Sunday, 13 October 2019
Wednesday, 28 August 2019
|Images from the National Theatre web site|
Set in the early nineteenth century, The Secret River tells the fairly simple, yet absorbing, story of the struggle by a family of downtrodden Londoners to build a new life in Australia. They stake a claim to a plot of prime riverside land that has long been the home of the local Dharug people. From here, the rollercoaster of hopes and fears is fairly predictable. But the play conveys a powerful message, as the tension ratchets up, and the family are forced to take sides in the struggle for supremacy between the motley collection of former convicts from Britain and their aboriginal hosts. With a large cast and live music, this Sydney Theatre Company production is a feast for both the eyes and ears. While the spacious stage is quite spartan, the dramatic lighting and the precise percussion conjure up the Australian outback. When the family start digging holes, the sound of spades scraping on hard ground rings out convincingly. The Brits' faces are painted white, as if to emphasise their alien status, while they routinely refer to the locals as "the blacks". In another era of mass migration, this depiction of the disorientation and distrust, that often accompany dislocation, rings true.
Tuesday, 6 August 2019
Blanketed in lush green plantations and studded with tea factories, the hills east of Kandapola are perfect for pottering about on foot or on a mountain bike - the winding roads are mostly quiet and the scenery can be stunning. You'll pass the odd tuk-tuk, the occasional improvised cricket pitch, as well as the many workers toiling on the steep hillsides. You might also see wild boar trotting along the many tracks lacing the hillsides. When the rain stays away, the cool climate makes the hills manageable, even in the middle of the day.
Monday, 5 August 2019
A painstakingly and lovingly restored industrial building in the rolling hills around Nuwara Eliya, the Heritance Tea Factory now serves as a upmarket hotel. In the foyer, basement and bars, the wooden floors and ceilings remain intact, as do the steel girders and the quaint window panes. These communal areas house numerous examples of the original factory equipment, as well as tea crates, vintage photos and other antique paraphernalia. Outside, are beautifully manicured lawns and wide-ranging vistas over the tea plantations, studded with the corrugated iron roofs of the pickers' homes.
Sunday, 4 August 2019
Clinging to a hillside above the highway running south east out of Nuwara Eliya, Hakgala Botanic Gardens date back to 1861. For the modest entrance fee (2,000 rupees for an adult), you get fine views over the Uva Valley below as you wander around the terraces, flowerbeds and arboretums, complete with bands of monkeys. With about 28 hectares to explore, these gardens should occupy you for at least an hour or two.
In the immediate vicinity of Nuwara Eliya, the family cycling options seem to be pretty limited. The roads in the town itself are the domain of maniac drivers, while the surrounding countryside quickly gets very hilly. There is one fairly safe, but quite short, ride you can make down the track, through the woods, to the Boburuella Reservoir, which is quite a nice spot. You can ride back past Lake Gregory, with its swan-shaped pedalos and other kitsch Victoriana, but you won't want to take your eyes off the road for too long.
Saturday, 3 August 2019
After working your way through the congested suburbs, the lake in the heart of Kandy is a welcome oasis of space and tranquility. It is overlooked by the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world and the beating, bustling heart of the city. This revered religious complex is surrounded by venerable colonial-era white-washed buildings.
Friday, 2 August 2019
Although Sri Lanka is a relatively small and densely-populated island, it retains some genuinely wild and dramatic scenery, such as that in the Knuckle Mountains. Although much of the range is unmarked, there are a few hiking trails you can take - one leads up from Knuckles Peak Road (a minor road off the B205), past the Knuckles Falls, and up to a 1850 metre peak. It is about a 12km round trip involving some steep gradients and taking in some fine views, if and when the mist breaks. You are supposed to take a guide and pay the park entrance fee, so this can be quite an expensive, whilst rewarding, walk. If it has been raining, beware of leeches.
