2013-01-11 - I visited Aarau on a recent European car tour. It is situated in a part of Switzerland that is rather more flatter than most places. The town itself had a nice little town centre with a lot of interesting buildings including the usual castle. Most of the buildings were painted colourfully and especially the wooden covering between the roofs and the gables, which I had not really seen much anywhere else in Switzerland.
2013-02-14 - I have been to the province of Abruzzo twice, funnily enough in two years one after the other. In 2000 I had to visit one of my companies suppliers in Colonella and we spent the night at a nice little hotel called the Villa Luigi, a brand new hotel and we were the only people in there. The company we were visiting took us out that evening for a slap up meal of a local fish-platter which included almost every crustacean you could think of. That was helped down by a bottle of the local wine. Almost exactly one year later to the day I travelled down the Adriatic coast of Eastern Italy on a tour of Europe with my family and we made a stop of some three hours at the beach in Martinsicuro. After that we drove on into Apulia.
2015-02-14 - I visited Abu Dhabi during a cruise/stay visit to the UAE in 2015.
Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate in the UAE by far and most of the country’s wealth (the oil wells) are situated in the Abu Dhabi province. The sheikh of Abu Dhabi is naturally also the president of the country, a state of affairs which never changes.
Although Abu Dhabi has many new, tall and magnificent buildings it is struggling to keep up with its little neighbour Dubai, like comparing Disneyland to Alton towers.
Without doubt the jewel in the crown is the fairly new and magnificent no expensive spared Sheikh Zayed mosque which cost over a billion dollars to build. Like the comparable King Hassen II mosque in Casablanca it is one of the few mosques in the Muslim world open to so called non-believers and regular tours are carried out by local guides during the non-praying times. The mosque has the largest single carpet in the world and seems to be built out of pure white marble studded with precious stones and solid gold ornamentation.
Abu Dhabi has fairly recently been added to the formula one calendar and has its own exclusive Ferrari club where for a small fee (Ha Ha) you can race around the track in a Ferrari F1 car, unfortunate I didn’t have the small change to do a Michael Schumacher.
Abu Dhabi is home to the most expensive hotel in the world, The Emirates Palace Hotel, the only hotel I have seen in the world that actually sells gold bars out of a vending machine. I was a bit surprised they anyone can not only enter the grounds but also the building itself and walk around unmolested. It is certainly worth the experience as the building is very much like its name, a palace. Outside in the gardens you can cool off by walking through the fountains, which constantly spray water skywards in small jets.
Near to the Emirates are the famous Etihad triple towers, the tallest buildings in Abu Dhabi, lunch in the skytower costs a cool $200 so I decided to try out something a little more in my budget and took a walk along the cornishe and the harbour front to the Khalidiyah mall where any food from anywhere on the planet was on offer at a more affordable price.
Unfortunately Abu Dhabi today looks more like downtown Manhatten and it you want to see anything that resembles classical Arabian life you have to go way out into the desert. Unfortunately I didn’t have time for that as my cruise ship was on a schedule.
2015-02-04 - In 2015 I stayed in the UAE for a week and hired a car to get around for the duration of my visit. Ajman is the smallest of the seven Emirates, in fact so small you could almost drive through it without realizing you’re in Ajman. Nevertheless the sheik is still a member of the ruling government as are all the rulers of the seven emirates. Ajman seems to be a budding Dubai putting up a lot of 5 star hotels on it’s very small coastline and very nice they look too. The sheik palace is very close to the Ajman palace hotel and has four corner towers and a large golden dome in the middle. The centre of the town still looks old and very Arabian. Just off the town centre is the Ajman museum, which I found to be excellent with many features of Arabian life featuring in the buildings.
2013-12-30 - I visited Albania on a recent European car tour. I entered and left the country from Montenegro arriving at the border post of Dodaj and leaving at the border post of Božaj. Of course Albania always used to be the dark horse of Europe, the last of the great classical communist states and so as I approached the border I was a little bit wary about getting in never mind with my car. I need not have worried, although it took over 15 minutes to check out my car details I was then waved through with a smile without even checking my insurance, seems they were more interested if the car was stolen or not. With another country on my ever growing list I headed for the North Albanian town of Shkodra. On the way there I passed mainly two forms of transport, Mercedes (probably imported stolen vehicles) or horse and cart so if you did not own a Mercedes it was one horse power to get around and there more than a few people on the roads with a horse and cart. Shkodra was not really all that awe inspiring but in the town centre they were obviously making an effort to modernise the place and quite a few new buildings were going up. In the suburbs the houses were pretty much run down and were more or less Ghettos. They had a large silver domed mosque to remind tourists that this was mainly a muslim country, I think I am right in saying the only country in Europe, which has Muslims in the majority. One thing about Albania was that it was dirt cheap. A packet of Cigarettes costing £8 in England was only £1 here and a meal , which would have cost you £5-6 in England was only about £1 here. If you ever want to start a business in Albania then do traffic signs because Shkodra was almost totally void of any traffic signs at all probably because the few tourists who come here do not come by car. We had a nightmare coming out of the town centre trying to pick up the road back north to Podgorica and I kid you not in the end we actually got the compass out to help us escape. The Albanian natives were friendly enough and all in all Albania has now opened up fully to the outside world and all tourists are welcome.
2013-02-14 - I drove through Alsace in 1994, whilst driving to southern Spain for my Christmas holiday. At the time I was living in Germany and my route down to Almeria was via Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Montpellier, Barcelona and Valencia. We made a stop near Strasbourg on the motorway to exchange drivers and have a quick meal.
2013-02-16 - In 1996 I went to Turkey for my Christmas holiday and spent two weeks in Kumköy near Side (Anatolia). Side was an old Roman town and as such still had some old Roman buildings including a very impressive roman theatre although in need of some repair. This part of Turkey is now called the Turkish Riviera as sandy beaches stretch for miles from the fastest growing city in Turkey, Antalya all the way down to the fortress town of Alanya. One of the locals told me that Antalya is the only place in Europe where you can water-ski in the morning and snow-ski in the afternoon. There is certainly plenty of places to visit around this area and so we did what I would call a hard day followed by a day on the beach. The nearest town to Side is the local market town of Manavgat, which has a nice waterfall just outside town at Büyük Þelale. We took one of the local 5 cent taxi vans to the waterfalls and caught a boat back into Manavgat. A couple of days later we visited the old Roman theatre at Aspendos. There are many old Roman theatres in Turkey but it is widely recognized that Aspendos is the best preserved of all of them, indeed today it is still used very actively for concerts and television shows. Who can go to Turkey without visiting the WHS at Hierapolis-Pamukkale so we booked a trip with an overnight stop. The Turkish translation of Pamukkale means the cotton castle and you can see this snow-white mountain miles away. Unfortunately on the day we visited it was raining heavily and freezing but that did not stop me wading barefoot through the hot pools for some time. Right next to Pamukkale was the roman ruins of Hierapolis, an old Roman spa town and the water was still coming out of the spring at 36 degrees. I swam in the Roman pool for about 20 minutes and when I got out I could hardly move because my legs were as heavy as lead probably caused by thinning of the blood and slowing down of blood circulation. After a day on the beach our next destination was the old roman ruins at Perga. Like Aspendos and Hierapolis, Petrga also had an old theatre but it also had something more special, an old sports stadium, which was almost a replica of the original Olympic stadium in Olympia. This is where the Romans gathered annually for their so called local Olympics where all sorts of different sports were played out. One thing that everyone wants to see in Turkey is the belly-dance and we saw a few of those while we were there and was surprised to find out that the belly-dance is only performed by fallen women or women of loose morals who generally speaking have been shunned by their families and have no other means of support. Most of them expect you to shove a couple of dollar notes down their bras at the very least and on two occasions I politely turned down a request for a private belly dance back at my hotel room. Next visit was to the waterfalls at Kursunlu and Antalya. Apparently this waterfall does not even exist in summer due to lack of water but in winter (when we were there) it cascades down the mountains over a small cliff and continues down a gorge. Kursunlu is not the biggest waterfall but is in a very scenic location and the water is a deep turquoise. Antalya was once a small town but had in the past 30 years grown up to a population of over one million due mainly to the tourist industry along the Turkish Riviera and as such it is what I would call a tourist town rather than an original Turkish town. I found it funny how the bars and clubs dotted around the side resort area was full of Muslims all drinking alcohol, which as far as I knew was forbidden in their faith. One day I actually asked a couple of men sitting at a bar drinking whiskey about that and their answer was quite simple ... we only drink alcohol at night when its dark, Allah has bad eyesight and cannot see us .... who said Muslims do not have a sense of humour. Our last daytrip was to the town of Alanya. Alanya is at the southern most tip of the Turkish Riviera and was for many years a strategically important town. On top of a mountain, jutting out into the sea is an extremely powerful citadel, this was originally the town centre but the modern town has spread out from there. Under the mountain are a series of caves and we took a boat trip through them. All in all a nice trip except that tourists from most countries have to pay a rip-off tourist tax of some £40 and you do not find out about that until you arrive.
2013-01-04 - I visited Andorra on a recent European car tour. I entered via Spain and left via France on the same day. It seems this little mountainous country has only one road going right through the country, with a few very minor roads leading up to the ski resorts in the mountains. I expected Andorra to be a little backward and run down but was surprised to find that the capital Andorra La Vella was a very modern, clean and well kept town with a good infrastructure, probably due to its existence as a tourist attraction and a tax haven. Old houses scattered on the mountainside around Andorra La Vella showed how the country may have looked 50 years ago. Apparently only 36% of the population are of Andorran origin although only original Andorrans are allowed to vote so they still maintain a grip on their country. Andorra has one of the worse football teams in the world being ranked 204th out of 209 teams on the FIFA list but recently drew a match to end a seven year losing steak. I left Andorra via the Pas De La Casa (French border), which seemed to be much higher than the entry via Spain and the snow must have been 2-3 metres high in some places, never the less the roads were kept snow free and well gritted. I think it would be true to say that Andorra does not offer you much if your not a skier or a tax exile but it is certainly worth a day trip.
2013-01-11 - I visited Anguilla, whilst on a Caribbean cruise in 2006. Although Anguilla was not on the cruise itinerary I reached it from the Dutch/French shared island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin. We docked at Philipsburg and I caught a bus to Marigot. There I bought a ferry ticket to Blowing Point (Anguilla) and went through immigration. On landing at Anguilla I had to go through customs but it was a mere formality. From Blowing Point I walked about three miles to Rendezvous Bay, where I spent a couple of hours, swimming, lazing on a hammock and watching pelikans diving for fish. At that time Anguilla was not a mass tourist destination and Rendezvous Bay was only starting to become developed for tourists. Rendezvous Bay must be one of the top three beaches I have visited in my life with clear turquoise water and pristine white sand and not a tourist in sight, it was like anybodys dream of paradise. Unfortunately the cruise ship was not going to wait for me so about mid afternoon I had to make my way back to Philipsburg. When I visited it Anguilla It was still very much one of the untouched Caribbean Islands and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants nothing more than a bit of peace and quiet in the sun for a couple of weeks.
2014-03-01 - I have visited Antigua twice, firstly in 2006 and then again in 2008. Both of those visits were on the Cruise ship Ocean Village. The first time I visited Antigua I spent most of the morning walking around the capital St. John's visiting some of the local attractions, Cathedral, The old recreation cricket ground. Late morning I went to the Airport to catch a flight to Montserrat to go and visit the volcano. I was surprised to find a brand new cricket stadium right next to the airport, which was apparently owned by an American Allan Stanford (who later went to jail for corruption), today it is called the "Coolidge cricket ground". In 2008 I returned to Antigua and spent most of the day in the south of the island visiting the English harbour, which is home to "Nelson's Dockyard", the only surviving ex British Navel base in the Caribbean (even the ex RN dockyard at Port Royal is a ruin). But I have to say this place is well kept by the locals and there's something special about sitting here in the Caribbean in the ex officers mess of Britain's most famous hero sipping a nice cool rum and coke.
2013-01-08 - I visited Aosta and the valley on a recent European car tour. It was one of only two places which I had not visited in Northern or Central Italy. I drove from Martigny-Ville in Switzerland crossing the border at the St. Bernard tunnel, first time I have ever gone through customs in a tunnel, which cost me 29 Swiss Francs. As to be expected in winter there was heavy snow on the mountain and the driving conditions were not ideal, especially on the Italian side. The drive down the valley to Aosta was pretty slow and hair-raising, especially with the locals thinking they were on a formula one track. I reached Aosta late afternoon just as it was going dark but the place was well lit up with all the Christmas decorations put up. I wandered around the town centre for a couple of hours, which was packed with people. In the market square Christmas carols were blasting out via a loudspeaker while in one corner the local choir were doing their best to do a Pavorotti.
2013-01-08 - I visited Herisau (Ausserrhoden) on a recent European car tour. It was a lot larger than its twin Appenzell but not half as nice. It did have some nice old buildings in the town centre but the central market place had been ruined by the building of a large modern UBS bank and several other new buildings. Unlike most places I visited in Switzerland it did not keep its old and modern buildings apart.
2013-01-08 - I visited Appenzell-Innerrhoden on a recent European car tour. Coming from Liechtenstein I drove the scenic route along some very minor roads but was well rewarded with a view of outstanding natural beauty. The typical wooden Swiss houses are peppered all over the emerald countryside with large snow covered mountains in the background. In Appenzell itself, which is a fairly small town, one might get the impression that paint was invented here as it seems every house in the town centre is covered in bright coloured pictures, patterns and motives. This place has to be in the top three of the nicest places to visit in Switzerland.
2013-02-14 - I drove through Apulia in 2001, whilst driving around Italy on a European tour. We entered Apulia from the north and spent about three hours on the beach at Chieuti on the Adriatic coast. Late afternoon we drove on through the province to Foggia and then on to Melfi, where we stayed overnight.
2013-01-12 - I visited Aquitaine on a recent European car tour. I drove into the province from Angouleme and arrived at my destination of Saint Emilion just a it was going dark, which was a pity, because I did not see much of the countryside, which is a world heritage site due to its roman vineyards. The town was well lit up for christmas. I visited the church, which had a CD playing christmas carols. The streets in the town were mostly narrow and cobbled and a lot of the town is in a large hollow including the town square. Apart from the church the town also has a large white tower and a large clock tower with a spire on top, which looks like a church from faraway. After leaving St. Emilion I travelled on through Aquitaine to Spain.
2013-01-16 - I visited Aragon on a recent European car tour. I drove into the province from Madrid and stopped overnight near the small town of Calatayud, which was on a large plain covered with wind propellors. Originally I had planned to visit the WHS at Zaragoza but gave it a miss (parking a car in a large Spanish city is a nightmare) and drove on through Catalonia to Andorra.
