Soho Jazz

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Some years ago when we visited Bangkok and stayed in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, we whiled away the hours after dinner in the hotel bar where live jazz was on offer. I’m a big jazz fan and have the fondest memories of those evenings in the Bamboo Bar, sipping on their extensive range of martinis, listening to live music and absorbing the atmosphere.

Over the past few years, I’ve gradually introduced my wife to the genre so she’s now also a big fan. We’ve taken trips to Brussels and incorporated visits to L’Archiduc as part of our stay. We’ve gone so far as to visit Prague specifically with the intention of seeing Diana Krall in concert.

Back home, though, while I’d hankered after a “Bamboo Bar” experience in the UK I’d never got round to finding a local jazz bar. The few on-line searches I’d done didn’t reveal a great deal in the Oxfordshire area and, somehow, the pressures of work and the daily routine always mitigated against a more thorough search. Time passed by.

Over the last couple of years, though, I’ve finally got my act together and we’re now regular visitors at Ronnie Scott’s, almost certainly the most well-known jazz club in London and very well-known much further afield. The club was founded by London-born saxophonist Ronnie Scott in 1959 and, as evidenced by the photographs lining the walls of the club, has played host to an impressive array of musicians down the years.

It makes for a fantastic night out – a lunchtime departure from Oxfordshire by train to London, a mooch around the capital, this time involving a trip to Reckless Records, sited in Soho as is Ronnie Scott’s, to add a little more to my precious collection of vinyl, a cappuccino and, maybe, a beer before heading to the club for opening time.

This time, after a spell in the queue outside anticipating the evening to come and, on being allowed entry, depositing our jackets in the cloakroom we were taken to our table by a very friendly chap who engaged us in animated conversation about our previous visit, to see Marlene Shaw (a truly amazing experience), as he showed us to our seats and took our drinks orders and, after time to consult the menu, our food orders. Scallops to start and red snapper for main. Yum!

The musicians who were to entertain us on this visit were Natalie Williams Soul family, the second time we’d seen them at the club. Hosted by Natalie Williams, the “Soul Family Sunday” performances are a fantastic, and very entertaining, mix of soul, R&B and jazz and in spite of a couple of cases of bronchitis, including Williams herself, this evening didn’t disappoint.

The perfect way to brush away the post-holiday blues and, as usual, we booked our next visit before we left the club that evening!

 

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Homeward Bound

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Today is our last day in sunny Mallorca and I’m sad that we’ll be leaving tomorrow. I often feel like this at the end of a good break, though, whether it be a particularly enjoyable long weekend or a fab holiday, such as the one we’ve just enjoyed. Returning to the daily round of work, gym, eat, sleep is very unappetising in comparison to the enjoyable experiences that’re coming to a close.

Last night, as we took an evening constitutional round the Bay of Pollenca, along the promenade, I found myself idly wondering what it’d be like to live here all year round but then, of course, there would be the small matter of earning a living and, as an example, you’ve only to look at how hard the hotel staff work at the hotel where we’re staying to see that for those who live and work here it’s not all play!

It’s a very different experience to live and work in a place as opposed to holidaying there.

It’s entirely unreasonable to feel this way, of course! The “daily round” is what pays for the lovely experiences we have and I’m very thankful that we’re fortunate enough to be able to enjoy them. More than that, while we couldn’t be considered wealthy by any stretch of the imagination we’re fortunate, again, in that we can live comfortably enough at home, with lots of nice experiences to enjoy there, if not on such a grand scale as a holiday in the sun.

It would also be very ungrateful to forget what we’ll be taking home – some fantastic memories of bike rides through the beautiful Mallorcan countryside, distinctively mediterranean warm, sand-coloured buildings, delicious seafood and tapas, sangria, and friendly, welcoming people, to name but a few. Not to mention our own uninterrupted company for two weeks.

We have a lot to be thankful for and I’ll be holding onto that thought as we jet back to Blighty tomorrow.

 

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Palma

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Today had been earmarked for a trip to Palma but rather than taking a guided tour we opted to take the local red and yellow “TIB” bus (transport de les Iles Balears).

At only 12,60€ return, it was an awful lot cheaper than the guided tour and we like exploring on our own, in any case. As I’ve said before, it’s just a matter of personal preference.

We had our trusty “Eyewitness” guide with us and it had a nice walking route round some of the sites of the old city, around the cathedral and its environs, and we’d decided ahead of time that we’d base our exploration around that route.

The journey to Palma took an hour and the bus station, under the Placa d’Espanya, is only a few minutes walk from the centre of town.

We were only loosely basing our itinerary on the published walk so our first port of call was “off piste”, so to speak, to La Rambla, the street that houses the flower market.

The street has a large island down the middle that’s edged with plane trees that cast some much needed shade in the hot weather.

