Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lake Helen, time warped in Florida

Founded in 1888 by Henry DeLand and named for his daughter Helen, Lake Helen survives as a quaint reminder of not only the past but also of its better days. From a vigorous beginning enjoying rapid growth the town was dealt a near mortal blow in the winter of 1894-95 when the Big Freeze struck. 
Almost entirely dependent on the citrus industry the town was stopped in its tracks as the majority of the groves were wiped out. About half of the inhabitants were ruined and compelled to leave town while the remainder clung to the nascent vacation industry for survival.
Lake Helen was one of numerous towns throughout the US which depended heavily on Sears & Roebuck Mail Order Catalog for its supply of houses. Examples from the early 20th century until the dawn of WWII abound throughout the downtown area and lend a fairy tale aura to the area. There are numerous examples of late 19th century American styles including Bungalow, Neo-Classical, Colonial Revival, Frame Vernacular, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne and many more. The city fathers are working hard to ensure the continuance of these lines in future residential and commercial structures.
Today, with a population of about 2,500, Lake Helen appears to have few visible means of support outside of a bedroom community for the neighboring cities Deltona and DeLand.
See here for a glimpse of the once bustling and prosperous neighborhoods enjoying a quiet and leisurely existence.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sidmouth, England - September 15, 2010

As its name suggests, Sidmouth lies at the mouth of the River Sid. Situated in a valley between Peak Hill to the west and Salcombe Hill to the east the town faces south into the English Channel. It is in the county of Devon with a population of roughly 15,000 - more than 40% of whom are over the age of 65. In addition to being a retirement destination the economy is heavily dependent on tourism.
Sidmouth's rocks contain fossils and so this stretch of coast is part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Sidmouth appears in the Domesday Book as Sedemuda and, like many towns on the south coast of England, it started life as a small fishing village. However, every attempt over the centuries to construct a harbor failed, preventing growth either from fishing or cargo operations.
At the end of the 18th century, the fashion for coastal vacations began to take hold and throughout the Georgian and Victorian eras numerous fine vacation villas were built in the area. Today, many of these have been converted into guest houses effectively squeezing out the small fishing industry altogether.
In 1819, George III's son Edward, Duke of Kent, his wife and baby daughter - the future Queen Victoria - came to stay at Woolbrook Glen which in later years morphed into the Royal Glen Hotel that is still in operation.
A wide esplanade has been a seafront fixture since Regency times although it was nearly lost in the early 1990s via a series of storms. Some additional breakwaters were built and new beach had to be trucked in by road.
For more pictures, click here,

Plymouth, England - September 11, 2010

Plymouth, probably best known as the departure point for the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620, is a city on the coast of the county of Devon, about 190 miles south-west of London. It is located between the mouths of the rivers Plym to the east and Tamar to the west, where they flow into Plymouth Sound.
Plymouth's history goes back to the Bronze Age and it became a trading post for the Roman Empire a couple of thousand years ago. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 as Sudtone, Saxon for south farm, and in 1254 it was awarded the status of a town. It wasn't until October 1928 it was granted status as a city.
During the 16th century locally produced wool was the major export commodity and Plymouth became the home port for successful maritime traders, including Sir Francis Drake as well as Sir John Hawkins, who led England's first foray into the Atlantic slave trade.
Construction of the Royal Citadel began in 1665, after the Restoration; it was armed with cannon facing both out to sea and into the town. Throughout the Industrial Revolution Plymouth grew as a major shipping port, handling imports and passengers from the Americas.
During World War I, Plymouth was the port of entry for troops from around the Empire and also grew as a manufacturer of munitions. It was also an important embarkation point for US troops for D-Day in WWII. The city was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe, in a series of 59 raids known as the Plymouth Blitz.
Today the city is home to around 250,000 people, making it the 16th most populous city in England.  Plymouth has ferry links to France and Spain and an airport with European services. Check out more pictures here.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Whittington, Shropshire, England

The village of  Whittington had a population of 2,600 or so in 2011 and the area appears to have been inhabited since prehistoric times. We last visited there in September, 2009 and passed the night in a grody campground. 
Some remaining structures are worth a quick look here.

