The Old Fogies go to Windsor

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

It was that time of year again, when we take our granddaughters away for a few days and we decided to take them to Windsor . We last visited Windsor a couple of years ago when we stayed in the middle of Windsor and went to Legoland Windsor. This time we were staying a few miles outside of Windsor near to Runnymede and staying at a hotel with its own large grounds. To keep the children entertained we thought that on one day we would take them to the nearby Thorpe Park entertainment resort.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

One of the delights of staying in Windsor is that it is in easy travelling time from London and we arrived at the hotel in good time. However our good feelings did not last long when we found out that the two rooms we were expecting was one family room. After trying to resolve the issue, we were told that the problem was the third party we booked through who sent the wrong information. When things like this happen, I always make a mental note to try to book direct.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

After the initial disappointment, we thought we would get some fresh air and explore the nearby Runnymede. Runnymede is famous in British history for its association with the signing of Magna Carta. As we walked along the very attractive Thames towpath, we arrived at the Runnymede meadow with two National Trust buildings marking the start of the large Runnymede area.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean
It was on the water-meadow at Runnymede, in 1215 when King John sealed Magna Carta which changed British common and constitutional law forever. The modern Runnymede is an attractive and popular spot to walk or cycle with a number of memorials.
© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean
One of reasons we booked this particular hotel was the large grounds that allowed the children to run around and use up their excess energy. The hotel also had the benefit of a large swimming pool which was ideal after a day’s sightseeing.
© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean
Although we had enjoyed Legoland Windsor, we thought Thorpe Park would be more suited to our elder granddaughter who is 12.  Arriving at Thorpe Park, we were faced with large crowds trying to get in and we began to think this would not be ideal.
© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean
When we got inside, the queues for the large rides were already long so we just went on the rides that had smaller queues. The resort itself is not too large and each area was quite crowded. What was noticeable was that there is a lot more teenagers and a lot less family groups. Part of the reason why teenagers descend on Thorpe Park is the very large rides like Colossus and Nemesis.
© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean
The hot weather and large crowds began to try our patience and it was with some relief when we left the resort and  made our way back to the hotel.
© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean
Over the next few days, we explored the surrounding area around Windsor and visited the town itself which had lots of visitors hanging around the castle. We made our way around the castle to the Long Walk.
© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean
The Long Walk is a path and carriage road that runs for nearly three miles from George IV Gateway at Windsor Castle to The Copper Horse. The Long Walk was created by Charles II from 1680-1685 by planting a double avenue of elm trees. The central carriage road was added by Queen Anne in 1710. The original planting comprised 1,652 trees placed 30 feet apart in each direction. The Long Walk has wonderful views of the castle and the surrounding countryside and many visitors will walk part or the whole route.
© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean
At the end of trip, we decided that it had been only a partial success, the mix up at the hotel and our rather disappointing visit to Thorpe Park contrasted with the nice grounds and swimming pool, the pleasant walks and sightseeing of the local area. However, one of the joys of going on holiday with your grandchildren is to talk with them and understand where they are in their own lives. The eldest is becoming a young woman and the youngest is full of confidence and they are both entertaining in their own ways. Their boundless energy of youth was a reminder that we are getting old and after all the enjoyment we would need at least a week to recover.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here

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The Old Fogies go to Honfleur in France

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

The last destination on our trip was the charming seaside town of Honfleur in Normandy, its location at the mouth of the Seine estuary before entering the English Channel means it is very popular with visitors exploring the Normandy coast.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

The cruise terminal is around one mile from the town and we were greeted with a wonderful sunrise over the incredible Normandy Bridge that stretches across the estuary.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Honfleur is considered one of the most picturesque seaside towns in France and gets quite crowded in high summer, thankfully it was a pleasant spring day as we made our way into the town.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Honfleur’s port has been important throughout its history, it was originally founded by the Vikings and was the scene of plenty of trade with England. It is still a working port and one of the joys of visiting the town is to watch the fishing boats come in with their catch.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

We watched a boat bringing in boxes of scallops and were entertained by one of the boats that looked like it was ready to capsize with its load all on one side.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

The most visited part of the town is the Vieux Bassin with its tall wooden buildings providing a lovely backdrop to a small basin of water full of boats. This wonderful scene has been a favourite location for artists , The Honfleur School was an artistic movement involving Monet and Eugene Boudin who was born in the town.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

This art movement is considered a big influence on the Impressionist Movement. This part of Normandy is considered the ‘home’ of Impressionism and has attracted many artists, writers and musicians.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Behind the Vieux Bassin is a labyrinth of narrow streets full of attractive gift shops, art galleries, boutiques and antique shops.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Also in the backstreets is the unique churches of St Catherine which is the largest wooden church in France and St Leonard which has town’s old washhouse nearby.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

