A Travellerspoint blog

Home Sweet Home

rain 8 °C

Our return to the wide world has ended and we are now home on our Canadian isle waiting for spring to arrive. We are hoping our tans will survive long enough to carry us into summer. Before we left England we visited this place that followers of the T.V. series, Downton Abbey, will have no problem identifying…
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This is actually Highclere Castle in Hampshire, ancestral home of the Carnavon family. This 300 room stately home has been in the same family since it was built in 1679 by the Attorney General of King Charles II. The current occupiers are the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnavon who live in a cozy little mansion somewhere on the estate. However, specially invited guests are allowed to sleep in the castle’s bedrooms on beds that are usually occupied by Lady Cora, The Countess of Grantham, Lady Mary Crawley and her younger sister, Lady Edith. We were not specially invited, so we ended up on the self-guided tour. While no photos are allowed inside the building, this is the main hall…
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Having visited ‘Downton Abbey’ we just had to see the latest movie, “A New Era,” featuring all of our favourite characters. We were not disappointed.
Our final week in England was spent with friends and family. But one family member was in the Spanish Balearic Island of Mallorca which gave James a excuse to top up his tan with a flying visit. This is the enormous cathedral that dominates the waterfront of the capital, Palma…
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And this is the palm-lined waterfront promenade…
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The Balearic Islands are ritzy hotspots and the yachting season is about to start. The crews of most of the superyachts are tarting up their floating palaces ready for their well-heeled guests, however, a couple of the snazziest yachts won’t be going anywhere this summer. They have been seized by virtue of sanctions on Russian oligarchs.
After a night in Palma, James and his son took off for a tour of Mallorca and ended up in a hotel overlooking the historic central plaza of the mountain town of Soller…
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Unbeknown to the visitors, they had stumbled into the midst of the town’s biggest and noisiest annual festival when thousands cram into the plaza, setting off firecrackers and listening to rock bands until five in the morning. The Es Firo festival celebrates a 1561 battle between the Muslim Moors and Christians when Algerian invaders landed in the nearby port and marched to Soller town to claim it for the Arabs. But, according to legend, the women of Soller poured treacle on the streets and attacked the Moors with catapults when they became stuck. The heroic women are lauded along with the town’s other attraction – a historic tram that runs between the town and the port…
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This is the port...
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Like all Medieval European mountain villages, Soller is a tightly woven labyrinth of cobbled, streets that are so narrow it is impossible to believe that any vehicles can get through – but they do. However, during the festival, most of the roads were closed to traffic and were filled with fairground rides and giant mannequins…
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So, that is it for now. We have dipped our toes back into the world and are already looking forward to our next adventure. Thank you for following along with our travels and we hope you join us next time. In the meantime, as this sign in Hyde Park, London, reminds us…
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Bye for now.

Posted by Hawkson 01:53 Archived in Canada Comments (7)

Blooming Britain

semi-overcast 17 °C

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As we wander down this leafy lane the words of an Ivor Novello song remind us of the beauty of spring in England.
"We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again
And walk together down an English lane
Until our hearts have learned to sing again
When you come home once more."

We are briefly back 'home' in England after a month in Spain and Britain is in full bloom. Spring came early this year and we enjoyed several weeks of balmy weather that brought out the daffodils and magnolias before we took off for Spain. But now we are back and the streets of London are scented with the blossoms of lilacs, wisteria, jasmine, and mock orange, while the woods and fields are simply carpeted with colour. These are woodland bluebells...
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And these are drifts of cowslips that thrive on open moorland in southern England...
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The rugged south coast of England is sculpted into numerous bays beneath towering cliffs of sandstone and chalk, and the windswept headlands are renowned for their abundance of golden gorse and broom...
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The wonderful 'coconut' fragrance of the flowering gorse at Hengistbury Head fills the air on a sunny afternoon and the view of Bournemouth Bay from the top of the cliffs is quite stunning...
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Rural England is particularly beautiful at this time of the year and we especially like the ancient villages and towns where historic buildings line the streets and surround the village common. For instance - this is the 900-year-old flint church in the village of Clapham in Sussex...
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All buildings of a certain age are protected by law and required to be maintained under strict supervision. They are known as 'Listed buildings' and are graded according to their historical importance. Owning a listed house or building can be very expensive and onerous and there are circumstances when it is necessary to take steps to preserve them. And that is where the Weald & Downland Living Museum comes in. This is a Medieval farmhouse that needed rescuing..
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This farmhouse, and many other buildings, have been moved to the museum in the beautiful Sussex countryside near Chichester where they have been lovingly restored and cared for. Houses, shops, farms, a school, and even a working flour mill, have all been reconstructed here. This is a substantial Tudor mansion...
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When we arrived, we thought we had slipped through a time warp back to the 16th century as costumed people wandered the streets and costermongers hawked their wares in the marketplace...
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We soon learned that they were actors making a Christmas movie. However, the museum is no stranger to the screen and a very popular BBC series titled, "The Repair Shop" is filmed in an ancient barn here. In the program, people bring heirlooms to be restored by expert craftsmen, but there is no point in turning up with granddads broken down bike to get the puncture repaired. Only specially selected guests get their knickknacks brought up to scratch.
On the subject of fixing things up on the screen, we have one more stop in England before returning home. See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 12:25 Archived in England Comments (5)

