Shakespeare’s Waters

On our return from Wales at the turn of the year the coach driver decided to have a quick detour so we could stretch our legs and grab a coffee.  He chose Stratford-upon-Avon, birth place of a rather well known Tudor poet and playwright.

Some of you may think I’m a philistine but the thing is, I’ve never read any of the works of Mr Shakespeare.  My secondary education didn’t require such a high level of learning, after all we were only being readied to work in field or factory.  However I do like a bit of history.  We wandered into Stratford’s centre and took a stroll down the pedestrianised Henley Street.  Here on your left is the Bards birthplace, a fine old preserved Tudor building complete with the obligatory tourists taking selfies and, oddly, a lady dressed in period costume sitting in an upstairs window.  When you glance around the house looks somewhat out of place.  Surrounded by modern emporiums such as ‘Ye Olde Hamlet Starbucks’, ‘Ye Olde Macbeth McDonalds’ and ‘Ye Olde Othello Betting Shoppe’.  OK not the real names but you get my drift and what on earth a Harry Potter gift shop has to do with Shakespeare I can’t fathom out.  We continued our walk, past the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (not my favourite piece of architecture) and came to the river and canal, this is more like it!

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Messing about on the river, those rowers are a hardy bunch!  The church is Will’s resting place

The Warwickshire Avon is, to me, a big river.  We have several rivers in Norfolk but not as wide or long.  The Avon rises near Naseby in Northamptonshire and flows 85 miles (137km) south/west to join the river Severn at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.

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The eight span Tramway bridge built in Victorian times
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Lock 56 which links the Stratford-upon-Avon canal to the Warwickshire Avon.  The water was the colour of milky tea!

I do have a fascination for old canals, some of you may remember this post https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/10/big-city-manchester-canals/  Nowadays these man made waterways are used for gentle boating holidays but their origins were far from romantic.  Dug by hand, mostly by Irish ‘Navvies’ at the start of the industrial revolution, the canal system was designed to transport goods and materials in bulk across the Country.  This was when the roads were little more than dusty cart tracks.  The coming of the railways killed off most of the canals including the Stratford-upon Avon.  Construction started in 1793 on the 25.5 mile (41km) canal which heads towards Birmingham and has 56 locks to raise or lower the barges.  By 1945 the southern section was un-navigable.  It was restored by the National Trust and re-opened by the Queen Mother in 1964.

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If you fancy a canal holiday allow plenty of time and make sure you are fit!

Why use mono images?  Well colour just didn’t cut it on a gloomy day.  Several bloggers use mono images and this inspired me to try and I rather like them.

Down in the Valley

The workload leading up to the holiday period and a couple of disappointments left us physically and mentally drained.  Time for some rest and relaxation.  We booked ourselves a new year break on the other side of the country in Mid Wales, a place we have never visited before.  Travelled over on an organised coach trip and stayed in a lovely Victorian hotel where we were wined and dined for three nights.

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The impressive Caban Coch Dam

On day two we were taken on a trip through the spectacular Elan Valley.  I was amazed at the ability of the driver to negotiate the 20+ miles of narrow, twisting road through the Cambrian Mountains.  That’s the advantage of doing this, being able to sit back and admire the scenery.  The disadvantage is not being able to stop when a stunning view comes into sight!  The Valley Is dominated by six dams and reservoirs which supply drinking water to the city of Birmingham and the West Midlands and also produce some hydro-electric power.  Building started in 1893 and finished in 1952.

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The Cambrian Mountains

The Cambrian Mountains do not have many rocky outcrops but are more rounded and grassy.  The area has very little population and is known as the ‘Desert of Wales’.  The highest point is 2467ft (752m).

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Devil’s Bridge

A stop for lunch in the village of Devil’s Bridge gave me a chance to see the structure from which the name derives.  For the princely sum of £1 you can descend into a gorge to view the three bridges built on each other.  The earliest being Medieval (c 1075-1200).  The second built in 1753 and finally an iron bridge erected in 1901.  Light down here was pretty much non-existant and I had to push the iso to a thousand.

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A pretty waterfall in the town Llandrindod Wells where we were based

East Side Gallery – Berlin

Throughout history countries have erected walls to keep people out.  The Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s Wall spring to mind.  In more recent times a wall was constructed to keep people in, the Berlin Wall.  After an estimated 20% of the population had left East Germany through entering West Berlin, then moving freely onto other countries, the communist government, on 13th August 1961, erected a barbed wire barrier which divided and encircled the city.  This was soon replaced with a pre-formed concrete barrier 3.4m (12ft) high and running for a length of 156km (97 miles).  Further modifications took place including a second wall with the gap in-between known as the ‘killing strip’.  After successful uprisings in neighbouring communist led countries the people of East Germany demanded change.  On November 9th 1989 following a TV announcement that access to West Berlin would be allowed the people flooded the wall and it ‘fell’.

