Category Archives: Travelling

Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. D-Day.

Today, June 6th, we commemorate the anniversary of the Normandy landings during World War II in 1944, what is often referred to as D-Day.

A few weeks ago, we visited “Omaha beach“, one of the beaches where Americans landed, which you may have seen as, along with many documentaries, it was staged in the film “Saving Private Ryan“. The beach is about 6 kilometres long and extends through different villages. And it is not the only beach where Allied forces landed, as there were Americans landing at Utah beach as well, together with British landing at Sword and Gold beaches, more to the East, and Canadians at Juno beach.

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The Germans had fortified the hills, built barracks, installed obstacles in the beach and planted thousands of mines.

The landings, part of the Operation Overlord, code named Neptune, started at 6:30am, and they continued for weeks. Just on D-Day Allied forces counted 10,000 casualties with over 4,000 confirmed dead, with similar figures in the German side.

After the first days, a bridge, “Mulberry” was built to offload vehicles from boats coming from the United Kingdom. Some days during the summer up to 24,000 men or 3,000 vehicles crossed that bridge. An aerodrome was built uphill to evacuate the injured. The original bridge was brought down in the following winter by strong sea tides. Today a relic has been built, with some of the original concrete blocks visible in low tide.

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Today, there are several monuments along the beach, one of them Les Braves Omaha Beach Memorial. It is a sculpture that symbolizes wings of hope, freedom, fraternity.

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In front of it there is a monument to the 1st US Infantry Division. It has the following inscription engraved in it:

No mission too difficult.

No sacrifice too great. Duty first.

Forced Omaha beach at dawn 6 June.

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By the monument visitors leave candles, flowers and some written notes. Most of them stand by in silence watching the vastness of the beach, thinking of the sheer numbers of people involved in the operation and what awaited them, praying for their lost ones. Occasionally a bus comes with veterans, relatives of soldiers who fought there, you name it, and trumpet plays Taps.

Nearby, a panel reminds the lyrics of the song “Remember Omaha” by Jean Goujon.

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Château de Chenonceau

During our last Christmas road trip, we made a stop by the Château de Chenonceau, one of those castles of the Loire valley that stands out among the rest and which we had wanted to visit it on ground since we flew over it in 2015.

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As the brochure of the visit tells, and the different panels along the rooms and corridors let you grasp, the Château de Chenonceau is a Ladies’ castle, due to the several women that left a mark in its configuration and history.

The first castle did not cross the river Cher, and was located at the small island between the gardens, where today stands alone the Marques tower (see the aerial view below), built after the castle was burnt down to punish the Marques family, the first proprietors of the castle.

The Marques family facing problems, the chamberlain of the king, Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briçonnet, maneuvered to get in possession of the castle, which they started to rebuild to their taste, used if to host French nobility and to project an image of themselves.

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They adopted common initials (TBK) that they displayed around the castle.

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They created an aspirational personal motto while building the castle: “S’il vient à point, me souviendra” (i.e. if I get to the end of this construction, I will be remembered).

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Years later, in 1535, being the castle in possession of Bohier’s son, it was taken by the king Francis I (to cancel out unpaid debts). After his death, his son, king Henri II gave it as a present to his mistress Diane de Poitiers in 1547. It was Diane who built the bridge to join the castle with the opposite river bank, and it was that move that started to make it unique.

At the death of Henri II, her widow, Catherine de Medici, forced Diane to exchange Chenonceau for another castle, the Château Chaumont, and made Chenonceau her favourite residence and a place full of intrigues for the years to come. She closed the bridge into a gallery (multi-storied), she added several rooms and bedrooms, made gardens more magnificent, gathered art collections and hosted parties.

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Ever since, the castle was to be linked to French royal family and later French nobility. There is a telling name of the power of the running family, that of the “Five Queens’ Bedroom“, named after Catherine de Medici’s two daughters and three daughters-in-law:

  • Daughters: Queen Margot (wife of Henri IV), Elizabeth of France (wife of Philippe II of Spain),
  • Daughters-in-law: Mary Stuart (wife of Francois II), Elisabeth of Austria (wife of Charles IX) and Louise of Lorraine (wife of Henri III).

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Once a widow, after her husband was assassinated, Louise of Lorraine, would retire herself to pray at the castle. A room would be decorated in black, being that another of the landmarks of the castle, under restoration at the time of our visit, though.

Further women would contribute to the enlightenment of the castle in the following centuries, renovating it, bringing in artists and writers such as Montesquieu, Voltaire or Rousseau. It even played the role of hospital where over 2,000 injured were attended during Second World War.

