Portugal and the Algarve – Blue Flag Beaches

 

After two years of pandemic hibernation we were ready for a vacation.  Due to continuing uncertainty we agreed to book the sort of holiday that we wouldn’t normally consider and booked a beach hotel holiday with Tui holidays.  Part of our logic was that if things did go wrong then Tui are reliable at giving refunds.

Also, we had been to the Algarve in 2019 and had liked it there.

We chose a hotel in the Alarve in the village of Olhos de Agua  near Albufeira at the western end of the six kilometre long blue flag beach of Praia da Falésia which according to TripAdvisor is considered the number one beach in Portugal, the third best beach in Europe and the twelfth best beach in the World.

Maybe, maybe not, these things are always subjective.  No one ever agrees about these matters.  My favourite beach in Portugal is Bordeira on the west coast south of Lisbon.  Oh I did so like it there…

The Blue Flag beach award was originally conceived in France in 1985 where the first coastal municipalities were awarded the Blue Flag on the basis of criteria covering standards relating to sewage treatment and bathing water quality.

Two years later, 1987 was the ‘European Year of the Environment’ and the concept of the Blue Flag was developed as a European initiative by the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe to include other areas of environmental management, such as waste disposal and coastal planning and protection and in that first year two hundred and forty four beaches from ten countries were awarded the new Blue Flag status.  Thirty-five  years later in 2022 when the updated list was published there are over four thousand.

Spain has more blue flag beaches than any other participating country with six hundred and fifteen along almost five thousand kilometres of coastline.  The United Kingdom by comparison, has only one hundred and twenty-nine in nearly twelve thousand,  five hundred kilometres.  Greece has the second most blue flags at five hundred and forty-four  and the most in the Mediterranean Sea.  Italy has four hundred and sixteen and France has four hundred and ten.

Portugal completes the top five list with three hundred and seventy two.

This one is in the north at Furadouro…

What is interesting however is to put this into context by relating success in terms of numbers to the total length of coastline because that reveals that Portugal has a blue flag beach every seven kilometres  and Spain and France only every ten.  Lust my opinion but beaches in Portugal are way better than Spain and France because they are all on the Atlantic coast.

In the United Kingdom you have to travel almost one hundred kilometres between each blue flag beach and that puts us twenty fifth out of the top twenty-five.  That is even worse than our annual performance in the Eurovision song contest.  Mind you would have to travel a lot further in Norway because it has only three blue flag beaches in eighty-three thousand kilometres of coast.

The journey was spoilt by a flight delay and chaos at Faro airport passport control and then a lot of faffing about on the coach transfer but eventually we reached our destination, the monstrous three hundred and fifty room Tui Blue Falésia hotel with its seven or so hundred guests.  We normally like something like a maximum ten room place.

We approved the accommodation and ignoring the pool, the gardens and the cocktail bar made directly for the village and something more our style – a beachfront bar/restaurant and sat for an hour or so, had a pleasant lunch and admired the beach and the never ending view out over the Atlantic Ocean to the horizon.

Kim worked on her tan…

I would have been happier staying in the village rather than the hotel but we had a half board arrangement so returned now to the dining room buffet.

Inevitably I made the first mistake about buffet spreads.

I did no forward planning, made no menu preferences  in advance, had no idea what I wanted to eat so just blundered in and ended up with a selection of bizarre food combinations which if I had been a contestant on Masterchef would have led to an instant elimination.  You know the sort of thing, fish, beef, chicken goujons  and a slice of pizza all on the same plate.  A real gourmet mess.

It was all rather disappointing, rather like a school dinners experience and we were happy when it came to an end.  Never mind, we had a lovely room on the top floor, a large balcony and a good sea view.  We agreed that in future we would do some planning ahead and be more tactical and selective.

Tomorrow we planned to walk the Praia da Falésia.

From The Archives – Hillmorton County School

The Hillmorton County Junior School was an old Victorian building with high ceilings that soared into the sky and partitioned classrooms with rows of old fashioned wooden desks with years of scratched graffiti  and attached lift up seats on squeaking hinges.

Read the full story Here…

A to Z of Cathedrals – J is for Riga near Jurmala

I am really cheating with this one.  I feel like Boris Johnson.  If I was an MP I would be obliged to report myself to the Parliamentary Standards Board.  Johnson won’t so neither will I.

For my At o Z  of Cathedrals no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t find a a J.

This is the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Riga.  Jurmala is about ten miles away.  In my defence I have been to Jurmala and I honestly didn’t realise that it wasn’t in Riga.  Just like Johnson didn’t realise that he had been to a party.  I have posted this in all good faith.

