Category Archives: Natural Environment

Travels in Spain, Castles and Fortresses

Castles of Spain

Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in Spain because, according to the Official Tourist Board there just about two thousand five hundred. For comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom and whilst France claims roughly five-thousand this figure includes a lot of questionable small Chateaux in that number.

My blogging Pal Brian has some interesting observations on French Chateaux and I think you might be interested to visit this post and then more of his site…

Chateau Saumur … a love-hate experience!

When or if you come back click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

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Travels in Spain, Castillo de Almodóvar and The Game of Thrones

Castillo de Almodóvar 4

It was a glorious morning and although it was slightly chilly there wasn’t a cloud to be seen in the perfect blue sky and we interpreted this as a really promising sign and although this was November dressed appropriately in summer linens and short-sleeved shirts.  After all we were in Spain!

Together with a lot of local people we had a traditional breakfast at the Goya and this made a nice change from the usual hotel buffet arrangement that we usually have.  It was a simple affair with a choice of toasted bread drizzled with olive oil and a thin tomato puree and topped off with thin slices of cured ham or alternatively, for those who didn’t care for the ham, toast and marmalade made from finest Seville oranges.

After breakfast we prepared for a drive to the city of Córdoba about a seventy miles to the east along the River Guadalquivir. Córdoba is a moderately sized place today but once it was the largest Roman city in Spain and later became the thriving capital of the Caliphate of Córdoba that once governed almost all of the Iberian Peninsula.  It has been estimated that in the tenth century it was the largest city in Western Europe and, perhaps, in the whole world with up to half a million inhabitants.  If this is true then only Constantinople and Rome would have previously been bigger and even today a population that size would be in the top three in Spain.

As always of course, be wary of biggest, highest, widest claims!

Andalucía-Almodovar-del-Río-4

We didn’t take the direct motorway route because we thought the alternative may be more scenic and anyway we were worried about paying unnecessary road tolls.  This proved to be a mistake on both counts because it wasn’t especially picturesque and there weren’t any tolls either.

First we drove to the town of Lora Del Rio along a road that took us through an agricultural landscape with fields all freshly ploughed and waiting for next year’s grain crops.  Although the highest mountains on the Spanish mainland are in Andalusia most of the Province, which stretches from the deserts of Almeria in the east to the Portuguese border in the west is a flat plain in the valley of the Guadalquivir, which at nearly four hundred miles is the fifth longest river in Spain and is one of the country’s most important because it irrigates a fertile valley, and creates a rich agricultural area.

Lora del Rio was an unexceptional working town and there was nothing to stop for so we continued along the road through the similar towns of Palma del Rio and Posadas.  On our left, to the north, was the Sierra Morena mountain range that separates Andalusia from the central plain of Castilla-La Mancha and there were some worrying accumulations of cloud that looked a little too close for comfort.  Eventually we came to Almodóvar del Rio where a large castle was perched strategically on the top of a hill and this looked well worth stopping for.

Carmona 01

The Castillo de Almodóvar is a grandiose Caliphal fortress erected on a high mound along the Guadalquivir.  Square towers flank its towering walls and the entire castle is surrounded by a large moat.  During the years of occupation it was a Moorish stronghold and after the reconquest it became the medieval home for members of the Spanish nobility.  It gradually fell into disrepair however and much of it was plundered for convenient building material by the people of the nearby town but the Count of Torralba rebuilt it a hundred years or so ago restoring the external appearance of the original Arab fortification.

The castle was used as filming location for the TV series Game of Thrones where it was used (if anyone is interested, I know that I’m not) to represent the castle of Highgarden, the seat of House Tyrell in the Reach on the Mander River.

GOT Castillo de Almodóvar

At its elevated position there was a spectacular view of the plains to the south and the mountains to the north and although the sun was shining it was getting cold and the clouds were getting closer.  We visited the castle in the company of a school outing who were enjoying an interactive history lesson which must have been highly entertaining judging by all of the laughter and giggles.