We took a walk away from the main town up the Rue des Buttes to look at some of the old houses on the hillside before making our way to the pleasant Jardin du Tripot.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Nearby is the Eugene Boudin Museum and Maison Satie that celebrate the local celebrities.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

As we made back into the town, we looked at the old salt warehouses and sat near the remarkable 1900 Carousel which is still working and had children sitting on a series of strange looking animals.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Honfleur is very popular and it is easy to see why, it is a seaside town full of history. Many of the shops sell local produce like local cheeses, the famous Calvados brandy and Crème de Calvados, a cream liqueur. The old buildings and port have attracted writers and artists for centuries and now attract thousands of visitors every year. Although the town does get crowded, there are plenty of gardens and even a beach to relax.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here

The Old Fogies go to Rouen in France

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Rouen is located on the River Seine and we had travelled overnight the 126 kms from the sea along the meandering river. The cruise terminal is located around 3kms from the city centre in the shadow of the impressive Gustave Flaubert Bridge. Our first view of the cathedral was in the distance as the sun rose over the city.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

In this light, Rouen and the River Seine looked like an impressionist painting .

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Rouen is the capital of the region of Normandy and was one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe. For centuries, Rouen has been an important port on the Seine with goods making there way to and from Paris.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

We were dropped off by shuttle bus in the centre of Rouen and quickly made our way to the cathedral working on the plan that we would enjoy a look around before it got too busy.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Everything about the Cathedral is on a massive scale, its spire rises to a height of 151 metres (nearly 500 feet). Its Gothic style has developed over time, there has been a church on this site since the 4th century which was enlarged by St. Ouen in 650, and visited by Charlemagne in 769. In the 10th century, the Viking leader, Rollo, founder of the Duchy of Normandy, was baptised here in 915 and buried in 932. The heart of Richard the Lionheart is supposed to be enclosed in one of the tombs.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

The cathedral has survived lightning strikes, wars, political upheaval and bombs from the Allies in 1944. The cathedral is free to enter and offers the opportunity to really explore the remarkable interior.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Coming out of the cathedral, we made our way to the Gros Horloge which is an astronomical clock dating back to the 14th century. The remarkable timepiece is one of the oldest clock mechanisms in Europe and was in operation from the 14th century up to 1928.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Nearby is the impressive Palais de Justice, which was once the seat of the Parlement (French court of law) of Normandy.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Walking around the city, we were amazed by surviving half-timbered buildings which are often jumbled together lurching here and there. Many of the buildings are used by shops and restaurants that give the city a unique character.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

One of the great French icons is Joan of Arc also known as The Maid of Orléans, Joan claimed to have received visions of the Archangel Michael and others instructing her to support Charles VII and recover France from English domination in the 15th century. In 1430, she was captured handed over to the English and put on trial and declared her guilty and she was burned at the stake, she was only about nineteen years of age when she died.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

She was later declared a martyr, a national symbol of France by Napoleon Bonaparte and was declared a saint in 1920.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Where she was burned in the old market square is considered a place of pilgrimage and we decided to make our way to the square. We were surprised there was still a market in the square but it was doing good business selling local produce.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

The spot where Joan of Arc was burned is now marked by a large cross next to the modern Saint Joan of Arc church. Inside the church was a surprise, it is remarkably open with large stained glass windows taken from a former church going back too the Renaissance. The whole church is a modern masterpiece based on the plans of architect, Louis Arretche.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

We continued our wanderings, calling into the Hotel De Bourgtheroulde to see some Renaissance plaques, The Hotel de Ville next to Church of Saint Ouen and finally the Museum quarter where we went inside the the Museum of Fine Arts.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

After all the remarkable history and incredible buildings, we decided we would welcome a change of scenery and made our way down to the quays for a bite to eat and a drink. We sat for a while before we made a decision to walk along the quays (around two miles) back to the ship.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

The quays, both sides of the river have been developed with a number of quirky buildings and plenty of bars and restaurants.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Rouen is a remarkable place to visit with a large number of attractions around the city, many were free to enter, so even if you are on a budget you will not miss out. One day was not enough to explore this charming city and you could combine a trip to the city with a trip to Paris (2 hours by train) or a trip to the Normandy coast.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here

The Old Fogies go to Cobh in Ireland

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Cobh is located on the south side of Great Island in Cork Harbour and offers a dramatic and picturesque scene when coming into the town from the water. The houses are built up the hillside and dominating the town is St Colman’s cathedral which is perched on top of the hill.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

