Category Archives: Exotic experiences

Buses Don’t Run On Sundays

Copenhagen Central Station

Copenhagen Central Station (Photo credit: Airelle.info)

So, as I stand there, in Copenhagen’s central square, looking at the bus timetable, I realise, while supressing the rising panic in me, that the “Sunday” column is empty. Oh dear. That’s not good. Especially when your flight is that evening. I had to be at Malmo airport by nine fifteen that night. I was in it deep. So I call my mother and leave a message of the trouble that I am in.

I decide to head for the train station and see if there is a train to Malmo. There is. I can breathe again. I hop on the next possible one. As I recall, it left around six in the evening and the journey lasted about an hour. So I get to Malmo central station and glance briefly, while hurrying to the bus stop, at the city around me. Quite a pretty centre.

Malmo Central Station

Malmo Central Station (Photo credit: khoogheem)

Eventually, I catch a bus headed for the airport around eight o’clock. It got in at eight fifty. Jut under an hour before my flight. No time to lose. Check in. Then head for the gate. Walk. Quickly, now! Ok, we’ve made it. That was a close one.

Ryanair

Ryanair (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

My mother was furious with me for having sent a message like that and not calling back to say I was alright. “No”, I told everyone when I got back, “I wasn’t arrested”.

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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.

Mo 20

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

Whatever you do, don’t shut up!

Snow in Calgary meant an hour and forty-five minute delay. The later the flight, the easier it would be for me to sleep. It would be at ten-fifteen p.m. now. I casually accepted my boarding pass and headed to the gate where I chatted to a nice English lady. I was headed home to the UK after a five-month stint in British Columbia.

Vancouver International Airport

Vancouver International Airport (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

And so our mount arrived. Air Transat still operate Airbus 310. Old crates. Still, there was plenty of legroom and the passenger next to me was pleasant. She had an English accent, was fluent in French and was a Canadian citizen. I spoke with her for the brief hoop to Calgary, a stop before setting out for London.

A we departed Calgary, I got a stark reminder of why the prairies are so avoided in Canadian lore. Because they are flat as a pancake. The aircraft seemed to roll on forever. Eventually, we got airborne. Supper wasn’t served at this late hour, just snacks.

Now it was time for that aforementioned sleep. Just one problem, the two guys in the aisle seats next to us. They wouldn’t shut up! Yak-yak-yak. Eventually, I drifted off. At least they were far enough away that I could do so. Not so for my companion.

I woke up when we were over Newfoundland and things were beginning to get light again. They were still yakking away. Four hours later? Still Yakkin’ over the Celtic Sea. Sigh. Well, at least we were almost home.

Coming in low over London now, I watched the traffic on the M4. To me, it reminded me of blood running through an artery, like some grand scientist co-relation theory.

After passing through customs, my fellow passenger spoke her thoughts about our two pests!

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”!

Foul-up in Turin

EasyJet A319 Tailfins

EasyJet A319 Tailfins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Early May. Gorgeous! Especially if you are travelling to the Italian Riviera when you are only seventeen years old. I was headed for San Remo, having just touched down in Turin. That went fairly smoothly. No trouble at customs.

I landed at 12:05 and had to catch a train to San Remo at 14:05 from the main station. Ample time, or so I thought.

I made my way, dutifully, to the airports rail link where I asked the station manager when the next train would come. He informed me that it would be only a few minutes.

It was now about 12:30 and I had to wait for another 30 minutes, I don’t recall exactly how long.

The point is that, when I caught the train, It was 13:00. Time was still sufficient. I got off the train around 13:20 and onto the bus, asking the driver, who had poor English, to drop me off at the main train station.

Torino Stazione Porta Nuova

Torino Stazione Porta Nuova (Photo credit: Michael Tinkler)

He forgot and, when he stopped at his terminus, it was 13:50. I was now alarmed.

