Category Archives: Hotels

Travels in Spain, A Walking Tour of Madrid

Madrid Bear

“To go to bed at night in Madrid marks you as a little queer. For a long time your friends will be a little uncomfortable about it. Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.” – Ernest Hemingway

According to official statistics, after London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona, Madrid is the fifth most visited city in Europe (in that order) but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Compared to London, Paris and Rome it only achieved capital status relatively recently, and there is no iconic building to define it, no Eiffel Tower, no Colosseum and no Westminster Abbey and no famous cathedral or castle either so I was curious about what we were likely to see.  Hemingway liked it so I was sure that I would too.

On the first day we could have taken the option of a city bus tour but I really do dislike them with most of the time spent in long lines of slow moving traffic or at red lights with nothing much to see and then flashing past places of interest with only a split second photo opportunity, so on our first day we decided to take a ‘free’ walking tour of the city.  I knew that it wouldn’t be ‘free’ of course but everyone else seemed to think that it was a good idea.

We joined the tour in the appropriately named Plaza de la Puerto Del Sol because the sun was blazing and in this wide open space the rays reflected off the buildings and the paving slabs and the temperature was rising steadily as we walked past the statues of King Charles III and the Bear and the Madroño tree, which we learned is the heraldic symbol of the city (top picture).

Madrid 04

Interesting I thought as only a month previously I had been in the city of Berlin which also has a bear as a city symbol and I was also reminded now that as a boy I grew up in Warwickshire which has a County symbol of a Bear and an Old Rugged Staff.  I expect lots of towns and cities adopt the bear as their symbol.  In the USA California has one on its flag and the bear is of course the symbol of the country of Russia.

This Berlin…

I Love Berlin Bear

This is my old Boy Scout badge Warwickshire Bear …

Warwickshire Bear

There have been no wild bears in England since William Shakespeare was a lad and none in Germany for nearly two hundred years but there are still some in Spain in Cantabria and Asturias in the north of the country.

The Plaza is the very centre of Madrid and the hub of the radial network of the city’s roads and from here we walked a few streets to the Plaza Mayor.

The Plaza Mayor is the original city square, impressive but not the largest in Spain because that honour belongs to Salamanca in Castilla y Leon.  In the centre stands a grand statue of King Philip III and this place has previously been a market, a bull ring and a place of gruesome public executions but now it is a large cobbled pedestrianised area, grand buildings, temporary exhibitions and pavement cafés all around the sides. We stayed for a while and then left to continue our tour.

The route weaved its way eastwards, stopping every so often to explain points of interest, a Flamenco Bar (where tickets were available for later) the oldest restaurant in the World (where tables were available for later) an expensive indoor market (where tables were available immediately) and a fast food place selling calamari sandwich which the guide explained is a popular lunch time snack in Madrid.

Madrid Calamari Sandwich

The tour took us as far as the Palacio Real de Madrid, which with an area of one hundred and thirty-five square metres and over three thousand rooms is the biggest Palace in Europe and more than twice as big as Buckingham Palace in London.  It is larger even than Versailles in France (sorry Versailles). It is the official residence of the King of Spain but he doesn’t live there, probably because it must be a bugger to heat in the winter and it is only used for official State Ceremonies.  King Felipe VI and the Royal Family choose to live instead in the more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid.

We decided that we would come back to the Palace later when the tour was finished.

We walked around the outside of the white stone Palace and admired the views over the royal gardens and then visited the adjacent Plaza de Orient a spacious and well laid out pedestrian area with an extravagant fountain and equestrian statue of Philip IV surrounded by immaculate gardens and lines of ugly face statues of former Kings celebrating the period of the Reconquesta.

The walking tour finished close by with a selling pitch for more tours and a fee, I just knew that it wouldn’t be ‘free’ but to be fair it had been very good and we enjoyed it and we happily handed over a contribution to the guide.

It was time for lunch so we thought it might be a good idea to sit in the Plaza Mayor but when we arrived there the prices were higher than we generally like to pay so we abandoned this idea and returned to the Plaza de la Puerto Del Sol and looked for a tapas bar.  We selected one in a side street and instead of tapas all decided that we should try the calamari sandwich which I personally hoped might be similar to a nice fish-finger sandwich.  When it came it wasn’t and we wished we hadn’t so we washed it down with a beer and returned to the streets.  It was so bad that I can honestly say that I would have rather had a McDonalds Filet-O-Fish!

Filet O Fish

Or, even better, an English Fish Finger sandwich…

Fish finger sandwich

What would you choose, Calamari Baguette, McDonalds Filet-O-Fish or a Fish Finger Sandwich?

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Some time ago I wrote a post about my favourite Plaza Mayors in Spain.  You can read that post here.

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Yorkshire – Seaside, Countryside and a Train Journey

Whitby Abbey 01

We started the second day in Yorkshire by returning briefly to the town of Whitby which at mid-morning was beginning to stir briskly into English seaside action.  Day trip busses growled into the car parks, breakfast cafés were doing energetic business and noisy amusement arcades were clattering with early coin action and temporary lost fortunes.

