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The Old Fogies go to Oslo in Norway

The last destination on our short Norwegian cruise was Oslo which is the capital and most populous city in Norway. We had visited Oslo about 15 years ago for a few days and was interested in how the city had changed.

When the ship docked near to the city, we had our first look at the distinctive Norwegian Opera and Ballet House that sat like a glacier at the beginning of the city centre. Its unusual design allows visitors to walk all over the building and many could be seen to walk over the roof.

Our impressions of Oslo all those years ago was an attractive compact city with plenty of attractions and as we made our way to near the Central Station we could see that despite the new buildings on the waterfront, little had changed. One of the highlights of our last visit was going to visit Frogner Park or known locally as Vigeland Park which has a remarkable large collection of sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Another highlight was to go to Bygdøy which is a green peninsula which is the location of a number of interesting museums like the Fram Museum, Viking Ship Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum.

Oslo is one of the most attractive cities in Europe being at the northern end of the Oslofjord and surrounded by green hills and mountains. There are 40 islands within the city limits and numerous lakes.

Its attractive setting has attracted human habitation for centuries dating back to 1000 AD, Oslo has been regarded as the capital city since the reign of Haakon V of Norway (1299–1319), the first king to live permanently in the city. In the following centuries it suffered from a number of fires that destroyed the city. In 1624, Christian IV of Denmark and Norway ordered the city to be rebuilt near Akershus Castle and be given the name Christiania. In 1877 the city was renamed Kristiania. The original name of Oslo was restored in 1925.

Many of the major landmarks were built in the 19th century, including the Royal Palace (1825–1848), Storting building (the Parliament) (1861–1866), the University, National Theatre and the Stock Exchange. In 1850, Christiania overtook Bergen and became the most populous city in the country. For a long time, Oslo and Norway was considered one of the poorer countries in Northern Europe and many Norwegians emigrated to the United States. However in the 20th century the benefits of oil and maritime developments have led Oslo being an important centre of maritime business with nearly 2000 companies and 8,500 employees within the maritime sector.

This has led to Oslo becoming one of the most expensive cities in the world and any visitor should be aware that a visit to a local bar, restaurant or coffee shop are likely to be very expensive. Even the museums and art galleries are relatively expensive, although you do find the odd one free to enter.

Last time we visited was in the summer, this time the temperature was -4 and chilly, so it was a brisk walk that took us to near the Central Station and into the city centre. Many cities have bicycles to hire, but Oslo seems to have gone more for electric scooters that you can find all over the place.

Sooner or later, visitors to Oslo will come across Karl Johans Gate which is a long road leading from the centre up to the Royal Palace. The sharp incline takes you past Oslo cathedral with its remarkable ceiling, the grand Storting building (the Parliament) and large University building. Up in the distance is the Royal Palace standing at the top of a hill.

Walking up the hill, we noticed the flags on the side of the road which indicated a royal visit and was reminded that on our last visit there was also a royal visit by King Jaun Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain. Unlike Britain who love their pageantry, Norway has a more low key approach, in fact when the King of Norway welcomed their Spanish counterparts outside the palace, there was one man and his dog and us two who clapped and waved. The royal entourage probably taking us for locals waved to us and we rather timidly waved again.

The yellow Royal Palace is in a lovely setting in the middle of a park with great views of Oslo and its surroundings, the occasional guardsmen marched up and down probably to keep warm. The winter sun made it all a wonderful scene but we both thought it was time for a warm coffee.

From the palace it is a short walk to the red bricked City Hall and the Nobel Peace Centre that was being prepared for its Nobel prize ceremony in December.

Outside the centre in the small park, we were showered with white pieces of fluff, originally we thought it was snowing but closer inspection revealed it was like filler for something. People walking past would often start coughing if they swallowed some of this material, so we decided to look around the boats in the small jetties near the Aker Brygge area. At the end of the this area was the roof that looked like sails of the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art.

