Category Archives: Postcards

A to Z of Statues – C is for Tommy Cooper

When I was at Cardiff University in 1972 to 1975 I used to regularly take the train on the Welsh valley line to nearby Caerphilly. I used to like Caerphilly, especially the castle.

I didn’t know then that it was the birthplace of the comedian magician Tommy Cooper who was born there in 1921.

Hands up if you knew Tommy Cooper was born in Wales.  Overseas readers are excused the exercise.

After leaving University I didn’t return to Caerphilly until I visited the town with my travelling pal Dai Woosnam in 2016, We weren’t looking for Tommy Cooper especially but came across his statue. Actually we were looking for a landmark commemorating another famous Welshman with an association with the town – Guto Nyth Brân.

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A to Z of Balconies – Quarteira in Portugal.

In the 1980’s my brother Richard worked in a car sales garage in Rugby for a man called Gordon Pitcher who owned a villa on the Algarve in Portugal that he used to rent out for holiday lets.

The property was in what was then a rather remote location called Quarteira, included in the deal was the use of a car for getting about.  Quarteira is now an adjacent resort to busy Vilamoura.  I visited Vilamoura again in 2019 but I didn’t like it. 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.  We prefer ‘dilapidated charm’ and are certainly not ‘super-rich’ so stayed no longer than half-an-hour before quickly leaving without a single glance in the rear-view mirror.  I should have carried out better research.

Anyway, back to the story of the balcony, Gordon was a businessman who didn’t like unnecessary expenditure so as the car was UK registered he had to remove it from Portugal by a certain time each year so that he didn’t have to pay local vehicle tax and insurance.

Late in 1986 he asked Richard if he would do the job for him in return for a few days rent free holiday at the villa and Richard agreed so long as he could take his pals along to help with the long drive back.

This was Villa Estrella and its balcony.

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A to Z of Statues – B is for Otto Von Bismarck

I noticed that one thing that makes Berlin stand out against other grand European cities is that it has very few statues; it is that history thing again, Berlin can’t very well have statues of Kaiser Wilhelm II or Adolf Hitler because they were both responsible for unleashing hell in Europe.

Midway along the Tiergarten we did eventually come across a famous monument, the Berlin Victory Column, commissioned in 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War and later dedicated also to victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and then the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Prussia did like going to war it seems.

It is indeed a grand column that soars into the sky and at the very top stands a golden statue of the Roman God Victory.

Prussia had become a modern European State in 1701 and for the next one hundred and seventy years was at war with someone or another for a total of ninety years, or over half of its existence. Not surprisingly Prussia was seen as a militaristic threat to the stability of Europe and so was abolished by the victorious allies in 1947.

This wasn’t especially difficult, two years earlier the Russian offensive in the Battle of Berlin had demolished and removed almost all Prussian heritage. East Prussia was absorbed into a redefined Poland and the remainder became East Germany.

Battleship Bismarck – what a beast…

Nearby we found a statue of a man that I was expecting to find – Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of modern Germany who was responsible for the creation of the country in 1871 following the defeat of France in a short-sharp war – the sort of quick victory Germany expected again in 1914. The sort of victory, it has to be said, that Great Britain also anticipated.

A grand statue but not on prominent display but instead tucked discreetly inside a corner of the Tiergarten, adjacent to the Victory Column.

Not really surprising because Germany looks mostly to the future. To some extent this is explained by Germany’s post war efforts to confront its past, The Germans have a word for this – Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung, which translates as “working off the past”.

In 2003 in a television poll German viewers bypassed Otto Von Bismarck (voting for Adolf Hitler was not allowed) and voted post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as the greatest German of all time. Hands up anyone who has heard of Konrad Adenauer? It would be like voting John Major as the Greatest Briton. I mention this now just as a comparison, if you think Adenauer is an odd choice, in a similar poll in the USA they voted Ronald Reagan the Greatest American and in terms of Presidents alone that was ahead of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D Roosevelt.  Astonishing.

There were also some odd results elsewhere, Russia voted for Josef Stalin (responsible for an estimated 60 million deaths), France for Charles de Gaulle instead of Napoleon or Louis XIV, Portugal for Antonio Salazar (a dictator), Spain for King Juan Carlos (now disgraced) and Canada for someone called Tommy Douglas who turned out to be Scottish.

A to Z of Balconies – Naples

 

Naples – where my A to Z of Balconies meets my Washing Line Challenge…

“To see Naples as we saw it in the early dawn from far up on the side of Vesuvius, is to see a picture of wonderful beauty. At that distance its dingy buildings looked white, rank on rank of balconies, windows and roofs, they piled themselves up from the blue ocean till the colossal castle of St. Elmo topped the grand white pyramid and gave the picture symmetry, emphasis and completeness

But do not go within the walls and look at it in detail. That takes away some of the romance of the thing.”

Mark Twain – The Innocents Abroad

On this point I have to disagree with Mark Twain, the back streets are the romance of the place.

On this Day – Puerta de Don Fadrique in Spain

As we wait for good news about travel opportunities I continue to look back.  On 22nd April 2018 I was in Andalusia in the South of Spain…

The sun was shining when we left the Spanish east coast town of Rojales just south of Alicante in the Province of Murcia.  It is close to sea level so it didn’t occur to me to take a rain coat or even a pullover in the event that it might later turn cooler as we drove inland and into the mountains.

We were in Spain and the sun always shines in Spain – doesn’t it?

We were driving inland towards Andalusia on the way to the city of Granada and just a few miles after we left the clouds began to build and the temperature began to drop. Kim worried about this and concerned for my welfare asked if I needed to stop and put on something warm. I shivered but didn’t own up to not packing anything that might usefully be described as warm so this wasn’t an option. She pulled a cardigan out of her bag and wrapped it around her shoulders. My sister, Lindsay did the same.  I had no cardigan.  I tried to look brave.

