Posted by: travelrat | May 25, 2017

La Boca


La Boca 1

Buenos Aires: 2nd February 2017.

My favourite stop on the tour of Buenos Aires was the La Boca district. This was where the first settlers lived; they built a sort of shanty town, and decorated their houses with paint scrounged from passing ships. The result was a rainbow effect to rival Burano or Kinsale. That always attracts me; I love to see houses painted in bold, brash colours … although softer pastels are a close second.

La Boca 4

From time to time, ladies in expensive looking evening dresses would approach. I thought the worst (and obvious) at first … but in broad daylight, and with wives present? Surely not?

Maybe they wanted to show us how to dance the tango, or maybe be photographed with them, looking like we were dancing the tango … for a fee, of course. I never found out for sure, for I didn’t take anyone up on the offer. I was wearing my ‘city-sightseeing-but-trying-not-to-look-too-much-like-a-tourist’ rig, but still thought I’d just look ridiculous. But, maybe, if I’d been wearing a suit?

La Boca 5

Posted by: travelrat | May 23, 2017

Travel Theme: Rain


‘Some people dance in the rain. Others just get wet’ (Bob Marley)

There is a story about a salesman who went to a very dry country with a load of barbecues, and told potential customers:

‘When you want rain, just set fire to this!’

Actually, that principle really only works in Britain. Just as effective, though, is the politician, water authority or media, who, after a week or so without rain, starts muttering about water shortages and hosepipe bans. That’s as effective as any rain-dance … but I haven’t heard of any ritual when you can say:

‘That’s enough, thank you! My rainwater barrel is full!’

However, there are many places around the world that would think us lucky. In Botswana, for instance, they greet each other with the word ‘Pula!’  … which means ‘Rain’. It’s also the name of that country’s currency.

Rain 2

Elsewhere, they can get what we’d regard as too much rain. I remember one excursion we did, where someone didn’t bring waterproofs, because they didn’t anticipate it would rain. But, what the hell did they expect … in a rain forest.

When we’re talking about rain, two places spring to mind. Bergen, in Norway and Ketchikan, in Alaska. In each case, we were told ‘Take your waterproofs! It’s always raining there!’  And, in each case, it turned out to be a glorious day, with not a cloud in the sky.

I usually take waterproofs anyway…  usually, just lightweight ones, that you can throw into your bag in case the weather-man gets it wrong … for I was brought up on the saying ‘Expect the best, but prepare for the worst’.

So, I was prepared when we visited China … and I got a distinct impression that it rains so often there that the Chinese just take it in their stride.

Rain 3

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

Posted by: travelrat | May 19, 2017


Arnside, Cumbria​

Posted by: travelrat | May 18, 2017


Portmeirion 4

Portmeirion: 1st April 2017

If you rode down from Blaenau Ffestiniog on the Ffestiniog Railway, you could, instead of going to Porthmadog, get off at Minffordd Station. Or, of course, you could ride to Minffordd from Porthmadog. From there, it’s a walk of about a mile and a half to the entrance of the quirky village of Portmeirion.

You could arrive by car, and park right outside the entrance, but, that’s nothing like as off-beat … unless you drive a Caterham.

Portmeirion 8

Older readers may remember that a Caterham was the car driven by ‘No 6’, the hero of the TV series The Prisoner, which was filmed here in 1967. The viewing audience was, I think, hooked by the setting rather than the plot. And, probably to whet the appetite of the viewer, the architect of the village, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis stipulated that the location should not be disclosed until the credits rolled on the last episode.

Williams-Ellis was concerned with preservation and conservation, as well as sympathetic development. In the 1920s, he acquired some land near Porthmadog, and set out to prove that development of a beautiful site did not necessarily mean it was spoilt.

Some of the buildings were already on site when Williams-Ellis bought the land; others came from elsewhere; sometimes, saved from demolition and re-assembled here. He thought of Portmeirion as a ‘home for fallen buildings’. Some people claim that it was based on Portofino, in Italy. He always repeatedly denied this; I think I once read somewhere that he once said he’d never been there.

The architecture certainly suggests just about any town or village on the Italian Riviera. There are similar colours; bold and brash in some places; a pleasing pastel in others. There’s even an Italian style campanile.