2014-01-02 - I visited Aruba, whilst on a Caribbean cruise in 2002. Aruba was one of the six islands which made up the Dutch Antilles and the three ABC Island (others being Bonaire and Curacao). The ABC islands are situated off the northern coast of Venezuela and have been administered by the Dutch since about 1630. Aruba has a very dry climate and as such a large part of the island is like semi arid desert with only the coastal area around Oranjestad having any green areas. Our day on Aruba was on the 1st of January (a public holiday) so the place was quite dead with everybody recovering from the new years celebrations, the whole of Oranjestadt was covered in the remnants of fireworks from the night before and there was red firework paper flying all over the place. Oranjestadt itself had some very nice buildings including a large casino and hotel all in classical Dutch style. Aruba lives mainly on tourism and almost every day one cruise ship or another is berthed up at Oranjestadt. A lot of tourists also fly onto this sunny island. We spent most of the day travelling around the island on a self-drive jeep tour and there are quite a few interesting places to visit. In Andicuri Bay a natural bridge has been formed in the lava rock by the pounding seas over the years and there is a nice little enclosed beach here. Further up the coastline sits the tiny and colourful Alto Vista Chapel, mainly used by tourists and pilgrims. At the northern tip of the island is the California lighthouse named after a ship which sank offshore in 1891. The nearby Tierra Del Sol golf course has the lushest grass on the whole of the island. Iguanas are about the most common wildlife on Aruba and they are scuttling around everywhere. The best beaches are also on this northern part of the island.
2013-01-16 - I visited Asturias on a recent European car tour. I drove into the province from Cantabria and spent some time in the city of Oviedo visiting the WHS site and several of the old churches. From there I drove on to the old Roman city of Lugo in Galicia across the countryside and saw quite a few huts on stilts.
2013-01-16 - I visited Auvergne on a recent European car tour. I drove into the province from Limousin and spent some hours in the city of Clermont-Ferrand. The motorway from Tulle to Clermont-Ferrand had the most expensive tolls of any I drove in France, about 1 Euro for every 10 miles, you have been warned !!!. When I arrived Clermont-Ferrand was shutting down for new year even though it was only the 27th of December. No bank would change money (tried 5) and luckily the post office did but it was not service with a smile, more a grimace. Clermont-Ferrand is a mid sized city and one of the oldest in France, probably best known as the birthplace of the Michelin tyre. Its most famous building is the rather blackened cathedral, which was shut and also has many fountains and an old roman church. It was here that Pope Urban II started the first crusade.
2013-02-10 - As I lived in Germany for 35 years I visited most places in the country in that time including Baden-Wuerttemberg. In 1974, whilst serving in the army, my squadron went down to the Black forest at a place called Todtmoos for a working holiday. We built mountain huts, small wooden bridges and pathways during the days and chased the Fraeuleins in the evening and a good time was had by all. Later on in life when I became a quality manager we had several suppliers in Baden-Wuerttemburg at Karlsruhe, Stuttgard and a very picturesque town called Spaichingen. When we arrived at Spaichingen out host had arranged for us to stay at a hotel on a hilltop, image our surprise as we were getting out of the car when an old WWII American Buffalo aircraft landed on the grass right next to us. The view from the hotel was also spectacular with endless rolling hills and valleys.
2014-12-02 - I visited Mallorca in the Balearic islands in the summer of 1997 and stayed at the lovely seaside resort of Santa Ponsa, not far from the hot-spot of Magaluf. Santa Ponsa is very much a resort with a mixture of different nationalities (a lot of places on Mallorca are strictly British, German and so on). Santa Ponsa has a large pristine white sand beach, which the locals use for the most amazing beach sculptures, and a thriving night life. Most of the hotels put on free shows in the evening.
Not far from Santa Ponsa is the island of “Sa Dragonera”, the island of dragons, so called because there are thousands of lizards running around the island. We took a boat trip there which included a stop-off at the lovely seaside village of St. Elmo where we sampled the local Sangria, freezing cold and filled with fruit. The coastline in this part of Mallorca is slowly disappearing as ever more foreigners build their holiday homes here.
One of only two main roads in Mallorca goes in a straight line from Palma De Mallorca to Alcudia, a quiet resort where mostly the elderly stay. On the way is the nice little town of Inca which has a daily market place which sells everything including the kitchen sink, don’t take the wife or you’ll be here all day.
Not far from Inca to the north is the quaint monastery of Lluc, a nice place where the monks are self-sufficient and grow their own crops and fruit in some lovely gardens and orchards. A few kilometres to the north is the scenic “Port De Sa Colabra”, one of Mallorca hidden gems which is difficult to get to without transport. This very picturesque little bay is perfect for a day trip with a few bars spread around the bay. Only downside is that the shingle beach is full of sharp rocks so suitable footware is a must.
On the East of the island near the town of “Porto Cristo” are the “Coves Del Drac”, the caves of the dragon which is definitely worth a visit. The inside of the caves are well lit up with different coloured lights showing off the stalagmites to stunning effect. The cave even has a lake, which for a small fee, you can be taken on a gondola whilst being serenaded by a violin.
The locals say that the best beach in Mallorca is El Arenal, which is firmly in German hands and is jam packed with tourists all lying like beached seals on the sand trying to get a decent sun tan. You cannot go to El Arenal without visiting the most famous German bar in Mallorca “Ballerman 6”. This place never seems to close and usually there is always something going on here. Here you can try your hand at sinking the contents of a “German Stein” in one go (only 5 litres) but make sure there a swill bucket nearby.
2013-01-08 - I visited Basel Landschaft on a recent European car tour. Because I was on a tight time schedule I just drove through it, including Liesthal on the way to Basel Stadt and then again via Laufen to get to Delemont. Compared to most of Switzerland it is more or less flat and is mainly small villages and farmland.
2013-01-08 - I visited Basel Stadt on a recent European car tour. I had been to Basel once before in 1974 where I slept on a bench in the railway station, until a policeman moved me on at 3 in the morning. I must say nothing much has changed except the main tram station is now in front of the main railway station. Basel unlike Bern or Zuerich is more or less a modern city so it does not have that many old historical buildings to look at.
2013-02-15 - I drove through Basilicata in 2001, whilst driving around Italy on a European tour. I drove from Melfi, where we had stayed overnight across country to the old Greek town of Paestum in the province of Campania. On the way we stopped at the little village of Brienza for a break and to take some photos.
2013-02-17 - I visited Belize whilst on a Caribbean cruise in 2007. Because Belize city does not have docking facilities for a large cruise ship we were brought to shore by tender. From here we were bussed to the old Mayan ruin of Alta Ha on the northern road to Mexico. Altun Ha was one of the many Mayan ruins in the jungles of Belize but is known to be one of the best preserved of the Mayan sites and was not actually discovered until 1961. In 1968 in the main temple called The Temple Of The Masonary Altars a jade head was found in one of the tombs which was immidiately valued at $50 million, today it is valued as priceless and is the countries spiritual symbol and kept in a strong safe in Belize City. From Altun Ha we drove to the inland resort of Burrel Boom where we had lunch and then made our way back to Belize by speedboat down the Belize river. The river, its banks and the jungle surrounding it was brimming with wild life including howling monkeys, crocodiles, bats, birds, storks and lizards amongst others. As we came out of the river and headed back to the ship we passed a sandbank about a mile from shore and laying on it was a massive sea water crocodile, first time in my life I had seen both types of crocodile on the same day. After a short break on the ship we caught the tender back to shore and wandered through the town for a while. Belize city is no longer the capital as it was when this place was called British Honduras, that honour has now been given to the town of Belmopan after Belize city was nearly totally destroyed by a hurricane in 1961. Apart from the duty-free area, which is brand new, the old colonial buildings in Belize are in a poor state of repair. The Prime Ministers office is on the main street in town and so rumour has it visitors are welcome to pop in for a chat and cup of tea.
2013-02-19 - As I lived in Germany for 35 years I visited most places in the country in that time including Berlin, which I probably visited 6 or 7 times. I lived in Germany on that October day when the wall came down and like everybody else could not wait to get into East Germany. Up until then I had never visited Berlin because although it was part of the West you needed all kinds of documents to transit the motorway through East Berlin and pay a heavy transit charge. On top of that British soldiers living in West Germany were not encouraged to travel through East Germany unless you were actually stationed in Berlin. Although I drove around East Germany a couple of times after the curtain came down it was not until 1992 that I went to Berlin for the first time when a mate of mine, who had just been stationed to Berlin invited me up there. It was interesting driving from the Berlin ring road and into Charlottenburg passing my first Russian barracks, yes in 1992 three years after the wall came down the Russians were still there. My mate lived only a stones throw from the Berlin Olympic stadium so that was first on the agenda. From the pictures I saw of the 1936 Berlin Olympics it had hardly changed but was fully modernised for the 2006 world cup in Germany. Next up was the Kurfuhrstendamm with the famous church with the steeple knocked off. The Kongress hall was next, built by the Americans it had collapsed in 1980 and been rebuilt. Next up was the famous Reichstag where the Russians had raised their flag at the end of the war, which at the time we visited was before it was renovated and had the glass dome put on top and it was still plastered with bullet holes. Just around the corner from the Reichstag was Berlins most famous landmark the Brandenburg gate. This was the borderline when the city was divided and checkpoint charlie had now disappeared. On the old eastern side there was a large square and it was the first time we met the Russians face to face. Not only were there many Russians in uniform but also a lot of Russian civilians with market stalls set up in which they sold anything from a Russian generals greatcoat, including medals to the famous little wooden Russian dolls. On my next visit a year later in 1993 I made it my mission to see the wall. Of course there was not much left of it by now as every tourist visiting Berlin had taken a chunk of the wall as a souvenir and the authorities had completely removed the wall in the city centre and on any transit routes. They had left small sections of the wall in the suburbs as a memorial and we found one such spot and took a few photos. We also visited the famous Berlin tiergarten (zoo) and saw one of only two Pandas in captivity. On my second visit we went much deeper into the eastern part of the city. Unter Den Linden was Berlins old cultural city centre, the cathedrals, the museums, the government buildings, Alexander Platz, where they had the tall TV Tower. A lot of the buildings were in a bad state of repair and a lot of them were still full of bullet holes. We also visited the Palace of the republic, East Germanys parliament, which had been built on top of the ruins of the Berlin town castle, and was the most hated building in both East and West Germany. Now it has been demolished and the Berlin town castle will once again be built in its old home. Outside was a metal statue of Lenin thrown on top of a pile of cobblestones, god knows how long it had been there. Later on that day we went into the East German ghetto areas where there was block upon block of what I call typical socialist rabbit hutches, East Germans called them social dwellings. Most of the East Berliners still drove Wartburgs and Trabis in those days because despite reunification the East German wages were still only a third of the West German wages. On my third visit to Berlin in 1994 We visited a lot of the areas around Berlin like the Havel, Potsdam, Spandau and the famous Charlottenburg castle and park. By this time the Russian military had all but vanished from Berlin. We decided to drive to the Polish border and cross the river at Frankfurt on the Oder. When we got to the border the railway station was packed with Russian troop trains packed to the rafters with tanks and all sorts of military equipment. It was the only time we saw any Russians on my third visit to Berlin and I do believe they had pulled out of East Germany completely by the end of 1994. We walked across the bridge on the Oder to the small border town of Slubice, it was my first visit to a country behind the iron curtain. In those days they still had the old Zloty and you got about half a million Zlotys for about ten marks. Poland was something different but that is for another place. In 2000 I went through Berlin on a train on a business trip and the entire skyline was covered in thousands of cranes, it was now Europes biggest construction site. My last visit to Berlin was in 2001 during a private trip. Twelve years after the reunification the old East German cars had gone completely, the city centre had had billions spent on it, most of the old cultural buildings had been restored to their former glory and East German wages were now 75% of West German wages. I stood next to the brandenburg gate, which was covered and being restored, eating a nice cool ice cream, and wondering at the changes i had seen in just eight years.
2013-01-09 - I visited Bern on a recent European car tour. The day I arrived was new years eve or as the locals call it Silvester Abend. I parked up in the old town, which is a WHS and had a good wander about. The old town of Bern is like going back 300 years in time, apart from the modern goods in the shop windows. In front of the confederation building they had set up an ice rink for the locals to show off their skills, many landing on their bums worse the wear for drink, which was quite amusing and quite erotic as a lot of the younger females were wearing mini skirts. This was by far the coldest night I had had in Switzerland but was determined to stay out until midnight at least. I defrosted the first time at McDonalds for an hour then for the first time in my life decided to go to a catholic mass at the Bern Munster to defrost a second time. The Munster was well warmed up but the service itself was a non event sitting there most of the time listening to the organist playing solo, for the most part with the lights switched off. I have no idea what that was supposed to symbolize. At midnight thousands packed the streets around the Munster and were setting off fireworks in all directions, never seen nothing like it and fireworks in the hands of mostly drunk people normally ends in tears but on this occasion it seems a good time was had by all and no one ended up with their heads blown off. Next morning the streets were covered with plastic champagne glasses, which it seems the local council had issued to the inhabitants to prevent the streets being covered with broken glass. Despite it being a public holiday trams and buses were running normal and council workers were out early to clean the mess up.
2013-01-11 - I visited Bonaire, whilst on a Caribbean cruise in 2002. This stop was not on the original itinerary but the programmed stop in Caracas, Venezuela was cancelled due to the oil strikes. Bonaire makes up one of the three ABC islands along with Aruba and Curacao. Since my visit in 2002 the old Dutch Antilles has been dissolved and Bonaire is now a Dutch municipality. The small, very Dutch like, capital of Kralendijk was actually founded by the British during a period of British rule. Some people would say that Bonaire is the nicest of the ABC islands as most tourists flock to Curacao and Aruba and Bonaire is mainly left in peace except for the scuba divers. Bonaire also has a very large population of Flamingos and one of its few exports is salt. On our arrival in Bonaire I spent all morning doing the shops and bars of Kralendijk and all afternoon snorkeling on the island of Klein Bonaire where the fish were aplenty and the waters crystal clear.
2013-02-10 - As I lived in Germany for 35 years I visited most places in the country in that time including Brandenburg. My first visit was returning from Berlin in 1992 and driving across the state stopping at the towns of Brandenburg and Stendal. The massive old steel works was still at Brandenburg but was nothing but a rusting hulk, I do believe it was closed down soon after. My next visit was as a quality manager in 1996 when I had to visit some customers in the Werder and Potsdam areas. Werder, built mainly on an island in the Havel river, was a nice little place but had obviously seen better days, it was being rebuilt but that had some way to go. Most people know Potsdam for the palaces and gardens of Frederick the great but it was also the area where the rich of Berlin lived leading up to the second world war including top Nazis. All of the buildings in the Sansoucci park were undergoing intensive restoration at that time but restoration on Potsdams Brandenburger Tor was complete and they had done a good job. Five years later I returned to Potsdam on a private visit and the restoration work was all but complete. The China tea house looked magnificent, the Orange castle was finished and also the garden at the front of the Sansoucci palace. They had even rebuilt the famous windmill. Only the two main Palaces were still under restoration but seemed to be almost finished.
