Posted by: travelrat | September 19, 2017


Taormina 02

Taormina: 2006

When we arrived in Sicily, one of the first things we noticed about Messina were the posters saying ‘No to the Bridge’ … in Italian of course! It seems that plans were well advanced to link Sicily with the mainland, and it would seem most Sicilians wanted none of it.

(The project was, in fact, abandoned shortly afterwards, but resuscitated in 2008. It was discontinued again in 2013, owing to lack of funds)

We didn’t stay in Messina very long. We were told that, because of a succession of earthquakes, most of what is to be seen is fairly modern. A hike to the summit of Mount Etna was on offer, but those who took it pronounced themselves disappointed, as the top was covered in cloud.

We went to Taormina, a hillside town overlooking the sea, founded in the way-back-when by the Greeks. Our bus dropped us in a multi-storey car park, the supporting pillars of which bore distinct scars of battle, and we made our way to the roof … from where we would climb uphill to the town itself. I did say it was a hillside town! And, I’ve got to say .. that’s the best view from the roof of a multi-storey car park I’ve ever seen!

Most of what’s to be seen lies in the main street, between the Messina Gate and the Syracuse Gate. In this largely pedestrianised street souvenir shops rub shoulders with boutiques and more traditional shops … there are even ‘if you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it’ clothes shops. But, they didn’t see any need to rip the heart out of the place in the search for ‘modernity’.

Taormina 11

Glancing landwards, narrow alleys and steep steps lead dramatically uphill, while, mainly outside the churches, the street opens out into a piazza, with views of the sea. There’s usually a café or two here, too.

Just outside the town, there’s the ‘Greek Theatre’ … although the Romans adapted it later to suit their style of theatre. It’s not quite right to call it ‘ruined’, though, for it’s still used for the occasional performance. And, if you get bored with the production, there’s a stunning view of Mount Etna … or there would be, if it wasn’t for the haze!

Greek Theatre, Taormina 03


Posted by: travelrat | September 17, 2017

Glacier Alley: Video

Glacier Alley 2

Beagle Channel: 9th February 2017

 Here’s the video of our sail down Glacier Alley. Like I said last week, the conditions weren’t the best, but we can’t have perfection all the time. And, we may never pass this way again.

Music: At Rest Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License


Posted by: travelrat | September 14, 2017

Travel Theme: Sugar


That’s an easy enough thing to write about. I could rant about how bad it is for your teeth, or how it’s a stroke/heart attack/type 2 diabetes waiting to happen. Or, I could compile a boring list of ‘Things I’m not allowed to eat because they have too much sugar in them’. But, that’s not really a ‘travel theme’, is it?

So, I’m thinking of Deirdre. (That’s not her real name; if I gave it, Suzanne would kill me!) She has rather an unusual collection, gathered from travels all over the world.

It all began in the 1960s, when relatives from New Zealand came to visit her. They were an elderly couple, and under the mistaken impression that Britain was still in the grip of food rationing.

(For the record, it ended in 1954)

So, to help her out, they collected up all the little sachets of sugar they were given with their tea or coffee on planes, trains and in hotels. There was such a variety that she thought they were collectible.  So, there they are; over 50 years worth of sachets from all over the world, all stuck neatly in several albums … with the sugar taken out, of course.

I have a picture! Not taken from Suz … I mean, Deirdre’s collection, but of the sachets of sugar brought with my coffee in Spain. Although I was taken more with the name than the sugar.

Sexy Sugar

This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. More at

Posted by: travelrat | September 12, 2017



Jenbach, Austria 2001

I went to Jenbach, in the Austrian Tyrol because I’m an incurable railway freak. The bonus is  that there are other attractions, too, which neither run on rails nor are powered by steam, so non- rail-oriented visitors, especially partners, are catered for as well.

Jenbach’s station is really three stations. The main line carries local services to the nearby towns of Innsbruck and Kufstein, as well as the EuroCity trains. To the south, the narrow gauge Zillertalbahn serves the Ziller valley, and to the north, the steam-powered Achenseebahn is a rack-and-pinion line to the beautiful lake Achensee.

The Achenseebahn, is purely steam-driven. The locomotives and carriages are all nearly 120 years old, and it’s the oldest rack-and-pinion steam railway still in service anywhere. The Riggenbach rack is necessary to assist the train up the steep slope between Jenbach and Eben on its way to the Achensee, where passengers can transfer to a boat.


Most  passengers sail as far as the resort town of Pertisau, about midway along the western shore. But, I stayed on the boat as it continued to the head of the lake, from where I walked along the western bank back to Pertisau.

