Having a drink recently with some colleagues, we got to talking out the ‘old money’ – LSD. Pounds, shillings and pence. Of course, my colleagues laughed when I referred to it as LSD; they were younger than I and were thinking of something else.
The UK changed from LSD to decimal currency on 15 February 1971. I was struggling to remember the origins of the old coinage. I remember ha’pennies and my Mum used to talk about farthings. And, of course, there is the brides’ rhyme for their wedding day:
Something old, something new
Something borrowed, something blue
Silver sixpence in your shoe
We had LSD in this country since the Norman Conquest, but it was Henry II who introduced the system we had up until 1971. We called it LSD because the pound (L or £) was derived from the word Libra, a Roman unit of weight. The s was a shilling, denoted /- (the slash is also known as a solidus). The d was for the pennies, from a Roman coin called the denarius.
When Henry II introduced this system, it was based on Troy weights, an old system of weighing precious metals. A penny was one pennyweight of silver, and 240 pennyweights of silver. Thus, there were 20 shillings to the pound, and 12 pence to the shilling, 240 pence to the pound, but it didn’t stop there, as in most currencies, there were other coins, and some of them had nicknames:
Farthings (a corruption of “fourthings” – a quarter of a penny)
Ha’pennies (a corruption of “half pennies”)
Threepenny bits (three pence. I was rather fond of these 12 sided coins with a portcullis on one side)
A groat (Fourpence)
A tanner (a six penny piece)
A shilling was also known as a “bob” (has anyone heard of “bob a job week?”)
Florin (two shillings)
Half a crown (two shillings and six pence)
A crown (five shillings)
A 10 shilling note, before that a half Sovereign coin.
£1 was called a Sovereign aka a “quid.”
A Guinea (£1 1/- or £1 and 1 shilling, it was called a Guinea because it was originally a gold coin, made from gold from the Guinea coast)
Even when we changed to decimal currency, we still had nicknames, some of which had been around since LSD:
Currency Nickname Cockney Rhyming Slang
6d tanner Tartan Banner
£5 fiver Lady Godiva
£10 tenner Paul McKenna or Ayrton Senna
£50 Half a ton
£500 a monkey
£1000 a grand
Adding up in the old currency was fun – you had to add the penny’s column in 12s, the shillings column in 20s. I am sure it improved our maths. Will we revert to LSD after Brexit? I doubt it. It would be an added complication. Alas, I fear, libra and denarius, as well as shillings, are lost to us forever.
My trip to the US was a long-time ago, or so it seemed, and I wanted to go away to celebrate my next birthday.
I was chatting about it to my mate, Theresa (aka Hot Chocolate, as she is oft referred to in this blog)
“Where are you going?”
“To the Isle of Wight. I haven’t been there for a very long time.”
“Isle of Wight? Where Kim lives?”
Kim is an ex-colleague.
“Who you going with?”
“On my own.”
“Do you fancy some company?”
T and I worked together for years, and we know each other well. We know each other’s little quirks. We both like the odd glass of wine. Going away together really was a no-brainer. In fact, the only reason it hasn’t happened before is that we couldn’t do it when we worked together. I explained that I‘d already booked the hotel and that I could get the booking amended, etc. Game on.
T and I met at Waterloo Station. Under the clock that has been the start of so many relationships, covert meetings and who knows what else? Armed with a couple of cappuccini, a bottle of fizz for the train and enough clothes to keep a full battalion of soldiers going for several months, we boarded our train for Portsmouth Harbour.
I hadn’t been to Portsmouth since the mid 90’s and I knew things had changed. I also knew I didn’t remember it well. Presumably, something to do with alcoholic haze. Looking online, I hadn’t been able to get a real feel for the distance from the station to the ferry port. I thought we might have to get a cab…. Not realising that they are so close as to almost share an umbilical cord. No cab was necessary.
We were booked on the 13.15 crossing but were there early enough for the 12.15. Fortunately for us, the very nice young man let us board straight away. I suppose it would have been different if they’d been fully booked…
We arrived in Ryde about half an hour later and got the little train to Shanklin, where we were staying. All our paperwork told us that we couldn’t check into the hotel until 15.00 so we and our suitcases (my large suitcase and Theresa’s more moderate sized one) went for a mooch about the town. We found a pub called the Falcon which looked ok, and, outside, it said it served food.
Inside, the music was good, but no food, so a couple of glasses of Pinot later, we were on our way. We walked the full length of the High Street, up and down to a little pub called The Crab. We walked past it the first time around because, as the famous thatched roof was being re-thatched and it was hard to see, but soon realised our mistake and turned back.