The Nativity of Christ Cathedral in Riga is a magnificent and impressive building that sits between the old town and the new and was built in a Neo-Byzantine style between 1876 and 1883 at a time when Latvia was part of the Russian Empire.  It was the largest Orthodox cathedral in the Baltic provinces.

Read the full story here…

 

A to Z of Cathedrals – I is for Reykjavik in Iceland

I is another difficult letter in the A to Z .  It might be considered cheating but I am choosing Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral in Iceland…

As the sky was so clear and we could guarantee excellent views we returned now to Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran Cathedral and the tallest building in the city which took nearly forty years to build and was consecrated in 1986.  The design is said to be based on a geyser plume or a lava flow but if you ask me it looks more like a space shuttle about to blast off  but it is nice enough inside and the signature piece is a twenty-five tonne organ with 5,275 pipes and someone was in there this morning practising on it.

Our main purpose for visiting the cathedral however was not to visit the interior but to take the lift to the observation tower at the top of the seventy-three metre tall tower.  It cost 700 krona (about £3) and it was worth every one because from the top there were glorious uninterrupted views in all directions, to the sea in the west, the glaciers in the north, the islands in the south and the ragged coastline to the east and we stayed at the top for several minutes enjoying the views.

 

East Anglia and Dad’s Army

On the drive home we visited the town of Thetford.  Mum wanted to visit the Dad’s Army Museum.  She remembered that it was one of my Dad’s favourites.  It is a small place run by volunteers but well worth a stop over.  I have posted about it before so wan’t trouble you with it again.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

In a BBC poll in 2003 of best ever sitcoms Dad’s Army came fourth,  In no particular order are my own personal top 5…

Dad’s Army

The Likely Lads/Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads

One Foot in The Grave

Rising Damp

The Detectorists

Any suggestions anyone?

 

A to Z of Cathedrals – H is for Heidelberg in Germany

I was struggling with H until I suddenly remembered that ten years ago I visited the German Rhine town of Heidelberg.  I don’t remember visiting the Cathedral, I don’t think that I did but I did take a picture of it.  It was one of those bright white days which makes taking pictures with a cheap camera quite difficult.

Last time out I was in Freiburg that was needlessly destroyed by Allied bombing raids in World war Two.   Heidelberg avoided the same unfortunate fate, it is said because the US army rather liked the look of it and fancied setting up shop there and instructed Bomber Harris to keep it off the list of targets that were elsewhere unnecessarily destroyed.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Read the full story Here…

East Anglia – Bury St Edmunds and The Patron Saint of Pandemics

Bury St Edmunds was another town that I had never visited. A few years ago I drove through it and was struck by the elegant market place with a tall cathedral and fine Georgian buildings and I made a note to self to pay a proper visit one day.
This was it.
In terms of the weather we had unfortunately picked a very bad week to be on an English staycation and we weren’t too disappointed to be leaving the holiday home (caravan) so we packed up early and headed away from the coast and into rural Suffolk and drove through villages which had seen significant overnight snowfall. I thought that I was in Alaska. Contrary to popular folklore March had roared in like a lion and instead of going out like a lamb was going out the same way.
Fortunately the further west that we drove the weather began to incrementally improve and there were even some glimpses of elusive blue sky. We arrived in late morning which was too early to book into our chosen hotel so we made instead for the centre of the town. Local folk call the town Bury but being from the North I always think of Bury as being in Manchester so I prefer to think of this place as Bury St Edmunds. It sounds posher.

After Ipswich and Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds is the third largest place in Suffolk and we liked it immediately. After tea and biscuits in the Cathedral coffee shop Kim and Mum made directly for the High Street shops and I went off to investigate the Abbey Gardens and the Cathedral.
The Abbey of St Edmund was once one of the richest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in all of England. In 869, Edmund, King of the East Angles was murdered by invading Danes when he refused to renounce Christianity. For his stubbornness he was tied to a tree and shot through with arrows and had his head cut off to make sure. No half measures in those days. I wonder sometimes about medieval torture, surely the victim was well and truly dead before the torturers had finished. Vladamir Putin would have been a medieval torturer I am sure.

His death led to the building of the Abbey to house his remains and his shrine quickly became a place of pilgrimage. The Cult of Edmund flourished during the Middle Ages and he was temporarily revered as the patron Saint of medieval England until at some point he was replaced by Saint George.
Today he has the unlikely title of the Patron Saint of Pandemics so I imagine that he has been rather busy listening to prayers for the past couple of years or so. He is said to have been given this title after the French city of Toulouse (who claimed to have some important relics of his) became ravaged by plague in the seventeenth century. Residents of the prayed to Edmund after which the plague came to an abrupt end. As Michael Caine might have said “Not a lot of people know that”.