From this point you could look across the water to the museums on Bygdøy and the imposing Akerhus Fortress, whilst we enjoyed these views we noticed that with the setting sun, the temperatures were dropping even further and it was time to have a hot drink and something to eat.

Oslo is a fascinating mix of old and new, unlike many other Norwegian towns there are not the large numbers of wooden buildings but more solid 19th century buildings and the new landmark buildings like the Opera House. Other than these new buildings, Oslo had changed very little from our previous visit and is a great place to visit for a short or longer stay. Its compact size means that it is easy to get about, although there is a comprehensive transport system if you want to travel further afield.

We both agreed that it had been nice to be reacquainted with Oslo, its just a shame it is so expensive !

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 Kristiansand in Norway

After an enjoyable visit to Stavanger, we carried on around the Norwegian south coast to the city of Kristiansand which is the fifth largest city in Norway. Unlike many Norwegian cities, Kristiansand attracts a large number of tourists throughout the year and especially in the summer season, part of the reason for this is the nearby Kristiansand Zoo and Amusement park which is the largest zoo in Norway.

The Kristiansand area has been inhabited since prehistoric times and archaeological excavations have confirmed a number of settlements in the area. In the 14th and 15th centuries, there developed a busy port and gradually a development was created and fortified.

Christian IV who created a number of towns, formally gave the town the title of Christianssand in 1641, strangely the town was laid out in Renaissance style on a grid plan and merchants were encouraged to move in and create a trading port. The town suffered a devastating fire in 1734 but later became a major shipbuilding area. The town suffered other major fires in the late 19th century and was attacked by German naval forces and the Luftwaffe in 1940. Since the 1990s, the city has benefitted from the North Sea oil boom and there was a development of enterprises for marine,offshore equipment and drilling.

Modern Kristiansand is a remarkably compact but quite diverse city with a number of attractions, the cruise terminal is close to the city but shuttle buses take visitors the short distance from the port to a spot near the fish market. Along the promenade are a series of statues and other features with signs to the city centre. One of the statues is by Gustave Vigeland who is one of the most famous Norwegian sculptors.

We decided to make our way to Kristiansand Cathedral which is the largest church in Kristiansand with a capacity of 1500 people. It is located in towards the centre next to the town hall and a small park.

The cathedral was built in 1885 and inside is a mixture of simplicity and ornate wooden carvings, near the altar is a large organ and we were told that there would be a free organ recital in the afternoon. Mrs Nice was wandering around the building before we both sat and enjoyed the calm and peaceful atmosphere till the organist decided to practice a little with loud rendition of a Norwegian folk tune.

Much of the city centre is shops, restaurants and bars, unlike the rest of Europe, many of the shops are independent and not part of large global brands. However this does not mean that the prices are cheaper, Norwegian prices are not for the faint hearted and even sale prices are often way above what you would find anywhere else.

After walking around the shops we thought we would make our way to Baneheia which is a park with woods near the city, it was not a long walk but when we got there we were faced with a steep walk to get us into the area. We decided to leave the hill climbing till later and instead visit the Posebyen district.

Posebyen is the old part of the town and has a large collection of wooden buildings. These wooden buildings are always interesting and are very common all over Norway but seldom seen anywhere else. There was a downside to these buildings of course with fires that often devastated the town.

At the rear of the Posebyen district is the riverside area along the River Otra, this is mostly residential with plenty of boats in the river, our progress was halted by a fleet of Segway rides who quietly made their way down the path.

We sit on the riverfront and were surprised by how quiet the area was, coming from London we are faced with constant noise which you get used to but here we were in a small city and hardly a sound which was a bit unnerving to be honest.

When you turn around the corner from the river, you come across one of the major surprises of the city, Bystranda is known as the city beach although it is small and compact it is a favourite area for locals and visitors.

