European Capital of Culture 2016, Wroclaw in Poland

Wroclaw Dwarfs Postcard

In 1985, Melina Mercouri, the Greek Minister of Culture came up with the idea of designating an annual Capital of Culture to bring Europeans closer together by highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and raising awareness of their common history and values.

The European Union enthusiastically endorsed the idea and as a consequence The European Capital of Culture is a city designated for a period of one year during which it organises a series of cultural events with a strong pan-European dimension.

The first city chosen was Athens which was fair enough I suppose.  In 2016 it was Wroclaw in Poland.  A very good choice in my opinion, I have visited the city twice and would gladly go back again.

Read the full story here…

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If you want to know about the Dwarfs you can read about them here…

Dwarf Spotting

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Travels in Italy, Emilia Romagna

Emilio Remagna Preview

After the success of the previous year’s holiday to Portugal where we used the train service to travel from Lisbon to Porto with various stops upon the way we decided that we would do something similar this year and when we were making plans we decided to travel to Italy persuaded most of all by the £40 return air flights to Milan.

Our plan was to use the trains to first visit the Italian Lakes and then to travel through the Region of Emilia-Romagna and stop off at the cities of Parma, Modena and Bologna and finish at the seaside at Rimini on the Adriatic Riviera.

Travels in Italy coming soon…

Travelling – Complimentary Shampoo and Shower Gel

Complimentary Hotel Shampoo and Shower Gel

“I still enjoy travelling a lot. I mean, it amazes me that I still get excited in hotel rooms just to see what kind of shampoo they’ve left me.”  –  Bill Bryson

Just like Bill, I too get a thrill from throwing open the bathroom door, turning on the light, waiting for it to flicker into life and the accompanying hum of the extractor fan and looking straight away for the complimentary shower gel and shampoo all neatly arranged as though in a chemistry laboratory next to the wash basin.

Never mind the number of stars the place boasts on TripAdvisor or proudly displayed as a certificate at the reception desk for me this is the really true measure of a hotel.

I can’t really accurately remember when these little gifts first started to appear in hotel bathrooms, certainly not on my early overseas adventures that’s for sure. On my very first holiday to Sorrento in Italy in 1976 I am absolutely certain there were none and there wasn’t a lot else either – no mini-bar of course and no television and it was light years before WiFi and Internet access.  I think it may have had a small bar of soap!

Guests were expected to provide their own toiletries in those days and without baggage weight restrictions holidaymakers used to lug an entire bathroom full of lotions and potions half way across the World and then take most them back home again!

Thinking about it, I suppose they first came to my attention in 1995 when I was on a coach tour holiday of some of the National Parks in the USA and each motel bathroom that we stayed at had these little bottles of gooey bathroom goodies and every night I greedily collected them up and secreted them in my wash bag.

Soon the bag was full and the zipper was straining fit to burst but at some point along the trip we stopped at a shopping mall where there was a ‘dollar shop’ and my brother, Richard and I found some nice little wicker baskets that were perfect for keeping them in and giving away as gifts for family and friends when we returned back home.

The beauty of this of course was that none of my family and friends had ever come across complimentary give-away cosmetics before either so they all thought that they were getting a really genuine gift.

I had never been to one of these out-of-town shopping malls before either and I remember thinking that they were really dreadful, sadly, we now have these soulless, pointless places all over the UK as well.

Complimentary potions

Who started it I asked, well, claiming credit on its web site for introducing complimentary gels is the  Canadian international luxury, five-star hotel chain, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts but I am certain there will be some conflicting claims from elsewhere.

These days any self-respecting B&B or hotel has free shampoo in little plastic bottles.  Except those that have large squeezy containers that are screwed to the wall so that you can’t take them away and for me this always loses the place a couple of points when I complete the post stay satisfaction survey.

When staying in the room I always remain reluctant to use the giveaways because I view them as a sort of holiday bonus, a trophy and together with the sewing kits and the plastic combs, the pointless shoe horn and cheap toothbrushes I collect them up and take them home (except the plastic shower caps which always remind me of the rain bonnets that my mum used to wear and look completely ridiculous).  I mean next time you are tempted to pull one over your head make sure that you lock the bathroom door and then just take a moment to take a look at yourself in the mirror.  I guarantee that you will look ridiculous!

I can’t explain why they excite me, they are not top-quality products after all, I’m sure that most of them are based on some sort of industrial soap that probably doesn’t have many scalp or skin improvement qualities anyway.  Sometimes Kim gets carried away and will say something like “Oh look, there is Moulton-Brown products in the bathroom”, I know that it is really cheap washing-up liquid but I say nothing and tactfully keep this devastating information to myself.  In fact I am almost certain that although they may be different coloured liquid in the bottles that they are all the same product anyway with a bit of food colouring added and the shampoo works just as well as bubble bath and vice versa.

