Posted by inka on Mar 8, 2014 in Day trips
, Travel tips
If you want to experience some 2000 years of history in one day and at a leisurely pace to boot, Cartagena on the Mediterranean in the Southeast of Spain is the place to come.
Founded in 227 BC by the Carthagian general Hasdrubal the Fair, city and port where conquered during the 2nd Punic War by Scipio Africano in 209 BC. After the decline of the Roman Empire, Cartagena fell into the hands of Vandal, Visigoths, Byzantines, Arabs and of King Alfonso X of Castille in 1245. From her heyday during Roman times, Cartagena declined, then recovered again, all of which witnessed by countless sights and monuments.
Living at present in Torrevieja, I took an easy 2 hour bus ride to Cartagena and, on arrival was confronted with the first of many particularities which mark the landmarks of Cartagena. I saw what I thought was a lighthouse, but no… it was the clock tower of the central bus terminal!
All the places worth seeing in Cartagena, are grouped closely together, which makes it easy to see a lot without exhausting hikes. Along the impressive rampart constructed by King Charles III in about 1750, I walked to my hotel in Calle Duque San Diego.
Rampart of Charles III
I only had to cross the street to reach the oldest monument: the remains of the Punic wall. During excavation, the archaeologists discovered a crypt with burial niches for monks, complete with bones!!
Next stop was la Casa de la Fortuna, a well preserved Roman villa with lovely frescos. And also the site of another incongruity: the outside is covered in corrugated aluminum and I had great trouble even finding the entrance.
More of this to come! Next stop, just down the road was the art deco building of Casa Aguirre, which is today the Museum of Modern Art with some, for my taste, hideous paintings inside.
The biggest surprise for me was when I went in search of Cartagena´s most famous landmark: The Roman theatre, the second biggest on the Iberian peninsula. Believe it or not, the entrance to the forum and museum is hidden behind this Rococo like pink building.
Entrance to the forum
and this is what lies behind..
And then I came upon this monstrosity. No, it´s not a giant crane but a lift which transports visitors up the hill to the Castillo de la Concepcion.
Old and not so old alternate at every step in Cartagena. Many ´holes´ between buildings reveal ongoing archaeological excavations and, somewhat disconcertingly: beautiful art deco facades held up by scaffolding with the buildings behind them totally missing! I can only assume, that major rebuilding work is under way.
Unequivocal and pleasant however is the pedestrian zone of Calle Mayor with more splendid facades (and fully intact buildings behind them!), shops, cafes, restaurants and tapas bars where I took a well deserved rest in the most popular one: La Tartana.
Stained glass windows in the casino
Having a coke in La Tartana
Fortified, I decided to pay homage to Cartagena´s outstanding history as an important port and seat of the Spanish Navy. I did this by a leisurely 1/2 hour boat trip around the harbor with a view of more castles guarding the entrance, lighthouses, warships as well as cruise liners.
My roundtrip, so to speak, ended with a visit to the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology. There is a lot more to see, but I was happy with the impression and overview of Cartagena and the easy way of strolling through history.
I don´t often write hotel reviews, but the Hotel Los Habaneros where I stayed during my recent trip to Cartagena in the Southwest of Spain deserves special praise.
Hotel Los Habaneros
Before booking, I had read the reviews and descriptions, but experience has taught me to take the hype with a pinch of salt. In the case of this hotel however, reality was even better than the reviews.
For starters, there is the location of the hotel which is unbeatable. Literally about 3 minutes from the very unusual and interesting central bus station of Cartagena you reach your hotel easily and without the need of a taxi.
Clock tower of the bus terminal
Checking in time is normally 3pm which is rather late, but although I had arrived at 11am and was prepared to just drop my bags and you sightseeing, my room was ready and I could freshen up before setting off to explore.
The stuff at reception couldn´t have been more helpful. They gave me an even better map than the one I already had and pointed me in the right direction. I also got a voucher for a welcome drink which I didn´t hesitate to redeem in the hotel´s nice café on the terrace.
Every single site worth seeing and visiting in Cartagena is also in walking distance.
Right opposite you find the Punic wall, one of the main attractions and the museum and exhibition which go with it.
Crypt uncovered druing excavation of the Punic wall
A few steps further down the street, you come upon a fabulous art deco building, called Casa Aguirre famed for its tower and fish scaled dome and decoration with ceramic motifs. It is now MURAM, the regional museum of Modern Art.
Equally easy to reach are the Casa de la Fortuna, a town house dating from Roman times, the Forum Romanum which is probably Cartagena´s most famous landmark, the port and the pedestrian zone of Calle Mayor with splendid art deco facades, smart shops and countless restaurants, cafes and tapas bars , one of the most popular called La Tartana.
Interior of La Tartana
My single room was spacious and comfortable and had all the amenities you need. This for a price of EUROS 47 per night which includes breakfast. Breakfast is a buffet affair but quite adequate and the chef will cook you eggs any way you want without extra charge.
Again, special praise needs to be given to the friendly stuff. Having left my laptop behind and being an insomniac, I felt the need to go on the internet at 4am. There is one computer for use of the guests and the night clerk not only set it up for me but also brought me a cup of coffee. Granted, she had nothing else to do at that hour and was bored stiff, but even so, it was a very nice gesture.
A hotel with excellent value for money and one I would always return to should I want to visit Cartagena again.
Disclaimer: I paid full price and had no benefit of any kind from the hotel. This article reflects my personal opinion.
