After a short delay (1 hour) we were off and only 95 minutes later the plane landed in Prague. A quick exit from the plane and straight through immigration to arrive at the baggage belts just in time to see our luggage coming up (barely 10 mins from the plane touching the runway). Straight through customs and into a waiting taxi through the outskirts or Prague (at somewhere approaching 80 mph!) to the hotel. In less than 45 minutes I had got from the air to the hotel!.
It was already 11pm so we decided on a quiet evening and went to the bar at the end of the street where we drunk ourselves silly (The Czech's operate a brilliant system where they keep a tab on your table of how many beers you have had and charge at the end). After about 4 pints each we asked for the bill that came to about £4 (you couldn't get one round of drinks for that in even the cheapest student bar in the UK) and promptly tipped the bar man about £6 as we still weren't used to the currency, though it would explain why we got such good service the next time we went in...
Firstly we had a look at the guide books and then we walked into town.
First stop was the old town square and with it the world famous astronomical clock.
Next stop was the powder tower just slightly back from the old town square. This was the first of many spiral staircases to the top of towers. From here you can get commanding views of the centre or Prague and out to the outskirts of the city.
After a spot of lunch in a cafe near the old town square we continued to wander around the city before heading back to the hotel for a rest.
That evening we wandered back into town for a quick bite to eat before heading back to the hotel
The Charles Bridge quite rightly features in almost all holiday brochures, guide books and literature about Prague. From it you climb the castle hill to reach the complex on the top with its breathtaking views of the city and its spectacular architecture, The cathedral, Palaces and towers.
Once again another spiral staircase challenges us but we defeated it. The tower of the cathedral has the longest set of stairs in the city over 400 with tourists in large numbers going up and down all the time it's the scariest of the climbs but the view from the top is worth it!.
After the cathedral and the tower we looked at some of the other sites in the castle complex but there was no way that we were going to get them all done in one day so it is good that the tickets are valid for 3!.
By the time we had left the castle it was early evening so we wandered back into town over a different bridge so that we could see the Charles bridge from the side.
This time to see the Royal Palaces and to stroll in the grounds.
The size of the castle is such that you can not hope to do it in less that 2 days really.
After the castle we wandered back into town for a bite to eat before heading back to the hotel.
At the top not only stunning views but also the mirror maze and a scaled down version of the Eiffel Tower. From here a walk leads down through the park land to the bottom of the hill.
Next stop was the Zizka Monument on the top of Zizkov hill. At one time used as the tomb for communist leaders now left empty but a spectacular structure. Again spectacular views of the city can be seen.
Then it was a walk back across the city to the hill that the Metronome now stands on. This was previously where a bust of Stalin had sat staring down at the people of Prague but since the collapse of communism has been replaced with something more tasteful. Again spectacular views of the city make the climb up the side of the hill worth it!
Originally planed to block the corrupting influences of capitalist television from West Germany reaching the country its building was only completed after the fall of communism.
It does though offer some of the best views of the city from the highest vantage point with the advantage that it's lifts rather than stairs that take you to the top.
After the TV Tower it was time to wander back into town and a wander round the Jewish quarter of the city
In the town a small church was such a popular place to be interred when you died that after a while the number of bodies started to get out of hand. In the end 40,000 sets of remains were filling up the chapel and it was decided that something should be done.
This something turned out to be making decorations out of the bones. From piles of skulls to a coat of alms and even a chandelier made out of at least one of every bone in the human body!
After that we had a quick look around the city of Kutna Hora before heading back to the train station and the train back to Prague
After catching the airport bus into town I visited the tourist information centre and booked myself onto a musical pub crawl for the evening. I then set about heading out of town to my hotel.
In the process I was passed by about 20 buses that I only later discovered stopped right outside the hotel and would have saved me an absolute soaking!
That evening I caught the bus back into town and went the the Temple Bar area to join the pub crawl.
A really fun evening involving several pints of Guinness 3 pubs and lots of music.
By the time I came out of the last pub the rain had stopped a warm breeze was blowing and the weather looked fare for the rest of the trip.
1. They give you an idea where places are in the city and if they are hop on hop off let you get round the city easily
2. They always give you an easy to read map with all the key tourist points marked out
3. They always have money off vouchers for the attractions you want to visit!
First stop of the morning Trinity College and the Dublin Experience a 45 minute Audio/Visual presentation of the history of the island of Ireland. Following this a quick walk across the quad to the long library and the Book of Kells.
After this it's back onto the bus and off to a lunchtime visit to the Old Jameson's distillery. An interesting tour of how Irish whisky is produced topped off with a tasting session.
quick walk back across the Liffy and up the hill to the Guinness factory for a look round their museum and a free pint of Guinness. All in all a very alcoholic afternoon.
Back to the hotel to quickly recover (and drop off the souvenirs) before setting out again for the Dublin Ghost bus tour. An interesting and informative bus tour of the most haunted spots in Dublin
A look round the Dublinia Exhibition followed by a look around St Patrick's Cathedral. After that just time for a quick look round the museum of Irish music and the wax works and then back onto the airport bus for the flight home and a well deserved rest (and admitting to my boss who had only just come of holiday that I had handed my notice in 2 weeks earlier!!)
I am proud to have officially opened the summer season in Prague and here I was back for the very last week before the clocks went back and the winter season officially started.
This time even the flight wasn't as delayed and once again I found myself in the bar at the end of the road the hotel was in with the same barman on duty!
The only difference this time was different traveling companions
Then in the evening off on a ghost tour of Prague
The small town on the top of a hill just outside the city centre has the Cemetery for all the famous artists and musicians who have lived and died in the city.
Then back to the centre for the final tower the one housing the astronomical clock. Though some of the fun of climbing hundreds of steps has been removed because they stuck a lift in!. Spectacular views over the old town square though!.
Down then into the cellars of the town hall which are cavernous in the extreme before finally emerging back into the old town square for another coffee.
I caught the airport bus into town and arrived just gone midday with more that an hour before I could check in I caught one of the open toped buses to see the city and foolishly decided to sit upstairs (in fact all the times I used open top buses I sit upstairs no matter what the weather - I think I need help!)
Stunning views of the centre of Edinburgh, the castle, the royal mile and the palace of Hollyrood. By the time the tour was complete I could check in at the hotel.
I then wandered around the city looking at some of the sights and then visited the Scottish Whisky Heritage centre. An interesting tour of how Scotch whisky is distilled (as opposed to Irish whisky - see Dublin you're probably thinking I have an alcohol problem by now) which starts with a small tasting session and finished with a slightly larger tasting session and the discovery of what is my Water of Life - Highland Park whisky.
Back to the hotel to freshen up and then back to the castle to go on the Adam Lyle (Deceased) Ghost tour (with Jumpaoooters). A fun and irreverent tour of the old town with a few grisly ghost stories checked in for good measure.
The castle itself is quite breathtaking and amazingly still partly in use.
After spending a couple of hours wandering around the castle I left and started to walk down the royal mile about 50 yards to the Camera Obscurer for a more novel tour or Edinburgh and a museum of optical illusion.
Then a little further down to the main church in Edinburgh for a quick look around.
After that back to the hotel to drop off the souvenirs and then back out.
After a quick climb up the Sir Walter Scott Monument for a breathtaking view of Edinburgh and a quick go on the Ferris wheel that had been erected next to it in time for Christmas it was time to wander back up to the castle to go on the Mercat tour of the ghosts of Edinburgh which ended up in the vaults beneath the south bridge of Edinburgh.
The vaults are creepy and when you have had someone telling you ghost stories for the previous hour it doesn't take much to make you feel freaked out!
A quick train ride to North Queensferry takes you over the bridge and then a quick wander down from the station to the sealife centre and you can see the bridge up close.
After that train back into Edinburgh and time to visit the Edinburgh dungeon a wax work chamber of horrors part of a chain that also have museums in London and York.
Then up towards the royal mile and to the dynamic earth exhibition an interesting and well presented tour of the creation and shaping of the planet.
After that there was just time to pick up my luggage before heading back to the airport and the plane home.
The baths themselves are impressive and the Abbey is a very light and impressive building
However there is a problem to Bath. There is a lot to see that it outside and when it is raining permanently for the weekend it does reduce what there is to do.
Then in a break in the showers I took my chances to look at the royal circus and royal crescent two spectacular Georgian terraces.
Just after I had finished photographing the crescent the skies decided to open again and this time did not stop
The only option is to try some of the bus tours of Bath. They all have slightly different routes, different commentaries at least a covered downstairs and last about an hour each so you can fill up quite a lot of time going round the city in the dry!
I am sure that Bath itself is a lovely city but as I had had such a bad start to the holiday combined with the weather I didn't enjoy my trip as much as I could have.
5 minutes before boarding was supposed to start wandered to the gate waited a few minutes and then boarded. So far so good. It was about this time in an office a few miles away that the backup air traffic control computer decided it would be a good time to crash!!
After an hour sitting on the tarmac we finally started to roll to then sit in a plane jam and take another 45 minutes before we finally rolled down the runway. On the positive side though, BA kept apologizing for the delay and had an extra round of drinks!.
The plane finally arrived in Budapest about 75 minutes late but it was quick through immigration and shortly afterwards we were in an airport minibus on the way to the hotel.
However it's physical geography makes it a spectacular city. Running through the middle is the Danube to one side the flat levels of Pest to the other side the Buda hills rising dramatically up.
So of course when your in a new city on a hot day what better to do then climb up to the top of the hill with the castle on it and then when you have finished descend that hill and climb the other hill with the liberty monument on the top of it!
It's amazing how much of a city you can see without actually paying to go into anything. By the time we had finished a late dinner the last bus and metro had gone so it was a 4 mile walk back to the hotel.
Thankfully the hotel was in Pest so at least the walk was on the flat
The card (approx. £15) gives 3 days of unlimited travel on the buses, metro, trams trolley buses and cog wheel railway (see Monday), free entry to some 60 museums plus discounts to others.
In this way on one day we made the card pay for itself by visiting as many museums in the castle area as possible including the museum of modern art and the national museum.
This was then followed in the evening by one of the more bizarre meal. We had come all the way from the UK to Budapest to have.... An Indian! to be precise a meal at Govinda a Hare Krishna vegetarian restaurant. No menu you all get the same meal but the price is amazing
Fronted by hero's square (now the Hungarian skateboarding capital) the park is a large open space with several museums and metro stations in it.
The zoo itself is interesting if only in seeing what zoo's in the UK were like 30 odd years ago. If your concerned about animal rights then perhaps this is not the best place to go!
One of the strangest is the Cog Wheel railway which runs up the side of the Buda Hills. At the top you can either admire the views or travel on the Children's railway.
The railway was built by the communist equivalent of the scouts and was and still is run almost exclusively by children (only the train drivers are adults).
The journey through the Buda hills takes about an hour and you can see some of the spectacular Hungarian countryside.
Instead of melting them down or sending them for scrap instead they decided to place them in a park just on the outskirts of the city.
The park itself is most bizarre almost in the middle of nowhere is this large patch of land with over 30 monuments sitting there.
On a misty or overcast evening it would probably creep most people out but as a pure kitsch tourist site it is well worth a visit.
After that we went back into town and went to the top of St Stephen's Basilica for stunning views of Pest.
In the end I need not have been as everything went perfectly. It started well and got better. Midland main line, the rail operator between London and Nottingham, have invented a new type of ticket a First Class Apex. It was about £5 more expensive than a standard class ticket but upgraded me to first class luxury.
As soon as I had boarded and before the train had even left I had already been served one cup of complementary tea (in china cups!) this was followed by several top-ups, free snack and a glass of a particularly pleasant white wine (all free!).
In addition to all that the first class seats are particularly comfortable so that by the time I arrived in Nottingham it was a strain to pull myself away from the seat (I would happily have had another couple of glasses of wine and spent the night asleep in the seat).
the hotel was about 45 meters from the station!
Castle is probably not the best word to use to describe it as it is more a mansion house, the original castle having been leveled after the civil war.
With a large museum, grounds that give a spectacular view of the city and surrounding area (on a good day you can see 4 counties) an expansive art gallery (at the time showing an Andy Warhol Exhibition) and tours of the caves passages under the castle it can happily fill up several hours.
After I had finished the castle I decided to go and visit the impressive building of Southwall Minster in the small town of Southwall about 12 miles from Nottingham but linked with a regular and reliable bus service.
The Minster is quite frankly spectacular. After having a wander round the Minster and the town it was back on the bus to Nottingham.
The first was the galleries of justice. This interesting and enjoyable museum is arranged into 2 areas. The first part of the exhibition in the old police station looks at crime, detection and arrest. The second part of the exhibition based in the old magistrates court looks at trial, justice and punishment.
Acting out the scenes with participation from the visitors you get a real feel of what it is like to be arrested, tried and jailed in various time periods. Well worth a visit.
After that I looked around the nearby parish church for Nottingham. A large traditional looking church with large windows and a peaceful relaxing feel.
In the late afternoon I strolled over to the Robin Hood experience a dark ride/exhibition on Nottingham's most famous son. I'm sure that it must be good for young children but I found it boring and not engaging.
In the late afternoon I strolled over to the Robin Hood experience a dark ride/exhibition on Nottingham's most famous son. I'm sure that it must be good for young children but I found it boring and not engaging.
In the end there were several things I didn't get to see as I ran out of time. However the Windmill just outside the city is interesting in so much as being able to view the insides of a working windmill whilst it is in action.
The Angel Row gallery has a collection of modern art that may not be to everybody's taste but is worth a visit and finally I visited the caves of Nottingham.
Nottingham is built on sandstone and as such has had caves dug out underneath it from almost the first day humans occupied the area. More bizarrely the caves are entered from inside the shopping centre!
There is a lot to see in Hay in the way of bookshops but if you're not into books then it's perhaps not the best place in the world.
However there are lots of other sights in the surrounding areas including lots of castles and forts.
Still the sites are worth it from the top the stunning cathedral that has been on the site since the 11th century and the castle.
After having a wander around I wandered back to the hotel (mercifully down hill) and then realized that the ghost walk I was going on left from the top!!!
First site of the day was looking at Lincoln from the Guide Friday bus, views of the city, get your bearings and discount vouchers to a number of sites.
After returning to the cathedral I went on one of the daily tours of the roof of the cathedral.
Not for the faint hearted clambering up the spiral staircases into the original oak beamed roof cavities of the cathedral before stepping out onto the roof (thankfully just after a hefty shower rather than during) for views of the surrounding area that are unrivaled by any other.
Then a wander across the square to the castle to look around the remains of the castle, the towers and the Magna Carta exhibition.
just in time back onto the Guide Friday bus as one of the heaviest thunder storms decides to deposit itself on the city.
After another whip round the city there is enough time (and some sun) to look round the remains of the Medieval Bishops Palace before retiring for food and bed
In addition to that I discovered the bus service that drives you up the side of the hill rather than having to walk up!!.
At the top of the hill behind the castle is the lawns visitors centre, the former mental hospital of the city, is now a collection of museums, a glasshouse to the memory of one of the cities most famous sons Sir Joseph Banks. He sailed with Captain Cook to Australia as a botanist and discovered and named many of the plants he found there.
When he came back to the UK he help in the founding of Kew Gardens and Kew themselves donated many of the species for the glasshouse.
After the Lawns visitor centre onto the museum of Lincolnshire life. Set in an old army barracks this museum looks at life in Lincolnshire in the 19th century and then has a museum dedicated to the army regiment who were based there before they were merged with another regiment and left. The final part of the museum is dedicated to transport of all types including a small display to one of Lincoln's most important transport inventions the Tank. On certain Sundays (including the day I visited) many of the steam machines are put through their paces.
After the museum of Lincolnshire life I moved onto the Usher gallery a very odd museum that is mostly made up of the items bequested to the city by James Usher on his death. An ecliptic collection of china, coins, watches and grandfather clocks but still interesting.
Cork airport itself, when you arrive is very small and the planes do what can only be described as parallel parking to fit into the spaces available for them. Having said that getting through the airport is very quick it's about 300 yards from plane to taxi or bus!
As I had just missed the hourly bus (there are two buses an hour into town within 5 minutes of each other!) I caught a taxi to the hotel.
The taxi driver was very friendly and welcoming and apologies for the traffic which is quite bad, not helped by a fiendish one way system that requires you to swap sides of the river at times!
I checked into the hotel and then popped out for a bite to eat before returning for a quick drink in the bar before bed
The city itself is not full of tourist attractions. It has a large number of churches that would keep a churchaholic happy for a couple of weeks but there are only two worth visiting if you have limited time. In addition to that there are not many museums and in the end only spending one day in Cork there was only two attractions that I did not see, the Crawford Art Gallery and the Cork city museum. In addition a tour of the Beamish Crawford brewery would have been interesting but the site was closed for repairs at the time.
First on the itinerary for the day was the Guide Friday tour of the city. This takes you round the whole of the city centre and out to the city Gaol which was my first stop.
The Gaol, which closed to prisoners in 1923 has an interesting audio guided exhibition on the prisons use and the conditions it's inmates were kept in. After it was a prison it had another life as the headquarters of RTE (the state broadcaster) in Cork and from it's walls the first radio broadcasts in the city were transmitted. There is a museum to RTE radio and the role the Gaol played in it in addition to the Gaol museum.
Next stop, about 3/4 of a mile back down the hill is St. Ann's Shandon and it's bells. This imposing church is made of the two types of stone found in Cork and two sides of the building are in the Red of the Sandstone and the other two sides in the grey of the Limestone. In addition to being a striking building you can also climb the tower (red rag to a bull for me) and part way up ring the famous Shandon bells.
Next stop about 50 yards away is the butter museum but before I popped in there I had a wonderful lunch in the little cafe at the front of the Shandon Craft Centre.
The butter museum is in the site of the former butter market. Cork was the centre of a highly lucrative and important butter industry. The small museum ends with a video presentation on the importance and quality of Irish butter and is in no way a marketing campaign by Kerrygold the Irish state dairy products company!.
After that I wandered over to look at St. Fin Barrs Cathedral which is an interesting (if not slightly brutal looking) cathedral.
From there I went to the Cork vision centre. Set in a old disused church this exhibition centre includes a scale model of the whole of the Lee valley from before it reaches Cork, through the city and out to the sea to Cobh. The centre also has a video presentation on the history and development of Cork.
That evening I went on a very interesting literary tour of Cork that walks round the centre of the city pointing out it's literary connections and ends with a pint of Beamish in a pub opposite the brewery.
Blarney castle is most well known for it's famous stone that if you kiss you will supposedly get the "gift of the gab". The castle itself is slightly disappointing after all the hype there is very limited signage and it is expensive.
If you do want to go it is best to go early. I got the 08:45 bus from Cork that got me to Blarney just before 09:15, just 15 minutes after the castle had opened and managed to just walk up to the stone and kiss it. By the time I left at 10:30 the queue was already over an Hour!.
After getting back into Cork I set back out again the other side of the city to Midleton.
Midleton is the home to almost all the Irish Whiskeys (Bushmills -distilled in Antrim, Ulster - is the only whiskey not distilled in Midleton). In 1987 a new distillery was opened next to the originally distillery and in 1992 the old distillery was opened as a visitors centre.
The tour lasts about 60 minutes and is very interesting looking at the whole production and looking at where it was actually done. At the end of the tour 4 volunteers are asked for. If you like whiskey I would advise you to be standing at the front with your hand in the air on the "I" of "I would like 4 volunteers".
You get to taste all 4 of the main Irish distillers brands (Jamesons, Paddys, Powers and Bushmills) a Scotch and a Bourbon to compare. The rest of the tour party get a glass of Jamesons.
This pretty harbour town about 45 minutes from Cork is well worth a visit. One of the most strategic ports until it started silting up.
As tour guides of the town will tell you Kinsale has a large part to play in why English and not Spanish is not the language of such a large number of people. The best way to get an idea of the town is to go on the walking tour that takes you round the old medieval centre of the town and gives you a full history of the site.
After the walking tour I had a look around the small museum that is in the town showing artifacts from the history of the town. Then in the afternoon I went on the Roadrunners bus tour of the town and surrounding area.
The tour is very interesting taking you out to the Atlantic coast at Garretstown and the Old head of Kinsale, back past the Charles fort the defended the harbour entrance for spectacular views of the town before finally returning to the town.
Before leaving I had a look around the Desmond Castle and Wine museum. The castle itself was used as a prison and the display depicts life in the castle when it was a prison. The wine museum charts Kinsale's relationship with the wine industry.
This is now the main port on this side of the Island of Ireland. During the 19th and early 20th century over 2,000,000 people left Cobh and Ireland seeking a better life in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and other countries. Nearly 1/2 of all the people who emigrated for Ireland left through Cobh.
Cobh has also played a key part in two of the biggest maritime disasters of the 20th century. Cobh was the last point at which the Titanic put anchor before setting off to its destiny in the North Atlantic. The last passengers to join the ill fated voyage did so at Cobh and the pilot man who guided the ship out of the harbour was the last person to leave the ship whilst it was still seaworthy.
Cobh was also heavily involved with the rescue and brining ashore of bodies from the sinking of the Lucitania less than 20 miles off the coast. The large ship was sunk by a German torpedo during the First World War.
The Titanic trail walking tour takes you round the town and shows you the main locations that are connected with both the incidents. This well presented and interesting tour is well worth it, not only for the content but also for the views of the town and harbour that you get. There is a complementary 1/2 of Guinness at the top of the hill and the tour ends in the Titanic bar with a complementary Tea/Coffee. The bar in one of it's many incarnations was the offices of the White Star Line and it was from that building that over 100 people left to travel on the Titanic.
After that I visited the Queenstown story (one of the other names that the town has had) which details the emigration from the port and also looks at the Titanic and Lucitania disasters.
After that I went on a boat tour of the harbour which gives you excellent views of the town.
Cloud cover meant that I saw virtually nothing until about Oxford but I did get a very good view of Heathrow airport and my work place from 28,000ft.
As soon as the plane had leveled off the cabin crew were down with dinner. This was followed by drinks. Once people had finished they came down and cleared up at the same time as the pilot announced that we were about to start our decent into Glasgow!!.
From the airport I got the air bus into the city centre and from there a taxi to the hotel.
I went straight to George square to get the sightseeing bus. After going round the East and West routes I went back to the Cathedral and had a look around what is an odd cathedral in so much as it has a lower floor that starts halfway along the cathedral.
After the cathedral I visited the St Mungo's museum of religion which is quite interesting considering the scope for boredom and preaching that such a museum could present.
After that I wandered over to the Necropolis on the hill behind the cathedral. The city of the dead gives stunning views over the east of the city.
After that it was back into the city and onto the riverside tour to see what there was to offer down on the Clyde.
The Tall ships exhibition details the history of navigation and ship building on the Clyde and after that you can explore the only remaining Clyde tall ship in the UK. From there it was back into the city centre and onto the museum of modern art.
This interesting museum has a range of exhibits (paintings, photos, sculpture and "installation's"). Most disturbing of all was the exhibition of photographs from Henri Cartier-Bresson. Exactly the same one I had seen in Budapest, I was convinced I was being followed.
After that back out to the riverside to the Glasgow Science Centre. This comprises the Science mall museum, Imax cinema and Glasgow Tower. Sadly the Glasgow tower which rises 300 feet over the city giving spectacular views was out of service (and has been since one side sunk by 1/4 inch back in March).
The science mall museum is a very interesting and totally interactive exhibition presenting science in an easy to understand and fun way. After visiting the museum I took in two films in the Imax cinema before walking back to the train station to get the train back into the centre and then a taxi back to the hotel.
Went through to the other side of the city to visit the Kelvinhall museum and art gallery.
This is a large collection on a range of subjects, Archaeology, Natural History and art that has been granted to the city. The building itself is impressive and only slightly dwarfed by the structure of the university that faces it across the river.
Across the road from the museum is the Glasgow museum of transport that charts the changes in transport across Glasgow through the 20th century including a small display to the Locherby disaster.
After that back onto the tour bus and over to the other side of the city to the Providends Lordship, the oldest building in the city. The display inside gives some insight into the history of the city and the relationship of the building to the neighboring cathedral.
Surprised more than anything that we had made it thanks to the almost complete shut down of the rail network at the beginning of the week and it still being crippled at times I thought I would still have been sitting in a train wondering how I was going to catch a flight I had missed.
After negotiating the airport in about 3 minutes we found ourselves on the airport bus heading into the centre of the city with a gentle drizzle slowing starting to stop.
No matter what weather you approach Edinburgh in you cannot help but to be totally breath taken by the scene that greets you as you turn into princes street and see the castle towering over you. However at almost 10pm after having come straight from work all that was on my mind was bed!
Visiting Edinburgh the obvious place to start is either by hiring a taxi or get some climbing equipment to scale the hill up to the old town. Failing that it makes for an energetic morning stroll up to the castle.
Seeing as the castle is so old and the repair work that goes on inside it only matched by the nearby Forth bridge every time you visit there will be another new bit to see and a bit you saw before that you cant access this time.
After the views that you can get from the top of the castle the next best viewing point is 247 steps up the inside of the Scott monument. So this appeared to be the next best move for us. After a short climb (about 10 mins if you are unfit and have to stand panting on each landing for a couple of mins) up to the top you get a wonderful view over the whole of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth.
Last time I came by the time I had got to the top it was already dusk and all you could see was the castle floodlight this time there was much more to see.(through the gloom and murk of an overcast day).
After climbing back down (and spending about 5 minutes to get your balance back after the spiral staircases) it was lunchtime and after that a quick trip to the Edinburgh dungeon.
From there back up the hill to the Camera Obscura and then the Whisky heritage centre.
Finally (in the heavy rain now) back to the hotel to deposit off souvenirs before dinner in a Thai restaurant and drinks in the hotel bar.
Thankfully the decision was made to turn it into an exhibition and so it returned to the port where it was made and is now a permanent exhibition in Leath harbour just on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
The exhibition is easily reached with buses, even on a Sunday, every 10 minutes. After a short exhibition on the history of the yacht you leave the quay side building and take an audio guided tour round the yacht.
It's an interesting experience and an insight into royal life (and how the other 0.0002% live). To do the ship justice you need a couple of hours to look round the whole of the exhibition and the yacht (though if you don't want to part with large sums of money skip through the gift shop quickly).
After Britannia there was just enough time for a quick coffee and some souvenir hunting before it was time to leave the city again. I have the strange feeling though that I might well be back again very soon....
First on the itinerary for the day (because it was the closest) was The occupation museum near the centre of town.
The museum itself is slightly disappointing given that its main elements appear to be a 40 minute rather elderly video on the occupation and a display of German uniforms.
the Occupation museum I had quick wander up to the top of the cliffs to have a look down on the town and over the the Elizabeth castle (Sadly closed for the winter) and then wandered back into the town centre to go to the Jersey Museum.
The museum starts with a 12 minute presentation on the history of the island that gives a good background to start exploring the rest of the collection of the museum. The museum itself mostly focuses on the older history (pre-WWII) and the geography/geology of the island.
After the museum it was time to hop on a bus and visit Gorey on the East Coast of the island and one of the best preserved Castles
Mont Orgueil castle is still pretty well intact in many places and offers some stunning views over the small harbour town of Gorey.
After Gorey there was just enough time to zip back into St Hellier and visit the Occupation Tapestry - Put together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the island at the end of WWII - and the Maritime museum.
Both are almost new and very well presented museums that use a range of different mediums to put their message across with the Maritime Museum being very Hand-on.
After that I had a quick wander (in the dwindling light) round the harbour to get a better view of the Elizabeth castle which in situated on a piece of headland that is only connected to the mainland during low tide. After that I quickly popped back to Gorey to get some shots of the castle floodlight and to have dinner in a nice fish restaurant I had spotted before returning back to St Hellier.
I looked at the map and found lots of places I would like to visit, then I consulted the bus timetable and found that you couldn't get to any of them.
The only place that I could get to was Jersey Zoo so I went out there and was very impressed.
The last time I had visited a Zoo was in Budapest and there the animals were in tiny cages and showing serious signs of mental health problems.
In Jersey the two zoo's couldn't have been more different. Large enclosures gave the animals lots of space to move around in and there were no animals rooted to the spot rocking backwards and forwards that there had been in Budapest.
The zoo has a recommended walking route that allows you to see all the animals and consequently doesn't make it feel as busy as some other zoos do.
Jersey zoo is possibly the only zoo in the world that has Dodo's... If only on top of the pillars into the car park.
After the Zoo it was time to return back into St Hellier, Check out of the hotel and get a cab back to the airport and home.
Trip to Paris was a birthday treat arranged by my Girlfriend, so I had no idea what to expect when we got to the hotel (later than if I had followed her idea of asking in the station where the hotel was rather than just going out of the station and trying to find it from there).
The hotel was beautiful. Not very obvious from the street and only a small but very comfortable room, but the part that made it special was the view. From the balcony you could look out over the rooftops to the dome of Sacré Cœur floodlight in glory, looking over the city
After spending nearly 40 minutes admiring it from afar we walked over and waited for the lifts to open to go up it. The views from the top are spectacular taking the whole of the city you can see all the world famous monuments that Paris has to offer including the Arc de Triomphe and Notre-Dame. After spending a couple of hours up the tower we descended and boarded one of the tourist boats to view Paris from the Seine passing the Louvre, Notre Dame and Musee d'Orsay.
The boat returned us to the base of the Eiffel Tower so we caught the RER to Notre-Dame and then sat in a little street cafe to have lunch. Afterwards we walked round the cathedral and then back across the Seine towards the centre of the city. We quickly looked round the outside of the Pompidou Centre before catching the metro back over the river to the Luxembourg Gardens.
