Monday, 16 January 2017

Reflecting...

Friday 13th January, Norwich

The view from my clinic room window on Friday morning...


We are really not very good at winter weather are we?! Norfolk is not known for a lot of the wet stuff (apart form the odd threat of lowland flooding of course!) but this bit of snowfall on Friday put lots of people into a blind spin. To the amusement of the lovely Polish girl in the back office who kept exclaiming 'Seriously! This is not snow!'. I guess if you are used to Polish winters it must seem funny that a dusting can cause so much consternation.

Saturday 14th January, River Yare & Whitlingham, Norwich

The next morning was a complete contrast. It doesn't feel as though we have had many of those bright crisp winters days, and I thought it wasn't going to last, but after a quick burst of sleet late morning the sun came out again and I felt a sudden urge to escape the house with the camera.

The pull of water and reflections is always strong for me and I am lucky enough to be a short distance from the river that runs through the city. I obviously didn't get the exposure right on this because I managed to bleach out the top of the photo, but it was the reflections of the branches that had my attention. I love the slight distortion in the ripples.


This stretch of riverside has seen a huge amount of development over recent years, with new buildings springing up next to what were once dilapidated old factories and warehouses. There is still a fair bit of building going on and, generally speaking, I think it has been done sympathetically and has turned what was a pretty dubious bit of the city into a much more pleasant area. Whether any of the homes in these 'regeneration' schemes are remotely affordable is another matter - I feel for those the age of my sons who are struggling to find a way into independent living, either rented or otherwise, and conscious of the fact that Norwich is still really not the most expensive place to live.


A little further on, more reflections...


...and a few early snowdrops on the riverbank...


...before coming out behind the cathedral with its distinctive spire against the blue sky...


The path continues along the river and I decided to keep walking as it was so beautiful, the sun already dropping in the sky and casting long rays through the trees...




On the way out of the city I love these buildings with their pretty windows and ornate brickwork, albeit in varying states of disrepair now...


Whitlingham Country Park, an outdoor activity park built on the site of an old gravel quarry provides a place for walking, cycling, water sports or just enjoying the woodlands and nature. A visitors centre provides a cake and coffee stop if needed too. I just opted to walk, squelching a bit here and there but enjoying the chance to stretch my legs and appreciate the surroundings. Believe it or not, these are fields - the recent high tides and snow making them look like an extension to the broads...


Looking through these twisted branches to where there is usually a path across the grass, frequented by dog walkers. Some of this was frozen and I did see one or two hardy 4 legged types skittering across the ice.


A dyke runs more or less parallel to the great broad, utilised by the rowing club who were out practicing (didn't envy them actually, the water must have been icy)...


They whizzed through my photo leaving a trail of ripples in their wake...


Sunlight through the grasses at this time of year gives a particular kind of glow to everything...



...and as it dipped lower...


...from the other side of the broad the contrast between the golden vegetation and the grey of the water was striking...


By the time I got home again I had been walking for best part of 3 hours and covered almost 9 miles, a bit chilled but counting one or two blessings and reminding myself I must keep this up!

S x

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Seeing in 2017...

2016 ended with another couple of trips away. At the beginning of December every year is a conference which is almost obligatory for professional education - never funded of course, but I love being in London at Christmas time so I usually combine it with annual leave and almost always get to meet up with friends and colleagues too.

Having stayed in some truly dreadful hotels over the years in London (budget constraints!) this year, on the back of a promotion, I decided to stay more centrally and booked a place close to the Southbank in easy walking distance of the conference and central London.

From the tube station I walked along the side of the Thames with the late afternoon sun setting behind the tower blocks...


The first evening I was on my own so just walked and walked, taking in London in its full Christmas lights glory. Didn't take many photos because it was so cold my hands froze! But loved the lighting on the Eye...


I had a lovely few days, got a bit more educated and walked a lot, reminding me how much peace I get from just walking and taking in the surroundings. One friend had to go back to work before the end of the conference so we got up early to get to London City Airport and then I walked back through Central London as the sun rose. It was quiet and beautiful and quite reflective. This is the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park...


For various reasons, both personal and more widely, 2016 was a year I was ready to move on from. Having had some great trips away and some lovely times that sounds ungrateful - I have some lovely memories from the year I was 50 but lots of challenges too, that I have opted not to record for eternity. Additionally, New Years Eve was always 'a big deal' for us when we were a 'proper' family and I was a bit desperate to mark the end of this year with something other than a struggle to stay awake alone till midnight!

