Monday – Thursday, 1-4 August 2016 – Days 47 – 50 – Travelling Home from Porto/Lisbon via Heathrow, Singapore, Sydney to Canberra

Monday – Thursday, 1-4 August, 2016 – Days 47 – 50 – Travelling Home from Porto/Lisbon via Heathrow, Singapore, Sydney to Canberra 

Monday, 1 August 2016 – Day 47 – Porto to Lisbon and London

After breakfast, I caught a taxi from the Lusitana Hotel to the Porto Airport for my flight on TP1927 leaving at 9.30 arriving in Lisbon at 10.30.  I just stayed at the airport until it was time for me to get my flight from Lisbon to Luton, United Kingdom that departed at 3.50. It was a smooth flight and arrived at Luton Airport at about 6.30.

While I was waiting to collect my luggage, was talking to a woman who lived in London and said it was better to catch a train into St. Pancreas Station and she would help me with my luggage and transport arrangements. It was raining while we waited for a train but managed to get on before getting too wet. While we were on the train, the woman whose name escapes me, decided to have a drink that she had got duty free. Was a bit embarrassing, as her language was not the best. We eventually got to St Pancreas Station after about an hour and a half on the train. St Pancreas Station was quite deserted but there was a coffee shop open so went there for a coffee. By this time, the woman is getting quite loud and when I came back from the cloak room, she had been escorted away by some policemen. I believe the coffee shop people must have called the police as they were ready to close. Well, I had no idea how far my hotel was and it was getting quite late and no one else around the area so I found my way out and eventually got a taxi to my hotel.

It was very late when I finally arrived at the London Heathrow Airport Ibis as was quite a distance. Very exhausting day. Fell into bed.

Tuesday – Thursday, 2 – 4 August, 2016 – Days 48 – 50 -London, Singapore, Singapore, Sydney to Canberra 

On Tuesday, 2 August 2016  (Day 48) I booked out of the Ibis at 7.00 and caught the shuttle car to the nearby Heathrow Airport and went to book my case in only to be told my flight was not this morning but tonight. Imagine how I felt. Decided to go back to the hotel and they kindly let me back into my room until 2.00.  I was glad of some sleep as was very tired. After booking out once more, I went back to the Airport but it was a long wait until I was able to book in. Spent the time at the airport doing a lot of “people watching”, talking to different passengers, eating and some coffee.

The T5 Gallery is a unique cultural space within the Heathrow airport. The gallery is one of the few permanent commercial fine art galleries in the world to be situated in an airport and is in an ideal position to reach and introduce art to a wide international audience.  I spent quite a lot of time in the gallery admiring the magnificent sculptures. One of the artist who had her work on display was Marie Boyle who comes from Dublin, Ireland but has spent the last 24 years working in England.

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It was finally time for me to go through Security and board my BA15 flight that took off at 9.45pm. This is the dreaded long haul – 13 hours 5 minutes!  After having the meal, I settled down and was able to get some sleep.  We arrived in Singapore – now 3 August due to the different time zone – at about 5.40pm.  There was only a short layover in Singapore.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016 – Day 49 – In flight to Sydney 

Back on BA15 that left Singapore at 7.20pm – Another 7 hr 45 minutes in the air. Was a smooth flight and arrived in Sydney about 5.05am.

Thursday, 4 August 2016 – Day 50 – Sydney to Canberra – Home

I had to collect my luggage and go through Customs before boarding the shuttle bus from International to Domestic terminal. I boarded QF1526 at 9.50a.m for Canberra but we were delayed. Finally took off at 10.45 and arrived in Canberra at 11.30am. Rob was there to collect me. Was terrific to see him. We collected my luggage and drove me home.

Lucky enough to have had another wonderful trip abroad. I was very fortunate with the weather and only had a little bit of rain while in England – typical I guess.

Is hard to say what one highlight of my trip is as saw so many wonderful sights in the countries I visited – England, Wales, Malta, Sicily (Italy) and Portugal.

While in England and Wales, caught up from past year’s meetings overseas, with dear Lucy, David, Louise, and Vanessa and also met her hubby, Neil and two of the sons, Tom and Will – Cynthia, and this time met her husband Mark and two children, Grace and Ally. Received great hospitality from Warren, Emily and Anthony while I stayed with them. Met up with Carson in Cardiff and had a long but enjoyable day.  Also had a nice day with Niamh and met her now fiancee Alan.  While in Malta, met David and Maddie from England.  It was great catching up with Terrie and Mark   – met them in 2013 at the Taj Mahal in India – while in Cascais, Portugal.  Thankyou to all who showed me such nice hospitality. It has been great keeping in touch with you since we first met and to new friends. Stay in touch in the future.

The four countries I visited were very diverse – England and Wales so very green, Malta very hot and dry and Portugal very mountainous and weather very warm.

I thoroughly enjoyed the tours I took and the several boat rides and visiting the wineries were excellent. I visited and saw lots of beautiful churches and castles – the architecture in all the countries are just magnificent and when you think how long ago some of these buildings were built is just amazing. Although I only had a very long day’s trip from Malta to Sicily it was worth it – visiting Taormina and Mt Etna was certainly high on the list and being able to visit Fatima was so different – a very calming atmosphere.

I give thanks to the many tour guides for their safe driving.  A huge thanks to the several pilots who flew me to and from the different destinations and anyone else who drove me places.

Now this trip has ended – once more a wonderful time and feel very fortunate that I was able to do it.  So now it is back to reality and hopefully do some more travelling in the future.

END OF MY FANTASTIC OVERSEAS TRIP IN 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 31 July 2016 – Day 46 – Tour to Braga and Guimaraes, North of Porto

Sunday, 31 July 2016 – Day 46 – Tour to Braga and Guimaraes –  North of Porto

After breakfast, I was picked up by Daniel, who was to be our guide for today. There were three others on this tour, Mark from Philippines and two French ladies (sorry didn’t catch their names as English was limited). We set off for Braga – one of the oldest Portuguese cities and one of the oldest Christian cities in the world.  This does mean that the majority of the attractions are of a religious nature. Braga is a city filled with many ornate churches and beautiful baroque architecture. Of course we did not visit or see many of them but we did visit/saw the major sights.

Braga, the capital of the Minho region, is considered the third most important Portuguese city. Internationally famous as a popular tourist destination, Braga attracts visitors for its monuments.  Probably the main religious centre in the country, Braga is known for its baroque churches, magnificent 18th century houses, elaborate gardens, cuisine and the animated social and cultural life and squares. Braga is an ancient city that has been the religious centre of Portugal since 1070 when founded  in the Roman era as “Bracara Augusta” as the name indicates, founded by Augustus.

Braga was Portugal’s first city; when Portugal was founded there was only one city on the whole of its territory and that was Braga. The remains of ancient settlements in Braga are thousands of years old and are proven to date back to the Bronze Age. At the end of the 20th Century, Braga undertook great development and became the third city of the country, a status that it still holds today. 

There is so much history around this area and I will not even endeavour to try and condense it down for fear of putting the wrong information here – I am afraid I am not a historian.

As I mentioned in my previous writings, I found it difficult to try and listen to the interesting facts given by our guides – very knowledgeable folk – take in the beautiful scenery and take photos.

 Our first stop in Braga was Nossa Senhora do Sameiro Imaculada Conceigas (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sameiro). Construction was commenced on 14 July 1863 on the domed church. There is a picture of Our Lady of Sameiro in the main altar of the Sanctuary. The sculpture was carved in Rome and was blessed by Pope Pius IX. It holds a beautiful and valuable crown weighing 2.5 kilograms of solid bright gold.  .

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Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sameiro

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Our next stop was Bom Jesus do Monte, The church is 7km from the centre of Braga.  Bom Jesus do Monte is a Portuguese sanctuary in Tenões, outside the city of Braga, in northern Portugal. Its name means Good Jesus of the Mount.

We saw the Bom Jesus hydraulic funicular – the oldest one in the world moving by water counterbalancing  built in 1882. The funicular track  is 274 metres (899 ft) long and descends 116 metres (381 ft). down the long zigzag pattern stairway so as to enjoy both ways to get to the top.

Bom Jesú S Do Monte: #17045

The Sanctuary started being built in 1722 – the site offers tranquility, beautiful architecture and panoramic views out across the city of Braga and to the beaches of  Viana do Castelo and Esposende.

 

View to city of Braga

View to city of Braga

We had time to take in the beautiful view before going down the 600 odd steps – vertical drop of 116 metres and divided into three sections.

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A leisurely walk down the 600 steps

At the bottom of the steps is the statue of Longuinhos

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Statue of Longuinhos – man on horse

The most impressive church is the Sé Cathedral of Braga, which has several styles, from Roman to Baroque. The Se, the oldest cathedral in Portugal.

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It was the Bishop D Pedro (1070-1093) who initiated the construction of the current building of the Braga Cathedral. It features two towers on the facade. The iron gate dates back to the 15th Century.  When we entered the Cathedral, there was a baptism taking place. We heard about the list of Archbishops buried in the Cathedral and the last Archbishop to be buried here was Eurico Dias Nogueira, who was born on 6 March 1923 and died on 19 May 2014 at the age of 91 years.

Before moving on, Daniel told us the story of the Rooster of Portugal as Barcelos is about 16kms west of where we were in Braga. 

The Barcelos Rooster is considered to be the unofficial symbol of Portugal. You can find this emblem in many forms in every local shop and especially gift shops. This national symbol is mostly found in its typical ceramic form as well as embroidered on towels and aprons. Other souvenirs include key-chains, paperweights and other popular tourism gifts. The Barcelos Rooster is always vividly coloured, and is said to be the embodiment of the famous Portuguese love of life.

The legend takes place in 15th century Barcelos. Its citizens had become upset by an unsolved crime that was so terrible that it had the citizens in an alarming state. An impoverished pilgrim had been passing through Barcelos, which was a neighbouring city to his in order to fulfill a promise he made during a Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Despite his explanation for being in Barcelos, he was still arrested and condemned to hang. He refused to go quietly and asked to be taken in front of the judge who sentenced him to death. The authorities granted his wish, and brought him to the magistrate’s house while he was having a banquet with friends. He affirmed his innocence, and swore the proof of his innocence by pointing to a cooked rooster and said that the rooster would crow at the hour of his hanging as proof. The statement caused a large amount of laughter and mockery. The judge ignored the statement of innocence, but still set aside the rooster and refusing to eat it. When the time for judgement came, the pilgrim went to the gallows to accept his punishment. As he was being hanged, the roasted rooster appeared and stood up on the table in front of the crowd and crowed just as the pilgrim predicted. The judged realised the mistake he had made and rushed to save the pilgrim. The cord was not correctly tightened and was able to easily be saved from his death sentence. Later, the pilgrim would return to Barcelos. He sculpted a cross in honour of the Virgin Mary and St. James, who he felt was responsible for saving him with the miracle of the rooster. Today, this cross is referred to as the Cross of the Lord of the Rooster. This statue is still in existence in the Archeological Museum of Barcelos.

Whichever telling of the legend that you hear, the Barcelos Rooster is a common sight while visiting Portugal, with numerous souvenir choices emblazoned with its symbol.

Barcelos Rooster- Galo de Barcelos

After being at the Se Cathedral our next stop was for lunch and then it was into the van for a 20 minute drive to the historic city of Guimaraes,  which is regarded as the birth place of Portugal.

Lunch

Lunch

 Along the way, there were lots of vineyards,  and corn, pines, eucalyptus and oleanders.
The Guimarães city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001: and, as one would expect, there are plenty of historic sites and tales. Beyond the monuments and museums, Guimarães has a contemporary edge and a thriving modern culture and economy that are partially explained by its generally youthful population. Home to Minho University, about half of its over 52,000 residents are under 30, making Guimarães one of the youngest cities in Europe. Its designation in 2012 was a European Capital of Culture.
Our first stop was at the Castelo de Guimarães at the top of the city. Towering over the city centre, the 10th-century castle was an excellent position to protect the area from the attacks of the Moors, Normans, and Vikings. The first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques (1111-1135), was born in the castle. Afonso fought many battles. He conquered the ruling Moors in 1139 effectively gaining independence for the region and leading to the creation of a Portuguese national identity. Following the momentous victory, Afonso was declared king by his troops.

Coming to the statue honoring King Afonso Henriques, it was pointed out that the top of the sword is missing and it is said that a drunken student broke off a piece of the sword one night and brandishing it overhead ran naked through Guimarães proclaiming, “I am the King!”

Statue of King Afonso Henriques and the Castelo de Guimarães on a walking tour of Guimarães.

Statue of King Afonso Henriques and the Castelo de Guimarães

 After leaving the Castelo de Guimaraes we came to the 15th-century Paco do Duques, formerly the residence of dukes.  With advancing years and abandonment, this house was rebuilt between 1937 and 1959, becoming a museum and now houses collections of 17th and 18th century tapestries, porcelain and other period treasures. The top floor is maintained as a residence for the president of Portugal when he visits Guimarães.   This manor house has been classified as a National Monument.

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We then had a short stop at  the 12th Century Igreja de S. Miguel do Castelo, a Romanesque church where according to tradition King Afonso Henriques was baptised. It has served as a royal chapel and parochial church.  This church is classified as a National Monument.

Igreja de S. Miguel do Castelo

After a short drive, we had a wonderful, relaxing walk along the alleyways and through archways around the historic centre and along the way we passed many architectural testimonies with great value. One minute we were walking along the narrow alleyways and then with great surprise, opened out onto  Praça de S. Tiago (St. James Square).

Rua de Santa MariaOne of the first open streets of the city of Guimarães,

 

Image result for lar de santa estefania guimaraes   Larde Santa Estifania in Guimaraes , a religious institution that works as a childrens home.

