Tales from a trip to Canterbury

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

After leaving the hottest hotel room north of the Sahara, we set course for the Kentish city of Canterbury

I had never visited Canterbury before, but seeing as I was in the neighbourhood I thought I would change that fact.

After paying the princely sum of £6.30 to park Ecto-1 we wandered into the historic centre.

First on the agenda was Canterbury Cathedral. The architecture inside the cathedral and the grounds are very impressive. There are said to be sightings of ghosts here, but the only frightening thing I witnessed was a large bird, possibly a variation of a grouse making a serious din on a wall, before it attempted a 100 metre run in honour of the Olympics.

Westgate

Westgate

We then took in some of the city centre including a walk up to Westgate and a real ale in the Black Griffin public house. I was approached here by an inebriated gentleman who wanted to borrow my phone

With 92 earth minutes remaining until the parking ticket expired, there was time to further explore the city centre and to visit Canterbury Castle and St Augustine’s Abbey

During our stroll I noticed some small rivers that run through the city centre, I have to say that they really add to the charm of Canterbury.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Canterbury, hopefully I will return one day with some more time to take it all in.

To view pictures from our trip to Canterbury visit my Flickr photostream.

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A visit to Bodiam Castle and Hastings

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle

As my girlfriend recently triumphed in a competition with Cadbury for Olympic tickets, we decided to make the most of the good weather and enjoy a long weekend in the south east of England.

After a long drive, we finally arrived at Bodiam Castle in East Sussex.

The castle is surrounded by a large moat which gives photographers a great opportunity to get some good shots.

The castle courtyard is very impressive and if you scale the narrow spiral staircases to its towers, you will get a nice view of the surrounding parkland.

Hastings

Hastings

It’s definitely worth paying the £7 to gain access to the castle.

Hastings is only 11 miles from Bodiam, so we decided to make a quick visit.

We walked along the seafront on our way to the old town. It was quite sad to see the pier is currently in a state of disrepair. Are there plans to restore it?

In the old town of Hastings we walked along George Street, which is full of some quirky pubs and shops. I made sure we had time for a real ale.

I had never visited Hastings before, and even though it looks like a decent town, it wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined.

After returning to Ecto-1, it was only a short drive back to our hotel in Tunbridge Wells.

To view photos from Bodiam Castle and Hastings, visit my Flickr photostream.

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Madrid Trip – Day Eight: The Last Few Hours

Estadio Vicente Calderon

Estadio Vicente Calderon

After a disrupted night’s sleep due to a large group of college students deciding it would be humorous to throw wet tissues and water balloons at each others hotel windows, it was off to make the most of our last few hours in Madrid.

For our first stop we made the short walk to Estadio Vicente Calderon home of Atletico Madrid. We had a quick look around their club shop before visiting their excellent museum.

One of their main displays is the 2012 UEFA Europa League trophy.

Teatro Real

Teatro Real

Unfortunately it was impossible to have a tour of the stadium as a concert was scheduled to take place that evening and preparations were under way.

We then travelled on the metro to Plaza de Isabel II which is the location of Teatro Real. A monument to Isabel also stands here.

It was then off to Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Almudena. We payed €6 to enter the museum and to have access the dome.

View from the top of Cathedral

View from the top of Cathedral

We had a token look at the exhibition before climbing the stairs up to the dome.

The dome gives excellent panoramic views of the Spanish capital’s skyline and is perfect for photographers. The view is worth the entry fee alone.

As we headed back towards the city centre through Plaza De Oriente, I jumped when a random guy started giving me a back massage while he was touting for money. We left swiftly.

View from the top of the cathedral

View from the top of the cathedral

After seemingly entering every souvenir shop in Madrid so my girlfriend could look for things to buy for the sake of it, we returned to Mercado de San Miguel for the final time.

I tried a number of the foods on offer including some meats, Spanish cheeses, seafood and paella.

We then reluctantly made our way back to the hotel to wait for a taxi to take us back to the airport.

I really enjoyed our trip to Madrid. There were plenty of attractions, restaurants, and day trips to warrant a visit to this great city and surrounding area.

To view my blog from the final day of my Madrid trip visit my Flickr photostream.

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Madrid Trip – Day Seven: Walking Tour Part Two

Convento de las Decalzas Reales

Convento de las Decalzas Reales

It was by far the hottest day of our holiday in Madrid with temperatures reaching as high as 37 degrees celsius.

Since we would be walking around visiting attractions we hadn’t already had time to see, the high temperature would certainly make it interesting.

First on the list of places to view was Convento de las Decalzas Reales. This is one of the wealthiest convents in Spain and was established in the 16th century.

Plaza de Santa Ana

Plaza de Santa Ana

The convent is still in operation and some 30 nuns still inhabit it. We saw two of these nuns outside refusing to give money to a street beggar.

