Tag Archives: World Heritage Site

A Picture Tour of Corfu Town

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Entrance Tickets – The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Entrance Ticket - Leaning Tower of Pisa

There are two hundred and ninety four steps up a spiral staircase that take visitors up and which due to the absence of windows, and therefore orientation, is reminiscent of a fairground wacky house attraction, especially when although you know that you were ascending sometimes according to the extreme angle of the tilt of the building it feels as though you were going down at the same time, which, believe me, is a very unusual experience.

Mark Twain described it like this: “The winding staircase within is dark, but one always knows which side of the tower he is on because of his naturally gravitating from one side to the other of the staircase with the rise or dip of the tower. Some of the stone steps are foot-worn only on one end; others only on the other end; others only in the middle.”

Read the full story…

Cornwall, St Michael’s Mount

St Michaels Mount 01

“In 1067, the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to Duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England. This he rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the south-western coast of Cornwall which was modelled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael’s Mount of Penzance.” – Wikipedia

Everyone knows that driving in Cornwall can be a tedious and frustrating affair.  I knew it but didn’t expect it so early in the year as the month of April (even though it was school Easter holiday week).

Today we were driving thirty miles west to the village of Marazion and St. Michaels Mount.  A simple enough matter anyone might think.  Entrance to the castle is restricted by the tide because visitors have to walk across a causeway that becomes submerged twice a day so timing is somewhat critical.  I studied the tide tables and set a departure time which would give us plenty of time to get there for the opening of the causeway and a couple of hours wandering about at the site.

First of all we drove to the town of St Austell which is not a very appealing place I have to say.  It was once the centre of the entire World china clay production and most people will have an item of porcelain in their homes which came from this area but the quarries are all closed down now.  It is estimated that there are fifty years of clay reserves left in the ground but the owners find it more economical to concentrate on operations in Brazil.

Away from the dramatic coast line Cornwall is not an attractive place.  Pause for sharp intake of breath from readers.  Concrete not stone, render not brick.  The rural landscape is rather dull and the towns are depressing, grey and ugly.  Places look better in the sunshine of course but in Cornwall the sun has to try a lot harder than some other places.  I am reminded of the joke, “There was an earthquake in Cornwall last night, it did a million pounds worth of improvements to Cambourne”.  St Austell is surrounded by white peaks of spoil from the quarries but even the optimistic description of the Cornish Alps cannot really hope to make them any more appealing.

Cornish Alps St Austell

North of St Austell we finally reached the A30 and I foolishly looked forward to straight forward effortless motoring for the final twenty miles.  How wrong I was.  The A30 must be one of the worst roads in England.  You cruise along nicely for a couple of miles on a dual carriageway and then every five miles or so the traffic grinds to a standstill at a roundabout and then everyone creeps forwards at increments of about two feet every ten minutes.

The traffic was frequently at a standstill and according to my calculations the tide was coming in at St Michaels Mount and I could feel my normal calm demeanour rapidly evaporating.  I cursed myself for not allowing more time for the journey.

We finally arrived at Marazion and being late for the tide and the foot crossing it was so busy that we had to use an overflow car park which involved an additional fifteen minute hike to the causeway and then inevitably everyone wanted to go to the toilets which added another ten minutes or so and my frustration entered the red zone as I could see our tidal window of opportunity quickly ebbing away.

St Michaels Mount 04

Eventually we made the windswept crossing to the castle but we only had a couple of hours now before we would have to return or be cut off by the tide and have to stay there for eight hours or so.

I was keen to see St Michael’s Mount because a couple of years ago I had visited its counterpart in France.  Mont St Michel is a lot bigger and although a magnificent spectacle is disappointingly commercialised so I didn’t know quite what to expect.  It turned out to be quite different without the tacky tourist shops and cheap food outlets which have spoilt the French island castle but really I wouldn’t expect that sort of thing from the National Trust.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Mont St Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site St Michael’s Mount is not.  How unfair.

It is one of the iconic landmarks of Cornwall and today it was rather too busy for my liking with thousands of people swarming across the causeway and then making their way to the very top of the rock and visiting the interior.  Inside was hot and cramped so we turned back after the first room and skipped the visit preferring instead to sit outside on the rocks and wait while the family completed the tortuous route through the castle.