There’s no road along this part of the lake shore but, about half-way I found an excellent restaurant at Giesalm. This is only accessible on foot … or by boat. So, if I’d decided this wasn’t such a good idea after all, I could have taken the boat to Pertisau.

But, the highlight of the Achensee had to be the slightly eccentric train-ride up to the lake. The two carriages on the venerable train became extremely crowded, but the conductor ensured that no-one was left standing on the platform if there was only the smallest space into which another passenger might be fitted. I thought of the ‘shovers-in’ on Japanese commuter trains!


This would seem to make his task of inspecting and issuing tickets somewhat difficult, but it didn’t, because there’s no way to pass from one carriage to another, anyway. The conductor’s place is in his compartment n the uphill side of the train … the locomotive is always downhill from the carriages when using the rack … as it clatters fussily up the hill to Eben.

Some passengers boarded at an intermediate station, and a ticket needed to be sold. The conductor made his way to them, on the outside of the moving train, using the substantial running-board. As the undergrowth whipped within centimetres of him, I was horrified to see high value notes, worth about USD 75, being exchanged.

But, the conductor said they’ve been working this way since the days of the Emperor Franz-Josef, and don’t see any reason to change. They haven’t, he said, lost any substantial sums of money, or any conductors … yet!


Posted by: travelrat | September 10, 2017

Glacier Alley

Glacier Alley 1

Beagle Channel: 9th February 2017

 When we left Ushuaia that evening, we sailed down Beagle Channel and through Glacier Alley. It gets dark late in these latitudes, so we had a good sight of the many glaciers rolling down to the sea. Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy and overcast, so they weren’t seen at their best … but, maybe, we’d been spoilt by the perfect conditions in Alaska’s Glacier Bay last year.

Julio, the Port Lecturer, was up on the bridge giving a running commentary of what could be seen over the loudspeakers … but, in many places, his words couldn’t be heard from the best photographic viewpoints.

Towards the end, the question came up … should we stay, and eat in the buffet, or go and change for dinner? The light was failing fast … so dinner won!

Glacier Alley 3

Posted by: travelrat | September 7, 2017

Travel Theme: Sports

‘I am reaching an age where the last sport left to me is looking for my spectacles’(Earl Grey)

Sport 3

I have reached an age where, when a question of sport arises, I can say ‘I used to …’. It works for everything except Rugby Union; the rules for that game have changed beyond recognition since I played.

At least, in other sports, the rules haven’t changed that much, it’s only the equipment that’s developed. Only the other day, I was watching some cycle racing on television, and remembering the days when we competed on the bikes we rode to school during the week.

Sport 1

One sport in which neither the technique or the kit required changed very little, from the time I took it up at school to when I ran my last competitive race in nineteen ninety-something is cross-country running. The only really noticeable thing was that people stationed at intervals offering bottles of water became more frequent.

Even when I gave up cross-country, there was still walking. A recent TV commercial tells us that ‘even a brisk ten-minute walk’ counts as ‘exercise. But, ‘they’ think that’s not enough for us creaking oldies. They’ve introduced ‘walking football’ and ‘walking hockey’. Neither appeal. ‘Walking Triathlon’ is stretching the imagination a bit, but ‘walking tennis’? That might be a goer!


This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. More at

Posted by: travelrat | September 5, 2017

A look back at Santorini

It’s time to go travelling again, for ‘cabin fever’ is starting to set in, More importantly, the store of stories to tell is getting rather thin, and the next trip is about six weeks away. I still have plenty of stuff from the ‘South America Saga’ to post, and, to help out, there’s a lot of stuff in the archives from before I started blogging. Here’s the first one: 


Most cruise ships sailing the Aegean Sea call at Santorini. Although none of the harbours can accommodate larger ships, and they have to anchor, and transfer their passengers ashore by tender, it is, none the less, popular.

It owes its crescent shape and steep cliffs to a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in 1450 BC, which left the world’s biggest caldera, or crater. All that remained were the main island, the neighbouring island of Thirassia and the outlying islet of Aspronissi

The tenders usually take passengers to Thira Old Port, to take the chair-lift, or climb a steep, stepped path, on either foot or mule-back, to the main town of Thira. The town is a huddle of whitewashed buildings on the cliff edge. Its narrow streets offer many cosy little corners, where there’s a new delight to be found.

On a previous occasion, we’d been rather disappointed that most of our ‘free time’ in Thira was spent queuing for the chair-lift. So, to avoid the queues and crowds, this time we took an excursion to the volcano on Nea Kamini. This island, which appeared above the waves only 200 years ago, is uninhabited, nearly devoid of all vegetation, and looking more like a pile of ash than anything else. But, many notices on the quayside at the Old Port offer boat trips to ‘see the volcano’. The boat used is often a kaiki, a wooden boat designed on the lines of a traditional fishing boat.

