Porches Velho, Porches, Algarve, Portugal

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Porches Velho is a restaurant that could be called a hidden gem. Porches is an attractive village about three kilometres inland from the Southern Algarvian coast, between Carvoeiro and Armacao De Pera. It is quiet and calm, with narrow cobbled streets and is relatively untouristed, even in the height of summer. The area is famous for its pottery and the local workshops are certainly worth a visit. However, the largest of these are on the nearby N125 and not so many people go into the village itself.

The village has a pretty church. Its bells rang (8pm on a Wednesday, if you would like to try to recreate the effect) as we walked up the hill to the restaurant and a sliver of moon shone over its steeple, making us feel a little like we had stepped into a spaghetti western, so the romantic scene was set even before we entered the restaurant. The room itself has high vaulted ceilings, it is a 200 year old converted wine cellar. It has thick whitewashed walls decorated sparsely with antique agricultural equipment, tiles and old fashioned lamps. It oozes Portuguese tradition from every beam.

Porches Velho is a “Restaurante Tipico Potugues” which means that it serves classic Portuguese food. The tables are dressed in white linen with white napkins and soon after you are shown to your table the waiter brings the couvert dishes, fish paste, olives, pickled carrots and pickled beetroot, also a basket of sliced local bread with oil and butter. The wines are all Portuguese and there is a full list to choose from.

The starters consist of fish, soup or vegetarian dishes. We had a Portuguese Gazpacho and the vegetable soup. Both were excellent, the vegetable was thick and hot and the Gazpacho was spicy and juicy. The main course menu has many traditional dishes. Rabbit Cataplana, Alentejo Lamb and chicken casserole are among the interesting choices.

We went for the Old Portuguese Style Steak and the Medallions of Black Pork Tenderloin. The Pork was perfectly cooked, and served with a sauce of wild mushrooms on the side. The sauce was delicious and thick with different types of mushroom. The Steak is served in a deep dish, covered in serrano ham, surrounded by sliced potatoes, in a thick brown gravy and topped with a fried egg. This is a traditional way to serve steak in the Algarve and many restaurants offer this dish. This particular version though, was beautifully tender, the steak was very good quality and one of the nicest that I have had.

For the dessert offering, the waiters come to your table carrying the choices available. This is a clever idea, as one is much more likely to be tempted by seeing the dishes than by reading about it on the menu. The ice-cream is homemade and I can certainly vouch for the chocolate one being rich and flavourful.

The service was very good, we felt that they were genuinely interested in our opinions of the food and went out of their way to ensure that we had a good evening. Porches Velho is a wonderful Portuguese Restaurant with lovely traditional Portuguese hospitality. It is a hidden gem of the Algarve, a little of the beaten track but all the better for it and certainly worth the trip to visit it. Highly Recommended.

Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1

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London is blessed with a large selection of excellent museums and galleries. The majority of these are free. The Imperial War Museum in Lambeth is a good example of this. It is one of five Imperial War Museum locations in the UK, three of which are in London. Set up in the 1920s to commemorate the effort and sacrifice of Britain in First World War, it is now dedicated to the understanding of modern war, and confines itself to those conflicts in which Britain or the Commonwealth had some involvement.

The building is impressive, surrounded by the green lawns of Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, it is about a five minute walk from Lambeth North tube station. It has ionic columns at its entrance and an impressive dome. It also has its own interesting history, in the 19th Century it was the notorious Bethlem Royal Hospital, the psychiatric facility that allowed visitors to watch the inmates as public entertainment. It is this building that became the origin of the word bedlam.

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The museum is arranged over five floors. The top floor is the Lord Ashcroft gallery which has a large collection of medals awarded for bravery and the stories of many people who have been presented with them. It is an interesting investigation into the definition of courage and what inspires heroic acts.

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The fourth floor is dedicated to the holocaust and the rise of Nazism in the mid twentieth century. This contains a surprisingly in depth analysis of the political climate that led to the spreading of the ideology and a comprehensive presentation of its results. There is a scale model of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, which really gives perspective to the magnitude of the crimes. This floor needs to be approached with care, the display is moving and distressing.

