The river from Europe’s cleanest lake gets cleaned

Annecy was built on the banks of the  River Thiou, where the water flows out of Lake Annecy. It has been canalised for centuries now and surrounds the Palais de l’Isle, an old prison dating from the 12th century. It has become a symbol of Annecy and one of the most photographed sites in France. The lake is very clean, as it is supplied with plentiful clean water from a spring, which accounts for 30% of the fresh water, plus of course all of the melt water from the winter snow. In summer, the lake temperature gets up to 24 degrees Celsius and the lake has many beaches, where swimmers can enjoy the lake. I was there in the spring and the lake many of the sightseeing cruises had restarted.


Fishing in Lake Annecy


Landing stage at Lake Annecy


Palais de l’Isle, cleaning the canal on left


Cleaning the canal


They even wash down after the Weekly Market


There are many beautiful shops and cafés on the banks of the river


Annecy Chateau


Eglise St Maurice


Town Hall, with 2018 Winter Olympic bid posters

I have visited Annecy twice this year (2010), once as my direct train to Chamonix was cancelled due to strike action and I had a two hour wait there. The second time as I wanted a return visit. That must say something about the power of attraction the town has.



Czech observations through a car windscreen (Not closely observed trains.)

While driving the car along Czech roads, the discoveries came thick and fast.


Nearly all small roads were lined with orchard trees. The varieties were mainly apple and cherry trees.


Lots of places had their resident storks.


Solar power farms were being set up on former industrial sites.


Of course there were a few wind farms, but I don’t think they get a lot of wind.


Outside of the cities, villages and towns all had Public Address Systems on telegraph poles. We went through one village as it was broadcasting. Can someone tell me what they are used for?


The farms grew a wide variety of crops. Who knows what these thistle type plants are?


The Czech Republic has an extensive rail network. The trains may not be that new though.


It is not unusual to find deer grazing alongside the road.

Důl Michal or perhaps he’s not so dull after all?

The first half of my career was spent in collieries in Wales and England. Throughout my time in the mines, I played a game of “musical mines” as they closed at an ever increasing rate. In the end I decided to pursue a different career and reluctantly waved goodbye to my last mine in South Wales. When I am travelling through a country and see  headgear or winding towers, I am irresistibly drawn to them. On my 2010 Czech Trip, I made sure I had a day aside to visit Ostrava Area’s mines. They mine coal in the Silesian Coalfield which straddles the Czech / Polish border.

Of course some mines have closed in the Czech Republic as reserves are depleted and the economic cost of recovering the coal cannot compete with world prices. One mine with very thin seams that did not allow easy mechanisation was Důl Michal. It closed in 1993, but all of the surface facilities were preserved as the day the last shift signed off. Although I wonder whether this shift went home naked as their clean clothes are still hanging on chains in the drying room!


External view of mine


Tally board


Clean clothes drying room


Dity Clothes drying room


Mrediacl Centre where injured miners would be washed before being picked up by ambulance


Surveyors Office


Control Room


Oil lamps


Electric battery lamps in charger


Self rescuers including Russian and Czech Chemical oxygen types

The gosts in locations such as this are tangible.

Can you pass these road signs?

All towns have been discovered, but some have been discovered more than others”. John Williams, with thanks to George Orwell

Brown sign

When travelling along the highways of Europe, it is virtually impossible to miss the brown signs erected to highlight a nearby leisure attraction. Most of the time we are on a tight schedule to reach our destination, so we drive past and can only wonder what delights we may or may not have missed.

Watch on Posterous

Then there comes a time when we are travelling by car with no fixed deadlines, just the urge to explore. So the invitation, extended by a brown sign, with its basic pictogram showing a castle, monastery, an ancient town or even a theme park can sometime become irresistible. We slow down and take the next exit to discover a new place.

When travelling by air, I take it as read that the surface I pass over will mostly remain a mystery to me. When travelling by train, I get to see the towns and countryside, but unless I have GPS, or a map I am not always sure what I am looking at, or what the town I pass through has to offer. On a coach I can read the signs, but have no opportunity to follow to where the brown signs lead. It is only by car that I can really appreciate what is on offer.

In this way I have come across all sorts of fascinating places. From unheard of character filled towns, to the foundations of “Big Bertha” a massive First World War gun and Parc Asterix.

So when I pass one of these signs and have to drive on, it is often with regret. Am I alone in feeling this way?

