Posted by: travelrat | August 28, 2017

A Bit on the Side


Our favourite coffee shop changed ownership recently. They decided not to keep the Italian theme of the previous owners, but there’s still free wifi, and the coffee’s still good. A little touch was added, though, that they didn’t have before. With my coffee came a little biscuit.

This is by no means an unusual custom. I have an idea it may have originated in Italy. In the pre-euro days, there was a shortage of small, low-value coins, so, when you bought a coffee, they sometimes made your change up in some sweets, chocolates or biscuits.

Sometimes, you’ll go into a bar, and find a bowl of crisps or nuts for customers to help themselves. I’ve kept a bar on one or two occasions, and, when we found stuff like this that was close to its sell-by date, we used to put them on the bar, because, in a couple of days they’d get thrown out anyway. Since these things were so salty, maybe they’d induce the customer to buy more beer, too.

Not far from this is the excellent Spanish custom of tapas. This is said to have come about as the result of a King’s command that strong drink should not be served except with food. A  tapa proper, you have to pay for, but frequently, they’ll bring a little nibble with your drink, properly called an aperitivo. Some say, however, that, because tapa simply means a lid or a cover, these little morsels were originally simply to cover your drink, to stop leaves, bird droppings etc. from falling into it if you drank outside.

In Germany, they simply put lids on their beer pots!

Let’s get back to Italy, though … and, just have a look at the spread they brought with our beer in Portofino!


Posted by: travelrat | August 22, 2017


Ushuaia Bus

Ushuaia: 9th February 2017

When we finally got ashore at Ushuaia, we did what we usually do in the absence of a train. We took a bus. It was an elderly, double-decker ‘Routemaster’ which offered tours around the city. NOT, they emphasised, a ‘hop on \hop off’ tour, but interesting nevertheless.

The tour took us past the old jail, now a military barracks, with the replica of the Cape Horn lighthouse outside, I was particularly taken with the mural on the Post Office, which illustrates the city’s indigenous and convict past.

Like in many other places we’ve seen, some of the houses were brightly painted; I believe this is the practice in many coastal places, so fisherman and mariners could recognize their town from out at sea. Or, it could be that, as a La Boca, they just painted their houses with any paint they could obtain from passing ships?

Then, they took us out to the headland, where the local flying club have a small airfield. We had a photo-stop, with some excellent views of the city and the harbour … and, closer to hand, a dilapidated old DC-3 in the process of being restored.

After the tour, we inspected the abandoned Saint Christopher tugboat. This ship, formerly the Royal Navy’s HMS Justice, belonged to an Italian salvage company, who came here in 1953 to recover metal from SS Monte Cervantes, which ran aground, and subsequently sank nearby in 1930. Unfortunately, Saint Christopher also ran aground; she was towed to Ushuaia, but was found to be so badly damaged, it was decided to just abandon her where she lay. It has now become a local landmark.

We finally did what we usually do when we don’t have much to do; shambled down the main street, admiring the old-style paintwork on some of the bars and shops,  inspecting the goods and reading menus. We finally settled on a place that served excellent pizzas … and had WiFi.

St Christopher

Posted by: travelrat | August 20, 2017

Where to next?


We’ve come to the end of the ‘North Wales’ posts, but, fortunately, I still have many more posts to make of the ‘South America’ tour. Apart from that, I’m getting a bit thin on material, for, as I said earlier, we rarely go anywhere during the school holidays, waiting for the ‘shoulder season’, and quieter times.

We have a river cruise booked for next year; we’re sailing from Budapest to Amsterdam … but, that’s quite a way away. So, we looked for somewhere warm, inexpensive and interesting to go in the meantime, and, after much discussion, came up with … Corfu.

However, I haven’t been able to find much out about the place; Lonely Planet and Rough Guides each give only a few pages to it … and they mainly cover places to stay/eat, and that’s already sorted.

I do have books by the Durrell brothers, though. The Corfu Trilogy, by Gerald Durrell and Prospero’s Cell by Lawrence Durrell. I also have Hilary Paipeti’s little book, detailing where the houses in which they lived may be found. But, I don’t think we’ll be ‘doing the Durrells’, for they’re all private houses. That is, except the ‘White House’ (not mentioned in the Corfu Trilogy) where Lawrence lived with his wife, Nancy, which is now a restaurant. And, that’s on the other side of the island from where we’re staying.

But, if you remember, I had the same worries about our Caribbean cruise. Doesn’t anyone go there? Or, has it become so clichéd that nobody’s writing about it? We shall see; the upside is that, if the guidebook doesn’t have much to say about the place, you can’t be accused of ‘following the guidebook’.