We were glad we stopped off here, for several reasons. Firstly, it was proper pub food, nothing too fancy, but good, old-fashioned food. Secondly, we were among only about half a dozen customers when we entered, so when we ordered food, it arrived quickly. Thirdly, the barman, Dave, was an absolute sweetheart. He was also a Manc, so he and T had a lot to talk about. (I may have neglected to mention her northern heritage before.)
A bottle of wine between us, half a roast chicken with corn on the cob and proper, fat chips…. Heaven for two hungry girls. Dave gave us directions to our hotel, so off we trotted.
The hotel receptionist (who also turned out to be the manageress) was very helpful. She gave us a bus timetable and map, a local street map and some other info about things to do on the island. We settled in our room and promptly fell asleep for several hours. It’s one of the things that Theresa and I have in common, we both like to sleep. We rest when we need to. It makes spending time together much easier when you don’t have to comply with conventional behaviour.
We went for a drink in the bar but decided it was still too early to sleep after our mammoth afternoon nap, so we went for a walk down to the seafront. A midnight stroll is always pleasurable, especially when it’s windy and not too cold. It was very quiet and there was not much to see, but that’s the way I like it, it gives my imagination a chance to work overtime.
We crept back into our hotel around 1 am, like a pair of naughty schoolgirls and went to bed. Properly this time.
Breakfast the following morning was served between 07.00 and 09.00, so we went down about 08.00 and settled down for a Full English. We swapped a few things and probably ended up each having a full meal. Back to the room to get our gear and off we trotted for the buses to take us to Osborne House.
I was pleasantly surprised with the buses on the island, they were punctual and the bus drivers were very friendly. We also bought a 48-hour pass which cost us about £15; considerably more economical than buying individual tickets.
We had to get a bus to Ryde to go to Osborne House, so travel was a couple of hours. It was worth the journey. There is a lot to see.
We started our visit at the Swiss Cottage, built by Albert for his children. It sits in its own gardens, mostly vegetable, that the children used to tend themselves. Nowadays, it’s a museum with a range of collections from stuffed birds to crystals to collections from the Far East.
Moving on from here, we went to the beach. It was warm and peaceful here, easy to see why Queen Victoria loved it so much. Her bathing machine has been restored to its former glory. The bathing machine had a changing room and a veranda in which the Queen could change into her swimming costume in private. It would then take her into the sea (it ran on rails) where she had a dip and then return to get changed in private.
From there, we walked up to the main house. We were both absolutely stunned by the beauty of the gardens. The colours of the flower beds both complemented and contrasted at the same time. Lots of purples, greys and reds. I’m not good with the names of flowers, I think there was a Salvia in there somewhere, but I wouldn’t stake my life on it. Of course, alongside the flowers was the architecture. It is stunning, very grand, and built in the style of an Italian Renaissance Palazzo, by the same company that built the main façade at Buckingham Palace. After being a home for the Victorian Royal Family, it had a couple of other iterations, as both a Royal Naval College and an officers’ convalescent home before being taken over by English Heritage. It was a lovely visit.
The following day we went inland, to a craft village at Arreton Barns, describing itself as ‘the island’s largest centre for arts and crafts.’ It was a popular little place, with quite a lot for children to do. The pub there, the Dairyman’s Daughter, did a lot of lunches which looked to be extremely good value – had we not already had a massive breakfast, I dare say we would have participated too.
That evening, we found a fantastic restaurant, Morgans. The food was excellent, the best belly pork I’ve ever had. You can see my review of it here:
The following day, we came home. We had enough time to get the bus back to Ryde, rather than the train, thus using our bus tickets. We walked up from the bus station to the ferry port – it’s not a long walk and there wasn’t too much traffic, so it was easy enough. The pontoon is designed for two-way traffic. The pedestrian path is quite narrow, so when there are people going both ways, one of you has to walk on the road.
Time for a coffee before our ferry, then a train ride home, back to normal life. Until the next time.
It was still hot in the Big Apple. Very hot. Still 95 degrees, and that was early in the day as we were on our way to breakfast.
On the second day, we visited Tiffany the Empire State Building, interspersed with a few pit stops because of the heat. Tiffany because I had some birthday money left over and wanted to buy myself something and it’s a ‘must do’ in New York. (Actually, it’s a ‘must do’ anywhere, in my opinion. There is a look and feel in them that I love.). As we were walking along Fifth Avenue, we popped into Saks, largely because it was air-conditioned and we needed to cool down. We managed to get a bit of a make-over – we were both ‘glowing’ when we got there. Like most stores, the cosmetics section is at the front and the assistants took pity on us. Either that or we looked so bedraggled that we were lowering the tone. The lovely ladies gave us some more water before we continued on our journey.