G1 Kaiki, Nea Kamini

There’s a little harbour and a dock on the island, from where a rough path leads for about a mile, through piles of ash, past several subsidiary craters to the summit. Some of the rocks around the main crater give off a slight vapour. This is steam, and is quite normal; they do that all the time.

On the eastern side of the crater, there are some fumaroles; holes giving off steam and smelling slightly of bad eggs. That’s evidence that Nea Kamini isn’t extinct; it’s merely dormant. There are also hot springs on the island, and on nearby Palea Kamini, where the boats sometimes sail for their passengers to bathe.

Although it’s possible that the volcano may erupt again, it’s being watched very closely, and warning will be given.

‘And, if that happens’ say the guides ‘we have a very good tour of the vineyards on the main island we can do instead!’

G4 Crater George, Nea Kamini

 Santorini: October 2006


Posted by: travelrat | September 1, 2017

Ushuaia Slide Show


Ushuaia: 9th February 2017

As usual, we round off our visit to Ushuaia with a slide show. As our ship prepared to leave the port, a pod of dolphins approached. Are they really dolphins? someone asked. They look so tiny! Maybe they’re juveniles?

Then, someone pointed out … we were on Deck 15, and you know how small things look in the street, from the 15th floor. Maybe the designers of future cruise ships could put an observation deck a bit lower down?

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Posted by: travelrat | August 30, 2017

Travel Theme: Animal Companions

‘Cats are smarter than dogs. You can’t get eight cats to pull a sled through the snow’ (Jeff Valdez)

Dog 3


If dear old Bilbo was around today, we could have called him a ‘Labradollie’, for he was the result of an encounter, sometime in the 1980s, between a Labrador and a farmer’s sheepdog. We got him from a Rescue Centre … and it’s hard to come away from such establishments without taking every dog in the place with you, for most dogs seem to have got the soulful ‘Please adopt me!’ expression down to a fine art.

Alas, he’s no longer with us; he departed for that Great Dogbasket in the Sky in 2000, at a pretty fair age in doggie years. We never replaced him, for we’d undergone a major lifestyle change since we took him on. We were travelling around a lot more, and didn’t really like the idea of putting it in kennels. Because I can’t get rid of the image of Bilbo gazing soulfully out of the window, with an expression that said ‘Take me with you, you miserable s***s!’

.We’ve nearly succumbed on one or two occasions, though, The latest one was when we got to handle a husky puppy at the Caribou Crossing Trading Post, in Canada. But, seeing the size huskies can grow to … we’d probably need a bigger house.

Dog 2

We’re not entirely dogless, though. From time to time, our daughter went away, and left her dogs, first Joshua, then Ben with us. And the latest addition to the family is our grand-daughter’s Springer Spaniel puppy, Arthur.

We like having him stay with us, and I have been known to reflect that relatives’ dogs are rather like grandchildren.

You can send them home when they get too bothersome!

Dog 1

The latest contribution to the weekly Travel Theme. More at

Posted by: travelrat | August 28, 2017

A Bit on the Side


Our favourite coffee shop changed ownership recently. They decided not to keep the Italian theme of the previous owners, but there’s still free wifi, and the coffee’s still good. A little touch was added, though, that they didn’t have before. With my coffee came a little biscuit.

This is by no means an unusual custom. I have an idea it may have originated in Italy. In the pre-euro days, there was a shortage of small, low-value coins, so, when you bought a coffee, they sometimes made your change up in some sweets, chocolates or biscuits.

Sometimes, you’ll go into a bar, and find a bowl of crisps or nuts for customers to help themselves. I’ve kept a bar on one or two occasions, and, when we found stuff like this that was close to its sell-by date, we used to put them on the bar, because, in a couple of days they’d get thrown out anyway. Since these things were so salty, maybe they’d induce the customer to buy more beer, too.

Not far from this is the excellent Spanish custom of tapas. This is said to have come about as the result of a King’s command that strong drink should not be served except with food. A  tapa proper, you have to pay for, but frequently, they’ll bring a little nibble with your drink, properly called an aperitivo. Some say, however, that, because tapa simply means a lid or a cover, these little morsels were originally simply to cover your drink, to stop leaves, bird droppings etc. from falling into it if you drank outside.

In Germany, they simply put lids on their beer pots!

Let’s get back to Italy, though … and, just have a look at the spread they brought with our beer in Portofino!


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