9 Greek Islands – Rhodes

I have written seven books about the history of places I have travelled to.

I travel because my own father always said he would travel after he’d retired, but he never got the chance because he died from cancer when he was 49. I travel for him when I go to places as well as for myself.

If you are interested in history and / or travel then you should check out these books. Please bear in mind the books are travelogues rather than travel guides and so cover the places I visited and the experiences I had. 

Greek Islands

This book keeps it simple and covers nine Greek Islands: Rhodes, Symi, Patmos, Samos, Syros, Paros, Tinos, Delos, and Mykonos. They are all different and all lovely.

This is an excerpt on Rhodes.

Visiting the old town of Rhodes is a memorable experience as there are historical sights from different eras rubbing shoulders with each other at every turn. Most of the old town is medieval and was built in the 14th Century by the Knights Hospitaller. The old town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 and is an incredibly popular place to visit. Indeed, when a cruise ship arrives in the harbour, avoid the main arterial streets, Sokratous and Ippoton, and head south into the warren of cobbled alleys where there are fewer shops and restaurants, and discover the many interesting sights of this area, not all of which are mentioned in guidebooks.

Starting in the north-west of the Old Town, the first major sight the visitor comes across is the Palace of the Grand Masters, which was rebuilt by the Italians after an ammunition explosion destroyed the original building in 1856. The idea was that the reconstructed Palace would be an ideal place for Mussolini to spend time during the summer, but he never came near the place. The outside appearance is true to the original building, as authentic medieval plans were used in the reconstruction, but the same can’t be said for the inside, which was designed to make a Fascist dictator feel at home.

In front of the restored palace, the Street of the Knights heads due eastwards towards the sea. Known as Ippoton, this street housed several of the Inns where the Knights were housed, based on their ethnic and linguistic background. Knights from Provence were based at the Inn of Provence on Ippoton. Also housed on Ippoton were Knights from France at the Inn of France. The Inn of The Auvergne and the Inn of England are found on the street called Appelou, which intersects with Ippoton at the Archaeological Museum.

This Museum is housed in an airy building, formerly the Knight’s Hospital. It’s not hard to like a museum where the staff have gone to the trouble of stacking the cannon balls into pyramids. The main objects of interest, for me at least, mostly dated from the 6th-Century BC. Faience vases in the form of hedgehogs, tweezers and cheese graters, terracotta donkeys, and a faience pendant of a lion, no bigger than a thumbnail. Also of great interest were objects from nearby civilisations including figurines of the Egyptian gods Bes, Thoth, and Horus looking like Aztec gods, bedecked as they were with feathers.      

Travels through History – Northern Spain – Pontevedra

This book is a travelogue about the cities of northern Spain.

I travelled to Valencia, Barcelona, Pamplona, Burgos, San Sebastian, Valladolid, Segovia, Leon, Gijon, Oviedo, Santiago de Compostela, Pontevedra, A Coruna, and Vigo on board the fast, modern trains of the Spanish railways.

Here is an excerpt about Pontevedra:

Pontevedra is well worth a night’s stop if you’re travelling between Santiago de Compostela and Vigo. The main attraction for me was that traffic is banished from most of the city centre. The current mayor first came into office in 1999 and his philosophy was simple: private property – the car – should not occupy the public space.  Within a month, he had pedestrianised all 300,000 square metres of the zona monumental – the medieval centre, paving the streets with granite flagstones.

Cars were stopped from crossing the city and street parking was banned – people looking for places to park causes the most congestion. All surface car parks in the centre were closed and underground ones were opened, with 1,686 free places. Traffic lights were removed in favour of roundabouts, and traffic calming measures were introduced in the outer zones to bring the speed limit down to 30km/h.

The benefits were and continue to be many. 30 people died in traffic accidents from 1996 to 2006, but there have been no fatalities since 2009. CO2 emissions are down 70%. Three-quarters of what were car journeys are now made on foot or by bicycle, and central Pontevedra has gained 12,000 new inhabitants, whereas the tendency in Galicia is for towns to be losing people. Small businesses have managed to stay afloat because passers-by are on foot rather than in cars and so can window shop and pop into a store to make a quick purchase or by an item to drink or eat. I witnessed the same effect in Athens in Greece. People can be more attentive to their surroundings rather than watching out for cars and making sure they don’t bump into other people on the narrow pavement. There’s more room to breathe and the air is less full of pollutants and toxic fumes from stationary vehicles making the atmosphere more pleasant.

