Lisbon – Westward Ho to Belem

Some of Lisbon’s most popular and iconic tourist attractions are in its western suburb of Belem.

Dragon Gargoyle, Mostereiro dos Jeronimos

Dragon Gargoyle, Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

So day two of our Lisbon adventure took us down to Cais do Sodre station where we boarded the train to Belem (and yes it was included on our Lisbon Card Huzzah!). Now before we left the UK we had been given lots of recommendations about the most important thing to do there and it had nothing to do with the region’s history.

Custard tarts and samozas at Pasteis de Belem

Custard tarts and samosas at Pasteis de Belem

No it was cakes. Pasteis de Belem (Rua de Belem) looks like a small pastry shop from the outside, but inside it opens out into a vast cavern of blue tiled dining rooms where locals jostle with tourists for tables. Even at 10am it was packed, but we managed to get a table and were soon tucking in to spicy samosas (a legacy of Portugal’s Indian colony at Goa I imagine) and exquisitely gooey custard tarts with excellent coffee (have to say we never had a bad cup of coffee in Lisbon) and a half bottle of wine. Considering there were four of us the bill came to a crazy €16, how brilliant is that?

Gimme Cakes - Pasteis de Belem

Gimme Cakes – Pasteis de Belem

Suitably fortified we went to explore the Jardim Botanico Tropical. These splendidly decayed botanical gardens were not included on our Lisbon Cards so we had to fork out €2 to get in and explore the themed areas based upon Portugal’s colonial past. Despite the run down appearance of many of the buildings, a peak through the broken window panes of the central greenhouse revealed that research is still being carried out inside. If Dracula had ever wanted to take up horticulture he’d have been right at home here.

The Hammer Greenhouse of Horror? - Jardim Botanico Tropical

The Hammer Greenhouse of Horror? – Jardim Botanico Tropical

By the time we had finished in the Jardim it was starting to get a bit overcast so we made a dash for the Mosteiro dos Jeronmos. Construction of the monastery and church began in 1501 funded by King Manuel I’s taxes on goods from Africa and Asia and the opulence of its late Gothic (AKA Manueline) architecture is testimony of to the wealth derived from the new sea routes opened up to the east by Portuguese explorers like Vasco de Gama, who is buried in the church here.

Tomb of Vasco de Gama - Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Tomb of Vasco de Gama – Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

There is no charge for visiting the church itself, but to get the best view of the interior you have to see it from the balcony that is only accessible from the monastery itself. (admission €7 or free with the Lisbon Card)

Church - Mosteiro dos Jeroniomos

Church – Mosteiro dos Jeroniomos

Within the monastery cloisters there is a wealth of carvings of strange beasts and monsters.

Cloisters - Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Cloisters – Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Whether these creatures were derived from reports of the far off lands opened up by the Portuguese merchants or drawn from the inner recesses of the Medieval mind are open to question, but the imaginations of the masons involved must have been quite scary places.

Gargoyles - Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Gargoyles – Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

I was particularly taken by the gargoyles, there were all kinds of creatures, including dragons, wild boar, sheep, monkeys and even a grasshopper.

Grasshopper Gargoyle - Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Grasshopper Gargoyle – Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Opposite the monastery, on the bank of the River Tagus is a more modern monument to Portugal’s seafaring explorers, the Padrao dos Descobrimentos

Padrao dos Descobrimentos

Padrao dos Descobrimentos

The Padrao dos Descobrimentos was built in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, who bravely stayed in Lisbon while people like Bartolomea Dias did the dangerous sailing over the edge of the world thing. The monument is in the shape of a ship with Henry at the prow.

Prince Henry at the prow - Padrao dos Descobrimentos

Prince Henry at the prow – Padrao dos Descobrimentos

It’s a fair walk along the windy banks of the Tagus to the Tower of Belem (Admission €5 or free with the Lisbon Card).

Tower of Belem

Tower of Belem

This Gothic pile was also built on the orders of Manuel I to protect the river mouth from invaders. The architect was Francisco de Arruda and the tower was completed in 1519. I think the batteries last fired in anger at the French fleet supporting the claim of Maria II to the throne of Portugal during the Liberal Wars of 1828 to 1834. We had a poke around the batteries, dungeons and climbed the tower before heading back towards the station.