2013-02-01 - As I lived in Germany for 35 years I visited most places in that country during that time including Bremen. I cannot remember how many times I visited Bremen but I regularly went to see Werder Bremen play football. Biggest match was against Arsenal in 2001, which Arsenal won 4-2. Quite often I would go to Bremen to visit the Christmas market and do my Christmas shopping. Bremen has a very old and attractive city centre of which the gothic town hall is the centrepiece. Bremen also has Germanys only overseas museum with exhibits from all corners of the globe. I once visited the German ships museum at Bremerhaven, which also has several ships outside in the dock including an original U-Boot (world war II submarine).
2014-12-02 - I have been to the British Virgin Islands twice, both times visiting on the cruise ship Ocean Village firstly in 2006 and then again in 2008. On my first trip I spent the morning walking around Roadtown a typical British colonial town full of wooden huts. Roadtown is the home of a place called "Pussers" rumhole and rumour has it that the rum they serve at "Pussers" will put even the strongest pirate on his back. My visit to the BVI was just before Christmas and Roadtown was full of Christmas trimmings including one which made me laugh "Let It Snow" it said ... it wouldn't snow here in the BVI in a thousand years. In the afternoon I visited Norman Island, which was the island used by "Robert Louis Stevenson" for the inspiration for his book "Treasure Island" and boy he wasn't far wrong although I'd have changed treasure for paradise. Norman Island has lovely clean pristine white sand beaches full of coconuts, which have fallen off nearby trees, so you can save yourself the bother of skimming up a tree. Later on we went snorkling and the water was very clear, loads of coral and loads of colourful fish, all in all a very nice trip. When I returned to the BVI in 2008 I decided to take a local Jet-boat and go and visit the American Virgin Islands and the town of Charlotte-Amalie closeby. On the way we stopped over at the West BVI harbour of Sopers hole, which is definitely a stopover kind of place for any yachtsman sailing the Caribbean. The locals told me that "Cane Garden Bay Beach" is the best beach in the BVI and that "The Baths" on Vigin Gorda has the best snorkeling.
2013-01-12 - I visited Brittany on a recent European car tour. Although I was cutting across the province from Mont St. Michael to Fontevraud I stopped for a couple of short stops just to get the feel of my Celtic cousins. One of the nicest things about Brittany is that it is the only French province which is has 100% toll-free motorways which is a nice welcome compared to most of the provinces who seem hell bent in ripping off the motorist (toll and parking charges). Next time I go back to Brittany I will give it a bit more time because I am sure there is plenty to see here.
2013-01-30 - I lived in Germany for 35 years and as I used to go home to Wales nearly every year from either Calais, Oostende, Zeebrugge or Hook Van Holland I have been through Belgium many times. In 1984 on such a trip I stopped at the Belgian capital Brussels for half a day. The only thing I remember much about that trip was visiting the cathedral, which was made out of very white limestone. In 1995 I returned to Brussels on a business trip and stayed at the Formula one hotel, which drew a roar of laughter from my hosts the next day. When I asked what was so funny about that they replied that the formula one hotel was best known in Brussels as the hotel that rented out more bedrooms during the day than at night (I think that was a clear reference to bosses and their secretaries).
2014-01-02 - I visited Bulgaria on a recent European car tour. We entered Bulgaria via Macedonia on the road from Skopje to Sofia and made a small detour to what is known as Bulgarias top tourist attraction the national park and monastery of Rila. Leaving the main road we had to drive around 25 miles deep into the countryside and up into the mountains before coming upon this little treasure. From the outside Rila monastery looks more like an ancient fortress than a place of prayer with high solid rock walls. It can be entered from either of the two gates Samakov at the front or Dupnitsa at the rear. Entry to the complex is free but a small fee is charged if entering the church. The main church lies in the centre of the inner courtyard and close by is a tower called Hrelja, which was the first building built at Rila in about 1320 and was originally used as a fortification. The magnificent church is the youngest structure in the complex being only some 150 years old. It is painted in a very stunning red and white stripe effect. The outer corridors of the church are covered from top to bottom with beautiful brightly coloured frescos which are in an extremely good condition. The inside of the church contains many famous icons. The main building surrounding the church has four storeys and has very impressive arched corridors with pillars and railings up to the roof. There are several rooms that can be visited and the complex also has its own museum. On leaving Rila we headed for Sofia, we had not planned to stop here as we were on a tight schedule. Originally we had planned to drive around Sofia but due to bad signposting plus the fact that all the signs were in the local lingo we ended up driving straight thought the centre of Sofia, interesting but time consuming. Then we headed for the Romanian capital of Bucharest via Plaven and Rousse. Just before Rousse we stopped off at the national park of Ivanovo to have a look at the rock hewn churches of Ivanovo, a world heritage site. Here around 40 Churches and 300 other structures are hewn out of solid rock in the mountainside, most of it is not open to the general public for fear of damaging these historical treasures. We were allowed to visit one example, which was in a poor state of repair with large cracks in the floor and ceiling. The whole inside of the cavern was painted with faded frescos, many parts of the wall had caved in and had not been restored. Filming and photography is absolutely forbidden but its amazing how you can change someones mind with 5 Euros. Outside from our high vantage point we had a birds eye view over the whole of the national park of Ivanova, which has a thriving wild life. From here we drove the short distance to the Romania Border and on to Bucharest.
2013-01-16 - I visited Burgundy on a recent European car tour and stopped at the city of Dijon for a while. I drove into Dijon from the direction of Besancon and was not overly impressed with the road signs. Dijon is the capital town of Burgundy and is also has a university. The old town is full of timber frame houses dated back to the middle ages. The cathedral is in need of repairs on the outside especially the main door with most of the figures unrecognisable. Public transport is mainly by modern trams.
2013-01-04 - I visited Büsingen on a recent European car tour. I entered Büsingen via the Swiss village of Dörflingen and was surprised to find a customs post between the two villages, albeit unmanned. I spoke to a couple of the locals and it seems most people here work in Switzerland rather than Germany. There still seem to be some curios issues such as a German citizen living in Germany being taxed on a Swiss pension, which is taxed at a higher rate. You can also frank a letter in Swiss francs or Euros but the Swiss stamp is 20% more expensive (work that one out). The vehicles are all registered in Switzerland. The only school in the village is an infant school so anyone wanting higher education has to go to Schaffhausen in Switzerland. It seems Germans are not given the choice to go to the nearest German school. The place is nicely situated on the banks of the Rheine (the locals call it the pearl on the Rhein) but as with most small enclaves there is not much here that will keep you hanging around too long.
2013-02-15 - I drove through Campania in 2001, whilst driving around Italy on a European tour. I drove from Melfi, where we had stayed overnight across country to the old Greek town of Paestum in the province of Salerno. On the way we stopped at the little villages of Brienza and Atena Lucana for a break and to take some photos. Paestum is a WHS and was built by the Greeks in the 7th century and has several buildings in very good condition including the classical Greek temples of Hera, Athena and Poseidon. We drove on north and took a couple of hours break on the white sandy beach at Battipaglia. In the afternoon we took a slow drive up the Amalfi coast. This must be one of the most scenic drives in the world, in fact there was so many interesting things to look at that I could hardly keep my eyes on the road (next time someone else can drive). We stayed the night on a camping site right next to the ruins of Pompeii and wondered at the amount of noise outside our camper van all night. Next morning we were told the reason for all the noise was that the four room bungalow next to us was the local brothel ... can you believe that !!! (I was going to write to the pope to complain Ha Ha !!!). We spend most of the day wandering around the ruins of Pompeii. This is another WHS site and it was amazing how well preserved this place was. When we visited Pompeii more than 50% of the old town had been restored and further restoration work was going on all around the place. I recently read a report that most of Pompeii is now closed to tourists as the sheer volume of tourists visiting Pompeii has led to extensive damage and of a lot of the restored building have now deteriorated to the point that tourists are banned. I feel lucky that I was able to visit Pompeii when I did. After Pompeii we drove on to Rome where we spent the night at a camping site just outside the city.
2013-01-03 - I visited Campione d-Italia on a recent European car tour. Although it is only about one mile from the Italian mainland (as the crow flies) it is some 15 miles by road to Italy as the village is built on a steep mountainside and there is only one road in and out. To the West it is situated on the beautiful lake Lugano and has a very nice promenade on the lakeside. On arriving in Campione d-Italia the visitor is greeted by a large marble monument plastered in Italian flags to let you know that this is not Switzerland, even though the inhabitants are totally dependant on Switzerland for most of their daily needs including health care and all car number plates are also Swiss. The enclave has just built a brand new huge casino, which seems totally out of proportion to the size of the place and would probably be more at home in Las Vegas or Sun City, but it seems that this is what pays for the local expenditures as this enclave is EU VAT free. Nice place to spend a sunny afternoon on Lake Lugano but if you do not play blackjack or roulette then there is not much to keep you here for too long.
2014-01-02 - I visited The Canary Islands in 2000 on my way to Gambia and stopped over at Gran Canaria for a short while. We approached Gran Canaria just as the sun was going down and the top of the cloud cover was a brilliant orange colour. As we got nearer to the airport we could see the top of Mount Teide (Spains tallest mountain) sticking up through the clouds some 40 miles away on Tenerife, it was an amazing sight.
2013-01-11 - I visited Cantabria on a recent European car tour. I entered the province from Burgos (Castille) and drove through it to (Oviedo) Asturia. I did not stop at Santander and made only a few stops to take some photos. The province seems to be mostly rural and agricultural. Interesting is that the motorway is still unfinished in large parts so it was a quick-slow-quick sort of a drive, maybe on my next trip here the motorway to Coruna will be complete.
2013-01-16 - I visited Castille and Leon on a recent European car tour. I entered the province from La Roja and stopped at the old historical capital city of Burgos. Burgos is a WHS due to the gothic cathedral in the centre of the city. The entrance to the enclosed market square is parkland covered in statues of the castillian kings and heroes. I entered the market square via the old magnificent city gate to the sound of jingle bells, a Christmas market was taking place in front of the cathedral. The cathedral is of gothic style and built with light coloured sandstone, it is a magnificent structure both inside and outside. In the centre of the cathedral lies the burial place of Spains greatest hero El Cid. From Burgos I headed north to Cantabria.
2013-01-16 - I visited Castille La Mancha on a recent European car tour (2012). I entered the province from Extremadura and stopped at Spains old historical capital of Toledo. I parked up outside the city walls and entered the city near to the old roman Alcantara bridge. I headed for the Alcatraz (former royal palace) and largest single structure in Toledo, which was quite a steep climb as Toledo is built on a large granite plateau. Around the Alcatraz were souvenir shops selling the famous Toledo steel swords, daggers and suits of armour. Dummies of Don Quixote were everywhere. Today the Alcatraz is mostly out of bounds for the tourist, except for the library and so I plodded on to the cathedral through the narrow streets, where even today the Arabian culture is still very much present. The gothic cathedral was full of Chinese and Japanese tourists, what is it about our christmas that make them flock here in their thousands. As with Burgos the cathedral is magnificent both inside and outside. After the cathedral I wandered the streets of Toledo just taking in the history of the place which is little changed in centuries due to the fact that expansion of the town is very limited due to its location. From Toledo I moved on to Aranjuez.
2013-01-13 - I visited Catalonia on a recent European car tour. It was my third visit to Catalonia. The first was in 1994 travelling the length of Spain to stay in Almeria and we stayed a night in Lloret De Mar (Catalonian Costa Brava) on the way down and on the way back. Lloret De Mar is a small but very popular tourist destination and is even packed to the rafters in winter as it offers good night life. It is very clean and tidy with pristine white beaches, partly sand and partly shingle.
My second trip to Catalonia was in 2001, which was nothing more than a plane transfer at Barcelona airport. We did have one funny incident when we were held up for nearly two hours on the tarmac and when it was annouced the Spaniards cried out in one voice Ole!! Ole!! ... probably thought that they were at a bull fight.
My most recent trip to Catalonia was in 2012 during a European car tour when driving from Zaragoza to Andorra I passed through the Catolonian countryside making stops at Balaguer, Artesa De Segre and Lake dOliana to take some photos. After Andorra I drove on and visited the Catalonian enclave at Llivia.
So I have seen everything that Catalonia has to offer, Beaches, City, Lakes and Countryside. Catalonia is the richest part of Spain and like the Welsh fiercely proud of their independence, Catalonians are very warm and friendly unless you mention the two magic words REAL MADRID.
2013-01-17 - I visited Centre on a recent European car tour(2012). I entered the province from the town of Fontevraud (Pays-De-La-Loire) and drove through Chinon, parts of the Loire river, Champigny-Sur-Veude and Richelieu, stopping several times to take some photos. Then I drove on to the next province Poitou-Charentes (Poiters). In 2017 I returned to Centre and visited the WHS's at the cathedrals of Bourges and Chartres and also the Chateau at Chambord.
2013-01-11 - I visited Ceuta in 2001 whilst on a round trip to Morocco. We sailed over to Ceuta in a Jet-Speed ferry from Algeciras passing the rock of Gibraltar on the way and returned the same way on the way back. We were due to drive straight through and out into Morocco but as one of our passengers missed the ferry in Algeciras we had about a two hour wait for them and I had a little run around. Ceuta is an autonomous city within Spain and nearly 90% of the population are ethnic Spanish. It makes me laugh that the Spanish rabbit on about getting Gibraltar back from Britain whilst refusing to hand back Cueta and Melitta to Morocco, anyway enough politics here as this is a travel site. Cueta itself is a nice little colonial outback with a fort, a town hall with cannons in front of it, a nice little marina and little much else. It was however the first time I saw McDonalds in Africa and wondered if they did a curried goat with kus-kus. As I was in a bus it took nearly an hour to get through customs into Morocco but only about ten minutes when we came through Ceuta.
2013-01-17 - I visited Champagne-Ardenne on a recent European car tour (2012). I entered the province from the town of Nancy (Lorraine) and stopped for a while at the city of Reims. In Reims I wandered around the city centre but spent most of my time at the famous Reims cathedral. Reims cathedral, a magnificent gothic structure, which is still unfinished and is best known as the place where most of the French kings were crowned. The coronations did not actually take place in the cathedral but as the neighbouring building of the palace of Tau. At the time of my visit there was a lot of reconstruction going on with large parts of the cathedral covered in scaffolding. Unfortunately it was also very overcast so the inside of the cathedral was quite dark, which made it difficult to take any decent photos. I was going to offer to wash the windows but I am not sure if the locals would have been too happy with that. From Reims I moved on to Amiens (Picardy). In 2016 on a tour of France I drove through Champagne-Ardenne and stopped and took some photo's at the town of Chaumont, which had a huge aqueduct (for carrying trains) running around the outskirts of the town.
