Lockdown Armchair Travel – Poland – Gdansk, Warsaw and Krakow, July 2009

Welcome to another trip down memory lane from the days when we used to explore the world (still hoping they come back eventually!) P is for many places including Poland, and a twelve day visit in July 2009, flying into Gdansk for three days, then taking the train to Warsaw for four days, and another train to Krakow for five days, before flying home. A fantastic experience, and one we thoroughly recommend. So what do you think of, when you think of Poland? Maybe this:

TyskieTyskie, like Guinness, tastes so different in its home country. On draught, it’s probably the most refreshing lager-style beer I’ve ever tasted. And if wining and dining is your thing, you probably couldn’t do better than visit Gdansk – especially the wining part, as it’s a true party town. The central area around the River Motlawa is dedicated to having fun – and we loved it.

RiverThose boats are primarily designed to serve you beer, and they do it really well.

party boatAn interesting feature of the downtown river is its medieval port crane, looming majestically out over the water.

Outside the party area, it’s a beautiful smallish city, with attractive buildings and architecture

Gdanskwith beautiful churches like St Bridget’s

St Bridget's Churchand St Mary’s

St Mary'sSt Mary'sGdansk is of course also noted for its shipyard, and as being the birthplace of the Solidarity Movement.

SolidarityIt’s a major tourist sight in its own right

ShipyardWith some very striking civic art

Solidarity was probably the first thread coming loose in dismantling the Iron Curtain, and I love this Polski Fiat making a break for the West

A little out of town is the Westerplatte memorial park, the site of the first battle between Polish and German forces that heralded the start of the Second World War.

Again there are lots of impressive monuments

On the day we were there, they were still looking for unexploded mines!

Moving on to Warsaw. A stately and attractive place, full of wide spaces, elegant architecture and fascinating statues

It’s mixed with plenty of monuments from the modern era too, like the Monument to the 1944 Uprising

and the Monument to those Fallen and Murdered in the East

Other sights include the President’s Palace

The Lazienki Palace

with its beautiful gardens, remarkably peaceful in the pouring rain, as we experienced that afternoon!

There’s a very attractive Old Town

And now to Krakow, which felt like a much more compact, and picturesque city, reminiscent of a mini-Prague, with a great cafe culture, chocolate-box architecture and a thoroughly relaxed vibe.

St Mary’s Church is stunning

As is, in a different way, the Jagiellonian University

A river boat excursion on the Vistula shows you a few sights from a distance

Krakow is well placed for a few other out of town visits. The Salt mines at Wielicka are out of this world! Extraordinary carvings that take your breath away.

We also took a “Crazy Commie” tour around the suburb of Nowa Huta, in a Trabant; a tour that’s designed to give you an insight into what living here under Communism might have been like, including a typical Nowa Huta apartment:

With inspirational art

And if you were one of the fortunate, important party members, an exclusive restaurant from which to observe how well your Communism is going amongst your peers.

Another sight, close to Krakow, is Auschwitz. It may seem bizarre, or just wrong, for it to be considered a tourist sight. But a visit to Auschwitz is an unforgettable opportunity to bear witness to the horrors of what happened, so relatively few years ago. It’s a sombre place. No one takes selfies. No birds sing. There may be quite a few people there, but all you hear is silence; no one talks until they’re on the way home. I’m attaching a couple of photos, not to be insensitive or sensationalist, but simply to look the atrocity in the face and vow that it must never happen again.

When you return to your comfortable hotel room at the end of the day, you really feel like celebrating life – every minute you have is a victory.

So, to round off, here’s a few of Poland’s quirkier sights.

…and one of the oddest photos of me ever taken!

Thanks for joining me on this little tour of Poland! Hopefully we can all go travelling again soon.

 

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Peru – Lima, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Puno – September 2011

Still stuck in our tier systems (and likely to be for some time) let’s have another lockdown armchair travel trip, and P is for a number of places, but first, Peru. We spent a week there in September 2011 at the start of our South American tour. So, what do you think of, when you think of Peru? Quite possibly this place:

Machu PicchuBut more of that shortly. Our week started off in the capital Lima, a thriving and attractive place, full of striking architecture.

Plaza MayorYou see that yellow and black combination all round the Plaza Mayor and the city centre. The ornate enclosed balconies can be breathtakingly beautiful.

BalconiesAnd the Plaza Mayor is definitely the centre of attention.

Plaza MayorBut there’s also a bustling market

Market

Cheese

OlivesIn the Miraflores district, you can meet dinosaurs at Kennedy Park

DinoWe also visited the charming Casa de Aliaga, the city’s oldest colonial mansion

Casa de AliagaWent here

Bar CordanoFor two of these

Pisco SourThe Pisco Sour. It tastes much nicer than it sounds. We kept out of the way of this lot:

PoliciaAnd also had a very enjoyable stroll around Miraflores, which is upmarket and delightful – and a great coastline. You don’t tend to think of the sea when it comes to Peru, but it’s not to be missed.

Miraflores coastFrom Lima we flew to Cuzco, and, in order to acclimatise to the altitude, immediately headed for the Sacred Valley, which is at a much lower level – then you slowly begin to climb during the next few days. The Sacred Valley is quite touristy, so you see plenty of these:

AlpacasAnd these

LlamaAnd these

SpinningThis gentleman shows us the traditional art of spinning. So much more refined when you do it without an exercise bike. In Pisac, we visited another market

Pisac marketBut the highlight of the Sacred Valley is Ollantaytambo, famous for its Inca ruins, as it was once the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti.

