Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Málaga, Spain

With its population of almost 600,000 Málaga is the sixth largest city in Spain and the southernmost large city in Europe. It lies on the northern Mediterranean "Coast of the Sun" - Costa del Sol - about 60 miles east of the Strait of Gibraltar and 80 miles north of Africa. The city enjoys a subtropical climate and boasts the warmest winters in Europe, with average daytime temperatures above 63 °F from December to February.
Málaga is one of the oldest cities in the world with a 2,700 year history since it was founded by the Phoenicians as Malaka about 770 BCE. After the Phoenicians the city was controlled by the Roman Republic, then the Roman Empire followed by the Arabs until 1487 when it became, and has remained, a Spanish possession. Key commercial activities are tourism, construction and technology services but efforts are in progress to diversify.
The painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga. Get a lightning tour here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A really nice boat, but...

The MSC line has a romantic name for each of their ships, MSC Magnifica, MSC Splendida, MSC Fantasia, MSC Poesia and so on. Our incarceration was on the Poesia - Italian for Poetry - and each deck was named after a famous Italian poet. Famous Italian poet! - there's an oxymoron if ever there was one.

The Poesia was commissioned in May, 2008, and, at eighteen months old, was in first class condition. No complaints in that department. Unfortunately, that is the entire list of positive attributes I can come up with. The rest of the "package" was a recurring horror.
American based cruise lines have long since moved away from fixed seating dining - a regimen wherein there is normally two dinner times, 6:30 and 9:00pm for example, and the hapless inmates choose one or the other for the duration of their sentence. They are then assigned to a table seating from two to as many as 10 people - the same 10 people for dinner every night of the trip! Woe was us.
Assigned to a table for eight, we were cell mates with a pleasant couple from Antibes, in France, he German, she French along with four caricatures of everything bad about herd traveling. Two obnoxious sisters from Texas vulgarly flaunting their inheritance from Daddy and a veterinarian from the backwoods of Canada with ill fitting teeth complete with matching wife.

For my taste, give me meat and potatoes and 15 minutes, and I'm ready to move on. Not so for these excruciating waterbourne soirees.
Nothing was ever quite right for the Texan mamas. Hot tea was required with every course and its delivery never failed to elicit an imperious "Where is the honey?". The wine was corked, cloudy, too hot, too cold, veggies not cooked or overcooked - it was always something.
The hayseed animal molester was equally aggravating. Having left the epicenter of culture back in Calgary or wherever, these hicks were determined to get value for their money. They ordered every course - all six of them - at every meal but only after prolonged interrogation of the poor waiter over each dish, as they struggled to understand what it actually was. Whenever they had any doubt about what might turn up they simply ordered a second, different dish as a standby.

Now the restaurants open promptly at 6:30pm and purport to shutter their doors at 6:45pm to discourage latecomers. Our schedule thus was boxed in: beginning at 6:45, we endured a 45 minute pantomime while our companions haggled and argued over their selections. Then, waiting
patiently(?), while the Cheese and Fruit course was chomped to oblivion by the horse-dentured vetinerarian. Next up, with unabashed lethargy, he and his spouse would pick their way round the salad course which, once completed, was followed by soup which they slurped and dribbled through with the finesse of large Labrador dogs. Hooray - if all went smoothly, by 8:15 the main course arrived and five minutes later we had eaten and left. Can't think how we denied ourselves the experience of dessert, cheese plate, coffee and after dinner drinks, but we did.
Two nights of this were enough, and we determined to dine at the buffet instead. Error! Unlike every other cruise ship wherein the buffett is a 24 hour-a-day affair, seamlessly morphing from breakfast, to lunch, to afternoon tea to dinner to early morning pastries and back to breakfast, all the time maintaining a fresh fruit selection, desserts, beverages, ice cream, pies, custards etc., the MSC buffet closes completely at 4pm and then reopens one section from 8 to 11pm to serve - Pizza? No contest. Faced with more time at the trough with the sassy sisters and the dozy doc, the pizza won hands down. But wait! Obviously the Italians have never been to Papa John's or Pizza Hut to sample real pizza - here they were making genuine Italian pizza (as if there is such a thing ;o) ) that would be too far severe even for Weight Watchers. Oh well.