One of the richest monasteries of Guimarães, the Convent of Santa Clara was built in the sixteenth century by Canon Master Collegiate School of Our Lady of Oliveira, Baltasar de Andrade. Currently houses the City Hall of Guimarães.

Convent of Santa Clara

Convent of Santa Clara

We continued on through another lovely archway to Largo da Oliveira (Olive Square). The square was a hive of activity with a roaring trade done by the local cafes. Nearby was the Nossa Senhora Da Oliveria Church.  This building declared a National Monument is represented by the union of styles, from the Gothic reconstruction, Manueline features classical chapel, plasterwork of the largest and side chapels in the neoclassical style.

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Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira

Nossa Senhora Da Oliveira Church

 I enjoyed a welcome cool drink at a well patronised cafe as it had become quite warm before it was time for Daniel to pick us up and then it was back to Porto.

 

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On the Oliveira Square, Portugal

We had a good run back to Porto arriving about 6.10pm.  Said goodbye to Mark and the French ladies and arrived back at my hotel about 6.30 after a very interesting day – full of so much historical information, saw many beautiful buildings and countryside. I walked down to a nearby cafe for something to eat and drink. Nearby, was a soup kitchen with a long line of recipients. Pigeons were pecking at the remnants of bread – I was watching them when one of the people asked me whether I wanted something to eat. I diplomatically declined and headed back to my hotel and had a relatively early night.

 

Saturday, 30 July 2016 – Day 45 – Day Tour in Douro Valley, Portugal

Saturday, 30 July 2016 – Day 45 – Day Tour in Douro Valley, Portugal 

At 8.30 a.m. was picked up by our guide, Joao (John) and joined 5 others for our tour to the Douro Valley. Our first stop was at the pretty town of Amarante. We had some free time for a short wander up the street and over the Sao Goncalo Bridge spanning the Rio Tamega for a brief visit to the iconic Sao Goncalo Church. The Igreja e Convento is nearby.

porto-213We continued on through Santa Marta Penagua, well known for its slate products and Sabrosa. Ferdinand Magellan was born in Sabrosa in 1480 and was a Portuguese explorer who led the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe. He died in 1521 in the Philippines and is buried there.

The countryside is just breathtaking with the vineyards going up the hillsides as far as the eye can see.  We were travelling along little laneways with walls along the way. We were making our way to the winery Quinta da Portal. Quinta do Portal is a unique, family, fine winemaking company based in the Douro Valley, in Northern Portugal. Their vines have been grown in this harsh and beautiful land for many hundreds of years.  We were given a tour of the winery, including seeing hundreds of wine barrels. There are three types of wine – table, port and muscatele. Explanations were given on the history of cork and its uses – mainly because of the constant temperature.

Natural cork closures appeared about 250 years ago, displacing the oiled rags and wooden plugs that had previously been used to seal bottles. It created the possibility of aging wine. It’s produced from the bark of the tree, and harvested every seven years throughout the life of a cork oak tree.  Portugal produces  65% of all the cork in the world – Spain and Italy also produce cork. The number written on a peeled cork oak refers to the year it was stripped, e.g. “9” refers to “2009”. The best quality cork comes from the south of Portugal (Algarve and south Alentejo). Cork has many uses apart from sealing wine bottles – great insulator, furniture, jewellery and many other products.

After hearing all about the different aspects of the winery, we then had the opportunity of sampling some of the excellent wine/port.

 

Nice drop of Port

Nice drop of Port

After leaving Quinta da Portal winery, we headed to a beautiful lookout – S. Christo Vao_Do_Douro. One can never tire of the scenery.

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Now we were slowly descending to the township of Pinhao where we had lunch outside of a lovely restaurant and the meal, once more was quite delicious. After lunch we had a short walk to join a boat for another relaxing time soaking in the magnificent scenery.

 porto-254The boat ride was about an hour and we saw all the vineyards going up the hills and other wineries along the way and imposing village manor houses.

After the boat ride, it was into the van once more and headed to another winery – more interesting talks about the winery and its workings and then some more sampling. The winery we visited was Quinta do Portal a unique, family run establishment. Their vines have been grown in this harsh and beautiful land for many hundreds of years. When in the museum part of the winery, there was a model of a rabelo.  For many years, Porto wines were transported from the area of the vineyards in these boats. With time they became bigger but with the arrival of trains and lorries, the rabelos lost the privilege of being the only adequate means of transport for the barrels, but today, they can be seen along the river being operated as tourist attractions.

One of the rabelos (boat)

One of the rabelos (boat)

Quinta do Bomfim is located in the heart of the Upper Douro Valley and is owned by the Symington family who have worked here for five generations. We were taken into the areas where there are hundreds of barrels and also saw some of the primitive equipments used in earlier days. It was also stressed that working in the vineyards in those days was very harsh.  After seeing and hearing about the winery, we went upstairs to the winetasting area. Another nice drop and the views from here were magnificent once more.

porto-310It was time once more to board our faithful van and headed to Provesende – a picturesque vineyard village located in the municipality of Sabrosa. Situated on a small plateau overlooking the Douro River. We had our last photo stop here.

It was now back to Porto passing through Amarante once more and along the stone walled roads again. We went through the newly opened tunnel (3 months ago) and took 5 years to build. It was goodbye to the other passengers and then John dropped me off at my hotel at 6.45 p.m.  We travelled in one big circle. I walked down the street for a coffee and then it was back to my hotel.

This was a wonderful day and I would recommend this tour to anyone wanting a great day out in the country and  to visit a couple of wineries and enjoy some great Portuguese food. John was a super guide.

I am sure I have repeated myself over, but I found it hard to try and take in all the information and make very crude notes, take photos and listen to the conversations. One drawback of travelling solo.

Friday, 29 July 2016 – Day 44 – Porto to Regua, Portugal

Friday, 29 July 2016 – Day 44 – Porto to Regua, Portugal 

Up early and got taxi to the Railway station for 7.45 to meet guide for the train/boat tour. She did not make herself very well known. I assumed she was the guide as she had a clipboard with her so approached her. Told me to come back at 8.00 and then a group of us was ushered onto a train and it left at 8.25. Was a pleasant enough journey as far as scenery was concerned. When we got off the train, it was quite a rush to get onto the boat. I wanted a postcard so one of the ladies off the boat was very obliging.

29july-3I must say I did not really enjoy this trip as much as others – the boat was too big and very noisy.  When it was time for our lunch, I thought I had to share with the people at my table – no, it was all for me. Was quite put off it as the overall smell of food in general was quite overpowering and the quantity was too absurd for one person.

On our way back to Porto, we had a stop in a lock which is a device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways. The distinguishing feature of a lock is a fixed chamber in which the water level can be varied. The Carrapatelo Dam is the highest lifting lock on the Douro. It lifts the vessels a full 35m. It took 7 years to build and is almost 100m in length.  This was quite fascinating to see how it worked. Took quite awhile before we were finally on our way again.

I was pleased to get off the boat as by now it had warmed up considerably. Went straight back to my hotel in a taxi and had a very early night.

Thursday, 28 July 2016 – Day 43 – OPorto, Portugal

Thursday, 28 July 2016 – Day 43 – OPorto, Portugal 

Porto or OPorto is one of the oldest cities in Europe and is the second largest city in Portugal. Porto possesses the special charm that characterises cities whose history spans thousands of years. Porto began its journey through history in the 7th Century to its present days.   Although it has a long history, this city is very modern and highly developed. It is full of quaint streets, historic palaces, ancient cathedrals and architecturally stunning buildings.  Its historic centre, classed as a world heritage site in 1996 by UNESCO is where the colourful gabled dwellings are perched up the hills in the neighbourhoods of Ribeira, Barredo and Miragaia. Ribeira is the oldest and best known neighbourhood in the city with its daring colours, bustling taverns and many fine restaurants and several beautiful piazzas. Most of all Porto is known for its wine and wine properties extend as far as the eye can see along the Douro.

After breakfast, I walked down to the Palacio de Cristalio and the lovely gardens.    The Crystal Palace (Pavilhão Rosa Mota) is a project of the architect José Carlos Loureiro. The original Palace was demolished in 1952 to give place to a Sports Pavilion, which would receive several sporting events. In a tribute to the athlete Rosa Mota, the Crystal Palace (called so due to the glass used on its surface) was renamed in 1991 and was named after the marathon runner.
The Palace has a total area of 12,000m², with capacity for 4600 bench seats. The Palace is surrounded by beautiful gardens and flowers where you can admire nature as well as enjoy the views over the Douro.

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Crystal Palace and gardens

I then made my way down to the River Douro and walked along the promenade into the Old Town heading to a travel office to make some bookings for tours. Along the way, I came to the Praca do Infante Dom Henrique. In the centre of the square is the huge sculpture The Estatua do Infante D. Henrique, also known as the statue of Prince Henry the Navigator, was first installed in Porto in 1894 to honour the memory of the famous Portuguese navigator.

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Behind the monument is the old Ferreira Borges Market built in 1885. It is now a cultural centre. Also on the square is the Stock Exchange (Palacio da Bolsa) and the Church of Sao Francisco and the Church of Sao Nicolau. I made a booking for the drive/walking City Tour which started at 2.15pm.  I wandered up and down little alleyways and had lunch before joining the tour.

 It was hard for me to know exactly where we were on the tour and I realised I had seen some of the buildings when I was by myself so I have combined the buildings around the city.
Our tour started with a visit to the Porto Cathedral. The Cathedral is a fortress like building whose origin dates back to the 12th Century. The major alterations carried out over the course of time transformed the original Romanesque church into a building more in harmony with the baroque taste. The main altarpiece has Solomonic columns and has so much detail. Very ornate.
Outside the Porto Cathedral

Outside the Porto Cathedral

We passed by the Equestrian statue of Vimra Peres, who conquered the city from the Moors in 868 and was made first Count of Portucale that same year.

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Praca da Liberade Square is a crossroads where the old and the new city merge. It is presided over by the equestrian statue of King Pedro IV, 10 metres high.

Avenida dos Aliados starts at the north of the square.  The central promenade was reconstructed in 2006 by famous architect Alvaro Siza Vieira.  Avenida dos Aliados is also known as “the heart of Porto”, –  a wide boulevard lined with a number of impressive buildings, most of which are banks or hotels. The avenue is closed at the upper end by the Town Hall built between 1920 and 1957. The main feature is the 70 metre high bell tower made of marble and granite.

Avendas dos Aliados

We headed into Rua de Santa Catarina.  This street is lined by shops and businesses and here we have a quick look in the Cafe Majestic, the oldest and most popular cafe in Porto. Walking through its glass door is like travelling through a time tunnel.  Evidently nothing seems to have changed since its distant inauguration right at the end of the 19th Century.

Adjoining Praca da Liberade is the famous San Bento Station and the Church of Os Congregados which dates to the early 18th Century and its front, like so many churches, is decorated with the blue and white glazed tiles.

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Church of Os Congregados

The San Bento Station began in 1900 and the main attraction is the marvellous tile decorations in the main hall. Attributed to Jorge Colaco in 1916, the scenes represent different episodes in the history of Porto and Portugal.

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Railway Station in Porto

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Main hall in San Bento Train Station

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At the opposite end of the Rua de Santa Catarina is Praca da Batalha square and offers several points of interest, both from the architectural and historical points of view. Adjoining the square is the Church of Santo Ildefonso. The tile work on the exterior is by Jorge Colaco, the same artist who created those at the Sao Bento Station. 28-july-29

Now back to Praca da Liberdade to see the Church and Tower of Os Clerigos in nearby Rua dos Clerigos. This architectural complex by Nicolau Nasoni is one of the prime examples of baroque art in Porto. It was built between 1732 and 1763. His remains at in the Church of Os Clerigos.

The church stands near Praca de Gomes Teixeira, with the Fountain of the Lions which dates back to 1886.

porto-092There are so many fabulous UNESCO azulejo (tiled) churches/cathedrals in Porto, but the one on the corner of the square is the Church of O Carmo, built in the second half of the 18th century.  has a magnificent side panel completely covered in glazed tiles installed in 1912. Just beautiful. .

Our next visit was to the Liberia Lello e Irmao bookshop. This establishment has hardly changed since it first opened its doors in 1906. There is a lovely carved wooden staircase. The store served as an inspiration for the first Harry Potter film. While we visited, it was quite crowded as another book to do with Harry Potter had been released.

That was the end of our City Tour and we boarded our transport to visit one of the many wineries in Porto, the Graham’s Winery.  For almost two hundred years W & J Graham’s has been an independent family business renowned for producing the finest Port wines. We were given quite a comprehensive commentary on the growing and making of their wines. We went into the Museum that showed us the story of the families and saw where the Queen and the President of United States had praised the winery and then went into the wine tasting area to sample a couple of their wines.

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Sampling a couple of the wines in Grahams Winery

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View from Grahams Winery

View from Grahams Winery

After being at the Winery we made our way back into Porto and that was the end of the great busy tour.

At 6.30 pm. went on a nice relaxing boat trip.

After boat ride

After boat ride

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This would be the most photographed bridge in Porto – you see it so often on your travelling around. The Ponte Dom Luís, also known as the Luis I Bridge, is a metal structure located in the historic city of Porto, Portugal. Built in honour of King Luis I, a 19th century Portuguese king who was known for his vernacular poetry and his love of the sea, the structure was opened during his reign. The bridge’s arches reaches 172 meters into the sky above the Douro River, while it extends between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. The incredible edifice is completely made from wrought iron. The bridge was built during the 19th century as a result of a competition among renowned architects in the region. The result and winner was a design provided by architect and civil engineer, Téophile Seyrig. Sevrig was a protégé of Gustav Eiffel. He was trained at the famous Central School of Arts and Manufacturing in France, which is still in existence and operation today. Structurally, the erection is a two hinged bridge with a double deck meant to serve a variety of traffic types. Completed in 1886, it measures 385 meters in length and weighs over 3,000 tons. It was constructed to hold a variety of traffic including foot, automobile, trolley and railroad tram traffic.

