Thursday Doors – In The Pink

I spent this past weekend in Wales, my favourite place in the world, which is where I saw this lovely pink door. It belongs to a cottage high on a hill overlooking Swansea Bay on the Gower Peninsula, a picturesque part of South Wales.

It was a lovely weekend. We were with family, and visited several different beaches including one where, during the war, my grandparents had their honeymoon. The house where they stayed is now a hotel, but the views, and the hidden church in the trees, remain the same. The Wales National Air Show was also on in the area so, as we sat on the beach in the morning, we were treated to the sight (and sound) of the Red Arrows flying past.

The little road with the pink-doored cottage was a narrow one, with room for a only single car in some places – we had to flatten ourselves against the old stone walls several times coming back up! It was also very steep, but the views were spectacular – almost worth the thought of lugging your shopping all the way up if you lived there.

Whenever I see an interesting door I wonder about what it must be like to live in that house, about the stories inside its walls. I think I’d enjoy living in this little cottage with the pink door, looking out at sea and mountains.

Maybe one day…

This is my response to the Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, head over to Norm’s site and click the link.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Le Musee De La Mar, Biarritz

It’s Wednesday, and time to wander again. I recently visited the French coastal town of Biarritz, and this week I’m going to wander to Le Musee De La Mer – the Biarritz Aquarium.

Opened to the public in 1933, the building is a stylish example of Art Deco architecture, much like the nearby Casino. However, the origins of the aquarium go back a few decades earlier, when the Marquis de Folin convinced the French authorities to commence scientific studies of the Bay of Biscay. He wanted to create a ‘seat of learning’ where people could come and learn about the oceans, a field of study that was gaining in popularity at the time. The First World War halted development of his idea, and it wasn’t until the 1930s that it came to fruition.

Perched upon cliffs high above the town, the Aquarium looks out onto the sea…

…and also onto some fairly impressive houses. This one would be fairly close to my dream home, I think!

The Aquarium has been extended and renovated since the 1930s, but still retains its original Art Deco interior design. There is something about this style of design that lends itself particularly well to maritime themes, I think.

The aquarium also houses a Scientific Study and Research Centre, which focuses mainly on the nearby Bay of Biscay. There is a museum section which houses sailing and surfing artifacts, and different exhibit areas for each of the world’s oceans.

Like much in central Biarritz, the Aquarium is easy to get to on foot – a short walk along the beach path and through a picturesque old harbour, then up a (not too steep) hill. Once inside, we spent several hours exploring the oceans – we listened to whale songs, examined skeletons and surfboards, watched seals play and found Dory, as well as Nemo.

We also visited the Shark Cave, a massive tank home to several species of sharks, including a rather lonely looking hammerhead. To be honest, I’m not too fond of seeing animals in captivity, even though I’m sure these tanks are top of the line. However, the gorgeous girl is particularly fond of all things aquatic, so an aquarium stop is de rigeur wherever we go on holiday. She thoroughly enjoyed this one, especially the glow-in-the-dark exhibits.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Biarritz, and will definitely wander there again, both on this blog and in real life. Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me, see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Watchet, Somerset

This little harbour town in Somerset is has neither the fame of San Francisco nor the glamour of Biarritz, yet it is where I’m wandering this week.

Watchet is a charming place with an ancient history, situated at the mouth of the River Severn. An Iron age hill-fort nearby, later re-fortified by Alfred the Great, is said to be the origin of the settlement, with the harbour originally named Gow Coed by the Celts, meaning ‘under the wood’. Across the water lie the misty hills of Wales and it is from the harbour, looking at the view, that Coleridge is said to have been inspired to write The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. A statue marks the spot, the Ancient Mariner and his albatross together for eternity.

We stayed in a pink-painted cottage with a view of the sea, walking the cobbled streets to the local pub or fish and chip shop, wandering the bric-a-brac and antique stores (where I scored an excellent pair of vintage boots).

A trip to the nearby beach produced further treasure in the shape of fossils – ammonites and oyster shells frozen in time for millions of years, tumbled among the stones that lined the shore.