2013-01-11 - I visited Havana (Cuba) whilst on a Caribbean cruise in 2002. It was at a time where Castro was still very much in charge and tourists and cruise ships were far and few between. Of course we did not know what to expect and were given advice from the ship to steer well clear of the locals as much as possible (advice, which turned out to be total nonsense). It was the only stop on the cruise where we were issued with visas and had to go through immigration with some Che Guevara type border guards checking our passports. Once we cleared immigration Cuba was very much like any other holiday destination, with the locals swarming around us. The local taxis were like shells on three wheels but our first jaunt into downtown Havana would be with horse and carriage. The driver gave us a quick Rumba to warm us up and it was funny to notice that all the horses had plastic bags under their tails to catch any droppings (you cannot waste anything in Cuba). That was probably used for Gas for the old 50s style bangers, for which Cuba is renown. As we rode into town pictures of the system, Castro and Che Guevara were plastered everywhere just to remind everybody of who was in charge here. On arriving at the Parliament building, modelled on the US Capitol and which had about 100 old American cars parked outside we set off on foot to do the back streets of Havana. Here we were approached time and time again by people wanting to sell us anything that we might want to buy. Amongst other things we visited Hemmingways house and Havana cathedral. We then ended up in a typical rum shop with every flavour imaginable and the idea was to take one or two samples and buy a bottle, being a rum lover I sampled about 20 sorts then bought a bottle of coconut rum and waddled back to the ship for lunch. After lunch we did Havana again by foot and finally ended up in the so called Al Capone bar near the harbour front where they had live music sung by a young student girl called Fresia, who then came and sat and chatted with us when she had finished. After that we crawled back to the ship for dinner. Cuba was the only place on the cruise where we stopped overnight and the reason for that was to give us a chance to see the famous Havana carnival. We choose to go to the famous International hotel, which apparently was owned by Al Capone in the 1930s. The local artists put on a fantastic 3 hour show and the booze flowed and a good time was had by all. I think I was carried back to the ship. I found Cubans to be very warm and friendly and also easily accessible and we had no hassle at all from anybody, I think I even spotted Castro on the promenade waving goodbye as we sailed out Ha Ha !!!. I would love to go back and do the rest of Cuba someday.
2014-01-02 - I visited Curacao, whilst on a Caribbean cruise in 2002. Curacao was one of the six islands which made up the Dutch Antilles and the three ABC Island (others being Aruba and Bonaire). The ABC islands are situated off the northern coast of Venezuela and have been administered by the Dutch since about 1630. Curacao is the largest and most prosperous of the ABC Islands and as such is also the most populous and the main town of Wilhelmstad has a population of some 120000 inhabitants, a large city built around a large water inlet. Unlike her neighbours Aruba and Bonaire, Curacaos main income is not tourism but refining oil having a perfect natural harbour and being in close proximity to Venezuela, one of the worlds largest oil exporters. Wilhelmstad is a beautiful city with some very fine buildings in Dutch and Spanish style. and has plenty of historical places to visit including several museums and old forts. I took a half day trip around the island which included visiting the Hato caves and the natural history museum finishing with an afternoon of snorkeling on the beautiful Daaibooi beach.
2013-02-23 - I have visited the Czech Republic four four times so far, or have I ? You may say that is a funny statement to make so let me explain. The first time I visited the Czech republic was in 1993 when Wales were due to play Czechloslovakia in a football match in Ostrava. Firstly I wanted to visited Prague then drive on to Ostrava to see the match. Just after crossing the Czech border I was involved in a car accident, not my fault I may add, and I decided to go home again so although I passed the border check I did not actually see much of Czechloslovakia. In 2001 I drove on a 19 country tour around Europe with the Czech republic being one of the countries on that list. My Canadian auntie had come over from Burlington, Ontario, to do the trip with us. After visiting Dresen and the Saxony Bastei we entered the Czech republic near Schmilka only to be told that Europeans did not need a visa but Canadians did and so I was instructed to turn around and leave again, unless I wanted to leave my Auntie behind. I actually drove some 300 yards turned around and drove 300 yards out again. It was my shortest stop ever in a country. In my photo album for that trip I left a blank page with the heading this is what I saw in Czechloslovakia. A year later in 2002 I visited the Ukraine and flew from Hanover to Kiev making a stop in Prague. In Prague we had to go through immigration because at that time Ukraine was still a visa country and our visas had to be checked before we got on our connection plane. Of course on the way back we once again had to change planes at Prague airport. So after entering the Czech republic four times I still have not seen anything of that country .... maybe it will be fifth time lucky.
2013-02-12 - I visited Washington (District Of Columbia) in 2000. I had actually flown over to stay with my Auntie in Burlington, Canada for three weeks but she told me that her favourite place was Williamsburg in Virginia so a couple of days later we jumped in the car and shot off to see the historical triangle of Virginia. First we drove across New York State, then across Pennsylvania and finally into Virginia. On the way back we stopped off at Washington the capitol of the USA. We drove into Washington past the famous Pentagon building and past the Arlington cemetery, where JF Kennedy is buried and crossed the Potomac via the Arlington memorial bridge. First stop in Washington was the Lincoln memorial and then the Vietnam war memorial we strolled along the reflecting pool to the WWII memorial and then on to the George Washington memorial. From here we walked over to the White house to take some photos and was amazed when GW Bush pulled up in a car not far from us and walzed into the white house with a big smile on his face, unfortunately too quick for me to get a photo. This was only a couple of months before 9/11. From here we walked up Pennsylvania avenue to the capitol building. After about a two hour wait we got in and it was certainly worth the wait. You can see at the capitol building how much Americans love their history. We left Washington in the direction of Frederick and I have to say that apart from the city centre Washington was one big slum.
2013-01-29 - I visited Egypt (Port Said) in 1956 when the troop ship HMT Empire Clyde, which we were travelling on to Hong Kong, stopped there for refuelling. Unfortunately as I was only three at the time I do not remember anything about our excursion onland.
2013-02-16 - I drove through Emilia-Romagna in 2001, whilst driving around Italy on a European tour. We visited Venice and drove down the East Italian Adriatic coast staying overnight at the seaside town of San Giuliano A Mare. Next day we popped up to San Marino before carry on down the Adriatic coast.
2013-02-07 - I visited Estonia whilst on a car tour of Poland and the Baltic states in October 2003. I entered Estonia from Latvia at the crossing point of Tsiiruli and drove up to Voru coming within 5 miles of the Russian border (The nearest I have been to Russia to date). I stayed overnight and then moved on to the stately house of Sangaste, which is a large red brick house built in old English Tudor style by the local lord of the manor. From Sangaste I drove on to the centre of the Estonian revolution and birthplace of the Estonian flag, a little town called Otepää where a memorial of the revolutionary fight is commemorated by a plaque on the local church wall. From here I drove on to the old city of Tartu, which is Estonias second largest city and houses the Baltics oldest university. From here I drove to the capital city Tallinn where I saw plenty of signs to beware of moose but unfortunately did not see any. Tallin was a city founded by the Danes and has quite a large and very well looked after medieval centre. The medieval centre is almost completely surrounded by an old medieval wall including many towers, which is in a very good state. One of the towers is called the fat Margaret because its walls are some 6 metres thick. In the centre of Tallinn is a high flat hill, which was originally the strongpoint of the town and houses the Russian orthodox cathedral and the Estonian parliament building. From Tallinn I drove south again heading for the Amber coast of Latvia making a final stop at the town of Pärnu, which is also known as the Estonian Riviera. Pärnu was also the place where Estonian independence was proclaimed in 1918.
2013-01-17 - I visited Euskadi (Basque Country) on a recent European car tour. I entered Spain from France (Bayonne) and spent some time wandering around San Sebastian. San Sebastian is a very compact town with most of the population living in high rise apartment blocks. The city is spread over a large narrow area with many of the blocks being built on hills surrounding the town. San Sebastian has a large cathedral, a nice town hall and a large bay, which has a large sandy beach. From San Sebatian I moved on to Navarre (Pamplona).
2013-01-13 - I visited Extremadura (Badajoz) on a recent European car tour. After visiting the Portuguese fortified border town of Elvas I moved on into Spain to visit Badajoz. It was here that the British army had fought one of its bloodiest battles in the Napoleonic wars in 1812 and had lost some 3000 dead in only two hours, an event which then caused the soldiers to ransack the town (even though the Spanish were allied with Britain). The fortress today is slowly being restored to its former glory, with many of the walls falling into disrepair and the local authority are busy with the restoration. The fortress, which was built by the moors still has some Arabian looking parts. The main blockhouse, a large solid stone building is today used as a museum. The area inside the fortress has now been turned into a local park. The fortress also houses the university and state library of Extremadura. I had planned to visit the WHS at Merida but ran out of time as dusk fell and drove on to Toledo.
2014-01-02 - I visited the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina on a recent European car tour. I entered the country in the north coming in from Zagreb (Croatia) and visited Banja Luka (Republic of Srpska). From there I drove across the mountainous and wooded countryside to Mostar. On the way we passed many buildings still in ruin from the war. Mostar lies in a valley between mountains with the Neretva river flowing thought the centre of the valley. We parked the car near the amazing new grammar school building (Gimnazija Mostar) and headed for the old town. All around this area there were still many buildings totally destroyed and it seems they were left like that as a monument. Of course highlight of the day was the famous bridge of Mostar (Stari Most) which was destroyed in the war along with many other surrounding buildings. A massive restoration plan was set up to restore the old town and sloping bridge of Mostar to its former glory and that was completed around 2005. On the day we visited we were lucky enough to film someone jumping off the bridge, after all thats what its famous for. Nearby we visited the islamic mosque of Koski Mehmed pasa, which is open to all tourists. Saddest memento of the day was visiting the nearby cemetery, which was full of the bodies of young men killed in the war. From Mostar we drove on to the Croatian coast where we had to clear customs twice in a short space of time as Bosia is a totally landlocked country with a coastline of only five miles wide, which splits Croatia into two territories. On the five mile coastline of Bosnia lies the brand new town of Neum, which is obviously the place where Bosnia\'s rich and famous have set up their villas by the sea and the little harbour is chock a block full with luxury yachts.
2013-01-30 - I lived in Germany for 35 years and as I used to go home to Wales nearly every year from either Calais, Oostende, Zeebrugge or Hook Van Holland I have been through Belgium many times. Although I have been through the Flemish region many times I have never found time to visit the jewel in the crown, Brugges. I have wandered around the seaport of Oostende a few times but at Zeebrugge there is nothing there at all except for the port which is now shut down. After the Zeebrugge ferry disaster in 1987 I stopped using that route, better safe than sorry, and I am sure a lot of other people did the same probably leading to the port being shutdown as a ferry port.
2013-02-13 - In 1997 I visited the USA for the first time when I took the family to Disneyland in Orlando, Florida. We chose to got over the Easter holiday because it was not so hot as the middle of summer. We flew over to America landing at Bangor, Maine in the middle of a snowstorm but by the time we got to Florida it was beach weather. At the airport I picked up my car, first time in my life I had driven an automatic car and one with air conditioning at that, it was like a fridge by the time we got to the hotel. We stayed at the Howard Johnson in Kissimee, not far from the centre of most of the action. First morning I walked out of the room straight into a thunderstorm and it made me laugh that the sprinklers on the lawn were spraying the grass. One thing I learned very quickly in Florida was no matter how bad the weather is in the morning by 10 Oclock it was always sunny and stayed that way, no wonder they call it the sunshine state. We had most of our meals at the Ponderosa buffet restaurant nearby, which was great if you like steak for breakfast. I will not bore you with what we did in the two weeks we were there but we visited all the main resorts like the magic Kingdom, Epcot centre etc. All in all a great family holiday and probably one of the best holidays I ever had.
2013-01-17 - I visited Fribourg on a recent European car tour. As the name suggests Fribourg is in the French part of Switzerland. I stopped at the city of the same name for a while. At first, when driving into Fribourg, it is difficult to see any old buildings and the reason does not become clear until you actually reach the river Saane. Most of the old town is built around the bend of the Saane, which lies a lot lower than the rest of the town. An old wooden bridge still bridges one side with another while several towers, from the old town wall are dotted around at the higher points. Parts of the old town are walled including one wall that goes almost straight up the steep bank. Fribourg also has an impressive solid stoned town hall and a cathedral. Today the two parts of the town on either side of the river are now connected by a very tall seven arch stone bridge.
2013-02-21 - I drove through Friuli-Venezia-Giulia in 2001, whilst driving around Italy on a European tour. We entered the province from a small place in Slovenia called Ankaran, where we had spent most of the afternoon swimming. We drove on to the city of Trieste and stayed for a couple of hours. My father had once been station in Trieste after the war for three years and my mother, who was travelling with me, was very interested if she could recognize anything. Trieste had become a disputed territory between Italy and Yugoslavia after the second world war ans so British and American forces had been stationed here for some seven years to keep the peace. Unfortunately Trieste had changed so much since 1953 that my mother could not recognize anything at all except for the basic outline of the market square. Trieste itself had been completely modernised and just about all the old buildings had been replaced. That night we parked the camper van in a supermarket parking area to save on the camping site fees.
2013-12-29 - I visited Gagauzia on a recent European car tour. Gagauzia is an autonomous part of Moldova and is mainly inhabited by Turks rather than Romanians and like Trans Dniester wanted to remain a part of Russia. Gagauzia covers only a small area in the south of the country. The main town here is Comrat, not a very awe inspiring place at all apart from the Cathedral, which is pained bright yellow. On the day we arrived there was a wedding taking place in the main street, which no doubt brightened the day up. Comrat is more or less a throw back to the old Soviet Union and as most ex-Soviet towns has a T-34 tank on a base as a memorial to the second world war in the local park. The two main roads going through Comrat were fairly new and drivable but we cut across country to get to Tiraspol (Trans Dniester) and the minor roads of Moldova were in a terrible state (the worst I have ever driven in Europe with thousands of potholes, one every few yards) indeed most of the time it was easier to drive along the side of the road rather than on it.
2013-01-09 - I visited Geneva on a recent European car tour. I spent most of the time there in the area of the United Nations building and the ITU headquarters. The street names, amongst other things, show that this is very much the French part of Switzerland. It is nice to see that trams are still used extensively for public transport in this part of the world. I continued my journey up the minor road around Lake Leman via Coppet and Nyon in the direction of Lausanne.
