation it has in the world today has more to do with sinners methinks.  Do not let this deter anyone from visiting this fabulous city, chock full of amazing sites from the red lacquer and gold leafed temples to the famed River of Kings, the Chao Phraya, that meanders through the city.

P1030857

Add to those the Grand Palace, actually a complex of beautiful buildings, temples, wall murals, and temples:  Wat Arun the famous Temple of Dawn; Chinatown alive with noise and bustle day and night, the best shopping in Asia without a doubt, and great food, roof top bars with the Wow! factor, and the Skytrain to get you from one place to the other in comfort, and you can understand why Thailand is a top destination today.

P1030873I returned from Bangkok just a few weeks ago laden with trinkets, silks and wood carvings as usual.  My regular visits do not mean that I don’t shop as avidly as I always did.  If anything, the growth of the fashion industry in Thailand and the increase in skilled staff in the carving and gem departments, makes it more difficult to resist.

P1030826

I still visit the Grand Palace to wonder at the magnificence, and Chinatown at night for fun eating and bargains as well as other favourite haunts.  And I always stroll through the infamous Patpong just to see how it expands and still welcomes families as well as single males and females.  It’s not generally known but all visitors are welcome there, and safe.  Watch this space for an article on the streets known as Patpong I and Patpong II, and the other area where the sex trade is practised openly, Soi Cowboy.

Hua Hin – Thailand’s Royal Town

People often ask what is my favourite town or city in Thailand.  The answer is easy, it is Hua Hin, a once quiet fishing village on the Gulf of Siam, two hours drive from Bangkok, and a world away from the bustle and noise of the capital city.  Mind you, Bangkok is up there with the favourites as well, but it is the capital city after all, and all capital cities are deserving of their popularity.

I have been visiting Hua Hin for about 25 years now, stopping off on every holiday to recharge my batteries in the peace and tranquillity of one of the hotels just outside the town.  For the last twenty years, that hotel has been the Dusit Thani Hua Hin, a 5-star establishment that attracts guests from far and wide, but it also pleases the Thai people because come the week-end, they flock to it for the great food (especially the Saturday night barbecue), the delightful seaside setting, and the chance to go horse-riding at dawn on the beach (the only hotel at which this is available).

Today’s Hua Hin owes much of its popularity to the fact that many people discovered it only after the tsunami that devastated the southern beaches of Phi Phi, Phuket, Kao Lak etc.  Before the tsunami it could be said that the fishing village atmosphere was very evident, but today, the little fishing harbour is being crowded by the shops, restaurants, and tailors that line the roads leading to the sea.

Most of the major hotel chains have a presence here – Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Aleena, Sofitel, and of course, the already mentioned, Dusit Thani.  I choose The Dusit Thani because it is a purely Thai owned hotel with service and attention to detail that reflects the Thai ideal of hospitality.  All these hotels have excellent restaurants but Hua Hin itself must be one of the best towns in which to find food from every nation.  As well as Thai restaurants, of which there are many, there are Chinese, French, German, Indian, Italian, Korean, Swiss, Japanese, Vietnamese, American and European/Mediterranean fusion.

With the growth of a well-heeled retirement colony in the town, bakeries have sprung up as well as cheese and meat importers.  Fresh vegetables can be purchased daily at the local market, or there is a Tesco/Lotus supermarket for those who feel the need for packaged veggies and air-conditioned stores.

Hua Hin is one of the most popular spots to which people want to retire as the climate is never too hot or too humid, unlike say Phuket or the islands in the south.  It is also within easy reach of Bangkok, there is a good transport network, and, there are six championship golf courses in the area.

Asian Travels – Mari Nicholson

I have decided to split my travel blogging into two separate areas, one for my forays into East Asia, an area of the world in which I travel extensively, and one for Europe.  I hope it will be easy for the readers to navigate between the two, and I hope I manage to leave links where necessary.

I have decided to call this one Asian travels, and the one for my European excursions I propose calling, surprise surprise, European Travels.

This year I have spent quite a bit of time in Thailand, my all-time favourite country, during which I managed to visit Koh Samui – just avoiding the flooding which hit the island shortly after I left – and I spent some time in Hua Hin, the Thai Royals’ favourite resort on the Gulf.  I also spent time in Khao Sok National Park and in Khao Yai National Park, two quite different areas of forest land, one to the North of Bangkok and one way down South, near Krabi, Phuket, and Surat Thani.

I hope you’ll check in occasionally to read my articles, maybe to ask me some questions, or leave a comment.  This is just ‘Hello’ for today.  First blog coming up soon.