I returned to my accommodation in readiness for a pickup for dinner at the Fado Restaurant. On our way, we stopped for a nighttime view over Porto.  Portugal is a land famous for fado – songs that express so much feeling. It is mainly heard a lot in Lisbon and Coimbra but I did not get the chance to go to a dinner while in Lisbon.

Restaurante Tipico o Fado is a family run business and served a very enjoyable meal while listening to the Fado music. One of the vocalists was Antonio Laranjeira and had a photo taken with him afterwards along with the members of the band. Very friendly.

 

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Photo with Antonio

Arrived back at my accommodation at midnight – feeling quite weary as has been a very packed full day but did and saw some of the the most popular attractions in Porto. Porto is just so fascinating.

 

Wednesday, 27 July 2016 – Day 42 – Estoril,Cascais to OPorto

Wednesday, 27 July 2016 – Day 42 – Estoril, Cascais to OPorto

Up at 7.00 and finished my packing as this was my last day in this beautiful place. I have certainly been to a lot of cafes/restaurants and eaten some marvellous food especially the Portuguese custard tarts and other yummy pastries – plus drank lots of coffee and beers and sangria.

Mark and Terri picked me up at 10.00a.m. and went to the post office for me to send some clothes home as my luggage was getting heavy! and then went to a lovely Pastelaria – Garrett do Estoril. What a wonderful display of cakes. Of course, we selected some and enjoyed what would be the last eating/drinking with Mark and Terri.

It was back into the car to take the “kids” home.

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Mark’s and Terri’s kids – Onslow, Buck and Cha Cha

We then drove to Lisbon. We made good time and parked the car. We went to the wrong train station so on the Metro to the right one, the Cais do Sodre station.

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Said goodbye to Mark and Terri. They certainly showed me lots of lovely places and shared lots of meals with me around Cascais and the nearby attractions.  Thank you so much. Will be strange being by myself once more.

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I caught the 2.00p.m. for Campenha (OPorto – north of Lisbon). It was about 10 minutes late in leaving but then we set off. I arrived in Campenha at 5.00p.m.  Caught a taxi to my accommodation at the Lusitana Hotel. (Room 223).  I went for a short walk for a beer and then back, showered and went to bed by 10.00p.m.

 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016 – Day 41 – Cascais

Tuesday, 26 July 2016 – Day 41 – Cascais 

Today was another beautiful hot sunny day.  Terri and Mark came and picked me up and we went to Praia da Poca, a lovely safe beach.  We hired a spot and was very relaxing lying under the umbrella and having several dips in the water.

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Relaxing on the beach (Praia da Poca)

After a long and enjoyable stop at the beach, we decided we had better go and have lunch.

Leaving the beach

Leaving the beach

We drove to the Paladar Da Guia restaurant and had a lovely meal sitting outside and taking in the view of the Atlantic Ocean.

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After more relaxing at the restaurant, we took ChaCha, Buck and Onslow – the kids of Terri and Mark – home, did some sorting out of tickets and timetables and then went to the Faiartil-Feira de Artesanato. 

This was the 53rd edition of FIARTIL, the oldest Craft Fair in Portugal, is back in Estoril from 23 June to 4 September. The Fair is very family orientated. Many stalls with handicrafts and there was a new area dedicated exclusively to Fashion and Accessories made in Portugal. The highlight of the evening was when several performers were dressed in their national costumes and danced. A huge crowd gathered around to watch  – even little ones were performing with their parents.

It was that time again – eating and drinking!  We had our meal in one of the refurbished dining spaces. After seeing and hearing all that we wanted to, we then went home.

Once more was a full day and very enjoyable.

Monday, 25 July 2016 – Day 40 – Cascais to Lisbon

Monday, 25 July 2016 – Day 40 -Cascais to Lisbon 

I got up early and made myself some breakfast. At 9.15, Maria, the owner of the unit, came and chatted until about 10.00.  I then went for the short walk to the nearby beach – Praia da Azarujinha Beach, Estoril, Cascais

 

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East perspective at Praia da Azarujinha Beachi – big descent to beach

I made the steep descent to the Praia da Azarujinha beach  It is a small cosy and intimate beach, surrounded by a huge cliff which provides enclosure from all types of winds. Azarujinha beach marks the beginning point of the seawall that goes all the way to Cascais, where you can pleasantly walk close to the sea.

I stayed down at the beach until 12.30 as Mark and Terri were going to collect me to go to the Cascais railway station. We bought sandwiches and then boarded the train to go to Lisbon. Some friends also joined us on the train. We got off at Belem to watch the Tall Ships that were visiting Portugal. This would be their last day in Lisbon.

 It will be exactly sixty years since the very first Tall Ships Race visited Lisbon, Portugal in 1956 – and the international fleet is returning for the eighth time. The first Tall Ships’ Race in 1956 was a race of 20 of the world’s remaining large sailing ships. The race was from Torbay, UK to Lisbon and was meant to be a last farewell to the era of the great sailing ships. However, public interest was so intense the Sail Training International Race Committee formed a founding organisation and has since organised Tall Ships’ Races and Regattas annually around the world, attracting hundreds of ships and millions of spectators.
 The race commenced  in Antwerp, Belgium  This will be the fourth time since its first event in 2001. Located in the heart of Europe it’s a pocket-sized metropolis and Europe’s second largest ports. (Thursday 7 to Sunday 10 July)
 Lisbon, Portugal will be welcoming the fleet after the first race leg for the seventh time since the races began. (Friday 22 July to Monday 25 July 2016)
 Cadiz, Spain is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in southern Spain and one of the oldest in southwestern Europe. (Thursday 28 to Sunday 31 July 2016). A Coruna in northern Spain is a busy port located on a promontory in the entrance of an estuary in a large gulf on the Atlantic Ocean. It is surrounded on all sides by the sea.  (Thursday 11 August to Sunday 14 August 2016). It’s set to take its place as the final port of the Tall Ships Races 2016 for the 11th time. This gives A Coruña the enviable position of a port to have hosted the most Tall Ships race events ever.
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It was a lovely sight seeing the Tall Ships sail up the River.  So majestic. After we had seen quite a few of the ships pass by, we headed back to the railway station and saw the ships on their way to Cadiz.

One of the tall ships in Lisbon

One of the tall ships in Lisbon

Terri and Mark dropped me off at about 5.30pm. I went down to the Praia da Azarujinha Beach once more, but this time I took my swimmers and had a nice swim. I then walked along the promenade to the nearby Praia da Poco Beach and had a nice pork, brocolli and rice meal at the Opiparo restaurant and then it was home and early night.  Another exciting day especially seeing the Tall Ships.

 

Sunday, 24 July 2016 – Day 39 – Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

Sunday, 24 July 2016 – Day 39 – Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

I woke up with a start at 8.45 and quickly dressed and five minutes later Mark arrived. We went and picked up Terri and drove on A16 to Sintra. Lots of pines and eucalypts and after we left the highway it was down narrow alleys. We arrived at the Palacio de Pena. Mark went and parked the car and then we had a coffee at the Palacio Cafe before boarding a bus that took us through the beautiful Pena Park up to the Palacio de Pena perched high on the second highest peak of the Sintra hills.

The Palace of Pena and the park were envisaged and devised by King Ferdinand II. His concept radically transformed the landscape of Sintra and was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995. In 1838, King Ferdinand II bought the former Monastery of Our Lady of Pena using his own funds. The first period during which the Palace of Pena was used as a residence by the Portuguese royal family lasted more than 50 years, from King Ferdinant II’s acquisition of the former Monastery of Pena and its transformation into a Palace in 1838 to the time when the king’s widow, the Countess of Edla, (his 2nd wife)  transferred ownership to the Portuguese State in 1890.

The second phase of the Portuguese royal family’s occupation of Pena was dominated by the present in the palace of King Carlos I and Queen Consort Amelia of Orleans who lived there for part of the summer season each year. King Carlos I was assassinated on 1 February 1908. Queen Amelia was at the Palace when she received the abrupt news of the Proclamation of the Republic on 5 October 1910. She left Pena and in 1945 received an invitation from the dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar to visit her beloved Palace. This visit marked the final chapter in the history of the Palace of Pena’s links to the former Portuguese monarchy.

We started our walk in the grounds of the Palace and went into many rooms, including the Cloister, dining room, chapel, Queen Amelia’s apartments, the Great Hall, King Manuel’s apartments and Stag Room. We went through the Arch of the Triton – magnificent architecture – and passed the Tunnel of the Triton, one of the most decorative spaces in the whole Palace of Pena, skilfully imitating all the exuberance typical of Moorish art.  The Courtyard of Arches gave us wonderful views of the Moorish Castle and views to the west and over the ocean.

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Mark and Me at Pena Palace

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Looking towards the Moorish Castle

There was so much to see and one cannot describe all that we saw. It was just so impressive. A magnificent Palace.

It was time to get a bus to take us down the hill passing through the park with its waterfalls and fountains and magnificent gardens. What a beautiful place to have lived.

We were in the car again and headed to one of Mark’s and Terri’s favourite restaurants in Sintra – Cafe de Natalia – a family run restaurant.  The service was great and so was my meal of squid, salad and coffee.

After leaving Sintra, we drove home via the beautiful coast.

We had a rest and went up to the Cascais shopping centre as tried to get a cord for my phone but unsuccessful. I then bought a Samsung Tablet as my IPad was useless now. We had a reasonable walk along the Paredao (big wall – boardwalk) to the Escotilha Bar where we had drinks. Terri and I had a Sangria.

Terri and me having a Sangria

Terri and me having a Sangria

It was then back to to my accommodation at Estorial Sao Joao and I had a very late night – 2.00am. having a play on my new tablet.

It was another packed filled day – visiting the Pena Palace was just amazing and then the drive home was very picturesque. Another big thankyou to Terri and Mark for making my stay in Cascais very memorable.

 

 

Saturday, 23 July 2016 – Day 38 – Lisbon to Cascais, Portugal

Saturday, 23 July 2016 – Day 38 – Lisbon to Cascais, Portugal 

Had a wakeup call at 7.00a.m. Down for breakfast and this was my last day in beautiful Lisbon. The main neighbourhoods are Baixa (Downtown), Bairro Alto  & Chiado, Alfama, Parque das Nacoes and Belem.  It is surrounded by 7 hills and so many alleyways as well as the beautiful wide squares and beautiful parks and gardens. The main streets and squares are : Comercio, Rossio, Rua Augusta, Minicipal, Camoes, Restauradores, Avenida da Liberdade and Marques de Pombal. There are many beautiful churches: Some of these include the Sao Vicente d,e Fora, Saint Anthony, Graca Church, Estrela Basilica, The Cathedral and Jeronimos Monastery.  The 25 April Bridge, the Statue of Christ, Monument to the Discoveries and Belem Tower and St. George’s Castle are some of the wonderful architectural structures.  And of course the trams or elevators were a great way to travel around and take the weight of your feet. Even though there seemed to be thousands of people in Lisbon, you did not feel as though you were being “crushed”. Another great thing about being in Lisbon – you did not have to cope with “beggars” or the multitude of “on the street” sellers.

There was so much to try and see and one could stay here longer and still not get to see all the main attractions.

I booked out of my accommodation and got a taxi to the Cais do Sodre railway station to get my ticket to Cascais.  Before I went in, I watched some workmen cutting up rocks to put in the cobbled walkways. What a job!

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Men laboriously cutting up rocks for the cobbled streets

Got my ticket Caught the 9.20a.m. We travelled along the Tagus river for some distance and we passed through the stations of Alges, Paragem, Paco Da Arcos, Oliras, Carcavelos, Parede, Sao Pedro do Estoril, Monte Estoril and finally to Cascais at 10.00am. Was a very enjoyable trip in a very comfortable and clean railway carriage.

I rang Mark and Terri (friends I met at the Taj Mahal, India in 2013) and they came and collected me at 10.45 and we drove into the centre of Cascais to a Cafe in the Parque Visconde Da Luz (Viscount of Light) where we had a coffee and the famous Pastel de Nata (Custard Tart).

Beach in Cascais

Beach in Cascais

We then walked along the Beach to the Casa Museu de Castro Guimaraes Carmona Park.

The Museum Condes de Castro Guimarães, the former “Torre de S. Sebastião”, was built in 1900 by Jorge O’Neill.
In 1910, the Count Manuel de Castro Guimarães aquires the house and after his death (1927) donated his estate, including his garden, to the people of Cascais. His desire was to build an art museum and a public library. The museum opened on July 12, 1931. The Museum Condes de Castro Guimarães collection includes significant national and international paintings, furniture, porcelain and jewellery.
We entered the Museum and went into the “Clover Room”. We had not been in there for more than a couple of minutes when an attendant asked us for our tickets. Terri thought it was free but this is not the case now. We were going to purchase our tickets but we were then told it would be closing in 10 minutes so we decided we would not visit so walked into the beautiful gardens of the Parque Marechal Carmona.
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 It was lovely and cool and we spent some time watching the young peacocks. I have never seen any little one before. They seemed quite tame so probably used to people wandering around.
In the Parque Marechal Carmona

In the Parque Marechal Carmona

Mark went and got the car and we drove to Penedo and Colares (Coolarish) in the Serra De Sintra. The Sintra Mountains, is a mountain range in western Portugal. Its highest point is near Sintra. The range covers about 10 miles from the resort town of Sintra to Cabo da Roca on the Atlantic Ocean.

We had lunch in a nice little cafe  – Pastelaria Cantinho da Varzea. I ordered a  Tosta de Atum (Toasted tuna sandwich) and a beer and then continued our drive towards Cabo da Roca.