We then walked the short distance to Plaza de Santa Ana. This buildings on this square boast some excellent architecture. Also present were plenty of cafes, a hotel and a theatre.

After quenching our thirst with a soft drink we entered Barrio de las Letras, or in English the District of Letters. Some of Spain’s greatest writers such as Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra have links with this area.

Fuente de Neptuno

Fuente de Neptuno

Cervantes’ remains are buried at Convento de las Trinitarias, a working convent that is not open to the public. But there is a statue to dedicated to Cervantes at Plaza de Cortes.

We then followed Carrera de San Jeronimo to Plaza de Neptuno. This roundabout is surrounded by some of Madrid’s finest hotels and in the centre is a monument of the sea-god Neptune.

We then strolled over to the Caixa forum, which is an unique building that appears to be floating in mid air. Adjacent to the building is a hanging garden.

Caixa Forum

Caixa Forum

The Caixa Forum is free to enter and hosts a range of touring exhibitions.

On the first floor was an exhibition on Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. This contained items of clothing and interpretation on Serge Pavlovich Diaghilev’s dance company that revolutionised 20th century performing arts.

On the second floor, and my favourite exhibition in the building was ‘the Arts of Pranesi’. Giambattista Piranesi wan an artist inspired by architecture and his artworks feature a number of landmarks in Rome.

Directly across the road is Real Jardin Botanico. These botanical gardens are home to thousands of different plant species set over a small area. This was mixed with straight paths, fountains, statues and an elegant building.

Real Jardin Botanico

Real Jardin Botanico

Because of the tranquil nature of this green space it was hard to believe that we were in the third biggest city in Europe.

It was then only a short walk then to Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.

The Reina Sofia is another one of Madrid’s major art galleries and the collection is made up of contemporary works from Picasso, Joan Miro and Salvador Dali.

The main artwork at the gallery and the reason for most people visiting is Picasso’s impressive Guernica.

The Reina Sofia

The Reina Sofia

We then returned to the hotel to get ready for our last evening meal in the Spanish capital.

For this we returned to Cava Baja street in La Latina to consume a selection of delicious tapas from a restaurant called Casa Lucas.

It will be our last few hours in Madrid tomorrow before we return to Swansea.

To view more photos from day seven of my Madrid trip visit my Flickr photostream.

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Madrid Trip – Day Six : The Bernabeu and Templo de Debod

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu

After a nice lie-in we decided to have a bit more of a relaxed day in Madrid after a few frantic days.

After consuming breakfast we set off to the north of Madrid to visit one of the world’s most famous football stadiums – Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid.

The Bernabeu looks massive from the outside, but this is not surprising since it seats around 80,000 fans.

After walking around the stadium we headed to one of the many ticket offices to purchase a ticket for our self guided tour.

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu

The queue was huge and we wasted 30 minutes before finally obtaining a ticket.

We then climbed the stairs of Tower C to the top tier of the ground for a good view of the pitch and stands.

After taking a few photos it was off to the trophy room to see the vast collection of trophies that Real Madrid have accumulated during their existence.

This was combined with their museum complete with a hall of fame which features some of Real Madrid’s greatest players. This must have been flawed however as among the superstars was Swansea City flop Jordi Lopez.

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu

From here we headed down to the dugouts to take in the view that management team and the substitutes see on match days.

The tunnel then led us down to the away dressing rooms. It was quite humbling to think about the quality of football players who would have entered here.

The press room surprisingly close to the changing rooms. This resembled more a lecture theatre in a university due to its size.

After refusing to buy anything in the club shop we headed to the Real Cafe for a €5 pint with its pitch side views.

Temple of Debod

Templo de Debod

I did enjoy the tour around the ground, but the only annoying aspect was that it was seemingly compulsory for you to pose for some green screen photos along the way.

It was then back to the Metro for our next destination Templo de Debod.

This 4th century Egyptian temple was saved from the rising waters of Lake Nasser after a dam was built.

It was then transported block by block to Madrid in 1968.

On entry the security guard was very strict about how many people were allowed to enter at one time. The movement up and down the stairs was also organised with military style precision.

Cava Baja street

Cava Baja street

The park surrounding the temple called Parque de la Montana is quite pleasant and has great views of Palacio Real and the Cathedral.

We then got back onto the Metro at Plaza de Espana towards La Latina. Here we walked down Cava Baja street with the intention of procuring some tasty tapas for our rumbling stomachs.

Unfortunately we must have timed our trip poorly as most of the restaurants were closed. Instead we found an alternative venue to satisfy our hunger. We will certainly be visiting again before we leave the Spanish capital.

Towards the end of the day we returned to Mercado de San Miguel for a sangria and a few wines from the local producers.

