I’ll Take the Low Road

Scotland, pt2 sights.

Our short break north of the border included three coach tours.  One I was particularly looking forward to was a day in the capital Edinburgh.  I am not a lover of cities but have never visited this historical place.  The morning started, as usual, in pouring rain.  The journey took the best part of two hours but the driver did a detour and took us to Queensferry to see the famous bridges over the Firth of Forth.  He drove us over the new crossing, round a roundabout and back over the old road bridge to a view point where I braved the inclement weather to grab some quick photos.

Forth road bridge

Opened in 1964 and with a total length of 1.5 miles (2.5km) it was, at the time, one of the world’s longest suspension bridges.  Now it is only used by public transport, cyclists and pedestrians.  In the gloom to the left you can just see the new road bridge.  To the right is the iconic rail crossing however with a scrapyard in the foreground it did not make a ‘nice’ image!

By the time we reached the City centre the rain had stopped and the skies cleared.  We made our way round the south of the castle and up to the start of the ‘Royal Mile’ by the castle gates.

Towering high above the City, Edinburgh Castle is an impressive sight!
Looking down the ‘Royal Mile’

There has been a castle on the remains of this volcanic activity since at least the 12th century.  The ‘Royal Mile’ (actually more than a mile) is full of fantastic architecture with shops selling as much whisky, kilts and woolly jumpers as you could shake a haggis at!  The Gothic spire is the former Tollbooth Kirk, though never a church it was built as an assembly house in 1845.  Now it is The Hub where the famous Edinburgh festival is organised.

Inside St Giles Cathedral

At the bottom of the ‘Royal Mile’ you come to Holyrood Palace which was unfortunately adorned in scaffolding and more unfortunately demanded a £17 entry fee, no thanks.  Also located here is, in my view, a modern eyesore, the new Scottish Parliament.  A mish-mash of dirty concrete and stone curves, blocks and other odd shapes surrounded by rusty steel railings.

In the shadow of part of ‘Arthur’s Seat’ my least favourite building
Dead centre of Edinburgh? New Calton burial ground. The three story tower to the right was the Watch Tower, built to deter grave robbers then used as a family home ’till 1955!

So that was Edinburgh, four hours of exploring but worthy of a much longer visit.  Another day out was to Glamis Castle (silent i) described as the most beautiful in Scotland it is home to the the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.  It was also the favourite residence of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who’s family have lived here since the 14th century.

Glamis Castle. I waited for an age to get a shot without any people in view!
Very nice garden ornament

Very often I will take a shot and not know what the subject was.  The photo above is a case in point, turns out this is Scotland’s tallest, grandest sundial!  350 years old and judging by the weather we had probably only used about six times a year!  Only joking, we had a great time, so much so we have already booked a return next June.

You Take the High Road

Scotland, pt1 scenery.

Welcome to the land of liquid sun and hairy cows!  Some time ago we booked a coach holiday to Bonnie Scotland.  Knowing the last couple of months were going to be somewhat hectic it was a relief to sit back, watch the world go by and let someone else do the 420 mile (676 km) drive.  The last (and only other) visit to these distant parts was in ’95 so we were quite excited to return.  Then we enjoyed a rare Scottish heatwave this time, though mild, slightly damp.  Our base was the lovely, remote Loch Achray Hotel and we had three full day trips out.  The advantage of these coach trips is you can relax, the disadvantage is if you see a fabulous view you can’t stop to photograph it!  Never mind, this Country is full of stunning scenery.  Here are a few shots I managed to get.

