Tag Archives: UNESCO

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

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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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European Capital of Culture 2000 – Krakow

On the second day of our visit to Krakow there were two groups with very different plans.  Micky, Sue and Christine were going to visit Auschwitz but as we had been before Kim and I chose Mike’s Crazy Communist Tour instead.

We had seen this on a Michael Palin travel programme and it looked like fun so we were keen to give it a try.

To be honest, we were all a bit surprised that Christine wanted to go to Auschwitz because when we had visited Seville the previous year she refused to visit a bull ring because animals had been killed there but she didn’t seem to mind visiting a Nazi concentration camp where over a million and a half people were abused, tortured and murdered.

Auschwitz

After an early breakfast the Auschwitz group set off in their taxi and with an hour to spare before our trip we walked around the streets of Kazimierz, through buildings that were little more than empty shells with rapidly deteriorating structures, through the grounds of a grand church and into the main square that used to be even more important than the market square in Krakow itself.

Without a street map we inevitably became confused and ever so slightly lost and only made it back just in time for our scheduled nine-thirty pick up.

The feature of the tour is that the transport is in an original ‘communist’ Trabant car with the promise of a ‘crazy’ driver and sure enough outside our hotel was the vehicle and the driver who presented himself as Eric and who immediately introduced us to the features of the car.

The Trabant (which in medieval German was a foot soldier or personal guard) was an automobile that was produced in former East Germany and was the most common vehicle in that country but was also exported to neighbours inside the communist bloc and sometimes even to the west.

It was called the People’s Car and was so popular and production was so inefficient, that it could take up to fifteen years to deliver after placing the order.  The main selling point was that it had room for four adults and luggage in a compact, light and durable shell, which western critics mocked and suggested was made of cardboard but was in fact a sort of fibreglass/plastic.

There were four principal variants of the Trabant, ours was the 601 Station Wagon model, hand painted in black with socialist red trim and finishes.  Eric explained that the engine was a small 600cc two-stroke power unit with only two cylinders which gave the vehicle a modest performance with a top speed of seventy miles per hour and zero to sixty taking twenty-one seconds at full throttle ( for a rather pointless comparison a modern formula one car will achieve 0 to 60 in under two seconds).

There were two main problems with the engine, the smoky exhaust and the pollution because the car was responsible for producing nine times the amount of hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxide emissions of the average modern European car.

Eric explained that the car had no fuel gauge so even though there was a small reserve tank getting to a destination could be a bit of a guessing game and require a large stroke of luck.  Because there was no fuel pump in the car the petrol tank was placed high up in the engine compartment so that fuel could be fed directly to the carburetor by way of gravity.  As the engine does not have an oil injection system two-stroke oil has to be added to the fuel tank every time it is filled up, which I imagine is a bit of a chore.

This all sounded rather dangerous to me because you have to open the bonnet to refuel and after a run to the petrol station it would be almost certain that the engine will be hot so I imagine it takes a great deal of concentration and Indiana Jones type nerves of steel to visit the filling station!

Nowa Huta Krakow Poland

Keeping a car like this roadworthy probably requires divine intervention but once on board Eric carefully negotiated his way out of Kazimierz and towards the main road that would take us to our destination, the communist model new town of Nowa Huta, to the east of Krakow.

Inside, the car was basic with rudimentary controls and dashboard.  The four speed gear box was operated by a column mounted gear change which looked quite tricky to me but Eric seemed to know his way around the gears well enough and he guided us effortlessly through the early morning traffic.  One of the problems he pointed out was that other drivers didn’t often show a lot of respect to the little Trabant and this sometimes made progress slow and difficult.

I was moderately relaxed even though I knew that if the inefficient drum brakes ever failed and there was an accident that my legs were effectively the crumple zone and just a few centimetres in front of my face was the fragile little petrol tank ready to burst into flames and there was a couple of occasions when I found myself operating an imaginary foot brake and Kim admitted later that even though she was in the back seat that she was doing the same.

It took about twenty minutes to drive to our destination and in between dodging the gaping potholes and keeping an eye out for discourteous fellow road users, in preparation for the tour and over the clatter of the engine and the creaking of the chassis, Eric kept up an informative narrative about the history of communism in Poland.

It was great fun especially as we rattled over tramlines and Eric fought with the steering controls to negotiate some tight bends but eventually we arrived at our destination, left the car and began our visit to Nowa Huta.

http://www.crazyguides.com/

Travels in Spain – UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Don Quixote and Sancho PanzaAlcalá de Henares

My visit to and post about Alcalá de Henares and the forty-four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain (Second highest to Italy at forty-nine) made me stop and think about the comparison with the list that I reviewed recently of the “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” which was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope.

