My travel pics and stories
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We visited Hogwarts over the weekend, also known as Keble College, Oxford.
We were in London for the weekend before the Queen's funeral, with people queueing up to 16 hours to see the casket. We crisscrossed London several times attending Oxford University and Imperial College open days. Never saw a queue in that whole time, except at an ice cream shop round the corner from South Kensington. Trump would have called it fake news. I like to think it is a compliment to the organisation of the whole thing that it didn't interfere with the rest of London getting on with their lives.
We weren't there for the funeral proceedings, so never made it to any specific condolence settings. We came across this one just behind the Royal Albert Hall, which was very nice.
God save the King!
On our way home, getting the train to Stanstead, the train driver made the following announcement:
A children's buggy has been thrown onto the train ahead of us and might have interfered with the overhead power lines. We have been asked to drive slowly along those lines to check that they are OK.
Only in the UK!
Train arrived 20 minutes late...
On our drive back, our final stopover was in Regensburg in Germany. Usually we just get up the next day and drive off on these stopovers. This time we were closer to home than usual, so had a couple of hours to spare in the morning. Gaining an hour by crossing a time zone also helped. We decided to have a walk around the centre of Regensburg - a UNESCO world heritage site no less.
A quick look on Google showed there was free parking right in the centre - in fact in the middle of the Danube! It's one thing I like about the more European to cities and planning. Not everything has to generate a profit, pricing is often simple used as a deterrent or an opportunity cost. So whilst you would have to pay to park there during the week, on a weekend it is free. Visiting similar places in the UK earlier in the summer, parking was always paid and often quite hefty. Anyway, enough of this diversion...
So we walked across a bridge back to the other side of the Danube, getting some lovely views of the old town. Then we headed along the river a bit, which was full of flowing water unlike in Bulgaria where we had come from. There were lots of tour groups already heading into the old town from across the very orgininally named Steinerne Brücke (Stone Bridge).
The town centre has a lovely cathedral, seen here from across the Danube. Like all cathedrals across Europe in my experience, it is currently under repair and partially covered in scaffolding.
As if to prove that the Danube has indeed not dried out, a group of Kayakers came floating past as we crossed the bridge.
All in all we had a lovely couple of hours strolling round the old Regensburg town centre on a quiet Sunday morning.
Driving back from Bulgaria we queued two hours at the Bulgarian Romanian border at Vidin. I was dreading the Romanian Hungarian border the next day. As we approached it, Google suggested we could save 15 minutes by driving through a side parking area and re-joining further along. So we did this and skipped several hundred meters of queueing. Just as we re-joined the main queue the border police opened up a couple of gates on the right. Without even stopping, we rolled through the side bit and pulled into the passport checkpoint with two cars in front of us. What should have been at least a hour border crossing, took us a few minutes.
I guess sometimes you get lucky! 🍀
We spent a week on the beach in Shkorpilovtsi. It's a nice Bulgarian village near the seaside between Burgas to the south and Varna in the north.
The beach was nice and relaxed. Plenty of people camping on the beach. We stayed in a hotel slightly inland. The rooms were too small for a week, most people seemed to only stay for a couple of days.
The first couple of days the sea was a little rough, but this made for good playing in the waves. After that there was a big storm and then sea was calmer. We even managed to get the dog into the water.
We finished the week with a visit to the cousins roof top apartment in Varna. Probably my favourite place for dinner in Bulgaria!
Bulgarian campers on the beach.
German campers on the beach.
Summer cinema in Shkorpilovtsi.
On our drive through Europe we decided to stop over in Cesky Krumlov, in southern Czechia, close to the Austrian border. This turned out to be a great decision.
We stayed in a nice apartment a 15 minute walk downhill to the town centre. It took a little longer to walk back!
The old town is fantastic, nestled in the bend of the river Vltava with a castle, churches and houses overlooking the river.
After a week in Cornwall, we started our journey back home, with a brief stopover in London. We arrived at our hotel at London City Airport around 6pm on Friday evening. The Travelodge hotel was literally at the end of the runway. Thankfully the flights stopped around 11pm.
The next day we spent the morning visiting UCL on its open day, before spending the afternoon walking around London. Of particular interest were the music shops on Denmark Street, especially the Roland shop.
We finished the day with a lovely meal sitting outside at Kilis Kitchen on Upper Street in Islington.
The next day we left for home, just in time before the heatwave with 40°C hit the UK. Not that it was much cooler at home!
