Posted by: travelrat | January 20, 2017



Kamloops 16/17th May 2016,

 We weren’t, initially, too impressed with Kamloops. It wasn’t that is was bad, just … ordinary. But, maybe I’m being unfair to the place by forming an opinion based on a brief visit.

We stayed at the Thompson Hotel, where our luggage, which we last saw in Vancouver, appeared in our room. The following morning, it disappeared again, to reappear later in the day in our hotel room in Banff; just one example of the Rocky Mountaineer people ‘going the extra mile’ for their guests.


We took a walk down the street in search of a sandwich, and later, I wandered down to the railway station to see if I could get some pictures of the Rocky Mountaineer’s loco. But, the train wasn’t there! Maybe they’d taken it elsewhere, for cleaning and servicing, or maybe I’d just gone to the wrong place?

I did, though, take one or two pictures; the record of our travels just wouldn’t be complete without them.  And, I did like that mural of the old train.


Posted by: travelrat | January 18, 2017

Travel Theme: Walking


‘If you just want to get there, you can take a carriage, but to travel, you must walk’ (J-J Rousseau)

I’ve been walking ever since … well … I could walk!

Some of us just walk of necessity, to get from A to B when there’s no transport … or, at least, no affordable transport … available. Others walk for recreation, which is a fairly recent innovation. It’s not all that long ago that the founders of the Ramblers Association declared that ‘ ,,, walking has replaced gin as the cheapest way out of Manchester’

If you go anywhere by tourist coach or car, you are isolated, to a great extent, to what’s around you; you’re isolated to a somewhat lesser extent if you shuffle around in a cloud of like-minded souls with an eye on the guide’s umbrella. Fortunately, most guides will eventually say something like: ‘You have free time. Be back at the coach in an hour’. That’s when the travelling starts.


Better still is the package holiday brochure which, from time to time, contains the words ‘At Leisure’  in the itinerary. You could spend this time lazing on the beach, or whatever … or you could visit some attraction that catches your fancy. Or, you could just walk.

Some of the mail that comes through my letter box offers me walking holidays. Much as I like walking, that’s not really my thing. I’m not all that keen on being shepherded around in a group, whatever the surroundings. I’ll usually go with one or two friends, though; we can stop when we like, rest awhile when we like, choose which way we’re going to go when we get there. And, if the weather changes, we can decide to knock it on the head, and go to the pub instead!


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

Posted by: travelrat | January 16, 2017

The Time Top


When we first saw it, we thought it was a piece of junk … a redundant marker buoy or something, cast on the foreshore of Vancouver’s False Creek. But, as we got closer, we realised it was a Sculpture.

It was the brainchild of local artist Jerry Pethick, who took his inspiration from the Clarence Gray and William Ritt comic strips of his childhood. The hero, one Brick Bradford, could be called an early version of Doctor Who. He happened upon a ‘chronosphere’, which was intended to ‘ … unravel the secrets of the past and probe the mysteries of the future.’

 Pethick envisaged the device flying across the Pacific Ocean, and splashing down off British Columbia.

He passed away in 2003, but, the following year, the Time Top Project was commenced. Pethick had left detailed instructions about how the Time Top was to be constructed, and the Harmon Foundry was commissioned to build it in bronze. When it was complete, it was submerged in the ocean for two years, connected to a power supply, to attract molluscs and encourage the growth of mineral deposits.

It finally reached a satisfactory stage of ‘studied dilapidation’, which was intended to give the impression that it had been washed up on the foreshore. It was then transported to its present location, where capstones in the wall nearby show scenes from the strip cartoon that inspired it.

Posted by: travelrat | January 13, 2017

Looking for Wifi


When I’m researching places to where I’m travelling, one of my first questions is ‘Is there wifi?’

It’s not a complete deal-breaker if there isn’t, but it is nice to have, and, if I have to choose between two places; one with wifi and one without, the ‘with’ will usually get it. However, many hotels offer free wifi these days, some make a small charge … and if they don’t have it at all, you can usually find a coffee bar or something nearby that has.

There was one place in Ketchikan that handed me a little slip of paper with my coffee. That contained the password for the wifi … even though I didn’t ask for it.

However, I’m not into posting my every move on social media while I’m away; I prefer to wait till I get home to put my notes into some sort of order before going live with them. But, I do check in when I can find a connection, read my email and sometimes post a picture on social media; it’s way cheaper than sending postcards.

Part of my next trip, though, will be a cruise … and, although most ships these days do carry wifi, it’s usually slow, and rather expensive. One lady told me she’d just managed to open her email page, when her daily allocation ran out. You can, however, usually find a free or inexpensive connection when you go ashore. The best way to find this is … follow the crew! They rarely use the ship’s wifi either.

I remember just outside the cruise terminal in Gibraltar, seeing several people on their devices, sitting on the pavement outside the Seamen’s Mission … the Port Chaplain, with whom I was talking at the time, told me they were using the wifi in his office.

