Tag Archives: UNESCO

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

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Travels in Spain, Guadix and the Cave Houses

Guadix and Sierra Nevada

Not a great picture – it was on the wall of a bar and the lighting was poor but still better than any picture that I could get of Guadix!

“For almost the first time I felt I was really in Spain, in a country that I had longed my whole life to visit. In the quiet back streets of I seemed to catch a momentary glimpse, a sort of far-off rumour of the Spain that dwells in everyone’s imagination.”  –  George Orwell

It didn’t take long to reach Guadix, it is only a few miles east of Granada and we arrived there about at lunch time and instead of going straight to the city centre we took a detour into a neighbouring village in search of something to eat.

We were in a coach trip tourist sort of place lined with shops selling local earthenware and pottery but being just out of high season there weren’t any tourists there today, the shops were empty and we found a bar/restaurant with outside tables and busy with local people, which is always a good sign, so we selected a spot on the pavement in the sunshine and ordered a small selection of tapas.

The owner must have thought that we looked under-nourished because the food just kept turning up, we thought that we had ordered a light lunch but very soon the table was in danger of collapsing under the weight of rustic tapas and plates of fine food. It was rude not to eat it all but this took us some time and after we had finished our glutinous challenge we settled up and continued on our way.

Guadix Street

Guadix was quiet, almost as quiet as Puerta de Don Fadrique and we needn’t have worried in advance about car parking because the streets were empty, the shops were closed and there was almost no one about.  We found the hotel easily enough, checked in, unpacked only what we needed for an overnight stay and then went back out into the centre.

I liked it, it wasn’t Trujillo in Extremadura or Almagro or Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha, it wasn’t Santillana del Mar in Cantabria but it was authentic and rustic, Spanish and Andalusian and I was glad that we had chosen to spend some time here.

We walked around the centre, along the banks of the crusty dried-up river bed and through some lush public parks but in late afternoon there was never much sign of life.  I looked for a shop to buy some wine but I had forgotten my corkscrew key-ring thingy that I can smuggle through airport security and there were no screw cap bottles anywhere in my price range so I was forced to buy a carton of Don Simon Vino Tinto which is really cheap and tastes just the same.

The product manufacturers make this extraordinary claim…  “Don Simon Vino Tinto Wine offers an expertly and exquisitely manufactured wine with fruity aroma; light fruit flavour, crisp acidity, light body and dry, tart finish. Good for every occasion. Best when served chilled. It looks as good as it tastes.” 

No grape variety information or expert tasting tips and in truth it is the sort of wine that at about 1.50 a litre, if you have got some left over you don’t mind pouring down the sink when you leave if you are not too concerned about environmental damage or taking the risk of destroying the hotel plumbing system.

Don Simon wine in a carton

We sat for a while in the lonely Plaza Mayor which was abandoned and quiet but decided anyway to return later for evening meal.  Two hours after it was transformed, the square was busy and there was fierce competition for tables but we swooped on one and the owner talked us into a Menu Del Dia which, as it turned out was a brilliant bit of salesmanship by him although not a brilliant decision on our part, but we had a hearty meal which filled us up including a truly enormous portion of Tiramasu for sweet for Lindsay which arrived just as she was explaining her planned dieting schedule.

I liked Granada and I liked Guadix, two completely different places which all adds to the richness and diversity of Spain and keeps me wanting to go back again and again.

The following morning we had a good breakfast at the hotel and we cleaned them out almost completely of tomato for the tosta and then we checked out and drove a short distance to the cave houses.

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This is the main reason for visiting Guadix.  It is like Bedrock and the Flintstones.  People still live in caves.

People still live in caves!

Just outside of the City old town there is a community of residents who cling to and persevere with the old ways which includes digging a hole in the limestone cliffs and then setting up home inside.  Not just any old cave however and today the mountain homes have brick façade and all of the modern home conveniences inside.

After a walk to the top of the village to an observation platform and then down again a man asked  us in to his cave home and invited us to look around.  People in Andalusia used to live in cave houses because they are cool in summer and warm in winter and they are cheap to build.  Some people, like those here in Guadix still do!

We spent an hour or so investigating the intriguing village and then we left and set off back east towards Rojales and the Mediterranean coast.

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Entrance Tickets, The Clock Tower in Rhodes

Rhodes Clock Tower

We walked through arches and buttresses, past turrets and balconies and occasionally here and there a little oasis of green amongst the dusty streets and then interesting narrow roads and every one with a surprise around each crooked turn.

