Author Archives: Easymalc

A Journey Back in Time

A Journey Back in Time

One of the positive things to come out of this pandemic – and there aren’t many – is that people have come to appreciate their own backyard a bit more, and I mean that metaphorically not literally.

Ever since I was let loose on an unsuspecting world I’ve been accused of all sorts of things, but one thing I can’t really be accused of, is being blind to what’s on my own doorstep: I’ve always had an inquisitive mind at what’s around me, and  during the time I was living in North Somerset, I was always exploring the local area – places that people know well, places that people have probably never heard of, and places I probably shouldn’t have gone to at all.

It was quite a long time ago now since I lived there, and although it’s often said that you should never go back, I think it depends on why you want to, and going back down memory lane to re-kindle those salad days is something I really enjoy doing, even if times have changed.

Although Bradford-on-Avon is in Wiltshire, it wasn’t much more than half an hour’s drive away from where I used to live, but it’s much further from where I live now, and last year before Covid arrived, we took the train(s) from Paignton back up to the Avon Valley for a brief visit to see if it had changed very much.

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The Magical Sunsets of Zadar

The Magical Sunsets of Zadar

There are any number of reasons to recommend Zadar for a holiday, but to sit and watch the sun go down has to be one of the best reasons of all.

Alfred Hitchcock once described the sunsets here as “the most beautiful in the world”. That’s quite a statement to make, especially as there must be so many contenders for the title, but regardless of whether they are or not, they certainly take some beating.

This historical city sits on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, and I’ll be describing it in more detail later, but for now, I’m just going to introduce you to the ‘Magical Sunsets of Zadar’.

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Broadsands to Elberry Cove and Churston

Broadsands to Elberry Cove and Churston

My final post about Paignton covers the area between Broadsands and Brixham, and includes the short walk from Broadsands to Elberry Cove and an extension to Churston for those who want it. The village of Churston Ferrers, technically speaking, comes within the boundary of Brixham, but I think it makes more sense to include it here.

You don’t need to belong to Mensa to work out where Broadsands gets its name from. It’s the last major Paignton beach before reaching Brixham (which doesn’t have any major beaches incidentally), and is another safe place for toddlers to paddle in. Unlike the beaches nearer to the town centre, there are very few amenities, and that’s the reason why some people enjoy coming here.

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Wolvesey Palace and the Bishops of Winchester

Wolvesey Palace and the Bishops of Winchester

In my recent post about London Bridge City and The Shard, I spoke about the area’s early history and why there were several large houses belonging to important religious figures lining the southern bank of the Thames – and the most imposing of these was Winchester Palace, the remains of which can still be seen in Southwark’s Clink Street.

At the time of the Norman Conquest, Southwark was in the county of Surrey and part of the Diocese of Winchester, one of the most important religious centres in the country, but not only that, Winchester was also the capital of England.

Being an astute and religious man, William the Conqueror not only engaged the services of the bishops to help him keep religious order, he also used their influence and power to advise him on state affairs.

Two of my earlier posts, Winchester – the First Capital of England, and Winchester Cathedral – From the Saxons to the Normans, may help to explain why the city and cathedral of Winchester were so important to the new King of England.

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Dunster Village

Dunster Village

Dunster is a village of just over 800 people lying on the north-eastern edge of Exmoor National Park, close to the Bristol Channel. Its main attraction is the castle which has been here for a thousand years, and for 600 of those, it belonged to the Luttrell family who gave it to the National Trust in 1976.

Naturally, many of the visitors come to see the castle, and I intend to write a separate post about it later; but for now, I just want to write a short introduction to the village, which is worth a visit in itself.

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The Boat Museums of Bygdøy

The Port of Oslo from Bygdøynes

The Boat Museums of Bygdøy

There are a fair number of islands in Oslo’s Inner Fjord and Bygdøy used to be one of them, but by 1800 the narrow strait between the island and the mainland had been filled in – so now it’s a peninsula.

This wasn’t such a bad idea on reflection because the ferries that run from Aker Brygge don’t come here in the winter – but buses do, and so I trudged through the snow for a second successive morning to the National Theatre where I caught the No.30 to Bygdøy.

Bygdøy is popular with both locals and visitors alike, especially in the summer as it has beaches, walking and cycling trails and several museums. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be lying on a beach today and I’d had enough of walking through the snow yesterday at Holmenkollen, so there are no prizes for guessing what I was coming here for.

It wouldn’t be sensible to try and visit every one of these museums in one day, even in the summer, but there were three that I particularly wanted to see, and they were all to do with Norway’s passion for maritime adventures and expeditions.

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Tryvannshogda and Holmenkollen

Tryvannshogda and Holmenkollen

Any reader of my blogs will know that they are a mixture of current and past destinations, and as Christmas will soon be here and gone and the New Year beckons, my mind wandered back to February 2006 when I paid a short visit to snowy Oslo.

I’m not sure why us Brits keep banging on about the weather all the time, because living in a temperate weather zone means that we don’t get extreme conditions like other parts of the world.

