A Postcard from Carcassonne

Last summer, we visited Southern France and stopped off for a few days in the beautiful medieval city of Carcassonne. It’s taken me a while, but at last, I have finally got round to writing this long awaited postcard….

Fate brought me and Carcassonne together. Several years ago, while visiting family in the UK we found ourselves with babysitters for a couple of hours one evening so we visited a nearby pub. The establishment in question had shelves of second hand books for drinkers to read and Mr Postcard perused the books as we waited for our drinks. He handed me a rather dog-eared green book with a golden circular labyrinth image on the front and said “I think that’s up your street”.

He was right. I read the blurb on the back and was immediately drawn in (we were at the pub with Mr Postcard’s brother and I was very antisocial I’m afraid, because I became absorbed by the book which had found its way into my hands). I felt a bit  disappointed when the time came to leave and go home, reluctantly I replaced the book on the shelf and made a mental note to hunt down my own copy.

Fortuitously, as we walked through the airport to catch our flight back to Gibraltar, I spotted a brand spanking new copy of the book in a shop and had just enough time to buy it before catching our plane. The book was Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.

I loved it, both the characters and the setting of Carcassonne. It sounded like such a magical, special place. For the first time ever, I felt compelled to visit a place I had read about. I had no idea when that would happen, just that I really wanted to go there. I went on to read the next two books in the Languedoc trilogy (Sepulchre & Citadel) and thoroughly enjoyed them both. I even got the members of the book club I belong to to read Labyrinth (I had to spread the love). Then, in 2015, I had the good fortune to be able to see a talk with the author, Kate Mosse, when she came to the Gibraltar Literary Festival.

I went to hear her talk about her latest book, the Taxidermist’s Daughter, but unfortunately I couldn’t stay on afterwards to meet her (as I had to dash off to collect a child). I rushed back later with said child in tow in the hope that I would be able to get my book signed.

I couldn’t believe my luck. As we arrived at the front door of the hall where Kate had been speaking, there she was, about to leave, alongside another literary heroine of mine, Joanne Harris. Totally star struck, and full of apologies for detaining her further I asked if she would mind signing my book. She was very gracious and obliged.

And so, several years had passed since I first laid eyes on Labyrinth and last summer we were planning a trip to France. There were two direct flights available from Malaga airport, to Paris and Toulouse. We opted for Toulouse as we fancied exploring somewhere we hadn’t visited before.

It was only after booking the flight that the penny dropped that Carcassonne wasn’t far from Toulouse. [I may have applied a little pressure for us to hire a car so we could have a day trip out to Carcassonne ;-)]. As it turned out, Mr Postcard surprised me by booking a gîte just outside the old city walls for a few nights so that we could explore Carcassonne properly. I can’t tell you how happy that made me!

I’m not sure I have enough superlatives to describe the medieval Cité. It’s just beautiful and as atmospheric as I imagined. We had a day or so to potter around the narrow streets by ourselves, before going on a pre-booked tour with a guide, so that we didn’t miss anything.

It’s taken me a while, but at last, I have finally got round to writing this long awaited postcard….

The ‘old’ Carcassonne sat on the hill above where we were staying, beckoning us up to explore…

The first thing I was struck by, was how well preserved the medieval Cité was. Sitting atop a hill with a clear view of the River Aude, it looked magestic. It hasn’t always been so though. After its heyday, the Cité fell into disrepair and locals moved out into the modern city on the opposite side of the river. Over time the stones of the Cité walls and its buildings began to be taken by scavengers who needed the stone for new buildings in the new city, effectively turning it into a quarry. It wasn’t until 1853 that Eugène Viollet-le-Duc was given the job of attempting to restore the Cité to its former glory. It is his Carcassonne which you see today when you visit.

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Although we did have plenty of time to explore the ancient streets and buildings ourselves, we decided to pay to join one of the official guided tours which left from the tourist office on a regular basis.

We gathered together under the giant horse chestnut trees outside the main entrance of the Cité to begin our tour. One of the first questions our guide asked was whether any of us English speakers had read Labyrinth. I was the only one and put my hand up. I just happened to have my copy with me (it was at this point that the Little Postcards died in embarrassment and ever so slightly disowned me! Cue the cry of “Muuuum! I can’t believe you brought that with you!”).