Posted by: travelrat | January 11, 2017

Rocky Mountaineer Day 1: Video

Vancouver/Kamloops 16th May 2016,


Here’s the video of the first part of our train ride. In the early frames, you’ll see someone apparently reading a newspaper, in spite of what’s going on around them. But, that ‘newspaper’ is actually ‘The Milepost’, a complimentary information sheet given to each passenger which is packed with information about the train, and contains a useful map, so you can track your progress.

You’re also given a copy of ‘RM’, a glossy souvenir magazine.

But, these are the only distractions. There’s no wifi on the train, so you can concentrate fully on what’s around you, and tell about what you saw only when you’ve reached your destination, and have maybe had the chance to marshal your thoughts a little.

And, that’s the way I usually work, anyway.


“River Valley Breakdown” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Posted by: travelrat | January 9, 2017

Travel Theme: Quiet

The other day, I called in at the Public Library. In one corner, the Children’s Book Club was in session, and a very enthusiastic session it was, too. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, and I reflected that, in my day, (I seem to be using that phrase more often as I get older) such behaviour would have earned, at best, an icy glare from the ‘Book Dragon’

(And, when you had one of Miss Fitch’s glares, you knew you’d been glared at!)

Not, you understand, that I have anything at all against this sort of thing; anything that gets kids reading and discussing what they’ve read is fine by me. But, if you want quiet, it seems that you have to range further afield to find it. So, I’ll just review a few quiet places I’ve been to.


Wadi Rum was the first place I thought of … although I’m not sure what it’s like now. We visited just before the Iraq invasion, and had the place almost to ourselves. The feeling of just lying in a bedroll, watching the stars, and above all, enjoying the silence is something I’ll never forget.

Then, there was the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. It’s one of the very few mosques into which non-Muslims are admitted. The grand architecture just calls for silence, or, at least, lowered voices more than any notice ever would.


The columns are rather reminiscent of a forest, and that’s another place of quiet; the trees tend to deaden any sound you make, anyway. We once did a tour of the rain-forest on Australia’s Fraser Island. We stopped by a little stream, the waters of which were so clear that it looked more like a footpath through the trees.

‘Listen!’ said the guide ‘What can’t you hear?

It took a while to realise it, but, because Fraser Island is composed entirely of sand, there were no rocks in the stream bed, so the waters went their way … absolutely silently.



This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. More at

Posted by: travelrat | January 5, 2017

Bradshaw’s Guide


I’ve written in the past about how an out-of-date guidebook is about as much practical use as a used box of matches … but added that a very old guidebook can be a collectors’ item. You can compare the attractions of yesteryear with their condition, or even existence, today, or you can just enjoy the florid prose that some of those early writers liked to indulge in.

So, you can imagine my delight when I received among my Christmas presents, a facsimile edition of the 1853 edition of Bradshaw’s Continental Railway Guide.

Like any guidebook, it’s not really a book you read from cover to cover, but rather dip into for bits of information you want. Nowadays, if you want information about, say, the Republic of Upchuck, you hit Google … and the first few entries your search turns up offer you cheap flights to Upchuck, or discounted hotels in Upchuck, even though you have no intention of going there.

That, surprisingly, is nothing new. Bradshaw’s is chock-full of adverts. Opening the book at random, I find that Barrett Brothers, of 184 Oxford Street would offer ‘ … solid leather portmanteaus and trunks of the newest construction’.

Or, hotels. I read that, at the Hotel de la Poste in Ghent ‘ … Mr Pauw begs to inform the English nobility and gentry visiting Ghent, they will find his Establishment a cheerful and respectable residence, where every attention will be paid to their comfort. (No wifi, then?)

If you watch Michael Portillo’s Great Railway programmes on BBC, you’ll know his inseparable companion is his 1913 Bradshaw, and he likes to compare what the compilers of the guide wrote with what he found on his travels a century later. I’d like to do the same, sometime.  Although I have no immediate plans to visit continental Europe, I do have a Rhine cruise pencilled in on my wish-list, although I suspect it’s going to cost a bit more than the £2-17s-10d that Bradshaw suggests.

Anyway, they probably wouldn’t accept pounds; it says here: ‘Prussian currency is available on the Rhine as far as Nassau, where Florins and Kreutzers supersede the Dollars and Groschen’

(These have, of course, since been superseded by the Deutschmark, then by the Euro.)

So, armed with ‘Bradshaw’, I’m good to go; all I need now is a contract from the BBC, and some nice pastel-coloured jackets!

Posted by: travelrat | January 3, 2017

Rocky Mountaineer: Vancouver to Kamloops


Vancouver/Kamloops 16th May 2016

Today, we took another train ride. No ordinary train, though. We rode the ‘Rocky Mountaineer’ up to Banff, and I don’t think we’ve ever had such VIP treatment on any form of service anywhere. From the moment the coach came to pick us up at the hotel, the level of care we received from the Rocky Mountaineer people was almost embarrassing.