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo

The next day we started to make our way towards Machu Picchu. To do this we took the train to Aguas Calientes.

Train to Aguas CalientesA picturesque journey – we reckoned these people were doing the Inca Trail.

Journey

Until it finally reaches Aguas Calientes.Resting place

And once you’re there, you can’t wait to get to Machu Picchu!

Machu Picchu

MP

We got up early the next morning to see dawn rise over the site

Dawn at Machu PicchuA misty experience!

A misty affairFrom there we walked up Waynu Picchu, which is the mountain opposite Machu Picchu, to get the great view. Wow, what an experience!

Machu Picchu from Waynu PicchuIt’s high. It’s tiring. But so worth it! And what comes up, must go down….

And it’s quite a challenge! Reaching Machu Picchu again gave us a chance for another walk around.

From there, it was back on the train and heading for Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire, and, despite our best efforts, the place where altitude sickness finally got us. Nevertheless we still enjoyed it.

Plaza de ArmasThe Plaza de Armas is the focus of the city centre, an expansive and beautiful town square.

Plaza de Armasand, surprise, surprise….

Plaza de Armas

The police get about on segways – makes it much easier for them!

Police

This is the beautiful Santo Domingo Convent

And a local school

The next day we took a tour to Pikillacta and Sacsayhuaman. At Pikillacta, you see an archaelogical site of the Wari people

PikillactaBut it was Sacsayhuaman that I was really interested to see.

SacsayhuamanThe construction is amazing, as there is no mortar between those stones

From the top you get a great view of Cusco

We also visited the amazing holy site of Qenko.

And I spent the next day in bed with Altitude Sickness! After Cusco, it was time to get on another train

The Andean Explorer, which would take us to the border city of Puno, travelling through beautiful but totally empty scenery.

Puno is a city with many thousands of students, and they were having an evening parade. We were warned not to go into Puno at night, because it wasn’t safe. But we couldn’t resist.

Felt perfectly safe to us! So I’ll leave you with a few typically Peruvian scenes and vibes.

Thanks for reading! Stay safe!

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Norway – North Cape, Honningsvag, Tromso and Bergen – June 2008

Time for another lockdown armchair travel post, and N is also for Norway, and an MSC cruise we did back in June 2008, up that country’s rugged coast to reach the North Cape on Midsummer Day, also taking in the towns of Trondheim (no photos, not sure why), Tromso and Bergen. So, what do you think of, when you think of Norway? Maybe this:

LappsLocal Lapps, or maybe this:

Midnight SunThe Midnight Sun. That’s certainly my strongest memory of Norway – we went for 96 hours without a hint of night-time. It plays havoc with your sleep patterns but you feel energised and excited by constantly being in the light. Bizarrely, perhaps, by contrast, Norwegian towns are mostly, erm… drab. Sorry if you’re Norwegian. That’s probably why I have no photos of Trondheim – maybe there was nothing much to photograph. Honningsvag is a little town a few miles from the North Cape. You wouldn’t expect it to be a hive of activity; and you’d be right.

HonningsvagWe walked down that street, and the most extraordinary thing about it was that one house had one of those Football Souvenir Street Signs in its front window, bearing allegiance to Liverpool FC and Anfield.

HonningsvagThe area relies on two things: tourism and fishing. When you reach the North Cape, first impressions are a little disappointing.

WelcomeIt’s almost as though someone else had got there first. However, there are better monuments to be found:

North CapeNorth CapeBut it’s the views that you really come for.

On the way to the North Cape

SKies of blueTromso is the most northerly city, but we found it pretty dull, I’m afraid. It does have a rather striking cathedral though.

Arctic CathedralThe most attractive place we visited – by far – was Bergen.

BergenIt’s an expensive place, of course, so you buy very little in the way of presents! But the shopping is fun.

ShoppingAgain, it has a rather attractive cathedral

Bergen CathedralAnd is probably best known for this chap, Edvard Grieg. His house is out of town, and we didn’t manage to get there, but it’s always important to have a reason to go back.

GriegThe birds obviously don’t think much of his music! If you’ve seen The Song of Norway, you’ll recognise Freddy and his Fiddle, at it in the square…

Freddy and his FiddleOK, so it’s really Ole Bull, a big 19th century violin virtuoso and celebrity. Of course, Bergen is another city that relies heavily on the fish and tourist industries, and its harbourside position is very attractive.

Bergen seafrontAnd that’s very much what you remember when you leave

Bye BergenMaybe just one last sunset….

Sunset

Thanks for joining me in this little travel souvenir of Norway! Plenty of letters in the alphabet still to come!

Lockdown Armchair Travel – The Netherlands – Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Leiden, and The Hague

More lockdown armchair travel and today, N is for The Netherlands, and some memories of a few visits to that delightful little country over the years. So, what do you think of, when you think of The Netherlands? Probably here:

AmsterdamAmsterdam, Amsterdam, de stad waar alles kan. So sang Maggie MacNeil in the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest. But The Netherlands is more than just Amsterdam. Leiden, for example, is a beautiful city – home to (amongst other things) the Windmill Museum.

LeidenYou can see the workings of a windmill really close up – and it’s a fascinating experience.

Windmill workingsWhen we were in the Netherlands in 2009, we also visited Rotterdam, famous for its cube houses. They’re an extraordinary feat of architecture!

Cube Houses

We also visited The Hague, seat of government and a pretty grand place all round.

But with humour

Horses

and superheroes!

But most people just want to see Amsterdam, and it is a pretty special place. Lots of bikes…

Bikes

Churches

Cheese

Partygoers