Tag Archives: Travel

On This Day – Budapest, Hungary

The lock down goes on so I continue to look at my photograph albums and back posts. On 20th January 2008 I was in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary…

We left the hotel early this morning to take full advantage of the unexpectedly good weather.

On the other side of the Liberty Bridge was the Market Square and the covered central market building. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the temperature was several degrees above average for this time of the year. Today we were going to concentrate on Pest but with an eye on the blue skies had a mind to return to Buda for photo opportunities that had eluded us yesterday.

This meant that time was an issue so there was no time to dawdle about. From the market we walked through the streets of the city, past the Hungarian National Museum and down a long road that went past some very fine buildings and wide boulevards. In the nineteenth century Budapest earned the tag of Paris of the East and looking around it was easy to see why.

After the creation of Budapest as one great city, there was a rush of construction and Pest was extensively rebuilt in the image of Vienna including a great central park with magnificent fountains and lakes and all of this frantic reconstruction reached a fanatical peak to coincide with Budapest’s millennium anniversary celebrations of the original settlement of the Magyars. We were beginning to realise that two days was hopelessly inadequate to appreciate this really fine City.

Moving swiftly on and next it was St Stephen’s Basilica which at ninety-six metres high is the tallest building in Budapest. Actually the Hungarian Parliament building is also ninety-six metres high which might sound a bit of a coincidence but in fact quite deliberate because the number ninety-six refers to the nation’s millennium, 1896, and the conquest of the later Kingdom of Hungary in 896. It is all very symbolic.

Seven years after Budapest was united from the three cities in 1873 the National Assembly resolved to establish a new representative Parliament Building that appropriately expressed the sovereignty of the nation.

A competition was announced, which was won by the architect Imre Steindl and construction from the winning plan was started in 1885 and the building was inaugurated on the one thousandth anniversary of the country in 1896 (no surprises there) and completed in 1904. It is the third largest Parliament building in the World after those in Roumania and Argentina.

It is set in the spacious Louis Kossuth Square and there is plenty of room to wander around and admire the magnificence of the building. Louis Kossuth led the 1848 revolution that attempted to overthrow the Hapsburgs and there is a large monument to his memory at one end of the square. At the other end is a statue of Imre Nagy, another Hungarian martyr and hero, who was Prime Minister during the post war occupation years and led the ill-fated 1956 anti-soviet government after the revolution of the same year attempted to break free from Soviet control and was executed for treason in 1958.

I have to confess that Budapest was an absolute revelation, I had not been expecting anything so grand, it was easily as good as Vienna and in my opinion much better than Prague, the scale of the city eclipses Bratislava and Ljubljana and I liked it as well as any other city I have visited.

We would have liked to have stayed longer on this side of the but because in contrast to the previous day the sun was shining we wanted to return to Buda to see this at its best as well. We crossed the Chain Bridge for a final time and in Adam Clark Terrace took a ride on a funicular back to the Royal Place.

At the top we were approached by a charming man who tried to persuade us to join a two hour sightseeing tour with his specially prepared English narrative and commentary. He was very polite and quite amusing and if we had had the time we would have willingly have joined him.
First it was back to the Matthias Church and this time spend more time at the Fisherman’s Bastion which is a viewing terrace with seven towers that represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896 and has magnificent views over the Danube.

From the Castle Hill our route took us once more past the statue of St Gellért who was allegedly murdered on this spot in the eleventh century because of his Christian beliefs. The story goes that they put him into a barrel and rolled him down the hill and into the Danube. It could be true, but on the other hand…

We ended our tour at the Liberty Monument before working our way back down Gellért Hill to the Hotel to collect our luggage and prepare for the journey home.

Entrance Tickets – Oskar Schindler Museum in Krakow

After a while we arrived at the factory, which was being converted into a museum but as the project was way behind schedule there was only a temporary exhibition to look around.

When Podgórze became the site of the Jewish Ghetto many Germans set up businesses in the area in an attempt to profit from the Nazi invasion of Poland.

Oskar Schindler was such a man, but in the end he came to save the lives of over eleven hundred Jews that worked in his factory, often at great risk to his own life and at personal expense.

 

Read The Full Story Here…

 

 

On This Day – Trouble With Time in Portugal

On 12th January 2009 I was enjoying a second day in Portugal.

Before I go on, do you notice something curious about the Header picture?  I’ll tell you at the end.

In the morning there was another very sharp frost. The hotel room was warm but the public areas were chilly, inadequate electric heaters were working to full capacity and the staff in the breakfast room were wrapped in heavy coats and looked thoroughly miserable.

The man at reception lamented that it might be all right for us but for him it was painful to be so cold. I think he must have thought that we had come from the North Pole or something.

Today we visited the City of Porto. You can read about that here because I am skipping over the details in this post.

During the day as we walked around something had been puzzling me because all of the clocks in the city were wrong.  Every single one of them seemed to be an hour behind and even here at the station the displays said four when our watches said five. I thought that this was strange so asked an official who confirmed that it was indeed four and smiled when I showed him my watch and suggested that it was five.

