Posted by: travelrat | December 8, 2016



Some years ago, I pulled into a coffee stop, and entered just as a young man was coming out. Across the back of his shirt was the word ‘Barista’. Some lawyer he is, I thought. He can’t even spell ‘barrister’ properly.

But, of course, ‘barista’ is a newly-coined word, a ‘neologism’ even, meaning somebody who does arcane things with a complicated machine to produce a cup of coffee. It’s no new thing, though; I remember the Bay Café, where they got your coffee from a machine that looked, and performed like a cross between a steam railway engine and a Wurlitzer organ. And, very nice coffee it was, too.

In those days, you simply asked for a black coffee or a white one. Nowadays, you have to learn the local argot. For me, it’s a ‘short black’ in Australia, and an ‘Americano’ anywhere else. Now, according to my ‘coffee book’, an Americano is an espresso with added hot water … but, occasionally, even someone who’s been versed in the black art of coffee making asks do I want milk in it?

One thing I really deplore is the emergence of the ‘drive in’ coffee shop. Are there really people who can’t spare twenty minutes or so to park the car up, go into the place and sit and enjoy their coffee? Or, has carrying a mug of coffee down the street become a sort of status symbol, like a bottle of water used to be?

Mind you, the ‘coffee to go’ does have its place. I was in town recently, and had ten minutes to go before my bus left. I wanted a coffee … but, I didn’t want to miss my bus, either! And, I’m sure that there are many other instances where it may be of use.


Posted by: travelrat | December 6, 2016

The Clock and the Tower

Vancouver: 15th May 2016

 Our package included a trip up to the Vancouver Lookout, a circular observation lounge over 500 feet above the city, giving a 360 degree bird’s eye view. On the way there, we stopped for a while at the Gastown Steam Clock, a well-known local landmark that marks the hour by letting off gouts of steam to the tune of the Westminster Chimes.


I was slightly disappointed with this quirky feature. I expected it to power a steam organ, which played ‘The Blue Danube’ , or something, on the hour. But, only slightly; it didn’t really detract from the experience to learn that the clock isn’t actually powered by steam, either, just the chimes.


The Vancouver Lookout advertises ‘You’ve never seen Vancouver till you’ve seen it like this’  Well, maybe if you flew in in a helicopter, or something. The lift is glass-sided, to give you a foretaste of what’s to come. You don’t spend long in it, though; it takes only 40 seconds to whisk you up 550 feet.



At the top, there’s a circular lounge, from which you can view almost the entire city, and, closer at hand, there’s a super bird’s eye view of the ships at the Canada Place cruise terminal, where we docked yesterday.


Posted by: travelrat | December 4, 2016

Travel Theme: Cheerful

‘Come, cheer up, my lads, ‘tis to glory we steer

And we’ll add something more to this wonderful year ….’


Cheerful! That’s a nice easy one. I have lots of photos of cheerful people … I thought. Indeed, I did … but, in the midst of most of them, there was almost always someone who looked as if he or she had just found a human finger in the stew.

So, I’ve had to turn to two little chaps who are always cheerful; My two youngest grandsons, William and Elliot.


But, is that really travel? True, I have to drive over 200 miles if I want to see them, but let’s have a look further afield. When you’re travelling, you really want to see a cheerful face when you arrive at your destination, especially if you’ve had a long, tiring flight or ride to get there.

I don’t mean the artificial, ‘I’m tired and hungry, my feet are killing me but I must smile because it’s company policy’ kind of thing, but the genuine, feel good cheerfulness that shines through even if the person is tired, hungry etc. And, that kind of attitude really rubs off.

Look at this photo of one of our hostesses on the ‘Rocky Mountaineer’ train. It was a long day for her; she never seemed to stop … and this photo was taken at the end of the second day!


And, I had to include this cheery chap, who I photographed at a travel fair in Dresden some years ago. I took the photo initially because he bore such a close resemblance to a friend of mine. But, he was such an effervescent character, it just had to go in my ‘keeper’ file.