On the way we stopped to admire this replica of the Fairey seaplane the Santa Cruz that made the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic in 1922,

Santa Cruz Seaplane- Belem

Santa Cruz Seaplane- Belem

and to have coffee, beer and more cakes at Pasteis de Belem, before catching the no 15 tram back into Lisbon.

Travel A to Z – Unforgettable to Wine

So what would be my unforgettable memory from 50 odd years of travelling?

Well having watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade again last night I decided that visiting the Treasury at Petra, where the exteriors for the film’s finale are played out, would probably top my list. It was also featured in the video for the Sisters of Mercy‘s Dominion single back in 1987, which aside from being by one of my favourite bands also quite neatly illustrates the quarter-mile gorge or Siq that leads you to your first glimpse of the Treasury building or Al Khazneh as it is properly known.

We visited Jordan back in 1993 and ancient Nabateaan city of Petra was at the top of our ‘to see’ list. The Nabateaans established the city around 312BC, only for it to decline under the Romans and eventually be abandoned. It was lost to most of the world until 1812 when the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt coined the phrase “a rose-red city half as old as time”. Of course the local Bedouin tribes knew it was there all the time and used the ruins for shelter.

Al Khazneh is thought to have been built about 100 BC. Nothing quite compares to emerging from the Siq to behold the whole imposing structure that is carved out of the living sandstone cliff face. Local legend had it that bandits stored their loot in the urn at the top, hence the name Treasury and it’s also the reason why the urn has been pockmarked by Bedouin bullets in futile attempts to spill the treasure.

V is for Visas

Over the years I have collected visas for the USA, Egypt, Turkey, Australia, Jordan and most recently Russia. Athough they may look pretty in your passport, visas are a bit of a palaver to get and in reality only an officially sanctioned state robbery. The Russians in particular wanted to a whole lot of information ranging from occupation, military service and education to every country we had visited over the past ten years and then for filling in the form ourselves charged us £30!

Egyptian Visa and other stamps gained on 1992’s adventure down the Nile

W is for Wine

Help there’s been so much I can’t remember! I do enjoy a nice glass of wine, but I don’t really know enough about it to claim to be an expert. to be fair I’m as happy sinking Spanish rose from a tetra pack that cost under a Euro as knocking back fine Champagne.

I think my favourite wine experiences are associated with specific events: like drinking chilled Frascati with a bowl of salted nuts in Frascati; sipping that over-oaked fizz the Aussies make as the Sun set over Uluru or a nice chilled Cava watching the Sun set from above the clouds on Mount Teide on Tenerife.

Chilled Cava above the clouds

Maiden Castle and Stonehenge

On the way back from Dorset we decided to stop off at Maiden Castle. which is one of the largest and most complex Iron Age hillforts in Europe. The sheer scale of the earthworks and defensive ditches is huge, apparently you can get 50 football pitches inside the walls, however finding a photograph that looks anything other than a grassy mound proved impossible. Maiden Castle’s earthworks are thought to date from around 600 BCE, although the site was first occupied in the Neolithic period around 6000 years ago.

Foundations of Roman Temple, Maiden Castle

When the Romans overran Maiden Castle in AD 43 they moved the local tribespeople to a new town Durnovaria, on the site of modern Dorchester, where they could keep an eye on them. However being the practical folk they were they built a temple in the castle grounds absorbing the Celtic holy site and gods into their own portfolio brand of paganism. Maiden Castle is just two miles south of Dorchester and free to explore.

Crossing over the county line into Wiltshire we stopped off at Stonehenge before heading for home. For my money Stonehenge is one of the most marvelous ancient sites in the world. When you consider the design and engineering that went into the construction it’s far more impressive than say the Pyramids (I’m not knocking them. but pyramids are simple structures to build) and all this was created by people with stone tools.

Stonehenge

Before we visited the stone circle we had a bite to eat at the snack bar, which used to be really good. Unfortunately it’s been taken over by Digby Trout restaurants, so the food is now a bit homogenized and pricey. We also had some guests.

