Posted by: travelrat | December 19, 2017


Ferry to Sarande

Ferry to Albania

We hadn’t intended to tick another country off the list on this trip, but Albania was just a loud shout across the water, and the ferries were reasonably priced. On the way across to Sarandë, I mentally reviewed what I knew about Albania, which wasn’t much. The capital is Tirana, they once had a king called Zog and they worship Norman Wisdom … and that’s about it, really. I did wonder if a bleat of ‘Mister Grimsdaaale!’ would get me a discount on my coffee, but I didn’t try it.

I hadn’t heard of Sarandë before, although it’s Albania’s second city. It’s a pleasant place; fairly quiet, with few people around. I wondered if that was because it was Sunday, or was it like that all the time?

Albania is slowly recovering from a rather oppressive Communist regime, under which visitors were discouraged. So, it’s relatively untouched at the moment, but it does have potential. The guides were knowledgeable and friendly, and spoke good English, and the bus was comfortable.

We found a tour which would take us to a World Heritage Site, and another attraction popular with local people … but more about those later.



This is the day that I slip away for a few days for my seasonal break. May I wish all who celebrate it a peaceful Christmas and a Happy New Year, which I hope brings everything you wish for.


Posted by: travelrat | December 17, 2017

Arrival at Cuzco and Peruvian Eats


Cuzco: 16th February 2017.

We arrived in Cuzco in a light drizzle. I have great admiration for the photographer who took our ‘arrival picture’ at the airport, for we didn’t know he was there. Until the following day, when he presented himself at our hotel with the pictures, which he was selling for a very reasonable price.

We were still trying to get used to the altitude. There were bags of coca tea in our hotel room, and an urn of it was available in the foyer 24/7. It’s a bit of an acquired taste, but it’s supposed to do you good. We wanted to eat, but didn’t want to go far, so we settled for the hotel dining room, where, from the somewhat restricted menu, we chose … alpaca!

Here, I’m anticipating a chorus of ‘How could you?’ … but, look at it this way. Alpacas are bred mainly for their wool. In this country, sheep are bred for their wool, but very few people object to eating mutton. Although, given a choice, I think I would go for mutton.

Now, I’ll fast-forward a couple of days, to our last meal in Cuzco. We were taken to a restaurant … I’ve forgotten its name, or TripAdvisor would really hear about it … and promised ‘genuine Peruvian cuisine’. Well, if that was ‘genuine Peruvian cuisine’, you can keep it! Nearly cold rice and badly-cooked chicken; there had been a power cut, but I don’t think that was the reason. I only managed a couple of mouthfuls, then left.

Later, a dot.comrade who has travelled a lot in South America said that certainly wasn’t representative of the food to be had, which was usually excellent. Then, worryingly, he said:

‘Are you sure it was chicken? I believe ‘cuyo’ tastes something like chicken?’

I know about cuyo. Almost everywhere we went in Peru, roadside vendors proffered skewers holding their little grilled bodies. And, we saw live ones, scurrying about the floor in a ‘traditional’ house we visited in Ollantaytambo.

Guinea pigs! I would definitely draw the line there!


Posted by: travelrat | December 14, 2017

Travel Theme: Love

‘Love conquers all things … except poverty and toothache’ (Mae West)

‘Love … whatever that is!’ (Prince Charles)

There are all kinds of love. We use the same word to describe the feelings we have for our spouses and families as we do to describe our feelings towards a bowl of chili con carne or a plate of sticky toffee pudding. Or a book, a film or a piece of music.

It’s a difficult word to express; only the other day, I heard a character in a TV play say ‘I don’t like my son very much, but I love him!’

So, I’ll stick to safe ground. Places! I reviewed my travels over the last 20 years or so, and found a lot of places I liked; only three I didn’t like, and only one I hated. But, the longest list was places I loved, and here’s a slideshow of some of them. Feel like guessing where they are?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Posted by: travelrat | December 12, 2017

Does It Work for You?

‘Do you still use libraries?’ asked someone on Facebook the other week. Of course I do; there’s no way I could pay for every book I read. The latest item I took out was ‘100 Things that Caught My Eye’ by wildlife photographer and TV presenter Chris Packham.

Note the title; it is NOT ‘My 100 best photographs’. Chris, himself, admits that quite a lot of them ‘don’t work for him’. A lot of the ‘things that caught his eye’ just didn’t translate to photographs for him. In fact, if I’d taken some of those, they would have been consigned to the digital equivalent of the shoebox under the spare bed, and never been displayed publicly. So, he’s a braver man than I am; he’s not only included them, but said why he was disappointed with them. Maybe, in a lot of cases, he’s probably being over-critical with himself, but that’s just my opinion.

