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The Far North

Northumbria - Northumberland Coast

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After a quieter day yesterday, our last full day was busier, as we were headed up the Northumberland Coast as far as the Scottish Border.

We began by heading to Bamburgh Castle, viewing from both the beautiful sandy beach, as well as from the village, where the castle (which sits on a hill between there and sea) creates a beautiful imposing backdrop.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle

After a brief stop we headed north to Berwick-upon-Tweed, the last town before the Scottish Border. The town had historically been Scottish, and still gives it's name to the area north of the border.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

Berwick-upon-Tweed

The town still has intact city walls by the estuary of the River Tweed, which we walked along around half of.

Berwick was surprisingly pretty, despite not really knowing much about what it had to offer before we visited.

Our next stop was just around the corner, at the border - the second one we were visiting this weekend. This time however we would stop, and the laybys were signed as tourist spots. This was (almost) the northernmost point in England, in the far north - Newcastle is 1h20mins south, and London is over 6 hours away. Whilst Edinburgh, capital of Scotland is a little over an hour north.

Scottish Border

Scottish Border

After stopping at the entrance to Scotland, we did a U-turn at the next junction, and stopped at the layby on the other side, welcoming us (back) into England.

We were now heading south again and towards one of the top places on my list for this weekend - Lindisfarne/Holy Island. To get to the island we had to drive along a causeway, which was now accessible due to low tide.

The Causeway

The Causeway

Driving along the causeway was a strange experience, and on the north side of Holy Island it was still very tidal. Eventually after around 5 minutes we arrived at the car park to the village, which felt like the entrance to a tourist attraction, rather than to a place people actually live! Although with the majority of people being tourists, it didn't exactly feel like a village.

We started with a visit to the war memorial, with views over the bay and the Priory, which was temporarily closed due to Covid, before we walked along the coast to the Castle, which like many in this area had imposing views.

Lindisfarne Castle

Lindisfarne Castle

It had been a long day so far with lots of castles and scenery, and we had one last one to visit on the way back - Alnwick Castle.

Alnwick is another pretty small town with an imposing castle, and even though by now we had seen many similar, this was still worth stopping by.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle

After a long day of exploring, we headed back to the hotel for our final evening.

The following day we checked out of the hotel and headed home, stopping by Newton Aycliffe to visit some friends before heading back home.

Northumbria had been very pretty, and compared to Cornwall, which is actually nearer from here, it was much easier to get to, as it was nearly Motorway from start to finish, and even when not, it had pretty good roads. Although obviously colder as it was further north it was still a nice getaway.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 02:58 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged scotland coast island castle border causeway northumbria Comments (0)

A Visit to the Vatican

Rome 2019 - Vatican City

sunny 36 °C
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Our next holiday this year was to Rome, my second time in the city after having previously visited after New Year in 2015. This time however it would be much hotter - by about 30˚C.

My cousin and aunt from New Zealand were also going to be in Rome at the same time, so after checking our plans we decided to head out on the same flight as my aunt, to be there at same time.

After working on Friday morning, we headed up to the airport and met up with my aunt just before security. Heading through and into the departure lounge we had a catch up after having not seen each other for three years.

The weather at home during this weekend was abysmal, and after sitting down in one of the restaurants, where we were joined by my sister who works up the airport and was on her break, we could see (or rather not see) the sheer level of rain hitting the roof window from outside. It was so heavy for so long that eventually one of the seals broke and the water started gushing in like an indoor waterfall. The people sat by the window themselves had to run to escape, leaving their belongings to get soaked, including one woman's entire dinner.

Flooded Airport

Flooded Airport

As we moved away due to the floor flooding, my sister called security to advise them, but they weren't interested - turns out this was by far the only place that had flooded and the whole airport was full of water. Not long after the water had broken through, the rainstorm had ended and the sun was shining again- however the sheer level of water that had entered meant it was going to take a long time to clean up. We could now see just how much rain there had been, as our view that had previously been blocked by water was now clear to see a plane at one of the gates surrounded by fire engines as it's cockpit was on fire! What an experience today!

