Tag Archives: Travel Blog

British Columbia and the Prairies

DSC_0043

Late June. the time of sunshine, green grass, getting out of school…and…an attempt at crossing the nation. Imagine that. Us setting out from the southern tip of Vancouver Island and inching across the second-largest country on Earth.

From the fjords and inlets of British Columbia through the Rocky Mountains and their glaciers, across the great wide open spaces and golden wheat fields of the Prairies, through Ontario in early Autumn, the forests of Quebec and, finally, to the ruggedness of the eastern “Maritime” provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the great nation of Canada!

Here’s our air transport system…DSC_0431

This was a family experience to behold. We got as far as Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. My sister, my mum and dad, our dalmatian, Daphne, and our Volkswagen camper. But it was great fun, we had two weeks on the road and they were an eye-opener for a ten-year-old.

The first day covered the always-scenic ferry route between Swartz Bay near the town of Sidney, B.C., where we lived, and Tsawwassen, outside Vancouver. The hour-and-a-half sailing conjured up a romantic image.

There was Active Pass between Galiano and Maine Islands, where the west and east-bound ferries would pass within a few hundred metres. It was always entertaining to wave to the other ship.

English: BC Ferries' Queen of Saanich navigati...

English: BC Ferries’ Queen of Saanich navigating Active Pass enroute to Swartz Bay, British Columbia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By dusk we were in the interior of the province, a place called Osoyoos, home to Canada’s one and only desert. It was a pleasant, green site in evening sunshine where we camped, and toasted to our journey with plastic cups and apple juice.

They were fun nights too. We would listen to the crickets croak. Just of think of that. Us sleeping amongst the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. It gave me goosebumps.

We would chit-chat into the small hours and awake, groggy, to a bright sunshine overseeing the mountains overseeing the valleys in high summer. I’d never wanted to get up early before that. I’ve done it ever since.

As we crossed deep into the Interior of British Columbia, we came across its unspeakable beauty. We stopped in the small town of Nelson, often seen in movies. This hillside town overlooks a lake of the same name and was a pleasant addition to our trip. It is notable not only for its scenery, but for its character.

English: Mount Robson, Mount Robson Provincial...

English: Mount Robson, Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It conforms to a grid system for its streets but it seemed not to have a false atmosphere. The campsite was spent amongst a campsite full of greenery and trees, occupied, in turn, by cute, fuzzy creatures such as raccoons and squirrels. It also had exquisite Lake Nelson as its backdrop.

Rocky Mountains

Rocky Mountains (Photo credit: The Brit_2)

Some pleasant memories lie in that campsite. My family were all together, my sister and I were able to run around unrestrained. As we walked our dalmatian on the gravel, dog-poo littered beach (I just ruined everyone’s pristine image of the my homeland), I felt the most joy I had done in many months…possibly even years.

The Fraser river! Many have chanced the rapids of this rushing torrent of water and lost. The whitewater rafting goes on all year and is not to be tackled by the faint-hearted.

There had been no deaths that year, to our knowledge, but we felt that we neither had the money nor time (bags of courage!) to brave the iciness and extreme, life-threatening cold that it had to offer.

PDF test430

If you’ve never seen a glacier, then you should start with the Columbia Glacier. It is FANTASTIC!! One could see the thickness of it from our angle. It must have been a hundred feet thick at least! Wow, that took it out of me…Its too bad that we only saw it from the vehicle. But it will last with me forever.

Jasper was great, the national park where elk and man may co-exist. The park lies on the Albertan side of the provincial border. The creatures wander around freely and will even come up close and personal with your vehicle. They’re sweet mammals, too. Leave them alone and they won’t harm you. Here are some shots of the park…

PDF test417          PDF test429

We spent two days here, swatting mosquitoes and other animals, namely elk and humans, before penetrating deep into Alberta true.

Alberta, as you may have presumed, is named after British royalty and has the amazing claim that one can sometimes drive for 10 miles with not even the slightest bend in the road, shuffle up to a closed train crossing and sit for several minutes while a train pulling more than a miles worth of wheat carriages goes by, and drive another ten miles with no bends again.

I scooped up  pile of dirt in a plastic cup labelled “Alberta”; a tradition that I followed through on in Saskatchewan.

PDF test425

Canada is the world’s largest exporter of wheat and the fourth largest grower. It isn’t difficult to see why when you consider the distance between the Canadian Shield…a rocky, barren sub-tundra group of ice-age rocks…and the Rocky Mountains.

It is seven to eight hundred miles by road from Calgary to Winnipeg, depending on which road you take. As for the campsites in this part of the world, they’re o.k., except for when we stopped at a place called North Battleford, Saskatchewan.