The last time I’d been to New York I had wanted to visit the Empire State but the weather was bad and the winds were too high. Like so many tall buildings, they close the viewing platforms in weather like that, so this was to be my first time.
The Empire State Building is an example of that beautiful Art Deco design that was prevalent in New York in the 1930s. One of the things that about New York that sets it aside from other cities. The Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world until 1970. It’s still an imposing sight.
It was built as an office block, although as its opening coincided with the Great Depression, much of it was empty for some time. The observation decks were opened to the public, for a fee, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that it actually started to make a profit.
There is, understandably, a lot of security there, and you get to the viewing platform by taking a series of lifts (they don’t want random people popping into the office areas, do they?). There is a lot of information about the building inside the public area at the top of the building. If you feel so inclined, you can have your photograph taken with someone dressed up as King Kong.
Nowadays there is a bar on the ground floor, as well as the ubiquitous gift shop and a drug store. We had a couple of drinks in the bar, to fortify ourselves before stepping outside again.
The next day was our last, and we visited Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building, another Art Deco skyscraper. I’d stayed further along in East 42nd on my first visit to NY, but I hadn’t been inside, so it was a treat for me too.
The Chrysler Building was the tallest building in the world for only 11 months before the Empire State took over. It was the headquarters of the Chrysler Corporation from 1930 until the mid-1950s. An interesting fact about it is that the corporation didn’t pay for it, Walter P Chrysler paid for it himself. He wanted his family to inherit it rather than the company.
There are no tours, but the ground entrance floor is open to the public and is stunning. Lots of marble and engravings and some useful facts. And it was cool.
Some interesting, little-known facts about the Chrysler Building:
1. There used to be a Speakeasy near to the top of the building. Called the Cloud Club, it was originally built for the Texaco company which occupied 14 floors. It was closed in the late 1970s to make way for more offices.
2. Walter P Chrysler had an apartment on the top floor. There was also another apartment on the 61st floor. This was where photographer Margaret Bourke-White, famous for her photographs of Skyscrapers, lived.
3. In the early days of the building, there was a water-bottling plant in the basement.
4. The observation deck on the 71st floor closed to the public in 1945.
5. There was a car showroom on the first two floors.
6. The top of the spire is filled with reinforced concrete.
7. Everyone (me included) thinks that the top of the building is made from hub caps. Not so. It’s actually a German-made sheet of metal crafted to look that way.
8. The Chrysler Building and the building at 40 Wall Street were in competition to be the world’s tallest building before the Empire State was built. Thus the spire was constructed in secret, in four separate pieces. It took about an hour and a half to put them on the top of the building.
From here, we walked a short distance up to Grand Central Station. Grand Central opened in 1871 as Grand Central Depot. It wasn’t until February 1913 that it opened to the public as Grand Central Terminal, which is still its correct title. One of its most stunning features is the astronomical ceiling in the main hall, designed in 1912.
Surprisingly, what should be east is west and vice versa on the ceiling. The ceiling was allowed to fall into disrepair, started to leak and within 11 years it was in a very sad state. It wasn’t until 1944 that work was undertaken to repair and restore it. In fact, a completely new mural was painted, in much less detail than the original.
That said, it is still a beautiful concourse and well worth a visit. Especially as there are coffee shops and places to eat in the surrounding areas. We didn’t have time to hang around here, we had a ‘plane to catch.
We flew up from San Francisco to arrive in New York in the middle of a freak heat wave. The average temperature in New York in May is around 61oF (16oC), although the locals told us it had been much colder than that the week before. It was 95oF during our stay. We arrived at JFK at about 20.00, too late to realise how hot it was during the day. We collected our bags, and got a cab straight to our hotel. The system at JFK is, in my opinion, better than at Heathrow. Slicker and quicker. You check in with the agent, get the cab they assign you and off you trot.
We hadn’t been able to get into the hotel I’d wanted, in East 42nd, so we’d been booked into our hotel very close to Times Square, in West 40th. The Distrikt Hotel is quite modern, the reception staff were huge fun and very helpful, and there was a birthday cupcake and birthday card in our room. I’d recommend it. Funny thing was that in our first trip in the lift, we met another English woman staying there on business. We unpacked and generally sorted ourselves out, and went to the bar.
We had already booked a trip to Liberty Island for the next day, fortunately not too early in the morning. We took the Subway to Battery Park, picked up our tickets and then joined the very long queue. Security here was better than at the airport, the searches were very thorough, which is why there was such a long queue.
