Manolis, our obliging landlord at the Eleonas Country Village, organised an ancient treat for our last day on Crete. Our evening flight gave us plenty of time for a two-centre Minoan tour – the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and Knossos, the jewel in the Minoan crown.
The cool and well-appointed museum brings together archaeological finds from all over Crete, covering over 5,500 years of the island’s rich and varied history. Unsurprisingly, pride of place is given to the draw-dropping treasures of the Minoans. Let the pictures speak for themselves.
Next stop the palace complex at Knossos, one of the most famous archaeological sites in all of Greece, if not the world. The terms ‘Knossos’ and ‘Minoan’ are lifted straight from Greek legend – King Minos and the labyrinth he used to imprison his son, the bull-headed minotaur. Nobody knows what the ancient Cretans actually called themselves, but judging by the artefacts and frescos, they were obsessed with their bulls.
Experts still squabble over the historical record but there is general agreement that Knossos eventually became the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilisation and culture. The first palace complex was established around 4,000 years ago (with traces going back a further 4,000 years) and abandoned at some time towards the end of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1380–1100 BCE). That’s seriously old.
Knossos today is overrun by visitors and we just added to the number wandering around the site on raised walkways to help preserve the delicate ruins beneath their feet. What people see is a partial reconstruction as imagined by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans who did most of the digging in the last century. Purists dismiss his confection as fanciful at best. Authentic or not, for the average punter, the site is spectacular and evocative in a way unmatched by many other ancient sites. We all queued up patiently to see the ‘Throne Room’. And who wouldn’t?
It was one of those warm and overcast days threatening thunderstorms that saw us at Sculthorpe Mill near the pint-sized market town of Fakenham, about 25 miles north-west of Norwich. The mill sits astride the River Wensum and there’s been a watermill on the site since the time of the Domesday Book of 1086. These days they’re pulling pints rather than grinding corn. Outside, the grounds were trickling and luscious – at this time of year, Norfolk simply glows with bounty, even when the sun struggles to poke through. Inside, the mill was as quiet as a silent order. A little background music on a low setting would have lifted the mood a notch or two.
We were in attendance for the annual general meeting with Jo Parfitt, my partner in crime and the force of nature that is Summertime Publishing. Jo brought her delicious mother along for a light bite too. Lunch was nice and we quickly whistled through the agenda to get to the gossip. By any-other-business, the sun decided to put in a late appearance and we couldn’t resist a few snaps sitting on the old mill pond wall.
After lunch, Jo dropped us in Fakenham to catch our bus back to Norwich. Fakenham was once described as ‘the most boring place on Earth’ in a travel guide. Although the quote was actually taken out of context, it’s rather stuck. Fake news for Fakenham? Perhaps, but despite a few pretty buildings, it did have a one-cow-town feel to it. Sad but true.
While we’re away lotus-eating on Crete, supping and splashing about, here are a few random snaps of Norwich, ‘a fine city’ according to the civic slogan – to remind us that, as Dorothy said in Oz, there’s no place like home. As dedicated friends of Dorothy, we are in full agreement.
On the second day of our London jolly, we were planning to take in the view from the Shard, until we realised it was thirty quid a piece. So it was enough to see the tallest building in the European Union (not for much longer, of course) from the window of our hotel room. Instead we opted for a slow stroll through the City to the Museum of London. Well, it was free.
Along the way we crossed the Millennium Bridge, skirted around the magnificent St Paul’s, walked beneath Temple Bar and took a snap of Channel Four’s First Dates restaurant.
The Square Mile may be a throbbing epicentre of money and modernity, but the street plan is distinctly medieval and there was a surprise up every alley.
The Museum of London is one of my favourites – quirky, informative and well worth the free entrance!
After a couple of hours travelling from pre-history to the filthy lucre, the West End beckoned and we jumped on a bus to Soho, our spiritual home.
Late lunch was a bowl of Thai at the Tuk Tuk Noodle Bar on Old Compton Street – delicious and still ridiculously cheap – followed by a happy hour or two with the brethren outside the Duke of Wellington. As the warming sun began to set, we headed back to Bankside for an early evening cuddle.
