Category Archives: Holiday

UP..UP.. AND AWAY

Snoopy
3rd October 2015
Port Canaveral

Firstly, we visited the port of Jacksonville yesterday, yes that’s right, just the port and nowhere else. There was a shuttle bus service again from the port to the town, but each return trip was nearly an hour. As there was only 4 buses laid on and our ticket number was thirteen (again) we weren’t called until just before 1pm…was it worth it we asked ourselves? And the reply from one of the returning passengers was a resounding NO.
“They just took you to St John’s shopping mall,” we were told.
So to cut a long story short, Jacksonville was not a resounding success, in fact no body actually got to the main city, except the few who paid huge amounts of money to get a taxi.

So here we are in Port Canaveral…and were heading for the Kennedy Space Centre/Center to relive memories of our youth as we both followed mankind’s early ventures into space with great interest.
Now can I just mention the mode of transport we used to get there? I had initially gone online before this trip to discover the best way of getting to KSC and there was a fair amount of discussion about the port’s main taxi service. There was quite a bit of criticism about the attitude of some of the drivers from 888 taxi’s and suggestions that their prices weren’t very competitive. So in advance I booked an alternative company, via e-mail, before we left.
Twenty minutes after our scheduled pick-up time we had to concede that we’d been let down and had no other choice than to use the services of 888.
Now I have to speak as I find. The controller at the port desk was very courteous and the price quoted was $10 more than the other company (but they hadn’t turned up anyway) He made a call and within a few minutes ‘Todd’ turned up. The car was clean, icy cold and roomy, Todd was polite and chatty and kept us entertained all the way to KSC. He gave us some advice about what to see there and, more importantly, how we could get the best from our visit, like where to sit on the bus etc.
He dropped us near the entrance, we exchanged phone numbers and off we set.
I don’t quite know how much to say about our visit because there were many surprises and even a couple of ‘Wow’ moments, which I wouldn’t like to spoil for anyone else visiting for the first time. Needless to say we had a great five hours at this incredible attraction and really enjoyed ourselves.
Briefly, the bus tour around the launch pads with a visit to the Saturn V rocket exhibition took about 2/2.5 hours. Sitting on the right hand side of the bus is the best position (on the right when facing forward) and keep your eyes peeled for the wildlife especially turtles and alligators.
IMG_20151003_135156534
Visit the Atlantis Shuttle Experience and indulge in all the simulators…great fun. If there’s a queue then wait, it really is worth it. I was surprised how many people stepped out of line just because there was a ten to fifteen minute wait…big mistake.
If you’re in the shuttle hall at certain times there is an opportunity to hear from genuine shuttle astronauts, very interesting. Of course there is always the souvenir shops as well full of the usual ‘how could I ever live without one of those’ paraphernalia.
Imax shows several different films, so find out the times of each when you get there and plan accordingly. The one involving the mission to repair Hubble appears to be the most popular.
There are a few other things to do including the astronaut hall of fame and a launch simulator, but sadly we ran out of time. But we did sample a burger…very tasty.
Todd from 888 was waiting in the car park at exactly the time we’d agreed, so I think there’s a lesson there…don’t believe everything you read in the online forums. Yes it may not be right that one particular taxi company seems to have the monopoly in a port, but then reliability might be a reason…who can say after just one visit. But as I said before, speak as you find and we found 888 taxis to be good, they did exactly what we needed them to do, at a fair price.
We never got to visit Cocoa Beach, which is a shame as it was a beautiful day, but we did end up having a couple of beers in ‘The Cove’ just beyond the port…the food looked good as well, but there wasn’t time.
All in all a very good day and given the chance we would definitely return.