2013-01-17 - I visited Gibraltar in 1956 when the troop ship, HMT Empire Clyde, which we were travelling on to Hong Kong, stopped there for refuelling. Unfortunately as I was only three at the time I do not remember anything about our excursion on land. I have been close to Gibraltar three times since then in 1994, 2001 (when I sailed right past the rock) and 2012 without actually set foot on the rock again. But all that changed in January 2017 when I once again set foot on Gibraltar during my latest car-trip. I climbed the rock, visited the beautiful St. Michaels cave, played with the Barbary apes (whatever you do don't let the locals catch you calling them monkeys)and had a nice cool English beer and fish and chips in the local pub in Casaways square. I noticed that here in Gibraltar they are extremely sharp with people who park their cars and ignore the clamping signs, needless to say I say a few clamped cars. It is nice to see that the people here enjoy their little democracy in the sun and have now been granted permission to join UEFA and play international football. Talking to the locals about Brexit (and as we know 99% of Gibraltarians voted to stay in the EU) they all made it clear that if Gibraltar has a choice of Leaving the EU and having the border closed down once again or staying in the EU then they’d choose to leave. As it is Spain will be the loser as some 12000 Spanish come across the border every day to work in Gibraltar. Gibraltar is now investing millions in the infra-structure as it seems it has finally realised the potential of the tourist. Three new beaches have been constructed on the eastern side of the rock and several holiday villages built. Also the tax-free marina has had a total revamp and now a lot of rich moor their yachts there over the winter period. Soon work will start on a brand new modern football stadium so that Gibraltar can play their home matches in Gibraltar, maybe starting of with a friendly against Spain Ha Ha !!!. The airport still calls itself RAF Gibraltar and the Naval dock still calls itself RN Gibraltar but for all intent and purposes Gibraltar is now an independent state and the only presence of the British are the military relics strewn around the town and the grassless cricket pitch down at South Point..
Interesting the comments made by Mr Sanchez on the territory of Gibraltar. Those comments were made a long time ago and maybe he should look at re-writing the nonsense he wrote, but just for the record, HERE IS THE TRUTH ABOUT GIBRALTAR. Mr Sanchez: As a Spanish citizen I felt on the obligation to visit Gibraltar, part of my country territory, presently occupied by English colonists. Mr Rutledge: Sovereignty of Gibraltar was ceded to Britain, in perpetuity, under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 signed by the Spanish King Philip V. Therefore Gibraltar is not part of Spanish territory nor has been since 1713. Most of the people who live in Gibraltar today are mostly Spaniards of Andalusian decent or Moroccans. Most British people who lived here only did so because of their connection to the military so Gibraltar is not occupied by English colonists. How can you occupy a country over which you have sovereignty? Gibraltar has been sovereign British territory much longer than Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico has been part of the USA, so would you suggest that America gives back those huge tracts of land to Mexico.
Mr Sanchez: In 1941, during the Second World War, and for humanitarian reasons, the Spanish Government gave authority to construct an airport at the border between La Linea de la Concepción and the colony of Gibraltar, but after the end of the war the territory occupied by the airport construction was kept in English hands.
Mr Rutledge: The airport was constructed during World War II upon the territorys race course (introduced by the Maltese), when Gibraltar was an important naval base for the British. Originally opened in 1939, it was only an emergency airfield for the Royal Navys Fleet Air Arm. However, the runway was later extended by reclaiming some land from the Bay of Gibraltar using rock blasted from the Rock of Gibraltar while carrying out works on military tunnels. This last major extension of the runway allowed larger aircraft to land at Gibraltar.
Mr Sanchez: Gibraltar presently belongs to England because this country has more weapons and warships than Spain. The same happens with Malvinas Islands, south of Argentina, that English colonist occupied illegally and do not want to give back to Argentina because Argentina is military inferior than England. But nothing is permanent in this world, and some day in the future things will change.
Mr Rutledge: Wrong again Mr Sanchez … Gibraltar belongs to the United Kingdom because it was ceded to them by the Spanish King Philip V in the treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Gibraltar is a sovereign British territory just as is Cueta, which was ceded to Spain in the treaty of Lisbon 1668 and unlike Melilla, which was captured from Morocco in 1497 and has never been ceded. Morocco has more right to lay claim to Melilla than Spain has to lay claim over Gibraltar. Nothing will change politically in Gibraltar as long as 99.9% of the population vote to stay under the flag of the United Kingdom, which is commonly known as democracy and has nothing to do with how many warships a country has. I won’t even go into the Falklands, which recently voted 100% to remain as part of the United Kingdom, as you obviously have no idea about the history of these islands.
2013-01-09 - I visited Glarus on a recent European car tour. On entering the Glarus area by road you pass a big sign telling you that it is a UNESCO WH site, unfortunately it does not tell you why or where it is, I had to find that out by chatting to some of the locals (luckily my German was sufficient in this German speaking part of Switzerland). I say that in Switzerland every town is built next to a lake or a mountain, well Glarus had no lake but it was surrounded by 5 mountains of 2000 metres or more. Glarus itself has nothing much to write home about but has a nice little railway station. The WHS was actually situated at the tiny village of Elm some 25 miles away from Glarus up the Sernt valley at the Sardona pass. I took a slow drive up the valley, where most of the mountains are over 3000 metres and thick snow lay everywhere except on the roads. The area of Sardonia is called the Swiss tectonic area because of moving rock formations and glacial landslides. I have to admit that because most of the mountains were covered in thick snow it was not easy to distinguish where exactly and what was happing during this process and it would probably be better visited in the summer. Elm is also the home town of Switzerlands most famous and medal decorated female skier Vreni Schneider and she runs a skiing school in the village. On the day I visited the place was packed out with day skiers.
2013-02-18 - I have visited Graubunden twice. The first time was in 1978 during a trip from Germany to Venice when I drove across the Swiss mountains from Zuerich to Merano in Italy via Chur and Davos. Part of that drive was down the incredibly beautiful valley between Zarmez and Müstair through the Swiss national park. The WHS of the Benedictine Convent of Saint John is in the town of Müstair, right on the border with Italy. My second visit to Graubunden was in the year 2000 when returning from Italy and travelling to Lindau in Bavaria. Here we entered Switzerland near the village of Castasegna and drove to St. Moritz, where we spend a couple of hours. From there we drove up through the mountain at the Julierpass and on to Chur. Highlight of the day was when we managed to overtake a Ferrari going down the mountain pass, and got it on film. Because of its outstanding natural beauty, the canton of Graubunden has to be in the top three of the nicest places to visit in Switzerland.
2013-01-29 - I visited Hainan Island whilst on a cruise from Singapore to Shanghai in 2011. The cruise ship pulled up at the newly formed Phoenix island, which is situated just off the city of Sanya. Hainan island is claimed to be the only part of China, which one could describe as tropical and as such is very quickly becoming a large tourist resort for the rich Chinese. Billions is being spent on housing and infrastructure and the population has risen tenfold in ten years to some 700.000 and is now Chinas fastest growing city. When you take into account that some 50% of the housing stock is empty most of the time, as these properties are bought as second homes, then Sanya would have already past the one million population mark. Both Sanya Bay and it\'s neighbour Yalong bay has miles of white sandy beaches. The old, somewhat rundown, town centre of Sanya is still intact but to the north and west hundreds of brand new high rise blocks have sprung up. Pearl fishing is still one of the local industries and Sanya has a nice little pearl museum, which is quite an interesting visit. I spent most of my time in Sanya at the local Chinese Nanshan cultural zone, which is nothing more than a religious park laid out in marble temples, Buddha figures and parkland with lakes, fountains and flower gardens. Centrepiece of the park is the very impressive 103 foot high Buddha statue of Bodhisattva Avalokiteœvara, which is 3-sided so as to look the same from any viewpoint and is Chinas answer to the statue of liberty. Although Sanya has been thrust into the 21st century at rocket speed, it seems that out in the countryside of Hainan nothing has changed much for the locals and you can still buy roasted corn-on-the-cob from a three wheeled cycle at pennies. I am just glad I visited the place before mass tourism takes over.
2013-02-18 - As I lived in Germany for 35 years I visited most places in the country in that time including Hamburg. I can not remember how many times I visited Hamburg, which was a three hour drive from Osnabrueck, where I was stationed in the army but my mates and I regularly went to see both Hamburg SV and St. Pauli play football. That was always followed by an evening on the famous Reeperbahn, where the Beatles learned their trade as musicians and I learned a few things about girls I did not know before, in the nicest possible way of course. Quite often we would be that tanked up that we would sleep in the car overnight rather than drive home drunk. Yeah I had some good times on the nights out in Hamburg.
2013-02-10 - As I lived in Germany for 35 years I visited most places in the country in that time including Hessen. I visited Hessen several times in that period including Kassel, Frankfurt and Wiesbaden. but the two nicest trips were Ruedesheim and Alsfeld. In 1980 I drove from Koeln to Ruedesheim down the Rhein valley in what must be one of the most picturesque drives in the world. Along the route there are many old castles of all shapes and sizes dotted around the hillsides including some actually built on islands in the middle of the river. The river itself bends and twists fur a couple of hundred kilometres along that route. Ruedeshein is the place, which makes my favourite tipple, Asbach old German brandy and of course the factory opens its gates to visitors and hands out a few free samples. In 1999 I visited Alsfeld, a very old small German town where most of the old buildings surrounding the ancient market square are 300 - 400 year old timber-frame buildings including one of the most famous and well known buildings in the whole of Germany, the Rathaus (town hall) from Alsfeld. Today this small building has long outgrown its function and serves only as the towns top tourist attraction.
2013-01-17 - I visited Ile De France in 1995 when my brother persuaded me to go with him to Paris to watch his team in the Cup Winners Cup Final despite the fact that we had no tickets. The game was being played at the then largest stadium in France, Princes Park. Four of us drove to Paris in an old banger and parked it up near the Eiffel tower, where most of the Arsenal fans were gathering and we spent the afternoon under the tower boozing singing and generally making merry. We caught the Metro to the stadium and then finally got our hands on some tickets. The locals had bought about 50% of the tickets and were selling them like hotcakes at over inflated prices. The good news ended there as Arsenal lost to Real Zaragoza with a last minute goal and then the French police herded us down a hundred back streets to keep the fans separated. By the time we got back to the centre of town it was four in the morning and bang went our night out at the crazy horse. When we reached the car two slept inside and two outside on the grass. Next day we spent a couple of hours around the Notre Damme area before heading for home.
2013-02-17 - I visited Ireland in 1977 when I drove from Belfast down to Rosslare to catch the ferry back to Wales. I drove down through Dundalk and Drogheda stopping in Dublin for a few hours to have a look around. On leaving Dublin I had a funny incident when I spotted a catholic priest at the side of the road hitching a ride south. I picked him up and it turned out to be a good thing because he knew a few short cuts to save me time. Despite his divine intervention I still got to Rosslare too late and missed the ferry and had to stop overnight at a nearby hotel. It turned out to be a good evening as it was the night that the Eurovision song contest was held, something that Ireland generally did well in and the place was full to the rafters and buzzing and I have to say that Irish certainly know how to create a good atmosphere, especially in the pub or bar. Next day it was up early to catch the ferry back to Fishguard in West Wales.
2013-01-29 - I visited Islas De La Bahia (Honduras, Roatan Island) whilst on a Caribbean cruise in 2007. Because our stay was fairly short and the island did not offer too much except for sunbathing, swimming, diving or snorkelling that is what we did for our duration. We made our way to West End and spend the day on Tabyana beach, which many locals would say is the best beach in Honduras and who was I to disagree. The beach was fantastic, classical tropical paradise of white pristine sand and also exceptionally clean, no wonder the locals call it the lost Caribbean. The snorkelling was probably the best I have experienced in all of the islands that I have visited in the Caribbean with a wide variety of coloured fish and a healthy and thriving coral reef. All in all a very nice day out and to be highly recommended.
2014-01-01 - I visited Istria on a recent European car tour. Istria is the largest peninsula on the Adriatic with most of it being in Croatia and smaller areas being in Slovenia and Italy. I drove from Ljubljana (Slovenia) to Pula stopping at Koper and Porec on the way. Porec is an old town and a recognised World Heritage Site, although I have to admit I did not see much there which would have give it that status. The coast of Porec is the most visited tourist area in the whole of Croatia even bettering Dubrovnic and as such is crammed to the rafters in summer with tourists and the small picturesque harbour is crammed with big yachts from the rich and famous. Pula is the largest town in Istria and is built around an enclosed bay. Pula was a very important port in Roman times and its dominating feature is the large Roman amphitheatre in the centre of town, other Roman structures have also survived. The local park is full of statues of resistance fighters including Tito to remind us of its Yugoslavian past. As like the rest of Istria Pula has a thriving tourist industry. Istria has a very good infra-Structure, probably the best in the whole of Croatia and has modern motorways running from Pula to Trieste in Italy and from Pula to the croatian capital Zagreb.
2013-01-04 - I visited Geneva, including the ITU headquarters on a recent European car tour. It is situated a stones throw from the United nations building. Unfortunately I visited it during the Christmas/New year holiday period so the building was shut down but I did take several photo\'s around the area, which seemed to be packed out with Chinese and Japanese tourists.
2013-01-17 - I visited Jura on a recent European car tour. It is situated in the West of Switzerland just south of Basel on the French border. I spend a while walking the streets of the main town Delemont taking photos. Like most towns of this size in Switzerland Delemont also had an old town with quite a lot of old building including an attractive town hall and some sort of chateau. It also had many arches and statues dotted around the town. From Delemont I drove on to Solothurn.
2013-12-30 - I visited Kosovo on a recent European car tour. I entered coming from Novi Pazar in Serbia and left via the border post at Sharrchem heading for Skopje (Macedonia). Coming from Novi Pazar by road we drove the whole length of the very picturesque lake Gazivoda and the border post was halfway down the lake. Of course Kosovo is still legally a war zone and we were met at the border not only by the local military but also by KFOR who are UN peacekeepers. Although this was the French sector the KFOR troops at the border were British and recognised my number plate so being ex-Army it was nice having a chat with them. KFOR is now down to about 4000 troops so are quite thinly spread out and we did not see much more of them whilst driving through Kosovo. We drove on to Pristina and spent a couple of hours walking around the town centre. I have to say there is absolutely no sign of any war or tension here at all. Pristina, like most places coming out of a conflict is now going through a building boom and there were buildings going up everywhere and it is turning into a very modern city and it was nothing like I imagined it to be. From Pristina we went on to visit the Orthodox monastery at Gracanica, which is a small Serbian enclave inside Kosovo. The monastery at Gracanica is a UNESCO world heritage site and although the monastery itself is not all that special the church stood in the walled gardens certainly is. On entering the gardens there was a sign which said no guns past this point, which I found amusing. The inside of the church is covered from floor to roof with frescos and other paintings most of them in a good state of repair with some a little faded. The church itself is built in solid rock in a classical orthodox style and is quite an impressive sight. As this is a pilgrimage site the church is full of people coming and going and I had to laugh to see one of the nuns continuously going from alter to alter picking up all the money that had been left there, almost like they thought somebody was going to steal from inside a church. After Gracanica we made our way south to the border at Sharrem and crossed into Macedonia.