People have inhabited this area for over centuries, however it was the 18th century when the port was developed with a fort being built. The port was known by various names before the 18th century before it was renamed “Cove” (“The Cove of Cork”),
It was renamed by the British as “Queenstown” in 1849 to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria and changed back to Cobh in the 1920s by the Irish Free State, Cobh is the Gaelic word for cove. Although to English speakers, it looks like ‘cob’ it is actually pronounced ‘cove’.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Cobh really came to prominence in the 19th century when the natural protection of its harbour made it a valuable naval military base. It still is an important base for the Irish Naval Service, their headquarters are on Haulbowline Island facing Cobh.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Cobh was used an embarkation port for men, women and children who were deported to penal colonies such as Australia. However it gained international recognition as a major transatlantic Irish port, the town was the departure point for 2.5 million of the six million Irish people who emigrated to North America between 1848 and 1950. This period of the town is marked by a statue on the quayside of Annie Moore and her brothers. Annie Moore was the first person to be admitted to the United States of America through the immigration centre at Ellis Island, New York in 1892. We both stood looking at the statue and remembered our visit to Ellis Island a couple of years ago.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Cobh was also a port from which the large transatlantic liners would depart from, the most famous of these liners was the ill fated RMS Titanic that visited the port in 1912 before sailing into the Atlantic and its tragic fate. Of the 123 passengers who boarded at the port with only 44 surviving the sinking. The former office building of the White Star Line now houses a Titanic museum.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Unfortuntely this was not the only maritime disaster related to the port, a few years later, the Cunard passenger liner RMS Lusitania, was sunk by a German U-boat off the Old Head of Kinsale in 1915. 1,198 passengers died, while 700 were rescued. The survivors and the dead alike were brought to Cobh, and over 100 of those who perished in the disaster where buried in the Old Church Cemetery in the town. The Lusitania Peace Memorial is located in Casement Square marks this tragedy.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Cobh is still a popular port for large cruise liners, over 100,000 cruise liner passengers visit the town each year. The ships berth right in the centre of the town at Ireland’s only dedicated cruise terminal.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

For such a small town, there are a large number of memorials and as you wander around there are reminders of its maritime and emigration past.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Next to the railway is the Cobh Heritage Centre which includes ‘the Queenstown Story’, you can wander around the centre which has a café and gift shop but need to buy a ticket to see the exhibition that includes The Immigration Story, Building the Titanic and Cobh as Queenstown.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

With limited time and rain threating, we decided to begin to explore the town, a good starting place was the promenade with its bandstand and small memorial park dedicated to American president John F Kennedy. There are also a memorial to Antarctic explorer Robert Forde.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Near Casement square is statues to local heroes, athlete Sonia O’Sullivan and boxer Jack Doyle.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

The town centre is full of bars, cafes and restaurants with a few gifts shops to explore, but we wanted to see a little more of the less tourist side of the town. So we decided to walk up the West Beach past the old Town Hall where there were a number of traditional Irish shops geared to the local community not just visitors.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Walking up hill, we reached Harbour Row and looked out over the harbour to Spike Island and Haulbowline Island. The threatened rain finally appeared and we gave up on our plan to walk to the Titanic Memorial Gardens and made our way back to the ship.

© 2019 Old Fogies Travels – Photograph by Alan Kean

Cobh certainly plays on its maritime history especially being the last port of call of the Titanic and offers visitors a wide range of attractions in a generally small area. If you are not attracted to the Titanic story, it is worth wandering the streets above the harbour and explore this attractive and unusual town. In many ways it has changed very little in the last 100 years and is still a bustling little port in a picturesque setting.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here

The Old Fogies go to Cork in Ireland

The next part of our journey took us to Ireland and a traveller’s dilemma, we were due to dock in Cobh which is a very small resort but was relatively near to the city of Cork. The question was do we spend all our time looking around Cobh or attempt to see both Cobh and Cork.

The fact that the train station was directly next to where the ship docked was a deciding factor and we headed to the platform for the next train to Cork.

We just missed one train but they ran quite frequently and the train station had a small attraction full of models boats of some of the ships that had visited Cobh in the past. This passed the time quite nicely till the next train and the friendly person behind the counter handed out maps for Cork and answered a few questions about the area. The short train ride from Cobh takes around half an hour. The train ride is quite scenic taking you around Lough Mahon and Cork harbour which were full of wading birds.

Cork City is quite spread out with the River Lee dividing the city centre into islands until they reconverge at the quays and docks along the river banks leading outwards Lough Mahon and Cork Harbour which is one of the largest natural harbours in the world.

