Posted by: travelrat | April 27, 2017

Riding the Ffestiniog Railway

Blaenau Ffestiniog

Porthmadog: 1st April 2017

If, back in the 19th Century, James Spooner had been told to survey a route for a scenic railway, instead of one for the more everyday purpose of conveying slate down to Porthmadog, I think he’d have come up with exactly the same thing.

The Ffestiniog Railway does indeed give a superb view of some of the best of the Welsh countryside … although the same could be said of most of the former slate railways that now serve as popular tourist attractions.

When we descended from the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, the train was waiting for us, drawn, I was delighted to see, by Merddin Emrys, one of the railway’s famous steam ‘double enders’. For the moment, I’ll just show a picture; I’ll go into the history and technical aspects later.

Ffestiniog-1

I was disappointed that we didn’t stop at Tan-y-Grisiau station, for this, in my view, was one of the best stops, with the artificial Llyn Tan-y-Grisiau on one side, and a pretty waterfall on the other. I did a painting here back in the 1970s … but it wasn’t very good, and I think I threw it out ages ago, anyway.

Tan-y-Grisiau is on the ‘Deviation’ which was necessitated when the upper part of the line was submerged by the lake, and presently, you’ll be able to see the line of the original track, which is rejoined at Dduallt, by means of the only railway spiral in Britain.

Llyn Tan-y-Grisiau

So … comfortable carriages, big windows, and, if you want to take photos without reflections, there’s a window you can open by the carriage door. So, just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Shortly before arrival at Porthmadog, you pass Boston Lodge, where the engines and rolling stock are sored, restored … and built! At the moment, a new ‘double ender’, James Spooner, is under construction.

Porthmadog lies on the other side of the estuary if the Afon Glaslyn, which is crossed by the artificial embankment known as the Cob, which also carries a footpath and the A497 road.

Eventually, the train steams into Porthmadog … but that’s not necessarily the end of the trip, for the station is shared with the Welsh Highland Railway, owned by the same company, which runs to Caernarfon.

But, that’s for another day!

 

Disclosure: I rode the Ffestiniog Railway as the guest of North Wales Tourism.

 

Posted by: travelrat | April 25, 2017

Iguazu Falls: The Argentinian Side

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Iguazu Falls: 31st January 2017

Today, we visited the Argentinian side of the falls. The Brazilian side was impressive enough, but that’s only 20% of the vast complex of waterfalls … and the Argentinian ones surpass even them.

It’s a bit of a hassle crossing the Argentinian border, but the guide did all the necessary. We just stayed on the coach, and went back to sleep. We did the same procedure on the following day, when we flew to Buenos Aires. We crossed to Puerto Iguazu airport on the Argentinian side, so we would be on a domestic flight, and wouldn’t have to go through immigration at BA. Sitting in a coach for 40 minutes beats standing in a queue hands down!

Train to Iguazu

On the Brazilian side, we rode to the Falls on a land train. Here, there’s a proper narrow-gauge railway. From the train, we took a walk; similar to the one on the Brazilian side, only much better. At first, I thought I might describe the Brazilian side as ‘stately’ … until I took the boat ride! But, it’s difficult to find a word to describe the Argentinian side. Tumultuous? Boisterous? Both words seem so inadequate.

When Eleanor Roosevelt visited the falls, all she could say was ‘Poor Niagara!’

Iguazu 2

The highlight is a raging maelstrom called the ‘Devil’s Throat’ which really needs to be seen at first hand, for no photo or video could ever capture it completely. And, certainly, no boat could ever approach it … it wouldn’t last five seconds!

The trail is only one of several in the area; after lunch, we took the low-level one. That was no anti-climax; if it was possible I could happily spend much more time exploring the area

Posted by: travelrat | April 23, 2017

Travel Theme: Earth

Earth 1

‘Save the Earth. It’s the only planet with beer!’ (Unknown)

I’m a great addict of quiz shows, and I’m often amused at the number of times contestants get questions related to a particular place wrong.

‘Which planet has only one moon?’

‘Which planet lies between Mars and Venus?’ Or even:

‘Name a planet that begins with the letter E’

The answer, of course, is Earth, and it’s surprising how little people know that, or know much about it. Especially since it’s the place we all live, and, at the moment, the only planet we’ve got.

