Bah Humbug

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Mid November is far to early for Christmas decorations in DonQui’s opinion.

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At least the, far too early, London decorations are reasonable tasteful.

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None-the-less, if he hears a Christmas carol playing any where before December he will trot sharply away.

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DonQui enjoys Christmas but he does so on the 24th-26th of December, not on the 16th of November.

Harry Potter and Boots of Beer

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Lavenham, Suffolk, bills itself as England’s best preserved medieval town. As a bit of a history buff it is a place DonQui has wanted to visit for some time. Even though it is not far from his home paddock on the Suffolk coast, he has not managed it until now.

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In the heart of Suffolk, not too far from Bury St. Edmunds, Lavenham is not easy to find. There are no main roads and no rail lines. To get there DonQui has to wind his way along narrow country lanes with only just enough room for two cars coming in opposite directions to squeeze past each other. Perhaps this is why the place is so well preserved.

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If you like old timber-framed houses this is the place for you. Many of the wonky buildings have been standing since the 14th century. Walking around the compact streets DonQui feels as if he has stepped back in time — parked cars notwithstanding.

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Fans of Harry Potter may well recognise the De Vere house as Harry’s birthplace from the film The Deathly Hallows.

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Several other films have also used the backdrop of Lavenham’s medieval streets as a backdrop.

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Many of the houses have pink plaster. The colour is still known today as ’Suffolk pink’. Originally this colour was obtained by mixing pigs’ blood with the plaster. DonQui assumes that the modern versions are more likely made by chemical combinations to match the natural original.

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Most of the buildings can only be admired from the outside but the Guildhall can be visited. It has been restored inside along with some excellent exhibits of its origins in the Flanders wool trade.

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Later it became a house of correction where the ‘idle and disorderly’ (poor and homeless) were incarcerated in the misguided idea that hard work and cruel conditions would make them more productive members of society.

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These reproductions of original notices give DonQui an idea of the fate of those unfortunates. One woman was incarcerated for having brought two children with smallpox into the town.

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There is also a bit of relatively modern history to the place. RAF Lavenham was an active airfield during the second world war and was home to the USAAF’ s 487th Bombardment Group which flew 185 missions between May 1944 and April 1945 with the loss of 233 lives. The Airmen’s Bar in the Swan Hotel is dedicated to their memory.

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Original graffiti from British and American pilots adorns the walls along with modern additions from returning veterans and their offspring.

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DonQui particularly likes the ‘boot record’ from 1940 which lists the times it took various British servicemen to drink a ‘boot’ of beer. Ironically this is a German tradition in which a couple of litres of beer are drunk in one go from a glass in the shape of a boot. DonQui did this in his younger days when he was living in Germany. The trick is to keep the toe of the boot pointing down otherwise an air-bubble will cause the drinker to be drenched, much to the amusement of the on-lookers.

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DonQui takes his hat off to W.H. Culling of the RAF who drank the boot in an incredible 59 seconds on 5 July 1940 only to do it again eight days later in 40 seconds!

Lavenham has plenty of excellent watering holes. These include:

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The Great House. This is where DonQui stayed and he reviewed it fully in his previous post. As boutique hotel with only 5 rooms it must be reserved well in advance. If you cannot get a room there, DonQui recommends treating yourself to at least one meal in the wonderful French restaurant.

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The Swan. Home of the atmospheric Airmen’s Bar, the Swan also has rooms and two eating possibilities.

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The restaurant is excellent, offering modern British cuisine of nearly the same quality as The Great House although it does not have quite the same ambiance. Duchess proclaims her goat’s cheese pannacotta with beetroot granita as one of the most interesting dishes she has ever tasted.

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The Swan’s Brasserie is more casual but with a bunch of tables and plastic chairs set up in a hallway, DonQui is not tempted.

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Attached to the Swan is an excellent Spa with a full range of treatments and a hot tub.

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Number 10 gets good reviews on TripAdvisor. The old timbered building and interesting menu posted outside tempts DonQui. When he goes inside to potentially make a reservation his ears are assaulted with the sounds of manufactured pop music of the worst kind. When he asks if this sort of stuff is played through dinner he is informed that it is. With a gentle snort he turns on his hooves and looks elsewhere.

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The Lavenham Greyhound is a Greene King pub. DonQui goes in for an afternoon drink and enjoys it. He cannot vouch for the food but the menu has fairly typical good pub food options. The bowls of soup he sees being brought to another table look good.

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The Guildhall  has a very good café offering tea, coffee and baked goods. Their scones are baked on the premises and DonQui tucks into one along with clotted cream and a blackcurrant jam while Duchess takes hers with raspberry jam. The scones are truly excellent. It is well worth a stop.