I like Whitby, personally I think it is the best of the Yorkshire East coast seaside towns, just edging out Filey and Hornsea but better by a mile than scruffy Scarborough and the really dreadful Bridlington.

Whitby is a fishing town and the harbour was busy this morning as tired working boats came and then rested went and sorted the catch at the quayside before the men on board went about their maintenance duties under the watchful eye of the visitors who wandered without purpose along the quay as they waited for the dozen or so fish and chip shops in the town centre to open at lunchtime.

I would happily have stayed longer at Whitby but we had a very full day ahead of us so we left the town and made our way to nearby Robin Hoods Bay, a charming place which was once a busy fishing village but is now a thriving tourist magnet with narrow picturesque streets, quaint houses, seaside souvenir shops and a wide sandy beach liberally punctuated with rock pools.  The sort of place that I remember from family holidays when I was a boy and where I wished I still had myI-Spy at the Seaside’ book.

Northumberland Seaside Painting

The origin of the name is uncertain, and unless he was on holiday it is highly doubtful if the famous outlaw Robin Hood was ever in the vicinity because it would be a long walk from Sherwood Forest. An English ballad and legend tell a story of Robin taking on French pirates who came to pillage the fishermen’s boats and the northeast coast. The pirates surrendered and Robin Hood returned the plundered loot to the poor people in the village in his most famous way.

errol-flynn-robin-hood-archery

We walked down the steep hill to the sea, stayed a while and then walked back through green fields and a herd of inquisitive cows because our plan now was to take a steam train ride on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

The train runs from Whitby to Pickering but car parking is difficult and expensive in Whitby so we started instead at the next station along the line at the village of Grosmont from a railway station that has been restored faithfully in the style of 1950s British Rail.  I am always amazed at what lengths people will go to in England to recreate the past.  We certainly love our history.

The eighteen mile North Yorkshire Moors Railway carries more people than any other heritage railway in the United Kingdom and even claims to be the busiest steam heritage line in the World, annually carrying more than three hundred and fifty thousand passengers.

We purchased our (expensive) return tickets and waited for the steam engine to tediously make its approach to the station, hissing, spitting, burning and growling like an angry beast. I like steam trains and like a lot of people lament their passing (I am of course old enough to remember steam engines running regular services) but it is easy to see why there is no place for these dirty, temperamental monsters in modern Britain.

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The train advanced ponderously and took an hour or so to cover the short fifteen mile journey so it was looking to break any speed records but it was a pleasant journey through the countryside and through a succession of attractive villages along the way before finally arriving in the market town of Pickering.

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Pickering is a gentle sort of place, I doubt that anything especially exciting ever happens there but I found it pleasant enough and we climbed the hill in the High Street, found a place for afternoon tea and a cream scone.  Having recently been to Cornwall I enquired that is a Yorkshire cream scone eaten in the Cornish (cream on last) or the Devon (cream on first) way and was emphatically told cream on last which I was also politely informed was more correctly known as the Yorkshire way.  Cornwall? Where’s Cornwall?

The train journey back to Grosmont was just as painfully slow and several of our party fell asleep but at £25 return fare I was determined to stay awake. Later we dined at the pub restaurant where we were staying, I was presented with a surprise sixty-fifth birthday cake and a celebration balloon and we all declared the few days in Yorkshire a great success.

Yorkshir Railway

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Berlin, A Pledge to Return

I may have been a bit negative about Berlin so I have booked return flight tickets for December.  I have conceded that I may not have been in the right frame of mind to appreciate the city as this visit was a boozy stag weekend.

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Travels in Spain, Valencia to Alicante

I have taken this drive before but here are some new pictures…

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A Postcard From Puglia

Postcard From Puglia

“Evidently, the God of the Jews didn’t know Puglia, otherwise he wouldn’t have given his people Palestine as the Promised Land.”  –  Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Puglia (1194 to 1250 AD).

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Entrance Ticket – P&O Cabin Key, Hull to Rotterdam

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Once on board we wandered around the maze of narrow corridors on deck ten searching among five hundred and forty-six identical looking cabins until we finally found our inner berth shoebox and after we had negotiated sleeping arrangements in a fair and democratic way I bagged the bottom bunk and let Jonathan practice using the flimsy aluminium ladder to get on top.

One of the rules of the crossing is that passengers cannot take alcohol on board the boat – not because P&O have anything against alcohol it is just that they would rather prefer it if you buy it on board at one of their bars rather than from a supermarket in Hull so without any smuggled on beer or wine there wasn’t a great deal to hang around for in the cabin so we made our way to the Sky lounge and the Sunset bar at the very top of the ship to see the sunset that was dipping down over the River Humber to the west.

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A Postcard From The Black Forest

Black Forest Postcard

When I was a boy my parents had an LP record by Bert Kaempfert. He was a German band leader who was quite popular in the 1960s. They liked it! One particular tune that I can remember distinctly was a jaunty little melody called ‘A walk in the Black Forest’ and inspired by the tune that is exactly what we have done several times..

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