By the time we were boarding the rain had ended and there were no problems, we took off as planned and arrived in Rome's airport a few hours later after having had a nice catch up on the journey over. Using the EU queue at immigration for what might be our last time, we headed for the train station to make our way to our hotel. Saying goodbye to my aunt until the following day in the city we finally arrived at our hotel just before midnight and after quickly settling in, headed to sleep before our next four days in the city.

Our first full day was spent at the Vatican. After breakfast we made our way to the Vatican Museums, waiting outside for my aunt and my cousin to join us. We spent the trip around the museum catching up with my cousin, who is travelling around Europe and who I hadn't seen since 2016.

Vatican Gardens

Vatican Gardens

Starting with the view of the dome and gardens we eventually made it to the highlight of the trip, the Sistine Chapel. After viewing the famous painting by Michelangelo, we headed through the secret entrance for tour groups only, luckily not being stopped and made our way directly to St. Peter's Basilica, saving us 2 hours and a wait in the hot midday sun.

Before entering the cathedral itself we made a trip up to the roof and dome. Getting the lift up, we entered around the inside rim of the dome looking down over the altar.

Inside the Dome

Inside the Dome


Walking up the dome

Walking up the dome

We then climbed up the dome itself, which at times felt like a fairground ride with slanted walls. Little did we realise at the time this is the tallest dome in the world and still meant another 231 steps after taking the lift! Nevertheless at the top the views were stunning and absolutely worth it.

Views from the top of the dome

Views from the top of the dome

After taking in the views, we headed back down to the roof before taking the lift down into the cathedral itself to explore.

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

We then made our way out of the cathedral and into St. Peter's Square crossing the border back into Italy.

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Square

By now it was early afternoon so we headed to a nearby restaurant for some food, which we followed afterwards with gelato. Having now seen the Vatican, and with three more days to explore the city, we left my aunt and cousin and headed back to the hotel via the supermarket to chill for the rest of the day.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 08:30 Archived in Vatican City Tagged rain church airport city cathedral plane border christianity Comments (4)

Off to see the Wrestling

Lithuania & Belarus - Vilnius & Minsk

semi-overcast 27 °C
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After 8 months without any foreign trips, it was finally time for this year's to begin. The first being a trip to Lithuania and Belarus.

We began with an early start to get to Luton Airport for our flight just before 8. Annoyingly however as we waited to board our flight, our aircraft was given to the delayed Warsaw passengers and instead we had to wait two hours for a new aircraft to be flown over to us. This wasn't helped by the fact every morning I'd had terrible stomach pains from a virus I still wasn't over.

Two failed boardings later we eventually made it onto the aircraft. As with my previous flight to Vilnius, I was once again delayed and ended up having to change plans for the day.

Vilnius Town Hall

Vilnius Town Hall

We no longer had all afternoon to explore Vilnius, and instead only a few hours for a quick wander. It also meant that we didn't get chance to visit the KGB museum as this would be closed on our only other opportunity this weekend. A real pity.

Gates of Dawn

Gates of Dawn

The following day - our only full one on this short weekend trip - we made our way to Belarus to watch the wrestling!
I had wanted to visit Belarus for some time, with it being a blank on my map. However normally visas are required (unless flying in and out of Minsk Airport, which has no cheap flights). Meanwhile there are tonnes of convenient cheap flights to Vilnius, just across the border.

Back in 2014 Belarus had temporarily removed their visa requirements for the World Ice Hockey Championships. But as this was right at the time I got my new job I therefore didn't know whether I'd have the time or money to go, and so had missed the opportunity.