Shortly after bypassing the city of Murcia there was some promising improvement and we took a planned detour through the Province of the same name towards Andalusia and towards the town of Puerta de Don Fadrique which is a small village that makes the extravagant claim to be the prettiest in all of Spain.

The approach to Puebla de Don Fadrique was indeed stunning set against the backdrop of the Sagra mountain range and we continued to climb to three and a half thousand feet before eventually arriving in the town.  As we parked the car I couldn’t help noticing that everyone was wearing pullovers and coats.  By necessity (not having a pullover or a coat) I declared it warm enough to walk around in shirt sleeves!

It was time for refreshment but the first café was closed and so was the second and then the third.  The whole place was completely desolate as though there had been a nuclear accident and the place had been abandoned in a dreadful hurry.  Maybe everyone was just cold and staying indoors.

Everywhere was shuttered and closed which led me to speculate that maybe Puebla de Don Fadrique was suffering from a collective hangover from a Festival the day before, which is usually just my luck,  or maybe it just doesn’t open on a Monday.

It was a pretty little place for sure, whitewashed houses and black metal grills in the Andalusian style but without people it lacked any sort of vibrancy or interest, no bars, no restaurants and no shops.

We walked through the streets half in anticipation and half in disappointment and made our way back to the car and suddenly there was signs of life as a group of men in coats and pullovers were sitting at a street corner debating the big issues of the day and at the end of a street about a hundred yards away we finally spotted a bar that was open.

So we made our way towards it, alarmed the owner by sitting down and ordering a coffee and then slightly bemused by all this left and drove out of the village and resumed our journey towards Granada.

As we drove further west the weather continued to rapidly deteriorate.  Ahead of us we could just about make out the Sierra Nevada Mountains, at eleven and a half thousand feet the highest in Spain and the third highest in Europe after the Caucasus and the Alps.  But the storm clouds were gathering, the sky turned black and it started to rain.  The temperature sank like a stone and I began to plan my first task in Granada, – to find a shop to buy a coat.  I wasn’t especially looking forward to that because I am not what you would call an enthusiastic shopper.  I might have mentioned that before.

A to Z of Balconies – Liendo in Cantabria

Motoring west once more on the Autovia del Cantabria the rain stopped and the sun came out again and after a few kilometres we left the motorway for the village of Liendo to find our accommodation. As usual this wasn’t that easy and we made a couple of circuits of the sleepy streets and tried to understand directions given to us in impenetrable Spanish before we chanced upon it hiding behind a high stone wall and with only a very discreet sign to identify it.

We were staying at the small Posada La Torre de la Quintana, which was a converted stone mansion with an impressive façade and surrounded by carefully manicured gardens. And we were delighted with our choice of accommodation, which was rustic and authentic and we were lucky to have the best suite in the hotel complete with a glass fronted balcony.

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A to Z of Balconies – Korčula in Croatia

Korčula is like a scaled down version of Dubrovnik with the same white Dalmatian stone buildings and red tiled roofs but sadly it is completely eclipsed by its more famous close neighbour and there has been little investment since the 1990s war that split old Yugoslavia apart.  Dubrovnik was the priority after that but the local authorities are now campaigning for Korčula Old Town, which is a gem of Venetian architecture to be awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

 

A to Z of Balconies – Jurmala in Latvia

After breakfast we took a mini-bus taxi to the seaside town of Jurmala, which was another bargain at only 15 Lats.  It was a sunny morning and we walked through some houses in various states of disrepair and renovation towards the beach.  The houses were fascinating, mostly made of timber and in contrasting styles that suggested that the owners had had fun building them in a competitive way each determined to eclipse the efforts of their neighbours.

These were once grand seaside villas accommodating only the most wealthy Russians who used to like to come here for their summer holidays and we were relieved to see that thankfully many were being restored, rather than being demolished to make way for modern structures.  The town has an official list of four hundred and fourteen historical buildings under protection, as well as three thousand five hundred wooden structures.  Sadly, we were told that every so often there is an unexplained fire, the historic building disappears only to be removed by a modern building.

 

On This Day – Sigüenza in Castilla-La Mancha

Hopefully we are on the countdown to overseas travel but until that happy event happens I continue to trawl through the archives.  On 11th April 2014 I was in the town of Sigüenza in Spain…

It was raining so we took our time over breakfast and it was mid morning by the time we left the hotel and there was a simple choice – up the hill to the Alcazar or down the hill to the Cathedral.  We decided to start at the top of the town and make our way to the bottom.

Lined on each side with caramel coloured houses with terracotta tiled roofs, the Calle de Valencia followed the line of the old medieval town wall and half way to the castle we passed through the Puerto del Porto Mayor which was once the main gateway into the narrow streets of the old town and from here there was a final twisting climb to the Plaza del Castillo and the inevitable Parador Hotel.

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A to Z of Balconies – Iceland

You don’t see many balconies in Iceland, neither the weather or the landscape is conducive. This one looks rather precarious, a good job that alcohol is prohibitively expensive.

Approximately three-quarters of Iceland is completely barren of vegetation and plant life consists mainly of grassland. The only tree native to the island is the northern birch but most of these are only a memory now because humans of course have damaged the delicate ecosystem as these birch forests were heavily exploited over the centuries for firewood and timber. Deforestation resulted in a loss of critical top soil due to erosion, greatly reducing the ability of forests to re-establish themselves. Today there are very few trees in only a few isolated areas of the island and none where we were driving.

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