Naturally, I don’t have any pictures of Corfu yet, but I have been to Greece before, so can post some ‘typically Greek’ pictures.

Posted by: travelrat | August 17, 2017

We Missed the Train!

Ushuaia 1

Ushuaia: 9th February 2017

Ushuaia lays claim to being the southernmost city in the world. Some say that Puerto Williams, across the Beagle Channel, in neighbouring Chile, could give them an argument about that, but the Argentinians point out that Puerto Williams isn’t a city!

What Ushuaia can indisputably claim is having the southernmost railway in the world. This was built by convict labour, initially to carry materials to build the city, once a penal colony … the Argentinian equivalent of Siberia. Although it’s no longer where Argentina sends its bad lads, the prison still stands, and is now a military barracks. Outside it is a replica of the Cape Horn lighthouse

We were due to ride on the Southernmost Train in the World, but the tour had to be cancelled due to a monumental cross-up with the port authorities. We had been supposed to actually dock, but our berth had been assigned to another ship. Then, there were delays getting clearance to go ashore, then the place for the tenders to dock was ruled unsatisfactory, and an alternative had to be found.

Not, I hasten to add, the fault of the cruise line; the Captain didn’t quite manage to disguise the anger and frustration in his voice as he made the announcement. So, we spent a couple of hours sitting in a dining room, instead of the experience I’d been looking forward to.

We did eventually get ashore, and those who had booked a train ride in the afternoon got one. Afterwards, one of the riders said:

‘It was just a ride on a miniature train. Nothing to write home about!’

 But hey, the Southernmost Train in the World? Surely, that alone would make it stand out from others?

Posted by: travelrat | August 15, 2017

Travel Theme: Numerals

This week’s Travel Theme … Numerals … ties in nicely with a visit I made to North Wales a couple of months ago. We found ourselves on the narrow-gauge railway station at Porthmadog, which is the main base of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. The gradients on the recently- restored Welsh Highland Railway call for more powerful locomotives to be used, and they sourced ‘Garratt’ locomotives from South Africa.

Garrat 143

Most narrow-gauge locomotives have names, but the Garratts are probably unique, in that they’re identified only by their numbers; this is simply ‘143’

(And, as an aside, I thought of the sailor who, many years ago, taught me the difference between a ship and a boat … ‘A ship has a name; a boat only has a number’)

Across the estuary from Porthmadog lies the quirky Italianate village of Portmeirion. This, they’ll tell you is where they filmed the TV series The Prisoner half a century ago. Now, the plot was, the inhabitants of ‘The Village’, as they called it weren’t known by names, just numbers, which they wore on a badge bearing the image of a penny-farthing bicycle. The hero was known simply as ‘Number Six’, and opened each episode by yelling:

‘I am not a number, I am a free man!’


I particularly identified with this, for, at that time, I was known as ‘246 Kellett’.

For some, this phrase should have gone down in history like ‘Frankly, my dear. I don’t give a damn’ or ‘You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!’ … but, try repeating it to a crew member of a cruise ship, when they hand out those little numbered stickers to passengers going on shore excursions. Unless he, or she looks like they might qualify for a bus pass, they probably won’t get the joke.

In fact, these days, crew members don’t look old enough to remember ‘We don’ need no steenkin’ badges!’ either.

No 6


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

Posted by: travelrat | August 13, 2017



We’ve all seen them … those short video clips on social media and elsewhere, which repeat endlessly, and are intended to send a message, or just a feeling. They’re called ‘GIFs’, or ‘Graphics Interchange Format’, and, as I found, they’re so easy to do; just visit a site such as and follow the instructions. Could be, though, that they’re a bit too easy, and maybe that could lead to overuse?

You could download a ‘ready-made’ GIF, but I think it’s more fun to make your own. Maybe it could be a home for all those bloopers and out-takes that you cut when making your regular videos.

Unlike videos, though, you can, in many cases, just upload them like an ordinary photo.


Posted by: travelrat | August 10, 2017

Travel Theme: Words

T5 Stuffed tomato

Don’t you love it, when you come across a word that you can sort of roll around your tongue and savour, like good wine? Having discovered it, though, it’s a much harder task to work it into an everyday conversation.

I’ve long felt we should have adopted the Italian word ‘pomodoro’ into our language. It’s much more mellifluous (that’s another word I’ve been trying to work in) than ‘tomato’ … and, in the US, it would have avoided all those ‘tomahto/tomayto’ arguments.