Liberty Island has a varied and interesting history. It was renamed as such in 1956, by an act of Congress although it has had several names over the centuries. As far back as the mid 17th century, the waters in Upper New York Bay were home to Oyster beds which became a major food source for immigrant Dutch Settlers who named it Great Oyster Island.
In 1664, the Dutch surrendered to the British, the island became British and was eventually sold to Isaac Bedloe in 1667, thus becoming Bedloe’s Island. Having been a private island for rental and a smallpox quarantine, it later became a sanctuary for loyalist during the American Revolutionary War.
In the 19th century, it became home to Fort Wood, and was chosen to be the home for what it is now best known for, the Statue of Liberty, in the 1880s. The Statue of Liberty was a gift to the people of America by the people of France, something to do with solidarity after the revolutions in both countries. The sculptor, Frederic Bartholdi, modelled the statue on his mother.
I’m not sure why I should have been surprised, but I was, to learn (a) that the statue is hollow and (b) that the copper is only about the thickness of a one cent coin. As well as the Statue of Liberty, there is a museum on the island, and a number of other smaller statues.
When we’d finished, we took the subway back to Times Square and went back to the hotel. Dinner was a local Chinese, followed by an early night, ready for the next day.
We arrived in San Francisco late, and reached our hotel at about midnight, shattered. We later discovered that our hotel was quite a way outside of the city centre, a bus ride away.
The hotel reception area was an eclectic mix of artefacts from different countries – Thailand, China, Africa are my best guesses. It was roomy and the reception clerks were humorous and made us feel at home straight away. Our room was nowhere near as big as the rooms we’d become accustomed to, although it was clean and had everything we needed, including a coffee machine. It had a fan but didn’t need the air con we’d had in Nawleans and Memphis (mind you, we hadn’t needed that so much there either). More importantly, they had “happy half hour” in reception between 5.30pm and 6pm every night, where all guests were given free drinks and live music was provided. Very civilised.
We found out from some other guests that rooms here were $200 a night (we had no idea of room prices because it was all part of a package for us) and, having spoken to some young Irish girls who told us how expensive it was to live in SanFran (even more expensive than London) I began to warm to the area in which I was staying.
We didn’t have to rush too much on our first day, we only had to pick up our pre-paid tickets for the hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
“We need to turn right out of the hotel,” I said, “Then right again down here.”
I didn’t have my customary compass with me, so how the hell I thought I knew which direction I thought I was walking is anybody’s guess. We walked for about an hour, and, having walked past more homeless people than I ever see in London (I later discovered that San Francisco has a huge homeless problem) we ended up in an area that looked very prosperous but had very few pedestrians. This was not where we were supposed to be.
Eventually, we found someone to ask, who told us we were nearer to the Bay Area than the Fisherman’s Wharf area we wanted. Still, it was good exercise. We found an Irish pub where we stopped for a very late breakfast, and where we met a couple of lovely Irish girls, the ones I mentioned above. When they told us how much they had to pay in rent, I nearly had a heart attack! This made London positively cheap.
We ended up getting a cab the rest of the way, to Fisherman’s Wharf, picked up our tickets and did our first tour around the city centre. The heart of San Francisco is pretty much like any other city centre, all the usual designer stores – Ferragamo, Herrera, Tiffany, etc, although, of course, without our English only stores such as John Lewis.
Our cab driver didn’t disappoint us with regard to the hills that made the car chase in Bullitt famous. There were occasions when I was convinced that we were going to roll backwards, and on more than one occasion during our stay, I thanked the law of gravity. In fact, I had to remind myself of it, it seemed impossible that we wouldn’t just fall off the Earth, some of the hills were so steep. If I’d stayed in San Francisco, I’d have lost pounds, just walking up and down.
Later, we found the tour shop in Columbus Avenue, where we exchanged our voucher for our 48-hour hop-on-hop-off tour bus passes. It just past 15.00 by now, so we decided on the downtown tour that day, before heading back to our hotel for the free drinks reception.
We decided to eat in the hotel that night and didn’t go out again. I think Kate and I were both surprised at how variable the TV coverage was in each of our hotels. Of course, we had expected local news, but thus far, national news coverage had been minimal, and the selection of channels was pretty limited. (On the day we left, we discovered that one of our favourites, NCIS, was showing at 07.00 so we watched that rather than the news.)
Day two in San Francisco meant an early start to get our boat to Alcatraz. It’s a bit of a must-do in San Francisco although before I got there I had mixed feelings about it. It’s just over a mile from the mainland, and our guides explained that the prisoners had been transported, shackled at the ankles, on a train. The train carriage was taken to the island so that they didn’t have to de-train the prisoners until they arrived on the island. They gave them warm showers on Alcatraz because they didn’t want them to get used to being in cold water lest they get the idea that they should try swimming to escape.