Friday, March 03, 2017

September 6, 2009 - Back to the Sixties...

Roydon, a village in the Epping Forest district of Essex county and lying along the River Stort, was selected as our next stopover for a couple of reasons. First, it has a close by railroad with frequent trains to and from London, and second, it is only a few miles from where we lived for six years in the sixties - more nostalgia on the way!
Roydon is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 CE as Ruindune while Saint Peters, the village church, dates from the middle ages.
For such a small village, Roydon has boasted a cricket team, Roydon C.C., since 1839 and a soccer team, Roydon F.C., since 1901. The campsite, in Roydon Mill Leisure Park, had actually been closed prematurely for the season due to some badly behave
d hooligan campers the previous weekend. Fortunately, the management honored our booking and it served as a great base for cycles rides around our old haunts as well as a launch pad for London.
stead Abbotts, a much larger village of nearly 2000 souls, is only four or five miles from Roydon and was the closest community to where we had lived in the sixties. Recorded in the Domesday Book as Stanstede with the Abbotts tag being added in the 13th century after the property passed to the abbot of nearby Waltham Holy Cross. The Greenwich Meridian (longitude 0°) passes through the village and is marked by Meridian obelisks that were planted in 1984. The River Lee flows alongside the village on its way south to the east side of London. There are two churches and several pubs in the village. One pub, the Red Lion, was our "local" when we lived there and was a monastery when it was built in 1538.
Across the river Lee from Stanstead Abbotts is St Margarets - more precisely Stanstead St Margarets - another village, this one about 1300 people. There is a train station at St Mar
garets providing fast service to London and both of these villages have morphed into commuter communities over the last generation or so. Our home here was less than a mile from the station.
The closest large town (20,000 population)
that provided shopping, library, banking etc., was Hoddesdon, a couple of miles to the south. This town developed as a coaching stop between Cambridge and London and, during the 18th century, as many as 35 coaches a day passed through. Hoddesdon is also mentioned in the Domesday Book and received a market charter in 1253. After WWII, Hoddesdon had also slowly transformed into a dormitory town for London commuters.
A large portion of the old town center was r
azed between 1965 an 1975 to be replaced by unsightly high-rise apartments with seedy ground floor retail spaces that have suffered extreme business turnover and attracted much graffiti. A profound disaster.
In 1974 a bypass was
opened around the core of the town and much of the main street was pedestrianized. Parking remains difficult. What is left of the old town center is belatedly a conservation area with a few historic buildings scattered along the main street. The Clock Tower, a brick structure built in 1835 is built on the site of the Chapel of St Katherine which had been erected in 1336.
During the six years that we lived in the area we had never thought to explore Rye House, an historic oddity just a short distance off our beaten track. This omission was corrected during this visit and we discovered a fine pub along with one of the earliest brick structures known in England. We also learned of the infamous Rye House Plot to assassinate King Charles II of England and his brother, James, Duke of York in 1682.
Later, we visited Great Amwell and Little Amwell, a mile or so north of St Margarets. Here there is a church, St John the Baptist, and a pleasant pub named George IV. For more glimpses of these English backwaters, click here.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Barcelona, Spain

The ship left Cannes on Thursday evening and set sail for Barcelona, Spain. During the night, there were 8o knot winds and seas officially classified as "Rough". Our room was midships ("near the middle" for landlubbers) and remained fairly comfortable. Passengers close to the pointed end or those near the rear of the ship did not fare so well and had developed highly exaggerated tales of derring-do by breakfast the following day.

See Slideshow

December 8th was the following day. Unbeknownst to us latter-day pagans, this is the day for the celebration of the Immaculate Conception - a big deal in Spain and other western European countries. Building on my unchallenged ignorance and using powerful computational skills, it soon became apparent that there was nowhere near nine months between December 8th and December 25th - just 17 days in fact, so what gives? Turns out that the Immaculate Conception is nothing to do with the conception or the birth of Jesus but refers instead to the conception of Mary by her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne. This leads right away to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Feast Day on September 8th. Another long cherished misconception dashed!

