Posted by: travelrat | July 4, 2017

Scratch Maps


Among my Christmas presents was a World Map to hang on the wall. But, it wasn’t an ordinary map; it worked on the principle of a scratch card … you were supposed to scrape off and uncover the countries you’d been to. But, it wasn’t quite that easy.

‘Do we uncover the places I’ve been to, or just the ones we’ve both been to?’

We decided on the latter, so that was Libya, Botswana, Denmark and Malta ruled out.

Now, if you look at the larger countries, you’ll see the states and provinces of most of them are shown. So, Florida, Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, Alberta and all Australian states except Western Australia were scratched off. China, we could have the whole country, because we spent three weeks touring it.

Not Russia. It seems wrong to uncover the whole country, when we only spent ten hours in St. Petersburg.

‘But, you scratched Sweden off, and we only spent two hours there!’

That’s a bit of a problem; you can’t ‘unscratch’ anywhere. But hey, you’re not going to be jailed or fined if you ‘break the rules’ occasionally, so who’s worried?

Posted by: travelrat | July 2, 2017

Sea Lions


When we visited Kangaroo Island in 2003, I was somewhat amused to go to Seal Bay, but find no seals. Because, despite the name, this is the haunt of the Australian Sea Lion … and they’re there in plenty. Maybe the bay’s original discoverers thought they were seals?

‘What is the difference, anyway?’ I asked. A ranger explained that the usual way to tell was that the sea-lion has external ear flaps; the seal doesn’t.

Another, perhaps more obvious way, I found when I consulted the ‘Gospel According to St. Google’ after our visit to Puerto Madryn. Since a sea-lion spends more time ashore than a seal does, it can rotate its hind flippers, to form rudimentary ‘legs’, and thus can walk on land, whereas a seal must slide on its belly.

Although we saw plenty of sea-lions at Puerto Madryn, the RIB didn’t approach them too closely; I think it’s forbidden to, by law. Some people in kayaks got much closer … but paddling a kayak all the way out to the point is really too much like hard work.

I zoomed in as much as I could, and, when I got home, zoomed in some more on the computer. I managed to produce some satisfactory, if not great results. The video, on the other hand, was absolute pants, and I junked it.

So, I got enough to produce a slide show, which I’ve bulked out with some of the pictures I took on Kangaroo Island in 2003.

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Posted by: travelrat | June 29, 2017

Travel Theme: Abroad


‘Abroad’ isn’t a word I use very often, because, not only has it a number of meanings, but they can change according to where you are! If you take the first definition ‘ … in or to a foreign country’ … could I be said to be ‘going abroad’ if I travelled to Scotland or Wales? Or even Ireland? Time is a factor, too. If someone who lived in Prague decides to go to Bratislava, he’s travelling to another country, therefore ‘going abroad’.

But, not too long ago, he wouldn’t be, because the two cities were in the same country, Czechoslovakia.

In Europe, anyway, I don’t think much regard would be paid to this. When I lived in Germany, we visited several other European countries but, apart from the different currencies (this was in the pre-Euro days) there was little sense of ‘going abroad’ … even my morning run took me into the Netherlands sometimes.

Another definition, though, is ‘ … at large; over a wide area’ … and that is a usage I’m happier with. Only the other day, I was talking to an American visitor, who told me. ‘ … we took a vacation at least once a year; more since we retired. Always in the United States though, but we did go somewhere different each time; in fact, we’ve visited each state in the ‘lower 48’. I’m 74 years old and, apart from service in the Army, this is the first time I’ve been out of the US’   I don’t think he could say he hadn’t ‘been abroad’ though.

Over here, we’d call that a (horrible word!) ‘staycation’ Now, whoever coined that word (may the fleas of a thousand camels infest his armpits!) intended it to mean staying in your own home, and just doing day-trips. In this country, it’s come to mean spending your holidays within the United Kingdom … it’s not that long ago, everyone who wasn’t a millionaire did that.

You’re still going abroad, though … I have a Funk & Wagnall dictionary which gives a third meaning ‘ … out of one’s own house or abode’  So, there you have it, folks. Even if you just take the dog for a long walk, you’re ‘going abroad’.


This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. More at

Posted by: travelrat | June 27, 2017

Anglesey Sea Salt


Anglesey: 2nd April 2017.

Some of the exhibits at the Anglesey Sea Zoo, especially the sea-horses, require sea-water of the clearest kind, and this is obtained by filtering water from the nearby Menai Straits. Attractions such as the Sea Zoo don’t attract many visitors during the winter months, so, to ensure an income all year round, some of this water is used next door to produce … Anglesey Sea Salt.

