Category Archives: Natural Environment

A to Z of Cathedrals – O is for Oviedo in Spain

Oviedo is only a small city, only just scraping into the top twenty largest cities in Spain and it isn’t even the largest in Asturias so it didn’t take that long to walk around the historical centre and soon there was only one thing left to do – visit the Cathedral.

The building was severely damaged during the Spanish Civil War when the conflict more or less started here and there was fierce Nationalist oppression inflicted by General Franco but it has been restored now and has been returned to its former medieval grandeur.

Read the full story Here…

 

 

The Algarve – Train Ride to Lagos

Life at the Tui Blue Hotel was rather tedious I have to say with a looping Groundhog Day daily itinerary so we decided to break out and do something different.  A train excursion to the city of Lagos, thirty-five miles or so west of where we were staying at Olhos de Agua.

There was an expensive taxi ride to the railway station at Albufeira one of those taxi rides where I watch the meter ticking away and increasingly panic about the cost and then to compensate inexpensive train tickets to Lagos at less than five euro each return (seniors rate). The price was right but the train was soporifically slow and stopped several times and took over an hour to reach our destination and we arrived just about midday.

I liked it immediately as we walked from the station to the old town.  So much nicer than Albufeira with a a retained history, a nostalgia and a satisfying whiff of the past  Some of my favourites – aged doors with sun blistered paint and elegant iron balconies, cobbled streets and whitewashed houses.  Really lovely, really lovely.

Lagos was once a Moorish city, the capital of the Algarve and one of the most important cities in all of what is now Portugal.  How the Moors must have loved life in Iberia, excellent weather (not as hot as North Africa), no deserts, an abundance of fresh water, good fertile soil for crops and not nearly so many flies.

This idyllic lifestyle came to a sudden and abrupt end after the Reconquest when the Moors were forced to abandon their city after a brutal siege by Northern Crusaders.  In Spain and Portugal they celebrate the reconquest but in reality it was the replacement of a benevolent and progressive regime with a barbaric and medieval reversal of progress.

Without the Moors the city rapidly became neglected, the port silted up and the city went into a long period of decline.  This is something that always intrigues me, it is rather like the Roman Empire, great civilisations provide advancement in human development but Barbarians always come along and tear it down and set progress back several hundred years.  Rather like BREXIT in the United Kingdom right now.  It really frustrates me because we learn absolutely nothing from history.

What happened to the Ancient Egyptians, the Native Americans of USA, the  Classical Greeks, the Romans, they all showed great progress in human development and then they disappeared and the process was reversed.  What lies ahead for us I wonder?

Down at the seafront was a statue of Henry the Navigator, quite possibly, no, almost certainly the most famous of all Portuguese sailors and adventurers.

I had seen him before of course in Belem in Lisbon at the The Monument to the Discoveries. Located on the edge of the north bank of the Tagus, the fifty metre (I hate Boris Johnson and I emphatically refuse to go back to imperial measures) high slab of concrete was erected in 1960 to commemorate the five-hundredth  anniversary of his death. The monument in the capital city is sculpted in the form of a ship’s prow, with dozens of figures from Portuguese history following a statue of the Infante Henry looking out to the west, perhaps contemplating another voyage of discovery. 

The statue in Lagos is rather less spectacular.

Lagos was an important port during the Age of Discovery when Portugal was a major maritime nation as it built a World empire.  It competed primarily with neighbours  Spain to make discoveries in the New World and in 1494  after years of challenge a Treaty was signed which gave Brazil to Portugal and all the rest to Spain. For Spain this might have seemed like a good idea at the time but it rates as a serious negotiating disaster  as it gave up the Amazon rain-forest and all of its riches for the barren Andes of Patagonia.

By the mid nineteenth century Portugal had the fourth largest European Empire but at only 4% of World territory was way behind France (9%), Spain (10%) and Great Britain at a huge 27%.  That is a massive amount of land grab but I wonder if the Roman Empire might have been even greater given that the known World was much smaller two thousand years ago.

We spent a very enjoyable afternoon in Lagos, it was different, it wasn’t the tourist Algarve of Vilamoura or Albufeira, much more similar to Silves and Tavira; had a very pleasant pavement lunch and then took the train ride home, had a few stressful moments trying to secure a taxi ride to the hotel but eventually made it back to our accommodation,

We had tired of the hotel catering by this point but had discovered a very nice Portuguese restaurant in the village which served traditional food so were we glad to abandon the school dinner hall tonight and spend an excellent evening with proper food.