Breakfast was another daily debacle, no matter where one hid on the ship. At 9:30am sharp an abrasively plangent female read the ship's daily newsletter over the public address system at a volume ensuring that it could not be missed. Although this recitation took only 4 or 5 minutes to complete, that was just the Italian version.
The entire missive was then repeated five more times in German, French, Dutch, Spanish and English. Totaly exhausting.
As for the food, we skirmished with the chaos of the formal restaurants two or three times for breakfast and lunch - couldn't get cold milk for cereal, did get cold coffee; couldn't get crispy bacon, did get crispy egg - you get the idea. So as self-exiled dining room outcasts we were doomed to the buffet. Reminiscent of POWs in WWII movies, we quickly discovered the secret of restarting the beverage machine after it had been shut down by the guards, learned exactly when to strike at the pastry counter to snag the edible ones and even found the back door to the gelato machine. Eventually we even managed to bribe the jackbooted Maitre d' of the second main restaurant and were awarded a private table for two for the rest of the trip. Not too shabby.

When the ship finally entered US waters, the FDA swarmed on board, - well, maybe not swarmed, more sort of lumbered - inspected the facilities, promptly shut down all the kitchens and revoked landing permission in Charlotte Amilie. Pretty much everything came to a halt at this point for 12 hours or so while every crew member that wasn't dead or mortally moribund, scrubbed, polished, swept and sterilized every nook and cranny on the ship. Beyond smelling like a hospital for the next day or so, not much else seemed different but the redoubtable G-Men were satisfied.
Cleaning up the ship unfortunately, did nothing for the shameful condition of the two Unincorporated Organized Territories - possessions of the USA - that we were to visit next. These shabby communities presented a shameful introduction to America for the 2,000 Europeans on board.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Part II - A Brush with Disaster in Tunisia

Our introduction to Africa was not too propitious. Overall though, the day blended quite easily into the rest of the trip and thus passed with little notice. Having had our cab driver disappear for a nooner or whatever in the middle of downtown Tunis, when he finally reappeared his stunt driving efforts to get back on schedule ended with his cab totaled and us marooned in the middle of a freeway. When, finally we were rescued, the poor guy was
slumped against his wreck repeatedly mumbling "De firsta accidenta in thirty years".
By this time we were really late. The replacement cab and driver eventually arrived and he did his level best to complete the itinerary but, when we arrived back at the dock entrance, we discovered he was not authorized to enter so we had to leg it back to the ship. About halfway there the local MSC Cruise Line Agent screeched to a halt beside us, motioned for us to get in and fairly flew to the quay. Here, the last gangway was being hauled on board and the ship was about to leave. Abandoned in North Africa was a fate we were grateful to miss.

The Tunisian Republic is about the size of Washington state with a population of about 10.3 million - 1-1/2 times that of Washington state - and is both the smallest nation along the Atlas Mountain range and the northernmost country in Africa.
It is an Arab country bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. With its name is derived from the capital Tunis, located in the north-east, the south of the country is part of the Sahara desert while the remainder is mainly fertile soil. It boasts nearly 800 miles of coastline.
This combination of arable land close to the coastline has played a prominent role throughout recorded history. First was the famous Phoenician city of Carthage, then came the Africa Province known as the "bread basket" of the Roman Empire. Later, during the 5th century CE, the area was occupied first by Vandals, then Byzantines in the 6th century and Arabs in the 8th century before being subjugated by the

Ottomans at which point it became the "Regency of Tunis". The Ottomans were driven out as the European scrambled to confirm their Empires in the 19th century, becoming a French protectorate in 1881.
Finally, after obtaining independence in 1956, the country took the name of the "Kingdom of Tunisia" until the end of the reign of Lamine Bey and the Husainid Dynasty. With the proclamation of the Tunisian Republic on July 25, 1957, the nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba became its first president and the modernization of the country began.