The flower stalls sit in this shade and though they weren’t very numerous the blooms on sale were beautiful and beautifully presented. Not to mention cheap, at least compared to UK prices for cut flowers.

From there we headed for the cathedral, the Cathedral of Santa Maria, or La Seu. The walls are a beautiful, warm, sandy coloured stone and the exterior is elaborately carved above the portals and around the circular stained glass windows at either end of the nave.

It’s just as impressive inside. I can find the interior decor of some churches and cathedrals a little over-elaborate for my taste (not that “my taste” is the point, of course) but while retaining the impressive stature of the outside of the building the interior of La Seu doesn’t seem to be, for want of a better word, “overdone”.

The simple alabaster table that acts as an altar has an impressive Gaudi canopy hanging over it representing the crown of thorns. The ceiling is very high, and vaulted, and there are two beautiful, circular stained glass windows high up at either end of the nave.

Row upon row of simple wooden benches provide seating for the congregation – I couldn’t guess how many people it can hold. Despite it’s grand size, though, I found it both an impressive and peaceful place to be.

From the cathedral, we followed a roundabout route through the backstreets of Palma that was intended to include the Banys Arabs, or Arab Baths, but in the end didn’t as there was an entrance fee, albeit a very modest one, and the guide suggested there wasn’t a great deal to see there. Arriving at the Placa de Cort we took lunch at one of the restaurants on the square, where there were a group of quite proficient street musicians playing jazz and big band music as a back drop to our lunch.

The afternoon was spent pottering round the streets of Palma, following the route from our guide and absorbing the sights and sounds. The Passeig Des Born, a broad tree-lined avenue, is well worth a visit as is the Parc de la Mer, down on the seafront, from which there are spectacular views of the old city walls and the cathedral to be had.

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Orange Blossom

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We’re not normally big fans of taking organised trips while on holiday, preferring to explore places ourselves and enjoying the freedom that gives us to spend more time in the places we visit, savouring the experience. It’s just a matter of preference.

This time, though, we opted to do just one organised trip, called the “Orange Blossom” trail, that explores some of the North and North Western coast of Majorca. We felt it would give us the opportunity to visit some places that we might otherwise not be able to fit in to our holiday schedule, given that we’d returned the bikes we’d hired and were now reliant on public transport.

The alarm was set for 7 … and 7:15 and again at 7:30 in the hope that it’d ensure we’d be sufficiently awake to rise at eight in time for us to shower and be ready for our pickup at 9 a.m. It may seem extreme but after a week of relaxation in the sunshine we’re used to keeping “holiday hours”, rather than working hours, so we needed all the help we could get to make sure we were awake!

Our itinerary took us first to the 13th century Santuari de Lluc, a monastery in the mountains inland from Pollenca, where our guide, who was knowledgeable and interesting, gave us a tour of the grounds, incorporating botanic gardens and a rather stunning stable block that has now been converted to rooms for visitors, there now being no call to house visitors arriving on horseback.

We also visited the elaborately decorated Renaissance church and the adjacent chapel, decorated in somewhat simpler style, that houses the statue of the Virgin Mary found on the site where the monastery was subsequently built.

After the formal tour, we were let loose to wander alone, for a while at least, and it was a very peaceful experience strolling through the monastery grounds in the peace and quiet, breathing in the fresh and chill mountain air.

From the Santuari de Lluc we were taken by coach to the seaside town of Port de Soller, for lunch, and from there an electric tram service, established in 1913 and still running today, with some lovely old trams that are rather beautiful, being all old wood and brass, took us to the town of Soller.

After a brief stop, that gave us the opportunity to explore the town square but, sadly, little else, the Ferrocarril de Sóller, the railway between Soller and Palma, took us South, again travelling on an electric train with very similar decor to the tram.

We witnessed landscapes on a grand scale as we wound our way round the mountains, and sometimes through them courtesy of the tunnels bored by the railway construction company in the early 20th century, and in the lowlands we passed through orange and lemon groves, with trees heavy with fruit.

At Son Reus, a place just outside Palma that was constructed specifically to allow coach parties to be picked up from the train, we re-boarded our coach for the journey back to Puerto de Pollenca.

It was an enjoyable enough experience and we did see some lovely places, and some fantastic scenery, but I would’ve welcomed more time to explore the places we visited in more depth and that’s obviously not possible in a one-day tour. For the rest of the holiday, we’ll be returning to exploring by ourselves.

 

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Cala de Sant Vicenc

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It was a late start, today, as the fresh air and exercise we’re getting by cycling around this part of Majorca conspired to make us sleep later than planned.

As a result, we had our pick of tables in the hotel dining room, as most of the other guests seem to rise and eat early, and over a light breakfast of egg, cooked ham and toast we plotted the day’s excursion. This time, it was to a well-known beauty sport about 8 km away by road, Cala de Sant Vicenc.

