Posted by: travelrat | March 4, 2015


One of the slight downsides of cruising is the different currencies some people feel they must take with them. True, you can usually change your money as required on the ship, but often, the rate isn’t all that favourable.

Taking money to spend ashore isn’t, though, always the difficulty it seems to be. On the fjords cruise, we only called at Norwegian ports, so only took Norwegian krone. (We did make a brief foray into Sweden, but don’t know if Norwegian money is accepted there, because we didn’t buy anything.)

On the Baltic cruise, St Petersburg was our only port of call where they didn’t use euros … but, at the souvenir shops at the Summer Palace and the Hermitage, there was always an assistant handy with a calculator to convert roubles to euros whenever anyone showed an interest in something.

Researching our next cruise, though, showed we would, in theory, need a basket of half a dozen currencies … but, in practice, pounds sterling, US dollars or Euros would be accepted almost anywhere. And, the beauty about euros is we already have a fairish stash from previous trips.

If you confine yourself to these currencies, though, it’s good to ensure that a proportion of it is in low value notes … because, often, you might get your change in the local currency. Notes are fine; you can usually change them at the bank when you get home. But, coins … all you can do with them usually, if you don’t want to keep them as a souvenir, is drop them in a charity tin at an airport or bank or somewhere.

Posted by: travelrat | March 2, 2015

Cormorant Fishing

Photograph by Lorraine Kellett

Photograph by Lorraine Kellett

Li River: 19th May 2014.

Cormorant fishing used to be common in south-east Asia. The fisherman would tame some of these birds, and train them to dive for fish, as cormorants do. But, a string would be tied around the bird’s neck, so he couldn’t snarf any but the smallest fish, and had to give them to the fisherman.

.They don’t do it commercially in China any more because of Government restrictions on fishing in the rivers because of over-fishing. But, they do allow a few cormorant fishermen to operate, to show the craft to visitors. We took an evening cruise on the Li River to see one of these demonstrations,

I left the Nikon in the hotel room, and only took the GoPro, for I didn’t fancy fiddling with two cameras in the dark. I got some good video, which you’ll see later, but, unfortunately, the stills weren’t satisfactory at all. Fortunately, Lorraine got some decent shots, so I can illustrate this piece.

Since the fisherman’s raft had a bright pressure light in the bows, we were able to get an excellent view of these graceful birds in action, and later, go ashore to see them close up.

The total catch would have just about filled a sardine tin, but it was interesting to watch, anyway

Posted by: travelrat | February 27, 2015

Kirkhead Tower

Kirkhead Tower 4_copy

Kents Bank: 8th February 2015

I took a short walk up the hill from the hotel in Kents Bank, where we were staying, to see if I could get a good view of Morecambe Bay and the Kent Estuary. I spotted a castle-like tower at the top of the hill, which first inquiries told me was Wraysholme Tower, and old 15th Century ‘pele tower’. These are quite common in the north of England, and were raised in more troubled times to protect livestock from marauding ‘reivers’

Subsequent inquiries proved my informant mistaken. Wraysholme Tower is some distance away; this one is called Kirkhead Tower. It first appeared on a map dated 1826, and is believed to have been a summer house, built sometime in the 18th Century. It’s said to have been built on the site of the first parish church in the area, which predated even the nearby Cartmel Priory.

Be advised, though, that there is no public access to either tower … in fact, from my researches, I got the impression that the rule in both cases was ‘Trespassers will be shot; survivors will be prosecuted’.

But, having got as close as I could to Kirkhead Tower, I met a man walking a dog coming out of the field. He confirmed that it wasn’t a public right of way, but all the local people walk there, and nobody seems to mind. So, I walked across the field to enjoy a great panorama, as well as a close up view of the tower.

Mr. Wraysholme and his tower can wait for another day!


Posted by: travelrat | February 25, 2015

Caribbean in Print.

downloadI often say that the most fun part about writing is research. For each upcoming trip, I read as much stuff as I can lay my hands on about the place. The main source these days is the Internet, but print has its place, too.

Now, over the last few weeks, I’ve been paging through the stack of travel magazines in my office, and I’ve noted a curious thing. Very few of them mention the Caribbean … except for Cuba, where we’re not going. Although, to be fair, I don’t keep each and every magazine that comes to me, just the ones that interest me at the time. Nor have I checked them all out yet.

But, I’ve found the same thing in the rare newspapers I read … only one mention of Guadeloupe, and that mainly concerned the TV series Death in Paradise, which is filmed there.

(Which explains the left hand drives and French number plates on a supposedly British island!)

Nor is there much in the countless holiday brochures that come through my letter box. So, I’m wondering:

  1. Is the Caribbean so ‘yesterday’ that nobody writes about it any more?
  2. Is it so tacky and naff that it’s not considered as a ‘real’ destination?


(dare I hope!?)

Is it an untapped lode just crying out to be written about, photographed and video-ed?

You’ll find out when I get back!

I was also wondering if any literature covers the area. Our Man in Havana springs immediately to mind; some of the James Bond books are set here, also Desmond Bagley’s Wyatt’s Hurricane and Bahama Crisis. Dennis Wheatley set one of his novels in the Caribbean, too … but, that would seem a good reason NOT to visit the place!

Posted by: travelrat | February 23, 2015

Guilin Countryside: Slide Show

Guilin cover

Yangshuo: 19th May 2014

For some reason, I didn’t make any video when we took our ‘countryside walk’. But, I did get many stills, from which I’ve put together a slide show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted by: travelrat | February 20, 2015

The Devil’s Arrows

Devils Arrows 1_copy

Boroughbridge: 26th December 2014.