As we walked back from the beach we took a bramble-lined path running between the trainline and the sea. In the 19th century, Watchet was a centre of the industrialised paper industry, its products travelling country-wide. Now the tracks are used by commuters and sightseers, and it was a rather special day. The famous Flying Scotsman steam train was in town, taking people on journeys through the beautiful green countryside. People lined the tracks to watch it pass, and so did we.

We had only a couple of days in Watchet, yet it made an impression that lingers, of hidden houses down curving streets, distant hills and fossil beaches, and water that changes with the sky and tides. I hope to go back there one day…

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

Wednesday Wander – Biarritz At Dusk

I recently took a trip to Basque country, visiting San Sebastian in Spain and Biarritz in France. Less than an hour’s drive lies between the two cities, even though they are in different countries. I thoroughly enjoyed the holiday – there is a magic to that stretch of coast and I felt very at home there, for some reason.

I saw a lot of different places while I was away, including two locations used for Dragonstone in Game of Thrones (I blogged about them here and here), so will be writing a few Wednesday Wanders about the various locales. This week, I’m wandering to Biarritz, and the beautiful main beach at dusk. We spent a lot of time walking along here, both day and night, as it was the direct route into the town centre. With the beautiful view, the combination of rocks and sea and sky coupled with Art Deco architecture, it was a pleasure every time.

One of the buildings along the seafront at Biarritz is the Casino. Built in the 1920s, it was opened only a few weeks before the Stock Market crash that marked the end of the glittering art Deco era. It is a beautiful reminder of that decadent time, nonetheless, and a survivor – plans to knock it down in the 90s were thankfully scuppered, and the building restored and designated a historical monument. Nowadays it contains a pool, restaurants and a casino, and was full of people every time we passed by.

The walk along the beach also passes this lovely islet, connected by a stone bridge to the mainland. It seemed like something out of a fairy tale (so I loved it, obviously). There was also a lovely church, as well as the old fishing village, which I’ll write about in more detail soon.

But for now, let us look at the gold and violet sky, the shimmer of ocean against dark sand, the clean lines of the Art Deco building, the warm lights of the coastline against the dusk sky. It is a supremely romantic coastline, with a warmth in the air that filled me with joy.

I can’t wait to go back one day.

Thank you for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next time!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Mykonos, Greece

The Greek island of Mykonos, also known as The Island Of Winds, is part of the Cyclades, a group of islands set in Homer’s wine dark Aegean sea.

According to Greek legend, Mykonos got its name from its first ruler, Mykons, said to be a direct descendent of Apollo. Zeus and the Titans were supposed to have had a great battle on Mykonos, and it’s where Hercules killed the invincible giants of Mount Olympus, having lured them to the island. Also, and I love this, because I guess I have a weird sense of humour, the large boulders scattered around the island are reputed to be the fossilised testicles of those same giants, and this legend is the source of the slang term ‘stones’!

Mykonos has a long history dating back to at least the 11th century BC, and has been under Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman rule. However, since 1831, it has been part of Greece, following the revolution in which Manto Mavrogenous, one of the island’s noted inhabitants, played a part. Manto, a wealthy, educated aristocrat, sacrificed her family’s fortune to help the Greeks and became a national heroine – a statue to her honour stands in the main town square.

The island is well known for its vibrant nightlife and nude beaches (sorry, no photos), and also for its famous windmills. Built by Venetians in the 16th century, they were originally used to mill flour – nowadays most have been restored as homes or storage facilities. There are also several fine museums, including one of the oldest archaeological museums in Greece. I’m somewhat ashamed to say I visited none of them, however, quite unusual for me. But Mykonos was a stop on a longer trip and I suppose I just chose to relax, instead. Ah well, I guess I need to go back.

