Category Archives: Hotels

Snow in the Black Forest, Germany

When I was a boy my parents had an LP record by a man called Bert Kaempfert.  He was a German band leader who was quite popular in the 1960s.

Well, they liked it!

One particular tune that I can remember distinctly was a jaunty little melody called ‘A walk in the Black Forest’…

Black Forest Snow 02
Black Forest Snow 03
Black Forest Snow 06

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Postcard From Mont Saint-Michel, France

Mont St Michel Postcard

From the Visitor Centre there is free bus transport to the tidal island but we choose to walk so that we could appreciate the stunning approach much as monks or pilgrims would have had over the centuries and it took us forty minutes or so to reach the entrance.  I thought there must surely be a fee, but no, it too was free and I liked this place even more.

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Corfu and the Achilleion Palace

Achilleion 04

In the afternoon we visited the Achilleion at Gastouri, squeezed in between Perama and Benitses.  It is a museum now but was once a summer Palace built in 1890 by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria who was a curious woman obsessed with the classical Homeric hero Achilles and with all things beautiful (including herself by all accounts).

The Palace with the neoclassical Greek statues that surround it is a monument to platonic romanticism and escapism and is filled with paintings and statues of the tragic hero Achilles, both in the main hall and in the gardens, depicting heroic struggles scenes of the Trojan War.

The dazzling white Palace has a wedding cake like appearance and the beautiful Imperial gardens on the hill look over the surrounding green hill crests and valleys and the azure blue Ionian Sea.

I had visited before of course and this was the Palace in 1984…

006

The centre piece of the gardens is a marble statue on a high pedestal of the mortally wounded Achilles stripped of body armour and heroic bravado and wearing only a simple cloth and an elaborate Greek hoplite helmet.  This statue was fashioned by German sculptor Ernst Gustav Herter and the hero is  without rank or status and seems notably human though tragic as he is forever trying despairingly to pull the poisoned arrow shot by Paris from his unfortunate heel.

His classically depicted face is full of pain and he gazes skyward as if to seek help from Olympus.

Achilles Heel

In Greek mythology when Achilles was a baby it was foretold that he would die young. To prevent this his mother Thetis took him to the River Styx which was said to offer powers of invulnerability and dipped his whole body into the water, however, as Thetis held Achilles by the heel, his heel was not washed over by the water of the magical river and was therefore tragically vulnerable.  I have always thought of this to be rather careless.

Dying Achilles

Oddly today there was no arrow on the statue, it seems to have been removed, maybe stolen or perhaps for preservation and repairs, it was certainly there in 1984…

Achilles 1984

and in the souvenir tile that I bought several years later, on the island of Santorini if I remember correctly…

Achilles

In contrast to the painful death of Achilles at the great staircase in the main hall is a giant painting of the triumphant warrior full of pride.  Dressed in full royal military regalia and erect on his racing chariot he pulls the lifeless body of Hector of Troy in front of the stunned crowd watching helplessly from inside the walls of the City.

The Achilleion must have been an idyllic holiday home but in 1898 at the age of sixty the Empress was assassinated when she was stabbed by an anarchist whilst walking in a park in Geneva, Switzerland.  After her death the palace was sold to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II who also liked to take summer holidays on Corfu and later, after World-War One it was acquired by the Greek State who converted it into a museum.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria

It is a beautiful place with grand sweeping gardens befitting royal ownership and we enjoyed the visit and even went back later to see the sunset from the Kaiser’s chair which is an area at the highest point in the gardens where Wilhelm would go in the evening to enjoy the end of the day.

On the way out we passed Kaiser’s Bridge which is just two stumps of brickwork now but was originally built for the Kaiser so that he could leave his yacht and walk to his palace without crossing the road. How self-indulgent was that?  The road can hardly have been busy or dangerous in 1900!

Two stumps of brickwork now because in 1942 it was ironically blown up by the occupying German troops because it was too low for their tanks to pass below.