Our route took us out along the main road inland for a few km before turning off onto a quiet back-road that headed along a valley floor toward the coast. The landscape was peaceful, beautiful and similar to the scenery I described in my post about our ride to Pollenca – low terracotta-roofed farm buildings and houses set amongst the fields – but without the livestock and with the addition of some impressive hills rising steeply on either side.

At the end of the valley, a short hill took us down to the first of the three small coves that constitute the town. Our first view as we came down the slope was of the sea rolling gently in on a small sandy beach. The water was an absolutely beautiful turquoise colour and is what helps make Cala de Sant Vicenc so beautiful and photogenic.

Carrying on round to the second cove we found yet more breathtaking scenery – the same beautiful turquoise waters crashing in on the rocks that edged the cove, with a large sandy beach and an inviting looking cafe off to one side, sat on the promenade overlooking the beach.

We decided at once to stop for a cyclist’s “cake stop” at the café and so took the bikes down the steps that lead to it and hung them up on the bike racks that are often provided by restauranteurs in this neck o’ the woods.

The food – pizza, sangria and beer, rather than cake, truth to tell – was cheap and very tasty and we spent a very pleasant hour or two sat in the sunshine with cove stretched out in front of us.

 

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Pollenca

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After a very enjoyable morning exploring the market in Alcudia and a delicious tapas lunch in the nearby port of Puerto d’Alcudia, we headed back along the coastline of the Bay of Pollenca until we came to the turning for the town of Pollenca itself, situated a few kilometres inland of the port. Here, we turned off the main road as the old town was the next stop on our little tour of the area.

We found ourselves on a quiet country road, passing through farmland dotted with low farm buildings with terracotta tiled roofs, where flocks of sheep roamed, jingling quietly as they all wore cow bells hanging from collars round their necks.

We passed olive groves and fields where the hay baler had evidently passed through of late, f the number of neat, rectangular bales dotted round them was anything to go by. It was an incredibly peaceful and very beautiful scene.

By and by we arrived at the town of Pollenca and, at first, it seemed pretty deserted – we were arriving in the middle of the siesta, after all. We carried on exploring, regardless, as we wanted to reach the church and the town square and walk up the “365 steps” of the stairway leading to the chapel on the hill above the town.

After a couple of surprisingly steep, but mercifully short, climbs we found ourselves in the heart of the old town, a maze of narrow streets in the same warm coloured stone as we’d found in Alcudia that morning.

Having found the famous stairway we locked the bikes to a convenient bike stand at the base and began to climb.

It was slow progress in cycling shoes, even with covers in place to protect the cleats sticking out from the bottom of the shoes and to provide a bit more grip, but it was well worth the effort.

From the chapel at the top of the hill, “Calvary” as it’s called locally, we had magnificent views out over the town and the surrounding countryside, all the way down to Puerto de Pollenca and the sea.

 

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Alcudia by Bike

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Today saw us head out for the first time to explore the area around Puerto de Pollenca by bike and as it was our first day out on the roads here on two wheels we’d chosen a very gentle, flat route along the coast to nearby Alcudia, with the option to extend the route to something more substantial if the mood took us.

The road round the coast was a little breezy, as evidenced by the many kite-surfers sailing over the waves just off the beach in the Bay of Pollenca, but it was a fun ride and it wasn’t long before we arrived in Alcudia itself. The old town still retains some, at least, of the old walls and is very picturesque and a delight to explore, with its matrix of narrow streets lined with warm-coloured stone-walled buildings.

We were fortunate in that it was was market day so we locked the bikes up at a bike stand at a nearby bus stop and headed into the throng milling round the market stalls.

There were the usual selection of vendors catering predominantly for the tourist market but, buried in the middle, was a real treat for us – the food market!

Stall after stall of fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses and cured meats. Beefsteak tomatoes way bigger than my fist, tables full of huge strawberries and grapes, figs, nuts … just about any kind of fruit and vegetable you’d care to imagine … my mouth’s watering just thinking about it!

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We stocked up with some cured meats, manchego cheese, pistachio nuts and cashews and then, by a meandering roundabout route through the town that gave us the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere, made our way back to the bikes and then on to Puerto d’Alcudia for our lunch stop.

Now, any cyclist reading this post is likely to know about the tradition of the cake stop … the mid-cycle break for a slice of cake and a cappuccino, or whatever beverage takes your fancy, at a cafe conveniently situated mid-ride, just about the point where you’re in need of a break and a bit of sustenance.

This was a cake-stop with a difference, not least because it didn’t involve any cake! What it did include was a delicious selection of tapas and a bottle of albarino wine (not strictly cycling fare, but it was very nice) overlooking the marina at Puerto d’Alcudia. The perfect way to round off a morning on the bike.

 

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