Seeking Don Quixote in Toledo

sunny 22 °C

When Miguel de Cervantes wrote about Don Quixote, the Man of La Manche, in 1605, Toledo was no longer the seat of the Spanish Crown. But the enormous castle cum palace that King Carlos V had occupied in the middle of the 16th century dominated the skyline as it does today...
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We've written before about the castles of Spain because they are everywhere. While many are somewhat Disneyfied, Toledo's Alcazar is home to a very modern military museum and retains nothing of its regal splendour. However, Toledo's other castle across the River Tagus looks as though it means business...
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This 11th century Castle of San Servando was home to the Knights Templar during the Crusades and even appeared in El Greco's painting of Toledo in 1604. Its name, it is claimed, is derived from the Cervantes family. So, while we assumed San Servando might be a major tourist attraction, we were surprised to discover that nowadays it is a fancy youth hostel that is reached by taking the Route de Don Quixote across a Roman bridge...
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Never judge a book by its cover, or the quality of marzipan from its wrapper. We say this because Toledo was once a centre of silk manufacture, but today it is known for its marzipan. Half the shops in Toledo have marzipan for sale - often described as handmade using only the finest almonds...
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All around the world we are assailed by salespeople assuring us that their products are handmade by their granny in the mountains, so we were more than a little sceptical and in the end we bought our marzipan from a nun in a convent...
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She wouldn't lie - would she?

Toledo is a major tourist attraction and both the city and its tour guides are unlikely to let the facts get in the way of a good story. And so, while the author Miguel de Servantes looms large in the story of Toledo, he spent little time here and actually wrote about Don Quixote while in jail. The Man of La Manche is regarded as the western world's first real novel, where Quixote, (a minor aristocrat like Cervantes himself), imagines himself to be a chivalrous knight seeking to right the wrongs of the world while everyone else thinks he is crazy. This is Cervantes' statue in Toledo...
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And this is where the fictional Quixote is said to have walked with his faithful servant, Pancho...
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However, while the castle might be a youth hostel, the marzipan mass produced and Don Quixote a bit of a myth, there is a lot about Toledo to love. This is the patchwork of medieval tiled roofs as seen from our hotel balcony...
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Toledo is an absolute maze of narrow streets interwoven with flights of steep steps. It is very easy to get lost, but equally easy to find the way out by climbing to the highest point - the Alcazar.
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We are now nearing the end of this part of our European trip. We shall soon return to England and hope to take some of Spain's warmth with us. In the meantime, we will say goodbye to Toledo as we dine on our hotel's rooftop terrace and watch the sunset over the Cathedral...
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Hasta luego desde Espana

Posted by Hawkson 13:28 Archived in Spain Comments (7)

Regal Segovia

Our 700th Blog Entry

semi-overcast 12 °C

This is the seven hundredth time that we have posted about our Blissful Adventures around the world and, thanks to Covid, it is exactly four years since we last celebrated a centennial. The world has changed in so many ways since our six hundreth blog in South America and many of our travel plans over the past two years were, initially, merely postponed, but eventually dropped altogether. And, because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the lingering effects of the pandemic, some places on our bucket list may have to wait for sometime. While we are enormously grateful that much of the world is re-opening for us to explore, we are saddened by the fact that several of our faithful armchair followers are no longer able to travel along with us. Perhaps Eileen, Vera, Jean, and James' cousin Roy, are still with us in spirit as we continue to shine a spotlight on the brighter parts of this hurting world. Today we are in one of those brighter places: Segovia in central Spain where there is fresh snow on the surrounding mountains...
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We knew it would be colder when we took the train from Madrid high into the Guadarama mountains to the ancient city of Segovia, but even the locals had been surprised by a heavy dump of snow the previous day. By the time we arrived, the snow had disappeared from the city streets and the fairytale castle, the Alcazar, was bathed in bright sunshine...
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The Alcazar of Segovia is, in every respect, a museum of Spanish royal life and was used by Walt Disney as a model for the castle in the 1950 movie, Cinderella. Much of it was built by King Alfonso VIII and Eleanor, his English wife, in the 12th century, but later monarchs made many improvements and additions. Another English queen by marriage, Catherine of Lancaster, added the great Hall of the Galley in 1412. The enormous gilded ceiling is said to represent the upturned hull of a galley...
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As we wander from one magnificent hall to the next we can picture the great ceremonial occasions that were held here when this was the primary residence of the kings and queens of Spain...
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One royal resident, King Philip II of Spain, briefly became king of England by marrying Queen Mary in 1554, but when she died in 1558 Philip sent his great Spanish Armada to invade England and dethrone Mary's successor, Elizabeth I. And we all know how that turned out! The Alcazar of Segovia has had so many occupants and uses that entire books are written about it. Suffice for us to say - just look at King Philip's fabulous throne room...
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The Cathedral of Segovia is equally impressive...
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The opulent decoration and religious artwork in the numerous side chapels rivals that of any of the world's best known cathedrals and the 300ft high bell tower and the vaulted ceilings are breathtaking...
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The narrow cobbled streets inside the walls of the old city of Segovia are lined with touristy shops and cafes - many offering the obligatory morning snack of churros and hot chocolate. However, in Spain, the hot chocolate is so rich and thick that you can actually stand a spoon up in it...
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The entire Medieval city of Segovia was protected by a virtually impregnable wall that forms the foundation for many of today's buildings...
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But Segovia was a city long before the middle ages and many of its buildings, including the castle, stand on Roman foundations. One of Segovia's most important archeological artefacts is a Roman aqueduct that has been delivering water to the city from springs in the nearby mountains for two thousand years...
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With more than a hundred and fifty slender stone arches bridging the valley beneath the old city walls, this is one of the finest examples of Roman architecture still standing in the world and still in use today.
It is still cool in the mountains so we are now heading back to the warmth of the south and another Medieval city - Toledo.