It may be asked ‘How is sea salt different to ‘ordinary’ salt? It’s all sodium chloride, isn’t it?’

Sea salt is purer, there are none of the impurities that there are in rock salt. These can occur naturally, because of elements in the adjacent soil, or can be added during manufacture, to ensure free running, for example.

Just so we were in no doubt, we were invited to taste the various grades of salt, and make our own minds up about it. I was undecided … I suppose that the cigars and whisky of earlier years are responsible for that.

We were also shown the process of obtaining the salt from the sea-water … but I didn’t take any photos or video; although it’s interesting, it’s a bit like watching paint dry. But, I did take a picture of the factory itself, which is rather nice, and one of the Menai Straits.

Menai Straits

(If you look carefully, you can see the towers of Caernarfon Castle … ‘Caernarfon’ means, in Welsh ‘The Castle Opposite Anglesey’)

Posted by: travelrat | June 25, 2017

Puerto Madryn

RIB ride; Puerto Madryn

Puerto Madryn: 5th February 2017

Puerto Madryn was first established in the late 19th Century, not by the Spanish or Portuguese, but by Welsh settlers. There are still considerable Welsh-speaking enclaves around here; it is said that, during the Falklands campaign, several Argentinian soldiers were captured, who spoke only Spanish and Welsh. There is a Welsh dragon on the province’s flag and I did wonder if I should greet anyone I met with a ‘Hola!’ or a ‘Bore da!’ … although most of the Welsh settlers moved inland.

I seem to remember there’s something about this in Richard Llewellyn’s book ‘Up, into the Singing Mountain’. There’s a memorial statue on the sea-front, showing a migrant woman poignantly turning her back on the sea, and looking inland.

Puerto Madryn

 However, language wouldn’t be a problem on this occasion, for the sea lions we went to see spoke neither Welsh nor Spanish. The RIB ride was advertised as a ‘Dolphin and Sea Lion Safari’ but although we didn’t see any dolphins … not too disappointing, for we saw some from the ship later … the mass of sea lions playing, fighting and just sunning themselves on the beach more than made up for it. And, there was the bonus of flocks of seagulls, terns and cormorants.

Sea Lions, Puerto Madryn

(You’ll see the sea lions next week … they really deserve a post to themselves, so I’ll do a slide show)

After the boat trip, we took a stroll along the seafront, but there really wasn’t much to see, for most places … apart, of course, from the souvenir shops … was closed, because it was Sunday. Even so, the souvenir shops had competition, in the shape of quite a few traders, who had set up their stalls, or even just laid their goods out on the pavement.

Posted by: travelrat | June 22, 2017



ShildonShildon: 19th May 2017

If you have any interest in railway history, Shildon, near Darlington, is a place of pilgrimage. It was from Shildon in 1825 that the steam engine Locomotion, with George Stephenson at the controls, made its way to Darlington to pick up passengers for the run to Stockton, becoming the first-ever steam-hauled passenger rail service in the world.

It may have passed under what’s claimed to be the first … and therefore, the oldest … railway bridge in the world. It’s still in existence, although it’s now part of a larger bridge.

The Bridge, Shildon

(Here, I expect a lot of people will jump up and declare ‘That’s just a bridge, though … a railway bridge carries the railway OVER a road or river or whatever!)

Shildon was originally an engine factory, but was better known as a wagon works. When the manufacture of these ceased, it became an annex to the National Railway Museum … the main museum, in York, was running out of space, and where better to establish the extension than the former wagon works?

There’s a lot to see here, although it’s all static. Engines, of course, and carriages; especially notable are the luxurious ones used by various Royalty.

It’s not the first time I’ve been to Shildon. Some years ago, I came by train … and I thought at the time it was such a shame to ride in a shabby unit that had seen better days, over the line over which it all started.

Posted by: travelrat | June 20, 2017

Travel Theme: Seeds

In the playground of the primary school I used to attend was a walled-off enclosure called the Fir Garden. It contained not a fir, but a tree known as a Wellingtonia, What we knew about it was only that it had a thick, spongy bark that enabled us to punch it without hurting ourselves, and the cones made great hand grenades for a game of soldiers.

During one of these games, the teacher came out, and showed us a miniscule seed that had fallen from one of the cones.

‘Take a look at this seed’ she invited ‘and think! This huge tree grew from this tiny seed!’

We called this tree a Wellingtonia, after the 2nd Duke of Wellington, who imported the first cuttings, named them after his father and grew them on his estate at Stratfield Saye, in Hampshire. Its botanical name is Sequoia Gigantea, and it’s native to the mountains of California, and is known by various names; the Giant Sequoia, the Sierra Redwood … or simply the Big Tree.