From the Archives – Angling/Fishing

These days I can’t really understand the point of catching fish unless you are going to eat them but I used to go fishing for about three years between ten and thirteen years old.

These days the only fishing I do is at the supermarket.

Read the full story Here…

Tea Towel Souvenirs – Portugal

I usually bring home postcards but occasionally a tea towel.  I am unable to explain why.

The Algarve – A Tense Walk to Albufeira

 

“By the end…it was clear that … spiritual and cultural isolation was at an end, overwhelmed by the great alien invasion from the North of money and freedoms… and slowly, as the foreigners poured in, its identity was submerged, its life-style altered more in a single decade than in the previous century.”  – Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’.

I understand that breakfast service at the Tui Blue Faleseia was once used as an initiation test for new recruits to the SAS but it was discontinued because it was considered too tough even for this.

The food, it has to be said was very good indeed but the restaurant ambience was rather like Dante’s inferno!. Wooden chairs being scraped across tiled floors, cutlery being dropped on the floor with a clatter, great training for the ‘World Pushing In Championships’ and the constant attention of the cleaning up crews who, if you weren’t careful would whip your plate away from under your nose even before you had finished.

It was in the dining room that I first noticed the tattoos, because the amount of body art on display here was absolutely incredible.  Personally I cannot understand why anyone, unless they are a Maori, would want to disfigure themselves in this way but here at Tui Blue it seemed as though they were almost in the majority.  Here there were bodies decorated with lions, wolves and dragons, goblins, fairies and skulls, a comprehensive A to Z of boy’s and girl’s names and more Indian braves than General George Armstrong Custer  had to fight at the Battle of the Little Big Horn!  Why do people disfigure themselves in this way I wonder.

So we started off to Albufeira but as it turned out it wasn’t an especially good walk and less than half way there Kim began to complain.  Too hot, too hilly,  too touristy with which I had to agree but keep it to myself.

We walked through the resort town of Santa Eulalia which I remembered from thirty years ago as a quiet place with a couple of modern hotels.  Not so anymore, it is a noisy place with a couple of d0zen modern hotels and a nasty strip of English bars, ticket offices touting tours and car rental places.  Quite horrible.

But, if that was bad we (I) managed to take a wrong turn and we found ourselves in little Liverpool, a place for lads and tarts, tattooed from neck to knee, nursing hangovers and already drinking mid morning.  Praia do Oura or more correctly Praia de Horror was a dreadful place and this diversion didn’t improve Kim’s mood a great deal so I was glad to reverse the mistake, get out and carry on.

Thirty minutes later we arrived In Albufeira.

Up until the 1960s Albufeira used to be a small fishing village but is now one of the busiest tourist towns on the Algarve and has grown into a popular holiday resort for tourists from Northern Europe and even though this was early May it was surprisingly warm and there were a lot of people about this morning.

This was Albufeira when I first visited in 1985., the year the town acquired city status.  It is called Praia dos Pescadores. More fishing boats than sunbeds in those days.

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I have to say I found Albufeira both interesting and disappointing in equal measure.  It has clearly long abandoned its fishing heritage and the economy is now driven by tourism.  The Old Town is street after street of bars and cheap beach shops, travel agents selling tourist excursions and waiters waiting to ambush at every street corner.  We were looking for a tradional Portuguese restaurant that we had enjoyed three years earlier but when we found it it was closed and had clearly been so for some time.

Looking carefully beyond the shop facades and up above it was still possible to catch a glimpse of old Abufeira but sadly you will have to be quick because it is only a matter of short time before it is certain to go.

 

I am getting to sound like Norman Lewis now.  I suspect the place once had an easy sort of charm, fishermen’s cottages on the beach and whitewashed house with blue doors and elegant balconies in the old town but much of this is now hidden behind fast-food places and Chinese and Indian restaurants.

People have probably always complained about development and progress, it is quite likely the Saxons looked back at London with fond memories and complained about the Normans building new castles and Cathedrals.

After the discovery that the Portuguese restaurant that we had walked six miles to see was no longer there we stopped just long enough for a pavement beer and then took a taxi back to Olhos de Agua.where spent the remainder of the day on the balcony of our room.

