Posted by: travelrat | June 30, 2022

Throwback Thursday: Sand Sculptures

One of the longest, cleanest beaches I have ever seen is at Scheveningen, in the Netherlands. As far as you can see, the sand stretches in both directions. Where there is sand, children like to build sandcastles.

Their castles, though, rarely last a day, before they are knocked down by the tide.

At Scheveningen, the people see no reason not to build sandcastles just because they are grown up. But, they call them ‘sculptures’

The Scheveningen International Sand Sculpture Festival is held in the Spring and early Summer every year. Usually, the Festival starts in late April, and the judging of the sculptures takes place in early June, when they are shown off at their best.

But, the sculptures are almost complete by early May, and can be inspected at any time. The lights and sound effects, however, are only added just before the judging. The secret of their long life is that they are built above the high water mark, and they do not use sand from the beach. Beach sand is no good for this purpose, as the grains are too rounded. Instead, they bring sand from the river, which is sharper, and the grains cling together better. They mix it with water … nothing else is allowed … and really compress it.

Then, they carve it with a variety of instruments … knives, trowels, spades or household implements. All are allowed.

There is a different theme for the sculptures every year. In 2006, the theme was the composer Mozart, for it was the 250th anniversary of his birth. In 2005, to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Beatrix, who had ruled the Netherlands for 25 years, the theme was ‘Queens of the Netherlands’. The winning entry showed the images of the last four reigning Queens … the Netherlands have not had a King for many years … posed like the Presidents on the Mount Rushmore Memorial.

(Since this article was written, Queen Beatrix has abdicated, and her son, King Willem-Alexander has taken the throne)

Unfortunately, though, I could not be there for the judging this time, where, in addition to being seen in all its glory, each sculpture had to play a piece of Mozart’s music.

Posted by: travelrat | June 28, 2022

Classic Car Show.

I put together a slide show, of the ‘Best of British’ (aka ‘They don’t make them like that anymore’) … apart from the one on my cover photo. It’s an Italian ‘Ape’ (pronounced ‘ah-pay’, Italian for ‘bee’), with a Lambretta scooter engine.

Elsewhere, it’s known as an ‘auto’ or a ‘tuk-tuk’; this one has been converted to a mobile Prosecco bar. A worthy project indeed!

(Not sure if the BMC ‘Metropolitan’ counts as ‘British’; it’s an ‘anglicised’ version of the Nash Rambler)

Posted by: travelrat | June 26, 2022

More Coffee!


This morning, I thought I’d run out of stuff to rant about. Then, I popped into the supermarket to buy some coffee.

There wasn’t any! Not the stuff I usually buy, anyway.

There were, however, plenty of coffee products. Instant coffee; coffee capsules; coffee sachets … in fact, everything but the kind of stuff you just put a scoop in your cafetiere or filter machine. There weren’t even any coffee beans; I think I may have a grinder somewhere, but if I don’t, I think they’re cheap enough.

Enquiries of the staff brought a surprising response:

‘We don’t stock ground coffee any more. There’s no demand for it!

Fortunately, there are other supermarkets in the area that do sell ground coffee, but it’s going to be a bit of a pain shopping around and choosing the one I like best.

Posted by: travelrat | June 23, 2022

Throwback Thursday: Valdelavilla

When I attended my first Pueblo Ingles programme at La Alberca, we had a number of places we could walk to with ‘our’ Spaniard. The following year, I went to the one at Valdelavilla, and there were only really two places we could walk. Up the hill, and down the hill! Many of the Spaniards said they preferred it that way, as there were fewer distractions from the main purpose.

And, they preferred to walk down the hill, because, after about a kilometre, their mobile phones worked!

Valdelavilla used to be a farming village in the hills around Soria, in north-eastern Spain. Around 1960, it says here, ‘the demographic changed’. The villagers wanted a slice of the 20th Century, but there was no running water, it was difficult to get a car down the narrow streets and the place was so remote that television reception was almost non-existent. There was, I discovered on a subsequent visit, electricity, but not much else. Even today, the power comes from wind turbines on the hillside,

So, the villagers went elsewhere, and the village fell into ruin, and the area became a forestry plantation.

In the late 1990s, the village was restored as a ‘rural complex’ … maybe a bit remote for leisure pursuits, but good for a conference centre. The delegates would find it difficult to desert ‘death by flipchart’ for the golf course or the beach!

Shortly after the complex opened, the intensive Pueblo Ingles, and, later Vaughantown programmes began their operations here, for it was thought to be an almost ideal location.

But, it’s not all work. The place is a sun-trap, there’s a good view down the valley, and an even better one if you walk down it a little way; the pointed mountain which came into view reminded me a lot of Scheihallion, in Scotland.

The early morning sun on the mellow stone and tiles is a photographer’s delight. But, I don’t blame the villagers for relocating. As my grandmother used to say … you can’t eat the view!