It’s been quite a few years since I visited, but I still have plenty of memories – of meeting Petros the Pelican, the island’s mascot, of tangy feta and fresh bread, of my washing being done and coming back smelling of sunshine and herbs, of an old woman kissing my cheeks and offering me sweets after I bought one of her hand knitted jumpers (which I still have). There was nightlife, of course, dancing and drinking, the streets vibrant all through the night. But my overwhelming memory is one of sunshine and warmth, of brilliant white and deep blue, and through it all, the sound of the sea.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me! See you next time.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

#writephoto – Waiting

It’s another #writephoto challenge from Sue Vincent, and this week our prompt is this evocative photo of sunset over the ocean. There seemed to be something melancholy about the image – perhaps it’s the combination of the obelisk and the setting sun. This is the poem that came to me:

Waiting

I wait upon the lonely shore

I wait for boats that come no more

Where water meets stone

Where earth meets sky

I watch the long years passing by

 

No one remembers when I came

They do not even know my name

Yet still I wait

Yet still I stare

In hope that I might see you there

 

As darkness ends another day

And golden shimmers slide away

I cry out loud

To an uncaring sea

‘Come back to me, come back to me.’


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

#writephoto – Shore – The Meeting

This week Sue’s #writephoto prompt is a lovely image of sea and sand. Here is my (short but hopefully sweet) response:

The Meeting

Curving, carving,

A river through sand

A ribbon of silver

Meeting the sea

 

Dancing, splashing

A foaming blue line

An endless cycle

Meeting the land


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Wednesday Wander – Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland

The glacier on top of the Jungfrau - the original Pass of Carahdras?

I saw in the news last week that a massive crack in the Larsen ice shelf has increased by six miles in the past few weeks, with the entire crack being over 100 miles long. When a crack in ice is measured in miles, the size of the ice shelf itself is almost too large to comprehend.

glacier-4We are used to the idea of ice at both our poles. Santa lives in the North, of course, surrounded by polar bears and narwhals and a floating sea of ice. And penguins inhabit the south, their tuxedoed forms clumsy on land and greased lightning in the frigid waters. Yet the ice is receding, and has been for much of the last century, the sea now too wide in places for polar bears to swim, vast icebergs breaking away in the South. Global warming, despite all the naysayers, is a reality, and the melting of the icecaps is just one part of a bigger picture that includes rising sea levels and extreme weather events.

glacier-3Glaciers, too, are receding. Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth showed some sobering before and after images of places where the ice once flowed. I’ve snowboarded across a glacier, at the top of Blackcomb Mountain in BC. Canada. I’ve also been inside one, in Switzerland. The Aletsch Glacier is the largest glacier in the Swiss Alps, running for about 23 km, and it’s here that I’m heading for this week’s Wednesday Wander

glacier-2The Jungfraujoch, at the top of the Jungfrau mountain in Switzerland, is a popular destination for visitors. There are several activities up there, as well as spectacular views of the glacier (via, as I remember it, a small metal balcony bolted to the side of the building – still haunts my nightmares). There is also the Eispalast, one of the highest altitude ice palaces in the world. Carved into the side of the glacier, it has a network of rooms filled with sculptures carved from ice. It’s bitterly cold inside, as you can imagine, the ice a luminous blue. Some of the sculptures have had colour added, while others are simply as they were carved.

glacier-1A funicular railway takes you to and from the top of the mountain, and on the way down we chose to alight before the bottom, walking the last section so as to take in the glorious views. I’ve written about this landscape before, as this is where Tolkien was wandering when he was inspired to write Lord of The Rings. Looking at the otherworldly beauty of the valley, I can see why.

The valley seen from the lower slopes of the Jungfrau

Our world is shaped from ice and fire, and I feel fortunate to have been close to both extremes, from volcanoes in Tenerife and Hawaii to glaciers in Canada and Switzerland. It is usually at the extreme of the scale that change first becomes apparent, so the warnings written in both fire and ice perhaps should be heeded. While we like to think we have some control over nature, in reality we are part of it and we ignore that at our peril.

Thanks for coming on another Wednesday Wander with me – see you next week!

Note: the views on climate change expressed here are my own. I realise there may be readers who see things differently – if so, let us agree to, respectfully, disagree. Thanks.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

 

 

#BlogBattle – Resolved – The Shimmering Shoal

img_1682Rachael Ritchey’s Blog Battle is a weekly prompt where you’re given a word and a genre, then have to write a story. The stories must be posted on the Tuesday of the week in question, and then you can vote on your favourites.

