Category Archives: Travel

'When it's Spring again, I'll bring again tulips from Amsterdam.'

When it’s Spring again I’ll bring again
Tulips from Amsterdam
With a heart that’s true I’ll give to you
Tulips from Amsterdam
I can’t wait until the day you fill
These eager arms of mine
Like the windmill keeps on turning
That’s how my heart keeps on yearning
For the day I know we can
Share these tulips from Amsterdam
Ah……  Max Bygraves knew the way to a woman’s heart!
Tulips…….they herald the spring time  like no other flower – with their beautiful forms and colours, unmistakeable bowl shaped petals and bright primary colours.
These days growers have developed so many varieties the choice is dizzying, and even the ‘not very horticulturally minded’ recognise a tulip! It has become a favourite in English gardens, parks and floral displays up and down the land. Of course, tulips are synonymous with Holland and horticulture there is big business:
A few wikifacts:

  • Holland has a 44% share of the worldwide trade in floricultural products, making it the dominant global supplier of flowers and flower products. Some 77% of all flower bulbs traded worldwide come from the Netherlands, the majority of which are tulips. 40% of the trade in 2015 was cut flowers and flower buds.
  • The sector is the number 1 exporter to the world for live trees, plants, bulbs, roots and cut flowers.
  • The sector is the number 3 exporter in nutritional horticulture products.
  • Of the approximately 1,800 new plant varieties that enter the European market each year, 65% originate in the Netherlands. In addition, Dutch breeders account for more than 35% of all applications for community plant variety rights.
  • The Dutch are one of the world’s largest exporter of seeds: the exports of seeds amounted to € 3.1 billion in 2014.
  • In 2014 the Netherlands was the world’s second largest exporter (in value) of fresh vegetables. The Netherlands exported vegetables with a market value of € 7 billion.


       


The Keukenhof gardens in the Netherlands are a paradise for tulip  lovers – as their website boasts: ‘Keukenhof, the best day out among the flowers! There are more than 7 million bulbs in bloom this spring, with a total of 800 varieties of tulips. A unique and unforgettable experience!
Besides the spacious 32 hectares of flowers you can enjoy the spectacular flower shows, surprising inspirational gardens, unique artwork and wonderful events. Do not miss the Tulpomania exhibition in the Juliana Pavilion.’
At Keukenhof they recognise the importance of engaging with the next generation. Their website states:
‘Keukenhof is also one big party for children. They will have a blast with the treasure hunt, petting farm, maze and the playground.’
Who can resist? Don’t forget your camera!




Istria – or Slovenia and Croatia to you and me.

I’ve just returned from a trip to the Istrian Peninsula – and learnt a lot!  The Peninsula looks like a triangular pennant suspended in the Adriatic just below Trieste.  A horizontal strip of land at the top of the triangle now forms part of Slovenia and the rest belongs to Croatia. Our visit included some of the towns along the West coast of Istria from  Portorož down to Pula, with its stunning amphitheatre,  at the southern tip of the triangle.
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So first  stop – Portorož (Port of Roses) This turned out to be an attractive strip of  hotels stretching in a ribbon along the seafront – no ‘beach’ as such, more pebbles and ladders straight down into the water – would bathers disappear without trace?  Well, no, the water only seemed to be waist deep in most places so perfectly safe, if a bit chilly!
Portorož has been established as a health spa since the late 19th century and boasts some fine architecture – one example of this is the Palace Hotel, built around 1912 in what was known then as the Austrian Riviera. It was extensively renovated around 2008 but retains its magnificent facade and is testimony to the popularity of the area as a health resort back in the day.  There is a real Art Deco vibe about the place and lots of magnificent black and white photographs on the hotel walls illustrate the grandeur of a bygone era, which inspired me to take some sepia photos on my walk along the sea front towards Piran.





Every hotel in Istria has a Wellness Centre, indeed Slovenians and Croatians place a lot of emphasis on healthy living. On our tour I struck lucky every time – my room was right next door to the Wellness Centre! This meant that, unlike other guests who had to make their way along endless hotel corridors and into and out of lifts dressed in their fluffy white hotel robes to get to these facilities, I only had to pop out of my room and round the corner and there it all was – the plunge pool, the sun terrace, the jacuzzi, the  salt water swimming pool and all the wondrous treatments on offer – like mud baths, Thai massage with myriad combinations of lovely infused oils, facials – etc!!
As a linguist I was also interested in trying to pick up some phrases in Slovenian and Croatian – and was encouraged by the fact that all the road signs were in Slovenian or Croatian first and then Italian, and sometimes German too.  As I speak Spanish, the hop over to Italian is not so far – but the next hop over to Slovenian proved more of a chasm – didn’t get much of a toe hold, although the girl welcoming us in to dinner tried to teach me a few things – ‘dobro jutro’ (good morning) ‘dobra večer’ (good evening) ‘volim te’ (I love you !! – that should come in handy!) ‘hvala ti’ (thank you)  ‘molim’ (please) ‘račun molim’ (the bill please) and on the hotel television I even caught an episode of Gardeners’ World with Monty Don dubbed in Croatian.  Even so, progress was slow!!
Back to being a tourist.
Piran is a small town at the top of the Istrian Peninsula. Its links with Italy through the salt trade are evident. On the walk into the town we came across some curious buildings which turned out to be disused salt warehouses, now being used as exhibition spaces and the like.  
Views out to sea from the city walls were beautiful and the town itself is very picturesque.

 
 
 
 
 


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We were taken on a trip to the salt pans and a museum where we learnt how the salt panners lived and worked.
           
