A Travellerspoint blog

October 2018

Rhodes – Who Could Ask For Anything More?

sunny 25 °C

The Dodecanese, twenty or so idyllic Greek islands that lie off the coast of Turkey, have been fought over for thousands of years, but all is peaceful today since the bulk of the summer tourists have gone home and the flood of Syrian refugees has abated. However, we are not entirely alone as we begin our visit to the island of Rhodes. A few stragglers from Northern Europe have delayed their return to take advantage of the warm seas and the glorious Aegean weather...
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We have a couple of weeks to explore the island of Rhodes and parts of mainland Greece so we will start with a little history.
The Minoans and Myceneans overran the stone-age inhabitants of the islands nearly 3,000 years ago and then in 407 BC Hippodamos of Miletos, (the town planner extraordinaire of his day), built the city of Rhodos; the finest and best organised city of the known world at the time.

Rhodos, (or Rhodes to us), has had many names and many different rulers over the millenia including the Ottomans,Turks, Italians, Germans and Brits. It has been firmly Greek since 1947 when the British gave it back after liberating it from the Germans at the end of WWII. Despite numerous conquests and countless earthquakes, the bulk of the fortified city built over a period of two thousand five hundred years has survived...
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Unfortunately, the earthquake of 226 BC destroyed Rhodes' greatest monument – the Colossus of Rhodes. This enormous bronze statue of the Greek god Helios was erected to celebrate Rhodes victory over Cyprus. It was over 100 feet tall and in Medieval times it was fancifully believed that it had straddled the harbour entrance of Mandraki. There are plans to replace the statue but for now there are just two columns surmounted by a bronze doe and stag – the city's emblems
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Much of the city we are visiting today was built about 700 years ago by the Knights Hospitallers – a religious order of Knights Templars who established their headquarters on Rhodes in 1307 when they left Cyprus and were given Rhodes by the Pope. The fortifications and walled city are the largest and best preserved Medieval constructions in Europe and we barely skimmed the surface as we walked around the dry moat...
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...climbed some of the battlements...
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And took a first look at the maze of streets within the walls...
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It is easy to see the Turkish coast from the fortress of Rhodes and ferries make the crossing daily. We have no plans to re-visit Turkey but we took to the sea in a glass-bottomed boat to view the somewhat sparse sea life and to visit the windmills that once ground the city's grain...
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There were thirteen windmills at one time but only three survive today and they no longer operate.
Both the city of Rhodes and the island seem to have much to offer and as we dine under the stars on freshly caught fish we can already see why it is a very popular tourist destination... Sun, sea, culture and a plethora of authentic Greek restaurants – who could ask for anything more?
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Posted by Hawkson 10:23 Archived in Greece Comments (3)

Last of the Summer Wine

sunny 23 °C

Summer lingers longer on the Cotes d'azure in the South of France and we were lucky to enjoy the warm seas, spectacular vistas and sunny skies that this part of the world is renowned for...
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The palm-treed beachfront promenades of Cannes are packed with visitors from around the world in summer, but most have gone now and the locals get to enjoy a leisurely afternoon stroll...
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The real heat of the Mediterranean sun has gone. along with the mega-rich owners of the many super-yachts and fancy villas that litter the hillsides along the coast. Some of the hotels and restaurants have already shut up shop for the winter but temperatures in the mid-20s have brought out the sunbeds and filled the remaining beach bars and restaurants, (although it took us a couple of hours to get lunch in one place). A modern five-masted cruise liner sits off the coast while people still enjoy a dip...
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However, the coastal roads that can be a total nightmare in summer are at least navigable once the masses have gone...
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Although the road traffic may have lessened, the Port of Cannes is still full of the yachts of the rich and famous...
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And the castle that has been a beacon to sailors for centuries still stands sentinel over the ancient harbour that was just a haven for a few sardine fishing boats before it was transformed into one of the world's most fashionable haunts of the glitterati...
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We are now refreshed and relaxed after a family holiday and are briefly back in England to enjoy a typical autumn day – maybe the rain will stop later! Tomorrow we head back south to the sunny Aegean island of Rhodes. We hope you can join us there in a day or so.
Au revoir from France.

