Category Archives: Hotels

Travels in Spain, Valencia and the Old Town

Mostly I want an airline flight to end quickly and I spend ten minutes or so willing the pilot to get the plane on the ground so that I can get off and get started but this was not the case when approaching the city of Valencia on the Levante coast of Spain.

The approach route involved a manoeuvre out over the Mediterranean and then a long languid approach around the south of the city.  The water was so blue it was as though the sky had fallen to earth and we crossed from sea to land over L’Albufera de València, the largest freshwater lagoon in Spain, a place for fishing and for growing paella rice. (Mar Menor in the neighbouring province of Murcia is the largest seawater lagoon by-the-way).

From the air I picked out the Old Town with its Gothic Cathedral and the City of Arts and Sciences and I was already looking forward to some of that paella rice later in the day.

After landing and passing through arrival security we took the metro into the city.  After being robbed on the Athens Metro I am always nervous of this mode of transportation but this seemed safe enough and within twenty minutes we were in the city still with all of our bags and possessions and then by some complete fluke I plotted a direct walking route to the hotel almost in the centre of the old city centre.

It was a nice hotel, boutique by description but not in reality and we settled in, approved the facilities and walked straight back out into the city.  Directly opposite was the Museum of Ceramics housed in the Palace of the Marquis of Dos Aguas, a Rococo nobility palace and a house considered as a supreme example of nobility and opulence.  The alabaster decoration came with warnings not to touch and reminded me somewhat of a Moscow Metro Station.

This is the Palace in 1870 and the building opposite,  previously the Duke of Cardona’s  baroque-style palace is now the SH Inglés Hotel.

Immediately I liked this place, the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and just ahead of Bilbao and Malaga and after we had got our bearings we set off to explore the heart of the old city and started first at a tapas bar in the “Plaza de la Vergen” in a gloriously sunny spot overlooking the east door of the Cathedral.

It was wonderful, the sky was blue, the plaza was golden, busy and vibrant, the people were relaxed, the visitors were hurried, the waiters were languorous, purple shadows shifted across the pavements and disappeared into secret corners and we were back in Spain!

The decision to move on was a difficult one, I think I could happily have stayed all day but Valencia had a lot more to offer than a pavement bar and the bottom of a beer glass so we paid up, bagged up and move on.

We were planning to walk to the central market but went in completely the wrong direction and found ourselves at the very edge of the old town and on the border of the dried out bed of the River Turia so leaving that until another day we turned back and looked once more for our intended destination.

We walked through a combination of Baroque and modern, old and new, through a twisting labyrinth of alleyways and narrow streets all drizzled like olive oil in the history of the city, a combination of pristine plazas and graffiti spoilt corners, effervescent fountains and beggars pitches, forever being drawn into the historic heart of the city.  And what a city, towering mansions, brooding palaces and around every corner a tree lined plaza decorated with restaurant tables serving wine and tapas.

Eventually we came to the Market District, an area bubbling like a geyser with gay excitement.  Outside the tapas bars welcomed us in but we ignored them with a casual ‘maybe later’ and carried on to the market hall itself.  What a place. Bursting with fresh local produce, if I lived in Valencia I would spend all of my money in the central market.  Fruit, vegetables, tapas, wine, meat and fish, even though I am not a shopper I would gladly spend an hour or so there every day.

The tapas restaurants were so exciting that we thought we might return later but when we did they were all closed.  If I ever return  I will remember that.  So we wandered into the back streets of the city and settled on a restaurant which wasn’t the best but offered traditional food at a good price so foot-weary and tired we took a table and ordered food.

I wanted paella because although it has come to be regarded as the national dish of Spain it originated right here in Valencia.  When the Moors reached Alicante in 718 they discovered a pleasant climate perfect for growing crops that wouldn’t grow in Africa and set about turning this part of the peninsula into a centre of horticulture.

They developed a system of irrigation and exploited the wetlands that were created to grow rice.  Not just any rice however, not your supermarket economy rice, not Uncle Ben’s ‘boil in a bag’, but arroz bomba introduced from the east which has the perfect constituency to produce the dish.

