Tag Archives: Streets and Roads

A Brief Encounter with Lithuania’s Capital City

A Brief Encounter with Lithuania's Capital City

With around 600,000 people, Vilnius demands more than a day of anybody’s time, but I’m afraid that’s all I had.

The train journey from Kaunas can take anything between an hour and an hour and three quarters, and with that in mind I took an early fast train to Lithuania’s capital city.

The journey passed through some pretty flat countryside and quite different to where I come from: There were lots of trees and wooden farmhouses, one of which had a stork’s nest on its rooftop, an unusual sight for anyone from the UK to see.

Apparently, Lithuania has the biggest population of White Storks in the world, which is why it’s the country’s ‘National Bird’: They seem to be revered so much that March 25th is Stork Day when all sorts of rituals take place. Anyway, I digress.

I arrived at Vilnius railway station around 09.30 and made my way towards Ausros Gate, or better known in English as the Gates of Dawn.

The Gate gives entry into the Old Town, which is where most visitors to Vilnius head for, and which was bound to keep me occupied all day. The good thing is, that just a few streets lead straight through the Old Town down to where the Vilnia River meets the Neris near Cathedral Square and the Castle, where according to legend, the city was founded in 1323 by Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania.

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Kaunas – Lithuania’s Second City

Vilnius Street

Kaunas - Lithuania's Second City

When the low-cost airlines took off (sorry), it gave me the opportunity to visit some places that I’d always wanted to visit – and also some that I hadn’t; places such as Kaunas.

Kaunas was to be my first destination to the Baltic States, simply because it was the only place in that part of the world that I could fly to from my regional airport at the time. So, in the summer of 2012 I took off from Bristol not really knowing what to expect, so before I completely lose my marbles, here is an account of what I remember.

Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania with an urban population around the 400,000 mark, so it’s not surprising that we landed in the country’s second largest airport.

What did surprise me though was that it was so warm it was like arriving in Spain – and it was 10 o’clock at night.

I usually try to use public transport where possible, but on this occasion, I just jumped in a cab which took me directly to the hotel, which although it was called the Ibis Kaunas Centre, wasn’t quite in the city centre but convenient all the same.

The following morning, I was pleased to see the sun shining, and so after breakfast I didn’t waste any time in making my way past the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation to Laisves aleja.

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Wandering Around Inside the Old City Walls

St. Nicholas Street

Wandering Around Inside the Old City Walls

If the title of this post gives anyone the impression that wandering around Old Bristol is similar to wandering around York or Chester then I apologise straight away. For a start, apart from one notable exception, there are no parts of the old city wall left, and don’t expect to come here and tick off a list of medieval buildings either.

That said, just because the city’s core isn’t set in aspic, it doesn’t mean to say that centuries of history hasn’t left anything of interest behind.

My previous post, From Brycgstowe to Bristol, explained how the Anglo-Saxon settlement became a Norman town and trading port. The diversion of the River Frome in the 13th century helped the port expand, and for the town to do the same it meant tearing down the city walls.

The other major event to change Bristol’s layout was the Second World War when air raids did enormous damage. As far as the Old City was concerned, virtually everything in the south-eastern quarter was destroyed. Apart from the remains of two churches – St. Mary-le-Port and St. Stephens – nothing else survived.

The western side though escaped the worst of the Blitz and it’s mainly this part of the Old City that I’m going to take you around in this virtual tour.

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Wilhelmstrasse

The Former Air Ministry Building

Wilhelmstrasse - The Former Heart of Nazi Germany

If the outcome of WWII had been different, and London had been beaten into submission instead of Berlin, then imagine if you can, what Whitehall would look like now: Wilhelmstrasse is (or was) Berlin’s ‘Whitehall’.

The road runs for one and a half miles between the Marschallbrucke on the River Spree down to Hallesches Tor in Kreuzberg, but the most interesting part from a historical point of view, is the section between the bridge and Niederkirchnerstrasse where the Berlin Wall split the city into two.

Originating from the time of King Frederick William I, this once wealthy residential thoroughfare, developed into Prussia’s main government district with many of the buildings being taken over by the state, including the Palais Schulenburg for Otto von Bismarck’s Chancellery.

At the end of WWI, the area came under the control of the Weimar Republic, but on 30th January 1933 there was a new Chancellor – Adolf Hitler, who immediately set about building a new chancellery for the Third Reich at the junction of Wilhelmstrasse and Voss Strasse.

After Hitler’s suicide in the Chancellery bunker and the subsequent defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, the street found itself within the Russian sector as far as Prinz Albrecht Strasse (now Niederkirchnerstrasse). Bomb damage and the Battle for Berlin had left the area in tatters, and as neither the Russians nor East Germans had any reason to save whatever was left, the land where Prussian palaces once stood, was now either part of No-Man’s Land separating East and West Berlin or built upon with Eastern Bloc architecture.

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The Island of Raasay

The Sound of Raasay

The Island of Raasay

According to Wikipedia, Scotland has over 790 offshore islands; Whoever put their head above the parapet to make that claim must have been having sleep problems, but I’ll take their word for it.

Some are small, some are large, some are well-known, and some not so well known – so which islands to visit can also cause a lack of sleep if you let it.

