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Sunday, 10 December 2017

Sveti Lovreč, Croatia

Also known as San Lorenzo

Sveti Lovreč is an inland village in Istria, but still close enough to the coast that it's a destination for tourists looking for a different summer holiday experience. There are various apartments and houses nearby, that can be rented out during the summer.

I came to know Sveti Lovreč through my mother who grew up in a nearby village. The village is walled and according to her, the walls were built to protect the villagers during the time of Attila the Hun. Not sure if this is true or local folklore, there are still remnants of the walls, sections were later used for building materials when the walls weren't needed for protection anymore. Very practical people the locals, why quarry new stone when you could just help yourself to a section of unused wall!

This gateway was built during the Venetian era, when this part of Istria was ruled by Venice.  This is called the Velika vrata (literally the big door), there are coats of arms above the gateway belonging to the families of Grimani and Moro. In between is the Lion of St. Mark (I just know it as the Lion of Venice, and it can be found in different coastal towns in Istria). The Lion of St. Mark is holding a closed book which means the gateway was built during a time of war. (Research!)

Once through the gate you're in the main town square with the parish church of St. Martin's Basilica.

The loggia on the southern wall of the basilica. It was used as a gathering place for official gatherings and it can be still used for this purpose. Along the walls there are stone fragments from the town from Roman times to the 19th century.

In recent years something I've been really pleased to see is the amount of restoration of the local stone buildings that can be seen. One example from the old part of the village.

Parts of the walls and, they were higher! It's noticeable that layers were removed for local buildings. 

Not sure what this building had been but it was important enough that it hasn't been torn down. It's quite substantial with a stone balcony just behind the tree, and old since it has stone gutters. It's been fenced off so perhaps there are plans for some sort of restoration?

The village is named after the church of St. Lawrence which dates back to the 8th century and is outside the walls. But the actual settlement is prehistoric and there were already walls and towers in the Byzantine era. They were restored and strengthen in later centuries, the main fortifications are from the Venetian era when Sveti Lovreč was the seat of military administration of Venetian Istria. (Research from the helpful Central Istria information site)

The historic centre of the village is circular in design it's quite easy to stroll around. The newer parts of the village are outside the walls and there's a pizza restaurant located in the village. It's an interesting little village and worth seeing if you're spending time exploring the local area.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Carisbrooke Castle

Isle of Wight, U.K.

Carisbrooke Castle can be found near Newport on the Isle of Wight. I drove there using a GPS, but from Newport it's well signposted so quite easy to find.

There's a large carpark next to the castle and the parking fee is taken off the entrance fee to the castle. Parts of the castle date back to the 12th century and it has been added to through the subsequent centuries. It was last used as a home by Queen Victoria's youngest daughter Princess Beatrice. She used the castle as her summer home, and it was considered her private home until 1944. (When Princess Beatrice died) It's now run by English Heritage and open to the public.

I went and visited the castle on a rather wet and drizzly day, there weren't a lot of other people around and there's a cafe onsite offering warm drinks (along with some sweets to wash the drinks down with!)

Once the rain had cleared up a bit I was able to do up onto the walls and looked down into the castle grounds. This picture shows the Chapel of St Nicholas in the centre, to the right is Princess Beatrice's garden. The small building with the peaked roof just past the chapel is the Wellhouse. The highest building in the background is the castle museum and the Great Hall.

The Carisbrooke Castle Museum is a separate entity in the museum and run independently of English Heritage who run the rest of the castle. The Museum was founded in 1898 by Princess Beatrice in memory of her husband Prince Henry of Battenberg who had just died. He had been Governor of Carisbrooke Castle. The museum does note that it's the only public museum in the U.K. founded by a member of the Royal Family.

The Chamber organ, it's the oldest working chamber organ in the U.K. It was presented to Princess Beatrice on her 80th birthday. I have to admit I thought it was a rather ornate cabinet!

King Charles I's bedroom, he had been imprisoned at Carisbrooke Castle for fourteen months prior to his execution. The bedroom has been recreated. Two of his children were also imprisoned at Carisbrooke Castle, one Princess Elizabeth died there aged 14. Before being moved to the Isle of Wight she protested that she was not well enough to travel, was moved regardless and she caught pneumonia and died at the castle not long after arriving there. Two hundred years later Queen Victoria commissioned a sculpture of Princess Elizabeth in white marble which is in the museum.

During the time Princess Beatrice lived in the castle she used the room that had been King Charles' bedroom as a dining room and the stagheads date from that time.

Princess Beatrice garden, the garden was reestablished this century within the walls of the privy garden that Princess Beatrice used. The statue of the horse and rider were placed in the garden in 2014 to commemorate the 100 years since the beginning of World War I. The horse is Warrior, a war horse bred on the Isle of Wight, he survived and returned home to live to be 33.