After spending some time relaxing in the gardens we walked back towards the Patheon and then, with the sun starting to set went back to the hotel. After a quick refresh, and allowing the sun to set, we walked up to the base of the hill that the Sacré Cœur is on and after taking some photos found a small restaurant off to one side.
The bus took in the Opera house, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Patheon, Musee d'Orday, Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower (from a number of angels). After a quick pit stop for lunch in a cafe behind the Madeleine we went back to Sacré Cœur to see it in daylight and have a look round the area, including looking at all the painters working away. We took a touristy land train on a tour round the area and down the hill to look at the Moulin Rouge. When returned to the top of the hill we found an exhibition of Dali's work was on display in a little gallery so we spent some time looking around that before finally wandering back down the hill towards the Gare du Nord and home.
By 11:00pm we had crossed the Mediterranean and were over the continent. Partly because of the size of the seat (that's economy class for you) and partly the excitement that each second I was travelling further south, further from home than I had ever been before, I couldn't sleep.
But that was OK as I managed to re-watch the Lord of the rings - The two towers which BA was playing as one of the in-flight movies!
Shortly before 6:30 (7:30 local time) and nearly 30 mins early we touch down in Cape Town and I take my first steps on African soil. After an hours wait to get through immigration (I was at the back of a plane and that was the 3rd 747 to come down in 10 mins so there were a lot of people) I emerged into the airport and went to see if I could check in for my connecting flight to Walvis Bay. With an infuriatingly long amount of time to wait until my next flight, but not long enough to risk leaving the airport and seeing the sights of Cape Town, I took a seat and proceeded to have a considerably more pleasant breakfast in the airport.
By 2pm my flight to Walvis was ready to board and for the second time that day I had to change my watch to remove the hour that I had added arriving in Cape Town. During the summer in the UK (winter in Namibia) the two countries are both on the same time zone (GMT+1) then when the clocks in the UK go back an hour at the end of summer, the clocks in Namibia go forward and hour as they start summer so for 6 months of the year the two countries are 2 hours apart. Confused yet? not as bad as when you have to keep changing your clock in the same day, by the time the plane left Cape Town (26 hours after leaving home) I was thoroughly confused on not only the time but the day as well!
The flight from Cape Town runs up the coast line all the way to Walvis. On one side of the plane is the desert on the other, the Atlantic it makes for a beautiful, if not slightly eerie landscape. The whole way we were battling against headwinds and approached Walvis 25 minutes late. We descended towards the airfield and then re-circled as the plane was buffeted by winds, we came back round, descended, got within a couple of hundred feet of the ground before sharply pulling back up again and recirlcling before another attempt. The pilot decided this time to come in high and then descended steeply just before the runway. To say that it was scary was an understatement and by the time we had stopped you could see the dents in every arm rest down the length of the plane where people had been gripping them!
My Sister and Brother-in-law met me at the airport and drove me back through the desert, through Walvis Bay (The second city of Namibia), back into the desert and on into Swakopmund. That evening, as was to be the case on most evenings, I was treated to a spectacular sunset over the Atlantic.
After sitting out for a few hours my Sister took me Quad biking out in the desert.
After riding over the dunes for 45 minutes you ride up the side of a dune, come to the top and shimmering in the late afternoon sun is the Atlantic, so peaceful, so empty.
Then a short walk back along the beach having a quick paddle to the centre of town and a quick look in on the Krystal Gallery which shows you some of the rocks, minerals and semiprecious stones that Namibia has in abundance, including the largest single piece of Quartz ever extracted (something over 14 Tons!!).
Then after a quick lunch break the Swakopmund museum which gives a potted history of the region, The older parts of the museum mostly ignore anything that happened prior to the Germans arriving but in the newer exhibitions is starting to address this with very good displays including audiovisual presentations on the history, culture and developments of the tribes who lived in the area prior to white settlers. The museum then looks at the period when it was a South African protectorate (after 1918 - 1990). Another exhibition extolls the virtues of Uranium and nuclear power.. The only problem is the exhibition is paid for and has been put up by the nearby Uranium mine.... not that I am saying there is a clash of interests...
The land is 10 Km from the main land but the drive is over 40Km.
After offloading the kayaks and a very quick guide to how to use them we set off into the water and row out into the bay. The dolphins and seals swim up close to the kayaks with the seals themselves leaping over them (and splashing the occupants!) The seals obviously enjoy the chance to play and rush out from the coast to swim alongside the Kayaks.
After about 2 hours we pull up onto a sand bank for a quick tea break before going back into the sea for another hour before setting back off home.
This evening we watched from the balcony as a massive electrical storm raged at sea, with lightning streaking across the sky.
Today was the start of a 6 day, 5 night safari. The safari itself started the previous day in Windhoek but all they had done was to drive down to Swakopmund and then do Quad Biking or Parachuting. After a roadside lunch stop and a chance to meet the other people on the safari we set off to head up the coast to Cape Cross.
Cape Cross has a seal colony on it.... Approximately 250,000 seals... That's 250,000 large, slightly slimy fish eating aquatic mammals... all living together in a very small space. To say that the smell is strong would be an understatement. Despite the smell it is still a spectacular sight to see that number of seals up close.
After Cape Cross we drive towards Spitzkoff, a mountain in the middle of the desert where we set up camp for the night. It is the only point on the trip where we will really camp in the wild as the other campsites will have running water and other amenities, tonight the only light is from the fire. The stars are so clear and then with the moon rose. By pure chance it was a full moon and a completely clear sky. It was amazing how bright it was. The light that the moon gave off was enough to be able to easily see everything without needing a torch!
After descending from Bushmans paradise we get back on the road and start the journey north. Unfortunately on the way we hit a very bad patch of road and the bolt holding the toe-bar onto the back of the van sheers off, so its a quick running repair before we set back off. We drift down into Uis on the last gasps of the tank and stop for a short pit stop before setting back off.
After about 50 mins we stop for lunch and then set off again, but stop again as funny sounds start coming from the van. After an inconclusive diagnosis (it could possibly be a slow puncture) we continue on to our camp site for the night, set up camp and then get back into the van to go to Twyfelfontein to see the 2000 year old paintings and 5000 year old carvings on the rocks. After Twyfelfontein we drive to the burnt mountain to view a bizarre black/brown mountain in the middle of a yellowy, red desert area.
Then 30 Km from Khorixas disaster strikes and smoke starts pouring from the wheel that has been making funny sounds. The original plan was that a maintenance person from the safari company would meet us at 11 in Outjo. By 11 we were all sitting at the edge of the road 110Km away. After about 3 hours wait the replacement minibus with maintenance man arrives to see what they can do.
The decision is to transfer us to a minibus for the rest of the day and see if the van can be fixed and so at just before 4pm, over 3 hours late we arrived in Outjo to restock on supplies and have a (very) late lunch!
After Outjo we drove to Etosha National Park where we were to spend the next day and a half. We drove from the gate to the camp site and saw a few giraffe in the distance, a wildebeest and lots of springbok!!
Unfortunately, for us but not for everybody else, there had recently been heavy rains so all the really big animals, the Cats, elephants, Rhinos etc. had all vanished into the parts of the park that you cannot get to.
Instead we were left with some of the smaller, but still spectacular animals. The Giraffe, Zebra, Springbok, Onyx, Eland, Warthog, Kudu and many more.
After breakfast we drive through the park to the exit and then drive on towards Lake Guines a spectacular freshwater lake at the bottom of a deep chasm.
The lake was brilliantly blue. The other interesting thing is that nobody has ever been able to find the bottom of the lake!!
After a quick afternoon stop in Otjiwarongo we moved on to our final campsite at Waterbergplateau.
After clambering back down and breakfast we packed up camp for the final time before setting off to the town of Okahandja and the craft market to pick up a couple of souvenirs before finally setting off on the short drive back to Windhoek.
We had a quick drink in the safaris headquarters and then I was transferred to the Hotel I had booked for the evening. I didn't know it at the time but the Windhoek Country Club is THE hotel in Namibia. I realized this when I found that I wasn't able to dine in the restaurant because I didn't have a shirt or tie!
The flight was delayed by 30 minutes as we waited for the president to leave the airport.
The flight was in a very small 16 seater plane (8 seats down each side) in which the only staff were the pilot and copilot. You were handed lunch at the gate and you could hear all the noises from the cockpit, including as we approached Walvis Bay "WARNING BELOW 300, WARNING", not for the faint-hearted!
I have never ridden any animal before and after experiencing a camel trotting across the desert I don't think I ever want to again (I also think that for a short while after I could have easily passed as a soprano and was probably infertile for several days)
It defiantly did something to my bladder as I kept needing to go to the toilet every couple of hours for the next 36 hours (which considering most of that was on a long haul flight was OK because it meant I kept moving around to avoid getting DVT).
After the Camel farm we visited the Snake park next to my sisters office to view some of the creature, including dangerous ones, that I could have come across whilst I was out in the desert. I was so glad I saw all the snakes, and scorpions after I had come back!
Train was on time throughout its long journey. It's less than 150 miles from London to Weymouth but it takes nearly three hours to do the journey.
Needless to say after such a long journey the only obvious thing to do after I had dropped my stuff off was to go to the pub and as the train hadn't got in until nearly 5pm stay there until closing time!
First location of the morning was Portland Island. The island is actually connected to the main land by a spit of land but impassible in bad weather.
We got the open top bus all the way to the very end of the island to Portland Bill where the lighthouse and the furthest part of Dorset are
From the Bill you can look across the sea deep into Devon. On a gloriously sunny day the area was peaceful, tranquil and serene. On a wet or gloomy day I gather the best you would be able to come up with is suicide inducing.
We did want to look in the lighthouse museum, but being Saturday it was closed (and that about sums up all there is to know about the state of the Island!!). After visiting the Bill we hopped back on the bus to the Portland Heights hotel.
The hotel is on one of the highest points of the island facing back to the main land and affords spectacular views over the sea, Portland and Weymouth harbours and the thin strip of land that separates them Chesil Beach. After taking in the views we walked down the side of the hill into the main town Fontswell and through to Portland Castle on the other side.
The castle, originally built for Henry VIII, is in amazingly good condition and served as one of the principle forts on the south coast. It was used right up to the end of W.W.II and many of the USA D-day landing craft left from in front of it. An interesting and informative audio tour takes you round the site.
After a spot of lunch it was back on the bus into, and out of the town centre to the country park, about a mile north of the centre up the coast. Inside the park we had a quick look round Model World that has scale models depicting various areas of Dorset.
After that we had a quick round of pitch and put (or not so quick if you take 20 shots a hole and keep loosing the balls!). Then it was onto the land train and back into the centre of town, and a well deserved pint!
First stop of the morning was the Northe Fort. High on a hill overlooking the port and the town this imposing and very large fort makes for an excellent visitors attraction.
With tons of exhibits in virtually all the rooms in the fort which spans three levels from the basements to the battlements. After spending a couple of hours exploring it we moved back down the hill to the Brewers Quay complex.
A former brewery, it has now been turned into a shopping arcade and home to two museums.
The Timewalk takes you through the history of Weymouth in the company of a talking cat. My initial reaction was that it might be quite kiddyish and to some extent it is but the information and presentation style are such that you forget very quickly that it's coming from a talking cat. The tour ends with a short exhibition on how beer was brewed on the site followed, for adults only, by a tasting of some of the original brews.
After the timewalk there was just enough time to visit the Weymouth Museum. This small museum shows through artifacts (and no talking cats) the history and development of Weymouth and the surrounding areas.
After that there was just time to grab my stuff and get back on the train for another long journey back!
This trip started with me completing the full set of London airports. The flight from London City airport is strange as you take off from land recovered from the docks, the runway surrounded on both sides and at the end by water and then take off over the sky scrapers and tower blocks of Docklands and SE London. It does however prepare you for the landing at Isle of Man international airport (the only airport on the island) where the runway virtually starts in the sea, you are certainly very, very low before you see the end of the runway appear.
The ride by horse tram is slow and sedate, a comment of the speed of life and most definitely aimed at tourists. The electric tram, although looking like it is aimed at tourists, is one of the main transport links on the island. On a nice warm summers afternoon sitting in an open sided carriage as it winds its way up the cliffs leading out of Douglas it is very pleasant, but I couldn't imagine commuting in it. The less than 10 mile journey to Ramsey takes 75 minutes, not good if you're in a hurry, but it is worth it as the scenery is spectacular and as you travel up towards Ramsey, tracks clinging to the sides of the cliffs you can clearly make out the coast of the mainland. From one spot you can make out the very south of Scotland, the north west coast of England and the north coast of Wales.
Ramsey is a very pretty little harbour town in the north of the island and well worth looking around, though as I arrived in the early evening there was not much open to look at. After spending a couple of hours in the town (including dinner) I wandered back to the station and caught the last tram back into Douglas.
Castletown is the former capital of the island and it shows in the number of historic and important buildings. The most imposing and obvious being the thing that gives the town its name, the castle. Castle Rushen is still in very good condition and it is very easy to imagine how people live in it. The signage is clear and you get a good idea of the different uses that the castle has been put to through its life. From the top of the castle you get spectacular views over the local area, the port and other buildings.
After looking round the castle I had a quick look round the town before getting on the bus to Peel. One of the major problems with the transport on the Isle of Man (and in many other places, Jersey & Guernsey to name two more) is that everything operates out of the capital and very little goes across. There are just three buses a day that link Castletown in the south east with Peel in the North west. The journey takes little over 30 mins with a direct bus but nearly 2 hours if you have to go into Douglas and back out again. So I decided to split my day by going to Peel in the middle part of the day, and getting the mid afternoon bus back to Castletown.
The main attraction in Peel is its castle. In contrast to Castle Rushen Peel castle is most definitely a ruin. Large fragments of building still exist and it is easy to imagine what the place looked like in its heyday. The castle's importance is brought home when you stand on the western side overlooking the sea and can clearly make out the mountains of Eastern Ireland directly across from you and in the distance to the north the coast of Scotland. Once I had looked round the castle it was time to get the bus back into Castletown.
Arriving back in castletown I had enough time to look around the nautical museum that details the link between the island and the sea. The museum is very interesting and made even more so by the enthusiastic staff. Members of staff will happily show people round and give you so much more information about each exhibit than the signs could possibly hope to.
After visiting the nautical museum there was just enough time to pop into the old grammar school that now houses a small exhibition giving the background to the town and its role in the history and development of the island. After the museum it was back to the train station and on the return to Douglas. The railway itself, was when I visited, undergoing major repair work with all the trains ending at Castletown and buses replacing them through to the normal terminus of Port Erin down in the south west corner of the island. Consequently they had by the afternoon brought out more of the carriages that they were not using to make the train longer so it was a much more comfortable journey back to Douglas.
After a brief stop in Douglas it was onto the bus and back out to Peel to look round the town and harbour and for evening meal. It was well worth the revisit. With Peel being on the west coast the sun setting behind the ruins of the castle whilst sitting on the beach makes for an excellent end to the evening (especially if you have a very pleasant Chinese dinner in your stomach!)
Unfortunately I am a lazy git so I got the mountain railway that climbs to the top from the town of Laxey where it connects with the electric railway.
The ride up makes for spectacular views over large parts of the island and when you get to the top the views are supposedly so good that you can see England, Scotland, Wales & Ireland as well as Man. Unfortunately on the day I went up there was a sea mist a cloud cover so I didn't see that much (including the bird mess that was on the stone pillar I am photographed next to!!)
The main feature of Laxey, at the base of Snaefell is the water wheel. Built to help pump the mines clear of water it is visible over a large area and from the top viewing platforms provides very good views over the surrounding area. 3 mines trails of varying length's and difficulties take you round the site, showing you the ruins of buildings that were involved in the mining process and how the site worked.
After Laxey it was back onto the bus into Douglas and then back out the other side to the South western town of Port Erin. This is where the southern railway is supposed to finish when it is working properly. I hopped on the shuttle service up to Port St Mary the next town along the coast and had a look around, as there was not much to see I went back to Port Erin and had a look round. The town is quite pretty but it's most distinguishable feature is its beach and bay that look exactly how a small bay should look with a wide sandy beach leading into a clear blue sea.
A quick trip back into St Hellier and then back out again (one of the major problems with the buses on the island is that you almost never go from one part of the island to the other without changing in St Hellier) to the North East part of the island to Groznes. The castle at Groznes is in ruins, in fact all that remains are the entrance archway and some low walls. However, you can still imagine the importance of the site located on the North East tip of the island with clear views over to Alderny, Herm, Sark and Guernsey. Walking along the coastal path you keep coming across a reminder of a more recent period when the site was of strategic importance, all along the cost the remains of German Watchtowers, gun emplacements and bunkers, some with swastikas still carved into them, remind you that not so long ago Jersey was the front line. From the top of the coastal path you can look down the whole sweep of the single bay that forms the east coast to the south east corner of Jersey and Corbiere lighthouse.
After another trip back into St Hellier it was back out again this time to the afore mentioned Corbiere. The views from the South Easter tip are just as spectacular as those from the North Eastern. If not made all the more notable by the fact I could look directly back at the point I had been standing on less than 2 hours previously.
Corbiere lighthouse is built on a causeway that takes a good 10 minutes to cross. Thankfully as the tide had only just cleared going out it meant that I had a long time to wander over and have a look. You are not allowed into the lighthouse as it is still in use but you can get spectacular views back over the jagged rocks to the cliffs on the mainland.
After Corbiere it was a short hop on the bus to St Brelards Bay which is one of the most attractive bays on the whole of the island. Finally it was time to get back on the bus and back into St Hellier
Finally getting back into St Hellier I just had enough time to take the last land train tour of the day round the parish of St Hellier. This takes in the whole of the town including the centre, the harbour and the beaches.
After that I caught a bus along the coast to St Aubins to take in the town. It is far prettier than St Hellier. Again it has a off shore defense, this time a fort (not open to the public) and picturesque beaches.
The castle itself is well preserved having served the town from the early days right up until it was finally vacated by the Germans at the end of WWII. The site is well signed with lots of information and three museums located in various parts of the barracks.
After the castle I came back into town and caught the land train along the coast to St Aubins. The train runs along the original route of the Islands main railway that closed in the early 1930s. The driver gives an interesting and informative commentary on the history of the area, the coast and Jersey in general.
After returning to St Hellier I caught the bus out to the Jersey War Tunnels. These were built originally to be a hospital for German soldiers during the war but served very little role as they were completed close to the end of the war. Having said that they did come at the cost of many hundreds if not thousands of lives of those, usually slave laborer's, forced to construct it. The tunnels now tell the story of the islands occupation from the build up to War in the early days of the 1930s through war and occupation to the eventual liberation of the islands in 1945. Outside the tunnels the site also includes a garden of reflection in which bare facts of the human cost of war are outlined.
The fact that there is almost nothing here only adds to the sense of foreboding and menace that exists in the tunnels. Built, like its counterpart in Jersey, using slave labor many of whom died in its construction. Unlike Jersey's this has not been restored more than necessary. Water drips from the ceilings, beds and other metalwork rusts and the old tracks used to haul the carts loaded with debris from the construction are still visible. Also visible are several tunnels only partly excavated before the end of the war. The final thing that adds to the sense of menace is the temperature. No matter what the weather is like outside, its always 15°C inside.
After 45 minutes in there it is almost refreshing to step out into what is fast becoming the hottest day on the island ever (only to be beaten the following day and then again on the Saturday!) Next stop is the German Occupation museum located near the airport. Unfortunately this requires you to travel all the way into St Peter Port and then back out again!.
The museum is located down a little side street. The museum gives a well presented oversight to the war and how it affected the residents of Guernsey. The museum has lots of information but suffers slightly from the look that it hasn't been updated since the early 80's with some of the information signs needing a bit of repair.
After the museum it was time to hop back on the bus. Guernsey busses have been designed to criss cross the island, centering on St Peter Port. However one route (Route 7/7A) goes round the outside of the island (7 - Clockwise, 7A Anti-clockwise) giving invaluable links to most parts of the island. From the museum its about 35 minutes by bus to the North west coast of the island and the Rousse martello tower.
One of the many martello towers built around the island this has been turned into a small display of what life would have been like when it was in use at the time of the Napolionic wars. Wax works within the tower show how cramped life would have been like and the nearby magazine store has information boards giving a background to the Rousse tower and the martello towers in general. After a quick wander round the site and the nearby beach it's time to hop back on the bus, complete the clockwise loop and head back into St Peter Port
Fort Grey down almost at the bottom of the west coast resembles a cup and saucer and is home to the islands maritime museum. The museum details the maritime history of the island. It also focuses quite heavily on the accidents and shipwrecks that have occurred off the adjacent treacherously rocky western coast.
After Fort Grey its off round to the North East cost to Pembrook bay where the remains of several passage graves are, along with stunning views back over this very flat end of the island. Then it was back into town and on to Sausmarez Manor. This is a Manor house set in several acres of land just outside St Peter Port. The house itself is closed to the public most of the time, but you can wander round the grounds, visit the lakes or take in the tropical garden and sculpture trail. Then it was back onto the bus and out to Grand Rocquez on the west coast.
The fort here has been heavily reinforced during the German occupation and is interesting to look at to see the differences in style between the 18th century brick and stone work and the 20th century concrete!
Back down the coast to the southern most town of Pleinmont and another spectacular bay. This time you can look up almost half the length of the island seeing all the headlands come in and out along with also being able to see the island of Lihou.
However I didn't know and so at 7:45 I was standing on the Quay side at St Peter Port ready to board the milk boat to Sark. The first sailing of the day is at 8:30, but as it is very popular they have two boats do it. The first one leaves once its full so we set off by 8:10.
After arriving on the island you have the interesting prospect of climbing up the hill to the village that is located at the top, its about 500 feet but the climb takes less than 1/2 mile so you can imagine how steep it is.
After collecting and paying for the hire bike I set off to the south of the island and then proceeded to visit all other parts of the island, rapidly coming to the conclusion that there is not that much to see on Sark. There are no really beautiful bays or interesting beaches, just lots of ferns and gravel paths!
Still I managed to keep cycling up until it was time to drop the bike off and get the ferry back to St Peter Port.
After Castle Cornet I wandered down the coast road to the La Vallette underground museum. This is housed in yet more tunnels dug for the Germans by prisoners, this time for housing fuel storage tanks for refueling U-boats, this is an eclectic collection of posters, signs, memorabilia, paraphernalia, vehicles, uniforms and medals from both sides. There is little in the way of signange to tell you what the things are, but most speak for themselves.
After that it was a short walk further on and up the side of the cliff to Fort George. Originally it was built to supersede Castle Cornet but has in time come to be the less important of the two. Most of the buildings are still there but are currently sealed awaiting the site to be properly developed into a tourist attraction, but for good views out over the bay and St Peter Port it is a good site.
Then it was back into town and up to the Museum and Art gallery to look around. The museum gives an in-depth guide to the history of the islands, from their geological creation 8000 years ago (prior to that they had just been large hills on the landscape of France prior to the bay of San Marlo forming), through their development at the hands of humans, their changes of ownership between France and England, their occupation and liberation during WWII up to the modern day. The gallery also contains some of the art works that the state owns.
Then it was back down the hill to the town and pick up the bus to the second town of the island, St Sampson. Located just outside the town in Vale castle. From the road Vale castle, looks as though it is spectacular, unfortunately once you go inside you realize that the outside walls is virtually all that exists of the site. You can still make out where dividing walls once went, but apart from the odd small slab of stonework it is only the outside walls that have remained.
Unlike Sark, Herm has been very strict with the motor transport. 1 tractor and a couple of quad bikes to empty the plentiful bins around the island. Even the kids have to give up their bikes by the time they get to 16! The island is very small (less than a mile long by 3/4 mile wide) but as most people head for the beaches on the East coast you can very quickly find yourself in absolute peace a quite overlooking the white sand dune beaches of the north coast or looking back onto the main bays from the South cliffs path. To walk the whole way round the island takes little over 2 hours if you walk fast, but it is well worth gently strolling to get a better view of the island.
After getting a late afternoon sailing back to St Peter Port, and a quick shower, it was time to visit the German Naval Headquarters, that open on Monday evenings from 7-9.
Built during the war to house the Naval intelligence for the German forces, this site is unique in not only giving you an idea of how the average German soldier spent their time at work, but because most of the details and information came from interviews with the officer who oversaw the construction and running of the site throughout the war. There is a short video presentation that includes part of those interviews and he (sadly now deceased) walks you round the site reminiscing on where things were and how the headquarters operated, especially once the islands had become isolated after D-day.
Finishing off the day I decided to get the bus from near the German Naval Headquarters back to Grand Rocquez on the west coast to watch the sunset. Unfortunately for me, the sea mists had different ideas and by the time I got there the sun couldn't be seen and all there was, was a light grey mist!
After wandering around some back roads for a while we eventually came across the hypermarket and proceeded to spend the next 2 hours overfilling a large trolley.
Once the greed over cheap booze had abated we drove back into Calais itself and went for a meal on the sea front, during which the wind started to rise from bracing to gale!
After the meal we wandered back into the main part of the town itself and had a quick look around before it was time to return to the car and take the ferry back, this time with a considerable swell that caused a little bit of rolling and a 20 minute delay to the crossing. The journey back from Dover, going all the way back up to the M25 on the motorway and then back down again, took considerably less time than going in a straight line had in the morning!
First stop was the cathedral and its grounds and then onto the castle.
From the top of the hill that the castle is on you get a clear view over the whole of the city and the multitude of spires and towers that dot the city.
After a brief lunch in the Adam and Eve pub round the back of the cathedral it was into the car and off through the Norfolk countryside heading, originally to the Neolithic Grimes Graves.
Unfortunately we were beaten by the early sunset and missed the last tour so we carried on the short distance into Kings Lynn and had a look around the town.
After that it was back into the car and back across the fens towards Norwich.
After setting off from Norwich we headed across towards the North East corner of the county.
First stop was near Ludham where we caught the Electric Eel boat into the Dykes and side canals of the broads. The channels are so thin that the boat was constantly being filled by reads as we brushed past them.
After that it was back into the car and onto West Somerton where we stopped to take in the broads and some of the windmills.
After lunch just north of Horsey we headed up to the coast at Sea Palling and had a look at the coast and dunes there, then it was back down to Horsey to look at one of the large open expanses of water on the broads.
Finally back into the car and heading back home via Lowerstoft and Cambridge.
As you walk round the city you can quickly loose count of all the various boards advertising ghost walks. In the height of summer there must be hundreds of people wandering round the city after dark on a ghost walk. In the depths of winter there were still at least 3 an evening!
For the Saturday evening I joined the Ghost Hunt from the top of the Shambles (the most photographed street in York). After the walk was over I quickly had a bite to eat and then went back to the hotel to prepare for a long day ahead!
So with the sun barely up in the sky (It was the shortest day of the year) I started on Section 1 of the wall. The main reason to begin with was to visit the museum located in one of the former gate house (or Bars as they are called in York) - Micklegate Bar. Unfortunately, despite York tourism web site insisting that it was open, it was closed so I carried on walking round the walls until they met the river Ouse at the site of the old castle.
After a quick stop for coffee it was time to step back a couple of centuries more from the Medieval walls to the Viking history that has made York (or Jorvik as the Vikings knew it) world famous.
The Jorvik Viking centre is a combination of a museum and a dark ride that tries to explain something about how the Vikings lived when they settled in York and to show off some of the finds that they have made over the city.
After the Jorvik centre, as it was freezing cold, I decided to pop into the York Dungeon. The Dungeon is laid out in a similar way to the Edinburgh dungeon and still reflects the grizzly and murky world of the past, but from a Yorkshire view!
After a quick stop for lunch I rejoined the walls to walk round section 3 stopping part way along to visit the Richard III museum in Monks Bar. The museum is a strange mix of information. Part of it is about the Bar and the walls (including the fact that it still has a working portcullis.) The remainder of the museum is set out like a trial explaining the murky history over Richard III and the allegation that he had his two nephews (the actual king and prince of Wales) imprisoned and killed in the Tower of London so that he could assume the throne. After listening to the arguments for and against you can vote yourself as to whether you think the original "Tricky Dicky" is guilty or innocent.
I finished walking round the walls to Bootham Bar including spectacular views of the back of the Minster. After that I had a quick wander round the grounds of the Yorkshire museum and gardens to view the remains of St. Mary's Abbey which was destroyed after the Reformation.
Then it was back to the walls to complete section 2 of the walls from the site of the Old Castle round to the back of town.
Next stop was the Art Gallery, I'm not into art massively and this collection is not massively spectacular but it is housed in a warm building out of the, by now, bitingly cold wind!
After a quick stop at the hotel to rest my feet and to have a quick bite to eat it was time to set off for another ghost walk. This time starting from the Jorvik Viking Centre.
Taking a slower than usual pace as the roads were like and ice rink I walked over to the Minster to look round. The Minster is the largest medieval building this side of the Alps and has more Medieval stained glass in its windows then the rest of the UK combined. There is a lot to see at the Minster but not if you are on a limited budget. To see everything that the Minster has to offer you have to pay £8.50 which is a lot for a big church!!
In addition to the Minster itself you can also view the undercroft and crypts which house not only the treasury of the Minster but also the remains of the original Roman base that was situated on the same space where the Minster now stands. The display also explains about the other two cathedrals that have existed on the site over the last 2000 years. The current Minster was started in 1245 but before that there had been a Norman Cathedral and another before that. Just outside the Minster you can see one of the columns from the Roman site that the archaeologists found lying on its side (unfortunately, as any local will tell you they got it wrong and it is upside down with the top concreted into the pavement!)