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We were led in over the drawbridge (which isn’t original, it was created during the renovation works).

Our first port of call was the Lices area between the two sets of ancient walls which encircle the Cité. Once filled with housing for the less well off in society, but now cleared to make a pleasant green area.

We then headed into the rabbit warren of streets and alleyways. Full of hidden corners and nookie holes and history. The architecture is really beautiful.

I won’t give you a blow by blow account of our tour, as I couldn’t do it justice. I’ll just share a few bits with you…

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I’m so glad that we did take the tour, the significance of certain buildings were highlighted and it put the Cité into a much clearer context both in medieval times and the intervening years. The most interesting thing I learned was that it became the Southern French HQ of the Gestapo during WWII and they took over the 5* Hotel de la Cité as they explored the surrounding mountains of Languedoc in search of buried Cathar treasure. In more recent times a host of celebrities from Michael Jackson to the Queen Mother have stayed there.

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The Basilica of Saint-Nazaire nearby is surrounded with some very ominous looking gargoyles. They must have seen some sights over the centuries!

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Inside the Cathedral are the most stunning stained glass windows.

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We bought tickets to go into the 12th Century Château Comtal, which is the only part of the Cité you have to pay to enter.

Another interesting fact is that the Château Comtal (which is where Alaïs, the heroine of Labyrinth lives at the start of the novel), was actually used as a location in the making of the Kevin Costner film; Robin Hood Prince of Theives. The exterior of the Château became the outside of Nottingham Castle, home to Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham.

While much of the Château is just a network of empty rooms which tourists wander through on a trail from one section to another, the views were pretty spectacular from the windows. (There may have been some really interesting stuff in there but I had a slightly impatient 5 year old with me, who’s patience had run out, so it was a bit of a whistle stop tour for us).

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Inside the Château is a collection of archaeological exhibits from the Cité’s past.

The end of the Château tour led us out onto the inner ramparts, which afforded us lovely views across the valley and to the more modern city beyond the River Aude.

Every day we were in Carcassonne, it was busy with tourists. However, as we were staying nearby, we were lucky enough to be able to come back up to the Cité in the evenings and enjoy it while the streets were a good bit quieter, and really soak up the atmosphere among the medieval buildings.

I had high hopes for Carcassonne before I had arrived, and it didn’t disappoint. The atmosphere and the architecture are just lovely. As an old romantic who would love to live in a castle, it was marvellous to spend some time there. So that was last summer, and as luck would have it just two weeks ago this beauty was published….

…. another Kate Mosse novel which is partially set in Carcassonne. This time I can read it knowing exactly what the places are like which are described in it’s pages. I had to patiently wait for my copy to make it down to Gibraltar, but now it’s here, and I’m off to put the kettle on and start reading!

Thanks for stopping by, and if you made it all the way to the end of this particularly long postcard – thank you! You deserve a pat on the back!!

A postcard from the Dolomites

It’s so hard to believe it now in the 23 degrees Celsius spring Gibraltar sunshine, but this time last week, I was learning to ski in the Dolomites in Italy. What an amazing trip and what an absolutely beautiful place. In true Postcard from Gibraltar style I had to send you my very own Postcard from the Dolomites…

We left Gibraltar on a very wet Sunday lunchtime – can you just about make out the Rock through the mist and rain? We travelled by car to Malaga airport before catching a flight to Treviso airport outside Venice. We arrived after dark and then set off on a very long and winding drive up into the Italian Alps. It was all hairpin bends and thick, thick snow, the like of which I had only ever seen on Christmas cards before now.

We reached our destination at 11:30pm. All I could tell you about it then was that it was a long way from home, there was a lot of snow and it was very cold! It wasn’t until we woke up the following morning that we saw the beautiful fairytale village we were staying in, San Vigilio di Marebbe:

After breakfast, our first stop was the ski hire shop to get kitted our with all our gear before our first ski lesson. I had never skied before, I really had no desire to learn to be honest. A lot of our friends make the 3 hour drive from Gibraltar to Sierra Nevada to ski during the winter months and we have often been encouraged to go to, but the prospect didn’t really appeal. This trip came about through Mr Postcard’s work and my parents very kindly stepped in to look after the Little Postcards so we could go alone – it suddenly looked attractive!