After about 5 minutes of him chatting and me gesturing, he passed me some paper. I wrote “Treno 14:05 San Remo”.

Suddenly understanding, he asked any of the passengers, for some reason still loitering, if they could speak English.

Two young schoolgirls came forward and we rushed to the train station.

It was too late. I got there just in time to see my train leaving the platform. Now what? Call my father and ask him what to do.

So I bought a drink from a stall and used the change in a payphone. I called him and we agreed that the best thing for me to do was catch a train to Savona and, from there, to San Remo.

This happened, the Savona train leaving Turin at 16:05. Two hours behind schedule. I eventually caught the San Remo train, being delayed by two more hours. Lesson learned! Leave AT LEAST three hours between the plane landing and the train leaving the station!

A Coffee in Zanzibar

Stone Town

Stone Town (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fresh sugar cane juice, white sandy beaches, cool granite buildings under the skies of the Indian Ocean…This has to be Zanzibar… I had an hour before my transfer driver picked me up, so I decided to have a wander round the labyrinth of shops selling everything from Kanga dresses to Fanta drinks. Ribena as well. Comforts of old England.

Anyway, as I strode down one of the wider avenues in town, an old man, around seventy, maybe, grabbed my arm and pulled me over to the side of the street, smiling gently. I soon realised that he wasn’t a threat and he kindly asked me if we could drink coffee together. I agreed and we sat with a group of his friends for several minutes sipping good East African coffee.

He asked me the usual questions.”Where are you from?”, “What brings you here?” and so forth. I gather he probably wanted to use his English. Anyway, we talked for a few minutes and he gave me a run-down on Zanzibar’s history. Having no knowledge of the island, I could only end the conversation with…”I guess so, I don’t know…”. Laughs all around!

 

Tramonto a zanzibar

Tramonto a zanzibar (Photo credit: Pierina Mariani)

 

The French and Italian Riviera

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If the smell of strawberry ice cream turns you on, then you’ll easily be allured to the aroma of a gelateria in Portofino, San Remo or Menton. These are the towns of the Franco-Italian Riviera and they bask in sun for two-thirds of the year.

If that sounds good to you, then the Riviera is the place for you. Whether it is the sunny ice creams, pizzerias and cappuccino’s in Italy, or Arabic cafes, bakeries and beaches on the French side, this place is truly enchanting.

It is full of all the glories of life in this part of the world. I remember about eleven years ago now, when my dad flew into Nice to see us. However, this was only because this was the nearest point to us that he could fly to. One problem.

We lived in Brittany…northwest…and not southeast…France. Why were we living there? A story for another time.

So we piled into our Volvo Estate and set off for the long journey across France. It was one to remember too. After we had left, we passed through France’s equivalent of the Canadian prairies. It is the breadbasket of the country, with wheat being the chief product and fertile soil lying in the land.

The Pays De La Loire and Poitou-Charente regions stretch from St Nazaire in the north to Bordeaux in the south and from the Bay of Biscay in the west to Clermont-Ferrand in the east.

An overnight stop was spent in Clermont in an Etap hotel for a good rate, about forty Euros, as I recall. It was a clean and well-dressed city. We left the next morning and spent most of the day driving south to Narbonne, a fun little town in Provence. Green trees line the avenue of this sweet, beautiful town.

We had to travel this far south to reach the main road, the E15 to Montpellier and then the E80 Salon-de-Provence, outside Marseille. Then on to Aix-en-Provence where you’ll pass through Parc Jourdan and straight on to our destination.

Now, about Nice. After a night in a seaside hotel, we entered the city in order to pick up my dad from the airport. The city didn’t make a good impression with me. Aside from that, though, we had a decent stay, punctuated by the beaches, or, namely, the topless women on them.

I was fourteen years old and, for me, it was paradise. As we crossed the border into Italy, I felt a distinct sense of adventure. My first impression of San Remo on the Italian side was one of surrealism. It was January and the christmas lights were  still up.