In the late afternoon we walked to the top of the town and climbed to the top of the restored clock tower next to Sulliman’s Mosque for some good views of the town and the harbour. There was an entrance charge of €5 but that turned out to be good value because the price included a drink in the roof top bar terrace where we sat and enjoyed the views.

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Rhodes Old Town

Entrance Tickets, Pamukkale and Hierapolis (Turkey)

Turkey Pamukkale

Heirapolis/Pamukkale  is the site of 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 but once separated from the noxious fumes the clear water flows down towards the edge of the mountain where it calcifies and forms startlingly white travertine pools of dazzling white calcium deposits like a fresh fall of snow that you mind find in Archangel, Alaska or Alberta.

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Portugal, Lisbon – Queues, Towers and Views

Lisbon Tram Postcard

The final day in Lisbon was seriously hot.  After breakfast we tidied the studio and then set off rather later than usual for a final day of sightseeing in the city.

First stop was the castle, but the castle is in Alfama district and this is separated from Baixa district by a sort of deep gorge which requires going down a lot of steps on one side and then going up a lot of steps on the other.  We could have used the funicular tram but at €3.20 I considered this a bit expensive for a five hundred yard journey so we walked instead.

Eventually we reached the castle entrance and immediately ran into a line of people queuing to pay and go inside.  After Sintra the previous day neither of us had the patience for another long wait so we abandoned the castle and walked back down the hill to the Cathedral.  It was a shame because the castle guide book boasted the best views in the city.

I don’t remember very much about the Cathedral, it isn’t a very impressive building from the outside and these days I am moving closer to Kim’s views on Cathedrals that pretty much they are all the same on the inside.  I took some photographs as I always do and wondered why because I am certain never to look at them or use them for anything.

Lisbon Cathedral

By midday an electronic sign on a pharmacy shop announced that the temperature was 42° centigrade (about 105° Fahrenheit) and at some point around about now Kim declared that she could stand it no longer and had lost her appetite for sightseeing so demanded some money for the funicular tram and set off back to the studio for a quiet afternoon.  I decided to carry on – Mad dogs and Englishmen and that sort of thing.

Alone now I picked up the pace and made for the Elevador to Santa Justa, a neo Gothic iron structure designed and built by a student of Gustave Eiffel, I would have liked to have taken the lift to the top but there was an inevitable queue and progress looked positively snail like so still not in the mood for queues I abandoned the idea and moved on. It was a shame because the elevator tower guide book boasted the best views in the city.

Lisbon Elevator

Lisbon was so busy and I was taken by surprise by that.  I suppose sensibly September is a good time to visit a city in Southern Europe when ordinarily visitors might expect the temperatures to be a bit kinder.  Not today.

Seeking the shade of the tall buildings I wandered through the streets down towards the River Tagus and found myself unexpectedly back at the Commercial Centre (Praça do Comércio) and came across a ticket office for a climb to the top of the Arco da Rua Augusta which boasted the best views in the city and as surprisingly there was no queue I bought a ticket and went to the top.

I have no idea what the views would have been like from the castle or the elevator but this one was just fine and I spent thirty minutes or so looking out of the city in one direction and the River Tagus in another.  Before going back down I congratulated myself on being patient and waiting for a climb and a view.

ferry

After the Arco da Rua Augusta I made my way to the river and then to the city market and as I generally like stepped inside for a look.  It was a bit disappointing, I am certain that this was once a thriving working class market where ordinary people came to shop but today it has been gentrified and the shops and the food hall are expensive and geared towards the tourists and the city bourgeoisie.

I didn’t stop long and went to the railway station next door and joined another glacial ticket machine queue and waited to pay my fare to visit nearby Belém, it took forever, I could have walked there in the time it took to get to the front of the line but fortunately this didn’t inconvenience me so much and I didn’t miss the next train.

I immediately liked Belém, it was a little more relaxed than Lisbon city centre.  I walked first to the east for a good view of the suspension bridge and then to the west to the UNESCO listed Belém Tower and then to the real reason that I wanted to visit, The Monument to the Discoveries.

Monument to the Discoveries

Located on the edge of the north bank of the Tagus, the fifty metre high slab of concrete, was erected in 1960 to commemorate the five hundredth  anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. The monument 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.

