Depending on where we live in the world the seasons influence our boating hobby. While some are lucky to be sunbathing, others have their boats winterized and are wrapped up warm and stay out of the cold.
Where we boat in the South of France the canals close from October the 31st through to April the 1st.
That co-insides with the 'tourist off season' and means some good deals are on offer.
You may have read in our post 'Paddy's Flying' where we did a round the world trip, we use this winter period to travel to places we wouldn't normally go to.
Harbour Chat takes us to Malta and Poland, why don't you come with us and take a wider look at Europe.
Let me explain our situation a little to help you understand the wanderlust. We live on board permanently and both of us come from business backgrounds and we like to be occupied and keep active. Some people can sunbathe all day at the beach, after half an hour I'm ready for the off, I simply can't sit and do nothing, that's not to say I'm a fidget. I just get on with what's to be done and then look for something else to do, be it work, writing books, chatting to you guys and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. We enjoy a genteel but occupied lifestyle and often have lunch followed by a short siesta.
As I explained earlier the canal du Midi and the canal du Robine close from October until April, we could if push came to shove get the locks operating to let us out to sea.
The Golf du Lion was not named that way for nothing, being a relatively shallow sea a storm can throw up short steep mountainous seas so prudence is the watchword. We simply think out of the box and travel courtesy of Ryanair Boeing 737-800 series and Messrs Rolls-Royce and look around for a 5* foxhole.
As the skipper it's my job to look after the crew and must consider the feminine factor, my first mate's a wonderful lady and never complains about me tinkering with the engine, fixing wee jobs or engine room floors up (I don't complain about the cooking either) so before anyone gets cabin fever and grumpy it's time to give her respect and some treats, hence the winter wandering ashore.
As you may know men from Cavan in Ireland have a reputation for throwing money around like a man with no arms, deep pockets and short arms play a part too. You can hear them coming for miles as they are so tight their ass squeaks.
I still have my first shilling !
So our winter wanderings combined with the low tourist season means we get great deals, we use a company called Groupon.
So come with us on the next post to Malta.
Why Malta ? Partly because I've been there before and partly to follow the trace of the Knights Templar. Malta was their stronghold in that corner of the world when they were fighting in the crusades.
Like all the Mediterranean islands and coastlines Malta's been fought over and occupied many times.
During World War two it occupied a strategic position, whoever held Malta had the key to North Africa. Malta had been under British rule since the 1800's and some of it's people wanted independence, coupled with its fading strategic significance due to military advances it was decided that Britain would close its bases there and grant independence.
Unfortunately Dom Mintoff, Malta's leader for independence didn't consider the financial implications of Britain's withdrawal and blow to the economy caused the Royal Navy support engineering shops to close. The housing market collapsed as the rented accommodation for service personnel became vacant.
Self explanatory photo's showing the geographic position of Malta.
During the birth of Christianity after Jesus's death the disciples were sent out to preach Christianity to the world. One of those disciples was Paul (St Paul) and during one of his voyages around the Mediterranean sea he got caught in a raging storm.
His boat dismasted he was adrift at the mercy of the sea and with his food and water gone I assume he contacted head office (there are no atheists in foxholes, or storms at sea) and the late JC gave him a helping hand. His boat was driven by the mountainous seas into a bay on a little island called Malta. The local people watched his boat being pushed by the waves onto the shore and they rescued St Paul and his companions from the boat and got them quickly into shelter and built a fire to warm the sailors close to death from dehydration and hypothermia. The locals wrapped them in blankets and fed them hot broth and nursed them back to health.
The bay is known today as St Pauls bay and is now a tourist resort. Photo.
The local people built a beautiful church overlooking the bay to commemorate the arrival of St Paul and to watch over the bay.
Small by today's tourist commercial standards but for all that the Maltese people are still just as friendly and helpful today.
Though the Maltese have their own language virtually everyone speaks English, a legacy of 200 years of British rule, they also drive on the right, the same as England.
