Posted by: travelrat | August 27, 2015

Looks Like We Gonna Need a Bigger Boat (video)

Port Lucaya: 21st March 2015

‘Looks like we gonna need a bigger boat!’

 GBB3

The design of the glass-bottomed boat did make photographing and video-ing through the glass bottom rather difficult, for the bottom of the boat was some distance from where we stood, and I suspect quite a bit of cropping went on to produce decent pictures,

GBB1

But, when they started feeding the fish from the side of the boat, things really began to happen, especially when the sharks arrived.  Caribbean reef sharks … which we were told don’t normally attack humans … but have been known to.

GBB2

Posted by: travelrat | August 25, 2015

Alaska

Photo by Kris Eichler

Photo by Kris Eichler

Even though the Alaska cruise is some way down the track, I’m reading as much as I can find about it, and the research is nearly as much fun as going there.

I was surprised how little I knew about the place … apart from gold, huskies, glaciers and Sarah Palin. I did remember once seeing a very old map, which postulated that Alaska was then thought to be an island. And, I also remembered the Senator from Alaska once threatening to cut the state in half, thereby making Texas the third largest state in the US.

Seriously, it is big enough to do that, and it also contains the northernmost, westernmost and easternmost points of the United States. That’s a good one for the trivia and quiz fans … the Aleutian Islands actually straddle the 180 degree antimeridian … the International Date Line takes an obliging jink westwards at this point, to avoid making things too complicated date-wise,

Now, Russia is just a loud shout across the strait, and it was the Russians who first came here in the 17th Century; the first settlement was by an expedition led by Vitus Bering a few years later. The Spanish also took an interest, which accounts for Spanish-sounding place names such as Valdez.

James Cook passed this way on his third voyage, which produced the first accurate mapping of the area, although his attempt to negotiate the North West Passage proved abortive. He was, however, forbidden to land, and certainly not to plant any flags, and Hereby Take Possession of the Territory in the Name of King George!

Russia sold it to the US for $7.2 million … that’s about 2c. an acre … in 1867, and they’ve probably been kicking themselves ever since. But, it only had the status of a US Territory; it didn’t become the 49th State till 1959. The border with Canada seems mainly to have been established by a ‘Neddy in an Office Who Likes Straight Lines’. Except for a long finger of land down the western coast, known as the Panhandle or the Inside Passage. That’s where we’ll be cruising.

Naturally, I don’t have any photos to show of this trip yet, so grateful thanks to my friend Kris Eichler, who did a similar trip and was kind enough to let me use some of her photos.

Posted by: travelrat | August 21, 2015

China Wrap Up

GHA Yu Gardens

We’ve now come to the end of our ‘China Diary’, and I’ll close it by once again singing the praises of our excellent National Escort, Linda Yang. Also worthy of a mention is Tony, the National Escort for the ‘Red Team’, a group of Australians whose tour sort of interweaved with ours. You’ll recognise him in the accompanying pictures, for he was immediately nicknamed ‘Gok Wan’, from a resemblance to that TV personality.

GL Linda

GK Linda and Tony

And, here’s a slide show of some of the guides, waiters and ordinary Chinese people we met along the way. As Arnold Schwartzenegger once said …. ‘We’ll be back!!’

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Posted by: travelrat | August 19, 2015

The Island Bus

Island Bus, Grand Bahama

Freeport: 21st March 2015

While most Bahamians who don’t have cars seem to get around in fairly modern minibuses, for the tourists, there’s the Island Bus. This, I think, is what public transport in the islands used to be like … chunky, brightly painted vehicles with no glass in the windows … probably, they never had … that have seen better days. We’d already had experience of an open-sided bus, albeit a more modern one, designed for touring, on Grand Turk.

But, these were more traditional vehicles, which looked as it they had seen better days. They just provided a shuttle service between the cruise terminal and Port Lucaya; a ten-minute drive normally, but half an hour in these delightful puddle-jumpers, crawling along at 20 mph.

Or, maybe ‘bouncing along’ would be a better phrase. It would be easy to assume there’s no MoT inspection, or even a driving test in the Bahamas, for neither of the two drivers we rode with seemed to have much idea about how to control a manual gear box … which frequently demonstrated why it’s sometimes called a ‘crash box’.

Posted by: travelrat | August 17, 2015

Nieuw Amsterdam

 Nieuw Amsterdam. Picture by kind courtesy of Holland America Line


Nieuw Amsterdam. Picture by kind courtesy of Holland America Line

First of all, grateful thanks to Holland America Line, for giving me permission to use this excellent picture of Nieuw Amsterdam, on which we’re to cruise to Alaska from Vancouver in May.

She was built in Venice in 2010, and dedicated by Princess (now Queen) Maxima of the Netherlands on 4th July 2010. Probably a date deliberately chosen, for Nieuw Amsterdam was the former name of New York.