Raasay (meaning Isle of the Roe Deer), is 14 miles long and up to 5 miles wide, which means that it’s not too small and not too big, but it’s not too well-known either. Lying between the Isle of Skye and the Applecross Peninsula, it can be reached by ferry from Sconser on the Isle of Skye and takes around 25 minutes.

For this blog I’m going back in time to 2008 when the ferry landed at East Suisnish, but apart from a new ferry terminal on the other side of the bay, I can’t imagine things would have changed very much.

Skye is an undeniably beautiful island, and looking across the Sound towards Raasay you could be forgiven for thinking that there’s not much point in catching the ferry over to Raasay, which in comparison, doesn’t look anywhere near as inviting as the Cuillins or the Quiraing, but there are reasons why you might want to think again.

Firstly, in recent years Skye has seen a surge in visitor numbers, which if you were coming to the Scottish Islands for an away from it all break, then you might feel a bit cheated if you’ve chosen a busy time to come. Raasay is much more peaceful.

Another reason is that the views from Raasay towards Skye can be quite breathtaking – and of course, there’s the appeal of the island itself.

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Edinburgh’s Closes

White Horse Close

Edinburgh's Closes

As Edinburgh started to spread out from the Royal Mile a rabbit warren of Closes, Wynds and Courts developed to house the expanding population. Generally speaking Wynds were open alleyways with a public right of way whereas Closes were private and closed at one end. Collectively, I believe that they’re all often referred to as Closes.

Characteristically, the buildings were (and still are) tenements with multiple occupancy. People from all walks of life lived in the same block but needless to say some apartments were much better than others. I read somewhere that there were as many as 300 Closes, but I think the figure is much nearer to 60 these days. Even so you can’t fail to notice them and it has to be said that most of them are not that enticing to wander into – if you can that is.

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The Royal Mile

The Lawnmarket

The Royal Mile

First impressions of the Royal Mile might lead you to the conclusion that the most famous thoroughfare in Scotland is just one long street encouraging swarms of tourists to part with their hard-earned money on buying ‘Tartan Tat’, but scratch below the surface and it will soon become apparent why this spinal cord that joins Edinburgh Castle with Holyrood has played such an important part in Edinburgh’s – and Scotland’s –  history.

The history goes back a long way too – about 340 million years in fact. This was around the time when volcanic activity, followed by glaciers during the ice age, helped to form a classic example of what geologists call a ‘Crag and Tail’. Obviously, the crag is where the castle sits, and the tail is the ridge that has become known as the Royal Mile.

This famous artery is not just one street but five – Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand, and if you’ve not been here before it helps to know where each one is and what it has to offer.

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Grey Street and Grey’s Monument

Grey Street and Grey's Monument

The image of Newcastle as a shipbuilding city with a party town atmosphere tends to hide the fact that it has some wonderful classical buildings, especially in the area known as Grainger Town.

Richard Grainger was the man behind the area’s development in the first half of the 19th century, and one of his most notable achievements was the construction of Grey St, which runs over the top of the Lort Burn.

The Lort Burn used to flow openly downhill to the Tyne, but eventually became just an open sewer until the lower section was transferred underground with the construction of Dean St over the top of it in 1749.

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Wandering Around Winchester

The Deanery

Wandering Around Winchester

The good thing about Winchester is that a stroll around the city centre can be accomplished comfortably in about an hour and a half. This doesn’t include visits to the Cathedral, the Great Hall or the pub mind you, so you’ll need to allow extra time for visiting some of the things that will hold you up on the way around as well.

On the map opposite I’ve compiled a trail which covers most of the interesting things that can be seen. Some places will occupy just a few minutes of your time and others considerably longer, and just a quick reminder for anyone who may be interested, you can always print out this post by clicking on the print icon at the bottom of the page. The map can also be printed out by using the ‘print map’ feature within the map itself.

I’ve chosen to start the trail at the King Alfred Statue in the Broadway (No1 on the map), and if you’ve read my introduction to Winchester – The First Capital of England, you’ll understand why I’ve chosen it as the starting point. I’m not going to describe his achievements here as this blog is mainly about what there is to see.

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The Strand

The Royal Courts of Justice

Let's all go down the Strand

Originally part of the Roman road to Silchester, the Strand has always been one of London’s most important roads as it connects the City of Westminster with the City of London, and as its name suggests, originally ran alongside the Thames, but nowadays runs slightly inland for about ¾ mile between Charing Cross and Temple Bar.

Between the 12th and 17th centuries some of the most influential people in London owned mansions along the southern side of the road with gardens that swept down to the riverside, but apart from the re-designed Somerset House, they have all but disappeared.

As the aristocracy left for the West End, the Strand became a popular hangout for people who preferred a pint, a coffee, or even a cup of tea and at no. 216 you can still visit Twinings which has been here since 1706. These days it’s more like a small museum, and somewhere to sample their different blends. The samples are free, but the idea of course is that you’ll be tempted to buy one or two of them before you leave.

During the 19th century Joseph Bazalgette’s plans to improve London’s sewage system led to the demolition of many of the fine houses that were still left along the Strand. The river was narrowed, the shoreline raised, and a road built to form an Embankment.

Not only did the engineering works improve the health of Londoners, it also improved transport links between Westminster and the City. Apart from the road, an underground railway line was constructed underneath it, all of which helped to relieve congestion along the Strand.

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