Posted by: travelrat | October 8, 2015



Not long ago, Aldi supermarkets did an excellent TV commercial, which showed a bear comparing their own-brand toilet paper with a better-known brand. When he’d finished, he said:

‘And, in answer to the usual question …. Of course I do!’

I’ve chosen bears as the subject of today’s dissertation because, while researching for our upcoming trip on the Rocky Mountaineer, I came upon a review site, where someone complained that they didn’t see any bears. Now, this may come as a surprise to them, but I don’t really believe that the railway people train bears to stand at the trackside, and wave at the trains as they pass!

This month’s issue of Lonely Planet Traveller contained an article about bears. Mainly polar bears, which we won’t see this trip, but a passing mention given to black bears (which aren’t always black) and brown bears, of which the grizzly bear is a variety. The way to tell the difference, they say, is that, if you climb a tree to escape them, the black bear will come after you and the brown bear will knock the tree down.

Another piece of advice is that, if pursued by a bear, you don’t need to run faster than the bear; just faster than the person next to you.

Of course, I’m hoping that we don’t get that close to the creature … just close enough to get some decent photos will do.

Fortunately, bears are easily discouraged from snacking on you; you usually need to have really annoyed him for that to happen. In the TV series, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, she showed the various methods she had to deter bears … pepper spray, shell crackers, baton rounds (aka ‘rubber bullets’) Only when these had failed would she use pointy lead bullets … and she said she had never had to do so yet.

Another method of deterring bears was the simple method used by a friend. He had just returned from walking the Pacific Crest Trail, and was leading a multi-day walk in the Highlands when one of his clients asked:

‘Why do you have a bell on your rucksack, Roger?’

‘Oh, that’s to keep the bears away’

‘But, there aren’t any bears in Scotland!’

‘Works rather well, doesn’t it?’


Posted by: travelrat | October 6, 2015

It’s Not All Plain Sailing.

At Sea: 25th March 2015

This was the first of six ‘At Sea’ days, before we could reach Tenerife. All went well through the night then, at around 10am, Ciara, the English-speaking hostess, with whom we were speaking at the time, said she had to leave us to deal with a medical emergency involving one of the English-speaking passengers.

Shortly afterwards, it was announced that the ship was turning back to the West Indies to disembark the sick passenger and, around dinner time, the ship was within helicopter range, and the sick passenger evacuated.

I’d read of a similar incident before the cruise. Someone on social media had complained about the ‘company policy’, but further research led me to believe it’s nothing to do with that. A fairly reputable site stated that international maritime law stipulates that a passenger requiring hospitalisation MUST be disembarked at the nearest available port.

But, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time. The helicopter couldn’t take the passenger’s wife, and the next call would be Tenerife, in six days’ time. So, I only hope they had travel insurance adequate enough to cover the horrendous costs that would have been involved.

We later heard that, sadly, the patient had passed away … and no insurance in the world could reimburse her for that!

We’re back on course now, and Ciara told us the cruise shouldn’t be affected, as the Atlantic crossing was such a long leg, it would be possible to make up the time. And, they did! According to the ship’s ‘howgozit’ screen in the main foyer, we were cracking along at ‘top of the green’ most of the time. And, we arrived at Tenerife right on schedule.

Sunrise 2

Posted by: travelrat | October 4, 2015

Travel Theme: Intense

This week’s travel theme is ‘Intense’, and that’s a rather difficult one, for I find it hard to write about that subject without descending into a grammar-police-style rant.

You see, although it’s a good word at the moment, it could, if overused, or worse, misused, it could become a meaningless cliché.

Like ‘awesome’

Do any reading, or listen to anyone speaking, and everything from the Great Barrier Reef to the latest album from some famous-for-being-famous nonentity is ‘awesome’. Which doesn’t do the Great Barrier Reef any favours … that really is awesome.

Another thing the Great Barrier Reef is, though, is ‘intense’ … in the true sense of the word. Alas, I can’t capture those intense colours without more sophisticated (and expensive) photographic equipment than I possess at the moment.

So, I’ll just make myself a coffee (‘intense’ flavour, it says here!) and try to find some pictures with equally intense colour in them.



This week’s contribution to ‘Travel Theme’ …

Posted by: travelrat | October 1, 2015

The Rocky Mountaineer

Photo by Kris Eichler

Photo by Kris Eichler

I think I was about ten years old when I first started dreaming of the Great North American Train Ride. My Dad’s employer used to give me back numbers of the National Geographic Magazine, within which were adverts for those trans-continental trains … not many people flew, in those days.

