Trip to Brazil with a Hasty End

May 2, 2020

The magnificent beach at Maracaipe (see below)

In March this year I made a trip with my partner Clarice (who is Brazilian) to Brazil, partly to see her family and friends but also for a holiday. The aim was to spend most of the time in or near Recife in northeast Brazil and then finish off with 5 nights in Rio de Janeiro in the south. Unfortunately this was cut short due to the escalating coronavirus situation in the UK and we had to get an earlier flight back (only one night in Rio).

Now that I have time on my hands due to the lockdown, I thought I’d write up my travel experiences as a photo essay. It also allows me to focus on much happier times!

We stayed with a friend who lived in the Boa Viagem district of Recife and her flat overlooked the main beach (see photos above and below), a really great location. It’s apparently the longest stretch of urbanized seafront in Brazil and a coastal reef calms the waves to help keep the water at a wonderful 25 °C. As you can see the beach goes on for miles, 5 to be exact.

Rather than repeating them, here are two sites that give a full list of interesting things to do and visit in Recife (here and with some photos here).

One thing about Recife that surprised me was that it had a British Country Club. It was originally founded in 1920 by the British who at that time had a significant presence in Recife.

This made me curious about the interesting historical link to the UK (which I was unaware of, see here for details). In the early 19th century the British began to arrive in Brazil, focusing on the ports of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife. The aim was to find new and lucrative opportunities for industry and trade based on their commanding sea presence at the time.

In Recife, the capital of the state of Pernambuco, they set up a number of firms, banks and public utilities. Interesting examples include the Western Telegraph Company (which allowed contact with the world through a submarine cable), the Pernambuco Tramways and Power Company (including setting up railway and tram transport in the region) and the Pernambuco Paper Mills.

More up to date, there’s even a video clip of Queen Elizabeth arriving in Recife on the start of a State Visit in 1968! At that time Guararapes airport at Recife was used as an important maintenance and refuelling stop for aircraft travelling between South America and Europe.

Nearby Recife is the pretty city of Olinda, whose historic downtown area was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. The city has a number of attractive churches and plays host to its own Carnival and street party. It also has many delightful restaurants and bars, often with great views.

We also paid a trip to the beach resort of Maracaipe, about an hour by car south of Recife, and near to the popular resort of Porto de Galenas.

This is where we stayed in Maracaipe, a great place to relax

Typical boat used to travel to the natural pools nearby

Time for a drink in the shallows, it really is a bar!

Setting sun (above) leading to a full moon (below)

Although we only had one night in Rio we made the most of it by paying a friendly taxi driver to show us the sights over two days. We drove around the different districts (Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon etc) which gave me an excellent overview (it was my first time in Rio, Clarice has been there many times and knows it well). Unfortunately most places (museums, galleries, cable cars) were closed as lockdown was just starting up so there weren’t many opportunities for casual exploring or photos.

View of near empty Copacabana Beach on an overcast day

People practising in a park near the Museum of Modern Art

Pretty Vermelha Beach in the neighbourhood of the Sugarloaf Mountain

Another view at Vermelha Beach

Clarice and myself, on the sightseeing trip and waiting for the flight back

Flying back from Rio, we arrived to an eerily deserted Gatwick Airport in the UK. A full lockdown started soon after (March 23rd) and it’s still going on…

Comment: there were a couple of typos in the original posting that have now been corrected.


Reserve a Place for Someone this Christmas

December 20, 2019

“Thousands of people will be without a home this Christmas and are in urgent need of the unique package of support that Crisis offers.

Your £28.87 can reserve a place for someone this Christmas and introduce them to the education, training and support to help end their homelessness for good through Crisis’ year-round services.

Please watch the video above to see how supporters like you helped Crisis provide support at Christmas last year.”

Good to think of others at this time of year.


Revisiting Imperial College London

June 13, 2019

The main entrance to Imperial College London

Recently I went to Imperial College to hear an Athena lecture by Margaret Heffernan on Scientific Leadership. This lecture is given annually by a prominent female scientist or entrepreneur to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and medicine. It should be on YouTube soon and I’ll put a link up and make some comments about it then.

