Have Bag, Will Travel
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Tag Archives: Venice
The Costa Blanca is a stretch of coastline in the south east of Spain which is famous for attracting millions of visitors every year from Northern Europe.
The Spanish don’t mind that most of these visitors go to resorts like Benidorm or Torrevieja because there are others that they seem to keep exclusively for themselves.
One of these is Villajoyosa in between Benidorm and Alicante and after we had left the holiday hot-spot of Benidorm, all glass and steel and gleaming in the sunshine like a giant pin-cushion, we quickly passed from turismo to tradicional and called in on its nearby neighbour, just twelve miles or so away to the south from the Bling of Benidorm for a quiet afternoon stroll.
Villajoyosa is a wonderful place, an ex-fishing town, now a Spanish holiday resort of coloured houses with twisted rusting balconies, rattan blinds and decorated with washing lines and pot plants looking longingly out to sea and which reminded me of Burano in Venice, Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera and of Milos in the Greek Islands.
Gaily coloured houses that rub shoulders with each other and jostle for colour bragging rights that can be seen from way out at sea and which carefully guide fishermen home after a night working at sea, or so the story goes.
After finding a parking spot we walked along the side of Rio Amadorio, the water barely a trickle today, robbed on its way down from the mountains for irrigation, then through the narrow streets of pastel coloured houses decorated with pots of shrubs and Mediterranean flowers and on to the sweeping beach arching like a Saracen’s sword and a long walk along a fine promenade flanked on one side by the houses and the other by the crisp sandy shore.
It was a delightful place, close to Benidorm but a million miles away. The combination of quaint old buildings with multi-coloured facades crowded into a labyrinth of narrow streets, a lively fish market selling off the daily catch and its pretty location on the mouth of a river by a sweeping caramel beach were all enough to further convince me that the east coast of Spain has a lot more to offer than I had ever previously realised.
The name Villajoyosa means city of joy and I can understand why – it is impossible not to feel happy here!
I realised that this was the Spain I am always hoping to find but don’t dare count on. Old men sat in the street playing drinking wine, women hanging out their washing on their balconies and keeping an eye on the menfolk below, children and dogs played in the squares and cats wandered aimlessly around. I have been searching for real Spain in Castile and Andalucia and Extremadura and I found a slice of it here in Valencia which was most unexpected.
A bright yellow house leaned against a blue house with a bright green neighbour, across the street was a a red house and made the colour palette complete. A stroll through Villajoyosa old town in the sunshine certainly requires sunglasses.
Anyone care to take a guess what this is all about…
And just how do they manage to paint these houses?
‘… In a few short years, the heart of Paris has been made ugly, robbing Parisians of quality of life and the ability to safely enjoy their own public spaces along the Seine…. The time has come to enact a ban on ‘love locks’ in order to return our bridges to their original beauty and purpose.’ – Petition Against Love Locks, Paris.
At customer feedback I rated the Best Western as excellent and awarded high marks for everything but it is has to be said that it is not a hotel for sleeping in late into the morning. The room faced east and was adjacent to a very busy road so the combination of bright sunshine leaking in around the curtains and trams regularly clattering past meant for an early breakfast.
Leaving the hotel we walked towards the River Oder and the handful of islands that sit in a wide stretch of the river and which are connected by several bridges which immediately entitles it to the tag of the ‘Venice of the North’. This isn’t a title that it holds uniquely of course because this has also been applied to Amsterdam, Bruges, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester, Edinburgh and even Birmingham amongst others.
Actually, I have to say that here in Wroclaw this description is stretching it to its absolute limit but it was pleasant enough criss-crossing the river on the bridges and strolling across the islands one by one towards our objective of Ostrow Tumski, the Cathedral Island, which actually isn’t an island any more since part of the river was filled in two hundred years ago.
To get there we had to cross the Tumski Bridge which has now become known as Lovers Bridge on account of that awful modern obsession with attaching padlock graffiti to any available railing which seems to have become an irritating epidemic all across Europe. This is a lover’s plague whereby signing and locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river they become eternally bonded.
This tradition might sound all rather romantic and lovely but apparently all of these love tokens do lots of damage to the bridges because as they age and rust this spreads to the ironwork and thousands of padlocks need to be removed every year from bridges across Europe. In Venice there is a €3,000 penalty and up to a year in prison for those caught doing it and that is a much, much higher price than I would be prepared to pay for eternal bondage!