Where they differed from the rather Victorian throw-back British Railways was the sleek, modern locos and carriages equipped with Vistadomes, in which you could sit (I suppose you’d have to pay a premium?) and admire the scenery as it unfolded around you. And, they timed the trains so you traversed the bits where there wasn’t much to see by night, when you’d be tucked up in your berth.

When we rode the Ghan in Australia last year, I wondered if the experience might be improved if their carriages incorporated observation domes. Maybe bridge clearances, or something prohibit this? That service differs in that, by night, the train actually stops for a few hours, so that passengers can see the best of the scenery by daylight.

Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer, on which we’re booked to ride next year does stop overnight … but doesn’t have sleeping berths. Instead, passengers de-train, and are accommodated in a hotel in Kamloops, to continue the journey in the morning.

It does have observation domes, though! Those in the Gold Leaf  class are on the top deck, with a dining room beneath; the Silver Leaf carriages are single-deckers, and your food is brought to your seat. Red Leaf  have to be content with the view out of the window.

The route is from Vancouver to Banff over the Kicking Horse Pass … and, for some reason, that name always brings forth a vision of an old-time wood-burning steam loco belching out black smoke as it toils laboriously up the hill.

I don’t expect any toiling here … nevertheless, it should be quite a ride!

Photo by Chris Ratcliff

Photo by Chris Ratcliff

Posted by: travelrat | September 29, 2015

Philipsburg Video

St Maarten

St Maarten: 24th March 2015.

As always, Costa Mediterranea left St. Maarten to the tune of ‘Time to Say Goodbye’. I really think something Italian would be more appropriate, especially as they play ‘Tarantella’, ‘Funiculi, funicula’ or the ‘Triumphal March from Aida’ at the least excuse.

‘Time to Say Goodbye’, though, not only to St Maarten but to the Caribbean. Our next call is at Tenerife, six days’ sailing away. So, I think I’m going to get caught up on a lot of reading, writing and sleeping.

Our favourite Caribbean island? Strangely, we didn’t see much of Guadeloupe, but the little we did see made us want to stay longer and explore more. So, that’s probably the first one on our list.

We’re not quite finished with St Maarten yet, though. As usual, to sum up our stroll around Philipsburg, here’s a video.

Posted by: travelrat | September 27, 2015

Travel Theme: Fruit

DSC_0455For some time now, the ‘Food Police’ have been telling us that we must eat our ‘five a day’; that is, five portions of fruit or vegetables. A short while ago, they added that your ‘five a day’ should contain as many different colours as possible. And, I’m wondering … does a banana really contain different ‘good stuff’ as an orange does?

But, there is no doubt that a fruit bowl, whether in your own home or as a welcome gift from where you’re staying, is more pleasing if there’s an arrangement of different coloured fruits, of varying shapes and sizes. Last time we had a ‘welcome fruit bowl’ on a cruise ship, I recall there were bananas, oranges, apples, apricots and kiwi fruit.

Maybe there’s such a thing as fruit arranging classes? I can’t really say I’ve come across such, but there are flower arranging classes, so why not? If anyone ever takes up this idea, just remember where you got it from!

I don’t think there’s anyone, though, who can do fruit displays like market traders, especially if there are more fruit stalls on the market. If you want to sell your fruit, it’s a big advantage if you can arrange your product more attractively than the opposition.

Sadly, I don’t eat much fruit these days, for the doctor told me I must take it easy on the sweet stuff. But, I can still look, admire … and photograph!

DSC_0082Ailsa’s theme this week is Fruit. See more fruity stuff at

Posted by: travelrat | September 24, 2015

Durrington Update

Durrington Walls

Since the new discoveries made at Durrington Walls, I’ve received quite a few hits on the two posts I’ve already made about the place … the subject now needs bringing up to date.

For some time, I’ve been wondering why the henge is D-shaped, not circular. D for Durrington, maybe? Hardly likely; there was, of course, no written language around that time, and we don’t know what the settlement was called then, anyway. But, possibly, the explanation was found only recently, when it was announced that a survey by ground-penetrating radar revealed that, buried under the earth of the henge were up to 90 stones, which once were standing stones in a line leading to … what?

