Posted by: travelrat | December 16, 2018

Air Miles

Since it was grey, wet and miserable outside, today was a Computer Day, and we spent it choosing and booking our excursions for next month’s Morocco sortie. And, they didn’t cost us a penny; we used some of our AVIOS.

We’ve been collecting them almost since they started … they were called Air Miles then, and, whenever you bought petrol or something, they gave you a piece of paper which looked like Monopoly money, and, if you collected enough of them, you could claim a free flight.

That was the theory, anyway; in practice, they worked a bit like the old Green Shield stamps. It would take you half a lifetime to collect enough to get something you really wanted. I believe, in the end, we gave them to the Scouts, who were appealing for enough of them to get some new camping equipment, or something.

Then came National Geo-Genius, a TV travel quiz, organised by the National Geographic Channel, in which I won enough to get the two of us to Jordan. With some left over; I bought a flight to Geneva with what was left.

And, we still kept piling them up. Flights to Australia, for which we received miles, accounted for a great many, as did some online surveys, which pay you in AVIOS. We accumulated enough for flights to most European places, but they’re not exactly going to break the bank anyway. But, even after we’d used some to buy a full programme of excursions, we still didn’t use them all; I wonder where they’ll take us next?

Posted by: travelrat | December 13, 2018


Ranthambore 1

Ranthambore has, for a long time, been about those magnificent big cats, Bengal tigers. Since 1980, it’s been a National Park, where, according to a census in 2014, 62 of them still ranged. Some measure of protection for the tigers has been in place since 1955; however, before this, it was the hunting preserve of the Maharajahs of Jaipur; indeed, the ruins of shooting butts and blinds can still be seen.

I did wonder if, in the event we saw any, photographs of the tigers would be regarded as ‘taken in the wild’ and I was assured they would.

‘We never feed them’ said a ranger ‘They’re free to range as they please, and there are plenty of deer and other animals for them to feed on’

Certainly, the area of 392 square kilometres (150 square miles) is enough to sustain them. It’s a tract of rolling grassland, interspersed with wooded gulleys, and it’s extensive enough for the tigers to hide in if they don’t want to be seen. They certainly aren’t going to come out and pose for you.

As well as the tigers and the deer, the park is home to much wildlife. We saw many colourful birds, including peafowl, spotted deer, a black buck or nilgai and several monkeys. Also listed within the park are nearly 50 other species of wildlife, including sloth bears and marsh crocodiles. And cobras! I really don’t want to see one of those guys in the wild, though!

Posted by: travelrat | December 11, 2018

Castles on the Rhine

Castle 1

Rhine Gorge: 6th April 2018

Many years ago, on the way to Innsbruck, I travelled up the Rhine Gorge by train. I thought at the time it would be so much better viewed at a more leisurely pace, but nearly twenty years were to go by before it happened.

(I can’t recall exactly what year it was, but Germany was still using Deutschmarks and Austria schillings)

It finally happened after we sailed from Rüdesheim; arguably the best part of the trip with, seemingly, a picturesque castle on just about every other hilltop. Which is probable because the various princes, dukes, counts and such who ran Germany at the time could see as much of their domain as possible. And, it was important to maintain constant surveillance on the river. Not only was there danger of various sinners coming for a bit of pillage and plunder, but so that tolls could be levied on those using the river for a more legitimate purpose.

Some are still private residences; some have been converted into hotels while others are in ruins. We sat on the upper deck with a thoughtfully provided list of them, which we ticked off as we passed. A prominent feature was the Lorelei Rock, where the river narrows appreciably. There are many legends associated with it; one of the most popular is of the Rhine maiden, who sings her song, enchants passing sailors and distracts them enough to sail their ships into the rock and drown.

Lorelei Rock

But, we passed the rock without incident, and soon came upon the city of Koblenz, with the imposing fortress of Ehrenbreitstein on one bank, and the equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I on the other. The original statue was destroyed during WWII, but a replica was erected in 1993, as a symbol of the reunification of Germany. It now stands proudly proudly at the Deutsches Eck (German Corner), where the Mosel river joins the Rhine.

And, the Mosel! Well, that’s an idea for a future cruise!

Posted by: travelrat | December 9, 2018

Road to Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

We discussed … even had a mild argument sometimes … but we decided on our next trip. It’s all booked and paid for; next month, we’re headed to Morocco!

We’ve been there before; in 2009, we did a cruise stop in Casablanca. And, long before that, in 1999, we had ten days in Agadir … you’ll find some account of that trip on the ‘Morocco’ page of this blog. This time, we’re staying in Agadir again, and I’m looking to refresh my photo stock. I only had a very basic digital camera in those days, and most of my ‘good stuff’ is on transparencies.

There might be video, too … especially if we encounter those tree-climbing goats again.

Tree climbing goats

Posted by: travelrat | December 6, 2018

Chand Bara Step-Well.

Chand Bara 1

Abhaneri: 23rd September 2018

We rose early this morning, and drove to the site where Shah Jahan had proposed to build a second mausoleum, on the opposite bank of the Yamuna River. That project was barely started when it was abandoned, but it made a good viewpoint for viewing the Taj Mahal by sunrise. Since it’s absolutely symmetrical, it looks the same from whatever angle you view it.

Then, we left for Ranthambore; the usual exercise in dodging the other traffic, and negotiating the frequent ‘bovine chicanes’ caused by wandering cows in the road.

We stopped for a while at Abhaneri, to see the ancient Chand Bara step-well. What’s a step-well? When I got up this morning, everything I knew about step-wells could be written on a postage stamp with a spray can.