Wednesday, 31 July 2019
Built around a 108 metre pool, which zig zags out towards the Bay of Bengal, this spacious Jetwing hotel combines homely and comfortable villa-style rooms with some dramatic communal areas. Although the pool-side restaurant is fairly understated, the terraces, the lounge, the bar and the atrium have all been built with an architectural flourish. The en-suite rooms are well-equipped with quiet air-con and safes, but the Wi-Fi can be very flaky. Both the buffet breakfast and the buffet dinner (3,000 rupees a head) have a large enough selection of both western and Sri Lankan dishes, without going overboard. You can also get an a la carte lunch, but the service tends to be fairly slow and the table water can be tepid. Next to the beach, a small shack serves drinks to guests that have claimed a hotel sun lounger underneath the trees. From here, you can watch (or join in) games of volleyball on the sands. The hotel also has a games room and a few ropey mountain bikes you can take out for a small fee, but you are likely to spend most of your stay chilling out near the beachfront. 7/10
Although it is lined with a dozen or so upmarket hotels, Passikudah Beach still feels quite wild. Many of these architecturally-flashy resorts are set well back from the seafront and there is a large open expanse of sand. With just some low-key water sports, a few fishing boats and the odd volleyball court, there is plenty of space to spread out. The sea is very shallow and very warm, as is the sun - early evening is the best time to go for an amble around this curvaceous bay.
Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Today, just a handful of lethargic dogs laze among the fishing boats lying on the extensive sands of Kalkudah Beach. Enjoy the emptiness while you can. Tomorrow, there could be hundreds or even thousands of sun-worshippers, judging on the large number of lots of nearby land that seem to have been snapped up by investment companies.
Sunday, 28 July 2019
Well placed for trips to Sigiriya Rock, Kaudulla National Park and Minneriya National Park, the very security-conscious Cinnamon Lodge is a sprawling resort overlooking some picturesque marsh land. Built around ancient and atmospheric trees, home to troops of monkeys, and a small lake with mini-islands, scores of two-storey chalets each house a couple of en-suite bedrooms. They are generally designed and well-equipped, but the odd one may be missing a safe and it can be a bit of trek to the Lodge's large swimming pool and the massive restaurant.
Saturday, 27 July 2019
A round-trip of about 30km, this mostly flat cycle ride takes in picturesque irrigation channels, lush farmland and the Kandalama reservoir. For about 50 dollars a head, Jetwing Adventures will organise decent mountain bikes, a support vehicle, a couple of guides and refreshments. But if you can find somewhere to hire bikes, you could easily do this ride unguided - the roads and tracks are mostly quiet and the route-finding is easy enough. And you could extend the ride into Dambulla, but that would probably involve dicing with some serious traffic. 7/10
Friday, 26 July 2019
Everything about the Jetwing Lagoon Hotel is on a grand scale. The swimming pool is over one hundred metres long, the well-equipped rooms are vast, the en-suite bathrooms are enormous. Even the dining area is extensive. Better still, this Jetwing sits on a spit of land that runs between Negombo's broad lagoon and the ocean, meaning there are waterfronts (and cool breezes) on both sides of the hotel. Both the buffet breakfast and the a la carte dinner feature good quality Sri Lankan fare, while the service is warm and professional. And there is even an eco-angle - a small wall light tells you when the impressive in-room air con is running off solar power. Tastefully decorated in restrained tones and finely situated, this very spacious hotel is a peaceful and picturesque place to recuperate from the lengthy flight from Europe before venturing on to the manic roads that lead into Sri Lanka's interior. 8/10
Thursday, 20 June 2019
Performing in a tightly-packed courtyard inside Hampton Court Palace, Tears for Fears immediately has the crowd out of their temporary seats and singing along to Everyone Wants to Rule the World. The rest of the set is short, but sweet, as the bands' eighties melodic hits are enriched by a powerful and versatile female vocalist. Although they don't have much chemistry on stage, front men Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith put enough effort into their performance to keep the middle-aged crowd happy. Most of the classics, including Mad World and Pale Shelter, put in an appearance.
Tuesday, 11 June 2019
Saturday, 1 June 2019
Very much in flower, Brockwell Park's walled garden is splashed with colours in early June. Brockwell Hall's kitchen garden was adapted by J J Sexby of London County Council in the late nineteenth century to create a formal garden of massed bedding, rose beds, and topiary around a central fountain, according to Historic England.