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The Third floor has an exhibit called Curiosities of War, which is a collection of unusual war related items. This is quirky and  comparatively light. The second floor is split between conflicts after WWII and a display about espionage. The recent conflicts exhibition is thought provoking, it brings current events sharply into focus. The spy section seems lightweight, I guess it is tough to say much about state secrets without giving those secrets away. This floor also holds a real size model of an atomic bomb, it is shocking how small it is.

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The two lowest floors hold the largest items, tanks, ambulances, rockets, large guns and planes….the remains of a vehicle that was once a car bomb. The descriptions of the items and the uses to which they were put is almost more interesting than viewing the items themselves.

The Hall of Remembrance, is a gallery that was proposed to be built containing artwork commissioned as a memorial to the war dead of WWI. The project ran out of money in the 1920s and was never completed. The Imperial War Museum holds all the artwork that was due to be shown in this gallery and has put it on their website in the form of a virtual gallery. This is a beautiful testimonial and well worth a visit, I have put a link here . 

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War is not entertainment and this will not be your jolliest day out in London. However, The Imperial War Museum is something that you really should visit when you come to the UK. It is wonderful that this city has such high quality resources and amazing that it offers them for free. The building has step free access and there is  parking for Blue Badge holders, but it needs to be booked. Recommended.

 

 

Love London Part 2. Trafalgar Square, George IV, Victorian generals and the Fourth plinth.

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The painting above is of the NE corner of Trafalgar Square and St. Martin-in-the-Fields in 1888.  It hangs in Tate Britain and it is by William Logsdail. In case you missed it, the first part of my paean to Trafalgar Square is here: Love London, Part 1. Trafalgar Square, Nelsons Column and Charles I, London WC2.

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On the lower northern wall of the square are busts of three First Admirals of the fleet; Cunningham,  Jellicoe and Beatty. Admiral Andrew Cunningham was distinguished veteran of WWII and his bust was added after the other two in 1967. Jellicoe and Beatty are Admirals of WWI and their busts were placed in 1948, facing Nelson, “Hero of the fleet”. I hope it is true that they both admired Nelson as much as they are supposed to, because upon their deaths, in late 1935 and early 1936, they were both entombed in St Paul’s Cathedral, also facing his tomb.

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Also on the lower northern wall of square is an often overlooked historical treasure “The Trafalgar Square Standards”. They are low down along the steps and in the wall behind the seats. These were the official British Imperial measurements of length until we adopted the metric units of measurement in 1995. These were set into stone, by the Standards Department of The Board of Trade, in 1876 and if you suspected that any measuring implements were incorrect you could bring them here to settle the argument. There are three sets of these official standards, the others are in the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and in the Great Hall of the Guildhall in the city. The official measures included are; the inch, foot, yard, link, chain, perch and pole.

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There are four plinths built to contain statues in the square. The two on the south side of the square contain statues of Victorian Major Generals, Napier and Havelock. They both served with distinction in the campaigns in India. The third plinth is occupied by an equestrian statue of George IV. It was commissioned by the King himself and depicts him riding bareback, without stirrups and in ancient Roman dress. He intended it to be placed on the top of the Marble Arch, but it was put here in 1843.

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The fourth plinth was intended to hold a statue of William IV. It was empty for over 150 years until 1999 when it was decided to put a succession of works of art on the plinth, each occupying it for a limited amount of time. These art pieces have generated a great deal of debate over that past twenty years and, in that respect, the concept has certainly been a success. All of them have been controversial, most of them have been innovative and some of them have been attractive. Among the more memorable are; Anthony Gormley’s “One & Other” where over the course of 100 days, 2400 different people each spent one hour on top of the plinth, Marc Quinn’s “Alison Lapper Pregnant” and Yinka Shonibare’s “Nelson’s ship in a Bottle”. The current incarnation, Michael Rakowitz’s “The invisible enemy should not exist” is a recreation of a sculpture of a Lamassu (a winged bull and protective deity) that stood at the entrance to Nineveh from 700 B.C. It was destroyed in 2015 and this piece is made completely from empty Iraqi date syrup cans. I find it beautiful.