It was run down, only offered a broken picnic table, stank of the brown stuff and had more mosquitoes than grass blades. It was around this time that we decided, due to our camper’s chronic engine trouble, that it was best to head as far as Moose Jaw.

We then witnessed an air show, and head home. This met with some disappointment, but we were running a little low on the ka-ching so it had to be done. Besides, this is what Saskatchewan looks like…

PDF test424

As I recall, the show was pretty good for my dad and I, but purgatory for my mother and sister. I don’t blame them. I think of how much I used to hate clothe-shopping. Now it’s rather fun. We saw the famous Snowbirds there…just three passes, kinda dull.

Then there was the chance, which I took, to sit in the front cockpit of a “Tutor” trainer aircraft, the type used by the team, and flick switches! It’s a shame I have no photographs of this or the other two journeys, in the blog. We were glad, of course, to see our house again.

Once, we had an attempt, and failed again, at a four-day jaunt from our home on Vancouver Island to Calgary. Our little Honda Accord had ignition trouble. Great.

We did, however, get to drive through Hope, in Silver Lake Provincial Park, and other small communities such as Penticton and Revelstoke, where we aborted the attempt.

Description unavailable

Description unavailable (Photo credit: Magalie L’Abbé)

I remember us having to receive assistance from the ferry company when we docked to start our car again. Oh boy…they weren’t happy.

But it truly was a privilege to lose myself in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains.

PDF test431

Advertisements

The French and Italian Riviera

DSCF2539

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.

DSCF2653

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.

DSCF2605

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…

Puerto Rico, Port of riches!

 

 

I was all of six years old and I watched the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea slip underneath the wings of our jet, calmly, as I sipped probably the best orange juice I had ever tasted. The flight passed quickly and uneventfully.

 

As we swooped in over San Juan Bay and Las Palmas, I’ll never forget the sight of the beaches to the north. They were the most inviting sight for any tourist.

 

The Port of San Juan is the busiest port in th...

The Port of San Juan is the busiest port in the Caribbean and one of the busiest in the world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sights that are now seared into my memory, the parking area outside the terminal, the overpass between the airport and the city, these seemingly mundane memories are locked safely away in the mind of a 25-year-old man.

 

Though they are memories of an exciting experience, marked by sunny days, nice beaches and the fort. Oh what a special monument to the city.

 

 

They were lovely times we had there. Our apartment block was located on the 12th floor of a building located ideally for two aviation enthusiasts like my dad and I.

 

Right by the airport. We spent many happy hours in this way.

 

We would sit there and watch the planes till dark. The climate allowed us to be out there in shorts and t-shirts after the sun had gone down and we’d eat ice cream out there.

 

The city itself was quite a bus ride away, at least twenty minutes. However, it was worth it. The fort is an enchanting place where you may find Hispanic music played by amateurs and sit there all day listening to them.

 

The fort was away from the hustle and bustle of the city, not that there was much anyway. The population of the city in 1994 was just over 400,000, so it wasn’t like New York or Boston. It was a low-key affair.

 

San Juan’s jewel was its old town, the Isleta de San Juan. A fort lies on the headland and we visited it at least once. The headland was rocky with a tremendous surf kicking up and splashing against the rocks below. The fort was used extensively during the slave trade and still had shackles where these people would have been strung up.

 

A most ugly and unappealing thought…

 

One could conveniently forget about this with the location, climate and subsequent atmosphere. This was the city’s charm. Not the fact that it was a resort or playground for the rich.

 

The aforementioned “resort” factor meant that tourists were abound, so avoid the beaches if you want to avoid them. The cruise ships came into the harbour and most of their passengers stayed aboard.

 

We had the lagoon between us in Carolina, a suburb, and the city. This was always fun and I loved it greatly, especially because the planes flew right over my head! Sweet! The overpass went from Carolina to Hato Rey, the central banking district.

 

My dad took me here sometimes when no one was at home to look after me. Those days were far from boring, though. My dad would let me ride the bus and pull the cord. There were many stops and it was always fun.

 

Did I mention that I learned to swim in San Juan? The pool we had was great for kids. There was a green-turfed sunbed area alongside for the adults and you could swim there without coming face-to-face with a shark.

 

swimming pool overlooking the sea

swimming pool overlooking the sea (Photo credit: Steve Slater (Wildlife Encounters))

Minillas, the shopping centre. This was great, it had everything a kid could want. Ice cream, toys, the lot! Not all my time was spent in San Juan, though. A further three months were spent in the northwestern community of Aguadilla.