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We continued on passing the Praia das Macas (The Apple Beach) one of the country’s most visited beaches. During the early days, apples, which fell off their trees and into a river that flows continuously to the beach, were scattered in the sea waters and coastlines; thus, the name Apple Beach.  The journey in this area was very picturesque with the  golden sands, the crystal clear Atlantic waters, and the towering cliffs along Praia das Macas coastline.  We saw a historical tramcar that goes from Sintra, stops in Colares and ends in Praia das Macas Beach. The journey to this beautiful and magnificent beach can take approximately 45 minutes.

After lunch we continued onto Cabo da Roca.  Cabo da Roca is 18km west from Sintra, 15km north from Cascais and 40km west of Lisbon. It is the most westerly point of the continent of Europe. It was very blustery but you had to take in the beautiful views – up to the lighthouse and out to the Atlantic Ocean.

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We had a very drive back to my accommodation but I did not have the correct code so we went to Mark’s and Terri’s to help me out. That got sorted out so we then went to dinner at the Natraj Indian Restaurant. This was a very popular restaurant and you realised why as the food and service was superb.

Mark and me at the Indian restaurant

Mark and me at the Indian restaurant

After a terrific day with Mark and Terri I was dropped off at my accommodation, the Lisbon Beach Estoril Rooms. I was in the Surf Suite. It was then to bed.

 

 

Thursday and Friday, 21 & 22 July 2016 – Days 36 & 37 -Lisbon – Portugal

Thursday and Friday, 21 & 22 July 2016 – Days 36 & 37-  Lisbon –  Portugal 

Thursday, 21 July 2016 – Day 36 – Lisbon area 

After breakfast, I went up to an information office but needed to go to another one so I went up to the Elevador da Gloria (Glory funicular) which was nearby. This is one of the three elevators operating in Lisbon. The Glory lift connects Restauradores to the Upper Quarter (Bairro Alto) and the viewpoint of St. Peter of Alcantara (Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara) and has been operating since 1885. It is a very steep path, with a distance of 265 meters.

I took a short walk to the beautiful Miradouro de são pedro de Alcântara viewpoint and  you got an excellent view of the surrounding suburbs of Alfama, Baixa, and the Tejo River – St George Castle stood out perched up on the hill.  I had a lovely cup of coffee and rest before I got the funicular back down to the Restauradores square and to find the “hidden away” other information office to use the internet.

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View from the Miradoura de S. Pedro de Alcantara

It was then time for lunch so wandered down to Rua Augusta.  It is the most cosmopolitan and touristic pedestrian street of the Baixa district and the entire city of Lisbon.  All of it is paved in Portuguese cobblestone and is 550 metres long.  I  found a welcoming cafe – what a huge serve it was but very enjoyable. I then passed under the majestic and monumental, Rua Augusta’s Arch – the symbol of triumphant Lisboa, reborn from the ashes of the 1775 earthquake. Since 1883 the Arch has a beautiful clock, facing Rua Augusta and has recently been restored by a famous brand of Swiss watcehes.  I was now in the Praca do Comercio (Comercio Square) built between 1758 and 1780 and opens up to the River Tagus. I boarded the Yellow Boat sightseeing cruise that left at 3.00p.m.

It was a lovely sunny day and was relaxing –  taking in the views of some of Lisbon’s monuments , – the famous 7 hills city –  , the Cathedral of Lisboa, the Castelo de S. Jorge, and Basilica da Estrela just to mention a few.  We passed under the April 25th Bridge and got a wonderful view of the Monumento ao Cristo Rei. (Sanctuary of Christ the King).

The Bridge was completed in 1966 and originally named after dictator Salazar, this suspension bridge across the Tagus River changed its name after the revolution of April 25, 1974. It is a spectacular sight from any direction, with an overall length of 2278m (approx. 1.5 miles), and the longest central span in Europe (1013m/3323ft), longer than San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, which it resembles. Its foundations also hold the world record by going 80m (262ft) below the riverbed to stand on basalt rock.

The Sanctuary has a height of 110 metre and is similar to that of the statue in Rio De Janeiro.

I met a Janice and Marion on this boat. When we stopped at Belem, I decided to stay on the bank of the River Tagus at  the nearby restaurant as I had been to Belem yesterday. Was nice to sit and relax with a couple of nice cool Super Bock beers and chat to Fabio, the waiter.   Janice and Marion joined me when they had done their sightseeing and we stayed until it was time to rejoin the Boat.

We then took a short ferry ride to the Restaurante Farol Marisqueira that Nuno, the bar attendant on the boat recommended. Was a good recommendation as the seafood was excellent.

After our dinner, we caught the ferry and decided we would have one last drink for the night before we headed our separate ways. We went into the Navegadoors Restaurant just around the corner from my hotel. We then said goodbye at midnight after a very enjoyable day.

Friday, 22 July 2016 – Day 37 – Lisbon area 

After breakfast, I went down to Figeira Square to see about catching the well known No. 28 Tram but the queue was so long I decided to catch No. 12.

Was an interesting ride as we trundled along at 12kms. due to steep inclines, sharp corners and narrow gaps between buildings. The drivers seem to have lots of patience as they would have to wait while a delivery van/truck had just left their vehicle on the tram tracks to go into a shop. Seemed to be the done thing. We eventually got moving and I got off at the Maradoura (viewpoint) Santa Luzia Viewpoint.  It was a superb view over the Alfama district and through to the River.

View over district of Alfama

View over district of Alfama

After taking in the view through to the River where there were some Tall Ships, I thought I would descend to the River. It was more difficult than I thought as I could not reach it the way I was going. I passed by the Church of St. Vincent but did not go in.

I kept walking and walking and walking up and down little alleyways until I ended up crossing over the railway line and was in an industrial area, but still unable to reach the River.

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By this time, I was very, very hot and was ever so pleased when I came across the Taberna Come restaurant. I ordered a cool drink and nice ham and cheese omelette and salad. I chatted with Fernando, the owner and told me his wife and twins were away.  He told me that he probably thought I had walked about 6 kms ! No wonder I was feeling like I was. I kept walking until I caught a taxi to take me back to near my hotel.  I thought he was taking me the wrong way as seemed to be miles from the River.  He told me to be calm as he had a GPS. Must say he wasn’t very friendly.  I had to also realise, because of the one way streets, the vehicles had to go the way they were allowed to.  I was pleased to finally get back near to my hotel.

I went into the Navogadoor restaurant where Janice, Marion and I were last night. The waitress said to me – You were in here last night?  Thought she had a good memory.  The reason for this was that she informed me that we left and had not paid our bill.  I was horrified as thought that Janice had offered to pay. I offered to make good our bill, but she told me it was fine. I ordered a strawberry drink and did pay for it!

I had a thoroughly enjoyable bath before going to bed feeling quite exhausted but was an interesting long day.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016 – Day 35 -Tour to Fatima, Batahla, Nazare, and Obidos -Portugal

Wednesday, 20 July 2016 – Day 35 -Tour to Fatima, Batahla, Nazare, and Obidos   – Portugal  

This morning I got my wakeup call for 7.15 a.m. Went down to breakfast and talked with Angela from Florence who is studying Portugese. Left the hotel at 8.15 a.m. and made my way to the Hardrock Cafe to join a small group to visit Fatima, Nazare, Obidos and Batahla. We made our way out of Lisbon and our first stop in Fatima was at the Commercial Building where we saw workers doing various processes of making religious icons. We saw statues of the Virgin Mary at different stages and one lady making rosary beads. I thought what a very tedious mundane occupation.  After a wander around the huge store, we made our way to Fatima.  

As we came into the entrance, the area was just so huge.

Until 1917, Fátima was an unknown village involved in shepherding and agriculture. It became known worldwide because of the Marian apparitions seen by three young shepherds, occurring between 13 May and 13 October 1917.

History of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima

First Appearances

On the 13th of each month from May to October 1917, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three shepherd children – Lúcia dos Santos (age 10) and her cousins Jacinta (age 7) and Francisco Marto (age 9) – in the fields outside the village of Aljustrel near Fatima. The children later said that her coming had been preceded by an “angel of peace” who appeared in 1916. Lúcia described her vision of Mary as “more brilliant than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.”

According to Lúcia’s account, Mary exhorted the children to do penance to save sinners. They wore tight cords around their waists to cause pain, abstained from drinking water on hot days, and other works of penance. Most importantly, she asked them to say the Rosary every day. She reiterated many times that devotion to the Rosary was the key to personal and world peace. Many young Portuguese men, including relatives of the visionaries, were then fighting in World War I. Lúcia later reported that during the second apparition on June 13, the Virgin Mary predicted the deaths of two of the children.

The Three Secrets

On July 13, the Virgin is said to have revealed the Three Secrets of Fatima to the children, which consist of prophecies about the future and have been the focus of much interest ever since. The secrets were not written down until 1941, when Lúcia was asked to compose memoirs about Fatima and her cousins so their canonization proceedings could begin.

The first secret described a horrific vision of Hell. The second secret foretold the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II and called for the “Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Many believe Pope John Paul II fulfilled this request in 1984 by giving a blessing over the world, including Russia, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is some confusion as to whether Sister Lúcia believed this fulfilled the request of Mary.

The Vatican kept the third secret under wraps until Easter 2000 – despite Lúcia’s declaration that it could be released to the public after 1960. The officially released text of the third secret was unspecific in nature, leaving it open to various interpretations. The vague nature of the secret has led to speculation that the Vatican did not release its entire contents. The secret speaks of a pope being killed by soldiers at the foot of a cross on top of a mountain, along with many other bishops and priests. The Church’s interpretation is that this predicts the May 13, 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Ağca in Saint Peter’s Square. John Paul himself credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life, saying he saw her intervening to deflect the gunman’s arm and he maintained consciousness on the ride to the hospital by keeping his mind focused on her.

The Sun Miracle

On her last visit on October 13 1917, a crowd of 70,000 people, including reporters from anti-religious newspapers, gathered in a torrential rainstorm to witness the scheduled arrival of the Virgin Mary, which led to the famous Sun Miracle of Fatima. Around noon, many of the observers testified they saw wondrous things in the heavens: the rain clouds parted, the “sky opened up” and the sun seemed to spin in the sky, change colors, or go completely dark for several minutes, before appearing to plunge towards the earth.

Some feared it was the Last Judgment. Many agreed that a major miracle had occurred. Only the children saw the Virgin appear, however. One of those who witnessed and reported the strange solar phenomena was Avelino de Almeida, a reporter who had ridiculed the so-called miracles at Fatima in previous articles. His photographer did not see it, but shot pictures of the mesmerized crowd looking into the sky. There is no independent verification of the solar phenomenon, and no movement or other phenomenon of the sun was registered by scientists at the time.

Fates of the Visionaries

Francisco and Jacinta Marto both fell victim to the Great Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1919. Exhumed in 1935 and again in 1951, Jacinta’s body was found incorrupt, while Francisco’s had decomposed. Francisco and Jacinta were declared “venerable” by Pope John Paul II in a public ceremony at Fatima on May 13, 1989, and John Paul returned on May 13, 2000, to declare them “blessed.” Jacinta is the youngest non-martyred child ever to be beatified.

Lúcia reporting seeing the Virgin again in 1925 at the Dorothean convent at Pontevedra, Spain, and was asked to convey the message of the First Saturday Devotions. Lúcia was transferred to a convent in Tuy, Spain, in 1928. In 1929, Lúcia reported that Mary returned and repeated her request for the Consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. Lúcia reportedly saw Mary in private visions off and on throughout her life. Most significant was the apparition in Rianxo, Spain in 1931, in which Jesus taught Sister Lúcia two prayers and delivered a message to give to the hierarchy of the Church.

In 1947, Sister Lúcia left the Dorothean order and joined the Carmelite order in a convent in Coimbra, Portugal. She died on February 13, 2005, at the age of 97. The date is significant for Fatima devotees, being on the 13th day of the month. After her death, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) ordered her cell sealed off, perhaps to examine it for Lúcia’s canonization proceedings. Devotion to Our Lady of Fatima received unprecedented official support from several popes, including Pius XII (1939-58), Paul VI (1963-78) and John Paul II (1978-2005). Pope Pius XII issued a message encouraging devotion to her on May 13, 1946, and again in 1950, when he declared, “may Portugal never forget the heavenly message of Fátima, which, before anybody else she was blessed to hear. To keep Fátima in your heart and to translate Fatima into deeds, is the best guarantee for ever more graces.”

On May 13, 1967, Pope Paul VI prayed at the shrine with Sister Lucia. Finally, as described above, Pope John Paul II credited Our Lady of Fátima with saving his life during the assassination attempt in 1981. He came to Fatima as a pilgrim on May 12, 1987, to express his gratitude, and the following day, he officially consecrated the human race to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin, as Pius XII had done before him.

The primary building at the shrine is the Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima, a gleaming Neoclassical church begun on May 13, 1928, and consecrated on October 7, 1953. Its slender central spire rises 65 meters high. The church is flanked by monumental colonnades and overlooks a large open plaza, the centre of which is occupied by a Monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1932). The monument stands over a spring that was discovered there and was, according to the shrine, “the instrument of many graces.”

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Inside, there are 15 altars dedicated to the 15 mysteries of the rosary as well as the tombs of the young visionaries, Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto, who died in 1919 and 1920 respectively and were beatified in 2000.

The high altar painting depicts the Message of Our Lady of Fatima to the three children. Included in the painting are figures of the local bishop as well as Pope Pius XII (who consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1942), Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. The four corners of the basilica are occupied by statues of men especially devoted to the rosary and the Immaculate Heart of Mary: St. Anthony Claret, St. Dominic of Gusman, St. John Eudes and King St. Stephen of Hungary. The great organ (1952) has 12,000 pipes.