So there we were, skis on feet, poles in hands and hearts pounding as we trepidatiously snow ploughed down a rather gentle (I can say that now ;-)) slope from the hotel to the bottom of our nearest piste.

And so it began, the first of 17 hours of ski tuition over 5 days. In for a penny, in for a pound. If we cracked it we planned to attempt Sierra Nevada en famille next winter, if not we’d give it up as a bad job.

After a few tentative slides down the nursery slope, we were bundled into a gondola and taken to the top of our first blue run ‘Miara’. This was utterly petrifying, although by the end of the week it became like an old friend. Last run of the day was down ‘Pedagà’. This felt like a black run to us novices – look you can’t even see the bottom!!

And that was it for day one. Our first ‘proper’ night began in the hotel with a particularly loud party. There were several accordions playing and one chap was banging what looked like a modified broom handle covered in cymbals on the floor. Trays of nibbles were brought round…

…then there was an almight cheer as a lady came in with a bouquet of flowers. Turned out, it was Manuela Moelgg a local sporting heroine who had just returned from her final world championship race after 18 years of competing. It felt like the whole village was celebrating.

The following morning, between breakfast and our first ski lesson of the day, Mr Postcard and I took ourselves off for a wander to see more of San Vigilio.

We had woken to a brighter, sunny morning and our surroundings were looking so pretty.

The beautiful church of San Vigilio, with its wrought iron headstones…

…and the homes and businesses with their ornately carved balconies…

Then we headed out of the village into the countryside.

How’s this for a picnic table with a view?

Ski lessons called though, so we headed back into the village with a pledge to return and see more.

This time our trips down the Miara felt slightly less daunting, although just as we were feeling at ease with our snow ploughing and turns, our instructor sent us down some ‘gentle’ bumps – gulp!

At lunch, we took a cable car further up the mountain and found the most stunning place for lunch…

Scotch broth, just the ticket!

Then it was back down the mountain for more lessons.

On Wednesday morning, we woke to almost cloudless blue skies. Perfect weather!

Look! That’s us down there, we were spied from above by a friend passing on a cable car!

This time, we got our first ever chair lift to another blue run, it was as so pretty there…

What a place, every view is like a Christmas card!

After skiing, we’d arranged to meet some friends back at the same mountain top restaurant as yesterday, Col dl’Ancona. This time we had completed our lesson before lunch so were allowed to enjoy a little après ski at lunchtime…

What a place…

Thursday saw us reach new heights, the plateau on the top of a mountain, Mount Kronplatz or Plan de Corones to be precise…

It was the site of a huge bell placed there in the year 2000 to mark the cooperation of the three communities who live around the mountain San Vigilio (where we were staying), Bruneck and Olang.

The large brass floor plaque below the bell is written in the three local languages, Latin (which is spoken in San Vigilio) as well as Italian and German.

The huge bell, which is rung at midday, is circled by a model of the surrounding mountains and markers to show the direction of significant cities including Berlin, Brussels and Milan:

This row of mountains with completely covered snowy summits is the Austrian alps…

We attempted two blue runs from this lofty location, both rather steeper than we had been used to, and I fell for the first time on a particularly steep section where I just froze in mild panic. We got down though, eventually, and were all very relieved when we got back down to the village again.

Mr P and I decided to go back out for another longer walk, on the same road as before but further this time.

It was clear that the spring melt had begun, in the two days since our last walk, we could see a marked difference in the amount of snow at the roadside.

Our walk took us up along a footpath through the trees and away from the road.

It was mostly compacted snow under foot, but at times it was decidedly slippery as the snow gave way to ice.

Wood is a big thing around here. Obviously a lot is needed as fuel to keep homes warm in the long cold winter, but also a lot is used in construction too. Wherever you look there are buildings for storing wood, or log piles heaped with snow.

We headed back out of the woods and onto the road where we came across a rather jauntily decorated house.

We had been promised a lake along this road, but all we found was a rather disappointing pond, so crossed over through the trees on the other side and past a stream.

It was here that we found an amazing cross country ski track…

It stretched for miles in each direction.

We had caught a glimpse of one skier through the trees, but apart from that one person, we were all alone. It was so peaceful.