There was a volunteer tour guide who talked us through the first couple of stages up on the island, which had started its life as a military base, but had become a military prison almost immediately and had later become the federal penitentiary for which it is now famous. At the cell blocks, we were given audio headsets, with our guides ex-prison guards, occasionally interspersed with comments from prisoners.
The main prison blocks, B and C, were grim, the cells being only 5’ by 9’ with a small sink (cold water only), and bed and a toilet. In D block, segregation, the cells were a bit bigger, but inmates were confined to their cells 24 hours per day, with only one visit to the recreation yard per week.
However, it was when we got to solitary confinement that the conditions became really bad. Although the cells were inside and undercover, you could feel the wind blowing in from outside. It must have been horrendous in the winter months, even though this part of the world doesn’t have the harsh winters of other parts of the USA. It was pretty cold on the day we visited.
Further along in this block were cells referred to as “The Hole.” When prisoners who had behaved even more badly were put in there, they were kept in darkness – according to the audio, once acclimatised, it was possible to see a little light, but still, I imagine that would have had a rather salutary effect.
I hadn’t realised before going to Alcatraz that there had been a rather nasty escape attempt in 1946 in which one of the inmates somehow managed to get into the gun cage and get hold of all the firearms there. A siege followed, which lasted for two days, during which time two prison guards were killed.
There were significantly more escape attempts than I’d realised, some of which were partially successful, in as much as the men got off the island, but it seems they were all recaptured.
Alcatraz done, we travelled back to San Francisco and got a trolley bus back to our hotel. For $2.50 each, we had tickets that we could use for us to two and a half hours, plus a good sightseeing tour of the City.
The following day, we did our mammoth bus tour around the city. It was a shame that this was to be our last day here, we were just getting to know our way around. We went back to the hotel to prepare for the Big Apple.
We had the morning to ourselves before our trip out to a plantation. Neither Kate nor I had been sleeping very well – we couldn’t seem to get the temperature right in the room, and we spent half the night being too cold, the other half being too hot. We were waking early every morning too, so we got up early, went out for breakfast (same place as the day before). This time I tried the cheese grits with my omelette, which were far tastier than the ones I’d had at Maison Dupuy.
We dozed a bit on the way to the Oak Alley Plantation. It was a lovely venue, although I can understand why the original owner’s wife, Celina, preferred to be in New Orleans. The plantation was owned by Jacques and Celina Roman, although Jacques was not the original owner, his brother-in-law was. They decided to do a swap of plantations in 1837.
The plantation is named after the path (alley) leading up to the front of the house which is bordered on each side by Southern Oak Trees (nothing like our English Oaks). It was originally named the Bon Sejour plantation, and grew sugar cane.
One of the things that struck me was the slave quarters. I have no axe to grind about the Americans and slavery – the Brits were guilty of it too, as well as many other nations, and it’s as bad whoever does it. It’s just that they had names of some of the slaves who had lived here, and they told the story of slaves by name as you walked around the slave quarters. It was incredibly moving. As in sickening. We walked around the slave quarters, reading about the lives of the slaves and seeing the conditions in which they lived. Grim.
Life was a little easier for the house slaves and I know that, had I been a slave there, I’d have been a field slave (way too gobby to be a house slave). Some of the house slaves were relegated to field slaves, some were promoted to house slaves. It almost seemed that, as a slave, you were cast aside like an old sock when you got too old to do your job, or something else went wrong.
What a hard life, they even had the women slaves digging for the levees, and other hard field work, although even working in the house would not have been easy in those days. At least outside you’d get a bit of fresh(ish) air.
The climate in Louisiana is generally humid (seems we were very lucky during our stay, it was not even as humid as London in the height of summer) which must have been awful for anybody working in the fields. Although it was a beautiful location, I was quite pleased to get back to New Orleans and away from the harsh realities of what life had been like for some people.
A complete change of tack, we tried a different restaurant when we got back, which was quite pleasant. Kate had a salad for her dinner, which turned out to be a plate of lettuce with chicken. Not quite what I had imagined although I discovered during our stay that is what passes for a salad in most of the States. To the extent that there were adverts on the TV in New York advertising salads with other salads vegetables as though it was a real novelty. Which it clearly was. I had another local dish with beans and a special request for grilled – not breaded, fried – chicken.
We found a supermarket on the corner of Bourbon Street where we bought a bottle of Californian Champagne to take back to our hotel room, to assist with the packing for the next part of our trip. (Apologies to the champagne region of France, but that is what it said on the bottle, and it was very palatable. I suspect, although I didn’t check, that it was made from Chardonnay grapes too.) Somehow, packing wasn’t quite so hard after that.