The final thing you can pay to do is to climb all 275 steps to the roof and get the spectacular view over the city.
After the Minster, and a well earned hot chocolate to warm up, I wandered over to Clifford's Tower. This is all that remains of the original castle and is now just a shell, apart from two spiral staircases that allow you to access the top of the tower to walk round. The tower itself is set on top of a high bailey so the views from the top, not being quite as good as those from the Minster are still spectacular.
After Clifford's tower I walked over to the castle museum. Set in the old Women's and Debtor's prisons the museum was started in the 1930's by a local doctor who noted that the rural way of life was disappearing but wasn't being noted down. To stop it from being lost he started collecting everyday artifacts to preserve the history of the way of life. The museum itself has grown so large that it has two mock up of streets inside which put the artifacts in the surroundings they would have fitted in.
The museum also has the cells of the old prison in it and you can visit the cell that the famous highway man Dick Turpin stayed in prior to his execution!
After the museum it was time for some refreshment and this came in the form of the York Brewery. Set up in 1996 this is a "Micro-brewery" set in a small building within the city walls. The brewery only produces a small amount of beer that mostly goes to the local area (although one of the large supermarket chains had just brought up their entire production of one type of beer!). The tour of the brewery includes a tasting of two of the beers that they brew.
Now happily insulated against the cold I walked back over to the other side of the city to visit the Yorkshire Museum. This is another bizarrely mixed museum pulling together artifacts from the cities and counties past but in no particular order, so that you get the whole of the Roman and Viking history and then leap back into prehistory and the dinosaurs!
Just enough time to grab some food before another Ghost Walk. This time leaving from outside the Minster.
After leaving my luggage at the left luggage office I wandered round the side of the station to the York Model Railway. Set in a former tea room this massive layout can quite happily while away the time waiting for your train.
After visiting the model railway it was time to visit the real thing at the National Railway Museum. As York was formerly one of the principle towns building trains in the country it was only fitting that the museum to British Rail should open in one of their former workshops (they don't explain how many people were made redundant when the workshop closed!) The museum charts the history of the train in the UK with full size examples of trains and carriages. It also includes a couple of examples of foreign trains such as the Japanese bullet train.
After visiting the Railway Museum it was time to go back to the station and get the train home, thankfully not a museum piece!
Next stop was a wander through the old town to the Cathedral. Inside the main tower of the cathedral a lift has been installed so that you can reach the roof easily and it is worth it. There are some stunning views available over the whole of the city.
After the Cathedral and a quick pause for coffee we followed on of the walks in the Time Out guidebook that took us round the main Modanistas buildings. After the walk we had a late lunch and then went out to the Sagrada Familia.
The Sagrada Familia was started over 100 years ago and its still not built! Nowadays the main columns and the towers are up and things are progressing fast enough that it may even be finished by 2017! The views from the towers are spectacular, but not for the faint hearted!
Finally for the day we headed over to one of the most famous Gaudí buildings the Casa Milà. From the bizarre and peculiar roof we watched the sunset.
After that it was the tube and bus out to Parc Güell another one of Gaudí's masterpieces for a pleasent afternoon in the sun, before finally heading back into town and out to the airport.
After unpacking and getting settled in I set out for an evening in the German capital. First stop was the Brandenburg gate, probably the most famous site in the whole of the city if not one of the most recognisable sights in Europe.
The gate itself is mammoth. Until you see it in person it is very difficult to get a full idea of quite how large it actually is. It puts most other structures to shame and certainly eclipses both Marble Arch in London and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The gate is made all the more impressive by its recent restoration and looks as though it could have been installed only a few weeks ago not a couple of hundred years!
After the gate I walked the short distance to the Reichstag. Left destroyed after someone burnt it to the ground in 1933 which allowed the Nazis to seize power in German (let your own ideas in here as to who was responsible but I know where my money lies) the former seat of German power was repaired after the war but didn't serve as the parliament of Germany until a couple of years ago after Berlin was once again declared capital and the Reichstag was completely refurbished and rebuilt. The original dome has been replaced with a new glass structure that allows you to see over large parts of the city as well as down into the debating chamber.
After the Reichstag I decided to call it an evening and went for dinner. One thing that is noticeable in major international cities is how difficult it is to find local restaurants. It is very difficult to eat Spanish in Barcelona, it is hard to find Hungarian in Budapest and its almost impossible to find German in Berlin. After much hunting I had to have an Itallian-German cross of a Three Wurst Pizza!
Located in a specially built building that is designed to look like a twisted and damaged Star of David this museum attempts to tell the history of Jews in Germany. Their history, culture, fight for equality and the attempt by the Nazi's to wipe them out. The museum pulls no punches and does not make pleasant reading for anyone when you see the numbers of people persecuted, not just during WWII. It is a very sobering museum, not least of all because of the images and stories of people who died purely because of their religion and one groups hatred of it.
After visiting the museum I went back into the centre of the city and visited the Gendarmenmark. Here are the Opera House and the German and French Cathedrals that latter two exactly matching each other. The French Cathedral itself is being repaired but I could still go inside and climb the tower to get views over the whole of the area.
After that I walked the short distance over the river and onto museum island where a large number of the cities main museums are as well as the Berlin Cathedral. The building looks like a smaller version of St Pauls in London, only with slightly more adornments. Inside it is actually quite small, compared to other Cathedrals. The entry to the Cathedral also includes the ability to climb to the base of the dome and go out onto the roof, and as you might have guessed from reading past entries I did! After being gently flash freezed by the wind I came back down into the base of the Cathedral into the crypt where the bodies of the Prussian and German royal families are kept dating back several hundred years. All their coffins laid out in rows along the floor of the crypt is a little creepy.
After the Cathedral I came back towards the western side of the city and visited the Memorial Church. Almost totally destroyed in bombing towards the end of WWII all that remains are the base of the tower and a half broken spire. It is a sudden reminder of exactly what happened not that long ago.
After that I went over to the Potsdamer Platz. Up until the fall of the Wall this was one of the places where it was at its widest and an empty wasteland. Since the fall the area has been completely rebuilt and now looks like a mini Manhattan rather than the former site of such suffering. One of the new buildings in the headquarters of Daimler Chrysler and you can take "The fastest lift in Europe" to the top of their building to get views out over the area.
Then I went slightly further along the course of the wall to one of the other famous sights of the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie. The original was removed shortly after the fall of the wall but in the best interests of international tourism a replica along with the original sign telling you that you are "Leaving the American sector" have been put back in.
After dinner I came back to Checkpoint Charlie to visit the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie. A museum dedicated to all the attempts to try and escape East Berlin and make it to the west.
After a short climb up (nearly 300 steps!) I could look out over the whole of the Tiergarten and down to the Reichstag and Brandenburg gate.
Next stop was Alexanderplatz to go up another tower (lift this time) - the TV tower, however as the queue was already out of the door I decided to leave that to later and instead headed over to the other side of the city and a related item the Radio tower to go up that instead (If you haven't already guessed I did spend most of the holiday at least 100m up in the sky!) Located in the International Conference Centre in the Western suburbs the views from the top of the tower are spectacular if only for seeing the complexity of Berlin's motorways which all seem to intersect just below the tower. The only real problem with the Radio tower is that it is built to withstand extremes of weather and in such a way does gently sway with the wind. When it is very windy this swaying becomes slightly disturbing.
Once down on the ground it was time to go back across the city to the East Side Gallery. These are the Murals on the only major remaining section of the Berlin Wall. About 1KM of wall has been retained running along the course of the river and decorated with some of the most famous murals that were originally done on the West side of the wall!
After that I crossed the city again (by this point I realised that I had not planned today particularly well) and out to the Olympic Stadium. Built for the 1936 Olympic Games the building is a fine example of how to impress by sheer brute force. The whole site is large and brutal looking almost the same as the major Soviet buildings. The view from the top (surprise, surprise) of the clocktower however is breathtaking looking over all the woodland areas south towards Charlottenburg and the state capital of Potsdam.
Back over then to Alexanderplatz where the queue for the TV Tower still had not shortened but I did have time to look round the square that was once the international show piece of the DDR (Deutscher Democratik Republic - East Germany)
The it was back towards the hotel to visit the Story of Berlin. This multimedia exhibition tells the story of the history of the city from a small hamlet first mentioned in the 13th Century through its rise to prominence in the Prussian empire, its creation as a German capital, its role in the events that lead up to the First and Second world wars, its separation and eventual reunification.
Then, finally it was back to Alexanderplatz to the TV tower and the fortunate site of no queue so I could go up the TV Tower and see Berlin at night!
So instead of flying out of Berlin at midday I instead took advantage of the situation to visit the state capital of Potsdam, about 25Km outside of Berlin.
The city itself was almost totally destroyed during WWII but some parts still remain and the palaces out in the main park escaped totally unscathed.
As I only had a couple of hours to get out, back and visit I could only walk around and not actually go into anything but it certainly left the impression that this was a city that I would want to go back to.
After Potsdam I came back into the city and back, for the second time that day, out to the airport almost able to recite the names of the bus stops for heart!
Eventually 6 hours after I was supposed to be leaving Berlin my flight pushed back from the stand and made its way to the runway. A very very pleasant holiday but tinged with an element of anger at the airline.
The beds are not the worlds widest and the motion of the train is a little odd, you feel yourself rolling each time it accelerates and breaks and when it goes round bends fast a leans a little you feel like you are being pulled down the bed! I did manage to get to sleep and must have been asleep by the time it got to Preston because I don't remember it stopping to pick people up.
When I finally woke up properly it was about 6:30 and in the middle of the wilds of the Scottish Highlands. The train was running about 30 minutes late after getting stuck behind a slow moving train during the night but that was OK as I wasn't in a rush and it was very pleasant to lie on a bed looking out of the cabin window over the Highlands.
The train finally pulled into Inverness at about 8:30 so I had plenty of time to drop off my bag at left luggage and then had the whole day to explore. Originally I was going to go to Culloden first off, but as I emerged from the station I noticed the bus to Fort George was parked waiting to go so I decided to visit there first.
Fort George is one of the largest and most spectacular fort built on the UK mainland. The perimeter of the walls is over 1KM and the site still has all its original buildings. There are lots of museums to explore and several small exhibitions on the use of the fort over its life. However as the fort is still used as barracks for the army there are some areas that are off limits.
After leaving the fort I managed to get a bus straight away (fortunate as they are only every 90 minutes) and went back into Inverness.
From there I picked up another bus out to Culloden and the battlefield. Culloden is he place where the Jacobite revolts of the 18th century finally died, and the site of the last battle to be fought on British Soil (though the Channel Islanders may have something to say about that and World War II) On this site almost all of the 5000 strong Jacobite army died along with about 500 Government troops. I decided to pay the small charge and look round the visitors centre before going onto the battle field itself.
The whole exhibition has a distinct bias trying to portray the incident as Scots being massacred by the English. If you look deep enough at the exhibition it does admit that there were more Scots on the Government side than on the Jacobite side and that a large number of the Jacobites were French, Irish and even English!
The battlefield itself is very bleak, just a wind-blown moor overlooked by snow-capped mountains and boggy underfoot. Every few yards there are stones with the names of the different clans from who people died in the 45 minute long battle.
After Culloden it was back on the bus and into the city centre a time for a quick wander round the outside of the Castle (it is the sheriff's court so you are not allowed inside) and then a walk along the banks of the river Ness taking in the small and slightly dingy cathedral. I walked down for north bank for about a mile and then walked across the small bridges onto the Ness Islands that sit in the middle of the river and then back onto the South bank and went back into town.
After a quick dinner in town I joined the Inverness Terror Tour for a ghost walk round the city. The tour is well presented but, unfortunately, not very many grizzly and gruesome things have happened in Inverness, so many stories that are familiar from Edinburgh were told with the omission of where they actually took place.
The tour itself is really well presented in a funny yet informative fashion. The tour only covers about a 20 mile route so there is lots of time to talk about the area and lots of photo stops, the first being by the Ness Islands where I had been the previous evening! Next stop was at the last Lock on the Caledonian canal before it enters the River Ness and then into Loch Ness then it was on to the road that runs by the side of the Loch and a photo stop just after the start/end of the Loch.
After that there was a brief stop to buy tasteful and imaginative quality souvenirs (i.e. a stuffed Nessie and chocolate highlands cows!) and then a quick video (in the bus - it was all very high-tech!) background to some of the sightings of the elusive beastie and some of the hoaxes that they myth has sported.
Then it was onto the Loch Ness 2000 exhibition. Through several rooms of audio visual exhibitions it tries to tell the story of Loch Ness from how it was formed to the mysteries of Nessie. Of all the explanation's for it's sighting my money is on too much Whiskey!!
From there it was onto an ancient burial chamber out in the wilds before coming back to Urqhart castle and the point at which the bus part of the tour ended. After spending 90 minutes looking round the castle it was time to get a boat back along Loch Ness, up the River Ness and onto the Caledonian Canal back into Inverness.
There was just enough time, by the time I got back to Inverness for a quick dinner and then it was time to re-board the sleeper for its long journey back south.
Despite that I arrived at Köln-Bonn airport on time and quickly caught the bus into the city centre.
After popping into the tourist information centre to pick up a Welcome Card I took the tram out to the hotel and quickly checked in before heading back out into the city.
First stop was one of the bridges over the Rhine to the south of the centre of the city for the views of the Cathedral across the river. Then it was back over for a closer look at the Cathedral.
After a wander round the cathedral square it was time to find dinner and then head back to the hotel.
After a short stop for Coffee and Post cards I went on the City tour aboard a luxury coach. The tour takes you round all the main parts of the city and had the added bonus of helping to improve my German listening as I managed to understand parts of the German Commentary (although partly helped by the tour guide repeating herself in perfect English!) The tour included a short stop for photos on the opposite bank to the Cathedral and a quick introduction to the city museum.
After a pause for a traditional German snack - Currywurst and Mustard - on the station concourse I was refreshed and went back to have a look inside the cathedral (as there were no services going on at the time.)
After spending some time in the Cathedral (it is larger than it looks and time seamed to slip past very fast) I came out and went for a wander round the old town including the Hay market and Fish market before settling on a nice looking restaurant on the Fish market by the banks of the Rhine for dinner.
After dinner and a wander round the old town at night (to wear off the excessive food and exceptional pleasant Kölsch) I got the tram back to the hotel.
It was Monday and Aarchen was closed... except for the Cathedral and the Cathedral's Treasury and I arrived in the city shortly after a service had started so I couldn't go into the cathedral!! Instead I had a wander round the city center which was very attractive and a look in the Cathedrals Treasury which is reckoned to be one of the most impressive in the world and includes part of the remains of Charlemagne. By then the service in the Cathedral had finished so I was able to look round the inside of the Cathedral which, despite being quite dark inside, is very impressive.
After that there was very little else to do in Aarchen so I got the train back into Cologne and caught the tram down to Bonn.
It was Monday and Bonn... You get the idea except the Cathedral is a large church without a treasury but there was one museum open.
After a quick look round the Münster I wandered over to the Beethoven house museum. The building is where the composer and musician was born and raised in and now houses the worlds largest collection on Beethoven artefacts.
After looking round the center of Bonn I decided to catch the tram to the end of line in Bad Godesberg, a spa town - hence the Bad - about 7Km south of Bonn. The town was very pretty but it was Monday and.... You get the picture.
I caught the tram back to Cologne, this time going along the course of the Rhine rather than down through Brüel as I had done coming.
After popping back to the hotel briefly to drop off guide books I wandered back into the centre of town for dinner in another restaurant in the Fish market before heading back for bed.
The Cable Car crosses the Rhine and from my little car I got spectacular views across the city and the Rhine including back to the Cathedral in its full glory.
After the Cable Car I popped down to the south of the city and visited the Rautenstrauch-Joset Museum which has an interesting collection of Far and Near East artefacts, all displayed in German though so it really stretched my ability (to find the right words in the dictionary!)
From there I came back into the centre of the city and visited the Römisch-Germanisches Museum which has a massive collection of remains and artefacts that have been recovered shedding light on Cologne as a Roman city in the 1st Century.
After that I had a quick lunch and then headed over to the Kölnisches Stadtmusuem - the city museum - that the bus tour on Saturday had briefly stopped at.
The museum has an interesting collection of artefacts that tell the history and culture of Cologne including its famous February Carnival. The most moving display was the aerial photograph - that was taken of the city shortly after the end of the war showing a scene of total devastation with every building, except the Cathedral, a ruin and the bridges lying shattered in the Rhine - and fragments of some of the bombs that fell on the city.
By then the time had come to head back to the airport to get my flight back to the UK.
Despite another plane having "technical difficulties" and closing Gatwick's runway for 30 minutes the flight landed in Geneva on time less than 5 hours after boarding the night bus, but into the same rain! After a quick exit through the airport and a spot of late breakfast/early lunch we headed into the city on the trolley bus to drop luggage off at the Central Station (as the hotel wouldn't check us in until 3pm)
With the weather deciding to tone down to just a mild drizzle/mist we had a wander round the lake side and the old town taking in the Floral clock and Jet d'Eau - a fountain that shoots a single jet of water some 140m into the sky before it falls back into the lake (or onto unsuspecting tourists) - the town hall, with the building where the Geneva Convention was signed, and the wall of the reformation before stopping for a late lunch (yes I know with the breakfast at Gatwick, snacks on the plane, the Brunch at Geneva airport and toast before we had even left for the night bus that brings the running total to about 5 meals before 3pm but there was a lot of walking and we had been up since 4!)
After lunch we popped back to the Central station to pick up luggage and then checked into the hotel before setting back out again to visit the Cathedral.
We caught the tram back into the old town and then walked up the hill past the Russian church and the museum (diving under the cover of trees as a particularly spectacular cloud burst decided to soak Geneva) before reaching the Cathedral.
The area underneath the cathedral has been excavated and how houses an archaeological museum which gives an in-depth audio guide to the developments of the site over the last 1600 years. After visiting the archaeological museum we went into the cathedral which is a strange mixture of architectural styles with no one part matching any other part. Inside it is quite small and dark but with some very bright stained glass and the option to climb one of the towers.
After the cathedral we headed back into town to find a restaurant (I know that makes meal 6!) and the local speciality fondue. Then it was back to the hotel to rest our aching feet (and distended stomachs.)
We decided to try and spend the day doing things where we wouldn't get wet and the most obvious was to visit the fairy-tale castle of Chillon at the other end of the lake. We got the train from the main station to Montreux, which took just under the hour, and then had a quick wander round the town and down to the lake including past the statue of one of Montreux's most famous residents - Freddie Mercury, who died in the town - before stopping for an early lunch.
After lunch we got the trolley bus along the edge of the lake to Chillon and visited the castle.
The castle, although being quite compact, has lots to explore including large areas underneath the main buildings and all the original walkways. In the end we spent almost two hours wandering round the site in the dry (with the occasional dash through open courtyards avoiding the rain)
By the time we left the rain had stopped and looking down the lake towards Geneva there were just the faint signs of sunlight on the water.
We got the trolley bus back into Montreux and decided to get the cogwheel railway up to Glion, a town directly above Montreux in the mountains. The railway climbs through twisting tunnels and winding tracks up the side of the mountain reaching Glion in about 10 minutes. From there we got spectacular views over the lake and the Rhone valley.
The even quicker way down from Glion is the funicular railway which took us to the bottom of the hill in about 2 minutes and from there we caught the Trolley bus back into the centre of Montreux and the train home.
After dropping some souvenirs and guide books back at the hotel we caught the tram out to Carouge, one of Geneva's suburbs to eat in a recommended restaurant.
After checking out of the hotel and dumping the luggage at the station we headed down to the lake and decided to take one of the ferries across to the other bank of the lake before catching another one over to the international area of the city, where the Red Cross and United Nations are based.
After having a wander round the parks near the UN we caught the tram back to the centre and got some bits for lunch before catching the bus out to a park to sit in the sun and enjoy lunch.
After lunch and with the sky still clear, just some fluffy clouds collecting around the middle of the mountains opposite, we decided to go a view Geneva from 3000 feet.
Geneva is less than 5 miles from the Franco/Swiss border and regular buses take you to the boarder post. From there it is a short walk to the base of Mont Salève and the cable car station (you didn't think we were going to climb to the top did you!)
The views from the top are spectacular with the lake and the city laid out beneath you. You can look down the lake and on the day we were there make out the city of Lausanne about halfway along the lake. Looking across Geneva we could also make out the airport and the planes taking off and landing
We walked around to the other side of the Summit and looked across to the Savoy Alps and the peak of Mont Blanc.
We walked back to the cable car station at which point we realised we only had 2 hours 50 minutes until the flight... ... 2 hours 35 by the time the cable car set off... ... 2 hours 30 by the time we realised we had just missed the bus... ... 2 hours by the time we caught the bus... ... 1 hour 30 minutes by the time we reached the station with the information that there was a train in 4 minutes and then a 25 minute gap... ... 1 hour 28 minutes by the time we grabbed the luggage and ran for the platform... ... 1 hour 26 minutes as the train pulled out with us sitting on it panting. Thankfully we arrived at the airport 5 minutes later and checked in with plenty of time to spare!
Still, it was only 10 yards from the station to the hotel so I only got soaked rather than drowned.
My original plan had been to pop into the centre of town briefly after checking in but instead popped to the bar to warm up and to sample what Belgium is famous for... Beer.
After Le Manneken-Pis I got the open top (thankfully closed top as it decided at that point to have another small monsoon) bus for a tour of the city centre and EU district.
After that I wandered up past the Royal palace to the Palace of Justice and the views over the city. Then a short stop for lunch in the Parc du Cinquantenaire looking over the Belgium Arc de Triomphe.
After lunch it was a short trip on the Metro and Tram out into the western suburbs and the Basilique du Sacré Coeur. Modelled on it's name sake in Paris it has the dubious reputation of possibly being one of the ugliest buildings in the city (and this includes some of the monstrosities that the EU call home!)
However, it is still a very very impressive building and the views that you can get from the roof (lift, no spiral staircases) are spectacular.
After dodging another shower whilst I was inside the Basilique I went back into the city centre and to the Comic book museum.
After beer and chocolate this is probably what Belgium is most famous for. It's certainly one of it's more obvious exports with the prime example being Tintin.
The museum itself charts the history of Comic strips as well as looking at the process of writing a comic strip and transferring it to the screen as animation.
With the sky's clearing I followed the suggestion of the guide book and took one of the more scenic trips in Brussels. Down the length of the number 44 tram line to the suburb of Tervuren. The tram runs along side, and at times through the edge of one of the last bits of ancient forest in Europe.
The town itself is best described as "quaint" and most obviously home to many an EU bureaucrat, however running behind the centre of the town is a spectacular park which in the late evening sun was very pleasant.
The city itself does look as though it has never quite left the middle ages (except for the traffic) and is an almost perfect example of a medieval city.
The best way to get a view of the city is from the top of the bell tower, and guess what - I climbed it!
After the tower the next best way to see the city is from the canals. The city is ringed by approximately 8Km of canals and along the length of them are landing stages for the tourist cruises that ply their way up and down the canals, all following exactly the same route! Though it is a pleasant way to spend 30 minutes
After the Canals and a light lunch I decided to take the guided bus tour of the city that takes you round some of the medieval back streets of the city, which would have been great if they hadn't also been trying to run a road race on the same day, so the bus kept getting diverted!
Next stop was one of the many churches in the city the church of the Holy Blood which is split into two parts an upper, very ostentatious part and the lower more refined chapel.
Next stop is Our Lady's Church which contains an original Michelangelo statue (the Madonna with child) and then on to the Cathedral to have a look round before finally going back to the station and getting the train back to Brussels.
Heysel - Sadly, most famous for the disaster at the football stadium - is the site of a former World Fair, of which the only lasting exhibits are the American theatre and the Atomium, the giant structure of an atom that is one of the most famous symbols of the city.
First stop before the Atomium was the next door MiniEurope which has scale replicas of some of the most famous buildings from each of the members of the EU (or most as, of the 10 who had joined a few weeks earlier only Poland had an exhibit).
After wandering round MiniEurope and experiencing being able to stand next to the Brandenburg gate in Berlin and look across to the Sacré Cœur in Paris, the Bell Tower in Bruges and Dover Castle at the same time I walked back to the Atomium.
The Atomium, when it opened was a marvel of design with lifts and escalators disorienting you as you moved around the 8 or so spheres, each with 2 floors.
Unfortunately, today only 4 spheres are open, the displays are tired and most the escalators don't work, though the views from the top sphere are spectacular (if slightly grey from the dirt on the outside of the windows)
After the Atomium I went back into the city centre and following another suggestion in the guide book took one of the trams that rolls past all the Royal palaces for a glimpse of the most exclusive parts of the city.
Then it was back to the Cathedral for a look around. Despite looking large and imposing the inside of the cathedral is very light, with lots of it being made up of glass. Sadly, as it was a Monday and this is continental Europe, most of the exhibits inside the cathedral were closed, including the crypt which supposedly includes some original Roman remains.
After a quick pit stop at the central station I made my way back following some of the cartoons and murals painted on the buildings in the city centre back to the Gare du Midi and the Eurostar home.
As I walked back to the tramstop a massive electric storm raged overhead. Within seconds of getting to the stop and under some shelter the skies opened with one of the most spectacular downpours I have ever seen. Think of one of those spectacular cloud bursts that last only about a minute before calming down, except this kept it up for almost 30 minutes!
After avoiding a drenching I left the tramstop (I wasn't intending on catching a tram, but I had seen on my way out that it had a large shelter!) and walked to the Römer, the rebuilt medieval market square (flattened by the Americans - Unlike Cologne which the Brits flattened!) and a look around the Roman remains and the outside of the Cathedral.
As I got back to the hotel the clouds decided again that they we feeling full!
From there it is a short walk past the Archaeological Gardens, some of the remains of an Roman encampment, to the cathedral. The cathedral itself is quite plain, not helped by the fact that most of it is covered in scaffolding. Despite my guidebook, written in 2002 claiming that the repairs were almost complete and that the tower would reopen (as would being able to climb to the top) later that summer!
After looking around the Cathedral I decided to chance the Main Tower again, this time it was open and, unlike the Cathedral which would have been over 300 steps, took the lift to the roof. The views over the whole of the city are stunning, and the contrasts between the modern high rise and the ancient city are clear. Despite all the damage that was inflicted on the city during the war, and subsequently as the financial capital of mainland Europe, there are still a large number of older buildings and original streets still around, along with a few small smatterings of the old city walls.
Leaving Main Tower I wandered back through the Römer and down to what gives Frankfurt am Main part of its name, the Main. The river runs right behind the historic old square and Cathedral. Regular boats tour up and down the river, so I took advantage of one to get a better view of the city and to take the weight of my feet.
From the river you can see why the towers that make up Frankfurt have given it the nickname Mainhatten. Thankfully, most of them are quite elegant so it's not too harsh on the landscape. The boat cruise lasted just over the hour after which I decided to quickly stop for a bite to eat before heading on.
The next stop was the Museum Judengasse. Located on the ground floor of the council offices this museum is built over the remains of Frankfurt's Jewish Ghetto, destroyed during W.W.II. This really interesting museum tells the history of the Jews in Frankfurt, their persecution (not just in the recent past but going back over hundreds of years), their culture and in the ruins details on daily life in the Ghetto. In addition a small exhibition at the end explains how the community has attempted to rebuild itself since 1945.
Behind the museum is the old Jewish Cemetery and on the wall surrounding it 10,000 blocks. Each block has a name on it, a date of birth, and the date an location where they died. They represent the Jewish population of Frankfurt that died between 1939 and 1945 and can't help but move you.
The town was originally completely separate from the city that has now grown to envelope it, but it still remains a very picturesque and beautiful town with many old buildings and a pleasant riverside walk.
Leaving Höchst by tram I came back into the centre of Frankfurt and then out to the Palm garden (Palmgarten), which is Frankfurt's main lung, a large green space almost in the middle of the city.
After several hours walking around the gardens and glasshouses and relaxing in the sun it was time to get back to the station and pick up my luggage, and then off to the Airport.
Wednesday's itinerary was the Ring of Kerry, a 100+mile circle round the county taking in some of the most stunning scenery in the country. The tour itself is very well presented with the driver supplying an frequent commentary to the ride.
The first stop was Killarney. The town itself is not massively pretty and there is not a lot there, apart from the retail park which is located at the end of the bus station. However, just outside of Killarney the road rises towards the mountains and from a view point you can look down over the picturesque lakes of Killarney.
The next stop was the Kerry bog village, an open-air museum giving you an idea about how people involved in the peat industry lived in the past.
The coach then ran along side the coast on the opposite side of the Dingle bay from the Dingle Peninsular before pulling into the town of Waterville. The town's main claim to fame is that Charlie Chaplin regularly visited.
After reaching the highest point above Sneem the tour turns back inland and headed towards the town of Kenmare where we stopped for dinner. The town itself is very pretty and has quite a lot of history, just out the back of the town is an ancient stone circle.
After a stop in Kenmare we headed back towards Cork on the coach, finally arriving just before 10pm.
The castle does not have that much on display inside, and what there is is obscured by the sheer number of people looking round making it feel very cramped, and on the narrow spiral staircases quite dangerous. From the top of the castle there are views over the surrounding areas.
After the castle we moved on across the Burran, a bizarre almost non-Earth like plane with strange rocks and very few living things growing across it. The Burran is littered with burial sites and the tour took a short stop at the Poulnabrone Dolmen.