Posted by inka on Mar 2, 2014 in Day trips
, Travel tips
After several months of refurbishment, Torrevieja´s most important museum, the museum of the sea and the salt has opened its doors again.
Small it may be, but it contains a selection of objects which represent the roots of Torrevieja, i.e. the salt industry and everything to do with it. In fact, only last week and for the first time in many decades, a freighter was under way to export salt to the USA.
Overview of the museum
Located in Calle Patricio Perez close to the promenade, the first thing that caught my eye were glittering sculptures of ships and ancient buildings made from salt. I have seen ice sculptures, sugar sculptures but never salt sculptures, so that rounded the picture nicely out for me.
I also had to smile when I saw an old SINGER sewing machine, used to make the laborers clothes. SINGER is a trademark for Germany which you will find anywhere in the world.
Entrance is free and a bonus was the curator who watches over the place. Nobody else but me was visiting, so we got to chat about history, football and Wagner operas.
I tell you, the world is full of surprises!! A very enjoyable morning indeed.
Posted by inka on Mar 1, 2014 in Germany
, travel history
, Travel tips
Whilst researching some details about Lake Geneva, I noticed that there is a Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. So, to avoid confusion, I´m talking here about Lake Geneva in Switzerland which you might have guessed anyway because otherwise: what would Empress Elisabeth be doing in Wisconsin?
Lake Geneva is the largest French-Swiss and covers no less than 500.000 sqm of water. Roughly in the shape of a huge banana, the lake owns much of its beauty to the surrounding Maritime Alps. Part French, part Swiss well known cities like Geneva, Lausanne, Montreux or Vevey border the lake and are connected by much used ferries.
Six small islands lie in the lake, which is fed by the river Rhone, the best known home to the water castle Chillon. The most eye catching attraction is no doubt the huge Jet d´Eau, a fountain in the lake just off shore from Geneva which launches its spray up to 140m into the air.
Geneva was the last destination of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who in her later years was much given to travel. She was a complex personality, not unlike her beloved cousin and best fried King Ludwig II and, ironically, just like him she found a violent death on the shores of a beautiful lake.
On 10th September 1898, Elisabeth, accompanied by her lady in waiting Countess Irma Sztavay, walked along the promenade from her Hotel Beau Rivage to catch the steamboat for Montreux.
Suddenly, a young man approached, tried to peer under her parasol and made a sweeping movement with his hand, then ran off.
The empress stumbled, but before anyone realized what had happened, she grabbed the arm of her lady in waiting, walked some 100 yards and boarded the steamship before she collapsed and lost consciousness. As she was incognito, the captain didn´t know who she was and advised Irma to take her back to the hotel. The whole story is really lurid and hard to understand until Elisabeth was finally carried back to the hotel on a makeshift stretcher, her clothes cut off and people who attended her realized that she had been stabbed. It was in fact due to her tight corset that the bleeding from the wound was hardly noticeable and that she lived as long as she did.
What had happened? An Italian anarchist by the name of Luigi Lucheni had travelled to Geneva to kill the Duque of Orleans, but when he found out that the pretender to the throne of France had left the previous day, he deiced to kill any sovereign he could find. Unfortunately for her, it was Elisabeth whose true identity had been revealed by a newspaper.
`Ì came to Geneva to kill a sovereign`, he said, ´as an example to those who suffer and those who don´t care about their suffering`.
And like Ludwig, Elisabeth got a statue on the place where her murder occurred. Another story which combines the beauty of a lake with violent death.
Photograph of Jet d ´Eau by Roland Zumbühl under GNU Free Documentataion Licence.
In my last three posts of the ´lakes series´, I told you about three lakes in Turkey remarkable because of their location and beauty.
The next two, Lake Starnberg in Germany and Lake Geneva in Switzerland are equally beautiful, but their names are forever connected with tragedy, mystery and death.
Relaxing at Lake Starnberg
The first, Lake Starnberg, located in the southwest of Bavaria is Germany´s fourth largest lake. 120 m deep at the deepest point it is a lake famous for water sports and up market communities at its shores. A small island, Roseninsel, lies in the middle of the lake, with a royal villa on it which belonged to King Ludwig.
On June 13th 1886 at 6pm, the deposed King Lugwig II of Bavaria and his personal physician Dr. Gubben went for a walk along the shore of Lake Starnberg, in pleting rain!
The young King Ludwig II
Three hours later, both men were found in waist high water, dead. Dr. Gubben had ijuries to his neck and shoulders and the king lay face down in the water.
To this day it remains a mystery what really happened. The day before, King Ludwig who had been declared insane and suffering from paranoia because of his outrageous spending on his castles and other artistic projects. Deposed, had been taken into custody and imprisoned in Berg Castel the day before. Dr. Gubben was to look after him and to take care of his health.
After an autopsy it was officially declared that the king has committed suicide and it was hinted that he might have attacked Dr. Gubben. But.. no water was found in the king´s lungs and drowning therefore seems unlikely.
Other theories indicate that Ludwig tried to escape and was murdered during the attempt. The mystery remains unsolved and so the king´s own words are fulfilled: Ì want to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others.`
Visitors are reminded of the tragedy by the King´s cross, always decorated with flowers because Ludwi g , the fairy tale king and creator of such castles as Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee remains popular to this day.
The photo of Ludwig´s cross is by Nicholas Even, Dallas under Creative Common Attribute Share Licence