Back at home they sit in a box in the bathroom and every so often it overflows and the cabinet door won’t shut properly and it has to be cleared out and the little bottles disposed of – these days I take them to a homeless charity in the town and hope they come in useful somewhere.

 “Hotels have plenty of items, all cute and travel-sized, waiting in store rooms and all you have to do is pick up the phone and ask. And checking out from the hotel isn’t like going through airport security. No respectable hotelier is going to want to pry open your luggage and search for shampoo. We hope you take the amenities. We want you to use them later and think of us.” –  Jacob Tomsky – ‘Heads in Beds’

Apart from complimentary shampoo and shower gel what else do you own up to when taking things from a hotel room?

1 The tea bags and the coffee sachets?

2 The Kettle?

3 The Coat Hangers?

4 The Bottle Opener in the Mini-Bar?

5 The Gideon Society Bible?

6 The Notepaper and Pencil?

7 The Towels?

8 The pictures on the Wall?

9 The Carpet?

10 The Bedside Cabinet?

Hotel Shampoo

Some things that make Switzerland Famous

I suppose you have to admire the Swiss.  Here, after all, is a county that is small. mountainous, has virtually no natural resources and yet has managed to become the richest nation on earth” – Bill Bryson, ‘Neither here, Nor there’

In April 2007 we visited Alpine Switzerland and driving through the meadows and hills on our way to Liechtenstein we stopped at a delightful little place for lunch.

It was a perfectly lovely setting and we sat in the sun and enjoyed our food but the best was yet to come because when we decided to use the washrooms before resuming our journey we were amused to find what simply has to be the best loo in the world with a mechanical cleaning process that included a 360º scrubbing and automatic disinfection of the toilet seat.

This was really impressive but I was a little concerned about health and safety risks associated with it beginning in advance of the occupier leaving the seat, which could have been especially painful for a man if he was to get his valuables caught up in the procedure.

Switzerland it has to be said is not the most exciting country in the World so this started us thinking and we tried to agree on five things that make it famous.  We were going to do ten but this seemed absurdly ambitious!

Our final choice might have included cowbells, yodelling, fondue sets or emmental cheese, maybe Roger Federer or Ursula Andress but in the end we agreed upon, in reverse order…

5. Swiss watches of course – that was rather obvious.  I have never owned a Swiss watch and never will because I really fail to see the point of spending hundreds or even thousands of pounds on a wrist watch when a simple Casio will do the same job for just a few pence.  I once bought one in a petrol station for £1.99 and it lasted for several years.

4. Cuckoo clocks, because even though they are strictly speaking from Germany the Swiss were important for the ‘chalet’ style that they introduced at the end of nineteenth century and is the sort of cuckoo clock where it is common to have a  music box somewhere in the mechanism with tunes like ‘Edelweiss’ and ‘The Happy Wanderer’.

I once had a problem with a cuckoo clock in Germany – Trouble With a Cuckoo Clock

World's Biggest Cuckoo Clock Triberg Black Forest

3. Breakfast cereal Muesli, which was introduced around 1900 by the Swiss doctor and nutritionist Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital in Zurich.  I imagine that this solved the problem of bed-blocking!

I am not a big fan of Muesli, I always think it looks like something that I should put out on the bird feeding table…

Muesli

2.   Toblerone, the Swiss chocolate bar found in every airport duty-free shop that was invented by Theodore Tobler in 1908 in his factory in Bern with a design supposed to represent the Matterhorn Mountain in the Swiss Alps.

I confess that I rather like Toblerone but then I am rather fond of almonds.

Toblerone

but most of all we had to agree upon on…

1. The Swiss Army knife.

Various models of Swiss Army knives exist, with different tool combinations for specific tasks. The most common tools featured are, in addition to the main blade, a smaller second blade, tweezers, toothpick, corkscrew, can opener, corkscrew, slotted screwdriver, flat-head screwdriver, phillips-head screwdriver, nail file, scissors, saw, file, hook, magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, fish scaler, hex wrench w/bits, pliers and key chain. Recent technological features include USB flash drives, digital clock, digital altimeter, LED light, laser pointer, and MP3 player.

That is a startling collection of potential weapons in one utensil but I can’t help thinking that it was a good job Switzerland didn’t go to war with Germany in 1939 because I can’t imagine Hitler’s crack Panzer division being turned back by an army wielding nail files and toothpicks.

Manufacturers today  supply over fifty thousand a year to the Swiss Army which works out at a new knife for every soldier just about every three years or so.