This is what Tumski Bridge used to look like before mindless love lock vandals began to consider it acceptable to add metal graffiti…
This is what it looks like today…
I know which way I prefer it, I’ll let you decide for yourselves.
To anyone who thinks this is mean-spirited please bear in mind that in June 2014 the ‘Pond des Arts’ in Paris across the River Seine collapsed under the weight of these padlock monstrosities and had to be temporarily closed. They are not just unsightly – they are dangerous!
Cathedral Island is the original site of the first permanent settlement in Wroclaw, sometime in the ninth century and shortly after it became established and became a bishopric work began to build a Cathedral. Named after John the Baptist, Patron Saint of Wroclaw, the current incarnation of the cathedral started life in 1241 although it has had a great deal of restoration work since then because just like every European church it has suffered a mandatory burning down or two and the odd bomb over the years including the destruction of the twin towers in 1945.
There is a lift to a viewing platform up to the top of one of the towers and so we took the ride and enjoyed the views over the city and the surrounding countryside and after a couple of circuits or so of the spire we took the first available lift back to the ground where the temperature was more agreeable.
And so we left the islands and returned to the old town where we walked for a while along the south bank of the river. Here we passed by two museums, the especially impressive National Museum built in the style of a German sixteenth century palace and over the road the Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice.
This is a concrete rotunda with just one exhibit, a 114 metre long by 15 metre high painting of the battle of 1794 when a Polish army defeated a superior Russian force in a struggle for independence. This makes it the second largest panorama painting in the World just slightly shorter by six metres than the Arrival of the Hungarians in Ópusztaszer in Hungary and just ahead by 5 metres longer than the Gettysburg Cyclorama in Gettysburg, USA.
After the museums we went to the indoor market but it wasn’t as vibrant as some that we have been to and compared badly for example against Riga and Budapest and it seemed tired, run down and unexciting. The guide book pointed out the importance of the roof as one of the best examples of early halls made of concrete in Europe and if you like concrete then I am prepared to concede that it was rather impressive. Personally, I am not a huge fan of the grey stuff!
We had been walking for over two hours and I was beginning to detect that the needle on Kim’s whinge meter was beginning to twitch so the priority now was to find somewhere for a coffee break so we walked back in the direction of Market Square and found a modern café where we stopped for a while for some of the group to top up sugar levels with cake in preparation for more walking in the afternoon.
“…nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.” – Mark Twain
People have always travelled to other parts of the world to see great buildings and works of art, to learn new languages, to experience new cultures and to enjoy different food and drink…
…In 2008 I flew to Athens and in the departure lounge queue behind us was a couple of girls and one announced to the other that ‘I only go on holiday for three things, to get drunk, get stoned and get laid’, I had to see who this person was and when I turned round she turned out to be so unattractive that I was tempted to say ‘Don’t build your hopes up, if I were you I would concentrate on the first two!’ but she was bigger than me so I said nothing of course!
In 1936 the League of Nations defined a foreign tourist as someone travelling abroad for at least twenty-four hours and its successor, the United Nations amended this definition in 1945 by including a maximum stay of six months. In early 2010 the European Commissioner, Antonio Tajani, unveiled a plan declaring tourism a human right and introduced it with the statement that “travelling for tourism today is a right. The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life.”
Young English elites of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Rahs really) often spent two to four years travelling around Europe in an effort to broaden their horizons and learn about language, architecture, geography and culture in an experience known as the Grand Tour.
In fact the word tourist has its origins in what used to be more correctly called the Grand Tour of Europe, which was a term first used by Richard Lassels in his 1670 book ‘Voyage or a Complete Journey through Italy’ and after that it came into general usage to describe the travels in Europe of wealthy young men and women in the years of the Enlightenment where it was quite normal to take a gap year (or four) in the quest for a broader education.
Lassels was a Roman Catholic priest and a tutor to several of the English nobility and travelled through Italy five times. In his book, he claims that any truly serious student of architecture, antiquity, and the arts must travel through France and Italy, and suggested that all “young lords” make the Grand Tour in order to understand the political, social, and economic realities of the world.