The sun was falling lower in the sky, so we thought it best to head back to the road before it grew cold and dark.

Friday was another beautiful day, our last day of skiing and one in which I had a couple of incidents. I learned two valuable lessons about chairlifts; 1) don’t let go of your ski poles when you’re on one unless you have checked the straps are round your wrists and 2) chairlifts are best got onto in the vertical, rather than horizontal position. I shall say no more.

I did end the day on a high though, we skied two thirds of the way down this slope twice…

And I managed three times down the blue ‘Pedagà’ run without an instructor (but with an experienced friend) to finish off our morning’s skiing.

And so our ski adventure came to an end…

It was a marvelous experience, one I feel incredibly lucky to have enjoyed. I learned a new skill, met some lovely people, made new friends and got to see a truly spectacular part of the world. Oh, and I didn’t get hurt! Win, win!!

As the last rays of Friday’s sunshine set on the mountains above San Vigilio, I felt a tad melancholy that we were leaving, but also hopeful that one day we would return. Ciao until next time…

In case you are ever in San Vigilio and need ski lessons, I can heartily recommend Scuola Sci San Vigilio di Marebbe – our instructor had no end of patience!!

A Postcard from the Vatican

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During the summer of 2017 we did a bit of travelling as a family and at long last I have got round to writing some blog posts about it and downloading a few of the many photos on my camera. Last week I published my Postcard from Rome, today here’s my Postcard from the Vatican.

Before setting off on our holiday to Rome last summer, Mr Postcard rather sensibly booked a couple of guided tours, one was to the Vatican City. Included in the price was entry to the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica as well as the tour. We met our guide, Maria, on the steps outside the museum where we were fast-tracked through the crowds.

First stop after the ticket hall was a lovely viewing area which gave us a great position to look out across the Vatican gardens to the dome of St Peter’s Basilica. It was here that our lovely guide took us through many of the things which we were about to see and experience. Our tour was specifically tailored towards a family with young children and Maria showed photographs of various art works and sights we were soon to encounter.

It was here that the first stand out moment of the day happened…. one of the Little Postcards amazed us with his knowledge of Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. It turned out that he’d done work on it a couple of years before in school and he’d remembered it. Well I never.

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After passing through the first part of the Vatican Museum, past ancient Egyption relics and other items from the ancient world, we found ourselves out in a large courtyard garden. The centre of it was dominated by this sculpture. The Sphere within a Sphere was created by Arnaldo Pomodoro and is one of several similar orbs dotted around the world. This one is exactly the same size as the one on the very top of St Peter’s Basilica (see photo above) so it really puts into perspective the scale of the church.

One of the benefits of being on the tour meant that Maria was able to invite the Little Postcards across the chain which roped off the sculpture and got them to help her push the sculpture round so that we could get a 360 degree view of it without moving ourselves. It was fun for the children to get ‘hands-on’ with this piece of art.

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At this stage I must point out that I am not attempting to write a guide book about the Vatican – that would be impossible in a blog post plus I’m sure that many people far more qualified that I am, have already done just that. I just wanted to share a flavour of some of the things we enjoyed on our trip.

In the following photo you can see, not only the sphere at the top St Peter’s Basilica again (top right), but also evidence of the extensive restoration work which was being carried out on the historic buildings.

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Some sections had already been cleaned up, while other parts were still in progress.

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The most impressive aspect of the Vatican City was the beautiful art work which was everywhere. Every wall, every ceiling was covered in the most exquisite work.

And the colours of the paints used are stunning considering the ages of some of these pieces of work.

Now that is what I call a ceiling!

Along the walls of this amazing corridor (the likes of which I have never seen before in my life) was a series of maps. The unusual thing about these maps is that many of them were drawn upside down so that they were from the perspective of the Pope in Rome looking down towards the south. They were also created in the days long, long before satellite images so they were guestimated. Our guide, Maria told us that amazingly in many cases they are pretty accurate despite the lack of geographical knowledge of the time.

Of course, no old map is complete without a sea monster.

As a born and bred Mancunian, I have an affinity for bees (they were used in the coat of arms of the city to signify the industriousness of the workers during the Industrial Revolution and came to prominence again last year as a sign of solidarity following the terrorist attack in Manchester). As I walked along this elaborately decorated corridor, I found myself spotting more and more bees on all of these maps, both in the maps and on the ‘frames’.