Before this scheme came into effect, more cars passed through the city in a day than there were people living there. Now, most people, like me, walk everywhere. This additional exercise will benefit people’s health and I didn’t see very many overweight people during my stay.

Two adjoining squares, the Praza da Peregrina and the Praza da Ferreira are well worth seeing. In the Praza da Peregrina stands the chapel, the Santuario de la Peregrina, for travellers on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The floor plan is in the shape of a scallop shell and the building is built in the Baroque style.

The Praza da Ferreira shows the benefits of the pedestrianisation of the city. There are arcades, cafes, fountains, and gardens that can all be admired in peace along with the facade of the San Francisco church.

The Alameda is a promenade that takes you away from the centre towards the river. There are many splendid buildings here starting with the town hall or Casa Consistorial / Casa do Concello de Pontevedra, the ruins of the San Domingo church, the provincial council building for Pontevedra or the Pazo Provincial, followed by the administrative building for the provincial council or deputación Provincial de Pontevedra. Edificio Administrativo. There is also a statue of Christopher Columbus here. The flagship on his famous 1492 journey to the New World, the Santa Maria, was built in Pontevedra. 

9 Greek Islands – Mykonos

I have written seven books about the history of places I have travelled to.

I travel because my own father always said he would travel after he’d retired, but he never got the chance because he died from cancer when he was 49. I travel for him when I go to places as well as for myself.

If you are interested in history and / or travel then you should check out these books. Please bear in mind the books are travelogues rather than travel guides and so cover the places I visited and the experiences I had. 

Greek Islands

This book keeps it simple and covers nine Greek Islands: Rhodes, Symi, Patmos, Samos, Syros, Paros, Tinos, Delos, and Mykonos. They are all different and all lovely.

This is an excerpt on Mykonos.

It may seem strange to include Mykonos in a book about history, but there’s plenty of things of historical interest to see on this lovely island. In Mykonos town, there’s a Folklore Museum, an Archaeological Museum, and a Maritime Museum. There are the famous windmills and the area known as Little Venice where the houses come right up to the water’s edge. Lena’s House, next to the Maritime Museum, is a completely restored merchant house from over one hundred years ago.

There’s an interesting church called the Paraportiani, which means “Our Lady of the Side Gate” in Greek, as its doorway was found in the side gate of the entrance to the Kastro area. Construction of this church began in 1425, but wasn’t completed until the 17th century. This whitewashed church comprises five separate chapels which have been joined together: four chapels (dedicated to Saints Anargyroi, Anastasia, Eustathios, and Sozon) form the ground floor and the fifth chapel has been built above them.

On the waterfront near the Old Harbour is where you will find the Kazárma building, which provided accommodation for the soldiers of Manto Mavrogenous, a heroine of the Greek Revolution. The first floor served as her personal residence. When the war began, Manto went from Tinos to Mykonos and invited the leaders of the island to join the revolution. She equipped, manned and “privateered” at her own expense, two ships with which she pursued the pirates who attacked Mykonos and other islands of the Cyclades. On 22 October 1822, under her leadership the Mykonians repulsed the Ottoman Turks, who had debarked soldiers onto the island. Manto also equipped 150 men to campaign in the Peloponnese and sent forces and financial support to Samos, when the island was threatened by the Turks. Later, Mavrogenous sent another corps of fifty men to the Peloponnese, who took part in the Siege of Tripolitsa and the fall of the town to the Greek rebels. 

Alefkántra or “Little Venice” is an 18th century district, dominated by grand captains’ mansions with colourful balconies and stylish windows overlooking the waves as they crash onto the shore.  

Bio: I am a writer. I love writing creatively especially about subjects such as British traditions, where my made-up traditions are no less ridiculous than the real thing. A list of my books, both fictional and factual (about travel), can be found here.

Travels through History – Northern Spain – Gijon and Aviles

This book is a travelogue about the cities of northern Spain.

I travelled to Valencia, Barcelona, Pamplona, Burgos, San Sebastian, Valladolid, Segovia, Leon, Gijon, Oviedo, Santiago de Compostela, Pontevedra, A Coruna, and Vigo on board the fast, modern trains of the Spanish railways.

