Posted by: travelrat | February 7, 2016

Travel Theme: Mask

If you needed to hide your identity for some reason; usually an unsavoury and probably illegal one, chances are, you’d use a mask to hide your face. But, the ‘good guys’ used masks, too. Think of Zorro, Batman, the Lone Ranger and many more.

Think, also, of Arlecchino, or, as we know him, Harlequin. He was a character in the Commedia dell’Arte, which had its beginnings in Venice in the 16th Century. They still wear masks in Venice at Carnival time … and, even if you don’t visit then, it seems every shop window has a display of these masks all year round.


We found another use for masks when we attended a performance of ‘face changing’ by the Sichuan Opera at Chengdu. According to the notes we’d been given, an opera student named Sanquin fell in love with a girl named Huanhua. However, she was kidnapped by a jealous rival, who ordered his henchmen to burn Sanquin’s face, so she wouldn’t want him any more.

But, with the encouragement of the Master of the Opera and the faithful Huanhua, he hid his ruined face behind a mask, and practised changing these masks so diligently that the eye couldn’t detect the instant of changing. He eventually became ‘King of the Face Changers’, and those who re-enact his role can change six masks as adroitly and skilfully as he could.

Sichuan Opera 2

(And, if you think this sounds vaguely like the plot of The Phantom of the Opera … I wonder if the story was based upon this tale?)

This week’s contribution to the ‘Travel Theme’. To read more contributions, visit

Posted by: travelrat | February 5, 2016

Ancient Technology Centre: The Video

Ancient Technology 3

Here’s the video from our recent visit to the Ancient Technology Centre at Cranborne. As I said earlier, their work is based on research, experimentation and a little bit of guesswork. But, I think they’ve got it just about right. At a volunteers’ meeting at Stonehenge the other day, almost everyone who operates our Neolithic Houses had a story to tell about an overseas visitor, usually African, who would say something like:

‘My Grandmother lived in a house like this! Or even:

‘I grew up in a house like this!

Such feedback is most valuable; especially welcome is information on how they do might things differently.

Posted by: travelrat | February 3, 2016

Are We There Yet … ??

Geelong 3

Great Ocean Road: 19th November 2015

Some people think that the Great Ocean Road begins as soon as you’re out of Melbourne. It actually starts near Torquay, which is about 60 miles south of the city.

On the way, we paid a short call to the seaside town of Geelong, and strolled along the promenade, admiring the sculptures which appeared at intervals. They resembled old-fashioned clothes pins, but were painted to represent a sort of cross-section of Geelong’s citizenry.

Split Point 1

We stopped for coffee at the Split Point lighthouse … we bought ‘coffee to go’, and strolled with it to a look-out beyond the lighthouse, from which there’s an excellent view of the coast, and a good foretaste of things to come. The cliffs, and the presence of the lighthouse gave some indication of why this stretch is sometimes known as the Shipwreck Coast.

Split Point 2

There was no distinct start to the route; the only indication we had were the brown signs telling us that we were on the Great Ocean Road, rather than pointing the way to it. But, to remove all doubt, Jeremy told us.

Some way along the road, though, there’s an arch confirming that you are indeed on the road, but it doesn’t mark the start. It commemorates the ex-servicemen who built the road, in memory of their fallen comrades, and there’s also a bronze statue to them nearby.



Posted by: travelrat | February 1, 2016


Sorrento: 6th April 2015

I was a little bit disappointed with Sorrento. Maybe it was just the poor light and the haze, or it may have been that Portofino was a hard act to follow. Or, maybe it just didn’t tally with the mental picture I’ve had for years.

It’s about an hour’s drive from Naples … normally. But, this was Easter weekend, so it took a good deal longer. After you leave the autostrada, it’s a bit of a white-knuckle ride around the foothills of the mountains, but, for the last bit, a 5 km. long tunnel has recently been opened.

In the centre of the town, there are some lovely old buildings that just shout ‘Italy’, although, on this grey, cloudy day, they weren’t really seen at their best. Neither is the view over the Bay of Naples, which seems rather ordinary in these conditions.

Sorrento 1

Off the main Tasso Square are narrow streets, where high-class boutiques rub shoulders with souvenir shops, and places where they sell more everyday stuff. Like fruit; I couldn’t believe the size of those lemons. I thought at first they were grapefruit … but they’re even bigger than that.