We had enjoyed our stay at Maison Dupuy and were now ready for the next part of our journey.
We ventured out of the restaurant for breakfast on our second day. Although we didn’t know it at the time of booking, nor did we realise it when we first arrived, Rue Toulouse was in a very handy position – we could walk straight up to the Grayline tours leaving point and the Mississippi, past several bars and restaurants. It was a win-win.
After our chat to Cathy the day before, Kate and I had decided on a trip to the Louisiana swamp and bayou. It was a half day tour, which suited us as we had plans for the evening.
It was one of the best tours I have ever done. We were bussed to the bayou, waited for our captain and boarded our luxury yacht. Just kidding, it was a custom-built swamp boat; a flat-bottomed boat, not dissimilar to the one in the link:
Our skipper was very knowledgeable, although I suppose they all are, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing that job, would they? He started the tour with the usual health and safety announcements:
“if you drop your camera, tough, we won’t be going back for it. Keep your arms inside the boat, some of these alligators are big enough to jump up to the job of the boat and if your arm is sticking out, it’ll eat it.”
The bayou is surrounded by cypress trees and is basically a series of slow-moving streams or wetlands, often tidal. Our skipper told us that there had been a bit of a flood a couple of days before, so the water was colder than usual. I found that strangely comforting when a 12 feet long alligator started swimming around.
It wasn’t just alligators that we saw, there were some beautiful plants and birds, and soft-shelled turtles and opossum – the captain threw marshmallows to them when we saw them on the river bank.
It was the alligator that made it though. Although we saw a few baby ‘gators, this big old boy kept swimming around us. He’d swim for a few of the marshmallows, but didn’t really want to play. Probably too cold. I couldn’t help but see the similarities to the human skeleton as he was swimming around though. I almost had a film script…
That evening, we went on a river trip on board the Mississippi Steam Boat Natchez, the last remaining genuine steamboat on the river. (Yes, there are others that appear to be, but the Natchez is the only one that is a genuine steamboat.)
The current Natchez is the ninth to bear that name, and there is a whole history to it, but that’s a story for another day. We didn’t have dinner on board, I’m a fussy eater. Just drinks, a bit of dancing and enjoying the ride up and down the river. The jazz band was called The Steamboat Stompers. I’ve done some of those Thames river boat cruises, but being on a boat on the Mighty Mississippi was different again. It is a huge river and quite amazing to see the factories, and so on, along the river banks.
We were glad to only have a short journey home after our boat trip. We needed to be ready for the following day.
Our hotel in New Orleans (N’Orleans) was at the edge of the French Quarter, in Rue Toulouse. Almost all the roads in the French Quarter are named in French, things like Rue Bourbon, although that’s more commonly known as Bourbon Street. It’s fabulous, grid system of streets, so it’s easy to follow a map and almost impossible to get lost (except for when you get to the micro level, looking for a particular street number).
Our hotel, Manson Dupuy, is made from five townhouses joined together, which makes it a bit of a rabbit warren inside, and with a beautiful courtyard, with a swimming pool. We were tired after all our travelling, so we ate in the hotel that night. One full quarter of the hotel on the ground floor is the bar and dining room.
We both chose a dish of grilled swordfish with an aubergine purée and vegetables, and some Cava, to celebrate our arrival. It was good, but all a bit more expensive than we’d been anticipating. It was the price of good London restaurant where this restaurant was more on a par with Café Rouge (not that there is anything wrong with that at all). The pound dollar exchange rate was not helping our trip at all.
The following day, we had breakfast in the hotel too. Kate had scrambled eggs, but I saw something new on the menu…. I had eggs, bacon and grits, a typical Southern dish made from corn meal. I’d heard about it so wanted to try it. It was interesting. Not unpleasant, if a little bland, with a texture similar to a dryish sago pudding. Not sure I’d rush to have it again.
Then we ventured out for a walk around the City. We walked up to Canal Street, which is the border of the French Quarter and the Warehouse District, and up to the Mighty Mississippi. We met a lovely lady, Cathy, at one of the Grayline tourist huts, where we picked up a leaflet about tours we could do while we were there – we’d already booked in for a couple but neither of us wanted to waste our time in this charming city. We’d already fallen in love.
After a bit more of a wander, we went to our appointed meeting place for our first guided tour, a walking tour of the French Quarter. Our guide, Robi, was very knowledgeable, and filled us with info, I’m just sorry I wasn’t writing it all down.
