Two years ago we celebrated New Year in Linz, Austria. Our daughter who teaches English as a foreign language had secured a three month volunteer placement with the Austrian bilingual classroom project (ABC) and we offered to help with her luggage. The bilingual classroom project was set up so that village schools could have visits from native English speaking teachers. It gave my daughter the opportunity to spend three months travelling to village schools throughout upper Austria and she met a large number of Austrian children. She was also able to obtain a CELTA P qualification to teach English to primary school children.
We celebrated Christmas with the rest of our family including a new grandson in Bristol. once we had digested the turkey and Christmas pudding we flew from Bristol airport to Frankfurt and then from Frankfurt to Linz. Linz airport has the rather romantic name of the Blue Danube airport. We rented a flat for a few days in Linz. I had previously visited the Tyrol and Vienna in Austria over fifty years ago as a child but although Linz is the third biggest city in Austria. I knew very little about it.
It is located in upper Austria close to the Czech border straddling the Danube. It has a distinctly eastern European feel with a well preserved old town. Public transport is very good. We caught the trams which were clean, reasonable and ran on time despite the weather.
I was surprised how cold it was. It was raining when we arrived but this soon turned to snow. In German New year’s eve is known as Silvester Nacht after Saint Sylvester. In Austria, particularly in Vienna there are lots of Sylvester celebrations with balls and concerts. We did not make it into the centre but we did hear and see a lot of fireworks. I was also surprised how many gardens were decorated with gnomes and other Christmas figures.
The highlight of our trip was taking the Postlingberg tram up to the top of a snow covered hill. The Postlingberg Bahn leaves from the main square and climbs up the Postlingberg through woodland to give great views over the city. The return fare is a very reasonable 6 Euros 50 and it is used by locals and tourists. At the top is an interesting church and also more unexpectedly a grotto trail with life size gnomes and dwarves.
We also visited the castle museum and had lunch in the restaurant which overlooks the Danube. The castle museum had a lot of interesting displays about German history and technology though the information was only in German. When we were there they had a special exhibition of Austrian nativity scenes. These can be enormous and depict an entire village.
In 2009 Linz was the European capital of culture and it has a rooftop sculpture trail, a large modern art gallery and an electric arts museum.
Food and drink
Austria is famous for its coffee shops which also serve delicious cakes. The people of Linz claim that Linzertorte is one of the oldest cake recipes in Europe. Normally the top has a pastry lattice but at Christmas special shapes are cut. The food in the restaurants had a very Eastern European feel with a lot of meat, root vegetables and dumplings. Hearty fare ideal for a cold winter. You can also eat in a large variety of international restaurants. Austria and Czechia have the highest beer consumption in Europe.
It snowed heavily the night before we were due to leave Linz. Luckily our taxi driver got us to the airport in good time but we had to wait for four snow ploughs to clear the runway before our plane could take off. Lufthansa gave all the passengers a bar of chocolate when we got on the plane to thank them for their patience.
Anyone who is following this blog knows that I earn some pocket money by mystery shopping. Last week I was asked to go to Wells to buy some chocolate ice cream. My husband came with me and we had a good lunch at the Quarter Jack and visited the first world war exhibition in the museum. We both love Wells so I have written a few notes and taken some photos to encourage you to visit.
Wells is England’s smallest city with only 12,000 inhabitants. It is a very easy bus ride from Bristol or Bath across the Mendips hills. You can also combine a visit to Wells with a trip to Glastonbury, home of the music festival, the Clark’s shopping village in Street or Cheddar caves. The tourist office has a town trail map and this provides a short walking tour of the main attractions. Wells takes its name from a spring in the garden of the bishop’s palace and water from it is still made to flow through the gutters to clean the streets. The Wells tourist website has more information about the city and its history.