I have done a bit of research (by no means comprehensive)  and it turns out that Pope Urban VIII came from the Barberini family and their coat of arms featured three bees, you can read about it here. You can also find other explanations for the existence of so many bees in the Vatican here. When you look at the maps on the walls of this corridor there seems to be a significance to the bees and where they are placed as if they are marking out churches or cathedrals.

If you can shed any light onto why there are so many bees buzzing about the Vatican, I’d love to hear from you! (I wish I’d asked more questions at the time!)

After this beautiful bee-filled corridor, lay the Sistine Chapel. Photographs are not allowed to be taken in there (although many people did) nor are you allowed to speak in there (although many people did). Therefore I have nothing to show you from in there. All I can say is that it was beautiful, indescribably detailed and mind boggling at how Michelangelo could have completed such an amazing peace of work. (You can see it for yourself on the Vatican website). It was also easy to see that on occasions when it is quiet and calm, that it could be an incredibly spiritual place. Sadly for us, it was more like a cattle market, I was shocked at so many peoples’ lack of respect for such an important religious site (despite the best efforts of the Vatican staff). What a shame.

Next up was the final part of our tour.  At this point, our tour guide left us briefly and came back bearing gifts for our boys. Rather aptly it was a postcard for each of them to remind them of their time a the Vatican. We thought it was a lovely gesture. Thank you Maria, if you see this!

The final stop was St Peter’s Basilica itself. How’s this for an impressive porch?

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What a place…

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The Basilica was just mind blowing in it’s grandeur. Every surface was decorated.

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The secret as to why these works of art have stood the test of time is that unlike in the Sistene Chapel, they aren’t paintings. They are made up of millions of tiny mosaic tiles. You may be able to make the tiles out in the photo below:

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Everything here was on such a grand scale, the like of which I have never seen before. It was a beautiful building, if rather busy.

It was on the steps outside the Basilica that we said our goodbyes to our guide for the morning. Enlisting the help of a guide was a price definitely worth paying, especially with young children. They have a relatively short attention span (as do I to be fair) and were able to ask Maria questions that we wouldn’t have been able to answer. It also gave us the chance to learn so much more about our surroundings as, with the best will in the world, you cannot stand and read signs and notices next to exhibits when you are being pulled off in all directions to look at something else by smaller people. I would highly recommend the use of a guide if you are planning a visit yourself.

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From the front steps of the Basilica, we were able to gaze up to the Pope’s balcony. I’m not a Catholic, but it was quite surreal to find myself in a place which is so well known around the world. There was a definite sense of reverence and peace in spite of the hoards of tourists.

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It was upon leaving St Peter’s Basilica that we got our first full glimpse of the famous Swiss Guards. We did spy them at a distance while we were inside the complex but this time we got to see them in all their multicoloured glory.

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At the end of our visit it seemed only right that we should visit the Post Office of the smallest nation in the world and send a postcard home…

I was blown away with the beauty of the Vatican City. I didn’t really know what to expect, of course I had seen bits on telly and in books but to actually experience it for real was another thing altogether. One thing’s for sure, I will never forget the day we went to look around the Vatican.

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A Postcard from Rome

Last summer, we were lucky enough to do a bit of traveling. It was one of my New Years resolutions to finally get round to doing something with a few of the hundreds of photographs I took, so here goes… One of our destinations was Rome and are some of the highlights…

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Until this summer, I had never been to Italy before. I have wanted to visit for so long, but the opportunity didn’t arise until last year. As there was a direct flight from Malaga to Rome we decided to bite the bullet and do a city break with three kids in tow. Before setting off we had the feeling it might be better in hindsight and I think perhaps we were right. It was mid summer, it was very hot, we did loads and loads of walking but we saw lots of the city and it was definitely worth it.

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It is a truly beautiful city. Walking the streets of Rome felt like being on a film set. From grand palazos to higgledy piggledy alleyways, no two streets are the same.

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It was very expensive though. We had been warned before our trip that everything would cost a lot more than we are used to. Breakfast on our first morning, which was nothing more than croissants, coffee and juice for a family of five came to more than €100.