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Belén Monumental de San Lorenzo del Escorial

La semana pasada aprovechamos nuestra estancia en Madrid para acercarnos a San Lorenzo del Escorial para pasear con los niños.

En fechas navideñas el Escorial cuenta no sólo con el impresionante monasterio y su lonja como atractivos para dar un paseo, sino con el tradicional Belén Monumental realizado por los voluntarios de Mariano Pardo, “Pardito”, que llevan 21 años realizando dicho Belén, y que forma ya parte del folclore cultural de la Sierra en estas fechas.

En esta entrada quería dejar una serie de fotos de la visita.

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Fachada oeste del monasterio.

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Nacimiento.

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¿Herodes?

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Soldados romanos.

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Gladiadores.

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Biga.

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Río, molino, patos…

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Poblado.

 

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Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau

A few days ago, we visited the villages of Baarle-Hertog (Belgium) and Baarle-Nassau (The Netherlands). I tweeted a short thread about it that you can see below:

Briefly:

  • The village is divided between Belgian and Dutch exclaves in a very intricate border, including several exclaves which are no more than a few houses or a farm. The Belgian part of the village itself is an exclave in The Netherlands, a few kilometres from the border (such as Llivia from Spain within France, or Treviño of Castile within the Basque country in Spain).
  • The borders were defined in the Maastricht Treaty in 1843. In 1995 a commission clarified the borders.
  • There are marks in the ground that show where the border goes, indicating which side belongs to which country. The panels of the streets or the numbering of the houses also help you to locate where you are.
  • There is a bike route which takes you through the different border lines.

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Once I tweeted that thread, the beauty of Twitter made it that a friend, Miguel, referred me to a series of posts about that village written by the blogger Diego González who hosts a blog about borders.

On top of that, I had taken the idea to visit that village from yet another retweet from another friend, Pablo.

You can see in that tweet below the different posts (in Spanish).

 

 

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Kilkenny

Kilkenny is a small town of about 24,000 inhabitants by the river Nore in the province of Leinster. The city is best known by its Castle, built by William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke (Wales), at the turn of the XII to XIII centuries on the location of a previous fortification built by his father-in-law Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (of the 1st earldom creation), better known as Strongbow, one of the leaders of the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1170.

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The castle was later purchased by James Butler (3rd Earl of Ormond) in 1391 and would be the Butler’s family main residence for the following 6 centuries, until they left it in 1935 and in 1967 was sold to the municipality for 50 pounds.

The castle went under a strong restoration which sought to re-build most of the rooms to what they would have looked like at some points in their history. Today, the castle is open for visits. At the basement, the foundations from the XIII are still visible; other than that, the castle resembles more a XIX century palace, with dining rooms, halls, a library, a “Chinese” room and the large picture gallery with its wooden ceiling, fire place with marble from Carrara, etc.

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Picture gallery.

From the visit, I took the following takeaways more or less linked to Spain:

  • The “Moorish” staircase, created by the architects Deane and Woodward, which resembles very much to the style seen at constructions in Cordoba, Sevilla or Granada.

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  • The tapestries. Several tapestries, located at the tapestry room and at the picture gallery, show the story of Decius Mus, a Roman consul in 340 BC who sacrificed himself through the ritual of devotio to allow for the victory of his army at the battle of Vesuvius. After 300 years in display, the tapestries needed to go through some conservation work, which was entrusted to the Real Fabrica de Tapices in Madrid.dsc02336
  • The Butler gallery at the basement of the castle offers space to contemporary art. In it there is a collection of the posters of some prominent artists for whom an exhibition was organized, one of them the Spanish Antoni Tapies, in 1992.

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Other than the castle, another highlight of Kilkenny is St. Canice’s Cathedral, the second largest in Ireland, after St. Patrick’s in Dublin. It was built in the XIII century at the location where St. Canice had built a small monastery back in the VI century. The cathedral has a typically Irish round tower, with the uniqueness that this is one of the only two in the country that can be climbed to the top.

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Some of the main attractions that can be found inside the cathedral are several tombs of the Butler family, an archive with the names of all the Irish who lost their lives in the World War I, or the stone throne of St. Kieran.

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Kilkenny was as well for a decade, 1642-1652, the seat of the Irish Catholic Confederation, or the “Confederation of Kilkenny”, which following the Rebellion of 1641, established itself as a self-government, until the conquest of Ireland by Oliver Cromwell (1649-1653).

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Stone marking the place were the Confederation Hall stood.

During the visit, after having walked through the lively High, Parliament and St. Kieran streets, I went to look for Tynan’s Bridge House, a pub established in 1703 where I wanted to have taken a beer. I found the pub, but closed.

