Category Archives: Postcards

A to Z of Cathedrals – S is for Siguenza in Spain

For a small town the cathedral is an immense building and one of the most important late Romanesque buildings in Spain which was built to symbolise the power of Bishop Don Bernardo who began construction in the twelfth century.  It has three naves and a main chapel with an ambulatory and a dome and around the outer walls are a series of commemorative chapels which reads like a who’s who of the local campaigns of the Reconquista.

Read the full story Here…

A to Z of Cathedrals – R is for Ripon in Yorkshire

The website Britain Express awards Ripon Cathedral a Heritage rating of four out of five and we entered through the main doors and waited for a few minutes while prayers were being said and then made a rapid tour of one of the smallest cathedrals in England.

Ripon is the Cathedral of the Bishop of Leeds for the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales.  This is a new Diocese created by a Church reorganisation in 2014 and as well as Ripon the Diocese has two more cathedrals at Wakefield and Bradford.

Read the full story Here…

 

A to Z of Cathedrals – P is for Palencia in Spain

Catedral?” I enquired and the poor man (victim) that I had selected just stared back at me with an expressionless face as though I was a visitor from the planet Mars.

So I tried again but this time, remembering that upside down question mark thing at the beginning of the sentence I tried to sound a bit more Spanish, ¿Catedral?” but his face went so blank that I though rigor mortis had set in.  I have to say that Catedral sounds a bit like Cathedral to me so I don’t know why this was so difficult but his solution was to call someone else over who was an obviously educated man who spoke excellent English and with optimism I tried again ¿Catedral?”

Read the full story Here…

The Acropolis Museum and The Elgin Marbles

In the words of Lord Byron…

“Cold is the heart, fair Greece, that looks on thee,
Nor feels as lovers o’er the dust they loved;
Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.
Curs’t be the hour when their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatched thy shrinking Gods to northern climes abhorred!”

I think that about sums it up, difficult to improve on that.

Interesting that the debate about ownership of the Parthenon/Elgin marbles has recently hit the news again.

Unlike any other museum in the world this the Acropolis Museum has been designed to exhibit something it doesn’t own and the Greek Culture minister has said that he hopes that it will be the catalyst for the return of the Parthenon sculptures from the British Museum in London because some of the sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, that originally decorated the Parthenon temple have been there since they were dubiously sold to the museum in 1817.

I visited the Acropolis Museum shortly after opening in September 2009

Read the full story Here…

 

Quiz Time:

Similar Elgin Marbles disputes over ownership of museum exhibits…

In each case, What are they, Where are they and Who wants them back?

Have a go, it’s just a bit of armless fun.  Googling allowed.

Answers later.

A to Z of Cathedrals – N is for Naples in Italy

We were staying at a place in an untidy little square situated directly behind the Doumo of Naples so it was easy to squeeze in a visit in between an afternoon on the busy streets and preparing for an evening pizza meal.

The Doumo is a fine building with a grand façade that gleams like polished stone in the sunlight and an impressive interior but it is known most of all for being the repository of the blood of Saint Januarius, the Patron Saint of Naples.

An unusually absurd tale…

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.

A to Z of Cathedrals – M is for Milan

“What a wonder it is!  So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems …a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!…”, Mark Twain – ‘The Innocents Abroad’

I have made no secret of the fact that I didn’t especially like Milan but I have to say that the Marble Gothic Cathedral is perhaps one of the most sublime and finest that I have ever seen in Italy. In design, more French than Italian perhaps. The location is magnificent with a wide open Piazza to the front and it rises dramatically upwards with spires like needles piecing the sky, each one decorated with a Saint or Apostle at the very top.

It is claimed there are more statues on this cathedral than any other building in the world; there are three thousand, four hundred statues, one hundred and thirty-five gargoyles and seven hundred figures. There are two hundred and forty steps to the top but that did not concern us, we had climbed nearly five hundred in Bologna so we ignored the extra charge for the lift and began the ascent.

Now this was really something really worth doing and well worth the admission charge. My first impression of the roof was that it resembles a petrified forest,  There was a lot of restoration work at the top but this didn’t interfere with the stunning views and the rooftop panorama of the city. We stayed up on the top for quite some time and after two circuits made our way down the steps and into the Cathedral which was equally impressive.

I will tell you two stories…

Above the apse there is a spot marked with a red light bulb. This marks the spot where one of the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion was allegedly placed. Once a year in September the archbishop of Milan ascends to the apex in a wooden basket decorated with angels to retrieve the nail.  The nail is displayed on the altar for three days and then put back again. You do have to wonder why?

Inside the Cathedral is a statue of the Apostle Saint Bartholomew who met an especially grisly end when he was skinned alive. Condemned to death he was flayed and the skin of his body cut into strips,then pulled off leaving his body open and bleeding for a long time, after that he was beheaded and then crucified just to make sure. I am prepared to be challenged on this point but I don’t believe that it would be possible to be skinned alive, I imagine you’d die of shock quite quickly.  The pain must have unimaginable, I know I call for a sticking plaster for just the tiniest of little skin-nicks!

We left the Cathedral and took the dreary walk back to the hotel. I still hadn’t warmed to Milan but the Cathedral helped redeem it a little.

Considering it is such a centre of high fashion, Milan is remarkably devoid of architectural beauty.  Milan is all about making money, it is in the blood and in the history” – Michael Palin, ‘Hemingway Adventures’.

 

 

Tea Towel Souvenirs – Portugal

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

A to Z of Cathedrals – L is for Lecce in Italy

After the main square we slipped into into the side streets and made our way to the Basilica di Sante Croce, said to be the most beautiful church in the city and it may well have been but unfortunately for us the builders were in and the front was covered in scaffolding.  My picture is therefore a postcard.

Read the full story Here…

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.