What is bonfire night in England?


This shows someone holding a lit sparklerPlease to remember the fifth of November

I got the idea for this post  from a cyber exchange with an American blogger.  She wrote a post  about things she loves about the fall.  At the end she asked her readers ” what do you love about the fall?”   I answered “burning the guy on bonfire night”.  She quickly sent back a shocked reply  asking “is there  a typo in your comment?”

I am taking a blogging course and today’s challenge is to “write a post aimed at a particular reader containing at least one element you have not used before”.   So here goes…

I realise that visitors from overseas might not know about bonfire night  and how and why we celebrate it on November 5th each year.

People watching a bonfire
Crowds enjoying a bonfire

Bonfire Night

Every year in England on November 5th, people light bonfires and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes.

Fifty years ago  when I was young, children would make a dummy by stuffing some old clothes with straw and then beg for “a penny for the guy”  for a few weeks before November 5th .  (My mother did not approve of this so I did not join in).    Most families would save up dead leaves and other garden rubbish and have a big bonfire and fireworks in their garden.  Mothers prepared hotdogs and toffee apples. This was long before men learnt how to barbecue.  Excited children saved their pocket money for sparklers, Catherine wheels, bangers and rockets.

In England it is now more usual for people to attend public firework displays with better health and safety regulations.  Children often still have some smaller fireworks at home. Fortunately they are no longer allowed to buy fireworks or beg for pennies. If you go outside you will see fireworks being let off long into the night and some people still make a guy to burn on the bonfire.

Guy Fawkes with a bonfire on the left and Gun powder Barrels on the right
Guy Fawkes with his barrels

What is the story behind bonfire night?

On the 5th of November 1605  a group of conspirators tried to blow up the houses of Parliament when King James 1st was visiting to open the new session.     The conspirators wanted England to return to Catholicism. They even managed to place 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellar.  Luckily for the King they were betrayed when one of the plotters wrote a letter to his friend who worked in the house of commons telling him to stay away.  Guy Fawkes the unfortunate man who had been left to light the fuse was discovered.  The rest of the plotters were arrested and executed as well.  Later The king ordered that bonfires be lit to celebrate his narrow escape and this has become an annual event.

if you click the first line of this post you will find a You tube video of a well known nursery rhyme which commemorates this day which was originally known as treason and plot day.  It is now usually called Guy Fawkes night or simply bonfire night.

A short video of fireworks

 

Please to remember
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.

 

P.S. Waverley Thames Cruise to Tower Pier

A few weeks ago I received an exciting e.mail from Silver travel advisor, a website for the mature traveller.  I learnt  that I had won a twinkling Thames cruise aboard the paddle steamer Waverley and a night bed and breakfast at the Croydon Hilton in the monthly draw. The prize was provided by Just Go Holidays

PS Waverley

The paddlesteamer at sea.
This is a stock photo as we enjoyed a night time cruise

 PS Waverley claims to be the last ocean going paddle steamer.  She was launched in 1946 to take passengers for cruises on the Scottish lochs. Her  name comes from a novel by Sir Walter Scott.  Originally   she was owned by the LNES railway company and  provided excursions for rail passengers to Scotland. However  these excursions became less popular as more people bought cars and train travel went out of fashion.

PS Waverley is now owned and operated as a charity by a preservation trust who have lovingly restored her.  They take her   around the British Isles, spending the Spring in Scotland, before moving down to Liverpool and later the West country before sailing on the Thames  in the Autumn.  My husband sailed on her about fifty years ago when she was much newer but this was my first time on board.

Saturday

We opted to make our own way to the hotel in Croydon. I had never stayed in a Hilton hotel before as  I normally opt for budget travel and was not sure what to expect. The hotel was very good but not as swanky as I expected. I was quite glad I was not spending my own money.  Coffee in the bar was £4.00 a cup and wine £8.00 a glass.   I was able to catch up with an old school friend who lives in Croydon for coffee before we met the rest of the coach party.  We were taken by coach to Graves End where we  embarked on PS Waverley for our evening trip up the river Thames to  central London

The Thames estuary has been transformed in recent years and is now home to several hundred seals and even this month a beluga whale. I was hoping to see some marine life but was unlucky.  We opted to have a meal on board and were able to eat a very good curry while sailing past the docks at Tilbury.  We then had a chance to look at the well polished and beautifully maintained engines before going out on deck to listen to a commentary on the sites of London.

I was amazed at the size of the Thames flood barrage and pleased to see Greenwich and the Cutty Sark.   We also sailed past the Millenium dome now the O2 arena and Canary wharf.  The cruise ended at Tower Pier.

People onboard P.S. Waverley watching the London skyline
Watching the London skyline from PS Waverley
photo William Fraser

Tower bridge was opened so PS Waverley could sail underneath which made us feel quite important.

