Posted by: travelrat | October 6, 2022

Throwback Thursday: Madurodam

This appealing ‘miniature Netherlands’ is only a short distance from Scheveningen. A No. 9 tram towards The Hague from the Kurhaus stop will take you right to the main gate.

This is the Netherlands as you always imagined it was … in miniature, at a scale of 1/25 … and, all the clichés I was asked to avoid! Here, you can see the Parliament building and Royal Palace at The Hague, the Alkmaar cheese market, the tall, narrow canal houses of Amsterdam and Schiphol Airport, all at a glance.

Ships sail on the harbours and canals, windmills turn, cars negotiate the little streets and trains traverse the area on what’s claimed to be the world’s largest miniature railway. And, of course, there’s a miniature tulip field!

The attraction is open all the year round; and, I think I was lucky. I visited in the early evening one Spring day, and found it quite pleasant. But, judging by the size of the car park, it can get quite crowded.

Posted by: travelrat | October 4, 2022

Meerkats

I am fascinated by these little guys. I’d love to be able to photograph or video some in the wild, but I don’t have any plans to visit Africa in the immediate future. But, I have plenty of pictures taken in various zoos and safari parks, usually doing what meerkats do … which consists mainly of digging holes.

Meerkats first came to attention some years ago, when they appeared on a TV documentary … one of David Attenborough’s, I think … where a group of them were about their usual excavations, while a couple of them stood on their hind legs, keeping watch, What a lot of viewers found attractive was their habit if swivelling their heads, tracking anything with a dangerous potential, They’d ‘sound the alarm’ in the event of any serious threat, whereupon the entire group would disappear underground.

They were so appealing that, soon, they had their own TV series, Meerkat Manor.

Then, along come an insurance comparison site, ‘Compare the Market’. Their commercials featured a meerkat who spoke with a Russian accent, complaining that people looking for insurance kept visiting his site, ComparetheMeerkat. com. It must have been a good formula; ‘Aleksander Orloff’ and his friends can still frequently be seen on our TV screens after many years.

And, it’s probably why many zoos and safari parks have meerkats, for with a lot of folks immediately make a bee-line.

Posted by: travelrat | October 2, 2022

Talking Spanish

I have spent most of the Summer with an excellent little book with which you can teach yourself Spanish … backed up with any Spanish language podcasts and videos I can find on the Web. Of course, I don’t expect to learn perfect Spanish … I think you have to live in Spain to do that. But, I hope I’ll learn enough to avoid going into a carniceria and expecting to buy a loaf of bread, I remember a French friend:

‘Si tu peux discuter des affaires politiques avec un français, tu peux parler français!’

No, I can’t discuss politics with a Frenchman, and don’t expect to do so with a Spaniard. But, I expect to be able to order more than a ham and cheese toastie next time.

Posted by: travelrat | September 29, 2022

Throwback Thursday:Tram No. 6

The well-known fictional character Count Dracula is believed to be based on a rather unsavoury mediaeval blot called Vlad Drakul, also called Vlad the Impaler, because he impaled people and … trust me … more than that, you don’t want to know.

You can get a fair idea of what he looked like by visiting Schloss Ambras, just outside Innsbruck. First it was a castle, then a palace, and now it’s an art gallery and museum. And, among the pictures is a likeness of Vlad himself. It may well be a genuine likeness, because it’s a 16th Century copy of an earlier one, painted at the time when the subject was still alive, as opposed to Undead.

A good way to get to the Schloss from Innsbruck is to take the No. 6 tram, which heads uphill, past the Schloss to the mountain resort of Igls. The scenic quality is somewhat impaired by trees in the early stages, but later, if you’ve decided to head for the hills after viewing the pictures, allows impressive views of the city below, and of (weather permitting) Alpine meadows with a back-drop of formidable, sometimes snow-capped mountains.

Sometimes, they run a ‘nostalgia tram’ on this route. It’s not widely advertised; I’d heard it suggested that might be because an old tram isn’t always available, and someone who came especially to ride on it might be disappointed.