It’s an imposing structure, a hole almost 30 metres deep, with symmetrically-arranged steps along three sides. On the fourth side was an ornate pavilion, for it was a good place to hang out in the heat of Summer, being a good 5 degrees cooler than up at the surface.

It was built between the 8th and 9th Centuries AD at the orders of King Chanda, and is thought to be the deepest step-well in the world. Which makes me think … did they know there was water down there, or did the King just order them to keep digging till they found some? Whichever, the King must have been a pretty influential person, to prevent his labour force giving it best, and deserting to find some more accessible water.

I can also imagine the labour involved in carrying water all the way up those steps; if it was me; I think I’d probably have drunk it all before I got anywhere near the top.

But there was, apparently, an ox-driven mechanism which would lift the water at least part of the way.

Chand Bara 2


Posted by: travelrat | December 4, 2018

The Rüdesheim Seilbahn/Elvis Was Here

Cable Car, Rudesheim

Rüdesheim: 6th April 2018

 When we rode the Rüdesheim Seilbahn, it seemed rather familiar, and I wondered if it was the one Elvis Presley rode in ‘GI Blues’? So, I did a little research, and it wasn’t long before I found:

And, here’s my video … and no, I’m not going to sing Rainbows! But, you will see that we rode in Car No. 74; Elvis used No. 76. If we’d arrived at the bottom station a couple of minutes later, we could (assuming the cars are arranged in numerical order) have really been on ‘holy ground’!

Music: ‘Vivacity’ by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License


Posted by: travelrat | December 2, 2018

Christmas Market

Yesterday, we went into Salisbury to visit the Christmas Market. The weather wasn’t the kindest, being grey and drizzly, and the piece I wrote seemed, in the cold light of morning, to be rather grinchy.

So, I’ll just post the pictures, instead.

Speaking of ‘grinchy’, I just remembered a Christmas tale from a few years ago. I wish I’d taken a camera or something to the pub, where we went for a meal just before Christmas. It’s one of my favourite pubs, and the food was, as usual, superb. At the end of the meal, I asked for coffee, which came to me with a serviette in the saucer, decorated with holly and carrying a seasonal message … and, by the side of the coffee cup was …. A HUMBUG!

Posted by: travelrat | November 29, 2018

Agra Video

Taj Mahal 3

Agra: 22nd September 2018

I would normally round off our visit to the Taj Mahal with a slide show. But, since the building is absolutely symmetrical, any pictures would look similar, no matter what angle you took it from. So, since a slide show would be a bit samey, here’s a video from our visit to Agra.

Music: ‘Indore’ by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Posted by: travelrat | November 27, 2018

Käthe Wohlfahrt

Rot 4

At this time of year, the main complaint is that Christmas comes far too early. It’s coming up to the end of November, and, in some places, the Christmas markets are already open, and the Christmas decorations are up. At most supermarkets, it’s been so since the beginning of the month, when the ‘shelf fairies’ laboured through the night to clear all the Hallowe’en witchy and ghosty stuff away, and replace it with Christmas gear.

Imagine my surprise then when, in early April, I wandered into a shop in Bamberg to buy some postcards for my scrapbook … and found it stacked from floor to ceiling with Christmas goods!

However, I found later this is a branch of the Käthe Wohlfart ‘Christmas shops’. This is a company founded in 1964, by husband and wife Wilhelm and Käthe Wohlfahrt, and later taken over by their son, Harald. It sells Christmas decorations and articles all year round, and their headquarters is in Rothenburg, where it moved from Herrenburg, near Stuttgart in 1977.

It has branches all over Germany, and we saw some in Rothenburg and in Rüdesheim. But, we didn’t go in. I still think April is far too early to be buying Christmas stuff. But, I was surprised to find it has a handful of branches in other countries too … our nearest one is in York.

Ru 6

They also have a stall at various Christmas markets. I wonder if they’ll have one at our local one in Salisbury?



Posted by: travelrat | November 25, 2018

On the Bus … (or In the Bus???)

Throughout our journeys on India’s roads, the observation I made to other week was reinforced. The passenger carrying capacity of any vehicle is, by no means, dictated by the number of seats available. So, it didn’t come as much of a surprise to pass a bus with the passengers riding on the roof.


‘We do that at home’ said a member of our group ‘only, the top decks of our buses have sides and a roof’

They didn’t always have, though. Back in the days of the stage-coach, passengers would ride on the roof … as seen on many a Christmas card, being jolly, and merry, and generally having a good time. The reality was … the top of the coach wasn’t the best of places to be, especially in Winter, and was for ‘economy class’ passengers. If you could afford it, you rode inside, with mufflers, blankets, hot water bottles and a warming pan.

Eventually, along came a coach-builder called George Shillibeer, He produced a boxy, horse-drawn vehicle which could carry a couple of dozen people … with room on top, too. This vehicle, he called an ‘omnibus’ … Latin for ‘for all’

(I can remember signs in rural areas which still read ‘Omnibuses Stop Here On Request’ … and, as late as the 1950s, the abbreviated form was sometimes written as ‘bus.)

Eventually, horses were replaced with the internal combustion engine, but the buses … still with their upper deck and the stairway at the rear were called ‘Shillibeers’


Another hangover from those days was that, even when the upper deck was completely enclosed, it was still sometimes referred to as riding on the ‘outside’ … the ‘inside’ was, of course, the lower deck.

Strictly speaking, the word ‘bus’ should be confined to vehicles with a set route and timetable. I heard of one coach operator who is supposed to have threatened his drivers with dismissal if he heard them referring to their coach as a ‘bus’. The old-fashioned word for this is ‘charabanc’ … from the French char a banc (‘Car with benches’). But, maybe that’s a subject for another post?

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