After the Burran we headed over to the coast and the impressive Cliffs of Moher. These dark and precipitous cliffs mark the end of Europe, beyond lies the Atlantic and then America. Just as the left the Cliffs the sky decided to open, so the dinner stop in Lahinch was just that, dinner. There was no way anyone could have seen more!
From there the coach headed back towards Cork stopping briefly in Limerick and finally arriving back in Cork at just before 10.
With my plans for the afternoon now abandoned I at least didn't have to worry about being to early to check in, so I walked from Busáras (the bus station) to the hotel. In hindsight I should have caught the bus because it was about 45 minutes walk, and almost the whole way up hill!!
After checking into the hotel and dropping my stuff off, I caught the bus back into town and caught the DART out to Howth. Howth forms a peninsula just above Dublin and from the summit of the peninsula there are spectacular views over the city and down the East coast of Ireland. After wandering around Howth for a while I caught the bus back into Dublin and grabbed a bite to eat before retreating to a not particularly comfortable but welcome bed!
After the Jail I got the bus back into town and the DART out to Dalkey. Located almost due south of the Howth Peninsular the town is most famous for the number of castles it had. Until the building of Dún Laoghaire harbour slightly closer into Dublin the town was the main port for Dublin and so had to have protection for goods being off loaded and the main street at one point boasted 7 castles. Today only two remain, and only one of those is open to look around.
Goat castle contains an exhibition on the rise, and subsequent decline of Dalkey from a powerful port town to a quiet suburb of Dublin. The castle also offers good views from it's roof over the town and harbour.
From Dalkey I got the DART back into Dublin and caught the bus up through Phoenix Park to the Jameson's distillery, just to check that the tour was still as good as it had been when I visited in 2001, and it was!!
After a walk along the side of the Liffey I wandered through Temple Bar and had dinner before taking advantage of the late opening at the Guinness Storehouse to reassess it against my 2001 visit. It's still as good as it was and the Guinness in the Gravity bar at the top is still good. As it was so late I was able to watch sunset (if there hadn't been so much cloud it might even have been impressive!)
After finishing my free pint I wandered back into the city centre and got the bus back to the hotel.
By the time I arrived in Kilkenny at half two the summer had decided to put another appearance in so, after checking in at the hotel, I wandered around town for a bit before catching the open top bus tour of the city.
The tour itself was interesting, but very short at less than 30 minutes which for €7 was slightly expensive!
After the bus tour I popped into an Internet cafe to check my e-mail (as I was trying to plan my visit with friends to Munich at the same time!) and have a cup of coffee.
After a short time surfing I went for a wander down the river bank along side the side of the castle and its grounds before coming back through the castles grounds and back to the hotel.
After a pleasant curry for dinner I had a wander round the city in the dusk before going back to the hotel and one of the most comfortable beds, and probably one of the best nights sleep I have ever encountered.
After a stop of coffee I joined the city walking tour. The well presented tour had lots of background information, not just on Kilkenny but on the whole of Irish history.
After a short pause for lunch I visited St Canices Cathedral and tower. The cathedral itself its quite interesting, but just outside is one of the original round towers of Ireland which you can climb to get good views of the city from. The climb however is up increasingly steep ladders that, by the top, even I wasn't liking and I make a habit of going up towers needlessly (See any other trip for confirmation!!)
Next to the Cathedral is the very plane and simple St Canices Chapel which is a good place to recover your composure and make solemn promises never to climb towers that use ladders ever again!!
Next stop was the Rothe House, one of the oldest buildings in the city. The house is an original Tudor town house that was built for and by the Rothe family. A 20 minute video presentation on the house and the key exhibitions gives about as much information as the displays themselves and after the video the rest of the house is a little disappointing.
The Butler Gallery of Contemporary art is a free exhibition located in one wing of the castle. It displays contemporary art. It's worth depends on your view of contemporary art - I found it a pointless waste of space and money, but I dislike contemporary art - others may disagree.
After that it was time for my tour of the castle (or - as I am a Butler myself, but probably not related to the original owner - the families country residence as I called it) which was very well presented and took you over most of the property.
First stop, just behind the tourist information centre, and in the same building, was the Waterford Treasures exhibition. This very well presented exhibition tells the history of Waterford and it's role in Irish history. With the amount of information on display and the further information available by using the free audio guide you could easily spend a whole day here.
After the exhibition I joined the walking tour of Waterford. The exceptionally well presented and very funny tour gives a further insight into the history of the city and takes you around the main sights.
The tour finishes at Reginalds Tower so I took the opportunity to visit it. The exhibition inside gives background to the tower and the role it played within the city walls. The top of the tower is currently inaccessible so you can't get, what would be good views of the city.
After a further wander around the city it was time to get the coach back into Cork.
Alderney is a very small island, with very little in the way of transport, so the only way to get from the airport to the hotel is either by taxi or by foot. Seeing that the total walking time from the airport to the hotel was 8 minutes I decided to walk.
After checking in I wandered down into St Anne's - the Island capital and the only town on the island. From there it's a five minute walk down the hill to Bray, the harbour.
After spending a little time sitting relaxing on the beach I wandered back to the hotel and then out onto the cliff path for an hour or so before heading back into town for dinner, just as the sun was setting.
I then spent a couple of hours just gently meandering around the cliff path round the outside of the airfield which occupies a large part of the western end of the island.
At 2pm I caught the guided bus tour which went round to some of the most impressive parts of the island. The tour is conducted by the driver who gives an informative and well presented history and guide to the island (even if he is Jerseyman!)
After the bus tour I hired a bike for the rest of the afternoon and revisited many of the sights that were pointed out on the bus tour.
By about 8pm the light was fading and I was knackered so I parked the bike back at the guesthouse and went for dinner.
The museum has a small and eclectic collection of artefacts related to the island, from flints and stones used by the very first settlers to the island up to the modern day, with - unsurprisingly, a large collection of items relating to the war.
The museum tells the history of the island including the murky period during WWII when it was evacuated of all the inhabitants and turned into the only concentration camp in the British Isles. Records show that definitely 1000 and maybe as many as 3000+ people died on the island during the war either as slave workers or from the conditions they were forced to live in.
After the museum I wandered back out onto the cliffs, in a very eerie mist, to the site of the Sylt concentration camp.
After wandering back into town I went down to Bray and caught the only train that runs in the whole of the Channel Islands. The former goods line from the quarry to the harbour has been reopened by a group of railway enthusiasts who run a service backwards and forwards using an old London Underground train.
It's not very quick and there are only 3 trains a day at the weekend in July and August, but it's more than any of the other islands can muster!
At the end of the line at Mannez Quarry is one of the lighthouses of the island and when the railway is running tours of the lighthouse take place. The tours show you the inside of the lighthouse and give a background to the history and workings of not only the Alderney lighthouse by lighthouses in general.
After looking around the Lighthouse and the surrounding area I got the last train of the day back to Bray.
I caught the bus back into St Peter Port and was astounded to see both Herm and Sark. Last year they were not visible, this year you could almost make out people walking on Herm!
Then it was time to go back to the airport and catch my flight out to Alderney.
After checking in, and waiting a couple of hours for the rain to stop, I ventured back out and caught the bus down to Jerbourg and walked down the cliffs and out to St Martins Point, the most South Easterly part of the island. I then followed the cliff path back along the East coast of the island taking a detour up to Doyles monument and stopping for a short break at Fermain Bay before arriving back in St Peter Port about 3 hours after leaving.
Actual Plan on Tuesday: Sandals, Beach Towel, Forget Suntan Cream and get burnt, before getting soaked in a massive downpour whilst waiting for the late ferry back, spend evening drying book out!
After coming back into town and having a spot of lunch I headed off to Pleinmont and the Pleinmont observation tower. It is one of the few German observation towers that are open to the public (Wednesday only!) There is lots of information inside on the construction and use of the towers and the views from the roof are well worth the dodgy final climb up a short ladder and a large step back over the open cover you have just emerged from!
After leaving the tower I walked down the cliff path to Pezeries Point and the aptly named Fort Pezeries. All that remains of the fort is a small amount of retaining wall and one of the magazine stores.
After walking back to the bus stop at Pleinmont I decided to get the bus the long way back into town, via the North of the Island. In the end I was very glad I did as we went through one of the most spectacular storms I have ever seen. One minute the sky was clear, then full of very dark clouds and then from nowhere the wind whipped up and massive hail stones started falling. It was barely 5 seconds from the storm starting to the bus reaching the bus stop, but in that time the person waiting was absolutely soaked!
Thankfully, by the time I got back to St Peter Port the rain had stopped.
Then it was time to collect my luggage and head home.
After a 4 hour drive along the south coast from the Eastern end of West Sussex to the Western end of Dorset, and Hampshire in between, we finally arrived in Weymouth and checked into the hotel.
We then went round our friends house and spent the rest of the evening eating, drinking and watching videos!
After a trip into Dorchester which resulted in spending quite a lot in a bookshop and getting wet on a couple of occasions we gave up, went back to our friends house and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening drinking, eating and watching videos!
First stop was Corfe and its castle. Once a grand and mighty castle which had withstood attack for centuries, the castle was reduced to ruin on the orders of Oliver Cromwell during the Civil War. Since then the remains have been left unchanged. They now offer a spectacular view over the Isle of Purbeck and the quite town of Corfe.
After Corfe we headed on to the coast and the picturesque and other world like resort of Swanage. A town that appears to be stuck firmly in the past, and all the better for it!
After a couple of hours in Swanage it was time to head back to Weymouth and then back home.
As it was Munich the first stop was a Brauhaus about ¼ mile from the centre of town. After a quick refreshment break there we headed back to the centre of town and the Frauenkirche. The vast onion domed towers of the church are one of the most visible symbols of the city and after looking inside the church we took the opportunity of taking the lift to the top of the tower to get views out over the whole of the city and beyond (not that we could see that far as the weather wasn't particularly great)
From there it was a short walk to the most famous of all the beer kellers in Munich the Hofbrauhaus where we spent the rest of the evening!!
Dachau itself is a pretty and small town. It should have remained just that, a pretty suburb of Munich, except for the Concentration camp which was built on it's outskirts.
Today the site of the camp has been reopened as a visitors centre. The site is free to look around, though the audio guides that help you to interpret the site cost about €3.
Despite the number of visitors to the site an eerie silence still hangs over a place where over 30,000 people died and many tens of thousands more were held before being sent to their deaths in other camps.
At the back of the site is one of the most distressing places in the whole camp the Crematorium which also includes the gas chamber marked as "Shower"
The site also includes a large museum (KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau) charting the history of the concentration camp system and the crimes that were committed within their walls.
After visiting the museum I caught the bus back into town and had a look around the pretty town centre which is in such a contrast to the bleak foreboding of the camp just 3 miles outside that you can barely believe they both exist in reality.
I then headed back to the station and back into Munich for a spot to eat before heading to bed.
About 60 miles South West of Munich lies Füssen. The town lies at the end of the railway line, hemmed in by the Alps and just a few short miles from the Austrian border. Füssen itself is a very pretty town, but the main reason people come here is to catch the bus the 3 kilometers to the even more picturesque village of Hohenschwangau.
Hohenschwangau lies at the foot of the Alps, against a large Alpine lake and this would itself be able to draw in quite a large crowd. The fact the (Mad) King Ludwig decided to build his most spectacular castle Schloß Neuschwanstein on the side of the hill has secured the villages spot on the tourist trail.
The castle is the epitome of the "Fairy Tale" castle. In fact it is the Fairy Tale castle as Disney modeled their castle on Neuschwanstein.
If that wasn't enough there is another equally impressive castle just the other side of the village Schloß Hohenschwangau - Ludwig's childhood home.
The whole of the village exists these days to serve the massive crowds of tourists that even on a Sunday at the beginning of October are feet deep in places!
First stop is the ticket booth where you purchase your guided tours of the castles. You can choose to do just one of the castles, or like we did opt to do both which means you have a 35 minute tour of Schloß Hohenschwangau and then 2 hours after the tour at Schloß Hohenschwangau your tour at Schloß Neuschwanstein starts.
Both castles are very impressive and well worth looking around. Though the walk from the village to Schloß Neuschwanstein is lung busting and leg aching. It feels like you are climbing half way up the side of an Alp, and to some extent you are!
After visiting the two castles we headed back to the bus stop to get the bus back to the train station. Unfortunately so had about 100 other people, and as the buses were not that big we ended up walking the 3KM back to Füssen which meant that we actually saw some spectacular views which we wouldn't otherwise have got!
After waiting a short while for the train and changing once we finally got back to Munich, had a bite to eat and all fell into bed, exhausted.
As it was tower you can climb it meant that of course, I had to climb it. From the top the views of the centre of Munich are as good as those from the top of the Frauenkirche, except from here you can see down into the Marienplatz.
After descending from the tower and watching the 11 O'clock performance of the clock on the front of the Town Hall (Nothing on the Astronomical clock in Prague!) we headed over to one of the largest buildings in the city - The Residence - The former home of the Royal family of Bavaria.
The site is enormous and would take several days to visit the whole of. Instead we just visited the exhibition on the treasures and other valuables of the collection including lots of gold and jewels.
From there we just had time to pop out to the Olympic park and climb up (or rather ascend in a speedy lift) another tower, this time the main tower at the Olympic stadium from where you can get stunning views of the Olympic Park, the City, the Alps and the next door BMW works!
After that it was time to go back to the main station, collect our luggage and head back to the airport for the plane home.
Next stop on the walking tour is the Historisches Museum, again an interesting building, because it is built around the remains of the old city walls. This is another eclectic collection with lots of royal items, as well as more modern items.
From there it was a short walk around the remainder of the walking route before heading back to the hotel.
It's a 45 minute train ride down the S-Bhan from Hanover. The town itself is very pretty, but apart from the architecture, one museum, & a couple of churches, which were closed, there is not much else to the town (at least not on a cloudy Saturday morning in November!!) the architecture is best seen following the marked trail (which is, of course, marked out with rats painted on to the pavement.
The walk itself takes about 2 hours, and after that I was pretty well done with Hameln. I walked back to the station & caught the train back into Hanover.
After a quick stop for a spot of lunch in the Hauptbahnhof, I went on to the second town of the day Celle. The town is about 50k north of Hanover and is again famed or it's architecture.
The town is arranged around the imposing castle (Schloß Celle) which I was sadly got to just to late to go on the guided tour (the only way you are allowed to see the inside of the castle!
Instead I made do with the town itself, which again has a lot of architecture, but not much else. There is a museum in the town, and you can get joint entry to this and the castle, but again I was running out of time before the museum shut, so I didn't go in.
After looking round the town for a while I walked back to the station and caught the train back to Hanover & dinner.
The plan was to go out to Braunschweig (Brunswick) about 60k from Hanover. I got there no problem, however at this point the normally reliable & dependable German transport system let me down.
The local transport in Braunschweig makes the UK's systems look the model of reliability, dependability & integration. The tram that goes to the centre of town leaves exactly 5 minutes before the train from Hanover arrives!!!
After negotiating the public transport to the city centre I got there only to find out that most of it is shut on a Sunday in autumn!! The only things that weren't shut were the churches, and they all had services on!
After spending about 90 minutes wandering round what on the face of it is an architecturally beautiful city (until you remember that it has all been completely rebuilt since it was destroyed in WWII) I waited another age for a tram back to the Hauptbahnhof & on to plan B.
Plan B involved going to Hildesheim, so I got the InterCity train which, thankfully, runs between Braunschweig & Hildesheim.
I got to Hildesheim and walked the 700m or so into the heart of the old town. Unfortunately (and I am sure you can already guess what happened) most of the city was closed because it was a Sunday!
Thankfully the Dom (cathedral) was open, along with the cloister which houses a climbing rose which is over 1000 years old!
After having all my plans for Hildesheim ruined as well I walked back to the Hauptbahnhof & caught the train back to Hanover.
As there was still a little time left before sunset, I decided to go out to the Herrenhaüser Garten a set of large formal gardens about 3Km from the city centre and spent a relaxing 45 minutes in there before they closed then I headed back to the hotel.
First stop was the small park behind the Rathaus. The views of the town hall from the back with a picturesque lake in front are excellent & on a clear & crisp November morning with barely a cloud in the sky they made for some beautiful photos.
From there it's a short tram ride out past the zoo to another of the city's fabulous parks the "Stadtpark" or City Park. Within a few metres into this park you can completely forget you are still in the city centre. The area is very heavily wooded, and even in late autumn, when there is barely a leaf on the trees, they still act as a buffer to the noise.
After strolling through the park for a while I headed back to the Herrenhaüser Garten and spent a couple of hours walking in them. The approach to the park is attractive itself, a 2.5K walk down a dead straight avenue lined on each side by trees.
Then it was time to head back into town, catch the train to the airport & the flight home.
After a beautiful ride up the side, on what must be one of the steepest and most beautiful metro rides in the world, I reached Voksenkollen and walked the remaining 15 minutes up to the tower. The climb, despite being very up hill, is well worth it, if only because it fills your lungs with lots of clean mountain air!
From the top of the tower you have spectacular views over the whole of the Oslo Fjord & surrounding area right over to the Swedish border. The only downside in the middle of winter is that the sun never rises high enough not to obscure the view of Oslo itself!
After walking back down to the metro station, I caught the train on the one last stop to the end (and top) of the line, at over 550m above the level of the fjord. The views from here are not as all round as those from the top of the TV Tower, but of the fjord are less obstructed (as there is no glass in the way!)
I caught the train back almost into the city centre & then caught the tram round to the Akershus fortress. It is in daylight as impressive as it is during the night.
After spending a little time wandering around the grounds, and by pure chance catching the changing of the guards, I went to the Norwegian Resistance Museum.
The museum is, soberingly, located in the same building that the Gestapo used to torture people in during the occupation. In the area in front is the memorial to those who were executed on that very spot. The museum tells the story of the occupation & resistance movement within Norway during WWII.
After spending a little longer in the fortress, and wandering around the grounds I headed out of the city centre to one of the major parks in Oslo, Vigeland Park. Despite the darkness the park (which is open 24 hours a day) is very tranquil & beautiful.
I had intended, after leaving the park to catch the tram back to the hotel, drop my stuff off & then go for dinner, unfortunately on arrival at the hotel I found it had been evacuated because of a fire alarm, so instead I walked down the main street to the Royal Palace & had dinner at that end of town before heading back to a now re-occupied hotel & my bed.
Next-door to the Folk museum is the Viking ship museum. This houses the remains of 3 Viking ships which were used as burial ships and have subsequently been uncovered in archaeological digs. Two are in very good condition with the third just being the very bottom.
A short walk from the Viking ship museum are 3 further museums dedicated to ships & the sea.
The Fram museum tells the history of its key exhibit, the ship Fram, the ship that has travelled the furthest North & South on expeditions to both the North & South poles.
The Kon-Tiki Museum tells the story of Thor Heyerdahl's famous journeys. The original Kon-Tiki & Ra II ships are the key exhibits.
The Maritime museum tells the story of sea-faring and the people of Norway from the Vikings to the modern super tankers & cruise ships.
After spending almost the whole day on the Island it suddenly dawned (or more correctly dusked) on me that Tomorrow was the shortest day of the year, and that I had witnessed both the sunrise and set of the day from Bygdøy. With that thought and the chill of an early night I headed back into the city through the evening rush hour and towards a warm dinner!
The museum tells the history of skiing in all its forms (cross-country, downhill, jump) and concludes with a lift and 100 step climb to the top of the ski jump for views over the fjord and to see what a ski jumper would see before they took off. Just below the museum is the opportunity to experience what it actually feels like on the ski-simulator.
After slipping and sliding my way back down the hill to the metro stop I caught the train back towards town and then the tram back out to Vigeland Park, this time in the daylight! The statues look almost as bizarre in daylight as they do in darkness!
As I had done Vigeland Park in the daylight I also decided that I would have another look at the Royal Palace as well.
After a quick comfort break and a diversion to the tourist information centre to pick up a 24hour Oslo pass I got the metro out to the Botanical gardens. As it was so close to Christmas most of the site was shut with the exception of the zoological museum.
This is an interesting museum that mostly focuses on the natural fauna of Norway, but also has a small amount on the rest of the world.
From there I wandered over to the Reptile museum which is housed on the 4th floor of an office block almost in the centre of town. As with all reptile displays all the creatures were asleep and hiding.
Just before heading back to the hotel I took a short stop at the Cathedral. Although it is much smaller than it's counterparts in the rest of Europe, what it doesn't have in size it makes up for in decoration. The inside of the cathedral is warm and inviting (useful in a city where the winters can be very long and cold!) The ceiling is completely painted in various colours and religious images and the compact interior helps make it look very light, despite the Dark wood finish to everything.
After a brief stop in the hotel I headed back out again to the edge of Vigeland Park and to the Oslo City Museum (Oslo Bymuseet)
The museum is well laid out and has some of the information translated into English. It deals with the history of Oslo/Christiania (as it was called from 1624 until 1925!) from the earliest settlements in around 1000 up to modern day Oslo.
From there it was a short tram ride round to the historical museum for a look around.
The museum specialises in Norwegian history (naturally) and also has a collection of exhibits on Africa & South-East Asia.
Then it was back to the station to pick up my baggage & off to the airport.
Even in the costly bar at the airport a half liter cost only £1.20!! In the end we only had to wait about 15 minutes for the cab so we did end up rushing the beer slightly.
The hotel was in the middle of the old town, just opposite the opera house and across a nice park from the Freedom Monument and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral.
After getting all our luggage sorted and the rooms occupied (including discovering the interesting toilet arrangements!) we wandered into the rest of the old town.
We had a walk though some of the old squares and past St Andrew's Church, past the 'House of the Blackheads' to the Townhall and the riverside. By this time we were all feeling slightly hungry so we decided to go for dinner in a Latvian Pizza Chain!
After a very filling and full (and cheap) meal we all headed back to the hotel for a short drink in the bar and then bed.
Darzini halt is identifiable by being the first one completely in the woods since leaving Riga. On this basis they feel that it's not important to offer such luxuries as station signs so with some trepidation in case we were alighting at the wrong stop we got off the train.
Located in the woods, about 1 mile from Darzini is a memorial. The memorial is located on the site of Salaspils concentration camp. Here, during the Nazi occupation over 10,000 people died and 10,000's more were kept until they could be dispatched to the death camps to the south in Poland. Today all that remains is an empty clearing and monuments and a strange feeling loss. When I visited Dachau it was on a warm autumn afternoon with lots of other people around. At Salaspils it was snowing heavily with biting winds and the only people around were the 6 of us. I think I came closer to starting to understanding the suffering that people went through, and that was with the benefit of a thick coat, and warm hat, gloves and scarf.
The site is well worth visiting, especially during the winter, to realise what people were put through, and not that long ago. Getting to the site should be easy, but the "good signage" that the guide book boasted has corroded and rotted in the weather and only empty frames now stand giving no information.
After visiting the site and coming back into Riga we stopped for a long lunch to warm up, before heading off into a clear late afternoon for a wander around the centre of Riga and down to the completely frozen river.
We walked alongside the river until we reached the castle, by which point most of the light was gone. We then walked back towards the hotel going past the Cathedral.
One of the must see sights of the city, according to the guide book, is St Peters Church where you can get the lift up to the top of the tower for stunning views. Unfortunately the lift is currently out of order (and at the time of visiting had been for nearly a year!)
The church itself is quite interesting with displays of artwork also dotted around the aisles.
The next stop, after a lot of wandering around looking at the outsides of lots of interesting buildings, was the Cathedral.
This is an impressive building with a massive space inside, which given the lack of light in February in Northern Europe and the dark stone used is still very light and airy.
After the Cathedral we finished off our walking tour with a spot of lunch before moving onto the Russian Orthodox Cathedral.
The building is spectacular both on the outside and the inside with almost every wall covered with icons and decorations and massive candle stands dotted liberally around the place.
The final stop for the afternoon was the TV tower. Located on an island in the middle of the river it dominated the landscape (in it's full red and yellow colouring!) You can get the express lift that goes up the curved legs to the viewing platforms at the top of the tower for stunning views over the whole of the city and off towards the Baltic. Made even more spectacular by the fact that a river, wider than the Thames, Main, Danube, Rhine or any other that I have see on my trips to Europe was totally frozen solid, just a few miles from the sea!
From the TV tower we walked back into town and to a well deserved big meal and drink.
After spending several hours in the park we caught the bus back into Riga for a late lunch and a drink before collecting our bags and heading for the airport.
I walked the short distance from the station to my hotel & checked-in, just in time to avoid the spectacular downpour that started as I stepped inside the hotel!
Once the rain had stopped (or so I thought) I left the hotel to have a wander around the city centre.
I wandered up to the castle, only to find that it's not floodlit at night. I carried on wandering and eventually found myself walking down to Cardiff bay just as the rain returned (accompanied by a strong, biting & rain lashing wind)
By the time I actually got to Cardiff Bay station I was soaked and decided to get the train back, unfortunately the next train wasn't for another 50 minutes, so I got the bus back to the city centre and then went back to the hotel to dry off.
Despite that the site does have 2 exhibitions inside different towers. One tells the history of the site and the other the history of the inhabitation of Wales.
After leaving the castle I walked back to the station & caught the train back to Cardiff where I changed and caught another train out to Taffs Well.
From Taffs Well it's a 30 minute, uphill, walk to Castle Coch.
The castle was originally built by the Norman's but was abandoned in the 14th Century and remained ruins until it was restored & rebuilt. The outside is fairy-tale Norman castle, but inside it's all Victorian fantasy!
After spending some time looking around the castle I walked back to Taffs Well station to catch the train back to Cardiff. At Queen Street station I caught the train down to Cardiff Bay and the went for a wander around the newly rejuvenated dock areas that have been transformed from the once prosperous, the run-down & deprived docks into one of the most desirable areas to live in in the whole of Wales.
With a sudden & tremendous downpour striking I went into the Cardiff Bay visitors centre. The centre gives a background to the rejuvenation of the area along with a scale model of the whole area.
After the end of the rain I walked over to one of the old Victorian dock company buildings which now houses the Welsh Assembly education centre. The centre is well presented & gives a background to how devolved power operates in Wales.
From there I walked down to the waterside just in time to get on a boat tour of the bay including going alongside the barrage that helps to make the harbor. With the sun starting to set I caught the train back into the city centre & then back out to Caerphilly. I had a long wander around the outside of the castle which is as spectacular floodlit at night as it is during the day.
Then it was time to get the train back to Cardiff and dinner!
The area was abandoned after the Romans left and it wasn't until the Norman's in the 11th Century that the site was used again. The remains of the old Norman keep are one of the main attractions
The site went through various extensions and additions over the years but the main changes were made by the Marquis of Bute and William Burges (them of Castle Coch fame) who completely refurbished the inside of the main areas of the castle.
The grounds and Norman Keep are explorable, but the inside of the main part of the castle is only viewable on a guided tour. The tours are well worth the extra small expense as they are well presented and informative.
After the castle I walked the short distance to the National Museum and Gallery of Wales.
There are lots of exhibitions and artifacts. You could very easily spend a couple of days exploring all the exhibits. One of the main ones is a gallery devoted to the history of the planet and explains the last 700,000,000 years (or so) through what has happened to the land-mass that is now Wales.
After the National Museum, I caught the bus back out to Cardiff Bay and a completely different type of museum "Techniquest" explains science through hands-on exhibits. Although it's a bit Kiddyish it is very interesting.
From the bay I caught the waterbus across the harbor to Penarth and the barrage.
After spending a short while wandering around this "quaint" Victorian seaside town I caught the bus back to Cardiff Bay for dinner (sadly the last few waterbusses had to be canceled due to very choppy waters.)
The fort was built during the 19th century, but is now being used as a caravan park and restaurant!
I wandered back to the station and got the train back into town where I had a pleasent dinner befor going back out to the airport to meet my friends who were coming in on a later flight than me.
We stopped at the Rundtårn (round tower) which is a bizarre tower in which a spiral ramp takes you up the inside of the building. About halfway up was an exhibition of modern art. Towards the top the ramp ends and its onto spiral stairs for the final ascent to the viewing platform at the top which offers excellent views over the centre of the old town.
From the Rundtårn we walked the short distance onto the metro station and caught the metro out to Christianshavn.
Towards the centre of Christianshavn is the Vor Frelsers Kirke. The church is stunning inside and outside. Its defining feature is its tower (sadly closed when we visited) The stairs to the top start off inside the tower, but the last 150 or so wind around the outside of the spire!
After looking around the church we wandered over to the "free state" of Christiana. Created in 1971 when a group of young and homeless people started squatting in a dissused millitary barracks complex, the area is internationaly known as an area which has developed an more egalitarian and environmently friendly attitude than anywhere else.
After spending some time walking round Christiana we walked back to the metro station and made our way over to one of Copenhagens other well known sites - the Carlsberg factory.
The visitors centre was partly closed for refurbishment, but the important part of the tour, the free tasting, was still open.
A little later on (and slightly the worse for wear after trying several different types of brew) we walked back to the train station.
As it was a little early to have dinner, and starting to get a little cold, we decided to waste a bit of time having a play on the Copennhagen metro which has only recently opened and is completely computer controlled so that you can sit right at the very front of the train.
Once we had wasted a little time we headed back into the centre of town in search of food.
We walked to the station to get the train out to the top of Zealand (the name of the island that Copenhagen is on)
Helsingør (or Elsinore as it is known in English) is the location of the castle said to have inspired William Shakespeare to write Hamlet.
The castle is very interesting to look round and only hypes the Hamlet association up in one small exhibition at the start of the royal appartments.
We also looked around the chapple and the casements under the building.
