Wednesday September 29 2021, evening – We’d just got to the point where we were on our way out for an evening meal at the Moli des Comte; this place.
On the way there, I took the opportunity for a few more photos of Ciutadella in the late afternoon light.
The Municipal Market was a nice source of cityscape-type shots.
We got to the Moli in time for a gin (OK, two) before we ate – in typical Spanish style, the earliest time that dinner was served was 8pm. The inside of the place is delightful
and I don’t feel I can explain its story any better than its menu does:
As we got towards 8pm, more and more people were congregating, obviously also expecting to get a table at 8pm. At about 19:59:30, all of a sudden there was a concerted rush for the restaurant area, and I have to confess that Jane and I were caught slightly on the back foot, to the extent that several people got there before we did. However, it did seem that they’d been expecting this rush and so they got everyone seated and menued very quickly. In fact, the whole thing was very quick – too quick, actually. We took our seats at 8pm, had starters, main course and coffee – and were back out on the street before 9pm. The food was very good, but an extra few minutes to appreciate the experience would have improved it enormously. It’s not as if they were packed out or anything; they just got on with it very swiftly. This is a bit of a shame.
However, our mild discomfiture is to your advantage, because it meant we had to wander about the city whilst the meal settled. So, guess what? Yep, lots more photos, you lucky people, and actually the first set of night photos of Ciutadella I’ve taken. It was very interesting, seeing it during the evening and picking up the various vibes. Unsurprisingly, it looks good at night.
and there’s a lively vibe at just a few seconds after 9pm(!) The central square was, as one would expect, very animated,
and the Municipal Market was a happening place
and it was here that we noticed that a lot of places had queues of people waiting for a table. Given the apparently almost limitless supply of places to eat – they put tables out everywhere –
it was a bit of a surprise to find some places with significant queues and busy tables
and others almost bereft of customers.
Our favourite fish place, S’Amarador, was, unsurprisingly, very busy.
So we completed our paseo and headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow is the day for our journey home. I will report on it, particularly if there’s any excitement about getting into the country or, indeed, getting home from the airport given difficulties finding fuel, etc. So stay tuned and find out how it all ended up.
Tuesday 13th July 2021. Today was departure day, with all of the old familiarities of international travel subsumed by the strangeness and uncertainties imposed by the pandemic. Our departure was not until 4pm, so at least we could do something we are used to doing, which was to wander the streets of a town exploring as we went. The area of Reykjavik around our hotel is full of lovely little architectural touches, as well as homicidal people on rented electric scooters, and it repays rambling around. In many places, the actual streets are decorated.
and there’s the longest hopscotch track [Jeremy Clarkson Voice ON] in the world [Jeremy Clarkson Voice OFF].
Many of the buildings have some quite extravagant art on them.
And the touches of colour are not only for the traditionally-architected buildings
but can also be found among the more modern ones.
At one stage we stopped for a coffee, in, as it happens, the bar out of which we got chucked at closing time yesterday.
At that point we were en route from the downtown area which contains both the Lutheran cathedral (which, while attractive enough, is, well, just a church really, and hardly Interesting at all)
and the Roman Catholic cathedral (the Church of Christ the King, an altogether much grander affair, unsurprisingly)
in our search for the final Interesting Church of the holiday, which we’d espied as we scurried to and from our Covid test.
This is Háteigskirkja, which as far as I can tell is a non-denominational church. Its website modestly refrains from conveying very much useful information about it, which is a shame, because it’s a striking building; and as the door was open (unusually in our experience of Iceland’s Interesting Churches) we ventured in to find some lovely mosaics inside.
Climbing the stairs to the gallery level we noticed yet more stairs continuing up… the place was deserted so of course we climbed them, eventually arriving at a final workman’s stair up to an open trapdoor… Well, what is a photographer to do when faced with an open trapdoor? Thus we clambered out into one of the bell towers.
When we did this, it was about five to midday and I wasn’t going to hang about trying for artistic images just in case these bells were attached to a clock – so we scarpered back the way we had come!
On the way back to our hotel, we caught a glimpse of the back end of Hallgrímskirkja, the “Space Shuttle” church.
