Posted by: travelrat | August 25, 2019

Give Us a Sign

If you scroll back far enough in the blog, you’ll find quite a few signs in my ‘Silly Signs’ series. I haven’t come across any lately, but I still photograph signs. The reasons are twofold:

Many years ago, some friends came back from one of those ‘if it’s Tuesday, this must be Brussels’ coach tours, and showed us their photographs … among much disagreement, even argument as to when, and most importantly where, each picture was taken. So, if I’m on such a multi-stop trip, the first thing I do is take a picture with the name of the place on it.


The second reason, I identified on our recent trip to Iceland. That is the only place in the world where Icelandic is spoken, and not many people outside Iceland speak it. So, the place names are sometimes quite complicated. Especially if they sound like someone trying to pronounce a mouthful of Lego bricks. If you remember the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, even the BBC newsreaders pronounced it ‘The Icelandic Volcano’.

(I wonder if Icelanders have similar problems dealing with places like Oswaldtwistle or Auchtermuchty?)


It’s not a new thing. When I was stationed in Germany, we had dealings with bases at Oberpfaffenhofen or Furstenfeldbruch; even our German colleagues used to call them ‘Obie’ and ‘Fursty’.


Fortunately, I’m writing about places we visited, so don’t have to pronounce them. But, a photograph of a sign or something does ensure I get the spelling right.

Posted by: travelrat | August 21, 2019

The Head of the Lake

Lake Lagarfljot: 21st June 2019

We drove right to the head of the lake, to visit the lovely little wooden Lutheran church at Valthofstadur. I really liked it for its simplicity; it’s for worshipping in, and meeting your friends, not for showing to tourists or demonstrating how clever the architect is. That’s a feature common to all the Nordic churches I’ve visited so far; the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø, and the Børgund Church at Ålesund.


Then to the Vatnajokull National Park Visitor Centre. This shows that you must read the descriptions of shore excursions very carefully. I was expecting to see the glacier itself, which is some distance away from the Centre. But, reading the itinerary more carefully revealed that it was never the intention; we were just going to the Visitor Centre, although we did receive a lecture about the glacier.

A short walk brought us to Skridusklaustur, once home of local author Gunnar Gunnarsson, now a museum dedicated to him, and a restaurant, with a most welcome coffee shop. It’s an unusual building, with the white cement between the black basalt stones; similar to the ‘spotty houses ‘ on the Hebridean Isle of Tiree.


(I’m sure I have a picture of a Hebridean ‘spotty house’ somewhere, but I can’t lay my hand on it at the moment)

A short walk away are the excavated foundations of a former monastery … and an excellent viewpoint for a good panorama of the valley.

Lake Lagarfljot

Posted by: travelrat | August 18, 2019



Erebus: The Story of a Ship

Michael Palin


(ISBN: 9781847948120)


I have to admit, the first reason I took this book out from the library was to find out more about an officer who took part in the abortive search for this ship, which was part of the doomed Franklin expedition of 1845. Captain (later, Admiral Sir) Henry Kellett commanded one of the ships involved in this search.

Although it would be nice to have an Admiral and a Sir in the family tree, I can’t claim him as an ancestor, because, as far as I can discover, he never married. Anyway, he only got a brief mention … about two lines … in the book, which is the story of a ship, not people.

The author of the work is Michael Palin, whose work I have long admired. He tells the story of Erebus and her sister ship Terror from their launch in 1826, through their disappearance in 1845 to the discovery of their wreckage in 2014 and 2016 respectively. And, of course, how they pieced together what may have happened to the ill-fated expedition.

They were originally constructed as bomb vessels; they mounted heavy mortars, so they could anchor offshore, and rain all manner of destruction on the ‘ungodly’. For this purpose, they needed to be stronger and more sturdily built than most ships of the day, and this made them suitable for polar exploration, for which they were most noted.

Their voyages took them to Antarctica, but mainly to northern waters, in search of the fabled North-West Passage. All of this, Palin, after extensive researches, recounts in an engaging, and easily understood style, without sounding too scholarly.

And, the name of the two ships lives on … Erebus and Terror are the names given to two volcanoes in Antarctica.

Posted by: travelrat | August 14, 2019


Seydisfjordur 1

Seydisfjordur: 21st June 2019.  