These days people will add almost any ingredient to a paella but the true Valencian meal is always made of chicken, rabbit and white beans.  Most things work but I have a friend who adds liver and that doesn’t but then again I have strong culinary views on liver – avoid it at all costs – it takes offal.

There was no liver, just traditional Valencian paella and I was glad about that and after we had eaten and after a very long day we made our way back through streets brimming with joy to the hotel.  I liked this place.  I liked this place a lot!

Wroclaw, Cathedral Island, Padlocks and Museums

‘… In a few short years, the heart of Paris has been made ugly, robbing Parisians of quality of life and the ability to safely enjoy their own public spaces along the Seine…. The time has come to enact a ban on ‘love locks’ in order to return our bridges to their original beauty and purpose.’ – Petition Against Love Locks, Paris.

At customer feedback I rated the Best Western as excellent and awarded high marks for everything but it is has to be said that it is not a hotel for sleeping in late into the morning.  The room faced east and was adjacent to a very busy road so the combination of bright sunshine leaking in around the curtains and trams regularly clattering past meant for an early breakfast.

Leaving the hotel we walked towards the River Oder and the handful of islands that sit in a wide stretch of the river and which are connected by several bridges which immediately entitles it to the tag of the ‘Venice of the North’.  This isn’t a title that it holds uniquely of course because this has also been applied to AmsterdamBrugesSt. Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester, Edinburgh and even Birmingham amongst others.

Actually, I have to say that here in Wroclaw this description is stretching it to its absolute limit but it was pleasant enough criss-crossing the river on the bridges and strolling across the islands one by one towards our objective of Ostrow Tumski, the Cathedral Island, which actually isn’t an island any more since part of the river was filled in two hundred years ago.

To get there we had to cross the Tumski Bridge which has now become known as Lovers Bridge on account of that awful modern obsession with attaching padlock graffiti to any available railing which seems to have become an irritating epidemic all across Europe.  This is a lover’s plague whereby signing and locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river they become eternally bonded.

This tradition might sound all rather romantic and lovely but apparently all of these love tokens do lots of damage to the bridges because as they age and rust this spreads to the ironwork and thousands of padlocks need to be removed every year from bridges across Europe.  In Venice there is a €3,000 penalty and up to a year in prison for those caught doing it and that is a much, much higher price than I would be prepared to pay for eternal bondage!

This is what Tumski Bridge used to look like before mindless love lock vandals began to consider it acceptable to add metal graffiti…

This is what it looks like today…

I know which way I prefer it, I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

To anyone who thinks this is mean-spirited please bear in mind that in June 2014 the ‘Pond des Arts’ in Paris across the River Seine collapsed under the weight of these padlock monstrosities and had to be temporarily closed.  They are not just unsightly – they are dangerous!

Cathedral Island is the original site of the first permanent settlement in Wroclaw, sometime in the ninth century and shortly after it became established and became a bishopric work began to build a Cathedral.  Named after John the Baptist, Patron Saint of Wroclaw, the current incarnation of the cathedral started life in 1241 although it has had a great deal of restoration work since then because just like every European church it has suffered a mandatory burning down or two and the odd bomb over the years including the destruction of the twin towers in 1945.

There is a lift to a viewing platform up to the top of one of the towers and so we took the ride and enjoyed the views over the city and the surrounding countryside and after a couple of circuits or so of the spire we took the first available lift back to the ground where the temperature was more agreeable.

And so we left the islands and returned to the old town where we walked for a while along the south bank of the river.  Here we passed by two museums, the especially impressive National Museum built in the style of a German sixteenth century palace and over the road the Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice.

This is a concrete rotunda with just one exhibit, a 114 metre long by 15 metre high painting of the battle of 1794 when a Polish army defeated a superior Russian force in a struggle for independence.  This makes it the second largest panorama painting in the World just slightly shorter by six metres than the Arrival of the Hungarians in Ópusztaszer in Hungary and just ahead by 5 metres longer than the Gettysburg Cyclorama in Gettysburg, USA.