On our last day in Cornwall we went to visit Tintagel Castle in the morning. Apparently this the place where the legend of King Arthur was created and has a lovely statue, not of King Arthur, but inspired by his legend, to prove it.
It's a nice day out. A lovely walk through the ruins of the castle, with a bridge to get to the island now separated from the mainland due to the cliffs being worn away by the sea. The bridge itself is quite an interesting cantilever design where the two parts don't quite meet in the middle, leaving a 40mm gap, apparently representing the transition from the mainland to the island.
All in all, this is a lovely walk for a couple of hours through the local history of the castle with lovely views of the sea and coastline.
The cove below Tintagel castle was once a flourishing trade spot, receiving the goods from boats across Europe.
This statue is merely "inspired" by the legend of King Arthur.
This is the post office of Tintagel village, a stone cottage from the 14h century.
After another day on the beach, we headed to Lands End on the following day. It turns out I was here 40 years earlier to the day with my parents, in 1982!
The drive there was slow going, taking two and a half hours (and the same back again). I am not sure it was worth it to be honest, but it is a nice day out - if you don't have to drive so far to get there.
The Eden Project
On the Wednesday, we headed to the Eden Project, about an hour's drive from where we were staying. This is research project aimed at helping to maintain the world's biodiversity through education and sparking an interest in unsuspecting tourists! It's a well thought out project, built in an old quarry. It has two domes, one dedicated to the Tropics and the other to the Mediterranean.
Visiting the Eden Project makes a lovely day out, where you might even learn a thing or two. For example that residents of Luxembourg eat 90 kilos of oranges a year, compared to 40 in the UK. Or that Hawaiians traditionally think of the past as in front of them because they can see it. Whereas the future is behind them, which they can't see. So we learn from the past to step into the future.
At the same place, but separate to the Eden Project is "Hang Loose" containing lots of activities for wannabe adrenalin junkies. Our kids went on the zip wire, which at speeds of up to 65mph is the fastest in England. Of particular interest was this sign:
On our second day we headed to Polzeath to check out the beach. Polzeath is a lovely beach, full of surfers waiting to catch the next wave. It looked like we had turned up in Surfers Paradise.
The water was cold, around 17°C, but "it's alright once you are in". So we spent quite some time splashing around in the waves, before drying out with some sunbathing.
Then we headed on the coastal path around Polzeath. This was a lovely one hour walk back to our car, which we had parked at Pentireglaze. The path has stunning views of Polzeath and the surrounding hills and cliffs.
After visiting Bristol for the day, we headed on to Cornwall and arrived at our cottage, Trevose, around 5pm. The view from the back yard was wonderful.
The Sunset a few hours later was equally lovely.
The next day we walked along the footpaths to Port Isaac. One of the beauties of the English countryside is right to roam. This means the farmers have to provide a path through their field, if their field is "in the way". We walked through beautiful fields of wheat, sheep grazing and curious cows.
Port Isaac itself was a lovely little fishing village nestled in a bay surrounded by hills and cliffs.
On our way to Cornwall, we stopped off with friends in Street for two nights. For the day after our arrival in Street we went on a day trip to Bristol. The weather was glorious, as it would be for our entire holiday. The city is lovely, quite hilly, offering interesting views from time to time. We explored quite a but of the city and looked around the university area, which is very central.
One word on parking. If you visit Bristol from abroad by car, make sure you have plenty of coins to pay for the parking. The machines don't accept card, and the app you can download to pay only works if you have a UK mobile phone number. Catch-22. We had the same thing five years ago in Oxford. Some things never change!
This is one Bristol's oldest pubs, The Llandoger Trow, established in 1664.
Here is a view across the rooftops of Bristol, from the Christmas Steps.
This was a curious little back alley we walked down on our way to the waterfront.
The river Avon flows through Bristol creating a lovely waterfront with lots of cafes and shops in the area.
Bristol is quite well known for the rows of coloured houses. Whilst we didn't see the specific ones for which Bristol is famous, we did park right in front of some other, equally pretty, coloured houses.
And that was our day in Bristol. A nice day trip from Street.
Our final full day in France was in Orleans, where we visited a friend. In fact it was the piano teacher of our daughters'. He's been living in Orleans for almost 30 years, having come as graduate student and worked his way up to professor of music, with all the benefits that brings - since it means being a state official. The idea was to watch a concert of his, unfortunately that did not happen.