Sorrento 2

Posted by: travelrat | January 31, 2016

Travel Theme: Gloss

Lacquer furniture

I don’t really like ‘gloss’. Maybe it’s due to ‘Corporal MacNasty’, back in the far-off days of basic training:

‘I don’t want to see gloss! I want to see a deep-down SHINE! It shows me you’ve worked at it!’

‘Patina’ is a word which springs to mind here, but that’s something you’d rarely see, unless you have an army of servants dedicated to polishing your floors, furniture or boots.

So, then, I’ve come to regard something ‘glossy’ as shallow and meretricious. These days, I think of the ‘glossies’; those lightweight magazines devoted to the doings of the ‘famous for being famous’. Now, these days most, if not all magazines are printed on glossy paper. But, they’re not all glossies. The Editor of one magazine I once contributed to used to take great exception if anyone referred to her publication as a ‘glossy’!

However, it was a photographic magazine, so could it be printed on anything else but ‘glossy’ paper? ‘Shiny’ doesn’t quite cut it here!

Actually, I prefer photographs on matt paper; this is what I used to request when I sent pictures away for printing. Now, though, I use glossy, because, with that, it’s easier to get the paper the right way up in the printer.

When I buy paint for my walls, I usually go for matt. Except for the bathroom and the kitchen … but, does anyone know a word which can describe this paint instead of ‘glossy’?

For more takes on this theme, visit

Posted by: travelrat | January 29, 2016

Ancient Technology

Ancient Technology 1

I’ve made some reference to the Ancient Technology Centre in my past posts. You may remember, they helped and advised on the construction of the ‘prototype’ Neolithic houses at Old Sarum, and on the ones that form part of the display at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre.

They’re at Cranbourne, in Dorset (not to be confused with Cranbourne Chase, which is some miles away) and started as a school project, but grew into an educational facility for children from all over.

Apart from the occasional ‘Open Day’, they’re not normally open to the public, but a visit was arranged for volunteers at Stonehenge, and I was particularly keen to go.

While their work is based on archaeological evidence, that’s only the starting point. Much of it is what I once heard called ‘experiential archaeology’ … or, in other words, they work things out like the ancients did. They try various methods according to the technology and materials which would have been available, and pick the one which works best.

It seems a pretty sound method. I asked if the recent Bronze Age find in Cambridgeshire had any effect on their thinking, and was told that it seemed to confirm things they’d already worked out by experiment.

It’s not only Neolithic. We met, and had tea in a Viking ‘long house’, we saw the ‘Earth House’ (I mentally christened it the ‘Hobbit House’) … a ‘soddy’ based on a find in the Isle of Man. It would probably have held several families,  or maybe a large, extended family, but had been laid out as a sort of auditorium.

There was also an Iron Age house and a forge … a real, working one, for they make all their Iron Age artefacts here. And, several ongoing projects and experiments. But, they have by no means abandoned what they’ve already done; they’re always looking for ways to improve them as, indeed, the original builders may well have done.

Ancient Technology 2

Posted by: travelrat | January 27, 2016

Great Ocean Road: The Start

The Arch

Melbourne: 19th November 2015

 I am now convinced. A road trip is still a road trip even if you’re not driving. There were eight of us, in a minibus with Jeremy, a friendly, talkative and informative driver/guide who took us along the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide.

But, Jeremy Redmond is more than a guide. He’s a director and part-owner of Australian National Treasures Touring, which operates small-group tours to different destinations; Aboriginal Art and Culture, through wildlife to food and wine. And, of course, the Great Ocean Road.

The road was conceived in the 1920s to provide employment for soldiers returning from WWI . Although intended from the outset as a scenic, tourist route, for which users had, originally, to pay a toll, did join together quite a few fishing and logging towns which had previously only been accessible by sea or over the mountains.

I’m slightly reminded here of the south coast of Crete were, even today, the only way out of some villages is by boat or on foot.

Another advantage … to us, anyway … was that, unlike the coach that took us to Phillip Island, Jeremy had no problem getting his minibus down Little Collins Street, and picked us up right at the hotel door. Just a couple more stops to pick up some other passengers, and we were on our way.

The Bus

If this kind of tour is your thing, we highly recommend this company. You’ll find details at 



Posted by: travelrat | January 25, 2016

Portofino Video

Portofino 3

Portofino: 5th April 2015

Before I leave Portofino, and round it all up with my usual video, I must mention the generous plate of nibbles the waiter brought us with our lunchtime beer … so much that we didn’t bother with lunch!


