Saturday 9: Breakfast was delicious – a change from the standard buffet. Unfortunately, the weather was ghastly when we set off for our circular walk: very heavy mists, as well as strong winds (though not nearly as bad as on Wednesday). There were no views, but most of the time we were on forest tracks, so it didn’t matter too much. Several times we felt sure it must be raining, but it was just water dripping off the trees.
After two hours we reached the ‘Cork Convent’, which made for a fascinating visit. It acquired the name because it was inhabited by Franciscan monks whose only concession to comfort was to have the walls, windows etc lined with local cork! But (ahead of their time) they were also concerned for the environment, and the building blends perfectly into the landscape with its large boulders.
The weather had slightly improved when we returned to our accommodation (by a different route). Tonight we went to a Vegan restaurant we’d heard about, but it was rather a disappointment. The food was good but the service was very slow, and we were sitting alone in a kind of big conservatory which was very cold.
Sunday 10: Blue skies and sunshine made a pleasant change from yesterday! We headed for Sintra, and after two hours we reached the Palace of Monserrate. We explored the grounds and the palace itself – all very picturesque.
Then on to Sintra. The last part of the walk was on a narrow road – barely enough room for two cars to pass, but it was crammed with traffic. The town itself was packed with people; we knew it would be busy, but had not expected such crowds. Brighton on Bank Holiday Monday could not compare!
Monday 11: The last day of our walking holiday – and this meant walking around Sintra, visiting more of the sights in and around the city. First stop was the Moorish Castle, perched high on a hill, so it was a steep climb, but worth it. There’s no central building left, but the walls – interspersed with towers – stretch quite a way. From there we could see the Pena Palace, our next destination, also on a hilltop. Not far as the crow flies, but we are not crows!
Pena is probably the most important – and certainly the most popular – of the Sintra palaces. It reminded us of Neuschwanstein, which we visited less than two months ago. Another fairytale castle, with lots of turrets, but even more colourful – red and yellow, and today we had the advantage of bright blue sky as background. The crowds were amazing – we had to queue for a full half-hour to get inside the palace itself, and then shuffle through the rooms with everyone else. Afterwards we explored the extensive grounds. We walked up to the ‘High Cross’, on the highest point of the Sintra Hills. We saw various other statues etc, and got good views of the palace.
We went down to the Valley of the Lakes, and left the park by a different exit. We followed a footpath down to main road, and on our way into Sintra we passed the Regaleira Palace, which was also on our list of places to visit. But by then it was 5.30, and we decided we’d done enough sightseeing for one day!
Tuesday 12: We walked back to the Regaleira Palace, and explored the grounds, complete with follies, grottoes, fountains, tunnels, and a very deep well with stairs all the way down. Unlike the ‘romantic ruins’ we’d seen elsewhere, these were deliberate creations by an owner who clearly loved the fantastical! The house itself is also ornate, but much smaller and less colourful than the Pena Palace.
After lunch in the city centre we visited the Royal Palace – the rooms were interesting, but there was little to see outside, so our visit did not take long.
We collected our luggage and went by train to Queluz (half way between Sintra and Lisbon) where there was yet another palace to visit. Our accommodation was an apartment above a restaurant. The owner spoke no English, and we do not speak Portuguese, but we managed to communicate in French!
Wednesday 13: This morning we visited the Royal Palace. The interior was well worth seeing, especially the elaborately decorated ceilings. The formal gardens were beautiful, with the palace as background – rather similar to Versailles. But when we explored further afield, we found the grounds rather disappointing. A lot of TLC was evidently needed; it was sad to see that many of the decorative tiles were cracked or broken.