And so ended a glorious few days in the big metropolis. As writer and clergyman Donald Lupton said of London in 1632,
‘…she swarms with all ages, natures, sexes, callings… she seems to be a glutton, for she desires always to be full.’
Amen to that.
When Liam planned our ‘jolly’ down memory lane, he wasn’t to know it would be the hottest May Day holiday on record. The Sun puts a smile on everyone’s face, doesn’t it? And we smiled our way round Bankside, my favourite district of London. Back when the first Elizabeth was on the throne, old Southwark was a riot of licentiousness – playhouses, brothels and taverns – beyond the jurisdiction of the City of London’s buttoned-up elders who wagged their fingers from the other side of the Thames. This is where Will Shakespeare plied his trade among the players, the prostitutes and the drunks. That’s my kind of town.
Not that there are many ne’er-do-wells milling around these days. The area has cleaned up its act and is now home to over-priced flats, over-priced eateries, over-priced bars, world-class modern art and a working replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It certainly pulls in the crowds.
I went all thespian and began to recite the only lines I could remember from my part in a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream circa 1976…
You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear
The smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor,
May now perchance both quake and tremble here,
When lion rough in wildest rage doth roar.
And roar I did, when Snug the Joiner became the lion in a rabbit costume smelling of mothballs and accessorised with an improvised mane. Times were hard in the seventies.
Liam decided my hammy Shakespeare was putting off the tourists and bundled me onto a riverboat and took me to a different kind of theatrical show – a little fairy dusting of trad drag.
It was an eventful afternoon made all the more eventful by the delightful boys from the Abbey Rugby Club in Reading. They were on a ‘Monopoly board tour’ and had landed on Trafalgar Square for a queer beer. Well fancy that. And I did.
A bitter east wind blew us into Strangers’ Hall with its unassuming entrance on Charing Cross. That’s Charing Cross in Norwich not its more celebrated twin in Central London from where all distances from the city are measured.
Home to wealthy merchants, sheriffs and mayors during Norwich’s textile heyday, Strangers’ Hall is so called in recognition of the ‘strangers’ – asylum-seeking weavers from the Low Countries who helped make Norwich rich during the Tudor period. It was a time when the English weren’t quite so mean to economic migrants – or at least understood their value. Tucked behind the busy street, the lovingly preserved building dates right back to 1320 and is a hotchpotch of inter-linked rooms dressed to impress like a period drama – Tudor, Stuart, Georgian and Victorian. You half expect Dames Judi, Maggie and Penelope to wander through in bonnets and bodices. It’s a great way to keep out of the cold and a bargain at just a fiver.
Here are a few momentos.
Liam likes his old bowls.
And his arty through the looking glass pics.
With low eastern skies the colour of Milk of Magnesia, I’ve been pining for the hazy days of last summer when we were giants of the steam age, quite a result for a hobbit like me. It was the hottest August bank holiday in years when we rode the Dinky toy Bure Valley Railway to…
…experience a nostalgic trip by steam on Norfolk’s longest narrow gauge railway which runs between the historic market town of Aylsham and bustling town of Wroxham, at the heart of the Norfolk Broads…
… as it says in the blurb. We choo-choo’d past lush, glowing pastures. Our green and pleasant flatland had never seemed quite so green or quite so pleasant. For the spotty trainspotters among you, here are a few snaps to put you in the picture.
And, as per, Liam had to do the
silly arty video. It’s enough to make you travel sick. No, really, it is.
Ours was to be a two-centre beano, or so I’d been promised. At the end of the line, Liam had intended to press gang me onto a double-decker pleasure boat to cruise the Norfolk Broads. For the uninitiated, the Broads are a network of flooded medieval peat excavations popular with those who like to mess about in boats. As much as I love a landscape of reed-beds, grazing marshes, rare wildlife and wet woodland, it was the on-board bar which really drew me in. Sadly, the rest of Norfolk had the same idea and we couldn’t get a ticket for love nor money. We settled for a bottle by the Bure instead. Daffy, the nosey duck wasn’t too impressed by the vintage. I don’t blame him.