Here is an excerpt about Gijon and Aviles:

I wanted to travel by train from Oviedo to the coastal cities of Gijon and Aviles. I knew there was a railway station in both cities and yet when I looked on the RENFE website there only seemed to be one train per day. This was most odd, so when I arrived at Oviedo bus station, I walked to the train station and checked the timetables. Sure enough, there were trains every 45 minutes between Oviedo and both Aviles and Gijon. I didn’t understand, but then I saw a ticket offering tickets on the local FEVE railway, a service run separately from the RENFE system. Problem solved. The next day, I caught the modern train to Gijon and the following day I went to Aviles.

Gijon is the largest city in Asturias, with over 275,000 inhabitants. A lot of the city was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and there’s a famous story about a colonel in Franco’s forces who ordered his navy to shell the barracks where he was under attack from local miners armed with dynamite. The railway station is about a mile south of the headland called Cimadevilla which juts into the Bay of Biscay. This headland has a narrow neck between the harbour to the West and the Playa de San Lorenzo to the East and most of the interesting sights are in this area.

The Plaza del Marques sits next to the sheltered harbour where the yachts bob up and down on the slight swell. To the landward side, most of the cafes and restaurants in the square have a great view of the Palacio de Revillagigedo, which dominates the square with its mixture of neo-Baroque and neo-Renaissance architectural styles.

Further to the east is the Town Hall, and then the Campo Valdes area with its Roman Baths found when the authorities were attempting to build an underground car park. These ruins are in front of the San Pedro church round the back of which visitors have a great view of the Bay of Biscay. Even in the calmest weather, the waves suffice for paddle-boarders to get some decent exercise, watched by the people on the Playa de San Lorenzo, which stretches for 2km around the city bay from the church. This is the city beach and can become busy at the weekend in the summer.

Just to the west is the Museo Casa Natal de Jovellanos. Gaspar Melchior de Jovellanos was a leading of the Spanish Age of Enlightenment who was born in Gijon in 1744 and in his time was a statesman, author, and philosopher. The Bagpipe Museum is across the Rio Piles from the Estadio El Molinón, or more correctly Estadio El Molinón-Enrique Castro “Quini”, the home ground of Real Sporting de Gijón currently playing in the Spanish second division.

The train journey to Aviles takes a similar length of time as the trip to Gijon. Aviles is much smaller than Gijon but is still well worth a good look around, especially the Centro Oscar Niemayer on a former industrial site on the left bank of the Aviles river. The centre comprises three buildings; A dome, a tower encircled by a staircase and a long curved structure, all of which were intended to do for Aviles what the Guggenheim Museum did for Bilbao. I think it’s fair to say that this has not happened, but I had at least ventured there, though I was the only person looking around on a weekday in September. The centre opened in 2010 and has been in financial trouble during some of its history. Oscar Niemeyer’s vision was based on three themes: education, culture, and peace. Apart from its cultural purposes, the Centre was intended as a catalyst for large-scale urban regeneration that would change the town’s whole waterfront. I thought this hadn’t happened yet.  

9 Greek Islands – Patmos

I have written seven books about the history of places I have travelled to.

I travel because my own father always said he would travel after he’d retired, but he never got the chance because he died from cancer when he was 49. I travel for him when I go to places as well as for myself.

If you are interested in history and / or travel then you should check out these books. Please bear in mind the books are travelogues rather than travel guides and so cover the places I visited and the experiences I had. 

Greek Islands

This book keeps it simple and covers nine Greek Islands: Rhodes, Symi, Patmos, Samos, Syros, Paros, Tinos, Delos, and Mykonos. They are all different and all lovely.

This is an excerpt on Patmos.

I was lucky enough to see a Greek Orthodox service at the Apokalypsis monastery, only attended by local people. If you’re used to Catholic services then the Greek Orthodox version might well seem rather informal. The priest wore a white ‘dress’ decorated with Greek crosses. He had a large, bushy grey beard and hair to match. He spent most of the service in an inner room chanting while two men, members of the congregation not garbed in priestly attire but definitely part of the service, on the opposite side of the inner half of the chapel were counterpoint to his chants. People attending the service had lit candles when coming in to the chapel, but these were replaced every 10 minutes by one of the two men helping to run the service, who would replace each thrown-away candle with a new one. There were a few chairs in the inner part of the chapel and there was no music, the only sounds were the three human voices.