Today Tunisia is an export-oriented country, in the process of liberalizing its economy under an authoritarian regime controlled by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and masquerading as a procedural democracy. Ben Ali has governed as President since 1987 and has systematically diminished freedom of press and political pluralism while maintaining the charade of democratic elections.
In the September 2009 election his share of the vote fell to its lowest ever at, 89.4%, mainly because he allowed an opposition party on the ballot. If the opposition candidate had not been jailed during the run up to the election or had been allowed to give speeches or organize gatherings, it's possible he could have done even better than his 5% share, but that's just speculation! Pictures of the tour are here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Cruise from Hell - Part I

MSC - Mediterranean Shipping Company - is an Italian cruise line which operates about half-a-dozen vessels. Any country that has used up more than 60 governments since 1948 suggests that it might not be a paragon of organizational stability and, in hindsight, an Italian cruise ship was perhaps not our best choice. Even allowing for a bout of food poisoning following the first evening's dinner followed, of course, by 24 hours of Technicolor yawns, we have never been on a cruise before during which we actually lost weight! Yes, we both lost 3-1/2lbs - on a cruise ship. More of that anon.
The ship sailed on schedule, navigated its way through the Canale Della Giudecca past the island of Venice, across the lagoon and out into the Adriatic Sea. At sunrise next morning we were docked in the Adriatic port of Bari, on the eastern coast of southern Italy.
Bari has the unfortunate distinction of being the only city to suffer the effects of chemical warfare during WWII, unintended though it was. The Allies, fearful that Hitler might resort to chemical attacks as he was pushed to the wall, had stockpiled mustard gas on Bari dock - a highly classified strategy at the time. Bari was a key supply point for the Allies and, in a December 1943 air attack by the Germans, the stockpile was unwittingly bombed. Fatality estimates due to the gas vary from less than 70 people to more than 2,000, a confusion generated since neither the rescuers nor the medical teams had any idea what they were dealing with. Ignorance of the presence of mustard gas resulted in numerous otherwise avoidable casualties all muddled in with the conventional carnage wrought by the air attack. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the records destroyed and the incident remained a secret until 1959.
I did not visit the town, being too pre-occupied with puking and moaning and completely consumed with self-pity. Marian went ashore and took some snaps of the city.

Friday, October 08, 2010

A Mediterranean Quickie

I really need to do a better job in keeping this blog current. The previous post, made in April of this year, completed our 2009 Fall trip to England for our best ever pub crawl. Shamefully, this post is almost exactly one whole year after the event. However, with a few more paving stones on the road to Hell, here goes.
Suffering some serious boredom waiting for Thanksgiving to arrive, we cast about and found a nice little cruise that embarked in Venice, Italy and disgorged us, three weeks later, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We grabbed our bags and left.
A trio of tiresome flights and one day later we staggered out of Marco Polo Airport and took the bus to our hotel on the island of Venice. We had planned to take a night tour of Venice but it piddled down with rain all evening and we made do with a deplorably bad supper in a "genuine Italian family" restaurant next door to the hotel. We wondered if their family motto was "We may not be good, but we're not cheap".
Bright and early next morning we made a quick perambulation of the island trying to fill in gaps from an earlier visit. It was certainly interesting to see the city in the early morning and, although the weather was not too cooperative, the walk was refreshing. Snapshots here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

September 21, 2009 - Lincoln, Lincolnshire

Like Idaho, Lincolnshire is renowned for potatoes. Lincoln, a cathedral city, is the county town of Lincolnshire and the city proper has a population of 86,000 or so. The earliest evidence of Lincoln are the 1st century BCE remains of round wooden dwellings from an Iron Age settlement discovered as recently as 1972. The Romans overran the area in 48 CE and built a fortress on a hill overlooking the natural lake formed by the River Witham In Viking times Lincoln was a trading center important enough to issue coins from its own mint and, over the next few centuries, Lincoln rose to significant national prominence. In 1068 William I (the Conqueror) built Lincoln Castle on the site of the former Roman settlement. Construction of the first Lincoln Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln, was completed in 1092 but was built twice more within 100 years having been destroyed in a fire and later by an unusual earthquake in 1185. The central spire probably exceeded the height of the Great Pyramids of Egypt to rank as the tallest man-made structure in the world. By 1150, Lincoln was among the wealthiest towns in England. The basis of the economy was cloth and wool, exported to Flanders. Outside the precincts of cathedral and castle, the old quarter clustered around the Bailgate, and down Steep Hill to the High Bridge.
During the 14th century, the city's fortunes declined with the lower city being prone to flooding and suffering numerous plagues. When the cathedral's great spire rotted and collapsed in 1549 it was not replaced - a further symbol of Lincoln's decline.
Overall, our visit to Lincoln was a great treat and much enjoyed. See more pictures here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