The other main stop for pilgrims to Fatima is the Chapel of Apparitions, an open-air chapel built on the site of the appearances. It is open year-round for regular services and can be virtually visited by a high-resolution webcam. The original chapel was built in 1919, then blown up on the night of March 6, 1922, by those who suspected the church of staging the miracles. Inside the modern chapel is a single white column over the site of a small holm oak tree over which the Virgin Mary appeared on May 13, 1917. That oak fell victim to souvenir collectors long ago, but a large replacement tree grows near the entrance to the sanctuary by the rectory.

Near the entrance to the sanctuary by the rectory is a Berlin Wall Monument, containing a 5,732-pound chunk of the wall donated by a Portuguese emigrant to Germany after it fell in 1989. He offered it as a memorial of God’s intervention in bringing down Communism, as promised at Fatima.

Pilgrimage

Pilgrims arrive in Fatima throughout the year, but especially in the summer and on the feast days of May 13 and October 13. On May 12 and October 12, crowds of pilgrims (as many as 75,000) throng the small town in cars, on bicycles, in donkey carts, or on foot. Some approach the shrine on their knees in penance. Once in Fatima, they camp out and wait for dawn. On the 13th, pilgrims wave their handkerchiefs in homage as a statue of Our Lady of Fatima is passed through the central square between about 10am and 12:30pm. There are large torch-light processions held in the evenings.

 

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After being inside the Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima I stayed for a short while to hear Mass being said. Also, there were many people passing through hoping that they may receive a miracle for their varied ailments.

 

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It was such a lovely calming experience being here at Fatima and you come away feeling very uplifted.

We then continued onto Batalha. Batalha (means “battle”) is a town situated in the River Lena Valley, a fertile vale perfumed with apple trees, market gardens and vineyards and populated by tiny villages of whitewashed stone. The town was founded by King D. Joao I of Portugal, jointly with the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitoria  We headed straight to the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitoria. What a magnificent sight.

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At the front of the Monastery is the very impressive monument of Nuno Alvares Pereira who defeated the Castilian forces at the Battle of Atoleiros in April 1384. The victory was followed by others, but the most decisive in putting an end to the conflict and consolidating Portuguese independence was that obtained at the Battle of Aljubarota on 14 August, 1385. After this battle, Nuno was made Count of Arraiolos and Barcelos (already Constable of Portugal). He married Leonor de Alvim and had one daughter. When his wife died, Nuno became a Carmelite monk, joining the Order in 1423. He died at the Convent of Carmo in Lisbon on 1 April, 1431. Pope Benedict XV beatified Nuno in 1918, making his feast day  6 November.

One just stands in awe of the Monastery, a magnificent building. It was to be the Portuguese monarchy’s main building project for the next two centuries. Here a highly original, national Gothic style evolved, profoundly influenced by Manueline art, as demonstrated by its masterpiece, the Royal Cloister.

The Monastery is made up of the Church, Chapel of the Founder, the Royal Cloister of John I, The Chapter House, The Cloister of Alfonso V and the Imperfect Chapels.

It is hard for me to describe each one of these magnificent parts so I hope some of the photos can give you an idea of them.

The statues and stained glass windows are beautiful and all the windows are ornamented by elaborate tracery. Everything is just on such a grand scale. There is mention of the Manueline style tracery and this was developed at the Monastery of Batalha in the Cloister during the reign of Manuel I (1495-1521) and eventually spread all over Portugal.

On entering The Church there are two series of eight cruciform pillars that separate the main doorway from the crossing where we find the high altar. The head of the Church has five chapels and in the centre is the Chapel High, with Manueline-style stained glass windows dating to 1514. The entire interior of the Church is beautifully illuminated by stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Annunciation and from the Birth of Christ.

In the Chapel of the Founder (King John I) we passed by the tombs of the founder and his wife, Philippa of Lancaster and all around the couple’s tombs are the tombs of their children. Also there are the tombs of kings Afonso V and John II as well as the latter’s son, the Infante Afonso.

Tomb of King John I and wife Philippa of Lancaster

Tomb of King John I and wife Philippa of Lancaster

Work continued until the mid 16th Century and there were 7 monarchs during this period.  In April 1388, the Monastery was given over to the preaching friars of Saint Dominic. The Dominican community lived here until 1834, when religious orders were suppressed in Portugal, after which the site was completely abandoned, as a result falling into a derelict state.

King Ferdinand II of Portugal sponsored the restoration of the Monastery. The works, which were not completed until the early 20th Century, restored the site to its former splendour. However, The Imperfect Chapels, due to various circumstances, including financial difficulties due to the need to channel funds to other monuments in the country, particularly in Lisbon, the work was never completed and were abruptly brought to a halt in 1533.

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The Imperfect Chapels

In recognition of its historic prominence and artistic importance, the Monastery was classified as a National Monument in 1907, whilst UNESCO catalogued the site as World Heritage in 1983.

We had to leave this wonderful site – just too much to write about. For those interested, perhaps you can Google.

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Was now time to continue on to our next stop – Nazare.

Nazaré has become a popular tourist attraction, advertising itself internationally as a picturesque, colourful seaside village. Located on the Atlantic coast, it has long sandy beaches (considered by some to be among the best beaches in Portugal), with lots of tourists in the summer. The town used to be known for its traditional costumes worn by the fishermen and their wives who wore a traditional headscarf and embroidered aprons over seven flannel skirts in different colours. These dresses can still occasionally be seen.

Nazare has been put on the international map by Garrett McNamara, who resides in Hawaii. He is an American professional big wave surfer and extreme waterman known for breaking the world record for largest wave ever surfed at Nazaré, Portugal.  In November 2011, chasing storms and tracking swells paid off for McNamara as he entered the Guinness World Records. He caught a 78 foot (24 m) wave in Nazare, Portugal after being towed into the wave from a jet ski riding a 6’0 Dick Brewer Tow Board. McNamara continued to search for an even larger wave. In January 2013, McNamara broke his own world record by surfing an estimated 100-foot (30 m) wave off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal. It is just hard to imagine the enormity of such waves. Such very high breaking waves form due to the presence of the underwater Nazare Canyon.

We went up to the Lighthouse lookout and got a fantastic view of Nazare’s two beaches – north and south – and both are extremely popular with swimmers. The beach was very densely populated with people under the umbrellas.

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We then drove down into the village of Nazare and took a walk along the market area and then onto our lunch venue. There was a little chapel and several stores.

We wandered along a little alleyway to the Restaurante Rosa Dos Ventos, a lovely little establishment – lots of fishing memorabilia and photos all around the restaurant. We had a choice of freshly caught “huge” fish.

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After a very delicious meal and drinks, we wandered down to the promenade – a lot of people were sitting on the boardwalk with their fish. We also saw the funicular coming and going up the side of the hill to the homes perched up on top of the hill.

Once more, it was time to head off and leave Nazare behind. We continued onto the ancient walled village of Obidos.

Obidos is one of the most picturesque towns of Portugal. The compact town centre is filled with cobbled streets and traditional painted houses, while the entire town is encircled by the solid city walls. Obidos was traditionally owned by the queen of Portugal and this has ensured that every house or shop has been lovingly cared for and maintained.  Óbidos’ gorgeous historic centre is a labyrinth of cobblestoned streets and flower-bedecked, whitewashed houses livened up with dashes of vivid yellow and blue paint and draped in bougainvillea and wisteria.

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We did a walking tour of this lovely walled village. The main gate, Porta da Vila, leads directly into the main street, Rua Direita, lined with cafes, souvenir, chocolate and cherry-liqueur shops.

Had a short climb up on some of the wall and had beautiful views over Obidos, Portugal from the city wall.

On the wall

On the wall

We then had a sample of the famous cherry liqueur, known as “ginjinha” and goes very well with chocolate. Yum.

We then made our way back to our vehicle and travelled back to Lisbon.  We had a good run back and arrived about 6.45 pm.  I called into a little cafe and had a meal and a couple of beers as it was still quite warm and then back to my accommodation.

I wrote some postcards and then it was off to bed after a fantastic day’s tour.  The four places were all completely different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday and Tuesday, 18 & 19 July, 2016 – Days 33 and 34 – Lisbon, Portugal

Monday & Tuesday, 18 & 19  July 2016 – Days 33 and 34  Lisbon – Portugal 

Monday, 18 July 2016 – Day 33 – Lisbon 

Beautiful day – Up early 6.45 and down to Starbucks for coffee. Finally left Days Inn at 8.45 to go in taxi to Shifnal Railway Station. Waited for the 10.13 train that goes via Cosford, Albrighton, Codswall, Wolverhampton and to Birmingham New Street where I needed to change trains. Left Birmingham New Street at 11.22a.m and arrived at Stansted Airport and onto the shuttle train to go to Gate 34 to board the plane. Flight FR1882. We were delayed half an hour before taking off at 6.10 p.m.   

Was a good 2½ hours flight arriving in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal at 8.30 p.m. Had a bit of a wait for Passport check. At 9.30 p.m. tried to find the shuttle bus but I should have been looking for an ordinary public bus. At 10.30 p.m. I finally asked a policeman and he took me to the Aerobus. After several stops, I got off at Restaurateurs square and a Michael from the Netherlands kindly helped me with my luggage and saw me into the cab to the Albergaria Insulana hotel.

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Commemorative obelisk of the Revolution of 1640

Had to take my time wheeling my case to the hotel on the cobbled street as the taxi could not drive down the street at that hour of the night as the restaurants had their outdoor tables and chairs set up. When I got into the hotel, one had to get in a tiny lift, go to the second floor to the reception area and then when you got your room key, hop back into the lift and reception would buzz you up to the required floor. This was the procedure every day when one went out.  My room (407) was quite small, but adequate and the location was just ideal to the various venues I needed to go to.

It was then into bed after an extremely long, tiring day.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016 – Day 34 – Lisbon 

Up and down to breakfast by 8.30 a.m. in the hotel and then I walked down to the Figueira Square and got tickets for Thursday and Friday Yellow Boat and Tram rides. I wandered around the square for a little while and then took the Tagus Bus Tour – Hop on Hop off  to go to Torre de Belem. We passed many impressive buildings along the way.


I got off the bus at Belém. There was a long walk through lovely parklands towards two very famous icons on the banks of the Tagus River –  the Belem Tower or the Tower of St Vincent which is a fortified tower. Name origin: torre de belém Portuguese for tower of Bethlehem and the Discoveries Monument.

Torre de Belém. Built on the northern bank of the Tagus between 1514 and 1520 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor, the Belem Tower was the starting point for many of the voyages of discovery, and for the sailors it was the last sight of their homeland.
It is a monument to Portugal’s Age of Discovery, often serving as a symbol of the country, and UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage monument.  UNESCO says “Belem Tower was declared a World Heritage monument because ‘It is a reminder of the great maritime discoveries that laid the foundations of the modern world'”.

The architect, Francisco de Arruda, had previously worked on Portuguese fortifications in Morocco, so there are also Moorish-style watchtowers and other Moorish influences. Facing the river are arcaded windows, delicate Venetian-style loggias, and a statue of Our Lady of Safe Homecoming, a symbol of protection for sailors on their voyages.

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Heading towards the Belem Tower

The Discoveries Monument was built in Lisbon in honour of the great Henry the Navigator, who led Portugal’s discovery expeditions into the New World during the country’s heyday in the 15th century. Henry the Navigator is flanked by King Afonso V, who supported the colonisation of Africa, alongside Vasco da Gama, Pedro Alvares Cabral, the discoverer of Brazil, and Ferdinand Magellan, the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe.
Lisbon - Discoveries Monument by Alvesgaspar @Wikimedia.org
It was designed in 1939 by the Portuguese architect Jose Angelo Cottinelli Telmo alongside his countryman, sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida. Initially intended as a temporary structure to mark the opening of the Portuguese World Fair which took place in Lisbon in June 1940, the original structure was demolished after the exhibition, however it was decided by Royal Decree in 1958 that a permanent structure should be erected.

It is this structure, made from cement and rose-tinted stone, with statues sculpted from local limestone, which sits in pride of place today.

The project is still based on the original by Cottinelli Telmo and was inaugurated in 1960 – fittingly to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Henry the navigator’s death. It is an exact replica of its predecessor and stands at 171 feet tall. It is located in the Belem area of Lisbon, which was the starting point for so many of the discovery voyages.

Indeed, it was from Belem that Vasco da Gama embarked on his voyage from Portugal to India in 1497, and it was here too that Christopher Columbus anchored on his way back to Spain following his historic discovery of the Americas.

The Discoveries Monument is located close to the Jeronimos Monastery. The Monastery was built between 1502 and 1601 by King Manuel I in order to celebrate the Portuguese Discoveries.

In their wake come a series of explorers, writers, missionaries, a mathematician, a map maker and other key figures from the epoch. Notably the only female to be depicted is Queen Felipa of Lancaster, Henry the Navigator’s mother, who is credited with being the brain of the discoveries.

It is possible to go inside the Discoveries Monument, where you will find a museum, exhibition halls and various other rooms and areas spread out over an impressive seven floors.  At the very top, accessible by elevator, is an expansive terrace which offers breathtaking panoramic views over the district of Belem, the Tagus River and the rooftops and spires beyond. Because of the very long queues and standing in the sun, I did not go inside.

As I was heading towards the Burguerio Cafe, there is a Seaplane monument.  Gago Coutinho was an early Portuguese aviation pioneer who is commemorated in Lisbon by a monument of his biplane, the Santa Cruz.  Gago Coutinho along with Sacadura Cabral were the first pilots to fly across the South Atlantic Ocean. Their flight of 8,400km departed from Lisbon on the 24 March 1922 and arrived in Rio de Janeiro 79 days later on the 6th June 1922.