2013-01-17 - I visited La Roja on a recent European car tour. I drove into the province from Navarre and did not stop at Logrono as my destination was the WHS at San Millan. Looking at the map I thought that San Millan was at the back of beyond, as most monasteries, but it was not really all that far from civilization. The monasteries of Yuso and Suso are a WHS Yuso being in the village and Suso being high up on the hill. Yuso was the largest and main monastery of the two and was a large complex built with purple looking large granite blocks, probably dug out of the nearby mountains. Strangely it seemed to house a hotel inside. On the day I visited the monastery was shut and deserted so all I could do was walk around the outside taking photos. After that I drove up the mountain to Suso, noticing that cars were prohibited, but as I said before the place was deserted and that included not a policeman in sight. Suso was a much smaller monastery and seemed to be made from an orange coloured rock. Apparently the monasteries of Yuso and Suso are the birthplace of the Spanish language. From San Millan I drove on to Burgos.
2013-02-07 - I visited Latvia whilst on a car tour of Poland and the Baltic states in October 2003. As I went around the Baltic states in a loop I drove up the Eastern part of Latvia and back down the Western part. Latvia is the only one of the three Baltic states, which has a larger Russian population than the ethnic population due mainly to its capital Riga being populated 80% by Russians. Riga was Russias great port on the Baltic, even more important than St. Petersburg and there is a main highway going from Riga directly to Moscow. I have to say that the Eastern part of Latvia holds nothing for the tourist and is largely agricultural. When I visited in 2003, some 12 years after independence from Russia a lot of farmers were still using horses to plough the fields. After driving through Estonia I entered Latvia again at Ainazi on the amber coast. I spent some time on the beach looking for some amber gold but it was not my lucky day. From here I drove across country to the old castle at Lilestraupe, which today is a kind of rehabilitation centre for drug addicts. From Lilestraupe I drove on to Latvias largest national park called Guadja and the town of Cesis. Cesis have a number of historic buildings and the whole area is slowly being turned into one of Latvias main tourist areas with a massive investment taking place. From Cesis I drove on to Sigulda, which has a very picturesque village centre and an old gothic style red brick castle. From here I drove onto the capital Riga, getting there so late that I could not find a hotel and ended up sleeping in the car (was not the first or last time that has happened). Riga was not as beautiful as Tallinn but it did have some interesting buildings like the house of the blackheads. Riga is known as the city of the towers and has many churches with tall spires including the church of St. Peters, which house the tallest wooden spire of any church in Europe going up to 236 feet and consisting of four separate sections. From Riga I drove on to the old castle at Bauske an old fortress built by the Teutonic knights which sits between two rivers. It was later turned into a picturesque castle and destroyed in the great northern war. When I visited it was going through extensive renovation. My last stop in Latvia was the great palace at Rundale which is used by Latvian high society and politicians to accommodate foreign heads of state.
2013-01-06 - I visited Liechtenstein on a recent European car tour. It was my fifth visit to this nice little country since my first visit in 1978. Nothing has changed much over that time except they now have a brand new football stadium and the mega-rich are now paying their taxes. Apart from that I now have a digital camera so could take much better photos than my last visits. This time I actually drove to the top of the mountain at Gaflei, despite it being winter the roads were clear but it is still a hair raising drive with a sheer drop down for the most part. Liechtenstein is one of the smallest countries in Europe and is even smaller still when you take into account that half of it is inaccessible mountains. It has just about the highest stand of living in Europe due to the fact that its a tax haven and also a top destination for tourists, especially skiers. It is an extremely clean and modern place. Not much to do here if your not into winter sports but it is certainly a nice day out.
2013-02-17 - I drove through Liguria in 2001, whilst driving around Italy on a European tour. We entered Liguria from the south, after an overnight stop in Torre Del Lago Puccin. Our first stop was Portovenere. Portovenere is one of the most picturesque little villages in Italy but it has one big drawback. It has a one way system with quite narrow roads and no in-town parking for anything bigger than a car so we could only drive in and out again. From here we drove up the coast to San Remo via Genoa and quite a few coastal villages stopping at several for a break and to dip our feet in the sea. We stopped overnight at a camping site at San Remo and boy was I glad to get in the sea to cool off, it had been a long hard hot drive.
2013-01-29 - I visited Limousin on a recent European car tour and passed through the province on my way from Albi (Midi-Pyrenees) to Clermont-Ferrand (Auvergne). I stopped at the small town of Tulle in the south of the province. As it was very early in the morning, raining heavily and the Christmas period the place was like a morgue with not much in the way of interesting things to look at except for a plastic cow outside a butchers shop, which was dressed up as father Christmas, which was one way to attract the punters I suppose. Hopefully my next visit will offer me more than a soaked through plastic cow.
2013-02-11 - I visited Lithuania whilst on a car tour of Poland and the Baltic states in October 2003. I entered Lithuania from the Polish town of Sulwalki and before I had even reached the border was stung for car insurance, a nice little tourist rip-off. If you do not pay it then you do not get in, several of the new Eastern European states pull this stunt. From the border I headed for Trakai, a national park not far from Vilnius where the monarchs of Lithuania used to reside. The royal castle at Trakai was situated on an island in the middle of a lake and is quite an impressive structure. Unfortunatly it was shut and so I moved on to Vilnius after a short photo stop. Vilnius could definitely be called the city of churches because it seems there is some sort of cathedral or church in every street. One of the most impressive was the church of St. Anns built in gothic style in red brick, which Napoleon had once described as the nicest church he had ever seen. The university of Vilnius may not be the oldest in the Baltics but it is certainly the most impressive especially on the inside. The universities church has a magnificent altar made out of red and white marble. One thing I noticed about churches in Lithuania is that the church and bell tower are not in the same building, the bell tower is usually built separate from the main church. From Vilnius I drove through the national park of Aukstaitija, an area of outstanding natural beauty and very nice solid wooden churches. From here I drove on into Latvia, Estonia, back into Latvia and then back into Lithuania my next port of call being the famous hill of crosses just outside Siauliai. The hill of crosses is a memorial to the resistance of the Lithuanian people during the Russian occupation. The Russians knocked it down many times and many times the Lithuanians put it back up. Today the hill of crosses has some 50000 crosses of all shapes and sizes, indeed some of them must have cost a small fortune. After an overnight stop in Siauliai I drove back to the Polish border taking a very slow drive across some very medival countryside indeed some of the farmers stick stack up the hay in little bundles like they did in England 500 years ago. When driving in Lithuania watch out for crooked cops, I got stopped twice by country cops, apparently for speeding (would I do such a thing) and both times they issued me with an on the spot fine, which I never paid because I was able to convince them that I had no Lithuanian cash on me and they are not allowed to take foreign money in payment. More than one way to skin a crooked cop. Apart from that Lithuania is a nice little country and at that time had certainly made great strides in becoming westernized.
2013-01-03 - I visited Llivia on a recent car tour of Europe. It was badly signposted from the outside and it seemed that the French did not want outsiders to know that the Spanish were living inside their territory. Llivia itself was in a small valley on a flat plain and was somewhat very rural. It came across as rather prosperous place and had some 10 hotels although the population is only about 1600 inhabitants. Llivia itself claims to be the birthplace of Catalonia, which I find hard to believe although it did have a resident Earl for some 300 years who had his own castle until the French destroyed it aound about 1350. A lot of the houses had the Catalonian flag flying from them. The local church shows a typical Spanish building feature by serving as a place of prayer and also a stronghold having large towers on three sides of the building. Most of the large houses in Llivia are build from solid rock, which is in abundance in this part of the world. Apart from the church and a small museum there is really not much to see or do in Llivia.
2013-02-18 - I visited Lombardy in 2000 when I was working for my ex-company visiting several potential suppliers in Italy. We had travelled down to Italy through Austria and decided to travel back to Germany through Switzerland. We left Tivoli, near Rome and stopped off at Florence for a couple of hours and then drove on past Milan to the border town at Como. I remember that the day turned into a mini disaster when firstly we got stuck in a traffic jam near Milan for three hours in red hot weather, then on arriving at Como could not find an empty hotel in the town and in the end had to drive to the top of the mountain to a place called Brunate San Maurizio. It was midnight and luckily for us the bar and kitchen was still open and we quickly finished two large pizzas washed down with a couple of litres of cold white wine. I drove through Lombardy once again on a recent European tour driving from Aosta to Campione DItalia but did not stop overnight on this occasion.
2013-01-29 - I visited Lorraine on a recent European car tour. I stopped at the city of Nancy to have a wander around. Nancy is a WHS due to the famous Stanislav square, which consists of a series of very impressive palace type buildings, which are laid out in three squares, two with gardens, one of which is reached via the famous Arc Here. The main square has large gold braided fountains on each corner. Do not ask me how a Polish-Lithuanian citizen became Duke of Lorraine in France. Even stranger is the fact that Stanislav died shortly after the completion of the project as the last Duke of Lorraine and the capital was then moved to Metz, which seemed a complete waste of public money. Never the less what Stanislav left behind was very impressive. Nancy also has other very beautiful buildings like the Dukes palace, several museums, the cathedral, the La Porte de la Craffe and the very gothic St Epvre Church.
2013-01-29 - I visited Lower Normandy on a recent European car tour. There I stopped at one of Frances most popular WHS Mont St. Michel, a place that I have been wanting to visit for a long time. Here they make sure that a driving tourist is forced into the new expensive car park. Never the less I was not going to let that spoil my day and decided to walk to the mount from the mainland (a free bus is available). The causeway, which once took rail passengers from Paris right up to the front door has now been removed and is slowly being replaced by a brand new tarmac road. The tide was out and the large mud silts were glowing and were blinding in the sunlight. The abbey is a magnificent sight when standing in front of it looking up with every building in sight being built by solid rock. On entering the main door the tourist is firstly led through the so called tourist area of around 30 small shops, cafes, and restaurants. Then you pass a chapel, which also doubles up as the mounts museum before finally coming to the very long, steep and slippery wide stone staircase, especially when its wet. If you are not in the best of health the climb will finish you off before you get anywhere near the abbey at the top. It made me wonder how they got all that rock up to the top when simply walking up empty handed was a feat in itself. The Romanesque church at the very top of the mount seems much smaller inside than it looks from afar and is also quite plain with the wooden bench pews being almost the only furniture in the place. As I made my way through the Abbey the bareness of the rooms was apparent at each level. Outside the church was a courtyard with a garden in the middle and there are several gardens scattered around the mount. As I made my way down through the abbey I came upon a very large wooden wheel which still appeared to be functional and was used to hoist supplies to the top of the monastery. All in all a very impressive structure.
2013-01-12 - I visited Lucerne on a recent European car tour. It is situated in a very beautiful part of Switzerland and is in close proximity to other MTP locations of Sarnsen, Zug, Altdorf, Stans and Schwyz. I entered Lucerne from the direction of Sarnen driving through some very picturesque countryside with many typical Swiss wooden chalets. Lucerne is the largest town in the area with a population of 80000 and is situated on Lake Vierwald. I visited Lucerne on a Sunday and the city centre was packed out making it very difficult to find a parking place. Having finally got rid of the car I wandered around for a couple of hours. Lucerne has a very nice old town centre situated right on the lake. Part of the old town is connected to the other with an old wood covered bridge. The town has a nice marina and cruise ships take tourists out onto the lake for a day trip.
2013-02-03 - I visited Luxembourg in 1976, whilst stationed with the army in Germany. I drove down from Osnabrueck in Germany and travelled down the Rhine and Mosel valleys. Luxembourg and its capital city is one of the smallest countries and capital cities in Europe. Luxembourg city is built along a valley with some very nice parks on either side of the river running through that valley. The main building in the upper part of the city is the royal palace of the royal duchy. Surprisingly Luxembourg has a nice little WWII war memorial. Most people do not know that Luxembourg was an occupied country during WWII and lost many of its citizens as resistance fighters.
2013-02-12 - I visited Maine in 1997 when we stopped at Maine airport on our way to Florida. It was snowing very heavily when we landed and the whole countryside was white. I suppose one could say that theoretically speaking we did not actually visit Maine as we only had a stop-over here that we did not actually leave the airport but never the less this is where we went through American immigration, before we flew on to Florida and this is where we got our passports stamped. So by the rules of this Website if you pass immigration then you can claim to have been there.
2013-01-17 - I visited Malta in 1956 when the troop ship HMT Empire Clyde, which we were travelling on to Hong Kong, stopped there for refuelling. Unfortunately as I was only three at the time I do not remember anything about our excursion in Valetta.
2013-02-15 - I have been to the province of Marche twice, funnily enough in two years one after the other. In 2000 I had to visit one of my companies suppliers in Macerata. One funny memory of that visit was that the boss of that company did not have a single hair on his body. At first we thought he was a transvestite but it turned out that he just had some strange allergy. That evening we stayed at the seaside town of Civitanova and no amount of Grappa could persuade me to eat the local delicacy of sea snails. Almost exactly one year later to the day I travelled down the same Adriatic coast of Eastern Italy on a tour of Europe with my family but although we drove through Marche we did not actually stop until we reached Martinsicuro in the province of Abruzzo.
2013-02-13 - I visited Maryland in 2000. I had actually flown over to stay with my Auntie in Burlington, Canada for three weeks but she told me that her favourite place was Williamsburg in Virginia so a couple of days later we jumped in the car and shot off to see the historical triangle of Virginia. First we drove across New York State, then across Pennsylvania and finally into Virginia. On the way back we stopped off at Washington the capitol of the USA. After we left Washington we headed back to the Canadian border. We stopped overnight at the express inn at Frederick. Next morning my auntie insisted she wanted to spend our US dollars rather than exchange them back into Canadian dollars so we spent the next three hours at Value city, not exactly my idea of a holiday but the women were in the majority so we had no choice Ha Ha !!!.