September 20, 2009 - Snitterby, Lincolnshire

Next stop was a pub campsite in the tiny village of Snitterby in Lincolnshire, population about 200. Things did not work out quite as planned for the cook at the Royal Oak had vanished and there was no food to be had. Not to fear, we quickly un-stowed the bicycles and cycled to the next village, Waddingham, where the Marquis of Granby pub served up a spectacular lunch. Considering the two way cycle ride, we felt lunch was well earned.
After lunch, we checked out the rest of the village including Saint Nicholas Anglican parish church. Erected in 1780 on the site of an older structure, the church was rebuilt in 1866 and the tower was completed in 1894. The church seats around 180 - just about the entire population.
Sadly, even in a tiny community like Snitterby, war has taken its toll with the WWI Memorial noting eight residents who fell in the hostilities. A few pictures of this speck of England can be seen here.

September 19, 2009 - City of York, Yorkshire

Marian had never been to York before and my most recent visit was a school trip in 1953, so there was much to discover in this city of 137,000. York is a walled city, having more wall length than any other English city - almost 2-1/2 miles of walkable walls - stretching between many of the six bars, or gates that control access to the old city.
In recent decades, the economy of York has shifted away from reliance on candy companies such as Rowntree and Terry along with various railway-related industries, to one that provides services. The University has become a significant source of employment and tourism is a major contributor to city fortunes. Indeed, York was voted as European Tourism City of the Year by European Cities Marketing in June 2007 beating out 130 other European cities.

The city walls are punctuated by four main gatehouses, or 'bars', (Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar) and two smaller gates, Fishergate and Victoria.
In medieval times the bars were used to control traffic as well as extact tolls and provide defensive positions in times of war.
York has had a Christian presence since 300 CE. The first church on the site of the present Minster was a wooden structure built hurriedly in 627 to provide a place to baptize Edwin, King of Northumbria. Moves toward a more substantial building began in the 630s. A stone structure was completed in 637 by Oswald and was dedicated to Saint Peter. The present Minster was started in the 13th century. York is also renowned for an extraordinary number of pubs scattered throughout the old city and in the urban area around the city. Beware, there are LOTS of pictures to be seen Part I here and then Part II.

Friday, April 23, 2010

September 17, 2009 - Chester, Chesire

We had never been to Chester before and had no idea what to expect. It was the largest city we had been in for a while, with a population in the range of 77,000.
Chester is in the county of Cheshire and lies on the river Dee close to the border with Wales and was granted city status in 1541.
Originally founded by the Romans in 79 CE as a fort called Deva Victrix, Chester was one of the last towns in England to fall to the Normans in the Norman
conquest of England. Today, Chester is one of the best preserved walled cities in the British Isles with only a hundred yards or so of the wall missing.Chester played a significant part in the Industrial Revolution which began in the North West of England in the latter part of the 18th century. In 2007 the "Chester Renaissance", a 10-year plan to see Chester become a "must see European destination" was launched by Chester Council. With a price tag of $2 billion, it was put on hold in 2008 with the onslaught of the financial crisis. Even at this, there is a ton of stuff to see in this busy and pub littered town.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

September 16, 2009 - Oswestry, Shropshire

Like Ludlow, Oswestry is in the county of Shropshire, again close to the Welsh border and is home to 50% more people than Ludlow with its population of 15,000. The area has been inhabited since at least 550 BCE and Old Oswestry is the site of an Iron Age fort.
An Anglo-Saxon king, Oswald, was alleged to have been killed and dismembered at this location and, as legend has it, one of his arms was carried to an ash tree by an eagle. Miracles were subsequently attributed to the tree and thus it is believed that the name derived from "Oswald's Tree". A likely story.
Since 1190 the town has held a market each Wednesday and, with an influx of Welsh farmers every week, the some town folk are bilingual.
The town is also famous for its high number of public houses per head of population - about twice the national average. There are around 30 drinking houses in the town today, one for every five hundred men women and children. Check out some of these hostelries here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

