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The City of Culture

Let me do an unashamed plug for the City of Culture. Ah, come on……really…..you don’t know what I’m talking about? Whenever I mentioned to friends that we were going for a few days to the City of Culture, those who knew what I was talking about replied something like this: “What, you’re going to ‘ull? Why? Who in their right mind goes to ‘ull?”.

That reaction is, sadly, all too common. Kingston upon Hull (to give it its full name), the place that nobody visits because it is out there, on a limb, and you never go near it on your way to anywhere else. The people who end up in Hull only do so because they are actually going to Hull……..for some strange reason (apparently). The place that everyone loves to mock……but I’m now going to put the lie on that.IMG_20170518_160418024

Hull is a happening place, especially now it has been elevated to the status of City of Culture. It began the year with an almighty bang, with a firework display second only to what happened on the Thames at New Year. Go to Hull this year and you will find museums bulging with special exhibitions, art galleries with veritable masterpieces, theatre and musical events going on in the most unexpected places. The Ferens art gallery has a Francis Bacon and a stunning Rembrandt. The University Art Gallery is displaying BP prize winning exhibits. The Museum Quarter in the old town will keep you happily engaged for hours, from the history of slavery and its abolition (William Wilberforce was MP for Hull), to a splendidly bedecked museum of transport and street life (including a whole section on the history of the bicycle).

You can take a taxi ride that introduces you to the past and present of the city, or take a walk over the Humber Bridge wearing a pair of headphones, listening to readings, poems and music that will enhance your walk. We spent a whole morning in the aquarium known as The Deep, happily absorbed in the dazzling variety of sea creatures, competing with excited toddlers and their parents for space next to the aquaria.

The day’s activities over, one evening we escaped to nearby Beverley, to its Minster, and let the dulcet tones of the Minster choir waft over us at their choral evensong. The other evening was spent back at the Museum Quarter where the History Troupe, under the leadership of Rob Bell, IMG_20170519_203837299led us engagingly through the history of the Great War, digging beneath the surface to reveal the fortunes and misfortunes of the many thousands of Hullensians who fought and died in that dreadful conflict. In Run for the Line, the story celebrates the life of the outstanding HKR rugby player, Jack Harrison, scorer of a record 52 tries in one season. But we are constantly brought back to the hardships suffered by the people of Hull, to the deaths in the Pal’s battalions which sharp-streetwere decimated on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and of the 7,500 men who perished and the 25,000 other casualties who were left maimed, both physically and mentally, by the brutality of warfare. The readings and the songs were scripted from the collection of narrative poems written by Rob Bell, entitled Sharp Street, and the power of the music alongside the descriptive narrations left the audience deeply moved.

Before 2017 is out, make a decision to spend some time in Hull. Ignore what all your friends say about the city. As likely as not, they will never have been there. I guarantee you will be entranced.

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Old Warden, Bedfordshire 71kms

old-warden-1It’s great when the club ride schedules its cake stop in a place of interest. Outside the small village of Old Warden in Bedfordshire, you’ll find the Shuttleworth Collection, a museum housing early vintage aircraft, cars, motorcycles, penny farthings, and a motley selection of farm vehicles.

Next door to it is the Swiss Garden, a Regency garden landscaped in Capability Brown-fashion to resemble the Swiss landscape.  Quite remarkable, really.shuttleworth-cafe

But to slake the thirst and replenish the carbs for a group of hungry cyclists, between the two there is an extensive café and restaurant, built to cope with large numbers. At this very ‘unbusy’ time of the year for cafés, a couple of groups of wheelers bring along some tidy business.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam beckons for reasons far beyond its legendary tulips….believe me.

Now you may be thinking this a thinly veiled reference to its notorious red light district (…and yes, visitors do flood there in their thousands) and the equally famous cannabis supplying coffee houses (the only places in the whole of Holland where foreigners can indulge legally). But no…..Amsterdam is much, much more than that.

If you want to get to the palpitating heart of Amsterdam, and understand its very essence, you have to take in some of its excellent museums and the grand houses where the great and the good (and not so good) used to live. Spend an hour in Rembrandt’s house,IMAG2290 1 then go to the superbly refurbished Rijksmuseum, and spend another hour in the golden age gallery, absorbing the masterpieces of the 17th century, until you are confronted by Rembrandt’s  dazzling Night Watch…….trust me, you will be bewitched.IMAG2291

When Amsterdam underwent its huge religious earthquake, with the Alteration of 1578, when the city converted to Protestantism from Catholicism, the genre of painting almost immediately changed from expensively patronized religious art, to the secularism that became so famous of the succeeding century. Even formal portraits gave way to relaxed smiling couples on their wedding day, and drunken behaviour within families……..in the world of art, this was akin to a tornado sweeping through the population.IMAG2281

Then move forward in history and take a 10 minute walk to Van Gogh’s museum, and allow your mind to be rudely switched from the darker, sombre colours of the 17th century, to the bright colours and vivid brushstrokes of an artist who was hardly recognised in his day, who struggled to make a living through his art, and whose ultimate insanity drove him first to cut off his own ear, then to shoot himself…..at the absurdly young age of 37.IMAG2273

The museum has put together a joint retrospective of Van Gogh alongside the Norwegian Edvard Munch (famous for The Scream)…..two contemporary artists who learned their trades in Paris, who never actually met, but both betrayed an astonishing similarity not only in their artistic techniques, but also in their psychological and emotional states. The contrasts are enlightening.scream-16_6155

Invercargill: most southerly city in the world

CIMG8914Was I glad to have done the big mileage yesterday? You bet!! A gale sprang up in the night, hailing from the south, and so strong was it, I grumpily got out of my sleeping bag at some unspeakable time in the morning to secure the guy ropes and pegs……….but thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have to cycle 90km (57 miles) with this gale as a headwind.