To view more photos from day six of my Madrid trip visit my Flickr photostream.

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Madrid Trip – Day Five: A Trip to Segovia

Aqueduct of Segovia

Aqueduct of Segovia

The fifth day of our trip to Madrid would see us set off for Segovia, a city located in the region of Castilla de Leon.

We must have timed the journey to Charmartin Station at the same as every Madrid citizen. The metro was heaving as the populace crammed into the carriages like baked beans in a Heinz can.

Our Renfe train departed from Madrid and the travel time to Segovia took only 28 minutes.

Segovia Guiomar Station looks like it’s situated in the middle of nowhere so we took the number 11 bus into the centre of town. The bus ride took about 10 minutes.

Segovia

Segovia

The first site of consequence was Segovia’s aqueduct or El Aqueducto.

This aqueduct is nearly 900 metres long and was assembled by the Romans in the 1st century.

A fascinating legend proclaims that a girl offered to sell her soul to the devil in exchange for the building of the aqueduct by dawn, so she didn’t have to collect water any more.

But the devil failed to complete his task on time as the sun rose early, so the soul of the girl remained her property.

Plaza Mayor, Segovia

Plaza Mayor, Segovia

We then followed the steep Calle de Cerventes until we reached Iglesia de San Martin.

Segovia’s main square is called Plaza Mayor and is home to a number of restaurants, a theatre, pavilion and Segovia Cathedral.

We paid €3 each to enter the cathedral. It was constructed in the 16th century after the original was burnt to the ground during a war. There are a multitude of small chapels inside the cathedral each with an unique alter.

Just off the central atrium of the Cathedral are more rooms which display religious artworks upon their walls.

From the Cathedral we strolled past San Andres Church until arriving in Plaza De la Reina. This square has great views of the surrounding area including Santa Maria del Parral Monastery, the mint and several churches.

Segovia Cathedral

Segovia Cathedral

The plaza also sits directly in front of Segovia’s Alcazar. The repunzel towers, high walls and it’s hilltop location make it look like something out of a fairy tale. This is evident as the Alcazar is the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle.

The original alcazar burnt down in the 19th century but was rebuilt in its old image.

The views of the surrounding landscape from the alcazar walls are incredible and are well worth the €4.50 entry fee.

Segovia Alcazar

Segovia Alcazar

Walking away from the alcazar we walked through some of Segovia’s picturesque back streets. This led us to Plaza de San Esteban with a church complete with a sandstone tower overlooking it.

At this point we needed to refuel our stomachs so we headed to a restaurant called Meson Jose Maria. Here we had a chance to sample one of the foods that Segovia is famous for – suckling pig, or as it’s known locally ‘cochinillo’.

The pig was served on its own plate with a side dish of tuna salad. It was the first time I’ve tried pork in this form and I have to say it was delicious.

At one point during our meal a chef brought out a whole suckling pig before dividing it into four portions using a plate before serving it to other diners.

City walls

City walls

After the pig entered our digestive systems we took a walk around Segovia’s Jewish quarter.

This led us to the city walls, but despite some significant hunting we couldn’t seem to discover how we could climb them. The only access point we found was locked.

On one part of the city walls is the San Andres Gate. The gate was very impressive but I was surprised that cars are allowed to travel through it.

The pig being digested in my gut combined with walking around in the heat had caused a major thirst to develop, so we headed back to Plaza Mayor to buy a beer.

Despite the beer costing €4 for only a bottle it did quench my thirst. To be fair we were given a small complimentary portion of Spanish omelette to accompany it.

Casa de Los Picos

Casa de Los Picos

With the day drawing to a close we strode back down the hill and made a quick stop outside Casa de Los Picos. This is a house with hundreds of small pyramids decorating its front walls.

There seemed to be a lot of people entering here, so I joined the queue to get inside. As I stepped through the threshold, a guy on the door tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at a sign I couldn’t understand, and then pointed to the exit.

We had some time before we had to head back to the station so we climbed the steps between the aqueduct and the tourist office for a great view point.

Segovia

Segovia

We had previously read on the Trip Advisor travel forums that the bus back to Segovia Guiomar station would only leave the city when it was full, so we allowed some extra time for the return journey.

Lucky we did this as the bus waited 25 minutes until it was full and then left for the station.

We had some time for a quick Estrella beer at the station before boarding the train back to Madrid.

Segovia was a pleasant historical city with lots of captivating attractions. Like Toledo it has Unesco World heritage status but it is not as touristy.

The aqueduct is its main feature but with other points of interest like the cathedral and alcazar it should be on anyone’s itinerary when they visit Madrid.

To view more pictures from day five of my trip visit my Flickr photostream.