Since the arrival of St Paul in Malta its population has remained a bastion of Christianity in this region. Malta's churches and Cathedrals are truly some of the most beautiful I've seen on my travels.
Over the following centuries the island has been subjected to various rulers but the Holy Crusades formed a key part in its history when the Knights Templar arrived to fight the Muslim hordes led by Saladin.
After the great siege in 1565 and the defeat of the Ottoman attackers it was decided by the Knights Templar that they would fortify the city and they enlisted an Italian architect Francesco Maparelli who had been an assistant to Michelangelo, Maparelli was aided in his task by a Maltese architect Giormu Cassar.
The main city in Malta is Valletta and was named after the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jean Pais de le Vallett.
The Knights Templar fortified Valetta to withstand further Muslim attacks, because Malta is basically an island of sandstone building materials weren't in short supply, as you will see the masons art flourishes to this day.
Malta has a 2 natural harbours, Valletta and Marasloxx on the opposite side of the island.
There are no bricks used in construction and only latterly has concrete been used in buildings.
Please bear with me, I apologize for the photo's, some were taken by camera and some by phone, despite my efforts the one's taken by phone refuse to be re-orientated.
1 - 5, Show the visible devotion to Christianity.
6, Even today the Knights Hospitallers are remembered as the founders of Valetta.
7,Commemoration plaque to John Pais de le Vallett.
8, Statue of John Vallett facing the government buildings.
Interesting indeeed. Aslso rather coincidental is that I've just started watching a (rather gruesome at times) TV series called Knightfall - all about the Knights Templar and their quest to find again the grail, after losing it at Malta I think, in a raid by the Saracens. I think a lot of poetic licence has been taken, but it is filmed in some very picturesque places such as the Mediterranian - Malta in particular - I think - or somewhere that looks like Malta. How the heck do you tell what's real and what's CGI these days anyway, it is all so damn good.
Dan Brown's book the Da Vinci code set of a whole trail of similar minded books. I've actually visited some of the places mentioned and they are nothing like what are described in the various books. Castle walls and remaining archways turn out to be little more than an untidy small pile of rocks so I'd take any film with a great big pinch of salt. It is the entertainment industry after all.
The articles I post on here I spend hours researching and are always backed with photo's so I'm afraid they may not be so exciting or glamourous as any film portrays.
If you read my blog 'Windmills And Wine' I give you a solid clue (on very good authority) as to where all the Knights Templars money went but I can't print it for legal reasons.
Lets take a look around Valletta.
Again excuse the Samsung sideways photo's.
1, Maltese flag, King George of England awarded Malta the George Cross for gallantry during WW2 and by Royal warrant its allowed to show the George cross on its flag. Malta was the allies strategic key to the North African campaign to oust Rommel from North Africa and during the aerial siege by the Germans it became the most bombed place of the war at that time.
2, Grid plan of Valletta.
3,Beautiful masonry, built during the British occupation.
4,Unusual seasonal sun dial.
5, British telephone box still in use.
6,Valletta main square, just behind the 'modern art' sculpture is a monument the British Queen Victoria.
7,The grid system with narrow streets allowed the Maltese to capture the cooling breeze in summer, the streets were narrow for horses and carts and these unusual but typical British colonial balcony's helped capture the breeze and allowed everyone to look around them.
8,Everyone knows the old British icon leftover.
9,The Knights Templar invented the system upon which modern banking is based today and were the richest organisation in Europe. So much so that the Pope ordered its destruction and his armies began to systematically capture the Knights and slaughter them and confiscated its property. The Knights prudently moved their money out of Rome's clutches and so started the hunt for the Holy Grail.
10, Due to its narrow hilly streets cars are banned but these little electric people carriers cater for tourists with tired legs.
Before we leave Valletta it would be a shame not to show you around the fort that the Knights Templar built which has stood the test of time.