September 15, 2009 - Ludlow, Shropshire

With a population of around 10,000, the market town of Ludlow is in the county of Shropshire, close to the border where England meets Wales. Lying on a hill between the River Teme and the River Corve, Ludlow has a castle, a market place and extensive remnants of the earlier medieval walled town. During the Wars of the Roses, Richard, Duke of York, seized the castle and turned it into one of his main strongholds. Ludlow has close to 500 listed buildings including numerous medieval and Tudor-style half-timbered buildings. The town also sports several coaching inns, public houses and ale houses. These, in times of yore, were the root cause of court records related to alcohol-induced violence and a reputation for excess. The oldest surviving inn today is the 15th century Bull Hotel. More pictures of lovely Ludlow here.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

September 14, 2009 - Ledbury, Herefordshire

About 20 miles southeast of Leominster, still in Herefordshire, is Ledbury, another ancient market town noted in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Liedeberge. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the poetess who, among many others, penned "How do I love Thee, Let me count the ways", spent her childhood years at Hope End just outside of town. Although Ledbury is not much more than a one street town serving its 9000 population, it is a vividly engaging street with numerous and varied stores, lots of Georgian houses and an enviable Market House. Ledbury is also the venue for several annual poetry and music festivals and its Market Theater is a thriving enterprise near the town center, in Market Street. If England has a Smucker's Jam it might well be Robertson's Jams, for many years one of the largest employers in town. A sign of the times, Robertson's moved away in 2007 and the site now produces cider in a couple of 200,000 gallon tanks. Not too bad of a trade if you ask me. Pictures of this enjoyable town are here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

September 14, 2009 - Leominister, Herefordshire

Since we were in the mode for park visits, we went on into Wales and Snowdonia National Park after leaving the George Inn and its delicious home cooking. We had been to Snowdonia previously, back in the 50s, and felt it was time to recalibrate our perspective of the area. Additionally, our brand new son-in-law has a house in the hills with - drum-roll please - an internet connection! We found the house, broke in, gulped down a few hours of internet and promptly retired exhausted, to spend the night in the yard.
It was cold in Snowdonia and that too, was how it left us, little change from
50 years ago - just not our bag I guess. Thus, ea
rly next morning found us on our way back to England, to the comfort of an old market town, Leominster - Ahh, traffic, crowds, noise, pollution - much more to our liking! Leomister (pronounced Lemsta), likely got its start around 660 CE when a monk, St. Edfrid, established a christian community by the river Lugg. In the 12th century, Henry II ordered a Benedictine monastery to be built of which the Priory Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, now the Leominster Parish church, is the sole survivor. The town was incorporated in 1554 and became an important center for the wool trade from the 13th to the 18th century. With its 11,000 population, Leominster is an aging market town, seemingly coasting into oblivion following its glory days as regional wool capital. The agrarian based economy now includes produce and livestock and the staging of cattle and sheep markets. The market is held each Friday and is centered on Corn Square. A colorful Leominster claim is that the last recorded use of the ducking stool occurred there. A (presumably wanton) lass, named Jenny Pipes was awarded the ride of her lifetime in 1809.
For more views of this tired town, click here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

September 13, 2009 - Gloucestershire and the Forest of Dean

The second largest Crown forest in England is the Forest of Dean in the county of Gloucestershire (pronounced Gloster-sheer), in the southwest of the country right next to Wales. Roughly bounded by the city of Gloucester (Gloster) to the east, the river Wye to the north and the west and the river Severn to the south, a large part of this 27,000 acres of mainly woodland was restricted to royal hunting prior to 1066 CE. Like the New Forest, we had never felt the urge to visit the Forest of Dean while we lived in England so this was our first experience. Again, like the New Forest, it did not trip our trigger and after a cursory drive through, we left and hunted down our next stopover. This turned out to be in a two pub hamlet with no discernible center - just two or three lanes off of the A38 road with a few scattered houses. Both the White Horse and the George Inn pubs are on the A38 but only the George had an accompanying campsite and thus became our home for a while.
The following day we embarked on what turned out to be a grueling bicycle ride and visited the village of Slimbridge and the town of Dursley. Pictures of this tawdry tale here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