Periodically, worshippers would walk around the icons kissing each one in turn and then either kissing or running their prayer beads over the beaten silver surrounding the two gaps in the rock used by St John. At no time were all the people still. The priest spoke rapidly in a near whisper, his voice carrying around the chapel easily, but there was never any reply from the congregation as a whole, just from the two men. Theirs was the only sound I could hear – there was no noise from outside.

Occasionally, the priest came out of his inner sanctum with a senser full of incense. He lifted this towards the congregation three times and also wafted it out of the window as if in blessing nature. The incense momentarily blurred the icons in my line of sight and my nostrils breathed in the holy smell (some other word!). Some new worshippers prostrated themselves in front of one of the icons whilst others prayed and stayed where they were. There was always movement with people coming in and out of the chapel, lighting candles, praying, kissing icons, and touching the beaten silver. At no time did people talk amongst themselves.

After about an hour the priest gave the sacrament to all those who queued up to receive it. One of the priest’s helpers re-arranged the candles and threw most of them away as they’d almost all burned down to the sand in the container they were standing in. The final act was for the priest to hand out bread to all the worshippers as they were leaving the chapel. He then changed into black attire and strode confidently out of the chapel while listening to half-a-dozen people who were following him. The whole service lasted an hour and 20 minutes. 

Bio: I am a writer. I love writing creatively especially about subjects such as British traditions, where my made-up traditions are no less ridiculous than the real thing. A list of my books, both fictional and factual (about travel), can be found here.

Travels through History – France – Pezenas

Extract from the book ‘Travels through History : France” available here

Pezenas is a wonderful old town in the Languedoc. The town has been in existence since Roman times and became wealthy due to the sale of woollen cloth. In 1456 the States General of Languedoc met here for the first time and then the governors of Languedoc made the town their residence. Pezenas had become an important place in the south of France.

In 1647, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin – better known as Molière – began travelling the Languedoc with the company called “L’Illustre Théâtre”. In 1650, the little company arrived in Pézenas and over three months they entertained the States General of Languedoc. In 1653, the company gained the favour of the Governor of Languedoc, The Prince of Conti. During his stay in the Languedoc and Pézenas,  Moliere was inspired to write some of his most famous plays including Don Juan.

The association of Moliere with Pezenas is reflected in the Scenovision Moliere interactive exhibition in the Hotel Peyrat. Moliere’s life is played out in five different rooms going from the triumphs he had at the court of Louis XIV to the tragedies of the later years when once again he wandered around France, but this time with a theatre company in decline. There is a cutout of Moliere on Place Gambetta sitting along with Boby Lapointe, a Pezenas singer, outside the Tourist Information. Nearby a cat was sitting in a box, looking for all the world as though it had just been delivered as part of a service for locals who wished to rid their house of vermin. The cat eventually stirred and flopped onto a nearby cafe table. The cat stared towards the horizon and completely ignored my attempts to make it purr.  

In Pezenas there is a former Jewish ghetto and the visitor can see the place where the gate was situated which was locked at night to keep the two communities apart. When you see the names of the streets, Porte du Ghetto and Rue de la Juiverie, you will know you are in the right place. It might have been me, but the streets in the ghetto seemed higher and  narrower than in the rest of the town. I then headed through the Porte Faugeres and came across the most marvellous market.

The market stalls were down both sides of Cours Jean Jaures all the way from the War Memorial to Place du Marche des Trois Six. The end of Jean Jaures where I started was mainly cooked meats and cheese, with the stall owner handing out free samples to hungry looking passers-by. Next to the cheese were three vast pans of paella, topped with large prawns, and the owner was shovelling large amounts into plastic containers for eager buyers. Next door the bagette stall was doing a brisk trade with people placing the bread in their rucksacks before cycling home. Someone had placed a table on the pavement and dumped some nice-looking women’s blouses on to it. These were being eagerly sorted by two dozen women looking for a bargain or two. The movement of the ladies around the table was extremely well co-ordinated and I got the impression most of them did this on a regular basis.   

On the other side of the street, the stalls were more handicraft oriented with pots, majolica tiles, and dishes. Then more souvenirs and collectibles became available until at the Place de la Republique the market became all fruit and vegetables with most items such as apples in piles rather than plastic bags. The vegetables had been pulled out of the ground recently – some had been cleaned and some had not – everything shouted “fresh”. In front of the St-Jean church were the snack stalls selling nuts, figs, dates, and dried fruits. On the opposite side was a hat stall with items for every occasion, even for the times when you are carrying your dog around a market, which many people were doing here.  