 

Aguadilla is a coastal community, widely renowned for its surf and consequent beach-goers. Some of these beach-goers look interesting to me now that I’ve gone through puberty. I’d like to go there again. As for the hotel, it was so-so.

 

We had a video rental and eatery complex across the road from us and a baseball diamond, so we weren’t short of things to do. There was a pool as well with a diving board and the staff would entertain us with their playful antics. Hiding our toys and play hide-and-seek, that sort of thing.

 

As for our room, wonderful! There was a gap under our door that let our resident mouse Felix in and cockroaches plus other delightfuls. Felix was there for our entire stay and we fed him pizza from time to time. As for the rest of our time there, we had a selection of about five films from the rental shop.

 

All in all, Aguadilla was a bit of a ghost town…

 

Puerto Rico summer of 2005

Puerto Rico summer of 2005 (Photo credit: dj4christ)

 

 

This was not least due to the closure of Ramey Air Force Base near by. Of course the famous Crashboat Beach is nearby, where the surfers find their groove.

 

 

Pastries, anybody? You’ll find them at a nearby bakery and they are delicious! Apple pie’ s and chocolate biscuits. It was a memorable experience.

 

Not to mention the baseball as well. I’d developed an interest in Canada and, of course, one of only two Major League Canadian teams, the Toronto Blue Jays were my club.

 

It was a real thrill, then, when I got a chance to go and see a game at the stadium in Mayaguez, just down the coast from Aguadilla. What an experience! The match, balls flying out the park and me stuffing my face with Nachos and cheese, and, of course, meeting my hero, Carlos Delgado.

 

A Jays player, no less. Roberto Alomar? Met him, too. Other names like Baerga and Martinez crowded that fine field as well.

 

Its one of the great sports of the Island, that and basketball plus others. There were sports fields abound, probably largely due to the American influence and use thereof by tourists and off-season sportsmen. It’s a tradition all throughout the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

 

That was part of the beauty of it. Having terrific weather and great sports facilities.

 

What a great Island!

 

 

Link

DSC_6497

Where: The Maltese Islands

When: March

Why: Sunspot

How long: Four days

06:30 hours GMT. I awake for my trip to Malta. Its going to be exciting, after all these months of winter, to get a few days in the Med. I chose Malta not just because of its location, but also because of the legend the island is immersed with. The siege of the Second World War. The Knights of St John. Fabulous!

Re-enactment of 16th century military drills c...

Re-enactment of 16th century military drills conducted by the Knights. Fort Saint Elmo, Valletta, Malta, 8 May 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was dull and dreary as we made our way to Bristol airport. Just get on the flight and go there, I think to myself. After being dropped off at departures, I head straight for security, having opted for an online check-in. This made life much more easy. No long queues, although I paid a little extra.

After that, I just sat and had a raspberry fruit drink in the cafe area looking out onto airport tarmac at the usual activity. Little did I know that I was going to arrive on Malta and see a bit of history made…I was fully conscious of a cash problem that I had…namely no Euros.

I would have to get my pounds sterling exchanged into Euros when I got there. So the gate comes up and I dutifully proceed to it. A long line awaits me inside the warm air of the gate. Rather in there than outside.

As the gate opened, we filed out onto the tarmac into the cold winter air. At least, in a few minutes, we would break into bright sunshine. After boarding and having settled into my seat, I relaxed for a nice flight, no delays. just some de-icing before take off.

It wasn’t long before I felt that familiar roar of the engines and tug in the back of my seat, what a rush! Only a few seconds after we slip the bounds of earth do we break into bright sunshine.

The flight passed uneventfully with an old English couple next to me. The alps, a few drinks, blue azure waters, a steep approach and a hard thump later we land in Malta, the Jewel of the Mediterranean. Passport Control, no problem.

I’d bought a ticket for a hotel transfer on the flight and now I headed to the company’s desk. They were called MaltaTransfer. They had a reasonable rate as well; £12. Keep ’em in mind. the whole holiday was very cheap and great value.

£20 a night for the room and £110 for the flight. So if anybody wants a cheap sunspot in March, Malta’s your goal. The first thing the driver told us, after we piled into the minibus, was that, in the first time for 25 years, the Nationalist government had lost its election. Not only that, but the Labour Party had won! Suits me.

DSC07359

DSC07359 (Photo credit: fchmksfkcb)

He warned us that the place would be heaving. He was right. We heard nothing but car horns, screechers, fireworks and chanting for the next three days! I’ve never seen people so jubilant, quite moving. I asked a lady where my hotel was…she didn’t know.

Finally, I found it. It wasn’t easy to find the sign tucked away beneath Burger King and about half a dozen other signs. So I went to reception and found that I had booked the hotel twice. I suspected this, having booking once and not receiving a confirmation e-mail. I still have to contact expedia to ask about a refund.