Just before we left Darlington, we heard there had been a bad accident on the A1(M) which was going to block the road for some time. So, instead, we took the A167 to Northallerton, intending to join the A1(M) at Leeming. We used to live at Leeming, so (we thought!) we knew the area well.

However, although it seems like only yesterday, we moved away from the area 25 years ago … and, in those 25 years, Northallerton, and Leeming have changed a lot.

Nevertheless, we managed to navigate our way back to the Great North Road (which sounds much better than A1(M), doesn’t it?) and stopped at Boroughbridge, because I wanted to photograph the ‘Devil’s Arrows’.

Now, Boroughbridge is somewhere else I should be familiar with, because, in 1960, I was stationed at RAF Dishforth, only a couple of miles up the road. Nevertheless, I hadn’t heard of the Devils Arrows till I passed them while walking the Yoredale Way, in 1982.

Devils Arrows 2_copy

Not far away are the Dishforth Henges; a series prehistoric circular ditches running parallel to the Great North Road and the main runway at Dishforth airfield … although, of course, the henges long predate these. And, not far away is another set of henges, the Thornborrow Henges, which more or less parallel the River Ure.

The curious thing is, if you draw lines joining these henges, and project them along, they intersect at, near as dammit, the standing stones of the Devil’s Arrows.

Before anyone mentions ‘ley lines’, let me say I keep an open mind on that subject, tending towards scepticism … someone once showed me ‘ley lines’ joining ‘Little Chef’ restaurants and branches of Barclays Bank. But I see similarities to Chinese ‘dragon paths’ and Australian aboriginal ‘songlines’ So, who knows?

Devils Arrows 3_copy


Posted by: travelrat | February 18, 2015

Costa Mediterranea


‘Costa Mediterranea’ courtesy of Rooster PR


When I posted last week about our upcoming cruise on the Costa Mediterranea, I illustrated it with a picture of a sister ship, the Costa Serena, because I didn’t have one of the Mediterranea to hand.

I can now remedy that; Rooster PR were kind enough to send me some images, with permission to use them.

The ship falls within my criteria for a ‘medium-sized’ ship … if you’ll forgive me riding my hobby horse again, still a ship, not one of those floating theme parks.

She weighs in at 85,619 tonnes and carries 2680 passengers, with 12 decks, six of which are accessible to passengers, That makes her one of the smaller ones of the Costa fleet, and we’re really looking forward to sailing on her.

And, if you want to track our progress, you can do so at ; there’s a webcam there too.

Posted by: travelrat | February 16, 2015

Guilin Countryside

EB Farmer_copy


Guilin: 19th May 2014.

They called today’s trip ‘Exploring the Guilin Countryside’, They promised to show us ‘the real China’ and certainly kept their promise. We walked through fields where we saw rice being cultivated and vegetables being grown, and snails harvested.

Linda explained that, quite often, the farms were owned by people who lived and worked in the cities, and they were actually worked by their parents in ‘retirement’.

An old woman led a water buffalo down the road. As she grew closer, we heard her chanting ‘Money! Money!’ and suspected that her primary concern was largesse, rather than getting the buffalo from A to B.

Everywhere was the most important crop, the rice. In some rural parts of China, the expression meaning ‘Are you well?’ is literally translated as ‘Have you eaten your rice?’

Then, we came to the Dragon River, a tributary of the Li, where sampans took visitors for a sail. The sampans are really simple bamboo rafts, propelled like a Cambridge punt or a Venetian gondola … but, I suspect, much cheaper.

EH Dragon River_copy

Posted by: travelrat | February 13, 2015

‘In Our Image’

'In Our Image' Newton Aycliffe_copy

Newton Aycliffe: 24th December 2014

We were staying at the Holiday Inn, just outside Newton Aycliffe. Like Travelodge or Premier Inn, it’s usually just somewhere clean, comfortable and secure to lay your head. They’re nothing to complain about … but nothing to write home about, either. Usually, they’re built and managed to a uniform standard, and, whether you’re staying in Perth or Penzance, the experience is about the same.

Now, if your chosen resting place is in a motorway service area, you really can’t go anywhere unless you drive. This one is on the A1(M), but located at a junction, so a short walk is possible.

My leg-stretch took me as far as a nearby roundabout, where a sculpture of a human figure, rather reminiscent of our own ‘Ancestor’ peered over a hedge.

I found later it was called ‘In Our Image’, designed by Joseph Hillier and constructed by Aycliffe Fabrications.

It’s 16 metres tall, and weighs 4.7 tonnes, and was commissioned to commemorate Newton Aycliffe’s industrial heritage.

Posted by: travelrat | February 11, 2015

We Are Sailing … Again

Costa Serena

In just over a month’s time, we’re off on our travels again. On the 12th March, we’re driving to Gatwick (via Brighton) and on the following day, flying to Guadeloupe (via Paris) to join a cruise, which will get us to Trieste about a month later.

Really, it’s a cruise, with half of the preceding cruise and half of the following cruise tacked on. Our itinerary is:


Sint Maarten

Grand Turk



Sint Maarten (again)









I’m particularly looking forward to the Everglades tour and airboat trip we have booked in Miami … also hoping we will pass through the Straits of Messina in darkness, and Stromboli pops its top again. And, this time, I WILL have a camera handy.

The charges for the ship’s internet are still just this side of larceny, but I’ll be looking for cheap (or free) wifi hotspots on shore … and will, of course, have lots to tell you when we get back.

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