11/12/13

Pendle Hill for the Bone Idle.

trig point, pendle hill, lancashireTrig point at Pendle Hill.

Pendle Hill in East Lancashire is a great big sheep-strewn lump of a thing.   If it were 53m higher it would be a mountain but it’s not so it has to be content with being everybody’s favourite whale-shaped hill for the rest of its life.

Any local can tell you about the Pendle Witch trials of the early 1600s.  Twenty people, mostly women, were hauled off to Lancaster and tried for witchcraft.  Four were acquitted and the rest were hanged. Continue reading

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10/7/13

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery, Germany.

The exuberant paintings of the East Side Gallery, Berlin are often provocative, sometimes poke fun and often depict the dark side of the Communist regime.

The gallery sits on the banks of the River Spree in former East Berlin.   The ‘canvas’ is a 1.3km length of the Berlin Wall, one of the few remaining sections still standing. The gallery was founded in 1990, the year after the Wall came down, and features over 100 paintings from artists all over the world.

Naturally the Wall was loathed by the people of East Berlin; it was vandalised and scrawled with graffiti during the Communist era but the East Side Gallery, with its collection of bright paintings is a physical reminder of the regime that divided families and pulled friendships apart.

One of the most famous paintins is by Dmitri Vrubel of a kiss between Brezhnev, former Soviet leader and Honecker, former GDR leader.  The caption translates as My God, help me to survive this deadly love. 

the kiss, east side gallery, berlin wall, germany Continue reading

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10/4/13

The Ampelmann – East German Traffic Light Man

I was delighted by the Ampelmann, East German traffic light man, when I visited East Berlin in 1987, during the Communist era.

His jaunty hat looked in danger of slipping off in his feverish determination to get to the other side of the road, causing me to spend an unhealthy amount of time pondering the artistic merit of our traffic light designers in the UK.

I was back in Berlin last summer and thrilled to see the lively Ampelmann was still there, encouraging everybody to either march across roads or stand with our arms outstretched on the corner.       green ampleman east german traffic light man

The Ampelmann is a much-loved, very familiar symbol of the former GDR and he still stands (or marches)  happily on across roads in Eastern Germany today.  But his life wasn’t always so carefree.

He was conceived as a child-friendly traffic light by Karl Peglau who felt that humans, especially children, would respond more quickly to an image than to a changing light so his secretary, Anneliese Wegner, designed the two Ampelmannchen. Continue reading

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09/27/13

Rocking the Campanile,San Giorgio Maggiore Island,Venice

Top of the Campanile, San Giorgio Maggiore Island, Venice

At the top of the Campanile, San Giorgio Maggiore Island, Venice, you will find fresh air, fabulous views and a peaceful retreat from the sweaty throngs of the mainland below.

The tiny island of San Giorgio is just a short hop on the vaporetto (water bus) from San Marco. In the 10th century the marshy land was drained and the island given over to a Benedictine monastery which became one of the most wealthy and influential monasteries in the world until it was flattened by an earthquake in 1223.

No matter. After a quick rebuild, it was business as usual until the Republic of Venice was dissolved and the monks were kicked out.  It became a free port and the city’s artillery was later stored there. Now the monastery is back, together with an arts centre, open air theatre and a perpetual dribble of Venice-fatigued tourists in search of respite. Continue reading

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09/27/13

Tried & Convicted.Bridge of Sighs, Venice.

The Bridge of Sighs links the Doge’s Palace and prison.  Hapless convicts were bundled straight from the court, across the bridge, to the prison which is why the limestone palace on the right gleams prettily in the sunlight while the prison on the left of the canal looks, well, like a prison, I suppose.

The Bridge of Sighs is carved from limestone, was built in 1602 and links the two buildings high above the water. No getting out of that one then.

gondolier and bridge of sighs, venice

This gondolier seems quite unconcerned by the contrast between the gleaming palace on the right and the grotty prison on the left.

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09/12/13

Island Hopping in Venice – Torcello.

‘Torcello’ means ‘tower and sky’ but I thought it sounded like something you could eat or drink that was both sweet and delicious, possibly alcoholic. Bearing this in mind, and as it’s only a short hop on the vaporetto (water bus)  from Burano, it would have been just plain rude not to visit.

canal on torcello island, venice, italy

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07/20/12

In Berlin with a map, a camera and a new man.

Easyjetting to Berlin on Monday.

I’m taking my new camera. Am also taking my new man.

I will do my best not to break or lose either of them.

I have instructions for the camera, a map for Berlin but no instructions or map for my new man.

However I am still confident about finding my way around all three.

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06/19/12

Foraging in the Fish Market, Catania, Sicily – Italy.

I had a fun rummage round the fish displays in the morning fish market in Catania, Sicily.  The wares ranged from beautiful to creepy to ‘orrible.

The creatures aren’t labelled because I don’t know what most of them are. Apart from the humans. And they don’t need labelling because it’s obvious which they are – they’re the ones with legs who aren’t dead.

shellfish catania fish market sicilysilver fish, catania fish market, sicily, italy Continue reading

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03/13/12

The KGB, the exploding purse & The Hotel Viru, Tallinn.

Absolute top of the list of things to do in Tallinn is the KGB Museum at the Hotel Viru. Our guide, Jana,  was vivacious, animated and bursting with amusing stories about The Hotel Viru and its history.

It was built in 1972, to bring much needed tourist revenue into Estonia.  It’s bright and cheerful inside now but originally the decor was dark and gloomy, even a bit scary, with that typically Soviet, austere-but-trying-to-be-grand look about it.

Finland had a job shortage at the time and the Soviets wanted some of their oil so they did a deal and Finnish workers built the hotel which is why it took two years to build, instead of 7 or 8.

There was a three week gap between hotel completion and opening. Very handy. Gave the KGB time to get in there and install their radio equipment  and bugging devices on the 23rd floor –  the floor that didn’t officially exist. Although every so often, somebody would helpfully write next to the buttons in the lift, ’23rd floor – KGB’ and a cleaner would be sent to scrub it off, pronto.

The public lift stopped at the 22nd floor then a secret stairway went to the non-existent 23rd floor where there was a sign on the door saying ‘Nothing in here.’  One employee did wander into the surveillance room by mistake and found himself looking at the business end of a gun. ‘Oh hi guys, what are you listening to? Anything good?’ probably wouldn’t have been what he said to the men with the head phones.

kgb phone, hotel viru, estonia

KGB office and telephones. The red one didn’t need a dial. It went straight through to Moscow.

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