Posted by: travelrat | October 13, 2019

My Sunday Rant: Plastic Pumpkins


The ‘Sunday Rant’ is back!

Its appearance has been a little sporadic of late, because I couldn’t think of anything to rant about. But, with Hallowe’en coming up, the Rant has finally raised its head.

Not, you understand, that I have anything against Hallowe’en as such. If nothing else, the kids have fun, and, around here, generally don’t bother you when they come around trick-or-treating if you don’t have a pumpkin lantern outside, and you leave your porch light off.

The pumpkin lantern is the thing, though. You make them by scooping out the innards of a pumpkin, and, if you’re a very thrifty person, you might serve those innards with a roast, or put them in a stew, or make soup or something. In Britain, they haven’t been around for too long; when I was a kid we made turnip lanterns, instead. Some of us couldn’t say what a pumpkin looked like, unless the panto last year had been ‘Cinderella’!

No quarrel with that, either; what’s got under my toenails this week is a visit to the supermarket where they displayed … plastic pumpkin lanterns!! This really saddens me. Can’t the kids tear themselves away from their devices long enough to make them? Are parents really so busy that they can’t take the time to help their children make them?

More to the point, do we really need more unnecessary plastic in the environment? When a ‘real’ pumpkin lantern is finished with, you can toss it on the compost heap. Even if it’s just scattered down the street, (not that I condone it!) the birds will eat it, eventually.


Posted by: travelrat | October 9, 2019

The Akuryeri Tour: Pictures


Akureyri: 22nd June 2019

Here’s a round-up of more of the pictures I took on the Akuryeri excursion, which showed us three mind-blowing sights, each of which would be worth a visit in its own right. I can’t decide which one impressed me most … so, you’ll need to make your own mind up on that.

And, we haven’t quite finished yet. There’ll be video next week.

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Posted by: travelrat | October 6, 2019

Egypt Without the Pyramids … and Other Places

Sakkara 01

Someone once wrote that to visit Crete without walking the Samaria Gorge was ‘like visiting Egypt without seeing the Pyramids’. I have been to Crete and Egypt, and I have walked the Samaria Gorge and seen the Pyramids. But, I don’t think that omitting these attractions really detracts from your visit. I’ve done subsequent trips which didn’t include them.

Iron Gates Samaria1

I have a wish to see more of a couple of countries I’ve already been to, but am rather put off by the brochures. Yes, I’m offered tours of Peru … but the vast majority of these include Cuzco and Machu Picchu, which I’ve already seen. Are there, in fact, tours of Peru that don’t include these? Or, do I have to put together my own package?


Likewise, India. We did the ‘Golden Triangle’ a couple of years ago, but everything I’ve seen so far contains some of the elements of this tour. Although, actually, I wouldn’t mind going to Ranthambore again; we might see some tigers this time!

Posted by: travelrat | October 2, 2019


Godafoss 2

Godafoss: 22nd June 2019

Finally, we came to the imposing waterfall at Godafoss. There seems to be a waterfall around every corner in Iceland, but this is something special. We’d already had a glimpse on the way up to Lake Myvatn, and most people would be satisfied with even that. But, we got off the bus this time, and took a walk along the top of one of the cliffs bounding the river, to see the falls at their even more awesome. It’s even possible, with a lot of care, to climb down to the river bank, and scramble over the rocks for an even better view.

If you cast an eye back through these chronicles, you’ll see my attitude is by no means ‘see one waterfall, you’ve seen them all’ You might think that, having seen the mighty Iguazu Falls, all other falls of water would pale into insignificance. Not a bit of it: every waterfall has its own character. Even a slight trickle has its own atmosphere … but this is no slight trickle.

Their name means ‘Gods Falls’ … but not our God.  In 1000 AD, the ‘Lawspeaker’, who, I gather, both passed laws and enforced them, decreed that Iceland should henceforth convert to Christianity. And, to ensure this was observed, he collected up the images of the pagan gods, and cast them into the falls.