They have old tram-cars on display at the Tiroler Localbahnmuseum near the tram-sheds at the old Stubaitalbahn station, but it’s only open on Saturdays. On other days, though, it’s quite common practice to take an old tram from the museum, and run it on one of the city’s routes. The fare you pay is exactly what you pay on the regular trams…. that’s nothing if you bought an ‘Innsbruck Card’, which is good for many museums, the Alpine Zoo and other attractions, as well as all public transport (including cable-cars and a funicular railway into the surrounding mountains)

This particular set was hauled by an electric tram built for the IVB (Innsbruck public transport service) in 1909. The two coaches dated from 1904 … one passenger wondered if they were originally horse-drawn, but it’s more probable that they were designed for use with a steam locomotive.

There’s a café cum souvenir shop at the tram station in Igls, which has a comprehensive display of photographs showing the history of the tramway, or the Mittelgebirgsbahn, as it’s sometimes known locally. Plenty of steam locomotives, but no horses!

The return trip to Innsbruck was the last run of the day for the old tram. It would only be going as far as the tram-sheds, where we were asked to transfer to a modern tram to continue the journey into the city. The ‘new’ No.6 was quieter, and much more comfortable … but nothing like as much fun.

Posted by: travelrat | September 27, 2022

Boat Safari Video

During the pandemic, I rarely used my GoPro … and didn’t use my editing software at all. So, a little practice was called for, producing the result you see here.

Then, the time came to upload it … and I’d completely forgotten my YouTube password, because I hadn’t used it for so long. I have plenty more footage I took at Longleat to practise on, so, hopefully, I can get it right before I get to use the gear in earnest.

Which won’t be long now.

Posted by: travelrat | September 25, 2022

Small Groups

The other day, I witnessed a tour group arriving at a well-known tourist attraction. What annoyed me is that there were well over fifty of them; the guide had to revert to a ‘Sergeant-Major bellow’ to make himself heard. Not good; I prefer groups where the guide talks to you rather than shouts at you. Having led a few tours myself in the past (Note: I described myself as a ‘tour leader’, NOT a guide, which requires a specialist qualification) I preferred groups of about half a dozen ,,, 10 or 12, top weight. If I have to raise my voice, my group is too big.

I’ve nothing against coach tours, just the mentality which requires some people think of themselves joined at the hip. For instance, there was a coachload descended on one of my favourite coffee shops … and gave the manager a hard time because she didn’t have enough room for all of them.

(We’re a Group!! she was told, when she suggested some of them might try another coffee bar, only a few steps away.)

Two of us once slipped away in Cologne, to check out a bierhalle I’d been recommended by a friend. After a memorable evening, we were greeted by an accusing:

‘Where have you been? We missed you at dinner!’

We later learned that we hadn’t missed much … and, for the rest of the tour, ‘jumped ship’ whenever we could.

Over the years, we’ve discovered that a ‘small group’ … or even, a private tour … is the way to go. It may cost a little more, but I think it’s worth it.

Posted by: travelrat | September 22, 2022

Throwback Thursday: Casa de Campo

With a morning to kill in Madrid, it was really too nice a day to spend on museums and art galleries. So, I went to the Casa de Campo, a green open space to the west of the city. There’s a cable car from near the Argüelles Metro station to a hill overlooking the city, from which some good views can be had. Unfortunately, it doesn’t start running till noon. So, I thought I’d walk to the top station, and ride down … and still be in plenty of time for my 2 pm. Appointment.

I even had time for a look around the extensive rose-garden near the bottom station. Some of the roses were just starting to flower … it was mid-April, and my roses at home hadn’t even budded.

Although finding the way up is fairly easy … you just follow the cables … it isn’t all green space. There’s a railway, a motorway and a river to be dealt with. But, these are provided with bridges at strategic points.  One is a really imposing bridge over what, to be honest, is a rather slight river. A visitor to Madrid once remarked that the citizens should either sell the bridge, or buy a river! The houses on the banks of the River Mazanares are easily negotiated, too and, after you’ve crossed the motorway by means of a footbridge, they’re all left behind.

Just trees, grass, flowers and a maze of paths … and plenty of views of Madrid. It takes about an hour to reach the top station, where there’s a mirador, or viewpoint. And, a surprise! Use of the seaside-type fixed telescopes is free!