After lunch we returned by train to Lisbon. We’d discovered that the simplest connection was at Oriente station – on a direct metro line, only three stops from the airport. We had some time to spare, and were able to find a luggage locker, so we were able to look round the area. In a way it’s similar to Docklands – apparently it was run down, but redeveloped for World Expo 1998. As well as the ‘futuristic’ station, there is a flash shopping mall, and a long waterfront with many restaurants, gardens and an aquarium. Europe’s longest bridge extends across the Tagus, and a tower with an observation deck is the highest structure in Portugal. Unfortunately it was closed when we were there, but we did manage the short ride in a cable car along the waterfront.
We took the train from Oriente to the airport, and checked in for our evening flight back to Heathrow, where a taxi was waiting for us. We were home soon after midnight. Another walking holiday ended, and another place to cross off the bucket list!
On Monday 4th September, we were off on our travels again, but it was just a short trip this time. Way back in 2001, we spent a weekend in Lisbon. We hoped to do a side trip to Sintra, but didn’t have enough time, so Sintra remained on our bucket list. And we love walking holidays – so when we found a walking holiday which majored on Sintra, that seemed perfect for us. It was a week’s holiday, but we added on a night at each end, making it a ten-day trip.
Monday 4: Taxi to Luton Airport, where we met our friends Ian and Martin for coffee. Ian is a part-time chaplain at the airport; he wasn’t on duty that morning, but he and Martin came to the airport especially to meet us, which was really nice as we hadn’t seen them for two years.
Our flight to Lisbon was on time; we took a bus into the centre and checked into a cheap hotel. We walked down to the main square, had drinks and went for a stroll along the riverfront. Then we walked up the main street. We intended to go up the Elevador de Santa Justa, but when we saw the length of the queue we decided to walk instead. We enjoyed the views towards the castle in the evening sun, and had dinner in the restaurant on the floor just below.
Tuesday 5: We took a lift and walked the rest of the way up to the castle. Great views from there over the city. Had coffee at another viewpoint, then back to our hotel via the cathedral. Checked out and walked with our luggage to the Cais do Sodré railway station. The queue for the ticket office was impossible, but the queue for machines was almost as bad – it took us 30 minutes to get tickets for Cascais. There we checked into the hotel which was the starting-point for our walking holiday. It was an attractive old house, with a beautiful garden where free port was available in the evening.
Cascais is a seaside resort (‘Yarmouth with sun’ said Sandie) and there were plenty of people on the beach there. A path stretches for miles along the seafront; we walked one way to Estoril, and the other way to the Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell), although the spouts of spray were not much in evidence while we were there.
Wednesday 6: We were to be collected at 11, which gave us time for another stroll around the town in the morning.
We were driven just a few miles, and then dropped while our luggage continued to our next destination. The notes for our walk had warned us that it was wise to take a fleece, and Jonathan explained that the temperature was likely to be 10 degrees cooler a few miles further on. Nevertheless, we were amazed to emerge from the car into a howling gale. We walked a mile or so along the cliffs, battling against the strongest wind we’d ever encountered. Cascais is in a sheltered bay, but now we had the open Atlantic on our left – no sunbathers here!
It was already past our usual time for morning coffee, but more than anything else we longed for shelter from the wind. After a while we came to some restaurants, but they were not yet open for lunch. Then a hotel, which looked incredibly posh, but we reasoned that it must be open (for resident guests) so we ventured inside. The receptionist called a suited underling who escorted us to the bar. We commented on the weather; she said it was ‘a bit windy, but not the worst’. We both made a mental note not to visit during the worst weather! We sipped our cappuccinos while sitting on luxurious sofas and watching the Atlantic rollers crashing against the shore.
Later we came to a beach which was surprisingly sheltered, so we had a snack lunch at a beach bar. Then we went inland – and encountered fierce winds again. We were quite glad to reach our destination, a former convent now a kind of hotel which caters mainly (though not exclusively) for walkers. Meals are served in what used to be the chapel; there is one long table, so you get to know your fellow guests. We met a couple on the same holiday as us, but they had started a day earlier, so they were able to tell us about the next day’s walk!