Godafoss 1

Posted by: travelrat | September 29, 2019

The Language of Coins

The other day, I was out for my morning walk, when I saw a pound coin lying on the pavement. So, naturally, I picked it up and put it in my pocket. My mind went back to when I was 13 years old, and found a pound note lying in the street. Like anyone else at the time would, I went to the Police Station with it. Sergeant Scott gravely recorded the details in a book, and told me I could have it if it wasn’t claimed in three months. I’m not sure, however, if it was actually claimed, or it finished up in the Police Christmas Dinner fund.

I suppose I could write something about how the value of our money has changed beyond recognition; how my Dad, born in 1913, used to say he was nearly 30 years old before he owned a £5 note …. or even when my friend Colin returned a fiver he’d borrowed from me some time ago, about which I’d forgotten. Even back in the 1960s, I’d have pursued him like the Eye of God followed Cain across the desert till I got it back.

Let’s, instead, go back to the early 1970s, when we changed over to decimal currency from the old pounds, shillings and pence. We would, henceforth, have 100 pence to a pound … called ‘New Pence’ (p) to distinguish them from old pence (d … from the Latin ‘denarius’= a small coin). However, it was many years until they dropped the ‘New’ … and, even now, folk are just transitioning from saying ’20 pee’ to ’20 pence’.

It’s a good system, but we lost something. Gone were the slang words we used for our coinage. No more coppers, tanners, or bobs. Australia had decimalised some years earlier, and thus lost their treys, zacs and deeners!

And, there’s been nothing to replace them. It’s just ’10 pence piece’ or whatever. Maybe this takes more time; Canada has the ‘loony’ (dollar coin) and ‘toony’ (2 dollar coin) but they’ve had those coins for much longer.

There was a suggestion that we should call our notes after the people portrayed on them. A £5 note would be a ‘Winnie’ (Winston Churchill), £10 would be a ‘Jane’ (Jane Austen) and £20 an ‘Adam’ (Adam Smith). But, they do change the pictures from time to time, so maybe it wouldn’t work?

Posted by: travelrat | September 25, 2019



Skutustadagigar: 22nd June 2019.

Skutustadagigar was another place where I thought I might have trouble with the spelling, so, as I usually do in such cases, I photographed the sign, to ensure I got it right. From here, you get some good views of Lake Myvatn, but the main attraction is the grassy lava field, dimpled with what they called ‘false craters’. Not volcanic outlets, the guide explained, ‘but the sort of bubbles you get when your porridge boils’. These were formed in the hot lava from a long-ago volcanic eruption covered the land.

False Craters

And, it was here we saw the glorious chestnut plumage of the red-necked phalarope. Many thanks, again, to Sue and Tony for the identification …and to ‘Platypus Man’ for telling me the correct way to pronounce it!

Lake Myvatn 3

Posted by: travelrat | September 22, 2019




Recently, I’ve been discussing the kind of souvenirs we like to bring home from our travels. One thing we agreed on, they must, as possible, be locally sourced. Then, the proceeds from your ashtray, tea towel or whatever, hopefully gets ploughed back into the local economy, rather than into the pocket of some sweatshop owner in a far-off country. An Adelaide shopkeeper once told me that more ‘aboriginal art’ was produced in Taiwan than was ever made in Australia.

What we generally buy is small keepsakes to remind us of places we’ve been, although we’re sometimes tempted by larger stuff. Only a couple of months ago, I was tempted by a sweater in the Faroe Islands. Then, I saw the price tag! I thought I could buy a suit for that … although I have to admit I haven’t bought a suit for quite some time. Fortunately, I didn’t have much Faroese or Danish currency on me, and I’d left my plastic on the ship. So, I came away from the Faroes with just a postcard and a sticker for my scrapbook.

Apart from such small items, we usually buy useful stuff … oven gloves, argan soap and the like. And stuff like chopsticks, which I use mainly to practise when heading for places where such implements are used.

Cuff Links

One item I particularly treasure is the very first souvenir I brought back from abroad. A pair of cufflinks I bought on Bombay Airport back in 1961. I still wear them … on the rare occasions I wear s shirt which needs them.

