Category Archives: European

Easter Road to the Royal Mile

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I was sick of it. I’d been having conversations with a friend for over four months now about how we both wished to go on a trip within the UK.

However one pitfall after another beset us from actually doing it. So, one day when he called me, I booked the flight and the hotel after he said he’d call me back.

He did…and was stunned to realise what I had done. But, realistically, it was the only way we would’ve ever done it. So we headed out to Bristol airport on the day and boarded the plane for his first flight.

Getting through security was a bit of a hassle, but we got there o.k. His condition prevents him for standing for long periods. I lost sight of him once.

He loved every moment of it. Soaring above the clouds captured his imagination. It wasn’t long before we broke through them after take-off.  He said he was glad he had done it before he died.

When we broke out of the clouds for the first time, it was magical. It felt like we were soaring on silk. It’s a feeling that will never leave me. Not only that, but we were sat next to two lovely flight attendants on the way back.

Our destination was the fair city of Edinburgh, home to The Royal Mile and Easter Road. I’m sure you would never have guessed that in a million years. Anyway,  we were going now.

We didn’t regret it. Getting to see the sights, hear the sounds, smell the smells…thats what travel is all about. It is an adventure unto itself and one not to be crossed unless you are ready for it.

The flights were of a decent price, one hundred and twenty pounds return, with easyJet from Bristol. Good, our next point of call. The hotel.

Three stars. A cosy little place, the Dunstane Lodge. We had the usual, a T.V. and two single beds with breakfast. Also, we had a better-than-standard ride into town with the airport bus.

The vehicle was impeccably clean, the driver polite and friendly, no delays on the service and a seamless journey into the town centre.

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Now for the excitement. He wanted to see the three stadiums in the vicinity, Tyneside, Murrayfield and Easter Road.

It turned out to be a fair old walk, not to visit them from the hotel, but from each one to the other. But the best part, by far and away, was The Royal Mile. The one and only.

Striding down these streets where Scottish shortbread is in abundance brings all the clichés, unexpected experiences and sheer beauty together. These buildings include monuments, Edinburgh Castle, and many more.

We hopped from bus to bus to see the various sights and walked up various alleyways and byways to see all three of the sports stadiums in the vicinity.

This was o.k. I let him do this because it was his first holiday at the age of twenty five. A sad but true story. He hasn’t ever left the U.K. Nor had he flown before.

So there we were in the middle of February at our little lodging on West Coates Street, near to Haymarket Station.

The walk to the town centre was neither strenuous nor unpleasant and I was able to stop and get a hot chocolate from a tasty street stall selling beverages and sweet snacks.

There was a bit of construction work, though, and he found it a little hard on his ears. He has sound sensitivity. As we got into the centre, which we had seen on the way in, we were reminded of the aura of the place.

The sun shone and we began to walk up toward the Castle, from which we oversaw the entire surrounding area and drank it in quite happily.

The Glens outside the city were visible and they stretched, green in some parts, barren in others, to the horizon. As for the castle itself?

It houses the Scottish National War Museum, the Honours of Scotland and the Scottish War Memorial along with other goodies. A plethora of exhibitions, museums and gun batteries, to name a few, are on site.

Most of the castle’s were rebuilt after the Lang Siege of 1573 and were reconstructed thereafter. Human habitation of the area goes back to ninth century b.c.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Edinburgh held some of the most ancient history in the British Isles. Whether that be central to Celtic lore or world history, you’ll find it in Scotland.

It is the home of the television, the telephone and countless other items. As far as cuisine is concerned, it is top-notch. We dined in a Vietnamese restaurant where I had the most wonderful vegetable curry.

We headed for Edinburgh’s international airport, quite a clean and tidy one by anyone’s standards. A slight problem at security. I had bought a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and was denied access through to the gate.

Not a problem, I scoffed it. As for the journey home,  it was a late night flight, during which we met the aforementioned flight attendants and reflected on a lovely trip. My parents picked us up at the Bristol end.