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Whatever corner you walked around there was something to catch your eye.

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I did a double take as we walked down one street and all of a sudden I found myself in front of the Trevi Fountain. We weren’t alone though….. several hundred other folk had turned up too!

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We rented a lovely apartment close to the Spanish Steps. It was amazing to be able to walk out of the front door and within 5 to 10 minutes be at such a famous landmark.

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The view from the top was great, if incredibly over populated!

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In order to escape the crowds in town we took a walk away from the city at the top of the Spanish Steps and soon found ourselves a much quieter vantage point.

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The road we had taken led us to one of Rome’s parks, the beautifully cool and shady Villa Borghese park.

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It was the perfect place to take stock, sit on a bench and rest our weary feet for a little while.

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The Romans certainly know how to do a park on a grand scale!

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We meandered through the park and found ourselves back amongst the throngs so thought we’d give the Rome Metro a whirl.

Naturally, being in Rome, it had to be decorated with mosaics…

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It’s not just the people who are stylish in Rome, their homes are elegant too. As is often the case in Gibraltar, people feel the need to cultivate some greenery in whatever small outdoor space they have. I spotted quite a few balcony gardens.

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Next to the Roman Forum there were lots of green balconies….

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One of the new things I learned about Rome on our visit was that it has a castle…

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Castel Sant’Angelo was built as a mausoleum from the Roman Emperor Hadrian but later was converted into a papal fortress as it’s located a short distance from the Vatican. Nowadays it is the site of a museum.

On one of our long circuitous walks we found ourselves outside Quirinal Palace,  the Italian President’s residence. It was only when we spotted the rather grand garden in the distance and the guard of honour that we realised we were somewhere important.

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One thing you cannot escape in Rome is the profusion of fountains, both large like the Trevi fountain and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in Piazza Navona (below)….

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…to the smaller drinking fountains dotted around the city providing fresh, clean drinking water for anyone who should need it. The water gets into the centre of the city thanks to a network of underground aqueducts built by the ancient Romans.

At this point I must address the elephant in the room. You may be aware that there are a lot of marble statues in Rome, a good proportion of them had their marble nether regions on display. Travelling with young ones, meant that these were frequently pointed out and giggled about…

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Roman food was a great hit with the whole family. Pizza and pasta rate highly in the favourite foods list for all three Little Postcards, as does ice cream, or should I say gelato?

We managed to visit one gelateria which boasted 150 different flavours…. what a dilemma. (I opted for cappuccino in the end in case you were wondering).

You can’t visit Rome without seeing some of the magnificent ancient Roman architecture which has stood the test of time. The Pantheon was utterly mind blowing. I will share more pictures of this in a couple of weeks when I focus on the ancient side of Rome.

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We also enjoyed a fabulous tour of Vatican City. I will share a Postcard from there next week.

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I hope you have enjoyed this little snippet of our lovely few days spent in Rome. Thanks for reading 🙂

A Postcard from Wigan

Last week, we found ourselves in Wigan for a very special family wedding. We had a lovely time and made some very happy memories. We spent the night of the wedding in a hotel in Standish, near Wigan and awoke to enjoy a gloriously sunny morning ahead of our flight back home to Gibraltar. The hotel was set in beautiful landscaped grounds so we headed out for a wander after breakfast.

Regular readers to this blog will know I have a bit of a thing for trees, especially the mature deciduous varieties and there were plenty for me to enjoy (and a rather fetching evergreen too).

At the very edge of the grounds was a footpath leading to Worthington Lakes, a series of lakes maintained by North West Water. Do you fancy joining us for a walk by the water?

How luscious and green… Those moss covered rocks are so inviting to touch, just like green velvet.

At the end of the path, we caught our first glimpse of the water through the trees.

The rhododendrons were looking stunning in the late spring sunshine.

I’m not a huge fan of rhododendrons to be honest, but their blooms were very pretty in the dappled morning sunlight.

The woodland path lead us along the edge of the lake. I think the Little Postcards enjoyed it as much as I did, going on a woodland adventure – it’s not something we get to do unless we are over visiting family in England. We really should seek out some woodland and countryside near to us in Spain.