Of course, the Press seized on it and proclaimed that ‘ … the history of Stonehenge would have to be re-written’ … or words to that effect. But, at the moment, nothing’s been proved or disproved; just a few interesting facts and new ideas have been added to the mix.

Shortly after the discoveries were announced, I received a message from a friend. Do you have any pictures of Durrington Walls I can use in my blog? Yes, there’s some I took last year, I replied.

‘I was thinking of the last couple of days; since they made the announcement about the stones’

‘But, there’s nothing to see!’

‘That’s precisely the point I’m trying to make!’

So, with a couple of hours to spare, on a nice day, I caught the bus to Durrington. And, as I predicted, there was nothing to indicate the recent discoveries, except the Walls and Woodhenge were a little more frequented than they usually are.

One of the theories advanced so far is that the great sarsens of Stonehenge were originally positioned here, and the ones they didn’t need simply pushed over and buried. However, one exception was the Cuckoo Stone, a couple of fields away. It’s lying on its side, but the socket hole in which it once stood was found a few years ago. It’s been suggested by some that it MAY have been part of the complex.

Among the visitors was a Russian TV crew … had they really come over to film this? They asked me if I would walk along the henge towards them, to give an idea of the scale of the thing, and it was only after I got home that I realised I was wearing a T-shirt with the address of my blog on it. But, the influx of hits from Russia hasn’t happened yet!

TV Crew, Durrington

Posted by: travelrat | September 22, 2015

Philipsburg Slide Show


St Maarten: 24th March 2015.

It wasn’t until I started sorting photos for my ‘Stroll around Philipsburg’ slide show that I spotted something I hadn’t noticed before. Just about any guidebook tells you that you must see the old Courthouse, built in 1793. But, what had escaped notice was that the sign on the wall is in English!

Similarly with ‘Old Street’ … in a Dutch possession, wouldn’t it be ‘Oude Straat’? In fact, as you’ll see from the pictures, most signs are in English … (American English; you may note a ‘jeweler’ rather than a ‘jeweller’)

There’s still a vague Dutch atmosphere about the architecture … even though there’s not a clog, tulip or windmill in sight. But, there are places which look faintly Australian … plus a large slice of uniquely West Indian.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted by: travelrat | September 20, 2015

Travel Theme: Move

Ailsa’s theme this week is ‘Move’. Rather a difficult one, I thought; a difficult concept to capture on a still picture. If motion is involved, I usually reach for my video camera. So, I wonder if ‘Not Moving’ would fit the bill?

Anyone who has ever served in the military will probably be aware of the concept of ‘not moving’. Maybe you were a sniper on a hill, or just an ordinary troop on the parade ground, where the slightest movement would bring an outraged bellow of:

‘Mister Hoskins, Sir! Stop waving your bloody sword about, Sir!’

Now, there are a certain set of people who do it for fun … even get paid for it, if passers-by can be persuaded to throw a little largesse their way. These are the ‘living statues’, who paint themselves in a grey or bronze coloured mungus, and just stand stock-still, being living statues. Of course, they move occasionally; they have to, or otherwise people would just think they’re another statue, and who gives coins to a statue?

I think the first one I saw was in Antwerp … the poor guy was being yelled at by a lady who accused him of frightening her children by moving as they passed (at least that’s what I think she was saying; I don’t speak Dutch, but my German allowed me to get the gist of what she was saying!)

Living Statues

These two guys were doing their thing in Chengdu. Actually, they’d just fallen out for a smoke, but I was able to persuade them to pose for me when they’d finished their cigarettes … and after I’d put a donation into their tin.

For more ‘moving’ tales, visit Ailsa at ‘Where’s My Backpack?’

Posted by: travelrat | September 17, 2015

The Triathlon

I stepped away from the ‘blogface’ for a few days this week, for the Leeds ‘Xtra Mile’ triathlon. Not to compete, you understand, but to watch grandson Jack take part. I’m well past that sort of thing; even in my heyday, a half-marathon was my limit … anything beyond that ceased to be enjoyable. And, if it’s not enjoyable, and I don’t have to do it … why do it?

Jack liked it, though … he finished second in his age group, and said later he was a bit disappointed with his swim, but made it up with the cycling and the run.

And, did he celebrate? Not really:

‘I have to be on parade at seven tomorrow morning!’

So, that evening, he was on a train back to barracks. Oh, to be twenty again!  I was shattered just watching!

You can see the video at

The 'Jack Fan Club'

The ‘Jack Fan Club’

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