Monday, 27 May 2019
Saturday, 18 May 2019
Monday, 6 May 2019
Monday, 15 April 2019
Labels: More Tyneside
Sunday, 14 April 2019
Saturday, 13 April 2019
You can now ride from Newcastle Central Station to the coast at Tynemouth almost entirely off-road using a stretch of the Hadrian's Cycleway route. From the station, you need to traverse a main road or two to get down to the Quayside from where you can ride past Newcastle's iconic bridges, the elegant Baltic Art centre and the eye-catching Sage cultural centre. The route soon leaves the river bank, rising up to follow a tarmac path surrounded by greenery, with occasional glimpses of the Tyne below. Be careful, as this stretch can be strewn with broken glass discarded by local drinkers. At Wallsend, you'll pass close to the remains of the Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum. On your way to Tynemouth, you'll also take in some fine landscaped parks, robust industrial architecture and the atmospheric waterfront of North Shields, as well as some featureless suburban backwaters. The final, typically blustery, stretch affords wide views across the Tyne to South Shields. At about 20km, this is the long way round, but it is much safer and more scenic than mixing it with the traffic. 8/10
Friday, 12 April 2019
An unusually large cafe-bar housed in an atmospheric period building, Canova Hall attracts a steady stream of bright young things sporting laptops. The spacious interior, the quirky crockery, a wide variety of tables, ample sockets and exposed industrial fittings successfully conjure up a start-up stroke loft vibe. The food and drink is reasonably priced, while the service is chirpy. What's not to like?
Labels: More south London cafes
Sunday, 7 April 2019
With an a diverse collection of pistes and lifts above 2,000 metres, Les Deux Alpes is a good shout for a family skiing holiday in early April. The fairly gentle gradient on the sizeable glacier and steep descents back to town give Les Deux Alpes an unusual profile. It is not a massive resort, but the runs tend to be long and the lift system is pretty effective: you will be skiing a lot, particularly if you avoid the French school holidays. The slopes can be almost empty and there are some stunning views from the glacier. At the end of day, you might enjoy the run down from 3,200 metres to 1,650 metres in one go – a real leg burner, but you feel like you're travelling. Note, there are also a few enjoyable runs on the facing slopes in an area known as the Vallée Blanche, which may remain open when the main resort is struggling with an overload of snow. This area has more trees, and some fun off-piste, but it will only occupy you for a few hours.
Labels: More France
Friday, 5 April 2019
A buzzing mountain restaurant, the Pano Bar is conveniently situated in the heart of the Les Deux Alpes ski area, at the top of the first leg of the Jandri Express gondola. The self-service section upstairs offers large main courses, such as tartiflette, steak haché, burgers, and pasta Bolognese, for around 13-17 euros a dish. They are generally very good, but you have to pay for all extras, such as ketchup and mayonnaise and bread, while the big and rich deserts cost 7 euros. As the drinks are also pricey, a hearty lunch at the Pano Bar will set you back. Still, the interior is spacious, and there is a broad sun deck with fine views and decent dance music blaring out. 7/10
For a cheaper, less scenic meal head to the nearby burger bar, which can get busy. It offers a good value lunch menu – a big burger, chips and a drink for 15 euros - a bargain in these parts, particularly if you can find a seat. Get there early to beat the crush. Although it lacks the space and views of the Pano Bar, it is much better value.
Friday, 15 February 2019
Sunday, 10 February 2019
Labels: More south London restaurants
Sunday, 3 February 2019
Thursday, 17 January 2019
Monday, 14 January 2019
At any Michelin-starred restaurant in London, a three course lunch for £37 is a bargain. At the expertly-run Pollen Street Social, it is almost a steal, particularly if you steer clear of the pricey wine list. Although there are only three choices for each course, the waiting staff also bring a steady stream of extras, so your taste buds will be well and truly stimulated. These memorable morsels include an afternoon-tea themed mix of appetisers, featuring caviar, smoked salmon, cucumber and a mini-Victoria sponge cake. The miniature mushroom soup, which appears before the main course, is also delicious.