We’ve finally arrived in Iceland, and moored at Seydisfjordur. It’s been a herring port, and a WWII naval base, but there are now few obvious signs of these. Now, it’s a picturesque little town of just 700 souls, which receives the occasional ferry from Norway … and, of course, cruise ships. It lies at the head of a stunning fjord, enclosed by steep cliffs and numerous waterfalls, one of which, near the town, divides, and falls over the cliff in a twin cascade.

Seydisfjordur 2

The town is worth an exploration in its own right, being mainly made up of wooden buildings, painted in pleasing pastel colours. But we went on an excursion which led up a zig-zag road over a mountain pass into the valley of Lake Lagarfljot, the one of the largest lakes in Iceland, on the shores of which lies the town of Egilsstadir.

As we descended into Egilsstadir, we passed extensively forested slopes, which somewhat surprised me. I had been under the impression that the number of decent-sized trees in Iceland could be counted on your fingers. I asked the guide about this, and he said my informant must have visited a long time ago, or he visited the wrong part of Iceland. There is, in fact, an extensive forestry programme going on.

I’m not too impressed with Egilsstadir; it looks like just about anywhere else in Europe.  But, the drive along the banks of the lake is really something. Still more trees have been planted here, and, since Lagarfljot is a long, deep, glacier-gouged lake, I was reminded a little of Loch Ness. And, in common with Loch Ness, there’s also reputed to be a monster, lurking in its depths!

Egilsstadir and L. Lagarfljot

Posted by: travelrat | August 11, 2019


Pyramids & Sphinx

If you glance at the ‘Egypt’ page on this blog, you’ll see I’ve been to Egypt three times. I’ve always had the wish to return yet again, for various reasons. The desire for monochrome pictures has gone away; I now have software that will convert colour pictures to mono … even ‘antique’ them a little if I want. I still want to make digital video I can share, though.

That list was added to by the recent Channel 5 series The Nile with Bettany Hughes. She journeyed up the river in a dahabiya, that is, a barge pulled by a tug-boat, with a little assist from sails in the bow and stern. It looked a marvellously appointed vessel, although the sole passenger seemed to be Professor Hughes … and, presumably, her camera crew. I’d assume, in normal times, it carries passengers on Nile cruises?

SE39-Nile Village

If it doesn’t, there’s the venerable steam-driven paddle-wheeler, Sudan, to which she paid a brief visit. This is the vessel on which Agatha Christie sailed, and which gave her the inspiration for her famous novel Death on the Nile, and which featured in both the film, starring Peter Ustinov and the TV play starring David Suchet. The ship was ‘disguised’ as the PS Karnak … presumably, they didn’t want to discourage potential passengers of the Sudan.

(I just had a look at the prices; when I’ve finished this, I’m going out to buy a lottery ticket!)

The main reason Egypt remains on the bucket list is simply the number of times throughout the series, I exclaimed:

‘Hey! We didn’t see that!’

Some of the places were only found since our last visit in 2006, some were just unreachable … and others, it seems you have to be a Professor to get an invite to. But, enough remains to put a return visit to Egypt a little higher up the list.


Posted by: travelrat | August 7, 2019

Another Sailaway


Faroe Islands. 20th June 2019

We were due to leave the Faroes at 2 p.m., but this slipped a bit, owing to the ship’s late arrival due to fog. What had been planned was that Katerina, the saxophonist from the ship’s band, would give a recital out on the deck as the ship sailed up the fjord.

However, her schedule wasn’t as flexible as the ship’s … she had to come and give a performance at 2 p.m., even though Marco Polo was still firmly moored to the dock.

I don’t think I can embed the video here, as I didn’t upload it to YouTube. But, you can see it at

Posted by: travelrat | August 4, 2019

Tipping Points

Back in the 18th Century, the coffee house was starting to gain popularity in London. Some of them used a container of some kind for any gratuities that might be forthcoming, labelled ‘To Insure Promptness’ … which soon got abbreviated simply to ‘TIP’, and another word entered the English language. And, in some places, not only did it ‘insure promptness’; it sometimes insured that you got served at all.

Now, I have no objection to tipping somebody who has, as they say, gone the extra mile; the taxi driver who helps you with your bags, for instance, or the hotel receptionist who booked some tours for you. What gets under my toenails is those who expect a tip just for doing their job. Closely followed by those writers who tell you who, and how much you ought to tip.