A bit of France in Suffolk

In the heart of rural Suffolk lies Lavenham — England’s best preserved medieval town. In the heart of Lavenham is an unexpected little corner of France.

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Over thirty years ago, the 14th century ‘Great House’ on Lavenham’s Market Place was bought by Régis and Martine Crépy. They converted it into a fabulous 5-room boutique hotel with a gourmet French restaurant.

DonQui is staying at The Great House for a couple of days while he explores Lavenham. It is as quintessentially French as the rest Lavenham is medieval English. The owners, staff, chef, and ambiance are all French. It seems to DonQui as if he has crossed the channel as soon as he steps over the threshold. For the francophile DonQui this is all very good news, especially the prospect of a French style dinner in owner-chef Régis Crépy’s award winning restaurant. He is not disappointed.

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He and Duchess opt for the 3 course set menu which at £36 is great value for top end cuisine from a renown chef who is often on the premises.

Spying the fantastic looking cheese board on the way in he decides to add a cheese course before desert which he and duchess will share. With 19 AOC cheeses it is reminiscent of the cheese board he sampled recently at Domaine de Barive.

 

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The food more than lives up to expectations. It is modern French cuisine using mostly local ingredients although the cheese is imported from France and the scallops come from the Isle of Man. The dishes are perfectly cooked, very well balanced, and not overly fussy. There are also a very good selection of wines by the glass. DonQui generally prefers this with a multi course meal as it allows him to sample different wines with different dishes.

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Highlights include the queen scallops with an avocado-lemon mousse and seaweed butter, which DonQui has as his starter. The accompanying mousse gives just the right amount of citrus taste to set off the delicate small scallops.

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Duchess pronounces her main of skate wing with capers and tomatoes as ‘astounding.’ Skate is not a fish DonQui has been particularly keen on in the past. When he has a taste of this one he is most impressed. The fish takes the taste of the capers and tomatoes beautifully and DonQui decides he will try cooking skate wing himself at some time in the future.

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The meat dishes are just as good as the fish. DonQui’s only mild criticism is that the additional portions of vegetables and potato do not match the standard of the main dishes. They were also quite unnecessary.

IMG_0529The cheese selection is a delight, all perfectly ripe and served at room temperature. DonQui likes having cheese before a sweet to finish off his wine. Unfortunately in many English restaurants a cheese course is brought straight from the fridge and is therefore often tasteless.

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The deserts are just as good as the previous courses.

The hotel rooms are spacious and comfortable. The modern furnishings and conveniences tastefully fitting in to their ancient surroundings. One of the rooms has a Jacobean four poster bed which DonQui and Duchess decide to try out on a future visit.

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Breakfast is a typical French-style buffet. The smell of the croissants and bread being baked on-site are a perfect alarm clock for DonQui.

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Cooked options from poached eggs on toast to a ‘full English’ are also available.

DonQui thoroughly enjoyed his stay at The Great House. It is not inexpensive but given the very high quality it is value for money. He will definitely come again. Lavenham itself is also well worth a visit and DonQui will no doubt have more to say about the place before too long.

Rumour has it that Régis Crépy is looking to sell up in order to open a new restaurant in London with his son. If you want to experience this wonderful French oasis in the heart of Suffolk you may wish to go sooner rather than later.

Fort Lauderdale

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Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is not the sort of place one would usually expect to encounter DonQui. Yet he had a very enjoyable week there despite the vagaries of a particularly severe hurricane season.  September-October is not the best time to visit Florida but DonQui had his reasons, arriving after Hurricane Irma and dodging Hurricane Maria.

 

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The east coast of Florida managed to escape the worst of Hurricane Irma although cleaning-up operations were still going on. Piles of palm tree branches clogged the smaller streets awaiting clear-up and crews were still busy taking the sand from the roads and spreading it back on the beaches.

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Like so many North American cities, Fort Lauderdale has been concreted over to make way for the ubiquitous automobile. Wide roads and spaghetti junctions carve up the city leaving very little charm.

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Even the much touted Las Olas Boulevard feels like it is struggling to hold its own against the encroaching office blocks.

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The little strip along the beach at the eastern end of Las Olas does make for a good stroll with many bars and restaurants offering a lively atmosphere along with mediocre live music.

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The beach itself is quite wonderful with easy public access despite the many high rise hotels which line the front.  During the week the beaches are almost deserted…

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… yet on weekends and holidays they rapidly fill up.

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It is the water which makes Fort Lauderdale so much more than a concrete jungle. In addition to the beautiful beaches there are many canals which are best appreciated if you can take a boat — even if it is just one of the water taxis.

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Only a 30 minute drive to the west, the everglades begin and an airboat excursion there is very well worth it as DonQui has previously described.