By now it was late afternoon so after a cold beer I took the train back to Lisbon and climbed the steps and streets back to the apartment.  It was surprisingly easy, after four days I had just about mastered the street map and could navigate my way around but it was our last day in Lisbon and tomorrow we were heading north to the small city of Tomar.

Lisbon Street View

European Capital of Culture 2011 – Tallinn

tallinn-unesco-08-08-2013

Before dining however we walked through to the opposite side of town and along the ‘wall of woolens’, so called because here there were more market stalls cut into the arches of the original city wall and then we were tempted to part with thirty Eeks each to climb to the top of the tower for a two hundred metre elevated walk looking down over the rooftops and the narrow medieval streets below.

Back at street level we wandered down the delightful St Catherine’s Passage in between fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings where artisans and craftsmen and women were preserving medieval crafts such as glass blowing, intricate iron work, jewellery and leather work.  At  the end of the passage was a basement restaurant where we stopped for a bowl of soup and a glass of beer and we successfully negotiated the potential crisis moment when Sue and Christine both found something on the menu that they could order with confidence and enjoy.

Tallinn Estonia Old Town

By mid afternoon when we left the subterranean restaurant it was already starting to get dark because thanks to the ‘polar night’ phenomenon, in the Winter, Tallinn, on the same line of latitude as the Shetland Isles, enjoys only a few short hours of daylight. It has late sunrises and early sunsets, which creates incredibly short days and endlessly long nights.  On an overcast day like today the effect was even worse and it is little wonder that Tallinners have been known to have a tendency toward seasonal depression as a result.

We needed some beers and a bottle of wine but we didn’t pass any shops so as it was still early Mike and I walked around the city ring road in search of a mini market.  The route we chose took us towards the railway station and this wasn’t any real surprise because is a railway man by profession and enthusiasm and after about a kilometre or so we were outside the ticket office and an impressive Soviet Steam Engine, the L2317, a 2-10-0 locomotive built in 1953 in Russia at a factory in the Moscow railway suburb city of Kolomna.

The Russian L-series locomotives were one of the more advanced steam locomotives built in the former Soviet Union.   It was a mighty black iron beast with red wheels of almost ninety tonnes that really deserved a name rather than just a number, which during its working life pulled mostly freight trains between Russia and Estonia and after it was decommissioned was rather ignominiously used as a static boiler to heat nearby houses.

It has been externally restored now and sits tall and proud outside the railway station, which was where we went next.

Tallinn Russian Railway Engine Soviet Steam Engine L2317

We were now in the working part of the city and a long way from the Christmas market and the students dressed in medieval costumes and the overpriced restaurants.

The station felt tired and past its best and next to it was a tram station that conjured up dreary images of the old days of the Soviet Empire and what was surprising was that the passengers on board looked grey and tired and firmly locked permanently into a 1960s Tallinn time warp.  The trams whirred and screeched and sounded bells to warn of their approach as they drew up and pulled off, setting down and picking up and clattering away again between the rows of old wooden houses and out towards the proletarian flats of the city suburbs.

Next to the station in an ugly 1970s concrete shopping mall we came across a two-story traditional food market selling fish, meat, vegetables and everything for the working class weekly shop.  Everything that is apart from alcohol so we were about to give up when we came across a small kiosk with cans of Estonian beer in the fridge and a screw cap bottle of blossom hill red wine.  Not exactly traditional but without a corkscrew we were severely limited for choice.

Later we all met up in reception and wrapped up in hats, scarves and thermal gloves walked back into town making our way past the skating rink that we decided to leave until tomorrow, towards the Raekoja Plats where we were surprised to find the market closed.  It was only eight o’clock and I would have thought a Times listed top twenty Christmas market would still be open in the evening.

We dealt with the disappointment as best we could and then began the search for a suitable eating establishment.  We didn’t take too long over this and agreed upon one of the medieval banquet houses, the Peppersack, that was located in an old building not far from the Town Hall Square.  There was a good menu of hearty food and we enjoyed meat skewers and fillets and best of all plenty of Estonian beer and wine to wash it all down.

All we needed now was some snow but sadly there was none as we left the restaurant and walked back to the hotel with the objective of a final nightcap.  There was no hope of that at the Von Stackleberg because the bar was closed so we wandered across the road instead to a modern glitzy hotel that was still open, and our final drink and made our day one assessment of Tallinn, which we agreed we all liked, before calling it a day and agreeing to meet at nine o’clock in the morning for breakfast.

