Category Archives: Knights of St John

Greek Islands, More Doors of Amorgos

Amorgos Door 05Greek Door AmorgosAmorgos Door 06Amorgos Door 04

Travels in Spain – The City of Burgos

Burgos Cathedral

“Upon the gates of Burgos there is a dim scratch, in the shadow of the arch, which romantics variously interpret as indicating the length of the Cid’s sword” – Jan Morris

It was late afternoon when we arrived in Burgos and we located the hotel without too much difficulty and checked in.  I had chosen the Meson Del Cid because of its location and because the hotel web site boasted about the panoramic views of the Cathedral.

Unfortunately our room didn’t have a panoramic view of the Cathedral or its celebrated ornate front door as we were allocated a room at the rear with a view of a tiny courtyard and the back door of an adjacent church and I immediately decided (perhaps unfairly) that this was most likely going to adversely affect my customer review scoring.

I was especially keen to visit Burgos because the first time I was there in 1985 I dashed through with indecent haste on a road trip from the Algarve to the English Channel and at that point we were seriously behind our schedule and didn’t have time to stop but mostly because this is the spiritual home of my Spanish hero Rodrigo Díaz de Bivar, better known as El Cid.

There was time for a brief excursion into the city but with a full day ahead in Burgos we ignored the sights right now and looked instead for a likely restaurant for later.  The one that we selected served a nice evening meal, but not the best that we had had this week and our mistake was not to have the menu del dia which was being served up by the plateful to the pilgrims who made their way inside.

El Cid Alvar Fanez Burgos

My way of getting our own back on the hotel for the disappointing room was to boycott their expensive breakfast at €11 each and instead found a good alternative at only €4 each just around the corner in a place with the tempting aromas of the first meal of the day, pungent coffee, sizzling eggs, newly fried churros and the faint hint of charred toast.

It was a miserable cold morning and immovable grey clouds filled the sky, the walkers were all wearing their warmest clothes and most people on the street were taking the sensible precaution of carrying an umbrella.  We walked first to the Plaza Mayor which isn’t going to get into my favourites list because although it was large and colourful the place was spoilt by the inappropriate placement of recycling containers where, in my opinion, there should have been pavement tables.

From the Plaza we walked to the river through one of the original city gates, the Arco de Santa Maria, and then along a boulevard, Paseo del Espolón, lined with trees like lines of Greek dancers each with their hands on their partners shoulders and then towards the Plaza del Cid.

Greek Dancer Trees Burgos

Once over the river we crossed a bridge lined with statues depicting the heroes of the Reconquesta and then, there he was – El Cid, looking fearsome with his grizzled beard, wild cloak flowing madly, his sword La Tizona, too big for an ordinary mortal, extended ahead of him, his eyes fixed ferociously on an enemy army as he led a charge against the Moors sat on his magnificent famous white horse Babieca.

Only one other statue is the equal of this one in all of Spain – that of Francisco Pizarro more than five hundred kilometres away in the Plaza Mayor in the city of Trujillo  in Extremadura.

El Cid and Babieca

The weather stubbornly refused to improve so we decided that it was time to visit the Cathedral, the third largest in Spain after Seville and Toledo and we walked to the great Gothic construction with its balustraded turrets, needle-pointed pinnacles, statues of the Saints and steel grey filigree lace towers soaring above us, went inside and grudgingly paid the €7 entrance fee.

Actually this turned out to be very good value for money because I would agree with the travel writer Jan Morris that this is perhaps the finest Cathedral that I have visited in Spain, better than both Seville and Toledo and with an audio guide thrown in.

It took some time to visit all of the chapels on both sides and eventually reach the centre of the building with its huge grey columns reaching up above us supporting a magnificent ribbed central dome where underneath in pride of place was the resting place and tomb of El Cid and his equally famous wife Doña Ximena Díaz  Actually I was expecting something a bit grander but the great National hero of Spain is buried under a rather simple marble gravestone.