After stopping for a quick coffee we went for a wander around the centre of the town and then stopped for a very late lunch/early dinner, befor stopping for a couple of drinks in a local bar befor heading back to the station and a train back to Copenhagen.
More famous for its annual music festival, the town itself is very pretty and has several museums and attractions. Sadly this being Monday in continental Europe all bar the Viking ship museum were closed.
The museum tells the story of five Viking ships discovered in the fjord, their last role befor being forgotten was as a barradge across one of the navigable channels.
Along with the remains of the ships, reconstructions and background information, the museum also explanes a bit about Viking life at the time.
From the museum we wandered back to the centre of town stopping off to look at the impressive cathedral and for a bite to eat.
We caught the train back to the central station and then brought some more tickets, this time to another country.
Just beyond Copenhagen airport is the start of one of Europes most impressive structures, a road and rail bridge that links Copenhagen, Denmark with Malmö, Sweden. The trains only take 35 minutes to get from the centre of Copenhagen to the centre of Malmö.
Malmö is a very nice city with several pretty squares, though its castle is not as good as its Danish counterparts.
After spending a couple of hours wandering around Malmö's streets we popped for a drink and a bite to eat befor getting on the train and travelling back to Denmark.
The first stop was at Christiansborg Slot, the former Royal palace.
Burnt to the ground twice and rebuilt into three different styles over the last 800 years, the site has left it's history in it's foundations which can be walked around to see the various former buildings.
After spending almost 2 hours submerged beneath the castle we decided to stop for a short lunch break befor heading off to walk across more of the city.
The next stop was at the impressive domed Marmorkirken (Memorial church). From there we walked the short distance to the Amailenborg Slot, the current residence for the Danish royal family.
From there it was a short walk to the Kastellet (citadel) fortress. Still used as barracks by the army there is not much to see but the building and earthworks that surround it are quite impressive, and from the ramparts you get a good view of the mermaid statue that Copenhagen is famous for (though I am not sure why as it is very small and in the middle of nowhere!)
We then walked back towards the city centre and into the grounds of Rosenborg Slot. Another royal residence, this one houses the crown jewels.
After walking through the park we carried on for two more blocks to the thee man made lakes at the Western edge of the city.
By now the rain was starting to fall quite heavily so we walked back quickly to the hotel to dry off befor heading out for dinner.
Not to be outdone I instead had my fill in the first-class lounge!
The sleeper pulled out of Paddington on time at ten-to-midnight with the gentle roll of the trains motion (and two cans of Stella) letting me drift off to sleep quickly.
After having got back to sleep I re-awoke just before 7:15 so I decided to get up and open the blind on a grey and wet Cornish morning. 20 minutes later, and with my breakfast in front of me the clouds started to clear.
By the time we arrived (20 minutes early) into Penzance the dark-clouds had all gone and the sun was fighting its way through the remaining low cloud.
I popped by the hotel to drop off my bag before heading back to the bus station to start sightseeing.
First stop of the morning was Porthcurno bay. Today a picturesque and quiet bay on the way down to Lands End, but at one time possibly the most important place on the planet (at least to the British Empire) for here, in a little hut the telegraph cables that linked and ran an Empire came ashore.
Even today with modern satellite technology the cables still come ashore here, but all the work of Porthcurno is now done elsewhere. The original buildings, and the tunnels dug to keep the service going during W.W.II, now form the Porthcurno museum of submarine telegraphy. The museum tells the story of underground telegraphy along with the history of Porthcurno. A special exhibition also explains the role that Brunels 'Great Eastern' played in the laying of the first successful transatlantic cable.
On the cliffs above Porthcurno is the Minack theatre. Built in the late 1930's (and then rebuilt after the war because of damage caused by turning the headland into a gun emplacement) the theatre is a unique sight. The stage is on the edge of the cliff with a 200ft drop beneath! The site includes a small museum to the lady who built it, Rowena Cade.
After looking around Minack and Porthcurno, I got back on the bus and continued on to its final destination at the literal 'end of the route' - Lands End. The most Westerly part of the mainland (though not the most Southerly - that accolade lies with Lizard head the other side of Penzance.) The site is not only the end of the country but also a slightly tacky theme park. In addition to the end of the country there are also several 'attractions' to keep you occupied (and out of any sudden showers that may decide to strike!)
After spending about 4 hours at the site (and missing 2 showers!) I caught the bus back into Penzance. From there I caught another bus out to Mousehole (pronounced Mousel) where I had a wander around this pretty fishing village before catching the bus back to Penzance, dinner, and a bed that didn't rock you awake!
Today the site has reopened as a museum to mining in Cornwall. You can wander over large sections of the site seeing how miners spent their days. The mines that closed in 1990 stretched more than 1.5KM out to see, and when the pumps were turned off started to fill with water. However, some 18th century mines have been rediscovered and one of the highlights of the museum is a short tour around a small part.
In the end I spent almost three hours wandering around the site, and I didn't see everything, but by then my feet were hurting. I caught the bus back to Penzance and then another three miles along the coast to Mazarion. From here you can normally reach the castle and monastery on St Michael's Mount, a small island just off shore connected by a causeway at low tide and a boat at other times. Unfortunately, due to the high winds the National Trust, who run the site, had closed it!
Instead I caught the bus back towards Penzance and changed onto another heading to St Ives.
The town is very pretty with stunning views around the bays from the top of the very steep town. After spending some time taking in the sights of the town I walked down to Tate St Ives.
The building it is in is architecturally stunning with lots of space created and large gallery areas. Unfortunately, they have filled it with... Art not to my personal taste, and very little of it to justify the £5.50 entrance fee! To make matters worse the staff were quite rude (the only non-pleasant people I met during the whole trip)
I left the gallery after about 25 minutes feeling slightly cheated (it should be noted that both of the Tates in London are free to look around the general collections)
I had a further wander around town before heading off to the station to catch the train back to Penzance. The line between St Ives and St Erth (where it meets the mainline to Penzance) is possibly one of the most picturesque and beautiful in the country. The line snakes around the side of the cliffs as it makes its way along the coast.
I got back into Penzance and quickly popped back to the hotel to drop my bag off, and, by fluke, miss the torrential downpour! After the rain had stopped it was time for dinner.
The helicopter goes out over Lands End and then over the 25 or so miles of Atlantic ocean until you reach the Isles. The approach is stunning as you can see all the islands laid out before you.
I spent most of the day exploring the islands which in places resemble the Scottish highlands and in others a Mediterranean island (the Isles are directly underneath the Gulf Stream and consequently have an almost sub-tropical climate)
Dotted around the island are several ruins. Taking in all these, and walking around the edge of the island took up the whole six hours I was there before I had to go back to the heliport and catch the helicopter back to Penzance.
After walking back to the hotel to collect my bags, and having a very pleasant local fish supper, I headed back to Penzance train station and the sleeper back to London.
Very short flight to The Netherlands, 30 minutes of walking through Schiphol airport and then almost an hours wait at the gate before boarding for the flight to Germany. After everything being so smooth and simple up to then it was almost inevitable that something would go wrong. With minutes to go before boarding was due to commence, the flight got delayed by 90 minutes due to the crew being stuck somewhere else!
30 minutes after we were supposed to have departed we are all called forward to start boarding the bus to get to the plane parked on the air-field. We sit there for a couple of minutes before being asked to come back off again as the crew are still not ready!
Eventually after a further 15 minutes we finally start boarding the bus for real and are taken to the plane. A short flight later we arrive in Bremen, 1 hour late. I caught the tram from the outside of the airport into town to my hotel, conveniently situated right next to the Hauptbahnhof.
After settling in and getting unpacked I wandered back out of the hotel and caught the tram a couple of stops back to the area around the cathedral for a quick spot of sightseeing and a spot of dinner, before heading back to the hotel and a seriously needed sleep.
The town is situated about 50Km Northwest of Bremen and is supposedly the economic and cultural centre of the region, though on a Saturday in late May it was very quiet.
The main sights of the town are the large church (Lambertkirche), the castle (Schloß), and the castle gardens (Schloßpark).
The church is not only interesting because of it's five spires, but also because the inside and outside fail to match completely. From the outside the large red brick gothic rectangular building belies the fact that inside it is a subtle, light coloured stone, round church!
The castle now houses a large museum to the history of the area, sadly all of it is in German, with no translations, or guides in any other language. The castle park, the other side of the main ring road from the castle is surprisingly quiet and tranquil. After spending a short while wandering around, I walked back to the station and caught a train to my next destination, Osnabrück, about 110Km to the south.
Osnabrück is a pleasant town, with lots of old buildings (despite the war). From the tourist information centre I followed a signed walk that takes you round most of the main sights in the town, including: The town walls and remaining gates; The town hall (Rathaus); Several of the towns many churches; and the cathedral with it's disproportionate towers.
The cathedral also houses it's treasury which contains lots of relics from the cathedrals past, as well as many of it's more valuable possessions.
After spending some time wandering around the town, I walked back to the station where I got a direct train back to Bremen, and a well deserved dinner.
From there I caught the train further North to the town of Jever. More commonly known for it's bitter tasting beer, the town has also during it's history been an important royal seat. This is shown off to it's best in the garishly pink Schloß that takes pride of place in the centre of the town.
The castle now houses an interesting museum on the history of the area, with lots of it translated into English and Dutch. The central tower of the castle supposedly offers stunning views over the gardens and surrounding areas, sadly this was closed for renovation when I visited.
The brewery, towards the back of town, offers regular tours which include a tasting session. Sadly tours (of which some are also in English) are very popular and have to be pre-booked
After wandering around town for a short while, I walked back to the station to catch the trains back to Bremen.
From there I caught the train out to Bremehaven, the large sea port that has supplied much of Bremen's wealth.
Supposedly it is worth visiting, with lots to see. But with no signage anywhere you can wander away from the station and not find anything! After nearly an hours walking, and without see anything even remotely worthy of a quick photo, I walked back to the station and caught the train back to Bremen for dinner and an early night.
First stop of the morning was the statue of Bremen's most famous non-visitors, the musicians of Bremen, the cockerel, cat, dog and donkey of the children's fairy tale. This also forms the starting point for a marked walk that Bremen Tourism have devised.
Next stop was the cathedral, St. Petri's. As well as the spectacular building there is also the treasury museum, the 263 stepped tower and the Lead Cellar - where bodies buried within have been completely preserved and are now on (morbid) view to the public.
I carried on following the walking tour, which takes in all the main sights and museums (as it was Monday they were all closed) of the city centre. Then it was on to the tram and out into the suburbs to the botanical gardens.
Originally started as a rhododendron park this massive site now also includes 'botanica' a green science museum and greenhouses of some of their more spectacular specimens.
The park itself is huge, I spent over three hours wandering around it, and don't think I saw it all. In late May it was especially nice as all the rhododendrons were in full bloom and scent.
After several hours at the park I wandered (or more closely staggered as my feet were sore!) back to the tram stop for the tram back to the hotel for a well earned rest and then dinner
Lübeck was once one of the most important cities is Germany, a centre of trading with the rest of the world. Much of it's importance is shown in it's magnificent buildings, many of which have had to be rebuilt since the end of the war, the city being all but flattened during a bombing raid on 29th March 1942. A slightly more alarming feature is the subsidence the city suffers from. The area whole of the city is built on swampy ground and as such much of it now leans at precarious angles.
First stop of the day was the Holstentor at the entrance to the city. So famous is it that it used to grace the DM50 bill. This now contains a museum charting the history of the city and it's importance in European history.
Next stop on from there was the canal bank where I picked up one of the many ships that cruise around the rivers and canals of Lübeck. Sadly all of them only offer commentary in German.
From there I walked to the Petrikirche. Almost destroyed during the bombing it has been rebuilt, but is no longer used as a church. Instead it is used as an exhibition space, and as a viewing tower. A lift glides you up to the top of the tower for views over the whole of the city.
The traders of Lübeck decided in the 13th century that it was time for a game of one-up-man-ship against the church and local bishops. They decided to built their own church, in a similar style to the town hall, to be even bigger and more impressive than the cathedral. They succeeded. Another building almost totally destroyed on 29/03/1942 it has been rebuilt, but with a reminder of what happened. At the base of one of the towers the shattered remains of the bells have been left, exactly where they fell.
After a short stop for lunch, I headed off towards the cathedral. Yet another building brought to the ground in 1942 this has been completely rebuilt, and contains a small photographic exhibition on the bombing, the fire (started by the bombing) that caused most damage, it's ruins and rebuilding.
The centre of the city rests on an island surrounded by canals and rivers. Around the edge is a pleasant path that you can walk round. Sadly halfway round the weather decided to take a turn for the worse so I (quickly) wandered back to the city centre to pick up some souvenirs. The local speciality is marzipan, the experts can make it look like anything!
I then headed back to the station, getting on the train just as the rain picked up intensity, and headed back to Hamburg, then Bremen, and a well deserved rest.
The museum shows the history and development of Bremen, with lots of artefacts, especially in the "Magazine" collection which appears to be their entire store of artefacts grouped together by subject and then arranged alphabetically.
After visiting the Focke Museum I caught the tram back into town and visited the Böttcherstrasse a tiny lane in the centre of the city which houses a museum and art gallery that link to each other.
The Roselius house has artifacts and items from Bremens heyday as the centre of Hanseatic trading. The Paula Becker-Modersohn exhibition is an art gallery displaying works by Paula Becker-Modersohn as well as some changing displays of modern art.
After spending a while in the museums it was time to head back to the station to pick up my bags from the luggage lockers and catch the tram out to the airport.
The journey home was relatively uneventful - if you ignore the pilot on the flight from Bremen to Amsterdam trying for a land speed record on the taxiways of Schipol airport. After warning us that it would take about 10 minutes to reach the terminal (and it having taken that long when I had flown in from Heathrow a few days earlier) he succeeded in making it from the runway to stand in about 3 minutes, overtaking several cars passing on the nearby motorway!!
I booked onto two tours. The first, lasting almost 2 hours, goes round several of the islands that make up Stockholm, under many of the bridges that join it all together and through the two locks that separate Lake Mälaren and the Baltic sea. After completing that tour I then went on another that goes along some of the back canals around the Royal palaces. It was quite thankful that I booked onto these tours. Not only were they well presented with lots of useful information about Stockholm, but they also kept my dry during several heavy down-pours.
After sending the whole of the morning at Sea level I took a bus up to one of the high points, Fjällgatan, above the city to look out across it. From here you can see several of the islands that make up Stockholm, as well as many of the main buildings in the city.
After that I walked back to the centre of town to pick up the Tram. Unlike Oslo, Stockholm only has one tram line, and here it is a tourist attraction. It runs for a couple of miles along the edge of the lake, over a bridge and onto the island that houses most of the major museums. I got off at the end stop and walked through the parkland to the Canal I had been on earlier.
After crossing the canal I continued through the parkland to Kaknästornet, the TV tower. The top two floors are open to the public as viewing platforms, with the top most one being on the roof. By now all of the clouds had disappeared and the views from the top were stunning, not only of the City and water, but also into the distance. The other amazing site was the sun. At almost 5pm it still looked like the very early afternoon, with the sun high in the sky and very short shadows.
From the top of the tower I spotted a solid row of trees running away into the distance at the other end of the parkland that the TV is built in. After checking the guidebook this turned out to be a tree-lined avenue that stretches in an almost straight line for 2Km heading away from the city. The map also showed that at the end of it was a conveniently located Metro station, so I decided to walk it. After a pleasant 60 minute walk (it was further than it looked from the base of the tower to the start of the avenue) I arrived at the metro station and caught the train back into town and onto Gamla Stan.
This is the original island that the town first grew up around, and it still houses the official work-place of the monarchy, as well as being a labyrinth of little streets and alleyways. After spending about 45 minutes wandering around the back lanes taking lots of photos, I decided to stop for dinner, and then headed back to the hotel to get some rest.
The first stop of the morning was the Three Crowns Museum, located in the cellars of the current royal palace, it explains some of the background to the buildings on the site, as well as showing the ruins of the castle that burnt down in the 17th Century. From there it was a short walk up the staircase into the Royal apartments, the rooms are spectacular, not only in their opulence, but also in the fact you can see so many of the rooms that are regularly used by the Royal family for entertaining and putting up guests. The Royals themselves no longer live in the palace instead preferring a little pad out in the countryside.
After a quick stop for postcards and an early lunch I went to the Kungliga Myntkabinette, the Royal money cabinet, which houses an exhibition on Money. Not only does it trace the history of the Swedish currency, it also looks at money itself with displays of currency from Pre-Roman times to the Euro. The main part of the museum is well guided in English, but beyond the main exhibition the rest is only in Swedish.
From there it was across to one of the smallest islands, which only houses one large building. However, in the cellars beneath it are the remains of the old city walls and the area has now been turned into a museum on Medieval Stockholm. The exhibition also includes the remains of several ships which have been discovered in the channels around Stockholm during archaeological excavations.
I then caught the metro out to the back of town to visit the Vin & Sprithistoriska Museum, the museum of wine and spirit history. It traces the history of alcohol in Sweden, its manufacture and over consumption that eventually lead to the strict control methods and state control of supply. It also gives an insight into the production of the local tipple Vodka. Although the whole exhibition is in Swedish, a helpful and informative English language audio guide also takes you around, and all of the interactive elements are in both languages as well.
After leaving the museum I caught the bus back to the metro stop and then another bus out to the Västerbron Bridge. One of the longest bridges in the city, it also has stunning views over the city centre and skyline. After taking 15 minutes to walk over it, the bus back took little more than 90 seconds. That took me back to the metro and I came back over to Gamla Stan to find somewhere to eat, before heading back to the hotel.
After spending a little time digesting I headed back out again, this time to Slussen and the Katarinahissen. Built originally as a way of reaching the higher parts of the town without the need for lots of steps, the lift and walkway now provide an excellent view point over the lake and city, especially during a late evening sunset. From there I wandered back over the bridge to Gamla Stan and wandered through the narrow streets in the dusk before once again heading back tot he hotel and my welcoming bed.
To avoid the worst of the rain I took what turned out to be the very last open top tour bus of the day round the city, before transferring onto the more leisurely open top hop-on-hop-off boat. Needless to say, both firmly had their roofs up!
I got off the boat on the island of Djurgården which houses many of the city's museums. First stop was the Biological Museum housed in its own purpose built building, which looks exactly like a Norwegian Stave Church. Inside there are a couple of small exhibits, including a presentation of a Bear and her two cubs from the early 20th century shown as a happy loving family unit, mother on her hind legs, baby clasped to her chest with one had, and toddler holding her other hand, not the most natural of stances for a bear! The museum does admit that it is an example of what was being done in the early 20th century and not how they would display creatures now.
The bulk of the museum is taken up with a 360° diorama showing most of the natural birds and beasts of Sweden. Access to is is up a peculiar double spiral staircase.
From there it was a short walk to the Nordiska museum. The museum was set up to let future generations know what life was like in Sweden in the past. It runs from the 16th Century right up to today, with displays on clothing, fabrics, traditions and design. Strangely in the design section IKEA only get a couple of mentions!
After the Nordiska museum, and with the Marathon I full flow on the street outside, I headed next door to the Vasa Museum. The museum is built around the almost complete remains of the 17th Century battleship the Vasa which sunk, on it's first trip out of docks after being built. It lay on the bed of the lake until the late 1950's when it was rediscovered. From the point at which it was raised from the sea bed until it finally went on full display to the public still took nearly 30 years, with the entire wreck having to be saturated with a type of plastic to replace all the water in it. The museum tells the history of the ship, the background to the reasons why she was built and how she sunk, and the efforts that were gone to to rescue her from her grave.
From the Vasa museum I crossed back over the road, having to run between marathon runners, and walked down to Skansen.
Skansen is a folk part, similar to those in Bunratty, Oslo and Riga. Unlike those, though, it has also diversified into a semi safari-park of native animals with Wolves, Wolverines, Lynx, Bears, Elk, Seals and Bison on view. There is also a small zoo which houses some more exotic creatures including a cage full of ring-tailed lemurs that you can wander through. All made extra special as for the first time all day the sun came out and all the animals were lying out sunbathing (it also helped that it was already almost 6pm and most of the tourists and screaming babies had already gone home!)
I caught the tram back from Skansen back into town and stopped for a bite to eat, before heading back to the hotel.
This tour again lasts about an hour, but runs round the canal that separates the 2nd largest island Kungsholmen from the other islands.
After that I went next door to the town hall and went up the tower for the stunning views over the city.
After descending the tower I went into the main entrance of the town hall to join one of the hourly guided tours that take you round some of the more important rooms of the building. The tour includes the blue room, where the banquet to honour the Noble prize winners is held every year, and the gold room with its spectacular mosaic decoration of some 19,000,000 individual tiles.
By the time I completed the tour there was just time to do a spot of souvenir shopping before heading back to the central station to pick up my luggage, and get the train back to the airport.
With my usual rote closed by the previous week’s terrorist attack I was planning to walk the last part to Liverpool Street station, but that was thwarted when the Metropolitan line decided it would be a good time to have a series of signal failures. I ended up wandering around the Faringdon street area until I managed to hail a cab and take the expensive route to Liverpool Street, only to find that I could probably have walked it in time as there was a 30 minute gap between trains instead of the usual 15 minutes!
With a, thankfully, uneventful train journey to Stansted I arrived to find that checkin wasn't due to open for another 25 minutes anyway! After checking in and going through a noticeably more thorough security check than usual I found a restaurant to grab a bite to eat in before heading to the gate and my flight.
The plane was almost on time leaving and managed to make up time on route to end up at Stuttgart airport 5 minutes early. Spectacularly my bag was the third one off; unfortunately the penalty for this was a missing handle! In the end it didn't make any difference as at 11:00 at night the trains are only half hourly and I had missed the previous one by 10 minutes!
Personally I'm blaming the fact I had had a stressful day in work and 7 hours of travelling for the total failure of my usually perfect sense of direction. At the hauptbahnhof I went onto the wrong platform and ended up catching the right train, in the wrong direction. I corrected that at the next station, but it still left me with a further 15 minute wait, so I didn't get to my hotel until gone midnight.
This has now been turned into an exhibition space that shows the plans for the complete redevelopment of the area over the next 10 years or so (The main plan appears to be rotating the entire station, tracks and everything else by 90°, only a small task!) Of course, as its a tower the roof has been converted into a viewing platform and offers stunning views over the city and the surrounding countryside (which is mostly made up of vineyards).
Out into the suburbs I headed for the next stop. Located about 3 miles south of the centre is the Funicular railway which takes you up (steeply) into some of the hills surrounding Stuttgart, unfortunately the trains don't go high enough to take you over the tree line so all there is to see are lots of trees!
After wandering around for a bit I caught the train back to the bottom of the hill and the tram back a couple of stops to the Marienplatz. From there another of the cities transport oddities departs. The rack railway (similar to the cog wheel railway in Budapest) again climbs steeply into the hills overlooking Stuttgart, this time going above the tree line before it reaches the town of Degerloch.
From here I caught the metro round to the TV tower to take the view from there; unfortunately the tower was shut, for four month, for repair work so I didn't go up it. Instead I caught the tram back down through the woods into the centre of town and from there out to Untertürkheim and on to Württemberg in the hills above it. Here, in days gone by, was a royal palace, which was eventually knocked down and turned into a mausoleum. However the building is partly irrelevant, though still interesting to visit. What is worth the trek are the views. From there you can see across the city, the surrounding spa towns and into the start of the Black Forest (though no Gateaux!). The views are beautiful with the deep valleys and hills covered with vineyards.
After spending some time there I went back into town and out on the tram again to some of the places it had gone past, getting off and taking in more stunning views at Eugenplatz, Geroksruhe and Weinsteige. After that I caught the Metro back into town and a bite to eat before a well earned rest.
As my friend was arriving later in the day I only had a short time, but it was enough to walk around the historic centre of the town and to climb (and boy, do I mean climb!) up to the remaining fortifications of the town for stunning views over the surrounding area.
I left just after midday to catch the train back into town, where I met my friend who had dropped his stuff off at his hotel. After getting another view of the city from the top of the station tower we caught the tram out to the back of town and the natural history museum. Supposedly Germany has one of the best geological conditions for fossils to be found in and the museum proved this by the sheer number of specimens from the small to the gigantic on display.
After a leisurely late snack and a drink we wandered around town for a while before going to find a restaurant and more food and drink!
We caught the bus from the man station into town and then walked to the funicular railway station. From here most of the tourists were only going up one stop to the castle, but we decided to get tickets for all the way to the top and back down, with a stop at the castle on the return. I'm glad we did, because when we came back down again the queues to go to the top were horrendous.
The railway goes up two stops where you change from the modern sleek carriage to something more "vintage" from here its another 10 minutes or so off climbing to the top, from where there are glorious views over the whole of the valley with the Necker river meandering through it and the vineyards clinging to the side of the hill. As it was just gone midday by this point we decided to stop for an (extended) lunch at the restaurant dinging on the balcony that looked out over the valley.
After a particularly pleasant meal we headed back to the railway station and caught the funicular back down to the castle to have a look around.
After spending some time looking at the castle, and the museums inside it, we caught the funicular back down to the centre of the town and wandered (in the end ran the last 200m) back to the train home to Stuttgart, and diner.
In the centre of the park is a small tower, which has been built out of steel steps and wires. From the top there are stunting views of the parkland and the centre of the city. Also clearly visible was the very active thunder storm which was heading in my direction. With even my a basic understanding of science I realised that standing at the top of a large metal object in the middle of an open space during a thunder storm is not particularly cleaver, so I quickly descended and just managed to get inside a café before the clouds opened and preceded to dump some of the heaviest rain I have ever witnessed onto the city.
Eventually, after about 45 minutes the rain stopped, but by then it was time to catch the U-Bahn back into the centre of town, get my bags and make my flight.
At a little after 5 the checkin desks were open, though the security desks weren't, so I still had to wait for longer to get through to the departures lounge!
Eventually, in stages I got through Heathrow and onto the flight. Bizarrely the plane had cameras on its wheels and nose and the cabin screens showed live pictures of both take off and landing.
From Helsinki airport I caught a Finnair bus into the city centre and then the metro and tram out to the hotel to checkin
After spending a little time having a shower and changing I went back out. First stop was the Olympic stadium and it's tower for the views over the city. From there I caught the tram into the town centre and had a wander round before catching a late afternoon sightseeing cruise round the islands of Helsinki.
After the cruise I continued wandering around for a while before grabbing a bite to eat and heading back to the hotel early to catch up on my missing sleep.
From there I caught the tram into the centre of town and visited the Russian orthodox Cathedral. The building is quite plane on the outside (as is standard in the Orthodox churches) but not as colourful inside as the one in Riga, again another church that was heaving with tourists, most of them the same ones from the rock church (I was obviously following the same route as many of the tour parties!)
To get out of step with the tour groups I had a wander through the market near the cathedral and stopped for a bite to eat, a raindeerbratwurst! From there I walked up to the visually stunning and skyline dominating Lutheran Cathedral. After looking around I went outside to sit on the steps briefly and ended up watching a midday performance by, I think, the Finnish army band.
With the weather starting to turn, and the temperatures dropping I popped back to the hotel to pick up my jacket. In the end I stayed at the hotel for almost 2 hours as a massive downpour took place outside. When it stopped I left the hotel and caught the tram back into town.
From the market place I caught the boat service out to the zoo and had a look around. Whilst on the ferry the sky cleared and a pleasant evening started.
Although the zoo is open until 8pm I don't think anyone told the animals as they all appeared to have gone to bed or were hiding. I saw a few, but most cages appeared to be empty! I caught the last boat back into town and went for dinner.
From there, as the sky had changed from menacing to pleasant I went out to the Botanical gardens for a look around. The gardens, located just next to the central railway station, are very small compared to similar establishments in other places (e.g. Bremen, Stuttgart, London), but still very pleasant. At the centre is the greenhouse with the usual collection of (mostly unbearably humid) rooms.
With the weather looking like it was closing in again, I went to the Helsinki City Museum which tells the story of the history of the city, from the original small settlements, to the city's founding by King Gustav Vasa in 1550, through rule by the Swedes, then the Russians, then Civil War, World War and up to the present day.
Next stop, on the edge of town by the docks, was the Helsinki Car Museum. A disappointing museum (especially as the entrance fee is quite high) that has a collection of cars (from around Europe - not Finnish made) with very little information on them, and all parked in an underground workshop which has an overpowering smell of petrol!
As the weather had now gone through threatening, bright, cloudy, threatening and was back to bright again I took the opportunity to visit the Winter Gardens. Even smaller than the Botanical gardens, but nether the less very beautiful with the gardens laid out in what I assume is classic "English Style" - Serried ranks of the same plant! At the centre of the gardens is the Greenhouse, which, unlike the Botanical gardens, is actually comfortable to wander around in as the Humidity is set at a low level.
From there I caught the tram to the Docks area again, though this area appears to have been redeveloped into a classy residential and design business quarter. In the old cable factory are several museums, of which only two were open. The Finnish Photography museum has displays on contemporary and historic Finnish and international photography, including a couple of changing exhibitions as well as it permanent displays. The Hotel and Catering museum is interesting (despite what could be a dry topic) but is very small and does not go into much details. Though as with all Nordic countries, it does go on about the restrictions in alcohol sales and consumption from the turn of the century on to the modern day more relaxed attitude (Since neighbouring Estonia - 90 minutes away by ferry and a fraction of the price for booze - Joined the EU in 2004, and people were allowed to bring as much booze back on the ferry as they liked, the Finns have had to relax their policies and prices, otherwise everyone would be permanently crossing the Baltic with vans!)