Posted by: travelrat | June 21, 2022

Back to Torquay

Brixham: 26th April 2022.

There is a much better way to return, which permits much more to be seen of Brixham, Paignton and Torquay. That is to ride the ferry that plies between these places. I couldn’t make a comparison with the bus fare, because I used my bus pass on the way down.

It’s very much ‘weather permitting’; they warned us at the booking place that the passage would be fairly rough, and it was! But, nobody ‘rediscovered their breakfast’ … at least, not that we saw, anyway, The Captain said, however, that this would be the last run of the day, although normally, several more trips would be made.

Posted by: travelrat | June 16, 2022

Throwback Thursday: Barossa

There’s a connection between wine and roses besides the title of the well-known song. In Italy, they sometimes plant a rose bush at the end of a row of vines. The idea is that, if there are any ‘nasties’ about, they’ll strike the roses first, and the viticulturalist can take any necessary action early.

We saw this going on at the Mercouris vineyard in Greece … the vine-grower learnt his trade in Italy, and I believe it’s also practised in South Africa. Another place they grow roses close to vines is in Australia, although some people said they do so because they look nice, rather than from any practical reason.

Since we returned from our trip to South Australia, I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve asked ‘Did you visit the Barossa Valley?’ My usual reply contains the words ‘bears’ and ‘woods’!

Of course, the Barossa Valley isn’t the only wine-producing region in Australia … or even in South Australia. But, it’s one of the most famous, for it was here that the early pioneers such as Seppelt and Gramp first planted vines brought from their native Germany.

We just had to do it. We put a large cooler box into the boot of our rented Toyota, and set out for Tanunda, the centre of the wine-growing district.

Sometimes, in the Rhine or Mosel valleys, it seems like grapes are planted on every piece of open ground that isn’t absolutely vertical. It’s not like that in the Barossa … quite!

The older wineries are established in pseudo-castles, ersatz schlosses or faux châteaux. The newer ones can be in anything from purpose-built buildings to old farmhouses.

The first one we tried, we thought too slick and commercialised, and looked to find somewhere a bit friendlier. We didn’t have to go far. The Bethany Winery stands on a slight eminence. The wine’s pretty good, too! I took a mouthful of it (I was driving) and Lorraine took a more generous sample, and the first two bottles entered our coolbox.

We’d been recommended to try the wineries to the north-east of Tanunda, where our information said the best wineries could be found. There was one, however, where we didn’t even leave the car park. It was in a fake, Zenda-esque castle which I could just imagine the peasants crossing themselves fearfully as they passed.

The wine was probably excellent … no doubt it would taste just as good if it was made in a nondescript shed on an anonymous trading estate. But, the atmosphere wasn’t one we cared to drink in, which might be a downside to buying your wine at the cellar door rather than the local bottle shop.

But, in complete contrast, at Whistler’s Winery, in an old farmhouse, a friendly lady broke off from working in the garden to see what we needed. And, some more bottles joined their companions in the coolbox.

Our last call was at the Chateau Barrosa … not a mis-spelling; that’s the correct spelling of the name of the place in Spain Colonel Light named the region after.Yes, we tried some of their wine, and liked it enough to buy some. We passed on their grape liqueurs, though … to be fair, we don’t like any liqueur; it’s usually too sweet and sticky for our tastes.

We’d really come to see their famous rose garden. There’s nearly 30,000 roses in it! And, it’s become so famous, they’ve renamed the road on which it stands Hermann Thumm Drive, after the founder.

But, when he opened his motel there, and planted a few roses around it 30 years ago, I wonder if he ever dreamed it would expand to the extent of today, with its motel, winery and 12 Ha of gardens?

Posted by: travelrat | June 14, 2022

The Jubilee Beacon

From long-ago schooldays, I remembered the last line of Thomas Babington Macaulay’s poem ‘The Armada’

‘The red glare of Skiddaw roused the burghers of Carlisle’

I remember, also, our English teacher was off sick, and the lesson was being taken by the history teacher, who pointed out that, if true, this was probably the last time England’s beacon chain was used in anger … and questioned what the burghers of Carlisle were expected to do about it, considering they were the thick end of 300 miles away from the theatre of operations.

But, some of the beacons survive, and, even if they don’t, many a settlement has a nearby hill called Beacon Hill; I can see ‘ours’ from the end of the next street.  And, we still light beacons in times of national celebration … the latest being the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. But, it wasn’t a ‘chain’ in the traditional sense. We didn’t have to wait till we could see the one in the next parish being lit. At precisely 9 p.m. they were all lit simultaneously.

Beacon Hill wasn’t used, though. I suppose the local dignitaries found the toil up the hill a bit off-putting. At Amesbury, they held it at the Amesbury Country Park. I don’t know; I didn’t go. I went, instead, to the invitation-only one at Stonehenge. In the twilight, against a dramatic backdrop, the beacon was lit, accompanied by the pure voices of the Military Wives Choir. And, I don’t really think that could have been improved on.