Burgos Cathedral, Spain

Through the magnificent stained glass windows we could see that there were occasional shafts of sunlight so with the weather improving Kim began to get restless so we hurried our pace for the remainder of the visit but I did manage to slow her down long enough to visit the Cathedral museum where amongst the exhibits were the travel chest of El Cid, which I am fairly certain he wouldn’t be able to use as Ryanair cabin baggage and a blood thirsty statue of Saint James the Moor slayer.

These days we are a bit more sensitive about religious wars and killing each other in the name of God or Allah and in 2004 a similar statue in Santiago Cathedral showing St James slicing the heads off Moorish invaders was removed and replaced with a more benign image of him as a pilgrim to avoid causing offence to Muslims.

A Cathedral spokesman in a classic understatement explained that the Baroque image of a sword-wielding St James cutting the heads off Moors was not a very sensitive or evangelical image that can be easily reconciled to the teachings of Christ.  It might also be a case of political correctness.  In 1990 there were one hundred thousand Muslims living in Spain but by 2010 this had risen to over one million.

Saint James is in danger of becoming a bit of a Nigel Farage!  Burgos Cathedral on the other hand, for the time being anyway, appears not to be so sensitive.

Saint James at Santiago de Compostella

With the sun now shining we returned to the streets and walked along a steep path through pleasant woodland towards the castle of Burgos.  There was once a medieval castle on the site but the current fort was built by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808, was the only castle that the Duke of Wellington failed to capture and which was destroyed again by the French when they retreated and left in 1813.

It has been restored again now but opening hours seem to be very limited and today the iron gates were firmly closed and locked so we walked back to the city and returned to the river and walked in both directions before selecting a pavement bar on the Paseo del Espolón  and sat in the hot sunshine with a San Miguel.

I liked Burgos, probably most out of all the cities that we had visited this week and I was glad that we had chosen to spend a couple of nights here.  Later we found an alternative restaurant for evening meal where the food was excellent and we were in the good company of some Camino walkers and at the end of the day there was a walk back to the hotel through the quiet streets under the waxy glow of the iron street lamps casting their curious shadows into the corners of the Plazas and streets and overhead there was a clear sky which made us optimistic about the next day.

Plaza Major Burgos Spain

Travels in Spain – Talavera de La Reina, City of Pots!

Talavera de la Reina Spain

With an ambitious objective to visit all of the regions of Spain and already travelled to the more obvious places such as Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha and Castilla y Leon it was time this visit to be more adventurous.

I have excluded from that short list places such as Galicia, Cantabria, The Basque Country and Catalonia because although we have been there I have become aware that these, although part of the state of Spain, are not really Spain at all and something quite separate and different.

On this occasion we choose Extremadura to the south-west of Madrid, which the guide books claimed to be the least visited part of the country.  With no convenient international airport in the Province it was a choice between Seville or Madrid and the best available flights were to the capital about three hundred kilometres away and a long drive from the cities of Cáceres, Trujillo and Mérida.

In the week before the journey the BBC had been promising rain and cloud which was disappointing so we packed appropriately with rain coats and umbrellas and when we took off from Luton Airport on an early morning flight the sun was beginning to rise in a blue sky and we became resigned to leaving good conditions at home and flying into colder, wetter weather.

Talavera Conquistador Tiles

Across the United Kingdom and the Bay of Biscay the weather remained clear and then we crossed the coast of Spain somewhere near Santander and we could see the snowy peaks of the Picos de Europa mountains and the plains of Castilla y Leon and it appeared that we may have been unnecessarily pessimistic but then as we approached central Spain and Madrid the clouds began to build over the mountains and it looked as though for once the weather forecasters were correct.

By the time we reached Madrid however there was improvement and after we had landed and made our way through arrivals and completed the car hire formalities the sun was winning the competition with the clouds for control of the sky and encouraged by this we left the airport and began our journey west.

In anticipation of rain we had an alternative plan to drive via El Escorial and visit the Royal Palace but we had been there before and with the sun shining we stuck to our original plan to drive to the city of Talavera de la Reina in the north of the Province of Castilla-La Mancha.

It was about one hundred kilometres for this first leg of the journey and the Autovia was practically empty so we enjoyed a trouble-free, toll-free ride all the way to the city, which, with the help of the satnav lady navigator we found easily and parked the Volkswagen Polo in a convenient underground car park close to the centre.

