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.
This must have been a developer’s dream after Hay’s Wharf closed down in 1970. London Bridge, if you remember, was the first ever river crossing to connect London from the south, and even after William the Conqueror became King of England in 1066, the former Anglo-Saxon religious centres of Canterbury and Winchester still had a strong influence on how the country was run.
Under the circumstances, it’s therefore quite understandable how this area came under the ownership of several leading religious figures who wanted to live next to the river, from where they could easily sail up to Westminster.
While we’re supposed to be trying to contain the virus, everywhere seems to be in turmoil – from racial tensions and political struggles to worries about how the planet is going to survive.
It’s only going to survive if we stop putting our own agenda first, start concentrating on the bigger picture, and join together to create a better world for everybody.
The picture above was taken in a nuclear bunker in Berlin several years ago, and this is how people could be living in the future if we don’t get our act together.
The song Eve of Destruction was released by Barry McGuire in 1965. Nothing’s changed has it – or maybe it has – perhaps we’re getting even closer.
London has Piccadilly Circus; Glasgow has St. George’s Square and Bristol has The Centre! Not the most innovative name for a focal point I’m sure you would agree, but before you start thinking that it’s just an easy way to name Bristol’s city centre, the name is actually an abbreviation of the Tramway Centre that used to operate from St. Augustine’s Parade, and it’s not the centre of the city anyway.
The museum, which is located at Vrijdagmarkt (Friday Market), was the former home and workplace of Christophe Plantin, a Frenchman who arrived here in 1576. On his death in 1589 he passed the business down to his son-in-law, Jan Moretus, and it remained in the same family until 1876 when everything was sold lock, stock, and barrel to the city of Antwerp: A year later it was opened up as a museum.
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.
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 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”.
The monument was designed by Johann Heinrich Strack, and the 8.3m golden statue on top of the column was added by Friedrich Drake and represents both the Goddess of Victory and Borussia, the Latin name for Prussia. Her face is supposedly based on Drake’s daughter and known as the Goldelse (Golden Else), or roughly translated as ‘Golden Lizzie’.
The official German name for the park known as The Tiergarten is Grosser Tiergarten, which helps to distinguish it from the district of the same name.
This huge park in central Berlin covers an area of some 520 acres roughly enclosed by the River Spree on its northern edge to the Tiergarten Strasse in the south, and from the Brandenburg Gate in the east to the zoo in the west.
The Strasse des 17 Juni runs through the centre of the park from east to west, and where it meets the Großer Stern (Great Star) the Siegessaule (Victory Column) stands sentinel over the whole park around it.
Only Templehofer Park (the former Templehof Airport) and the English Garden in Munich are larger so it’s best not to underestimate its size before deciding on where to go.
The name Grosser Tiergarten literally means ‘Large Game Park’ and gives a clue to its original use.
In the 16th century the Great Elector, Friedrich Wilhelm, turned this marshy ground into a hunting enclosure, but during the 17th and 18th centuries the area was gradually turned into more formal pleasure grounds for the people of Berlin – wide avenues were constructed, trees planted, and monuments erected.
In contrast to the other glass and steel structures in the square, the building is constructed out of peat-fired bricks with a design more reminiscent of a New York skyscraper. It soars 100 metres up into the Berlin sky and was completed in 1999.
Mainly built with office space in mind, I don’t suppose too many people will be overly enthusiastic about these statistics, but it might interest people more if I say that the fastest elevator in Europe catapults you up to the 24th floor in just 20 seconds where there is an open-air viewing platform with some of the best views in Berlin.
With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the redevelopment of Potsdamer Platz must have been an architect’s dream. The square was divided up into four separate areas which were to be redeveloped by four different developers, one of which was the area now occupied by the Sony Center.
During the ‘Golden Twenties’, the site was occupied by ‘The Esplanade’, one of Berlin’s most prestigious hotels. Frequented by film stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo, the hotel was even used by Kaiser Wilhelm II who entertained guests in one of the hotel’s magnificent halls.
90% of the hotel was destroyed by allied bombing raids in the winter of 1944/45, with the Kaisersaal (as the hall became known) and the breakfast room the only rooms to survive. After restoration of what was left, it once again fell into disrepair following the building of the adjacent Berlin Wall.
After the Wall came down, what remained was listed as a historical monument, which created a problem for the architects of the new Sony Center. The outcome was that the Kaisersaal was moved 75 metres and incorporated into the new design behind a glass wall, and the breakfast room was dismantled piece by piece and re-created for the new Café Josty, the original being a popular Potsdamer Platz meeting place for artists in the early 20th century.
At 368m, Berlin’s TV Tower is the tallest structure in Germany, so there’s no excuse for not seeing it.
There’s an enclosed viewing platform at 203 m, and fortunately you don’t have to climb up the 986 steps because one of the two lifts will whisk you up there in just 40 seconds.
It’s a good job the lifts are quick because they’re not very big and waiting times can be considerable.
Almost 1.2m visitors a year pay to come for a panoramic view of Berlin and if you don’t mind paying an extra premium you can have a fast track entry. Better still if you can get here for the 09.00 opening you won’t need to pay the extra and you won’t have to wait long either.
The prime reason for building the TV Tower wasn’t to give tourists a grandstand view of Berlin of course, but to provide radio and television transmissions, and also no doubt, to make a political statement that the GDR was capable of building structures every bit as impressive as those across the wall could – and in this instance, in my opinion, they were right.