I spent the morning doing a bit of relaxed sightseeing, drinking coffee and eating cake, until the scheduled meeting with the Deputy Mayor of Invercargill, Darren Ludlow, Manager of Radio Southland, outside the Town Hall. Within minutes the Town Council’s photographer was there, took the

Marie Teuwen, Darren Ludlow, Deputy Mayor and Jenny

Marie Teuwen, Darren Ludlow, Deputy Mayor and Jenny

the publicity shots……..and then it was time for a bit of lunch.

I am, indeed, very grateful to Marie Teuwen, President of Save the Children (Southland) for arranging the warm welcome, and to Cecily and John Mesman for offering to feed me and give me a bed for the night.

Cecily, in fact, took me to meet her son-in-law at the museum. Lindsay Hazley is Curator of the Tuetaras at the Southland Museum. Now you are all wondering what tuetaras are? Yes? Well don’t be dismayed if you don’t know, because they are a very rare native lizard in this part of the world. So

Cecily bwith son-in-law Lindsay, Curator of Tuetaras at Southland Museum

Cecily bwith son-in-law Lindsay, Curator of Tuetaras at Southland Museum

rare, in fact, that they have to be “curated” in order to secure their continued existence in this world. Lindsay has consorted with famous people in his field, and has also nurtured the existence of “Henry”, a 110 year old tuetara which has been noted to still have the ability to “wow the ladies” and perform……… Just imagine, Henry was born at the time of the death of Queen Victoria, and could feasibly see out two centuries on this planet.

Tomorrow, I will make my way down to Bluff, take the customary photos beneath the signposts pointing to the four corners of the world, then jump on a ferry to go to Stewart Island, the most southerly inhabited landmass this side of the southern hemisphere. At that point, I will truly have finished my journey.

Children of Syria Appeal: www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1

Tuetara

Tuetara

Henry, 110 years old!

Henry, 110 years old!

Lindsay with David Bellamy

Lindsay with David Bellamy

The family of bears that will be sharing my bedroom tonight!

The family of bears that will be sharing my bedroom tonight!

Stavanger: from rags to riches

Stavanger was little more than a small fishing village for centuries, but in the 19th century an influx of herring and sardines in the waters offshore kick started a lucrative canning industry that saw over 70 canneries open.  One has now been converted into a museum, with all the original work areas preserved, even down to the authentic smell of the smokery.

Then in the 1960s, oil was discovered off the coast, dragging Norway onto the list of the world’s major producers of ‘black gold’ and, literally, making it an oil-rich state. Like Aberdeen in Scotland, Stavanger underwent major cultural and demographic upheaval, its population rapidly becoming the most cosmopolitan in Norway. The Norsk Oljemuseum (Petroleum museum) is no ordinary exhibition building. It is built as a North Sea Oil Platform, giving the visitor the opportunity to experience, in a 3 dimensional environment, what life is really like on a working rig. You can climb into diving bells and rescue craft, you can play with the drilling mechanisms and the monitoring equipment. Like many good museums today, it is a real hands-on experience that will keep you engaged for hours.

As we made our way back to the ship, we wandered through Old Stavanger, with its cobbled streets and its whitewashed timber houses, complete with small pretty gardens and picket fences.

Old Stavanger

Petroleum Museum

Inside a diving bell

The Firetower. Stavanger had been burnt down several times in the past.

With our private launch in the background!

A day in “The Smoke”

St Paul's Cathedral

Old nicknames never die. Why was London called “The Smoke”? They say that if you lived in London in the 1950s, you wouldn’t be asking that question. And if you had lived there at the time of the 5 day Great Smog of 1952, you would have probably met a premature death. An estimated 12000 people died as a result of the nation’s greatest “pea-souper”.

Go to London today however, especially on a fine spring day, and you will enjoy a luminosity never experienced 60 years ago. If you chance by the Museum of

Charles Dickens

London in the next few months, invest £5 and go in and enjoy a special exhibition commemorating the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birth, where you will discover at first hand the living conditions of the capital in Victorian times. Harsh times and conditions were the inspiration of so much of Dickens’ writing.

 

Wander along the south bank of the Thames and you might see this musician standing in the river, entertaining his audience with his own brand of political rap. You will also be reminded of one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of recent times, in the form of a bronze statue with legs that are impossibly long and slender! (Lawrence Olivier playing Hamlet).

Then, instead of paying a visit to Westminster Abbey as a tourist (not cheap!) go for Choral Evensong, and let the ethereal music of the psalms and anthems waft over you, and remind you of the real purpose of such an awe-inspiring building. We sat only metres away from members of the Pakistani High Commission, who were invited to mark the celebration of Pakistan Day.

To round off an almost perfect day, book yourself a ‘theatre-meal deal’ to one of the many West End plays or shows, and enjoy the vibrancy of high calibre acting.  We went to see the 39 Steps at the Criterion (on Piccadilly Circus), and it was the best bit of stage comedy we had seen in years.

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