Tag Archives: World Heritage

Postcards of Greek Doors

You may have noticed that I rather like taking pictures of doors, especially Greek doors.

In 1998 I visited the island of Rhodes and bought this collection of postcards…

George Meis is now a very famous Greek photographer whose work is available everywhere.  In 1998 he was just starting out and his work was restricted to postcards.

Anyway, thinking back I am certain that it was at this point that I became inspired to take pictures of doors and windows.  This is quite possibly the first door picture that I ever took on that holiday in Rhodes…

Read a story about doors here…

Entrance Tickets – The Achilleion Palace in Corfu

In Corfu we visited the Achilleion at Gastouri, in between Perama and Benitses, which is a casino and a museum now but was once a summer Palace built in 1890 by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria who was a curious woman obsessed with the classical Homeric hero Achilles and with all things beautiful (including herself apparently).

Read The Full Story Here…

Travels in Slovenia – Ljubljana and the Park Hotel

Some of our travel journeys are impulse decisions, usually in response to a last minute bargain flight deal, but the trip to Ljubljana was planned well in advance because we were acting upon a recommendation and because it was a destination that sounded interesting and that appealed to us both.

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Travels in Croatia -Šukosan and Zadar

 

It was getting dark and the sun was sinking but the drive to the nearby village of Šukosan just outside the city of Zadar was surprisingly easy with a nice straight road and with only a little difficulty in the gloom finding the location of the Apartmani Vilma, which was tucked discreetly away behind the main road on a quiet residential street.

This was a curious place, not really a hotel at all but more like somebody’s house with some rented rooms attached.  The owner had been waiting for us to arrive and showed us immediately to a clean, basic but adequate room.

Read The Full Story Here…

A to Z of Balconies – Jurmala in Latvia

After breakfast we took a mini-bus taxi to the seaside town of Jurmala, which was another bargain at only 15 Lats.  It was a sunny morning and we walked through some houses in various states of disrepair and renovation towards the beach.  The houses were fascinating, mostly made of timber and in contrasting styles that suggested that the owners had had fun building them in a competitive way each determined to eclipse the efforts of their neighbours.

These were once grand seaside villas accommodating only the most wealthy Russians who used to like to come here for their summer holidays and we were relieved to see that thankfully many were being restored, rather than being demolished to make way for modern structures.  The town has an official list of four hundred and fourteen historical buildings under protection, as well as three thousand five hundred wooden structures.  Sadly, we were told that every so often there is an unexplained fire, the historic building disappears only to be removed by a modern building.

 

Casa Batlló in Barcelona

The Gaudi attractions can be frustrating to photograph because of the crowds and Casa Batlló is no exception so I gave up after a while and concentrated on detail where people couldn’t get in the way…

Cyprus, The Tombs of The Kings at Paphos

Greece Coffee Time Cafe Taverna

After we had approved of and settled in to our room we sat for a while on the sunny balcony before going out, walking from the hotel along the seafront and then back to the busy road to look for restaurant opportunities for later.

Kim as an uncanny knack of good restaurant selection and today was no exception.  She found a promising looking Greek Taverna with blue and white chairs and tables and pristine check table cloths, also blue and white and declared it the place to eat later.  I always leave restaurant selection to Kim.

Cyprus is not Greece, it used to aspire to being part of Greece, but not any longer, both Greece and Cyprus are members of the European Union and for Cyprus this is the next best thing to political union.  Cyprus is more prosperous than Greece so is not going to step into an economic crisis over issues of nationality. Even so, most places fly the blue and white flag of Greece in preference to the official flag of Cyprus.

Flag of Greece

The Greek flag is called “Galanolefci” which simply means “blue and white”. Originally it was blue with a white diagonal cross.  The cross is now situated in the upper left corner, and symbolizes the Christian faith.  Blue is the colour of the sea, and Greece being a seafarers country it could hardly have any other colour. Blue is also a lucky colour, which will ward off evil according to superstition.  White is the colour of freedom, and that is something the Greeks hold very dear after years of enslavement under the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The nine stripes each symbolize a syllable in the Greek motto of freedom: E-LEY-THE-RI-A-I-THA-NA-TOS, which translates into the bold statement – Freedom or Death.

Cyprus is one of only two countries in the World (and the first) which has the map of the country on its flag, the other by the way is Kosovo.

Cyprus Flag

We ate in the Greek restaurant later, Kim had beef stifado and I had Greek chicken with orzo and we drank some house wine from a chipped jug and it was very, very good!

The next morning we ate breakfast in the hotel dining room which was just short of OK!

Mid morning and we took the walk to Paphos seafront and stopped on the way at the archaeological site ‘The Tombs of the Kings’, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  A very impressive place as it turned out with unrestricted access to all of the site and the ancient burial chambers and tombs.