This time things were different. Belarus were hosting the European Games, and by purchasing a ticket for £4.60, the whole visa process was unnecessary. We were free and could have a cheap and easy holiday. Looking at the dates we could go and the events that were on so that it would look convincing, the best option was to visit Belarus on Sunday 30th, when the finals of the Wrestling were on for just two hours during the middle of the day. Did I know anything or care about wrestling? No. But it could be fun anyway!

After going through passport control we boarded our train with our breakfast in tow, ready for our two and a half hour train ride to Minsk. After around 45 minutes we reached the border, and Belorussian military-looking border officials boarded inspecting everyone's passports. We gave them our European Games tickets which they inspected, and accepted and not long after we were back on our way through the Belorussian countryside.

Eventually after a slightly rough train ride (which didn't help my stomach) we made it to sunny Minsk. We had several hours to explore the city before the Wrestling began - which we decided we should watch just in case we were checked on the way home.

After changing €40 into Belorussian Roubles, we headed into the city - beginning at the Gates of Minsk opposite the station, two Stalinist towers marking the entrance to the centre of Minsk.

Gates of Minsk

Gates of Minsk

[We then headed over towards Independence Square, home of the parliament and the city's iconic Roman Catholic church, where there were lots of flags and banners for both the European Games and the upcoming 30th anniversary of Belorussian independence.

Independence Square

Independence Square


Victory Square

Victory Square

After then taking the metro across the city towards Victory Square, dedicated to Minsk's time through the Second World War, we then headed down Independence Avenue towards the Palace of the Republic.

Having seen much of the city's Stalinist architecture, we were now headed into the old part of the city, which had more of a feel of Poland and Lithuania.

The Orthodox Cathedral

The Orthodox Cathedral

Stopping off for souvenirs by the town hall, we then walked past the city's Orthodox Cathedral, towards the Opera and Ballet Theatre.

Opera Theatre

Opera Theatre


Trinity District

Trinity District

Beside the beautifully meandering river, with it's parkland banks is the oldest part of the city, the Trinity District, with small old winding streets and houses that have mostly been converted into shops and restaurants. On the opposite side of the river is the Sports Palace where we were headed to for the Wrestling, as well as an open air fan zone with local entertainment, food, souvenirs and photoshoots with the Fox mascot - Lesik.

Local Entertainment

Local Entertainment

By now we were on track and the event was starting in just half an hour, so we entered the Arena and found our seats watching the build up before the event itself started. I had no idea what was going on, but nevertheless the chance to enjoy an international event, and mix up the long day in the city was actually pretty enjoyable.

Inside the Wrestling

Inside the Wrestling

Thomas Bach awarding the medalists

Thomas Bach awarding the medalists

After the event ended, we walked past Thomas Bach, head of the Olympics, who was attneding the event also, and headed out of the city towards Victory Park, where there is a more modern and grand monument to the city following it's awarding as "Hero City" following it's occupation during the Second World War.

Victory Park

Victory Park

The parkland beside the river was a pleasant place to spend time cooling down from the heat of the summer sunshine, and we walked further north towards the Palace of Independence, Expo Centre and Flag Square.

Palace of Independence

Palace of Independence

After a lot of walking we decided to take the bus back into the city. However despite my best efforts we still could not work out how to buy a ticket! Apparently we could buy one from the driver, but as he was in the front compartment we didn't pass him to buy one. After then abandoning the first bus ride we hovered around thinking whether to walk (but ruled out as being too far and too hot), or ride illegally (it was only 4 stops). Maybe we could just hop on and off the next few stops so we wouldn't be arrested! I mean we had the money anyway - maybe could we play at being stupid foreigners?

And then we saw it, a different bus passed by, and someone reached into the hatch and bought tickets from the driver! So there we were, let's take the next bus and ride properly. However when we got on it was packed and we couldn't reach the driver. Debating whether to get off at the next stop and board a quieter bus or push our way through, we arrived at the next stop when a local woman boarded and pushed her way through. We followed her and then managed to buy our own tickets! What a stressful experience!