The Sliema Marina hotel is where I stayed, located, surprisingly, in the community of Sliema. It lies northwest of Valletta, across St Julian’s bay and Marsamxett Harbour from Valletta with Manoel Island between.

Deutsch: Valletta vom Marsamxett-Harbour

Deutsch: Valletta vom Marsamxett-Harbour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The community has a strip of hotels, clubs and cafeterias along the road next to the water’s edge, yet the view still attracts. The header photograph above is the view of Valletta from my room.

My money problem was not resolved until the next morning. Meanwhile, I would have to do with bribing someone to take Stirling in order to serve me food. I walked down the strip, trying various cash machines. No go. No money in the account either, as I was later to find out.

Eventually, after wondering what to do, I found a Pizza Hut. I had my usual, a Margherita. Now, what about payment? The card didn’t work, and I called Lloyd’s TSB, only to find out the aforementioned; no cash.

We eventually agreed that another group of customers would put the Margherita on their tab and take some stirling to exchange into Euros. They were very understanding and, frankly, I feel a little bad about it.

I also casually asked the waitress if she was single. No. In a relationship and had been for a year. So that concluded the first night.

The next day was a national holiday. This meant walking around the harbour, some 2.5 miles. No problem, although my feet rubbed badly due to a hole in my sock. The city gate entrance to Valletta lies on a hill above the town, preceded by the bus station if you come from the landward side.

Valletta bus station.

Valletta bus station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had no such trouble, I just passed straight through the gate and began my jaunt to the city centre. I slowly descended down the slope of the hill on which Valletta partially lies, traipsing through Republic Square where I found a taxi to take me to the airport.

That was 45 Euros that I would rather have kept. Next time, I’ll have my money transferred plenty in advance. After having a hair-raising ride/suicide run with the cab driver, I came back into town to watch the proceedings. The place was stuffed!

St. Paul's shipwreck celebration

St. Paul’s shipwreck celebration (Photo credit: Te lo juro por Madonna)

Half of Valletta’s population must have been crammed into Republic Square. And then there was the crowd that stretched down the street where I was that ran down to the harbour adjacent to the square.

I couldn’t see up to the square and we all had to rely on a large monitor to see what was happening. It was really cramped, as later my back really hurt. An old lady had to be pulled to one side, short of breath.

As Prime Minister Joseph Muscat came out, screechers howled like banshees. So did the people. He gave his speech over the next few minutes and I was thoroughly impressed.

However, I was also relieved to be able to move around again once the crowd began to disperse. I began to head down to the harbour, people still waving “Partit Labour” flags all over the place.

I walked down to Fort St Elmo, at the headland of Valletta. The town is situated on a peninsula, surrounded by Marsamxett Harbour on one side and Grand Harbour on the other. There are six forts that surround the city.

It was, after all, founded by Jean Paul de Vallette, leader of the Grand Order of the Knights of St John. The foundation stone was laid down in 1565 to mark the beginning of construction for the fortress-city.

The other five forts are Tigne Fort across Marsamxett Harbour and Fort Manoel on Manoel Island plus Fort Ricasoli, Fort St Angelo and Fort St Michael on the other side of Grand Harbour.

So I took a few photographs and headed back to the bus station, where I bought a weekly pass for 12 Euros, headed back to the hotel and crashed out. The weather was cloudy and beginning to rain when I went to sleep around 16:30. When I woke up at 18:00, it was glorious sunshine.

I stepped onto the balcony and took the shot at the beginning of the article.

DSC_6526

Also to be noted was the ferry from Sliema to Valletta. A ten-minute journey and with a nice view as well. I snapped the shot just above on the embankment on Valletta’s side when I disembarked.

The ferry was a well-equipped boat with indoor and outdoor seating, the outdoor being at the bow. Only one Euro forty each way. Good price:)

The saluting battery was an enchanting experience. They fire a breech-loading cannon off every day 12:00 and the uniforms of the Royal Malta Artillery foundation are spectacular.

They can be seen walking around Valletta in their blue tunics and sun helmets. They gave a fascinating talk prior to firing and are well worth a visit in Upper Barakka Gardens, from where they fire across Grand Harbour…with no shot in the cannon.

The pre-talk lasted about an hour and went through the history of the foundation. With a green forecourt and eight guns overlooking the harbour, it certainly is impressive.

DSC_6594

After having seen the gardens, I took a bus to the airport and purchased a transfer from the hotel for 04:40 in the morning, happy times! I was handed a confirmation sheet that was dutifully stowed away on my return to the room, shortly after.