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On the South Eastern corner of the Square is a round edifice with a light on top. This is claimed, by some, to be the smallest police station in the world. Put in temporarily in WWI but made permanent during the general strike of 1926, it is a raised room from which a policeman could stand and watch the square in order to phone Scotland Yard, if a demonstration in the square showed signs of becoming dangerous. When the light was changed from gas to electric, the light used to flash when the phone rang, in case the assigned policeman was patrolling the square.

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I have a couple of pieces other random trivia about Trafalgar Square. The north side of the square is substantially higher than the south. This slope is not natural, the south end was lowered in order to made the National Gallery building more imposing. The earth was used to level St James’ Park.  Adolf Hitler planned to remove Nelson’s column and statue from Trafalgar Square when Germany conquered Britain. His intention was to place them in Berlin as a victory trophy.

 

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National Gallery from Trafalgar Square

 

While you visit Trafalgar Square, you should visit St Martin-in-the-fields on the NE corner and the National Gallery. I plan to do separate pieces about these. I will put links here when I have completed them.  Also, on the South side, between Whitehall and The Mall,  there is an unobtrusive hotel called The Trafalgar. This is a smart hotel and if you go to the back you can catch a lift up to a rooftop bar. The cocktails are central London prices, but they are good and the roof terrace has lovely views over the square.

 

 

Love London, Part 1. Trafalgar Square, Nelsons Column and Charles I, London WC2

 

 

DSC_2999Trafalgar Square is a tourist attraction that is packed with both dramatic architecture and history.  It has a claim to be the centre of London, in both a physical and psychological sense. Other places have claims also; Bank, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus even Hyde Park Corner, but there are a couple of good arguments in favour of Trafalgar Square.

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It has been  the scene of major British public gatherings and demonstrations from soon after its opening right until the present day. It was the backdrop to the Poll Tax demonstrations in the 1990s, CND rallies in the 1960s and ’70s, Chartist gatherings of the nascent Labour movement in the late 1800s and more recently campaigns against Climate Change and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Over the Christmas period it holds London’s most famous Christmas tree, a gift from Norway every year since 1947, as a thank you for Britain’s support during WWII. It was also the traditional gathering place for London’s New Year celebrations until the crowds became too big and deemed too dangerous to have at a single venue.

Trafalgar Square was designed in 1826 by architect John Nash, it did not really begin to take shape until the late 1830s when the National Gallery was built in 1838. It is named after the battle of Trafalgar, a famous 1805 victory over Napoleon.

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The centrepiece of the square is Nelson’s Column; a monument to the leader in that battle. This was erected in 1843 just before the square became a public area. It is a 43metre high, granite column with a 7metre statue of Horatio Nelson on top. The column itself is a Corinthian column, having an ornamental top. This ornament is made from British cannons.  There are also bas-reliefs on each side of the column at the bottom, depicting earlier famous British war victories and these are made from the melted down remains of weapons captured from the French and Spanish armies. Famously, the stonemasons who built the column are reputed to have had dinner served on its top, before the statue was placed.

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The Lions at each corner of the column were designed by Edwin Landseer and were installed in 1867. They are made of bronze and each one weighs over 6000kg. The fountains at either side of the column, were added later. The current fountains were designed by Edwin Lutyens and added just before the start of WWII. Trafalgar Square as a whole is Grade I listed, which is the highest level of architectural protection in the U.K. awarded only to buildings of exceptional interest.

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The oldest statue is to the South of the square. It depicts Charles I on a horse. This was made in 1633 and sent to be melted down after the abolition of the monarchy in 1653. The brazier to whom it was given, made his fortune selling trinkets made from the melted down statue, but he had kept it intact to return to the crown on their reinstatement. This is also what Trafalgar Square its claim to be the physical centre of London, as it is to the base of this statue that official distances to London are historically measured.