Spain World Heritage Sites…

I have set out the full list of World Heritage Sites below including links to the twenty-two that I have visited.  The sites are spread across the entire Iberian Peninsula but of the Autonomous Communities, Catalonia, at a crossroads of European culture, and Castilla y Leon, the largest by area, have the most with six sites each.  Aragon, Asturias, Basque Country, La Rioja and Murcia have only one each but of all seventeen regions Navarre in the north of the country is the only one that doesn’t have any at all.

In 2005 I went to Barcelona in Catalonia and saw the works of Antoni Gaudi, Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau. Then in 2008 I saw the Historic Centre of Cordoba, the Caves of Altamira in Cantabria, the Old Town and Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella  and the Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville.  In 2009 in the motoring holiday around Castilian cities it was the Old Town of Segovia and its Roman Aqueduct, the Walled Town of Cuenca, the Historic City of  Toledo and the Old Town of Ávila.  This trip in 2011 added CáceresMérida and Aranjuez.

In 2011 on a driving holiday in Catilla y Leon I added Salamanca and Burgos and earlier this year the Alhambra Palace in Granada.

   

Even before I knew anything about World Heritage Sites it turns out that I have visited two more in the days of my beach type holidays.  Although, to be absolutely fair, when I went to these places neither of them were yet on the list.

In 1988 I holidayed on the island of Ibiza which was accepted onto the list in 1999 in recognition of its biodiversity and culture and the following year I went to Tenerife and took a cable car ride to the top of Mount Tiede, a national park that was accepted to the list in 2007.

Even though they weren’t World Heritage Sites at the time I visited them I am still going to count them but the final one might be a bit dubious – but anyway here goes.  In 2008 while visiting Santiago de Compostella I managed to drive over parts of the Pilgrim Route, which exists on the list separately from the old city itself.

As well as the indignity of having no World Heritage sites poor old Navarre doesn’t have a coastline, no international airport or a direct link to the Spanish high speed rail infrastructure.  Maybe the city of Pamplona needs to start working on a bid to UNESCO for the next round of qualifying.

Pamplona Bull Run Angry Bull Charging

The full list of World Heritage Sites in Spain is…
Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada (1984)
Aranjuez Cultural Landscape (2001)
Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida (1993)
Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco (2000)
Archaeological Site of Atapuerca (2000)
Burgos Cathedral (1984)
Cantabrian Cave of Altamira
Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí (2000)
Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias, Seville (1987)
Cultural Landscape of the Serra de Tramuntana (2011)
Doñana National Park (1994)
El Escorial Monastery and Site of the Escurial, (1984)
Garajonay National Park (1986)
Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija (2012)
Historic Centre of Cordoba (1984)
Historic City of Toledo (1986)
Historic Walled Town of Cuenca (1996)
Ibiza, Biodiversity and Culture (1999)
La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia (1996)
Las Médulas (1997)
Monuments of Oviedo and Kingdom of the Asturias (1985)
Mudejar Architecture of Aragon (1986)
Old City of Salamanca (1988)
Old Town of Ávila with its Extra-Muros Churches (1985)
Old Town of Cáceres (1986)
Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct (1985)
Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona (1997)
Palmeral of Elche (2000)
Poblet Monastery (1991)
Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley and Siega Verde (1998)
Pyrénées – Mont Perdu (1997)
Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza (2003)
Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin on the Iberian Peninsula (1998)
Roman Walls of Lugo (2000)
Route of Santiago de Compostela (1993)
Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe (1993)
San Cristóbal de La Laguna (1999)
San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries (1997)
Santiago de Compostela (Old Town) (1985)
Teide National Park (2007)
Tower of Hercules (2009)
University and Historic Precinct of Alcalá de Henares (1998)
Vizcaya Bridge (2006)
Works of Antoni Gaudí (1984)
Like UNESCO, the “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain“…

didn’t include any entries from Navarre but had the most (three) from Andalusia.  Interestingly it only included four World Heritage Sites in its list, Cordoba, Seville, Altamira Caves and Santiago de Compostela.

In response to the official list of winners I produced my own alternative list, six of which shared a place on the UNESCO list, Salamanca, Avila, Cuenca, Aranjuez, El Escorial and the works of Antoni Gaudi but also like UNESCO and the Spanish TV viewers I didn’t include anywhere in Navarre.