Cork had its origins as a monastic settlement founded by Saint Finbarr in the 6th century, however it was when the Vikings arrived between 915 and 922 that the site developed as a trading port. The new and old settlements grew over time and defences were built, with a wall around the city, some wall sections and gates still exist.

The city was badly damaged in the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War in the early 20th century. Cork is often referred to as the “the rebel city” and has a ‘friendly’ rivalry with Dublin.

Although the city is quite compact, the train station is a little way out from the city centre and the map certainly came in useful. We made our way across St Patrick’s Bridge to St. Patrick’s Street, one of the  main streets of the city which is a main shopping thoroughfare.

At the top of St. Patrick’s Street is a statue to Father Mathew, Father Theobald Mathew to give him his full name was born in 1790 and became known as the Apostle of Temperance. Father Mathew was ordained a Capuchin priest in 1814 and served most of his life in Cork. He became an important character in the first half of the nineteenth century with his work during the temperance crusades of the late 1830s and 1840s. He was also known for his efforts to help people during the cholera epidemic of 1832 and the Great Famine from 1845 to 1850.

The number of pubs and bars in this area suggest that the local population might not be quite as temperate than they may have been in the 19th century.

St. Patrick’s Street, Oliver Plunkett St and Grand Parade are the main shopping areas in Cork and provide an attractive mix of old and new. Penneys, Dunnes Stores and the former Roches Stores are old traditional stores but the area does have a sprinkling of upmarket global brands.

In the Grand Parade is the English Market, the market sells locally produced foods, including fresh fish, meats, fruit and vegetables, artisan cheeses and breads in very pleasant surroundings. There has been a market on this site since at least the 17th century.

Near the market is an unusual early Irish Gothic national monument commemorating the various rebellions, unveiled in 1906.

Another interesting statue is The Echo Boy, Cork is home to one of Ireland’s main national newspapers, the Irish Examiner, It also prints The Echo (formerly the Evening Echo), which for decades has been connected to the “Echo boys”, who were poor and often homeless children who sold the newspaper.

Unfortunately, the dark clouds were gathering and we decided on a quick trip to St Fin Barre’s Cathedral which had a small maze or labyrinth in the churchyard, it is there to aid prayer and calmness.

Mrs Nice seemed not too calm as I sent her around the puzzle. Nearby is the Elizabeth Fort, the remnants of a 17th century fort which is open to the public.

This part of Cork is popular with students and there are a large number of cafes, bars and clubs. Some of the bars had intriguing and humorous names like Fred Zepplins and Sober Lane.

As we started back to the station, the rain began to start and we quickly made our way through the streets. We felt that we had only scratched the surface of the city of Cork and another visit would allow us not only to fully explore the city but also to travel around the area which has lots of various attractions like Blarney Castle, Kinsale and Youghal.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here

The Old Fogies go to Oban in Scotland

One of the places that we were really looking to visit on this particular trip was Oban on the West coast of Scotland. We have travelled extensively around Scotland but have never visited this small coastal resort before.

Travelled towards the town, we enjoyed some of the stunning scenery in the Firth of Lorn. Scotland is like no other place and offers a wide range of stunning scenery that is often dramatic but the hills and mountains are often covered by trees and bushes with a kaleidoscope of colour.

Oban in the Scottish Gaelic language means The Little Bay and that is indeed a great description with the bay forming a horseshoe shape looking out onto the Firth of Lorn. In front of Oban is the island of Kerrera and beyond Kerrera, the Isle of Mull. To the north, is the island of Lismore, and the mountains of Morvern and Ardgour.

Although quite a small town, it is an important transport hub for the Argyll and Bute area of Scotland and attracts thousands of people during the tourist season.

Its ideal location has attracted people since the Mesolithic times, however up the 19th century, the few people who lived here made a living from fishing, trading and quarrying. It was in the 19th century that Sir Walter Scott visited the area and published his poem The Lord of the Isles which began to attract new visitors to the town. Queen Victoria gave the town, the ‘royal seal of approval’ by remarking what a lovely place it was.

Even today, as you approach the town from the water, you tend to get the same impression with old ruined castles, a cathedral and a large folly called McCaig’s Tower on top of the hill above the town. The tower was based on the Coliseum in Rome and seemed a strange undertaking by local benefactor John Stewart McCaig.

The tower is reached by a series of steps called Jacobs Ladder and takes you through a path with a number of houses on the hillside. When you finally reach the tower, it is with some surprise because of its large scale. This seemingly ridiculous folly was built with good intentions, McCaig funded the work in hard times for the area to give work for local stone masons and labourers. The prominent local landmark was started in 1895 but construction ceased in 1902 on the death of McCaig.