This year I became an Alumnus of Imperial College (having got my doctorate there many years ago). I’m keen to get involved in one way or another so attending the lecture was a good start as it allowed me to have a look around to see how the College has changed. Here’s some photos that give a flavour, showing the modernisations, two famous physicists I knew and the delightful and surprising mews area nearby.

The impressive Faculty Building

The Bessemer Building (Engineering)

I decided to go to the Physics Department where I spent 3 years of my life carrying out research for a doctorate in theoretical high energy physics. The head of the theory group at that time was Tom Kibble (who ‘almost’ got the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2013). Abdus Salam, who was co-awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979, was also there as he held positions at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy (which he helped set up) and Imperial. It was an especially exciting time to be doing research as a lot of breakthroughs were made in understanding the fundamental particles and their interactions (quarks, the Higgs boson etc).

I’ve previously written about an interesting conversation I had with Salam that sparked my interest in giving advice and following different paths in life. The point being that when someone makes a suggestion that’s not in your current plans, it’s quite hard to really appreciate it or take advantage of it. However not doing so might be the loss of a major if unconventional opportunity (more details here).

Professor Abdus Salam (Nobel Prize for Physics 1979)

Professor Tom Kibble

Not far from the hustle and bustle of the university are a number of delightful mews. I have a memory of a small pub which we used to drink in in this area. I tried to track it down but to no avail. Perhaps it had been changed into a house or perhaps my memory was mistaken.

A delightful mews very near to imperial College

Another nearby mews

In hindsight, it was quite a privilege to be at Imperial at this time, great people and a wonderful location.


The Creative Medusa

March 21, 2019

I was at the Theatre Royal in Winchester last week to see a production of Medusa.

Brought to the stage by one of the world’s leading female choreographers, Jasmin Vardimon presents her new work, which reflects on the powerful feminine symbol of Medusa, the myth and its various connotations in our contemporary life.

This epic production examines the gendered historical significance of the Greek myth, the symbolism and the philosophical idea of ‘reflection’. Created on the coast of Barcelona and inspired by its marine life, the show not only deconstructs the myth but also explores Medusa’s aquatic symbolism in the environmental future of our seas.

Celebrating 20 years of her company, Vardimon brings together a remarkable international cast with the artistic team behind her previous creations for the piece.

After the performance audience members will be able to share in a post-show chat with the performers.

The post-show chat was really interesting and brought out themes that were not immediately apparent. Apart from the obvious Greek myth connection, the director also mentioned the scientific connection. The jellyfish (the informal name given to the medusa-phase of the marine animal) – is the only known (nearly) immortal creature:

The Earth’s only immortal species is a tiny transparent jellyfish that travels the world in the ballast tanks of cargo ships. It’s the only known animal capable of reverting completely to a sexually immature stage after having reached maturity…

Down through the ages, there have always been myths about immortality, that godlike ability to live forever. Well, sometimes myths can have a nugget of truth. Indeed, it was our scientists—more specifically, the marine biologists—who found a creature that comes closest to immortality: a tiny transparent jellyfish.

The aquatic theme also connected to the awful plastic pollution of the seas and this was reflected in some of the scenes where imaginative use of sheets of plastic were used (as can be seen in the video clip above).

It was interesting to see this amalgam of scientific and literary themes. This would not have come out, at least easily, were it not for the post-show discussion. Hopefully they have more of these in the future.


Famous Physicists At Cambridge

February 26, 2019

St John’s College at Cambridge (UK)

I recently paid a visit to St John’s College at Cambridge (see above). One evening we had dinner in the impressive Great Hall. Afterwards I took at the look at the portraits on the walls of past Fellows.

Paul Dirac, Fellow of St John’s

I knew that Paul Dirac (one of the world’s greatest theoretical physicists) was a Fellow but I was quite surprised to see a portait of Abdus Salam as well who I didn’t know was a Fellow. Abdus Salam was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979 along with Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow.