For some reason, I can’t lay my hands on any pictures of the Casa de Campo. So, here’s one of a great Spanish custom. TAPAS!!!
Posted by: travelrat | September 20, 2022

The Boat Safari

The ‘Tuesday Dish’ is back!

Longleat: 10th September 2022

Our recent visit to the Longleat Safari Park means I can resume ‘real time’ blogging, instead of the flashbacks and memories I’ve recently been posting. However, in the next few weeks, I’ll be posting about each attraction post by post, rather than dealing with it piecemeal. I’d like to keep these posts going until November, when we shall, hopefully, be resuming ‘real’ travelling again.

So, the first thing we tried was the Boat Safari. Two boats ply on the lake, demonstrating the wildlife that lives there. The island on the lake is inhabited by Colobus Monkeys, the gorillas which formerly lived there have been evicted to another site on the mainland. There are seals and sea-lions, and I think it’s the only place in the UK where hippos can be seen in anything like their natural environment. Unfortunately, this time, the hippos weren’t too obliging; all we could see were their backs. But, I have pictures taken on a previous visit … and some very old ones I took in Africa.

The only word of advice I have is … at peak times, get there early! We were second in line waiting for the facility to open. I have heard tales of people in the long queue who got to know their fellow visitors well enough to exchange Christmas cards!

Colobus Monkey
Posted by: travelrat | September 18, 2022

Walking the Camera … On the Wild Side

The other day, we went to Longleat. The main objective was to see the hot-air balloons, which were on show that weekend. But, among other things, we visited the Safari Park. Now, we’ve been there many times before, but I wanted to refresh my skills at animal photography.

Of course, pictures taken at a safari park are no substitute for ones taken in the wild; indeed, it’s cheating, if not downright dishonest to try to pass them off as such. I’ve probably said before, but it’s worth repeating … always say where your animal pictures were taken.

It’s worth remembering that many animals, especially Big Cats are nocturnal creatures. Therefore, you’re more likely to see them just slonking in the sun … if you see them at all. That’s why we didn’t see any tigers at Ranthambore; we didn’t see any at Longleat, either. We did see cheetahs and lions, though … although they were just somnolent, and probably waiting for the truck to come round with the next meal. That’s another difference. I once heard it said that even if the lions got into the deer park, they wouldn’t know what to do.

There was one exception. I managed to get one of the male lions just raising its head … before it approached one of the females, and started making little lions.  Yes. I did get a picture … but I’m not going to post it here.

I did get some reasonable pictures of the herbivores around the place. And, anyway, it’s just practice … for Costa Rica, where I hope to get some good wildlife pictures. If the creatures stand still long enough, and aren’t too well hidden.

Posted by: travelrat | September 15, 2022

Throwback Thursday: Xania

The first time we visited Xania, we didn’t think much of it. Mind you, we only went in to pick someone up from one of the hotels, and what we saw of the town wasn’t really much …  rather untidy, characterless suburbs. But, on subsequent visits we changed our minds.

We looked around the harbour, where Venetian buildings are dominated by what was once a Byzantine mosque, with a fort on one end, and a lighthouse (unfortunately, covered in scaffolding) at the other. The buildings were once warehouses and are now cafés and bars … the ground floors, anyway. Behind them is the old town; a maze of narrow streets, where all kinds of shops are.

They’re rather reminiscent of an Arab market, except the shopkeepers aren’t quite so persistent! We were rather surprised that ‘the season’ starts on a definite date; the Eastern Orthodox Easter. On one day, we could just eat and drink, and walk around. Only a couple of days later, horse-drawn calèches glass-bottomed boats and ‘trips around the bay’ were plying for hire.

We saw a number of ‘groups’ being conducted around the place, and did think of holding up a newspaper, or something, and seeing how many ‘tourists’ we could collect. And, we were rather amused by a guide we heard, telling his clients that the Venetians ‘weren’t very good builders’.

We didn’t think that, considering the buildings are 400 years old, and have survived several bombing raids, and, in some cases, decades of neglect, they haven’t done badly!

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