Near the beach is the swimming complex Aquarama with outdoor and indoors pool. Aquarama is next door to the hotel Scandic Hotel Bystranda, which is Southern Norway’s largest hotel. Some of Kristiansand’s most expensive apartments are along this stretch overlooking amenities like beach volleyball, playgrounds, skatepark and stairs to the water. Although Norway is not the first country you think about for beach culture, Kristiansand makes the most of its slightly warmer climate provided by the Gulf Stream.

Along the beach front is the Christiansholm Fortress, built between 1662 and 1672, it was designed to keep watch over the Skagerrak Straits.

On the way back to the ship we went into the Fish Market or Fiskebrygga, this was where the fish were landed in years gone by and was redeveloped in the 1990s and now has wood-fronted buildings housing restaurants and shops including the fish market.

Kristiansand is a small city full of surprises and delights, although compact it offers a remarkable range of attractions from a beach to woods, parks, museums, interesting architecture, bars restaurants and lots more.

If we had more time we would have explored further afield but even a short stay provided enough evidence of a vibrant and dynamic small city amongst the stunning southern Norway coastal landscape.

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 Stavanger in Norway

The city of Stavanger is located on the Stavanger Peninsula in Southwest Norway, unlike much of Northern Norway, the coastal landscape is quite low lying with plenty of interesting inlets, five lakes (including Breiavatnet, Stora Stokkavatnet, and Mosvatnet) and three fjords (Hafrsfjorden, Byfjorden, and Gandsfjorden). The city includes many islands off the coast including: Bjørnøy, Buøy, Engøy, Grasholmen, Hellesøy, Hundvåg, Kalvøy, Lindøy, Sølyst, Vassøy and part of the island of Åmøy.

Stavanger is the third largest city and metropolitan area in Norway and fourth largest by population. There has been human settlement for at least 10,000 years ago, but the city grew as a trading and military centre in the 9th and 10th centuries. Stavanger grew into an important centre of church administration with the construction of Stavanger Cathedral which was finished around 1125, and the city of Stavanger counts 1125 as its year of foundation.

Over the centuries, Stavanger was known for its herring fisheries, shipping, shipbuilding and fish canning industry. In the late 1960s, oil was first discovered in the North Sea and Stavanger became the centre for the oil industry on the Norwegian sector of the North Sea.

Cruise ships tend to dock in the main harbour and it is a short walk into the main city centre. From the ship it is easy to see the large number of  18th- and 19th-century wooden houses that are an important part of the city’s cultural heritage. From the city centre, there are a series of bridges that take traffic onto the various islands and beyond onto the Norwegian mainland.

Walking along the side of the harbour, we were interested by the sight of a Dutch patrol vessel and submarine lying across the water. Part of the attraction of smallish Norwegian cities is that are often located in wonderful scenery and Stavanger is attractive in many ways.

At the end of the harbour is a plaza on the hill is Stavanger cathedral which dominates the skyline, Mrs Nice is particularly fond of churches and cathedrals and we made our way to the front door.

Stavanger is one of Norway’s oldest cities and the Cathedral is a reminder of how the church transformed the traditional Viking Norse society from its old beliefs. Although the Cathedral has been reconstructed many times, it has been the focus of the city that developed over the centuries and Stavanger reputation was built as a church city and a education base throughout the Middle Ages.

Near the Cathedral is the Breiavatnet lake with plenty of birdlife and a pleasant place to sit and watch the world go by, in one corner of the lake is a romantic location with a tree full of red hearts. Although we were not sure what the point of the hearts were, they created a lovely effect.

Walking along the harbour we came across the Valberg Tower which is watchtower and museum perched on a hill, it was quickly being filled by schoolchildren so we decided to press on around a small peninsula.

We found ourselves at the Norwegian Petroleum Museum and a large ecopark made out of a number of bits and pieces used in the oil industry. The brightly coloured park was very unusual and full of strange attractions like a large number of red rubber balls and numerous pipes.

Nearby was a shopping full of independent shops, the area near Ovre Holmgate had bright multicoloured shops which brightened up the greying skies. To anyone new to Norway, there are plenty of interesting shops but the prices tend to take you by surprise. Many Norwegian places like Stavanger feature on the most expensive cities in the world lists.