From the top we could see the tide beginning to advance so it was time to make our way down and cross back to the mainland before the causeway would be completely submerged.

Despite the crowds this is a place well worth a visit and I enjoyed our short time on the rock with its attractive harbour, medieval cobbles and stone built houses where real people still live.  As it happened there was no real need to rush off because there was a ferry boat service that would have taken us back for only a small charge.

St Michaels Mount 03

Just by way of comparison this is Mont St Michel in Brittany in France…

Mont St Michel France

Portugal, Travel Plans, Research and Arrival

Portugal Postcard Map

We generally take our main annual holiday in September. Sometimes we go to the sea, usually the Greek Islands which are our favourites and sometimes we travel.  This year we decided to travel and we chose to go to Portugal.

There are organised guided tours available for this sort of thing but we prefer to make our own arrangements and not be restricted by a holiday company schedule and inevitable stops at shopping centres and outlet factories that suit the Company but not the Traveller.

We had decided to use the Portuguese railways so we plotted an itinerary that started in the capital Lisbon and then worked north through the town of Tomar, the city of Coimbra, the seaside at Ovar (Furadouro) and then finished in the second largest city in the country at Porto, a couple more days by the coast at Vila do Conde, visits to the cities of Guimarães and Braga and then back home.

Portugal Tiles Ajulejos

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

I started as usual with the Human Development Index which ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed amongst other criteria from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income. Portugal is ranked forty-first which is quite low, especially for Europe but it is improving and is up two places from the previous year.

Although it is in Western Europe (in fact it is the most western mainland European country) Portugal did not begin to catch up with its neighbours until 1968 after the death of the dictator António Salazar, the Left Wing Carnation Revolution of 1972 and eventual entry into the European Community in 1986.

Egg Custard Portuga

Unhappily, the European economic crisis has had a negative effect on Portugal’s position in the Europe Happiness Index and it is rated at only fifteenth out of thirty which is one place behind the United Kingdom.  Finland is the happiest and Albania (no real surprise) the least jolly.

The Country has fifteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites and our travel itinerary was going to take us to six – The Tower of Belém in Lisbon, built to commemorate the expeditions of Vasco da Gama, the National Palace of Sintra, the Convent of the Knights Templar of Tomar, the University of Coimbra, The Historic town of Guimarães and The Historic Centre of Porto.

Portugal is famous for its Atlantic beaches which stretch for one thousand, one hundred and fifteen miles and along this coastline are three hundred Blue Flag Beaches which is the fifth highest amongst all participating countries but looking at the statistics in a different way they get even better and dividing length of coastline by number of beaches, Portugal is way out in front and storms into first place with one proud blue flag flapping away every three and three-quarter miles or so.

When it comes to wine,  screw caps have all but completely replaced the cork. Interestingly 35% of the World’s cork forests and 50% of World supply comes from Portugal so there for the time being the cork stopper still reigns supreme.

Furaduero Beach Portugal

My next measure is always the Eurovision Song Contest and Portugal has participated in the annual contest forty-nine times since its debut in the 1964.  Up until recently the country held the unfortunate record for the most appearances in the contest without a win but they put that right in 2017 when they won in Kiev with Salvador Sobral’s entry, “Amar Pelos Dois”.

In my research I have discovered some more impressive statistics: Portugal is ranked third in the Global Peace Index, just behind Iceland and New Zealand.  The index gauges global peace using three measures – the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic and international conflict and the degree of militarisation. Portugal for example was one of only a few European countries that escaped involvement in the Second-World-War, the others were Spain, Switzerland (only in theory of course because they did a lot of Nazi banking and gold trading), Sweden and The Republic of Ireland.

On the subject or war and peace, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance (Aliança Inglesa) ratified at the Treaty of Windsor in 1386, between England and Portugal, is the oldest alliance in the world that is still in force – with an even earlier treaty dating back to the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373.  England (UK) and Portugal have never been on opposite sides in any military conflict which is a very impressive statistic when you consider that in that time England (UK) has at one time or another been at war at some time or another with almost every other European country.

Lisbon Tram Postcard

We arrived at Lisbon Airport early in the afternoon and took the metro into the city centre. A rather odd journey as it turned out because the automated on board information system curiously announced arrival at the stations one after the one we were stopping at next so we had to be careful not to get off one stop too early.  Anyway we negotiated the journey and then after a bit of map confusion which we sorted out over a beer at a pavement café walked the final half a mile to our accommodation.