Kaiser's Bridge

And so we returned to Kalami and our short holiday was over, we packed our bags and cleaned the apartment, I always like to clean an apartment in case we get a bad reputation as untidy guests and then inevitably we returned to the same beach side taverna for a final meal.  It had been a very good week, beaches, sunshine, long walks, a boat ride and a lot of history.  Corfu remains one of my favourite places in Greece and all of Europe.

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Travels in Portugal, Return to Algarve

Algarve map

We left quite soon after breakfast because we had a long drive ahead of us now back to the Algarve.

Once again we had a pleasant journey across the Alentejo region as we headed south along mostly empty roads gliding effortlessly across the wide open plains.  Compared to the Algarve it is a largely undeveloped region where hillsides are as important as beaches, Roman ruins are celebrated as much as golf resorts, rural vineyards promoted as well as luxury marinas – it is, I suggest, a more varied experience.

The Alentejo is also linked to many of the most important chapters of Portuguese history. It saw the birth of Vasco da Gama at Sines and the death of the ‘Holy Queen’ Isabel at Estremoz. It was at Atoleiros that the celebrated knight Nuno Álvares Pereira achieved his first victory in the battle for independence from Castile and it was at Vila Viçosa in February 1908 that King Carlos spent his last night before being shot down and killed by republican activists in Lisbon’s Praça do Comércio the next day.

After an hour or so we left the flat plains behind as we began to climb steadily into the mountains that separate the two regions.  We knew when we passed into Algarve because the roads immediately improved and became busier as we entered the Portuguese poster region.

We planned to have an easy two days before travelling home and had chosen a rural location in a village called Vale Judeu quite close to the busy town of Vilamoura.  We were too early to check in so we went straight to the resort town for lunch.  We immediately wished that we hadn’t.  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.

After arrival at the hotel we took a stroll into the village where we found the dilapidated charm that we like and instead of roving packs of British golfers in between golf courses found an untidy bar full of locals in between food courses so stayed for a while and had a simple lunch.

Portugal Cock

Close by was a restaurant that came highly recommended so after a quiet afternoon around the swimming pool we returned for evening meal.  We shared a simple starter of grilled sardines and a main course of monk fish stew with beans, both delicious.  We had walked eight miles today.

For our final day we made plans to drive east to the town of Tavira, the last big town on the Algarve before crossing the Rio Guardiana into Spain.  We were meeting my blogging pal Jo who I have been friends with now for several years through our web sites.

I was looking forward to Tavira.  In 1965 the artist David Swift who wrote a travel guide to the Algarve said this … “For my money Tavira is the most enchanting town of Algarve.  It stands on two hills on either bank of a river, the Segua which is crossed by a seven arched Roman bridge.  The hills are crowned with castles and churches yet from the middle green fields can be glimpsed in one direction and the sea in the other”.

Roman Bridge

Fifty-five years later I wasn’t expecting it to be quite the same as described but I was delighted to find that Swift would almost certainly have recognised the place that he recommended so highly.  A wide fast flowing river, steep hills, whitewashed shops and houses, terracotta roofs and cobbled streets and still with its thirty-seven churches and a ferry service to the beach islands to the south.  What a delightful contrast to the dreadful resort town of Vilamoura.

ilha_tavira-ferry_boat

We spent a splendid afternoon in Tavira with Jo and husband Mike as our expert guides and as we drove back to our hotel we were in agreement that Tavira is a place that we need to see some more of.

For our final night we returned inevitably to the same restaurant, Kim had a beef steak and I had a salted cod stew.  The Portuguese love cod and it is said that there are three hundred and sixty-five different recipes, one for every day of the year so I thought it was time to try one of them.  I enjoyed it, the fish was firm and meaty but maybe just a little too salty for my taste.  We had walked seven and a half miles today.

In preparation for an early departure we packed before going to bed, I was quite glad actually, it is exciting to travel but it is nice to go home as well!

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Travels in Portugal, The City of Évora

Evora Street 01

We arrived at our accommodation way too early to check in so we simply abandoned the car and made our way towards the city centre across a wasteland car park and a punishing steep hill which lead to the Praça do Giraldo, the main square of the city and where brisk but expensive business was being done in pavement restaurants and bars.

