Out in Oxford

For the time being, we’re in Britain, and last week we had a lovely day out in Oxford. Of course, the colleges in all their non-Cantabrian modesty (aka pomp) are always worth a visit, and this time we went to see Balliol (having been into Pembroke, Magdalen, and St Edmund’s before).

Balliol college oxfordPretty much all colleges sport some pretty or not so pretty gargoyles, and Balliol is no exception. They also seem to like rather long lunch breaks.

From the posh, we went to the more down-to-earth, but not less educational Pitt Rivers Museum. It must be one of the most crammed exhibitions, and I really like it. If you are in Oxford, don’t miss out on this one!

The English weather was merciful, so we could also stroll around Christchurch Meadow and along the river Isis (usually known as Thames). The cows were impressive, and to our surprise and delight we also saw the first hatchlings of the year.

Exploring the East: Caves in the Karst

As mentioned in my last post about Roznava, I stayed in that area – thanks to my student Vojto and his mum – for a few days. It’s a karst region, in Slovak known as Slovenský Kras which means Slovak Karst. And it’s beautiful.

slovk-karstRolling hills with lush forests, meadows with flowers, and if you’re lucky, you can spot an Imperial Eagle. I did, but you’ve got to take my word for it since I didn’t have my camera ready.

A lot of the area is protected and UNESCO World Heritage Site, both above and below ground. Slovakia has many caves, and there are several in this area. If you’re a geology geek, the Ochtinska Aragonite Cave is an absolute must see! And even if you’re not, the crystals are so magnificent – if you were to visit just one cave out of all on offer, go for that. It’s one of three such caves on the planet. Check opening hours by following the link above, guided tours only, and I’m not sure what languages they have available.

Getting to all caves is possible with public transport, but for the Aragonite cave a short hike is included. You need to take a bus to this stop, Gocaltovo. Then follow the pot-hole-riddled

bus-stop-aragonit-caveroad into the forest for about two kilometres until the parking area of the cave. Entrance is  generally quite cheap, photo permission not. This is the reason why there aren’t any in-cave pics.

Anyway, if you prefer to go on a boat ride in the bowels of the earth, head for the Domica Cave. There are bats flying above your heads, and the stones come in a range of colours. Just check that the water level is alright for the sailing trip. And if you can’t get enough of caving, check out this place: http://www.krasnohorskajaskyna.sk/indexangl.htm.

Of course, there’s more to the karst region than just caves. Above ground, you can find some splendid ruins like this old Hussite church: hussite-church

Oh yes, and actually more caves. The minor problem with this one was that there wasn’t

ice-cave-signany ice. I blame global warming.

ice-cave-no-iceBack in August, it was just the time when this plant was bearing fruit. Very refreshing.

karst-plantDefinitely a region to go to on a holiday!slovak-karst-2

Pula – Croatia between the Romans and Tourism

Situated on the southern tip of Istria, Croatia, Pula has a lot to offer. There is a substantial colosseum with an amphitheatre inside, all in very good repair.

colosseum PulaThe overall amount of Roman ruins or monuments was surprisingly high, but small wonder, since Pula was a centre of administration back then as it is now. If you look closely, you can see a plaque on the yellow building – this is where the writer, James Joyce, used to teach.

gate and James JoyceWith so many treasures to admire it came as no surprise that the town was crammed with tourists. I can highly recommend going there, but avoid the summer menumonths. The mild climate should make for a nice trip during winter, too. Oh, and if you’re vegetarian, pay close attention to what’s on offer:



Pula delighted not only with its Roman remains, but also with a lot of modern history, even spaceflight. Mr Hermann Noordung (or Potocnik), a local, developed ideas for space stations. NASA recognizes his work on their website: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1217.html

Mr NoordungPula also has a shipyard and big marina. On the north side of the harbour there is an old military area earmarked for touristic development, but at the moment one can still go there, find large green lizards and enjoy a walk between more recent ruins and pine trees. Pula northern side

At Mycenae

On a rather cold and windy day in late December, we took the bus to Mycenae. In spite of the uninviting weather, it was a great trip. Nobody was on strike and only a few dozen tourists were around, which in the vastness of the site didn’t matter much. The first construct we admired was the tholos tomb ‘Treasury of Atreus‘ which is not the burial site of Atreus (or Agamemnon). The beehive-formed roof was most fascinating.

treasury of Atreusroof treasuryThis tomb is a few hundred meters away from the citadel, so we had a good view of the actual hill with the acropolis’s ruins on top.

hill with citadelThe most famous bit of the citadel of Mycenae is probably the lion gate with two headless lions. At least it provided lots of people with the more exciting part of their selfies.

lion gate For me, the remaining structures of buildings inside the citadel were actually more interesting than the gate.

citadel MyceneEven back then people had built secret passage ways!

subterranean path I was most intrigued, however, by some pieces in the on-site museum. Pottery with octopusses was a novelty for me. And the second piece, which looked to me like a seal, is probably a dove!vase octopus bird seal

Sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus

The Peloponnese is covered in spectacular archeaological sites, five of which are a UNESCO world heritage site at the time of writing. We visited the sanctuary of Asclepius on a perfect winter day, meaning splendid weather and almost no other tourists. Judging by the size of the parking lot this is very different during the summer.

The most famous part of the site is the huge theatre. The acoustics are spectacular. I took a seat on one of the top rows and could not only hear people ‘on stage’ talking, rustling paper and dropping coins, but also hear the grains of sand moving under their feet.

Theatre Epidaurustheatre Epidaurus1

Walking around the vast area of the sanctuary was great fun. The ruins are well-described, so one gets a really good idea what the place might have looked like in its heyday. Even now, without any info, I thought it quite amazing.

Asclepeion2The on-site museum was smaller than expected, but well-organised and labelled. Many pieces found at the site can be seen in Athens – that’s another trip.

museum AsclepeionAlso the location of Epidaurus, the village Ligurio (and, confusingly, neither Palaia nor Nea Epidaurus), is beautiful. Small hills and olive groves, no big roads, just ideal for a sanctuary.asclepeion1

The Three Fortresses of Nafplio

Nafplio’s turbulent history provides the interested tourist with at least a day’s worth of excursion. At some point, it was capital of Greece, the Venetians and Ottomans ruled from here, and even during classical times it was already an important port and stronghold. Reason enough for us,palamidi fortress to venture out and see some remnanpalamidi3ts of Nafplio’s past.





A must-see and, at the same time, can’t-be-avoided is Palamidi Fortress which looms large on a hill over the town. Depending on the sun, it either glows or looks somewhat forbiddingpalamidi4. palamidi2





The number of stairs which lead up to the fortress varies according to source, but it took me about half an hour of leisurely walking and taking pictures along the way.

the stairs up to palamidiInside the fortress, there are eight smaller castles in different states of decay. The cold weather that day gave a good impression of how awful it must have been when some of those castle were used as prisons.

in palamidi2 in palamidi in palamidi 3Views, however, were breathtaking. This is the newer part of Nafplio.

nafplio new townOne can also see the second fortress, Acronauplio, and the third, called Bourtzi. The latter one is located on an island, and closed during the winter.

acronafplio and burtzinafplio and burtziAcronauplio still features a lion of St Marcus from the times of Venetian rule. Otherwise, it’s home to a lovely forest of prickly pears.acronafplio lionacronaflpio