Thursday 7: The wind had dropped, and the weather was bright and sunny. We did a circular walk, or rather a figure of 8. There was a steep climb up to the Peninha chapel, a derelict and frankly ugly building, but the views were good.
Back at our accommodation, we checked emails and did not get good news. Ian did not get the job he tendered for last week, although he continued to work on the proposal for a major international evaluation project which ERA will be involved in, if successful. And we had worrying messages from our Florida friends about Hurricane Irma!
Friday 8: Problems with wifi this morning meant that we could not access emails about the proposal – and today was the deadline for submission. Phone calls were impossible as there was no mobile signal where we were staying!
At 10 we were driven to the Cabo da Roca – the most westerly point of continental Europe. It was very windy there, but nothing like as bad as on Wednesday. On leaving we did a detour up to a picturesque village, then down to a scenic beach: a very few sunbathers here, and we watched a few brave surfers. As we continued our walk along some sandy cliffs, Ian had a phone conversation about the proposal. Everything was under control, but I was strange to be discussing business in such a remote place!
Our new accommodation did not provide dinners, but the hosts will drive guests to any of the nearby restaurants. Along with six others, we went to the small café in the nearest village. It was packed, and there were two fado singers performing. Luckily the music was not as miserable as we remembered from our earlier visit to Lisbon! With good food, good wine (plenty of it) and good company, it was a very pleasant evening.
Claire and Ant collected the boys on Monday 21st August. Two days later we went to London for the day, just the two of us this time. We tend to have a ‘London day’ about once a month when we are in the UK. But this one was arranged at short notice, when we heard that Paul would be passing through on business.
Another London day
As usual, we caught the first ‘cheap’ train to London, and went to Leicester Square to get cut-price theatre tickets. The queue at tkts was longer than we’d seen for ages – we had to wait 45 minutes, but we did get the tickets we wanted. After a coffee and a quick visit to Stanfords, we walked to the Embankment and took the tube to Tower Hill. We then headed east along the Thames Path, stopping for a snack lunch en route. We’ve been doing bits and pieces of the Path for the third time, as and when we have the opportunity.
This stretch of the Path goes slightly inland, passing wharves and warehouses, as well as along the river. Although we had no rain, the day was very grey and gloomy – hence our photos are not great. And our time was limited, so soon after passing Canary Wharf we headed for the nearest DLR station, and returned to the West End. By now Leicester Square was packed, but we managed to find a pub with a few spare tables, and Paul joined us there. After drinks, dinner and chat, he took the train back north, and we went to the Haymarket Theatre. We saw Queen Anne, which was brilliant like all RSC productions, although we would have benefitted from knowing more about the historical context.
A sunny day
Charlie and Oscar were back on Thursday 24th, for just two days this time. The forecast for Friday was warm and sunny – and just for once, it was right! We decided to walk our favourite stretch of the Thames once again. So we got the bus to Henley, and the boys explored the playground there. Then we had coffee and headed east.
It was only two days since we’d been on the Thames Path, but the scenery on this stretch is very different from the East End of London. And the weather was completely different too, with hardly a cloud in sight. The boy enjoyed watching boats go through Hambledon Lock – at least we did not have to wait this time! We stopped for drinks at the Flower Pot, sitting in their large garden. Then it was on to Hurley Lock – more drinks and snacks – and finally Marlow. Another playground to visit, followed by dinner in the George and Dragon, and then the bus home.
The boys left us on Saturday 26th, but the warm weather continued through the Bank Holiday weekend. We decided to go to the Notting Hill Carnival on Monday, for the first time ever. We’d been to the Rio carnival, and Mardi Gras at New Orleans, yet we’d never been to one that is (relatively speaking) on our doorstep!
We spent some time trying to work out the best way to get there. As Notting Hill is west London, we thought we might be able to get there without going into central London and out again. Ian pored over bus and tube routes; he even found a way we could get there totally free (using our bus passes). The problem was, we couldn’t get home again – bus services tend to stop early on Sundays and Bank Holidays. So we had no alternative but to go into central London by train. Not cheap… but as the trains run late, it meant we had another opportunity of going to the theatre.