Spaceman

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Savannah…nice but…

1st October 2015
Savannah

Another hot and steamy day awaited us as we docked at this riverside port. Having passed through a very large industrial area with loads of chimney stacks belching smoke and disgusting sulphurous odours we were not hopeful.
Once alongside we were kept waiting for over an hour by the officials who were supposed to arrive early to grant clearance. Not doing too well so far and not feeling very welcome.
Then the heavens opened, and for almost an hour down came the buckets as well as the water. Hmm….not sure today’s going to be very successful….still give it chance, you never know.
Around 10ish clearance was granted and we were led to believe the only way into the town centre was by shuttle bus….and there weren’t many of those. So we got our ticket and waited in line….number 13….oh dear.
Eventually we made it onto the bus….the doors closed….we travelled about 250 metres and the bus stopped….the doors opened.
“OK folks,” the driver announced, “Here we are, and to return to the ship you catch the bus here.”
WHAT!!! You mean we waited for nearly two hours and we could have walked it in 5 minutes. Not happy, but at least the rain had stopped and the pavements were drying nicely.
Anyway, map in hand we set off in search of something to improve our day and brighten our visit which frankly was not floating our boat as yet (yes there really was that much rain)
Savannah town/city is based on a block/grid system a bit like Manhattan, only smaller, but every 2nd block in both directions has a green space. These are parks or gardens dedicated to some important Savannians (not sure if that’s the right word but it sounds cool) There are trees, statues, fountains, benches, squirrels and hobos by the dozen and everything looked very pretty (except for the hobos of course)
There’s a ‘hop on hop off’ available and it seemed to be very popular with a fairly regular service (just saying) but we didn’t use it as walking around was very easy, except when it started raining stair rods again.
A stop for a freshly made lemonade and iced tea was very refreshing and, unlike the port officials, the locals are friendly. Then a walk around the market area where there are eateries and more galleries featuring local artists. Unfortunately we didn’t find anything to our taste so we started looking around for a little light refreshment.
One of our fellow passengers asked if we’d been down to River Street, just along from where our ship had docked. We hadn’t, so we temporarily put on hold our search for a beer and went exploring in the direction pointed out to us.
River Street was interesting if only for a collection of traditional paddle steamers and a galleon, all replicas of course but it gave a feel of how things used to be.
Along with the usual collection of bars and souvenir shops there are loads of stalls selling all sorts of local cuisine and crafts.
Unfortunately our detour used up valuable indulging time so we never made it to a bar to sample the local hooch, but hey ho. It did turn out to be quite a nice day in the end, but the time lost at the start of the day didn’t allow us to fully experience this place as much as others. Sadly this meant that maybe Savannah will not stand out as very memorable when we come to look back on our adventures.
And we never found Forrest Gump’s Bench either….frankly tragic 😦

Go Yankees….

26th & 27th September 2015
New York, New York.

Go Yankees

We were due to visit Martha’s Vineyard Oaks Bluff yesterday and although the ship did actually drop anchor somewhere near to the port, my dear lady and I declined the crew’s kind offer to transport us ashore. The sea was active and having watched a couple of tenders rolling around in the somewhat extensive swell, we decided there was nothing particular we wanted to do or see there (stop shouting ‘Cowards’ at your screen)
However it was a very ‘Good Choice’.
We discovered later that most of the transfers to shore were full of incident with liberal amounts of carrot infested chunder thrown in for good measure (or should that be thrown up?) Several folk needed medical attention, and at one stage the ‘stretcher party’ was called to the tender dock.
Anyway, let’s leave that one for now and move to one of the highlights of this trip….
New York, New York, a helluva town.
The Bronx’s is up but the Battery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the ground.
(from the musical ‘On the Town’ lyrics by Comden & Green)
We were looking forward to our third visit to this metropolis, which is unusual considering my contempt for most big cities.
We had a plan, but it’s risky, so confidence was a little low, but expectation was high.
We were going to attempt to get to grips with the intricacies of that mysterious underworld better known as the ‘New York Subway’ (Dah..Dah..Daaahhhh)
So we set off for our first destination….50th and 8th.
Once found we joined hands, whispered a silent prayer and headed into the abyss.
Well…we were aiming initially to reach west 4th street, Washington Square on the C line. This would deliver us into the heart of Greenwich Village, a recommended area we’d not yet explored. So let’s get tickets….just how hard could this be?
A Metro Pass is the way to go as it’s very similar to London’s Oyster Card, load it up and off you go. Except the machines purporting to deliver these plastic novelties are not the easiest to understand….unless you do what I did before we travelled….check out the procedure on YouTube. I’m certainly glad I did as some of my fellow tourists ended up shouting at the rather shabby metal dream destroyer, as after many attempts it stubbornly refused to issue anything resembling a ticket.
Twenty five minutes later and the worst was over, my patience (and meticulous research) was rewarded, and as we swiped our access pass to paradise with gusto I felt a sense of euphoria at having successfully negotiated this first complex hurdle. My dear lady warned me not to shout ‘That’s the way to do it suckers’ as pride definitely comes before a fall.
So there we were on the platform, with what seemed like the entire population of a small city, and it’s hot.
Erm….maybe this wasn’t going to be fun after all.
The train arrived, pushing even more hot, acrid air in front of it. Like a lava flow we were overcome by a scalding wall of heat which stunned us for a second or two. The doors opened and we were virtually carried onto the carriage and pushed deep into the heart of the crush.
Now I’m often accused of exaggerating the situation a little, massaging the events to create interest and drama….ME??…NEVER!!…well maybe…just a touch 
To be honest it really wasn’t too bad. Let’s just say that New Yorkers have learnt to accept a lack of personal space in order to reach their destination quickly and very cheaply. And so must we as tonight we’re heading for Yankee Stadium for a baseball game. The taxi fare would be $50 each way, but we can use the subway for a tenth of that. Nuff said!
Moving on, and Greenwich Village was well worth the visit, as was Washington Square Park. There was a Pagan Pride festival going on with more witches in attendance than we saw in Salem. There was also a young man playing a ‘Grand’ piano under the ‘Grand’ arch entrance to the park…only in America would you find a grand piano in a park.
We left the park and headed downtown, specifically to Chinatown for lunch. For the second time this trip we stumbled upon the place we were looking for without too much searching and enjoyed a lunch of dim sum and noodles…yummy.
A lot more walking around the city hall and courts area to admire the grandeur of the architecture and the time passed quickly. As the baseball game was due to start at 4pm we set off to find the appropriate subway. Now this became bone of contention as the subway stations are not very well marked, and you need a different entrance for different directions. Eventually we found what we were looking for, a number 4 express, and managed to squeeze on.
Yankee stadium is huge and looks very modern. The collection of tickets at ‘will call’ was easy and entry through security was quick. All good so far. Seats were found and there was plenty of leg room and a great view. We stood for the national anthem and readied ourselves for the first pitch.
The whole atmosphere was great but maybe a little more subdued than we were expecting, but our overall impression was very good. As expected food and drink was expensive and when I went to get a beer I was actually id’d. That made me momentarily forget I was paying 10 bucks for a bud which, according to all the signs around, was going to increase my energy intake by 300 odd calories. In fact everything for sale inside the stadium carried a calorific value to let the fans know just how much weight they would gain during the game.
Wow thanks for that…go Yankees.
Game over and back on the subway to Grand Central and a walk down 42nd street, through Times Square and finally back to the ship.
I know…let’s do it all again tomorrow 