Talavera Fountain

Talavera de la Reina is a city in the western part of the province of Toledo and is the second-largest centre of population in Castile-La Mancha (after Albacete) and the largest in the province, larger even than the city of Toledo itself, although the more famous city naturally remains the provincial capital.  This means that to a certain extent Talavera is a city with an inferiority complex and this isn’t helped by the fact that it isn’t really a primary tourist destination but we are keen to visit as many Spanish cities as possible and we were not going to exclude it from our itinerary.

We emerged from the underground car park into the heart of the city park where there were fountains and statues and leafy walks leading to the Basilica del Prado where we walked and then became confused while looking for the city centre.  It was lunchtime and we were hungry so we quickly reoriented ourselves and then confident about the direction of travel made our way to the city centre where in one of the busy satellite squares we found some tables in the sun and enjoyed a tapas lunch.

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Talavera achieved great recognition, thanks to its ceramics. Wonderful pieces of pottery and Talavera tiles are found in the main museums of the world and in the most luxurious palaces all over Europe.  The city is internationally known for its products, which King Philip II used as tiled revetments in many of his works, such as the monastery of El Escorial.  The nickname of Talavera de la Reina is ‘The City of Pottery’ and Mexico’s famous Talavera pottery was named after the place.  We could have guessed this because after lunch we walked through the old city towards the River Tagus and our route took us past a succession of similar ceramics workshops and shops.

Talavera de La Reina Fountain

Eventually we reached the river which is the longest in the Iberian Peninsula and the twelfth longest in Europe.  It is just over a thousand kilometres long and flows all the way to Lisbon in Portugal where it finally empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  Along its course there are several dams and diversions supply drinking water to most of central Spain, including Madrid, and Portugal, while dozens of hydroelectric stations create abundant power.

The source of the Tagus is the Fuente de García, in the Montes Universales, Sierra de Albarracín Comarca.  The main cities it passes through are Aranjuez, Toledo, Talavera de la Reina and Alcántara in Spain, and Abrantes, Santarém, Almada and Lisbon in Portugal.

The water was brown and dirty and flowing freely, swollen by all the recent rain that had fallen and the water gnawed at the banks and created muddy whirlpools in between the reeds and we walked alongside it for a while back in the general direction of the car.

The sun was hot now by mid-afternoon and the sky was cloudless so instead of leaving straight away we stopped for a drink in a little café in the park where we had a beer and thanked the BBC for getting the weather forecast wrong as usual!

Talavera de la Reina Ceramic Art Spain

Travel Review of the Year – 2015

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

We went to Warsaw in February, it was cold, very cold.  I liked it a lot but not as much I have to say as the other Polish cities that we have visited of Krakow and Wroclaw.  Warsaw was good but it doesn’t have the historical swagger or confidence of Krakow or the quirky charm of the more manageable Wroclaw because Warsaw is a modern European capital with the raw edge and the buzz of a major city.  Whilst I might consider returning to Krakow and Wroclaw, once in Warsaw I think is probably enough.

Valletta Postcard

I have been to Malta before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year.  Both times I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island.  These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.

I liked it so much that I have always wanted to go back.  I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did.  Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days! I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence and luckily at the end of the visit Kim was inclined to agree with me.

Ireland Dingle

In 2014 we visited Southern Ireland, Eire, The Republic and had such a wonderful time that we planned an immediate return to the Island for the following year.  Not to the South though on this occasion however but to that part of Ireland that still remains part of the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Not so long ago most people would no more of thought about visiting Northern Ireland than North Korea, it wouldn’t have crossed their minds to go to Ulster any more than go to Uganda and Belfast would be in a travellers wish list that included Beirut and Baghdad.  Now things are changing and Northern Ireland is reinventing itself as a tourist destination.

We enjoyed it there, the City of Belfast, the Titanic Exhibition, a drive along the scenic Antrim Coast, the Giant’s Causeway and a final night in Londonderry – a place to return to if ever there was one.