I was quite glad to get that picture, as it’s very difficult to do it from near the church itself.
And that was the end of our wandering around Reykjavik, as it was time to collect our bags and hope that the taxi would arrive that Dagur had promised us would take us to the airport. Arrive it did, bang on time, with a very large and friendly chap driving it. He whisked us off to the airport where we went through the various formalities of providing the necessary documentation to prove we weren’t currently plague-ridden. As we approached the security check, I realised that I still had my penknife with me; I usually remember to pack it in my hold luggage, as the security bods don’t generally like people carrying them on to aeroplanes. Since this was a Swiss Army knife – not a huge one, but even the small ones are ridiculously expensive to replace – I decided to ask the security chap if there was any way I could take it through. Rather to my surprise, he said it was OK, which was nice of him.
Covid paperwork – and the necessity to wear a mask – aside, the departure process was exactly like it always was, though I suppose the airport was less crowded than it might have been. After a mask-free fortnight, this was not particularly welcome, but it shows that care is still needed.
We treated ourselves to a coffee and a toastie, and boarded the plane, which was only a few minutes delayed. Much to my surprise, the WiFi on board was free, so I took the opportunity to update this blog as far as I had time to do (you’ll have inferred that this didn’t include today’s entry), and took advantage of some sustenance to fuel the creative juices.
(That wasn’t all me – Jane decided she had to provide moral support.)
Arrival at Heathrow was on the original schedule, and we took the usual half-mile walk to get to the border checks, wondering if there was a horror story about to unfold, having heard tales of six-hour delays and horrendous queues. Much to our surprise, everything was very swift. We had all the right paperwork, we whizzed through the border checks, our bags came out pretty fast and our taxi was very nearly awaiting us, we got through so quickly – Heathrow Terminal 2 was very, very quiet. From touch down to getting the kettle on at home took barely over an hour and a quarter.
And so we reach the end of our adventure into a really unusual place. Iceland is a remarkable destination, even if you only stay and do the tourist bit in the south; but having seen most of the accessible areas of the island, with, in Dagur, a guide who knows his way around and could make sure we saw things of interest to us, made our time there even more impactful. And we’ve covered a lot of ground:
The middle bit is only accessible with courage and a backup car, but looking at that summary I can understand why our brains were full of the sights, sounds and smells of the country. It’s been a fantastic fortnight, and we’ve loved the place. We Will Be Back, as it will be interesting to see what the place is like in Winter (apart from just cold, of course). I’ll do a further blog post with some general summary-type thoughts about Iceland, and so maybe you’d like to come back in a couple of days to take a look; it will be our opportunity to round off what’s been an extraordinary holiday in a really unusual country.
September 27th. Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike meeting an old friend, we returned to Split which (the observant among my readers will have noticed) we visited in the first week of our time in Croatia. I had expected the second visit to be more or less a re-run of the first only in cooler temperatures, but it didn’t actually work out like that.
Although the sun was shining and the visibility was good, the approach to Split from the sea was not as good a photo opportunity as I had expected. It’s Croatia’s second-largest city (behind the capital, Zagreb) and is clearly a huge tourist destination, which we could infer from the large cruise ships parked at the edge of the harbour. And the city sprawls to east and west and so is difficult to capture in a single photo. You can get some nice shots on the approach, but only by zooming in to cut out, as far as possible, undesirable elements. Bits of it look nice
but even in the shot above, you see a few modern and less attractive apartment blocks. The bell-tower in the Diocletian Palace is a clear landmark.
We arrived in Split just before lunchtime, and tied up to the south-west of the city for lunch and an instructive lecture from Filip about: times Roman from 1st to 4th Century AD (up to the time of Diocletian, of course); the growth of both Eastern and Western Roman Empire under Trajan; the military prowess of Diocletian (which established him as #3 in the all-time hit parade of Roman emperors); his setting up of a tetrarchy; and the length of his rule – nearly 20 years, which was a long time to survive as an emperor – before he retired (the only Roman emperor to do so) to the palace he had built in Split (believed to have been his birthplace).