Have I missed anything?

Entrance Tickets, The Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

The road was quiet and there weren’t a great deal of traffic so I was shocked when we arrived there and found a car park that covered several hundred square metres and was completely full of cars, I couldn’t imagine where they had all come from, it was as though they had been beamed down from space.

The second shock was the admission fee which at €6 seemed excessive to me so at the pay booth we asked for four senior tickets at only €4 each and got away with it.  This was a massive shock to Kim who sulked for the next few minutes because she hadn’t been challenged and later that night she used a lot more miracle night cream than she normally does.

Read the Full Story…

Ireland Cliffs of Moher

East Anglia, The End of The Holiday

Suffolk 2018

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East Anglia, Sutton Hoo and Rainy Day Caravan Holidays

Suffolk

Over time I calculate that I have visited forty-seven of the forty-eight traditional (ceremonial)  English Counties (often for pleasure but sometimes for work) but I am fairly certain that I have never visited the County of Suffolk so this holiday was my opportunity to fill this glaring geographical gap in my UK travels.

Today we drove south almost as far as Essex and the plan was to start at Sutton Hoo and then work our way back north.

I don’t want to be accused of exaggeration but Sutton Hoo is perhaps the most important archeological site in the whole of England because it sheds light on a period of Dark Ages history that is on the margin between myth, legend, and emerging historical documentation.  It is the site of an Anglo Saxon burial ship for King Rædwald of East Anglia who was in his day the most powerful chieftain/King in all of the South-East of England.

This is King Rædwald…

003

The discovery is a great Indiana Jones/Howard Carter sort of story.  Local folk reported seeing ghostly figures wandering around the mounds and in response the initial excavation in 1939 was privately sponsored by the landowner Edith Pretty and carried out by a local freelance archeologist called Basil Brown and a couple of estate workers as labourers who could be spared for the task.  Unsurprisingly when the significance of the find became apparent national experts took over.

The most significant artifacts from the burial site were those found in the burial chamber in the centre of the ship, including a collection of metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, shield and sword, a lyre, and many pieces of silver plate from Byzantium.

Sutton Hoo Face Mask

It is a good story but it has some holes in it.  These mounds had been there for a thousand years or so and must surely have generated some interest before Edith Pretty financed the operation.  And so it was because four hundred years earlier Henry VIII (no less) authorised a dig to search for treasure and those entrusted with the task began their excavations.  They discovered one tomb and made away with the loot but failed to make their way into King Rædwald’s ship and gave up rather prematurely.

The point is if people knew there was treasure in the field in 1540 why did no one look again until 1940.  Did everyone just forget?

So is it the most important archaeological site ever uncovered in England?  There are some challengers for the title.

The Staffordshire Hoard represents the largest find of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found. Consisting of over three thousand, five hundred items found by an amateur detectorist buried in a field in Staffordshire. The discovery is said to have completely altered our perceptions of Anglo-Saxon England and the hoard accounts for over 60% of all the Anglo-Saxon items conserved in English museums.

The last Plantagenet King of England was Richard III and he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and hastily buried somewhere in the city of Leicester. The Richard III Society are obsessed with the King with a bad reputation and one member in particular, Phillipa Langley, was convinced that she knew where he was. She persuaded the University of Leicester to finance an excavation in a city centre car park, pointed to a spot, the excavator started to work and bugger me there he was!

All we need to find now is King John’s Treasure lost in The Wash in 1216 somewhere between Spalding and King’s Lynn, somewhere down the A17 and whoever finds that is going to be very famous and very rich.

Watch this short clip to see what it is all about…

The Detectorists TV show.

Suton Hoo Guided Tour

There is a pleasant walk through the gentle Suffolk countryside to the site of the excavation but the reality is that there is very little to see except for seventeen burial mounds which look rather like giant mole hills.  This is a place that requires some considerable imagination to appreciate it and it really doesn’t take long to view.  The point I suppose is this, some places we visit to spend time and see things, a museum for example but some places we visit simply to say that we have been there for the significance of the place and the Sutton Hoo burial mounds fall firmly into the latter category.

There is an interesting exhibition hall and interpretation centre but there are no original artifacts on display because these are all in the British Museum because although it was decreed that the treasure belonged to Edith Pretty she promptly presented it all to the nation which was at the time the largest gift and most valuable made to the British Museum by a living donor.  Edith Pretty was either very generous, very stupid or very rich anyway.

After five days of glorious sunshine it was raining today, pouring actually, so this cut short our visit to Sutton Hoo and with no chance of any improvement we made our way back to the caravan at Kessingland and sat inside for the rest of the afternoon.

This was exactly how I remembered caravan holidays when I was a boy.

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