Passengers onboard PS Waverley watching Tower bridge opening
They opened Tower bridge so we could dock at Tower Pier.
photo William Fraser

Sunday

After a night at the hotel and a very good full English breakfast we went by coach  to central London.  We  met our son who teaches in London and strolled round Hyde park admiring the variety of bird life including the noisy parakeets, waterfowl and herons.  The three of us enjoyed traditional wood cooked Pizza at the Serpentine restaurant which I thoroughly recommend.

The cafe has indoor and outdoor seating and overlooks the water.
We enjoyed traditional wood cooked Pizza while watching the Water fowl on the Serpentine
Just a goose waiting to be fed
Geese by the Serpentine

If you want to find out more about the river Thames or London I can recommend these two books.  (disclosure if you click my links I get a small bonus).

Five things to see in Prague

This year my daughter is teaching in a village school just outside Prague.  She has introduced her pupils to the game “Simon says” and it has quickly become a firm favourite.  For those of you who have not played it, the teacher gives a list of instructions and you have to obey those that have the phrase “Simon says” before them and ignore those that don’t.  It is good for teaching a foreign language as the children have to  listen if they want to win the game.

These are a few of my “Simon says visit.. ” places in Prague.

The dancing house

This is one of the few modern buildings in the heart of Prague. It is supposed to look like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing.
The Dancing house. The stone tower is supposed to be Fred Astaire and the glass tower is supposed to be Ginger Rogers.

The buildings in Prague were largely undamaged during the second world war. However one American bomber pilot got lost on his way to Dresden and damaged a building in the heart of Prague.   The Croatian architect Vlado Milunic and the famous Canadian architect Frank Gehry were commissioned to design a new building and in 1996 the dancing house was opened.  It is now a hotel with the Fred and Ginger restaurant on the fourth floor.

The  Prague Astronomical clock

The picture shows the dial of the Prague astronomical clock.
The Astronomical clock. This is a stock photo as the original is being restored.

The famous astronomical clock on the town hall probably dates back to 1410.  Though extra features were added later. As well as the time, days of the week and months it shows the signs of the zodiac, and the phases of the moon.  On the hour figures emerge including a skeleton, vanity worshiping his reflection in a mirror and greed counting his money.  There are also the twelve apostles and the Christ child. We were unable to see it when we visited Prague but work is supposed to finish by November 2018.

The John Lennon graffiti wall

This shows a section of wall covered in spray paint with very prominant paintings of John Lennon
The John Lennon graffiti wall. For a long time this was the only part of Prague where graffiti was allowed. Photograph Angela Fraser

For a long time this was the only place in Prague where graffiti was allowed.  I come from Bristol home of Banksy and must admit I wish sometimes our local council would adopt a  similar policy.

A dancing bear

The photo shows a polar bear dancing in the street.
In earlier times real bears would have danced for tourists. Now it is just a couple of people in a bear suit. Photograph Angela Fraser

Prague has always attracted tourists and one of the popular street acts would have been a dancing bear.  When I was in Prague I saw the more traditional brown bear but my daughter spotted this polar bear.

A questionable sculpture

This shows two men urinating into a pool shaped like a map of Czechia
This sculpture is outside the Franz Kafka museum.

I am not sure what I can say about this sculpture. It is outside the Franz Kafka museum and is called Piss. The pool represents a map of Czechia. You were able to text a message by phone and the men would “write it”.

This post follows on from Prague a short visit to Czechia’s fairy tale capital.

If you want to find out more about Prague

 

Madeira: visiting the garden island

A photo of the succulent beds in the botanic garden
This is the famous view of the botanic gardens in Madeira which we were lucky enough to visit a few years ago. The colours are all produced  using succulents. A photo like mine seems to be  in all holiday brochures.

A Bristol  coach firm used to run a winter trip to Kew Gardens in London.  Unsurprisingly the orchid house at Kew quickly became one of my favourite places to visit when the evenings became darker.  For a short while we could forget the British winter and imagine we were walking through the tropics.  So  I thought I would share a few photos and memories from a winter trip Bill and I made to Madeira a few years ago in case any of my readers were also feeling the onset of winter blues.

Pink and red flowers covering a wall.
This photo was taken in winter when my own garden at home was looking very bare.

History

Most guidebooks claim that the island of  Madeira which lies in the Atlantic off the coast of North Africa  was discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century. However there is some evidence that the Romans knew of its existence.  What does seem to be true is that when the first Portuguese sailors landed there it was uninhabited.  Unlike the Canary islands which belong to Spain, Madeira is still part of Portugal.

Madeira  is one of the few places in Europe where sugar cane can be cultivated.  Luckily for the early settlers sugar was much in demand and plantation owners became very rich.   One of the early sugar traders was Christopher Columbus who lived on Porto Santo a small island off Madeira and married a local girl before discovering America.  These days  a replica of one of his ships is used to take people on trips round the bay.

This photo shows the striking large flowers of Aloes over looking the sea.
Aloe flowers. This is the same family as the Aloe Vera used in sun cream.