The special part about the place is its entire character. It is like no other, for it has the setting, the character, the history, the culture and just about everything else.

You may lose yourself for a lifetime where the pipes play and the tartan wave flourishes amidst Georgian architecture and the smells of bakeries combine with the sights of Scotland’s capital.

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It has a spellbinding nature and will intoxicate you with its charisma. You can see the Edinburgh Festival here, where murder is in the air and African voice choirs may ease your ears.

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What about the Royal Military Tattoo that takes place every year within the walls of the castle and is a magnificent spectale to behold, with pipes and drums from a host of nations, not least, of course, Scotland.

A spectre of fireworks and parade-ground marches, it really does much to impress. So does this entire city…

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English: An example of Airport security.

English: An example of Airport security. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Security at airports in a post 9/11 world is paramount. That is why it baffled me that, in August of 2004, as I returned with my mother and sister from a holiday in Sweden, that the airport security in Stockholm would simply run a scanner over my belt buckle, obscured by a sweater, and say “go on”.

 

Well, apparently they do just that. It made me feel terrific that they were so lax about it. I could have had anything under there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A gun, a bomb, a 4th century Chinese sword:)? Well, at least in a few hours I would be home. And indeed I was. But that incident really opened my eyes.

 

The questionable behaviour of the security individuals is probably limited to only a few of them, but, if this ever happens to anyone who reads this in the future, do what I didn’t. Complain about it. Everyone’s life is being risked because of one person not being vigilant.

 

How safe can we really be if they do not even bother to lift my sweater? I began to wonder also about how thoroughly the bags were scanned and who was able to fly, plus a whole host of other security variables that are of paramount importance.

 

Luggage screening device at Suvarnabhumi Inter...

Luggage screening device at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand. This security post is located for entering the airport which means all people (visitors and passengers) have to pass such a control. Another control will be for boarding luggage before entering the secured area (passengers only). View towards the street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I boarded without further incident and settled in for a shortish hour and forty-five minute flight back to Stansted, from where we would pick up our car and begin the lengthy journey back to Gloucestershire. We got there and my big Labrador greeted me with happy kisses.

 

 

Sweet Sweden

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It’s always a thrill to go to a foreign country. It’s the smells, the sights, the sounds, the feelings and the tastes. It was the same feeling when we arrived in Stockholm at the Kom Hotel on Dobelnsgatan. Don’t worry. I don’t expect you to remember that.

Only about half an hours walk leads you to the harbour area, an area of the city that must have embellished its charm from other cities. It does seem odd that a city could have such heaps of the stuff. But its a different sort to most cities. This is very casual, very open, very……Swedish.

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On the first day, we came into the city’s central station where we disembarked. Fresh Scandinavian pastries were available here and the lingonberry jam‘s scent wafted throughout the entire station. It drew us to the cafe like bees to honey! The jam is the same kind as you get at IKEA. Twice as good.

They were as scrumptious as they smelt. Anyway, it was only a brief walk to the hotel room. A five-star one as well. Excellent. Neither was breakfast. I think they must measure them in tons, not calories!

We crammed ourselves full of scrambled eggs, orange juice, more scrambled eggs, which were delicious, and some swedish cereal. I don’t know what it was called but it smelled of fresh berries and fruit. The juices were as good as any.

Our consumption of large amounts of food was not without reason. Sweden is expensive, including its public transport, except for the bus to the airport. This means walking everywhere, which is counteracted by the fact that Stockholm is a small city.

It is split up amongst about thirty islands and has much to offer. For instance, there is the famous wreck of the warship Vasa, a sixteenth century warship now housed in a museum of its own. This is a fabulous exhibit! You may view the ship in all her glory!

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The ship overturned in Stockholm harbour, due to a top-heavy design, overloading and open gun-ports. Come on, Sweden, you guys know better than that. Your pride is hurt! Try, try again! They are a mostly neutral country.