September 11, 2009 - The old New Forest

Despite having lived in England for almost forty years, we had never visited the New Forest, a 141,000 acre park like area in the south of the country. "New", of course, is a relative term - this particular forest having been created as a royal forest in 1079 by William I - William the Conqueror - for private hunting use. Essentially, 20 plus small communities were deemed to be a single area exclusively for the kings pleasure with deer strictly off-limit for non-Royals. The actual territory, in reality, is too poor for viable farmland and comprises open foraging areas, heathland, bogs and some treed areas, with about 25 miles of coastline on the English Channel. It is contained within the counties of Hampshire and Wiltshire. Perhaps the most renowned and well loved feature of the New Forest is the presence of hundreds of ponies and donkeys living in the wild throughout the area. The New Forest Pony is one of the indigenous horse breeds of the British Isles and most of the Forest ponies are of this breed.
On a practical note, after William I commandeered the ar
ea, an accommodation was reached with the inhabitants giving them the right to graze horses and cattle, gather fuel wood, cut peat, quarry clay, and to turn out pigs in the fall to eat acorns. Cycling, hiking and camping are popular pursuits of the eight million or so visitors drawn to the area each year. Interesting as our visit may have been, we did not regret having stayed away for forty years.
Several small towns and villages exist in the forest, along with a few rural commercial enterprises making the total
population to an astounding 38,000. In 2005 the forest was granted National Park status - the eighth in England - and is the country's only UNESCO natural World Heritage Site.
Our selected campsite was in the backyard of The Red Shoot Inn, located in the heart of the forest. The pub takes its name from Red Shoot Wood and had previously been a gas station and before that a private members club. The pub has been in operation since 1963. Click here for additional pictures.

Monday, March 22, 2010

September 10, 2009 - Clifton Hampden

The village of Clifton Hampden, population a little over 600, is on the north bank of the River Thames west of central London by about 50 miles, in the county of Oxfordshire. It is in the parish of the Church of England church of St. Michael and All Angels, built circa 1180.
The Church of England Primary School, originally built as a Christian school in 1847 is across the lane from the church. The one room all-grades school was reorganized into a primary school in 1934. A number of cottages in the village hark back to the late 16th and early 17th centuries and, from the early part of the 14th century, there was a ferry across the Thames between Clifton Hampden and Long Wittenham, replaced by a six span brick bridge in 1867. The Barley Mow pub, where the campsite is located, is across the bridge, and is actually in Long Wittenham parish. Clifton Hampden, the Barley Mow and the Thames are featured in the 1899 Jerome K. Jerome book, Three Men in a Boat, which was later made into a movie.
There currently appear to be two pubs in Clifton Hampden - The Barley Mow, where we stayed, that
claims to have originated in the 14th century from two old farm cottages and The Plough, which dates from around 1600, replete with timber beams, inglenook fireplaces and a thatched roof. As usual, more pictures of this exquisite little place await you here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

September 4, 2009 - Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

After a wild, wet and windy reception to England's shores we cowered in the Parkston RV Park near Harwich until the storm passed. The following day, although brighter, was cold and blustery but then, this is England! Harwich is on the east coast of England in a region known as East Anglia. The last ten years of our time in England was spent in East Anglia near the city of Bury St Edmunds in the county of Suffolk and this was to be our first wallow in nostalgia. We actually lived in the tiny hamlet of East Barton, population 20 or so, which was a mile or so south of Great Barton, population 2000, and east of Bury St Edmunds proper by four or five miles. We stopped by and looked at the old homestead on our way along memory lane. Way back in 633 CE, Sigebert, the king of the East Angles founded a monastery where Bury St Edmunds stands today. In 869 CE, the then king of the East Angles, a fellow named Edmund, was killed by the Danes during one of their forays into England. Thirty plus years later, in 903, King Edmund's remains were brought to the monastery for internment. By 925 CE, Edmund had been promoted to a Saint and a Martyr becoming quite well known and elevating the monastery to a pilgrim destination. The town of St Edmund's Bury developed in the midst of all this hype and later came to be known as Bury St Edmunds or locally, simply as Bury.
Fanciful folklore has it that the name came from
the fact that St Edmunds was buried here but, more probably, the Bury in St Edmund's Bury was a variation of borough, bergh, burg or borg. Be that as it may, the phrase "I'm going to Bury St Edmunds" would often be rejoined by "Oh, I didn't even know he was dead!" 
In 1020, after destroying the monastery and throwing the priests out, another Dane, Sweyn Forkbeard built a Benedictine abbey on the site, the ruins of which are a major claim to fame for Bury. The town is also known for the largest British owned brewery, Greene King, which also owns the Theatre Royal built in 1819, the sole surviving Regency theater in England. The largest building in the area is the British Sugar beet processing factory, built in 1925 northeast of the town. Bury mounts a large street market each Wednesday and Saturday. Other scintillating gems: Bury is home to England's oldest Boy Scout group, the 1st Bury St Edmunds. On May 3rd, 2007, the Bury town council election was won by the "Abolish Bury Town Council" party. Before it could abolish itself, the party lost its majority in a by-election the following month and, thus far, the Town Council still rules. See slide show here Part I and Part II.