After the museums we went to the indoor market but it wasn’t as vibrant as some that we have been to and compared badly for example against Riga and Budapest and it seemed tired, run down and unexciting.  The guide book pointed out the importance of the roof as one of the best examples of early halls made of concrete in Europe and if you like concrete then I am prepared to concede that it was rather impressive.  Personally, I am not a huge fan of the grey stuff!

We had been walking  for over two hours and I was beginning to detect that the needle on Kim’s whinge meter was beginning to twitch so the priority now was to find somewhere for a coffee break so we walked back in the direction of Market Square and found a modern café where we stopped for a while for some of the group to top up sugar levels with cake in preparation for more walking in the afternoon.

The Official Travel Guide in Wrocław – visitWroclaw.eu

Wrocklaw – Food, Street Entertainment and Beer

We were travelling with our friends Mike and Margaret and Christine and Sue and it was late afternoon when we left the hotel and made our way to the Old Town.

The sun was still shining so after a swift circuit of the Market Square and as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast we found a restaurant with outside seating arrangements with the intention of ordering a small snack to tide us over until evening meal time.

It seems however that the Polish people have a different interpretation to the English of what constitutes a small snack and what we thought would be a modest sharing platter turned out to be a mountainous plate of sandwiches, pastry, chips, bacon and sausage and something called Zapiekanka (a sort of baguette, about twice the size of a double Big Mac,  with nothing left out and then smothered in tomato sauce) which provided in one setting our entire calorie allowance for the day and completely eliminated the need to make any more plans for evening meal.

After all of that food and drink the only sensible thing to do now was to try to walk some of it off so we left the Market Square and headed out-of-town along one of the long boulevards which brought us eventually to the City’s main railway station and being a train enthusiast was to be the highlight of Mike’s day.  It was refurbished in 2011 in preparation for the Euro Football Championship and although it is an impressive structure it looks rather out-of-place, designed as it seems to be in the style of a North African Palace that would be more at home in Marrakech or Tangiers..

Image by Tim Richards – Lonely Planet

By the time Mike had tired of train spotting it was dark and becoming quite cool so we made our way back to the Market Square where various entertainments were in full swing.

This is one of the great pleasures of travelling to the Continent because the evening time is so very different to being in England where the town centres close up and empty of people very early and everyone rushes off home, close their gates and retreat behind their front doors.  Generally we are suspicious of people who hang around town centres at night – when Polish people living in England walk out at night people get upset and start writing letters to the local newspaper complaining about anti-social behaviour.

Once in Krakow I asked a tour guide why Polish people walk out at night even in bad weather and his explanation was that many people live in small overcrowded units in apartment blocks and rather than spend the evening getting in each other’s way they go out instead for some recreation and to be neighbourly….

… and sometimes to get drunk!

Here in Wroclaw the Market Square was buzzing and vibrant and families and friends were flowing like lava into the Old Town from every side street and alleyway and filling the bars and cafés around the perimeter.  I don’t know what they call it in Poland but this was the equivalent of the La Passeggiata in Italy or La Paseo in Spain and it was wonderful to be a part of it.

We walked around the square, several times I think, stopping frequently to watch the street entertainers and to throw some small coins in the collection boxes as we passed and when we had seen enough we looked for somewhere to stop for a drink.

We knew a place from our previous visit, a little place close to our hotel which is rather simply called ‘Drinks Bar’ which may seem unimaginative but avoids any confusion about what you are going to do in there or any other possible catastrophe such as inadvertently walking into a shop by mistake.

The really good thing about the ‘Drinks Bar’ is that it serves a variety of good beers and it is cheap so we stayed longer than we planned and drank more than we should have before moving on.

The Poles are statistically the fourth highest beer drinkers in Europe with per capita consumption of around one hundred litres a year just slightly behind the Germans and the Austrians at one hundred and five but some considerable way behind the Czechs who are way out in front with one hundred and forty-five litres per head.  So we thought we might make a contribution to a Polish challenge upon the Czech Republic beer consumption statistic and on the way back to the hotel stopped off several times at anywhere that looked bright and cheerful and would dispense foaming glasses of ale!