Jackdaw

who came looking for crumbs.

Starling

The stone circle was packed with coach parties of American and Japanese tourists from London, but that didn’t put off this fellow from enjoying a strut.

Rook Stonehenge

As English Heritage members we have free access to Stonehenge, normal admission is £7.80.

Tallinn Tales- Up the hill to Toompea

The summit of Toompea (Dome Hill) is 78 foot above sea level. Toompea’s steep sides and natural vantage point looking out across the harbour made it the obvious place to build Tallinn’s most important buildings. Legend has it that Toompea is so high because it is the final resting place of Tallinn’s founder, Kalev, whose distraught widow, Linda could not stop herself piling more and more rocks on his grave   Cheers Linda it was a pretty stiff climb in the sub-zero temperature,

We are on the way up to Toompea, puff

and it was easy to understand how carriage drivers had to ensure that their path was clear before setting out on the descent because there ain’t no stopping on the way back.

Once you get to the top the most impressive building is the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral

Aleksander Nevski Cathedral, a potent symbol of Russian domination in the 19th century

It was built at the tail end of the 19th century with the clear intention of showing the local people that the Russians were in charge. Even the name was chosen with that aim in mind, as Nevski was the Russian prince who defeated the Baltic based German crusaders at the Battle on the Ice on  Lake Peipsi in 1242. The interior of the cathedral is well worth a visit to see the icons and mosaics.

I photographed the cathedral from the car park of Toompea Castle

Toompea Castle

This sugar pink baroque confection was originally built for Tsarina Catherine the Great on the site of an older castle, in 1767. Today it’s the home of Estonia’s parliament, it’s not open to the public, but they didn’t seem to mind me standing in the car park as I captured the best aspect of the cathedral. I can’t imagine that happening here in the UK.

Right next to the parliament building is the Governor’s Garden.

Tall Herman

The tower on the side of the Baroque palace is called Pikk Hermann (Tall Herman) and was originally built in 1371. Tradition has it that the flag flown from Tall Hermann’s pole belongs to the ruler of Estonia. On 24 February 1989 the blue, black and white flag replaced the Soviet red one in an outrageous display of defiance. It’s flown there ever since.

This fat little tower is Kiek in de Kok. It’s the Baltic region’s most powerful cannon tower dating back to 1475.

Kiek in de Kok

The name in low German means ‘peek into the kitchen’.  The soldiers manning cannon stationed there used to joke that they could see right down the chimneys and into the kitchens of the houses below. Kiek in de Kok took some serious damage when it was shelled by Ivan the Terrible’s forces in the Livonian Wars of 1558-83. Six stone cannon balls were set into the walls as a memorial during reconstruction. Today it’s a museum about the history of Tallin’s defences.

Our final piece of sightseeing before seeking shelter from the cold was the Dome Church

The Dome Church

Officially the Church of St Mary the Virgin it was built in 1684 on the site of a previous church destroyed by fire. The Baroque tower was added in 1778. Now a bizarre thing about this church is that when it was rebuilt on top of the rubble of the burnt out building , the builders reused the original floor. This means you have to take a step down when you enter. Oddly enough a Scotsman is interred here, one Samuel Grieg of Fife. Grieg was the Admiral of Russia’s Baltic Fleet and probably spent a lot of time in the sugar pink castle as he was reputed to be the lover of Catherine the Great.

London – There’s More to the Sqaure Mile Than a Bunch of Bankers

I had a couple of meetings in the City yesterday, so rather than waste the hour or so in between appointments I did some exploring.

This is the Monument to the Great Fire of London. appropriately it stands at the junction of Monument Street with Fish Street Hill.

The Monument

Designed by the then Surveyor General Sir Christopher Wren and his assistant, the microscope pioneer Robert Hooke, at 61 metres it’s the tallest isolated stone column in the world. It was built between 1671 and 1677 . At its base there is a bas relief of the destruction of the City by the Great Fire in 1666, by Caius Gabriel Cibber, who also sculpted Soho Square’s statue of Charles II in the West End. Given my dodgy knees and hypertension I passed on the opportunity to climb the 311 stairs to the top and view London from within the suicide cage, that was installed in the mid 19th Century.