Come with me over the next few posts as we look at the fort and remnants of the 200 year British occupation and the last great siege.
I'm cursed with these photo's, bear with me as I'm no techno geek.
Turn them when you click on them.
1, Showing the size and build of one of the buttresses.
2,This shows the depth height of the fort wall. The British installed these electrical lifts to save the hard slog.
3,In this you can see where the fort was built on a sandstone outcrop.
4, If you look at this wall mounted British post box you will see the initials GR, these stand for George Reigns, meaning King George of course.
5, 6, Every ex serviceman knows what these are.
7, Again the forts sandstone rock foundations
8, Statue of the British Queen Victoria, in the background is the bibliotheca (library).
In the arches in the previous photo there was always a hook embedded in the roof for using a block and tackle when changing barrels.
1,Firing slot with firing step. Ammunition fed through the small green door.
2, These would keep the mother-in-law away.
3, As you know concrete was invented by the Romans who called it Putalanium.
4,5, This is the Knights simplistic small chapel in the fortress walls and wreath.
6, When you see soldiers marching on parade in perfect precision you won't have witnessed the hours of practice that preceded it. This is done for several reasons, one to ensure that during battle a soldier will react instantly to commands, and hopefully save lives. Its also done for uniformity, normally you wont see a soldier unwashed, unshaven, unkempt this instils the habit of cleanliness, essential with so many soldiers living as a unit for health reasons. Another reason is that learning to work as a team. Friendships formed on the battlefield will last for a lifetime. All these things together instil honour and pride into the individual soldier.
And it all starts here, on the parade ground, as it has for soldiers over century's.
Around this parade ground in the middle of Valletta fort the bottom rooms would be offices and stores, the upper rooms with balconies would be officers quarters, the padre, officers mess etc.
If we jump forward a century or 2 to the WW2 and the siege of Malta. As I explained before whoever held Malta could hold North Africa and the allies wanted him out.
Both sides fought for dominance and the people of Malta showed remarkable bravery during the time of the siege as did the sailors fighting to supply them.
1, Self explanatory.
2, Here's the lady herself, 'Faith'.
3, The Royal and Merchant navies fought their way through to Malta to resupply the island under siege, many ships and sailors lost their lives on the convoys to relieve the island.
4, The actions of a family cousin.
5, This strange looking shallow draft boat was built by the Italians to be able to pass over torpedo nets and penetrate harbour defences. It would be launched from a mother ship some 8/10 miles offshore. The operator skippered it to the port, aimed the craft at a chosen target and jumped overboard. The boat would hit the ship, a small charge would sink it on impact. A depth charge would set off at 1/2 metres and blow the whole boat up and destroy its target.
6, A BSA despatch riders bike.
7, This baby needs no words of mine to introduce herself.
Thank you for joining us on our visit to Malta.
Our next visit is to Poland and the Auschwitz concentration camp. Schindler's factory and the Weliecz salt mine.
I will post them in reverse order of our visit, if anyone is of a delicate nature and as we wish to cause no upset after our visit to the salt mine please skip the Auschwitz post. Thank you for your understanding.
One of my most remembered Christmas scenes was just after Poland had shaken off the communist shackles.
It was snowing lightly and families all wrapped up against the cold were all out shopping as I drove into, and around the perimeter of Wenceslas square in Krakow, in the centre was a ginormous Christmas tree decorated with lights and parcels.
The lights reflected off the falling snowflakes causing a multi coloured halo, I promised myself I would return to visit Krakow, the following part of the blog is that visit.
I know not everyone is familiar with the geography in Europe.
The map shows Poland sandwiched between Germany on the left and Russia on the right.
The marker point is the location of Auschwitz concentration camp.
When the Germans invaded Poland in the 1939 blitzkrieg it triggered the beginning of WW2. (Blitzkrieg means lightning strike).
