world traveler
    clown tom bolton

photos and stories of Tom's adventures in southern europe
...dordogne, france...

When I arrived in Europe in 1983 I started in Amsterdam and then went up to Sweden where I knew a couple of girls I had met in New Orleans. It was already September and cold so I headed down to Italy and as far as Athens, Greece. I would have stayed in Greece but I met 2 female Brazilian doctors who were going to Portugal and I decided to go with them. After a couple days in Lisbon they had to fly back home and I went to Spain where I spent the next 5 months including 2 months in the Canary Islands. While in Valencia in November, I met a French girl Dominique and we traveled a while together. I stopped to see her in Dordogne, France in the spring and we started an on-going relationship that lasted 5 years. I was often in France to see her in the spring and autumn before and after my summer performing tours through Europe. Dominique came from a small town called Excideuil that was the epitome of beautiful Dordogne countryside.

Excideuil dordogne france

Although Excideuil was not big, it had a extensive castle that had been damaged in wars with the English but repaired and extended a number of times over the centuries. Richard the Lionheart was said to have failed on 3 occasions to occupy the castle, just one section of which is shown here.

Excideuil castle dordogne france

This was the little farmhouse, a couple of kilometers from Excedeuil, where we lived a number of years. The barn and fields were used by farmers for their sheep. In the background above the house one can see a cluster of about 7 farm houses. A local farmer had purchased one of them some years back for the land and big barn. Word got out that he needed money and the empty house was up for sale. This was back when one could still find the occasional property and fix it up to have a dream location; a number of the other houses there being weekend homes for rich people in Perigueux. I considered buying it thinking we could live there and if our relationship didn't work out, I could even rent it out in the summer through a program to promote tourism in the area. The agency would take care of the renting and as the target was summer tourists instead of long term renters; the income was about the same for the summer as a normal house would have gotten for a whole year. The owner was illiterate and drove his tractor to town as one didn't need a driver's license to do so. Eventually, it got sold to a relative as they were untrusting of "outsiders" although Dominique's family was local as well. I was never sure how much time I might have spent at this house since I liked to go traveling in third world countries when I had the chance but I always ask myself "what if" as it was a fantastic location overlooking rolling farmland and I would really like to have that place now.

farm house dordogne france

I was never much of a cat lover before I lived in France. But my girlfrind had a lot of very nice cats which really loved me and I liked to watch them hunting in the fields. Once I forgot to feed them and I came home to find one eating a rabbit and the other a lizard in our kitchen. Two of them had kittens a couple of weeks apart and we had around a dozen little ones running around. Now in Germany we have 3 cats and have had a few others in addition to about 15 kittens we gave away.

cats dordogne france europe photos

Dordogne was like a fairy tale come true, the cliché of old France, beautiful old castles, towns and many little farmhouses in the countryside. Of 88 departments in France it has the most castles and is an area known for its delicacies like truffles and foie gras. These next 3 photos are from Salat, a medieval town that is so well preserved that many films set in older times are made here. One of the worlds greatest treasures of stone age art work are the drawings on the walls of Lascaux cave, estimated to be 40,000 years old. Lascaux was getting damaged from mould due to human presence so they closed it to the public but built an exact replica nearby for the tourists to visit. The people here were very proud of their heritage to the point where Dominique said she could never imagine living any place else.

sarlat houses dordogne france

sarlat dordogne france europe

sarlat dordogne france europe

When she had time free from her job a nurse, Dominique showed me around many places in the region. Especially along the Dordogne River there seemed to be another castle surrounded by another quaint village every few kilometers; one of the more impressive ones is Beynac, shown in these 3 photos which had legends of an oppressive Baron that tortured and imprisoned victims in the castle. This area was long a boundary between France and the English and the next castle over was regularly under English rule in this time. Beynac fell more than once to the English only to be taken back again.

beynac castle dordogne france europe

beynac castle dordogne france europe

beynac castle dordogne france europe

I saw so many fantastic places in Dordogne and was made very welcome although I was slow to pick up French. The older people all wanted to let me know how thankful there were for the Americans liberating them in WWII but on the other hand had nothing but scorn for American popular culture which they felt was crass. And to say that I preferred California wine to Bordeaux was considered an insult. The real problem was that there were no big town to perform in and I needed to make a living. Dominique and most of her friends were nurses but unless you were a farmer, there were not many job opportunities. Most of the guys I knew were unemployed and going a bit crazy stuck at home watching the kids. So I would go off in the summer to Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia. I wasn't ready to settle down and have kids yet which was Dominique's big wish so we eventually went our separate ways.

...venice, italy ...

In autumn 1984 I was in Stuttgart, Germany and it was cold and rainy. Another American juggler Steve Goetz had shown up in town and we said, "this sucks, why don't we go to Italy". So we went of to Milan, Florence and Venice. Venice was another fantastic place, which I was to visit again a number of times in the future although the police were always quick to stop any street shows. We ran into 2 brothers who were childhood friends of Steve who I would later visit in New Zealand. Unfortunately I have no photos from that first trip. Coincidently, I took these following photos on my last trip to Venice with my Austrian friend Uli, who I had originally met in Kathmandu. On the same day, whom did I run into in Kathmandu but Steve.

venice italy europe

venice italy europe photos

venice italy europe photos

venice italy europe photos

venice italy europe photos

venice italy europe photos

venice italy europe photos

venice italy europe photos

venice italy europe photos

venice italy europe photos

venice italy europe travels

venice italy europe travels

venice italy europe photos

This was a back street of Venice.

venice italy europe travels

...spain and Gibraltar...