Of course some of the changes that happen are nothing at all to do with divorce - children grow up and become independent and that is exactly how it should be. Inevitably and appropriately, they are doing their own thing over the festive season - we all got together and it was lovely, but the eldest two have their own homes and different extended families now so, just as mine were at their age, their priorities have shifted a bit. I am actually very at peace now with the end of my marriage - my only regret is that we haven't quite managed to build bridges so that the kids don't feel they have to divide their time between the two of us, but maybe that will come... Give it another 5 years!  I am lonely at times, for sure, but no more than I was when I was married and unhappy so I know I just have to continue the process of learning about myself and how to get the best out of the second half of my adult life.

With this in mind, when Paolo Nutini's email inviting me to his Hogmanay concert in Edinburgh dropped into my inbox it felt too good an opportunity to turn down! I have been a fan since he appeared on the music scene (I kid myself these emails are a personal invitation...šŸ˜œ) as is my youngest son who was going to be back from uni for the holidays. Plus...I have a very good friend and ex colleague who moved up there last year so seemed a good way to catch up too.

So, 29th December saw us on a train heading up the East coast past frosty fields...


Unexpectedly,  it was actually considerably warmer in Scotland with temperatures when we arrived in double figures! We spent the first day exploring this beautiful city, with its museums and lovely architecture. Like London, most of the museums are free to enter so great to call into for a couple of hours. On the evening of 30th we made our way into the city, heaving with people enjoying a huge Christmas market and lining the streets waiting for a torchlight procession through the city and up onto Calton Hill for fireworks. This is marketed as an ancient tradition and although, in reality, I think it is much more a commercial venture - the whole place is alive with an atmosphere of excitement and collective enjoyment of the three day Hogmanay Festival. Our concert was in Princes Street Gardens but we could see the procession cross the bridge at the bottom of The Mound - a long stream of torches lit the street for well over two hours. Down in the gardens I was glad it was unseasonably mild as we watched the support bands (who I had never heard of! But Tom seemed to enjoy!). There is something special about outdoor concerts and the setting, at the base of Edinburgh castle, made it especially so with the stage lights illuminating the trees...


The gardens have a kind of amphitheatre shape and even at this distance...


...the sound was amazing and Paolo did not disappoint, with the concert finishing in a blaze of fireworks, inadequately captured on my phone camera!



Sunrise is almost an hour later than at home at the moment so as we walked in across the Meadows for a bit more sightseeing on 31st it was still low in the sky...


I had something of an obsession with Greyfriars Bobby as a child - the story of the little Skye terrier who allegedly guarded the grave of his owner in the graveyard of Greyfriars Kirk for 14 years until he died in 1872 and was subsequently buried there too. His statue now sits opposite the pub bearing his name (you can just see it on the very right of this picture)... 


...with the atmospheric Gothic kirk and graveyard behind the pub...


As the sun got stronger the castle stone work seemed to glow - it is such an impressive landmark and very visible as you wander around the city...


We had deliberately opted to do 'as the local folk do' and stay away from the 75,000 in Princes Street on New Years Eve itself, instead meeting our friends for a lovely pub meal at the foot of Arthurs Seat then hiking up the hill for a view of the midnight fireworks. Tom warmed up with a Scots version of a 'Dark & Stormy', delicious spicy mix of whisky, rum and warm spices...


Then after dinner, from partway up Arthurs Seat it was possible to see fireworks all over the city with a spectacular display from the castle - lovely way to see in the New Year.




My tentative resolution on New Years Eve was to try to taker more photos again and walk more. These are both things that I find reflective and therapeutic. I'm not sure how manageable this is with my current working hours, and I am definitely not going to manage everyday (which was my plan!) but I have also decided not to beat myself up about it if I can't manage it! I got off to a good start...

1st Jan 2017, New Years Day, Edinburgh
Bright and very cold, lovely blue skies across the meadows...


Frosty autumn leaves...


...and gorgeous low light...


I have a bit of a thing for skies - I just love the light and colours through the clouds and the early evening outside the Portrait Gallery was beautiful...


2nd Jan 2017, Edinburgh
Having not made it to the top of Arthurs Seat on New Years Eve we decided to get out promptly and walked up as the sun was coming up - more lovely skies...


 Long shadows...


...glowing rock...



...and glorious views...








It was bitterly cold that day though, with the ground completely frozen underfoot and we were very glad to find a cafe open opposite Holyrood House (Clarinda's Tea Room - worth a visit if you are ever there!) which did a great breakfast that thawed us out!

3rd Jan 2017, Edinburgh
One last trip to the fabulous National Museum of Scotland, with its rooftop views across the city before a long train journey back home...