 

 

 

A to Z of Cathedrals – K is for Kotor in Montenegro

 

After a long drive around the Bay of Kotor we eventually arrived in the City which was bigger than I imagined it would be from the descriptions in the travel guides and there was a six deck, two thousand passenger cruise liner tied up at the dock which was so huge it dwarfed the town and looked sadly out of place.  I may have mentioned this before but I really do not like these cruise ships.

At 35º centigrade it was extremely hot so we were pleased to go through the main gate of the old town and into the shaded cooler streets inside, Kim because she was out of the sun and me because she had stopped complaining about it.

It was busy inside because Kotor old town is quite small with a population of about five and a half thousand and it was playing host to the holidaymakers from the cruise liner and hundreds of others as well which temporarily more than doubled the population.

Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage site and inside the walls the narrow sinuous streets took us past little picturesque shops, cafés, bars, antique monuments and cream stone buildings, balconies overflowing with billowing flowers, washing lines full of immaculate laundry and the overwhelming smell of laundry powder and fabric conditioner.

Kotor Cathedral is dedicated to St Tryphon who it turns out is one of the least remarkable Catholic Saints.  His relics are kept in Constantinople (Istanbul) and Rome but his head is kept in Kotor.

The old town of Kotor is wedged in between the rugged Bay and at the foot of the imposing Lovćen massif mountain range directly under overhanging limestone cliffs of the mountains Orjen and Lovćen.  To be honest I don’t remember visiting the Cathedral, I don’t think we did, we just took up position in a nearby bar and looked at it so we didn’t get to see the head of St Tryphon which was a sheme.

I remember this priest on his mobile phone.  I always wonder who priests are talking to on a mobile phone.  Are they checking in with God or are they ordering pizza?

Click on  an image to scroll through the Gallery…

 

The Algarve – A Stroll Along Praia da Falésia

“Imagine the Grand Canyon sitting on a beach. Welcome to Praia da Falésia. The beloved beach is characterised by its incredible red cliffs. In fact, the translation of the beach is Beach of Cliffs. Falésia beach is one of the best beaches in the Algarve. Even if you are not a beach lover, this beach is definitely worth a visit.” – Algarve Guide

It was a glorious morning, we took breakfast in the hotel dining room, watched sad guests bagging sunbeds and applying bucket loads of sun cream and preparing for a hard day around the pool and then set off to walk the four mile Praia da Falésia towards Vilamoura.

We had no desire or intention to walk as far as the resort. We visited Vilamoura previously  in 2019 and 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  with roving packs of British golfers in between golf courses. And Chavs with tattoos.   We prefer ‘dilapidated charm’ and are certainly not ‘super-rich’ so stayed no longer than half-an-hour or so before quickly leaving without a single glance in the rear-view mirror.   As it happened on that day we moved on to Olhos de Agua and had lunch on the sea front but I had completely forgotten about that.

So we set off on the walk…

This was Olhia de Agua in about 1960.   It has changed a lot obviously.  I read a book before the holiday bu someone who lived in the Algarve in the 1960s and was forever going on about how development was ruining the place.  If he could come back now I tell you that he would have a mental breakdown.

This is not a great picture, it shows the village about sixty years or so ago and was on a menu at a local restaurant,  No concrete, no boulevard, just a sandy shelving beach and a fishermen’s village beyond.  Sigh.  Double Sigh.  Double Double Sigh.

I am not really a great fan of beaches, except for walking.  I cannot sit on a beach for a long time, about one hour is my absolute limit and that includes a fifteen minute paddle/swim.

This isn’t Portugal, believe it or believe it not it is Skipsea in Yorkshire, England and that is the North Sea…

Falésia is a good beach for a walk, soft sand, cool Atlantic water lapping over  ankles,  driftwood and shells to collect.  I always add a little bit of driftwood from each new beach that I visit to add to my own creation …

And wildlife.  We weren’t sure if this was dead or alive, Kim invited me to poke it to see but I declined the offer…

I was intrigued by the cliffs, sandstone eroded over time to reveal dramatic sculptures and I amused myself by looking for faces in the stone.  This one reminded me of the Semana Santa in Spain….

This one of a Viking Warrior…

It was a good day, it was a good walk, we enjoyed it…

Cofete Beach on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands still remains my favourite…

Portugal and the Algarve – Blue Flag Beaches

 

After two years of pandemic hibernation we were ready for a vacation.  Due to continuing uncertainty we agreed to book the sort of holiday that we wouldn’t normally consider and booked a beach hotel holiday with Tui holidays.  Part of our logic was that if things did go wrong then Tui are reliable at giving refunds.