The path brought us to a raised bank which divided the body of water into two. To the right there were yellow iris growing in the marshy banks.

To the left, there were fishermen enjoying the peace and quiet.

Oh, and there were some ducks too…

Across the grassy divide and we were back in amongst the trees again.


Did I mention, that I like trees? 😉

These hawthorn blossoms are a lovely shade of coral pink aren’t they?

The lake we were walking around appeared to be the central one of three. We could hear a waterfall not too far away through the trees, but we didn’t want to venture too far off the beaten track though as we had a plane to catch and I didn’t want to be having to change muddy clothes at the last minute!

The lake at the other end was completely different and had a bountiful show of water lily pads. You may just be able to make out the yellow buds of the lily flowers almost ready to burst open. I bet this will look glorious in a week or two.

There was much excitement when a heron was spotted sitting in a tree surveying the water.

We passed this water course with little brick bridges over it – do you know what they’re for? I have no idea.

We were then back on the bank of the central lake which would bring us back to the hotel.

We spotted a few trees with horseshoes nailed to them – perhaps this is a bridle path…

A highlight for my little botanist was the sighting of this grey squirrel in the branches overhead.

This rather fat fish was basking in the sunny shallows at the opposite side of the lake from the fishermen!

Just look at that blue sky!

And we were back at our hotel and it was time to head off to the airport… Goodbye Wigan, and thank you – it’s been lovely! 

A Postcard from springtime Suffolk

Two weeks ago, we all hopped on a plane, said goodbye to Gibraltar and headed off to England for a few days.

Our destination…. Suffolk. Southwold to be precise, but also Beccles too for the special day that was to be a Postcard family wedding. More on that later…

It’s eight months since we were last in Southwold. It’s a special place for us which we have visited many times over the years. Regular visitors to this blog may remember my posts from here last summer… A postcard from Southwold & A postcard from Southwold Pier

It was so nice to be back on the pier admiring the view into town and towards the beautifully painted beach huts.

There weren’t as many visitors in town as we’d experienced last August, but there were still some folk around doing the touristy things. Oh, and maybe eating a portion or two of fish & chips…

Southwold is such a pretty place.

There are cute little cottages around every corner.

Oh, and did I mention I have a thing about beach huts?! 

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…

We went crazy and had a go at the two pence penny pushers in the pier amusement arcade.

We swerved the Punch & Judy show, although it did have a decent audience who persisted through the show while being blown by strong sea winds.

It may have been a bit grey at times, but that didn’t spoil our fun.

The roadside verges and people’s gardens were bursting forth with the most beautiful spring displays. Excuse me this indulgence please, I miss seeing spring flowers like this!

Oh the blossom!

And just look at this quaint architect’s office, complete with coordinating car!

I do like a colourfully painted front door…

One evening we set off across the fields behind the town and leaving the grand Victorian homes behind us, headed into the fenland towards the harbour.

Within a short walk we were by the river and tucking into a delicious pub meal. The gorse flowers glowed in the setting sunshine.


So, the reason for this jaunt to England during school termtime? We had a wedding to attend. 

Tucked away in the lush green countryside near Beccles is White Dove Barns. Surrounded by fields of crops and cattle and looking glorious was the venue for the nuptials.

The converted farm buildings were just so English and so, so picturesque.

As the registrar got everything ready for the ceremony I sneaked in to take a peak before the guests arrived.

And after the ceremony, this is the room where the reception took place.

The renovated old barn was so pretty, and the table settings, just gorgeous.

The beautiful flowers on the top table were stunning and so springlike. 

Even the wedding cake was covered in flowers. 

It was a really beautiful venue and the perfect backdrop for a very happy day.

With the happy couple successfully hitched, we had time for one more delicious breakfast at the Adnam’s brewery and another wander around Southwold before heading home.

There she is, our Rock. Thank you, Suffolk, it was lovely to see you again! Until next time…

A postcard from Rendlesham Forest UFO Trail

Until recently, I knew very little about Rendlesham Forest and the UFO sightings which occurred there in 1980. This summer though, on our holiday to Suffolk, we were able to visit Rendlesham Forest for the first time. It gave us the chance to have a great family day out, and find out a little bit more about the funny goings on in the woods…

Nowadays Rendlesham Forest comes under the stewardship of the Forestry Commission. On arrival, there were a couple of wardens on hand to point us in the right direction to the facilities and we were able to pick up a leaflet detailing the UFO walk. There’s a camp site at the forest and many walking and cycling trails through the trees. On a dry, sunny August day, there were plenty of people about keen to enjoy the delights the forest had to offer.