Wells is probably best known for its enormous gothic cathedral built between the 12th and the 15th century. It has one of the oldest clocks in England and a chained library. (Think Harry Potter). Admission is by donation and free guided tours are offered every day except Sunday. The city has a famous choir school and choristers sing at many of the services. Also be sure to look out for the resident cathedral cat. More information can be found here Wells cathedral website
The Bishop’s Palace
The bishop’s palace is next to the cathedral and is famous for having its own moat which is home to a family of Swans. For centuries they have rung a bell when they need feeding. Once a year the bishop holds a raft race on the moat. Wells has adopted the swan as its emblem. The palace has been home to the bishop of Bath and Wells for 800 years. It also has a beautiful 14 acre garden and a tea shop I can personally recommend. You can buy tickets from the gift shop. Bishop’s palace website
The cathedral close
This is a beautifully preserved street originally used to house officials from the church. The houses date back to the 14th century and the street is still cobbled.
The last fighting Tommy
Outside the museum is a memorial to Harry Patch the last surviving soldier from world war 1. He died in 2009 at the age of 111 and his funeral in Wells cathedral was televised by the BBC. In later life he became a very fervent pacifist.
Eating, drinking and shopping
Wells has a very busy high street with a variety of shops coffee bars and restaurants to suit all budgets. A farmers market is held twice a week where you can buy a wide variety of West country delicacies including cheddar cheese and Somerset cider. We normally eat in the Quarter Jack (named for the figures who strike the quarter hours on the cathedral clock) which I can recommend for a reasonably priced meal.
The Alhambra is one of the most visited monuments in Spain. It is probably the main reason why most people visit Granada and it has certainly been on my bucket list for quite while. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
So when my son said he would like to visit it I was keen to join him. We had been advised to book tickets online before we flew to Spain to save time. I was surprised how reasonable ticket prices were at between seven and fifteen Euros each. We also booked an English tour and we were very pleased we did. Our guide actually had an M.A. in Islamic studies and was able to translate the classical Arabic inscriptions which decorate the walls. We were given headsets which enabled us to hear her clearly.
If you are visiting the Alhambra you will need to show your passport or identity card. We caught the bus from Malaga which took about two hours and then took a taxi to the Alhambra. I am lucky that my son speaks Spanish and was able to act as our interpreter.
The Alhambra was built between the 11th and 15th century during the Moorish occupation of Spain. The name means the red one and reflects the colour of the local clay. I had not realised quite how big it is. It is a fortress and palace complex covering 35 acres. It was once home to several thousand people including a sizable Jewish population. We did a three hour walking tour and my pedometer recorded almost twenty thousand steps. Yet I still felt I had only seen a small part of it.
The complex evolved organically over time but most of the palaces were built in the 14th century by the Nasrid dynasty. In 1492 the Moslems were defeated by king Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and the Alhambra fell into disrepair. Now Ferdinand and Isabella are probably best known for backing Columbus’s voyage to America and for historians 1492 marks the end of the middle ages.
Our ticket did not include the Nazerini palaces but did include the Generalife gardens. The Generalife palace was used as a summer palace and the gardens are planted with fragrant roses, oranges and jasmine. Like most Arabic gardens they are filled with pools and gentle fountains. Water was suppled by a five mile conduit from the local river.
The Alhambra is on top of a steep hill and we walked through pine woods to reach the top. Although it is in southern Spain it was quite windy and cold at the top and I wished I had worn a coat.
The site has cafes and souvenir shops and for the less adventurous a car and coach park near the entrance.
One thing I was looking forward to when my children grew up was not having to go away during the school holidays. However two of them decided to become teachers. When my son asked if we fancied going to Spain for half term I leapt at the chance. I am pleased to say I have managed to pass on my love of history and languages.
He wanted some late sunshine and suggested a visit to Malaga the southernmost large city in Europe. The southern Coast of Spain is known as the Costa del Sol, sun coast and is only about 80 miles from the north coast of Africa. I had never stayed in that part of Spain but my daughter, my son’s twin, spent three months in Seville working in a primary school as an English language assistant with the Erasmus scheme a couple of years ago. We loved the photos she sent us of Andalucia.
We were able to get a last minute Easy Jet flight from Bristol and my son found an apartment to rent close to the sea.