Our first visit is to the Weilizcka salt mine, just a short 20 minute drive out of Krakow.
The locals discovered that the springs were giving salty water, they boiled the water to make salt crystals which they sold.
Later when the springs began to lose the salinity in the 13th century they began to dig down in search of more salt and around 9 metres deep they discovered rock salt which they began to mine.
The locals all wanted to work in the salt mine although it was hard work the money was regular and the air in the mine was very healthy for the lungs. Over years machines were introduced to ease the physical work of mining the salt.
The mine is now 327 metres deep and has workings stretching for 287 kilometres. In some places where the water had coursed through the rock salt they found caves. The Polish people are very religious and 4 of these have been made into underground cathedrals.
During the tourist season up to 9,000 people a day visit the Weilizcka salt mines. All congregate outside the entrance and wait until all the buses of visiting tourists have disgorged their occupants. Groups are then segregated by language. Our English speaking group was grouped together ready for the visit and at this point I must point out that a visit entails over 200 hundred steps initially followed by a 3.5 kilometre walk with lots more steps so you need to be reasonably fit. The temperature in the mine is more or less a constant 16 degrees so, if you, like us, arrived with heavy winter clothes one of you needs a rucksack to store your winter clothes and carry at minimum 1 litre of water per person.
Because of the volume of visitors the guides set a brisk clip and, if like me, you wish to take photo's you're in a bit of a quandary, you can't go in front because a, you don't know what you are looking at b, the guide won't let you, that means being at the front to get the explanation and hanging back to be tail end Charlie to get a clear view to photograph.
Jostling with the rest of the group it quickly turns into an underground marathon because not only have you got your own group to keep pace with but another different language group is hard on your heels.
So brace yourselves and here we go.
1, Geographic position.
2, Religious carving of a priest in salt.
3,4, Salt mine tunnel. local historic carving in rock salt.
5,Outline of salt deposits.
6,7, Pine logs were taken down to the first level and kept for two years before being acceptable for use. Salt being agraphobic absorbs any moisture in the wood. Pine trees were in plentiful in supply and formed great supports for tunnelling.
8, Salt worker. 9,Salt carving of Joseph and Mary Magdalene with baby Jesus.
10,One tonne of rock salt could have bought a Polish village and all its occupants.
These carvings in the mine were all done by the workers, (apparently in their own time). All are carved out of salt which unlike most peoples perception salt isn't white initially, here its a dark grey colour. Literally everything is made of salt, the walls, roofs and the floor. In some cases they have actually made salt tiles and laid them on the floor to level it up. Over time as so many people pass over it the floor its become quite polished.
As I explained earlier it was difficult to take photo's because of the crowd restrictions and the light, the majority are mine (pardon the pun) others, where I couldn't get a good descriptive shot I've had to borrow.
1, Isn't this just wonderful, who would think that its made of salt. Yes even the chandelier is made of Chrystal salt.
2, A closer view before the crowds came rushing through.
3, Water and Methane gas are the two enemies of the miner, this hand driven wheel is used to pump water up to the surface. Its not wasted because of its high salinity its purified, the PH balance corrected and used in medicine, your saline drip may have originated here. Some miners were sent into the chambers first with a lighted torch on a very long pole to burn the pockets of methane gas that collected in the roof area of a chamber, their only protection was to be covered in wet sacking.
4, Its so beautiful.
5, Self explanatory underground cave, the pool is very shallow and if you fell into it you couldn't drown, its more salty than the Red sea and of course its pumped out and used, just enough left to create a constant supply. In this cave we listened to some Mozart, the acoustics in here are simply superb.
6, Here you can see the Cathedral from a better perspective, notice the shiny floor polished by the thousands of tourists who pass through.
7, This is a salt carving of 'The Last Supper', you have to applaud the dedication and skill in these rock salt carvings.
