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Sunday, January 03, 2016


My travel writer friend Inka invited me to visit her in Spain last September. She lives in Torrvieja, a lovely seaside city on the Costa Blanca. The name of the town comes from the original ancient guard tower (Torre Vieja meaning Old Tower) which once guarded the harbour. Torrevieja was originally a salt-mining and fishing village, located between two large salt lakes, one blue/green, the other pink, caused by the pigments and algae of the salty environment. The lakes are now an official nature reserve attracting a wide variety of bird life. The main attraction are the flamingos. Up to 2000 can be seen there during breeding season. Did you know that the flamingos turn bright pink from eating the shrimp from the salty water? The salt lake at La Mata lagoon produces pyramids of salt most of which is exported abroad.

 During the 19th century, salt was shipped from Torrevieja.  Salt and fishing are the major industries.
Today Torrevieja is a popular resort for holidayers from England, France, Germany and Russia. A lot of Brits have retirement homes here.

Inka and I had fun exploring the sights. On my first day there we met up with our friend Darlene Foster, a Vancouver travel writer who lives nearby. We spent an excellent day touring the pirate's island of Tabarca, a short boat trip from Torrevieja. (see my previous blog).

The city itself has various interesting historical sites which we explored including  the two main churches  - the Hermitage (new) and the Virgin of Cenception (old).

The next day we got the bus to CARTEGENA, an old historical city famous from the Punic Wars. This is where Hannibal set off with is elephants on his journey to Rome.

Cartagena has been inhabited for over two millennia, founded in 227 BC by the Carthaginians. During the Roman Empire it was known as Carthago Nova (the New Carthage) and was one of the most important cities of the time because of its defensive port, one of the most important sea ports in the western Mediterranean.  The city is now a major destination for cruise ships.

Remains of the Punic Walls

There are a number of historical sites in the city. We visited the Roman Theatre and Punic Walls as well as Phoenician, Byzantine and Moorish remains including Casa Fortuna is a lovely old Roman villa.

Roman Theatre

Roman Villa

There are many things to see in Cartegena including 12 museums, several noteworthy churches and monuments as well as the archaeological sites. We walked along the Calle Mayor and admired the many beautiful art deco houses then relaxed at a cafe bar.

A Delicious Lunch

The following day we took a bus to a small city nearby, Santa Palo.  We walked through the town to see the old church and the 16th century castle. Unfortunately all the museums were closed. I'd have liked to see the Salt Museum but I did see the salt lakes and piles of salt heaped nearby.
 16th century Castle

Seaside View

Our pleasant outing concluded with a nice lunch in a good restaurant (chorizo flambe in rum and potatoes with ali olli - garlic sauce).

It was a pleasant visit with my friend and I appreciated seeing all the sights of these interesting old cities.
The next day I took the bus to Murcia and from there, another relaxing bus journey to Malaga where I'll stay a few days visiting my friends Carlos and Natalia.

Friday, November 27, 2015


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If anyone mentions ‘pirates’ to me it immediately piques my interest. So when my friend Inkasuggested that I might like to visit the pirate island of Tabarca off the Coasta Blanca in Spain, I was more than interested.

We caught a boat from Torrevieja for the short, pleasant cruise to the island, just a few nautical miles off shore. The island was once known as Illa de Sant Paul (Saint Paul’s Island) because it is believed that St. Paul disembarked here. For many years up to the 18th century it was a refuge for Barbary pirates and part of the Republic of Genoa. Later it was fortified by Charles III of Spain. Around that time, some Genoese sailors were shipwrecked off the coast of Tunisia and rescued by islanders from Tabarca. They settled there and people of Genoese descent can still be found on the island. From 1770 the island was known as Nueva Tabarca (New Tabarca).

My two travel writer friends, Inka and Darlene and I wandered around the old town and explored the shoreline and ruins. The island was once fortified with walls, bulwarks, warehouses, a governor’s house and barracks.

The gateways are still there as are the Governor’s House (now a hotel) and the church of St Peter and St Paul built in 1770. Later the garrison was removed and by the end of the 19th century the island was populated by about 1,000 people, mainly fishermen. Tabarca is the smallest inhabited islet in Spain. Today the population is around 50, although during the tourist season there are up to 4000 people a day who arrive as visitors.