Peering between the arches give visitors wonderful views of the Firth of Lorn and beyond and the building has a strangely peaceful atmosphere surrounded by stone and nature.

On the way back down, local artists showed their sense of humour with brightly coloured plastic legs in the garden and knitted woollen coverings for pipes.

From the top the hill, you could seen a number of Caledonian MacBrayne ferries plying their trade. Since the 1950s, the town has become an important ferry port with ferries going to many of the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

During World War II, Oban was used by Merchant and Royal Navy ships and was an important base in the Battle of the Atlantic. In the Cold War there were a number of important local bases the first Transatlantic Telephone Cable (TAT-1) came ashore at Gallanach Bay. TAT-1 was laid between Oban and Clarenville in Newfoundland, the cables were used to establish a ‘Hot Line’ between the US and USSR presidents.

The small Oban War and Peace Museum exhibits items of historical and cultural interest relating to the Oban area in peacetime and during the war years. Its friendly staff are quite happy to regale you with a few tales about the town.

After a spot of lunch, we decided to take a walk up to Dunollie Castle which is just outside the town on a site that overlooks the main entrance to the bay. Fortifications on the site go back to the Bronze Age, you can visit the ruins but we were more interested to wander along the waterfront and enjoy the spring sunshine and the view.

On this stretch was numerous hotels and St Columba’s Cathedral which is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Argyll and the Isles. Mrs Nice always like a quick look around cathedrals and churches, so we made a short detour to have a look around the very interesting building.

Along the esplanade is a striking war memorial that pays respect to local people who paid the ultimate sacrifice in war.

One of the largest buildings in the town is the Oban distillery, which was founded in 1794. The modern town grew around the distillery which provided many jobs for the townsfolk. The modern town has a wide range of shops, bars and restaurants with the ferry port only a short walk away.

Near the ferry, a series of knitted woollen covers for the bollards shows once again a sense of humour. Whilst the signs promoting Oban as the seafood capital of Scotland may be a bit over the top, the free samples were eagerly gobbled up by the visitors.

Oban is one of those pleasant places on the Scottish coast to spend a little time. Although McCaig Tower dominates the town, there are a variety of places to visit and enjoy. It is also a place to sit and enjoy the stunning scenery and watch the various ships coming in and out of the port.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here

The Old Fogies go to Belfast in Northern Ireland

One of the places we were especially looking forward to visiting was Belfast which is the capital city of Northern Ireland, standing on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast of Ireland.
We travelled along the Belfast Lough before we saw the large yellow cranes nicknamed Samson and Goliath in Harland and Wolff shipyard. As we docked in the port, we could notice planes coming into landing at the nearby George Best Airport.

Being old enough to have seen the mercurial footballer in his prime, I could not help but wonder what Best would have thought about an airport named after him.

From the early 19th century, Belfast became a major port and Harland and Wolff shipyard was once the world’s biggest shipyard. Belfast was one of the major Industrial centres in the late 19th and early 20th century and was once known as the biggest linen-producer in the world. Belfast became the capital of Northern Ireland following the Partition of Ireland in 1922 and was heavily bombed during World War II leading to a considerable loss of life.

Unfortunately the problems did not end there, Belfast declined as an industrial centre after the war and sectarian conflict between republican and loyalist led to the ‘Troubles’, conflict that continued from around 1969 to 1998. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 has led to economic growth and some large-scale redevelopment of the city centre and other parts of the city.

Within the last 10 years, Belfast has found its way back on the tourist trail and has become a popular city break and base to explore the Northern Irish countryside especially the world famous Giant’s Causeway.

It has also drawn on its shipbuilding history with the development of the Titanic Quarter. The RMS Titanic was built on the site in 1912 and the large Titanic-themed museum is not the only  attraction in the quarter, with a number of outside maritime exhibits like the SS Nomadic and the HMS Caroline. The waterfront has been developed with restaurants, cafes and there are even film studios nearby used for filming of the very popular Games of Thrones Tv series.

The Titanic Belfast attraction stands proudly like a ship in the middle of the quarter and although we went inside to have a look around and a coffee, we really didn’t have time to explore the attraction.

To get some scale of how large Titanic was, it is worth standing on the slipways outside the attraction, the outline of the Titanic and sister ship Olympic are marked out where they stood before they were released down the slipway.