I spent my final evening in Malta the way any sane person might, around the clubs and cafes. There was also a gelateria, or ice cream shop. I tried it…pretty good. The drinks were expensive, though. I asked one counter employee if he had any soft drinks. He let me know that he could mix a punch for me and I agreed to that.

It cost FOUR EUROS! I finished that evening again with a Margherita Pizza, they’re handy if you’re vegetarian. It was almost the size of the table I ate it on. Back to the hotel, a shower and good night.

View of Valletta from Sliema

View of Valletta from Sliema (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next morning, I was up, showered and dressed, sitting on the bed awaiting my room call. Down to the cab and away to the airport. There were other occupants at this hour, too. Seemingly unbelievable but true.

I guess they were on Ryanair too. The airport was a small affair, but it had a cafeteria. It wasn’t long before I decided to head for security and that only took a few minutes. No chance of getting lost, there were only fifteen gates. I arrived at mine and queued dutifully. No priority boarding or the like.

Not long before were stood on the cold, blustery tarmac that I’m so familiar with. I stand next to and chat with another young Englishman whose dad lived on Malta. He said in the summer, the temperature could rise to 47 degrees! Phew. Glad I went in March.

It was good to be home when I arrived back in Bristol that day.

Venice and Dubrovnik

croatia 3 196

Dubrovnik“. The name conjures up images of a city so beautiful, many respect it as paradise. The town, as you enter it, sets a sight that you’ll never forget. The entrance to the old town from the north is very quaint indeed.

You walk slowly down a windy, s-shaped street that descends gradually towards the water until you reach the shaded area that has a waterfront overlooking the harbour from the south.

The 'old town' of Dubrovnik From the photograp...

The ‘old town’ of Dubrovnik From the photographer: Canon 5d + 24-70mm @ 45mm Slik Sprint Pro 2 tripod Redsnapper RSH-61 ballhead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many cafes stretch across fortified medieval city walls next to the water’s edge. It’s a lovely cool walk along the pavement down here and you may also find harbour tours. The sea was as turquoise as the word itself. The waters as calm as silk.

A brief pass through Bosnia and a small stop at a convenient store later and we pass back into Croatia again. The drive into Dubrovnik was eventful, as was negotiating who wanted to park where in the lot when we got there.

There, of course, was not much space between the mountains and the sea for a city, let alone a parking lot. It was here that we spent the day, drinking cold drinks, repeatedly saying how gorgeous it was and basking in the sun.

The drive home was uneventful. We dined eagerly by Split‘s Old Town harbour area and boarded the ferry for Ancona. The boarding process was long and laborious and the passage equally so.

 

English: Countryside along the Adriatic shore ...

English: Countryside along the Adriatic shore en route from Dubrovnik to Split, Croatia. June 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The unloading process was dreadful. The cars were being brought off the ship at the same time the walk-off passengers! Ancona.

The town of seagulls! Not much to see here…just a dreary port and its docks. Full speed ahead to Venice!

There is one thing that I will never forget about the day we arrived. The rain. Boy it poured! It I stared deep into the blue. I was thoughtful.

Happy. Contented. Many good things. After all, maybe life had a calling for me after all. I was, of course, in Croatia.

A country that must have some of the most desirable coast in Europe. Our location, at that point, was a hotel just south of Split. We were situated by the sea as well.

Always a plus. We sat out on the terrace and had a scrumptious breakfast. We set out around eight-thirty.

A brief pass through Bosnia and a small stop at a convenient store later and we pass back into Croatia again. The drive into Dubrovnik was eventful, as was negotiating who wanted to park where in the lot when we got there. There, of course, was not much space between the mountains and the sea for a city, let alone a parking lot.

DSCF9579

As for the hotel, very posh. It was quite a walk from here to the train station. And the trains were crowded too, cattle class. In fact, I recall my mother saying that she was quite claustrophobic.

The train stopped at a lot of stations before reaching Venice and we passed Marco Polo Intl. Venezia Santa Lucia is the main station and you’ll have, at some point, to pass through Venezia Mestre station on solid land if you wish to see the island city.

 

venice-grand-canal-from-train-station

venice-grand-canal-from-train-station (Photo credit: hartingale)

 

Once you’re there, then the fun begins. You’ll be able to enjoy the famous “Vaporetto’s”. These famous little boats are the buses and life-blood of Venice.

DSCF9673

The Rialto bridge . My mother spent some time photographing this as I eagerly looked on. The rain had abated and I had removed my raincoat.

It was really magical, despite the smell of the brown stuff. The sun began to shine from behind those dark and brooding clouds above.