Posted by Hawkson 08:28 Archived in Spain Comments (4)

Majestic Madrid

sunny 20 °C

Almost every European capital has at least one easily recognisable icon and if we showed photos of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben or the Colosseum, you would immediately know where we were. But Madrid doesn't have anything that really stands out despite its wealth of majestic buildings. For instance: this is the Royal Palace...
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It may be much grander than Buckingham Palace, but Spain's royal palace doesn't seem to generate the same kind of buzz among tourists. There are no smartly turned-out guardsmen; no household cavalry; no crowds hoping to catch just a fleeting glimpse of royalty to be able to forever say, "I saw the Queen or the King." Spain dumped the monarchy and became a Republic under Franco in the 1930s, but in 1978 the King was re-instated and remains very popular today. However, the royal family no longer lives in the palace.
There are a multitude of architectural delights in Madrid, but in order to enjoy the sheer majesty of the city you have to look up...
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While it is difficult to capture the enormity and grandeur of many of Madrid's buildings from ground level, it is very pleasant to wander along the wide tree-lined bulevars filled with fountains and statues...
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While the buildings and streets are themselves historical artefacts, Madrid is renowned for its many museums. However, to visit all the major museums would entail a week of mind-numbing information absorption. So we cut the brain fog to a minimum by sticking to the most important. This is a statue of Goya which stands outside Madrid's most famous art museum, El Prado...
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Despite the difficulty of booking online, and the horrendously long ticket queues, we managed to visit this renowned museum famed for its many Goya paintings. No photos are allowed inside the museum, however, pictures were allowed at the nearby modern art exhibition in the Palacio de Comunicaciones...
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This celebrated masterpiece, (which just looked like a load of old chairs and a few bits and bobs to us), was described as a perfect metaphor for the isolation caused by Covid. There were quite a number of more esoteric works in the gallery, including a lump of concrete in a backpack. Maybe we are naïve when it comes to modern art, but we actually found the building itself more fascinating...
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Also fascinating, and much prettier, are the numerous ancient, glazed tile, storefronts that adorn shops, bars and restaurants. The centre of Madrid is dotted with plazas filled with cafes, bars, and restaurants. This is just one side of the enormous Plaza Mayor...
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And this is the Plaza Santa Ana as seen from our balcony in the early morning before the restaurants and bars have set up their tables and umbrellas for another busy day...
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Another feature of Madrid is its extensive central park, Parque del Retiro, and the attached botanical gardens. Madrid has long hot summers, so the public gardens are filled with plants that we might think of as tropical. The tulips and spring bulbs have already passed their best under the swaying banana palms and the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom under the olive trees...
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When the historic railway station became too small for the high-speed lines, the Spaniards attached a new station next door and turned the old one into an enormous hothouse filled with tropical plants. It was a good idea, because, after weeks of brilliant sunshine and temperatures touching the thirties, we finally hit a cool patch that even the Spanish meteorologists described as a blip of winter in the midst of spring. However, the cool, damp spell was short-lived and the sun was soon shining again on Madrid's majestic buildings. This is the Cathedral...
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We could easily spend a week here enjoying the fabulous meals in the excellent restaurants, but our waistlines can't take much more so we are moving on. Next stop: the historic city of Segovia.

Posted by Hawkson 08:07 Archived in Spain Comments (6)

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