Friday, March 12, 2010

September 2, 2009 - Getting to England...

Arrival in Amsterdam at 9:25 am was quickly followed by a hair raising ride in a 1981 VW camper van to Numansdorf, courtesy of our Dutch agent, Donna. Here we picked up Penny, installed the propane cylinders and set off to Willemstad and the Bovensluis campground.
Replete with groceries and more or less a nights sleep, we left the next day for Hoek van Holland to catch our ferry. Everything went like clockwork and by late afternoon we were at sea. About 10:00 pm we hove into Harwich, England, in a violent wind and rain storm and sploshed our way to the campsite for the night. A nice cup of tea and early to bed. See here for some views along the way.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

August 31, 2009 - One Wedding and a bunch of Pubs

Back from Europe on July 1st, we had a ton of "stuff" to accomplish before leaving for Europe again on August 31st. First up of course, were horrible housekeeping items such as finding flights and getting them booked, ditto for ferry rides back and forth across the North Sea, locating and booking a campsite near a railroad station within easy reach of London, booking train rides in and out of London for the wedding and finding a convenient hotel in the city to stay at during the festivities. Hooray for the internet - all the above chores were readily researched, booked and confirmed without our idle butts leaving our recliners except for the occasional cup of coffee. Fabulous! The rest of the summer fairly whizzed by. July 4th, a photography seminar weekend in Michigan, a great-grandson's first birthday, sundry marching band events, a greatly appreciated double 70th birthday bash for Marian and I and plenty of bike rides. Phew, were we ready for a break! What we got instead was another frenetic month revisiting old haunts and fresh pastures in good old England. Once again, the internet was instrumental in shaping our journey, this time through the discovery of a list of around 150 pubs scattered across England that either had, or were associated with, a close-by campsite. British pubs, more formally Public Houses, have been part of the fabric of life in England since Roman times and, although there are still around 53,000 in existence, they are closing down at the rate of 45 to 55 every week. It had been a lingering regret on our part to have largely ignored these treasures all the years we lived in England and here was a chance to make amends.
So, puddle jumper to Chicago, the pause that refreshes while waiting in O'Hare and then the big bird to Amsterdam. A nostalgic trip around the old country was underway...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

June 25, 2009 - Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands

There were two reasons for stopping by Bergen op Zoom. First, was to see what kind of place had such a whimsical name and, second, there was a campsite just a short bicycle ride from town. The campsite turned out to be enjoyable and so, for that matter, did the city. We also became delighted to be back in the Netherlands and hadn't previously appreciated the general organized and well-manicured appearance presented by most of the country - highlighted by our irksome brush with Belgium.
ergen op Zoom is in the south of the Netherlands and has a current population of around 65,000. After being granted city status in the 13th century, BoZ (Bergen on the Zoom river) developed into a significant fortress and one of the main armories and arsenals of the United Provinces of Holland. Its defensive properties were complemented by the surrounding marshes, the easily-flooded polders and the ability to be provisioned by sea unless the besieging army forces also blockaded its port. Having successfully withstood aggressive sieges by the Spanish in 1587 and 1622 it wasn't until 1747, after a 70 day siege that the city finally succumbed to the French. A trivial outcome of this event was the inclusion of the name Bergen op Zoom on one of the arches of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Click here for a slide show of this likable burg.