But what about Christmas Day? Just another gap in our education and another feast we have missed all these years - The Incarnation of Christ, also known as Annunciation Day, is March 25th, the day the magic deed occurred and, as fate would have it, exactly nine months before Christmas! So it all came out OK in the end.

Back to Barcelona. It was thronging with people enjoying the festival, the weather was excellent and there was a lot to see. We spent our time in the Gothic Quarter, the old town area comprising mainly medieval and some Roman buildings lining the narrow streets and numerous squares. Generally a great day.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Joigny, France - visited July 15, 2012

Joigny, in the Yonne department of the Burgundy region, is on the banks of the Yonne River and is overlooked by the Chateau des Gondi. The surrounding countryside is considered scenic, so much so, that in 1802 the English painter J M W Turner stopped by for a while and recorded some sketches.
There are several churches and chapels in the town including the church of Saint Jean and the 16th century Gothic style Church of Saint-Thibault. Fragments of the medieval ramparts that once protected the town are extant and include one of the original arched stone doorways through the early castle walls at the Porte Saint Jean. Another imposing gateway at the north of the town called the Porte du Bois is also in good repair. The town was largely rebuilt in the 16th century after much of it was destroyed by fire.
Against expectations, the area around Joigny is renowned for its cider rather than wine and the nearby valleys are populated predominately with apple orchards, not vineyards. Joigny has a market each Wednesday and Saturday. Additional pictures here. or here

Friday, August 08, 2014

Charny, France - visited July 14, 2012

A quick overnight stop in Charny, a tiny commune in the Yonne department of Burgundy just 20 miles east of Montargis, provided a welcome break. While there is not much to this 1700 population town, reflecting on its turbulent and violent history one might conclude it has done well to survive at all.
Charny, known at the time as Caarnetum, first appears on a deed dated 1130 CE. Two hundred years later, with its population at around 2,000, the city appears to have been at its zenith. There was a quarantine facility for lepers, a new defensive wall had been built and, in 1309, King Philippe le Bel stopped by to meet and greet. C'est magnifique! 
In 1358 the town managed to stave off an attack by Sir Robert Knolles, an English knight, during his failed invasion of France. By the 15th century however, Charny's good fortune came to a complete stop. Between 1426 and 1443 (toward the end of the Hundred Years War) the town changed hands six times, bouncing back and forth between the Bourguignons and the Armagnacs. By the end of the war, in 1453, the town was wholly destroyed and was completely abandoned for about 50 years.
Following its eventual resuscitation another misfortune struck in 1706 when a fire razed everything to the ground except a barn and a few houses. Today, Charny continues as the head town of its canton, a distinction held since 1802, and has absorbed the village of “la Mothe aux Aulnaies” along the way.
In summary, another stagnant township of rural France just 75 miles from Paris. A few more pictures here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Montargis, France - visited July 13, 2012

Montargis, with a population of 15,000, is the second largest town in the Loiret department after Orléans and is about 68 miles south of Paris. With numerous canals and bridges, it sometimes bills itself as the "Venice of the Gâtinais", Gâtinais being a former province of France prior to being absorbed into the Loiret department.
The town is known from ancient times and numerous Gallo-Roman artifacts have been found in the area, many of which are in the town's Gâtinais Museum. Later, the town became a stronghold of the Frankish king Clovis 1st before falling into the hands of the house of Courtenay, who fortified a château on a hill overlooking the town. The town was ceded to the king of France in 1188 and became a royal residence in the 14th and 15th centuries.
In 1427, during the Hundred Years' War, the Earl of Warwick besieged the town, beginning a bombardment on July 15 of that year. On September 5, a French force of 1600 men broke the siege, led by Jean de Dunois and La Hire, commanders who would go on to lead the army of Joan of Arc.
After the 100 Years War, Charles VII rewarded the town for its valor by granting it various privileges and, in 1490, Charles VIII officially declared Montargis Le Franc - tax-free. The acronym, MLF, appears in the official coat of arms and the town remained free of taxes for three centuries, until the French Revolution.
In the time of Louis XIII a local shop that is still in existence first produced what became known as praline, the crunchy candy made from almonds in cooked sugar. Less romantic is the rubber factory, built in the 1880s, in the Châlette district that today employs 2000 workers in the production of tires and parts for vehicles and appliances.
More pictures of this workaday town here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Henrichemont, France - date visited July 12, 2012