Morning has broken over Loch Achray and its not raining!………yet. Not a bad view from our hotel window
The Burn from Loch Katrine rushes under the bridge to Achray. Last of the autumn colours and trees adorned in moss and lichen make a pretty scene

The area we stayed in is the Trossachs & Loch Lomond National Park which is in central Scotland about 30 miles north of Glasgow.  The meaning of the word Trossachs is 1. a narrow wooded valley in central Scotland, between Loch Achray and Loch Katrine: made famous by Sir Walter Scott’s descriptions. 2. (popularly) the area extending northwards from Loch Ard and Aberfoyle to Lochs Katrine, Achray, and Venachar. (Collins English Dictionary).  There are some other mighty Lochs (lakes) in the area the most famous being Loch Lomond.  Nearly 23 miles (36.4 km) long, between 1/2 and 5 miles (1 & 8 km) wide and with a maximum depth of 620ft (190 m) this is the largest lake in Great Britain by surface area.

The bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. No, not a mono shot just a wee bit ‘dull’
Loch Long is indeed long, about 20 miles (32 km) but the name came from the fact that the Vikings brought their longboats here then dragged them overland to Lomond (2 miles (3.2 km)! This water is connected to the sea via the Firth of Clyde and was used by the Royal Navy to test torpedoes up to ’86 and there are several wrecks in there
The River Forth at Aberfoyle Bridge. From here it winds it’s way east 29 miles (47 km) to the North Sea

I mentioned at the start ‘hairy cows’ and it would be somewhat inappropriate to do a post on Scotland and not feature at least one Highland Cow (or cooos as our coach driver called them).  Next time a few of the sights we took in.

Charlottenburg

Somewhat out of sync due to my little drag racing post, this is my third and final offering from our trip to Berlin at the beginning of April.  Sunday dawned quite sunny, the wind had dropped but it was still a bit nippy.  Today we took the ringbahn to Westend which is oddly enough on the west side of the City.  From here it was a short stroll down Spandauer Damm to the beautiful Charlottenburg Palace.  Up ahead thousands of runners competing in the Berlin half marathon streamed round the bend accompanied by what sounded like a brass band.  We arrived just as the Orangery cafe opened so popped in for a hot chocolate and generous slice of cake to set us up for a walk around the park.

A view back over the carp lake to the palace. What you see is only about a third of the total width!

The Palace was first built in 1699 for Sophie Charlotte the wife of Friedrich I.  It was extended in the 1700’s.  Of course in those days Berlin was a fraction of the size and the area it was built in was the village of Lietzow.  Today the 55 hectare (135 acre) park is nestled among housing, shops and busy roads.  The River Spree borders one side and apart from the main lake there are several other watercourses.  All this set amid beautiful trees and areas left to grow wild.  This was the best place I have seen so far for wildlife with numerous bird species.  In the summer I would think this is an oasis for butterflies and dragonflies.

‘Ole Frank the Hanser’ There were several grey herons (Ardea cinerea) around the park
Not a bad garden shed! This is the Belvedere built in 1788 and used as a tea room and lookout tower
A Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) poses beside the lake.
Back in September on our last visit to the City I was quite excited to see one of these Mandarin Ducks (Aix galericulata) on a lake in the Tiergarten. This time they were everywhere!
You can encounter lots of ‘wildlife’ in Berlin parks! Mrs H, Chilli and the Lemming

We saw gorgeous Red Squirrels, a dashing Kingfisher and a mystery animal swimming across the lake.  Beaver or Coypu?  I will never know.  I made my way to where it was heading but with a swirl it disappeared and we never saw it resurface.  There was a tree by one of the channels which had been brought down by a Beaver so it could have been my first ever sighting of one.

We got back to the Orangery in time for lunch, a big, steaming bowl of creamy vegetable soup and crusty roll.  A perfect end to the visit.

Sanssouci – Potsdam

2nd April.  “It’s going to be dry this weekend, we’ll go to Potsdam on Saturday”.  So informed my daughter the purple furred Lemming.  The next morning we caught the bus to Alexanderplatz station and from there the S7 train for the half hour journey west of Berlin to Potsdam Hauptbahnhof.  We were going to spend the day at Sanssouci Park so took the 695 bus.