Arriving at Notting Hill earlier than expected, we saw plenty of individuals in carnival costume – lots of feathers, but little else! But there was no sign of any floats. We’d got a map from the Internet which showed the carnival route, but not where the parade started or ended. We asked two of the many police officers who were on duty, but were still confused. Finally, a third officer explained. There is no set time when all the floats set off in convoy – each group parades as and when they wish. More casual and chaotic than other carnivals we’ve been to.
The costumes were gorgeous, but the floats we saw were not much decorated – mainly lorries carrying some of the participants. There were some bands, and some groups danced, but it was not the highly organised dancing we’ve seen elsewhere. Indeed, some individual dancers paused in the midst of the ‘action’ to eat, drink, chat, or use their mobile phones.
As in Rio, many of the shops and cafés in surrounding streets were not just closed, but boarded up. There was certainly a lot of drinking, and incredible piles of rubbish later in the day, when the crowds became so large it was difficult to move. But we saw no sign of violence, although we read reports of arrests the next day.
In the evening we went the Dominion Theatre to see the new version of An American in Paris. The dancing was brilliant, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
After the excitements of the past week, we anticipated a quiet few days at home: just as well as we had a lot to do. Ian made a start on some analysis for one project, and wrote a brief proposal for another. We put the finishing touches to our book, and signed the contract for self-publishing. And we heard that the paperwork relating to the extension of our leases was at last ready to sign – good news which involved a day trip to Slough.
So on Friday we were off again. We had coffee with a friend, signed the new lease at our solicitor’s office, and walked along the High Street, marvelling at the number of major stores that had closed down very recently. After lunch we bought flowers and went up to the cemetery. Although the hot weather last weekend had not lasted (down to 12°C on Weds!) today was quite sunny and ideal for a walk. We walked along the canal (the Slough Arm of the Grand Union) to Langley, then up to Langley Park and down (by different footpaths) to the Red Lion where we had dinner. This was our regular Friday evening excursion when we lived in Langley, so it was a nostalgia trip as well as an enjoyable walk.
We really enjoyed visiting friends and family, but after a week spent mainly driving or sitting and chatting, we felt the need to stretch our legs. The weather on Friday 11th August was bright and sunny, so we had an early lunch and set off on a walk, which gradually morphed into our Friday night ‘pub crawl’.
We walked up through Keep Hill Wood, took the footbridge over the M40, and explored footpaths and country lanes that were new to us. In Little Marlow we found the King’s Head – a pub with a large garden, where we remembered having a drink on our silver wedding anniversary – but it had since closed. But just around the corner we found the Queen’s Head, and slaked our thirst there. We walked down to the river – by this time sadly the sun had disappeared – and along to Marlow, where we had a cup of tea/coffee in a café and something stronger in a pub we’d seen many times but never visited. Then up to the Harvester (on the southern edge of Wycombe) where we had dinner and took the bus home.
Since there was nothing interesting on at the cinema, we did another, shorter pub walk on Saturday. The following Tuesday we went to the Marlow Folk Dance Club’s annual dinner – good food and good company. And then it was time for another visit from our grandsons.
The boys are back!
Charlie and Oscar arrived on Wednesday morning. They were to stay with us until Monday evening, but the weather forecast for the next few days was not good (just for a change – when will we ever get anything that could be called summer here?). Still, we found plenty to do. We went bowling, swimming and to the children’s cinema, where we saw Diary of a wimpy kid – quite entertaining. When it was at least fine, the boys played on the green outside, with some friends they have made here. When it was raining, we played games indoors – chess, scrabble and other board games – and made a start on a 500-piece jigsaw, though we did not get very far.