The seaplane monument here in Belem recalls this perilous voyage and is an exact replica of their Fairey seaplane. It was from this parkland the plane took off from.

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The Santa Cruz Fairey seaplane used by Coutinho and Cabral for their transatlantic flight did not have the fuel capacity to make the entire trip unaided so various stops were required along the route. The aviators were shadowed by a support ship, called the República. On the journey down the Brazilian coast a heavy rain storm caused the aircraft’s engine to fail and they were forced to ditch into the Pacific Ocean.

Realizing that something was wrong, the support boat República sent out a distress signal asking other ships in the area to look out for the seaplane. After a worrying period in the water, the pilots were found by a British freighter. The rescued Coutinho and Cabral were distraught as they had lost their plane so close to their final destination (and an incredibly long time flying!) Coutinho and Cabra after a heated negotiation a new air craft was loaned from the British with which they were able to complete their journey.

Gago Coutinho contributions to aviation were not limited just to mad cap distance flying, he also invented a sextant that incorporated two spirit levels which provided an artificial horizon. This adaptation of the traditional marine sextant allowed navigation without visual reference to the real horizon, particularly useful when flying through heavy fog or cloud.

I eventually reached the Burguerio Cafe where I had a refreshing Sangria and a Pastel de nata (the famous Portuguese Tart).

After I had a nice rest, I headed back to catch the hop-on-hop-off bus again and walked along the busy Rua Augusta from the river end of the street back to the hotel before I walked up to the Hard Rock Cafe to check on my tour for tomorrow. I then had a nice penne meal and fresh lemonade and then back to the hotel feeling quite exhausted so had an early night after an enjoyable day.

Sunday to Sunday, 10 to 17 July, 2016 – Days 25 to 32 – Telford area

Sunday to Sunday, 10 to 17 July 2016 – Days 25 to 32 – Telford area

Sunday, 10 July 2016 (Day 25)  Was just a rest day. On Monday, 11 July 2016 (Day 26) I went to see Lucy’s son, Peter and his wife Jane at Lilleshall where they live, to see whether Peter could help me with my ipad problem but he wasn’t able to help me. After going back to hotel did more on my blog and early night to bed.

Lilleshall where Lucy and Peter (Lucy's son) and wife Jane live

Lilleshall where Lucy and Peter (Lucy’s son) and wife Jane live

Tuesday, 12 July 2016 (Day 27)  Another rest day at the hotel.

Wednesday13 July 2016 (Day 28)  I rang Lucy for her 95th birthday. Went into the railway station to pick up my ticket and then into the Apple Store about my IPad – only way I could access my information on the IPad was to delete everything. I left the store feeling quite deflated but decided to see whether I would be told anything differently once home. Went for a drive to Newport and had a coffee and then back to hotel to do more on my blog.

Thursday, 14 July 2016 – (Day 29)  Today did more on my blog until about 4.30 and then went to Warren’s. We walked down to the nearby Red Lion Hotel for a nice dinner of steak. We then came back and did some changeover of log-ins from Em’s Ipad that she had so kindly lent me and put photos on USB stick and then after chatting we all went to bed.

Red Lion Hotel where Warren, Emily, Anthony and I had dinner

Red Lion Hotel where Warren, Emily, Anthony and I had dinner

Friday 15th July 2016 – (Day 30)  Up and after breakfast said goodbye to Warren, Emily and Anthony and drove out to Lilleshall to visit Lucy. After staying a couple of hours, said goodbye to Lucy. Was lovely catching up with her as she is just one wonderful and inspiring lady of 95. Was raining as I drove back to Telford. Filled up the car and returned it to the hire place. Kim (in the office) arranged for me to be driven back to the hotel.  As I didn’t have any technology, was an early night to bed.

Lucy at 95 and 2 days

Lucy at 95 and 2 days

Saturday 16th July, 2016 (Day 31)  After breakfast, decided I would have a leisurely hike up the Wrekin. The Wrekin is a hill in east Shropshire, England. It is located some five miles (8 km) west of Telford. Rising to a height of 1,335 feet (407 metres) above the Shropshire Plain, it is a prominent and well-known landmark and is popular for walkers and tourists and offers good views of Shropshire.

Caught a cab to the base and then just took my time and at the summit sat and enjoyed the view before it was time for me to descend. Then it was into another cab back to the hotel. Had a nice soak in the bath and then to bed reasonably early.

Sunday 17th July 2016 (Day 32)  After breakfast, caught a cab up to the Telford Shopping Centre to get my hair done.  After a little wander, came back to accommodation and sorted out luggage in readiness for tomorrow.  Nice soak and then to bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 9 July 2016 – Day 24 – Telford to Welshpool, Wales

Saturday, 9 July 2016 – Day 24 – Telford to Welshpool, Wales

(7497)  Got up and met David for a short time. Was nice to see him again and then he had commitments. About 10.15am. I set off for Vanessa’s in Welshpool, Gateway to Wales.  Was raining for awhile. Past through Ford and Wattlesborough. I stopped at the Halfway House before continuing on through Middletown and Trewin. The countryside is beautiful and green and there are hills around. Cows and sheep were wandering around along the way.

I turned off at Arddleen and arrived at Vanessa’s. After meeting Vanessa’s husband, Neil and their two sons, Will and Sam, Vanessa and I went to the nearby Powis Castle, a magnificent property with over 700 years of fascinating history.

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Powis started life as a medieval fortress, built for the Welsh Princes. It gradually changed into an impressive residence, lived in by generations of the Herbert family. The property has barely altered since the early 1900’s when the 4th Earl, George Herbert (1862-1952) and his wife Violet lived with their 3 children. Violet improved the garden which she felt had the potential to be “the most beautiful in England and Wales”. She died after a car accident in 1929. On his death in November 1952, aged 90. the 4th Earl bequeathed the castle and gardens to the National Trust. He was succeeded by his cousin, Edward Herbert (1889–1974), fifth Earl, whose widow, the Countess Powis, remained living in the dower house, and was succeeded in turn by Christian Victor Charles Herbert the sixth Earl.  Throughout 2016, Powis will be commemorating the life of Percy Herbert, Viscount Clive, (son of 4th Earl) who bravely fought in WWI from 1914-1916 when he died of wounds received at the Battle of the Somme in World War I.

The castle is known for its extensive, attractive formal gardens, terraces, parkland, deerpark and landscaped estate. On our entrance, I finally got to see deer as I have not seen any on my three visits to the UK.

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Finally seeing some deer !!!

We wandered through the beautiful rooms of the Castle including the entrance hall, bedrooms and huge library, and climbed the Grand Staircase which was commissioned between 1674 and 1687.

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Vanessa and me at Powis Castle

After a cup of coffee, we admired the beautiful 17th century terraced gardens. There were immaculate herbaceous borders and clipped yews along with flowers in the cottage garden style. We wound our way along some of the terraced gardens meeting some of the inhabitants – beautiful peacocks – until it was time to return to the car.

The Castle and its grounds were just magnificent. On our way home, we stopped off in Welshpool for fish and chips.

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Next to the fish shop there was The Mermain Inn, a 16th century timber framed building, originally with thatched roof. It has been an inn for at least 200 years.

After dinner, I left the Thomas household and had a good run back to my hotel.

Will, Sam, Vanessa and Neil

Will, Sam, Vanessa and Neil

I rang Vanessa to let her know I was back OK. and to thank her for a lovely catchup and outing to Powis Castle. (7540).

 

 

Thursday and Friday, 7 and 8 July 2016 – Days 22 and 23 -From Warwickshire area to Telford

Thursday and Friday – 7  and 8 July 2016 – Days 22 and 23 –  From Warwickshire area to Telford

Thursday, 7 July 2016  – Day 22

This morning, got a shock when the housemaid woke me at 11.00am. I slept through 3 alarms so must have been very tired. Went into the lounge of the Black Horse Inn and had a coffee before I left at about 12.00. There was a very appropriate sign that I liked!.  (7328).

I had a good run until Bayston Hill, near Shrewsbury. Finally the traffic moved and I went via Shatterford, Alverley, Qat and Qattley. I ended up in Shifnal and there was excitement in the street as there were two fire brigades attending a fire. I arrived back at Days Inn, my accommodation at about 3.45pm.

I rang Robert that night and was nice to hear his voice. Didn’t do much tonight and off to bed.

Friday, 8 July 2016 –  Day 23 

(7437)  After breakfast, set off for Oswestry to meet Louise at the Wynnstay Hotel. Louise was in her lunch time from Hope House Hospice. We had a nice lunch and catch up before it was time for her to go back to work and me back to Telford.

Louise from Hope House Hospice and Me at Wilsons Bar at the Wynnstay Hotel in Oswestry

Louise from Hope House Hospice and Me at Wilsons Bar at the Wynnstay Hotel in Oswestry

I took some painkillers as had a bad headache and some pain so went to bed at 4.30pm. I woke up at 9.30pm thinking it was Saturday morning and wondered where David was as we had arranged to meet. So it was back to bed!  (7460)

Wednesday, 6 July 2016 – Day 21 – Telford to Warwickshire area

Wednesday, 6 July 2016 – Day 21 – Telford to Warwickshire area

Up and left Warren’s at 8.15am. (7245). Warren, Anthony and Emily piloted me out to where I needed to head to Leamington Spa to catch up with Niamh.  It was lovely catching up with the Starlings – thankyou for your great hospitality.

I had a good run and arrived in Leamington Spa at 10.30am. I turned off the main road into a street where there was St Paul’s Church. I used this as a landmark when I rang Niamh who came to meet me. We drove in both cars back to her place in Kenilworth. We had a coffee and the fridge had “died” so it was being defrosted so as to be collected later in the afternoon. Niamh, who is Irish, introduced me to her neighbour who is also Irish. The fridge people came earlier than expected which was good as we could go off and not have to come back for them. We drove a short distance to a hotel, the Green Man for a lovely lunch of Nachos and a Thai curry and Niamh a chicken dish.

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Niamh and me enjoying lunch

After lunch, we drove to the Kenilworth Castle which is a ruin.  It was then into Leamington Spa for a short walk and coffee. We drove past the school that Niamh will be commencing to teach at in September. This is a complete change in career for her as when we met, she was a receptionist in Telford in a hotel. I then met Niamh’s partner, Alan briefly before we drove him to a nearby pub to watch Portugal v Wales play.

Back at the house, Niamh and I showed some family photos before Niamh piloted me to my accommodation at the lovely Black Horse Inn in Warwick. Was a joy as right on ground level – no stairs to negotiate.

It was then goodbye to Niamh after a lovely, although short, enjoyable day. She was off home to pack her case as she was flying back to visit her family for a week in Ireland. It was nice catching up with Niamh.

Finally into bed at 12.00.  (7328)

Monday and Tuesday, 4 and 5 August, 2016 – Days 19 and 20 Malta to UK

Monday and Tuesday,  4 and 5 July 2016  – Days 19 and 20 – Malta to UK

Monday, 4 July, 2016  – Day 19 – Telford 

I had my wakeup call at 4.45am. Dressed quickly and down for a cup of coffee before my transport arrived at 4.45am to take me to the Malta Airport. Arrived at the airport by 6.00am. I booked my 16.7ks case through and then wrote some postcards until it was 8.00 am when I went through Security and passport check.  Boarded flight KM116 from Malta to Gatwick. I exchanged seats so as to sit with David and Margaret who I had met and sat with on way over to Malta. We left at 8.40am and arrived at Gatwick Airport at 12.30pm.  It was a bit of a wait at the passport check and then said goodbye to David and Margaret who had waited for me to get through passport check.

I was going to get the Gatwick Express but the railway assistant told me it would be better to get an ordinary train to St Pancreas. The train was delayed by 35 minutes due to a staffing problem so I eventually arrived at St Pancreas and got a taxi to Euston Station. I thought I was in time for the 3.15pm train but my ticket was for a different company so had to change my ticket.  The woman was very obliging and did not charge me extra so I boarded the train to Wales. Had to change at Birmingham New Street station. A kind guy took my case and me to the correct station for my next train that arrived in 10 minutes. Boarded the train and arrived at the Wellington Station at about 6.10pm. Warren and Anthony picked me up and it was to their place in Wellington and then it was hello to Emily.

We chatted over a a lovely spread and was good catching up with them.  Met these lovely people in 2014 at the Birmingham Airport.

The night ended on a frustrating note as my IPad went berserk and wouldn’t let me activate it after attempting to put in a passcode so left it and went to bed at 10.30pm disappointed.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016 – Day 20 – Telford and into Wales

Up at 7.30 and after breakfast drove into Telford to pick up my hire car and brought it back to Warren’s. We all then went into the Town Centre to see about my IPad but with no success. We then called into the Coed Poeth shop for some stores and then onto the Parc Farm Holiday Park where Warren has accommodation. The park is set in the Clwydian Hills midway between Llangollen, Mould and Ruthin, with stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

Emily has done a lot of work in the little garden.

It was then into the lovely historic market town of Ruthin (Rhuthin) via LlandyrnogIts position on the River Clwyd, between the Hiraethog Moors and the Clwydian Hills has led to many bloody battles between the English and the Welsh who fought for centuries for control of this important agricultural area. Before going in for lunch, we went into the Craft Centre – had many interesting displays and I bought a book consisting of the “Welsh Place Names” – Ruthin is mentioned and says  – Probably a corruption of rhudd, red, and din, town. So called from the colour of the soil.

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Give us a cwtch means Give us a cuddle. Still cannot understand the Welsh language.

We went into the Castle Hotel, an old coaching house and is located in St Peter’s Square. It is a Grade II listed building erected in the 18th century and named the White Lion and owned by the Myddelton family of Ruthin Castle. In c1885 it was renamed the Castle Hotel incorporating what is now the Myddleton Arms next door. Sir Hugh Myddelton, who bought this house in 1595, provided London with its first supply of fresh water.