Day two dawned bright and warm, however we slept late, missed dawn and went straight for the heat and chaos of mid morning.
Today we were on a mission to find and walk the High Line, a disused elevated section of rail track starting somewhere around 34th and 12th.
A short 10 minute walk from the ship and it was easily spotted and joined. We had a very interesting slow amble along about a mile and half of pretty gardens with interesting features, including what looks like a branch line which cuts straight through the middle of a building.
Once at the end we turned round and headed back the way we’d come until we reached Chelsea Market.
This was an incredible place to visit and full of complete surprises when it comes to comparing it to markets back in the UK. Brilliant and well worth a visit, especially for lunch as there is so much choice.
That’s pretty much all we did today and we really enjoyed this little piece of paradise in the vast sprawl of the city.
Just one small incident which gave us a titter. Outside Chelsea Markets there is a street marked ‘For Loading and Unloading only’. There was a line of about fifteen lorries all sporting the same company’s ‘Fruit and Vegetables to the Trade’ livery and they were parked up with no apparent activity of the loading/unloading variety.
A very happy traffic warden was gleefully writing tickets and dutifully booking every single one of them. I started to wonder if this was a regular Sunday morning activity for said uniformed enforcer of street law and I could imagine her begging to work overtime in order to get her quota in at the start of each week…Priceless.
Another great visit to this great city, and now we have an understanding of the subway system it will hopefully open up a whole world of possibilities next time….providing of course there is a next time.

Which Witch is Which.

24th September 2015
Salem

Salem

Question: how many witches were executed following the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693?
Answer: none….because of the twenty people hung or crushed to death none of them were actually witches (so I was told)

We had another bright and sunny day to explore ashore, but with only a few hours before we head off for the next stop we have to get a wiggle on as there appears to be a lot to do.
Salem is a fairly new location for the cruise industry, although many thousands of tourists flock here every year on the ferry from Boston, so maybe we need to be on our best behaviour if we want to be invited back.
First impressions are this is a very pretty town and, but for the history of the appalling and harrowing events of over 300 years ago, it would probably be a very sleepy place too.
But it isn’t, far from it.
First of all, as you leave the port, there is a house with all kinds of junk in the garden and around the house. It’s the same stuff we’ve just spent the last eight months getting rid of back home, but the owner has used his/her imagination to create works of art….or just things of interest. It would be possible to spend some time looking through the bars of the fence at all the immerging artefacts, but like I said….wiggle, wiggle.
Once outside the port there is a red line to follow, a tourist trail which takes you to or past every point of interest in this vibrant town. The House of Seven Gables is first followed by the court house and the historical maritime area. There are waxworks, museums, houses of interest, a cemetery, a pirate house and more ghost walks than you could rattle Jacob Marley’s chains at. And it’s all good and overall not too demanding on the pocket book (wallet for us English)
Now the most interesting place for me was the memorial area for the victims of those heinous accusations. I’ll not go into much detail but I found the walk past each marker dedicated to a prematurely despatched, ordinary human, quite emotional. I’m sure their only ambition in life was probably to be happy, healthy and allowed to live as long as possible, in peace.
But then there’s always someone with an axe to grind, a point to make or just wants to be a spoiler for no other reason than they can.
Hey Ho.
Anyway, back to Salem, and we’ll certainly be back if given the chance, although maybe the witch theme is just a little OTT. I suppose this is definitely a case of ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’. I’m sure Salem has more to offer than that but on this occasion we didn’t have the time to find it.