The Chapel of St Nicholas, Princess Beatrice rebuilt the chapel in 1904 and then it became the island's war memorial following the death of her son Maurice in 1914. The picture shows the back of the chapel with the bust of Charles I.

The castle grounds hold a Wellhouse with a working donkey wheel. Deep down under the castle is a well, it's really deep as there was quite a wait when the Well house guide dropped the bucket in the well, to when you hear the splash. A donkey walking on a wooden wheel was used to raise up the buckets of water. There are donkeys living on the castle grounds and at certain times, different donkeys operate the donkey wheel for visitors. The Wellhouse is very small and even visiting the castle on a rainy day with not many visitors, the Wellhouse was packed, however it was interesting to experience. 

View from the castle walls, the flat area at the base of the photo is called the Bowling Green, as Charles I used to play bowls here. It was also used as an area for soldiers to parade on.

The town of Carisbrooke with St. Mary's Church prominent in the distance.

Carisbrooke Castle is one of the Isle of Wight's major attractions, it's well preserved and some different things to do and see, it all makes for an interesting visit. (Even on a rainy day!) 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Village Inn, Buriton

Just near Petersfield, U.K.


The style of accomodation is Bed and Breakfast, so the price reflects that. 


The Inn is located in the pretty village of Buriton, which is just near Petersfield in Hampshire. Take the Petersfield turnoff from the main highway and then follow the sign that says Buriton. I stayed at the Inn because I was looking for accomodation about midway between Heathrow airport and Portsmouth, it's not midway but was the nicest option I found. It was a good choice, Buriton is less than 30 minutes from Portsmouth, and the village was lovely. I wished I had longer to explore it a bit.


It was a standard B&B room, the inn itself has a restaurant and there's a guest lounge.

The room I was in the bathroom just had a bath, but it's possible to ask for a room where the bathroom has a shower. 

The lounge area, the restaurant where breakfast was served the next morning is through to the right.

It's an old building and quite rambling, lots of stairs and no elevator.


There's onsite car parking, very important in a village with narrow roads! The atmosphere was lovely as well, very much a small village gathering place, the evening I arrived there was quite a jolly crowd, dogs and all in the lounge! Staff really friendly and chatty.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour

Watford (Just outside London) U.K.

This wasn't my first trip to the Harry Potter Studio, I had been a few years ago, since then, there have been new sections added to the tour so I wanted to go again. The Studio is about 20 miles northwest of London, it's possible to take a train from central London to Watford station and then there's a shuttle bus to the Studio. Or you can drive yourself and the parking is free. Having driven there last time and enjoyed the convenience of doing so, I decided I would drive to the studio again. I was coming from the Isle of Wight, about 90 minutes away, so was up nice and early to catch the 8am ferry to Portsmouth. On my last trip I got stuck in slow moving traffic (I didn't get out of first gear for an hour!!!) as there was a broken down truck or lorry, to use the British word for it, on the Motorway. I had been afraid I would be too late for my allotted entrance time, the tickets all have a timed entrance. Tickets are bought online and you need to show an online booking to enter the carpark, this booking then gets exchanged for a physical ticket at the onsite ticket office.

I need not have worried, I made it to the Studio in record time, 2 hours before my ticketed entrance! As it was still early I quickly got through the bag check and settled down to a very early lunch.Then made my way to the lineup and found myself between 2 school groups!!!! One group of very excited 8 and 9 year olds and the other group was of high school students, once inside they did all add to the atmosphere a bit!

The Studio is where the Harry Potter movies were filmed and so it's possible to walk through the actual sets, the detail in them is amazing. First stop is the Great Hall.

As well as the sets, the costumes that were used in the films are also on display, here are Professor McGonagall, Dumbledore and Snapes's outfits in the Great Hall.

The first part of the tour through the Great Hall has a guide explaining things but as you continue through it's all self-guided. (Which is good if you're trying to escape the school groups!)

The Gryffindor common room.

Dumbledore's office.

The Potions classroom.

The Weasley's house.

March this year a new section of the studio opened, it's the Forbidden Forest, the original one from the film didn't survive but they managed to get some of the same people who built it for the films to recreate it.
The entrance to the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid just inside it. (tough to get a photo without having lots of other visitors in it as they pose at the gates!)

Another new thing for me at least, is now they have the Hogwarts express at the Studio. 

They're recreated the interior of the carriages, I felt very old as I can quite vividly remember catching trains in Italy with exactly those types of carriages (compartments with 6 seats and overhead luggage racks) not that long ago!!