Today only fragments remain and as I touched on in a previous post the longest section is the East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain – Kruezberg not far from the banks of the river Spree.  Here 105 artists from around the world painted their thoughts on this grim reminder of times past.

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A chilling memorial
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The most famous work is ‘Fraternal Kiss’ depicting Soviet leader Leonid Brezchnev and East German President Erich Honecker. Underneath is written ‘My God help me to survive this deadly love’.
"In Sensurround sound in a two inch wall
Well I was waiting for the communist call
I didn't ask for sunshine
And I got world war three
I'm looking over the wall
And they're looking at me"
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From inside the ‘killing strip’ a view of the west side of the gallery wall
"They're staring all night
And they're staring all day.
I had no reason to be here at all.
Oh now I got a reason it's no real reason
And I'm waiting at Berlin wall
I gotta go over the Berlin wall.
I don't understand it (I gotta go over the Berlin wall)"

'Holidays in the Sun'  Sex Pistols 1977
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The iconic East German car the Trabant breaking through the wall
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Timeless slogan

If you have the chance to visit Berlin allow time to view the East Side Gallery.


 

 

Berlin….pt2 Famous Sights

Our second full day in the German capital and again we awoke to beautiful blue skies and temps in the 20’s C.  We left our hotel, the ‘Erlanger Hof’ and walked down Flughafenstrasse to meet our daughter for breakfast.  There is a great choice of small independent cafes in this area and they are very friendly and reasonably priced.  We then caught the U-Bahn (underground) to the city centre.  Here things were so much different.  Gone are the small, intimate shops to be replaced by huge ‘glitzy’ high-end brand named stores which can be found in cities the world over and a coffee is twice the price.

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Alte Nationalgalarie. Opened in 1876 and built to resemble a Greco-Roman temple

This is the district of Mitte.  We headed toward the river and an area known as ‘Museum Island’ and crossed the Spree via the Friedrichsbruke.  Despite their appearances the buildings are of no great age.  The Berliner Dom was finished in 1905.  This building although called the cathedral does not have a Bishop so is really a massive church.  As we admired these fine sights something started to dawn on us, all the old stonework was riddled with countless thousand bullet holes.  This was a very sobering moment when you realised how terrifying this area must have been in April 1945 as the Russian army advanced.

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Berliner Dom

We continued our walk besides the river and headed toward the Reichstag, home of the German parliament.  This building was completed in 1894 but was badly damaged during the war and left abandoned.  It was only after re-unification in 1990 it was re-built. The large glass dome was added in 1999 and if you book in advance you can go inside.

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The Reichstag looms over the River Spree
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Fernsehturm

One sight which can be seen from almost everywhere is the Television Tower or Fernsehturm.  This is the highest structure in Germany at 368m (1207ft) and the third highest in Europe.  What surprised me was that it was built in 1969 by the GDR as a symbol of communist power (good to know where their priorities lay!).  Today part of the crystal is a revolving restaurant.

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Approaching the gate

Having walked around the perimeter of the Reichstag and past haunting memorials to those who perished in darker times, we visited perhaps the most famous landmark in Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate.  Having a history of tumultuous events it was the scene as the crowds gathered when the wall fell in November 1989 and is now the symbol of peace and unity.  The statue on top is of the Roman Goddess Victoria (the Lemmings name) riding in a quadriga, a four horse chariot.

We had walked for many miles but had not finished.  As the afternoon slipped by we took in Viktoriapark back in Kreuzberg.  Climb up to the very top and you will find a monument dedicated to the Prussian liberation wars (1814) and splendid views across the city.

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Looking north from the top of Viktoriapark. The hot air balloon marks the site of Checkpoint Charlie

It was a lovely break and we look forward to returning sometime in the future.