I’m not saying that we don’t get our fair share of rain, but extreme heat and cold are rare in comparison, and I suppose it’s one of the reasons why you’ll find plenty of half-baked bodies from our Sceptred Isle on the beaches of the Costa del Sol every summer.

‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ may well go out in the Midday Sun, but I’m not one of them anymore. These days, I prefer taking holidays in places like Scandinavia rather than Torremolinos thank you very much.

The problem for those of us who don’t live in Scandinavia is that we find it expensive, so for someone like me, visiting Oslo in the depth of winter kills two birds with one stone – it’s cheaper and it’s not hot.

Saying that it wasn’t hot when the plane touched down at Oslo airport is somewhat of an understatement. It was so cold, that inside the terminal they were serving coffee on a stick (I made that bit up), but I’m sure you get the gist.

Norwegians, like all Scandinavians, take this sort of weather in their stride, and even though we landed and drove into the city in a blizzard during rush hour, there wasn no suggestion that there would be any trouble getting to the hotel as normal. Back in dear old Blighty the plane wouldn’t have even landed.

After checking-in, I ventured out into the bitterly cold evening air and found a local café/bar where customers were sat outside – yep! you heard that right – outside the bar. Even though it was apparently -10 degrees here, it seemed to be the norm. Mind you, the establishment provided blankets and candles to make it a more pleasant experience, but even so, I didn’t hang around too long because a) the (cold) beer was expensive, b) I didn’t want to get frostbite and c) I wanted to be up bright and early in the morning for my trip up to Tryvannshogda and Holmenkollen.

Normally, I would take a look around the city centre first before venturing too far, but as I only had two full days in Oslo and I was staying in the city centre anyway, I focused my attention on seeing things that I don’t normally see at home – and Holmenkollen was definitely one of them.

Holmenkollen lies on the north-western outskirts of the city and is an outdoor recreational area, which at this time of the year means winter sports. For somebody who’s never put a pair of skis on his life, you may wonder why I decided to venture up here, but like I said, it’s somewhere different.

I made an early start so that I could make the most of the day, but anybody with any sense would have jumped straight back under the bedclothes on seeing the weather outside. Instead I trudged through the snowy city streets to the T-bane stop outside the National Theatre where I was hoping to catch the T1 to the end of the journey at Frognerseteren.

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The Ninth Fort

The Ninth Fort

Today was my last day in Lithuania, and thanks to a late flight home I was able to fulfil one last wish before leaving.

The Ninth Fort might not be on everyone’s list of places to see, but one of my passions, if that’s the right word, is to try and understand what caused the turmoil in Europe during the 20th century. I have always had an interest in the two World Wars as well as the Cold War: The Ninth Fort is one of those places that is uncomfortable to visit, but one that has left a profound effect on me ever since.

I don’t know if things have changed, but at the time I was here there was very little information about the fort and how to get there – certainly not in English.

Even though it’s located on the outskirts of Kaunas at Sargenai, and quite a long bus ride to get there, it wasn’t as difficult to find as I thought it was going to be.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire, and as relations deteriorated with Germany, it was decided to build Kaunas Fortress to protect its western border.

The Ninth Fort was part of this huge complex that surrounded the city covering an area of 25 square miles.

To learn more about the history of the fort there’s a museum housed in a soviet concrete monstrosity, which if they leave it as it is, could become part of the fort’s history itself in years to come.

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Trakai – Historic Town Built on Water

Trakai - Historic Town Built on Water

Today was going to be my third and final full day in Lithuania, and it looked as though the good weather was going to desert me. I had it in mind to go to Trakai, which is without doubt, one of Lithuania’s most popular tourist destinations, but I had my doubts as to how successful the day would be, especially as the holiday season was now in full swing.

I’m not one of those people who avoid such places (after all, they’re popular for a reason), but I’ll always try to time my visit accordingly. Today though, even if I could justify the effort in getting from Kaunas to Trakai, I was only ever going to be able to be there when it suited the public transport system, and not when it suited me.

After giving it some thought, I knew I would never have another chance to see the place that is so revered by the Lithuanian people, and so I decided to bite the bullet and catch the early fast train to Vilnius again – the same one as I took yesterday.

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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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From Krakow to Auschwitz

The Cloth Hall, Rynek Glowney, Krakow

From Krakow to Auschwitz

With so many places still left to add to Easymalc’s Wanderings, people may wonder why I’ve chosen somewhere to write about that will hardly lift the spirits, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been asking myself the same question – and as yet, with no answer.

My trip to Krakow and Auschwitz took place in late September 2003, and it’s inevitable that this account will make for some uncomfortable reading at times, but it’s my intention to make this blog interesting and educational rather than depressing, but at the same time I have to warn readers that there won’t be much to laugh about either.

Now that I’ve lost the few readers that I do have, I need to explain that a subject like this demands a lot more information than I’m able to give here, and so it’s worth bearing in mind that there are bound to be gaps in the story, and I’m also sorry to say that the photographs are at a lower standard than I would have liked; there are gaps here as well, because there are some things that I won’t photograph out of respect.

