Tag Archives: UNESCO

On This Day – Pamukkale and Heirapolis

Continuing the tour of Ancient Turkey on 27th September 2014 I was at the site of Heirapolis/Pamukkale  an ancient Hellenistic and then a Roman city because it benefits from a rejuvenating spa of constantly warm water that the ancients were rather fond of.

The source of the spring is carefully locked behind bars because as it emerges from the earth’s core it brings with it a lethal cocktail of poisonous toxic gasses that will overcome and kill in seconds.

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On This Day – Kotor in Montenegro

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 13th June 2010 I was visiting the city of Kotor in the Balkan country of Montenegro…

Kotor Postcard

The border crossing between Croatia and Montenegro is not without considerable difficulty and lengthy delays because these two are uneasy neighbours (Montenegran Troops were responsible for the siege of Dubrovnic) and it all a bit officious but once through in front of us we could see the black mountains and after we passed through the busy and rather untidy outskirts of the city of Herceg Novi the road reached the sea and started to follow the winding coast line of the picturesque Bay of Kotor.

Once in this new country the first stop came quite quickly at a lay-by with a good view both east and west and looking across to the Italianate town of Perast, once an important independent Venetian ship building town but now rapidly becoming a modern tourist trap.

There was a small market and a jewellery stall in one corner of the lay-by and while Kim looked at sparkly things on chains I examined an information board about the Bay.  In the middle were about twenty clear holes about the thickness of a pencil and on closer examination I realised that they were bullet holes.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end because whoever had been using the sign for target practice was clearly a very good shot and it occurred to me that I could be in the cross-hairs of someone’s rifle sights even as I stood there.

I was beginning to become aware that Montenegro might be rather different to anywhere else that I had been before and I wasn’t inclined to hang around any longer than necessary so I encouraged Kim to hurry up and leave without a purchase and we carried on  without further delay around the bay.

There are strict driving rules in Montenegro but these don’t seem to apply to local people and my use of the road was continuing to irritate people and several times I was tooted and invited to pull over by motorists using hand signals that you won’t find in the Highway Code but I didn’t let this intimidate me and I continued sedately on, pulling over whenever I could to let agitated motorists pass me by.

Kotor 02

Eventually we arrived in Kotor without further incident and I found it much bigger than I imagined it would be from the descriptions in the travel guides and there was a six deck, two thousand passenger cruise liner tied up at the dock which was so huge it dwarfed the town and looked sadly out of place.  I may have mentioned this before but I really do not like these cruise ships.

At 35º centigrade it was extremely hot so we were pleased to go through the main gate of the old town and into the shaded cooler streets inside, Kim because she was out of the sun and me because she had stopped complaining about it.

It was busy inside because Kotor old town is quite small with a population of about five and a half thousand and it was playing host to the holidaymakers from the cruise liner and hundreds of others as well which temporarily more than doubled the population.

Once again there was a distinct Italianate feel because the old Mediterranean port of Kotor is surrounded by an impressive city wall that was built by Republic of Venice and the Venetian influence remains dominant among the architectural styles around the main squares and up and down the tight twisting streets.

Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage site and inside the walls the narrow sinuous streets took us past little picturesque shops, cafés, bars, antique monuments and cream stone buildings, balconies overflowing with billowing flowers, washing lines full of immaculate laundry and the overwhelming smell of laundry powder and fabric conditioner.

Kotor Washing Line

The old town of Kotor is wedged in between the rugged Bay and at the foot of the imposing Lovćen massif mountain range directly under overhanging limestone cliffs of the mountains Orjen and Lovćen.  At the back of the town there was an entrance to a demanding walk up the vertical mountain to visit the city walls but today it was too hot for us to even consider tackling it especially in flimsy sandals on slippery stones and paths with warnings of danger clearly signposted.  So we made do with admiring it all from sea level and then slipped back into the maze of streets and looked for a bar away from the blistering heat of the unrelenting sun which was reflecting off the buildings and radiating around the paved squares and open spaces.