Updated 24 March 2011 for #FriFotos on the Theme of ‘Signs’ on Twitter.



Imagination and hotel descriptions

Czech Trip, July 2010


Penzion Zámecké Schody

The week before we departed for the Czech Republic, we visited the Czech Tourist Board, which is about 150m or so from our apartment in Brussels. We were after a booklet on walks in the Czech Republic, a copy of which I had picked up from a stall at the Brussels Czech Street Party in June. Joelle said she had already picked one up, so I returned my copy to the stand to save wastage. In fact she did not have a copy of the guide.

We failed in our attempt to locate the walking guide, but had a friendly discussion with the Czech Tourism employee on duty. We told him our first destination would be Cesky Krumlov, where we would meet up with friends coming from Vienna. He then enthused about a Pension that he had personally stayed at. It was located just below the castle, had a view over the rooftops of Cesky Krumlov, was reasonably priced and included breakfast in your room at no extra cost. We imagined sitting in our room with the castle floodlights casting an eerie glow in the room while taking in a vista of Cesky Krumlov’s rooftops and church spires. When we showed interest he telephoned and booked two rooms one for us and one for our friends.

We found the Pension (the Castle Steps in English) easily and checked in. It turned out that what were were told was indeed true. But it was not the picture we had formed in our minds from the information given to us. We ended up with a room smaller than a Formule 1, but it did have an en suite bathroom with power/massage shower. The view over the rooftops was just that, a view of rooftops. No recognisable Cesky Krumlov landmark visible. The breakfast in our rooms option was the only one available as there was no restaurant. The ground floor is a souvenir shop. We did however enjoy our stay and all ate breakfast in our friends’ family room which was much larger than ours. The price was about £38 for a double room including breakfast which compares to most super budget hotels. On the plus side it was located very centrally in Cesky Krumlov. If we had not been meeting up with friends we would have had their room for the same price. It also had an arrangement with a private car park for with parking £5.50 for 24 hours.


View from outside Pension

Bierhütte – a good name for a German village?

Czech Republic Trip, July 2010

On our way to Cesky Krumlov in the  Czech Republic, I came across this village in Bavaria perched on a hill. If you zoom in you can see that some houses have their roofs covered with solar panels. This is encouraged by genorous payments by the Bavarian Government for renewable electricity going into the grid. I think they look better than the big solar energy farms in the Czech Republic. What do you think?


Telc, Czech Republic

Telc, is a small town of around 6,000 inhabitants located halfway between Prague and Vienna. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage list due to its town square which is lined with Italianate buildings.

Either side of the town are two lakes. The setting was magnificent and yet it seems to be missing from a lot of tourist itineraries. I’ll post more later, but there must be have been more ghosts than tourists there when I visited.


Czech Republic

Today I am in Liberec in the Czech Republic. Been here a week already but we have been busy walking, taking photos, sampling Czech food and generally having a great vacation. Here are a couple of photos from the fist 2 days of the trip. Day 1: Czesky Krumlov, UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site in South Bohemia.


Secondly, Holasovice, another UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site. This time listed for its farm houses that were influenced by the architecture in Prague and other cities.



It is the first time I have driven in the Czech Republic and at first found navigating to be very difficult. It takes a little time to get used to how direction signs are erected. They seem to point in the wrong direction. Then we would go and make long trips out of our way because we misread them. However, I now find the signage to be very informative.Friends of ours who we met up with in Czesky Krumlov also struggled with navigation.


Animal graffiti in Brussels

Nearly every empty accessible wall in cities tends to get covered in graffiti tags. However, every now and then someone comes along and does something a little different. They try to create a work of art, albeit illegal and often really upsetting the owner of the property affected. Walking around my local environs, here in Brussels I have noticed a lot of graffiti art depicting living creatures. The most prominent being the dinosaur skeletons outside the Natural History Museum. But there are numerous fish and fish skeletons painted very high up on walls in Brussels. There was also the elephant careering off the top of the National Library, the swimming crocodile on top of the tiled façade of C&A in Chausée d’Ixelles as well as other creations around the city. These have now been removed. My favourite being the sky diving fox, which led me to wonder how the artist managed to access his canvas.


Then I found out the artist is someone called Bonom. He was even featured on RTBF, the Belgian Broadcasting company. An excerpt from the video can be seen on this posit from the Laid Back blog. He uses some climbing techniques and describes the production of his paintings as like a dance as he swings to paint areas.