Tag Archives: Postcards

Sicily – A Street Map of Ortigia

So much easier with a Street Map!

A to Z of Postcards – U is for Umbria in Italy

I live in England and I am a citizen of the United Kingdom of course but…

…I am really struggling with the letter U.  I have never been to Ukraine or Uzbekistan or Uruguay and doubt that I ever will,  I have never been to Uganda or the United Arab Emirates and also doubt that I ever will.

I have overdone Castro Udiales in Spain having used it three times already in my A to Zs.  So I am going to cheat here.  I am not sure if I have ever been to Umbria in Italy but I have half a thought that I have passed through it on a train journey.

The nearest place to Umbria that I have visited is the city of Siena in neighbouring Tuscany.

Read the full story Here…

Portugal – Mafra and World Heritage Sites

Taking a break from the beaches we took a short ride to the nearby city of Mafra which is an unremarkable sort of place except for a very good cake shop and the magnificent Royal Palace which is enormous and can be seen from several miles away. The palace is huge and  covers an area of almost two and a half square miles and has one thousand two hundred rooms.

It is part Palace, part Cathedral and part Convent and is one of the fourteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal.

It is the biggest Royal Palace in Portugal and  makes it even more famous is that the last King of Portugal, Manuel II spent his last night in Portugal at the Palace after being deposed in October 1910.  He escaped the next day by Royal Yacht from Ericeira and lived the remainder of his life in exile in England, in Twickenham.

I am guessing that the lady with no bra on is the Portuguese equivalent of the French Madame Liberty…

I am afraid that I am quite unable to explain why Republican icon Madame Liberty has no clothes on. It is an interesting fact however that when the French built the Statue of Liberty for the USA they made sure that she was more discreetly attired so as not to offend New World sensibilities.

There is nothing else to tell you about Mafra or Madame Liberty.  So… 

Just like Brooke Bond Tea Cards I am a collector of World Heritage Site visits, if there is one close by then I just have to go.  Here are some more that I have been to in Portugal…

Coimbra

Built in the eighteenth century, the University is a National Monument and has priceless historical value being the main tourist attraction in Coimbra.  The building has three floors and contains about two hundred and fifty thousand volumes and being someone who loves books this place is a little bit of heaven.  The collection dates from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and represents the finest works from Europe at the time on the subjects of medicine, geography, history, science, law, philosophy and theology.

Tomar

Tomar is one of the most historically important cities in all of Portugal with a history that stretches back to the Romans and probably even before that.   Fast forward a thousand years and after the capture of the region from the Moors in the Portuguese Reconquista, the land was granted in 1159 to the Order of the Knights Templar. In 1160, the Grand Master in Portugal, Gualdim Pais, laid the first stone of the Castle and Monastery that would become the headquarters of the Order in Portugal and from here they pledged to defend Portugal from any subsequent Moorish attacks and raids

Elvas

Turns out is the biggest fortified town not only in Portugal but all of Europe. Inside the fortress town we walked through the ancient whitewashed streets, cobbled streets which were painful to negotiate in tourist sandals.  Along narrow passages lined by houses with blistered wooden doors,  Shutters thrown back like the wings of butterflies basking in the midday sunshine.  Sagging washing lines groaning under the weight of the dripping laundry.  The rich aroma of lunch time cooking seeping out from open windows.  Outside of the front doors pots of flowers in various stages of bloom and decay.

Guimarães

As the first capital of Portugal, Guimarães is known as the place where the country was born – ‘The Cradle City’.  In 1095 Count Henry of Burgundy, who had married princess Teresa of León, established in Guimarães the second County of Portugal and on July 25th 1109 Afonso Henriques, son of Count Henry of Burgundy, was born here and it was where Duke Afonso Henriques proclaimed Portuguese independence from the Kingdom of León, after the Battle of São Mamede in 1128, declaring himself to be Afonso I, King of Portugal.

Evora

Évora is an interesting city and has a busy history.  The Romans conquered it in 57 BC and built the first walled town.  During the barbarian invasions Évora came under the rule of the Visigothic king Leovigild in 584.  In 715, the city was conquered by the Moors and during this period the town slowly began to prosper and developed into an agricultural centre with a fortress and a mosque.

Évora was captured from the Moors through a surprise attack by Gerald the Fearless (what a fabulous name) in 1165 and the city came under the rule of the Portuguese king Afonso I in 1166 and then for a few hundred years or so it then flourished as one of the most dynamic cities in the Kingdom of Portugal.

The River Duoro

At five hundred and sixty miles long  the Douro is the eighth longest river in Western Europe (the eighteenth in all of Europe) and flows first through Spain and then Portugal and meets the Atlantic Ocean at Porto.  This part of the Douro Valley, and for about sixty miles towards Spain, has a microclimate allowing for cultivation of olives, almonds, and especially the grapes and the hillsides are scattered with picturesque quintas or farms clinging on to almost every improbable vertical slope dropping down to the river where tourist boats were making the daily return trip to Porto.

Bom Jesus do Monte

Many hilltops in Portugal have been places of religious devotion and the Bom Jesus hill was one of these. It was an ancient site where in 1629 a pilgrimage church was built dedicated to the Bom Jesus (Good Jesus), with six chapels dedicated to the Passion of Christ.  The present Sanctuary was begun in 1722, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Braga, Rodrigo de Moura Telles and under his direction the first stairway row, with chapels dedicated to the Via Crucis, were completed.  He also sponsored the next segment of stairways, which has a zigzag shape and is dedicated to the Five Senses of Sight, Smell, Hearing, Touch and Taste and each is represented by a different fountain.