This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. Charge up your ‘Cheerful’ batteries some more at

Posted by: travelrat | December 1, 2016

Christmas Markets


Last week, the Christmas Market in Salisbury opened. I’ve visited this market in the past, and said it compared favourably with those in Germany. However, I’ve changed my mind somewhat … but in a good way.

You see, the Christmas markets have developed from sometimes rather tatty clones of the excellent German offerings to taking on an identity of their own. Not particularly an English one, although many local firms chose to display their wares here. Rather, a Continental one, for other stallholders came from all over Europe. And, I suppose it’s the same in other European countries where they have such markets.

So, this year, no oompah bands or gingerbread, which I’ve always associated with the German markets. But, they did have one German import, without which no Christmas market is complete.




Posted by: travelrat | November 29, 2016

False Creek and Granville Island.


Vancouver: 14th May 2016

I think just about everyone who’s lived in, or visited Sydney has ridden on one of the harbour ferries at some time. Vancouver has ferries, too, again, which just about everyone who’s been there has sailed on at one time or another. They ply on False Creek, the waterway which almost separates downtown Vancouver from the rest of the city.

On the hop on/hop off bus tour, you have the option of remaining on the bus as it crosses a bridge over the creek, or taking the ferry, and meeting the bus on the other side. No prizes for guessing which one we chose!

When the ‘little blue ferries’ started operation in 1982, with only two boats, False Creek was an area of grim factories. But, the industry declined, and the area was developed into a residential one, set in parkland, where people wanted to live. A real boost came when Vancouver hosted Expo 86, and the area and the ferry service expanded rapidly, to its present day 14 boats.


They are all purpose-built, charmingly tubby little craft, which are reasonably priced, whether you want to sail the length of the creek, or just cross it. We sailed on it twice; the first, as already mentioned, was covered as part of our hop on-hop off bus ticket. We just crossed the creek to the famous markets of Granville Island, but didn’t stay long there, for the bus was waiting for us on the other side.

But, on the following day, we crossed again, for we wanted a longer look around the market. We strolled around, watched some street performers … and I think this is probably the first time we ever visited a market and didn’t buy anything, apart from our lunchtime sandwich.


Posted by: travelrat | November 27, 2016

Travel Theme: Forest


‘Take any tree. Hang a sign on it announcing ‘Something marvellous is going on here!’. Everybody who has the least sense of wonder will stop and find out what is going on’ (Rutherford Platt)

Of course, there is no such sign, but it isn’t really needed. There’s something about trees … especially a forest, which, like a cathedral, calls for hushed voices and a quiet tread. You need to do these things anyway, for you’ll see much more, because the forest contains not only trees.

It’s not only a place of silence, though; It’s shade from the sun, or shelter from the wind. Or, just a place of great beauty, especially in the Autumn.

One of my greatest ambitions is to visit the sequoia groves of the Pacific coast. I have seen individual sequoias in Europe, but the oldest of these are mere youngsters of around 150 years. To walk among a forest of fully-grown monsters must be really something.

One of the strangest forests I have ever seen … alas, I have no photographs … is the Roldeskov, in the Rebild National Park in Denmark. In the midst of it is a grove of beech trees, which have taken up some really surrealistic shapes … on particularly gnarled specimen has taken on an almost circular form. It is said that passing a child through this gap will ensure its immunity from rickets, and a brass plate commemorates the occasion  in the 1950s, when Princess Margarethe and her sisters were so treated,

And, that has to be the first; witnessing the place where they once pushed the Queen of Denmark through a hole on a beech tree.

This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. See more at


Posted by: travelrat | November 24, 2016



Although we haven’t got around to booking the excursions for our upcoming cruise yet, one thing’s for certain. We will see penguins. Now, it may be asked: what are you getting so excited about? You saw penguins in Australia last year!

That, to my mind is like wondering why get so excited about the eagles in Alaska, when you can see birds simply by looking out of the kitchen window towards my feeders?