In a nearby dry dock is the SS Nomadic which was a former tender of the White Star Line and launched during 1911 in Belfast She was built to transfer passengers and mail to and from the Olympic and the Titanic, and is the only White Star Line vessel in existence today.

A walk along the waterfront takes you The Great Light which has one of the largest optics of its kind ever built in the world, and is around 130 years old. The Great Light’s Fresnel Hyper-Radial lenses were originally made in 1887 for Tory Island Lighthouse, situated off Donegal and were made by the famous Saint-Gobain glassworks in France, and then finished by the lighthouse optic manufacturers, Barbier and Fenestre, in Paris.

In the enormous Alexandra dry dock, stands the remarkable HMS Caroline, the light cruiser of the Royal Navy that saw combat service in the First World War. When the ship was decommissioned in 2011 she was the second-oldest ship in Royal Navy service, after HMS Victory.

The Caroline is the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland still afloat. She is also one of only three surviving Royal Navy warships of the First World War. Located near the Caroline is the Titanic pumphouse and dock.

Walking back to Belfast city centre, you get a closer look of the gigantic yellow cranes nicknamed Samson and Goliath in Harland and Wolff shipyard standing guard.

As you make your way over the River Lagan, you seen the Albert Memorial Clock, the rather grand Custom house and a large blue ceramic fish sculpture.

You also pass McHugh’s Bar which promotes itself as Belfast’s oldest bar dating back to 1711.

Belfast city centre is dominated by the imposing Belfast City Hall, which was completed in 1906 and stand in a square of other large grand buildings including the Ulster Bank and Linen Hall Library.

With limited time, we decided to wander around the city centre and a little beyond, a walk down Donegall street took us to St Anne’s Cathedral and St Patrick’s Church. Nearby was the Kremlin club with a statue of Lenin outside.

Belfast is a fascinating city, but is in transition, with many of its old Victorian buildings failing out of use and new development taking place around the city. New ‘quarters’ are springing up to attract visitors to the city. Visitors can even visit some of the conflict spots related to the ‘Troubles’.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here

The Old Fogies go to Amsterdam in the Netherlands

Amsterdam is the capital city and largest city in the Netherlands which is known for its picturesque canals, interesting history and extensive cultural scene. We last visited Amsterdam over 10 years ago when we stayed for a few days and explored the city. This time we were only here for the day and were keen to visit the Rijksmuseum and the important Rembrandt exhibition.

Amsterdam has a number of similarities with Venice and is not the easiest place to navigate but the best starting place is Dam Square.

Amsterdam began as a small fishing village in the late 12th century but grew to become one of the most important ports in the world during the 17th century. Many of the canals date back to the 17th-century and are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Fortunately the Cruise Terminal is only around 15 mins walk from the rather grand Central Station and then it is a straightforward walk up the Damrak and Rokin streets to the Bloemenmarkt which is a large flower market on pontoons on the canal.

Well I said straightforward as long as you keep your wits about you because bicycles come at you from all directions as well as trams and other traffic.

This part of the city was where stayed before, so we found our way to the Museum Quarter where the imposing shadow of the Rijksmuseum appeared in the distance. We have fortunate to visit many of the top museums and art galleries around the world, however for some reason we have never been to the Rijksmuseum before. Whilst we are visiting there is a large Rembrandt exhibition on, so we were looking forward to have a look around that. Like many museums, you have street musicians and performers, here was no different except the majority were very good.

Once inside the Rijksmuseum, it was time to pick up tickets and head for the exhibition. Although the exhibition has been on for some time, it is still extremely popular and the galleries were pretty crowded. The exhibition covered a wide range of Rembrandt’s work with paintings and drawings, after a quick look around we explored the quieter parts of the museum and enjoyed a more leisurely walk around.

The Rijksmuseum is one of a number of museums in this quarter as well as the Concertgebouw, which is the concert hall which we visited the last time we were here. Around the museums are gardens and playgrounds where the children were working off their excess energy and us old timers sat and enjoyed a baguette and coffee.

Our plan was to slowly walk back through the city and enjoy the sights and sounds of this unique location. Near the flower market is the Heineken Brewery which I looked longingly towards, come on said Mrs Nice, I want to look at the flowers.

My drink would have to wait till later as we made our way past the flower stalls. Their nice I said sounding interested, ‘you do know their plastic’ came the scathing reply.

Mrs Nice kept disappearing and came back eating cheese, I though you did not like Dutch cheese ? Mrs Nice mumbled I don’t but I have to try it.

We next visited Begijnhof which is a secluded old convent in the middle of the city, which was formerly home to the Beguines, a group of religious women who lived in a community within the medieval historical buildings arranged around a central green which includes one of the oldest wooden house in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is one of those places where the city itself is entertaining with a strange mix of old and new. There are various museums dotted around the city but it is often nice to find a place near the canals and watch the world go by.