I am used to visiting stately homes in the UK but the scale of Sanssouci was something else.  For a start there are four Palaces in the 300 hectare grounds plus a whole host of temples and other associated buildings (you have to have somewhere to keep your lawnmower 🤔).  The first Palace we visited was the Orangery.

I do like a bit of symmetry. The Orangery Palace, Sanssouci
The Orangery

This Palace was built in 1864 for King Friedrich Wilhelm IV.  Inside, seen through the huge windows, were stored all the ornamental trees and shrubs that would decorate the grounds in summer.  It actually felt a few degrees warmer here.

“Ah tea time”
“Did someone mention tea?” I’m not sure what this White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) has caught but we had apple strudel and vanilla cream whilst being sprinkled with snow!

We wandered west through the parkland to the New Palace which was completed in 1769 for King Friedrich II.  It has over 200 rooms and the outside is adorned with over 400 statues!  Although it looks like red brick it is actually painted plaster but very convincing.  After the King’s death in 1786 the Palace was not used for seventy years until Frederick III took it on.

If you’ve got it flaunt it, New Palace Sanssouci
Not is all as it seems. This is a replica of the historic smock mill which was destroyed in 1945

The hours flew by and it was soon time to return to Berlin.  We had not even had a chance to see Sanssouci Palace and gardens and you could spend another day or two exploring the City itself.  Not sure how many miles we walked but ‘Chilli’ the dog slept well that night!

April in Berlin

We are back from our belated Christmas trip to the German capital to see our daughter.  Spring in Berlin?  If only.  It was definitely a case of “You should have been here last week”.  Mostly cold, grey and windy, never mind, we enjoyed ourselves despite our taxi not turning up at Brandenburg airport or the hotel restaurant not being open the night it poured with rain and gale force winds.

There’s a bit of a central focal point to these shots, see if you can spot it!

‘Leap into Freedom’

The statue on the right is a representation of a famous photograph taken in 1961 by Peter Leibing.  The young East German border guard was 19 year old Konrad Schumann escaping to the west during construction of the infamous Berlin Wall.

Wasserturm Prenzlauer Berg

The water tower is Berlin’s oldest.  It was constructed in 1877 and used until 1952.  In the 1930’s it had a much darker use.  Today the grounds are a play area.

Alexanderplatz
Spotted roaming the streets of Alexanderplatz, the elusive ‘Norfolk Lemming’ sporting it’s spring fur, purple!

The light was a bit gloomy when taking these shots but I will do a couple more posts with a whiff of spring from other places we visited.  Did you spot the recurring building?  The Fernsehturm, not difficult to miss this icon of the Berlin skyline!

Postcard from Berlin

After nearly two years we have finally made a return to the German capital Berlin to see our daughter the ‘Lemming’ along with partner Rob and their beautiful little rescue dog ‘Chilli’.  The pandemic and ‘Brexit’ has made travelling difficult.  No longer can you just buy a ticket and jump on a plane, so many forms to fill out and tests to take.  Never mind, we made it.

Here are a few shots from the same area, the Oberbaumbrucke.  Built in 1896 to replace the wooden original. The bridge spans the River Spree linking the once separate districts of Friedrichshain, which was in the post-war East Berlin, and Kreuzberg in the west.  It was reconstructed in 1994 after suffering a lot of demolition in the ‘iron curtain’ days.  The top deck carries the U-Bahn (subway).

Entering Friedrichshain under the U-Bahn. Nikon D5300, Nikkor vr 18-140mm @45mm, iso250, f11, 1/60s
Cityscape. The white wall in the centre is the largest surviving section of the the infamous Berlin Wall, now the East Side Gallery. Nikkor 18-140mm @52mm, iso400, f14, 1/400s
Blue Hour. Nikkor 18-140mm @42mm, iso800, f10, 1/2.5s
Sunset. The Fernsehturm (old DDR tv tower) is a prominent feature of the Berlin skyline. Nikkor 18-140mm @35mm, iso200, f8, 1/10
Victory Column, Berlin

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!