The Castle Hotel is in a stunning location, in a town which boasts more listed buildings than any other in North Wales.  The premises have been refurbished by JD Wetherspoon in January 2012. We all had a nice lunch and I had Welsh sausages, peas and potato.

Warren, Anthony, Emily and I in the Castle Hotel in Ruthin, North Wales

Warren, Anthony, Emily and I in the Castle Hotel in Ruthin, North Wales

There was a copy of a lovely tapestry called the Wine Market that was woven in Flanders in the 15th Century. The original now hangs in the Cluny Museum in Paris.  Also in the hotel were several photographs of Charles Darwin. In August 1835, Charles Darwin, then only 22 years old, came to North Wales on a geological tour and stayed in Ruthin. He reputedly spent a night in the Castle Hotel. There was a painting of Darwin that was made 50 years later.

Before leaving Ruthin, we had a little wander and came across the “Maen Huail” which said – “On this stone the legendary King Arthur is said to have beheaded Huail, brother of Gildas the historian, his rival in love and war”.

It was time to leave Ruthin to return back to Wellington via Oswestry and arrived about 7.30 after a lovely relaxing day until the fun began trying to close Em’s account and get into Yahoo. We finally succeeded at 11.00pm and then off to bed.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 3 July 2016 – Day 18 – Malta to Sicily, Italy

Sunday, 3 July 2016 – Day 18 – Malta to Sicily, Italy

I was still awake at 2.00am this morning as just could not go to sleep. Nodded off and woke up just seconds before my wakeup call at 4.00am.  I dressed and went downstairs for a coffee and waited with three cats for my 4.45am pickup.  Made good time and arrived at the Valletta wharf at 5.50am.  After a short wait with a passport check, it was onto a Virtu Ferry, (the Jean De La Vallette).

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It was just like a cruise ship taking cars, trucks and caravans as well as passengers.  We set off at 6.30am.  We arrived at 8.20 in Pozzallo. – 50 nautical miles from Malta. We had to wait until all the vehicles disembarked and then the walk on passengers could then disembark.  We then joined Bus No.1 and set off towards Taormina.

On our way we passed by Ispica a baroque town rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake, Rosolini a typical rural town dusted back to Roman times surrounded by orange and lemon groves. We then passed Noto. The city was also destroyed in the 1693 earthquake and was rebuilt to become the Capital City of Sicilian Baroque city and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here we had hills on the left and the sea on our right. There were many vineyards and wheat fields around this area. Next was Cassible. It was still continuing on to Siracusa, the hometown of Archmides and home to the world famous archaeological zone. In this area there was a huge oil refinery.

We continued onto Catania, an Italian city on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea and sits at the foot of Mt Etna.  Catania is well known for its historical earthquakes, having been destroyed by many earthquakes and rebuilt. Catania is now a large city with a busy port and has a rich culture and history having many museums, restaurants, churches, parks and theatres and is well known for its street food.

As time was limited we did not get off the coach until we reached our destination of Taormina. Taormina is spectacularly perched on the side of a mountain on the east coast of Sicily. Taormina is Sicily’s prime tourist resort and was discovered by the British aristocracy in the mid 1800’s. Facing Mt Etna and the blue Mediterranean, this peaceful panoramic resort, 206m above sea level was colonized by the Greeks who built a theatre in the Hellenic period – 4BC. The present Teatro Greco, altered by the Romans is the venue for classical plays every summer.  As we climbed we passed the narrow stretch of sand known as Isola Bella that connects to the mainland. It is a nature reserve and there were many swimmers going off the rocks.  We were given a couple of hours free time to wander around and have lunch.

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Taormina is a beautiful city perched high up on the mountainside and had gorgeous views down to the sea and out to Mt Etna.

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There is a cable car that ferries tourists to and from the seaside resorts down along the coast. Cary Grant and Greta Garbo were regular visitors to Taormina. I wandered along taking in the views and enjoyed going along the narrow streets with their cafes, boutiques and restaurants. The main street, the Corso Umberto, seems to be a bustle of nationalities.

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It was then time to board the coach for our next destination of Mt Etna.  We took a very scenic drive further up the mountain and the views out over the sea were absolutely spectacular. It is just amazing how the coach drivers negotiate these narrow windy routes. If we meet another coach, there is only about 6 inches between coaches.  We made our way to Mt Etna.

Mt. Etna is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily in the Province of Catania between Messini and Catania. Elevation is approximately 3350 metres and is the tallest active volcano and is the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps. Was designated as Decade Volcano of the United Nations. In June 2013 it was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage.

The top of the volcano is actually a series of craters. Because it erupts frequently, the landscape is constantly changing. Most recent eruption occurred on 26 October, 2013. Twentieth century eruptions occurred in 1949, 1971, 1981, 1983 and 1991-1993.

We were climbing through picturesque villages and an ever changing landscape. The lower slopes of the volcano are extremely fertile with groves of lemons, oranges and other Mediterranean flora and of course vines which produce Sicily’s best wines. We drove through forests of chestnut trees which gradually gave way to oak, beech, birch and pines. We finally got to Refugio Sapienza where we purchased our tickets for the Funivia dell’Etna cable car up the mountain to 2500 metres. It was then onto a 4 wheeled vehicle that took us up to the spot where we got off and had a short but steep walk to one of Etna’s crater. We were at about 2920 metres high.

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As we walked along there was the black lava sand, volcanic gravel and rocks crunching underfoot. It is an amazing site looking down into the crater. Hard to imagine that anything can grow in these surrounds but there are lots of little plants and pines growing.  Was amazing also, looking up to the summit of Mt Etna with its smoke rising up to the sky. This area becomes covered in snow and is a very popular skiing area. As we walked back to the jeeps, there was still some frozen snow along the way.

The jeep took us all the way down to the waiting coach. We had another stop at Zafferana and called into a large shop, Oro d Etna to sample  the local honey, nougat and wine. I did buy a couple of products. It was then back to Pozzallo to get the ferry back to Malta. It was a smooth ride back to the mini cab that took me back to my hotel arriving at 12.30am.

It was an extremely long but interesting day.  I did my packing for tomorrow as I fly back to England and bed at 2.00am.

Sadly, I have not any of my own photos of beautiful Taormina or Mt Etna as my Ipad decided to play up and I could not retrieve anything off it. To reactivate my Ipad, everything on it had to be deleted. I shed some tears but nothing I could do about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday and Saturday, 1 and 2 July 2016 – Days 16 and 17 – Malta

Friday, 1 July 2016 – Day 16 – Malta

Up at 7.00am and booked out of my lovely little apartment, Number 20 and at 7.45 Alfie picked me up to take me to the Panarama Hotel in Mellieha. We arrived at 8.45 as there was quite a lot of traffic already. While waiting for my 9.00 tour bus, I took in the lovely view of the sea and surrounds.

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Vincent, the tour guide came and escorted me up the little incline in a very narrow street that the coach could not negotiate. On the coach and we picked up a few more passengers on the way. The countryside is extremely dry and many stone walls and a few little primitive houses. We arrived at the ferry wharf  at the Mgarr Harbour for the short 20 minute ferry ride to Gozo at 9.30. We were then onto the coach for our tour of Gozo. The population of Gozo is about 30,000 and the lifestyle is quite different from Malta. Very quiet and relaxing and many Maltese folk go to Gozo for their holidays.

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The first temple dates back to about 872 BC when the Phonecians came to Malta. After the Phonecians were the Carthaginians and the Romans. Many Maltese came from Lebanon so the language is Arabic also. The main reason they came to Malta was for business in the area. Malta is in the Mediterranean between Africa and Europe.

Our first stop on the tour was at the Ggantiju Temples. The Ggantiju or as it was commonly known in the past, The Giants’ Tower, is the best preserved and by far the most impressive prehistoric temple. It is probably the finest of all the ancient remains on these islands and can compare with Stonehenge for grandeur. It was uncovered in about 1826.

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These are regarded to be the oldest free standing structures in the world. The largest megalith to be found at the Ggantiju Temples weighs about 50 tonnes and its walls reach a height of around 7 metres. After a long walk back on the coach again.We passed Marsalfon Bay. In the year 60AD the Christian Apostle Paul was shipwrecked around here and stayed for about 3 months. Legend has it that he was on his way to Rome from Malta and his ship stopped over in Marsalfon. It is now a popular seaside resort. At about 11.30 we headed to Victoria (Rabat).  During the Arab period, it used to be called Rabat, but the Bishop of Gozo obtained permission for it to be called Victoria in commemoration of the jubilee of Queen Victoria.  The relation between the British and Malta was amicable.

We had a long wander down lovely little well kept inhabited alleyways.

There was not enough time to visit the Citadel so David, Maddie, Brian and Heidi and I had a refreshing beer at a nice cafe and then it was onto the coach to go to the Downtown Restaurant for a nice buffet lunch.

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After our lunch, it was back onto the coach to go to the Ta’Pinu Basilica. This is a national shrine and a centre of pilgrimage for both Gozitans and the Maltese. On this spot there was a 16th Century chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, with an altarpiece painted by Amedeo Perugino in 1619. The old chapel with the original painting can still be seen at the far end of the church where votive offerings, including silver objects, crutches and pictures are displayed in the church. Our Lady of Ta’Pinu is believed to have miraculous healing powers. The interior of the church is beautiful and some of the holy pictures are not hand painted, but mosaics. The Basilica is affiliated with the Vatican in Rome.

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We were then back on the coach heading to the Ta’Dbiegi Crafts Village.  Situated beneath the shelter of Gozo’s highest hill, huts and workshops furnish local unique handmade crafts such as the famous Gozo lace, sweaters, blown glass, pottery and ceramics, limestone marble, onyx and alabaster, silver and gold, paintings and wood pyrography, leather, candles and also local liqueurs, honey and preserved fruits in the traditional was. We visited one such outlet and sampled the wine and honey. I did make a couple of small purchases here as the products were so nice.

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Our next get off stop was at Dwejra having one of Gozo’s most important natural landmarks.  These are the coastal tower, the Azure Window and the famous Fungus Rock.  I decided not to do the optional trip to the Azure Window as I thought it would have been similar to my trip to the Blue Grotto. I enjoyed a quiet sit and coffee until the other passengers returned.

Shortly after boarding the coach, we stopped at a beautiful lookout where we could see Valletta, the island Comino and other islands.

We then travelled back to join the 4.30pm ferry. David and Maddie are staying at the same hotel. On our return to the hotel we had a relaxing time sitting outside enjoying some refreshing drinks as still quite warm and listening to some keyboard music and a chap singing.

Today was a very enjoyable and informative day. I went to bed reasonably early.

Saturday, 2 July 2016 – Day 17 – Malta

Up and had breakfast with David and Maddie and then it was a complete relaxing time chatting, in and out of the swimming pool, having a few beers and watching the activities out on the Mellieha Bay.  For lunch I had a nice omelette and then did the same activities as in the morning. Very lazy but a good rest.  We adjourned to David’s and Maddie’s balcony for a last drink with them. David was very good at being Maddie’s and my “servant” tending to our refreshments requirements throughout the day. Thanks David. At 7.30pm I said goodbye to them as it was going to be a very early pickup once more for my trip over to Sicily.

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Thursday, 30 June 2016 – Day 15 – Malta


Thursday, 30 
June 2016 – Day 15 – Malta

Woke at 8.00 to another warm day. Down and caught the local No. 2 bus having been told it would stop at the Valletta wharf but instead it stopped at the Valletta bus terminal. Luckily I had time to walk down to the Valletta Waterfront to catch the 9.30 T2 South (the blue lined route) Hop-on-hop-off bus. We set off and the first bus stop was at the Tarxien Temples and Hypogun. There are various chambers that are kept at controlled temperatures. Now a UNESCO site.

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My trip today on the blue line bus route

Now we came to where I started from this morning, at the Vittoriosa Waterfront but I wanted to make sure of the earlier spot to be picked up from. Our commentary when able to be heard gave us some information on the Maltese cuisine, including soups, pasta, fish dishes and rabbit stew (Venkata). There are many pastitsi (bakeries) and were reconmmended. Maltese wines were also mentioned and are being well received globally. We passed quite a few vineyards.

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We had a short stop at Marsaxlokk which is a nice looking fishing village. Our Lady of Pompeii is the patron saint of fishermen. There were quite a few fishermen sorting out their nets as they were up early selling their varied catches – swordfish, tuna and lampooki – to the hotels and restaurants.

We passed through Birzebluga and Gudja. The bus kept going and we passed Malta’s only airport, Luqa.  Air Malta is Malta’s own airport but many other airlines fly into Valletta. There were some very deep open cut limestone quarries. Zurrieq was the next village we passed through.  The feast of St Catherine was mentioned. Many of the villages celebrate their special feast days with an abundance of fireworks displays as well as street decorations and processions with the statue of their patron saint, accompanied by local brass bands, traditional snacks and nougat. Evidently these fireworks displays are quite spectacular. I did not see any, but heard them going off one night.

The countryside around this area is extremely dry and it is a  wonder anything can grow but vegetables, grapes and many oleander shrubs do. Our next stop, at 10.45 was at the famous Blue Grotto.What a gorgeous spot.  This was my first getting off the bus. On my way to purchase the boat ride to the grotto cave, there under a tree were four Falcons so I had my photo taken with the biggest one called Nina. Took the short walk for my ticket for a 25 minute boat ride to the beautiful grottoes. The water is such a gorgeous blue, hence the name. We went into several little inlets.

 

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Made our way back to be dropped off. As the little walk was quite steep, I paid a well spent euro for a buggy ride to a cafe for a drink before boarding the bus back to Valletta.  I just wished I had my swimmers as the natural protected pool was an ideal spot as safe and as not crowded as on the beaches.