The Official Travel Guide in Wrocław – visitWroclaw.eu

A Return Visit to Wroclaw, Poland

Spring  always seems to be a good time to go away if you ask me and this year I found some cheap Ryanair flights at only £50 return to Wroclaw, the fourth largest city in Poland and as we had thoroughly enjoyed a January weekend there two years previously the decision was quickly made to make a return visit the historic capital of Lower Silesia.

So why go to Wroclaw in the first place you might ask (and some people did) and having been once why go for a second time?  Well, quite simply because it is a fine European city and has a great deal to offer…

… It is classified as a global city with a ranking of high sufficiency and living standards and in 2015 was among two hundred and thirty cities ranked as “Best Cities to Live“. In 2016, the city was a European Capital of Culture and the World Book Capital. Also in a busy year Wrocław hosted the Theatre Olympics, the World Bridge Games and the European Film Awards. In 2017, the city is the host of the The International Federation of Library Associations’ Annual Conference and The World Games which is an international multi-sport event, meant for sports that are not contested in the Olympic Games

And where Iceland has Huldufólk and  Zurich has GnomesWroclaw has Dwarfs…

Before leaving my friend Dai Woosnam provided me with some lessons on pronunciation because although Wroclaw looks easy enough on paper it can prove quite tricky to get absolutely right and is correctly pronounced as ‘Vrotswaf’ with the added complication of a rolling ‘r’.  In attempting to say this difficult word it is necessary to sound like a bronchitis sufferer with a throat full of phlegm. 

I suggest that the easiest way to achieve it would be to fill your mouth with pebbles to suppress any possible movement of the tongue and force the sound into the back of the mouth; either that or go into the garden shed and find a live moth, swallow it and then try to cough it up and you will achieve roughly the same combination of sounds that is required to get the correct pronunciation!  

It is all very well for Dai of course, he is from Wales and the Welsh are used to dealing with unpronounceable place names, like possibly the most absurd of all –  Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch* because even the Germans don’t have place names as long as that and the longest that I can find is Villingen-Schwenningen but that cheats and includes a hyphen and is really two places next door to each other.  On that same basis I am also passing over the claim of L’Annonciation-de-la-Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie-de-Nazareth which is somewhere in Quebec in Canada.

No one seems to know for sure but the city is traditionally believed to be named after Wrocisław or Vratislav, Duke Vratislaus I of Bohemia sometime towards the end of the tenth century.

But it hasn’t always been so difficult because it only reverted to the name of Wroclaw in 1946 when the city and the whole region of Silesia was taken from Germany and handed over to Poland as the borders of central Europe were redrawn to satisfy the demands of Stalin at the post-war Potsdam Conference.

Up until that point in history Wroclaw had not been a part of what you might call Poland for over six-hundred years and it went by the German name of Breslau, which is a lot easier to pronounce and was an almost exclusively German in a city that had once been part of Prussia, The German Empire after unification in 1871, The inter-war Weimer Republic and the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler.  I’ll tell you some more about that in a future post.

I am always interested to discover how far a place name has travelled but not surprisingly I am unable to find another Wroclaw anywhere.  There is however a Breslau in Ontario, Canada and another in Pierce County Nebraska, USA. There used to be one more, in Suffolk County, New York but just like its Polish counterpart it was renamed – as Lindenhurst in 1891

We left a cloudy and rather dismal East Midlands Airport near Nottingham and a little under two hours later approached Wroclaw-Copernicus airport which was bathed in dappled sunshine.  As we dropped through the light cloud I could see Poland rapidly coming into view.  This part of the country is flat and prairie like with a chequer board pattern of agricultural farms and fields occupying the valley of the River Oder and a long way from the mountains of the south or the forests of the east and still in its state of winter hibernation it looked rather unremarkable and it made me wonder why so many lives had been lost over the years fighting over it. 

After a short thirty-minute taxi ride to the city we checked into the Best Western Hotel on the edge of the Old Town and after approving our accommodation stepped out into the street and made our way to the nearby market square which like so many others in Europe has been expertly and sensitively restored and betrays an eclectic mix of the principles of original medieval town planning and a combination of Germanic and Polish architectural styles that perfectly complement one another.