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Madrid Trip – Day Four: El Retiro and Museo del Prado

Puerto de Alcala

Puerto de Alcala

We woke up to another hot and sunny Monday morning in Madrid and we were soon ready to set out to visit some more of the Spanish capital’s attractions.

Walking on the cobbled streets of Toledo the day before had taken its toll on our feat so we had to use a few blister plasters before setting out. But we certainly wouldn’t let this minor inconvenience hinder us adding some mileage to our footwear.

As the weather was so good we decided to head to Parque del Buen Retiro or simply El Retiro.

Monumento a Alfonso XII de España

Monumento a Alfonso XII de España

This park is a huge area consisting of green spaces, woodland, a lake, flower gardens and a number of notable buildings and landmarks.

Just outside the north west entrance to the park is Plaza de la Independencia with its gate Puerto de Alcala. This gate was built in the 18th century to replace an earlier version of it.

At the end of the Summer for a ceremonial event, this roundabout is closed to traffic and sheep are transferred to their winter pastures.

Palacio de Velaquez

Palacio de Velaquez

After entering El Retiro and successfully refusing to buy heather off a persistent elderly lady we came our first area of interest.

With a boating lake as the foreground, the large monument dedicated to Alfonso XII is quite impressive and makes for a good picture.

My girlfriend wanted us to use one of the rowing boats at this point but we reconsidered after taking into account how clumsy I am. I would have probably found a way to overturn the boat!

Fuentes Egipcia

Fuentes Egipcia

On the far end of the lake is an Egyptian themed monument called Fuentes Egipcia. Rumour has it that a great treasure is buried under here. Hayley had forgotten to pack her metal detector so we could not verify this rumour.

To the south of the lake are two elegant buildings.

The first is Palacio de Velaquez. This intriguing building was built in the late 19th century and now hosts a free contemporary art exhibition.

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

The second was Palacio de Cristal which is a structure comprised of glass panels and a metal frame. With a pond, some ducks, a fountain and a waterfall as its front garden, this is probably the most impressive of El Retiro’s attractions.

At this point a lady offered to take a picture of us in front of the palace. She returned the camera after taking the shot and walked away. When I checked to see what the image looked like she hadn’t actually taken a photo. Perhaps my SLR had confused her?

The inside of the building also hosted a contemporary art exhibition. This exhibition featured lots of broken glass and hundreds of black bottles with an old fashioned monitor sitting on top of them.

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

The path outside Palacio de Cristal leads under a waterfall before circling around to one of the main routes towards the very south of El Retiro.

There is an unusual statue here dedicated to the devil. El Angel Caido depicts Lucifer as he fell from heaven. In an interesting side note the statue is 666 metres above see level.

Apparently this is one of a few statues based on Satan in the world (My girlfriend thought Satan was pronounced Saturn). The only other statue like this I know of is Old Nick who sits above an entrance to the Quadrant in Swansea.

Bosque del Recuardo

Bosque del Recuardo

We started heading north again at this point to Bosque del Recuardo. This is a small memorial garden to the victims of the 2004 Madrid bombings. A tree has been planted for each person who sadly lost their lives.

It was a really nice walk around El Retiro, although I’m sure if my feet had a mouth they would disagree and call me an idiot. Luckily my feet don’t have a mouth as they would moan all the time, but more importantly it would be very odd. I wonder what their voice would be like?

El Angel Caido

El Angel Caido

The park seems to attract a variety of folk including tourists, locals, joggers, dog walkers, skateboarders, cyclists and even someone dressed as a tree!

At this point we made the short walk to Museo del Prado renowned as being one of the most impressive traditional art galleries in the world.

After parting with €12 each for entry and passing through security we entered the huge gallery.

The Museo del Prado is based over three floors and is home to over 1,500 items of artwork by artists such as Goya, Velaquez, El Greco, Rubens, Bosch and Rembrandt.

Museo Del Prado

Museo Del Prado

My favourite of all the paintings was The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch. This weird painting is spread over three panels and depicts heaven, the Garden of Eden and hell with seemingly unusual detail.

Back outside the gallery is a statue dedicated to Valaquez.

We then made our way up towards Plaza de Canalejas. This circular plaza is home to some interesting façades, architecture, bars and restaurants.

We then stopped for food in a restaurant called La Cathedral. I chose this venue as it was one of the few restaurants that don’t feel the need to use pictures to depict their food.

Plaza de Canalejas

Plaza de Canalejas

I ordered a mixed seafood paella for starters and then opted for lamb medallions with green peppers for main. Both seemed to satisfy my grumbling stomach. I had to leave what looked like a mini lobster because, to be honest, I wouldn’t know how to consume it.

We then made our way back to the hotel to rest our aching feet (which I still maintain do not have the capability to speak) and then get ready for a few drinks in the bars near our hotel.

To see more photos from day four of my Madrid trip visit my Flickr photostream.

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