Nothing in them of course because anything of value has long since been removed and robbed.  The main culprit of this was an Italian/American consul to Cyprus (1865-1877) called Luigi Palma di Cesnola who carried out unauthorised excavations which resulted in the discovery of a large number of antiquities which he stole and tried to ship back to New York.  The ship he commissioned to transport an estimated thirty-five thousand stolen items was sunk in a storm and the plunder remains lost.

In Cyprus he is considered to be a villain and his actions are still considered to tantamount to looting.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

I mention this because several years ago I visited the Acropolis Museum in Athens which is a contentious site because of the missing Parthenon (Elgin) marbles.

The blood-curdling descriptions of Lord Elgin as a looter and a robbing pirate seemed especially designed to stimulate a reaction from visitors from the USA who were encouraged to gasp in awe that an Englishmen could have done such terrible things.  One man said that he would promptly write to the British Prime Minister to demand their return. If I had known about the American looter at the time I would have tapped him on the shoulder and told him the thieving story of Luigi Palma di Cesnola.

I liked the Tombs of the Kings almost as much as Pompeii and Herculaneum  in Italy, except for a few information boards there is no attempt at restoration or interpretation and I think it is better for that.  Interesting also that although there are no restrictions or security guards there is no damage or graffiti.

We left the site and continued our walk towards the harbour of Paphos where we had to run the gauntlet of restaurant sharks trying to lure prey towards their waterside tables.

At the end of the harbour was a small castle, the entrance charge was €2.50 which seemed like a lot for such a small castle but I can never resist a castle so paid up and made the five minute visit to the top. To put things into perspective it had been the same charge at the Tombs of the Kings and we had spent almost two hours there and could have stayed longer.

Away from the harbour we selected a small bar for a drink and then in the early afternoon strolled back to the hotel and wasted what was  left of the afternoon sitting in the sunshine on the balcony of our room. Later we returned to the same restaurant for evening meal. We had walked twelve and a half miles today.

Paphos 02

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…

Corfu and the Achilleion Palace

Achilleion 04

In the afternoon we visited the Achilleion at Gastouri, squeezed in between Perama and Benitses.  It is a museum now but was once a summer Palace built in 1890 by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria who was a curious woman obsessed with the classical Homeric hero Achilles and with all things beautiful (including herself by all accounts).

The Palace with the neoclassical Greek statues that surround it is a monument to platonic romanticism and escapism and is filled with paintings and statues of the tragic hero Achilles, both in the main hall and in the gardens, depicting heroic struggles scenes of the Trojan War.

The dazzling white Palace has a wedding cake like appearance and the beautiful Imperial gardens on the hill look over the surrounding green hill crests and valleys and the azure blue Ionian Sea.

I had visited before of course and this was the Palace in 1984…

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The centre piece of the gardens is a marble statue on a high pedestal of the mortally wounded Achilles stripped of body armour and heroic bravado and wearing only a simple cloth and an elaborate Greek hoplite helmet.  This statue was fashioned by German sculptor Ernst Gustav Herter and the hero is  without rank or status and seems notably human though tragic as he is forever trying despairingly to pull the poisoned arrow shot by Paris from his unfortunate heel.

His classically depicted face is full of pain and he gazes skyward as if to seek help from Olympus.

Achilles Heel

In Greek mythology when Achilles was a baby it was foretold that he would die young. To prevent this his mother Thetis took him to the River Styx which was said to offer powers of invulnerability and dipped his whole body into the water, however, as Thetis held Achilles by the heel, his heel was not washed over by the water of the magical river and was therefore tragically vulnerable.  I have always thought of this to be rather careless.

Dying Achilles

Oddly today there was no arrow on the statue, it seems to have been removed, maybe stolen or perhaps for preservation and repairs, it was certainly there in 1984…

Achilles 1984

and in the souvenir tile that I bought several years later, on the island of Santorini if I remember correctly…

Achilles

In contrast to the painful death of Achilles at the great staircase in the main hall is a giant painting of the triumphant warrior full of pride.  Dressed in full royal military regalia and erect on his racing chariot he pulls the lifeless body of Hector of Troy in front of the stunned crowd watching helplessly from inside the walls of the City.

The Achilleion must have been an idyllic holiday home but in 1898 at the age of sixty the Empress was assassinated when she was stabbed by an anarchist whilst walking in a park in Geneva, Switzerland.  After her death the palace was sold to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II who also liked to take summer holidays on Corfu and later, after World-War One it was acquired by the Greek State who converted it into a museum.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria

It is a beautiful place with grand sweeping gardens befitting royal ownership and we enjoyed the visit and even went back later to see the sunset from the Kaiser’s chair which is an area at the highest point in the gardens where Wilhelm would go in the evening to enjoy the end of the day.

