Visiting Vence, France
Jul 3, 2007
Vence, in Provence, is just far enough away from the coast to be comfortable. It's perhaps an hour by car north of Antibes and Cannes, a little bit nearer to Nice.
The old town is surrounded by its ancient walls and there are gates through which to enter the more or less traffic free zone. It's a charming, olde worlde, quaint and very lively town with lots of small shops and many local traders. Lively, is the word for Vence.
To the north, the Col de Vence beckons. And a walk up there is a walk into what I imagine heaven must be like. As we strolled through the gorse and the butterflies I was assailed on all sides by the the scent of lovely flowers which grow there in abundance. After all, this is not so surprising since we are not far from the town of Grasse, the capital of the French perfume industry. Up there on those hills we were checked-out by 3 dogs on patrol, a warning notice told us to expect them; one was a Pyrenean mountain dog, the others a beagle and a terrier. They were friendly enough but when we approached they quickly ran off, barking to warn the farmer of our presence.
From our rooftop terrace in Vence we had a wonderful view of the coast, including the infamous sunny place for shady people, and when we visited there we drew the attention of a suspicious guard who rudely informed us that we were on private property although we were proceeding on the public road and had merely stopped to consult our map. Such is the fear and angst which follows the life of the ordinary Riviera billionaire.
Visiting Ostrava & The Ash Mountains, Czech Republic
May 15, 2007
Ostrava, a 350,000 population city is a down-at-heel mining town in Northern Moravia near to the Polish border. The scars left by Nazism and Communism still show. One saving grace is the fine Theater named after Dvorak; he was incidentally the composer of the New World Symphony which became famous as the first piece of music to be played on the moon.
There is a reasonable hotel on the outskirts of the metropolis and it is the 4-star Hotel Atom, where British PM John Major once stayed, and which is where we stayed for 3 nights; all 25 of us and our bus driver.
Visiting Ostrava I recalled a 1960s poem about the City of Leeds by Irish Poet Christie Brown who observed that Leeds was "between standing up and falling down". It rather captures the Ostrava mood.
One excursion worth mentioning was the visit to the not too distant birthplace of Sigmund Freud. Oustide the front door of the old Freud residence I relaxed on a bronze full-size psychiatrist's couch complete with the Freudian quip - sit down and think, stand up and act - inscribed along its base.
The Ash Mountains Region (a 13th century gold rush attracted the first settlers) is only a little over an hour or so's journey to the west of Ostrava. And so we went to look. And there, an abundance of pure nature; cool fresh air, greenery, wild flowers, sparkling brooks and rivers, quiet lanes, walking trails and so on, all situated amid the pleasant mountain scenery rising gently to 1,300 mtrs was just the tonic! I may well return.
Visiting Bad Ischl, Austria
May 6, 2007
The small town of Bad Ischl is situated in the Austrian Lake District, the Salzkammergut, and is about an hour by bus from Salzburg. There is no lake at Bad Ischl itself but there are several within easy reach by road and rail, mountain bike or on foot. Ischl is an historical town for it's here that Kaiser Franz Joseph signed his famous 'letter to my people' which kicked off the sequence of treaties and alliances that led to the Great War. You can see the actual letter on the Emperor's desk if you take a guided tour through his summer residence a short gallop from the villa of Frau Schratt and Austrian actress with whom he was romantically 'involved'.
Many notable personages used to holiday in Bad Ischl in the glorious days of old - Alfred Nobel and Johannes Brahms being two of the most famous, apart from the Austrian Kaiser of course. A couple of nearby spots worth exploring are Lake Wolfgangsee, made famous by the song of the White Horse Inn, and Lake Halstattersee one of the most scenic spots in all Austria, flanked by the Dachstein Massif.
As the name implies Bad Ischl is the site of a thermal bath and in winter you can swim outside in a steaming pool and admire the snow all around.
Visiting Venezia, Italia
Apr 23, 2007
Venice is a precious gem and it's always great to be there even if it is expensive and impossible to get a decent meal. It stinks a little, it's mostly very crumbly and pink above water, and there's a lot of rubbish lying around. All a little bit like me really.
No cars is really great!
We had a great week and even went to the Lido where Mrs. LL put her toes into the waves. On the cultur front we attended two rather expensive but enjoyable performances, The Barber of Seville and La Traviata, both held in a private Palazzo. There was nothing on at the Fenice while we were there.
Another highlight was a performance by an English Girls School (from somewhere in Derbyshire) at the English Church in Venice. It was a charity event to raise money for some reconstruction work that's going on there. The scaffolding is up anyway. The roof has been done. Now they're on with the walls.
Is Venice sinking? Well, cracks are certainly appearing! Crumbling into the lagoon more than going under I'd say. She may finally sink slowly and painfully, rather like an old lady going to bed.
Visiting Lancashire, England
Apr 2, 2007
Landing at John Lennon International Airport I soon discovered that the minimum charge for a public phone call is quite exhorbitant. This is justified on the basis that you can talk for 12 minutes. Well, I only wanted to say: "Hi bro', I'm here, drive round to the front door and pick me up" and hear him reply, "I'm on the way!" About 5 seconds worth of chat. My only other gripe was that the handle of my suitcase was broken - "Well, you've to expect that," my helpful air-hostess told me, "it happens to us as well."
Highlights of this flying visit, apart from family matters, were a trip to Chipping and a walk on Longridge Fell in good company (the most southerly fell in the British Isles) and pie n' peas in one of Chipping's timeless hostelries. The second high point was a vist to Barley and a training run on Pendle Hill 'with the lads (and one lass)' followed by another pie n' pea infusion and a pint or two of Blonde Witch, a real ale. Broomsticks away and I was soon downing various amber concoctions to quench my thirst after all my exertions.
It was all too short and much too soon I was on my way back to the land of the Mozart 'Kugel' (that's a Mozart ball made from a rich and sickly chocolate). My 9 days trip had flown by like a weekend. The weather was amazingly good and the folks were amazingly Northern - the very best of British in fact. Can't wait to do it again.
Visiting Piran, Slowenija
Mar 12, 2007
Piran is an original Venetian town that has after various historical episodes finally ended up in Slowenija. It's an attractive, narrow alleyed, fishing port situated on a small peninsula about 50 kms south of the Italian city of Triest, or Trst as the Slowenians call it.
Entrance to Piran is through a barrier where a car-parking ticket is obtained. Payment is on exiting by the same route. There is only one road in and out of Piran. A free bus service operates from the barrier into the town centre.
We stayed, out of season, at the 4-star Hotel Piran www.hoteli-piran.si which is alongside the promenade and has rooms with seaview at extra cost. It can get noisy during the night as we discovered, and we were awakened several times by barking dogs and people conversing in loud voices below our window. The promenade is a popular meeting place for locals - at all hours!
In the evenings we visited several local fish restaurants and the best we found was Trattoria Verdi at Verdijeva 18, a short stroll from the hotel. It was reasonably priced and the quality was high and the proprietors were more than friendly.
From Piran it's a short drive into Croatia and Italy but there is a walking map available with 10 walks highlighted in and around the Piran area which take in the variety of scenery on offer, ranging from the saltings in the estuary, to the olive groves, to the wine route, and along the coast. An old city wall protects the town and one can walk its length and ascend the towers for a memorable view.
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