Also, we had been to the Algarve in 2019 and had liked it there.

We chose a hotel in the Alarve in the village of Olhos de Agua  near Albufeira at the western end of the six kilometre long blue flag beach of Praia da Falésia which according to TripAdvisor is considered the number one beach in Portugal, the third best beach in Europe and the twelfth best beach in the World.

Maybe, maybe not, these things are always subjective.  No one ever agrees about these matters.  My favourite beach in Portugal is Bordeira on the west coast south of Lisbon.  Oh I did so like it there…

The Blue Flag beach award was originally conceived in France in 1985 where the first coastal municipalities were awarded the Blue Flag on the basis of criteria covering standards relating to sewage treatment and bathing water quality.

Two years later, 1987 was the ‘European Year of the Environment’ and the concept of the Blue Flag was developed as a European initiative by the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe to include other areas of environmental management, such as waste disposal and coastal planning and protection and in that first year two hundred and forty four beaches from ten countries were awarded the new Blue Flag status.  Thirty-five  years later in 2022 when the updated list was published there are over four thousand.

Spain has more blue flag beaches than any other participating country with six hundred and fifteen along almost five thousand kilometres of coastline.  The United Kingdom by comparison, has only one hundred and twenty-nine in nearly twelve thousand,  five hundred kilometres.  Greece has the second most blue flags at five hundred and forty-four  and the most in the Mediterranean Sea.  Italy has four hundred and sixteen and France has four hundred and ten.

Portugal completes the top five list with three hundred and seventy two.

This one is in the north at Furadouro…

What is interesting however is to put this into context by relating success in terms of numbers to the total length of coastline because that reveals that Portugal has a blue flag beach every seven kilometres  and Spain and France only every ten.  Lust my opinion but beaches in Portugal are way better than Spain and France because they are all on the Atlantic coast.

In the United Kingdom you have to travel almost one hundred kilometres between each blue flag beach and that puts us twenty fifth out of the top twenty-five.  That is even worse than our annual performance in the Eurovision song contest.  Mind you would have to travel a lot further in Norway because it has only three blue flag beaches in eighty-three thousand kilometres of coast.

The journey was spoilt by a flight delay and chaos at Faro airport passport control and then a lot of faffing about on the coach transfer but eventually we reached our destination, the monstrous three hundred and fifty room Tui Blue Falésia hotel with its seven or so hundred guests.  We normally like something like a maximum ten room place.

We approved the accommodation and ignoring the pool, the gardens and the cocktail bar made directly for the village and something more our style – a beachfront bar/restaurant and sat for an hour or so, had a pleasant lunch and admired the beach and the never ending view out over the Atlantic Ocean to the horizon.

Kim worked on her tan…

I would have been happier staying in the village rather than the hotel but we had a half board arrangement so returned now to the dining room buffet.

Inevitably I made the first mistake about buffet spreads.

I did no forward planning, made no menu preferences  in advance, had no idea what I wanted to eat so just blundered in and ended up with a selection of bizarre food combinations which if I had been a contestant on Masterchef would have led to an instant elimination.  You know the sort of thing, fish, beef, chicken goujons  and a slice of pizza all on the same plate.  A real gourmet mess.

It was all rather disappointing, rather like a school dinners experience and we were happy when it came to an end.  Never mind, we had a lovely room on the top floor, a large balcony and a good sea view.  We agreed that in future we would do some planning ahead and be more tactical and selective.

Tomorrow we planned to walk the Praia da Falésia.

A to Z of Cathedrals – H is for Heidelberg in Germany

I was struggling with H until I suddenly remembered that ten years ago I visited the German Rhine town of Heidelberg.  I don’t remember visiting the Cathedral, I don’t think that I did but I did take a picture of it.  It was one of those bright white days which makes taking pictures with a cheap camera quite difficult.