This week’s prompt was Resolved, and the genre was Tall Tales. For some reason I thought it was supposed to be 1500 words, but apparently it’s only 1000, so unfortunately I think my story might be a bit long. But I still like it so I thought I’d share it anyway. And if you want to add a story of your own, there’s still time – head on over to Blog Battle and check out the prompts!

The Shimmering Shoal

‘Did I ever tell you how I got this scar, the one under my eye?’

Sara shook her head. ‘No, I don’t think I’ve heard that one.’

‘Well,’ he said, his voice a wispy quaver, ‘It’s a rather good one.’

‘Your stories do tend to be,’ she said, wiping a cloth across the small wooden table next to his bed. His gnarled hands were dark gold against the white sheets, his bald head spotted with age.

‘You see how it’s shaped like a star?’

‘Yes.’ She had noticed it, but had thought it a remnant of some youthful folly, like a faded blue tattoo almost lost in the folds of skin under his eye.

‘That’s because it’s from a kiss. A mermaid’s kiss.’

‘Oh now, come on,’ she said, moving over to the shelving unit. She started lifting each small ornament, wiping it carefully before putting it back. ‘There’s no such thing as mermaids, surely.’

‘There are,’ he said, ‘and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’ He started coughing, deep rasp in his chest. Putting down her cloth she went to the trolley by the bed and poured him a glass of water from the jug, handing it to him.

‘Come on,’ she said. ‘You’re getting yourself all worked up. And you know what the doctor said-‘

His hand gripped her wrist, hard, shocking her into momentary silence. His eyes met hers, and for a moment they seemed filled with stars falling, with endless seas, and she caught a glimpse of the handsome young man he had once been. ‘Let me tell you,’ he whispered. ‘It’s the last one, I promise.’

She nodded, and he let go of her wrist. ‘I wore a younger man’s skin in those days,’ he began. ‘Everything where it should be, my hair dark as a raven’s wing.’ He huffed out a laugh. ‘And I loved the sea. Every day I would take the fishing boat out with the rest of the crew, every day. Catching a thousand fish, ten thousand fish, a hundred thousand fish or more, so the deck was awash with scales and the bow so low in the water it was a wonder we made it back to shore.’

This was more like it. He told her a story every week, each one more fantastical than the last. ‘That many fish?’

‘Indeed. The sea was alive with them, shimmering in the waves, so thick in parts we could walk on water if we were fast enough.’ He laughed again. ‘That’s what I was trying to do, the day I met her.’

‘Walk on water?’ She liked playing along with his ridiculous stories. ‘You must be joking.’

‘I swear it, on my sainted mother’s grave,’ he said. ‘So there I was, lowering myself over the side of the boat, the fish churning and splashing like a great rippling silver carpet. I had my net in hand and my sturdiest boots on, and I stood on the back of the great shoal and felt the power of their mass rolling through the soles of my feet. I dipped my net once, throwing the fish on board, then again, then a third time. But the net grew so heavy I couldn’t lift it, dragging me down through the shoal and into the deep blue waters below.’ He coughed again as though reliving the moment, taking a sip of water before continuing.

‘Why didn’t you let go?’ She’d finished the ornaments and was wiping along the slats of the blind, each one rattling faintly against the glass.

‘Oh no, I couldn’t let go. That net had been woven by seven maids from their own hair, each one more fine and delicate than the last, yet together stronger than steel. It was a great treasure, it was.’

‘So what happened?’

‘Down I went, my lungs feeling as though they were about to pop. Then I saw her.’

He paused, and Sara realised he was waiting for her response. ‘Who?’

‘The mermaid. First her face, pale ivory in the gloom. I thought it a mask at first, a dead man’s caul, some witchery come to take me. She smiled, and her teeth gleamed like pearls. She had the net in her hands, smooth slender fingers curved through the knots. It was she who had pulled me down. “Let it go” I said, but she shook her head, laughing all the while, hair greenish brown around her.’

‘But how-‘

‘Could I speak? I used the last of my air, words forming in bubbles above my head before fading away. We floated there together, staring at each other. Then she put her hand on my arm and, all at once, I could breathe. I could hear her in my mind. “I like your net,’’ she said. ‘’And I wish to keep it.’’ ‘’But it’s mine,’’ I said. At this she frowned. ‘’Every day you take what is mine. So why should I not get something in return?”