8, This horse driven winch was used to lift heavy blocks of salt to the surface. The horses who worked here had only one master during their life and all were petted and treated like children. When a horse retired they couldn't leave the mine because having lived underground all their life they would be blind so a 'retirement' area was set aside for them to rest and relax, of course the miners continued to treat them just as one of the family.
We discovered that down inside the salt mine is a 'Wellness Centre', you can go and stay down there for a 2/3 day period and be pampered with massages and of course salt baths, fitness rooms etc.
The rooms are air conditioned and there's even a buffet style restaurant. We passed through the restaurant on our tour at a brisk clip so we never got a chance to try the food.
1, Salt carving depicting historic Polish events with a Christian theme.
2, Yet another grotto.
3,We passed through this restaurant so quick I only got a whiff of the roast venison on the menu. At 263 metres below ground level it must be one of the lowest public restaurants in Europe.
4,This smaller chapel is simply beautiful.
5, There are 2 lifts to take people back up to ground level, with the volume of tourists on the day we visited there was a backlog at the nearest lift. The guide told us we had to use a second lift, but it was 500 metres away down along this tunnel his statement was met with some sighs and groans because of the tired muscles.
6,This is the exterior and administration offices of the salt mine.
7, My fault, I turned the camera to get this shot of a ladies Polish dress..
8,Salt Chrystal chandelier.
So ends our tour of the Weiliscka salt mine in Poland, we found it very beautiful and our only complaint was that we felt rushed around and some of the heavier members of our party found it hard going. It would have been much nicer as a leisurely stroll with time to take more photo's and maybe a coffee and toilet break.
Next, Oscar Schindler's factory, if you haven't seen the film 'Schindler's List' by Stephen Spielberg take the time to look at it and the next post will be more meaningful to you.
Oscar Schindler was born in Wittau in the Czech republic on the 28th of April 1908, his parents ran an agricultural machinery sales/ repair business and when Oscar left school he joined the family firm.
Later he left and went to work selling vacuum cleaners.
Most intelligent people could see the rise of the Nazi party and the dark clouds of war on the horizon, like many others he joined the Nazi party at Hildesheim, not for political reasons but for the business opportunities that war would present.
From his background he knew that from mixing with the officer echelon information could be useful, being fond of a drink and a womanizer helped him to be accepted by them. The fact that he had access to 'black market' cognac and cigars helped him to cultivate the most influential of these officers and provide him with protection and from their boasting while in drink he knew war was imminent.
Having travelled to Poland before, he'd fallen in love with Krakow and decided to move there. At this time Germany had not actually attacked Poland and he reached an accommodation with his German officers that he would provide them information of Polish movements in return for exemption from military service.
In Krakow he'd seen an enamel works that had gone bankrupt and with war getting ever closer it was obvious that enamel ware would be needed for the war effort so he started to look at raising finance.
In the Kamierz district of Krakow is the Jewish quarter and he sought investors from that quarter.
Successful in raising money there's some question as to who hired his chief accountant, was it Oscar or the investors ?
I would think it would have been the investors as the man hired turned out to be a very astute accountant, Oscars flamboyant lifestyle also needed some financial guidance and his workers were also employed from the Jewish quarter.
Poland was invaded by the Germans on the 1st of September 1939 in what was known as a 'Blitzkreig' strike, literally meaning lightning strike which thrust deep into Poland, this type of attack later became known as 'Shock and Awe'.
This invasion brought Great Britain into the war on the 3rd of September due to a pact between Great Britain and Poland which started WW2. Russia invaded on the 17th of September 1939 and the Germans and Russians divided Poland between them.
Later the two fell out and became opposing armies for the duration of the of WW2
The country of Poland never formally surrendered and many of its people fled to the West and joined the various services to fight the Germans and Russians to liberate their own country.
Germany has previously tried twice in this century to dominate Europe with two world wars and is doing the same now politically via the EU, without a shot being fired.
History repeats itself as once again its Great Britain via Brexit who's stood up to them.