Trundling north along the D12 on an overcast morning, we passed under an arch and emerged into the heart of the tiny town of Henrichemont, population 1800. Such a contrast to the usual string of houses along the roadside that form the typical small French community, this one was rigorously laid out around a grand central square. There had to be a reason...
Boisbelle, as the area had formerly been known, had been an allōd under Roman law, a sovereign freehold with none of the constraints of feudal tenure but one wherein the owner had the rights of a ruler and governed the territory in complete independence. Thus, the inhabitants of Boisbelle were free from any taxes or services and could not be conscripted into the armed forces. They were, however, subject to the requirements of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1605, Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully, a Protestant and a friend of King Henri IV for more than  30 years, bought Boisbelle from the Duke of Nevers. The French Treasury challenged the tax-exempt position of Boisbelle so Sully obtained letters patent from Henri IV in 1606 confirming its status and the immunity of its inhabitants. The dispute continued until 1608 when Henri IV issued further letters declaring the people of Boisbelle free of all tax in perpetuity. Apparently secure, Sully decided to build a new capital, Henrichemont, in honor of the king and the first stone was laid in April 1609.
Then, tragedy! On 14 May 1610, Henri IV was assassinated, Sully lost his friend and protector, his offices and his income. Construction slowed, contractors fell into dispute and lawsuits abounded. In 1624, Sully was ordered by the court to pay the contractors and in 1636 the owners of the few private houses that had been built, all sold at a loss. Ultimately, on 24 September 1766, the 7th Duke of Sully and last independent Prince, ceded the principality to the Crown. It was integrated into France and the inhabitants lost all their privileges. Too bad! Still, it was a nice coffee break and served to confirm that its not what you know but who you know, at least until they are assassinated - see pictures here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bourges, France - visited July 11, 2012

Bourges, a city with a population of around 70,000, is in Centre region on the Yèvre river. It is the capital of the Cher department. A great walkabout city - off the beaten track, lots of locals and no intense crowds.
Following the siege of Avaricum, the commune name in Roman times, Julius Caesar's forces destroyed the city and killed all but 800 of its inhabitants in 52 BCE. A Christian center had developed on this site by the 3rd century when Saint Ursin is believed to have been the first bishop of the city of Bourges. In the 4th century a defensive stone wall, strengthened by some 50 towers and pierced by four gateways, was built and some vestiges of this can be seen along the Promenade des Remparts and at the foot of Jacques Coeur's Palace. The city, which has a walled market that opens once a week, actually served briefly as the capital of France during the "Hundred Years War".
The Gothic Cathedral of Saint Etienne, begun at the end of the twelfth century, is listed as a World Heritage Site and is second only to Paris' Nôtre-Dame cathedral in size. It contains some of France's best stained-glass windows representing Christ at the Last Judgement and the Apocalypse among others. The structure is essentially as it was when it was completed in the late 13th century, although many elements have been replaced over the centuries.
By 1487, Bourges boasted 15,000 inhabitants despite outbreaks of plague and general paucity but, in that year, a disasterous fire consumed more than a third of the city and precipitated a rapid decline. In 1562 the War of Religion reached Bourges with much pillaging by the Protestants leading to the flight of many of its bourgeois and intellectual elite. The Revolution further diminished the city's allure and it wasn't until 1851 when the railroad station was built that redevelopment began.
In 1860 Bourges was selected as the armament manufacturing center for France and by 1866 the population had doubled to 30,000 and peaked at 100,000 briefly during WWI. Since WWII, most housing expansion has been in the form of apartment blocks north of the city, leaving the old town fairly intact. Lots of things to see here.