We disembarked at around 1.30 to gather for our walk to and around Split, and were approached by a tall, extravagantly made-up, dubiously blonde woman who waltzed up and said “hello”, in a very deep voice. I was about to tell her that whatever it was that she wanted to sell us was something we weren’t interested in when she was greeted warmly by both Filip and Tom, our captain. So it turned out that she (Stella) was to be our guide, so I’m glad I didn’t say anything, particularly as she was bigger than me.
As we walked into Split, we actually saw our first – and only – Dalmatian dog!
(well-spotted by Jane). We gathered around the bronze model of what the powers that be thought that the Roman palace probably looked like, before entering the palace by the south gate, as we had the previous week. But instead of carrying straight on as we had before, we turned left and went much deeper into what was the basement part of the palace. The skill of the builders in designing and constructing arches, vaults and ceilings was apparent
as was the scope of the archaeological excavation – the entire basement had been largely used as a rubbish dump in medieval times and it takes a long time to excavate and restore such large spaces.
Some interesting things have been found, such as a thousand year old cedar timber
and in the back of the chamber, some workings have been left which give some idea of how awkward the excavation must have been.
Here’s a close-up of the compacted rubbish of ages.
Some glimpses of the upper levels can be caught – for example this view of some bottles in a cafe somewhere above us.
After wandering round in the basement levels, we finally emerged, blinking, into the above-ground levels of the palace. Diocletian (much to the fury of Rome) gradually adopted the Egyptian attitude to ruling which basically involved asserting his godhood; to bolster his claim he brought several sphinxes and many porphyry columns from Egypt which was then under his control. The largest surviving sphinx is on display in the main palace courtyard
and is reportedly some 3,600 years old.
After a coffee break, and some delicious ice-cream (the ricotta-and-fig combo went down a storm with most of our group members trying it), we then went to the temple of Jupiter, which is adorned with the work of Roman sculptors who used a new technique of fast drilling, thus enabling greater intricacy among the detail work.
We also visited the cathedral, essentially a re-purposing of Diocletian’s mausoleum (ironic as he was notorious for his persecution of Christians) which is decorated in real religious bling.
Running around the top of the mausoleum is a carved mural depicting various scenes of Roman life, including hunting.
The story goes that Diocletian received a prophecy that if he killed a boar, he would become emperor, and that this gave him the idea to kill his predecessor, whose name was the Latin for “boar”; perhaps this carving is Diocletian justifying his actions? As in so many cases, “no-one knows” the exact truth and there is much speculation about the details of history of this time, as indeed there is about what the basement areas of the palace were used for.
Modern, historical and Roman life come together in a shop just off the main square.
Here you see: a part of the drainage (sewerage?) system of the original Roman palace, preserved under glass within an upmarket scarf shop (similarly, next door is a bank where the PCs and desks of today’s office are set among the pillars of the ancient Roman palace). Filip also explained that in the times of Louis XIV, the Sun King, Croatian mercenaries in France wore distinctive cloth around their necks to identify them, in a style called “à la Cravate” – a description and appearance which has given the name “cravat” to today’s posh neckwear.
Before we left the palace for a final stroll round Split, we were treated to a small snatch of “Klapa” – traditional Dalmatian singing – in the vestibule of the palace courtyard.
After that, Jane and I made our way back up to the terrace we had visited the week before, in the expectation of getting a much improved view over Split, It was certainly clearer and the afternoon light looked good over the city, but it wasn’t quite the spectacular photo opportunity I had expected. Still, not too bad a view.
In the evening we took a longish walk around the harbour and into the 19th-century back streets of Split to a restaurant called “Ostarija U Vidjakovi”, where we were treated to a traditional Croatian dish called “pasticada” – very tender beef, which had been marinated and then slow-cooked in a rich sauce, served with gnocchi. This was extremely tasty, and very filling, so we were glad for the 25-minute walk back to the boat to settle the meal down before retiring for the night.
The morrow held out the prospect of visiting an old town called Trogir. This had not been on the original itinerary, but because of the vagaries of the weather during the week, we now had the luxury of the extra time to visit it. So, I’ll describe how that went in the next entry. I’m quite looking forward to reading it, myself….