Category Archives: Europe

A to Z of Statues – C is for Tommy Cooper

When I was at Cardiff University in 1972 to 1975 I used to regularly take the train on the Welsh valley line to nearby Caerphilly. I used to like Caerphilly, especially the castle.

I didn’t know then that it was the birthplace of the comedian magician Tommy Cooper who was born there in 1921.

Hands up if you knew Tommy Cooper was born in Wales.  Overseas readers are excused the exercise.

After leaving University I didn’t return to Caerphilly until I visited the town with my travelling pal Dai Woosnam in 2016, We weren’t looking for Tommy Cooper especially but came across his statue. Actually we were looking for a landmark commemorating another famous Welshman with an association with the town – Guto Nyth Brân.

Read The Full Story Here…

A to Z of Balconies – Quarteira in Portugal.

In the 1980’s my brother Richard worked in a car sales garage in Rugby for a man called Gordon Pitcher who owned a villa on the Algarve in Portugal that he used to rent out for holiday lets.

The property was in what was then a rather remote location called Quarteira, included in the deal was the use of a car for getting about.  Quarteira is now an adjacent resort to busy Vilamoura.  I visited Vilamoura again in 2019 but I didn’t like it. The official guide boasts that “Vilamoura is unlike any other Portuguese town, gone is the dilapidated charm, replaced with striking perfection, which is simply expected by the super-rich who frequent the marina.”

It is a modern purpose built tourist resort completely lacking in any sort of character.  We prefer ‘dilapidated charm’ and are certainly not ‘super-rich’ so stayed no longer than half-an-hour before quickly leaving without a single glance in the rear-view mirror.  I should have carried out better research.

Anyway, back to the story of the balcony, Gordon was a businessman who didn’t like unnecessary expenditure so as the car was UK registered he had to remove it from Portugal by a certain time each year so that he didn’t have to pay local vehicle tax and insurance.

Late in 1986 he asked Richard if he would do the job for him in return for a few days rent free holiday at the villa and Richard agreed so long as he could take his pals along to help with the long drive back.

This was Villa Estrella and its balcony.

Read The Full Story Here…

Monday Washing Lines – Burano in Venice

Welcome to my New Project – Washing Lines

Thank you all for joining in, there have been a number of featured washing lines from Burano in the Venetian lagoon so here is mine, something that I knocked up from collected driftwood on my travels…

It is a Challenge, feel free to join in.

People Pictures – Matching Shoes and Handbag

When it comes to taking pictures I like doors, statues, balconies and washing lines, Kim on the other hand likes people pictures so I thought I might share a few of them with you.

This one was taken on a fiercely hot day in the Catalan town of Besalu. We were sitting in the plaça Major with a plate of tapas and a beer when a wedding party began to arrive. The lady in red was the mother of the groom.

What do you think the people in the bar are saying?

A to Z of Statues – B is for Otto Von Bismarck

I noticed that one thing that makes Berlin stand out against other grand European cities is that it has very few statues; it is that history thing again, Berlin can’t very well have statues of Kaiser Wilhelm II or Adolf Hitler because they were both responsible for unleashing hell in Europe.

Midway along the Tiergarten we did eventually come across a famous monument, the Berlin Victory Column, commissioned in 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War and later dedicated also to victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and then the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Prussia did like going to war it seems.

It is indeed a grand column that soars into the sky and at the very top stands a golden statue of the Roman God Victory.

Prussia had become a modern European State in 1701 and for the next one hundred and seventy years was at war with someone or another for a total of ninety years, or over half of its existence. Not surprisingly Prussia was seen as a militaristic threat to the stability of Europe and so was abolished by the victorious allies in 1947.

This wasn’t especially difficult, two years earlier the Russian offensive in the Battle of Berlin had demolished and removed almost all Prussian heritage. East Prussia was absorbed into a redefined Poland and the remainder became East Germany.

Battleship Bismarck – what a beast…

Nearby we found a statue of a man that I was expecting to find – Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of modern Germany who was responsible for the creation of the country in 1871 following the defeat of France in a short-sharp war – the sort of quick victory Germany expected again in 1914. The sort of victory, it has to be said, that Great Britain also anticipated.

A grand statue but not on prominent display but instead tucked discreetly inside a corner of the Tiergarten, adjacent to the Victory Column.

Not really surprising because Germany looks mostly to the future. To some extent this is explained by Germany’s post war efforts to confront its past, The Germans have a word for this – Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung, which translates as “working off the past”.

In 2003 in a television poll German viewers bypassed Otto Von Bismarck (voting for Adolf Hitler was not allowed) and voted post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as the greatest German of all time. Hands up anyone who has heard of Konrad Adenauer? It would be like voting John Major as the Greatest Briton. I mention this now just as a comparison, if you think Adenauer is an odd choice, in a similar poll in the USA they voted Ronald Reagan the Greatest American and in terms of Presidents alone that was ahead of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D Roosevelt.  Astonishing.

There were also some odd results elsewhere, Russia voted for Josef Stalin (responsible for an estimated 60 million deaths), France for Charles de Gaulle instead of Napoleon or Louis XIV, Portugal for Antonio Salazar (a dictator), Spain for King Juan Carlos (now disgraced) and Canada for someone called Tommy Douglas who turned out to be Scottish.

People Pictures – Blinded By The Light

When it comes to taking pictures I like doors, statues, balconies and washing lines, Kim on the other hand likes people pictures so I thought I might share a few of them with you.

This one was taken in the delightful Spanish town of Almagro in Andalusia. Two ladies taking an evening stroll and had clearly forgotten their sunglasses…

Read The Full Story of Almagro Here…

A to Z of Balconies – Pedro Bernardo in Spain

Pedro Bernardo is a village located in the province of Ávila, Castile and León high in the Sierra de Gredos.