Kotor wasn’t quite what we were expecting it has to be said and we found it untidy and scruffy, the cruise ship spoilt it in a way because the old town was overcrowded and the hulking mass of the ship destroyed the charm of the seafront and the harbour.  The cafés and bars were more expensive than I imagined they would be, certainly pricier than in Croatia, but I thought the old town was nice enough and we sat in the shade in a corner of one of the small squares and drank  a Montenegrin beer called Niksicko, which despite its rather unpromising name was really quite nice.

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On This Day – Tower Of Terror in Trogir, Croatia

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 8th June 2009 I was in Croatia visiting the medieval town of Trogir…

Trogir Waterfront

Trogir is about fifteen miles north of Split and is the best preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex not only in the Adriatic, but also in all of Central Europe and inevitably therefore a UNESCO World heritage site.   It was mid morning when we arrived and the town was already very busy.  The old city is built on a little island, only separated from the mainland by a few yards and with access to it over a small bridge.

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Postcard From Mont Saint-Michel, France

Mont St Michel Postcard

From the Visitor Centre there is free bus transport to the tidal island but we choose to walk so that we could appreciate the stunning approach much as monks or pilgrims would have had over the centuries and it took us forty minutes or so to reach the entrance.  I thought there must surely be a fee, but no, it too was free and I liked this place even more.

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Return to Berlin, East and West

Alexanderplatz postcard

I visited Berlin six months ago and came away disappointed.  After a short period of reflection I came to the conclusion that this was an unfair assessment, I was on a stag party weekend and it is difficult to fully appreciate a city when you only see it through the bottom of a beer glass!

Berlin is the third most visited city in Europe (31m) after London (80m) and then Paris (48m) and it began to dawn on me that I needed to go back to see to see if I had misjudged it, after all it has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, just one less than London, one more than Rome (surprising) and two more than Paris which has only one so a visit in December to the Christmas markets together with cheap airline flights seemed to be a very good opportunity.

We travelled with friends and I arranged travel and accommodation in exactly the same places and in that way I was able to be the perfect travel guide. We arrived at Schönefeld Airport late morning and took a swift connecting train to the city centre.

Berlin Christmas 01

We were staying at a hotel in Alexanderplatz so our tour began right there.  Not the most thrilling place in the World I have to say, a large concrete public square and transport hub that was once a main square of the ex German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

When you first see Alexanderplatz it is like being punched in the face.  It is grey and stark, bleak and austere.  Teutonic blood and iron meets communist brutalism and the area retains a socialist appearance.  Trains, trams and cars all busily converge here and people hurry through past the homeless people in their temporary cardboard homes underneath a concrete railway bridge decorated with graffiti,  There are no pavement bars and cafés because it simply isn’t a pleasing place to stop or linger.  It is stripped bare of vivacity, it is cheerless and lacks any sparkle. A rather dreary place to live I imagine.

The square is vast and soulless, a sprawling mass of functional concrete, glass and steel.  It is completely without charm or anything remotely pleasing to the eye.  I have to take into consideration of course that only seventy-five years ago Berlin was practically a wasteland courtesy of the Soviet Red Army as they advanced from the east and the south and the north and the Western Allies turned a blind eye.

There seems to have been a collective agreement in East Berlin not to build anything that could ever be accused of being attractive.  A block of abandoned flats awaiting demolition makes my point for me…

Berlin Alexanderplatz Flats

For anyone that does want to loiter there is the World Clock that tells the current time in nearly one hundred and fifty major cities from around the world and which in 2015 the German government declared to be a historical and culturally significant monument.  Really?  It isn’t the Eiffel Tower or the London Eye that’s for sure and Alexanderplatz is neither an elegant Spanish plaza or a cultured Italian piazza.

Berlin Alexanderplatz World Clock

In the centre of Alexanderplatz I concede there is one very impressive structure, the Fernsehturm, a television tower, which at three hundred and seventy metres high is the tallest structure in Germany, and the third-tallest in the European Union, two metres shorter than the Torreta de Guardamar in Spain and half a metre shorter than the Riga Radio and TV Tower in Latvia.  Once a symbol of Communist power it has now been adopted as a trademark of the unified city and enjoys National Monument status.

We took a train and Christine kept asking were we in the (previous) east or the (previous) west and I told her that I would let her know when we crossed over, somewhere near to the Reichstag building we made the transition.