This was a huge treat and a lovely way to welcome 2017. I'm hoping this is going to be a good year!

S x

New York, New York...

This is a very belated post because this trip was a last birthday fling at the end of September! But in the interests of completeness, and because 2016 was in so many ways a very depressing year, it feels important to remember the special good times too.

New York had been on my wish list of places to go for a while but I wasn't entirely sure what I would make of it. I thought perhaps I would feel I had ticked it off the list but in fact I sort of fell in love with it! It is mad and busy and noisy but has a buzz about it that is infectious. And in a week we only really scratched the surface of what NYC has to offer and I find myself thinking I want to go again.

From the point you arrive in New York City there is a sense of familiarity. I hadn't registered how many of the landmarks are such frequently seen images that it feels a bit like deja vu. The grandeur of Grand Central Station (blurry because the light was surprisingly poor and everyone was speeding around!)...


And as we walked our first glimpse of the beautiful Chrysler building...


The crazy, oppressive, claustrophobic madness of Times Square...


and Broadway...


...which is a much longer street than I had imagined. Central Park is an oasis of green in the centre of the city - a lovely well used space with different areas to walk, exercise, and just chill...


Our first day it poured and we took refuge in a little coffee shop on the street corner. Looking out onto yellow cabs and a school bus waiting at the end of the block. What could be more typical of a NYC scene?!


We took  in the Guggenheim exhibition and the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art - did you read about the gold toilet exhibit?! We opted NOT to queue for our opportunity to spend 3 minutes enthroned on a working gold work of art!!

Almost obligatory is a trip to the top of the Empire State Building - we opted to go at night and the sheer scale of the spread and density of urban lighting was quite breathtaking...




I think the Chrysler is my favourite building - so pretty at night...


Liberty and the stars and stripes are very much in evidence, particularly in the financial district where the 911 memorial exhibition is both moving and overwhelming... 





I was glad to come back out into the sunlight for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge...



It was so hot that day it was lovely to find some peaceful shade in a park in Brooklyn before getting the ferry back.


A visit to Ellis Island via the Statue of Liberty was a must of course...



There were many highlights (and I took hundreds of photos so it is difficult to limit it to a few!) but the 'sun and stars' tickets for the 'Top of the Rock" were definitely worth paying for and certainly a highlight of the trip. This enabled us to go up the Rockefeller building twice, during the day and at sunset. We opted to go early (to the ticket sales girl's surprise!) and were up at the top in early morning light at 8.30am when there were only a couple of other people up there.


It was a beautiful day and it was surprisingly peaceful up there with amazing views over Manhattan...


...with the familiar rectangle of Central Park clearly visible...



It certainly wasn't peaceful in the evening, with people crammed like sardines on the top of the building, but the sun setting over Manhattan was spectacular...


A lot of work has been done to regenerate areas of NYC, not least Central Park, which had a distinctly unsavoury reputation at one stage but now feels safe and clean. The High Line park is another - a repurposed rail track threading its way through the cityscape, created from materials in keeping with its origins and surroundings. It was a lovely walk above the streets and really rather beautiful...


Back in downtown Manhattan we just had to take in the blinding sparkle of Tiffany's on 5th Avenue (we snuck a little snack in so we could say we had Breakfast at Tiffany's šŸ˜„)...


...and I quite liked these flags against the towering buildings and blue sky...


Compared to the UK there is not much truly 'old' in Manhattan (lets face it I live in a house built in 1500 or so - not sure there is anything in NYC that dates back that far!)  but there are some lovely buildings. I liked the contrast of this church with the modernity of the glass fronts opposite...


In the art museum we were taken with some shadow paintings so did our own bit of shadow 'art' afterwards... šŸ˜‚


...before going for champagne and truffles in Macy's, then a show on Broadway. There was so much to choose from but we went with the long running Fiddler on the Roof in the end, which was amazing.


On our last day we were a bit exhausted by all the bustle but even in the midst of the city there are glorious places to just sit and read or people watch or just be. Bryant Park was a late find, just a short way off 5th Avenue is this little oasis of a community park, with people playing chess, a reading corner, table tennis, a piano playing...  All around the park were different gentle activities going on and it had a lovely atmosphere and was a great place to spend a peaceful couple of hours before heading for the airport.



...with one last glance at the Chrysler before we went...


New York City certainly didn't disappoint. It is frenetic and full on - Sinatra's 'city that never sleeps' but I loved it and it was a great place to shake off any remaining blues about being 50!

S x