I usually just say ‘Something for yourself?’ or just ‘Keep the change!’

A thing I haven’t got used to yet is if I pay by card. Sometimes, the machine asks ‘Do you want to give a gratuity?’ That, to me, sounds like someone soliciting a tip; a sure way of ensuring you don’t get one! But, as card payment becomes more popular, I think this feeling will, given time, go away.

My rough guide is to look at the French word for tip, pourboire (literally ‘for drink’). Just find out roughly how much a glass of beer, or a cup of coffee costs, and give approximately that amount.

‘But, they depend on tips!’ I hear voices raised in protest. My answer is, usually … I wouldn’t mind paying a bit extra up front, if you paid your staff a decent wage. On the up side, though, I do know of a few … very few … places where the offer of a tip is seen as patronising; sometimes, downright rude.

What I really object to is those who tip just about anyone who does them a service, no matter how small. I’m sorry, but I just can’t see that paying a pound is any way to say ‘Thank you for opening the door and bowing in a sufficiently obsequious fashion’.

The best ‘tipping story’ was one told to me by the staff of the Exbury Garden Railway some years ago. One lady liked the ride so much that she sought out the driver and tipped him a pound … unaware that, on that day, the driver was the railway’s owner and founder, Mr. Leopold de Rothschild … one of the richest men in Britain!

Posted by: travelrat | July 31, 2019

Torshavn Slide Show


Torshavn. 20th June 2019

I’ve always been attracted to colourful, painted houses. I like bold, brash colours, but soft pastels come a close second. I have heard several reasons for this practice; so that fishermen and sailors could recognize their village from out at sea, or, maybe they just used any paint they could scrounge from passing ships. Or, it could be they just like bright colours.

Might I respectfully suggest another reason? Torshavn receives an average of 280 wet days a year … and we picked one of those 280 days to visit. If I lived in such a rainy area, I think I’d paint my house a bright colour, too!

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Posted by: travelrat | July 28, 2019

What’s In A Name?

The other day, I received a ‘Friend Request’ on Facebook from a former colleague, Roger Fenwick. What I remember about Roger was how he pronounced his name. ‘Convention’ tells us that it’s properly pronounced as ‘Fennick’, but he used to sound the W.

‘I just got tired of correcting people!’ he used to say.

I thought of some other people I used to know, who must also have got tired of correcting people: Mahoney (mar-nee), Colquhoun (ka-hoon), Menzies (ming-iss) Wemyss (weems) Dalziel (dee-el) and many more.

Even though I get irritated when asked to spell my name … or even saying ‘That’s with two Ts’ … I think back to my friend Roy. He was with a group of colleagues checking into a hotel … and most them weren’t English. So, the receptionist hit on the idea of asking them to spell their names.



‘P-E-double R-O-T-E’


Then came Roy’s turn. Without a flicker, he intoned:


Posted by: travelrat | July 24, 2019

The Faroes

Sailing into Kollafjordur

Faroe Islands. 20th June 2019

We tied up at Kollafjordur, where there is nothing but a fish cannery and a few houses and has a population of only about a 700 souls.  Fortunately, there was a free shuttle bus to the nearby capital of Torshavn. In fact, we read a claim that anyone who just rode the bus into the town, and returned immediately would get something from the ride alone.

Considering its remoteness, Torshavn is an extremely busy harbour, surrounded by brightly painted wooden houses, many of which had a turf roof.  ‘People still live in them’ said the helpful young man at the Tourist Information kiosk ‘Please respect that!’

(That young man’s helpfulness really came to the fore when a fellow passenger slipped and broke his leg. His companions went to the Tourist Information kiosk to summon help, and he went up there, called an ambulance and ensured that the ship’s administration were informed)

We only had a couple of hours here. The ship had been supposed to arrive at 7 am, but was delayed by fog.

So, even though our departure was put back in 2.30 pm, we only had a short time there. And, it was raining! But, considering that the Faroes have, on average, 280 wet days in a year, that’s hardly surprising.

We had just enough time, really, for a quick look around, buy a postcard for the scrapbook, have a coffee and catch up on email … and the rain discouraged a longer stay.

Torshavn 2


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