According to the forecast, Saturday was to be the best day during the boys’ stay. We thought a boat trip might be a nice change, so we took the bus to Maidenhead and then a boat to Windsor. We know this stretch of the river well, but we had a different perspective from the water, and going through two locks was an interesting experience. We landed in Windsor at 12.35, and walked along the river bank to a picnic area, where we ate our lunch. Unfortunately, the weather did not live up to expectations – it stayed fine, but the sun often disappeared and there was a cold wind blowing much of the time.
We briefly explored Windsor and Eton, and then caught the boat going back. This time we sat inside, so at least we were warm. BUT there was a long queue to go through Boveney Lock, so we landed in Maidenhead almost an hour late, and had missed the last bus back to Wycombe. Thank heavens for taxis!
We’d tentatively scheduled an outing for Monday, since the weather was supposed to be reasonably decent then. But on Sunday morning it looked unexpectedly bright and sunny, so we decided we’d better go then instead. We took the bus to West Wycombe – not far at all, but we don’t often go there. First stop was the Hellfire Caves, which we’d visited once before, many years ago. Our vague memory was that they were not very exciting, but we thought the boys might be interested. The caves were dug out in the 18th century, when chalk was needed to build a road between West Wycombe and High Wycombe. They were later used by members of the Hellfire Club, hence the name. You walk down a passage looking in individual small caves where there are model figures illustrating the caves’ past history, and stories of ghosts. We were not terribly impressed, but the boys enjoyed it.
Emerging from the caves, we walked up the hill above them. We ate our lunch by the mausoleum and the boys had fun rolling down the hill. We then went round to St Lawrence’s Church, and climbed the tower. You can no longer go up into the Golden Ball on top, but you do get to see it close up, and get great views over the surrounding countryside.
Next we went to West Wycombe Park, which strangely we’d never visited before, despite having lived in the area for many years. We explored the grounds, walking around the lake and detouring to see the various small temples scattered around. Towards the end of our walk, we came to the house; we did not go in, but discovered there were lots of people sitting on the grass listening to a brass band. We joined them – Sandie and Ian sitting on the grass, Charlie and Oscar perched in a tree behind us – and enjoyed the music until it was time to go and catch the bus home.
After the boys left, we had four days before setting off on our travels again. We had an ERA meeting and did some related work. Then we were off – not abroad this time, but to visit family and friends in England. An invitation to a silver wedding party meant that we needed to hire a car, and then we started thinking about other people we could visit in roughly the same area. It ended up almost as a challenge – how many friends and relatives could we see in a week?
Friday 4 August
Ian collected the rental car and we headed west. We stopped in Moreton in Marsh for lunch and to look at the charity shops. Then on to Evesham, to visit our friends Brenda and Phil. The weather was good, and it was Phil’s birthday on Saturday, so we began with birthday cake in the garden. Later Phil showed us his elaborate railway set, and Brenda her set of bell plates – something we’d never even heard of before. Some of her friends came for a rehearsal, but we missed this as Phil took us out for a walk – along the river Avon and back via the pub!
From Evesham we drove down to Bussage (near Stroud) to visit Maggi and Phil. We’d planned to stay at Claire’s on Sunday, but Maggi and Phil were going to be away, so we did a detour to see them, and their new house, on Saturday. Claire and the boys arrived at the same time as us (their house is only five minutes’ walk away) and Maggi did a lovely lunch for seven.
In the afternoon we drove down to Purton (near West Swindon, where we lived thirty years ago) and checked into an apartment for the night. It was very comfortable – more like a small bungalow! After changing into our glad rags, we walked down to the church for Liz and Dave’s silver wedding celebration. This began with drink and nibbles in the churchyard: two gazebos had been set up, but fortunately there was no rain. About 7 we went into the church itself, which looked beautiful – a long table (for about 60 guests) already set with candles and food. There was music while we ate, and later a band played in a side chapel, with dancing in an adjacent space. It was a wonderful evening.