Travels through History – Northern Spain – Leon and the Holy Grail

This book is a travelogue about the cities of northern Spain.

I travelled to Valencia, Barcelona, Pamplona, Burgos, San Sebastian, Valladolid, Segovia, Leon, Gijon, Oviedo, Santiago de Compostela, Pontevedra, A Coruna, and Vigo on board the fast, modern trains of the Spanish railways.

Here is an excerpt about Leon:

The history of Leon starts with the Reconquest although The Romans had a settlement on the site in the first two centuries after Christ. As the Christian forces pushed the Moors further south, the Asturian king Ordono II moved his capital from Oviedo to Leon in 914. As more territory came under the city’s control, they split its administration between the city of Leon and the county of Castile. In 1035, Castile became a kingdom in its own right, with Burgos as the capital.

Leon is on the Way of St James pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. It is a very popular destination and stopping off point because of the Cathedral, built between 1205 and 1301. The North Tower and the extraordinary cloisters were completed later, in the 14th Century. The cathedral was built on some former Roman baths, built by the Legio VII Gemina, and these baths covered a larger area than the cathedral does.

Before entering the cathedral, I looked at the western facade with its huge Rose Window and two towers. Even from outside there appears to be a lot of windows. It’s interesting to work out where the load bearing of the towers and the detached nave is happening. The flying buttresses are substantial and I could only wonder how the architect had worked out how so much stained glass could be in place in such a large edifice.

Leon Cathedral has between 1,800 and 2,000 square metres of stained glass, depending on which source you trust, an area second only to Chartres cathedral in France. Rich red and gold colours bathe the interior in places. There’s an openness about the place, a strange way to describe the feeling that you can view most of the interior from wherever you are standing.

I would recommend visiting the cloisters as they are beautiful and peaceful. There’s still the hint of some frescoes which show how colourful the decoration must have been when first painted. I also visited the museum of religious art and would recommend this too, but if you have to choose between the two, I’d select the cloisters.     

The other major site of Leon is the Basilica of San Isidoro dating from the mid-12th Century and built into the city walls on its southern side. Before entering look at the two doorways on the western facade, whose reliefs are of the ‘Descent from the Cross’ and the ‘Sacrifice of Abraham’. Above the latter, visitors can spy San Isidoro riding a horse.

Fernando I, who united Leon and Castile in 1037, founded the basilica. It was built to house the bones of San Isidoro and act as a mausoleum for Fernando and his successors. The tombs of eleven kings and twelve queens are in the Panteon Real, a portico of the basilica. They painted Spanish Romanesque frescoes on the walls at the end of the 12th Century. A Christ Pantocrator in the dome and an agricultural calendar on an arch are still visible. A highlight of any tour of the treasury at the basilica is the Chalice of Doña Urraca, a jewel-encrusted onyx chalice which is alleged by some people to be The Holy Grail. The cup belonged to Urraca of Zamora, daughter of Ferdinand I of Leon, and has been in Leon since the 11th Century.

In March 2014, a book was published called The Kings of the Grail. This book claims the chalice, or part of the chalice, is the Holy Grail, and this led basilica staff to withdraw the chalice from display, because the crowds seeking to visit the museum were too large for the treasury to accommodate. The museum now displays the chalice in a separate room in the tower next to the old library at the very end of the guided tour of the Basilica Treasury. The room is not open to individual travellers.

The authors, Margarita Torres and José Ortega del Rio, claim they had traced the origins of the chalice to the early Christian communities of Jerusalem. Some recently discovered papers in a Cairo archive provided this information. The chalice was transported to Cairo by Muslim travellers and was later given to an emir on the Spanish coast. From there, the chalice came into the possession of King Ferdinand I of Leon, father of Urraca of Zamora, as a peace offering by a Moorish ruler from Al-Andalus. The dating suggests the chalice was made between 200 BC and 100 AD. Salah al-Din, known in the West as Saladin, was the main opponent of the crusaders in The Third Crusade. When his sister fell ill, he requested a piece of the grail be cut off and sent to him, so it would cure his sister, which it duly did. 

There’s plenty of sights outdoors in Leon. The train station is due west of the old city just over the River Bernesga. When you arrive in Leon station, it’s slightly confusing as the station is a terminus, so even long-distance trains from Barcelona / Irun / Bilbao heading to Galicia go out of the station the same way they came in, rather than going straight through.

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