Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Campo ai Sassi Rosso di Montalcino 2015
If you live in Ontario, go visit your friendly neighbourhood government liquor outlet (aka Gum Department Store) and pick up a bottle of this very nice red wine from Frescobaldi. The price is $21.95, which is a bit above normal table wine in this overpriced jurisdiction, but it is a fine wine indeed. It’s a poor man’s version of the $52.95 Brunello di Montalcino by the same producer. For scientific purposes I will try the Brunello and report on whether one would be better off with the big dog than with 2.2 bottles of the “lesser” wine.
If you are planning a trip to the Salisbury area to see Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral, why not drop into nearby Wilton and see this very interesting church?
Italianate Church – First Impressions
Your first impression will be a bit of cognitive dissonance: in the midst of an undistinguished Wiltshire market town is a very elegant Italian church complete with a free-standing campanile (bell tower). The church is set back from the street and has the rounded arches typical of Romanesque buildings. The rose window is a bit unusual for a Romanesque church and adds a bit of lightness to offset the solid, bulky look.
By the 1800s the medieval church of St Mary on this site had fallen into disrepair. The Hon. Sidney Herbert, a younger son of the 11th Earl of Pembroke, provided a large portion of the funds needed to build a new church. Herbert was apparently a fan of the Italianate architecture that was in vogue in the first half of the 19th Century contributed and commissioned Thomas Henry Wyatt to design a church in that style. The church was completed in 1845.
I bought my Oakley M-Frames in 2002 – my first set of big-boy cycling glasses. Let me say upfront that this is a purchase that I have never for a moment regretted. They were expensive but they did the job brilliantly and with style.
But after about 15,000 km on the road they finally failed. The abrasion of lots of tiny dust particles over the years made the mirror finish a bit porous and hard to polish. More importantly the lenses has lost a bit of their coating at the edges and no longer provided a friction fit with the frames. After they fell out on a bumpy road I decided it was time for action. (BTW, this paragraph is a classic example of a #firstworldproblem!)
First a bit about Oakley M-Frames. They were one of the top sunglass models at the time. Like all the competitors they offered outstanding clarity and excellent UV protection, but their key feature was that they had no hinges and did not fold. That allowed the carefully calibrated “Unobtanium” frame to stick to the head like glue without any sensation of pressure. And in 15,000 road km (plus a fair number of lumpy off-road trips) they never once even suggested that they might fall off.
Moreover Oakley was the choice of Lance, and Lance was the greatest cyclist of his era. (And he still is, but that’s a subject for another post).
So that’s why I bought the Oakleys. And now faced with replacing them I looked at the options and decided that I had no reason not to stick with such a well-designed product. I was all set to drop £180 on the latest M2 model but the nice folks at the Oakley shop in Covent Garden mentioned that they could replace the lenses of my 13 year-old no-longer-being-made glasses for a much more reasonable price.
Top quality and outstanding customer service – I think when/if these ones wear out I will be making a bee-line back to my Oakley dealer. Highly recommended.
Amiens is a large and imposing building constructed on a low hill in the centre of Amiens. The shape is typical of medieval Gothic cathedrals in France with a long nave and two large, squarish towers. Above the roof at the junction of nave and transepts a tall, narrow spire rises. Similar to the 19th Century spire of Notre Dame de Paris, this one is somewhat more authentic, having been completed in 1533 after the original spire was destroyed by fire, and then shortened in 1627 after a wind storm.
The West Facade is decorated by a large collection of statuary as well as three decorated portals. There is also a fine entrance – the Portal of the Golden Virgin – in the south transept.
St Albans Cathedral was built on the site of a Saxon abbey. Construction started in 1077 CE and finished in 1089.
For most of its history it was known as St Alban’s Abbey before it became a cathedral in 1877.
Formal name: The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban
First Impressions: St Albans is a rather squat building. It does not soar above the skyline, but hunkers down giving an impression of solidity and permanence, as though it rises directly from the bedrock.
It is hemmed in by the city and cathedral outbuildings on one side but a wide field on the Southwest side provides a good view.