We had selected a studio apartment for our four nights in Lisbon and it turned out to be most satisfactory. The Travel and Tales rooms were situated in a domestic block of apartments so we were going to spend our time in Lisbon rubbing shoulders with real locals and we were happy about that.

We were allocated the Fernando Pessoa apartment who according to Wikipedia turns out to be… “a Portuguese poet, writer, literary critic, translator, publisher and philosopher, described as one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest poets in the Portuguese language”.

I apologise immediately for my ignorance in this matter but I have to confess that I had never before heard of him.

Fernando Pesa Poet Travel and Tales

Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge – A Royal Palace in Spain

The Royal Palace of Aranjuez, Spain

On our way to Toledo a couple of days before the town of Aranjuez looked as though it might be worth a visit and as it was more or less on the way back to Madrid we decided to go there and see the Royal Palace.  We returned to the hotel and picked up the car and our bags and after negotiating our way out of the town made the thirty-minute drive to the World Heritage Site town.

Read the Full Story…

Entrance Tickets – The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Entrance Ticket - Leaning Tower of Pisa

There are two hundred and ninety four steps up a spiral staircase that take visitors up and which due to the absence of windows, and therefore orientation, is reminiscent of a fairground wacky house attraction, especially when although you know that you were ascending sometimes according to the extreme angle of the tilt of the building it feels as though you were going down at the same time, which, believe me, is a very unusual experience.

Mark Twain described it like this: “The winding staircase within is dark, but one always knows which side of the tower he is on because of his naturally gravitating from one side to the other of the staircase with the rise or dip of the tower. Some of the stone steps are foot-worn only on one end; others only on the other end; others only in the middle.”

Read the full story…

leaning-tower-of-pisa

Weekly Photo Challenge: UP

The Leaning Tower of Pisa:

We were glad of that and purchased a ticket for the trip to the top.  There are two hundred and ninety four steps up a spiral staircase that take visitors up and which due to the absence of windows, and therefore orientation, is reminiscent of a fairground wacky house attraction, especially when although you know that you were ascending sometimes according to the extreme angle of the tilt of the building it feels as though you were going down at the same time, which, believe me, is a very weird experience.

Read the full story…

Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Salamanca

The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited and having completed that I thought I might come up with a personal alternative twelve.

The official winning twelve included five Cathedrals, but I have only one – at number eleven – Salamanca.

Salamanca is one of the most magnificent Renaissance cities in all of Europe.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and a European City of Culture in 2002.  Sandstone coloured buildings overwhelmingly fill the city, earning Salamanca the name of La Ciudad Dorada (The Golden City).

We arrived  just after midday, easily slipped into an underground car park and made our way into the city.  On every visit to Spain I seem to be visiting a new World Heritage Site so when I counted them up I was interested to discover that I have now been to sixteen and that is over a third of them.

In 2005 I visited Barcelona in Catalonia and saw the works of Antoni Gaudi and Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau. Then in 2008 I saw the Historic Centre of Córdoba,  the  Caves of Altamira in Cantabria, the Old Town of Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville.  In 2009 in the motoring holiday around Castilian cities I visited the Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct, the Historic Walled Town of Cuenca, the Historic City of Toledo and the Old Town of Ávila.

It was still misty even though the sun was struggling to break through as we walked through cobbled streets and buildings of rich caramel coloured Villamayor stone and directly to the centre of the city.  Then around the busy  University buildings and visited the public library and after that the centre of the city and the inevitable Plaza Mayor where because it was too chilly to sit at a pavement café groups of men were wandering around deep in conversation discussing the important matters of the day.

Elderly men are a way of life in Spain because just as Gerald Brenan explained in ‘South from Granada’ “…almost every Spanish peasant becomes wise when he passes fifty.”

It was a good Plaza, but despite being the second largest in Spain after Madrid with vast  harmonious arcaded space designed by Alberto Churriguera in the eighteenth century we did not consider it one of our favourites, but still worth a visit and when we had finished admiring it we left through a stone arch and looked for a bar and somewhere for lunch and we found what we were looking for just outside the square so stopped for tapas and a beer.