2013-02-01 - As I lived in Germany for 35 years I visited most places in the country in that time including Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. From 1994 - 1998 I regularly visited a company called Bestwood, who were one of our companies suppliers. Bestwood was situated in the town of Ribnitz-Damgarten, North-East of Rostock on the Baltic coast. Whenever we visited we always stayed at the Strand Hotel, which is situated right next to the beach at Neuhaus, and was a very picturesque location and a good time was had by all. Unfortunately Bestwood went bankrupt in 1998 in one of Germanys largest post iron-curtain financial scandals (the owners embezzled 400 million marks) thus ending my nice trips to Neuhaus. On another occasion I had to carry out an audit in the Greifswald area. In those days the motorway from Berlin to Stralsund was still pre WWII and was made of solid concrete blocks and was quite uneven and it was impossible to get any real speeed up for bouncing all over the place. While I was in the area I also visited the island of Usedom and especially the town of Peenemuende, where the Germans developed their rocket science with thw V1 and V2 in WWII, unfortuntely there was not much left to see.
2013-02-20 - I visited Midi-Pyrenees on a recent European car tour. I entered the province from the southern province of Languedoc-Roussillon and drove on through to the northern province of Limousin stopping at the Episcopal city of Albi for a few hours. The City of Albi is a WHS and it does not take one long to see why. The centre point is the huge cathedral built out of red brick, indeed just about every old building in the city centre is built out of red brick. It is very unusual to see a cathedral of this size built of red brick. The cathedral has very steep walls going up and a flat roof and the tower looks more like a castle tower than a church tower. The inside of the cathedral is very colourful with the walls painted like old bible scenes and the roof is also painted in a variety of different bright colours. A lot of the buildings surrounding the cathedral are timber-frame houses filled in with red brick and there are several other large red brick buildings belonging to the Episcopal group. The city is split almost equally in two halves on each side of the river Tarn, which has no fewer than four bridge crossings. The two centre bridges are very impressive with many arches and are made out of ... yes you guessed it ..red brick. The river is on a slit level and anyone coming down the river in a boat has to go through a lock to carry on. The city also has a miniature red brick Arc De Triumph and a nice pedestrian shopping centre.
2013-12-29 - I visited Moldova on a recent European car tour. Being In a car I had planned to enter Moldova at the border crossing just east of Galati, but too late did we realise that the only border crossing here was into the Ukraine and although Moldova was only a few miles away I decided against taking my car through Ukrainian customs (I had heard too many horror stories about that). So we drove about 100 miles up the west Moldovan border until we found the next border crossing at a small place called Oancea. Here the Moldovan border guards were very friendly but nothing could persuade them to accept my green card insurance. They did however offer me the possibility of local insurance but of course had no broker at the border crossing so I had to forfeit my passport to the border guards and drive 5 miles to the next town (Cahul) to arrange that. Luckily they provided me with an address but on arriving found out that the broker did not speak a word of English and my Moldovan was not exactly up-to-date. Luckily he had done this many times before and managed to extract all the information he needed off my car documents. The insurance covered all of Moldova including Gagauzia and Trans Dniester. So then it was back to the border to pick up my passport. The whole business took about two hours, but I was finally into another new country. The first thing I noticed about Moldova was how bad the roads were, the worst that I have ever driven in Europe, The speed limit of about 50 mph was a joke, you could not drive that fast even if you wanted to. First two stops in Moldova were Gagauzia and Trans Dnieter (comments on those two places elsewhere on this site). After leaving Tiraspol I headed for Chisinau and after losing nearly 5 hours getting through the Moldovan and Trans Dniester borders we were late getting into the Moldovan capital and worst was to follow as we could not find our youth hostel. Even some of the local taxi drivers could not help us, in the end we managed to arrange to stay in an apartment for the night, showered and hit town at nearly ten in the evening. Moldova may be the most backward country in Europe in many ways but it is also by far the cheapest and a good night out cost us less than £20. Chisinau has a thriving night life with a lot of places open until the early hours of the morning and a good time was had by all. In the morning we toured Chisinau, which has a large population of over half a million, for a few hours. There are many fine buildings in Chisinau but the parliament building is definitely not one of them. In Parliament square there is a large monument similar to the Arc De Triompfe although I have never heard of Moldova being victorious in any wars. Chisinau and Tiraspol were the farthest point of our tour from home but from here on it was back to England. Petrol was by far the cheapest of any country I have ever visited in Europe and I made sure that before I crossed the border back into Romania the tank was full to the brim. I liked Moldova, I found the people to be very friendly and helpful and it was not as scary as I had been led to believe. I am sure that it will not take long before Moldova reaches the same level as the ex Soviet States in the Baltics. But they do need to sort those roads out, especially in the countryside.
2013-02-21 - I drove through Molise in 2001, whilst driving around Italy on a European tour. We entered Molise from Abruzzo in the north and drove on through the province into Apulia in the south stopping for a short stop at the small town of Termoli.
2013-02-20 - I visited Monaco in 2001, whilst driving around on a European tour. Because I was driving a large camper van at the time I decided not to go into the town centre (where they hold the Formula one race) because I was aware that I would not have been able to park it up anywhere. So we parked up on the top promenade above the town, took a few photos and moved on. But do not worry I will be back to break the casino later Ha Ha !!!
2013-01-11 - I visited Montserrat, whilst on a Caribbean cruise in 2006. Although Montserrat was not on the cruise itinerary I reached it from the nearest Island Antigua. To save me time on the day I booked the flight with Winair before I went on the cruise. When I got to the airport I was in for a big surprise as all flights to Montserrat were running three hours late. It was nip and tuck if I could fly over and back and still catch the ship before it sailed out. Being adventurous I decided to go for it. I got over to Montserrat about 14:00 hours but had to get the next flight back 90 minutes later. I certainly did not have time to explode the island apart from the near vicinity. Half the island was out-of-bounds anyway. At the end of the day all I got out of my trip to Montserrat was a nice aerial view of the volcano, which was steaming heavily, and a stamp in my passport. When I got back to Antigua I just about made the ship in time. The volcano became active again shortly after and a few months later had a massive eruption in May 2006 spewing ash and smoke seven miles high, which I believe was the last one. Four of the five photos I downloaded onto this site were given to me by a fellow passenger on my cruise ship who has flown over the volcano in a helicopter on the same day as my visit. I think the devastation is there for all to see.
2013-01-29 - I visited Navarre on a recent European car tour. Coming from the city of San Sebastian and heading through Navarre to Logrono. I drove into the famous city of Pamplona, where every summer the bulls run wild through the streets. On reaching Pamplona I was surprised to find that the city centre was very modern and no sign of the old town where the bulls are set loose. Nobody seemed to speak English or seemed to understand what I wanted when I asked where do the bulls run. Parking in a modern city in Spain is a huge problem and it seems no parking places but lots of traffic wardens means big problems so after taking a few photos I moved on. I made a refuelling stop at the small town of Estella, which had loads of parking places and was a very picturesque place with a Romanesque church, which had a satellite dish right on the top, one could say a better connection to him up above. Here the village square was covered in outdoor tables and everyone was occupied. At the moment Spain has 25% unemployment rate so I guess I knew what they did all day. From Estrella I moved on through Logrono to the WHS site at San Millan.
2013-01-09 - I visited Neuchatel on a recent European car tour. As the name suggests Neuchatel is in the French part of Switzerland and is situated on a lake of the same name. When I visited the town of Neuchatel is was raining badly and was very windy, even the dogs stayed at home. The market square was covered with tables for the tourists but most of the chairs were stacked up and there was not a tourist in sight, apart from me. There were a few nice old buildings around the market square. From Neuchatel I drove up a very steep mountainside to the WHS town of Le Lochle, it was snowing heavily, in fact it was the only time that it snowed in the 4 days I spent in Switzerland. Le Lochle was somewhat of a disappointment as the so called layout of the town in some kind of 19th century industrialisation pattern was very difficult to establish and a lot of the old buildings seemed to have been turned into modern apartments. Apart from that Le Lochle was a very ordinary place and had nothing else to offer.
2013-02-11 - I visited Nevis whilst on a Caribbean cruise in 2008. The ship actually docked at Basseterre in St. Kitts but as I had visited St. Kitts before I decided to spend the day in Nevis. I caught the daily ferry and it was a nice scenic trip down to Charlestown. Nevis is a very round island with a 1000 metre volcano right in the middle so no matter where you are on the island the view is always the same. Charlestown is a quaint little old colonial backwater and its claim to fame is that this is where Horatio Nelson met and married his wife. So firstly I visited the old bathhouse, which is where Nelson celebrated his married in 1787 in the presence of the prince of Wales (later King William III). The bath house is the oldest hotel in the Caribbean but fell into disrepair after the British left. It was used as a bath house for some time (hence its name) and then as a municipal building, nowadays it has once again been turned into a hotel. From here I walked the some three miles to St. Johns church in the small village of Figtree only to discover that Nelson actually got married on the estate of his father in law, the church only holds the document of registration for the wedding. From here I made my way to the four seasons resort, which is the only resort on Nevis but the place was closed down due to severe storm damage from a recent hurricane where all the trees had been uprooted or topped and all the sand on the beach washed away. Back in Charlstown I visited the home of another famous person born in Nevis namely Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States, when he left for the States his house was used a stopping point for emigrants travelling from England to the new world. Today the house has been totally restored and houses the museum of Nevis.
2013-02-12 - I drove across New York State in 2000. I had actually flown over to stay with my Auntie in Burlington, Canada for three weeks but she told me that her favourite place was Williamsburg in Virginia so a couple of days later we jumped in the car and shot off to see the historical triangle of Virginia. First stop was the Niagara Falls for some photos. Then we crossed over into the USA at Buffalo and headed for Pembroke. Pembroke was a small village near Batavia but it had been inhabited and named by people from my own home town Pembroke in Wales around 1810. From here we headed for Williamsport in Pennsylvania and crossed the state border at a little place called Lawrenceville.
2013-01-11 - I visited Stans (Nidwalden) on a recent European car tour. It is situated in a very beautiful part of Switzerland and is in close proximity to other MTP locations of Lucerne, Zug, Altdorf, Sarnen and Schwyz. I entered Nidwalden from Uri and stopped in the market square in Stans and had a wander around for a while. Stans is situated against a row of high snow covered mountains to the south. The centre-piece of the market square is the church with a tall spire, which is surrounded by other old interesting buildings, statues and a large memorial. Stans has a rail link to the mountains of central Switzerland. I drove from Stans to Sarnen (Obwalden) on some very minor roads which was a very pictureque drive indeed with typical green rolling hills and farmhouses scattered over the countryside with high snow covered mountains in the background.
2013-02-19 - As I lived in Germany for 35 years I have travelled through Calais (Nord-Pas-de-Calais) many times on my way home to Wales or going back to Germany on my return. Recently I went through Calais once again going off on a round Europe trip. Mostly I used the ferry and sometimes the hovercraft or shuttle. On nearly all of those occasions I just pulled up got on and did not hang around town. In 1996 I went to Paris to see Arsenal play in a European final and drove down to Calais to pick up my brother and stayed in Calais overnight. It was the only time in some 50 odd visits to the town that I actually took the time to have a good walk around the place. Never the less Calais does not have much to offer except a nice little town hall and one or two other nice buildings. In recent times the only claim to fame Calais has was reaching the French football cup final in 2000 as a fourth division club.
2013-02-20 - I went to Northern Ireland in 1973, whilst serving in the British army. Although I was in the Royal Engineers we actually went to Northern Ireland to serve in an infantry role and spent four months living in a prefab in the Short Strand bus depot in East Belfast. The bus depot was not far from the Harland and Wolf shipyard where the Titanic was built. Most of East Belfast was mixed religion or protestant but the Short Strand was the only area in East Belfast which was 100% catholic. Despite that fact we had a relatively quiet time of it even thought 1972 and 1973 were probably the worst two years of the conflict. As you can imagine I was not there for sightseeing and as such did not get around much. We spent our few nights off up at the Royal Engineer camp at Antrim (strictly inside the fence) or on the ex prison ship Maidstone, which was docked inside the RAF base in EAst Belfast. As we were not allowed out they used to bring the girls into those areas in three ton trucks, what a laugh that was. I also spent a week on relief duty in Andersons town area of Belfast and later on another week doing border patrols in the Auchnacloy area near to the Southern Irish border. In 1977, by which time I was out of the army, I went back to Northern Ireland to spend some time with an ex-army colleague of mine who was still in the army at Antrim. Nothing had changed in four years since I served there indeed it would be almost another 30 years before the peace accord was signed. It was certainly an interesting experience in my life.
2013-01-11 - I visited Sarnen (Obwalden) on a recent European car tour. It is situated in a very beautiful part of Switzerland and is in close proximity to other MTP locations of Lucerne, Zug, Altdorf, Stans and Schwyz. I entered Obwalden from its twin Nidwalden driving through some very picturesque countryside with many typical Swiss wooden chalets. Sarnen and Stans are very similar towns although Sarnen does not seem to have its historic buildings all circled around a market square rather they are dotted around the town. Sarnen is built near a lake and like Stans it also has a rail link to the mountains of central Switzerland.
2013-02-23 - I visited Malaya twice during the time my father was serving in the British army in Singapore from 1962 - 1965. On both occasions we visited the southern state kingdom of Johor. On the first occasion I went with my father to Malaya where his team were playing a football match and we drove up there in an army truck. The main thing I remember about that trip was the millions of rubber trees all stood like soldiers on parade in rows as straight as a line. My second trip to Malaya was in November 1964 when we went on a private trip in a hired mini-bus for a day out. We crossed the Singapore causeway to Jahor Bahru, the capital city of the state which sits across the strait from Singapore. In 1964 Jahor Bahru was a fairly small town with a population of some 50000 inhabitants. Now because of its close proximity to Singapore it has grown to Malaysias second largest city with a population of 1.4 million inhabitants. We left Jahor Bahru and headed for Kota Tinggi, which was the site of a tin mine but also had a large beautiful waterfalls. We spent a couple of hours there swimming and playing tarzan before moving on the coast to a beach called Jason Bay. Jason Bay had a large beach with very clean sand. We spent the rest of the day there, having a picnic, swimming and surfing the waves on a coconut tree trunk ... great fun. It was a long time ago but I still have fond memories of those days.
2013-02-12 - I drove across Pennsylvania in 2000. I had actually flown over to stay with my Auntie in Burlington, Canada for three weeks but she told me that her favourite place was Williamsburg in Virginia so a couple of days later we jumped in the car and shot off to see the historical triangle of Virginia. First we drove across New York State and then entered Pennsylvania at Lawrenceville heading for Williamsport. At Williamsport we stopped at McDonalds to see if it tasted any better in America than it did in Britain, only difference was the meal was slightly cheaper. From Williamsport we drove down the picturesque Susquehanna valley to Harrisburg. From Harrisburg we drove on to our destination, the battlefields of Gettysburg. Here we encountered the worst thunderstorm of my life when it poured down non stop for about eight hours acompanied by constant cracks and flashes of thunder and lightning. Next day, after a typical American breakfast we toured the battlefield in the battlebus and visited anything that was worth visiting and had our photos taken next to the statue of Lincoln. After that we moved on to our main destination, the historical triangle of Virginia.