Style: A melange. Started out as a Norman (Romanesque) abbey. The Norman arches are visible under the central tower and on the north side of the nave. The remainder of the construction is Gothic, mainly in the decorated and perpendicular styles. There is a chapter house but no cloister
Patron Saint: The first Christian martyr in Britain, Alban of Verulamium was a Roman citizen who was beheaded for professing his faith (c. 250 CE).
Materials. Most of the fabric of the St Albans Cathedral including the tower is constructed from bricks salvaged from the Roman town of Verulamium
Size. At 84 metres (276 ft), its nave is the longest of any cathedral in England
Massive Norman tower
Medieval wooden ceilings in the nave
Shrine and reliquary of St Alban
Replica of the medieval clock designed by Richard of Wallingford
Planning your visit to St Albans Cathedral
The Cathedral is open all year round and entry is free
Photography is permitted
The Abbot’s Kitchen tearoom provides good food at a reasonable price. We found it welcoming and cozy on a chilly day.
St Alban’s is about a 30 minute train ride from Blackfriars railway station, so it makes a very easy day trip from London. The city itself has an medieval downtown with some interesting shops and decent looking pubs.
I have tried a lot of corkscrews over the years, and in general I have been disappointed. Most of those available fail in at least one of the two critical criteria: they don’t remove corks cleanly and easily, and/or they are fragile. However I bought a Rabbit a couple of years ago and am finally content. I think the Metrokane Rabbit two-step corkscrew achieves the gold standard.
The most important quality of a corkscrew is that (duh!) it removes corks easily and efficiently. The Rabbit has the key features needed to do the job. It has a slim but strong screw with a coating that allows it to easily screw into even old and hard corks. It is robustly built and very comfortable in the hand. The blade for removing foil is sharp and nicely shaped. The fact that it costs no more than a decent bottle of table wine is icing on the cake.
This particular design is called a waiter corkscrew, but the best examples have a two stage (“two step”) lever action. The Rabbit is a two stage model and it works brilliantly . The two stage action gives you a mechanical advantage that comes in very handy when trying to remove a long cork, such as those used in vintage Bordeaux wines.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that he intended to read 26 books over the next year. Though I am not a “friend of Mark”, it’s not a bad idea. Like a lot of people my intend-to-read list is growing faster than my have-finally-read list, at least partially because I spend an excess amount of time on Mr Zuckerberg’s site and its ilk.
So I am taking up the challenge: to read a new book every two weeks for the next year, and to post a short report on each one. Here’s the first:
Montefiore, Simon Sebag (2003) Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson)
The winter days are very short in my current location so I asked the guys at Stonehenge Cycles for a recommendation on lights for night riding. I don’t generally ride more than 90 minutes at night so a hub generator would be overkill, but I do need bright lights for the narrow country lanes around Salisbury. And I’m tired of cheap lights that corrode into uselessness because they aren’t watertight. They recommended the Moon X Power 500. The price was £80 at time of purchase, but this has now dropped to the £60 range.
When you start getting serious about birding you will want to get a telescope. If you want to look at waders (shorebirds, in North American parlance) and see more than just grey dots you will need a ‘scope, and it’s also the only way of getting the close-in views you need to confirm your identification of difficult birds. On a recent trip to Cyprus we were able to identify several sub-species of yellow wagtail because we could “grill” them at length from far enough away that we didn’t spook them.
There’s a direct relationship between price and quality, so as the birding mania bites deeply you may start thinking about one of the top-end telescopes. I had a decent mid-range ‘scope that served me well for several years, but there were many times I had to look through my mates’ Leicas, Swarovskis, Zeiss’s and Kowas to see things that the good old Opticron was missing. The issue with upgrading is that the really good telescopes are eye-wateringly expensive. Buy a new top of the line Swaro and you won’t get much change back from £3000. The best ‘scopes are clearly superior equipment, but they are priced like other kinds of man toys (e.g. golf clubs) – you pay a significant premium for the bragging rights of owning the best.
There was a niche to be filled for a ‘scope with optical quality to match the best, but without the same level of greedy mark-up. Enter the Vortex Razor HD.