Edinburgh Scotland

After a Summer spent in England we travelled in August to neighbouring Scotland.    I am sure that I have been to the castle before, I visited Edinburgh in 1972 and 1984 but I couldn’t remember it at all.  This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience. This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience.

I liked Edinburgh, it was a wee bit expensive but when I have forgotten the details of this visit I am certain to go back again one day.

Lake Bala Wales

Earlier in the year I had made plans to go on holiday with my daughter and grandchildren and my son and we had chosen a holiday cottage near Boulogne in Northern France.  I like it there.  As the Summer approached there were more and more delays crossing the channel as a consequence of striking French ferry workers and large numbers of migrants attempting to cross from France to the UK.  I love my grandchildren very much but the prospect of being stuck in a traffic jam for up to twenty-four hours with them was just to awful to contemplate so when the critical moment came to make the final payment I cancelled and transferred the holiday to a cottage in mid Wales.

I enjoyed Lake Bala and Wales, it was a simple holiday, the sort that I remember from my own childhood and from taking my own children away when they were young.  I am convinced that youngsters don’t need water parks and amusement arcades when there is a wide open beach and the sea, the countryside, a stream to fish in a thrilling steam engine ride.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she has decided that we are going to live there!

Dinan Brittany France

But we were not to be denied a visit to Northern France because in August I spotted some reasonably priced return air fares at only £49 each to the Brittany resort of Dinard.  We snapped them up almost without thinking and then invited our friends Sue and Christine to join us and they immediately agreed.

I liked Brittany, I liked it a lot mostly because I have always resisted having a bucket list because I couldn’t get one big enough but I am thankful to fellow bloggers Victor (Victor Travel Blog) and Wilbur(Wilbur’s Travels) for reminding me that if I did have one then Mont St Michel would be somewhere near the top.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she immediately abandoned her Wales plans and has decided that we are going to live there!

Castelsardo

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.

Our flight was to the city of Olbia in the North-East of the island so we planned an itinerary that would take us along the length of the north coast and then to the city of Alghero on the west coast and finally a return journey to Olbia across the northern countryside.

This was our final journey of 2015 and now we begin to make our plans for 2016.

Happy Travels Everyone!

Did you have a good year or have any big plans for 2016?

Doors and Windows of 2015

Power to the People!Mellieha Malta BalconyDurham Cathedral Door Knocker001Dol Afon LlanuwchllynDinan Brittany FranceAlghero Sardinia

Postcards of 2015

Warsaw

February 2015 – Warsaw

I had never really thought seriously about going to Warsaw before and I put this down to the fact that when I was younger I always associated it with two things.  Firstly, word association and the town of Walsall, which is a dreary unattractive, industrial town in the Black Country in the United Kingdom which is a place that few people would visit by choice.  Secondly the term Warsaw Pact, which was the name of the Soviet military alliance in Eastern Europe which during my early years seemed to be the sinister organisation responsible for plotting to wipe us of the face of the map in a messy nuclear strike.

Buses of Malta postcard

April 2015 – Malta

I have been to Malta before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year.  Both times I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island.  These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.

I liked it so much that I have always wanted to go back.  I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did.  Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days!  A bargain not to be missed.

During the gloomy winter months I continued to try and convince Kim that she was going to really, really enjoy Malta but as the departure date grew closer I began to worry that she might not be so blown away with the place as I had been previously…

Giants Causeway Northern Ireland

June 2015 – Northern Ireland

It hasn’t always been free to visit.  In the 1800s, the Causeway was fenced off by landowners who saw its potential as a tourist attraction and so an easy way to make money but after a long drawn out case the High Court ruled that the public had an ‘ancient right of way’ to visit the Causeway and view the stones.

Now the National Trust wants to turn back the clock.  They haven’t exactly built a fence but they cleverly mislead visitors into paying the extortionate parking and visitor centre admission charge.

Here are my tips for avoiding the Giant National Trust Rip-Off:

Durham Postcard

August 2015 – Durham

For eight hundred years Durham was the most important city in Northern England with a castle and a cathedral built within the natural defensive position of a loop in the river Wear which gave protection on three sides and the city became the first line of defence against any invasions from Scotland and the North.