Porto

The historical centre of Porto is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were now approaching one of the six bridges across the River Douro, the Ponte Dom Luis I, which is an iron bridge designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel and built on two levels. From the top elevation there were unbeatable views of the river, the old town and Vila Nova de Gaia, a sister city on the other side of the river. 

I will tell you about Sintra and Lisbon in later posts, the three that I haven’t got around to yet are the Coa Valley, Batalhia and Alcobaca.  Watch this space.

More from Mafra…

Portugal – Fishing Street Art

As a country that eats so much fish it is hardly surprising to find so much aquatic street art.

People in Portugal eat more fish than any other in mainland Europe, fifty-seven  kilograms per head per year which is like eating your way through an average sized cod or tuna,  Norway is second, Spain third and then France and Finland.

Beyond mainland Europe, Icelanders eat more fish than anyone else in the World at an average of ninety kilograms per person which is two average sized cod or tuna or a medium sized shark.

In the UK we like to think of ourselves as fish eaters and we voted to leave Europe on the basis of getting our fishing fleets back but we only eat cod or haddock or anything else from the same genus ( hake, colin, pollack etc.)  and on average we eat a miserly fifteen kilograms per person per year.

Staying in mainland Europe, those who eat least fish are Albanians at only five kilograms followed by people from Serbia and North Macedonia and what is surprising is that none of these are really that far from the sea.

The most poplar fish in Portugal is Tuna ( I was surprised by that) followed by cod, sardines, squid and mackerel.  The most popular fish in the UK is cod and in the USA it is prawns (shrimp), Canada and in Australia it is salmon; in France it is sea bass and in Spain hake.  The most popular Christmas Day meal in Australia is prawns (shrimp) Throw another prawn on the Barbie Bruce.

All of these obscure facts are worth jotting down and remembering if you are in a pub quiz team.

To be fair a lot of Australia, Canada and the USA is a long way from the sea.  Not surprising then that the United States accounts for 30% of the World consumption of canned Tuna.

At only one hundred and fifteen miles Miranda do Douro on the Spanish border is the Portuguese town furthest from the sea.   In the USA Lebanon in Kansas (the geographical centre of the country) is six hundred miles from the Gulf of Mexico, in Canada Calgary is three hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean and in Australia Alice Springs is about five hundred miles from the Gulf of Carpentaria so I guess the supply of fresh fish from the coast can sometimes be a bit of a logistical problem.

 

Postcards of Greek Doors

You may have noticed that I rather like taking pictures of doors, especially Greek doors.

In 1998 I visited the island of Rhodes and bought this collection of postcards…

George Meis is now a very famous Greek photographer whose work is available everywhere.  In 1998 he was just starting out and his work was restricted to postcards.

Anyway, thinking back I am certain that it was at this point that I became inspired to take pictures of doors and windows.  This is quite possibly the first door picture that I ever took on that holiday in Rhodes…

Read a story about doors 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.

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.

 

 

 

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were by no means a comprehensive agreed-upon list of the most impressive structures of the day. Today a list like this would be determined by a TV phone-in. The masterpieces included in the original list are the traditionally accepted Wonders as first set down by Philo of Byzantium although when he drew up the list he had no way of knowing about the caves of Altamira in Spain, the Pueblos of North America or  Stonehenge. in England.

The Seven Wonders of The World got me thinking about the number 7.

According to Wiki the Pythagoreans invested particular numbers with unique spiritual properties. The number seven was considered to be particularly interesting because it consisted of the union of the physical (number 4) with the spiritual (number 3). Does that make any sense to anyone?

In a standard pack of Tarot cards number 7 is the chariot which represents succour, providence, war, triumph, presumption, vengeance and trouble

In the play “As You Like It” Shakespeare described the seven ages of man as Infancy, Child, Teenager, Young Man, Middle age, Old age, and Death.

In Antiquity and in Religion there are often seven wise men as law makers and  judges, seven is a good number, not to big, not to small, a manageable in-between sort of number which works well in a voting situation (so long as no one abstains).

Other sevens…

Seven Days a Week – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The seven metals of Antiquity -gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, iron, and mercury.

The Seven Seas – Arctic Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, North Pacific Ocean, South Pacific Ocean and the Southern (or Antarctic) Ocean

The Seven Deadly Sins – Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Anger, Envy and Pride.

The Seven  Year Itch, a supposed tendency to infidelity after seven years of marriage and a movie starring Marilyn Monroe.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Dopey, Sleepy and Bashful.

Seven Continents of the World – Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia, North America, South America and Antarctica.

Seven colours in a Rainbow – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.

The Dance of the Seven Veils is Salome’s dance performed before King Herod Antipas, an interpretation of the New Testament story of the Feast of Herod and the execution of John the Baptist.

The Seven Hills of Rome of course but also the Seven Hills of Edinburgh  -Arthur’s Seat  Blackford Hill,  Braid Hills, Calton Hill, Castle Rock, Corstorphine Hill and Craiglockhart Hill.

The Magnificent Seven – Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn, and Horst Buchholz.

Anyone care to make another seven suggestion?

 

Read the full story Here…

Sunday Sunsets – The Cylcades

This one is from Ios at the very top of the island.

Read The Full Story Here…

Ljubljana – Castles, Bridges and Dragons

On the second day in Ljubljana we explored the city on foot, visited the castle, looked for the dragons and crossed all three of the famous bridges.

Read The Full Story Here…