Tallinn Christmas

Tallinn Christmas Market

Tallinn Estonia Old Town

On account of the grey skies we wrapped up in an appropriate way to tackle the bleak weather and set off for the old town and we retraced our steps from the previous night and repeated our visits to the viewing platforms overlooking the Baltic and the islands.

With one of the most completely preserved medieval cities in Europe, the seacoast capital of Tallinn is a rare jewel in the north of Europe and a city fully worthy of being on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

It was once a medieval Hanseatic town and for long periods in history dominated by the Germans, the Swedes and the Russians and even today contains lots of influence from those days but as we walked we could tell that there was a uniqueness to the place, a bit like Riga but at only roughly half the size certainly very different.

Coffee Shop in Tallinn

Tallinn is a city with a long and proud tradition dating back to the medieval times and it was first recorded on a world map in 1154, although the first fortress was built on Toompea in 1050. In 1219, Valdemar II of Denmark conquered the city, but it was soon sold to the Hanseatic League in 1285.

After joining the League Tallinn enjoyed unprecedented prosperity because its position as a port, a link between mainland Europe and Russia, enabled it to grow rapidly in size and wealth and many of the City’s finest buildings were constructed during this period.  This lasted until the sixteenth century when Sweden moved in and claimed the city and during this time of Swedish rule more fortifications were added and the architecture took on the baroque style of the times.

Just like the previous evening we were confused about how to find our way to the centre of the city not least because where we were was an elevated spot with limited access to the streets of the old town.  We wandered about and corrected ourselves a couple of times before finally walking through a medieval entrance to the city and descending steps behind the city walls before finding ourselves finally at the Raekoja Plats, the Town Hall Square.

tallinn-christmas-market

Here, in the middle of the town we had reached our objective because since 2001, from December through to the end of the first week in January, Tallinn hosts a traditional Christmas market.  This is appropriate because (although this is disputed, especially in Northern Germany) the picturesque Town Hall Square is claimed to be the site of the world’s first Christmas tree, which formed part of a ritual begun in 1441, when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the town’s girls around a tree, which, when they had had enough fun and drink they then burned down.  This would be a bit like any town in England on New Year’s Eve if the tree wasn’t taken down in advance during the afternoon.

Today the market is included in the Times newspaper top twenty European Christmas markets and here in the square there were more than fifty wooden huts and stalls where visitors and locals were being tempted by (traditional? well maybe) artisan products from all over Estonia.

Tallinn Christmas Market

Surrounding an enormous Christmas tree hung with lights and decorations, the vendors were selling a variety of original products including woolens, felted wool hats and slippers, buckwheat pillows, wooden bowls, wickerwork, elaborate quilts, ceramic and glassware, homemade candles, wreaths and other decorations.  Traditional Estonian holiday food was also on the menu such as sauerkraut and blood sausages, hot soups, stir-fries and other seasonal treats such as gingerbread, marzipan, various local honeys, cookies and, best of all, hot mulled wine poured from copious wooden barrels.

Christmas Past

We stopped for a drink and paid over the odds in a restaurant on the edge of the square and then left and walked through the market towards the south side of town.  Here there were men and women dressed in medieval costume handing out lucky coins and trying to encourage us to dine in this or that particular restaurant.  Some of us thought there must be a twist involved and fearing an obligation refused to accept the coins but Kim and I took a chance on a con and took ours and it was all completely innocent of course.

Actually it was approaching lunchtime and therefore, because of the nervousness of finding somewhere that Sue and Christine would approve of, a potential crisis time in a new country with unfamiliar cuisine.  Without Micky the anxiety was all mine and weighed heavily because traditional Estonian Cuisine has developed over centuries with Germanic and Scandinavian influences and some of it is not for the faint hearted and certainly wouldn’t suit Sue’s delicate dining preferences.  For someone who turned her nose up at a plain fish salad in Portugal I was certain that she wouldn’t like sült, a sort of jellied meat dish made from pork bones, trotters and heads, or the marinated eel, Baltic sprats, sauerkraut stew or even the Christmas specialty of verivorst or blood sausage.

There was no real need to worry however because although Estonians speak fondly of their traditional food they are no more likely to eat it on a regular basis than in England we are to order pease pudding, jellied eels or brawn and the according to the menu boards displayed outside the pubs and restaurants had a good selection of acceptable offerings.

Christmas market

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Other Market stories:

La Rochelle

Pula, Croatia

Alghero, Sardinia

Palermo, Sicily

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Varvakios Agora, Athens

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