It could have been that the problems I had uploading my video last week have sorted themselves out … if they haven’t, I’ve converted this one to MP4 format. If neither work, there’ll just be a link.


I’ll also post it on my Facebook page …

(Apologies in advance if it doesn’t work!)

Posted by: travelrat | January 24, 2016

Travel Theme: Future


The thing about the future is … it doesn’t really exist. Like the horizon, or the end of the rainbow, no matter how you try to approach it, you never get any closer. It doesn’t make very good reading, anyway. Global warming, a natural cataclysm, a worldwide financial market meltdown or Donald Trump becoming POTUS. All have been ‘predicted’ … and that’s not counting the people who quote Nostradamus or the Book of Revelations.

Far better to go back to the past; see what it was predicted that the future would hold then … and see what really happened. And some of the things that did happen that seemed beyond our wildest dreams.

I’m looking at the early 50s; Britain was starting to recover from the Second World War, British goods were widely coveted, we had a new, young Queen on the throne … and I’d just started secondary school.

My reading of choice was a magazine … they refused to call it a ‘comic’ … called the Eagle, and they were pretty good at predicting some of the things to come. For instance ‘ever-flying aeroplanes’ could be used to make live television broadcasts possible from anywhere. These days, we call them ‘satellites’. They missed out on their prediction that flying boats would be the ‘airliner of the future’ … although it did make sense; the ‘runway’ would be almost  indestructible, and not take up valuable land.

Some predictions got ‘pooh-poohed’ by those who ‘knew’:

‘Colour television? Never happen in my lifetime! We won’t be able to afford it anyway’

‘Fly to the Moon? As if we hadn’t enough to do on Earth!’

A quote from the Eagle Annual of 1953:

‘ … some day, give us robot factories which will produce pots and pans and clothes without any human labour at all’

Pots and pans and clothes? They can even produce aeroplanes and ships with only minimal human intervention.

But, even the far-sighted Eagle couldn’t predict the things we take for granted today. Even twenty years ago, I never dreamt I could communicate with friends on the far side of the world instantly and inexpensively. If anyone told me I’d have a video camera I could put in my pocket; a whole library of books on a device the size of a postcard or a music collection on something so small I keep misplacing it … I’d have laughed in his face!

So, no matter how gloomy predictions of the future are … always remember:

‘Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday’

To see more of what the future may hold, go to

Posted by: travelrat | January 22, 2016

The Train


I’m trying hard to think of the last time we travelled anywhere in the UK by train. That is, a regular train, not a preserved ‘heritage line’. Time was, trains were inefficient, dirty, rarely on time … but inexpensive. Now, they’re clean, efficient … and expensive. I gave up travelling to the World Travel Market by train, and took to using National Express coaches several years ago, when the rail fare to London passed the £50 mark.

Recently, though, we went to Brighton to see a show, and worked it out that the train would be a tad more convenient than driving there.

Time was, there was a railway station at Amesbury within walking distance of where we live. But, it’s long gone now; we had to drive into Salisbury. We’d carefully hoarded £1 coins for the parking fee … but found, on arrival, the ticket machines only accepted credit cards; if we wanted to pay cash, we had to go to the ticket window and queue.

We’d bought our tickets for the train online … and, is it just me, or is it more complicated than it used to be? In the olden days, it was simply:

‘I would like a second-class day return to Brighton, please’

‘Certainly, Sir! That will be seventeen shillings and sixpence’

‘Thank You!’

Then, assuming the train arrived in the foreseeable future, I’d just get on it. And, I could come back on any train. Not any more.

These days, you are committed to one train only, and, if you miss it, I assume that’s your hard luck. If you booked online … well, the ticket machines are proof of the old saying that you never let anything electronic know you’re in a hurry!

However, once on the train, things greatly improve, and you can just settle down and enjoy the ride. After all, a route along the South Coast ought to be a scenic one, should it not? Er, no! There is an occasional glimpse of a marina, or a river estuary, but most of the time, the sea is out of sight. And, the scenery out of the window is pretty ordinary.

But, we arrived in Brighton on time … and I have to admit that the journey, ordinary as it was, did improve on the drive along the A27, with, seemingly, a roundabout every few hundred yards.


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