Of particular interest to me was his picture Frankenstein’s Grave. It was (in my opinion again) a lovely snowscape, taken on Svalbard. I’d have been well pleased with that … but Chris wasn’t. He thought it was a bit too sharp and ‘Disney-clean’, and it would have been better, and probably more interesting, to show the snowy hills in less than perfect conditions.

You may remember that, when we cruised around the tip of South America and past the glaciers earlier in the year, we encountered less than perfect weather. I contrasted it with when we went to Alaska’s Glacier Bay last year, when it was almost impossible to take bad pictures, for the sky was so clear and the light excellent.

So, does this make the pictures we took in Glacier Bay less than perfect images? Like all things, it’s a matter of opinion. What do you think? Which one works for you?

Glacier Bay 1

Amalia Glacier

Posted by: travelrat | December 10, 2017

Kanoni and Mouse Island: Video

Kanoni 3

Kanoni: 14th October 2017

Last week, I posted that Lawrence Durrell wrote in ‘Prospero’s Cell’  that Mouse Island ‘ … defies paint and lens, as well as the feeble word …’  He did try, though; a drawing of the island appears on the title page of that book. However, he was writing in 1945, when video cameras hadn’t been invented.

So, I will have an attempt to capture it on video, and I hope I can show that it’s more than just ‘a church on a little island’.


The music is “Greko (Sketch)” by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Posted by: travelrat | December 7, 2017


Cathedral Steps. Lima

Lima: 16th February 2017

 I’m so glad I didn’t do my journal right away when we arrived in Lima, for my first impression was far from favourable. We were driven from the airport to the hotel through a rather shabby part of town, almost at a walking pace, for the traffic was horrendous.

But, when they called for us the following morning, with the bus which would give us a tour of the city before taking us to the airport for the flight to Cuzco, they took us to a much more pleasant part of the city. The guide said that settlers came to Peru from all parts of Europe at different times, so there’s a great variety of architecture to be seen.

Unlike at Santiago, they weren’t in a great hurry, so they did stop the coach from time to time to let us off. We saw the Cathedral, and stopped by a central plaza, and were able to witness some sort of guard-mounting ceremony, outside (I think!) the Presidential Palace. This took place behind closely-spaced railings, and a large crowd had gathered to watch. But, I was still able to get a fairly satisfactory picture.

Changing the Guard, Lima

Every time we stopped, we were approached by street vendors, some of them ladies in colourful national costume, selling all kinds of souvenirs, as well as coca leaves. We had been told that tea made from coca leaves is good for any effects of the altitude at Cuzco, but ‘Chinese Whispers’ said that we wouldn’t get them past Security at the airport, so it would have to wait till we got there.


Posted by: travelrat | December 5, 2017

Straightening the Rhine


Although our Danube/Rhine cruise is still a few months away, I have been doing some research into where we’re going and what we’ll see. The other day, I came upon a fact which definitely qualifies for ‘things I didn’t know I didn’t know’, and I thought I’d share it now.

I’d always assumed you could, like you can today, sail a good-sized boat up the Rhine almost to its source since time immemorial. But, this was not the case. Up until the early 19th Century, the Upper Rhine was an area of marshland, with streams, lakes and channels wandering all over the place. This, and the surrounding forests, were the habitat of a wide variety of wildlife, but it was also a breeding ground for malaria and other ‘nasties’.

Then, in 1817, along came engineer and hydrologist Johann Gottfried Tulla. His mission was to narrow, deepen and straighten the river so it became navigable all the way up to Switzerland. The stretch between Basel and Worms, near Frankfurt, was shortened by about 45 miles when this was achieved.

There was a negative side to this, though. Without the marshland to absorb the melting Alpine snows, towns and cities further downstream began to be affected by frequent flooding, causing them to take measures to prevent this. And, there was the catastrophic effect on wildlife, caused not only by loss of habitat but loss of the spawning grounds of many kinds of fish.

Of course, this wouldn’t have happened today. They would probably have made the area a National Park and, even if that obstacle could be overcome, there would still be the likes of the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, David Attenborough and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all to deal with.

It’s tempting to think what our cruise would be like if the work hadn’t been carried out. Once we’d got as far as we could up the Danube, would we then be transported by coach to the highest navigable point of the Rhine? Or, would we have done a wildlife safari in the marshes by airboat or something?