I caught the tram back into town and, with a clear blue sky, went on one of the sightseeing cruises around the eastern islands of the archipelago. A very interesting tour, through some stunning scenery, however the second part of it was viewed from the body, rather than the deck of the boat, through a lashing rain storm that, once we had left the harbour and turned into the sea, was obviously about to hit. I know nothing much about weather - but even I could see it was a front that was moving in!
Slightly damp, but thankfully nothing worse than that, I walked back to the tram stop and caught the tram back to the hotel to change clothes, and as it was late, have a very pleasant dinner there.
Just by the access bridge to the island, next to the bus stop is the former presidential house. The building is no longer used by the president as it became synominous with it's longest inhabitant, Urho Kekkonen, the president of Finland from 1966 to 1981. When he left office he was allowed to remain in the house, and when he died in 1986 the building was converted into a museum to his memory.
After spending some time looking around I caught the bus back into the centre of town and stopped for a brief bite to eat before boarding the open-top hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus for a tour of the city.
By the time it had completed it's tour it was time to meet up with my friend from work, who is a Helsinkian and spends each summer back in her home town. She showed me some of the sights before we headed out to a café for food, then drinks, then some more drinks and then it was closing time!
In 1991 it was added to the UNESCO list of world heritage sights, as this is no normal fort. The fort has been created by fortifying five small islands at the sea end of the archipelago and provides a stunning entrance to the city.
The site now houses a number of museums including the Suomenlinna experience, a military museum, a museum dedicated to the first commander of the fort and the only existing Finnish submarine (The Finns are a little cagey about what happened in W.W.II, though they claim that the Russians started it with them early in 1939 and it sort of lead to an uneasy alliance with the Germans). Whatever really happened, the main outcome was that the Finns were banned from having any submarines and had to pay war reparations. All of their submarines were dismantled and disposed of except this one which was kept as a museum.
I started my visit by joining one of the two daily English language guided walks of the site, after that I had a look around the main museum and "Suomenlinna Experience" - an audio visual presentation on the construction and history of the fort. After that I brought a torch and used that to explore some of the labyrinthine tunnels and casements that run under the site. Next stop, after lunch!, was the museum dedicate to coastal defence. Then it was on to the Submarine for a look round. It is far smaller than I thought it would be. It did only have a crew of 20, but at the same time this must have been very cramped!
From there I visited the museum dedicated to the first commander of the site (though it does also have some details about one of his successors - the one who handed it over to the Russians!), and then the military museum (where they claim the blue swastikas painted onto the planes were put there in 1919 as a sign of good luck - though they did stop doing it in the early 1940's)
After that (and with yesterdays blister now formally threatening war) I wandered back down to the quay to catch the boat back to town.
As it was still relatively early I caught another of the boat sightseeing tours around some of the islands. This one focused quite heavily on... Suomenlinna!!, though I did get some stunning views of the fortress from the sea.
After the tour I headed into town to grab a bite to eat before heading back to the hotel and an appointment between Mr Blister and Mr Needle!!
Next stop, just up the road, was the Natural History Museum. Shortly to close for renovation this is another interesting museum telling the natural history of Finland with displays of the animals indigenous to Finland. There is also a section on some of the more well known animals of the rest of the world, such as tigers, lions, giraffe, zebra etc. Much of the gallery is signed in Finnish, Swedish and English (as have almost all the museums I have visited), though the section on the prehistoric wildlife of Finland is only done in Swedish and Finnish.
From there I wandered back down to the Market square to do some souvenir shopping before heading off to the national museum, which has lots and lots of information on the history of the land that now makes (or at some point has made up) Finland. The museum is massive and contains lots of information, though again a little cagey about the 1939-11945 period (another case of the Russians started it so we had to side with the Germans),, and in the little time that I had I don't think I did it full justice, but by that time I had developed museum feet and needed a sit down.
I caught the bus out to the back of town to have a look at the monument to Finland's most famous composer Sibelius. The monument is made up of several hundred stainless steel pipes which have been welded together.
From there I caught the bus back into the city centre to collect my luggage, just as the heaviest rain storm I had ever seen (and this eclipsed the one the previous week in Stuttgart!) started. In the end I had to cover myself with the jacket I had not needed all week and make a run for it from the station to the bus stop for the coach back to the airport. Naturally by the time the coach departed the rain had reduced to a light drizzle! (thankfully, or not, it picked back up again shortly after the bus left so I didn't feel too bad about the little bit of a soaking I had got!
The only down-side was that I did then have a two hour wait in Aberdeen with nothing to do other than read my book and drink coffee!
After landing at Sumburgh and getting the bus into Lerwick. According to the guidebooks and local publicity the service is frequent, which compared to some of the other services is true (it runs everyday for a start), compared to bus services elsewhere in the country though I wouldn't call once every couple of hours, but at random intervals, frequent!
After checking in to the hotel I wandered down to the Tourist Information centre to pick up some leaflets on things to do and then went for a walk around the coast that surrounds Lerwick.
About halfway round the walk is one of the many Archaeological sights that Shetland is rich in. Clickimin Broch is a former bronze age farm settlement which was upgraded into an Iron age fort and lasted well into the first millennium before being abandoned.
After spending some time looking around that I continued on my walk not realising the time, so by the time I got back to the hotel it was already almost 8pm. I dropped my day-bag off and went out for dinner before returning to the hotel and getting some well earned rest.
The most impressive sight in the area (after the generally stunning scenery) is the castle. Vacant for more than 300 years it is still in relatively good shape (the roof may have disappeared, but you can see what is supposed to have looked like when it was inhabited). You can wander around the castle grounds without a problem, but to access the castle you have to try the door. If it's locked (as it was) it's a short walk back to the Scalloway hotel to pick up the key to let yourself in! Inside there is a display on the history of the castle, and its commissioner Earl Patrick Stewart (eventually beheaded in Edinburgh for his tyrannical treatment of his tenants and residents of the Orkney and Shetland Islands). The most bizarre display, though, is on the back of the door informing you what to do if you get locked in (Better hope you have a mobile, as the walls are very thick and I don't know how loud you would have to yell to be heard!!)
I spent a little more time wandering through the town, unfortunately the museum was shut for lunch, and with the first of the day’s downpours preparing itself I decided to head back to the bus shelter and wait for the bus back into Lerwick.
After booking myself onto a sightseeing tour for the following day I headed over to the ferry terminal to catch the ferry over to the neighbouring island of Bressay. The ferry only takes about 5 minutes to do the crossing. If Lerwick was quiet then Bressay is positively asleep. This is a beautiful island with lots of gradual sloped hills rather than steep climbs. I had a wander over the northern part of the island before taking the road that runs across the middle(ish) of the island to its Eastern coast. From here a small boat takes you across the narrow channel to the smaller island of Noss.
Today Noss is a national nature reserve as it is a nesting ground for thousands of sea birds including puffins. The walk to the nesting grounds takes you around the top of the cliffs. Unfortunately, the weather conspired against me and, only about half way round, I decided to turn back as the grassy slopes were becoming very slippery and the driving rain was making it difficult to see. By the time I got back to the boat (almost completely waterlogged) the sun had decided it was time to come out to play.
I walked back across the Island to the ferry terminal and caught the ferry back to Lerwick. After changing into some drier clothing I headed back out for a well deserved bite to eat.
The site itself these days is still used by the Territorial Army as a base, so none of the buildings are open to the public, only the grounds. The views over the sound and the town are stunning.
From there I had a wander around town for a while, but on a Sunday in the Scottish Islands nothing, not even a Café is open! So after about an hour of wandering around I went back to the hotel to have a couple of cups of coffee and read a book for a while, before going for the sightseeing tour.
The tour ran round many parts of the North and West of the main island taking in many stunning views including several of the smaller western islands. About half-way round the tour stops for refreshments at a Sunday tea service (according to the driver, who is also the guide, there are many of these every Sunday across the islands). After tea the tour continued back towards Lerwick, diverting via Tingwall to go past the site of the ancient Viking parliament (or ting) and Scalloway. The only negative side to the tour was that it didn’t actually stop for people to be able to take photos; it was a just over 3 hour drive with a 45 minute stop for tea!
By the time we got back into Lerwick it was time for a small dinner (there had been quite a lot of snacky food at the tea).
After watching an introductory visit you are taken on a tour of the site by people who have been involved in the digging, and then you are shown reconstruction's on the buildings as they think they would have looked, including a costumed guide telling you about how people would have lived. On a misty, windy, damp and chilly day, it's amazing how homely and comfortable the reconstruction's feel.
A mile further down the coast (or at the other end of the runway, which ever way you want to look at it) is Jarlshof (J pronounced as a Y). Re-discovered after ferocious storms ripped the top layers of soil off some of the site just over 100 years ago, this is a massive site with examples of buildings that were in almost constant inhabitation from the early Bronze Age, through Iron age, the Picts, Vikings and up to the 17th century. The most recent building (and the only one which was known about before the storm) is another residence of Earl Patrick Stewart (of Scalloway castle fame).
Beyond Jarlshof the land rises steeply (which makes landing at the airport interesting) to Sumburgh head, the very southern tip of the islands, before falling away as cliffs at a point where the North Sea and Atlantic meet.
The cliffs provide a home to hundreds of thousands of birds, and have now been turned into an RSPB protected nature reserve. Despite the hike up to the top of the hill, next to the lighthouse that protects the rocks, the views are stunning. All the signs said that by early August most of the birds have left, but even today there were still a few around, including those I had come to see, the Puffins.
After spending quite some time, and only realising as I turned to leave how cold I had got, I wandered back down the hill paths to Sumburgh to catch the early evening (or penultimate as it is!) bus back into Lerwick.
I had intended on visiting the Shetland Museum. Unfortunately the museum is currently packed up into boxes pending its move early next year into new accommodation down by the harbour, so the morning was spend drinking coffee and reading the paper.
The afternoon boat trip was spectacular with stunning views of the islands, as well as views of Gannets, kitty hawks, gulls, puffins and many more varieties of birds as well as seals.
Part way through the tour, the boat pulls up into one of the many caves along the coast of Bressay and a little sub-aqua camera/robot is lowered over the side and you are shown the life that exists beneath the waves around the Shetland isles including sea anemones, urchins, jelly fish, corals and kelp.
After three hours out around Bressay and Noss we headed back to Lerwick taking in some of the bays on the outskirts of town.
Shetland has a unique history for the British Isle being the last place to cease being under the rule of the Vikings (though by the time they left in the 15th century they were more politely referred to as Danes and Norwegians!) Consequently after over 600 years of Nordic rule, and 600 years of Scottish/British (read English) rule, the islands have a strange mix of British and Nordic traditions. One of the most famous of these is the annual fire festival Up Helly Aa, where a Viking longboat is set fire to before a long night of partying and drinking commences (strangely enough the following day is a public holiday in Lerwick with everything shut!)
The history, the clothes, examples of the boats and a review of this years festivities are all shown in the Up Helly Aa exhibition, which, thankfully, is open from 7-9pm two nights a week between May and September. The museum gives a very interesting insight into one of the strangest events in the UK.
From there I wandered back into the heart of town for dinner before heading back to the hotel to start packing.
The flight to Aberdeen went fine, leaving me with nearly 3 hours to kill at Aberdeen. On a chance I asked the BA ticket desk if it were possible to swap to the flight just over an hour earlier, but was told it would cost about £190!!
So I wandered through to the departures lounge with a copy of the paper, a book and a cup of coffee. Then after 20 minutes there was an announcement that anyone booked onto my flight had to report to the BA checkin desks with urgency
Little to my knowledge several hundred miles south in London a serious industrial dispute had kicked off at the company which provides BA with its in-flight catering. The plane which was due to become my flight back was in the process of being grounded as no food could be found for it at such short notice.
Back up in Aberdeen, and after going the wrong way through security! I arrived at the checkin desk to be told I was being transferred (for free) onto the earlier flight – Lucky I hadn’t paid the £190. With my new boarding card, I went back through security and onto the gate with only 20 minutes to wait before boarding for an uneventful but early arrival into London.
A quick run through the airport, once the bags finally arrived, and then out to the bus stop and off to the hotel.
After checking in I caught the bus back into town to visit the Tourist information centre to get information on things to do. I then wandered round to one of the marinas to book onto a Dolphin tour for Friday, and then book to go scuba diving on Sunday.
I then caught the bus out to Europa Point, the end of Europe. From here the peaks of North Africa were clearly visible, just over 20 miles away, pushing their way through the sea mist. This end of Gibraltar is a strange mix of cultures. The rock reaches is height at this point with large numbers of English defence outposts all over it. To one side the coast of Spain, behind the coast of Africa and directly in front the largest Mosque on continental Europe.
After spending some time at the point I wandered back to the last Bus stop in Europe (just next to the last shop in Europe and the last lighthouse in Europe) to catch the bus back into town to grab some dinner.
I had a little time to wander around the narrow lanes and alleyways of the city, many of which follow the fortifications that have turned this into one of the most protected rocks in the world before heading out to the Marina for the dolphin safari.
As we were the first tour of the morning to set off we had no idea where the dolphins would be. The skipper said that at times there could be groups of 50 to 300 common dolphins, who can swim in the wake of the boat.
However, after nearly an hour, and with our time almost up it looked as though we were going to be disappointed. Then, as we started to head back to the marina, several other safari boats from other companies appeared to be converging on a point. A small family of the much larger bottle nose dolphins (think flipper) were out. With other boats chasing around to get the best views our skipper decided to keep relatively still, and it paid off. The dolphins came right up to the boat swimming past, diving and resurfacing for about 20 minutes before they wandered off, and we headed back to the marina.
After a stop for a bit of lunch I visited the Gibraltar museum which tells the history of the rock from its creation during the Jurassic era, through its periods of rule by the Muslims, then the Spanish (briefly) then by the Muslims again (briefly) then by the Spanish again, and then since 1704 by the British. The museum is built above the remains of a 14th Century Moorish bath house, and this is probably about the best exhibit in the museum.
After spending quite some time there I caught the bus round the top of Gibraltar to the East coast. Here the rock virtually plunges into the sea, with very little land that can be used. However, there are a couple of pleasant beaches, so, as it was quite humid, I took my shoes off and had a nice paddle for some time. With the heavy cloud cover stating to leach a few drops of rain I wandered back to the bus stop and caught the bus back to the main road. There I changed onto the small minibus (think large van) that runs up the narrow winding lanes to the top of the old town, the area around the Moorish castle.
The only existing part of the castle, the tower of homage, is currently closed for restoration, but from the grounds you still get stunning views over both Gibraltar, southern Spain and Northern Morocco. You also get lots of views of Apes as the rocks most famous residents, the Barbary Apes wander free over the whole of the area.
With the clouds now looking very threatening (according to the Gibraltar tourist board, on average on 3mm of rain falls during August. I think I was about to experience all 3mm today) I headed back to the hotel, stopping off at the Trafalgar cemetery which was built to house the remains of members of the armed forces killed in battles in the area (in fact only 2 people who were injured at the battle of Trafalgar and later died of their wounds are buried there, the rest are from other battles.)
After a short break to wait out the heavy drizzle I headed back out briefly for a bite to eat, sadly, finding that by 9pm, unlike their Spanish neighbours, most Gibraltarian restaurateurs have decided to close up and go home!
The rock is riddled with caves and tunnels, many naturally formed. St Michael's Cave contains hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites that create stunning displays. The heart of the cave is a massive cavern, originally fitted out during W.W.II as a hospital; it now houses an auditorium for staging opera, dance and theatre.
From there it's a long, down hill, walk back along the length of the rock, past the Apes den, to the Great Siege Tunnels. These were built during the great siege of the late 18th Century, by the forerunners of the Royal Engineers, to help defend the rock from attack. They now form part of over 50Km of passages and tunnels that cover the rock, more inside the rock than there are roads on the outside!
In the same area is the Military Heritage Centre which gives a small amount of background on the history of the military on the rock, as well as containing a monument for the memory of all those who lost their lives defending the rock. From here it's a short walk further down the hill to the Gibraltar - a city under siege exhibition. This is a small collection of waxworks in a building almost destroyed during the great siege. It tells the story of what the conditions were like for the residents of the rock during the siege.
A bit further down is the entrance to the World war two tunnels which were built to defend the rock against the threat of invasion during the early years of W.W.II. The tunnels are massive and cover a large area. So large in fact that you re-emerge back up the hill by the Military history centre.
After re-wandering back down the rock past the entrance to the W.W.II tunnels and the Moorish castle, I continued down into town for a bite to eat before catching the bus to the North of the airport and the international boarder with Spain. Just across the border is the town of La Línea De La Concepción. If they ever remove the border, the only way you would be able to tell where you were would be by the increased number of Spanish number plates and the difference in pavements, apart from that Gibraltar and Spain effectively run into each other.
As is common in Southern Spain all the shops and museums were closed when I arrived for the afternoon, re-opening at 5. So I went for a wander around the town. By 5:30 none of the museums had re-opened! Either the stereotype of the relaxed approach to time is right or, more likely; they were remaining closed as a service was being held in Madrid at the time for 17 soldiers who had been killed earlier in the week in Afghanistan. With nothing much else to do in the very South of Spain, I wandered back through the boarder (past the massive Spanish flag flying at half-mast) and into Gibraltar to get some dinner.
I decided to catch the bus out to Rosia, on the South West side of the rock, just before Europa Point. From there you can get good views over the site of the 100 Tonne Gun and the Parsons Lodge battery.
After spending a little time there, I wandered back into town and went to the diving company to have a go at Scuba Diving. I discovered that I can't actually do Scuba Diving (I can't equalise the pressure between inside and outside my head - something wrong with my sinuses), but it didn't really matter as the water was so murky!
However, it did take up much of the afternoon so I was in time to grab some dinner before heading back to the hotel.
The 100 tonne gun has a commanding view over the bay and coast of Spain and, when operational, could have taken out some of the coastal communities. The gun is described as the world’s first “super gun”
From there it’s a short walk to Parsons Lodge, another of the fortresses dotted around the rock. Unfortunately this has an European attitude towards Mondays (i.e. closed)
After doing some souvenir shopping in the centre of town I went for a wander around the botanical gardens. The Alameda gardens located at the foot of the rock have a large range of plants from North Africa, the Mediterranean as well as Central and South America. The back of the park is a small wildlife park that contains animals, birds and reptiles which have been seized by Gibraltar Customs for being smuggled.
After several hours wandering around the park it was time to head back to the hotel and pick up my luggage and then head back to the airport for the flight home.
After an uneventful flight and connection into town I met up with my friends at the hotel.
As it was already gone 7 we headed straight into the centre of town to grab a bite to eat (and some beer).
After that we wandered round the centre of town for a bit before heading back to the hotel for some sleep.
A little before 9 the doors opened and there was a mass surge of people running to get tables. Thankfully we managed to find one. Within minutes every table (that's over 5,000 people!) was occupied and the beer started flowing.
As there are so many people hunting for seats you can either stay put for the whole day, or spend a very long time hunting a seat! My friends had decided to stay for the whole day (all 14 hours of it!!). After 2 litres of beer, half a chicken and some Bavarian Sausages I decided that I had had enough, any more and I would have been quite spectacularly ill I think! I left my friends to continue their rapid descent into alcoholic oblivion and headed back into town.
I stopped off at the hotel for a short while, to sober up a bit before heading back to the Hauptbahnhof to catch the open top sightseeing tour round Munich. Thankfully the bus had it's roof on (but no windows!) so I only got slightly damp when the rain decided to arrive part way through the tour! The tour takes in most of the main sights in the centre of Munich, lasting just over the hour.
After popping back to the hotel for a change into some drier clothes I headed back out. This time to the Schloss Nymphenburg on the Western edge of town. The castle (think more French Chateaux rather than Tower of London) is set in sumptuous grounds with a massive river/canal running through the centre powering numerous water features. The castle itself is sub-divided into several museums (which can be visited on a combined ticket.) However, today being October the 1st they had reverted to their winter times and closed at 4 p.m. so by the time I got there there wasn't much point in investing in the ticket.
I spent quite some time wandering around the grounds, which also include the city's Botanical gardens (also just closing due to the change of month!) and several pagodas/follies dotted over the park.
With the rain continuing on and off by the time I got back to the hotel I was soaked to the skin and by the time I had dried off it was too late to attempt to get back into the Oktoberfest (they stop letting people into the tents after about 7 p.m.) so I grabbed a bite to eat at the Hauptbahnhof and settled back in the hotel with a book waiting for the others (mostly because I was the only one with a key so I had to be there when they got back!)
One of the main attractions at the Olympic stadium is the BMW museum. Unfortunately this was closed as it is undergoing massive redevelopment and isn’t expected to re open until 2007. Instead there is a small exhibition in a temporary building underneath the TV Tower.
After spending a little time at the museum we caught the lift up to the top of the TV tower for wonderful views of about 100 yards before the rain and murk obscured everything. After spending a little time here we caught the lift back down to ground level and had lunch in the café at the bottom.
After a large lunch we headed back to the Youth Hostel. After taking 25 minutes to complete the check in process and paying lots of additional "Extras and surcharges" we were able to pick up our sheets and covers to make our beds. Normally I wouldn't mind, but knowing that in two nights time I will have all this pre-done for 5 Euros a night less!
After spending a little time settling in we headed back into town for some dinner in the Ratskeller (the main city restaurant underneath the Town hall). After a particularly filling meal we headed back to the hostel, played table football for a short while before turning in for the day.
Just outside of Salzburg is Schloss Hellbrunn. This is a pretty standard castle set in extensive grounds. What make it different are the water features. All around the gardens are different fountains and concealed jets that are designed to soak the unaware and drench the uninitiated. Designed as a talking point and "whimsy" by its owner over 400 years ago they are still in working order and soaking tourists every 30 minutes!
From the Castle we caught the bus back into town for a spot of late lunch before taking the funicular railway up to the Hohensalburg Fortress on a hefty slab of rock overlooking the city with stunning views of the country side and the town (or at least they should have been stunning if it wasn't for the fine mist and drizzle which was at that point settling in for the rest of the day.)
After spending some time in the fortress we headed back down on the funicular into town, did a spot of souvenir shopping and stopped for some dinner before catching the trolley bus back to the Hauptbahnhof and the train back to Munich.
I packed my bags, stripped my bunk and checked out of the hostel, took my bags to the Hauptbahnhof and stashed them in the Luggage lockers before heading off for the day in Regensburg.
After catching the bus from the station right into the heart of the old town, I spent some hours wandering around the medieval streets, squares and bridges of the city. Once one of the most important cities in the region it fell into hard times in the 1600's and only really started to recover with the coming of new technology industries from the 1970s onwards. Consequently the city was untouched by most of the wars of the last 400 years, including escaping W.W.II without any damage, and consequently escaping the 1950's 60's and 70's rebuilds that have blighted many other European cities.
There are a large number of ancient buildings, churches and other structures dotted around the city including parts of the old Roman city walls. After visiting several of the churches and having a look around the outside of many of the other buildings (sadly most buildings only allow you to look round on guided tours, which after October 1st are infrequent!) I wandered out to the palace at the back of town. This again is a place where you can only look round on a tour but you can get an idea of the splendour from looking at the outside of the building.
After stopping for a late lunch in the cafe at the palace I headed back into the centre of town, and with too many early starts and late nights starting to take its toll, headed back to the station and the train back to Munich.
I retrieved my bags from the luggage lockers and walked the short distance to the third hotel of the stay and checked in.
Dotted around the edge of the city centre are three of the old gates to the city. After having settled in at the hotel this is where I headed to. I spent some time wandering around the centre of Munich taking photos of the gates and lots of the architecture and sights of the city. With a quickly scoffed bratwurst from the Hauptbahnhof in my stomach I headed back to the hotel and a very comfortable nights sleep.
After spending some time wandering around the cathedral area, taking in the views of the area I headed back to the station and caught the train back to Munich. From there I headed off to Augsburg, about 60KM to the North West of Munich. I paid the excess and travelled in considerable comfort on the sleek and shiny ICE train that connects the two cities (the train itself has barely started. Between Munich and Augsburg the train takes a little over 30 minutes, over the following 7 hours or so it travels North West towards Stuttgart, Hidelburg and Frankfurt before turning Eastwards and travelling through Hildesheim and Brunswick before finally reaching Berlin (and strangely all the stops sounded familiar!) in the mid-evening).
Augsburg can trace it's history back to before Roman times, but it is them that have shaped the city with many remains of them still visible. To get a good view of the city I climbed the 269 steps of the Perlachturm which looks out over the whole of the city. From here you can see spire upon spire. The city is dotted with churches and cathedrals.
After all that climbing I stopped for lunch before heading off to the Dom Mariä Heimsuchung towards the north of the town. The cathedral is spectacular in size, yet is light and airy with lots of windows. Outside of the cathedral is a display of some of the Roman remains of the city.
I caught the tram one stop further north to the house where Leopold Mozart (Wolfgang's dad) was born. The house is now a museum dedicated to the musician, but when I visited was closed for the year! I caught the tram back to the centre of the town and walked the short distance to the Römisch museum which houses yet more of the Roman artefacts discovered in the city.
After spending some time looking at, in some cases, very, very large artefacts, I headed further away from the centre to the Basilika of St Ulrich and Afra which is the most visually stunning and prominent of the city's churches. Inside the church it is quite dark and simple, but the crypt contains the remains of the two saints who have given their name to the church.
With most of the main sights done, my feet hurting, and a train back to Munich due in less than 20 minutes, I caught the bus back to the centre of town and the tram back to the Hauptbahnhof.
After stopping by at the hotel to drop off my bag and use the internet to check in for my flight, I headed back out to spend a couple of hours wandering around Munich taking in many of the sights I had not previously seen, and in the process taking more photos that I think I have ever done before.
Stops included the Glyptothek and Propyläen at Königsplatz which resemble ancient Greek or Roman temples. From there I went out to the University and to the Siegestor. Originally built to honour the Bavarian army during the Napoleonic wars it was damaged during W.W.II and, when repaired, rededicated with the new words "Dem Sieg geweiht, vom Kriege zerstört, zum Frieden mahnend (Dedicated to victory, destroyed by war, calling for peace).
From there I wandered into the area around Odeonplatz and the Residence taking lots more photos before heading round to the Marienplatz to take some final photos before heading back to the hotel and and god nights sleep.
I walked the short distance to the hotel and after checking in and settling in I headed back into town.
First stop was the cathedral in the very centre of the old town. From there I walked around the centre for a while before ending up at the Hofburg, the imperial palace, which covers a massive site in the centre of town and shows how powerful the city once was.
Attracted by its lights I wandered over to the Rathaus, which, despite it still being over 6 weeks until Christmas was fully decked out with the Christmas market in full swing. This being central Europe of course meant that people were wandering round with large mugs of hot wine, so not to feel left out…
After spending about an hour wandering through the stalls I hopped on one of the trams that run around the ring road that encircles the centre of the city. The tram offers about the cheapest sightseeing tour taking in most of the main sites in the centre.
With the effect of the hot wine wearing off, and the effects of the cold night starting to be felt I headed back to the hotel.
Inside the cathedral is quite dark, and heaving with tourists, apart from that the inside is not particularly spectacular. However, the roof is and a lift whisks you up the North tower to the big bell and from the viewing platforms on the outside of the tower stunning views of not only the centre of Vienna, but also of the beautiful mosaic tiled roof. Easily beating the similar roof on the Cathedral in Budapest (You would never have guessed Austria and Hungary were once the same country!)
Descending back into the comparative darkness (and warmth!) of the Cathedral I had a bit more of a look around before having a brief wander through town. Last night I had gone round the outside of the town on the tram in the dark so, with a heavy snow shower starting, I decided a nice warm, dry tram ride was probably best. 25 minutes and one full lap later the blizzard had subsided to a few flakes in the wind so I got off at the stop connecting with U1 underground line and caught the train out to the Vienna International Centre and Donaupark (Danube Park).
In one corner of the park is the Donauturm (Danube Tower) this was my next stop. The express lift whisks you to the viewing platforms at the top of the tower from where there are stunning views of not only Vienna, but the now almost dead straight course of the Danube and the next bout of weather. Descending two floors from the viewing platform, you can exit the warmth of the tower and go out onto the open observation platform for an even better view.
I walked back up the stairs to the café to grab a bit to eat and watch the world go by (literally, as the café rotates taking just under 30 minutes to do a full lap of the tower. Lunch was made even more pleasant by the knowledge that I was not only missing another even heavier and longer snow shower, but also being able to see that this was the last weather front going through and the remainder of the afternoon looked dry (and cold!).
From the Donauturm I walked on to the U6 & S-Bahn station further north of the tower and caught the S-Bahn round to the Prata. The area has been a fairground area for centuries and since the 19th Century has been home to the Riesenrad (Ferris wheel). The largest fixed site observation wheel in the world right up until London smashed the record with the London Eye Millennium wheel in 2000!
From the original wooden carriages you get a spectacular (if slightly vertigo inducing) view over Vienna. A total turn takes about 20 minutes and with the wheel stopping every time a carriage gets to the bottom to unload and load you get plenty of time to experience the views (and the wind shake!) at the top. After descending, I had a wander around the park. With the light rapidly fading I headed back to the hotel to defrost and drop off my bag before heading back out for the evening.
First stop was back to Prata to get some shots of the Ferris wheel lit up, and then I caught the train down to the Südbahnhof to check the times and prices for going to Slovakia later in the trip. As I was leaving the station I spotted another of the many palace complexes in the city, Belvedere, so I stopped for a while to take some pictures before catching the tram round to the Rathaus to do a spot of early Christmas shopping (and a spot of late Glühwein drinking!)