Posted by: travelrat | June 12, 2022


I made some video at the Jubilee Beacon ceremony last week, but I’m not sure whether to post it or not. It’s a nice enough video, but the sound is rubbish. Normally, when I make a video, I mute the sound, and add a commentary, and some royalty-free music in my office. (I’m not pretentious enough to call it a ‘studio’)

It wouldn’t have worked on this occasion, though. The Military Wives’ Choir performed for us. Forget the dismal droning which we hear on the average Sunday morning radio programme which we normally associate the word ‘choir’. These ladies give a whole new and pleasant meaning to the word.

Alas, you could hardly hear them on my recording; the GoPro I used doesn’t pick up sound very well, and those sweet voices were almost drowned out by the wind noises. I suppose the answer would be one of those hamster-on-a-stick thingies the professionals use. But, even if there is an inexpensive, amateur version available, there doesn’t seem to be any way to connect it to the GoPro. I did hit the GoPro website, and no microphone of any kind is listed among the available accessories.

The answer would seem to be a separate sound recording device … but I only have one pair of hands! Any volunteers to be my sound-man? Unfortunately, I can’t pay … but might occasionally shell out for the odd cup of coffee.

Posted by: travelrat | June 9, 2022

Throwback Thursday: Cruising the Murray

Australia’s River Murray was an important transport link in the past. It has been referred to as ‘Australia’s Mississippi’, and paddle boats used to ply the river carrying passengers and produce. Some of the paddle steamers have been preserved, and new paddle wheelers have been built especially for the cruising business. The best of these is the Murray Princess.

She was built in 1986, and is a stern-wheeler, more like a Mississippi riverboat than anything else.

Her maroon and cream colour scheme promised laid-back luxury, and lived up to that promise. We cruised along a stretch of the Murray where the citizens of Adelaide have their ‘shacks’, or holiday homes. Most of the time, we were accompanied by water-skiers or jet-skiers, who used the waves thrown up by the giant paddle to add an extra thrill to their ride. And, whenever we passed a settlement of shacks, children would hold up placards, or call  ‘Sound your horn’. It would seem that, after twenty years, her novelty still hadn’t worn off!

One of my favourite places was the two-storey lounge in the stern. A gigantic window gave a view of the paddle wheel churning up the water, and tea, coffee and biscuits were always available. Close second came the dining room, where the chef excelled himself every time.

One morning, the First Officer took us on a nature walk, pointed out some of the wildlife, and showed us a ‘canoe tree’, from which Aborigines had long since removed the bark to make a canoe, but still left the tree alive. He also showed us the native Red Gum, which provided fuel for the old steam boats.

We only really touched a major township at Murray Bridge, which is so called because there’s a bridge (or, nowadays, two bridges) over the Murray. These are the first ones you encounter as you journey upriver from the mouth. The next one is at Blanchetown, about 70 miles upriver; between them, the usual way of crossing is by means of a chain ferry.

Before the bridge was built, the Aborigines called the place Pomberuk, and this is the name of the Aboriginal centre, almost under the shadow of the bridge. Here, we saw a display of Aboriginal dancing, and didgeree-doo playing before the Aborigines conducted us around the Aboriginal museum and chocolate factory.

The only disappointment was one morning, when we rose before dawn to take a walk to the cliff-top to see the sunrise; a sight they said we shouldn’t miss. We were up there at 6 am; unfortunately, the sun wasn’t! But, we can’t be too hard on the crew or the organisers. That really is beyond their control!

Posted by: travelrat | June 7, 2022

Salisbury Motor Show

Salisbury: 30th May 2022.

Normally, I don’t take much interest in motor shows. One car is pretty much like another these days. But, when they held one on the Market Square in Salisbury, it was different. The majority of the cars they showed were classic cars. I don’t know if there’s an official classification, but I usually define anything built before the First World War as ‘veteran’; those between the wars as ‘vintage’ and everything else as ‘classic’.

That includes one or two of the most frightful sheds ever to grace a forecourt … but we can’t be too hard on them, knowing the painstaking effort that usually went into restoring or preserving them.

Anyway, I went down, mainly to gather some material and pictures for the blog, and came away with some really good stuff. Of particular interest were an old Morgan three-wheeler, which looked like wall to wall fun … in good weather. And, a BMC ‘Metropolitan’, fairly popular in the late 50s/early 60s, but very seldom seen nowadays.

Also, the stuff of dreams … Austin Healeys, which I often coveted, but could never afford, and impractical, anyway, when the kids came along. And, tucked shyly in a corner, a pre-war slab-side MG. I never owned one, but a friend did. And, that was really motoring!

Just a foretaste of the pictures; there’ll be more in the coming weeks.

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