I am constantly amazed by what I find out about people like Wren, Hooke and their contemporaries like Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Edmund Halley, they were men of such diverse ability, vision and energy, turning their hands to architecture, astronomy, biology and other sciences. Little wonder the period they ushered in was known as the Enlightenment.

At the bottom of Fish Street Hill is Lower Thames Street and the Church of St Magnus the Martyr.

The Spire of St Magnus the Martyr

There had been a church of this name on the site for hundreds of years before the Great Fire of London cleared much of the area. St Magnus the Martyr was only 300 metres away from the bakery of Thomas Farriner in Pudding Lane, where the fire started. The present church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and the building was completed around 1676. The interior is quite beautiful but unfortunately the light was too poor to get a decent photograph of the alter or the magnificent pipe organ. I did however get this shot of the window showing St Magnus himself . It’s one of four stained glass windows that were designed by Lawrence Lee and installed between 1949 and 1955 replacing those destroyed by enemy bombing during World War II.

St Magnus the Martyr

St Magnus himself was an Earl of Orkney who was executed after being captured by his cousin in 1116. He had a reputation for being pious and gentle  and was canonised in 1135. there is also quite a sweet wooden ststue of him inside the church, complete with horned Viking  helmet.

Behind St Magnus is the Thames itself where I got a splendid view of HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast

Walking back up towards the Monument I found another Wren church St Mary-at-Hill

St Mary-at-Hill

Actually Wren was responsible for the interior and the east wall, seen above. The other three walls are older medieval structures. On entering the church the smell of fish assailed my nostrils, which I thought was a bit odd, until I discovered that the Eucharist of the Harvest of the Sea was being celebrated inside. St Mary-at -Hill was one of the parish churches for the old Billingsgate Fish Market that used to operate from Lower Thames Street. I didn’t want to disturb the congregation by poking around, so I left them to it and continued on to Ledenhall Market in Gracechurch Street

Ledenhall Market

Ledenhall Market, with its ornate wrought iron and glass roof, was designed by Horace Jones who also designed London’s Smithfield and Bilingsgate Markets. It opened in 1881 as a fish, meat and poultry market, but is now mostly full of pubs, sandwich bars and restaurants serving city wage slaves. It also served as Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. And speaking of things magical I particularly like the Griffins, the symbol of the City of London, that hold the roof up.

City of London Griffin holding up the roof of Ledenhall Market.

If you’d like to see these places the nearest London Underground stations are: Bank on the Northern and Central Lines and Dockland’s Light Railway: and Monument on the District and Circle Lines

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Shipscook’s Italian Job – Out and About in Sorrento

So after being woken by the fog cannon that went off every half hour to celebrate St Anne’s name day, we got taken on a free walk around Sorrento by the Thomson rep.  Actually it was more of a wander around their preferred retailers, but there were free drinks involved, so off we went. Taking our lives in our hands we crossed the Via del Capo outside the hotel, to the side of the road that actually had some pavement and carried on downhill, until we arrived in Sorrento’s main street, the Corso Italia. The Corso is where you will find all the flash shops are, along with loads of ice cream parlours, restaurants and even a peaceful lemon grove.

Corso Italia

It’s also where the locals go arrayed in all their pomp to passeggiata after dinner, when the Corso is pedestrianised.

Fantastic Brand ID for National Police - Corso Italia

After a brief snifter at O Parrucchiano – the birthplace of cannelloni (more on that later) we were led towards the city walls.

Originally built by the Greeks who settled in this part of Italy during the seventh century BC, then rebuilt by the Romans, the present walls were engineered by the Spanish, to keep Saracen pirates out, during Spain’s rule of Naples in the 16th Century.  Taking the brief walk along the top of the conserved walls is great at night, when it is lit up with flaming torches and best of all – it’s free. Close to the Wall is the Parco Ibsen. Suzy, our rep, proudly showed us the Thomson information desk and a furniture shop, but neglected to mention the Norwegian playwright that it’s named after. Ibsen stayed in the nearby Hotel Tramotano, where he wrote parts of Ghosts (1867) and Peer Gynt (1881).