Some time ago, the late Arthur C. Clarke said something to the effect that we know more about the surface of the Moon than what lies under the surface of our own oceans. But, of course, that knowledge is increasing, thanks to the researches of pioneers Beebe and Barton, right through to the present members of the Cousteau family … and brought into our living rooms by Sir David Attenborough and his like.

Earth 2

Nevertheless, I’ve read reports of sea creatures washed up having ingested fatal amounts of plastic, and seen a distressing photo of a turtle with its shell horribly distorted, through having been caught, when much younger, in the plastic thingy that holds a six-pack of beer together.

Earth 3

You just need to take a walk along a beach to find plastic in all its shapes and forms. Where does it come from? Probably not from ships; most cruise lines frown on anyone throwing anything overboard. Anyone caught doing so might be put off at the next port … and counting themselves lucky that walking the plank would go against the ‘nothing overboard’ policy.

Earth 4

So, make sure that, when you’ve finished your water, or whatever, the bottle goes in a recycle bin. It can be recycled; I’m informed that my fleece jacket was made from recycled plastic bottles. But, I’ve been told not to wash it too often; the scientists say that the plastic microfibres are harmful to sealife, too.

My contribution to the weekly ‘Travel Theme’ More at https://wheresmybackpack.com/2017/04/21/travel-theme-earth/

Earth 5

(I didn’t want to illustrate this piece with gloomy pictures of plastic litter, so I’ll use some pictures of this fantastic planet instead)

Posted by: travelrat | April 20, 2017

Downhill to Porthmadog

Fest 4a

‘If you steal a sheep, they’ll hang you, but if you steal a mountain, they’ll make you a Lord’ says an old Welsh saying.

There’s evidence of this stealing of mountains all over Snowdonia. Where they haven’t carved the mountain out, and exported it all over the world, the slopes are littered with the stuff they didn’t want.

But, how did they carry away such large quantities, especially when a horse, or even a team of horses could only deal with a small amount?

If you lay down some sort of trackway, though, it reduces the friction considerably, so horses can manage a heavier load. That principle has been known about since mediaeval times; possibly even earlier than that. At Blaenau Ffestiniog, James Spooner surveyed such a trackway, right down to the port of Porthmadog, just over 13 miles away. He surveyed a route that was such that horses could be dispensed with on the downhill run. All that was necessary was a good push.

Brakemen ensured that the train didn’t gather too much momentum, and the horses rode down in specially built wagons called ‘dandies’, and used to haul the empty wagons back up to Blaenau Ffestiniog. Spooner became Manager of the line up to his death in 1844. He is remembered by ‘Spooner’s’, the café/bar at Porthmadog Station. (I expected to be offered stuff like chalk pops or ache and stale pie here … but that was another Spooner altogether)

Steam locomotives were introduced to the line in 1863. They hauled the empty wagons back to Blaenau Ffestiniog, but either returned to Porthmadog ‘running light’ or in charge of passenger or general goods trains. The slate trains continued to be driven by gravity alone until the closure of the line in 1939.

After the War, consideration began to be given to re-opening the line as a pleasure railway, and the first train ran, only a short distance from Porthmadog, in 1955. Gradually, using largely volunteer labour, the usable line was extended further, until it reached Dduallt … and an impasse.

The upper part of the line had been flooded by the construction of the artificial lake of Llyn Tan y Grisiau. Thus began the Deviation, constructed, again, by a largely volunteer work-force. It involved blasting out a tunnel, and construction of the only climbing loop in Britain. And, eventually, trains were able to run once more right to Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Fest 1a

I’ll tell about our ride later; meantime, I’ve illustrated this piece with (‘antiqued’ a little) scans of slides I took on an earlier visit.

Posted by: travelrat | April 18, 2017

Bow Falls and Bears

Bow Falls 1

Calgary: 19th May 2016

On our last day in Canada … it rained!

Our hotel was right on the outskirts of Banff, so I had time for a quick look around to get some shots of the cloud, the mountains and the forest before the bus came to take us to Calgary Airport and home.

But, just after the bus had left Banff … we saw bears! Three black bears, presumably Daddy Bear, Mummy Bear and Little Baby Bear, wandering unconcernedly along the railway track, which ran parallel to the road. I sincerely hope they had read the train time-tables.