Sara raised her eyebrows. Sliding the cloth along the last of the slats, she pulled the blind up, letting in pale sunshine. ‘What did she mean?’

‘Well, it was the fish, of course. Turns out she was some sort of sea shepherdess, the shoal of fish her flock. Each day she’d bring them to our part of the ocean, and we’d come with our boat and take part of it away. Of course we hadn’t realised what we were doing.’ He huffed out another laugh, the bed creaking as he moved. Sara went over to help him, plumping up the pillows behind him.

‘So how did you escape? And why did she kiss you?’

‘Well…’ His voice trailed off and he winked at Sara. ‘Why do you think?’

‘Oh, don’t tell me you charmed your way out of it.’

‘I was a charming fellow in those days. You don’t get a net made from the hair of seven maids for nothing, you know.’

‘So, what did you do?’

‘I pulled the net closer, meaning to trap her in it, but she was too fast for me. With a flick of her green tail she had me trussed up like a caterpillar, then she towed me away, the shoal around us all slithering scales, like a great cloud. I could see the hull of our boat getting smaller and smaller, and I thought I was done for, truly I did.’

Sara shook her head. ‘Well I never.’

‘She took me to a little island, a rocky outcrop way out in the sea. We all steered clear of it on account of the rocks below the surface like sharks teeth, ready to tear the hull of your boat. She pulled me onto a little bit of sand, towering rocks all around us, the murmur of the sea in our ears. Then she unwrapped me.’

‘Unwrapped you?’

‘Completely, if you get my drift.’

‘Ooh, you be careful!’ Sara laughed, moving over to one of the pictures on the wall and wiping the glass.

‘Oh, there was nothing careful about it. She was about to have her wicked way with me when there was a shout from the ocean, and there I saw the head and shoulders of a noble looking fellow, all silvery hair and beard, holding some sort of trident, bobbing in the waves. When she heard the shout she flinched, pulling back. Our eyes met, and she leaned in and kissed me. I think she meant to get my mouth but I turned my head and she got me just below the eye. Turns out mermaids are venomous, y’see.’

‘Oh, now I know you’re having me on.’ Sara realised she’d been cleaning the same picture frame for far too long and went on to the next one.

‘I swear on my blessed father’s grave I’m not,’ he said, a twinkle in his eye. ‘Before she slipped between the waves, leaving me half-unconscious, she put a shell in my hand to remember her by. Blue and pearl it was, green as the sea. And I resolved that I’d see her again, one day, and finish what we started, but I never did.’

‘Oh, you and your tall tales,’ said Sara. ‘Right, I’d better get on, I’ve plenty of other rooms to clean. See you tomorrow.’

The next morning Sara knocked on his door. But when it opened the room was empty, the bed made up. Someone came up behind her and she turned to see one of the night nurses. ‘Where’s he gone?’

‘Died in the night, he did. Funny, though.’

‘What was funny?’

‘Well, when I went in to check on him, there was a smell everywhere, like the sea, you know? And he gave me this, said it was for you. The next thing we knew he’d gone.’

She dug in the breast pocket of her tunic and pulled something out. ‘Here.’

Stunned, Sara held out her hand. The nurse dropped something in it.

It was a shell, blue and pearl, green as the sea.


If you enjoyed this post, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Thursday Doors – Casa Del Mar

img_0534This lovely ornate door belongs to Casa Del Mar, also known as House A, at Hearst Castle, California. Casa Del Mar, which translates to House Of The Sea, is one of three guest houses on the site, and is where William Randolph Hearst and his family stayed while Casa Grande, the main house, was being built.

img_0505Hearst was a collector on a grand scale, spending months travelling through Europe buying up art and antiquities, even parts of buildings, then shipping them back to California to be incorporated into his dream home. So this lovely door may have started life long before it came to live on the Enchanted Hill. Nowadays Hearst Castle is a National Monument, open to the public for tours and events. However, there is still enchantment to be found on the hill high above the ocean, and the castle remains a place of fascination for me.

img_0504This is my entry for Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors Challenge – for more doors, or to add one of your own, visit Norm’s site and click the link.


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Plus my latest release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.