Sorrento is famous for its lemons

Lemon Grove off the Corso Italia

which get made into stuff like soap, confectionery and the region’s local drink Limocello. In the oldest part of town, known as “The Drains“, because it’s where the rich people’s sewage used to flow through on it’s way to the sea, we got to sample some at one of the many shops that specialise in all things lemony.

A range of local liquors - many made from lemons

If I ever wondered what lemon scented toilet duck would taste like I think I now know. There is also a cream version which tastes as I imagine lemon scented Jif would. The Drains are a regular rabbit warren of little alleys, full of shops (mostly full of tat) , restaurants, bars and little churches.

The Drains

One of the larger churches we were shown is dedicated to Sorrento’s patron saint, St Antonino.

St Antonino and his whale

He reputedly rescued a child that was being eaten by a whale, by killing it (the whale not the child). The whale on the statue looks like a dolphin to me, but the church has the alleged whale’s jaw bone nailed to the external wall and I’d say it must have been a much bigger creature, the sort that eats tiny fish and krill, but not children.

St Antonino's Whale's Jawbone

We found this charming fresco of the event, above the door of one of the nearby apartment buildings.

St Antonino - Whale Killer

Personally I think there is a touch of the mythical hero about this, with the saint taking on the role of a former pagan demi-god like Heracles. Close by is another church, this time dedicated to St Francis. It has really gorgeous cloisters that are popular for weddings and classical recitals.

St Francis

I could not help but notice the offering room, where believers could buy votive objects to leave in the church – much the same as in pagan times so nothing changes.

Our final stop was the Foreigner’s Club, overlooking the sea. Very useful place this as it has a free public loo and an information centre. The Foreigner’s Club was used by British and American soldiers during World War I, hence the name. at this point Suzy left us to our own devices so we high tailed it back to O Parrucchiano to try some of that cannelloni, but that is another story.

Denmark – Helsingor, Hamlet and Herring

Me at Kronborg Castle

About half an hour by train from the centre of Copenhagen is Helsingor. What’s so special about Helsingor you may ask? Well by the Anglicised name of Elsinore it was the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s also the closest point between Denmark and Sweden so the building of the first fortress on the present site of Kronborg Castle in the 1420s allowed the Danes to control access to the Baltic Sea. Extorting customs dues from traders wishing to pass through the four kilometre wide sound, the King of Denmark did alright right up until 1859 , which is about when shipboard artillery became capable of blowing castles to bits and the right royal protection racket came to an end.

Since the breakfast on offer at our hotel in Copenhagen was both expensive and complete pants we got up early, hopped on the Metro to Norreport where we boarded the Oresund train to Helsingor. All this was included on our Copenhagen card. Half an hour later we were in Helsingor and ready for breakfast.

Madam Sprunck's marvelous breakfast

Which we took at Madam Sprunk’s, Bramstraede 5, Helsingor. Normally the breakfast is only for hotel residents, but I guess we must have looked very hungry as we were soon enjoying a delicious selection of cold meats, cheese, scrambled eggs, sausages and fruit, plus yogurt and jam, fruit juice and unlimited coffee . All this for DKK99 and absolutely beautifully presented, a mental note was made to investigate their lunch menu.

Breakfast done we headed for Kronberg Casstle.

17th Century defensive wall of Kronborg Castle

Passing through the 17th century defensive glacis that was added after the Swedish general Carl Gustav Wrangel stormed the castle in 1658,  we eventually got to the moat where we found a family of swans with eight cygnets,

"Come on kids let break some arms"

before getting into the castle itself. The present Kronborg was built in 1585 by King Frederick II. Inside there are a number of museums. We plumped for the Maritime Museum which was included on our Copenhagen Cards. It tells the story of Denmark’s seafaring history with ship models and artifacts from the 1600s onwards. I found the material from World War Two when Danish Merchant Marine sailors in allied service could only communicate with their families at home via the Red Cross particularly touching. There is also a nice display of artifacts relating to Greenland’s time as a Danish colony.