The exhibit actually allows you to physically walk onto the gun-deck. Breathtaking. More so are the items that were recovered from the waters around the ship. These include food, clothing, drink, coins, cutlery and a game of backgammon, among other objects.

Skansen is definitely the largest and, hardly doubtfully, the best open-air museum in the country. It is fully functioning 19th century village that has worker in period costume who are experts in their field. Want to see a glass moose being made at the glass-blower‘s? You can buy one, too.

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Summer courses in arts and crafts exist here. Just click the link to find out more www.skansen.se. There’s everything here from wild animals to yearly events such as singalongs and summer festivals.

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This is part of the country’s character, also of Scandinavia‘s character. Norway and Denmark are just the same and pricy too. That means that the retail area of the city will wipe you out, with reference to Scandinavia’s chic reputation.

It’s easy to see from where this reputation occurred. They are an immaculately dressed, clean nation of people who instantly have an uncanny talent in terms of fashion sense. It is this that leads us to the shopping district of the city.

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The district has much wider streets, for obvious reasons, than, say, the medieval heart of the city…Gamla Stan. More people, especially tourists, means wider streets. We spent the third day buying items of clothing.

Despite having said afterwards that it was mind-crushingly boring to me, now I like it. Strange, isn’t it. We learn to like some things later in life. This city captivated me when we went there and it would certainly do the same again. It had a well-roundedness that is only comparable to London or Paris.

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The harbour area? Well, we had a good old tour around the harbour on a tour boat with an English-speaking guide and saw the other islands. If I rightly recall, the tour was about 30 minutes and the old naval officer’s college was on the itinerary.

Don’t quote me, though. The boats are small in length. They were a little bit cramped. But, otherwise, they are as fine as any in the business. The waters that day were as crystal and glassy as any fairytale and have a unique air to them with their smell.

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As for the Royal Palace, frankly, it was a let-down. The building is extremely boring in architecture and that was the chief problem we had with the whole experience. The actual guards with their sky-blue uniforms and heavy-duty rifles look absolutely splendid.

They are the oldest still serving cavalry regiment in Sweden. Gold pickelhaube helmets adorn their heads. We observed them before going on parade and they were as playful a children. Thats nice to see. Not as regimented as we might assume.

Their opposite numbers were Swedish Marine Corps infantry who had a much more dull grey tunic and trousers, coupled with berets for headgear. Their band was exceptional and their drill made you forget that they weren’t all one person.

As the cavalry soldiers began to form up on foot and began to run around perimeter, in time and sequence with each other, the marine band commenced its overture. All in all, the Royal Palace was pretty good…and the trip was fantastic!

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So it came to pass that we headed home on a highway that reminded me very much of the ones I was used to in Canada, especially because they drove on the right. However, we saw typical Swedish countryside going by and even a moose!

As the farmhouses flanking the road passed, I thought to myself about what a wonderful time I had and about the lovely country I’d had it in. People ask me why I go to foreign countries when I could just look at google images.

I go for all the reasons I can not utter…

Storms in Brittany

A storm at Pors-Loubous, Plogoff, Finistère, F...

A storm at Pors-Loubous, Plogoff, Finistère, France Français : Pors-Loubous (Commune de Plogoff, Finistère) un jour de tempête 日本語: フランス、 フィニステール県、Plogoff、Pors-Loubousの嵐 Português: Uma tempestade em Pors-Loubous, Plogoff, Finistère, França (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

I vividly remember standing on the rocky coastline of Brittany, near the small village of Penmarch in France’s Brittany region, and watching the wildest surf possible come in and strike the outcrops, dashing them again and again. It was a blast for a fourteen-year-old!

 

 

 

The first couple of times it happened, my mother and I were flabbergasted! We couldn’t believe our eyes. The cliffs were at least thirty feet high and still the waves hit the tops of them.