There’s a lot more to do here than just wander round and look, although that is a satisfactory experience in itself. There’s a pottery, cafés, a spa, restaurants or you can stay at one the two hotels or the 14 self-catering cottages here. You can even get married here. And, of course, there are shops, selling everything from books to ‘Prisoner’ memorabilia.

The series gained a cult following, and, every year, ‘Festival No 6’ for the show’s affictionados is held here. This year, 2017, is the 50th Anniversary of the filming of the series … and our visit just happened to coincide with this year’s Festival.

Portmeirion 9


This post is a bit picture-poor, as I’m in a bit of a hurry, as we’re going away for a couple of days. But, there will be a slide show when the ‘Welsh Diary’ comes around again.


Disclosure: I visited Portmeirion as the guest of North Wales Tourism

Posted by: travelrat | May 16, 2017

Travel Theme: Cream

Cream! What a difficult thing to write about, because I rarely use it. I drink black tea, black coffee and usually buy semi-skimmed milk. It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s just that I like to see my boots occasionally, without leaning too far forward.

That makes it much more welcome when I do indulge, though. I’ve never forgotten those delicious meals we had when I stayed at a place in the French Alps. Every morning, the chef’s wife jumped on her bike to get fresh dairy produce from a nearby farm. And, with freshly-churned butter, and cream that was still in the cow a few hours ago … even commonplace stuff like scrambled eggs or mashed potatoes became treats worth walking miles for.

Another indulgence I occasionally allow myself is reserved for very cold days. Hot chocolate, with all the trimmings! At my favourite coffee bar in winter … they always check the outside temperature when I come in; it it’s below freezing, they know I’ll want hot chocolate!



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

Posted by: travelrat | May 14, 2017

Buenos Aires

Casa Rosada

Buenos Aires: 2nd February 2017

The ship wasn’t due to sail from Buenos Aires until the evening of the second day, so we took the city tour. It completely reversed my first impression; I can only think the driver was trying to take a short cut through the less salubrious area of town … which didn’t work. The city proved to be just as confused and bustling, but in a friendly sort of way. There was much to see, especially in the way of architecture. Most styles seem to meet here.

One building in particular reminded me so much of the Metropolis in Madrid that I wondered if one was modelled on the other.

In Washington, they have the White House, but in Buenos Aires, the President’s Executive Mansion and offices are in the Pink House …  or, to give it its correct name, the Casa Rosada.

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Posted by: travelrat | May 11, 2017

Reflections and the Ffestiniog Railway Video


If you want to take pictures from a vehicle, be it bus, train or car, it’s best to position yourself by a window that will open. When the ‘Rocky Mountaineer’ folk held a photo competition last year, I found that, although I took many photos, only a handful made the cut. They were mainly the ones I took from the open platform at the end of the carriage.

The problem is reflections … only if you push your camera right up against the glass will you cut down on them. Yet, I constantly see folk standing in the central aisle, popping away with their cameras; maybe, though, they just want a souvenir, and are prepared to accept a less-than-perfect picture?

Curiously, though, reflections are more acceptable to me on video … like on this footage I took of our ride on the Ffestiniog Railway.


“Iron Horse” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License


Posted by: travelrat | May 9, 2017

Travel Theme: Garden

‘My ambition as a gardener is to water my orange trees with gin, then all I have to do is squeeze the juice into a glass’ (W.C. Fields)

Garden 1

The many gardens in Suzhou, a city to the north of Shanghai, together constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visited two of them; first was the ‘Master of the Nets’ garden. The ‘Master of the Nets’, I guessed, was probably a fisheries minister of some kind. So, I did a little more research, and discovered that they were first laid out in the 12th Century, as the garden of the residence of a Government official. It is said to have gained its name in the 18th Century, when the house and gardens were owned by retired Government official Song Zong Yuan.

He is said to have been so frustrated with official bureaucracy that he once said that he would prefer the simple, uncomplicated life of a fisherman.

Garden 2

It’s not known whether or not he actually achieved this ambition … indeed, the whole tale is apocryphal … but the nickname of the official, and the gardens, stuck.