 

Berlin……ruckker in glucklichere zeiten (back in happier times)

Way back when as a fresh faced, wide-eyed teenager I embarked on a 36 hour train-ferry-train adventure to south east Poland to visit a pen-friend.  These were the days of the ‘Iron Curtain’.  On the outward journey the train was filled with British soldiers heading to Berlin.  With each bottle of beer the trip became like a huge party.  We entered the City at night.  I gazed out at a clean and modern cityscape.  In the station the troops disembarked and now, in silence, the train inched forward through the divide which almost touched the carriages.  On the other side more troops embarked.  These were not in the least bit friendly, welcome to the East!  We moved through a dark and desolate City which, to my eyes, looked not to have been touched since 1945.

Back in July our daughter (who I refer to as the Lemming) graduated from university in Manchester and announced she was moving to Berlin.  So last weekend Mrs H and myself jumped on a plane and in half the time it takes to drive to Manchester we were in the German capital.

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Autumn in Berlin, a walk down Planufer alongside the Landwehr Canal.

The district she is living in is Neukolln.  Like most of the areas we visited the narrow cobbled streets are lined by five storey buildings, the older ones are very ornate, these are formed into blocks with the inner courtyards filled with trees.  Trees also line the streets at about every 15m.  So on our visit, in autumn, they make a wonderfully colourful backdrop.

The Lemming took us on a tour during our stay.  The weather was superb with sun, light breeze and temperatures in 20’s c.  Not everyplace is a famous landmark so please join me as I relive some of the highlights in a two part blog (thanks to wiki and google for filling in the blanks).

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Double Admiral sculpture

In the district of Kreuzberg, on Admiralstrasse, stands this sculpture by Ludmila Seefried-Matejkova.  Erected in 1985 it is called ‘The Double Admiral’ and it depicts a mirror image of Admiral Adalbert who in 1848 founded the unified German fleet.  Seated besides the egg timer shaped globes are two bronze punks to represent the area’s modern scene.

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Mrs H and the Lemming chill out

The Ramones museum on Skalitzer Street was right at the top of my ‘must visit’ wish list  having been a fan of the New York punk band since I first heard them in ’76 and seeing them live in ’87.  R.I.P Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee & Tommy.

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Skalitzer Street under the U-Bahn line
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Molecule Man

Crossing the River Spree via the Oberbaum Bridge your eyes are taken by this massive 30m high sculpture standing in the river.  ‘Molecule Man’ is by Jonathan Borofsky and erected in 1999 on the intersection of Treptow, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain districts to represent unity as the river was the boundary between east and west.  It consists of three aluminium figures leaning in.  The two-dimensional human shapes are full of holes to depict the human molecules.

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In Berlin, by the wall

you were five foot ten inches tall.

Lou Reed ‘Berlin’ 1973

The ‘East Side Gallery’  is a must see.  1.3km of the Berlin Wall was painted in 1990 (one year after it’s fall) by 105 artists from around the world.  In 2009 restoration was started as the original art work was defaced by graffiti (as is most of the City).  I could do a blog alone on the famous, haunting and thought provoking murals.

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Sunset over Tempelhofer Feld

To end our first day we went to the Tempelhofer Feld.  At 355ha this is the worlds largest inner-city open space.  On the site of Tempelhof airport which closed in 2008 it was given to the people of Berlin.  And thousands enjoy cycling, walking, playing or just relaxing everyday.  There are bars, cafes, bbq areas, dog walking areas, community allotments and nature zones, also a great view of the sunset!

Lake District Break

For the third year now we have had a few days away in the Lake District.  This is in the county of Cumbria, north west England.  We decided to set off a day earlier than planned to take advantage of some decent weather.  Turned out to be a good move as mid week it was murky and damp but brightened up on the last day.  It would have been nice to have had more sun as we have yet to see the mountain views without a covering of cloud!

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Up on the Roof. A view east towards the Yorkshire Dales

The first day we stayed in south east Cumbria and took a short hike up to Hutton Roof Crags.  This is a fascinating geological area known as a limestone pavement.  Here the rocks are 300 metres thick and 350 million years old.  Over the years people have been removing these rocks for building, mill stones or garden features and only about 8sq miles (20sq km) remain in the UK.  Now the pavements are fully protected by law.  Many rare and interesting plants grow in the cracks and I saw several different butterflies and my first Chimney Sweeper moth (Odezia atrata).

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Chimney Sweeper moth
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Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) at Foulshaw moss

Day two was a search for butterflies and dragonflies.  Started at Arnside Knott the 500ft limestone hill in south Cumbria.  This year the butterfly activity was quite low and slightly disappointing.  We then went over the Kent Estuary to Foulshaw Moss, a raised peat bog, for dragons but the cloud was building and not much was seen except the distant nesting Ospreys.