Not long later we arrived back in the city centre. After buying some souvenirs we then headed back towards the station to grab some snacks and have dinner. After a long hot day of sightseeing we were ready to go home. Changing our money back and getting €35 returned, we waited for the train to turn up and board back to Lithuania. Three hours later we were finally back from our busy, but interesting day trip to Belarus.

It was a surprising experience, I had few visions of this generally forgotten part of Europe, and had expected it to be a tragic dump, but actually it was very beautiful, clean and green, and I would really recommend it to anyone who can be bothered to go through the process of getting a visa!

Posted by kmmk17 03:58 Archived in Belarus Tagged park airport river sport city old plane border sickness lithuaniabelarus Comments (2)

The Palaces of Potsdam

Berlin - Potsdam

semi-overcast 27 °C
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After a busy day in the centre of Berlin, today we were going outside the city to Potsdam, home of the Prussian Kings, and capital of the German province of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin. Unlike the rest of the trip, which was mostly to places I had seen on previous trips to Berlin, the journey to Potsdam was a new experience for me.

Glienicke Bridge

Glienicke Bridge

We began by heading down to the Glienicke Bridge on the border of Berlin and Brandenburg. This bridge was closed during the Cold War, and used for the transfer of spies. Now reopened, we were able to walk into the former East Germany.

Potsdam High Street

Potsdam High Street

We then got on a tram and arrived in the centre of Potsdam, walking down the main shopping street, stopping for ice cream, before making our way into the Sanssouci Park, where the palaces of the city are located.

Sanssouci Palace

Sanssouci Palace

We began by walking firstly towards the impressive Sanssouci Palace, overlooking the park above terraces and a water fountain, before continuing along the central path towards the New Palace

Orangery Palace

Orangery Palace

This park was huge, but also cool and shady, and whilst walking through every few minutes the view of another palace came into view.

New Palace

New Palace

After reaching the New Palace we headed north to the bus stop to make our way back to Berlin. Annoyingly there were construction works on the train line, and so we had to get a replacement bus from Potsdam to Wannsee, which was a bit of a nightmare to find, but eventually we were on our way back to the city.

With it being mid-afternoon, we decided to make our way back to the hotel via the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1936 Olympics. We had originally planned to go inside, but as our feet were aching, and only guided tours permitted (due to the imminent hosting of the European Athletics Championships) we decided to head back to the hotel instead after viewing from outside.

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

By now we were very tired, but with another full day yet to come we spent the rest of the evening chilling in the hotel and claiming another free drink from the bar!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 04:25 Archived in Germany Tagged park palace bridge city berlin border royal olympic Comments (0)

Buzzing Around Berlin

Berlin

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After many short city breaks, our Berlin trip was going to be slightly longer - four nights in total. However even that did not seem enough!

We started the first day with a delay on our early afternoon flight, meaning we didn't manage to arrive in Berlin until early evening. We stopped off en route at the East Side Gallery, where the longest stretch of remaining Berlin Wall was turned into an art gallery, with many different murals by various artists.

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

We then continued on to grab some dinner before heading to the hotel via the supermarket. By now it was already getting late, so we decided to stay put and carry out the rest of our sightseeing in the following days. Although upon arrival we did find an interesting policy by the hotel - in return for not having our room cleaned the following day, we would get a free drink at the bar. As we'd just arrived we decided the free drink was a better idea, so we headed down to claim it.

Upon ordering, I decided to have a wine spritzer, however the German barmaid had never heard of this! (despite being in the limited menu) and asked what this was in German - "Schorle". A little surprising, I thought, as spritzer is clearly a German word - although evidently not used in these parts! After a good night's sleep, we awoke the next morning and ate breakfast before heading out for our first day of sightseeing.