This visit was followed in quick succession by the ‘Humble Administrator’s Garden. Possibly, though, the Humble Administrator wasn’t as humble as all that; he certainly outranked a Master of the Nets, for his garden is much bigger.

Garden 3

The Humble Administrator’s Garden is thought by many (by ‘Lonely Planet’, anyway!) to be second only to the Master of the Nets Garden. The ‘Humble Administrator’ was one Wang Xian Cheng, who, in 1510, retired from a life as a politician, in which he’d held many posts, as Imperial Inspector and magistrate,  to establish his garden in the grounds of a ruined temple, and just potter around in it .. or, as he said ‘ …to cultivate my garden and sell my vegetable crop is the policy of a humble man’ 

Garden 4

The garden was portrayed in a series of paintings by Wang’s friend, Wen Zhen Ming … and, over five hundred years later, in a series of photographs by me!

They’re popular with both local people and tourists but, like the Summer Palace gardens in Beijing and the Snow Goose Pagoda gardens in Xi’an, it sort of absorbed then all.

Both gardens, with their lotus ponds, bridges and buildings are strongly reminiscent of the Willow Pattern … which I hesitate to mention, because that pattern, and the story behind it, originated in the potteries of Staffordshire … and is about as Chinese as I am!

Garden 5

This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. I was hard put to make the selection from the many gardens I’ve visited around the world … but you’ll read about some of them at

Posted by: travelrat | May 7, 2017

Crown Princess

Crown Princess

Buenos Aires: 1st February 2017

Today started really early. Although the flight to Buenos Aires didn’t leave until 8am, we had to cross the Argentinian border to the airport, with all the paperwork and waiting that entailed … so that we flew down on a domestic flight rather than an international one.

I wasn’t that impressed with Buenos Aires initially, as we made our way through squalid-looking, traffic-jammed back streets to the ship. But, we had a city tour booked for the following day, so, that impression was be corrected to a large extent.

At first glance, our ship, the Crown Princess, seemed a little bit too big for my tastes, and, throughout the following two weeks, I did feel a little uncomfortable in it … not physically uncomfortable, I hasten to add, just a feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

I usually show some pictures of the ‘important people’ on board … but, we never saw the Captain or the Executive Chef. And, they kept changing the waiters on our table.

But, there was an Important Person we did see a lot of. The amusing and entertaining Port Lecturer, Julio Delgado Corredor.


Posted by: travelrat | May 4, 2017

Push-me-pull-you: Unusual Railway Engines.


Merddin Emrys 1

The Ffestiniog Railway not only operated trains; it built them … indeed, still builds them … as well. A handful of their locomotives came from the Hunslet factory, in Leeds, via the defunct Penrhyn Railway; one, Mountaineer, was built in the United States, and came to Ffestiniog via the trenches of World War I.

The first engines came from the factory of George England & Co, but soon, the Ffestiniog was rolling out its own engines from its sheds at Boston Lodge, across the estuary from Porthmadog. Most notable of these were the strange-looking ‘double-enders’, the Double Fairlies.

In 1864, Robert Douglas Fairlie patented an idea. He believed that conventional steam locomotives lost a lot of efficiency, and he wanted to build an engine that operated as well in reverse as it did in forward. However, such an engine wouldn’t be able to negotiate tight turns, especially those on a narrow-gauge railway such as the Ffestiniog. So, instead of fixing the wheels to the chassis, they were carried on articulated power bogies. There were two of these, thus ‘Double Fairlie’.

FR Earl9

Despite the appearance, though, it’s not ‘two engines back to back’. There’s just a single boiler, running right through the cab, which means a rather restricted space for the crew. They want to get as far as possible from the firebox, but still keep any protruding body parts from hitting any trackside obstructions.

Although there have been a few Double Fairlies in use, both on the Ffestiniog and elsewhere, only three remain in service, all on the Ffestiniog. Merddin Emrys and David Lloyd George still provide sterling service; Earl of Merioneth is shortly to be taken out of service, to be replaced by James Spooner, which is under construction at Boston Lodge as I write. Another one, Livingston Thompson, is on static display at the National Rail Museum in York.

FR Lloyd George2

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