Back to Bussage for an overnight stay with Claire. In the afternoon we went to Coate Water, near Swindon, and walked round the lake. This was enjoyed by everyone, including the boys and Claire’s dog Peggy. For us it was a nostalgia trip, because we went there several times when we lived in Swindon, 30 years ago! It hadn’t changed at all. Ice creams and a bouncy castle completed the outing. Then it was back to Claire’s; by then Ant had arrived and he helped Claire cook a great roast dinner. Later that evening, we played cards, and introduced Ant to Oh, hell!, the Schagen family’s traditional game.
From Bussage we drove to Loughborough, along the Fosse Way (also nostalgic, as we used that route several times between Loughborough and Swindon). We stopped in Stow on the Wold, looked round the main square and had lunch in a traditional bakery/café. A few miles further on, we passed through Moreton in Marsh, thus completing the first loop of our travels, which we’d decided would form a (very rough figure) of eight. When we reached Loughborough, we were welcomed with tea and home-made ginger biscuits. We hadn’t seen Jacqui and Roger for over a year, so it was good to have an opportunity to chat and catch up on the latest news.
The weather forecast said rain all day – and it proved to be accurate. We needed to go somewhere indoors, and decided on a trip to Leicester. The big excitement in the city a few years ago was the rediscovery of Richard III’s bones and their subsequent re-interment in the cathedral. Jacqui is now a cathedral guide, so we had the full tour unofficially. In addition to Richard’s tomb, we found an eight-foot tall medieval knight and a Richard III puppet show, as well as some nice modern stained glass.
Opposite the cathedral is the King Richard III Visitor Centre, with information about his life (including the controversy about whether he was a good guy on an arch-villain) and the story of the finding of the bones. We also visited the Guildhall which is nearby, had coffee in a Buddhist café and managed to look in a few charity shops as well!
We said farewell to our friends, drove into the centre of Loughborough, and looked round the shops there (more nostalgia!). Then we drove south – through pouring rain – back to Wycombe. We arrived home in the afternoon, and had time to do some shopping before driving to Twickenham, where we had dinner and a very pleasant evening with Robin and Margaret.
We headed off in a different direction, to visit Andrew and his family in Faversham. Ellie was at work, but we were able to give Isobel her (belated) birthday presents and admire Hope’s new hairstyle; she has had her incredibly long hair cut off and given to a charity which provides wigs for children who have lost their hair as a result of chemotherapy. It is a dramatic change, but looks great, as well as contributing to a good cause.
In the afternoon Andrew drove us and the girls to Rochester, where we visited the castle, the cathedral and several shops, including one which is reputed to be the biggest second-hand bookshop in England. Back in Faversham, Ellie had arrived home. Andrew cooked dinner for us all, and we had a cake made by Isobel for dessert.
Our grand tour was over. Ian returned the hire car and Sandie had a dental appointment. Back down to earth! But we would like to say a big thank you to all our friends and family members who gave us hospitality and so many nice meals during the past week. We will have to start cooking for ourselves again now!
After arriving home from our travels, we had just enough time to unpack and get ourselves sorted out when Charlie and Oscar came to stay. They were with us for a week, while Claire did a work trip to Sydney. Unfortunately, it was a horrible week weather-wise. We had only one day with no rain at all, and it was generally quite chilly. Hard to believe it was late July – the height of the British summer!
Still, we found plenty of things to do. When confined to the flat we spent some happy hours reading, playing games or watching videos. We had ‘indoor’ excursions to the swimming pool and the cinema. When there were breaks in the clouds the boys often played outside (on the green just below our flat), and made some new friends. We also paid a nostalgic visit to the adventure playground at the Rye, which the boys used to visit frequently when they lived in Wycombe.