This did not gel at all with the  temperate beaches and sunshine that the city glowed in. I passed through Monaco twice to get there by train. The view of the water was dazzling! It only cost 5 Euros and the station was clean. Not so in San Remo.

The longest tunnel-walk in the world between the train and the station front door is here. It takes a few minutes. Happy days were spent there, as my dad purchased a flat in Ceriana, a tiny hill village just a few miles north of San Remo.

Ceriana (IM), 2010.

Ceriana (IM), 2010. (Photo credit: Fiore S. Barbato)

It was a sweet place, as is shown below, but the flat was uninhabited and unprepared. My dad had rather unrealistic ideas about renting it out to tourists.

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We met up with a real estate agent in the village, called Martina, who ran a real estate business with her husband, Klaus. We spent a day overlooking the flat and discussing terms. It wasn’t very interesting for me and I didn’t like the property. I think my dad was the only one who did.

But that was the first time I went down. Over the next few years, I grew fond of the flat, having stayed in it twice in 2005 for a week’s stretch and a two-week stretch. The first time I went down, my dad picked me up from the airport.

We crossed into France again one day as we headed for the seaside town of Menton. I’ll remember that day forever. There was a festival of oranges on and it was bright screaming sunshine. And as for the bakeries, there were fruit-flavoured pastries abound!

Menton

Menton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We tried some oranges and they are probably the best I’ve ever had. I really appreciated my dad doing that for me. He was so impressed with the town. It was a really special week.

The bus trip…anyone who has been on the road between Ceriana on the bus  is either extremely brave, foolish or insane. A the bus veers close to the steep drop-off on one side, my heart leaps. My faith in the drivers is not well-founded either.

They gab on their cell-phones, talk to the passengers and throw their hands up in the air, completely oblivious to the concept that they might have to keep those things that have fingers on them gripped to the big wheel that steers the thing called a bus with loads of innocent people, whose life flashes before their eyes, in it.

Mine did. I was quite peaceful about that. Scared stiff about dying though.

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If you get there, though, this is what awaits. A calm, cosy square with cafes all around and a pleasant, gentle atmosphere to suit. I felt as though life could not be more contented. The marina was just adjacent to the square, leisure boats and the like.

Well I sure hope Mario enjoyed the English tea that I got for him and the strawberry jam, among with other items. It was only on later trips that I found out about all the eateries in the vicinity. The communities are tiny, but they have traditionally cooked, very palatable food.

One may dine at the pizzeria in Ceriana itself, run by Esmerelda and Dario. It has the finest Margherita’s around. Then there are, of course, numerous counterparts such as the Restaurant Vecchia Fattoria. Don’t be mistaken. Of the dozen or so items on the menu, you don’t get to choose one.

They’ll serve you the entire menu, one item after another. There was also a cafe in Bajardo, further north about two miles. I don’t recall the name. Portofino and the cove around the harbour are not to be forgotten. The colour of its sweet little cottages embedded on the hillside is an image that will last for decades in my memory.

It’s gaudy-painted boats only add to this glamorous retreat. You can spend hours by the waterfront there and getting to it by car is a fun adventure of relaxing, winding roads and sunshine. Along with car honks. someone may be around the bend in front of you, so you’d better warn them of your presence!

There was Turin too, of course. I flew in there once to catch a train to San Remo. Two remarkable things happened to me. One, the first time I went there, the bus driver forgot to tell me when I was at the station. This resulted in me missing my train and having to connect via Savona.

It added about four hours to my journey. The second experience was when I went back. My dad and I took the train, kipping in the station. We got about two hours of sleep and decided to wander round at three a.m. Bizarrely, all the cafes were buzzing.

That morning, we checked into a decent hotel, shadowed a monastery above the city. We ate in a cosmopolitan restaurant and flew out the next day.

It was with sadness, therefore, that my father had to sell his flat, never having rented it to so much as dormouse. They were lovely days…