Many of the canals have narrow streets and picturesque buildings with plenty of independent shops, small art galleries, antiques shops and atmospheric bars and restaurants.

We had already been to the Anne Frank House on a previous trip, so we decided that we to explore some of the areas around Dam square. The square is dominated by the imposing Royal Palace, with the Nieuwe Kerk, National Monument to the Dutch killed in World War II, De Bijenkorf department store and Madame Tussauds close by.

Further on is the grand Beurs van Berlage which used to be the Stock Exchange but now is used for concerts and exhibitions. In the distance is the large Centraal Station which was built on three artificial islands and over 8,000 wooden piles.

We then had a slight detour into some of oldest parts of Amsterdam, Zeedijk was built-in the early 1300s and was part of Amsterdam’s original fortifications. Zeedijk is on the border of De Wallen, Amsterdam’s Red-light district which offers legal prostitution and numerous coffee shops that sell cannabis and other substances.

In a city with a wide range of cultural attractions, it is odd that this neighbourhood has become a famous attraction for tourists. Working on the idea that sex sells anywhere, sex workers offer their services from behind a window or glass door, often illuminated with red lights. Needless to say it is not the workers but the packed streets of gawpers that make it a less than pleasant experience and the area attracts more than its fair share of drug addicts, pickpockets and drunken groups of people.

When we arrived in Amsterdam, we noticed a large green building and being close by decided to investigate. The building is called NEMO and is Amsterdam’s science and technology centre, nearby is a large replica of a Dutch East India Company ship.

From here is was a short walk to the very modern Amsterdam Cruise Terminal and the ship. Sitting abroad and watching the lovely sunset and river traffic going by, it is worth noting that much of Amsterdam has been reclaimed from the sea and the relationship between the sea and Amsterdam is strong. From the Golden Age in the 17th century, Amsterdam has attracted significant numbers of visitors and is still a major attraction for visitors from around the world.

It is not the easiest city to get to know because of its many small areas and numerous attractions, but everytime you visit you tend to uncover different parts of the dynamic city. All in all it a vibrant city with always plenty going on, walking is the best way to explore but beware the cobbled streets and the thousands of bicycles.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here

The Old Fogies go to Olympia in Greece

 

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After the spectacular scenery of Santorini, we headed to the home of one of the world’s biggest sporting events. With blue skies and warm sunshine, we sat back and enjoyed our trip down the Greek coast to the small port of Katakolon or Katakolo.

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After departing the ship, we walked through a shopping parade with plenty of taxi drivers and bus companies offering to take you to Olympia. We had decided to take the local train but finding the station was not that easy because it is only has two small platforms and does not stand out from other buildings. There was a little kiosk where you buy your ticket which is a very reasonable 10 Euros for the return journey and waited for the train. There are generally three trains a day to Olympia and three trains back, so you do need to find out the timetables.

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Eventually the quite modern train arrived and we began our 45 minute ride to Olympia. One of the joys of train travel is that you sit back and look at the various landscapes. The train went through the quite large town of Pyrgos and then it was fields and countryside till we finally arrived at Olympia.

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From the station it is a short walk to the archaeological site and museums. You will see groups of people going onto the site but before you are allowed in, you must get a ticket from the wooden booking office. The tickets are a very reasonable 6 Euros which gives you admission to the archaeological site and museums.

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Olympia was a major religious sanctuary of ancient Greece, where the ancient Olympic Games were held every four years from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. The archaeological site is within a wide valley next to the small Alfeiós River.

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Despite the thousands of people, the setting is very peaceful with trees, woodland and hills in the distance. Before fully investigating the site, it is worth looking at the boards which show the buildings before they were ruins. On the site in its prime were over 70 major buildings, and ruins give some idea of the enormous scale of the temples and other important buildings.

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One of the biggest buildings was the Temple of Zeus which had a statue of Zeus that was the cult image in his temple, sculpted by Pheidias and considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately the statue is long gone but the size of the stones give some indication of its enormous size of the temple.

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The first Olympic festival took place in around 776 BC, but the site was continually redeveloped over the centuries. One of the most familiar parts of the site is the stadium which provided the template for all the other stadiums that followed.

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When you go through the vaulted archway into the stadium, you do get a sense of the history of the place. The large banked grass terraces would have been covered by thousands of people watching the action on the track.

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The stone starting line is still there and I offered to give Mrs Nice a race over the course. Instead she raced over to a stone where the victors used to stand and said she was the winner.