Abbotsford House Scotland

August 2015 – Scottish Borders

I was staying in the town of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders  which is so far south in Scotland that it is even nearer the equator than the town of Berwick-on-Tweed, the furthest town north in England but what a wonderfully scenic and historic part of the country.

Castell y Bere Wales

August 2015 – Wales

It was quite a difficult drive to the castle and there was a bit of moaning from my passengers and I began to worry that it might be a disappointment but we arrived eventually and made our way to the top of a rocky crag and the extensive ruins of the castle.  It had once belonged to Edward I but in 1294 it was captured by Welsh forces and burnt to the ground.  Edward never rebuilt it, maybe he hadn’t renewed his home insurance policy and he abandoned this once strategic position to concentrate instead on his new defensive ring of castles that he was busy building all along the coast.

Dinard, Brittany, France

September 2015 – Brittany, France

It has been called the Cannes of the north, apparently Joan Collins is a frequent visitor but we didn’t spot here tonight, Winston Churchill enjoyed holidaying on the River Rance and it is claimed that Alfred Hitchcock visited Dinard and based the house used in his most famous movie Psycho on a villa standing over the Plage de l’Écluse, there is even a statue of the man to endorse the claim.  Long before his adventures Lawrence of Arabia lived in Dinard as a small child and Picasso painted here in the 1920s, Claude Debussy is supposed to have had the idea for “La Mer” during a visit to Saint-Énogat in 1902 and Oscar Wilde also visited the place and mentions it in his De Profundis.

Valle de Luna Sardinia

October 2015 – Sardinia

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye-Spy – From Spy Hole to Speakeasy

Mont St Michel Door

These little metal grills represent medieval security.  In the days before home contents insurance, CCTV cameras and modern fish eye lens peep holes basic home security was a little more crude.

If someone came wiping their feet on the welcome mat and knocking on the door in the Dark Ages it probably wasn’t too advisable just to turn the lock and throw the wood back on its hinges.  There was no way of knowing just who you would be inviting in.    So doors had these little spy holes cut into the timber so that someone inside could open it and get reassurance before opening up.  They have those little grills so that an unwelcome guest couldn’t stick a sword through and poke your eye out – a very useful feature in my opinion!

Catalonia Spain Besalu Door

During prohibition in the 1930s in the USA the doors to illegal drinking establishments had little grills like these so that the doormen inside could be certain they were only giving admittance to gangsters and not the FBI.  According to one story these places came to be called a speakeasy because when talking through the grill with a password or whatever the people inside preferred prospective customers to whisper or ‘speak easy’ so that they wouldn’t be overheard.  Might be true, might not.

Catalonia Door Detail

Sardinia – More Doors and Windows

Sardinia Door ChurchCastelsardo Sardinia DoorSardinia Worn DoorSardinia Window

More doors…

Doors of Catalonia 1

Doors of Catalonia 2

Doors of Catalonia 3

Doors of Catalonia 4

Doors of Dublin

Doors of Northern France

Doors of Portugal

Doors of Siguenza, Spain

Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory

El Cid Burgos Spain

El Cid and the Reconquesta

Once over the river we crossed a bridge lined with statues depicting the heroes of the Reconquesta and then, there he was – El Cid, looking fearsome with his grizzled beard, wild cloak flowing madly behind him, his mighty sword La Tizona extended ahead of him,  much too big and heavy for an ordinary mortal, his burning eyes fixed ferociously on an enemy army as he led a charge to victory against the Moors sat on his magnificent famous white steed Babieca.

Read the Full Story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Door to the Town of Besalú

Besalu Catalonia Spain

The cool narrow alleys started to drop now as we approached the river Fluvià where fat carp swam lazily close to the surface in the sunshine and mocked the fishermen who were valiantly trying their luck and then we reached the twelfth century Romanesque bridge which is the principal feature of the town.

Before the adjacent new road bridge was built this was the only way of crossing the river and it is heavily fortified in a redundant sort of way and was once so important that it was blown up and partially destroyed during the Spanish civil war.

Read the full story…

Catalonia Spain Besalu Door