Abdus Salam, Fellow of St John’s

I’ve given a story (see here) about a discussion I had with Salam (who was then a Professor at Imperial College London) that made me realise the skill and awareness needed to take unconventional career advice.

St John’s has impressively produced nine Nobel Laureates (five in Physics, two in Medicine, one in Chemistry and one in Economics, see here).


Gerald Scarfe Touring Exhibition

May 7, 2018

View from inside the Winchester Discovery Centre

Whilst visiting Winchester on the weekend, I called into the Discovery Centre (aka the old city library reimagined) for a look around. They had an exhibition of some of the works of Gerald Scarfe, who is mainly known as a political cartoonist (see below).

Political cartoon by Gerald Scarfe

The aim of the exhibition was to show some of his wider achievements, covering film, opera and ballet (see the impressive example below).

Costume design for Pluto from Orpheus in the Underworld (ENO)

See here:

“Gerald Scarfe is the UK’s most prominent political cartoonist, known for his acerbic and uncompromising satire – his work has appeared in The Sunday Times for 50 years. Scarfe’s unmistakable characters and worlds have also been given life on stage and screen. From Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979) to English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker (2002), this is the first UK touring exhibition to explore his extensive work in film, opera and ballet design.”


Trip to Cadiz and Gran Canaria

April 23, 2018

View from the Tavira Tower showing Cadiz Cathedral

Looking at my blog, the last post was quite a while ago, about 3 months in fact. A lot has happened in between, however I’m now hoping to get back to writing on a more regular basis particularly as quite a few interesting topics have cropped up.

To start with, and something that conjures up pleasant memories, a 2 week trip to Spain in late Feb/March this year. Southern Spain was chosen as it seemed to be the best bet for good weather and we decided on a twin centre trip (Cadiz and Gran Canaria).

Cadiz

We flew from Bristol to Malaga and then drove along the coast to Cadiz which we assumed would be out of season and somewhat sleepy. The route we took meant that we arrved in Cadiz via the imposing La Pepa Bridge (see picture below).

To our surprise it was actually the last day of Cadiz Carnival so the town was jam-packed (the decision of where and what to do was fairly last-minute so we had little time to research).

One of the Cadiz Carnival singing groups

The only real drawback of the timing was that after the exuberance of the Carnival, most of the restaurants were closed in the evenings whilst we were there (to compensate for the long hours of the previous week). 

Here’s a selection of photos:

Typical street in the Old Town

From the Puppet Museum

View from the Tavira Tower with the La Pepa Bridge in the background

General impression of Cadiz: delightful city, great to wander around and quite varied. Good place to make some excursions, such as visiting Jerez de la Frontera, by car or train, which we unfortunately had no time for.

Sardina, Gran Canaria

At the end of the stay we drove back to Malaga to get a flight to Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria. We started in Maspalomas in the south but the area wasn’t to our liking, being too crowded and touristy.

Leaving Maspalomas, we drove to the north west in the vicinity of Sardina. The apartment we’d booked was right on the coast with impressive views (see photos below). We took walks in the local area plus visited the nearby towns of Puerto de las Nieves, Agaete and Galdar.

Desolate roundabout at Sardina

View of the coast from the apartment balcony

View from the study (what a place to work from!)

Lunchtime view at Sardina

Lunch in Sardina featuring Canarian potatoes

View from Mirador, towards Agaete and the coast

View inland from Mirador

A bar in Agaete, still celebrating the local Carnival

We had Storm Emma for a day or two, howling winds, spray everywhere and the sound of nearby crashing waves.

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Moving to Las Palmas, we stayed just outside and explored the city centre plus surrounding inland areas.

Christopher Columbus House (Casa de Colon)

Exhibit at the Modern Art Museum

Beach area at Las Palmas

View inland from Pico de Bandama (popular viewpoint)

Typical street in nearby Telde

General impression of Gran Canaria: I really liked Gran Canaria when you were able escape the very busy touristy areas. The bewildering road systems in the main towns, presumably due to rapid expansion, are not for the faint-hearted.