Monday, March 08, 2010

June 22, 2009 - Tienen, Belgium

Thirty boneshaking miles north of Namur is the little town of Tienen, chosen for the day's lunch stop. Tienen is in the province of Brabant, in Flanders, the second of the three regions of Belgium. Like Namur, Tienen includes the consolidation of numerous smaller communes - this time only eight though - and boasts a total population around 32,000. It is near one of the Belgium internal linguistic borders and is Flemish speaking although, just 3 miles to the south, Belgians have French as their native language. The town initially developed around Sint Martin chapel, later to become Sint Martin church. Slowly the settlement migrated a little eastward around the, easier to defend, hill on which Sint Germanus was built. Some highlights of Tienen's turbulent history may excuse the drab nature of the city today. Always under threat of invasion due to its proximity to Liège, Tienen was granted municipal rights along with the right to build fortifications and completed its first wall around 1014. In 1489, Albert of Saxony seized the town on behalf of Emperor Maximilian of Austria. In 1507 the town was wrested from the Habsburgs by the locals. In 1568 it was unsuccessfully attacked by William of Orange who returned in 1572 and seized control for about a year before being ejected by the Spaniards. Numerous similar land grabs occurred during the next two centuries until, in 1789, the locals, under the leadership of brewer Jan Windelinck secured the town for about a year. The Austrians then regained control but were in turn defeated by the French, who seized the place in 1793 The French used a former convent as an ammunition depot, which unfortunately exploded in 1793, killing about 100 people and wrecking that neighborhood. Once again, the Austrians liberated (or re-occupied?) the town but were again routed a year later when the French returned. At this point the Austrians quit for good and went home. Nothing much happened after that until the Independence War in 1830 that finally produced the modern Belgium. Subsequent to this litany of destruction of course, the whole of Belgium was ground up twice more in each of the 20th century World Wars. In common with most of mainland Europe, histories such as these must profoundly influence a nation's appetite for involvement in further hostilities no matter where those hostilities might be or however justifiable. On the east side of Tienen stands the Tiense Suikerraffinaderij - Raffinerie Tirlemontoise, a huge sugar beet refinery that gives rise to the town being known as the Sugar Capital of Belgium. As might be expected there is a Sugar Museum in town which we were fortunately able to avoid. The German group Südzucker AG, the biggest sugar producer in Europe, has owned RT since 1989. Outside of this, there are a couple of notable churches and a town hall - Stadhuis - although the latter was completely obscured by scaffolding during our visit. More pictures here.

Friday, March 05, 2010

June 21, 2009 - Namur, Belgium

Continuing our trek north, we crossed into Belgium and stopped by Namur, a medium sized city of about 110,000 inhabitants, in the Walloon region. Overall, we were not favorably impressed by what we saw of Belgium on this route. The place had a grubby, unkempt aura and the roads were between bad and awful, some appearing not to have not been maintained since the Germans constructed them in WWII. Namur encompasses the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers and is a conglomeration of 20 previously independent communes. The language spoken locally is French. The Celts first developed the area as a trading center and were, as usual, followed by the Romans. In the early Middle Ages the Merovingians built the first citadel on the rocky spit at the apex of the rivers confluence. In the 1640s, Namur was seized by the Spanish Netherlands and had its citadel reinforced. Louis XIV invaded in 1692, captured the town, made it part of France and had his renowned military engineer, the vaunted Vauban, rebuild the citadel. The rebuild was none too successful apparently, for just three short years later William III of Orange captured the place. And so it went.
Next up, in 1709, the
Dutch found themselves in control until, in 1713, their "owners", the Spanish Netherlands ceded control to the Austrian House of Hapsburg who decided to leave the Dutch in charge anyway. For good measure, the citadel was rebuilt yet again. Confused yet? It only gets worse.

In 1794 the French returned and remained until 1815 when Napoleon was was defeated, at which point the Congress of Vienna incorporated what is now Belgium into the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Fifteen years later, Belgium broke from the Netherlands. In 1887 the citadel was rebuilt for the fourth time, this time being declared impregnable. Events proved otherwise however, for in 1914, after just three days of fighting, the citadel fell and the Germans held the town for the rest of WWI. WWII was no kinder, with the city being crushed in 1940 as it fell under Nazi occupation after which it was mangled again in 1944 in the Battle of the Bulge. Depressing, eh? Today, Namur is a workaday city producing machinery, leather goods, metals and porcelain with some barge traffic on the river. There is a (much needed) burst of excitement each September at the Combat de l'Échasse d'Or when two teams, in medieval dress, whack each other into oblivion while standing on stilts. Fortunately we missed this. For additional exciting pictures, click here.