Botany

Being a volcanic island Madeira has no native plants or animals.  Everything has been imported by sailors or carried by the sea or the wind.  When they first arrived the Portuguese  found a wooded island. Fortunately they had experience coping with the dry Atlantic climate.  Cloud usually covers the top of the extinct volcano.  The first  settlers dug ditches called Levadas  to collect the moisture from these clouds and so irrigate their fields.  Remarkably, some of these date back 500 years and are still in use.  Now they are popular with hikers who want to climb into the mountain.

The soil is extremely fertile and there are few natural pests.  The Portuguese King, Henry the navigator encouraged settlers and the island soon became an important refuelling stop for sailors attempting to reach South America or the West Indies.      Sailors returning from transatlantic voyages often brought back seeds and exotic animals and birds. One eccentric landowner even gave tickets to one of his balls to any one bringing back a new plant.

Madeira is now nicknamed the garden island and here are two gardens I would recommend visiting.  Both gardens are situated on the side of a steep hill so visitors need a reasonable level of fitness.

The  botanic gardens

If you like plants a visit to the botanic gardens is a must. It is a little old fashioned . As well as local plants they have a large collection of plants from Africa and South America.

The gardens also have a collection of parrots. The first time we visited it was also home to Madeira’s oldest inhabitant, a giant tortoise, reputed to be 140 years old.

The botanic gardens are in the village of Monte high above the capital Funchal.  You can reach it by   bus or cable car.   Fit local men push the braver tourists back down the hill in toboggans.

The picture shows the cable car above the houses
We rode in the cable car up to the Botanic garden and enjoyed spectacular views over Funchal.

Monte Palace garden

Another interesting garden close by is the tropical  palace garden which has displays about the history of Madeira.  It also has a large collection of decorated tiles and a gallery with displays of Zimbabwean sculpture and rocks and crystals from around the world.

A chinese garden with a red fence.
The Chinese garden is part of the tropical garden
The photograph shows a black carved African figure
Part of the display of Zimbabwean sculpture in the tropical Palace garden

Nowadays Madeira is a popular cruise destination.  If you have visited the island or enjoyed this post I would love to hear your thoughts or tips.

I packed this guidebook.

 

If you are interested in visiting you can find out more here. Madeira web in English

Prague: A short visit to Czechia’s fairytale capital

 

  A few days in Prague

Last week, we were again acting as roadies for our daughter who teaches English as a foreign language.  This year she has a post teaching in a village school just outside Prague and wanted some help with her luggage.  She needed to take extra clothes for this trip as winters can be very cold in central Europe.

We flew to Prague from Bristol with Easy Jet and stayed at the U Krize hotel which is situated between the Vltava river and the Petrin hill near the Charles Bridge.  We went to Prague for a long weekend a few years ago and my son  visited Prague for a stag weekend. However there is a lot more to the city than cheap beer.

A picture looking over the rooftops
Prague from the Petrin Hill

It is known as the city of a hundred spires and from above you can see the red roofs and green domes of the various churches.  The river Vltava snakes lazily through the centre and while we were there a lot of people were enjoying boat trips or were out in pedal boats.  Many bridges cross the river  including the most famous, the Charles Bridge with its dark statues of medieval saints.

Paddle boats on the river
People enjoying paddle boats on the Vltava river. The Charles bridge is in the background

We caught the hop on hop off bus for a sight seeing tour and saw the enormous Prague castle and the rather ugly Prague Sparta football stadium.  I learnt that the name comes from its former use for Spartacus gymnastics. We were unable to see the famous astronomical clock as it is being repaired and was covered by scaffolding.

The memorial to the victims of communism

 

Some history

2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Prague spring when protesters led by Alexander Dubcek rebelled against communism before the protest was crushed by Soviet tanks.  We noticed a lot of people visiting the monument to the victims of communism opposite our hotel and lighting candles.  We also visited a moving exhibition of testimonials by local people who had suffered under the communists in a local church.

In 1987 the people of Prague protested again led by Vaclav Havel a playwright .  This time the Russians were more sympathetic and the wave of protests in central Europe led eventually to the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Soviet Union. Czechoslovakia became independent after what became known as the velvet revolution and Vaclav Havel became Prime minister.  More recently there has been a velvet divorce and Czechia and Slovakia have split.

Prague today

Prague is now the capital of Czechia and is a large open and vibrant city of over a million inhabitants with a large expat community.   It is full of Parks and quirky statues.   It has lots of restaurants serving international and local dishes and designer shops as well as shops selling handmade wooden toys and local alcoholic beverages. The area around the Charles bridge is full of buskers playing classical music and talented artists painting tourists portraits. Certainly it is a wonderful city to visit.

Statue of Playwright sitting on the shoulders of a giant.
Franz Kafka statue. The playwright lived in Prague most of his life. Photo Angela Fraser