Can I interest anyone else in compiling a list?

spain-world-heritage-cities-map

Travels in Spain – Andalucía

Andalusia Postcard

“History lies underground.  On the surface is the bustling life of Spain with its smell, noise, burning sun, decay, street life, mountain shrines, fiestas, markets, dark wine, acrid dust… hard mountains, rushing ravines, hopefulness and resignation, openness, tragedy and song”  –  Christopher Howse,  ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try to help me to understand something  the country that I was visiting.

With an area of just over five hundred thousand square kilometres Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe after France and with an average altitude of six hundred and fifty metres it is second highest country in Europe after Switzerland.

Spain is also a country of different people and the description ‘Spaniard’ it seems is just a convenient way of bundling them all together.  Richard Ford was a nineteenth century English traveller  and in his ‘Handbook for Travellers in Spain’, published in 1845 acknowledged now as one of the very first travel guides, was one of the first to identify that  ‘Spain is a bundle of local units tied together by a rope of sand’,  and oh, what a wonderful strap-line that is.

Gerald Brenan in ‘The Spanish Labyrinth’ similarly observed ‘In what we may call its normal condition Spain is a collection of small, mutually hostile or indifferent republics held together in a loose federation’.

Spain Iconic Image Bull

Spain consists of a number of autonomous communities established in accordance to the second article of the Spanish Constitution which recognises the rights of regions and nationalities to self-government whilst also acknowledging the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation’.

Currently, Spain comprises seventeen autonomous communities and two autonomous cities, both of which are on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa.  As a highly decentralised state Spain has possibly the most modern political and territorial arrangements in Western European.   Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia are designated historic nationalities and Andalusia, although not a nationality, also has preferential status, the remaining are regional Provinces without nationality.

Spain is placed twenty-sixth in the Human Development Index which means that it is categorised as having high human development in an index that ranks countries by data composed from life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.  It is twenty-first in the OECD Better Life Index and sixty-second in the Happy Planet Index which is twenty-one places behind the United Kingdom, fourteen ahead of Australia and three ahead of Canada and way in front of the United States which is as low down as one hundred and fifth. Donald Trump will no doubt sort that out!

Andalusia Postcard 2

Spain has forty-seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Second highest to Italy at forty-nine) but the chances of visiting more than one or two in a single visit is very remote because they are spread evenly right across the country.  Prior to this trip I had visited twenty-two (follow this link for the full list) and this time I was going to add the Alhambra at Granada.

Spain is one of only two countries (the other is Morocco) with both a Mediterranean and an Atlantic coast-line and has more Blue Flag Beaches than any other participating country with four hundred and ninety-nine along almost five thousand kilometres of coast. the United Kingdom by comparison, has only one hundred and forty-four in nearly twelve thousand five hundred kilometres.  Greece has the second most blue flags at four hundred and thirty and the most in the Mediterranean Sea and France is third with two hundred and thirty-eight.

On this visit we planned to visit some of the beaches on the famous Costa del Sol.

The Blue Flag beach award was originally conceived in France in 1985 where the first coastal municipalities were awarded the Blue Flag on the basis of criteria covering standards relating to sewage treatment and bathing water quality.   Two years later, 1987 was the ‘European Year of the Environment’ and the concept of the Blue Flag was developed as a European initiative by the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe to include other areas of environmental management, such as waste disposal and coastal planning and protection and in that first year two hundred and forty-four beaches from ten countries were awarded the new Blue Flag status.

Spain has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest fifty-five times since making its debut in 1961, where they finished ninth. Since 1999, Spain is one of the ‘Big Five’, along with France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, who are automatically allowed to participate in the final because they are the five biggest financial contributors to the European Broadcasting Union. It has won the contest twice, first in 1968 with the unimaginatively titled song “La, la, la” and again in 1969, when “Vivo Cantando” was involved in a four-way tie.  The country finished last with “Nul points” in 1962, 1965 and 1983, and then finished last for a fourth time in 1999.

We like to visit Spain at least once a year but somehow managed to miss a trip in 2015 so after a two-year wait we were happy to be going back, this time to Andalucía in the far south, the second largest and most populous of all of the Regions.

Andalucia Post Card

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gathering

Mont St Michel and Sheep

The very rural Auberge where we were staying was situated on a minor road next to a farm and in the morning we discovered why there was so much lamb on the menu as several hundred sheep were escorted past the hotel and across the road for a day of feeding on the sea grass.

Read the Full Story…

Auberge de Bain Mont St Michel