Some places are just meant for wandering around, without any set path or in-depth historical account – and Annecy is one of them, which is why this post is just a selection of photos I took that day. I hope you enjoy looking at Annecy as much as I did.
I covered some of Dartmouth’s history in Privateers, Castles, Sea Dogs and Pilgrims and a good place to start this walk is on the Embankment next to the Train Station with No Railway (No1 on the map).
Dartmouth’s Embankment is the riverside equivalent of a seaside promenade, where it’s possible to lose track of time just by watching the comings and goings along the river.
On the plus side, it means that this won’t be a long post, and it’s just possible that I might be able to reveal a fact or two that you weren’t aware of, including perhaps, the fact that you didn’t even realise Bristol had a cathedral at all.
When it was founded in 1140 it wasn’t even a cathedral, but a monastery dedicated to St. Augustine of Canterbury, the missionary who brought Christianity to England. One of his companions was a man called St. Jordan who, legend has it, was buried in a chapel on what is now College Green. There has never been any evidence to substantiate this claim, but experts believe that there was a church here during Saxon times thanks to the discovery of a stone carving beneath the Chapter House in 1831. It now hangs on a wall in the South Transept.
Torbay doesn’t get many cruise ships normally – maybe a couple a year will drop in for a quick overnight stop and that’s about it, but it’s been different since the pandemic arrived. People living in Fort Lauderdale or Piraeus might not get over-excited about seeing a cruise ship turn up, but here in Torbay it’s somewhat different. We’re more used to seeing fishing boats and cargo ships rather than luxury liners, and when the first cruise ship anchored in the bay last year, little did we know that more were to follow.
I can’t remember which ship it was exactly, but it was a ‘Dam’. That I do know, because there were any number of ‘Dams’ that were first on the scene. They were here of course because they had no passengers, and although they would normally be tied up in a port somewhere, I can only hazard a guess as to why they chose Torbay as a resting place as it doesn’t have the facilities to cater for large ships in the same way. I assume one of the considerations must have been cost, and although it’s a safe haven for shipping during a south-westerly gale, dropping anchor here would not have been without its pitfalls, especially if being laid-up for a long spell.
I suppose this was why there seemed to be quite a large turnover of ships sailing in and out of the bay, but whatever ships were around, there always seemed to be a ‘Dam’. Westerdam, Volendam, Nieuw Statendam and Zaandam are all part of the Holland America Line and became a regular part of the scene. There were as many as six ships anchored in the bay at any one time and they were joined by two or three more around the other side of Hope’s Nose at Babbacombe.
During the time they’ve been here a rapport has been built up between the locals and the ships. The crews have been quarantined of course, but they’ve blown the ships’ horns to commemorate Armistice Day, New Year’s Eve and other occasions, and in return locals have sent Christmas parcels and made friends.
With the pandemic easing off (supposedly), the ships are now starting to leave the bay, and so I thought I would put together a gallery of some of the ships I’ve been able to capture on camera before they’ve all gone. Unfortunately, I’ve not got any pictures of those special moments like waking up to see the ships on a peaceful misty morning hovering above the sea like ghost ships or the moon shining down on them last thing at night. Those moments are priceless, and if nothing else it goes to prove that there can be some good things that happen in times of adversity.
This week, Oosterdam was the last ‘Dam’ to leave the bay: The night before it left, the ship was lit up in a way that spelt “We love you Torbay” and the following morning the ship’s captain was on local radio saying how he was leaving with a lump in his throat, but he would be back with his family sometime in the future to meet the people of Torbay.
He and his crew may miss Torbay, but many of us here will also miss the ships. Bon Voyage!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Theme from Schindler’s List
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.
The Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian I made his home here, and to celebrate his wedding to Bianca Maria Storza in 1494, the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) building was constructed in the centre of the Altstadt. Not only is it still here, but it has also become the city’s emblem.
I think it’s fair to say though, that most people don’t come to Innsbruck for its history, but for access to the mountains, especially during wintertime when the Tyrol beckons skiers and winter sports enthusiasts. Twice the city has been home to the Winter Olympics – in 1964 and again in 1976.
Neither me nor my long-suffering wife are into winter sports, but we chose to come here around Christmastime in 2007 to get the best of both worlds, and below is a selection of pictures of the city itself, its local mountain range, the Nordkette, and the nearby ski resort of Seefeld.
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.
The boundary of the Inner Stadt (or Old Town) is more or less the same as the famous Ringstrasse: This Ring Road was constructed during the 19th century over the top of the city’s medieval fortifications, and in 2001 the whole area inside the Ringstrasse was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.
At the heart of the Inner Stadt, and therefore the whole city, stands the Stephansdom, so where better to start a tour of this fabulous city than at its most famous landmark?
The Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral) stands in the centre of Stephansplatz, and due to heavy bombing during WWII, the square has few buildings left of any real merit. Apart from the church of course, there is one building that you can’t fail to miss – the Haas-Haus, a controversial glass and polished stone building completed in 1990. I don’t think people objected to the building as such, more the location. In my opinion (and some of you may disagree) there are examples of where modern architecture sits comfortably alongside the traditional: The glass dome on top of the Reichstag in Berlin and the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris are two that immediately spring to mind, but the Haas-Haus doesn’t fall into that category for me I’m afraid.
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’.
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.
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”.
Anybody who is familiar with his work won’t be disappointed. He challenges traditional architectural form with titanium-zinc and concrete designs that will also challenge your mind as to whether it fits in with the subject matter of the museum. Whatever you think of his ideas they are undeniably different. Like any so-called great artists of the modern era, his interpretation of what he wanted to portray has been worked out in his own mind and it’s no good me trying to explain it all. Some of his ideas I could understand, but others were pretty well lost on me.
Before the end of World War II, the whole length of Bernauer Strasse, was the border line between the districts of Wedding and Mitte, and consequently when the city was carved up by the victors at the end of the war, the street became part of the border between East and West Berlin.
Although Wedding found itself in the Western French sector and Mitte in the Eastern Soviet sector, there was no physical barrier between the two, and people were free to travel anywhere within the city. There was however, a vast difference between how people lived in their respective sectors. The Western side of the city was not only more affluent, but it also had luxury shops, restaurants and entertainment venues for people to spend their money in – and East Berliners wanted to spend what cash they had in West Berlin; and as time went on, a steady trickle of people started to leave East Berlin for a better life across the border.
The 1945 Potsdam Agreement had left Berlin wholly located within the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and once people were in West Berlin, they could then travel out of the city – and out of the Eastern Bloc. The trickle of people from East to West turned into a flood and by 1961 it was reckoned that more than 3 million East Germans had left the GDR via Berlin.
To stop this hemorrhaging of people to the West, the GDR authorities decided to build a physical barrier, a barrier which over time became more and more difficult to penetrate – and there was no better example of how the Berlin Wall divided the city than Bernauer Strasse.