 

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Balade dominicale…. (Photo credit: Laurentquinquis *Lolo*)

 

My memory is embalmed with the smell and taste of the salt as the water lashed my face. And the lighthouse! Oh, the lighthouse…shining its thunderous beam through the mist. Its rotations, calm and orderly, provided  soothing and beautifully surreal feature to mother nature.

 

 

 

Eventually, we learned to adjust to the weather. But we never ceased to enjoy it and often a drive to the beach was in order. Wind would blow in our face and we’d lick the salt off our lips. What a time. Our journey would often take us out to the headland.

 

 

 

Memories like these make me happy to write on the blog. They are precious and are rarely encountered on somebody my age. I look back on them and realise that, whether it is the icy wind that slices through you in Norway or the allures of the Indian Ocean, travelling is a great pastime.

 

 

 

Well, if anyone feels like having a go at learning to speak French and shift geographical locations, then come here. You’ll love it!

 

 

 

All the King’s Men

Stockholm, Sweden 073 - Early morning - Royal ...

Stockholm, Sweden 073 – Early morning – Royal Guard at the Stockholm Palace (Photo credit: Claudio.Ar)

Late August in Stockholm. How about that? How about seeing the Palace Guards? If you go to the city, then you have the chance to experience that privilege. Although, you’d best be warned. DO NOT touch anything beyond the guard rail. If you do, it will be on pain of death.

That was what a young man tried to do during the ensemble before the changing of the guards the day we were there. The guards, a magnificent sight in their gold pickelhaube helmets with screaming sky blue trousers, will make their intentions very clear and bark at anyone who trespasses.

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Stockholm, Sweden 068 – Royal Guard at the Stockholm Palace (Photo credit: Claudio.Ar)

This particular individual reached across the flimsy rail and had the nerve to touch a cannon that lined the main path to the palace entrance. I did not see this.

What I did see, however, was the guard who briskly marched toward the scene of the incident and yelled “UT!”, waving his hand in the air and brandishing a heavy-duty rifle! Lesson well-learned, not that I needed to.

Afterwards, the changing of the guard happened and we were subject to a wonderful display. The Marines that were taking over from them put on a fantastic march.

Marvellous people with kind and helpful hearts inhabit the city that will leave its charm lingering in your memory forever.

What more could be said about this dreamy fairytale land other than we had a lovely, joyous time in the Swedish capital and it was the experience of a lifetime!

A lonely night in Stratford

English: The Broadway of Stratford, London.

English: The Broadway of Stratford, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two a.m. in the morning is never a good time unless you’re partying or asleep. But when you’re in the middle of a closed, open-air shopping complex in London’s Stratford area, its not good at all. I was here having come back from Copenhagen on a late-night flight. It took until past midnight to get through customs and then there was a wait for the bus. But I got there o.k.

I just had to wait here until the underground opened, then travel across London to get the bus home to Gloucester from Victoria station. It was going to be a long night, “so just wrap up  warm on the bench and sit tight tight!” I thought to myself.

Londoners and Olympics fans intermingle on the...

Londoners and Olympics fans intermingle on the Tube (Photo credit: AndyRobertsPhotos)

Anyway, about three a.m., these two guys come up and start chatting to me. They weren’t threatening,  just  “night owls”. They were ushered on by a security guard but not before they asked if I was Australian, because of my accent. I said “you got it!” and smiled. After they left, I had a giggle. I’m Canadian!

Skansen, a guide to Stockholm’s 19th century exhibit

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A fully-functioning 19th-century village? Thats what you’ll find in Sweden’s oldest open air museum, formed in 1891. Truly magnificent in both content and scale, it is a must-see for anyone wishing to visit this Bastion of Scandinavia. The Post Office still operates and arts and crafts are taught all year round. 

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Its name is…Skansen!