Another thing we’re proud of is our collection of plates. We haven’t got one from everywhere we’ve been … sometimes, we just can’t find any of the quality we like. They’re not for eating off, though. They hang on our kitchen wall. And, even though we’re particular about our selection, I think that soon, we’ll have to discontinue. Or, get a bigger kitchen!


Posted by: travelrat | September 18, 2019



Dimmuborgir: 22nd June 2019

Although there were no facilities at Namaskard, at our next stop, Dimmuborgir, there were plenty. A Visitor Centre, of course, and a snack bar. If bought anything here, you were given a token, which permitted you to use the toilet.

The attraction here is the expensive lava fields, deposited here by a long-ago volcanic eruption. Over time, the lava has solidified, and been carved by the elements into surrealistic pillars and stacks formed. On our short walk, we were shown a crack in the ground, which we were told was made by two tectonic plates, separating oh so gradually. But, we’ll see another such separation, much more dramatic, at Thingvellir, in a couple of days’ time.


In one or two places, the elements have actually bored a hole in the lava, and this was much favoured by photographers. There was a party near me … German or Dutch, I think … who were yelling at a woman who’d climbed up to the ‘hole’ with her kids, to get down, as she was ‘spoiling their photograph’.

But, I think she added something to it, don’t you?


Posted by: travelrat | September 15, 2019

Things That Aren’t There Any More

The other day, I was tidying my bookshelves when I came upon a little book I’d almost forgotten about, to which, back in the late 90s, I’d contributed a couple of paragraphs. It was called Things That Aren’t There Any More … and it was about … well … things that aren’t there any more. And, I thought that this would make a good subject for my Sunday Post. Not, though, about things that have disappeared since I were a lad; you’d need all day to get through a list of those. But, things that went, almost without notice, in the quarter century since the book was published.

For some examples, I need go no further than my sitting room. The VCR is gone; video recording is now taken over by my cable box. If I forget to set the recorder, I can usually get the programme on catch-up, and I can pause or rewind live programmes. The CD player is also gone; my DVD player will also play audio CDs. I can even show off my holiday pictures on the TV, so no more albums, slide projectors etc.

It’s not so long ago that most cars came equipped with a CD player as standard. Not any more … but you can copy your favourite music on to a USB stick, and plug it into the socket on the sound system. There’s no cigarette lighter or ashtray on my car, either. I don’t smoke, but the ashtray did come in handy for keeping change for the parking meter. The lighter itself also made for a power point … but I think the USB socket can be used to charge your devices? I’m not sure; I haven’t tried it yet.

What saddened me most was the demise of my favourite publishing house. They had about half a dozen magazines under their wing, and I contributed regularly to most of them. Unfortunately, they got taken over by a bigger company, who promptly closed all their titles! But it was the cause of regular visits by the ‘cheque fairy’ … and who remembers cheques? Most incoming payment these days is made via PayPal or a bank transfer; for outgoing stuff, I usually use my debit card. I can’t say the last time I wrote out a cheque … in fact. I couldn’t say for certain where my cheque-book is!

I usually illustrate my posts with a photograph, but I can’t on this occasion … because the stuff’s not there any more!

Posted by: travelrat | September 12, 2019

Stonehenge by Night


Stonehenge: 2nd September 2019

I never had much success photographing phenomena in the sky at night, be it the Northern Lights, an eclipse or just a ‘red moon’. Either the cloud cover prevents a good view, or I just make a hash of it. So, I thought I might get a few pointers by attending a presentation by photographer and astronomer Robert Harvey. He gave his lecture in the evening, at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre, after which we would go to the Stones themselves, and get some ‘sky at night’ shots from within the circle.

As a Stonehenge volunteer, I was asked to attend, with a few others, to give a hand stewarding the event, and to answer any questions visitors may ask. But, I took along a camera and tripod, anyway.

In the event, there was 8/8 cloud cover, so we didn’t get to see any stars. But, I did get some night shots from within the circle.


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