The Museum also gives you access to the roof where you can see right across the sound to the Swedish side of the channel and watch the ferries bringing hordes of Swedes over to shop for cheaper booze in Helsingor’s supermarkets.

Ferry from Sweden full of Booze Cruisers

Cultural stuff done it was time for something to cool down. Brostreade Flode Is was established in 1922 and sells brilliant home made ice cream which is why the queue snakes out of the door into the narrow Brostreade.

Brostreade Flode Is

I chose rum and raisin and nougat in a home baked waffle cone. This place has had some illustrious customers in the past including a certain Archie Leach, better know as Cary Grant, who is pictured outside the parlour in a framed magazine cover.

Cary Grant pictured outside Brostreade Flode Is inthe 1950s

So onto lunch. The jewel of Madam Sprunck’s lunchtime menu was Smag pa Helsingor. Roughly translated this was marinated herring, in a top secret sauce served with salad, a Wiibroe beer and a shot of the local fire water known as Akvavit.All for DKK 145.

Smag pa Helsingor

It was fabulous and as if the Akavit wasn’t strong enough the beer was just over 10%, so naturally we had another one as the local Dixieland jazz band and line dancers paraded through the street outside. And no that’s not the booze talking!

Super strong Wibroe beer

The Delightful Town of Yeroskipou – Cyprus

Yeroskipou is a small town just to the east of Paphos. The first interesting thing about Yeroskipou is the Church of Agia Paraskevi.

Agia Paraskevi Yeroskipou

This five domed Greek Orthodox church was built in the 11th century and still has some of the original frescoes inside. Sadly they don’t permit photography inside the church, which is a real shame as I’d love to show you the fresco of the resurrection. What I found interesting about the artist’s vision of Christ rising from the underworld, was the boatman and two headed dog that remained there. These strike me as representations of Charon, the ferryman who carried the souls of the dead across the river Styx and Cerberus, the multi-headed hound that guards the gates of Hades, from Greek mythology.

Was this pagan iconography adopted into the visual imagery of the church by local Christians to make it easier to understand for the pagan population or was it a careful hedging of belief by people keen not to offend both sets of gods in those early days. As is common practice here, the faithful leave  replicas of body parts in the church in the hope of obtaining a cure for the ills of relatives, which is another practice incorporated from a much earlier belief in sympathetic magic.

The second point of interest about Yeroskipou is that it is the only place in the world with a Protected Geographical Indication ( just like Melton Mowbray pork pies or Champagne) for loukoumia or Cypriot Delight. A fact that royally pisses off the Turks. We bought a couple of boxes from a shop with a certificate from the Guinness Book of records for producing the largest slab of loukoumia in the world.

The easiest way to get to Yeroskipou is by cab, we booked one of Stevie’s stretched Mercs, fare €10 each way.

A Bit of Archeology – Paphos Cyprus

Way back in April, I wrote about how our Cypriot holiday resort of Paphos had in 1980 been declared a World Heritage site by the United Nations because it had so many important historic remains.

One of the largest sites is close to the harbour and comprises of the ruins of a 13th century Lusignan castle Saranta Kolones (Forty Columns) built on top of the remains of a Byzantine castle, the excavated remains of some late Greco-Roman houses, a Greek Odeon or theatre and part of the old city walls.

Remains of Lusignan Castle destroyed in an earthquake in 1222

The French Crusader King of Jerusalem, Guy Lusignan bought Cyprus in 1192 from our own King Richard the Lionheart, he’d conquered it from the Arabs on the way to the Holy Land, but didn’t really want it. Cyprus remained in the Lusignan’s hands until 1489 when the Venetians took control of the island.

The Greco-Roman villas of Dionysos, Orpheus, Aion and Theseus have some really well preserved mosaic floors depicting stories from Greek mythology and are really quite stunning as you can see from these photos.

Mosaic Villa of Dionysis

Peacock mosaic

One of the nice things about visiting this site during April was the profusion of wild flowers.

wild flowers

While a more recent addition is the lighthouse which dates from the British occupation.

Paphos Lighthouse

Admission to the site was €1.70 for adults and free for under 12s. You can easily spend the whole afternoon there like we did, so it’s a good idea to take a bottle of water as there are no refreshments on sale. There is thankfully a toilet though.