DSCF9642

How about seeing the Piazza San Marco. Thats a wonderful place. You pay a small fee to go up the tower and have the most wonderful view. The centre of the tower stretches high above the square and you can see the whole city from here!

I took the sight in really well, feeling slightly giddy because of the height, and returned to terra firma.

DSCF9710

After this, we felt like having a drink. Why not stop off in a Cafe? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because two regular-sized glasses of lemonade will set you back six Euros! Yeah, its expensive here. Next, the shopping district. After a happy hour here, we headed again for our water-bus Vaporettos and casually made our way back to Central Station.

During our stay, a cruise ship came into harbour. Sacrilege if you ask me. Why couldn’t that hundred-thousand-plus-tonne monstrosity stay outside the city and boat its passengers into the city. The passengers were quite irritating too. Loud. Smelly. Overweight.

 

At least we left the next day. I never thought I’d say that about Venice, but I’d had just the right dose of holiday…

The Adriatic (Credit to Rebecca Cox for photography)

croatia 3 196

It was a late August day. We set out under bright blue summer skies in what is generally acknowledged as warm weather in England. It was an eventful journey. After having stopped in a lay-by and bought the usual assortment of refreshments for a journey from Gloucestershire to Luton Airport.

Ryanair EI-DPC taxies at Luton airport

Ryanair EI-DPC taxies at Luton airport (Photo credit: bigpresh)

After a while, though, around Milton Keynes, my mother began to get agitated with “my navigation”. I was responsible for failing to identify three roundabouts that didn’t appear on the map. As it turns out, they weren’t on the map. Anyway, after a heated argument, we realised this and continued normally.

Upon arrival at Luton around six in the evening, we began the check-in procedure. No biggie. Neither was the flight.

We took off around eight and landed at ten. What WAS worrying, however, was that my father, who had set off across Europe some time previously to meet us at Venice’s Treviso Airport, was nowhere to be seen nor heard from. We tried calling his mobile.

No luck. While, initially, I thought this was probably a mobile phone reception problem, my mother began to worry. She began to fear he had had an accident and went frantic.

This lasted for a couple of hours, during which time I had to ask a cop, or carabinieri, for some money to use for a payphone. For the next hour or so, my mother seriously fretted due to the fact that we could not get in touch with him.

To clear my head, I stepped outside. It was then that my father, quite by chance, drove by. This was a great relief to my mother and I. It transpired that he had no signal and was lost. Right now. Time to hit the road.

Its after one o’clock in the morning and we need to rest so the first night will be a “pit stop” in an autostrada, their motorway, service station. The car we were using was a Volkswagen Polo and it was CRAMPED.

I had to stuff my foot through, then wedge my shoulder in and, finally, use levering force to get into the car. Good times! So we arrived at a spot just outside Trieste where the next four or five hours was a combination of restlessness and hovering a round in the shop with some hanging out under the stars.

That was cool! On the road again…We went to see the famous Lipizzaner Stallions at the Lipica 1580 Stud Farm. Lipica’s history is heavily influenced by the Habsburgs who ruled the Austro-Hungarian empire for circa 650 years.

English: Favory Pallavicina, approved Lipizzan...

English: Favory Pallavicina, approved Lipizzan stallion, Australia Deutsch: Favory Pallavicina, gekörter Lipizzanerhengst, Australien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Horses, especially the Spanish Horse, were valued for both military and commercial reasons. Archduke Charles chose to build the Royal Stud Farm in 1578.

We hung around the stables while being given a guided tour and took photographs. The farm was a lovely place, greenery abound!

The port of Trieste was highlighted by bright Italian sunshine that laid the container ships bare in the light of day. We crossed the border shortly thereafter and promptly found a market on the Croatian side and bought the best grapes I have ever tasted from the lady depicted below.croatia 3 116

It was a hot day and I had my T-shirt off, (wolf whistles) after having stepped out of the car, and strode over to the barrier, from where we could see the brilliant Azure of the water in the bay. I can still remember the radiance of the sun against the tarmac. It was tremendous that day.

The first night at a campsite was spent at a reasonably cheap place on the coast that had a traditional style Slovenian seafood restaurant. Every meal I ate at a restaurant on this trip was dead seafood still looking at me.

Fish dinner

Fish dinner (Photo credit: The Hungarian Girl)

It was a lovely restaurant, surrounded by terracotta houses that, in turn, surrounded the bay. However, I didn’t finish my meal and never got to grips with the cuisine in the region.

The sea by the campsite was crystal clear. As dusk set, we decided to have a dip. It was a good choice. Water that seemed to come out of a hot spring greeted our feet and we were “bitten by the bug”. Pitching the tent was fun and games. It was a two-man tent, which meant my dad had to sleep in the car.