It was rather pricey (well, I thought so) in the swanky city bars so we moved quickly through to an adjacent artisan square and a bar that was busy with local people enjoying good food so we found a table and ordered a simple lunch with prices much more suited to our budget.

Évora is an interesting city and has a busy history.  The Romans conquered it in 57 BC and built the first walled town.  During the barbarian invasions Évora came under the rule of the Visigothic king Leovigild in 584.  In 715, the city was conquered by the Moors and during this period the town slowly began to prosper and developed into an agricultural center with a fortress and a mosque.

Évora was captured from the Moors through a surprise attack by Gerald the Fearless in September 1165 and the city came under the rule of the Portuguese king Afonso I in 1166 and then for a few hundred years or so it then flourished as one of the most dynamic cities in the Kingdom of Portugal.

Evora Roman Temple 01

With two days in Évora we didn’t plan do a lot of sightseeing today so after lunch we wandered through some colourful streets and collected pictures of doors and then strolled back to the hotel where we squandered the afternoon around the swimming pool and drank some beer and wine and played cards.

During the walk we had spotted a promising looking restaurant for evening meal, a simple, rustic sort of place popular with local people so we had no hesitation walking back there in the evening.  We enjoyed a medley of starters and the Kim had roast lamb Alentejo style once again and I had a salted cod with vegetables.  We had walked eight miles today.

Next morning after an average hotel breakfast we set off again into the city and before going anywhere interesting started, at Kim’s insistence, with a haircut because she complained that my thatch had become wild and untidy and I had to agree that she was absolutely right.

Shock over (the haircut an the bill) we went first to the a first-century temple, dedicated to the cult of Emperor Augustus and which unlike the rest of the Roman city has survived for two thousand years because five hundred years ago the structure was incorporated into a medieval development.  That building has gone now but the Temple remains.  It is not especially outstanding for a building of antiquity but remarkable simply because it is still there.

Evora Cathedral Roof

Close to the Roman Temple is the Gothic Cathedral of Évora and we purchased a combined ticket for the interior, a climb to the very top and to visit the cloister.  We made straight for the top where there were expansive views across the Alentejo and beyond, next we went to the cloister where there was a lecture from a cross Frenchman.

There were two sets of steps to the top and we started to climb.  Suddenly the Frenchman was ahead of us coming down.  He insisted that we were using the wrong set of stairs and that we should turn around and go to the bottom and let him continue his descent.  There was no official indication that he was correct but to avoid a diplomatic incident we did as he asked.  This however wasn’t good enough for him and he insisted on following us and giving a lecture on stair lane discipline.  He was wrong, he was definitely wrong and Kim told him so but that just provoked him to carry on.  I wanted to explain to him that I needed no advice from a Frenchman on lane discipline when they can’t even drive on the left hand side of the road, which is of course the right side of the road.

Evora Street 02

From the Cathedral we explored the narrow streets, stopped for lunch and then made our way out of the old city walls to see the Aqueduto da Água de Prata a six mile long sixteenth century aqueduct which once supplied water to the city centre.  Not as picturesque as the aqueducts of either Elvas or Tomar but impressive nevertheless.

By mid-afternoon we were tired of walking so we followed the city walls back to the hotel where we spent the afternoon at the swimming pool with a bottle of wine.

In the evening we returned to the same restaurant where there was an odd incident with an Eastern European lady diner who was dressed for a fine dining experience but finding herself in a rustic Portuguese restaurant with nothing on the basic menu that suited her she had a vociferous argument with the owner who eventually ran out of patience, invited her to leave and received a round of applause from all of the satisfied diners.

I had artichokes and cod stew and Kim had a salad and Portuguese slow cooked chicken.  We had walked nine miles today.  We had enjoyed our two days in Évora but tomorrow we would be packing up and heading back south to the Algarve.

Evora Roman Temple at Night

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Thursday Doors – Santorini in the Greek Islands

Santorini Greek Door

More doors from Santorini here.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

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Entrance Tickets – The Royal Palace in Warsaw

Warsaw Royal Castle

At the ticket office the clerk explained that the whole of the castle was not open today but by way of compensation entrance was free.  This seemed like a good deal, no money changed hands and only half a museum for Kim!

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