It was a good castle and well worth the €5 entrance fee and we climbed the towers and walked the ramparts and when we had seen all there was to see we left and continued the drive to Córdoba.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

 

More Game of Thrones filming locations…

Sunset Through Trees

Clear skies yesterday provided a good sunset in Lincolnshire…

Sunset 01Sunset 02

Leading to a hard frost this morning.

Travels in Italy, Roman Rimini

Roman Rimini Street Plan

There was no sign of the predicted storm when we woke the next morning, just blue sky and a flat calm sea and we were pleased about that because today we planned to explore the centre of the city of Rimini.

The hotel breakfast room was practically deserted today. I swear that I am not making this up but for the previous three days it had been busy with delegates attending a Bathroom and Sanitary Ware Conference somewhere close by but now that the lid had been closed on that there were only a handful of remaining guests.

We walked again along the seafront promenade, because we liked the seafront promenade and then reaching the marina turned inland and walked towards the city centre. Today we were going to investigate what was once, two thousand years ago, an important City in the Roman Empire.

Rimini, then called Ariminum, was a major junction connecting central and northern Italy by the Via Aemilia and was seen as a buffer against invaders from Celts from the north and also as a springboard for conquering the Padana Plain, what we know as the Po Valley and the entire area of Northern Italy up to the foothills of the Alps.

When I first arrived in Rimini, just two days before, I imagined it to be no more than a beach holiday resort, I had no idea that it had such a wealth of ancient history and the city has a Roman structure, partly modified by following medieval alterations of course but still retaining the clear town planning footprint of Ancient Rome.

Roman Bridge Rimini

We came first to the Bridge of Tiberius which was an important crossing of the River Marecchia and was a key communications link between the north and south of the peninsula. It is a bridge of five arches built two thousand years ago and it still carries traffic, two thousand years old and still in daily use today. Amazing! It doesn’t cross the River Marecchia anymore because the course of the river has changed in two thousand years but now crosses the dead end of the Porto Canal.

By happy chance it was not destroyed by the retreating German army during the Battle of Rimini in 1944 and is said to have resisted all attempts at destruction, including the ignition failure of explosive charges.

Inside the centre of the city and the old Roman town we visited a museum that had an interesting display with information about the Roman period and back on the streets we came across a statue of Julius Caesar which sort of commemorates an important moment in the history of Rome when he ‘crossed the Rubicon’ in 49 A.D. and began a civil war which led to the overthrow of the Republican Senate and the establishment of the Empire. By all accounts he made his call to arms right here in Rimini.

Roman Juliys Ceasar Rimini

‘Crossing the Rubicon’ is a term we use now meaning the point of no-return. Caesar himself is said to have remarked that ‘the die is cast’.

Most of Ancient Rome has gone now of course, there is no Theatre and there are no Villas, this is not Pompeii or Herculaneum because there has been continuous settlement here for two thousand years with all of the changes and alterations that you might expect over that time. At the eastern end of the old city however is the Arch of Augustus which has survived pretty much intact and to the south there is another gate archway which suffered damage in World war Two but despite this is just about clinging on to archaeological survival. Also to the east are the remains of what was once the amphitheatre, much of it dismantled and reused in later building programmes but enough of it left to be instantly recognisable.

Roman Arch Rimini

We stayed a while in the city, there was a busy street market which Kim couldn’t resist, a medieval castle that was closed and a Cathedral that we visited but was nothing special. We came across an indoor market and inside found a little café bar so we stayed for a while for a beer and an Aperol Spritz and the people there were very hospitable.

When we left the market we were surprised and disappointed to find that the blue sky had gone and the rain that had been promised was making a belated appearance so we had to make our way briskly back to the hotel dodging the showers on the way. Amazing how a day can change so quickly and early morning sunshine was now replaced by afternoon grey skies. I bought an umbrella on the way back as a precaution.

The rain swept in which meant that we spent the rest of the day in the hotel room even though I was able to sit on the balcony and watch the storm clouds sweep in from the east. Later it thankfully stopped raining and we made our way to our favourite Rimini restaurant for a meal of pasta and risotto. We didn’t need the umbrella so that was an unnecessary expense. The food was good and as we ate we crossed our fingers and hoped that the downturn in the weather was only temporary.  We had walked eleven and a half miles today.