It simply hadn’t occurred to me that it was perhaps my watch that was telling the wrong time.

It turns out that Portugal uses the same time as the United Kingdom and that we had been an hour ahead of ourselves for the last two days and this explained why it was still light at half past six last night, why they were surprised when we turned up for dinner an hour early, this was why the breakfast room was empty earlier today and why it was so cold when we left the hotel this morning.

Normally travelling to Europe involves adding an hour on but not so Portugal because along with Ireland and Iceland, Portugal is the only other European country that shares Western European Time with the United Kingdom.

Looking at a map of European time zones this looks odd but there is an explanation. France, The Low Countries and Spain should sensibly be in the western zone but during World-War-Two the Nazi occupiers changed France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg to Central European time for the convenience of Adolf Hitler in Berlin. For the sake of consistency Nazi sympathiser Franco changed Spain at the same time but anti-German Salazar of Portugal stayed as they were.

Spain is in the same time zone as countries as far east as Hungary and Poland, Galicia in the north is as far west as the far west coast of Ireland and does not see daylight in the Winter until almost mid morning and regularly campaigns for Spain to return to the more sensible western time zone.  In Spain only the  Canary Islands are in the Western European time zone.

Our horological error gave us an unexpected extra hour and we were glad of that because it had been a busy two days and when we got back to the hotel this gave us time for a rest before going down to dinner in the hotel dining room at the correct time.

The following day, now that we were back in real time and had adjusted ourselves accordingly we went down for breakfast today at a more reasonable hour and having given the place time to warm up this morning it was a much more pleasurable experience.

Actually it was warmer anyway because there was no frost today and although the sky was blue again it felt as though the weather was going to change. When we checked out the man on the reception said that he was glad about that but he still complained that the weather was colder than normal.

What a whinger he was because it was quite warm enough for us to cast off our jumpers and our hats and scarves and we decided to make the most of the unexpectedly good weather by taking a trip down the coast in a southerly direction towards Porto before driving to the airport for the early afternoon flight home.

Just south of Santa Clara was the beach of Azuraia where we parked the car and walked over the golden sand that had been washed clean by the high tide and went down to the waters edge. There was a good clear view back to Vila do Conde and the fort that we hadn’t had time to visit. After we had scrambled over rock pools and walked as close as we dare to the breaking surf without getting wet we walked back along the beach and past a beach bar that was just about opening up and back in the car we continued our slow aimless journey down the coast.

Next we stopped at Mindelo, which was much the same as Azuraia so we did the same things but didn’t stay for very long and continued on to the fishing village of Vila Cha.

Like everywhere else Vila Cha was quiet this morning so we parked the car and walked along the beach to the fishing boats and the fishermen’s sheds where local people were working repairing fishing nets and carefully stacking crusty lobster pots into neat piles.

We drove south again to one last beach at Angeiras and then to the airport. On the way we filled the car with fuel and I got worked up for the first time in two days when a man in front was taking a ridiculous amount of time just to put a few litres of petrol in the tank of his Citroen Berlingo one drip at a time.

This visit to Portugal had been absolutely wonderful. When we left I had no idea what to expect and this is what had made it so special. There is something about the pleasure of the unexpected that increases the enjoyment.

When we arrived back in England I remembered not to alter my watch.

So, back to that header picture where all of the hands are set to the same time.

The reason for this is that clocks and watches advertised for sale are almost always set at ten minutes past ten for two reasons.  Firstly advertisers think that this is the most aesthetically pleasing position and easy on the eye and secondly this position cradles the maker or the brand and makes it stand out boldly.

On This Day – A Frosty Reception in Portugal

I am always up for a quick break after Christmas and on 11th January 2009 I visited Northern Portugal…

When we left Stansted Airport on a six-thirty Ryanair flight to Porto there was a hard frost on the ground and the temperature was minus 3º centigrade and when we arrived less than two hours later in Porto there was a hard frost on the ground and the temperature was also minus 3º centigrade.

It is unusual to get frosts on the west coast of Portugal and this had clearly taken people by surprise and at the airport there were shivering staff on duty to make sure we avoided the untreated icy patches on the short walk to passport control.

Once through we were met by a lady from the car hire company who explained how cold it had been and why this necessitated the wearing of several layers of clothes, a scarf, a hat and a pair of woolly gloves. I have to concede that it was a bit chilly but I have to say that she seemed to me to be exaggerating the effect. Later we were told that on the day before that it had actually snowed and this was the first time that anyone here could remember such a weather event.

After picking up the car we put our watches forward one hour, as you do when you visit mainland Europe and we set off for our hotel at the nearby town of Vila do Conde.

After checking in we left the town and drove to the sea front and were delighted to find an empty golden beach and a big Atlantic Ocean with huge waves crashing in over the rocks that fringed the edge of the water like steadfast guards on eternal sentry duty. It must have been a very cold night because the damp sand was still frozen and it broke with the snap of a chocolate dime bar as we walked across the long roaming silver lines which marked the tide line right down to the rocks and the salty spray.