Posted by: travelrat | December 3, 2017

Mouse Island

‘This island was inhabited by an elderly and extremely verminous monk, whose major function in life appeared to be ringing the bell in the matchbox-sized church, and rowing slowly to a neighbouring headland in the evenings, where there was a small nunnery, inhabited by three ancient nuns’

(Gerald Durrell: ‘Birds, Beasts and Relatives’)

Mouse Island

Having done our reconnaissance on the ‘hop on/hop off’ tourist bus, we returned to Kanoni the following day, by way of the local KEM bus. This time, we descended to sea-level by the steep stairs, and inspected the trim, white-painted Vlacherna Monastery of Panayia. It stands on a little islet, joined to the mainland by a causeway, and from here, the boats will ferry you across to Mouse Island.

Its name comes from its shape, not from any rodent infestation, and is sometimes said to be Odysseus’ ship, turned to stone by the gods for taking him home. It only takes a short while to be ferried across.

‘I’ll be back in half an hour!’ said the boatman, and that’s really all you need to see the island. The only building on it is the church, and, of course, a little souvenir shop. There were formerly a couple of other houses, too, but these are long gone. Nevertheless, Lawrence Durrell wrote in ‘Prospero’s Cell’  that it: ‘ … defies paint and lens, as well as the feeble word …’

Church on Mouse Island

After we returned to the mainland, we walked across another causeway, across the Halikipoulou Lagoon to Perami. During his stay on Corfu before the war, Gerald Durrell lived here … and his ‘chess-board fields’ were close to hand. But, I think it’s possible they are no more, for it’s now the site of the island’s airport.

Posted by: travelrat | November 30, 2017

Travel Theme: Warm

Warm 1

Last week, I quoted Captain Helly Hansen, when he said: ‘There is no such thing as bad weather. There is only inadequate clothing’. You may be familiar with the name; for it’s on a range of extremely adequate outdoor clothing. And, it’s thanks to Captain Hansen and his ilk that we’re no longer confined to ‘somewhere warm’ to spend our leisure time.

But, even though we sometimes do our thing in somewhat less than tropical climes, it’s nice to have a nice warm bolthole to which you can retreat. I think of the words après ski, which conjures up a vision of roaring log fires, cuddly sweaters, hot chocolate and glüwein. You do have to go out in the cold and ski first, though … unless you’re really crafty, and sprain an ankle or something on your first day!

‘Warm’ also suggests the time we got caught in a blizzard in the mountains. We holed up in a comfortable mountain hut; we lit a fire, and had enough food and warm clothing, and four-season sleeping bags. After our meal, we made some hot chocolate, and I produced my cigarillos.

‘Could I possibly scrounge one of those?’ asked my friend.

‘Well, I only have three left, and don’t know when I can get any more’

 My friend then produced a bottle.

‘Do you want some rum in your chocolate?’

 ‘Have a cigar, pal!’

 Outside, the blizzard raged … but, in the hut, we were warm and comfortable. In fact, one of the warmest and most comfortable situations I’ve ever been in.

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

 What’s that? Pictures? Hmm! Let’s see!

Wam 2Warm 3Warm 4



Posted by: travelrat | November 28, 2017

The End of the Cruise … but Not the Trip

Santiago 1

Valparaiso/Santiago: 15th February 2017

When we sailed into Valparaiso, our cruise came to an end. In 14 days, we’d sailed 4600 miles, and called at 5 places in 3 different countries. And, we’d enjoyed some spectacular scenic cruises, although the weather sometimes wasn’t the kindest.

So, we were all packed up, with our luggage labelled with different coloured tags, according to where we were going after the cruise. We were flying to Lima, then on to Cuzco, so our tags were nice rose-pink ones. Valparaiso has no airport, so we would travel by coach to the nearby Chilean capital of Santiago.

Santiago 2

I’ve heard good things about Santiago from various sources, and I wish we could have stayed a while. But, I think the guides on the bus realised this, and, since we were in no particular hurry to get to the airport, they took the ‘scenic route’, and showed us something of their city.

Now, I’ve often ranted about the futility of taking pictures from a bus window; they usually turn out less than satisfactory, and I prefer to wait until the bus stops for a while, and get off to take my pictures. But time, although not very tight, didn’t permit this, so, on this occasion, I’ll share the best of what I did take to give a not very good idea of what the place is like,

Santiago 3

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