2013-01-29 - I visited Picardy on a recent European car tour. I had driven through the province once before in 1975 on my way to Paris but I believe had not even got out of the car on that occasion. This time I decided to visit the WHS of Amiens cathedral. Having visited Reims cathedral on the same day I expected Amiens to be somewhat of an anti climax but was intrigued as to why this cathedral should be a WHS. On arriving at Amiens I was pleasantly surprised to see that Amiens was almost a replica of Reims with a stunning facade of carved figures and gothic structures. Like Reims the cathedral at Amiens was also unfinished and lacked the two front spiral towers. My biggest surprise came when I went inside and now realised how big this place was. Somewhere inside a plaque on the wall told the tourist that this was Frances largest house of prayer. The inside was also very impressive but like so many cathedrals today restoration work was taking place all over the cathedral both inside and outside. As this was the last day of my 21 day European tour I left Amiens and headed back in the direction of Calais to catch the boat back to England. On the way I stopped at the three WWI British war cemeteries at Bapaume, Ovillers and Pozieres where some 18000 soldiers lie in rows of white memorial stones (and not a dead politician in sight). Coming from a long family line of men in uniform going back to 1885 it always brings a tear to my eye when I see such sights. This was the last day in my 21 day european tour and in all I visited 2 new countries, 3 new enclaves and 43 previously unvisited provinces and cantons. Time to start planning my next trip.
2013-02-22 - I have been to the province of Piedmont twice. First time was in 2001 when I drove down and up Italy on a European tour. We drove from Monaco to Como via Cuneo and Turin and making several short stops along the way. Second time was over Christmas-New year 2012-13 when I drove from the Aosta valley through Piemont and on to the Italian enclave of Champion DItalia. As the second trip was in the dark at night I did not make any stops.
2013-01-12 - I visited Poitou-Charentes on a recent European car tour (2012). I drove through the two largest towns Poiters and Angouleme, stopping to have a quick look around. As the province did not seem to offer too much to the tourist I did not hang around too long and drove on to Aquitaine. In February 2017 I returned to Poitou-Charentes and visited the WHS of the Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-Sur-Gartempe. The abbey is quite small and in a bad state of repair although it has now been awarded a grant of some 700.000 Euro's for some repair work. Absolute highlight is the inside of the church which in contrast to it's outside is splendid. The pillars are painted in pastel candy stripe colours with each one being painted differently. On the ceiling are the remnants of roman murals and are by and large in fairly good condition. Behind the altar are chapels depicting religious statues and the inside of the church is in a very well kept state.
2014-01-01 - I visited Srpska on a recent European car tour. Srpska is quite a large chunk of Bosnia and Herzigovina (around 40%) and it is often referred to as the Bosnian Serb republic because nearly all of its 1.4 million inhabitants are of Serbian origin. I entered the country of Bosnia (enclave Srpska) in the north coming in from Zagreb (Croatia) and drove on to the unofficial capital Banja Luka., where we spent a couple of hours before moving on. Banja Luka lies on a flat plain next to the river Vrbas and is completely surrounded by hills. It has a very large boulevard running from one end of the town to the other. Banja Luka is well known for its laid out gardens, parks and trees. The centre of the town is dominated by the outstandingly beautiful Cathedral, which is set on a square surrounded by mainly government buildings like the Palace of the Republika and the Assembly building. Not far away is the old Railway station, which is now a modern art gallery and the main shopping precinct Gospodska street, where a lot of building work is going on (watch out for Rumanian prostitutes). After leaving Banja Luka I headed south for Mostar and drove through some very mountainous and picturesque countryside.
2013-02-11 - As I lived in Germany for 35 years I visited most places in the country in that time including Rheinland-Pfalz. I first went to Rheinland-Pfalz in 1976 when I drove to Luxembourg and drove back via the old Roman town of Trier and the Mosel valley. The Mosel valley is one of Germanys largest wine producing areas and you can stop almost in any little town along the route and do some cheap wine testing (luckily the wife was driving). The Mosel valley also has several impressive castles scatted on the many hilltops along the route. The point where the mosel and Rhein rivers meet in Koblenz is called the Deutsche Eck (German corner) and a huge statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I, sitting on his horse stands here. In 1980 I drove from Koeln to Ruedesheim down the Rhein valley in what must be one of the most picturesque drives in the world. Along the route there are many old castles of all shapes and sizes dotted around the hillsides including some actually built on islands in the middle of the river. The river itself bends and twists fur a couple of hundred kilometres along that route.
2013-02-19 - I visited Saarland in 1976 when I drove down from my home, near Minden to visit Luxembourg. After visiting Luxembrg I drove back into Germany at Perl (Saarland) and made my way up to Konstanz where the Mosel and Rhine rivers meet.
2013-02-01 - As I lived in Germany for 35 years I visited most places in the country in that time including Schleswig Holstein. From late 1972 until spring 1973 I was sent up to Kiel for the winter period to work on repairing the boats at the British Kiel yacht club, which was affiliated to the British army. It was nice to get out of a garrison town for a while. Living in Kiel was almost like living as a civilian rather than a soldier. Shortly before I arrived Kiel had just been host to the sailing at the 1972 Olympics and the Olympic complex at Schilksee was just around the corner from us, indeed the BKYC was run by an ex German Olympic sailor named Bruno Splieth. Kiel was famous in the war as the place which built the most submarines and that shipyard was still going strong in 1973, just across the water from us. I revisited Kiel in 1996 when a friend of mine was working in that shipyard for a year and nothing much had changed. Kiel itself is one of Germanys largest ports and is also the place where the Kiel-Canal starts which connects the North sea to the Baltic sea. Schleswig Holstein once belonged to Denmark and still has a large ethic minority Danish population, especially in the north.
2013-01-11 - I visited Schwyz on a recent European car tour. It is situated in a very beautiful part of Switzerland and is in close proximity to other MTP locations of Lucerne, Zug, Altdorf, Sarnen and Stans. Like most Swiss towns Schwyz has a very nice town centre of impressive buildings, the nicely painted town hall standing out amongst them. Schwyz does not have a castle but the oldest building in the town is an 800 year tower near the town centre. Schwyz has its own bank and also has a farming museum showing Swiss life in the countryside. After leaving Schwyz I drove across the mountains towards Pfaefficon, which was a very nice drive.
2013-01-09 - I visited Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in 1958 when the troop ship HMT Oxfordshire, which we were travelling on, stopped there for refuelling. At that time Ceylon was still a British colony and we were allowed ashore for a few hours. The ship anchored at Columbo and we spend most of the time ashore at the local Zoo. It was the first time in my life that I\\\'d seen such animals as elephants, tigers and a huge python snake. It is certainly on my agenda to return there sometime.
2013-02-01 - As I lived in Germany for 35 years I visited most places in the country in that time including Thueringen . Thueringen was actually the first part of the old East Germany that I visited after the wall came down in 1989. I remember on a previous visit to the Harz mountains standing on the West German side and looking at the border, which was a 5 kilometre deep no-mans land with every kind of obstacle from high electricity fences to minefields and of course not to mention high watchtowers with guards who would shoot at anything in sight. All the trees in that 5 mile area had been felled so as to give nobody a place to hide. Now all that had been removed in a massive operation, which took about 6 months and in forest areas new trees had been planted . I drove to Goslar and from there into Thueringen in the direction of Aschersleben. It was like going back in time as it seemed nothing had changed in East Germany since the end of the war. A lot of the roads were still cobblestone as if they had never heard of tarmac and most of the houses were grey and had never been painted or even repaired. The only thing that told the new visitor that Germany had been re-united was the fact that every single house now had a satellite dish on the roof. The East Germans had been starved of information for 44 years and wanted to catch up quickly.
2013-12-29 - I visited Trans Dniester on a recent European car tour. Trans Dniester is an autonomous part of Moldova which has claimed independence. It has a population that is almost 100% Russian, which did not want to leave Russia and become part of Moldova on the break up of the Soviet Union. The Trans Dniestens treat themselves as an independent country and as such have their own Government, which includes border controls. Trans Dniester is not recognised as an independent country by anyone, not even the Russians. When I drove from Moldova (at Bender) into Trans-Dniester I was warned by the Moldovan border guards that it would not be a clever thing to do, trying to enter Trans-Dniester, never mind with a car and to a certain extent they were right. On approaching the Trans-Dniester border we could see that the border guards we armed to the teeth with Kalashnikovs and had a slalom system of cement blocks placed in the road to slow down any traffic (almost like driving into a war zone). The Trans-Dniestens viewed us very suspiciously and could not understand why we wanted to drive to Tiraspol and then leave again within a few hours. They took the car to pieces but in the end we managed to convince them that we were nothing but boring tourists. I did however have to fill in a lot of forms and pay import duty on my car of £15 (first time that has ever happened to me anywhere in Europe). luckily they accepted the insurance form I had bought when entering Moldova as the green card is not recognised in that part of the world. The sting in the tail came when we went to the office to get our entry day visas and should have paid about £2 for them but some shady looking officer took me into a back room and started giving me some bullshit about my reasons for wanting to enter the country and it soon became apparent that he was corrupt and looking for some kind of payment to let us in. In the end I paid him £30 and he handed over my day visa ... you have been warned, the Russians are as corrupt as ever !!!. What should have taken no more than 5 minutes in most countries (and even only 15 minutes entering Albania) took over two hours until we cleared ourselves and the car to enter Trans-Dniester ... boy was I relieved to get in another new country, albeit one that was recognised by nobody. Having never visited Russia before this was about the nearest I had got to it. Because we had lost so much time getting through customs and was on a tight schedule our time in Tiraspol was heavily reduced to a couple of hours. We visited the war memorial and had a short walk through the town, with typical Russian electric trolley buses serving as public transport. A lot of the housing was the classical old soviet type of high rise block (what I call rabbit hutches). We had a few funny looks from the locals, I suppose not many tourists get into Trans Dniester, especially driving a right-hand-drive vehicle, so we were a bit of a rarity. All too quickly our time was up and we headed for Chisinau (Moldovo). I have to say getting out of Trans Dniester, especially by car, was a dam sight easier than getting in and we spent only about five minutes getting through customs back into Moldova.
2013-01-29 - I visited the U.S. Virgin Islands whilst on a Caribbean cruise in 2008. The cruise ship actually docked at the British Virgin Islands at Roadtown, but as I had been here before I decided to spend the day going to Charlotte Amelie on St. Thomas Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. As I had all day I certainly thought that I had more than enough time to get there and spend half a day touring the place. That was before a series of small disasters struck. I bought a return ticket that being the cheaper option but then discovered to my horror that the next boat out was in two hours because only one company did return trips. The company that did single tickets sent a boat out every half hour. When I finally got moving I then discovered that the single ticket ferries were mostly empty whilst most people like me had bought the return ticket and the ferry was full to the rafters, this would cause massive delays getting through immigration at Charlotte Amelie. Never the less is was a very nice boat trip weaving in and out of the islands making one stop at Tortolas famous rum hole of West End where another large crowd got on. When I got off in Charlotte Amelie I made sure I was near the front of the queue to get out quickly but that certainly had no impact on the American customs as they bawled out US citizens first, US half citizens second and anybody else with US credentials third and everybody else to the back of the queue., nobody else would be processed until all the U.S. citizens were through. I prayed that all the passengers would be non americans but alas my luck was out and by the time I got through immigration, which included taking my fingerprints I had only one hour to catch my ferry back to Tortola, that is if I did not want to miss my cruise ship. I walked down the promenade, bought my post cards and souvenirs took a few photos and then went to the nearest rum hole and threw two ice cold pina coladas down my neck. Looking at it positively at least I had the stamp in my passport and that was the main thing. The trip back was nice with no more mishaps and I made my cruise ship with more than half an hour to spare.
2013-01-12 - I visited Upper Normandy on a recent European car tour. I stopped at the city of Le Havre to have a wander around. Le Havre is a WHS but I did not find much evidence of that. Apparently the city centre is built on a massive block of concrete, if it was then it was well hidden by cobblestones, tarmac and pavements. As Le Havre was bombed flat in the second world war it is a relatively modern city with no typical old town centre.
2013-01-11 - I visited Altdorf (Uri) on a recent European car tour. It is situated in a very beautiful part of Switzerland and is in close proximity to other MTP locations of Lucerne, Schwyz, Altdorf, Sarnen and Stans. I drove into Uri through the longest tunnel in Switzerland, the St. Gotthard Pass tunnel, which was some 20 kilometres long, toll free and bent as a banana like most Swiss tunnels. Have you ever wondered why they do not build tunnels straight. In Uri I visited the canton capital Altdorf, which was situated between several high mountains and like most Swiss towns had a nice little town centre. The first thing you see in Altdorf is a tractor museum, with about 40 tractors parked on a grass field in front of an old farm house. There are also about 10 old bangers from the 50s. In the town centre there is a nice little church and town hall amongst other old buildings.
2013-02-22 - I visited Valencian Community in 1994 travelling the length of Spain to stay in Almeria and we stopped for a couple of hours in Benidorm. Benidorm was what I would call a typical tourist slum, the sort of places I hated to visit as a tourist. There must have been some fifty 25 storey high rise blocks , which packed the tourists in like chickens. In those days each town on the Spanish Brava coast catered mainly for one nationality and Benidorm was definitely British. The only food you got was Fish and chips, the only drink you got was Watneys red barrel. On the beach the tourists were laid out like sausages on a barbeque all sizzling in the sun .... urgh not my kind of holiday at all. Luckily I was going on to Andalucia, a part of Spain which was rich in cultural heritage.
2013-02-21 - I visited the Vatican City in 2001, whilst driving around Italy on a European tour. We entered Rome on a bus and got off near St. Peters cathedral. The Vatican City is well known for being the burial place of Saint Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus and of course capital city of the catholic church. It is also the smallest least populated state in the world although as far as I know it is not recognized by the United Nations as an independent state. It is probably one of the most magnificent buildings I have ever visited in my life, some say the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul is better, but that is not for me to argue. The inside of the cathedral seems to be made entirely of marble from floor to roof and there is hardly an inch on the floor, walls or roof that is not decorated in some sort of religous symbol or painting. On the day we visited it was jam packed with tourists from every corner of the world and a service in German was taking place at the main altar. Unfortunately the Pope was not at home on the day we visited. Saint Peters body lay in a tomb in the crypt. Outside the Swiss guard resembled a stick of rainbow rock as they marched up and down in front of their sentry boxes. The Vatican also has its own coinage although the only place you can spend it is in the Vaticans own tourist shop, probably on Vatican stamps and postcards.