After seeing all the sights around the town, we stopped by a restaurant for lunch, attracted by the ‘pirate’ who welcomed us inside.
Inka meets the Pirate

We chose a table on the terrace of the Nou Collonet, overlooking the sea and enjoyed a delicious lunch from the menu of langostas y bogavantes, pescados and other traditional Spanish cuisine. The island has several good restaurants as well as hotels for overnight accommodations.

After lunch we hiked across the desolate grassy expanse to the garrison ruins and the old lighthouse at the tip of the island. Tabarca is a protected marine reserve for seabirds and various marine fauna. The sea around the rocky shoreline is crystal clear and perfect for snorkeling. It was declared a Marine Reserve in 1986, the first one in Spain. Boats to the island run from Alicante, Torrevieja and Santa Pola. Some of them have glass bottoms so you can view the reefs and sea life.
 Old Fortress

I didn’t see any pirates on Tabarca other than the one who welcomed us to the restaurant, but it was certainly an excellent way to spend the day with my friends. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

TREDEGAR HOUSE: Home of one of Wales Most Illustrious Families


It was the mention of the famous pirate Capt. Henry Morgan that first sparked my interest when my cousin Nicola suggested we visit a country manor in Wales. Although Capt. Morgan, for whom the famous rum was named, was the son of one of the nine illustrious sons of the original owner of this 17th century Charles II era country house, it somehow made the visit more intriguing.

Tredegar House, near Newport Wales, was the home of the Morgan family for over 500 years and later the home of the Lords Tredegar, one of the most powerful and influential families in the area. The mansion is surrounded by a landscaped garden of 90 acres and is one of the most outstanding houses of the Restoration period in Britain.  The earliest part of the building dates back to the late 15th century but it’s been restored over the ages. It was originally built of stone and later rebuilt with red brick.

The name Tredegar came from Tredegar Fawr, the name of the mansion of the old Morgans who were descended from Cadifor the Great, the son of Collwyn who owned the land where the mansion stands. It was occupied by the Morgan family from about 1402. The earliest documented owner was Llewelyn ap Morgan. The Morgans were one of the most powerful and influential families in the area. In 1448 John Morgan was created a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre and was rewarded for his support of King Henry VII. Around 1490 he commissioned the building of a new house at Tredegar, though a wing of the original stone manor house still exists. The newer palatial house was visited by Charles I and his retinue during the 1600’s.
We walked through the gardens and passed through the high ornate Edney Gates to get into the building. The gilded gates were built between 1714 and 1718 for John Morgan and are an example of early 18th century decorative wrought ironwork. Just past the gates is the Stable Block which housed the many horses owned by the family.
The Edney Gates

Once inside the palatial mansion, the docent showed us the way to proceed through the various rooms, all furnished in the style of the period with oil paintings on the walls. In one of the rooms there was a large oil painting of Godfrey Morgan who fought in the Charge of the Light Brigade. He is pictured with his famous steed, Sir Briggs. Morgan, age 22 and Captain in the 17th Lancers, and his horse survived the battle.  They lived at Tredgar house until the horse’s death at the age of 28. Sir Briggs was buried with full military honours in the Cedar Garden of Tredgar House. There were luxurious bedrooms with decorative furnishings, everything laid out as if the rooms were still occupied by the ladies and gentlemen of the family. In the dining room there was even food displayed on the tables to illustrate the sumptuous feasts that were served there.
Every room we visited had display of the history of this illustrious family, throughout the generations.

Godfrey Morgan and Sir Briggs

The Dining Room

The Morgans were a renown family. Besides the infamous Caribbean privateer, Henry (Sir Harri) Morgan who began as an admiral of the Royal Navy, there are many tales of ill-fated marriages, riotous parties, war heroism and even the dark arts. The docent hosts at the house related some of these tales to us as we walked through the various room.

We visited the servant's quarters and kitchens which were reminiscent of the popular TV series Downton Abbey. There some of the secrets of the servants were revealed including concealed drawers full of spices and a silver safe that was always protected by a guard.
 Buzzers for calling servants


Head Servant's quarters

Eventually the family's financial assets were depleted through their extravagant lifestyle and the eccentricities of the owners. The last Baron of Tredegar, John Morgan, died childless in 1962 at aged 54. His death was the end of the Morgans of Tredegar. In 1951 the house was stripped and the contest auctioned. It was turned over the National Trust and refurbished in 2012.