You may have heard that all the distances to London are measured from Charing Cross. This is true. The Charing Cross was one of 12 crosses placed by Edward I in memory of his wife Eleanor. It was originally in the spot currently occupied by the equestrian statue of Charles I. It was destroyed by order of Parliament after the civil war. A replacement cross was built and placed in front of Charing Cross station during the reign of Victoria. There is an original Eleanor cross still standing, from 1294, in Waltham Cross.

Part 2 of the Trafalgar Square post is here: Love London Part 2. Trafalgar Square, George IV, Victorian generals and the Fourth plinth.

 

An Afternoon on the Bentota River, Bentota, Sri Lanka

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Seneka, our driver, said “I have a cousin who has a boat, for US$10 he will take you out on the river. For another US$10 his brother will show you everything and act as a guide. His English is very good. There is lots to see.” So, we agreed to go.

 

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Our boat arriving to pick us up

 

We had hardly left the shore when we saw a water monitor, at least two metres long, sunning herself in the garden of a riverside house. I was impressed. Our guide was less so “Water monitors, there are many, look in the trees” I looked up, indeed in the branches almost directly above our heads, there they were – just as big. I was less impressed and more nervous now. “Don’t worry” he said “They have no interest in people. Oh look! A chameleon.”

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And there it was, showing off, changing colour as we watched, becoming less green and more stick coloured as it moved away from the leaves. Dotted along the banks of the river were jetties, some with boats some without. One had a man sitting on it, with a baby crocodile beside him. “Is that a crocodile?” Michael asked. “Oh yes, it’s his pet”. We pulled up. “Would you like to hold him? It’s quite safe” The baby crocodile was thrust into Michael’s hands before he could refuse. I was secretly very pleased my hands were full with the camera at that point.

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“Will they keep him as a pet?” I asked. “Oh no, he will go away before he gets big, we will see very big ones soon” The river is wide but we stayed close to the edge because crocodiles like to be submerged in the shallow water and the shade, away from the afternoon sun. Michael had the camera again and was on the water side of the boat watching out for the crocodiles. I was on the side near the bank. I noticed the boat driver gesticulating at me. “Duck your head down low, now!” Michael said, in an ominously calm, yet urgent, tone of voice. I complied immediately. I looked back as I did so and I was confronted with a Green Vine Snake less than a foot away from my face.

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I paled, but I did not scream or jump out of the boat. I’m proud of that. Michael leant in  to take a photo. Our guide announced “It’s a Green Vine Snake; very pretty, but it is poisonous.” Michael leant away again. “It’s not interested in us, it mostly eats frogs and lizards.”  I obviously appeared horrified. “Oh look, Bee Catcher Birds” he said pointing upward.

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There were a pair in the tree above our head. They do actually eat bees, they pull out the sting and then eat the rest whole. These larger Blue Tailed Bee Catchers also eat wasps. The wasps in Sri Lanka can be very large and dangerous. His distraction worked. The snake was forgotten.

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The next strange thing was the shop, on stilts, in the middle of the river. Nothing near it, and no customers, but it was definitely a shop. It appeared to sell coconuts, fruit, soft drinks and boxed groceries. It seemed rude to question why it was there, so I didn’t ask. Soon after this we began to see the crocodiles. We saw four or five, but they were hard to photograph, partly because we didn’t want to go too near and partly because they stayed mostly submerged in the cool water – out of the warm sun.

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On the way back we saw Giant Fruit Bats. They really do look like the batman motif when they fly and they are surprisingly big.

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We took a shortcut through the mangrove forest on the way back, which was pretty but eerie. It made us very happy that we had remembered to use our mosquito repellent before we set off.

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We saw egrets, ducks and herons. We also saw a mongoose that was too quick for us to photograph. In total we spent about two hours on the water, we had a fantastic time. It was a great introduction to Sri Lanka, after all this was still our first day there.

Photos courtesy of Michael Jolly.