Roman Ampitheatre Rimini

Armistice Day, Pictures from Northern France

 

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Close by to where we were staying in Vic-Sur-Aisne was a particular place that I was keen to visit so one morning after breakfast I set off alone towards Compiègne and to the Clairière de l’Armistice, a historic site where the armistice of 1918 brought the First-World-War to an end…

Read the full story…

Travels in Italy, A Walk around Lake Como

 

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Some things that make Switzerland Famous

I suppose you have to admire the Swiss.  Here, after all, is a county that is small. mountainous, has virtually no natural resources and yet has managed to become the richest nation on earth” – Bill Bryson, ‘Neither here, Nor there’

In April 2007 we visited Alpine Switzerland and driving through the meadows and hills on our way to Liechtenstein we stopped at a delightful little place for lunch.

It was a perfectly lovely setting and we sat in the sun and enjoyed our food but the best was yet to come because when we decided to use the washrooms before resuming our journey we were amused to find what simply has to be the best loo in the world with a mechanical cleaning process that included a 360º scrubbing and automatic disinfection of the toilet seat.

This was really impressive but I was a little concerned about health and safety risks associated with it beginning in advance of the occupier leaving the seat, which could have been especially painful for a man if he was to get his valuables caught up in the procedure.

Switzerland it has to be said is not the most exciting country in the World so this started us thinking and we tried to agree on five things that make it famous.  We were going to do ten but this seemed absurdly ambitious!

Our final choice might have included cowbells, yodelling, fondue sets or emmental cheese, maybe Roger Federer or Ursula Andress but in the end we agreed upon, in reverse order…

5. Swiss watches of course – that was rather obvious.  I have never owned a Swiss watch and never will because I really fail to see the point of spending hundreds or even thousands of pounds on a wrist watch when a simple Casio will do the same job for just a few pence.  I once bought one in a petrol station for £1.99 and it lasted for several years.

4. Cuckoo clocks, because even though they are strictly speaking from Germany the Swiss were important for the ‘chalet’ style that they introduced at the end of nineteenth century and is the sort of cuckoo clock where it is common to have a  music box somewhere in the mechanism with tunes like ‘Edelweiss’ and ‘The Happy Wanderer’.

I once had a problem with a cuckoo clock in Germany – Trouble With a Cuckoo Clock

World's Biggest Cuckoo Clock Triberg Black Forest

3. Breakfast cereal Muesli, which was introduced around 1900 by the Swiss doctor and nutritionist Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital in Zurich.  I imagine that this solved the problem of bed-blocking!

I am not a big fan of Muesli, I always think it looks like something that I should put out on the bird feeding table…

Muesli

2.   Toblerone, the Swiss chocolate bar found in every airport duty-free shop that was invented by Theodore Tobler in 1908 in his factory in Bern with a design supposed to represent the Matterhorn Mountain in the Swiss Alps.

I confess that I rather like Toblerone but then I am rather fond of almonds.

Toblerone

but most of all we had to agree upon on…

1. The Swiss Army knife.

Various models of Swiss Army knives exist, with different tool combinations for specific tasks. The most common tools featured are, in addition to the main blade, a smaller second blade, tweezers, toothpick, corkscrew, can opener, corkscrew, slotted screwdriver, flat-head screwdriver, phillips-head screwdriver, nail file, scissors, saw, file, hook, magnifying glass, ballpoint pen, fish scaler, hex wrench w/bits, pliers and key chain. Recent technological features include USB flash drives, digital clock, digital altimeter, LED light, laser pointer, and MP3 player.

That is a startling collection of potential weapons in one utensil but I can’t help thinking that it was a good job Switzerland didn’t go to war with Germany in 1939 because I can’t imagine Hitler’s crack Panzer division being turned back by an army wielding nail files and toothpicks.

Manufacturers today  supply over fifty thousand a year to the Swiss Army which works out at a new knife for every soldier just about every three years or so.

Have I missed anything?