Close by is Agia Kyriaki.

Basilca with the church of Aghia Kyriaki

This is a 16th century church built over the ruins of an 11th century church, that was in turn built over the 4th century Panagia Chrysopolitissa, a much larger Byzantine basilica destroyed in Arab raiders in the 7th century. In the church grounds the ruins of the Byzantine basilica have some very fine mosaic floors and we were lucky enough to photograph them after a rain shower, bringing out their colours quite beautifully.

Mosaic Floor from the Basilica

Also in the grounds is the alleged pillar that the Roman governor, Sergius Paulus had St Paul whipped against before his own conversion to Christianity.

St Paul's Whipping Pillar

Although the Church of Agia Kyriaki is a Greek Orthodox Church in 1987 the Bishop Metropolitan agreed to its use by the local Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Maronite and Finnish  congregations.

Icon screen inside Agia Kyriaki

The churchyard is also the last resting place of King Eric I of Denmark, who died in Paphos on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1103. Eric was also known as Eric the Good, but curiously his pilgrimage was to atone for the drunken murder of four of his own men!

Feral pigeon roost Panagia Chrysopolitissa

Not far from Agia Kyriaki is Saint Solomoni Church. This is in a catacomb cut from the living rock. Solomoni fled from the Holy Land in AD168 and is reputed to have taken up residence here, in a Hellenistic tomb.

Me descending into Saint Solomoni church

After descending the 20 steps into the ground you find a small chapel where there is a spring that is supposed to cure eye complaints. There are also some frescos, although to be honest it was so dark all I could see were the devotional candles left by the faithful.

Devotional offerings Saint Solomoni Church

The most curious thing though is the terebinth tree outside the catacomb, here rags are tied to the tree’s branches to ask for divine favours for sick relatives, which are supposed to be granted as the rags begin to rot, a pagan sympathetic magic practice incorporated into the church perhaps?

The final ancient site we visited was the Tombs of the Kings. This site is a short bus ride (fare €1 adult, child free) from Paphos. This is real Indiana Jones country and we spent most of the afternoon exploring the rock cut tombs, that date back to the 4th century BC.

Tombs of the Kings

The scale of the necropolis is huge, but apparently none of the tombs ever contained a king, just mere officials.

Rock cut tombs

Aside from the tombs themselves the site is a good place to see birds and reptiles as well as lots of wild flowers in the Spring. Admission was €1.70.

Beltane Fire Festival – Edinburgh

It was only a week after taking part in the Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations in Cyprus that we found ourselves at something rather more primal up on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill – the annual Beltane Fire Festival. For anyone who doesn’t know Beltane is a pagan festival that marks the passing of winter, represented by the Holly King into the summer, the time of the Oak King. And it just so happens that Beltane is around the time of Easter making it dead easy for the Christian church to assimilate the pagan festival into it’s own, but that’s another story.

About 12,000 gathered on Calton hill to watch the ceremony kick off from the Scottish National Monument (designed by William Henry Playfair as a monument to Scottish soldiers who fell in the Napoleonic Wars, but never completed due to the money running out in 1829).

Fire Festival kicks off at the Scottish National Monument

Accompanied by the massed processional drummers and torchbearers the May Queen’s Court assembled ready to depart and visit the elemental points around the hill before arriving at the domain of the Reds.

Red Fire Dancer

The spirits of misrule who attempt to disrupt the procession with lewd behavior.

Red Fire Dancers

Some lovely lewd behaviour

The old year’s Holly King (note his walking stick which denotes his aged state) is tempted to join the Red fire dancers

The May Queen and the Holly King arrive

as they cavort around to the hypnotic beat of the Red Beastie Drummers.

Red Beastie Drummers

Eventually the Holly King sheds his winter garb and stick and is reborn as the Oak King bringing new fertility and light to the land after the winter, however as we were unable to get close enough to witness that part of the show here is a shot from last year.

The Green Man is reborn

It’s a great show and all the performers are volunteers who design and create their own costumes or lack of them!

Tickets were £6 in advance or £8 on the night.