We set off on a sightseeing walk and possibly to find a bar!

The Official Travel Guide in Wrocław – visitWroclaw.eu

Museums of Hull

After a second night demolishing the Premier Inn in Beverley and the children had caught up on their e-mails we had to clear out and make plans for going back home to Grimsby.

Fearing for the house and not wanting to get back too soon I thought that we might take a detour through UK Capital of Culture – The City of Hull and specifically an area of the city that has been reinvented for the occasion as the Old Town and more specifically, the Museum Quarter.

Odd, isn’t it?  I have no trouble with Madrid or Prague, Rome or Lisbon having an Old Town or Museum quarter but I find it difficult to get my head around this in nearby Hull.

Hull Museum Cat People

It was rather a surprise to most people when Hull became UK Capital of Culture because it has to be said that it great swathes of it are a bit of a dump and the journey in along the A1079, the Beverley Road, did nothing to alter this opinion, it is a dreadful approach to the city,  through run down streets of decrepit shop, chipboard and steel shutters, cheap mini-markets, tattoo parlours, dodgy finance places and betting shops, not the sort of place that anyone would like to spend too much time without a bodyguard that’s for sure.

Anyway, we made it to the Old Town and after a bit of difficulty found a parking spot and made our way to the Museum, which by contrast is all rather nice.

I have to say that my expectations were low but once inside I quickly had to reassess my uninformed predictions.  Entrance is free and within five minutes I was open mouthed with respect for this Municipal Museum.

Three Museums actually.

We started in the Street Life Museum which recreates city life in the early twentieth century with buses and trains which amused the children and old fashioned shops that I remembered well enough but left my grandchildren unimpressed.

Hull Museum Street lifeinside-streetlife-museum

Upstairs we moved back two hundred years and there were carriages and recreations which I liked but scared some of the children.  There was a street scene which included a wheelwright workshop and that interested me because my great-great grandfather , Thomas Insley of Shackerstone in Leicestershire was a wheelwright and carriage maker just about one hundred years ago before his business went bust with the advent of the motor car.

At the very top of the building was a view over the River Hull and the previous site of the industrious city docks, all gone now of course but once this was one of the busiest fishing ports in England, a status only disputed by nearby Grimsby.  Rather sad now, no fishing, no ships just crumbling piers and rotting lichen covered timbers which will soon give in to the inevitable and fall into the muddy water and simply disappear.

I spoke briefly to a visitor from the south of England who seemed genuinely surprised by the history of the city.  I told him the story that Hull was allegedly the most bombed city in World-War-Two, this was because that despite a blackout no German Bomber crew could hardly miss the River Humber and also because having reached the English coast many crews lost their nerve to carry on, declared an imaginary aircraft fault and simply discharged their bombs on the first available target and just went home.

carriage-makers-1903

After the Street Life Museum we moved on to the History Museum but by this time the children were beginning to run out of patience so we rather dashed through the history of the area from the Iron Age to the Medieval and after an hour or so as I became increasingly conscious of their lack of attention we moved on.

We missed out the William Wilberforce Museum and the history of the abolition of slavery and I thought I might do that another day by myself.

Hull History Museum

So we left the Old Town of Hull and made our way back south for the return journey to Lincolnshire on the opposite side of the Humber and crossed the estuary over the suspension bridge.

At a little over two thousand, two hundred metres the Humber Suspension Bridge is the seventh largest of its type in the World.  This statistic used to be even more impressive because when it was first opened in 1981 it was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the World for the next sixteen years and the distance by road between Hull and Grimsby was reduced by nearly fifty miles as a consequence of the construction.

For the record, the longest single span suspension bridge is currently the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge in Japan.

Eventually we left the visitor area and made for the toll booths and crossed the river and then made our way back to Grimsby past the port of Immingham to the north which handles the largest quantity of goods by weight in the UK and by day is an untidy, grimy sort of place dominated by ugly petro-chemical works and soulless grey industrial buildings but by night is transformed into a glittering Manhattan skyline of tall buildings and bright lights and occasional dancing plumes of flames burning off excess gases which actually makes it all look rather attractive.