Malaga is one of the oldest cities in Europe. It was probably founded by the Phoenicians about 700 B.C. and seems to have kept the same name with slightly different spellings for over two thousand years. Now it is the sixth largest city in Spain and the fourth largest in terms of economic activity. It has over six hundred thousand inhabitants. Today Malaga is a large cosmopolitan city with a good public transport network, lots of shops restaurants and best of all a long sandy beach. The cathedral is known as the one armed lady as curiously one tower was never finished. I was surprised at the large number of parks and trees. I think this year has been unusually rainy which meant that everywhere looked very green which I had not been expecting.
Antonio Banderas and Pablo Picasso were both born in the city. The airport is named after Pablo Picasso and there is also a Pablo Picasso Museum.
The centre of the city has remains from the Roman, Arabic and Christian Era.
The city has a Roman amphitheatre which was only rediscovered about a hundred years ago.
The Moors occupied Southern Spain for about 600 years until 1492: The same year as Columbus sailed to America. Malaga was an important city and the Alcazabah (the Kasbah) which was their fort and also the site of a palace for the Nazerini family is very interesting and suprisingingly well preserved with lovely gardens and thick walls. It is surrounded by palm and pine woods.
A combined ticket for the Gibalfaro and the Alkasbah costs about 5 Euros. The Gibalfaro which is higher up the hill can be reached on the city hop on hop off bus or by a steep climb. At the top you are rewarded by beautiful views over the city.
I also learnt a new Spanish word abuelita (little grandma) as I was climbing up but we made it.
A few weeks ago I received an exciting e.mail from Silver travel advisor, a website for the mature traveller. I learnt that I had won a twinkling Thames cruise aboard the paddle steamer Waverley and a night bed and breakfast at the Croydon Hilton in the monthly draw. The prize was provided by Just Go Holidays
PS Waverley claims to be the last ocean going paddle steamer. She was launched in 1946 to take passengers for cruises on the Scottish lochs. Her name comes from a novel by Sir Walter Scott. Originally she was owned by the LNES railway company and provided excursions for rail passengers to Scotland. However these excursions became less popular as more people bought cars and train travel went out of fashion.
PS Waverley is now owned and operated as a charity by a preservation trust who have lovingly restored her. They take her around the British Isles, spending the Spring in Scotland, before moving down to Liverpool and later the West country before sailing on the Thames in the Autumn. My husband sailed on her about fifty years ago when she was much newer but this was my first time on board.
We opted to make our own way to the hotel in Croydon. I had never stayed in a Hilton hotel before as I normally opt for budget travel and was not sure what to expect. The hotel was very good but not as swanky as I expected. I was quite glad I was not spending my own money. Coffee in the bar was £4.00 a cup and wine £8.00 a glass. I was able to catch up with an old school friend who lives in Croydon for coffee before we met the rest of the coach party. We were taken by coach to Graves End where we embarked on PS Waverley for our evening trip up the river Thames to central London
The Thames estuary has been transformed in recent years and is now home to several hundred seals and even this month a beluga whale. I was hoping to see some marine life but was unlucky. We opted to have a meal on board and were able to eat a very good curry while sailing past the docks at Tilbury. We then had a chance to look at the well polished and beautifully maintained engines before going out on deck to listen to a commentary on the sites of London.
I was amazed at the size of the Thames flood barrage and pleased to see Greenwich and the Cutty Sark. We also sailed past the Millenium dome now the O2 arena and Canary wharf. The cruise ended at Tower Pier.
Tower bridge was opened so PS Waverley could sail underneath which made us feel quite important.
After a night at the hotel and a very good full English breakfast we went by coach to central London. We met our son who teaches in London and strolled round Hyde park admiring the variety of bird life including the noisy parakeets, waterfowl and herons. The three of us enjoyed traditional wood cooked Pizza at the Serpentine restaurant which I thoroughly recommend.
If you want to find out more about the river Thames or London I can recommend these two books. (disclosure if you click my links I get a small bonus).