Before the boys arrived, we had a special request for a visit to Legoland, near Windsor. According to the weather forecast, Tuesday was going to be the best day, and luckily it was right for once. No rain at all! We enjoyed our day there, going on some familiar rides and trying out some new ones. The new Ninjago ride was especially popular, and the SQUID Surfer was great fun. We thought it was a shame that the park closed at 6, as by then the sun was shining, and it was definitely the best part of the day.
On Thursday it was cloudy but fine, and according to the forecast the rain would not start until the afternoon. So we decided that we would chance a morning excursion, and went to Virginia Water, a beauty spot we know well, although we hadn’t been there for several years. We didn’t realise that the boys had been there fairly recently, with Ian’s sister. They hadn’t remembered the name, but as soon as we arrived they remembered the place, and even a particular tree which they were keen to climb again.
After visiting the Totem Pole, we located the tree, one of several hidden away among the rhododendrons. We then walked round the lake (about four miles). But the weathermen got it wrong this time. After an unexpected brief period of sunshine, there was some heavy rain, and this pattern was repeated. Luckily we’d brought waterproofs, so it was not too bad.
We wanted to have a day in London, and kept checking the forecast in order to decide which day would be best. But the forecast kept changing. On Thursday it looked as if Saturday would be our best bet. However, when Ian got up on Friday, the latest forecast suggested that it would be the better day. So… everybody up, breakfast, and off by 9am.
We drove to Hillingdon, and took the tube to Green Park. We’d realised that Charlie and Oscar had never seen many of the main tourist sites, and decided to put that right. So we went first to Buckingham Palace – unfortunately, there was no changing of the guards that day, but we did see some mounted guards coming down Constitution Hill – in fact we had to wait for them to pass before we could cross the road.
We went through St James’s Park, and across to Horse Guards’ Parade, where we saw the sentries on horseback. On to Parliament Square (passing Downing Street on the way): there we saw Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
Our next goal was the London Eye. We’d been on it three times previously, but the last time was several years ago, and the boys had not been on it at all. We saw the 4D presentation, and then queued for the Eye itself. Earlier we’d had some sun and it was quite warm, but by the time we reached the Eye there was light rain. So the views from the top were not very colourful! But when we came off, the rain had just about stopped, so we did not get wet.
We crossed the Hungerford Bridge, walked up to Trafalgar Square (past the new sculpture of the giant thumb), and into the National Gallery. Charlie had learned about Monet and Van Gogh at school, so he was able to see some of their paintings. It also got us out of the rain, which by then had started again.
Next we took the tube to Hammersmith, part of the way home. After an early pub dinner, we went to the Lyric Theatre to see a musical version of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. It was an excellent production, with some really good acting and enthusiastic singing and dancing. We arrived home at 10.45, and two tired little boys went straight to bed.
Füssen is the end (or the beginning) of the so-called Romantic Road, Germany’s most popular tourist route. It links a number of well-preserved medieval walled towns. We did not have time to visit them all, so we selected four cities for the final leg of our European tour.
The old town of Regensburg has several roads, squares and alleyways with many picturesque buildings. The stone bridge across the river, dating from the 12th century, gives good views over towards the city. There is a cathedral (partially blocked by scaffolding while we were there) and several other churches. St Ulrich’s was holding a fund-raising event; we were attracted by music coming from their garden, and discovered that they were selling food and drinks as well.
A few miles outside Regensburg is Walhalla, a quasi-Greek temple build by King Ludwig I to honour Germany’s heroes. We went there by boat, and enjoyed a short cruise on the Danube, even though that stretch of the river is not particularly scenic. It is the best way to get a view of Walhalla, even though you have to climb over 400 steps from the boat landing to reach it. Inside there are more than 120 busts of musicians, philosophers and scientists as well as kings and politicians. We couldn’t help expecting them to burst into song – we’ve been to Disney’s Haunted Mansion too many times!
