Category Archives: Travel

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 Spain, Car Hire and Trouble with Maps

postcard-map-andalucia

“I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than most countries.  How easy it is to make friends in Spain!” – George Orwell – ‘Homage to Catalonia’

In the summer a cheap flight opportunity to Seville and Andalusia in November provided the perfect opportunity to continue the quest to discover the real Spain.  A visit to the South and the part of the peninsula with which, thanks to the travel brochures I suppose, we are all familiar, the Spain of flamenco, Moorish architecture, sherry, tapas bars and bull fighting.

The first task after arrival at Seville airport was to pick up the hire car and the lady at the desk took me step by step through the formalities and then showed me a diagram that identified all of the previous damage that the car had suffered.  This took some considerable time because it turned out to be practically every single panel, front back and sides and when we collected it from the car park it was in a real mess and looking quite sorry for itself and my first reaction was to be a bit annoyed that we had been allocated such a tatty vehicle.

I was soon to discover however that this was quite normal for cars in this part of Spain!  The interior was clean but there was an overpowering smell of industrial strength air freshener that was so unpleasant that we had to drive with the windows down and we began to worry about what sort of previous smell the deodoriser was covering up.

Carmona 02

Instead of staying in the city of Seville, where the hotels seemed to be a little expensive and beyond our budget, we had chosen instead to book a cheaper alternative in the nearby town of Carmona that was about twenty miles away.  The first part of the journey along the Autovia du Sur was pleasant and without incident and then we left at the junction for the town and things started to unravel.  We didn’t have a proper town map, only something from the multimap website and this didn’t prove to be especially helpful.

We (I) became confused and did a couple of circuits of the town looking for street names that we could identify but these proved to be illusive and of little assistance because they didn’t seem to correspond in any way to the map.  Eventually, on third time around the main town square I found a bar that was still open and asked (pleaded)  for help.

The man was just as confused by multimap as we were and it took him some time to interpret it for himself before he could even begin to draw the route that we needed through what looked like a tangled web of streets with a baffling one way system.  Finally he provided comprehensive instructions but in rapid fire Spanish that made it difficult to follow but it was helpful just to discover that we were in the new part of the town and what we really needed was the centro historico, which was a few hundred yards away.

Confident now of directions we set off again and this time took the correct turning through an imposing medieval fortress gate and into a labyrinth of confusing narrow streets.  At a fork in the road we were presented with two options.  We were staying at a hotel in San Fernando Square and there was a sign that seemed to suggest that we should turn left but I overruled Micky who pointed this out and foolishly decided to ignore the sensible thing to do and took the right fork instead.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

This was a very big mistake because the road climbed up a narrow cobbled street barely wide enough for the car to pass through and then seemed to abruptly stop at what looked like a pedestrian alleyway.  There was an elderly Spanish couple out strolling so we asked for help and after they had studied the map seemed to suggest to us that we should carry on down this narrow path.  We were not entirely convinced about this and asked for clarification several times and the man, who spoke no English and was not terribly useful, was determined not to let his wife, who could speak a little English and was a lot more helpful, have her turn with the map.

Maps and men must be the same everywhere, let me explain, it’s a macho sort of thing that drives us to take control and this is based on years of experience of being sent in the wrong direction.  Women generally are as hopeless with maps and town plans as men are with knitting patterns.  Anyway, while we were debating the situation another car pulled up behind and seemed to be heading in the direction of the alleyway so this was a clue that this was indeed the correct way to go.  As we pulled away the woman looked into the car and in a genuinely caring sort of way said ‘Be careful, good luck’ and this parting comment filled my cup of confidence full to the brim and overflowing.

We set off and it soon became clear why we needed both precision and good fortune because if we had thought that the previous street had been narrow this one made it look like a six lane highway.  First of all it was necessary to negotiate a dog leg gate that was barely wider than the car and we all had to collectively breathe in so that we could squeeze through and after that the street narrowed down still further and I needed delicate keyhole surgery skills to manoeuvre through 90º bends and past carelessly parked cars and iron bollards strategically placed to impede progress at every turn.

It was like threading a needle blindfolded and we now understood why the car was covered in dents and scratches and probably why the air freshener was so strong; the previous hirer had possibly driven down the same street and had an unfortunate bowel incident in the process!

Going forward was tricky and we were making slow progress but what really concerned me was the possibility of reaching a – and having to reverse all the way back because that would have been impossible.  Finally however we came out into a square (that was actually a circle) and by luck we had found our hotel.  After three circuits of the square it was obvious that there was nowhere to park however so we had to settle for a side street and a hundred yard walk back to the Hotel Posada San Fernando where a lady on reception was waiting to check us in.

Carmona 07

Travels in Italy, The Last Supper

Everyone recognises the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci, it is one of the most loved and most parodied pieces of art ever…

Last Supper MASHLast Supper - ScientistsLast Supper BSGLast Supper ChefsLast Supper MafiaLast Supper Disney Princesses

 

 

Travels in Italy, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Cathedral in Milan

Milan Doumo

“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’

We left Rimini early in the morning.  We booked the fast train and were especially careful to make sure that we caught the right one this time.  Kim fell asleep. The journey took two hours and we arrived in Milan around about midday and walked to the IBIS Hotel.

We only had an afternoon in Milan so we had to make a choice about what we would go and see.  Should it be Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie or alternatively visit the largest Cathedral in Italy.

Leonardo Milan

We decided upon the Cathedral and this was our reasoning.

The Last Supper by Da Vinci isn’t the original.

The work started around 1495 but due to the methods used, a variety of environmental factors and some intentional and accidental damage, nothing of the original remains.

Because the painting was on a thin exterior wall it was affected badly by humidity and the paint failed to properly adhere and after it was completed it quickly began to deteriorate.  By 1517 the paint was flaking, by 1532 it had lost most of its colour and detail. In 1652, a doorway was cut through the painting, and later bricked back up. In 1768, a curtain was hung over the painting for the purpose of protection but instead trapped moisture on the surface and whenever the curtain was pulled back it scratched the flaking paint.

A first restoration was attempted in 1726 and a second in 1770 both were criticised for not faithfully reproducing the original.  In 1796 French troops threw stones at the painting and climbed ladders to scratch out the Apostles’ eyes. The refectory was then later used as a prison.   A repair project was attempted in 1820 but this only succeeding in damaging the work when a whole section fell off the wall.

During World War II the refectory was struck by Allied bombing and the painting was damaged by splinters and vibration. Between 1978 and 1999 the most recent major restoration project undertook to stabilise the painting and reverse the damage caused by dirt and pollution.

So this is my point, this is why I mention this here  – it is possible to go to see the painting, a painting, but it isn’t by Leonardo Da Vinci that’s for sure so if it isn’t an original what is the point!

There are lots of other versions of the Last Supper – this is one of my favourites…

Last Supper MASH

We were also influenced in our decision making by the fact that it costs €40 to visit the Basilica to see the painting but only €10 to visit the Cathedral and climb to the top of the roof. We chose the Cathedral.

Milan Cathedral

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 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.

Milan Cathedral Roof

Now this was really something really worth doing and well worth the admission charge. 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.

Saint Bartlomew

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