Posted by Hawkson 05:41 Archived in France Comments (3)

Divided Berlin

semi-overcast 12 °C

Berlin today is known as a 'Party Town' with bars, nightclubs and strip joints for all – except us. However, we enjoyed an early evening visit to a Munich Biergarten, with a Bavarian oompah band, (two guys in tight lederhosen playing souped up keyboards), where the beer was good and the roast pork knuckle enormous...
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We also took an afternoon cruise on the city's waterways, but we were not alone...
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Several people, including the staff at the tourist information office, had been skeptical that the river cruises were still running this late in the year so we were amazed to find ourselves in the midst of a procession as we meandered past ancient, (though largely rebuilt) stone edifices like the Berlin cathedral...
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...and under newly erected ivory towers of the government...
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However, the truly iconic symbol of both Berlin and of Germany is the Reichstag...
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This parliamentary building was built in 1884 but was badly damaged by an arsonist in 1933. Hitler used the fire as a reason to seize power by claiming that the fire was started by the Bolshevics. But many people believe that Hitler's supporters started the fire to give him the excuse he needed to strip the populace of their rights and impose strict martial law and Nazi domination. World War 2 followed in 1939 and it is impossible to escape signs of that dreadful period here. It is also impossible to escape the Berlin Wall. Most of the wall was torn down soon after re-unification but sections have been replaced with steel railings that trace its path through the city...
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Alongside the railings and throughout the length of the wall are plaques commemorating the people who escaped from the East, and often died in the attempt...
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Straddling the line of the wall in one place is the Mauer-park flea market where hundreds of stallholders sell everything from fur coats to cranky bikes, creaky old LPs, and huge numbers of biersteins...
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Now, autumn is catching up with us in these northern climes so it's time to head south to the Mediterranean for a family holiday. We will be back with you in a week or so as we continue our quest for Athena in the Aegean on the island of Rhodes, but for now, Prost and Auf wiedersehen from Berlin...
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Posted by Hawkson 09:16 Archived in Germany Comments (3)

The Best of Berlin

sunny 14 °C

Insane politics, nationalism and mindless populism, under the banner of “ Make Germany Great Again”, led to the virtual destruction of the once great capital of Berlin just 75 years ago. And then, just as the world was attempting to get back to rational order, the Soviets built a mighty wall that divided this once great city and the world. To have straddled this spot after 13th August 1961 would have meant instant death...
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It would be nice to believe that insane politicians, rampant nationalism and walls no longer divide us – but...? As we travel the world we meet wonderful people everywhere – people like Sabine who couldn't believe the size of the Wiener Schnitzel served at the restaurant she invited us to in Berlin...
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Sabine is a relative of a Canadian friend and she welcomed us royally with an evening tour of the German capital that included the beautifully restored Deutscher Dom cathedral at Gendarmenmarkt...
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We are staying in Alexanderplatz, an area that was totally destroyed during WWII, but has risen loftily from the ashes and is now home to many highrise hotels and the Fernsehturm tower...
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This 368 metre communications tower was constructed between 1965-69 by the East German Government as a symbol of Communist power and, as intended, it was clearly visible from most places in both East and West Berlin. Berlin suffered massive destruction from the allies and the Soviets during WWII and thanks to the Cold War much of the damage was not repaired until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. One building that survived, though severely damaged, was the iconic Brandenburg Gate...
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German history was made here. Built on the site of a former city gate in 1791 it was inspired by Athen's Acroplis and was the grand entrance to a boulevard of Linden trees. The gate was crowned with a statue of Victoria, the goddess of victory, but Napoleon's troops took it as a war prize after beating the Prussians in 1806. The Prussians won it back 8 years later and in 1933 the Nazis used the gate and its symbolism to celebrate Hitler's rise to power. The Soviets blocked the gate as part of the Berlin Wall and it became an emblem of the East/West divide until 1989. Another iconic symbol of the Cold War was Checkpoint Charlie...
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Today the border crossing is nothing more than a hut in the middle of the road with some fake Americans in uniform pretending to guard it. Prior to 1989 anyone crossing without a permit was liable to be shot by either side. Berlin is a united city in a united country today but, we are told, all is not quite as rosy as it appears – xenophobia and nationalism are on the rise again. However, we were heartened to see this silent demonstration against worldwide slavery by many young people...
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And we were delighted to be given chocolates by Katrina...
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Katrina is the sweet fraulein at Berlin's answer to London's Harrod's – KeDeWe, the department store properly called Kaufhaus de Westens...
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Once we've finished our chocolates we'll get back to our day job of sightseeing in Berlin.