If you like the smell of timber and architecture of the 19th century then this is the place for you. The sight of people in period costume  of the place and the architecture will leave you breath-taken. The staff are informative and there is an authentic Swedish chef. Ever seen the muppets? He’ll remind you of them. It is truly the heart of 19th century Sweden. The open air cafes are abundant. So is cycling…

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There are places like Helin and Voltaire that serve coffee tea and pastries, the smell of which you’ll never forget, plus more, or there is Skansen terrace, a wonderful open-air venue where you can sit and drink under the sky of a long summer evening. Want to have your own little glass moose? Why not go to the glass-blower and watch him make it before your very eyes?

All the fauna of Sweden are kept here. If you find seals cute and cuddly, a grey one is fed every day at his aquatic enclosure. He looks happy all -day long. The size of the enclosures is large. The animals have plenty of room and are loved by both staff and visitors.

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Its harmony with nature leads you to think of all the dream you dreamt as a child.

Cornwall

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It was a bright June day when we set out for Cornwall. I was excited. It was just my mother and I for the first time in ages! Not only that: I was also headed back to Cornwall again for the first time in six years! 2008 was the year.

We were to see sights that were both commonplace in modern English culture and those steeped in the ancient mysteries of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

We were headed to Mullion Cove, where we had spent some time in a holiday cottage after having moved from Canada in May of 2002. We set out early in the day and expected to camp for the whole time we were away. In actual fact, it was too cold and, on the second night, we opted for a travelodge.

However, the first night was spent in a campsite, us having packed a tent in the back of our Subaru. When we got to the cove on the first day, we spent some time wandering around, taking various photos. We got some absolute scorchers as well! It figures, though. My mums a photographer. What a lovely setting.

The rugged coastline and unique culture of this part of the world leaves you with the feeling that it is completely disconnected from the mainland of United KingdomWe spent the evening in a nice pub up on the hill behind the cove.

It was a pleasant place with an outside seating area/garden and there was a lovely breeze coming off the water. The tables were clean and the food was decent. It also had the most pleasant path leading up to it…

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We had a game of dice. Its very similar to Yahtzee, a North American game. We took a walk along the top of the cliffs and sampled the view as the sun set on the western horizon. At this time of day, it is a beautiful and truly spiritual place. 

Our campsite was on top of the hill above the hamlet and was therefore a little breezy. The sleeping in the tent was a little cold, although I didn’t feel this. I was snug a bug in a rug. Also, it was a three-man tent. Thats handy, given that I’m 6 feet 5 inches.

It was about five in the morning and a dull gun-metal sky presided over us. We packed the tent and set out across Cornwall for St Ives. My mum was very kind and gave up some of her day at Naval Air Station Culdrose‘s viewing area, complete with cafeteria. I remember taking a good shot of a Sea King helicopter based there. Good tea too!

Royal Navy Sea King

Royal Navy Sea King (Photo credit: fromthevalleys-)

When we got to St Ives, it was still grey. Not clear like our previous day. The town retained its appearance, however. A rare quality is that this county, and, moreover, St Ives will look good no matter what the weather. In fact, it is probably more beautiful in the mist and fog. It is also home to the Tate St Ives.

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Tate St Ives, Cornwall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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What the town is Unique in is its peninsula-style harbour that has twin beaches, a feature that is not replicated anywhere else, to my knowledge. Although the sea gulls will try to steal your ice cream if you’re by the waterfront.

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The smell of the sea mixed with fish and chips…and I mean the authentic English style…would be out of place on any other shore, especially without the accompanying countryside. It really fills the nostrils. It really can not be copied successfully either, although some areas of the world try to sell them with authenticity. It doesn’t ring true!

In the afternoon, we headed for the small town of Mousehole. This is a quaint town typical of any Cornish fishing community. It boasts a lovely harbour area, filled with small boats for rent, and a line of postcard shops with cafes. There is, of course, no shortage of pubs either.

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That was day two over with. We spent that night in a Travelodge, given that my mother had to get some fitful sleep for the drive home the following day. She snored and I had a restless night, having to go for a couple of walks.  But that didn’t bother me because I love my mother very much.