It was easy to conclude that there is something special about Salamanca almost as though in every street, with every building and in every Church and Palace that this represents the real Spain that we have been searching for and this may well be because it has the oldest University in Spain which rivals in historic importance that of Oxford and Bologna and houses one of the oldest libraries in the World and is considered to be the source of the ‘pure‘ Spanish language and associated culture of Old Castile.

As we ate an optimistic old lady passed by selling sprigs of rosemary and I didn’t know why until later when I looked it up.  Rosemary, apparently, is widely thought to be a powerful guardian and to give power to women and therefore it is used by many people to ward off evil in the home and bring good luck in family matters. If I had known this at the time I might have bought some to see if it might improve the weather because the mist wasn’t shifting when we left and went to visit the cathedral.

I should say cathedrals because Salamanca has two, an old one and a new one that are joined together into one massive structure.  We paid €3.50 each for tickets to visit and then commenced a tour of the towers and the balconies that involved an awful lot of spiral staircases and a labyrinth of stone corridors took us from one to the other.  It was a spectacular building and well worth the money but it was a pity about the weather because the drab overcast sky and persistent patches of mist spoilt what would certainly have been spectacular views from the top.

Salamanca Roman Bridge and Cathedrals

After the visit we returned to the streets and walked to the 1st Century Roman Bridge across the River Tormes, which was flowing west towards the Embalse de Almendra that we had visited yesterday and then with no real prospect of weather improvement we abandoned Salamanca to the mist and returned to the car and set out for Vallodolid.

My Personal A to Z of Spain, U is for UNESCO

In 1954, the government of Egypt announced that it was to build the Aswan Dam, a project that proposed to flood a valley containing priceless treasures of ancient civilizations. Despite opposition from Egypt and Sudan, UNESCO launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign, over fifty countries contributed and the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were taken apart, moved to a higher location, and put back together piece by piece.

Building on this international success the United States then came up with the idea of combining cultural conservation with nature conservation and a White House conference in 1965 called for a World Heritage Trust to preserve ‘the world’s superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature developed similar proposals in 1968 and they were presented in 1972 to the United Nations conference on Human Environment in Stockholm. A single text was agreed and the ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage’ was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16th November 1972.

Roman Theatre Merida

Today there are eight hundred and seventy-eight listed sites and it isn’t easy to get on the list and to do so a nomination must satisfy impressively difficult criteria which in summary consist of cultural criteria:

to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; to exhibit an important interchange of human values; to bear a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition; to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or landscape; to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement; to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance,

and natural criteria:

to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance; to be outstanding examples representing major stages of Earth’s history, to be outstanding examples representing significant ecological and biological processes; to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-site conservation of biological diversity.

It is hardly surprising that with forty-seven listed sites Italy has the most but for those who think of Spain as nothing more than a country of over developed Costas with concrete condominiums, marinas and golf courses it might be a shock to learn that Spain has forty-three sites and is second highest in the exclusive list.

Each new trip to Spain includes visits to World Heritage Sites so when I counted them up I was interested to discover that out of the forty-three sites on the UNESCO list (second only to Italy with forty-seven) I have now been to twenty and that is nearly half of them.

Philip IV and the Palacio Real

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 Cáceres, Mérida and Aranjuez and also Trujillo which for the time being is only on the tentative list.

   

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 two might be a bit dubious – but anyway here goes. In 1984 while driving back through Spain from Portugal I drove with friends through the city of Burgos which was accepted in that year because of its Cathedral and in Galicia in 2008 while visiting Santiago de Compostela I managed to drive over parts of the Pilgrim Route, which exists on the list separately from the old city itself.

Spain 2011, World Heritage Sites

Each new trip to Spain includes visits to World Heritage Sites so when I counted them up I was interested to discover that out of the forty-three sites on the UNESCO list (second only to Italy with forty-seven) I have now been to twenty and that is nearly half of them.

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 and also Trujillo which for the time being is only on the tentative list.

   

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 two might be a bit dubious – but anyway here goes.  In 1984 while driving back through Spain from Portugal I drove with friends through the city of Burgos which was accepted in that year because of its Cathedral and in Galicia 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.

Index of  Spain

World Heritage Sites (posted June 2009)