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Scorpion Fly (Panorpa communis). The ‘sting’ is actually the sex organs of the male

Tuesday and our daughter the ‘Lemming’ joined us from Manchester by train for the day.  She has now finished uni and will shortly be going to live in Berlin.  So we had a bit of a ride around in the damp.  Started at Bowness on the eastern shore of Windermere.  This is the largest lake in England, 11.23 miles (18km) long, 0.93 miles (1.49km) wide and at it’s deepest 219ft (66.7m).

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Windermere in mono, pretty much the same in colour!

Decided against a boat trip and instead visited the ‘World of Beatrix Potter’ attraction.  I used to love reading the stories to my daughter and the models and sets here were superb.  Those of you not familiar with Beatrix Potter must really check out her work.

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The Tale of Jeremy Fisher at the Beatrix Potter world

Wednesday and we drove the narrow, windy road up the west side of Coniston Water.  High above the village of Coniston at the northern end, on a narrower and windier road, is the popular beauty spot of Tarn Hows.  A tarn is a small mountain lake.  Tarn Hows used to be three smaller lakes but was dammed to create one large one.  This was done in the 1800’s by the rich landowner.  Now it is looked after by the National Trust and is a lovely walk of about two miles around.  Sadly the views were lost in the cloud.

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Tarn Hows

Last day and Tina wanted to see Levens Hall and gardens where her friend works.  Not the usual stately pile, it had some very interesting displays.  The gardens were outstanding with ancient topiary and a beautiful selection of plants.

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The River Kent by Levens Hall

As the sun broke through I managed one last butterfly trip to nearby Latterbarrow which despite being a riot of wild flowers was pretty short on butterflies.

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Northern Brown Argus (Aricia artaxerxes) at Latterbarrow, a last minute bonus

 

Corfu – Island Holiday

It has been many years since we have had a holiday abroad and even longer since we have visited Greece.  The arrival of the Lemming put paid to our trips but this year Mrs H and I decided to treat ourselves.  The destination we choose was the island of Corfu.  This was always on my wish list ever since I read Gerald Durrell’s brilliant book ‘My Family and other Animals’ as a child.  Although the story was set in the 1930’s we hoped to try and find traces of the past on what is now a very busy tourist isle.

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An evening view from our villa driveway toward Kerkira (Corfu Town)

Corfu is set in the Ionian Sea.  It is noted for being lush and green with a landscape of olive groves and tall cypress trees.  Even though we travelled in the second week of May we experienced some rain.  For our base we rented a villa in the beautiful village of Nissaki on the north/east coast.  Fifty yards from our terrace, through an olive grove filled with scrub and wild flowers, lay the sea and behind us the impressive backdrop of Mount Pantokrator, at 910m the highest point on Corfu.

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Looking down on Barbati. A view from 400m above Nissaki
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A calm Ionian Sea

On the fourth day we visited Kerkira or Corfu Town.  We had a hire car but having experienced the drive from the airport thought it safer to take the local bus!  To drive on Corfu you must forget everything you have learned, it’s every man for himself!  Indicators are frowned on, pedestrian crossings mean nothing and you can stop without warning and park up in the road.  The road surfaces are rough and that is being kind and to meet a coach on a steep hairpin bend is, er, interesting.

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Kerkira. Looking from the old fort toward the new

The capital is a very busy, bustling place.  Although there are many new shops some areas look pretty tired.  One downside being a problem with waste disposal meaning big piles of rubbish bags here and there.  We made our way through the back streets and along the promenade to the Old Fortress where we spent several hours exploring.  The fort was built by the Venetians in the 1540’s but the original fortifications date back to the 6th century.  The New Fortress was built a few years later to strengthen the town defences.

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The Old Fortress, a scene of many sieges
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On Corfu wild flowers grow everywhere

To find the island of Durrell’s book you have to venture off the beaten track.  We walked for many miles in the countryside, our favourite being the steep climb behind Nissaki.  We discovered a peaceful world filled with a profusion of wild flowers of every hue, also the wildlife but that must wait for another time.  One week and you are not even scratching the surface of this gem of an island with it’s friendly people.  At the end of each day after enjoying a meal at our favourite taverna, the Olive Press, we would sit back on the terrace and watch the neon flashing of the fireflies in the olive grove and listen to the whistling ‘twoo’ call of the Scops Owls.  In the distance, over the bay, the twinkling lights of Kerkira.  And relax!

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The hills above Benitses on the south east coast typify the Corfu scenery