Tag Archives: Postcards

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…

A to Z of Windows – G is for the Greek Island of Corfu

In the 1980s Corfu was expanding rapidly as a tourist destination and was acquiring an uneviable reputation as a party island and magnet for unruly British tourists on boozy Club 18-30 holidays.   They were drawn in the main to the hedonistic town of Benitses which was well known for heavy drinking, beach parties, wild behaviour and street fighting.  There was a story at the time that even the island police were frightened to go in there after dark but I am not sure if this was really true.

Over the next twenty years or so the locals who lived in the village grew tired of its  reputation and ill-disciplined guests and made a determined effort to throw off its bad ill-repute.  Benitses set about reinventing itself with the addition of a swanky marina, up-market hotels and a string of classy bars and tavernas.

The rowdy youngsters were carefully redirected to Kavos in the the far south of the island where they were kept as far away as possible from families and the mostly well behaved.

Read The Full Story Here…

Kirkby Lonsdale and the Devil’s Bridge

It was a bitterly cold morning when we left the hotel and talk a short walk around the village before setting off for the short drive to the nearby town of Kirkby Lonsdale. Someone told us that there had been a frost overnight but I am not too sure about that.

The journey took us out of the county of Yorkshire and through a small wedge of Lancashire and into Cumbria and to Kirkby Lonsdale which is only a part of Cumbria by a whisker, just a mile or two over the county boundary.

It is indeed a very charming town, the sort of place that when visiting I decide that it would be rather nice to live there but after a look in the Estate Agent’s window the asking prices confirm that I am happy enough to stay where I am.

There is not a great deal to do in Kirkby Lonsdale it seems except to walk around the picturesque streets and public footpaths. We visited the Thursday market which consisted mostly of artisan craft stalls which didn’t interest me greatly and then followed a walking route that took us along the side of the very attractive and free running River Lune as far as the fourteenth century Devil’s Bridge.

According to the legend the original bridge was built by the Devil because it was too difficult for mere mortals to achieve this feat of engineering.  Probably because of the weather the Devil had never been to Cumbria before but sometime around the eleventh century he dropped by.  As he wandered about admiring the scenery (no one has satisfactorily explained why he didn’t go somewhere even more scenic, such as Lake Windermere for example) he came across an old lady who seemed rather upset.

 ”What’s the matter? he asked (or possibly roared).

“Oh, I’m in such a terrible muddle and I don’t know what to do! My cow has wandered across the river and I can’t get her back”.

Ah!” said the Devil “What you need is a bridge and I am just the man to build you one. Why don’t you go home, and in the morning there will be a bridge waiting for you. All I ask in return is to keep the first living thing to cross the bridge”

That night she wondered about this stranger who would build her a bridge. ‘What a strange request!  Why should I cross the bridge to get my cow back if he gets to keep me in exchange? Mind you it is very tempting offer”

The next day she got up and called for her faithful dog. Together they went down to the river. 

“I told you that I would build you a bridge” said the Devil. “Now it’s your turn to keep your side of the bargain”.

She started to walk towards the bridge. But just when she got there she stopped, took out bone from her apron pocket and hurled it across the bridge and the dog chased after it.  Dogs are hopelessly stupid creatures that will do  dumb things like that.  A cat wouldn’t. 

“FFS”  exclaimed the Devil.  I don’t believe it! Your dog has become the first living thing to cross my bridge. It’s no good to me” he screamed and then vanished and I can understand that because I am not what you call a dog lover myself. 

After this the Devil was apparently never seen in Cumbria again – some say it was because he was so embarrassed at being outwitted by the old lady but I suspect that it more likely had something to do with the wet weather!

Actually, it turns out that Satan is quite a prolific bridge builder and Wikipedia lists at least a hundred Devil’s Bridges, mostly in Europe and almost always with the same story.

We returned now to Clapham and on a gloriously sunny Autumnal afternoon took a long countryside walk alongside the River Wenning which led to Ingleborough Cave which claims to be the finest show cave in all of England and had a £9.50 admission charge and no discount for seniors.

Reminding ourselves that all such places make these sort of extravagant claims we decided against going underground today and besides we have been down caves before elsewhere and one is much like any other.

On the way down we passed by an effervescent waterfall so congratulated ourselves on not paying for the Ingleby trail the previous day. Like true Yorkshire folk we were saving money every day. We were practically honorary Tykes.

 

Carrickfergus Castle and Halloween

I have mentioned before what seems to be my exceptional good luck with the weather in Ireland. Except for a whole day washout in Galway in 2017 and the ten minute squall at the Gobbins Coastal Walk this year I have always enjoyed good weather.

Today was no exception so after an excellent full Irish breakfast (in a stack) we left the Titanic Quarter, crossed the river and made our way to the railway station because today we were visiting nearby Carrickfergus (what a great Irish name that is) to see its mighty castle.

On the way we passed the Belfast Big Fish. There is a sign saying no climbing but William missed that and clambered onto its back regardless. William is good at jumping and climbing.

The train journey alongside the western shore of Belfast Lough took just about twenty minutes and we arrived at about midday in a curiously subdued (for a Saturday morning in a fair sizes market town) Carrickfergus town centre. With nothing to distract us such as a market for example we made our way directly to the harbour and the castle.

Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle, the oldest , biggest and best preserved medieval building in all of Northern Ireland built on the north shore of the Lough to manage and protect the entrance to the emerging port of Belfast and the navigable River Lagan.

It was here that King William III landed in 1690 on his way to the Battle of the Boyne, a decisive battle in the struggle for supremacy in Ireland in which William was victorious and secured Protestant domination in Ireland for over a subsequent two hundred years. Carrickfergus remains even to this day a staunch Unionist/Protestant town.

There is a statue of King Billy with his massive hat close to the harbour.

We were looking forward to visiting the castle but the door was firmly closed. I told William to go and knock and he pounded so hard that anyone inside might have imagined it was under siege. A young man emerged and told us that the castle was closed today on account of this being Halloween weekend and an unofficial public holiday. This seemed odd to me, why would you close a tourist attraction on a bank holiday when you might expect higher than normal visitor numbers.

The man said ‘come back on Monday’, I said ‘We are going home tomorrow (Sunday)’ and he helpfully suggested ‘Come back next time you are in Northern Ireland’.

I was intrigued by this but it seems that Halloween is rather important in Ireland and people here tell you that Halloween traditions were begun and influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, particularly the Gaelic festival Samhain, the beginning of Winter, the dark months, which are believed to have pagan roots. Some go further and suggest that Samhain may have been Christianized as All Hallow’s Day, along with its eve, by the early Christian Church.

Anyway, whatever, The Irish claim ownership of the Halloween tradition. Apparently they used to carve turnips and light a candle inside to represent the souls of the recently and dearly departed. Carving a woody turnip I can only imagine to be extremely hard work so the Irish must have been glad to find that when the emigrated to America that there were no turnips and pumpkins were abundant and much easier to work with.

We all know what happened next, over the years the USA hijacked the Halloween tradition and turned it into a commercial bonanza which has spread across the World. In the process the historical and cultural significance has sadly been swept away in a tsunami of tacky consumerism, much like Christmas and Easter.

We all do it…

In the UK I personally lament the fact that Halloween has completely eclipsed Bonfire Night and the ‘Penny for the Guy’ tradition but I suppose the environmentalists will applaud the fact that we no longer light thousands of polluting bonfires on November 5th.

With the castle closed and nothing to detain us longer in Carrickfergus we took the train directly back to Belfast.

Where we did some more sightseeing…

The Gobbins Coastal Path

Before driving into Belfast we had an appointment at another Northern Ireland tourist hotspot – The Gobbins Coastal walk Experience. An odd name for a tourist attraction you might think but the explanation is that it comes from the Irish word Gobán meaning headland.

The Gobbins is a cliff face walk up and down difficult and uneven steps, across iron bridges and through a tunnel that at one point runs below sea level. It all sounded rather exciting.

So we arrived at the visitor centre at the appointed time and after being booted and suited were given the first of a series of health and safety lectures followed by a bus ride from the centre to the east coast and the starting off point for the adventure.

The Gobbins was created by an Irish railway engineer called Berkeley Deane Wise. He designed and built the path as a tourist attraction for the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Company and it first opened to the public in 1902 with visitors paying 6d to enjoy a ‘perfect marvel of engineering’.

Almost immediately the Gobbins drew worldwide acclaim, with one newspaper review extravagantly declaring that the varied beauty of this cliff path baffles all description’.

Because of its proximity to Belfast with convenient railway links for a while the Gobbins Path was even more popular as a tourist destination in Northern Ireland than The Giant’s Causeway.

Thousands visited The Gobbins in the first few decades of the twentieth century advertisements of the time declared ‘the new cliff path along The Gobbins Cliffs, with its ravines, bore caves, natural aquariums … has no parallel in Europe as a marine cliff walk’. High Praise indeed.  However, the railway company got into financial difficulties during the 1930s, essential maintenance slipped and the path was closed in 1936 and gradually fell into serious disrepair.

There was a restoration project between 2011 and 2016 which restored a part of the pathway. The cost was almost £8m with over half of the funding coming from the European Union. Who says Brexit was a good idea? Where is the money going to come from for these sort of projects in the future?

There was a long steep path down to the entrance and then the walk began. It was interesting but not nearly as exciting or dramatic as I had imagined it would be with long stops for explanations from the tour guide which were impossible to hear because of the wind and the pounding of the waves and these frequent stops made it rather tedious at times.

And then there was an unexpected rain shower, more of a nasty squall than a shower as it happened that lasted for ten minutes or so and being exposed as we were on the cliff face managed to soak us all right through. I enjoyed most of it except for the part where we walked through a tunnel of roosting pigeons and lots of bird shit to try and avoid.

An interesting experience but I wouldn’t do it again. The best bit was when Kim spotted a pod of dolphins swimming close to the land. There is something special about seeing dolphins.

From the visitor centre we drove directly to Belfast and to the Premier Inn Hotel. I like the Premier Inn hotels, they are reasonably priced and you know exactly what you are going to get – a quiet room, a comfortable bed and no nasty surprises.

Later we walked into the City in search of somewhere to eat but is was rater busy which shouldn’t really have surprised us because measured by population it is the twelfth largest city in the United Kingdom. We struggled to find somewhere that could accommodate us and without success finished up at a Wetherspoons bar where the food is cheap and includes a free drink but it is not what you would call by any stretch of the imagination a fine dining experience.