It was beginning to warm up and according to a street sign at a chemist shop the temperature was approaching double figures so as it was about midday we looked for somewhere to stop for a drink and choose a bar with outside tables and selected one in the sunshine at the edge of the pavement. This seemed to perplex the young girl at work behind the bar and she apologised as she chipped the ice of the table and wiped it down as she explained that she hadn’t really expected anyone to sit outside this early.

After the sun had warmed us through we left Vila do Conde and drove north to the neighbouring city of Póvoa de Varzim and then carried on along the coast road adjacent to the wide beaches and arrived in the village of Apúlia where we thought we might look for somewhere for lunch.

We found just what we were looking for and came across a café bar on the seafront with tables on a terrace in a sheltered spot and in the full glare of what was by now a very warm sun.

With low expectations we ordered food from the menu at about €5 a plate and were surprised to be served with a quite splendid excellent value for money lunch, which together with  beers and a glass of wine came to less than €15, including the tip.

It was really very warm now and although the locals were still wrapped up I was down to my shirt sleeves as we sat and lapped up the January sun.

Later the sun began to dip and we wondered if we might be fortunate enough to see a sunset and we were not disappointed because as the sun went down over the Atlantic horizon it filled the sky with a vivid red. It seemed late for a January sunset at nearly half past six but we didn’t question the fact and we gleefully took pictures and enjoyed the moment.

We booked a table for eight-thirty and then went to the room to try the wine and after a couple of glasses we went to the dining room and although we had booked they seemed a little surprised to see us. After an excellent meal in a restaurant overlooking the river and the illuminated Convent we were tired at the end of a day that had started very early and so we went to bed and hoped that the weather would hold out for at least another day.

“A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.” John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Travel Plans For 2021

On This Day – Santillana Del Mar in Cantabria

It is now nine months without travelling and holidays so I have had plenty of time to look back at some of my old posts. On 9th December 2008 I was in the delightful town of Santillana Del Mar in Cantabria in Northern Spain.

On the final morning of the visit the weather proved to be a disappointment, I could hear rain on the window as I started to stir and when I did the weather check I could only report back that the sky was grey and it was drizzling. At breakfast our host confirmed the worst and informed us that the forecast was gloomy all day so we decided that it was probably a good day to go and do something undercover and perhaps visit a museum.

Read The Full Story Here…

Travels In Spain – Wives at Church and Men on Street Corners

“…anyone that knows Spain will be aware of the frequency of the marriage in which the wife is deeply pious and the husband is irreligious. This is indeed a fairly normal situation. The man’s sense of self-esteem conflicts sharply with the teachings of the Church, especially in the sexual field, while he is irritated by its many small, fussy rules and regulations, which treat him, he feels, as though he were a child.” – Gerald Brennan – ‘South From Granada‘

There seemed to be strange goings on in the main town square because it was full of men just standing around and chatting in groups of ten or so and making an enormous din as they competed with each other to be heard about the great political issues of the day or yesterday’s football results perhaps.

Mostly elderly men because just as Gerald Brennan explained “…almost every Spanish peasant becomes wise when he passes fifty.” This was obviously a Sunday morning ritual while wives attended Church and the street corners and the public squares were overflowing with men all in animated conversation waiting for the service to end. Brennan also explains that – “At bottom the husband almost always approves of his wife’s devoutness, is aware that he is only playing truant and that, after a lifetime shrugging his shoulders at the Church, he will return to it in time to receive its last sacraments.”

Kim, Sue and Christine do their best to compete with the men…

Travels in Spain – The Scruffy Dog of Carmona

First of all we walked to the town’s market place and I was distressed to find scruffy dog following us again. Christine had been fussing it and it must have considered this to be an invitation to tag along. I tried to get rid of it, Kim tried to get rid of it, but we both failed. I’m not sure just what Micky did but he took it around the corner to get rid of it and we didn’t see it again for the rest of the morning. Micky has an understanding with dogs it would seem!

Read The Full Story Here…

Travels in Spain – Tapas and Sherry in Carmona

The bad news this morning was that Micky had gone down with a nasty little case of man flu and he wasn’t feeling very good at all. This was the strain that affects the sense of humour and after breakfast Mick invited us to go out without him. Naturally we said we would do no such thing and then as we watched his normally stoic temperament evaporating in front of us he demanded firmly that we should go out without him and we took the hint.

After a walk around the town and back at the Puerto de Sevilla there was a sunny pavement with café tables so we stopped for a drink before going back to the hotel to see if there was any sign of Micky.

Micky wasn’t there but the scruffy dog was and Christine started to play with the horrible thing and this unfortunately encouraged it to then join us as we continued our walk around the town.

Read The Full Story Here…

Travels in Spain – Driving Issues in Carmona

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.

Read The Full Story Here…