My next get off, was at the”Maltese Experience” into which I intended going but it was a guided tour and had already started 5 minutes earlier so I gave it a miss.  I then purchased a ticket to go into Fort St Elmo and the National War Museum. The Fort was built by the Knights in 1551.  It was a steep entry into the 7 exhibition rooms and it had warmed up considerably.  After doing this climb, I discovered there was a lift!  From the top, you got a terrific view of the Harbour and the surrounds. Made my way into the different story halls except for the final one as the projector was out of order. I found this excursion was extremely well set out and gave one a wonderful story of Malta’s beginnings right up to the present day.  Two halls are dedicated to Malta’s important role in WWI, the Inter War Period and Malta’s historic role in WWII. The three most important icons of this Museum are the Gloucesterh Sea Gladiator N5520 Faith, one of the three airplanes active in the region at the beginning of the conflict, Roosevelt’s jeep, “Husky” and the Malta award for gallantry, the George Cross given to Malta by King George VI during the Second World. Concluding the walk through Malta’s military role in history are displays dedicated to Malta’s Independence, becoming a Republic, Freedom Day and Malta joining the European EU on 1st May, 2004.

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After thoroughly enjoying this afternoon at Fort St Elmo, I had a nice cool drink of beer before joining the Hop-on bus once more. I had it to myself as no other passengers and got off at the very convenient stop at Vittoriosa. Just had to make my way up more steps, along a little alleyway to the Birgu square.

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Went into a cafe for another cool drink and pizza. It was huge, so took half home for later. Then the very short stepped walk to my apartment to sort out my luggage as being picked up at 7.45am in the morning to go to the Panarama Hotel in Mellieha.  Went to bed reasonably early.

I loved my little apartment (except those 40 odd steps to my level 3) and I thank Renald for the milk, yoghurt, oranges and sandwich that you supplied and also for Ritianne for arranging my transfers.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016. – Day 14 – In Malta

 Wednesday, 29 June 2016 – Day 14 – In Malta 

Woke up to a beautiful sunny day.  I set off down all the stairs to the Harbour and got a water taxi over to Valletta. Another big cruise ship in at port.

Headed up to one of the main streets to find a bank and then headed down to the Bus Terminal to get on the T1 North Route hop-on-hop-off bus. (Blue lines route)

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I was told to wait for another bus as the one I was going to get on was reserved for people off the cruise ship but then it was decided, yes, I could get on.  After a couple of stops all the cruise people got off and I had the bus to myself.  A bit further along, then I needed to transfer to another one and the trip continued on.

We set off and passed San Anton Gardens. These gardens are probably the best known of the island’s gardens. The gardens were laid out by Grandmaster Antoine de Paule (1623-1636) as grounds for his summer residence. We headed onto Mdina, the old capital of Malta until 1530 and its origin may be traced back to 1500BC. Mdina has had many different names and titles depending on its rulers and its role but it’s medieval name describes its best – “Citta Notabile” the noble city.  The Arabs divided the Roman town of Melita (now Mdina) in two parts – the citadel which they named Mdina (the town) and the rest of the old settlement which they named Rabat (the suburb) names by which they are still known.  Impressive palaces that today serve as private homes line its narrow shady streets.

Mdina is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city and extraordinary in its mix of Medieval and Baroque architecture.

Both Rabat and Mdina are perched on a ridge dominating the whole expanse of the island  and of the sea beyond. Both centres have been inhabited for thousands of years. The main square of Rabat is dominated by the church of St Paul. Over the years it has been damaged by earthquakes and has been rebuilt. The present church was designed by Francesco Bionamici, the architect who brought the Baroque style to Malta and was built by Lorenzo Gafa between 1656 and 1681.

Rabat played a major role in Malta’s history. The large provincial township was part of the Roman city of Melita. The town is a commercial centre and acts as a market for its large agricultural hinterland. It is also well established on the tourist map due to archaeological and historical sites.

imageThe country side is so very dry and dusty over a lot of the island. We had a stop at the Ta’Qali Crafts village. This was the first hop off as we stayed longer here. The little shops had some lovely filigree and glassware handicrafts but I did not buy anything.  This was a former World War II military aerodrome and it has been converted into the hand crafts centre.  Along a little way, there is an Aviation museum displaying aircrafts. The museum is situated in a former RAF station and among the artefacts are a rebuilt Spitfire MkIX and a Hawker Hurricane LLa. There were lots of old hangars here.

It was time to board the bus again and we continued on to Mosta. It lies at the heart of Malta and is a busy market town. At its centre is a magnificent domed church dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady and is called St Mary’s. The Rotunda is currently the 4th largest in the world and the third largest unsupported church dome. In World War II (1942) the church took a direct hit from a German 200kg. bomb that pierced the dome landing in the midst of 300 odd congregation but failed to explode. There is a replica of the bomb on display. The original was dumped at sea.

We made our way north west of the mainland of Malta to the small town of Mgarr. It was formerly known as Mgiarro. Mgarr is a typical rural village situated in an isolated region, west of Mosta and is surrounded by rich farmland and vineyards and strawberries. Over the years Mgarr has built up a reputation for being one of the best places where one can eat stewed rabbit and snails in garlic, considered as Maltese specialities. Most people of these restaurants are situated around the Mgarr Parish Church, built in 1912 and dedicated to St Mary and is known for its unusual egg-shaped dome.

Although the country is very dry, there were lots of vegetables such as squash, cabbages and others being grown plus lots of rabbits.

On our way to Golden Bay we pass Roman Baths but this heritage site is temporarily closed. There seemed to be heaps of cars here and the beach looked quite crowded. Together with its adjoining beach, Ghajin Tuffieha, it is unspoilt and secluded. This point was our most westerly side of the island.

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We headed northeasterly to St Paul’s Bay. This is the quaint location of the original Fishing harbour known as “Il Menqa” flanked to the left by Wignacourt Tower built by the Grandmaster (-1622), the oldest standing watchtower of the period of the Knights of St John and to the right St Paul’s Chapel revered as the spot where the locals lit a fire to warm and welcome St Paul on his unforeseen arrival on the island.  We then weaved out way through Bugibba. Bugibba and its neighbours Qawra and St Paul’s Bay are Malta’s largest seaside resort towns. The coastline has been developed into a distinct resort with numerous hotels and holiday apartments. The water in n both verges of the bay is not deep and is ideal for swimming off the rocks.

Now we were travelling eastwards for quite a few miles to St George’s Bay, Paceville and St Julian’s. This area is a very upmarket spot with quite a few huge new hotels and modern development. It is a major residential and tourist centre. St Julian’s merges with Paceville, Malta’s main nightlife centre with clubs, casinos, restaurants, cafes and bars. We weaved in and out of the bays and hotels. You could see the beach was absolutely packed with many colourful umbrellas and lollabout lounges and swimmers packed in like sardines.

We then headed past Spinola Bay towards Balluta Bay. This is a small bay between St. Julian’s and Sliema. Its shores are full of cafes, kiosks and restaurants. The skyline is dominated by the Carmelite Church and the Victorian Balluta Building. The next stop was Sliema where I decided I would get off as it has been a very long trip. Didn’t realise it was going to be this long. Sliema is Malta’s main coastal resort. It’s a centre for shopping, restaurants and cafe life. Sliema is also a major commercial and residential area and also houses several of Malta’s most recent hotels. The coastal promenade, which runs for several kilometres from St Julian’s to Gzira and Ta’Xbiex is ideal for walkers and joggers.  The bay is full of little boats and several ferries. From here you could see Manoel Island. It is a small island fortified by Grandmaster Manoel de Vilhena, who also built the theatre in Valletta. The architect of this project was Frenchman Francoise de Mondion, who was also the architect of Louise XIV. The island is now vexing conserved and converted into an exclusive residential area.

I sat and watched the activities along the promenade for quite awhile and then caught another hop-on to the Valletta Waterfront to get a Water taxi back over to Vittoriosa.  As it was very warm I stopped off at the local cafe for a couple of beers before returning to my apartment.

It was quite a long day, but got to see a very extensive part of the countryside along with the different villages, beaches and bays and certainly heard lots of information about Malta.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016 – Day 13 – Malta

Tuesday, 28 June 2016. – Day 13 – Malta.    

Woken up by my delivery of milk and oranges at 9.15 after having had a good sleep.  Went up to the nearby information centre and Tania was ever so helpful. Made my way down to the ferry terminal.

I checked with a man that I was heading the right way and he told me some instructions. He must have thought I may not have understood so he caught up with me an escorted me down to the terminal. The Maltese people re so friendly and helpful. Caught the 1.00 ferry into Valletta. It is colloquially known as ‘Il Belt’. Valletta is the capital of Malta and was built during the rule of the Knights of St. John. This baroque city is speckled with neo-classical and modern architecture and has been declared Europe’s Capital of Culture 2018. This prestigious title reflects the incredibly rich cultural heritage of this Baroque masterpiece.

Once the ferry arrived in Valletta, you then caught a very high lift that brought you out near the  Saluting Battery point. From here you are able to get a marvellous view of the Grand HarbourThere is an enormous cruise liner in at port, the MSC Preziosa.

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I went into Valletta’s first church, The Church of Our Lady of Victory. It is quite beautiful inside with all the paintings on the ceiling. There is a lot of restoration taking place and one of the items of the list is to reinstate the 18th Century Organ.

I then wandered along a couple of the streets and found the bookshop that sold bus tickets.

I then decided to have a horse and buggy hour’s ride that took me around to several points of interest. Past a very grand 5 star hotel, a once leper hospital, a little fishing bay, a war memorial, and quite a few others that are too numerous to mention. It was certainly worth it. The driver also took me down to the port to see the cruise ship at close quarters. I believe it sails out tonight heading to Spain and France.

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The three Cities were pointed out – Birgu, Bormla and Isla. The cities had their names changed by the Knights of Malta and are today known as Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Singlia respectively.

Malta has many picturesque winding streets and very impressive harbour views. One hears lots of bell chimes throughout the day. It is a very relaxed city and although there are lots of people, you are not being jostled into each other.

After my horse and buggy ride, I came back to the Saluting Battery again to hear the gun firing at 4.00.

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I then decided instead of taking the ferry back to Birgu/Vittoriosa, I would take a “gondola” back. Once more, points of interest were pointed out to me as we went along the Grand Harbour. It was very relaxing going along and there was a very pleasant breeze blowing.

Thought I was back in Venice on the gondola

Thought I was back in Venice on the gondola

Instead of going right up to where the ferry came in, I was dropped right near the square near my accommodation. I called into the Church of St. Lawrence. It was erected during the years 1681-1697 replacing the previous church which served for a time as the Conventional Church of the Order of St. John.

 I then went inside the tiny Oratory of the Holy Crucifix. This oratory or small church was built in 1720 on the graves of those that fell during the Great Seige of 1565. It was built by members of the Confreternity of the Holy Crucifix where they held their various meetings and religious functions. The fascade was rebuilt in 1950 after it was destroyed during World War II.

I then headed for the Cafe de Brazil and ordered a couple of beers and had a nice salmon penne.  Then it was time to tackle the 40 steps into my apartment.  The time has got away while doing this so I had better go to bed.  It has been a super day .    It certainly is a lovely city.

Monday, 27 June 2016 – Day 12 – London to Malta

Monday, 27 June 2016 – Day 12 – London to Malta

Up at 7.00 and said goodbye to Cynthia who was off to work.  It rained for a short bit but when the girls left for school, it had stopped. At 8.15 Mark and I left for the train station and then onto Victoria Station for me to get the Gatwick Express. Mark was a great help as I probably wouldn’t have taken this route without his help.

I arrived at the Gatwick Airport at 9.15 after the half hour journey. Booked my case in at 9.30 and then in line for Security. Was a long walk to Gate 33. Met and chatted to a lovely couple, Paddy and Rosie. We boarded our plane Malta ET645 for Malta. We had a delay of half an hour and eventually took off at 12.30.  We were served a nice roll and then it was smooth flying and we arrived at the Valletta Airport at 4.20.  Waited for a short while to go through passport control, collected my case and was met by my driver who drove me to my accommodation in Birgu. The owner, Renald met me and gave me some pointers about the surrounds.  My apartment is up 40 steps and a few more above is the top of the building so went up and took a couple of photos.

It was very warm, so had a shower, changed and went down the little alley way to Renald’s restaurant, Cafe de Centre for a beer, snails and a kids pizza.

As I was leaving, spoke with a John from Roumania so we had a drink, chatted and he showed me the marina before taking me back to near my accommodation.

It was now 11.30 so went straight to bed after a long day.

 

Sunday, 26 June 2016 – Day 11 – Telford to London

Sunday, 26 June, 2016 – Day 11 – Telford to London

Woke to another day of intermittent showers but by 11.00 when I booked out of the hotel, the sun was shining. Caught a cab to Telford Central Railway Station and waited for the 12.00 train to Birmingham New Street where I then had to catch the 12.55 to London Euston Station.

Euston Station. - A very busy area

Euston Station. – A very busy area

I then caught a cab to the Casburn’s place. Their place is in a lovely street called The Mews and it used to be stables way back.

I met Mark and the two lovely young girls, Grace and Ally. Later in the evening, we all walked a short distance to the Prince Alfred hotel for a very enjoyable meal. We were downstairs and this used to be where the coal was dispatched.

Mark, Cynthia, Grace, Ally and me enjoying our meal

Mark, Cynthia, Grace, Ally and me enjoying our meal

 

After our meal, Cynthia and I had a short walk up to the Canals – hence the name “little Venice”.  We then came back to their place and I had a reasonably early night.  Thanks Grace for giving up your comfy bed for the night.