Unfortunately, this was just a shuttle to the airport, not a tourist coach, so the driver didn’t stop, or even slow down appreciably. And, since I didn’t think we’d have any photo opps, and I didn’t fancy sitting with my small backpack on my knee all the way to Calgary, my camera stuff was all in the bowels of the luggage compartment. With hindsight, maybe I should have slipped my GoPro into a pocket?.

So, the only bear picture we got from the whole trip was a not-very-good pic of the rear end of a black bear shambling away from an Alaskan roadside. As good an excuse as any for a return trip, I think?

When we got to the airport, I suddenly remembered something I’d forgotten; something you can’t leave Canada without. Maple syrup! Trouble is, the airport shops only sold it in maple-leaf-shaped souvenir bottles. I bought the smallest one, which should do for a few helpings of porridge. It was much later that one of my Canadian friends told me I could have gone into a supermarket, and bought a litre can of the stuff for about the same price.

I don’t want to leave the ‘Canada Diary’ with a picture of a grey, drizzly Banff … so, here’s a picture and a short video of the walk we did on the banks of the Bow River the previous day.

Music:

“Movement Proposition” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Posted by: travelrat | April 16, 2017

Travel Theme: Cook

Cook 1

What am I doing writing about cooking? My signature dish is spaghetti Bolognese, and my cooking has been described as sacré bleu rather than cordon bleu. But, I’ve been told my bacon and eggs are to kill for, and I have been known to whip up a presentable chili con carne … which is really just spag. bol. without the spag,  and some beans, chili powder and peppers added.

The other day, though, I tried a new recipe for chicken risotto. It turned out rather well … but I thought it tasted more like a paella. Or rather, what I think it tastes like. Sometimes, I think if you asked five Spanish ladies for a recipe for paella, you’d get eight different recipes! The only thing they agree on is don’t be tempted to use turmeric; always use saffron!

Cook 3

This is what I call cuisine sans frontiers. Once, in Venice, I ordered a cotelette milanese. This is a veal cutlet coated in breadcrumbs … which most people call a wiener schnitzel. The waiter agreed. He said ‘The Austrians stole the recipe from us!’  Then, in Brazil, we found the self-same thing … there, it’s called a milanesa.

Where I, and most other men excel … or claim to excel … is the barbecue. Almost invariably, the woman is assigned to preparing the salad. I swear, I once saw a man push his daughter, a griddle chef, from her own barbecue, which he then took over, then proceeded to reduce prime steak to pure carbon in the shortest time possible.

But, try telling Barbecue Man his barbie is pants; that’s like criticising his driving, or saying he’s no good in bed.

In the course of my travels, I’ve tried many cuisines. Chinese, Arab, French, Indian … but my favourite sort of alternates between Greek and Italian. Spanish has its place too, especially the tapas. I remembered the first time I tried patatas bravas. Basically, this is simply chips in tomato sauce, with a little (or more!) spice added. But, as I later found out, some patatas are more brava than others,

‘It’s our own special sauce.’ I was told ‘We call it ‘salsa sagrada’’

‘Holy sauce? Why?’ I asked.

‘Try some and see’. So, I did ….

‘JESUS CHRIST!!!’  I exclaimed.

And that, said the waiter, grinning, is what most folk say, and why we call it ‘Holy Sauce’

Cook 2

This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. More at https://wheresmybackpack.com/2017/04/15/travel-theme-cook/

Posted by: travelrat | April 13, 2017

Iguaçu Falls: Brazilian Side

Foz do Iguaçu: 30th January 2017

 You will come across different spellings for the falls. On the Argentinian side, where they speak Spanish, it’s ‘Iguazu’; on the Portuguese-speaking Brazilian side it’s ‘Iguaçu’ … or, ‘Iguassu’ if you have a typewriter that doesn’t do the cedilla, or you can’t find the ‘Character Map’.

Iguaçu 1

 Although the hotel we’re staying at is called the Viale Cataratas, and it’s on the Avenida das Cataratas, you can’t see the falls from the window … or even if you take a short stroll down the road. By my reckoning, the Brazilian Falls are a good dozen miles away, as the crow flies; probably nearer twenty by road.

And, you don’t go all the way by road. The coach drops you off at a point where a land train takes you part of the way to the start of a path which leads through the forest, past several different points from which the falls can be viewed.