I traveled extensively through Spain my first year in Europe and made a number of later visits as well. Unfortunately, I no longer have the photos from that part of my early travels except for this one. This is Joaquin, a crazy little sailor I met in Seville where I spent quite some time. Like in the photo, there are many such plazas throughout the city that one stumbles upon while trying to find ones way down the narrowing, winding streets. Whenever there is a holiday and there seemed to be one on almost a weekly basis, the young people would go to such plazas and sing and dance flamenco. It was interesting to see their pride in keeping old traditions although mega discotheques and now rave clubs were prominent as well. In 1984, Spain was relatively cheap and the people were still celebrating their freedom after the long reign of Franco. I don't smoke but hash was supposedly legal at this time and what's sure is that there was always a party going on.

I had flown from Seville to spend Christmas and carnival time in the Canary Islands but returned for Easter and the elaborate Semana Santa or holy week rituals where large statues or crucifixes were carried from the many churches and paraded through the streets. Most participants wore hooded robes reminiscent of the Klu Klux Klan. Many carried large burning candles and spectators would fall to the ground to catch the wax drippings on cards with depictions of holy figures and prayers on them. It was quite the religious spectacle but the hedonist carrying on during carnival had been just as extreme. A week after the holy week finished was the start of the weeklong Feria (fair) de Seville. Possibly the biggest festival in the world, there were said to be over a million people on the fairgrounds some evening. There were even 2 circuses set up here. I tried to do some short shows especially juggling with torches at the fair but it was too much of a madhouse. One time some of the artists from one of the circuses saw me and invited me to party with them as if I was a star.

Anyway, my Spanish was not so good having almost flunked out of it during the 2 years I had it in high school. Joaquin showed me around and was proud to speak some English he had learned while traveling the world some years as a merchant marine. He was small but drank beer like crazy. He said the tradition in Andalusia was not to buy your own drinks while out with friends but to take turns buying rounds. Only he was ready for the next round before I had taken more than a sip or two of my last beer. He was extremely happy when I returned to Seville. Seems he was so drunk on one of our nights out before I left that he had lost his watch on his balcony and suspected I had stolen it. In the meantime, he found it again and felt sorry for having distrusted me.

Sevilla Spain

I returned to Spain in the following years a couple of times but just for short visits. In more recent years, I went to Ibiza after the tourist season was over to see my friend Hugo and his family. I also went to Mallorca for a week with my wife. It was also the very end of autumn and many of the places were shut for the winter but we got a very cheap big hotel with "all included" which meant not just food but drinks but alcohol as well! I can imagine it being obnoxious in the high season with so many out of control tourists but it was rather quiet and enjoyable when we went. Unfortunately I didn't have a camera along on these trips. Then in November 2015 I went on a cruise ship for a week along the Spanish coast. I never thought to travel on a cruise ship but as a performer I was always curious to check out the conditions. A friend of mine is mostly doing ships and was able to invite me for no extra cost. So I took a flight to Barcelona. We spent a night, got a taxi to the ship in the morning and after having checked in walked a bit around the center of the city, where this first picture was taken

Barcelona Spain

I took this photo in a later port, doesn't show our ship so well in the back but it was interesting seeing this old wreck achored in front of us.

cruise ship Spain

Another view of the wreck.

cruise ship Spain

From Barcelona we set off to Palma de Mallorca. We only saw some of the main areas around the cathedral but I had seen the city more extensively years before

Palma de Mallorca Spain

Palma de Mallorca Spain, cathedral

Palma de Mallorca Spain, horse

Palma de Mallorca Spain, square

Next stop was Alicante, a pretty town I had not seen but we only found time to see a bit of the center as well as shown by these 4 photos.

Alicante Spain

Alicante Spain

Alicante Spain garden

Alicante Spain monument

We stopped in Motril which is a small town with a big port from which many ship-goers arranged a visit to the Alahambra in Granada. Motril itself was not overly interesting but there was a beach next to the habor and the day was not only warm enough to lay in the sun but the water was surprisingly enjoyble as well. I felt the need for more exercise so walked from the beach to the ship. I had plenty of time yet my legs were collapsing by the time I arrived. What I was to find is a common problem is that many harbor facilities are very extensive and with buildings in the way, one loses sight of the ships and the orientation to find the most direct route back. The next 2 photos are from the next port Gibraltar. Its a small point sticking out from the Spanish peninsula belonging to Britain. It has a long history of European rivalry and attention as being a strategic point at the mouth of the mediteranean. It is a strange mix of English people who want to exscape the cold and life style of their own country and Spaniards who cross over to work. I had the feeling that there is a tradition of piracy and smuggling yet if a lot of wealthy people are stashing their loot here it doesn't show in the city which for the most part looked rather run down. The first view is from the upper side of the city above an old Moorish fortification.

view over Gibraltar

This is part of the main square from where the main pedestrain street starts.

main square Gibraltar

Cartagena was the last stop in Spain as we headed to the final port of Civitavecchia, Italy. There were some majestic old buildings and a lot of ruins, many of which were from the Romans.

Cartagena spain

So, those were just a few tales from my many travels over the last twenty and something years. I hope you've enjoyed another side of a traveling clown! If you want, write me an email or better yet, book my show or set a link to this website or just state me as the beneficiary of your will!

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copyright © 2007 Tom Bolton


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