The Big Tree wasn’t imported into Britain until 1857, so the ones we have here are mere juveniles; they can live for over 3000 years. So, a tree that was already well grown when Jesus walked the earth? This has to be seen … and, preferably, without a tunnel cut through it so a car can be driven through, which was popular with many photographic magazines (including, to their shame, the National Geographic Magazine!) of the 1920s and 1930s.

It’s rather far down the bucket list at the moment … but, although a fully-grown Big Tree contains a greater volume of wood than any other, it’s not only the size that’s a source of wonder. It’s the fact that such a mammoth grew from a seed about the size of your little fingernail.


This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. More at

Posted by: travelrat | June 18, 2017

Anglesey Sea Zoo


Anglesey: 2nd April 2017

It’s been nearly 40 years since we lived on Anglesey, and a lot has changed since then. Three of the attractions we visited didn’t even exist when we lived there. Of course, Beaumaris Castle did, and the Menai Bridge … if I remember correctly, we left on the day the Britannia Bridge re-opened.

On the way to our first call, at the Anglesey Sea Zoo at Brynsiencyn we passed through the village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, and I was able to perform my ‘party trick’ of pronouncing it (more or less) correctly.

The Sea Zoo claims to be unique in that it only deals with creatures to be found in British waters … and, before anyone claims that the Lakes Aquarium in Cumbria could give them an argument about that, I should point out that the one in Cumbria is a largely freshwater aquarium.


What surprised me is that native species include starfish and sea-horses, which I really associated with more tropical waters. Less of a surprise was the coral; I remembered picking up pieces of coral from a Hebridean beach, and wondering from whence it came.

Biggest of all is the Basking Shark, the largest shark there is … and completely harmless, despite the fact that its cavernous mouth looks like you could garage a Mini in it. Naturally, they don’t have the facility to keep such a large creature in captivity, but they do have a model. Fibreglass model, or actual stuffed fish? I meant to ask, but forgot!

Basking Shark

Posted by: travelrat | June 15, 2017

Punta del Este

Punta del Este 2

Punta del Este: 3rd February 2017

 After the tour of Buenos Aires, in the evening, we sailed. I was going to say ‘put to sea’, but we didn’t really. We just sailed across the River Plate to the port of Punta del Este, in Uruguay. We didn’t know a great deal about the place; indeed, I’d never heard of it, till they held the first ever Formula E race here three years ago.

The port has no facility for cruise ships, so transfer had to be by tender. There were two other ships in port so our ship was moored about three miles out. Tendering ashore, therefore, was a long drawn out process, especially as those who had booked tours had priority. Lesson learnt …if transfer ashore is by tender… book a tour.

Anyway, after waiting over two hours for a tender, we were just about to knock it on the head and go sunbathing when our number came up and we finally stepped ashore at about 11am The original intention was simply to walk to the gigantic ‘Hand’ sculpture and maybe have a coffee and seek out some free WiFi.

But, they were waiting for us on the quayside, offering minibus tours at only USD25 a throw … cheaper than the ship’s tours and, since we were in minibuses, we’d be only a small group.

The Hand, Punta del Este

So, we were shown the highlights of the town; the ‘Hand’, the lighthouse and the houses where the ‘great and good’ lived, for this is a very upmarket kind of place. We passed a site where a Trump Hotel was being built. An American in our group asked if we could stop, as he needed the toilet. Alas, the guide didn’t get the joke, and said there’s be facilities at our next stop!

We were allowed 20 minutes at the Ralli Museum, which displays the work of artist and sculptor Carlos Paez Vilaro … of whom I’ve never heard. We didn’t go in, for I feel any museum deserves more than 20 minutes. And, there’s some of his work displayed outside.

We got to the port having fallen between two stools. We got back to the ship too late for lunch, but there really wasn’t enough time to grab a bite before queuing for the tender.

We’re still debating whether or not it was worth the hassle. Would it have detracted much from the cruise if it had been omitted altogether? Probably; we had a sea day the following day, and it did make a nice break. And, we were able to cross another country off the list.

Punta del Este

Posted by: travelrat | June 13, 2017

Travel Theme: Decadent

Decadent? I don’t do decadent! At least, I didn’t think I did. I looked it up in my Thesaurus, and the synonyms weren’t at all edifying. Corrupt, dissolute and immoral stood out on the long list. But, just at the end were the words ‘self  indulgent’ Yes, I do that sometimes. But, what as that to do with travel? Let’s have a trawl through the photo archives.

Dec 1

Dec 2

Dec 3

Dec 4

This week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. More at

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