The origins of Pedro Bernardo are not clear; the original name of the village was Navalasolana and there is a popular local legend that talks about the leaders of two groups of shepherds, Pedro Fernández and Bernardo Manso. They started to fight and struggled to get the control of the village and finally the feudal lord of the council tired of it all came up with a solution and decided to change the name of Navalasolana to Pedro and Bernardo to achieve peace and stop the struggles between the two squabbling bands.

In the early evening we walked into Pedro Bernardo, passing first through the Plaza de Torres and then the Plaza Mayor where groups of mainly old men were sitting in small groups and discussing the big important issues of the day.

Through the twisting narrow streets flanked by crumbling buildings with rotting timber and decaying plaster walls, Precarious wooden balconies and barely inhabitable houses we wandered aimlessly through the streets until we arrived at the church somewhere near the top of the village. It was nothing special and really hardly worth the walk at all so we made our way back down and stayed for a while in the main square and had a drink at a bar where there was reluctance to serve us at an outside table on account of the fact that the owner and bar staff were watching a bull fight from Seville on the television in the bar which demanded all of their attention.

I formed the impression that Pedro Bernardo was a town on the precipice, about to tip over in an avalanche of change that will achieve an instant transformation and erase a hundred years or so of history in the blink of an eye. It is rather like one of those penny drop machines in a games arcade, one shove and it will all tip over. One day it will all be gone. It is a shame but it will be ultimately it will be impossible to cling on to the crumbling rotting wreckage of an old town like this and everyone despite their objections will eventually be obliged to move to the nearby featureless modern new town instead.

Old people will weep, young folk will smile. Old people will lament, young folk will rejoice. Property developers will move in behind them and there will soon be a new old town of modern swanky apartments and boutique hotels.

I am so glad that I saw Pedro Bernardo as it once was.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Monday Washing Lines – Valletta in Malta

 

Welcome to my new project – Washing  Lines

The five best places to find washing lines for photo opportunities are Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Malta.

This one is from Malta, Valletta I think although I cannot be absolutely certain…

Clearly it was trousers, jeans and tracky bottoms washing day.  I can’t help noticing that they have been hung to dry inside out, I imagine this is so they don’t bleach in the sun

My only other observation is that personally I would have hung them from the bottoms and then the waist band would dry quicker that way.

Like this…

It is a Challenge.  Do feel free to join in.

A to Z of Statues – A is for Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell, born near Hull in 1621, a seventeenth century English metaphysical poet, satirist and politician (all round clever-dick) who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1659 and 1678 during both the Commonwealth and the Restoration and who was a friend and colleague of the more famous poet John Milton.

Read the full story here…

A to Z of Balconies – Ovar in Portugal

We were in Furadouro in Northern Portugal, we had planned a few beach days but the weather was rather disappointing so we had to find something else to do. Suddenly I remembered that the nice lady in the Tourist Information Office next door had yesterday tried to persuade me to take a walking tour of the nearby city of Ovar on a trail of the ceramic tiles.

This didn’t seem especially thrilling to me at the time but it was now getting rapidly more appealing. It was only €2 each which seemed rather a bargain so we quickly made a return visit to enquire if there were still places available and luckily there were so we immediately signed up.

We considered ourselves fortunate about that because as it turns out there is only one official tour like this every month and she told us that this was the last of the season.

We had to make our way to Ovar so being too mean to take a taxi we walked to the bus stop and when it arrived we were glad to be going inland away from the persistent sea mist and we were encouraged to see some welcome brightness in the sky.

To be honest there isn’t a great deal to do in Ovar, at midday the street market was beginning to close down and we didn’t want to explore the streets in case this was the route of the tour and we might spoil it so instead we found a pavement café, ordered a drink and counted down the minutes to the start of the walk.

This is the railway station in Ovar where the bus set us down…

This seemed to take a very long time, the pace of life in Ovar is rather slow, not nearly as fast as our consumption of wine so we had a second drink and then made our way to the assembly point at the Tourist Information Office where we were separated into two groups, those that spoke Portuguese and those who didn’t.

Our guide was proud to begin the tour with an explanation that Ovar is considered to be the City Museum of the Azulejo since it has a rich collection of tiles on the facades of the buildings, more so than anywhere else in Portugal apparently and for this reason the Museu Nacional do Azulejo in Lisbon has declared Ovar to be a city of historic national importance.

Nowhere in Europe has tiles like Portugal, not even next door Spain, they are everywhere and have become one of the iconic symbols of the country and are used to clad buildings both internally for decoration and externally as an essential component of construction for insulation in winter and for reflecting away the heat of the sun in summer.

It seemed to me that Ovar is a city desperately seeking a tourist identity, every town needs tourists after all and Ovar is exploiting the heritage of the Azulejo. The walk began with a pleasant stroll through the streets of the city centre with frequent stops for information from our tour guide and took forty minutes or so.

Overflowing with unexpected new knowledge we walked now to a ceramic factory on the edge of the city where we were invited to have a stab at painting our own ceramic tile. We applied the paint, tried to remove the smudges (unsuccessfully as it happened) and then left them behind for the oven baking process and a promise that they would be delivered to us later in the day. It was all rather like being back at school.

This was the end of the tour, the coach took us back to Ovar and we caught the bus to Furadouro where the sun was belatedly shining and we hoped for better weather tomorrow so that we could revert to our original beach plan.

Later we went to the Tourist Information Office to collect out painted tiles and were surprised to find that the baking process had seemed to surprisingly improve them. We use them at home now as oversized coasters.