New Orleans is the largest city in the state of Louisiana. It’s also a major port, built on both sides of the Mississippi. The French Quarter is on the north side of the river. La Nouvelle Orleans, as it was originally known, was founded in 1718 by the French Mississippi Company. The man who was in charge was Jean-Bapatiste de Bienville, a name seen on street names. It was on Chitimacha land, a native American tribe. The French gave the territory over to the Spanish under the Treaty of Paris in 1763, at the end of the Seven Years War. Control reverted to the French for a brief period in 1803.
When Kate and I had been sitting in our hotel restaurant, we’d commented that the buildings across the street looked more Spanish than French. Now I knew why. In fact, most of the remaining architecture is Spanish, the most notable exception being the Old Ursuline Convent. Robi showed us various times of architecture through the ages. Something common in the houses in New Orleans is for the chimney to be in the middle of the house, so heating more than one room at a time.
Napoleon sold New Orleans to the Americans in 1803, and thereafter the city grew with immigrants from many places, including French, Creoles (people descended from colonial Louisianans during the periods of French and Spanish rule) and Americans. In later times, immigrants came from farther afield.
We had a wonderful afternoon walking around the city, taking in the sights, and finished our tour at the Cabildo, in Jackson Square, now the state museum but formerly the seat of Spanish government.
Robi had recommended a lovely fish restaurant for that evening, Evangeline, in Decatur Street. They had a live band – I’m not going to say it was jazz, some of it was soul, but it was great. The maitre d’ had been right to seat us inside though, if we’d been in the courtyard, it would have been way too loud for us.
We had a very good Creole meal – I had Creole Jambalya and Kate had Cajun Etoufee – and our first bottle of wine during our trip – a very good Italian Pinot Grigio. We made our way back to our hotel after that, to get ready for the rest of our trip.
I took myself off for a little trip to Bodiam Castle, Battle and Hastings the other day. It was a coach tour organised by Abbey Tours. Bodiam Castle is now a National Trust property, given to them in 1926 by Lord Curzon. As an aside, I’d use Abbey Tours again, I was very impressed.
Bodiam was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dallingridge. Sir Edward was not the oldest son in the family and so did not inherit his father’s fortune. However, he married wisely (and, as a consequence, became very wealthy).
Sir Edward had been one of Edward III’s knights (known as a King’s Knight) and was given permission to build the castle to defend against French invasion, and, presumably, keep the peasants at bay, since it was built around the time of the Peasants’ Revolt. He had a bit of a chequered career – he was a member of parliament, and also found himself in prison for a while. Seems he was a bit of a trend setter…
Bodiam is unusual, if not unique, in that there is no castle keep (the castle within the castle), it’s a rectangular shape, with towers at each of the corners. It’s a rather lovely building, in my opinion, or maybe I just like castles. At the time of building, there would have been a barbican over the moat around the castle, now full of huge fish: I’m no expert but I’m guessing at some type of carp. Or giant goldfish.
Archaeologists believe that the castle was built quickly, and all in one go, unlike many other castles, probably owing to the constant threat of invasion from France. Whatever the case, poor old Edward didn’t enjoy the fruits of his labour for long, he died in 1395.
The castle was once part of a working estate with farmland, a wharf and a water-mill. Sir Edward had the site landscaped – it seems that Sir Edward had some of the more fancy bits installed to show his wealth rather than as actual defensive parts of the castle, although the moat was probably defensive as well as decorative.
The inside of the castle was probably dismantled during the English Civil War and later fell into disrepair. It changed ownership several times until Lord Curzon bought the castle in 1916. He decided that “so rare a treasure should neither be lost to our country nor desecrated by irreverent hands.” Curzon was knocked back the first time he tried to buy the castle, but eventually succeeded.
The Battle of Hastings, which wasn’t actually fought at Hastings, but here at Battle, took place on 14 October 1066.
To set the scene, King Edward the Confessor died in January 1066. He was childless, which always caused a problem with the monarchy: sons were always the preferred heirs, but a daughter would do. King Edward was a very religious man although I don’t get the feeling that was why he was childless. Not that the reason matters.
With no heir, there were a number of claimants to the throne. King Harold was crowned shortly after Edward’s death, but his own brother Tostig (where is the family loyalty???), Harold Hardrada of Norway and William of Normandy all battled for the throne.
Tostig and Hardrada were both defeated, in the north of England, but the battles took their toll. Harold’s armies had losses and were tired. William landed in Pevensey on 28 September 1066, forcing Harold to march back south, and to gather an army as he went.
Historians don’t know for sure but they think that Harold had about 7000 troops to William’s 10000.