Today we would be seeing the sights in the city centre. We had prebooked entry to the Reichstag Dome, and so had to keep to schedule. We started by heading round the corner from our hotel, to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Much like that of Coventry, it was an old cathedral almost destroyed during the Second World War, with the ruins kept as a memorial and a modern church built next door.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church


Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

Next, we headed out to the city centre, and to Checkpoint Charlie - the only foreign public crossing point during the days of the Berlin Wall. We then continued along the line of the wall towards the Topography of Terror, on the site of the Gestapo Headquarters, which detailed the history of the rise of the Nazis, and their rule, all in this geographical area of the city.

Our journey then took us to Potsdammer Platz, a modern business district built upon the old Berlin Wall site, before heading north past Tierpark and arriving at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. This memorial is made up of rows of concrete pillars across a sloping field, which reach up to 5 metres tall and can be walked between.

Inside the memorial to the Jews

Inside the memorial to the Jews


Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

After taking a walk around this memorial, we then stopped by the Brandenburg Gate, the iconic German landmark, separated on the line of the Berlin Wall, where we took lots of photos, before continuing on to the Reichstag - Parliament Building.

Reichstag

Reichstag

We first viewed the building from the outside, before entering through the security check and up onto the roof itself. The building is from 1894, but has been unused for most of the time since, with the inside being completely new, from the 1990s. The dome was a modern replacement for the original cupola and is open to the public as a viewing platform, and views of the surrounding area and inside the centre of the Bundestag (Parliament) can be seen.

Inside the Reichstag Dome

Inside the Reichstag Dome

After touring the roof, we headed back down and walked past the new government buildings to the north, towards the Friedrichstraße station. The station was unique as it was located within East Berlin, and yet functioned as a border post. The reason why, was that the city was divided after the existence of the underground transport network, which cut across lines in the city. Remarkably, it was agreed that lines that crossed the border would not necessarily have to close. Those that ran West to West, via the East were allowed to stay open, but with the stations in East Berlin closed and functioning as ghost stations.

Even more remarkable, was that there was one station in the east - Friedrichstraße, that intersected with both sides. Being a major transport hub, the East decided to fence off the station, with some platforms serving interchanges between lines solely for West Berliners, as well as interchanges for East Berlin lines. There was also a border post within the station that enabled those few who were able to cross sides a point in which to do so. easily.

Inside the present, fully open, Friedrichstraße Station

Inside the present, fully open, Friedrichstraße Station

To the north of the station, an entrance was built that would serve as the non-transport-connection border post for Easterners heading to the West. It was called the Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears) as for many crossing here it would be a sad event, leaving behind friends and family. It is now used as an exhibition for the story of this time, and even had a border checkpoint from the time for visitors to experience.

After taking a look at this exhibition, we got on a tram and headed towards Museum Island. Stopping first off at Bebelplatz where there is a monument to the burning of books during the rise of the Nazis, before continuing past the Cathedral and the Old Museum.

Berlin Cathedral

Berlin Cathedral

Stopping off for some refreshment, we then went inside the DDR Museum - a museum dedicated to the life inside East Germany, which included a recreated East German flat.

The living room in the East German flat at the DDR Museum

The living room in the East German flat at the DDR Museum

After looking around the museum, we then made our way over to Alexanderplatz, the heart of East Berlin, where after a bit of shopping, I went inside the Park Inn by Radisson Hotel, which has a balcony on the 40th floor open to the public, with views over the city, including the nearby TV Tower.

View over Alexanderplatz

View over Alexanderplatz

Our final place for today was further north, at Bernauer Straße, where part of the Berlin Wall has been recreated, with a viewing platform across the road. After taking a look at how life would have been just thirty years ago, we travelled back to our hotel via the underground station, which had information about the ghost stations on the network.

Bernauer Straße

Bernauer Straße

After stopping off at the supermarket we then went out for a German dinner in the restaurant around the corner. After surviving being hounded by wasps, we then went back to the hotel for an evening chill after the busy day before we would continue our adventures tomorrow.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 10:48 Archived in Germany Tagged church city museum berlin cathedral parliament wall border war Comments (0)

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