That was interesting. It was a noisy night. We had a group of teenagers for neighbours and they were four or five in number, shreiking till all hours. More than that, there was an equal number of guys to girls. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

croatia 3 067

A little while later, we made a stop in a small Croatian town that struck me for two reasons. Firstly, because of the Croatian architecture. The buildings were made of granite and were quite different to those on the Slovenian side. At least in appearance anyway. This could have been Rovinj.

The second reason was that a woman behind the till in a shop was the only person we encountered who recognized my father’s North American accent. We stopped by the waterfront for a while and had a drink there, the cool stone pavement was a relief.

Street Walking

Street Walking (Photo credit: Let Ideas Compete)

We were sat by the harbour. I don’t recall if it was the one featured at the beginning, but it was lovely.

croatia 2 013

Later on, in the city of Pula, we saw the roman amphitheatre shown above. The amphitheatre is amongst six of the largest surviving, out of 200, amphitheatres from the great empire and was constructed between 27-68 A.D.

It is also unique because no other survivor has four side towers and all three architectural orders, or styles, intact. Please don’t mistake me for an expert. In fact, that is information off the net and we never went inside. But we got a few good shots of it, laugh.

Split was the best! It wasn’t much to look at from afar. Lots of old soviet-style apartment blocks straddle it to the North and South. However, the harbour and old city were gorgeous. This is a typical scene.

We rested here for a night and spent some time around the harbour. It was paradise.There were tenors singing in the Mediterranean warmth. Heaven.

split 039

Dubrovnik, nestled in the hills, afforded us great views…but it was the residents that were fascinating. The parking arrangement was crazy.

croatia 3 216

And so, I’ll leave you there. Bye!

(Credit to Rebecca Cox for the photography)

Oslo, the harbour city & London

Royal Palace 2

Oslo. Oslo the harbour city, travel far outside it’s sheltered harbour and you will very soon be in fjord country, able to take a trunk steamer on a guided tour to see how the last ice age that left Norway with this iconic landscape.

Oslo

Oslo (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

In the city itself, you’ll find chic shopping centres, the Nobel Museum and the Royal Palace, situated on the far side of a park, but well within walking distance.

My experience began when I relied on some rather ill advice from my father that I would see the Northern Lights from here.

Nobel Museum (HDR)

Nobel Museum (HDR) (Photo credit: balachandar)

Too far south, a shame given that this three-day stretch had a high-pressure system of bright sunshine coming through. 

I had a bog standard way to get there. Ryanair cattle-class. Oh Yes.

You get to land about fifty miles from your destination after having spent an hour and a half in squashed seats that stink with cranky cabin staff.

You know the feeling of being a valued customer, but its cheap. Once I had passed through customs at Oslo’s Torp airport, I proceeded to the arrivals lounge, where I was greeted by the heady smell of some sort of air freshener.

Taxi? Not a problem. Cheap? A problem. Don’t expect this to be cheap. Its Scandinavia, folks. Finding the hostel was interesting. The driver had no idea where the street was, but eventually we found it.

So there I am…I try to enter my dorm, with three other sleeping guests, as quietly as possible. By the way, the guests were male. Too bad.

And so it was that I dozed contentedly after having had my flight arrive late in the evening and before, inevitably, one of us had to use the bathroom and switch the light on.

This is where the fun starts. I consider this to be what travelling is all about. In the early morning before everyone has risen, you see their own city probably as they’ve never seen it before: in the early morning light.

Oslo Opera at dawn

Oslo Opera at dawn (Photo credit: Bernt Rostad)

Actually it could be any unsociable time of day and solitary place.

But this is what pays off from sleeping in airports and cramped seating arrangements.

A chance to see something different.

A walk. Where to? Oh, any old place if you’re an avid photographer like me. Tollbugata, a joyous suburb where my hostel was, right at the southern end of the city by the waterfront.

Tollbugata 24, Oslo. Built 1898.

Tollbugata 24, Oslo. Built 1898. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so it was that I began to wander aimlessly through the area, snapping random shots, staring at a small ship in drydock and, not wanting to disturb my roommates, walking to the central station. This was about 3:00 a.m.

It was cosy inside the station when people decided they would be more considerate than stand by the automatic doors.

I do remember one thing, a homeless man, too weak to help himself, was helped inside by good samaritans. A nice city. After about four ice age…I mean..ehm hours, the place began to open up.

If you’ve ever been to Scandinavia and walked by a cafe, you’ll never forget one thing. The smell of pastries. I could’ve been lured from half way across the city by these.