For the Postcard family, it was the UFO trail which held the most appeal…

The wide path beckoned us through the trees with three young UFO hunters eager to solve the mystery of whether aliens did indeed visit this part of Suffolk in the long and distant past (well before they were born…)

Rendlesham Forest is a really beautiful spot, the trees are farmed and the whole area is really well maintained. There is also a good mix of trees to be enjoyed,  different sections of the woodland are dedicated to different trees; pine, silver birch and other deciduous varieties.

As the trail wound deeper into the forest, a loud droning noise seemed to be echoing off the trunks of the trees around us. We just couldn’t figure out what was making the racket until we spotted glimpses of the nearby air base through the trees in the distance. A very large plane was obviously was manoeuvring in preparation for take-off.

We were soon greeted by a sign explaining the significance of the air base in the UFO sighting story.

We were at the East Gate, where the first lights were spotted in the sky on that December night back in 1980, and where the whole Rendlesham UFO story began.

The trail led us along the now disused road which follows the perimeter of the air base and on through the trees towards our next destination. In the meantime, the loud plane noises had ceased as it had taken off and all that could be heard was the wind blowing through the branches of the pine trees.

As we reached a cross roads, we were taken by surprise as the plane had circled and came back in to land. A crowd of passers-by had gathered to see what was going on. A local resident commented that it was the first time in months that he had seen any air traffic at the base and was pleased to see the RAF back in residence.

We crossed the road and continued the trail deeper into the forest. A small group of airmen had followed the lights into the forest thinking that an aircraft had crashed. We were following in their footsteps.

All along the route, the path is clearly marked with signs pointing you in the right direction. On the rear of these posts is a secret code specially put there for children. At the Forestry Commission office in the carpark at the start of the trail, special UFO kits are available to buy (for about £1.50 I think) which helped to keep the younger members of the party engaged on the walk.

The kits contain a code cracker and on completion of the walk, you can decipher a special message (left by aliens) using the translation table.

It was a great idea and really helped us divert attention from the tired little legs which had had enough part of the way around the walk! The boys really enjoyed seeking out the next secret symbol and we were able to crack the code once we’d got home. I cannot tell you what the answer is though, it’s classified as top secret 😉

As we wandered through the trees, seeing more signs and following the timeline of events which happened back in 1980 (from the leaflet) we could hear the plane circling overhead again. It took off and landed several times while we were walking through the forest, I have to admit that the droning of the engine did add to the spooky atmosphere in some parts of the forest.

It really is a stunningly beautiful place.

After a while we were directed to a clearing in the forest which was home to this:

It is a 3D representation of what one of the US Airforce man drew after his experience in the forest. The UFO is believed to have landed near this spot and looked like this model. 

We were at the mid-point of the trail, our next stop was at the edge of the forest near some farmland where the mysterious lights were spotted.

The last ‘site’ we visited is where a UFO was reported to have landed. In the intervening 36 years the area has been replanted with trees several times but they all failed to thrive and now it is left as a clearing.

Once our UFO trail was complete, the ‘Out of this World’ play area was beckoning. It was a fab place for little people to run wild. With lots of branches left lying around, previous visitors had used the timber to create great dens.

There was also a great adventure play area too. Believe it or not, it was crowded with families – it took quite a while to get this photo without any children in it! I think they were all off balancing on a timber assault course at this moment!

Our trip to Rendlesham Forest was such a hit, we went back again for a second visit. The second time we took reinforcements – we brought Grandparents, an Aunt and an Uncle too. I’m pretty sure that they enjoyed it as much as we did. 

If you should find yourself in this part of Suffolk, I would really recommend a visit. There is a small charge for parking and the leaflets detailing the walk were free. There’s a very large picnic area and space to barbecue. Plus, you’ll be able to say you completed the Rendlesham UFO Trail!

For more information on the Rendlesham UFO Trail, check out the  Forestry Commission website.