Joan of Arc
The city of Orleans is all about Joan of Arc. There are statues to her everywhere. It also makes the place a very proud and independent city. We started our visit in the evening and had a stroll around the centre with an average dinner in a Thai fast food place. We did get a glimpse of the cathedral down the main boulevard.
The next day was a guided tour of the city with our friend. It started off with the main statue of Joan of Arc on the main square. Before heading to Groslot gardens and past Hotel Groslot.
We then headed into the Cathedral, which has Joan of Arc's story pictured in it's stained glass windows. You could also see all the local family crests hanging on the sides of the main area within the cathedral. Proud of their local heritage they certainly are.
We strolled around the city some more, which has been well restored - apparently the centre was totally rundown and unliveable off the main streets thirty years ago. Now you can see lots of beautiful old houses with their wooden beams.
As commented by our friend, in Germany when they restore old buildings they make them look new, in France when they restore them, they still look old. Having grown up in Germany, I can confirm this difference.
Musee des Beaux-Artes
In the afternoon we decided to visit the museum of fine arts, just next to the cathedral. Fine art and looking at portrait after portrait of unknown people by artists you have not heard of is not my thing, but it still took me a good two hours to walk round the whole place. If fine art is your thing, this is apparently one of the best such museums in France, after the Louvre of course. Here are the two pictures I liked most.
And so ends our week in France. The next morning we drove home. We thought we might stop in Reims and the Champagne region, but that will have to wait for another day - the weather was not playing nice.
The drive home was great. Due to the tolls, the French motorways are apparently not so busy away from the main cities. I put the car in cruise control and basically didn't have to touch the brakes or the accelerator, except for toilet stops.
Of course this comes at a price - just over 50 Euros once we exited the toll system near Metz, and hit the more overloaded, but free, part of the motorway.
After leaving Versailles, we headed to Orleans to visit a friend and look around Joan of Arc's adopted home town. But first we headed to Blois, about 60km to the south west of Orleans. Blois used to be the official residence of the King of France, and has a castle to prove it!
The castle has been around for several hundred years and you can tell the parts that have been added over the centuries: all four sides of the castle are clearly from a different era.
We took the tour of the castle which was quite interesting. Turns out the decoration is all "fake", having been designed this way by the chief architect of the restoration a couple of hundred years ago. But it's very impressive nonetheless.
The most eery part of walking round the castle was standing in the room where Henry I, Duke of Guise, was assassinated. In the King's bedroom I believe it was. So here's a photo of the King's bedroom.
The views from the castle gardens are also impressive, looking out over the Seine and the rooftops of the city.
House of Magic
On the opposite side of the square to the castle, is the house of magic. Which every 15 minutes or so has dragons appearing in it's windows.
We decided to go in and were treated to a charming magic show, more geared towards little kids, but very interesting anyway. After that we explored the museum, about magic and the life of Robert-Houdin - illusionist and clockmaker.
Outside in the square between the house of magic and the castle, you can hang out in the bistros and also enjoy further views over the city. If you're lucky you will also see this black cat stroll past. Not sure if this is good or bad luck!
The city itself
We didn't have much time to look around the city, but there is far more to see than just the castle and the house of magic. We did walk onto the bridge over the Seine and also ambled through the artists quarter just below the castle.
Blois is definitely worth more time than the single day we spent there.
Just as we were leaving Paris for Orleans, we decided to make a hard right and head for Versailles, possibly the world's nest known castle. We managed to park right next to the entrance (we only realised the cost on leaving...) and walked straight up to the entrance, well we would have done had it not been for the queues.
Whilst trying to judge the time the queue would take and discussing the merits of getting a ticket to see the castle or not, we got to admire the golden gates and the magnificent castle behind them.
Eventually we decided it would be worth the wait so went inside the ticket shop only to be confronted by another queue to buy the tickets. The online shop was unusable on my phone, so we gave up and decided to have a look "out back".
Interestingly there were no queues to see the gardens, so we walked up to the ticket stand paid our 11 Euros each and entered the rather impressive back yard of Versailles. Just this side minor annex would make most people proud.
In fact the Versailles gardens is a really a set of fantastic fountains linked to by equally impressive paths through the groves. The fountains have rather royal sounding names like Dauphin, Ballroom, Theatre of Water and Dragon pool. In fact the most impressive was in the Mirror pool, where we watched a wonderful fountain display accompanied by baroque music.
But there were many others, which you can see at the end of this page.