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Christmastime in Vienna

Christmastime in Vienna

Is there a better build-up to Christmas than visiting a European Christmas Market? If so, I’d like to know what it is. Maybe it’s all that Glühwein and Orange Punch that I can’t pass by that helps, but even as a devout atheist I can’t help but respect the Austrians for adhering to the meaning of Christmas more than I do.

I absolutely love Austria at Christmastime, especially in places like the Tyrol, but if you like to add some culture to your bratwurst and beer, then Vienna is hard to beat.

When we were here the week before Christmas in 2016, it even snowed to give it the magical icing on the Christmas cake.

There’s no point in waffling on about what market is where, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking. As for the culture, I’ll be dealing with all that later – hopefully.

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House of the Wannsee Conference

House of the Wannsee Conference

On 27th January 1945 Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army, and each year since 2005 the date has been commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This blog is dedicated to the memory of all those who died during this inhuman period of European history.

The Holocaust is largely remembered for the genocide of 6 million Jews, but there were also an estimated 11 million others including Slavs (mainly Poles and Russians), Roma, political and religious dissidents, homosexuals and the ‘incurably sick’.

My inquiring mind into why Europe descended into so much chaos during the 20th century has led me to some dark places – and here’s another one – but unlike Auschwitz, there are no gas chambers or mass graves here; in fact, this lovely villa perched on the shores of the Großer Wannsee, couldn’t be more different.

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Hitler’s Olympics

Hitler's Olympics

For someone who didn’t even like sport, it might seem somewhat surprising that Adolf Hitler was able to stage one of the most successful, albeit controversial, games in Olympic history; they were so successful in fact, that the format has been followed in much the same way ever since.

The background to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games in many ways goes back to WWI, and the Langemarck Hall at the Olympic Stadium is a telling reminder of how Hitler had never forgotten his time in the trenches.

Langemarck was a WWI battlefield in Belgian Flanders and somewhere I visited several years ago. The war cemetery there holds 44,000 German soldiers including many inexperienced young men.

When the stadium, and the Langemarck Hall, was constructed in 1936, Hitler was known to turn to a few confidants to proclaim that there would be “Revenge for Langemarck”.

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The Berlin Festival of Lights

The Berlin Festival of Lights

This week I’ve been sifting through a load of old pictures which is a great exercise in procrastination if ever there was one.

Most of them will never see the light of day outside of our own four walls because they were taken in pre-digital days in the form of prints or transparencies, but here are some that were taken digitally in 2015.

Each October since 2004 Berlin brightens up the Autumn evenings by staging the Festival of Lights.

Landmark buildings and monuments are turned into an amazing light art festival, and although there’s not much to say about them, I’ve decided to include a selection as a gallery for posterity.

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Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

Between October 22nd – 28th 1961 the eyes of the world were focused on Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing point between East and West Berlin during the years of the Cold War. A stand-off between American and Soviet tanks could have resulted in quite possibly, WWIII, but both sides had the sense to realise the consequences and serious conflict was avoided.

I’m sure that many of you will know how all this came about, but I think it’s worth repeating anyway.

The background to the drama goes back to the end of WWII when Germany was divided up by the four main countries responsible for its defeat – Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union. Although they were united in defeating Nazi Germany, the differences in ideology between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union had been obvious for quite some time. Really, it was just a case of agreeing to disagree while they defeated the common enemy of Nazi Germany.

At the end of the war Germany was divided up into West Germany, (controlled by the Western alliance), and East Germany (controlled by the Soviet Union). Berlin, which was situated deep inside the Soviet sector, was also divided up by the victors into West and East Berlin.

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The Topography of Terror

The Outdoor Gallery, Berlin Wall and Air Ministry Building

The Topography of Terror

The Topography of Terror is both an outdoor and indoor museum on the site of the former Nazi headquarters for the Gestapo and SS.

It lies at the intersection of Wilhelmstrasse and Niederkirchnerstrasse, and covers the area once occupied by the Prinz-Albrecht Palais.

The area around Wilhelmstrasse was the main centre for the Nazi administration, and although Hermann Goering’s former Reich Air Ministry building (now German Finance Ministry) still towers over the Topography of Terror, most of these buildings have long gone.

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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 Tiergarten Soviet War Memorial

The Tiergarten Soviet War Memorial

There are three Soviet War Memorials in Berlin, one in Treptower Park, another in Pankow, and this one in the Tiergarten, which is probably the most well-known of the three, and unveiled just two months after the fall of Berlin to the Soviet army in May 1945.

The Battle for Berlin cost 80,000 Soviet lives and over 2,000 of them are buried here at this large memorial not far from the Brandenburg Gate. Ironically, after the partition of the city into 4 zones, the monument fell inside the British sector.

All parties agreed to allow it to be guarded by two Soviet soldiers, which it did until 1993.

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