Posted by Hawkson 08:51 Archived in Germany Comments (4)

Hannover's Regal Past

semi-overcast 24 °C

Following the death of Queen Anne in 1714, through a convoluted secession process, the Prince-Elector of Hannover, George Louis, became the first Georgian king of England. And so began the German dominance of the British royal household – the House of Hanover. That could be the history lesson for today, but the truth is that here in Hannover, (spelled with only one 'n' in English), history is all around us. Herrenhausen Palace on the outskirts of the city was the summer home of the Hanoverian princes and today the Great Garden, dating from 1683, is considered one of the most distinguished baroque formal gardens of Europe...
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We had splendid weather as we strolled the majestic linden walks that surround the garden and led to the great fountain...
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All around us were magnificent plants and statues, but most surprising were the huge trees growing in seemingly tiny planters...
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By talking to the gardeners we discovered that all of the trees are kept inside during the winter and their roots trimmed to restrain them, as has been the practice at Herrenhausen for some 350 years.

Although Hannover is truly the seat of the present British royal family, when Germany started the first World War the Brits changed their name to Windsor to distance themselves from their German cousins.
Despite the war the Brits kept ownership of Herrenhausen Palace and asked the RAF to give it a wide berth – Oh well...we all make mistakes – at least the Great Cascade of 1676 survived...
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Herrenhausen Palace, along with 90% per cent of all the buildings in Hannover were either totally destroyed or damaged beyond repair during 88 air raids on the city during World War II. It is almost inconceivable to us today as we walk the wide pedestrian precincts amongst throngs of friendly locals, that some 75 years ago nearly one million bombs, mines and incendiaries were dropped on these streets killing some 7,000 people and injuring countless others. Hannover was a beautiful city of half timbered medieval houses until the night of October 8th. 1943, when Britain and its allies finally decimated the place with thousands of bombs, but the majestic city hall survived...
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Despite its Gothic appearance, Hanover's Rathaus was only finished a little over a hundred years ago and it has an intriguing original secret. The lofty dome of the city hall is reached by an elevator that curves as it rises to the summit. The elevator has both a glass roof and a glass floor so you can appreciate the unnerving phenomena – if you don't close your eyes. However, the view from the top on a fine day is superb...
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Unlike Hannover, the nearby town of Celle was never bombed during the war and it is rumoured that it was spared at the request of the British King because of its beautiful 16th century buildings like this one from 1585...
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There are some 500 medieval buildings still in existence and in daily use in Celle. It is quite surreal to walk street after street of houses and stores more than 400 years old and to imagine the lives of the merchants and people who walked these streets in Elizabethan times...
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And what would they have made of the ubiquitous bicycles...
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Celle is a beautiful medieval town but its history is forever horribly stained by its close association with the nearby Nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen where some 60,000 prisoners, including Anne Frank, died during the war.

Posted by Hawkson 09:01 Archived in Germany Comments (5)

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