Iguaçu Falls isn’t somewhere you spend an hour at, take a couple of pictures then hop on the coach to the next attraction. For a start, the National Park containing them is in two countries. Although we’re in the middle of a rain forest, we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife except for the coatis usually attracted by the food scraps left by visitors.

Coati 1

We took the ‘optional extra’ of a boat ride to the base of the falls. Not only did it get close, but actually entered one of them, thoroughly soaking all on board, much to their delight. And, I have a message for the people at ‘Regatta’. Your waterproofs aren’t!!

 However, my GoPro camera is waterproof, and I got some good footage. I shudder to think how a ‘regular’ camera would have come out of that torrent.

Iguassu Boat Ride-0

Dinner that night was another ‘Brazilian Barbecue’ in a nearby restaurant called ‘Rafain’ Just a buffet, carvery style dinner, but followed by a show of singing and dance from all over South America.

Posted by: travelrat | April 11, 2017

Travel Theme: Colour

My daily walk sometimes takes me past a street of houses. They were built by the Ministry of Defence in the 1950s, and I’m not sure if they’re still owned by the MoD, or if they’ve been sold on. But, they’re all a uniform colour of ‘magnolia’ that the MoD was so fond of, and some of that paint is looking a little tired.

Now, I wonder if there’d be any objection if one of those householders decided to paint his house a different colour; either a soft pastel or a more bold colour. Would his neighbours follow suit? Or, would he have the ‘Planning Police’ around? I’d like to try it myself, but my house is bare brick, that looks great in sunshine.

A question I often ask myself is … are we so constrained by the hand of Officialdom in England, or do we just like things to be ‘sub. fusc.’? So, this week, I thought I’d take a look at some of the colourful houses I’ve seen on my travels.

Colour 1

Burano, Italy

Colour 2

Kinsale, Ireland

Colour 3

Portofino, Italy

Colour 4

La Boca, Buenos Aires

Colour 5

Portmeirion, Wales

This week’s contribution to the ‘Travel Theme’. More at https://wheresmybackpack.com/2017/04/10/travel-theme-colours/

Posted by: travelrat | April 9, 2017

Llechwedd Slate Caverns

Royal Victoria Hotel, Llanberis

Snowdonia: 31st March/1st April 2017

We drove up the A4086 from Capel Curig towards Llanberis through mist, drizzle and fog. I was reminded of the opening chapter of ‘I Bought a Mountain’ … because, in the 1930s, author Thomas Firbank drove up this self-same road in similar conditions.

Our destination was Llanberis, where we were to spend a couple of days at the Royal Victoria Hotel as the guests of North Wales Tourism, who were going to show us some of the sights of the area.

The following morning, it was still misty and drizzly, but most mountain areas have a saying:  ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait a little while. Or, go into the next valley.’ We were indeed going into another valley … and, even if it was still raining there, we were going to visit the Llechwedd Slate Caverns which, as the name suggests, are underground, and in the dry!

The whole area around Blaenau Ffestiniog was devoted to slate mining, although little, if any, goes on nowadays. But, the evidence is everywhere; a mass of slate litter almost as far as the eye can see, for the rejection rate was high. The gangs that quarried and dressed the slate, usually a family group, were only paid for the ones that passed muster.

So, with the demise of slate mining, what could be done to attract visitors? They’ve installed a series of ziplines here for the adventurous … and a tour of the mine for the less adventurous. After being equipped with a hard hat, we were taken down on a funicular railway … the same kind used in cliff railways at some seaside resorts. We then had a short guided tour, which culminated in a large chamber, where projected images of miners told the story of life down the mine far more graphically that a guide’s narrative.

It was indeed a hard … and usually, short … life, and I wonder if anyone who lived under a Welsh slate roof ever gave any thought to the hardship of those who won it?

There’s another use for the caves, as well. Since the temperature and humidity down there are almost constant, they’re used for storing and maturing locally made cheese. They gave us some to take away with us … and very nice it was, too!

Llechwedd Slate Caverns

Disclosure: I travelled to Snowdonia as the guest of North Wales Tourism.

Posted by: travelrat | April 6, 2017

Sulphur Mountain Video

Sulphur Mountain 4

Sulphur Mountain: 18th May 2016

 I’ll round up our trip up Sulphur Mountain with a video … and, finally, I’ve managed to show footage of a cable car without slipping in a few seconds of the theme from When Eagles Dare.

The music is “Floating Cities” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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