We were met at the station with orange juice and coffee, and led on board the train by a piper in Highland dress. Breakfast was quickly served at our seats with an efficiency the airlines might do well to look at, as was a delicious lunch later.

We were riding in the ‘Silver Leaf’ class. That’s one step down from ‘Gold Leaf’, which is a double-decker carriage, with a dining room downstairs. In ‘Silver Leaf’, your meals are brought to you in your seat … but there is a substantial fold-down table there. Both these classes have ‘wrap around’ windows, which give an excellent view. ‘Red Leaf’ passengers have to make do with an ordinary, flat window. But, even that’s bigger than the ones in a ‘normal’ train. And, there’s an open ‘viewing platform’ at the end of each carriage.

I did wonder if the ‘Gold Leaf’ passengers ever missed out on anything when they went downstairs for their meals?

Most of the time the hosts gave an informative commentary. We saw eagles, ospreys and mountain sheep. No bears yet, but we aren’t quite in bear country. In fact, the best part of the ride will be when we get into the Rockies tomorrow.

We’re staying the night in Kamloops, because there aren’t any sleepers on the train; it’s thought there’s too much to see that would be missed it was moving while passengers slept.

Kamloops is a pleasant town, but rather ordinary and slightly disappointing; the name, which simply means ’two rivers’ suggested somewhere with a more ‘frontier’ atmosphere.

Posted by: travelrat | January 1, 2017

Travel Theme: Leaves


Happy New Year, everyone! 

It seems rather an odd time of year to be writing about leaves, because there aren’t any. Even the ones I gathered up in the garden went down to the recycling centre a month ago. But, this week’s Travel Theme subject does let me tell a story from a couple of years back.

After a night of strong gales, I was at the railway station, when an announcement came over the speakers that the train would be delayed because of ‘leaves on the line’ … followed by:

‘I know that’s what we always say, but this time, it’s serious. The leaves are still on the tree!’

However, there are other kinds of leaves … leaves (pages) of a book; leaves on an expanding table … and, of course, tea-leaves.

Not that you come across them much any more; most people just toss a tea-bag into a cup and pour hot water over it. I’d guess that anyone who used to tell fortunes this way have a pretty thin time of it nowadays.

Unless you go to China, where they take their tea seriously. Go into a Chinese tea-house and ask for tea, and it comes in an ornate lidded vessel with a lid on it. The tea-leaves … whole leaves, not the shredded ones we’re used to … are floating in the water, and you use the lid to keep from swallowing them. From time to time, a waiter will come round with hot water to top up your brew … it’s surprising how many times you can do this, and still retain the flavour.

We’re off to South America in a couple of weeks, where the drink of choice is mate. This is a similar sort of arrangement, but they use the leaves of the yerba plant. And, you keep the leaves where they belong by drinking it through a straw, with a sort of grille at one end. And, in Cuszco, where we’ll finish up, they recommend coca tea which helps to combat mountain sickness. I think I’m going to be needing rather a lot of that!

The first contribution of the year to the weekly Travel Theme. More takes on leaves at 

Posted by: travelrat | December 29, 2016

The Storyteller


Not long ago, I came upon one of those not-too-serious Facebook quizzes. It asked you various questions, and then worked out what occupation you should have had if you’d lived in the Middle Ages, I got ‘herbalist’ … which disappointed me slightly, for I’d much rather have been a Storyteller.

This person roamed around from village to village. He probably had another line, too … maybe a pedlar, or something. But, people looked forward to his visits, and his stories. In those days, most folk didn’t travel very far, and only a privileged few could read, so the storyteller was a source of both news and entertainment.

It’s probably from the storytellers that legends of the likes of King Arthur and Robin Hood sprang up … modelled on actual people, but lavishly embellished and embroidered over the years.

With the advent of first, the printed word and, more recently, instant mass communication, the art of storytelling almost died … apart from, of course, the telling of bedtime stories to tinies who cannot yet read. But, even those usually come from books, rather than tales passed down through the generations.

But, just before Christmas, English Heritage laid on a special treat for the Stonehenge Volunteers. We had mince pies and nibbles around an open fire in the Earth House, in the Ancient Technology Centre. The Earth House is a sort of meeting room, roofed with turf, and benches arranged amphitheatre-style around a central circular area within which the fire burns.


And, to entertain us, a Storyteller came, and, for an hour, regaled us with a recital of folk tales. I did make some recordings, but don’t want to reproduce them here. What I particularly noticed was a complete absence of ‘um-ing’ and ‘er-ing’ … as well as projecting his voice beautifully (either that, or the Earth House has really good acoustics!)

I don’t think I could do that … so, maybe, if I’d lived in the Middle Ages, I’d be better advised to stick to herbalising!


Older Posts »