Stavanger is a popular tourist destination, especially in summer and you can see why, there are several parks and green spaces in the city and beyond. Stavanger is also a popular base for tours to Lysefjorden which is particularly popular for hiking and Instagram favourite Preikestolen (the Pulpit Rock) which is and a massive rock overhanging the fjord.

It is only in recent years that Stavanger has also become a popular port of call for cruise ships, each year over 100 cruise ships visit Stavanger with over 175,000 passengers.

One of the positives of cruising is that you will visit places that you would probably overlook if travelling by other modes of transport. Stavanger is unlikely to be on many people’s bucket list but the reality is that the city is attractive, interesting, full of history and not overly dependent on tourism which usually means that the locals are friendly and happy to have a chat. Norway because of its high costs is difficult to travel around on a budget, but a cruise reduces cost considerably and allows you more money to buy those well made but expensive Norwegian gifts.

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 Cruising to Southern Norway

In an age of instant holiday photographs of wild and wonderful places, it is worth reminding people that travelling is not always instant gratification and issues can happen. Whilst we have travelled extensively for over 20 years with relatively few problems, this year has been a challenge for a number of reasons. Although the year started off well with a round Britain cruise, things went downhill from there. First of all our Baltic cruise was cancelled at the last minute due to the ship having problems, then there was a mix up at the hotel when we took our granddaughters to Windsor and the worst blow was when we had to cancel our trip to China because I had developed a severe ear infection.

Against this less than favourable background we decided to take a late short cruise to Southern Norway, what could go wrong !!!

This short six day cruise was our chance to finish off our travels on the Norwegian coast, last year we had visited the more northern cities on the Norwegian coast and into Russia. Cruising is a great way to visit Norway because many of the cities are on the coast and it represents more value for money than taking the more expensive options like flying. Norway is one of the most expensive places to visit, probably in the world and it is not just transport and accommodation but the high cost of food and drink.

We knew the weather would be quite cold but was not too concerned as long as it was not raining. It could not be much worse weather than in the UK just before the cruise which suffered from floods and high winds.

Looking forward to the cruise, we began to make plans for what we would do in Norway when a text from the cruise company bought us back to earth. It said that the cruise ship was stuck in Antwerp and we would not be able to sail until six hours later than planned. Beginning to think we had somehow offended the travel gods and were cursed, we looked at each other and smiled, “well at least it is not cancelled,” said Mrs Nice.

With some trepidation we made our way to Tilbury and went to a rather crowded cruise terminal, as we made our way to the various sections we found ourselves in a queue and within 30 minutes we were free from the crowded terminal, on the boat and enjoying a drink and something to eat. Ah, perhaps our luck was changing we thought as we settled down to for the cruise up the North Sea to our first port of call that was to have been Oslo but had now been changed to Stavanger. We were quite happy with this change because we would have more time in the Norwegian capital.

The first day of the cruise was at sea and was an opportunity to relax, have a look around the ship and watch the world go by. The North Sea is one of the busiest stretches of water in the world, so there were no shortages of ships to see. The North Sea is also well known for the large wind turbines that great a rather surreal sight as they whirr around, out in the distance you can see oil platforms which are an important part of Norway’s prosperity.

At the end of a relaxing and uneventful day, we made our way to bed, just as we were ready to settle down it was noticeable the ship was rocking a bit more and the captain made the announcement of the possibility of rough seas ahead with the chance of Force 8 gales. I must mention here that we have sailed in relatively rough seas before and both of us do not suffer from seasickness or associated problems. Another factor was that we had an inside cabin which means you are not exposed to the crashes of the water on the side of the ship.