Nuremberg is a much bigger city, so it takes longer to walk around and see the highlights. You cannot visit without being reminded of World War II. We went outside the city to see where the Nuremberg rallies took place. In addition to the exhibition in the so-called ‘Document Center’, you can go for a 90-minute walk to see a number of historical sites, including the Zeppelin Fields (where Hitler addressed the troops) and other places which were planned for the National Socialist party but never completed. These sites are situated around a lake where people now hire colourful paddle-boats – a stark contrast with what went on there 80 years ago.
Nuremburg was heavily bombed in World War II, but has been carefully rebuilt – although there seemed to be a lot of building work still going on. We visited the castle, the cathedral and two other major churches, and wandered round the city centre. It is an attractive place, but somehow you cannot forget that the ‘old’ buildings are fake – not as old as they are meant to appear, but rebuilt in the 20th century. We found the church of St Sebold particularly moving. On display there is a cross of nails from Coventry Cathedral, with which it is now linked in the ‘Alliance of Worldwide Reconciliation’. There are photos illustrating the damage done by Allied bombs, when 1,800 people were killed and 100,000 made homeless. And one taken in 1992, when 100,000 people holding burning candles surrounded the city, declaring ‘never again must the seeds of violence germinate in our country’.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is picture-postcard pretty (think Castle Combe if that means anything to you). Because of that, it attracts a great number of tourists. During our brief visit we went to St Jakob’s Church (on the pilgrims’ route to Santiago) and walked round the walls that circle the old town. We climbed one of the towers, and also the town hall tower, to get views over the red-tile roofs and the surrounding countryside. But most of all we enjoyed strolling around the old town, admiring the picturesque buildings in a variety of attractive colours.
We ventured just outside the town walls to the castle gardens, and to the ‘double bridge’ – not terribly exciting, but giving good views back to the city.
Würzburg is the end of the Romantic Road, and the final stop on our European journey. The weather forecast for our day there was not good, and indeed there was plenty of rain. The day did not work out exactly as planned, but we had a good time nevertheless.
Our guidebooks mentioned three highlights in the city, and a fourth a few miles outside. We were not sure we would be able to visit the Veitshöchheim Gardens, but discovered when we deposited our luggage that there were various ways of getting there, including by boat along the River Main. We liked the idea of another river trip, and were just in time for the 11am boat. We had our morning coffee on the way there, and a drink on the way back – all very pleasant and relaxing. We were however rather disappointed with ‘Germany’s most famous rococo garden’: the 200+ status were grimy and the whole place seemed sadly neglected.
When we were on our way back to Würzburg the threatened rain arrived, and the downpour continued for several hours. Fortunately some of the things we wanted to do were indoors. The cathedral was closed for a concert rehearsal, but we visited some other impressive churches. Then we went to the Residenz, or palace of the prince-bishops of Würzburg. It is said to be one of Germany’s grandest and most elaborate baroque palaces, and the reputation is well deserved. Sandie took a guided tour, and found the ‘mirror cabinet’ amazing; sadly we were not allowed to take photos.
When we emerged from the palace the rain had stopped, so we were able to visit the gardens and also look inside the incredible court chapel. After checking into our accommodation we walked up to the fortress that stands on a hill overlooking the city. It was quite a trek but worth it for the views. The climb took us through vineyards, for the area of Franconia is wine-producing country; we had already seen vineyards covering the hills while on our boat trip. (By contrast, when travelling by train through Germany, we’d seen many fields covered by solar panels – they take global warming seriously here.)
Ideally for us, there was a direct bus from Würzburg station (just opposite our accommodation) to Frankfurt airport. After our previous experience with Flixbus, we were concerned that it might not turn up – but it did, on time too. We had more problems getting home from Heathrow, but finally made it. And so ended our fascinating and enjoyable trek through three European countries (five if you include Austria and Switzerland). We’d stayed in 21 different places, undertaken train and bus journeys too many to count, and walked an average of 9.4 miles a day – meaning that we achieved our goal of walking 1000 miles when only just over half way through the year. More importantly perhaps, we managed to tick four places off our bucket list!