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We spent quite a lot of time in the stadium which is in a lovely setting before making our way out, just outside the stadium is a row of stones called the Bases of Zane which were statues of Zeus  paid by fines from athletes that had cheated. Somethings never change, we said as we thought how the modern games had fallen prey to doping and cheating.

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The boards in front of the ruins provided lots of interesting information about the buildings like the Philippeion, Temple of Hera, Palaestra, Metroon and Treasuries. However we thought it time to visit the museums before making our way back to the station.

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When we got to the museums, we were surprised to see long queues. We had visited Athens some years ago and visited many museums so was not too disappointed to get in. Instead we decided to wander back into the town and have a cup of coffee at one of the many cafes near the station.

As we sat down, we both suggested that unlike many tourist sites, Olympia was inexpensive and happy to let the visitors imagination do the work recreating some of the excitement of the ancient Olympic games.

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The train back to Katakolo was a little busier but we quickly got back to the port and had a look around the shops before go back on board.

Even from the ancient times, people realised that sport was better than going around killing each other and although the site is now in ruins, its ideals are still with us and stronger than ever.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here

The Old Fogies go to Santorini in Greece

 

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After the changeable weather, it was clear blue skies as we approached  Santorini. Therefore we saw the main island in all its glory with the white buildings of the main city, Fira perched high on the cliff.

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Looking around the spectacular landscape and the deep blue Aegean Sea, it was easy to understand why Santorini is ranked one of the world’s most beautiful islands by many magazines and travel journalists. One of the reasons for this appreciation of Santorini is the unique nature of the island. The main island is the remnant of a volcanic caldera which is when the land sinks below the water after a volcanic explosion.

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Santorini has been formed over centuries by volcanic activity, the island was the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history, the Minoan eruption occurred about 3,600 years ago and is said to have led to the collapse of the Minoan civilization. It is believed that this eruption is the source of the legend of Atlantis. More recently, a 1956 earthquake resulted in the demolition of many buildings in the north of Santorini.

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Cruise ships anchor off Skala Old Port near the volcanic landscape of Nea Kameni island and small boats bring people to the shore. There are number of ways to get to Fira, you can use the cable car, walk up the steep winding path or sit on a donkey up the path.

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We decided to take the easy option and boarded the cable car and enjoyed the short ride up the side of the cliff. Over 2 million tourists visit Santorini annually and the main town of Fira is full of restaurants, cafes and shops. We decided to get away from the main tourist areas and explore some of the narrow alleyways.

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Rising above the city gives some dramatic views over the Aegean Sea and you enjoy the remarkable architectural landscape with lots of whitewashed houses with the blue domes of churches dotted here and there.

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In contrast to the ridiculously picturesque front of the island, when you look at the plains beyond the cliff, it is quite ordinary with lots of fields that slope downwards the beaches on the other side of the island. The beaches are unusual with different coloured sand, you can visit the Red Beach, the Black Beach and the White Beach. Another place to visit if you have more time is the Akrotíri archaeological site.

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In the bright sunshine, we were content to wander around the city and sit in the local park and watch the world go by. Near the main church we were treated to the scene of donkeys being used as pack animals bringing materials for building works.

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We visited a small cafe with amazing views to enjoy a coffee, although Santorini has limited water resources they do have a small wine industry and because of the unique growing conditions produce some highly prized vegetables like cherry tomatoes.

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After a lovely relaxing day, it was time to take the long winding path down to the port. I had told Mrs Nice to wear her walking shoes but she decided to go for comfort.

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Walking down the rough gravelly path, I was grateful for my walking boots and said to Mrs Nice that she should have listened to my advice. At that very moment, I slipped on donkey droppings and was only saved by Mrs Nice holding my arm. Just at that moment a team of donkeys made their way down the path. A colourful local character riding a donkey rode past and said ‘Do you need a donkey’. I smiled and said ‘No, thank you, I have already got one’ pointing at Mrs Nice. He did not get the joke and neither did Mrs Nice who remarked (I should have let you fall).

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Back on the boat, we sat down and enjoyed a drink whilst watching the sunset over the cliffs of Santorini. The remarkable colours of the cliffs and the settlements of Firá, Oia, Imerovígli and Firostefáni created a beautiful scene, but the volcanic island of Nea Kameni was a reminder of some of the dangers of living in this area.

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Santorini is definitely a one-off and in recent times has became very popular with those looking for wonderful photography opportunities. Anyone visiting is unlikely to be disappointed but Santorini like many destinations is faced with how to balance tourism whilst maintaining its unique character.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here