It was on the way home that we stopped off at Port Isaac, where we strode along the cliffs and sampled the village. It is a small fishing village that was very prosperous from the middle ages to the 19th century and vital commodities such as stone, coal, timber and potteries were unloaded here.

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There are also good beaches around. If you want to surf, then the beaches at Perranporth and Newquay offer world-famous beaches and surf that will take your breath away.

I bought a little souvenir from the gift shop present at Tintagel castle. The prices were just about right there. Not too expensive, nor cheap. The item was a little Celtic treskil, or cross.

Legend has it that the castle is the birthplace of King Arthur. And so it slips into place as a site that is set in the most British of tales. And what better place to have it than this bleak and stormy isle!

A romantic, beautiful place, it is set amongst green cliffs and there is little left of the building itself. But that just adds to the scenario. It’s a bit like somebody just took an hourglass and made time stay till throughout the ages. To think of the legend that the place is immersed in just gives me goosebumps.

The castle itself is set amongst the steepest cliffs anywhere could possibly offer with green grass atop them. There is little left of the castle itself, but that only adds to its romantic and magical lore. It lies roughly equidistant between the towns of Padstow and Bude. Also very special places.

And so it came to pass that we plondered slowly home, a six-hour drive, under screaming blue skies and with happy contentment. We had had a joyous break!

Boxer dogs and chairs

English: Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower peninsu...

English: Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower peninsular of South Wales. Photograph taken by Jamie O’Shaughnessy September 5, 2003, released to the public domain. Category:Pictures of Swansea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The glorious summer of 2003 smiled greatly on the Welsh Gower peninsula when my mother and I decided to camp there with our precious boxer dog Molly, who had been a rescue dog and now awaits us at Rainbow Bridge.

We had recently got her and she was a delightful dog…except for the incident where she was almost drowned by a swan! That happened after she went into the water and chased one.

Anyway, we spent the night in a two-person-one-dog tent. Molly decided that she wasn’t going to lie down despite our asks and we eventually decided not to argue with her.

I can still remember her silhouette against the evening sky, sitting bolt upright with her ears perked. She looked like a vulture ready to swoop on its prey.

That same evening that we spent in the tent, I had been sitting in at an outside table belonging to a cafeteria when my mother said she was going to get our dinner.

O.k. I thought. Now, I’m not thick, but I thought that a chair, even it was just flimsy plastic, could hold down a boxer dog so I could have my drink.

Therefore, I put the chair leg through the loop-handle on her lead and sat down again. As I began to enjoy my drink, I found out I was wrong. One moment, I was upright and drinking away. The next, I was on my back lying on concrete.

She had seen a dog and destroyed my thin barrier instantly  The man with the dog, however, picked up her lead and, after greeting her new-found canine friend, she sat.

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As we were headed back to the tent that night, we saw a three-legged plastic chair lying on the scrap-heap.

Pastries in Valletta

Republic Street, Valletta, Malta 1

Republic Street, Valletta, Malta 1 (Photo credit: John Drinkwater)

Valletta was lovely that day. It was the last full day of my holiday and it going to be made the most of. As I chose a particular bench in the city’s main square, I heard a voice from over my shoulder.

a nice old maltese man

a nice old maltese man (Photo credit: S.H.CHOW)

It was a little old man asking if I was from Denmark. It took me a second to realise why. Of course, it was because of the pastries! “No”, I smiled, “I’m from the United Kingdom“.

We began to chat and he asked me what I was doing in Malta. I told him that I was sampling it so I could write a blog about it.

He said he liked to have sweet food as well. He had his eye on my pastries! I kindly offered him one and he took it.

It transpired that he had worked in the UK when he was young, as a waiter for three years, returning to Malta after that.

Apparently, his mother would not stop nagging him. He asked if I had any kids of my own or a wife. “No”, I said, “not yet”!