When the movies were filmed, the very first scene shot was on the station platform with the Hogwarts express in the background. The last scene shot in the final movie was the now older main characters on the station platform with the train in the background, as they see their own children go off to Hogwarts. These were their costumes for that last scene.

There's a whole section on the special effects in the movies, I loved this costume, the inflating of Aunt Marge.

You can walk through Diagon Alley.

There's an outside part to the tour which is where the Dursley's house can be found. For the first 2 films, the outside scenes were filmed at an actual house, but as the movies became big hits, the external part of the house was built at the studio. Since my last visit, an identical house was built next to the one there and visitors can now enter the Dursley's house and see the living room with all the letters flying around.

The final part of the tour takes you to the Hogwarts model that was used for all the green screen parts of the films. That's quite magical as the theme music to the Harry Potter films play.

The Harry Potter Studio Tour is a fabulous place to visit, seeing all the attention to detail that went into the movies is amazing. I loved seeing it all and experiencing the new parts as well. I personally think this is the best Harry Potter experience for any fan of the books and movies. It has the authentic props, costumes and sets of the movies, the other Harry Potter experiences to me don't have that same authenticity, they're just manufactured theme park attractions. 

It does get quite crowded, I can't imagine it at the height of the school holidays!! There are themed events during the year to visit as well, Halloween is one, and right now there's the Hogwarts in the Snow, Christmas experience going on. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Pula, Croatia

Sitting at the tip of the Istrian peninsula 

Pula is the largest city on the Croatian part of the Istrian peninsula, and its major landmark is the Arena, the 1st century Roman amphitheatre. It's one of six large Roman arenas that are still in existence and the only one with all 4 side towers. It's very impressive to see, seeing it as a child I was more impressed with it than the Colosseum in Rome since the Arena was more intact. It's still used today for concerts, there's a museum section underground with some artefacts from the local area. 

It's incredibly well preserved even considering the locals used some of its stone for local building projects!

Pula, then known as Pola was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and it flourished during those years as it was the major port, as well as the base for their navy. Captain Von Trapp of the Sound of Music fame was stationed in Pola. With the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, Pola became part of Italy. It was after World War II when it became part of what was known as Yugoslavia that the city was called Pula. Both Pola and Pula are used today.

The town square.

The Temple of Augustus.

The Temple of Augustus can be found in the town square. It had originally been one of three temples, it stood to the left of the main temple (which doesn't exist anymore) and the Temple of Diana, the back part of which can be seen in the back of the Communal Palace (the City Council building) on the right. The Temple of Augustus was built to honour the Roman Emperor Augustus and it was built during his lifetime, which was between 27BC and 14 AD. It had been badly damaged during the bombing raids of World War II but restored by two Italian stonemasons after the war. 

The local tourist office is located in the town square so I was able to go in and ask for a map and some advice on what to see on a day trip to Pula. Having already gone to see the Arena, I was shown a walking route around the old part of the town that would loop back to the square. Perfect!

Pula Cathedral, the oldest part of it dates back to the 5th century, the facade was added in 1715. The Bell Tower was added around that time, using some stone from the amphitheatre!

I walked around the old town, in the centre (up the hill!) is the Pula Fortress, the Kaštel, it was built during the time the Venetians controlled the town. Another building with bits of stone from the amphitheatre. It's now a Museum of Istria and you can get some great views of the surrounding area from the tower.

My favourite statue is one of James Joyce walking across the bridge at Ponte Rosso in Trieste. James Joyce lived in Trieste a number of years, teaching English there. The statue has such a natural pose that it appeals to me, well, it seems it has a rival in Pula! James Joyce also spent a few months in Pula, (which was part of Austria, along with Trieste at the time), he taught English, mainly to the Austrians from the naval base. His Pula statue he's even more relaxed sitting at an outdoor cafe!

The Arch of the Sergii, also built in the 1st century. The age that monuments can be found in Europe still astounds me, what has survived is amazing. The Arch was built to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Actium for the Sergio brothers. They belonged to an important family from the area and ended up with a monument that has lasted 2,000 years! The arch leads to the town square, so it's towards the end of the circular loop.

Pula, has a number of museums, an aquarian located in an old Austro-Hungarian era fortress, as well as the Brijuni islands. The largest of the islands became a popular destination for the Viennese upper classes at the beginning of the 20th century, there were hotels, a casino, a yacht harbour, restaurants, even Austrian royals holidayed there. The resort floundered under Italy, and under Yugoslavia the island became the private summer residence of Marshall Tito. The islands were off limits to the local population, with the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991, under Croatia, the islands were opened and the resorts on the largest island were reopened. The islands have again become popular holiday destination.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Monarto Zoo

South Australia

I went back to being a tourist in my own state this week. I visited Monarto Zoo for the first time. It's an open range zoo about an hour from Adelaide, it's an easy drive out to Monarto, along the South Eastern Freeway. The zoo is well sign posted from the freeway exit and so is easy to find. (Just as well as I hadn't thought to bring a map! Nor do I have a GPS!)