         


Our next trip was to Groznjan, which is inland. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very good but we could still appreciate the beauty of the countryside and sample some delicious truffles and mistletoe brandy – not sure about the brandy! We also learned that Istria has several symbols – one is the goat, one is the dolphin and ……the other will come to me in a second!
 



The climate as you go further south turns more Mediterranean, with lots of vineyards and olive trees and for the first week of our holiday the weather was pleasantly warm – around 25º. But things changed dramatically en route to our second destination of Poreč – in fact, there was a terrific storm and when we got to the hotel they were busy mopping up – leaks had sprung everywhere – outside the main entrance a little man in waterproofs was standing knee deep in water, pumping out and inside they were juggling guests whose rooms had water running down the walls – mops and buckets everywhere!
Built along the lines of a giant Butlins holiday camp – I don’t think these hotels will stand the test of time – more ‘Lego’ in construction – definitely the cheap and cheerful end of the market.  This conglomeration was built around several lagoons just outside the town of Poreč, which, once the hordes of weekend visitors had died down, felt much more welcoming. As luck would have it, the storm (which was bad enough to make the national television news) had abated by the next day and we were able to see a  medieval fair which they had postponed – so ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ as they say.

Pula, in the far south of the peninsula, boasts a magnificent amphitheatre, with the usual gruesome history of gladiators and blood and gore. Nowadays, the arena is used as an open air concert venue, attracting the greats of the musical world such as Andrea Bocelli, Norah Jones, Tom Jones and José Carreras.  Personally, I found the Roman artifacts in the museum below the arena every bit as interesting as the arena itself.
We barely had time to see Pula and even in late September, towards the end of the holiday season it was very busy. The Venetian influence is evident in its buildings and I loved the little alley ways down to the water’s edge which seemed to drop straight into the sea. Definitely a place to go back to.


    


Edinburgh – city of castles, kilts and whisky.

Just back from an action packed few days in the Scottish capital. This tourist malarkey is exhausting!
Now, I know a lot of people are a bit funny about getting on ‘the tourist bus’ but, as far as I’m concerned, there is no better way to get your bearings in a city you don’t know. A couple of circuits round the main streets and some helpful commentary from the guide and you can make a much more sensible decision about where to alight for a more leisurely gander at the ‘places of interest’ you are actually interested in.
Of course,  nobody visits Edinburgh without going to the castle, perched atop the Mound, just beyond one of the main thoroughfares, Princes Street.
armour2 bars
beams
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And the other attraction, if that’s the right word for it, which is ‘de rigeur’ is the Royal Mile, The taxi driver who took us from the airport to our accommodation in Newhaven Harbour advised us to do the ‘Royal Mile’ from top to bottom, i.e. walk from Edinburgh Castle downhill to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The lady we rented our excellent accommodation from said the same thing and when you see it you quickly realise why!  It is very steep and as the name indicates – it’s a mile long – exhausting! even if you have had your porridge!
By far the most obviously touristy place was the area around the castle  where you find ‘The Scotch Whisky Experience’ and the ‘Tartan Weaving Mill’ and also magnificently turned out pipers playing those haunting laments on the bagpipes. There are myriad tartan shops sellingall sorts of garments, mostly in the familiar red plaid  (it put me in mind of the old joke – you can have any colour as long as it’s red! )  and lastly, black double deckers which will take you on a Ghost Tour. The icing on the cake was a sighting of Braveheart! He was having some fun with some young lads and I thought he hadn’t spotted me but … I was wrong!

 

 
       
The Royal Mile is full of shops, bars, cafés and beautiful traditional buildings. At the bottom end is the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where I believe the Queen is in residence for a week or so every year, performing official duties. Behind the Palace is Holyrood Park – again, if you’re feeling energetic you can walk up to Arthur’s Seat, an old volcano where – I’m told! – you get some great views across the city.
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You can take tea at the Palace Café and, suitably refreshed, wander round Queen’s Gallery or marvel at the interesting Scottish Parliament Building. Designed by catalán architect, Enric Miralles in 1999 and opened by the Queen in 2004, it caused some controversy when it was built. Personally, I loved the design but it differed radically from the traditional buildings around it so I can understand why opinion was split.


       

The weather in Edinburgh wasn’t brilliant – quite cold and damp, so we decided to spend a couple of hours on the wettest day at the National Museum. As it turned out, it was quite interesting because the Scots were an enterprising bunch of engineers and industrialists – it’s not every museum that boasts a full size locomotive or a whisky still!
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The other iconic structure that is definitely worth going to see is the Forth Bridge – as emblematic of Scotland as the kilt or the bagpipes. We took the short train ride  to see this familiar sight close up – everyone has seen it in photos or on television, even if they have never been to Scotland – it is legendary as the bridge that never stopped having to be painted! Of course, then someone invented a special striking red coloured coating that didn’t have to be continually replaced – so that was a relief! The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is the same colour so they must use the same stuff!


We discovered that there are in fact three Forth Bridges –  a road bridge (suspension design) and a rail bridge (cantilever design) and now a third – a new road bridge, still under construction, which will be a cable stayed design (don’t ask me, I don’t know the difference!)
The bridges span the Forth estuary and are indeed an impressive sight. The little town of South Queensferry lies between them, with its toy boats and life boat station – reminiscent of small Welsh seaside towns on a drizzly, damp weekend.

   


I enjoyed my trip to Edinburgh and will go back some day to see more of Scotland. By sheer coincidence another iconic piece of engineering was passing through our local railway station on the day I travelled north –  the Flying Scotsman!!