With most of the market closed down by 9:15, I made my way back to the hotel.
The Jewish museum itself tells the story of an earlier attempt by the citizens of Vienna to remove the population, back in 1420-1421. Along with reconstructions of what the Jewish area had been like before the expulsions and slaughtering the museum also houses the ruined foundations of the Synagogue, which was all but destroyed in 1421. The museum ends with a small room dedicated to the late Simon Wiesenthal (he died a few weeks before my visit) the Nazi-hunter and honorary citizen of Vienna.
From there I spent some time wandering through some of the squares and small lanes that make up the centre of the old town before catching the tram back out to Schloß Belvedere to have a look around. In the daylight the palaces (there are two of them one at the top and the other at the bottom of a slight hill!) are even more spectacular than they are at night. The palaces themselves hold large art collections, which according to all the guidebooks are well worth seeing. As I am not a massive fan of art, and as the entrance, charges are quite steep, I decided not to. In front of the top palace there was another of the small Christmas markets that spring up around Vienna like a fungal infection, and so at just about midday, with a light snow shower taking place I settled down to my first Glühwein of the day…
I had a long wander around the grounds of the castles before walking through some back streets to Karlsplatz, home of the Karlskirche (Charles Church). The building is stunning from the outside with its massive dome. Inside it’s more stunning with the whole of the dome painted in frescos. At present, they are being restored (and have been for a few years). However, instead of this restricting the views it provides a spectacular chance to view them up close as you can take the works elevator to the dome to view the frescos up close. You can also climb the last few flights of scaffolding stairs to the very top of the lantern, designed to bathe the church in light if it was not under scaffolding inside, but now offering spectacular views of the centre of Vienna.
Next door to the Karlskirche is the Wien Museum, which tells the history of Vienna from its original days as a prehistoric settlement up to the end of the Habsburg Empire at the end of the First World War. An interesting museum made all the better by being free on a Sunday.
On the other side of the city centre, about a 1/4 of a mile north of the cathedral, underneath a café!, are some of the remains of the Roman city preserved to see with Hypocausts and floors still intact.
After all that, and with the light fading, I decided to head back to the hotel for a brief rest, and to thaw out again before heading back into town for the evening.
The Haus der Musik is located in the offices of the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) this is a fascinating museum, which not only takes in the history of the Philharmonic Orchestra (Which, lets fact it, if your not into the music could be quite dull) but also the whole science of sound. I spent nearly 2 hours in the museum behaving, as they expect you to, as a child hitting every button and trying every computer screen. The museum explains how we hear, how we interpret and how we can be fooled into misinterpreting sounds. You can create your own music track using the base sounds of life, and conduct an orchestra in time (or at least attempt to!)
After spending more time than I though I ever would in a museum dedicated to music, I emerged back into the night and a heavy sleet shower so I hunted for warmth, and beer, in a local restaurant. I had my first Wiener schnitzel of the holiday before eventually admitting defeat to the weather (but with a litre of beer inside me to give me some internal anti-freeze) and headed back to the hotel.
The palace itself is larger than any of their other residences, with the audio guided tour of just the first floor taking nearly 1 hour to complete (and there are four floors to this place). The tour itself is very interesting and gives you a glimpse into how the people who ran Europe (of course, at this point the Brits were content in just running the rest of the world!) lived.
As with any self-respecting royal dynasty the palace is set in acres of land with a spectacular sloping garden that leads from the back of the palace to a Gloriette on a hill above it over half a mile away that looks down over stunning vistas of the palace and the city.
The grounds also contain several Mazes, one in the real impossible to see through, get lost for 20 minutes hedge type, and two mazes that follow a singe path winding to the middle. After spending nearly an hours in the mazes I wandered next door to the Tiergarten and the Zoo. Originally, the menagerie that accompanied the palace of any self respecting emperor, this was turned into a zoo at an early stage and claims to be the world oldest zoo.
Next door to the zoo is the palm house, and opposite that the desert house that effectively act as the zoos botanical gardens.
After spending quite some time in the zoo and greenhouses I walked back through the parkland and climb the path to the top of the Gloriette to view not only the palace and city, but also the bank of snow that was heading directly towards me fast!
Having staggered back through a blizzard (OK it was a bit windy and the snow lasted for about 3 minutes, but why spoil a good story!) to the palace, and resisted the temptation of a mug of Glühwein at another Christmas market that had sprung up in front of the palace, I caught the U-Bahn back into town and went to the Habsburgs town house come offices in the Hofburg.
With less than an hour until the state apartments closed for the evening, I decided just to visit the Treasury (which was bizarrely open an hour later than the rest of the complex.) As befits the family that once ran most of central and eastern Europe they had a significant collection of "precious things" that are most definitely not for the touching. After having coughed up the €8 to get in and the €2 for the Audio guide (and the €0.50 per item for the cloakroom!) I felt that there better be some good stuff to warrant the cost. I wasn't disappointed. Even if you are not a fan of jewellery or fine robes, or gold and precious metals you cannot help but be impressed by the sheer quantity of the stuff on display (and this is only the stuff that was left to the state, when the Habsburgs renounced the throne and allowed Austria to become a republic in 1918 they had already shipped most of their personal stuff to Switzerland (so it's them who started that little trick!) so that they could continue to support themselves in the lifestyle that being the Austro-Hungarian empire allows you). In the end I had to run around the ecclesiastical section (no great loss in my mind as once you've see one chalice and a set of robes, you've seen them all!) just so I didn’t get locked in.
With a serious (and possibly fatal) case of museum legs setting in I headed off in hunt of somewhere to eat. Unfortunately, as I wasn't particularly hungry and felt like a wander it took over an hour and about two laps of the city centre before I decided on a restaurant.
With a good meal inside me, and the metro station just feet away I staggered back to the train and back to the hotel to see if I had remembered to pack a spare set of legs and two spare hips.
Unfortunately, the similarities with Prague are limited. True it has a castle on a hill that overlooks a river (the Danube no less), but the castle looks as all the guidebooks describe it 'Like an upturned bed' and the views across the river are not of a Bohemian old town with church spires and city gate houses. Instead, it is of a Soviet era housing estate with all the aesthetic charm that several billion tonnes of concrete can muster.
Whilst the castle is not the most beautiful of objects from the outside, inside there is lots to see with a museum that covers two floors of the five floors of the massive complex. The museum is a strange collection of exhibitions, showing the best of the art from the nations collection, a collection of the state silver, war and weaponry and an exhibition on "Becoming a woman" in Slovak tradition. All of the exhibitions are displayed in both Slovak and English so it is easy to work out what is what.
In the cloister off the courtyard of the main building is another museum, which shows the best from the state collection of treasures from the pre-historic through to the early middle ages.
Around the back of the castle is another museum, which tells the history and importance of music within Slovak culture and life and of their most famous recent musical son Jan Albrecht.
Looking round all this took nearly 4 hours in the end and cost the grand total of 140Sk (£2.80, €4.20) and I had changed up €40 just in case!! I walked down the steps from the castle and into the town to have a look around.
The town itself is very compact, not suffers from a massive bypass and major crossing of the Danube running right past the historic centre.
I spent a while wandering around the town, including having a look inside the very dark and dingy cathedral, and trying to find ways of spending €35 worth of a currency that only one country uses. In the end, after spending about an hour walking around I decided to head back to the station to catch the train home, and change my money back in the same exchange shop I had used a few hours earlier!
After arriving back in Vienna I went back to the Christmas market by the Rathaus to do some more Christmas shopping (and have some more Glühwein - honest this was a shopping trip rather than an alcoholics cover story) before having a wander around the back streets behind the Hofburg and the Opera looking for a restaurant.
With another Wiener Schnitzel inside me, and with my feet threatening all out industrial action I headed back to the hotel to pack and get some serious sleep.
I got off just in time to find a film crew blocking access to the palace so I had to walk around the side to get access. The main body of the palace is now a massive museum split into three exhibitions. The first one is the imperial silver collection, which is actually the imperial tableware exhibition, and they had a lot of it! The second and main exhibition is dedicated to 'Sisi' Empress Elizabeth, the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph (he died in 1916, she was assassinated in 1895) Whilst she was alive she was an eccentric who shunned her public duties, once she died she became a legend and fated as a "fairy-tale Princess" (not that in any way this sounds like our own Princess... No that would be tantamount to treason!)
The final part of the exhibition is of the state (winter) apartments of Franz Joseph and Elizabeth - not to be confused with their summer apartments out at Schönbrunn! For one of the most powerful people in the world the Emperors apartments are quite Spartan, Sisi's slightly more flamboyant with the first bathroom and water closet installed in the palace.
After spending several hours in the palace I wandered down into one of the courtyards to have a quick lunch in the café before catching the tram round to the Stadtpark which runs in a small space between the Ring (the central ring road) and the River Wein and has statues to some of the most famous composers in Austrian history.
With the light starting to fade, I headed back to Wein Mitte and picked up my bags to head back to the airport.
After spending some time here, I caught the tram out to the end of the Rack Railway and caught that up into the hills overlooking the city. The views of the city, although slightly obscured by the trees, are still spectacular and the ride up is interesting if only for seeing the angle that you can get a non-cable car to go up! I wandered down through the woods and after a twenty-minute walk, I arrived one station back down the line. At this point, as it was now back into residential areas, I caught the rack railway back down to the base station and the tram back into town.
I took the tram up to the university, which is perched on the side of the hill overlooking the city centre, again with stunning views.
By now, it was coming up for 3pm and time to check into the hotel. I collected my luggage from the lockers and caught the S-Bahn out to the station nearest to the hotel (only afterwards did I find out that I could actually have stayed on the tram as it stopped closer!)
After settling into the hotel, I caught the tram back into town and hand a wander in the twig light through the city centre, stopping at one of the Christmas markets to sample the Glühwine!
With sufficient quantities of hot wine and sausage inside me, I headed back to the hotel as my body decided to remind me that I had been up since 4am and it would quite like to catch up on its rest!
I caught the tram out to the Rigiblick Seilbahn and caught the funicular up to the top. From there I got stunning views over the city and across to the mountains on the other side of the lake, or I would have done if there had not been a mist over the whole of the area!
Back down part way into town and off the tram at the University to visit the Zoological and Paleontological museums. Both are in the same building and both are presented in a very interesting and hands-on way.
Near to the centre of town is a museum dedicated to the history of man and evolution. Kulturama presents its exhibits in a timeline starting with the earliest known forms of life and progressing through the various stages of human evolution until modern man. The museum also looks at what makes humans what they are from conception to old age with details on all the inside bits that make you tick.
From the museum, I caught the tram out to the Stadtgarden in the west of town. Here in two greenhouses is a collection of plants and, more bizarrely, free flying birds in the temperate house.
After a while here I caught the trolley bus back across town to the Botanical gardens and another set of greenhouses (though in this case they are more large plastic domes) here there is an even greater number of plants, trees and succulents in a Savannah, Tropical and Sub Tropical dome.
Leaving the botanical gardens I wandered back to the hotel to drop stuff off before heading back out to town for dinner.
After dinner, I went back via the Rigiblick Seilbahn to get late night views over the city, before heading back to the hotel for a good nights sleep.
Running from just before the hotel and out along the ridge to the Cable car at Felsenegg is a "Planetweg". At the start is a model of the sun at 1:1billion scale. Then, on the same scale, the planets are set out along the walk. Mercury, Venus and Earth before you reach the hotel Mars just behind the hotel and Jupiter a little further on. Trying to get your head round the distances involved is not helped when Pluto is just beyond the cable car station - over 5KM away!
The walk along the ridge is pleasant giving views (once you come down a little from the top of the mountain and come below the murk level) over the lake and back to Zurich. The signs all describe it as an easy and flat walk; this is a new definition of flat, which actually means, "rolling". The walk took about 90 minutes and at the end, you are rewarded with a stunning descent in the cable car down into the town of Aldiswil.
From here, I caught the train further south, along the line of one of the many mountain rivers to the town of Sihlbrugg and from there on to the town of Zug, in the next canton.
Zug lies on the banks of the Zueger See (Lake Zug) and has stunning views across it to the mountains on the other side. The old town is quite pretty, but apart from that, there is not much else, so after a while I wandered back to the station and caught the train back to Zurich. It is only at this point I realised how far I had travelled. From Zug the train took nearly 30 minutes, stopping only once, to make the journey back to the city centre.
As I arrived back into the city, I noticed that the clouds had started to lift, and so took a chance and caught the train back up to Uetilberg. By the time I got there the clouds had all lifted, but it also being the 21st of December, the light was rapidly starting to fade, so whilst I got some stunning views, I only managed to take some dingy photos! I wandered back down to the train station and stopped in the restaurant there to have some dinner before catching the train back down into the city.
After having a look around the large Christmas market on the station concourse, I caught the tram back to the hotel to rest my, by now, thoroughly weary legs!
Not a particularly early start to the day as I went to the Northern Swiss town of Schaffhausen. Nestling on the German border on the main line from Zürich (in fact many of the trains start even further south in Milano) to Stuttgart Schaffhausen has the dubious privilege of being the only Swiss town bombed during W.W.II. The Americans apologised profusely that they had mistaken the town for southern Germany. It did not stop them bombing it a few years later though. Of course, it could have had something to do with the large and very profitable arms industry, which was at work in the area! Today Schaffhausen is a quiet, pretty town nestling on the banks of the Rhine (See also Bonn, Köln) the main attraction in the city centre is the Munot. Built by forced labour in the 16th century it has an (almost) unique spiral ramp leading to the top (see also Copenhagen - despite the Swiss claiming that they are the only ones to have them in Europe!) and stunning views out over the town.
Downstream (45 minutes walk, or 10 minutes on the Trolley bus if you are feeling lazy, like me!) in the town of Neuhaussen is the main tourist pull of the area, the Rhine Falls. Described as the largest waterfalls in Europe they crash down a 23m (69ft) drop. I know that does not come even close to Victoria, Angel or Niagara falls - but it is still very impressive, and very, very noisy. The area has three walking routes clearly marked out that let you take in the best views. The longest walk, which I took, takes you across a railway bridge just yards up stream of the falls, into the grounds of Schloß Laufen and from there you can pay 1Fr to descend steps to a viewing platform so close to the falls that you can almost touch them (though doing so would probably rip your hand off!)
The walk continues along the bank of the Rhine for about another Kilometre, by which time the Rhine is back to being a peaceful and tranquil river, you can hardly imagine that just up stream is such awesome power. The walk continues over a bridge and back on the other side of the river to Neuhaussen and the falls again.
Just opposite the falls, I stopped for a very pleasant late lunch in a restaurant overlooking the falls before catching the trolley bus back to Schaffhausen and the train on to Winterthur.
Winterthur (or as it is known to most Brits - Churchill) has given its name to one of the worlds largest insurance groups. The town itself is quite modern with not much in the way of pretty streets or fabulous architecture. The city does house many museums and galleries. As time was short, I only visited one - the photography museum that shows regularly changing exhibitions of famous Swiss and non-Swiss photographers.
I caught the train from Winterthur back to Zürich, just in time to catch the Lichterfest. This Christmas tradition happens just once a year at 6pm on the 22nd of December. Hundreds of candles are light and set down into the river to float down stream through the city centre. The scene is beautiful, and finally put me in to a Christmas mood.
After watching the candles floating down into the distance and spending some time wandering around another of the Christmas markets (with obligatory glass of Glühwine) I wandered back to the hotel to pack my bags and get some rest.
I came back to a station on the edge of town so that I could catch the tram the couple stops to the anthropological museum at the university's suburban campus at Irchel. Unfortunately, the museum had closed for the Christmas break so; instead, I wandered back through the parkland to the previous tram stop to catch the tram back into town.
That got one stop before it ground to a halt. My German is not perfect, but from the announcement it sounded much as if a tram up ahead had broken down and that we should all get off the tram, get one in another direction, then change to a bus, then etc, etc. Eventually, 60 minutes after having arrived there from the airport I was back at the same station!
I caught the train back into town, and, finding out that that line was working, caught the tram out to the zoo.
And so, I found myself at zoo/animal park number 6 of the year! Zürich zoo is one of the more spacious ones that I have seen, and includes amongst its exhibits a reconstruction of a Madagascan rainforest.
Having spent almost 4 hours inside the zoo (and partly thankful that the museum was closed, as I would never have got to see the entire zoo), I caught the tram back into town. At this point, I realised that my luggage was actually at the airport, and I had not needed to come back to the Hauptbahnhof, and caught the train out to the airport.
And it was 2 minutes late!
After 40 minutes sat on the plane the pilot announced that the fault was not going to be repairable on the spot and that a replacement plane was about to set off from Stansted to take us. So, at a point where we should have been some 30,000 feet over Holland the whole plane were traipsing back into the departures lounge at Gatwick with no idea when, or if, we were going to get away.
At 10am they called for passengers to contact the ground agents desk, to be handed a food voucher and the news that the new departure time was about 11. At 11, this became 12. At just before 12 they flashed up a gate number and instantly put it to final call. Needless to say there was a small stampede of Berlin bound easyJet customers heading towards the gate. So, at 12:15, 3 hours and 50 minutes after we were due to depart (and conveniently for easyJet 10 minutes before they would have had to pay every single one of us £150 for the delay) the doors were closed and the pre-flight announcements started.
Just over 90 minutes later and 3 hours 30 minutes later than originally planed, the plane landed in Berlin with my plans for the day in pieces (I had planned to go to Potsdam for the afternoon, but once again Berlin, Potsdam and airlines mixed in a bad way - see 2004!) Instead I caught the bus and U-Bahn to the hotel and checked in, then headed into the centre of Berlin to have a wander around for a couple of hours, taking in the main sights - the Brandenburg gate, Reichstag and memorial church before grabbing a bite to eat and heading back to the hotel for some very needed sleep!
I left just over an hour to make it; in the end, it took only a little over 35 minutes. The (long) train journey was uneventful and through particularly un-spectacular scenery! At almost midday, the train pulled in, on time, into Dresden Hauptbahnhof.
After a quick stop for a bite to eat, I caught the tram out to the suburbs to the "Blue wonder" a spectacular bridge across the Elbe. Here two funicular railways lead up into the hills above. One is the conventional type, the other hangs from a rail above! At the top of the Schwebebahn (the hanging one), you can visit the machine room where you are shown (in German) the machinery in action, as well as some background history. From the top of the station, there are spectacular views over the whole of the region, and from here, you can understand why Dresden was - before the Americans (and the British) flattened it at the end of W.W. II - called the Florence of the north with all the spires and domes.
I caught the tram back into town and visited the Frauenkirche, the most famous building in the city. All but part of one wall was destroyed in the bombing raids of 1945 and afterwards was left by the communist government as a reminder of (Western, Capitalist) aggression. Following reunification it was decided to rebuild the church to it's former glory. Work was finally completed during 2005 and the rededication ceremony took place less than 4 months before my visit. Unfortunately, as it is such a spectacular building it is being used a lot for concerts and other services, so I was unable to see inside. However, the dome has a viewing platform and this was open.
The views from the top are amazing, not only of the surrounding countryside, but also of the city itself. Dresden still bares the scars of W.W.II, and of over 40 years of communism, but they are working fast to remove them!
Just down from the Frauenkirche is the river Elbe, and running next to it at about second floor level is a terrace you can walk along. From here, you can get good views of many of the other spectacular buildings of Dresden. One of these is the Zwinger. Only 3/4 completed before the money ran out it is still an impressive palace to view.
I wandered round the city centre for about another 30 minutes, then the sun went down and it was time to head back to the station for the long journey back to Berlin, and the almost as long journey back to the hotel!
After another, frankly boring train journey across flat land with not much on it I arrived at Leipzig Hauptbahnhof - supposedly the largest terminal station in Europe - but being partisan I think Waterloo is bigger (it's certainly got more working platforms and a nicer clock.)
First stop was to head out to the outskirts of town to visit the Völkerschlachtdenkmal (Monument to the battle of nations.) It's possibly about the ugliest monument ever built combining the very worst that concrete and communism can do, yet it was built in 1913 for which there can be no excuse! The one advantage is that, as it dominates the skyline, you can get great views from the top. If you have not already guessed by this point, this is exactly where I headed.
Leaving the monument behind me, I headed back into town to visit the museum in the „Runden Ecke" (Round Corner) which was originally the home of the Stasi. It was here on a night in 1989 that the crowds stormed the building. They discovered that the secret police were desperately trying to shred all the information that they had painstakingly collected over the previous 40 years. Almost every person had a file, and in them were reports from neighbours, friends and colleagues who had been on the payroll of the Stasi to give them information. The museum tells the history of the secret police as well as showing some of the ways that they obtained their information.
After spending some time in the museum, I had a wander around the town. It is not as beautiful as Dresden, in fact with the works going on to rebuild the city and build new infrastructure now the place looks a mess! However, there are several impressive buildings and quite a lot to look at.
Having spent about 2 hours wandering around the city centre I stopped for a bite to eat and then, with the light starting to fade, headed back to the Hauptbahnhof for the equally long and tedious journey back to Berlin, made considerably more pleasant by having treated myself to first class on the ICE!
First stop is Schloß Sanssouci built as a get away for the king from everyone except his closest friends this is a small and quite homely palace. It's only got about 12 rooms and covers just one floor. The guided tour is interesting, but only in German. Thankfully, you can read a paper translation to each room.
From there it was a stiff 15-minute walk, through the park, to the Neues Palais, the one I visited last time. This is slightly more impressive as it has over 200 rooms. However, you only get to see a few of them on the guided tour you are taken around on. Once again, it is in German only with written translations. However, it is well worth it as one of the final rooms, the Marble hall is spectacular. Two stories high, covering half the width of the palace it is simply breathtaking. The only drawback is that in the case of both palaces you have to wear silly slipper things over your shoes!
I caught the bus back into Potsdam and the train back into Berlin with enough time to visit yet another palace (or at least part of one). Schloß Charlottenburg was one of the city centre palaces for the royal family. It has been built in stages, and the part I went to see was the new wing. This is another spectacular palace with lots of over elaborate decoration and proof that some people really did have too much money! An audio guide takes you around the palace, which lasts about 1 hour.
On the way back from Schloß Charlottenburg, I got off the train at Potsdamer Platz. I was amazed at how much had changed in less than two years since I had last been. I decided that it needed more time to look at and would come back tomorrow. From Potsdamer Platz I wandered onto Checkpoint Charlie to do some tacky souvenir shopping before grabbing a bite to eat and heading back over to Berlin Zoo.
On the main road by Berlin Zoo is the Europa centre, a 20 storey building which, from the 20th floor, commands stunning views over the city centre. On a clear night, as tonight was, the views are excellent, from the Radio tower in the west, across to the TV tower in the east and further. The top floor also, conveniently, has a bar attached!
After spending some significant time up here, I got the lift back down and made my way back to the hotel.
Gesundbrunnen is one of the deepest metro stations on the network and when it was built, there was a lot of spare space. At the time, it was used for storage, but in the early 1930's the German government decided to convert the space into a bunker for use by the civilian population. Of the over 200 bunkers built in the city this is one of the very few that still exist, let alone are open. The only reason this is one can be visited (on guided tours only, two on Monday and two on Saturday in English) is because it was for the civilian population. Any bunkers linked to the Nazi party have either been destroyed or sealed and their locations hidden to prevent them becoming shrines to the less desirable elements of society.
The tour, which lasted almost 2 hours, showed the kind of environment that the increasingly desperate citizens of Berlin would have lived in. By the end of the war Berlin was the most bombed German city (many others have titles for the most destruction - Dresden - or the most killed, but Berlin had the greatest physical number of bombs dropped on it.) Some of the descriptions of what life would have been like are horrifying, and at one point, the tour guide explains that with bad planning cubicles, rather than curtains had been fitted in the toilets. At the end of the war, with the Russians advancing, and fears (some justified) that the average Berliner would be raped, murdered or taken as slave labour, many hundreds of people committed suicide in them where they could not be seen.
The tour concludes with a look at some artefacts that have been found not only in this bunker, but at some of the others, including a very rusted, very broken, but still instantly recognisable enigma machine.
With a quick stop en-route for a bite to eat, I headed to Anhalter Bahnhof. Once a major station all that now remains is a small part of the front facade. Even the railway line has gone. Next to where the tracks should have been, is another of the Berlin civilian bunkers. This one has three stories above ground and several more below. Once again, in German style it has no sympathy for the people who lived through the war in Germany. German thinking on the subject appears to be that as they were the initial aggressors, no non-persecuted Germans should get any sympathy. The fact the Hitler only came to power with less than 42% of the vote; orchestrated an elaborate coup with the Reichstag fire; brought destruction on a massive scale to large parts of 'his country' (nobody has ever been able to explain to me how an Austrian managed to become the most powerful man in Germany!); and at the end turned on his own people persecuting them for 'failing him' by wanting it all to end, doesn’t appear to affect the thinking. Consequently, very few of the bunkers are open and all the museums ignore the last few weeks of the war and leap straight to the Armistice and rebuilding
The top two floors have been turned into a Chamber of Horrors type attraction with people that jump out at you. Only the first basement floor has some information on artefacts found in the bunker and aerial views of the area from pre war to post wall.
I caught the bus back into the central area of the city and visited the site of the city palace. Although badly bombed, and burnt out the building was still in good shape at the end of the war, and could have been repaired. However, it lay in exactly the place where the East German government wanted to build their „Palast der Republik" (Palace of the Republic) and parade ground. The palace was the seat of power of East Germany. The parade ground was for glorifying the wondrous leaders (Imagine lots of troops marching, people with candles, and senior members of the communist party standing on a balcony looking down benevolently on their admiring subjects - whilst ensuring that the secret police were keeping tabs on anyone who might pose a threat to them or not share the same ideals.) Today the Palace faces the same fate after considerably less life than the 200+ year old palace it replaced. 16 years after the wall fell and with all the asbestos that was in it removed it is now being pulled down to be replaced, most likely, by a rebuild of the original royal palace!
From here, I walked the short distance to Alexanderplatz and went up the TV tower in daylight - without a queue. Whilst there I stopped for a very late lunch/very early dinner in the revolving café taking in the views of east and west. After lunchinner (as I am calling it!) I went back to the area around Zoo to visit the Story of Berlin. When I originally visited it in 2004, I had done so late in the evening and missed the tour that comes with the entrance price. This time, as it fitted in so well with the day I was not going to miss it. After all, it is not everyday you get to look around a nuclear bunker! The tour takes you around the Kurfüstendam bunker. The bunker is still maintained so, should the worse ever happen, it can be brought back into use within a couple of minutes! In a very small place over 3,000 people would cram - almost certainly living for their last few days as their is only enough air, food and water for 14 days, not long enough for the radiation to have decreased to a level that won’t kill you!
After the tour, and a quick look again around the museum, I headed back to Zoo to catch the 200 bus. The 100 bus takes in all the historic sights of Berlin, the 200 takes in the modern including the area around Potsdamer Platz that I wanted to look at, but couldn't today because the viewing platform was closed! After taking in all the sights, I got off the bus at Alexanderplatz and made my way back to the hotel to pack.
This quiet town was the home to Northern Germany’s main Concentration camp during the Second World War, and after the war, the Soviets used it as a “Special Camp” for dealing with their prisoners. The site was the “model camp” and it was from here that the entire concentration camp system across the Nazi occupied lands was run. From here, decisions were made that effected people in camps from Salaspils near Riga in the North through Dachau near Munich to Auschwitz in Poland and many more. Even today, a sense of Evil pervades the place and on a bitterly cold and windy February morning, it was even more so.
The site has a visitor’s centre that has recently been built. From here, you can hire very comprehensive audio guides, which take you around the only parts of the site that are remaining and help to put into context some of the things that happened here and tell the stories of some of the prisoners, some who survived, and many who did not.
I headed back into town and out to Potsdamer Platz where I visited once again the Panorama lift in the Daimler-Chrysler building for the views over the area. From the top, I confirmed for my own eyes how many changes there had been in the two years since I had last stood there. From the acres and acres of what was death strip, there is now just one empty space, which is being built upon, and a long green strip running down the centre of one of the roads as a reminder to where the wall used to run.
I wandered a couple of streets across to have a look at the “Topographies of terror” exhibition at the last remaining chunk of un-preserved wall. The outdoor exhibition (there has been a very long running saga over getting a proper museum built!) tells the history of the Third Reich, war, building of the wall and the events that took place on the Eastern side of it. There is also an exhibition on the Nuremburg war crimes trials.
I wandered back through the streets to the opera house on Babelplatz. Once called Opernplatz it was here, on the night of May 10th 1933, that the Nazis burnt the books from the library of Magnus Hirschfeld. Being a Jewish, homosexual, Social democrat he was pretty much top of the list of people the Nazis wanted to get rid of. Today a memorial to the event is in the square. One of the paving stones has been replaced by a large pane of glass, which looks down into a space with lots of empty shelves, symbolising the destroyed library.
I had wanted to do one final thing before leaving Berlin and climb the Reichstag dome in daylight. Unfortunately, when I got there the queue was too long, so I walked back along the riverside to Freidrichstraß station, collected my luggage and headed back out to Schönefeld and the flight home.
After about an hour of wandering, I stopped off for a bite to eat before spending a little longer looking around the city, before heading back to the hotel to sample some of Belgium's finest exports (beer) and then a stagger back to bed.
