Category Archives: Featured Europe

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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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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Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz

At a point where five roads converged at the old Potsdam Gate, Potsdamer Platz became the busiest and most recognized intersection in Germany – if not Europe. It became so busy that Europe’s first recognised traffic lights were installed in 1924 to help keep things moving.

Its heyday was during the Roaring Twenties, when film stars such as Marlene Dietrich helped catapult Berlin onto the world stage of show business. It was the place to be and be seen. Grand hotels were built to accommodate the rich and famous, as did luxury stores, bars, and restaurants. The inter-war years had been good to Berlin, but it wasn’t to last.

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Alexanderplatz

Friendship Among Nations Fountain

Alexanderplatz

Alexanderplatz, or Alex, as it’s known to Berliners is a windswept pedestrianised plaza doubling up as a meeting point and transport hub in what used to be East Berlin.

It was the downtown centre for the locals when it was behind the Iron Curtain, and now one of the main focal points for the united Berlin of today – and no visit to the city would be complete without visiting Alex.

The square was the communist authority’s idea of a modern cityscape, and although it’s had its fair share of critics over the years, it wouldn’t surprise me if there wasn’t a fair number of people who wouldn’t want to see it change too much either.

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The Grote Markt

The Grote Markt

If someone was to ask me what Belgium is famous for, I would have to include Moules et Frites, beer, and maybe chocolate, but I would also have to add town squares to the list. It may sound a bit odd to lump a town square with food and drink, but they go together like Laurel and Hardy or Starsky and Hutch. In fact, I can’t think of anything better than to sit in a Grand Square with a plate of Moules et Frites and a Belgian beer.

The Grand Place in Brussels is probably the best-known square, but Antwerp has a pretty good one too, but as we’re in Flanders we’d better call it the Grote Markt.

The square is triangular in shape, if that makes any sense, and is dominated by its wonderful 16thc City Hall. In front of it is the Brabo Fountain, a famous Antwerp symbol, which requires further explanation.

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