On the way out we passed Kaiser’s Bridge which is just two stumps of brickwork now but was originally built for the Kaiser so that he could leave his yacht and walk to his palace without crossing the road. How self-indulgent was that?  The road can hardly have been busy or dangerous in 1900!

Two stumps of brickwork now because in 1942 it was ironically blown up by the occupying German troops because it was too low for their tanks to pass below.

Kaiser's Bridge

And so we returned to Kalami and our short holiday was over, we packed our bags and cleaned the apartment, I always like to clean an apartment in case we get a bad reputation as untidy guests and then inevitably we returned to the same beach side taverna for a final meal.  It had been a very good week, beaches, sunshine, long walks, a boat ride and a lot of history.  Corfu remains one of my favourite places in Greece and all of Europe.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Corfu and the Village of Benitses

“Marvellous things happen to one in Greece – marvellous good things which can happen to one nowhere else on earth”, Henry Miller – The Colossus of Maroussi

Benitses Postcard

We continued our tour around the island by driving south of Corfu Town to some of the early holiday destinations on the island.

We quickly left the rugged mountainous of the north east where the bare granite slopes of Mount Pantokrator rise steeply before plunging dramatically into the sea to where, although only a few miles away, the flat and sandy south east where tall cypresses march in columns down green fertile slopes to the shore.

In 1984 I stayed in the village of Perama at a modern hotel complex called the Aelos Beach Hotel which was only a short distance from the main town.    The hotel was an unattractive concrete structure with a main building with restaurant, bar and shops and the accommodation was in a string of bedroom blocks that were located amongst pretty bougainvillea shrubs in the large hotel gardens.  We drove past it today and it is now a modern beach resort, very up-market and most likely beyond my budget.

Lots of visitors get drawn to Perama now because this is where the Durrell family lived in the 1930s.

The Durrells

We didn’t stop because we were heading for the next village of Benitses.

In the 1980s Corfu was expanding rapidly as a tourist destination and was acquiring an uneviable reputation as a party island and magnet for unruly British tourists on boozy Club 18-30 holidays.   They were drawn in the main to the hedonistic town of Benitses which was well known for heavy drinking, beach parties, wild behaviour and street fighting.  There was a story at the time that even the island police were frightened to go in there after dark but I am not sure if this was really true.

In 1984 we drove straight through, not daring to stop but at ten o’clock in the morning it was still recovering from the night before and didn’t live up to its dangerous reputation at all, no dead bodies or burnt out cars and we went through entirely without incident on our way to the north of the island.

Benitses 01

Over the next twenty years or so the locals who lived in the village grew tired of its  reputation and ill-disciplined guests and made a determined effort to throw off its bad ill-repute.  Benitses set about reinventing itself with the addition of a swanky marina, up-market hotels and a string of classy bars and tavernas.  The rowdy youngsters were carefully redirected to Kavos in the the far south of the island where they were kept as far away as possible from families and the mostly well behaved.

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Kavos must have been delighted because in a 2017 survey it was in the top ten of European destinations that are spoiled by boozy Brits.  The others (in no particular order) were Ayia Napa in Cyprus; Red Sea resorts in Bulgaria; Magaluf, Barcelona and Benidorm in Spain; Malia in Crete, Riga in Latvia and Hvar in Croatia.  Such surveys make me ashamed to be British.

In 1984 I confess that we contributed to this a little bit and this I my Mum after way too much local retsina wine and most likely a glass or two of ouzo as well…

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I am happy to report that things are quite different today in Benitses and we had no fear of parking the car and taking a stroll along the waterfront next to the marina and the thin shingle beach before stopping for mid-morning coffee.

And that could have been it, we were ready to leave and move on but we spotted a half-hidden sign pointing to the old village so we decided to explore a little.

Benitses it turns out has a long and interesting history stretching all the way back to the Roman occupation two thousand years ago and we took the narrow path that climbed into a lush green valley with interesting buildings and intriguing lanes and as far as the village church basking in the sunshine at the very centre.

Some scholars suggest that Corfu is the setting for the William Shakespeare play The Tempest.  He did, after all, go missing for a long time and presumed travelling in Italy and the Adriatic so this is not completely unlikely and the path took us through an olive grove with gnarled black trunks twisting away like Chubby Checker and each with a knotted witch hiding in the branches and all rather like walking through Act 4, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Can you spot the white faced witch…

Benitses 08

I was glad that we had stopped off in Benitses and had found it so delightful and hospitable, it is always good to have previous prejudices and misunderstandings corrected. I am no longer going to tell stories about fighting and boozing in the streets of Benitses but rather about charming flower fringed streets, local people pleased to welcome us and an enchanting and polite seaside resort and village.

We left Benitses and made the short journey to the nearby Achilleion Palace.

Click on an image to view the Gallery…