Gorgeous soft, chewy outsides with fruity jam or marmalade in the middle…yum, I’d better not get too excited! I eventually worked out the payment system. It was cash-deposit-box-style arrangement. No till.

So, anyway, I casually drifted towards the harbour through a birch-treed park. I knew Oslo had lots of parks in it. I was told this by a young lady who I had started talking to (not to talk about parks :P) on the flight there.

And so the harbour appeared and I began to look for a harbour tour. I found a lovely old trunk steamer that offered tours plus a bar area on deck.

Given that the weather was glorious bright sunshine, I chose this option and boarded the ship.

The cruise lasted about two-hours and cost forty-six pounds. It was well worth every penny. As we came out of the harbour, having set out at 10:30 a.m., we began to see Norway’s fjords in all their glory.

These were formed, we were told, by the last ice age and they were magnificent to behold! So I drunk in the view quite happily over a pop drink and observed the ship skim over the glassy, azure water in a relaxing, almost ghostly manner.

If someone had told me to go back to the U.K. at that point…no way! There were other sights to see, such as the old naval officer’s academy on an offshore Island.

Oslo Harbour

Oslo Harbour (Photo credit: BBM Explorer)

This building has everything to offer, it is now a maritime museum, from Norway’s oldest known boat (2,2oo years old) to a mock-up deck of an old sailing ship and information abound. Therefore the harbour cruise is suitable for anyone wishing to travel here.

Next was the Nobel museum with an exhibition on famous Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen, a man of many talents and who also won the Nobel Peace Prize.

He was a champion ice skater in his youth and he led the team that crossed Greenland’s interior in 1888, also coming to fame by way of a record-breaking North Pole expedition to 86°14′ north latitude.

The expedition lasted three years. The museum has, as you come out the other end, a row of all the people who have won the Nobel prize. Now for the business district of town.

Oslo is quite a high-brow place, with high-value clothing being the norm. Scandinavians have a reputation for dressing well.

The names of these shops are entertaining as well. Fancy shopping at “Bik-Bok”? The city has bicycles for hire and at reasonable rates too, maybe two pounds per bike.

It should be mentioned however that you may have to do a lot of uphill pedalling here.

Bycycles in Oslo.

Bycycles in Oslo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Need I say why? Its not really viable to shop here or use bikes if you’re on a cheap budget like me. Better just to walk and, of course, try and book for a period of clear weather.

This doesn’t have to be in the summer, although you should go at that time for the long evenings.

 

 

So as we reach the high ground above the commercial area of town, we reach a city park that has a footpath running through it with plenty of green grass and birch trees lining it.

Naturally for a traveler, this is too good to miss. Often a city’s little nooks and crannies are part of the adventure.

Suddenly a building begins to appear through the trees. Let’s see, baroque in architecture. A large expensive building. Certainly no nook or cranny here.

A large sand visitor’s area in front of it. Two men dressed in traditional uniform clutching high-power rifles.

It must be the Royal Palace! Seen above, it is a very special building indeed…the sands glow orange in the evening light. It’s stone sides as well. How could a squarish building be so beautiful?

The colours that reflect off the pillars of the main entrance, with their long shadow cast on the building are truly breathtaking.

The next morning, I decided to see Oslo’s famous Opera House, as seen below. DSC_0678

This is where Oslo’s richest make their mark; in this building that stylishly reflects the colour of the water next to it. As you can tell, the building is modern, the ground first being broken on 17th of February 2003.

Norwegian firm Snohetta is responsible for the design and tickets for guided English tours cost around £12.

Information about performances, dates, shopping, educational aspects and contact info may be found at www.operaen.no. This was a picturesque moment for me.

The Opera House adjacent to me, the setting sun…just fine. By the harbour, there was a girl with a stall selling crepes and they were great. Thinly-spread, crispy and with lingonberry jam…yummy! 

As I stand in the queue to the check-in for my flight home, I find myself grateful for the experiences I have had and will continue to have through the coming years of my life.

Danish with icing.

Danish with icing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later on, as we approached Stansted, I was reminded of the gunpowder plot, seeing fireworks pop-up all over the place as we fly over southern England. That night, I met up with my sister, who was living and still lives, in London where I spent the night in her flat.

Our mother joined us the following morning. We spent the day in Hyde Park viewing a group of temporary sculptures by Anish Kapoor and separated.

After this, I had a little jaunt down to Marble Arch and photographed the Animal War Memorial, basking in sunlight, before meeting up with them again and visiting an Elizabethan-style building.

However, it wasn’t built then. I spent some time in Hyde Park photographing the geese, the park itself and other surroundings. The day also included the usual doses of Cafe Nero, always good in London.

That concluded my weekend…a thoroughly enjoyable one!