Canal and Statues
We spent the rest of the wandering around the gardens. This included a nice lunch in the bistro next to the canal.
There were plenty of statues to admire and lots of groves to wander through, before discovering yet another fountain!
All in all we spent around 5 hours in the gardens without even realising it. The castle will have to wait for another time. I leave you with two more images. The first looking down over the gardens from the castle, with the canal in the distance.
The second a panorama view of the castle looking in the opposite direction to the previous image.
More fountain videos
Day two in Paris started well and we managed to get into town in a more reasonable time.
In fact we went all the way to the Sacre Coeur on the Montmartre to get a nice view of the city. Unfortunately the weather was not good in the morning, so we spent some time sheltering from the rain showers in the local cafes and thrift shops.
Eventually the weather brightened up after lunch, so we walked up the hill to the church.
The view from the top is fantastic, but unfortunately the Eiffel Tower is hidden off to the right behind the trees, although from the right spot you can see it peaking out in all its grandeur.
Just as we were sat on the steps, a deux chevaux drove past with it's exhaust banging on the ground. Paris at it's best. 🙂
We headed back down the hill and into town using the funicular, which we only then realised was actually included in the local transport system.
In the afternoon we headed back into the centre of Paris. First to look at the Centre Pompidou and then to do some more thrift shopping.
The walk also took us past the Hotel de Ville of Paris - it's townhall.
We arrived in Paris late afternoon on Saturday. Our hotel was about 20km to the south of Paris, chosen because it had free parking and was a rather miserable affair. Whilst everything was OK, the room was tiny, the beds were poor and the bathroom squashy. But it was cheap and close to public transport to get us into town.
So on Sunday morning we headed into town. First we had to get the tram line T7 from Moulin Vert and then switch to the metro line 7 at Villejuif Luis Aragon. Or that was the idea. Unfortunately the metro line was blocked due to a broken down train, so what should have been a 40 minute journey into town took about an hour and a half.
We started our journey at the Jussieu metro station and headed towards the pantheon.
After the pantheon and a first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, we headed towards the Notre Dame cathedral. This lead us past a flea market selling all sorts of worthless overpriced junk.
The Notre Dame was still being repaired following the fire in the spring of 2019. So we couldn't go in, or even get too very close to it. It still remains an impressive cathedral sitting in the middle of the Seine.
Next we headed to the Louvre, the world's biggest museum. We skipped going in, deciding that deserved a holiday in itself. Mona Lisa will have to wait.
We continued on through the park, past the place de la Concorde and onto the Champs-Elysees.
Arc de Triomphe
We walked up the Champs-Elysees, a much more ordinary road than I was expecting, and on to the Arc de Triomphe. The Champs-Elysees was shut to cars that day, due to an open air cinema being prepared at the eastern end, just in front of the Arc de Triomphe. This made it a nice leisurely stroll.
We got to the roundabout in the centre of which is the Arc de Triomphe. It is certainly an impressive monument. We used the underpass under the roundabout to get to it and strolled around the bottom of it for a while.
Next we headed to the Eiffel Tower. This led us past a statue of George Washington. So much for freedom fries.
Finally we reached the Eiffel Tower, just as the sun decided to make an appearance on what had up until then been a rather grey affair.
The Eiffel Tower really is impressive in its size compared to the rest of Paris. It sticks out like sore thumb, but a magnificent one! As you get close, the size becomes ever more apparent, until you are staring one of it's arched feet and feeling truly insignificant.
We finished the day's sightseeing with a coffee at a café in the gardens of "yet another museum" in Paris. In front of us was an elderly couple sharing a cocktail, with the man not letting go of the glass desperate for a drink and the woman making sure he does not drink it all himself! 🙂
And so concluded our first day in Paris. We headed back to our hotel with yet more disruptions on the metro, arriving there around 10pm. Next time we will go by train to Paris and book a hotel in the centre, but this time we needed the car to carry on our journey after visiting Paris.
So, in Bulgaria when you get a speeding fine, they don't tell you about it. They don't send you a letter. Instead at some, point later on, eg when renewing your passport, you get an official notification that you have a fine to pay, in our case from December 2020. When you then eventually go and pay it you're told the fine will be reduced by 30% if you pay. So our fine was either 70lv if we paid or 100lv if we didn't. Nobody could tell me what happens if you don't pay! All of this for going 72 in a 50 zone. And we weren't even in the country, at the time, but the car's in our name...