Ten minutes later we were in Charlottenburg which before 1989 and reunification was the tourist centre of West Berlin, but it was quickly replaced in its status by the old centre, formally in the east which was restored to its former glory.  Charlottenburg in what was once the British sector retreated into relative obscurity.

Berlin UNESCO

From the railway station we walked for a while through residential streets in one of which is an element of one of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, The modernist housing estates of the Weimer Republic (1919-33) which compared favourably to the communist housing estates of the east.

The difference from Alexanderplatz is enormous because this part of the city was not destroyed in the Soviet bombardment of Berlin and it retains an air of elegance and history and the only Royal Palace that remains in the city.

It was closed today but we walked around the extensive gardens and there was a Christmas market where we gasped at the prices and bought nothing more than a bratwurst sausage before making our way back to the railway station and returning to the east via the Tiergarten and the Brandenburg Gate.

Charlottenburg 01

Travels in Portugal, Estremoz to Evora

Estremoz,_portal

So reluctantly we left Elvas but although disappointed about that we were looking forward to our next destination, the nearby town of Estremoz.

With some difficulty we found our rural accommodation and after settling in we set off into the town to explore.  I find that I am rarely disappointed with places that I choose to visit but almost immediately I knew that this was one of them.

I cannot fully explain it.  Maybe it was because we had really liked Elvas and this didn’t compare, maybe our expectation bar had been raised too high, maybe it was because we turned up in the middle of the siesta, I don’t know exactly what it was but we just didn’t take to Estremoz.  The guide book said that it was a town of dazzling marble but we found it dull and untidy.  Sorry Estremoz.

Estremoz Street

I suppose it didn’t really help that the accommodation that we had booked and came highly recommended didn’t exactly match the reviews.

We spent an hour or so around the town centre without finding anything of special interest so we hastily abandoned the place and made instead to the old town and castle which are high above.

This was an interesting place sure enough, the original town of Moorish Estremoz settled around the castle sited on the highest point around but very much abandoned now as the town and its residents has had the confidence to leave the security of high walls and battlements and spread out in the modern town below.  The people that are left cling on to crumbling houses with sinking roofs with views of the stars, cracked plaster walls and weather scarred timbers. If this place doesn’t soon get some tender loving care and investment then it will sure enough become a ghost town.

The walk to the top took us through neglected streets and gardens, some youths played football and tinkered with motorbike engines.  Litter collected in the corners.  They eyed us with suspicion.  I eyed them with equal suspicion.  I felt uneasy, I didn’t feel comfortable there.  By contrast at the top was a five star Pousada hotel which to me seemed hopelessly out of place. Extravagance amongst poverty just seems incompatible and wrong.  There was a bar/restaurant with a roof top terrace with good views over the marble quarry spoil heaps and we liked it there so being a confessed hypocrite I booked a table for dinner later that evening.

So in the late afternoon we returned to the accommodation that we didn’t really like very much and spent an hour or so around the swimming pool that only someone with a disease death wish would have considered using.  I understand that Lord Byron used to swim the Grand Canal in Venice but I doubt very much that he would have risked this stagnant water. We sat and swatted away the flies, drank some wine and waited for evening and a return to the castle restaurant which turned out to be excellent despite the fact that some people thought it was acceptable to smoke cigarettes in the room and the owners and staff didn’t seem to mind.

Estremoz Sunset

The food was good, Kim had roast lamb Alentejo style and I had black pig pork cheeks. It was quite expensive. We had walked nine miles today.

We slept well but at the breakfast table there was a plague of flies of Biblical proportions which meant that everything was completely inedible including the tea and coffee so we abandoned it as soon as we could, paid up, left and set off or the city of Evora. We didn’t even look in the rear view mirror as we left, we were just glad to leave. Sorry Estremoz.

Just a short ride out of the town we arrived in the small town of Evoramonte with an impressive castle sitting at the very top so we left the main road and drove into the village and took the single track road to the castle. Inside the walls was a small community with a church and a graveyard, more crumbling houses and a few tourist shops.