I caught the tram back to the Centre of town and had a wander around the Groenplaats, Handschoesmarkt and Grotemarkt in the daylight before going to have a look at the Cathedral. Described as the largest Gothic Cathedral in the Low Countries (possibly even more tenuous than Cologne's 'Largest cathedral north of the Alps' title).
The cathedral is in the process of being repaired, with most of the work complete. Inside it is very light despite the forest of pillars. The cathedral has seven aisles, which create a massive sense of space. There are several paintings dotted around the church including a few by Rubens (even I have heard of him!).
After spending some time in the Cathedral I caught the tram one stop further, underneath the river Scheldt to the left bank. From here there are stunning views of the Antwerp skyline with the Cathedral and the Steen (the remains of a 13th century gatehouse) showing its great history. From here, I walked back to the other side of the river using the St Annatunnel. The pedestrian tunnel links the old city with the left bank and is accessed at each end from either a massive lift (enough space to easily take the 80 person maximum load) or a series of ancient clanking wooden escalators.
The exit from the tunnel on the city side is by the side of the old docks and above them run the South Terrace all the way to the Steen. The views in all directions are great and on a bright sunny day, it was a pleasant walk. The Steen itself is now a Nautical themed museum, but still looks as though it would more be at home somewhere in the 1290's.
After a spot of lunch on the Groenplaats, I wandered back to the central station and caught the bus out to Middelheim. Here there is a large park, which also includes the open-air sculpture park. The park is free to look around, but you can pay for an audio guide, which takes you around the park, and is well worth it as it explains about many of the key works and, some background to the history of the site and some of the details about creating different types of sculpture. The full audio tour takes about 2 hours, longer if you look at each individual piece of work. As it was such a nice afternoon, I took the longer walk back to the tram stop, caught the tram back into town, and then back to the hotel to rest my feet for a short while.
Once the sun had started to set I ventured back out to the right bank to get some more pictures of the Antwerp skyline, by night. If anything, the view is more spectacular at night than it is during the day, though it would be even better if the Steen were floodlight. After taking a few photos, I walked back through the St Annatunnel back to the old city and went for dinner in the Grotemarkt before heading back to the hotel and the welcoming thought of my bed!
Arriving at Sint Pieters station it is a 2KM walk (or 10-minute tram ride!) to the centre of the old town. Here it matches Bruges measure for measure. Medieval markets and squares, matched; couple of large impressive churches, matched; bell tower with commanding views over the city, assumed matched but as the belfry doesn’t open till April I can’t completely confirm that; Canal system with tourist boats plying their trade, match (though Ghent’s waterways are fewer in number). In fact, Ghent trumps Bruges because it has a proper castle (proper as in defensive walls, turrets, spiral staircases, battlements, crenulations - the whole A-typical medieval castle get up)
It was here that I stopped first. The castle was originally built partly to protect the city from the outside, but also to protect the rulers from the citizens of Ghent! Over the centuries, its use changed into a prison and courthouse (and general torture chamber!) then into cotton factories before finally falling into ruin, then being rebuilt into its modern reincarnation as a tourist attraction. A guided route takes you around the castle with its many winding staircases and odd hidden rooms telling you some of the history of the castle. In a couple of rooms, a small exhibition is on display showing the development and use of torture that went on in the castle.
From there I walked back to the Korenmarkt and visited St Nicholas church, which is currently being repaired, so you can only see half of it. What you can see is a very light and bright church with lots of gold and paintings. From there I walked the short distance onwards to the Cathedral. This is a slightly darker church inside with less natural light, and again partway through being repaired.
After a pause for some lunch and a wander along some of the waterways, I just had time to do the tourist thing and go for a 40-minute boat tour of the rivers and canals of Ghent. There are several different companies that run services, with many offering departures every 10 minutes, (Though this would be at the height of summer, on what had started as a snowy day in March it was closer to one departure an hour). After boarding the open boat I did think I might have made a bad choice as pulling up on the opposite bank was a ‘bateaux mouch’ type boat, totally enclosed and heated. In the end with the sun out, and virtually no wind it was so warm and pleasant that I failed to spot that even in early March in Northern Europe, you can still catch the sun! The other advantage with the smaller boat was that it could navigate through the much smaller bridges away from the centre of town, and consequently you get to see far more than you would do on a larger enclosed boat.
After another short wander through the city streets, and over several of the bridges, I decided to head back to the train station and back to Antwerp.
By the time I arrived back in Antwerp it was just starting to get dark, but enough light to see that the snow showers had never really stopped during the day. Feeling needlessly smug, I wandered into the centre of the old town for dinner before heading back to the hotel to pack.
So, that will be the zoo then! Well today not, to begin with at least. 8% of Belgium’s GDP comes from the diamond industry (that's just behind Chocolate, Tintin, Fictional detectives with silly moustaches and despotic central African regimes!) The international home of diamonds is Antwerp. It is through here that most diamonds will pass at least once during their transition from ground to jewellery or industrial cutting machine. Just in front on the Centraal station, and located in the same building as the Diamond High Council is the Diamond museum.
The museum presents a down to earth and interesting expose of the worlds most lusted after gem. With an audio guide instead of lots of multi-lingual information boards the museum tells the history of diamond, from its creation 2 billion years ago, through its importance in the past, up to the modern methods of creating spectacular gem stones (as well as creating diamond itself) and the way diamonds are mined and traded today. It is a fascinating museum, which I spent almost two hours looking round (that is about 90 minutes longer than I thought it would take). On each floor of the three-floor museum there are also displays of some spectacular examples of the jewellers art. The only down side (if there is one) is a feeling that despite all that the museums shows it still shines through that the diamond industry is a bit of a protectionist monopoly!!
Just across the square from the diamond museum (a square that is currently being dug up, as is most of Antwerp to build a new cross city underground mainline railway link) is Aquatopia, the cities modern aquarium, and, as it was currently snowing hard gritty snow (think hail stones only much smaller and much more painful!) I though this would be an ideal time to seek shelter there.
From initial looks, it could come across as a bit childish with its talking octopus (so from 'Diamonds are for ever' to 'Octopussy' in one easy step!) But the information on the displays is written for an adult audience (or at least the English translation is) There are lots of displays, but the most spectacular is left for last as you walk through a tunnel surrounded on all sides by fish and sharks.
By the time I exited the aquarium the sun was out and the snow was long gone, so in line with many previous visits that have gone before it, it's time for the last attraction of the holiday, the Zoo, conveniently located next to the central station (just up from the Diamond museum and 2 minutes walk from Aquatopia).
The zoo fits all the usual patterns, except that the animals all appeared, if you can apply human emotions to animals, to be depressed. The great apes and chimps were all sitting down staring. One of the chimps was sitting, holding its knees close to its chest. Without having access to the internet, or a clear grasp of Flemish there was no way of knowing whether it was because they had just been fed, or if Antwerp zoo specialises in traumatised animals, but I wandered round the zoo with a very unsettling feeling that not all was right.
Having dodged into the zoo shop to avoid another heavy snow shower I went back to the station, caught the tram out to the Groenplaats, and did a spot of souvenir shopping before heading back to the station, to start my long journey home.
Iceland is a very unstable country, not democratically (it has the worlds oldest parliament after all), just geologically. Each year the island has over 300,000 earthquakes. Consequently, there are very few tall buildings in the city. So with those facts what do we do… Head for the tallest church in the city and get the lift to the top of its tower.
From the top of the Hallgrimskirkja the views over the city and the surrounding land are spectacular. There are mountains surrounding on most side, and where there are not mountains there are fjords. We could have spent longer up there, but the viewing platform is also the bell tower and you are standing right underneath bells that can be heard across most of Reykjavik, so we beat a hasty retreat as 12:45 rang out (strangely the tower is closed 11:30-12:30!)
After stopping to grab some sandwiches from a local supermarket, we started walking down the hill into the centre of town, accompanied by a small blizzard! By the time we reached the city centre we resembled snowmen and were a little chilly, so we headed into the first museum we could find, the Culture house. The museum has displays of the original copies of the Icelandic Sagas, as well as a small display of items from the national museum.
With the weather still not improving, we caught the bus back to the hotel for a short while to warm up and dry out. About an hour later, the sky had cleared so we wandered the short distance from the hotel to the Perlan. Originally, the storage tanks for the city’s geothermal hot water they have now been converted into a restaurant and museum to the Icelandic Sagas. The museum uses wax works and an audio guide to tell you the history of the beginnings of Iceland from its settlement in the 10th century through its full conversion to Christianity (it happened one afternoon following a debate in the parliament) though to the beginning of its subjugation under the other various Scandinavian powers.
The museum is inside the Perlan, but you can also go up to the roof of the building to take in the views over the city. After spending some time here we wandered back to the hotel to drop stuff off, before heading back into town for a very pleasant (if horrendously expensive) dinner.
The reason was because at midday we had to be back at the hotel to be picked up for our afternoon coach tour round the “Golden Circle” a route that takes you North East from the city through some of the most geologically active areas of the island.
The first stop on the tour was the Allþing, the site of the first parliament. Chosen for its natural acoustics and easy of access from the rest of the country, the first settlers would not have been aware of the areas spectacular geological secret. The whole space (and it is a couple of Kilometres across and runs the length of the island) is a fault line. It is where the tectonic plates that Europe and North America rest on are pulling apart, constantly creating new land. It is physically possible (because we did it) to drive from North America to Europe in about 5 minutes!
Moving on from the Allþing we drove along a small road that follows the same course it has done since settlers travelling from the east of the island to the Allþing over 1000 years ago used it. We went past the Geysers at Geysir to head on the short distance to the waterfalls at Gullfoss.
Whilst they may not be the biggest waterfalls in Iceland, they are certainly spectacular. The water pours over them into a deep canyon sending spray all around and, in winter, covering the sides of the canyon with bizarre ice formations.
From the falls, the bus headed back to the Geysers at Geysir. Whilst the largest geyser is not that active any longer there is one, Strokkur, which blows every 5 minutes or so, making it the most active geyser in the world. It is also the one with the least health and safety nannying so you can wander right up to within a few feet of it to watch it go off.
The whole area around is covered with bubbling pools and thermal springs, some about body temperature, some hot enough to boil you alive. You can walk right past the edge of them and see their bizarre colour, feel the warmth coming off them (and when its snowing it’s a strange sensation) and marvel and the truly revolting smell!
Having watched Strokkur go a couple of times we headed back to the coach, via the café and a warming cup of coffee, and continued on stopping at a volcano crater at Kerið before heading onto the horticultural centre of Iceland at Hveragerði. The town is covered with greenhouses, growing most of the fruit and veg for the country, all powered by the geothermal springs that surface under the town.
From there we were taken back to Reykjavik, just in time for dinner.
Recently refurbished the museum tells the history of the Island from its settlement in the 10th century through to the modern day. The museum is set out in a chronological order and has all the information in English as well as Icelandic. After a stop for lunch, we headed out the opposite side of the city to the Asmundur Sveinsson sculpture museum.
The museum is located in the uniquely designed house that he left to the nation after his death and contains many of his works, as well as more modern sculpture in the grounds.
From there it was back into town and on to the Reykjavik photography museum before grabbing an early dinner.
The reason for the early dinner was that we were supposed to be going on a Northern lights tour that evening. Unfortunately, a hour before we were supposed to be picked up we were called to say that the cloud was too heavy and they had to postpone the tour till tomorrow.
A little after 8:30 a very large, very comfortable, off-roader turned up to take us on our tour of the south coast.
After taking in the geothermal springs that run Reykjavik and stopping for lunch supplies, we started driving along the edge of the Eyjafjallajökull glacier stopping at the front end of the glacier just where the ice melts into a small lake and river. We then drove back along the edge to the Seljalandfoss waterfall
After spending some time at these spectacular falls, we carried on along the coast to the small island of Dyrhólaey where we got stunning views over the glaciers, mountains and the lava beach. From the top of the island we drove across the causeway back onto the mainland and then onto the lava beach. Standing on the beach surrounded by very black sand, black sand dunes and a stunning sea is one of the most bizarre experiences I have had.
From there we continued on to Skógafoss another spectacular waterfall, this time with the sun light just right for it to create rainbows over the pool at the bottom.
With the sky still clear, we headed back into Reykjavik for a spot of dinner before being picked up for the delayed Northern lights tour.
Sadly, the Northern lights stop being visible a few days after we went, and on the day we went they were very weak. After a couple of hours of driving in the dark in a luxury coach, pulling randomly over to the side of the road every now and then to check we finally saw faint green stuff that looked like clouds in the sky, too weak to be photoed, but still an experience.
By the time we got back to the hotel it was 1am and we knew that we had to be up early tomorrow to get the flight home.
With the fair finished in the National Exhibition centre at Birmingham International, I caught the train back to Birmingham New Street to pick up the luggage I had left there that morning before catching the train across the West Midlands to Worcester.
After having arrived and checked into the B&B I headed out into the warm glow of a glorious late spring evening (safe in the knowledge, courtesy of the BBC, that this was the only nice day of the weekend and the rest would be cold and wet!)
I wandered around by the Cathedral and the river (Severn) for a while, taking fare too many photos, before heading into the centre of town for a bite to eat.
With the light fading and a heavy day planned for Friday, I headed back to the hotel and the comfortable looking bed.
The castle is situated in a beautiful location surrounded on most sides by hills, but, thankfully, barely a mile from a railway station (though you do have to change trains in Hereford and wait 30 minutes!)
I spent nearly two hours looking around the castle and the neighbouring Norman chapel. With a filling lunch (and a slice English Heritage cake) inside me I wandered back to the station to catch the train one stop back down the line to Ludlow.
Ludlow is normally held up as the perfect example of a "quaint" English town with hundreds of medieval (looking at least) buildings, spoiled slightly by the travelling fairground which had set up in the town centre.
Ludlow church stands out for miles because of its sheer scale. Easily matching many smaller cathedrals in size and splendour, it is only one of the "Great Churches" of England (Division 1 to York Minster's Premier League!).
The main feature of the town is the ruins of the castle. Once the seat of power for much of the region and home to the courts it fell into ruin and is now a perfect example of what a ruined castle should look like!
With lots of random passageways and spiral staircases leading to different levels that you can get to and lots more staircases appearing a couple of floors up with no way of being reached the castle could easily provide hours of hide and seek fun! From the top of the tallest tower the views over the town are only beaten by those that must be visible from the tower of the church. The countryside that Ludlow nestles in is a spectacular landscape of rolling hills and river valleys with a different landscape whichever direction you look.
Having spent a long time exploring the castle I wandered back through the town taking in all the "Olde Worlde Charm" before making my way back to the station to spend 20 minutes waiting for the train in some beautifully warm early evening spring sunshine.
Witley Court was once one of the finest houses in the country, and home in its time to the seventh wealthiest person in the land (and given that was the height of the Victorian period the 7th wealthiest person in the world). The mansion that existed on the site was massively expanded and elaborated upon and turned into a magnificent residence.
The family sold the house in the 1920's before disaster struck in 1937. A fire beneath the ballroom spread out of control and gutted one whole side of the building. With the insurance not coming even vaguely close to the repair costs the house was abandoned and left to rot. In the 1970's it was protected by the government and is now in the stewardship of English Heritage who are conserving the building in the state it is now in, an empty shell of a building, but still massively impressive.
The grounds have been returned to some of their former splendour and the fountains, once the talking point of the house are back in service, with the main one shooting water over 100 feet into the air every hour during weekends (alternate hours at other times).
Having spent almost three hours looking around the house and gardens I wandered back to the road to wait for the bus back into Worcester. From the bus station, I walked back to Foregate street station and caught the train south to Gloucester.
I had in my mind a far prettier and "quainter" city than what confronted me. The area around the historic docks and the cathedral are very pleasant, but the rest of the city is quite bland and looks like any other UK provincial city.
Having looked around the docks and the Cathedral I wandered back to the station slightly disappointed with the city and caught the train back to Worcester.
The train back from Gloucester terminated at Shrub Hill station so I wandered back to the B&B walking alongside the Canal for a way, which, with its refurbished and new bridges, and in the warm evening sun was very pleasant.
Just to make it that little bit more perfect some of the best bits of the hills are directly above the town of Great Malvern (centre of the Victorian water cure craze), which has it’s own station and regular trains from Worcester (as well as Birmingham, Nottingham, London and Oxford). So, at a little before 10:45 I found myself leaving the station and following the signs for the town centre and the hills. The guidebooks state that the quickest way to the top of the hills is the short but steep route up past St Anne's Well. The guidebooks were 50% right, just over an hour later, with my legs, thighs and back in agony I reached the summit at Worcestershire beacon. (I suppose I should add that this is the highest point on the hills at a little over 1300 feet, and I did stop to take quite a few photos, oh, and for about 10 minutes in the Tourist Information Centre to pick up a map, not forgetting the 15-minute refreshment stop at St Anne's Well café!)
Even on a dull grey day with the cloud seeming to be only a few feet above the top of the hills, the views are simply breathtaking. Whilst most of Great Malvern itself is hidden by the hills, the surrounding countryside is stunning, a patchwork of fields, hedgerows and villages. Just visible on the horizon was Worcester, and if I had been on the top of a different hill Hereford should also have been visible.
I started a slow descent back down the hill to Great Malvern, taking nearly 40 minutes to come back down. In the town I visited the small but very interesting museum which tells the history of the area. Up in the hills there is evidence of a large pre-Roman settlement and the museum itself is in the former gatehouse of the priory set during William the Conquerors reign. The museum goes on to explain about the history of the priory, the rise of the Water cure and Great Malvern's role in the modern age (Radar was developed in the area during World War II and its also the home to Morgan cars - The whole of the British owned and built motor industry. Somehow fitting given this was the week that the French owned Peugeot had announced that they were closing their plant down the road in Coventry!)
Having looked around the Priory church (the only other part of the priory to have survived the reformation) and had a spot of lunch I headed back to the station to catch the train on into Hereford.
On first impressions, Hereford looked even more disappointing than Gloucester with the 1/2 mile walk from the station down the side of the bleak ring road into a dreary semi-pedestrianised shopping road. Then you come across the "Old House" a fine example of a 17th Century building still standing in its original location, surrounded by some of the worst that the 20th Century can throw at it (both in terms of architecture and the uniformity of Debenhams, Next, McDonalds, Mobile Phone shop, Starbucks that is the modern British high street). It houses a free museum, which shows what life in the 17th century would have been like for someone living there.
From there I walked to the Cathedral, supposedly very impressive on the inside despite its Victorian makeover on the outside. It is also home to the Mappa Mundi exhibition and Chained Library. Unfortunately, this being Sunday everything closed at 3:30 and I got to the Cathedral at 3:35! Instead I went for a wander around the rest of the city crossing over the river Wye (as in Ross-On- and Hay-On- [Y-Gelli]) and wandering past the site of the former castle (now just a park). It was at this point that I spotted the sign to the "Cider Museum". So on the grounds purely of research I wandered over to have a look.
The museum is housed in the former works of the local Cider company (which has new warehouses just down the road) and has displays on the history of Cider (and Perry) and how it is made. The second part of the museum takes you through the process of making Cider Champaign, the company’s speciality. It is all very interesting made even more by the very friendly and helpful staff... and the free tasting of some of their "stronger" products at the end.
I staggered back to the centre of Hereford and decided it would probably be wise to counteract the alcoholic apple based products with an early diner before heading back to the station and the train back to Worcester.
Having gone there on a whim I was lucky to find that, as it was the Bank Holiday, they were running a regular service, with a train leaving less than 30 minutes late.
The line passes through some spectacular countryside running along side the Severn for most of the way (hence the name). Bridgenorth at the end of the line is a pretty town on the Severn with, what looks like an ancient stone bridge and one of the oldest funicular railways in the country. All the guidebooks and the leaflets on the train go on about it, so its a little disappointing to find out that the entire journey takes about 30 seconds and goes about 100 foot!
I headed back to the station and caught the return steam train back to Kidderminster, and from there the train back into Worcester.
Finally, after 4 days and having stayed right next door to it I decided it was time to visit the Cathedral. The building is impressive with lots of stained glass and its compliment of royalty (King John of Robin Hood, Magna Carta and Poll Tax fame and King Henry VIII's older brother Arthur who died aged 16). The tower of the cathedral, which dominates the skyline, is also open to the public and after the 236-step climb offers stunning views over the surrounding countryside. With the visibility even better than yesterday I could clearly see Worcestershire beacon, the highest point on the Malverns where I had been the previous day.
I descended from the tower and finished off wandering around the Cathedral before heading outside to have a wander around the grounds and along the riverside path. I walked back into the centre of the city and had a little time left to visit the Greyfriars house, one of the few preserved Tudor houses still in the city. The house is now run by the National trust and gives an example of what the place may have looked like in Tudor times, (they very clearly say that the house has been refurbished not restored!)
With less than an hour before my train, I walked back to the B&B to pick up my luggage and then walk back along the canal to Worcester Shrub Hill station and the train back to London.
Just before 11 I got into my cabin and decided to go straight to bed, at 11:45 just as I was drifting off the train puled away from Euston and I knew when I woke up I would be in Edinburgh…
08:00 and things take a turn for the worse! The engine has run out of juice so there is no more hot water for tea or coffee! Still no sign of this replacement engine.
09:40 we have been loaded onto coaches for a 4-5 hour road journey to Edinburgh, still no food or drink!
11:30 a 45 minute stop at services at Charnock Richard between Liverpool and Blackpool means I can finally buy some breakfast and have a comfort stop, but it now means arrival into Edinburgh is not expected before 3:30, 8 hours later than originally planned.
12:30 M6, Lake District, at least the journey is through some of the prettiest scenery in England.
13:25 More than 10 hours after we should have done so on the train, we finally cross the English/Scottish border at Gretna Green.
16:25 Almost 9 hours to the minute after we were supposed to arrive, the coach pulled to a halt on the side of the road on the Waverley bridge. Having spoken to the ScotRail duty manager and getting lots of abject apologies I headed over to my hotel to check in.
I had a big plan of things I was going to do, unfortunately a large proportion of this worked on the basis of the sleeper actually reaching Edinburgh, so with glorious weather still in control I headed off to the edge of the city to climb to the top if Arthur's seat, the highest point in the city.
The views from the top on a beautiful clear spring day are spectacular. Stretching from the Forth Bridge across the Firth of Forth to the Southern Highlands. After spending almost half an hour taking in the views I walked back down (taking longer than the climb up!) to the city centre for dinner.
St Andrews is best know for its golf course, but it was once one of the most important cities in the country, represented by its magnificent Cathedral and castle (both now ruined)
The Cathedral is situated on the coast with, from the top of the tower, stunning views over the town and bay. From the cathedral its a short walk along the coast to the Castle. One of the key features of the castle are the siege tunnels, built underneath the castle in the 1500's. After scrabbling around underground for a while, and looking around the castle I wandered back to the bus station to catch the bus back to the train station and the train back towards Edinburgh.
Having changed in Inverkeithing I caught the train out to Dunfermline (another town that has claimed to be the former capital of Scotland). The towns most famous sight is the ruined palace and abbey (the abbey itself is not actually ruined). The abbey is most well known for its famous resident. Buried beneath the lectern are the remains of King Robert the Bruce.
Having looked around the abbey and the palace I walked the short distance back to the station and caught the train back to Edinburgh. After a short comfort stop and opportunity to drop some of my junk off at the hotel I headed back out for a spot of dinner before making my way to the Mercat Cross to take in one of the rapidly expanding ghost tours of Edinburgh.
This one is run by Mercat tours (the same people who did the underground Edinburgh tour that I went on in 2001). This is again and interesting and lively tour that goes into the vaults of the South Bridge, but also into one of Edinburgh's more stately graveyards.
With a busy day planned for Sunday, and with the time already gone 11pm I headed back to the hotel to pack for the following morning, and to get some well deserved sleep.
First stop of the morning was the open-top bus tour. Useful for two reasons, one to get to the Wallace monument on the outskirts of town, which would be quite a hike without, and the other to get to the castle without having to expend any of your own energy climbing the very steep hill!
The Wallace monument is Scotland's national monument, to the man (immortalised on screen by Mel Gibson as Braveheart) who helped, temporarily, to kick the English out of Scotland. The monument is on the top of a big hill which you can climb up (taking about 10 minutes), or you can cheat and catch the free minibus to the top (about 90 seconds!). From the base of the monument you can climb up the spiral staircase (240+ stairs) to the top for, what I was reliably informed are on a clear day, stunning views over Stirling and across from Edinburgh to the Highlands. Unfortunately today it was a struggle to see the car park let alone Stirling or beyond.
On the way up at three internal floors are displays on the story of William Wallace, An exhibition called the "Hall of Heroes" dedicated to the famous Scotsmen of ages past (note, all men, no women - though they are the original selection made during the less enlightened Victorian era. The final exhibition tells the story of the building of the monument.
Having descended back down all to the base of the monument and then on down to the car park I had just enough time to down half a litre of water before the bus turned up. I caught the bus back into town and on up to the castle. Before visiting the castle I stopped off and four other attractions located in the same area. The Mar’s Wark is the remains of a fine house that was built near the castle. It is now in complete ruins and contains part of the graveyard of my next stop the Holy Rude Kirk. The church was the site of the Coronation of the then 13 month old James to become James VI of Scotland. It and Westminster Abbey (Where James was later crowned James I of Britain in 1604 bringing the English and Scottish crowns together) are the only two existing, working churches which have witnessed coronations.
Next door to the church is the old prison. This now houses a museum telling the story of life in prison during the initially enlightened Victoria times (Elizabeth Fry etc.) through to the more barbaric times at the end of the century. The museum also has a display on what life is like in a current Scottish jail, the Maximum security Shorts on the outskirts of Glasgow.
The Argyll’s Lodging house up the hill towards the castle is a preserved example of what a 17th century Wealthy Scots town house would have looked like. Having spent some time there I finally came back to the top of the hill and to Stirling castle.
The castle is very very similar to Edinburgh, but on a more manageable scale (though I only just got to see everything in the 2 hours I had before closing time, and that was without the audio guide) The castle also houses a number of displays and museums, the most interesting of which is on the great kitchens.
With weary feet I headed back down the hill to the station stopping for a spot of dinner before getting the 7 O'clock train back to Edinburgh.
I arrived in Edinburgh a little after 8, too late to do anything, but too early to get my luggage and go to the lounge for the sleeper. After an hour of wandering around town taking some more photos I headed back to the station, picked up my belongings and wandered over to the lounge for some tea before boarding the sleeper, hoping that when I woke up, this time I would actually be at my destination and not in a pretty field less than 200 miles from Edinburgh.
Despite repeated assurances that coaches were on their way to take people down to London, or the carriages being made ready to sleep in Edinburgh overnight and catch the train down in the morning, nothing has appeared.
01:00 and I have just got into a hotel room for a couple of hours sleep. I’m staying in a four star hotel overlooking Princes street, the Scott monument and the castle, but I don’t really care because I have to get up in 4 hours to get the train back down to London.
05:30 With the sun starting to break through the clouds I’m standing on Waverley station 300+ miles north of where I should be at this point in time, about to catch the first train of the morning down to London, a disappointing and tiring end to what should have been a relaxing short break!
10:40 And just to top it off the engineering works on the East Coast main line overnight overran so the train was 40 minutes late into Kings Cross!
A little later, we met up again, and after a short attempt to work out how to purchase tickets for the tram we caught one into town, stopping on the edge of the old town for lunch.
From lunch, we walked up the side of the old town to the central station, and more importantly, the tourist information centre, where we purchased Kraków cards for the following three days, and yet more tram tickets to see us through.
We then spent the next two hours or so wandering round the streets of the old town. There is a lot to see in Kraków, around every corner there is another small church or medieval square. The centre of the old town is the massive market square, which dwarfs all other similar places in other cities.
We stopped for a brief beer break just off from the market square before walking round the last part of the old town perimeter to the castle. There we picked up the tram back to the hotel to drop stuff off before heading back out a little later for dinner.
After the Barbican and gate we headed south down the main street towards the market square for a brief coffee stop, before wandering over to the tower of the old town hall (in fact it is the only part of the old town hall that still exists.) The tower has several different levels each of which has a different display, on level one it's remains of the old town hall, level two has some of the costumes that the burghers of old Kraków would have worn in the 14th Century. The third level has photos of the centre of Kraków taken at different times between the 1840's and 1930's. The top level has three viewing windows from which you can look over most of the city.
The next stop, after a pause for lunch, was the old Jewish quarter at Kazmierz. The area was emptied by the Nazi's during the war moving all the residents to the Ghetto in another part of the city, but the area remained almost intact as the Nazi's were going to turn it into a museum of "Vanished Races". The main destruction that did take place is evident at the Remuh cemetery. One of the walls is made of the fragments of tombstones, which were destroyed when the Nazi's tried to get rid of the cemetery. Today, some of the stones have been restored, but much of the site, despite being full, is open space with no stones to mark who lies there.
From the Remuh cemetery and synagogue, we walked on down to the old synagogue. This was one of the first to be built in the area in the 15th century. It no longer serves as a Synagogue, but instead holds a museum to the history and culture of Judaism. It some detail it explains the different customs and traditions as well as the festivals and beliefs of the Jewish faith.
After pausing for a short stop at a café in the Jewish quarter, we finished walking through the area, before catching the tram out to Salwator on the tram, and from there walked the short distance to the Kosciuszko Mound. The mound is man made, at the base are the buildings of a fort that the Austrians built in their attempt to turn Kraków into a fortress, above is the original mound, covered in grass, with its paths leading to the top. From the top of the mound you have stunning views over the city and the surrounding countryside.
After spending some time on the top of the mound we descended to the base, caught the bus back to the Salwator tram depot and the tram back into town for dinner.