Despite these reassuring factors, the ship began to rock and roll more and more, lying on our beds we tried to get to sleep but were often awakened by a loud crash. This was an indication that this was a particularly bad storm and although we drifted in and out of sleep, we both suffered a disturbed night. As is often the case after a storm, the following morning was bright and sunny and the ship was serenely making its way to the Norwegian coast. As we ate our breakfast, we noticed many of our fellow passengers were sleepy eyed and tired due to lack of sleep. The main topic of conversation was the storm and even the more seasoned cruise travellers has said it was one of the worst they had experienced. The captain confirmed the serious nature of the storm by indicating it reached a level of Force 10 with 25 feet waves.

With some relief we made our way to the Norwegian port of Stavanger and were happy to get our feet on terra firma and enjoy the delights of this small Norwegian city.

Stavanger is one of the large cities and has an interesting history as a trading and military centre in the 9th and 10th centuries and Stavanger grew into an important centre of church administration with the construction of Stavanger Cathedral which was finished around 1125. Over the centuries, Stavanger was known for its herring fisheries, shipping, shipbuilding and fish canning industry. In the late 1960s, oil was first discovered in the North Sea and Stavanger became the centre for the oil industry on the Norwegian sector of the North Sea.

The ship docked in the main harbour near to a large number of 18th- and 19th-century wooden houses, From the city centre, there are a series of bridges that take traffic onto the various islands and beyond.

Like many Norwegian cities, Stavander is located in wonderful scenery, at the end of the harbour is a plaza on the hill is Stavanger cathedral which dominates the skyline. This is also common in Norway that the city or town was built up around the church or cathedral.

Stavanger is one of Norway’s oldest cities but is an interesting mixture of old and new with brightly coloured wooden buildings and new buildings like the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. A very unusual sight in the harbour was a Dutch patrol vessel and submarine.

Stavanger is a popular tourist destination, especially in summer with plenty of parks and green spaces in the city and beyond. Stavanger is a popular base for tours to Lysefjorden and the Preikestolen (the Pulpit Rock) which is a massive rock overhanging the fjord.

After an enjoyable visit to Stavanger, we carried on around the Norwegian south coast to the city of Kristiansand which is the fifth largest city in Norway. Unlike many Norwegian cities, Kristiansand attracts a large number of tourists throughout the year and especially in the summer season.

Christian IV who created a number of towns, formally gave the town the title of Christianssand in 1641, strangely the town was laid out in Renaissance style on a grid plan and it offers an unusual experience because modern Kristiansand is compact but quite diverse city with a number of attractions. Some of the highlights are Kristiansand Cathedral, shops, restaurants and bars in the city centre, the woods of Baneheia, Posebyen is the old part of the town and has a large collection of wooden buildings.

The riverside area along the River Otra has plenty of boats in the river and Bystranda which is known as the city beach. Along the beach front is the Christiansholm Fortress and finally the attractive Fish Market or Fiskebrygga.

The last destination on our short Norwegin cruise was Oslo which is Oslo which is the capital and most populous city in Norway. We had visited Oslo about 15 years ago for a few days and were interested in how the city had changed.

Highlights of Oslo include the distinctive Norwegian Opera and Ballet House, Vigeland Park which has a remarkable large collection of sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Bygdøy which is a green peninsula which is the location of a number of interesting museums like the Fram Museum, Viking Ship Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum.

Major landmarks include the Royal Palace, Storting building (the Parliament) , the University, National Theatre, Stock Exchange and the Nobel Centre.

Oslo is one of the most attractive cities in Europe being at the northern end of the Oslofjord and surrounded by green hills and mountains. There are 40 islands within the city limits and numerous lakes.

After three enjoyable days exploring the delights of Southern Norway, it was time to make the long journey down the North Sea to the United Kingdom. Thankfully this was without incident with mostly clear skies and calm seas.

When we arrived home, we both agreed it had been an interesting and enjoyable cruise but we were looking forward to a more trouble free 2020 as regards to travelling. Issues when travelling is part and parcel of the experience and part of the learning process but it is very unusual to have a series of issues one after another. Nevertheless, the Old Fogies move onwards and look forward to further adventures in 2020.

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 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

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