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… and talking about beer, it is in Kilkenny that the beer Smithwick’s is brewed and the brewery can be visited, though I didn’t. Smithwick’s was acquired by Guinness in 1965. We visited Guinness brewery in Dublin some days later (I may write about it one day), which is a giant museum but lacks the artisanal touch that I experienced when visiting Bowmore whisky distillery in Sctoland. I wonder whether at Smithwick’s that would have also been the case.

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Nore river.

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Black Gate.

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Rock of Cashel

Cashel is a small town of about 4,000 inhabitants, in the county of Tipperary, on the way from Kilkenny to Limerick, which is dominated by the Rock of Cashel, a eclesiastical site on the top of a hill which was once the seat of the over kings of Munster, ever since the Eóganacht, the descendants of Eógan Mor came to prominence around the 4-5th centuries AD.

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Conall Corc, a descendant of Eógan Mor, is said to be the founder of the Cashel kingship and according to the tradition St. Patrick baptised the grandsons of Conall Corc at Cashel in the 5th century AD.

Replica of St. Patrick's Cross.

Replica of St. Patrick’s Cross.

Today, the Rock of Cashel is a historical site that can be visited in about an hour. The entrance is 7 euros (free if your B&B happens to have a voucher, ask for it).

The main historical constructions remaining are the round tower (from c. 1100), Cormac’s chapel (consecrated in 1134, though at the time of my visit it was under restoration and not open for visit), the Cathedral (from 1270), St. Patrick’s Cross (from 12th century) and a replica of it in the garden, and the Hall of the Vicars Choral (from the 15th century).

Original St. Patrick's Cross.

Original St. Patrick’s Cross.

Round Tower.

Round Tower.

Cathedral.

Cathedral.

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The views of the surroundings from the Rock are impressive, as impressive is the view of the Rock as one approaches it from the bottom of the village, especially from the “Path of the Dead” connecting the Rock with the R505 road at the south-west of the hill. I discovered this path during my early morning run before sunrise, this allowed me to enjoy the view of the Rock with the first rays of light of the morning sun. A nice experience.

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Finally, another highlight that I wanted to have visited in Cashel was the Bolton Library collected by the archbishop Theophilus Bolton from 1730 to 1744. The library was recommended in the guide and according to a local brochure was the finest outside of Dublin, including works by Swift,  Dante, Calvin, Erasmus, or Machiavelli. The pity is that since a couple of years ago the library is not anymore housed in Cashel, as the building didn’t meet the best conditions for the preservation of the books. Today the books are conserved at the University of Limerick.

Bolton Library.

Bolton Library.

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Glendalough

The first stop I made in my trip to Ireland last week was to visit Glendalough (Gleann Dá Loch, meaning “Valley of two lakes”), in the county of Wicklow, where there is a monastic settlement dating from the Middle Ages, when it was founded by St. Kevin.

The entry to the settlement it’s free and several routes are proposed to visit the place including some walking trails (from 1 to 11 km) around the lower and upper lakes.

Some structures from the X to the XIII centuries remain today, such as the Gateway (unique in Ireland due to its two stories and double arch), the Round Tower (with over 30 m of height and an entrance at 3 m to protect it in case of attack), and the Cathedral.

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Gateway

Round Tower

Round Tower

Cathedral of St. Peter and St Paul.

Cathedral of St. Peter and St Paul.

On the way to the upper lake, it is found the Deer Stone (where St Kevin would have fed some infants with milk from wild a deer), St. Kevin’s Cell (small circular structure where he retired to pray and meditate) and Reefert Church (Righ Fearta, the “burial place of the kings”, where members of the once important O’Toole family would have been buried).

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Deer Stone.

Lower lake.

Lower lake.

St. Kevin's Cell.

St. Kevin’s Cell.

Reefert Church.

Reefert Church.

Reefert Church.

Reefert Church.

Upper lake.

Upper lake.

Leaving on my way to Kilkenny, I still had time to enjoy the views of the valley and find some other ruined churches along St. Kevin’s Way, a pilgrim path that starts at Hollywood and crosses the Wicklow Gap to arrive at Glendalough.

Wicklow Gap.

Wicklow Gap.

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The previous night I stayed at the Trooperstown Wood Lodge just a few kilometres from the monastic site and more than recommended. The lodge is run by the same people who manage a nearby restaurant, The Wicklow Heather, which not only serves great food and has a good atmosphere but it’s decorated around Irish literature, especially its “Writers Room”, where customers may discover some of Irish authors and its writings.

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In the morning I went for a short run from the lodge across the river and nearby forest, in the southern part of the Wicklow Mountains. Thus, you can imagine that the complete experience was wonderful and I can only recommend to visit the place.

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