Over the last two days we had done our best to demolish the Premier Inn Hotel in Beverley and the Museums in Hull now it was the turn of my house to take the strain!

hull-humber-bridge

http://www.visithullandeastyorkshire.com/

Yorkshire, Beverley and Hornsea

Hornsea Beach Yorkshire

February school half-term and I had a visit from the grandchildren to plan for which can be a stressful experience as generally when they visit they spend a week dismantling and redecorating the house and trashing the garden .

As always I made some preparations but this is rather like building the Maginot Line, a good idea, very expensive but ultimately useless!

Since 2011 I have lived in the east coast town of Grimsby and every so when they visit it is my job to arrange entertainment.  This can be a challenge because to be honest and I don’t think I am being unfair here there just isn’t a great deal to do in Grimsby.

I like the town but it has to be said that it is an odd place.  It is a community in decline.  On the south bank of the Humber Estuary it is so far east that the only place to go after this is the North Sea and there aren’t any ferries to Europe as there are in Hull on the north side of the river.  It is a dead end.  It is a place that you only go to by choice.  No one visits Grimsby by accident.  You cannot stumble upon it while taking a leisurely drive along the coast as say in Northumberland or East Anglia.  It can never be an unexpected discovery.  You don’t go to Grimsby unless you are going to Grimsby!

This half-term I decided to find a reasonably priced hotel and let them trash someone else’s place instead.  Unfortunately for the Premier Inn Company I chose their hotel in Beverley in Yorkshire just a few miles north of Hull, the UK Capital of Culture for 2017.

hull

We arrived late on Monday afternoon and proceeded immediately to take the place apart – I was sure that the police would arrive at any minute in a blitz of flashing blue lights and screeching sirens  to take us away. Within minutes it looked like Belgium after the German army had driven through in 1940 on the way to France.  But all was not lost and eventually they calmed down and we went for evening meal in the dining room which we managed to leave an hour or so later without completely destroying the place.

North Sea Hornsea

Next day it was a lovely late Winter morning and after breakfast I made a decision that it was worth making a short journey to the coast to the North Sea town of Hornsea.  It took us about thirty minutes to drive there.

On arrival I was immediately impressed.  I live near the resort town of Cleethorpes but although it is a popular holiday resort it has to be said that it is just a muddy estuary where the sea is barely visible for long periods of the day but this was real North Sea coast with a raging sea, barnacled groynes, pounding surf, churning water and a pebble beach clattering away as it was constantly rearranged by the tidal surge.

Hornsea Beach Yorkshire

I liked it but the children liked it even more and once down on the beach they made a run for the sea.  I called after them to stop but it was hopeless, shouting into a wind that just carried my instructions away back towards the promenade and they charged like the Light Brigade towards the water.

Inevitably they fell in.  William first and then Patsy, Molly managed to stay vertical but still got soaked by the waves.  I had no change of clothing of course (a lesson learned there) so after I had dragged them from the sea we had to walk a while and let the stiff wind blow the moisture from their clothes.  Marks out of 10 for Granddad – ZERO.

Hornsea Yorkshire Winter Beach

I liked Hornsea, a seaside town off the main visitor route, rather inaccessible and certainly not on any main tourist trail.  I would absolutely go back there again, maybe even for a weekend break (no children).

Wet through we returned to Beverley to the Premier Inn where we changed and showered and then simply enjoyed the room.  None of the children were enthusiastic about visiting the town centre and I wasn’t going to argue with them on that point because being around shops can be another challenge so we wasted the afternoon away as we prepared for a second night in the dining room and a plan to spoil everyone else’s evening!

Yorkshire Hornsea

http://www.visithullandeastyorkshire.com/

Postcards of 2016

Essaouira PostcardAndalusia Postcard 2Cobh PostcardYorkshire AbbeysCosta Del Sol PostcardBorth PostcardDelos Greece PostcardCosta Calida Postcard