The Visitor's Centre at the zoo, your first stop. The centre is a 2.5km drive from the entrance to the zoo. The whole property is 1,500 hectares ( about 3,700 acres) but only 250 hectares is open to the public. My first surprise was that I had assumed you drove your own car through the zoo, along the trails and saw the animals, that's not the case. Cars are parked by the Visitor's Centre and then you catch a shuttle bus which takes you around. There are stops where you can get out, or the other option is to walk the trails between stops, or combine the walking and riding a bus.

The buses are quite big and they're on a regular schedule so are convenient, the guides that ride on them are really informative as well.

The zoo was initially established as a breeding area and threatened species sanctuary, but later was opened to the public. It still keeps to its original purpose and has a successful breeding program for threatened species. The first we came across was Przewalski's horse.

 Przewalski's horse is native to the steppes of Mongolia and was hunted for its meat. It was hunted to the brink of extinction, 13 were captured in 1945 and all the Przewalski's horses now in existence are descendants of 9 of these original 13. (Research!!) Quite amazing and there are around 1,500 Przewalski's horses worldwide and they have been reintroduced back to their native environment in Mongolia, the Monarto Zoo breeding program has sent horses to Mongolia, there's about 300 there in the wild there.

Feeding time for the giraffes, the zoo's giraffe breeding program had a boost earlier this year as 2 giraffe calves were born within a few weeks of each other. They're the smaller giraffes in the picture.

The zoo has 2 different species of rhinos, the black and the white, both are threatened in the wild. They are kept in separate areas, the black rhino was bigger, and he wouldn't turn around for me to take his picture! I didn't want a picture of his backside!

Two female white rhinos, a new young female has just arrived from Australia Zoo in Queensland and she's learning how to deal with the male rhino! We watched them charge at each other as they were being fed, the bull pushing the female away. The keeper then pointed out one of the older females came over and she knew how to deal with the bull and so would model the behaviour for the new female. It was interesting to watch, the older female didn't charge at the bull, but just eyed him off and he backed off, and backed away from the food!

The animals are grouped together in large open range enclosures and they're grouped based on which animals could get along! The painted dogs are in with the hyenas. The painted dogs are having a break under the shade as the day was getting warm.

The remains of farm buildings can be seen on the property and that's because in the 1970s the State Government had bought up what had been farmland to build a satellite city to Adelaide. (It was a way to distribute the urban population) The satellite city never got off the drawing board and by 1981, some of the farmers were able to buy their land back and the major part was given to the Adelaide Zoo. The farm buildings which can be seen belonged to the Bretag family, this cottage was lived in right up until the 1950s, nearby are the remains of a diary, and the lime kiln has been restored by apprentice stone masons. 

Visitors can leave the bus at designated viewing areas, this is the Waterhole viewing area with the African animals. The viewing areas have toilets and vending machines as well as information on the animals you can see.

Ostriches, zebras and giraffes from the Waterhole viewing area. As it's November the grass has already dried off so the scene is more dry savannah, than lush temperate!

The giraffe herd at the waterhole, the track for the bus is between the giraffes so visitors do get a close up view of them.

Male ostrich, the black ones are the males I found out! There are emus as well in the more open areas, when the zoo was fenced off against feral pests, whatever native animals were inside remained. So it's possible to spot kangaroos and emus wandering around the zoo.

Next to the Visitor's Centre is a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating.

Near the Visitor's Centre is an open picnic/play area with this great rhino sculpture! There's also a children's playground and seated picnic tables. In the background is the roof to the chimpanzee enclosure.

There's an enclosure with Meerkats, very cute!

Then it's a short walk to the chimpanzee enclosure, which has an outdoor and indoor area. I managed to get there just as a couple of chimpanzees were outside, then decided to join the rest who were inside.

There are more animals, some were too far away to get a good photo off, or I was on the wrong side of the bus! The lions were in their night enclosure as there was building work going on in their area, a new viewing experience was being built, where the visitor was in a caged area and the lions roamed free outside!

As much as it's a bit of a drive from Adelaide to visit the zoo, it's easy to spend a full day there. You can do as many loops with the shuttle bus as you want, so morning loop, return to Visitor's Centre for lunch, then afternoon loop. For those who are feeling energetic, walk some of the trails, from the information given, none of them take too long and then it's possible to catch the bus to the next stop or back to the Visitor's Centre. It all makes for a great day out!