Maybe if more people had known this the World could have saved a fortune on developing Covid vaccinations and going into expensive lockdown. I wish that I had known that because if I had I would have said a prayer to St Edmund because a few days after returning home from East Anglia both Kim and I both tested positive for Covid.

After the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s the Abbey naturally began to fall into disrepair and lots of stone was taken for alternative building projects around the town. I was quite surprised therefore to discover that so much of it remained in a vast well maintained town centre park.
Near the Cathedral there are houses built into the walls which reminded of Antoni Gaudi creations in Barcelona. I don’t suppose that Gaudi ever visited Bury St Edmunds but if he had he may have got inspiration here,

I spent some time in the Gardens, walked every path and read each and every information board.

Towards the end of the afternoon I made my visit to the Cathedral. Free admission by the way. Up to 1914 Suffolk didn’t have a Cathedral and was part of a wider diocese of East Anglia with the Cathedral in Norwich in Norfolk but it was then decided that it required one of its own. This presented the Church with a dilemma.

Ipswich is the biggest town in the County but Bury St Edmunds had the most famous church thanks to the St Edmund connection. The Church came to a compromise, Ipswich would get the Bishop’s House and be the base of the diocese and Bury St Edmunds would get the Cathedral and everyone agreed that that was a good idea except perhaps for the Bishop who has a hundred mile round trip every week to get to Sunday service which would have been much more of an inconvenience over a hundred years ago than it is today.

Ipswich is not unique, it is not the only County town without an Anglican Cathedral and there are others – Warwick, Cambridge (I mentioned that before), Northampton (I mentioned that before as well), Nottingham, Aylesbury and Shrewesbury are other examples. At the same time that Suffolk became a diocese so too did Essex with its own Cathedral in Chelmsford.

Not a brilliant Cathedral I have to say but it provided me with a pleasant fifteen minute visit, especially as the choir was practising which was very nice, before I left and rejoined the others at the agreed time.

I had enjoyed my afternoon in Bury St Edmunds and I was forced to concede that this was a town where half a day it isn’t long enough so I will have to make another note to self to return one day and stay longer.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Sunday Sunset – The Field

This is the field opposite the house where we live. It is not a great picture, I was panicing and in a hurry and I snatched it before it was gone but it is a great burning sunset…

A to Z of Cathedrals – G is for Girona in Catalonia

I have had to decide between two strong candidates for the letter G, Granada in Andalusia and Girona in Catalonia.

I have picked Girona…

Eventually and inevitably we arrived in the square in front of Santa Maria Cathedral whose Baroque façade conceals an austere Gothic interior that was built around a previous Romanesque church, of which the cloisters and a single tower remain.

We found the energy to climb the steps from the square to the Cathedral but once there Kim declined the opportunity to go inside and left me to visit the interior of the building alone and see the World’s widest Gothic nave and the second widest overall after St. Peter’s in Rome.

Read the full Story Here…

This, by the way is the Cathedral in Granada

I also considered the Royal Monastery in Guadalupe but that technically isn’t a Cathedral so that would be cheating and I have to save my cheating for later…

A to Z of Cathedrals – F is for Freiburg in Germany

For my A to Z of Cathedrals when I got to F I naturally considered the magnificent Duomo in Florence but decided instead to go north into the Black Forest in Germany.

I am trying to stay ahead of Phil and Michaela from The Hungry Travellers  (well worth a visit) because I am certain that they will have been to Florence but maybe not Freiburg and there is a bit of a challenge going on here.

The main square is the site of Freiburg’s Münster, a Gothic cathedral constructed of red sandstone, built between 1200 and 1530 and which is memorable for its towering needle like spire.  We went inside and it was cheerful and warm with large stained glass windows and friezes on the walls that commemorated the various traditional trades of the city.

From a an aerial photograph inside the Cathedral we had seen that Freiburg was heavily bombed during World War II and a raid by more than three hundred bombers of the RAF Bomber Command on 27th November 1944 destroyed most of the city centre, probably unnecessarily but Bomber Harris liked Bombing German cities  unnecessarily.  The notable and thankful exception of the Münster, which was only lightly damaged.

God sometimes looks after his own.

The target for the mission was the railway facilities and marshalling yards.  Three hundred and forty Lancaster bombers dropped three thousand bombs  totalling one thousand five hundred tonnes and twelve thousand markers and incendiaries totalling two hundred and seventy  tonnes.

The casualties in Freiburg were over two thousand people including nine hundred  civilians and over six thousand people  injured. Photo-reconnaissance  the target area after the attack revealed that civilian areas had been destroyed but none of the rail facilities had been damaged.  Bomber Harris didn’t do precision bombing that well.

Not a lot changes it now seems as Russians today can easily destroy civilian areas but miss military targets.  War is so futile.

Read The Full Story Here…