 

Burgers and Beer

There was a time, not that long ago, when finding good beer in the USA was just about impossible. Now, thanks to the craft beer revolution, DonQui is able to find a decent brew in the US almost as easily as he can in Europe.

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At the marvellously ramshackle Le Tub, in Hollywood, Florida, DonQui makes the acquaintance of a rather pleasant Yuengling Lager. Claiming to be from the oldest brewery in America it has a slight amber colour and more taste than your average lager. Apparently Mr Yuengling is a Trump supporter so although he enjoys the brew, DonQui will not make a habit of drinking it very often.

 

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With its eclectic furnishings…

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…and great view over the Intra-Coastal Waterway,  Le Tub seems the perfect place for a burger and beer.

Apparently Le Tub’s burgers were at some point voted by readers of GQ Magazine as the best in America, so DonQui decides to sample one. With 13 ounces of meat, the burger is not for the faint of heart but it is truly delicious.

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Although a bit out of the way to the south of Fort Lauderdale, DonQui is very glad to have been guided to Le Tub.

It is a perfect place to while away an afternoon in the Florida sun.

Water, Reeds and Alligators

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Ever since having seen James Bond zip around the everglades, DonQui Oaty has rather fancied giving it a go for himself.

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Finding himself in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, DonQui gets his chance. At the Sawgrass Recreation Park — only 30 minutes from Fort Lauderdale — he hops on board an airboat and is whisked out over the sea of sawgrass and bullrushes (or cattails as they are called here).

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It is not long before he spies an alligator approaching.

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The curious reptile comes right up to the boat…

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…along with a snapping turtle.

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The able and informative ‘Captain Bob’ steers the airboat through the reeds. At times the boat zips over top of them, Bond-like, on a cushion of air. At other times the boat slows so that DonQui can take in the flora and fauna.

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In all it is a most enjoyable hour out.

Beyond Amalfi

Feeling in need of a bit of exercise after all the good Italian food he has been eating, DonQui decides to go off and explore the Valle delle Ferriere behind Amalfi, away from the coast.

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He is advised that it is a moderate hike which involves some climbing but that there are steps up the steeper bits. Being a fairly sure footed beast, DonQui sets out in the morning intending to beat the late rising tourists and fast rising sun.

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The steps from the end of the town lead up steeply and it is a pretty exhausting climb.

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DonQui pauses from time to time to catch his breath and take in the views as the steps go up and up over the lemon groves at the back of the town.

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A few overhanging fig trees give some shade over the 30 minutes it takes DonQui to reach the end of the steps and the start of the woodland train.

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While the views looking back towards Amalfi are quite spectacular.

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Feeling a bit like Tolkien’s Last Homely House, the Fore Porta Organic Farm is the last watering hole before the wilderness beyond. As it is still early the Fore Porta is just setting up, so DonQui resolves to stop off on the way back for a bit of refreshment.

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Then he heads off down the trail, glad that the slope has levelled off. He is equally glad that, despite the tourist crowds down in Amalfi, up here is is utterly alone.

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Passing ruined paper mills abandoned centuries ago and now covered with vines and other vegetation, DonQui feels a little like one of Conan Doyle’s explorers discovering lost cities and lost worlds.

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The trail follows a fast moving stream which cascades through, over and down the rocks.

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It is this stream — the Ferriere — which powered the ancient paper mills when Amalfi was a centre of paper making in the late middle ages.

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It is almost an hour before he encounters the first humans. A small group of them have stopped at a waterfall to splash about a bit. DonQui decides to cool off in the water for a moment or two then heads on to rediscover the peace of being alone again in this wonderful setting.

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The vegetation, the abandoned mills, the fast flowing water and the solitude set his imagination off again.

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He can almost imaging the leaves parting at any moment to reveal a Lost World dinosaur as he crosses a rickety wooden bridge.

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Unsurprisingly he does not encounter any fearsome beasts but the many smaller ones he does come across do help to fuel his imaginings of their larger cousins.

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After another 30 minutes without meeting any humans he does come across a group of indigenous people camped by the river. They seem friendly enough and DonQui reassures himself that they are not likely to slaughter him for food.

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One hour in from the Fore Porta DonQui comes to the end of the trail where a succession of waterfalls provide a magnificent vista.

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These are not huge cascades but rather various trickles and sprays of water which fall down the cliffs, creating a wonderfully primeval atmosphere of water, rock and vegetation.

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The trip back down towards Amalfi is a little faster and as noon approaches more people are to be seen along the trail.

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One most welcome group is a troop of boy scouts offering lemon water and lemon pieces sprinkles with sugar. They provide DonQui with a most needed energy and hydration boost in exchange for a donation to whatever they are collecting for.

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DonQui’s final stop at the Fore Porta is also most welcome. Here he sips on a lemon granita before heading back down to Amalfi.