Evoramonte Castle Walk

The castle is rather unusual, it doesn’t look like a medieval castle at all but more like a German World-War-Two concrete bunker or a modern farm grain silo, very stout and very strong but also very ugly. We paid the entry fee (senior’s rates) and climbed to the top. There were some magnificent views over the plains of Alentejo but today was exceptionally windy and as a gale whistled through the stone battlements it was even quite difficult to retain balance and not get blown away and over the top.

Evoramonte was an interesting short stop over but now we continued our drive to Evora, the capital of the Alentejo region and the largest city in Portugal south of Lisbon, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I had high expectations of Evora as we drove in and found our hotel close to the centre.

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Entrance Tickets – The Castle of Guimarães in Portugal

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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.

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Memorable Places – Škofja Loka in Slovenia

Škofja Loka

There was a lovely blue sky and once again the bus arrived exactly on time and we enjoyed the forty-minute journey through the picturesque countryside and arrived at an untidy little terminus at our destination.

The bus station may not have been very exciting but the little town was quite spectacular.  It is a European cultural heritage site and although there is evidence of fifty years or so of neglect there was a lot of restoration work taking place and when all of this is finished it will once again be a seriously attractive town.

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Yorkshire – Fountains Abbey

I like WordPress, I like the fluidity  and the ebb and flow of friendships and contacts.

I originally posted this in 2014 when I was in a completely different group of blogging pals, following and followers so I repost it here five years later.  If you have seen it before then I apologise.  Skip it and move on.

Fountains Abbey Ripon Yorkshire

This is a fabulous place. From the approach all you can see is the top of a stout tower because the Abbey was built in a deep valley of the River Skell and it is only when the path begins to dramatically drop that it is possible to grasp the immensity and grandeur of the building and to appreciate the serene beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Here I am reliving my days as a churchgoing choirboy…

Benedictine Monk Fountains Abbey Yorkshire

Berlin, Living Behind A Wall

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“Nobody has the intention of building a wall.” GDR head of state Walter Ulbricht, East Berlin, June 15th 1961

For me, for everyone I suppose, some places can have a real impact when we visit them. The Berlin Wall was one such place. History hangs in the air, so thick you can almost touch it, almost feel it, almost smell it. Other places that I have visited that have had similar impact for me are Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland and Clairière de l’Armistice at Compiegne in Northern France.

Today I walked along a section of the wall, I ran my fingers across its harsh, hostile, concrete surface, I read the conflicting messages of anger and hope that it been scrawled across it, I was stunned by just how grotesquely ugly it was, I remembered all of the things that frightened me about the wall when I was a young boy.

Today as tourists we have our picture taken against a souvenir section of the wall, we smiled for the camera, fifty years ago people died trying to get across it and escape to the west, they didn’t smile.  I thought about that as we had this picture taken.

Berlin Wall 04

The Berlin Wall divided the city from 1961 to 1989.  In the German Democratic Republic it was an offence to leave the country without permission. The border guards were duty bound at all time “to arrest or eliminate border violators. The border regime was based on barriers and border guards at regular intervals and above all on the permitted use of firearms. The border guards who successfully stopped escapes were rewarded with a decoration and a bonus.

Berlin Wall 01The Wall explained

This extract is taken from one of the information boards…

Between the construction and removal of the wall, in twenty-eight years approximately forty-thousand East Germans managed to escape to the west. Several hundred were shot dead by border guards or suffered fatal accidents whilst trying to do so.

At least one hundred and forty people died whist trying to cross the Berlin Wall. One hundred and one were either gunned down, had an accident or committed suicide. Thirty one people from both sides of the wall who were simply curious and had no intention of crossing were also shot dead. Two hundred and fifty one died whilst being controlled at the border crossings and untold numbers died from grief and despair as an indirect consequence of the wall and the impact that it had on their lives.

I couldn’t help wondering what I would have done.  I almost certainly wouldn’t have been brave enough to try and escape so I guess that that like thousands of others I would have accepted life under a secretive and brutal totalitarian regime.  Most likely I would have shot my mouth off and found myself in prison.

Perhaps Donald Trump should visit the site and see for himself the dreadful consequences of building a wall to separate people.

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