That might have been ok, except that Harold’s force was almost entirely infantry (foot soldiers) with very few archers, whereas William’s army was roughly evenly split between infantry and a force of cavalry and archers. Even those of us without any military training can see the way that was going to pan out.
It was a long, tiring battle that started at 09.00 and ended around dusk. It was a hard battle, during which Harold was killed – famously shot through the eye by an arrow. There were minor skirmishes after this battle and a fair amount of civil unrest, but William was still crowned on 25 December 1066.
The Heavens opened when we arrived at Battle so I decided not to visit the battlefield on this trip. I had lunch, a drink and did a spot of shopping. There are some lovely little boutique shops, Battle Bygones being one that I really loved. As did many of these little shops, it had a wide range of goods on offer, including a beautiful leather purse with cats on it – obviously, I had to buy that, for use when my beloved Radley dies (it was far less expensive, even though it is beautiful leather).
Lunch was in one of the pubs – I was a bit disappointed to discover that they did do a Sunday roast (which was what I really fancied) rather than the so-called salad that I chose – smoked salted and prawn in a Marie Rose sauce. The smoked salmon and prawns were fine but it was just on a bed of lettuce, with a few other mixed leaves, a bit of finely sliced cucumber. What I call, since my most recent trip to America, an American salad.
Fed and watered, I rejoined the coach and we travelled onto Hastings, which, as I was told by our guide, has the longest beach-based fishing in the UK.
Hastings is famous for being one of the cinque ports. There was a castle, which was washed away in the floods of 1287, which were pretty devastating for the south-east coast of England. Hastings has no natural harbour, and this was the beginning of the end for it as a port. On more than one occasion, attempts were made to build a harbour but it wasn’t possible to get the foundations strong enough.
For the Poldark fans among us, it will come as no surprise to learn that Hastings was once a smuggling hub. Apparently, smuggling was more lucrative than fishing. Well I never. Personally, I’d have thought it all a bit exposed, but then I’ve never been a smuggler. Later, it became popular as a seaside resort, although, like most of them, it’s had mixed fortunes ever since.
Hastings is quite a quaint little town. In some ways it reminded me of Brighton with the cliff backdrop. I suppose that’s not surprising since they are so close to each other; both along the south coast, in Sussex. Similar rock formations, similar landscapes.
I walked along to the East Hill Furnicular Railway and took that up to the nature reserve at the top. It wasn’t so much cold as blustery, and there was a lot to see in the few hours I had there, so I took a few snaps and took the railway back down.
Then I popped into the Fisherman’s Museum. Built in the site of an old church, it’s small but has a lot of detail. It was a bit too crowded for me; I like time to browse a museum properly; so I left and took the miniature railway back to the main drag.
After a little walk along the front, I walked down George Street, a quirky little street off the main road. There are some lovely little boutique shops here that divorce it from the typical seaside town. Lots of antique shops and even a group playing live music close to one of the big pubs. Talking of which, I was impressed with how little the drinks cost down here. It almost made me wish I lived here. Almost.
I met Kate at our hotel near to Heathrow, the day before we were due to fly out. Our flight to Atlanta, en route to New Orleans, was due to depart at 09.20, which meant being at the airport at 06.20.
Unfortunately, take off was delayed by an hour. I have no idea why. A couple of uniformed police officers come on board, but no-one was dragged off kicking and screaming. Once you lose your slot at Heathrow, there’s always a wait for a new one. That must have cost Mr Branson a fair few bob.
Our cabin crew were brilliant. Very friendly, very helpful and very chatty. The captain managed to make up much of the lost time, so we were only about 20 minutes late when we arrived at Atlanta. Atlanta International Airport was an experience. There was only one desk at customs for all of us who came in from outside of the US.
I’m not sure whether I had my criminal look about me again, or whether the guy who was checking my passport, etc, was being friendly without smiling. (I get stopped a lot at airports. Always have. I still blush when I remember the young customs officers holding up my scanties on my first trip abroad.) I do know he asked me a lot more questions than he asked my travelling companion.
We got a train from the international airport to the internal flights terminal.
It was cold and wet in Atlanta. It rains a lot there. You can see that from the surrounding countryside. That flight was delayed too. Another security issue.
As we were boarding the flight, one of the flight attendants greeted us, and I returned a greeting.
“Oh, my, I just love your accent! Where y’all from?”
“Oh, I am gonna come and talk to you just as soon as I get my passengers boarded. I LOVE that accent.”
She didn’t, of course. It was a fairly short flight and Kate and I were letting out the zs even before take off.
New Orleans is in a different time zone from Atlanta, as, of course, is London. We arrived in New Orleans at about 17.10 local time. Baggage reclaim and a swift cab to the hotel and we were ready to begin.