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More From Budapest

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.

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

It wasn’t all that long ago, certainly within my lifetime, that people were sent to carry out hard labour in salt mines as a punishment. They probably still are. The Soviets especially liked compelling people to go deep underground (usually in Siberia) to mine the precious commodity but today things have changed and we were actually paying for the privilege of dropping down towards the centre of the earth.

Read The Full Story Here…

On This Day – Tallinn Christmas Market

Continuing with my early December theme of Christmas Markets on 7th December 2009 I was in the Estonian capital of Tallinn..

It is claimed (although this is disputed, especially in Northern Germany) that the picturesque Town Hall Square in Tallinn is the site of the world’s first Christmas tree. It was part of a ritual begun in 1441 when unmarried merchants sang and danced with the girls of the town around a tree, which, when they had had enough fun and drink they then burned down.

Read The Full Story Here…

Postcard From France – The Canal du Midi

The idea of creating a waterway as a shortcut between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea had captured the imagination of successive French Kings and governments since Roman times. The regional route overland was slow, uncomfortable and haunted by bandits; the two thousand mile passage by sea took at least a month and was also dangerous as ships negotiating the Spanish coast dodged storms and Barbary pirates to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar.

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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.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

 

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.

Click on an image to view the Gallery…

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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.

Read the Full Story Here…

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

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