Because, of course, there are many kinds of penguin. The ones we saw in Australia are Little Penguins aka Blue Penguins alias Little Blue Penguins formerly known as Fairy Penguins. They’re the only species of blue and white penguin; all the others are black and white.

Although we saw those penguins, we weren’t allowed to photograph them, for, by day, they are out at sea feeding, and only return to their burrows at night, and photographic flash damages their eyes. However, I do have some photos, taken by daylight at various zoos and marine parks.

But, that’s not the case with most other penguins. They can be seen quite clearly by daylight, usually in vast colonies. And, sometimes, their antics on shore have made them a subject for many a TV wildlife documentary; in fact, I’ve just seen one made with a ‘penguin cam’ in the middle of the flock. (I must look that up; what is the collective noun for a group of penguins?)

So, in the coming months, I hope I shall be able to tell more about penguins than you really wanted to know. And, hopefully, get some nice photos and video.


Posted by: travelrat | November 22, 2016

Stanley Park Ride: Video


Vancouver: 14th May 2016

We couldn’t stay in Stanley Park as long as we would have liked, for we only had a day-and-a-bit in Vancouver, and wanted to see as much of it as possible. So, we hopped back of to the bus into town, bound for False Creek and the Granville Island market.


But, we can’t leave the Park without showing a couple more pictures. And, of course, some video.


“Airship Serenity” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Posted by: travelrat | November 20, 2016

Travel Theme: Snowy


Snow. You love it or you hate it. Or, maybe both! I remember driving home in the teeth of a snowstorm, and the car radio started playing ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’. That really cracked me up; I thought that surely the guy that wrote that song has never tried driving in this s***!

(The main hazard, however, is the numpties who think watching a couple of episodes of Ice Road Truckers teaches them all the winter driving skills they need)

At least, I got home with the car the same shape as when I set off that morning, with the shiny side still up, and the dirty side down … and woke to find another foot of snow had fallen, and I was truly looking out on a ‘winter wonderland’.


I immediately got dressed, grabbed my camera and went for a walk. Because, when all is said and done, snow is really good photographic stuff. Until it starts melting; then, it’s just miserable.


We’ve even done two cruises to snowy climes; Norway in 2013 and Alaska this year. Yes, it is indeed picturesque … when you have warm clothing and a nice warm ship to go back to. However, all the photos I’m going to show you in this budget were taken in England … some within paces of my front door, because where I live, we rarely get any appreciable snow.

But, when we do …. !!!!



This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. See more at

Posted by: travelrat | November 17, 2016

Mainly, Tea.


I’ve been drinking a lot of tea lately. Mainly because instant coffee has started giving me a pain … literally. Nothing serious; nothing that a five-minute sit-down and a couple of belches won’t deal with, but I’d rather not have the condition in the first place. The good news is … ‘brewed’ coffee doesn’t seem to have that effect on me, so I can still enjoy my Americano when I’m out and about.

Now, I wasn’t all that keen on tea, either, until I went to China. The tea there is mainly green tea … they would give you a lidded container with leaves in it, and someone came round with a kettle of hot water and would top your brew up as often as you liked. You use the lid to keep the leaves in the cup. I really liked it, so green tea is now my tea of choice. Although the stuff I buy in the supermarket comes in tea-bag form, rather than the more traditional method of brewing, it’s still better than the usual black tea.

In the course of research into our upcoming South America trip, I came upon references to mate, which is described as a traditional South American drink, especially in Argentina, where it’s laid down by law as the National Drink. It’s made in a similar way to the Chinese green tea; yerba leaves are chopped up, and hot … not boiling … water is poured over them.

The brew is drunk through a special straw, with a sort of filter over the end so no particle of the leaves is sucked up with it. And, it can be topped up many times, until the leaves are ‘washed out’.

Traditionally, it’s served in a gourd or calabash, and shared between a group of friends. And that, I think, is the way to treat any hot drink. Or a cold one, or even an alcoholic one!

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