She’s the fourth ship of that name to sail under the Holland America flag … and a further cry from the first Nieuw Amsterdam, a steamship which also carried a full set of sails, is difficult to imagine. Actually, that ship, launched in 1906, carried more passengers than the present ship.

The ship weighs in at 86,000 tons and carries just over 2000 passengers spread over eleven decks … about the same size as some other ships we’ve sailed on, and are comfortable with. As someone once said: small enough to integrate with your fellow passengers, but big enough to avoid the ones you don’t like!

Posted by: travelrat | August 14, 2015

Yu Gardens: Video

YG7

Shanghai: 22nd May 2014.

There’s not a lot more to say about the Yu Gardens without repeating myself, so here’s the video.

Posted by: travelrat | August 12, 2015

Freeport, Grand Bahama

Freeport 1

Freeport: 21st March 2015

All right, so it’s a ‘free port’ … but surely they could have thought of a more imaginative name for it? It was certainly a contrast to Miami, though; from where we were moored, shops, bars and restaurants were within walking distance. But, the main shopping area is about 10 miles away, at Port Lucaya, which can be reached by means of ramshackle buses, formerly public transport for the islanders, which provide a half-hourly service.

We boarded one of these buses, but not to go shopping. Our glass-bottomed boat tour also left from Port Lucaya. At first, we drove through the vast, rather ordinary complex that it Freeport, and I had some misgivings. Was the whole island of Grand Bahama going to turn out to be one huge trading estate?

Freeport 2

 Fortunately, it didn’t, and the featureless blockhouses eventually gave way to something more West Indian. Port Lucaya was buzzing, lively and colourful … even though its main purpose seemed to be selling stuff for visitors.

 It might be thought that the glass-bottomed boat came too hard on the heels of the semi-submersible at St Maarten, but we saw something we didn’t see on that occasion. Sharks! But, more about that later.

We didn’t want to go back to the ship after the boat trip, so we chose a restaurant called ‘Le Med’, where we had a delicious and reasonably-priced beef kebab, washed down with ‘Sands’, an acceptable and cooling local beer. And, since it was open-sided … a large verandah, really … when some fellow passengers came by, we were able to chat without them actually coming into the restaurant.

We were also able to catch up on email and stuff, for there was free wifi here. But, one of the crew had said earlier that you could sit down almost anywhere in Port Lucaya, and have a fairly good chance of picking up a signal.

Le Med. Port Lucaya

Posted by: travelrat | August 10, 2015

Next Year: Alaska

DCIM100GOPRO

Not only have we got our next trip planned, but we’ve also started work on the one after that. Next Spring, we’ll be cruising to Alaska from Vancouver, aboard Holland America Lines’ Nieuw Amsterdam.

We’ll be calling at Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan, and cruising Glacier Bay. We haven’t, though, gone hard and fast on any excursions we’ll do there yet. Will it be the season for whales? Will the bears be out of hibernation yet? We shall see!

Naturally, I don’t have any photos yet, but here’s one of Holland America’s Rotterdam at Gibraltar. I think that Nieuw Amsterdam is a bit bigger, but still within the bounds of the size I’m comfortable with. I’ll post more when I’ve researched it a little further.

Posted by: travelrat | August 7, 2015

Yu Gardens: Slide Show

YG9

Shanghai: 22nd May 2014.

As most of us know, and the Chinese know very well, a garden is the place to go when you want to chill out and relax. And, it’s even more relaxing when the garden isn’t yours, and you know that, if you come across a bed that needs weeding, or a lawn that needs cutting … you don’t have to do it!

We’ve probably gone a bit overboard on the gardens this trip, but I got some great pictures. I have a board called ‘Gardens’ on Pinterest; it’s at https://uk.pinterest.com/keithkellett/gardens/ if you want to take a look. So, I have enough stuff to keep that going for quite a while.

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Posted by: travelrat | August 5, 2015

When You’re Up To Your Ass In Alligators ….

The Everglades: 21st March 2015

‘When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s difficult to remember you came to drain the swamp’ (Cajun proverb)

GP1

When we finished the airboat ride, there are a few things to see around the Gator Park centre. They keep a few ‘gators around, presumably to cover the extremely unlikely event that you won’t see any from the airboat. They also have baby alligators to show … the general consensus was that they were ‘cute’, and it’s hard to imagine that they’d grow up into a gnarly mean killing machine.

GP2

And, there was a demonstration of alligator wrestling, as practised by the local Native American tribes, who hunted the beasts for food. Anyone who’s ever seen the ‘Crocodile Hunter’ series on TV will be familiar with the technique; you just drop on it and hold its jaws shut.

I can’t say I felt too happy seeing this procedure. I seem to remember the late Steve Irwin, on one of his programmes, saying it does stress the animal, and they only did it at Australia Zoo when it was essential for relocating or medicating, never ‘for show’.

GP3

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