The primary purpose of the Grand Tour lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance and an an introduction to the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of the European continent. In addition, before museum collections went on tour themselves, it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music and it was commonly undertaken in the company of a Cicerone, a knowledgeable guide or tutor. The Grand Tour had more than superficial cultural importance as the historian E.P. Thompson observed, “ruling-class control in the 18th century was located primarily in a cultural hegemony, and only secondarily in an expression of economic or physical (military) power.”
While the general objective of the Grand Tour was essentially educational (and this probably what mum and dad thought that they were forking out for) they were also notorious for more frivolous pursuits such as getting hammered, partying heavily and sleeping with as many continental lovelies as possible and so began a tradition that thousands of holiday Brits continue to this day in the party hot-spots of Europe.
When young men on the Grand Tour weren’t misbehaving like people on a stag weekend to Amsterdam they were mostly interested in visiting those cities that were considered the major centres of culture at the time, primarily Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence and Naples.
The Grand Tourist would travel from city to city and usually spend some time in smaller towns and up to several months in the three main cities on the itinerary. Paris was considered the grandest and most cultured city and was usually first en-route and tourists would rent apartments for several weeks at a time and would make occasional visits to the countryside and adjacent towns.
From Paris, they travelled south either across the Alps or by a ship on the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and then they would pass on to Rome or Venice. To begin with Rome was initially the southernmost point they would travel to but when excavations began at Herculaneum and Pompeii in 1738 the two sites also became additional major destinations on the Grand Tour.
Other locations sometimes included as part of some Grand Tour included Spain and Portugal, Germany, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Baltic States. However, these other spots lacked the cultural and historical appeal of Paris and Italy and the substandard roads made travel much more difficult so they were not always the most popular.
Some of them didn’t have vineyards either so I suppose that might have reduced their appeal somewhat.
The British it seems have always been rather keen on travelling abroad and we have left our mark all over Europe (and not just through football violence either) in Nice one of the first and most established holiday resorts on the French Riviera, the long esplanade along the seafront is known to this day as the Promenade des Anglais and in many other historic resorts in continental Europe, old well-established palace hotels have names like the Hotel Bristol, the Hotel Carlton or the Hotel Majestic, reflecting the predominance of English customers.
In fact there are nearly three hundred hotels around the world called Bristol. They take their name from Frederick Augustus Hervey (1730-1803), the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, who spent most of his life travelling around Europe enjoying the best hospitality money could buy. What a good life that would have been, to be sure!
This sort of thing really appeals to me; both the exploration and knowledge and having a really good knees up at the same time and I have become determined to travel as much in Europe as I possibly can. There are forty-six countries in Europe and I have only so far been to twenty-nine so I am just over half way towards my objective of visiting them all.
Ryanair was Europe’s original low fares airline and is my favourite which is lucky for me because the airline has over eleven hundred low fare routes to one hundred and sixty-one destinations in Europe and North Africa. In the last three years I have flown thirty times at a very reasonable average cost of £40 return all inclusive.
Not all of these flights were with Ryanair of course and I have been forced to use others but I generally find that these work out more expensive. A return flight to Athens with Easyjet for example costs £120 and my biggest bargain so far was with Ryanair to Santander in Cantabria, Spain at just £10.02 return. To put things into some sort of perspective it costs over £80 to go to London on the train from Peterborough with National Express and for that you are not even guaranteed a seat. That is about .90p a mile and on that basis it would cost approximately £1,800 to go to Santander and back by train!
In 2015 the most visited country in Europe was France, followed by Spain, Italy, United Kingdom and Germany. Spain made the most money out or tourist revenues and on average the Germans spent most while away from home. The most visited city was London (although as usual France disputes the official figures) and the most visited place was Trafalgar Square, followed by the Eiffel Tower and then the Vatican.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation, which has its headquarters in Madrid, produces the World Tourism Rankings and is a United Nations agency dealing with questions relating to tourism. For the record I visited Trafalgar Square in 2008, the Eiffel Tower in 2005 and the Vatican in 2003.
Santorini Island, Greece
Ring of Kerry, Ireland
“The Venetian gondola is as free and graceful, in its gliding movement, as a serpent. It is twenty or thirty feet long and is narrow and deep like a canoe; its sharp bow and stern sweep upward from the water like the horns of a crescent…. The bow is ornamented with a battle axe attachment that threatens to cut passing boats in two.” – Mark Twain – ‘The Innocents Abroad’