If I’d been Spanish, I would probably have joined the Fire Brigade, for I’d love to be called a ‘bombero’. The German language has some beauties, too. One of my favourites is Schadenfreude; that is, taking pleasure from the misfortunes of others. That word is often used in English, for we don’t really have a word to describe this concisely.

To turn to English, we have a quite a few, although they are rather obscure. Snollygoster, for example, is someone who seeks office for personal gratification, rather for what he can do, and, considering our present Government, I’m surprised it’s not used more often. Or, there’s boondoggle, or non-productive, nugatory (there’s another one!) work for its own sake …

Not far away from us, the Ringwood Brewery produced a summer ale called Boondoggle. The beer mats (coasters) were printed with the name of the beer on one side, and like a postcard on the other.

Some years ago, former US President Jimmy Carter was over to do some fishing on the River Test. Calling into a nearby hostelry for a brew, he was extremely taken with Boondoggle … and its postcard/beer mats. So much so that he requested a packet of them to mail to his friends. I wonder if he intended some kind of message there?

This is a slightly edited version of a post I did back in 2010, and this week’s contribution to the Travel Theme. See more at


Posted by: travelrat | August 8, 2017

Around the Horn


It would be nice to think that America ended with a dramatic cliff, with a monumental lighthouse, or a huge statue of Magellan, or somebody atop, but it doesn’t. It fizzles out in a ragged archipelago of countless islands, the largest of which is Tierra del Fuego; Cape Horn itself is on a little island called Isola del Hornos, or Horn Island. It’s uninhabited apart from the lighthouse and a Chilean Navy base. These islands provide a few calmer alternatives to the Drake Passage, that stretch of water between the Horn and Antarctica, which is noted for the adverse weather conditions. These passages were widely used by shipping before the Panama Canal was built, as they were really the only practicable means of getting from one side of the continent to the other.

The best known is the Straits of Magellan, which passes between Tierra del Fuego and the mainland, before weaving its way through the islands to the Pacific Ocean. To the south of Tierra del Fuego runs the Beagle Channel, named after HMS Beagle, which passed this way carrying Charles Darwin on his famous voyage to the Galapagos Islands.

We sailed right around Horn Island, and the weather conditions were almost perfect. I did have some misgivings about this; I remembered an old sea-shanty about sailing to ‘ … Valparaiso round the Horn’  … which contained the words:

‘ … half the crew a-spewing o’er the ship’s side

And the other half a-spewing over me’.

Happily, such conditions didn’t happen on this trip. As we rounded the island in an anti-clockwise direction, the lighthouse on the cape came into sight. It’s a squat, almost invisible building, topped by a slight white ball maybe a metre or two across. We couldn’t see it very well from the ship, but there was a replica at Ushuaia, our next port of call.

More imposing is the radio tower at the nearby Navy station, which many think is the Cape Horn lighthouse, but isn’t. Julio, the Port Lecturer, told us that personnel for the base were specially selected, and had to fulfil certain conditions. Which surprised me. Given the remote, desolate nature of the place, I thought that defaulters may have been given the option of a six-month tour on the Cape, or a year in the brig.

Cape Horn

Posted by: travelrat | August 6, 2017

Butser Ancient Farm

Butser 1

Butser Ancient Farm: 12th July 2017

Once more, the Stonehenge people had organised a Volunteers’ Day Out for us. This time, we were going to the Butser Ancient Farm, near Petersfield. Like our friends at the Ancient Technology Centre, they’re strongly into Experimental Archaeology, and have produced buildings from the Stone Age, right up to Saxon times.

Butser 2

They’re not quite like the buildings at the ATC … or, even our own Neolithic Huts … but, it would be a foolish person who’d say ‘I am right, and you are wrong’ … especially when dealing with pre-Roman times, for there aren’t any written records, and few, if any, pictorial ones. As I’ve said before; if you give two modern builders just a floor plan, they will almost certainly come up with two different buildings.

For instance, there’s some nice wall art in one of the huts. There’s no archaeological evidence to say they did this … but, there’s none to say they didn’t, either.

Butser 3

There’s more than the buildings. They also have ancient breeds of sheep, goats and chickens, and trial plots planted with early varieties of crops. At Stonehenge, we believe our ‘settlement’ dates from the time when they were well on the way with the transition from hunter/gatherers to growing crops and domesticating animals. So, we found the type of things they would grow and rear interesting indeed.

Butser 4

Posted by: travelrat | August 3, 2017


Just trying an experiment, to see if I can upload GIFs

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