Last time out I was in Freiburg that was needlessly destroyed by Allied bombing raids in World war Two.   Heidelberg avoided the same unfortunate fate, it is said because the US army rather liked the look of it and fancied setting up shop there and instructed Bomber Harris to keep it off the list of targets that were elsewhere unnecessarily destroyed.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Read the full story Here…

East Anglia – Bury St Edmunds and The Patron Saint of Pandemics

Bury St Edmunds was another town that I had never visited. A few years ago I drove through it and was struck by the elegant market place with a tall cathedral and fine Georgian buildings and I made a note to self to pay a proper visit one day.
This was it.
In terms of the weather we had unfortunately picked a very bad week to be on an English staycation and we weren’t too disappointed to be leaving the holiday home (caravan) so we packed up early and headed away from the coast and into rural Suffolk and drove through villages which had seen significant overnight snowfall. I thought that I was in Alaska. Contrary to popular folklore March had roared in like a lion and instead of going out like a lamb was going out the same way.
Fortunately the further west that we drove the weather began to incrementally improve and there were even some glimpses of elusive blue sky. We arrived in late morning which was too early to book into our chosen hotel so we made instead for the centre of the town. Local folk call the town Bury but being from the North I always think of Bury as being in Manchester so I prefer to think of this place as Bury St Edmunds. It sounds posher.

After Ipswich and Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds is the third largest place in Suffolk and we liked it immediately. After tea and biscuits in the Cathedral coffee shop Kim and Mum made directly for the High Street shops and I went off to investigate the Abbey Gardens and the Cathedral.
The Abbey of St Edmund was once one of the richest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in all of England. In 869, Edmund, King of the East Angles was murdered by invading Danes when he refused to renounce Christianity. For his stubbornness he was tied to a tree and shot through with arrows and had his head cut off to make sure. No half measures in those days. I wonder sometimes about medieval torture, surely the victim was well and truly dead before the torturers had finished. Vladamir Putin would have been a medieval torturer I am sure.

His death led to the building of the Abbey to house his remains and his shrine quickly became a place of pilgrimage. The Cult of Edmund flourished during the Middle Ages and he was temporarily revered as the patron Saint of medieval England until at some point he was replaced by Saint George.
Today he has the unlikely title of the Patron Saint of Pandemics so I imagine that he has been rather busy listening to prayers for the past couple of years or so. He is said to have been given this title after the French city of Toulouse (who claimed to have some important relics of his) became ravaged by plague in the seventeenth century. Residents of the prayed to Edmund after which the plague came to an abrupt end. As Michael Caine might have said “Not a lot of people know that”.

Maybe if more people had known this the World could have saved a fortune on developing Covid vaccinations and going into expensive lockdown. I wish that I had known that because if I had I would have said a prayer to St Edmund because a few days after returning home from East Anglia both Kim and I both tested positive for Covid.

After the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s the Abbey naturally began to fall into disrepair and lots of stone was taken for alternative building projects around the town. I was quite surprised therefore to discover that so much of it remained in a vast well maintained town centre park.
Near the Cathedral there are houses built into the walls which reminded of Antoni Gaudi creations in Barcelona. I don’t suppose that Gaudi ever visited Bury St Edmunds but if he had he may have got inspiration here,

I spent some time in the Gardens, walked every path and read each and every information board.

Towards the end of the afternoon I made my visit to the Cathedral. Free admission by the way. Up to 1914 Suffolk didn’t have a Cathedral and was part of a wider diocese of East Anglia with the Cathedral in Norwich in Norfolk but it was then decided that it required one of its own. This presented the Church with a dilemma.

Ipswich is the biggest town in the County but Bury St Edmunds had the most famous church thanks to the St Edmund connection. The Church came to a compromise, Ipswich would get the Bishop’s House and be the base of the diocese and Bury St Edmunds would get the Cathedral and everyone agreed that that was a good idea except perhaps for the Bishop who has a hundred mile round trip every week to get to Sunday service which would have been much more of an inconvenience over a hundred years ago than it is today.

Ipswich is not unique, it is not the only County town without an Anglican Cathedral and there are others – Warwick, Cambridge (I mentioned that before), Northampton (I mentioned that before as well), Nottingham, Aylesbury and Shrewesbury are other examples. At the same time that Suffolk became a diocese so too did Essex with its own Cathedral in Chelmsford.

Not a brilliant Cathedral I have to say but it provided me with a pleasant fifteen minute visit, especially as the choir was practising which was very nice, before I left and rejoined the others at the agreed time.

I had enjoyed my afternoon in Bury St Edmunds and I was forced to concede that this was a town where half a day it isn’t long enough so I will have to make another note to self to return one day and stay longer.

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