My joints are stiff and rusty
Old paint’s already peeled
I’m looking fairly shabby
With all my faults revealed.
And my undercarriage droops a bit
Well, a lot to be quite fair
My fallen arches need a lift
And success in love is rare.

But at least I’ve had the chance to live
A full and active life,
Free from persecution
Safe and happy, little strife.
It doesn’t matter who I am
Or what my interests be.
Criticise me all you want,
You can’t stop me being me.

(A grateful tribute for life, inspired by the innocents of Salem)

Sydney and the big fiddle :)

P103053221st September 2015
Sydney, Nova Scotia.

The first thing that strikes you here is a bloody enormous fiddle (I’m talking musical instrument here and not a scam) it’s huge and reputed to be the largest in the world (I’m still talking about the fiddle, which is a musical instrument not a scam) Wow is just about all I can think of saying, and of course you have to take a picture……it would be rude to ignore it.
To be honest this thing is so big that it appears in every picture we took in Sydney….even the ones we took at the park over a mile away the fiddle was in the background.
Anyway, we don’t have a full day here so time to stop wittering and time to get round the town. First stop an old church which has been restored to its former gloomy glory. It’s nice to see that they’ve kept the character and not added tons of new materials. Very pleasant.
Next is the Jost House. Now this too has been restored and is crammed with artefacts and interesting ‘stuff’. The guides give us a detailed history of the house and the family who had built it, adding different parts as their needs changed. There was even a room full of old apothecary equipment, medicaments and preparations, absolutely fascinating. Best of all was the reception and farewell we were given by a complete stranger with hugs all round and a genuine sense that our presence was appreciated. Nice……..
Anyway (have you noticed I love that word?) we visit a couple more churches then it’s time to head back to the port.
We then set off in the other direction along a neatly constructed ‘boardwalk’ which takes us along the water’s edge for about a kilometre. Turning left and heading for the town we first encountered the local fire station with a couple of the splendid engines in the process of being cleaned and polished.
A short walk from here takes us to a small park with lots of ducks and statues and stuff….very pleasant. The main shopping area of the town consists mainly of one street and this is crammed with the usual interesting shops and eateries.
Our last visit here was marked by a wonderful meal (and a drink or two) at ‘The Governors’ with our table companions (you know who you are) As two of that party are also onboard this time we arranged to meet up there again and toast absent friends. It was as good as the last time (except for the absence of a certain couple (yes talking about you two again) and we spent a couple of hours doing what comes naturally to this party, eating and drinking.
And so it’s time to leave, but not before one last hunt around the souvenir market at the port. There’s a shop selling sculptures which is crammed with ‘dancing polar bears’. Now we’ve seen quite a few of these before in most of the Canadian ports we’ve visited over time, and they’re so cute. They really do convey a sense of joy and happiness and then the owner tells us why. Apparently the Inuit’s believe that if you are a good hunter then when you die you come back as an animal. Now if they come back as a polar bear, which of course is at the top of the food chain, they are so happy they dance. What a great philosophy 🙂
Well with that in mind I just had to buy one….well I had intended to anyway as I’d always regretted not getting one last year.
So off we set, sadly just one port in Canada this time so USA here we come.
We’ll be back 

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Off on a Jolly….but not everyone

pills

14th September 2015
 
Well here we go again.
 
The last few months have been very busy as well as a touch draining, but things back home are almost back to normal again, so it’s time to head off on another adventure (it’s possible that not all of our trips were well deserved….but this one is J)
 
We’re off for a cruise starting in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada which then takes us all the way down the eastern seaboard of the USA to Miami. Then we’ll return back to the UK via the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Azores.
As usual we stayed at in a very comfortable Premier Inn last night and the process of embarkation this morning was faultless and efficient.
Normally there’s not much going on during the first day that hasn’t already been commented on in previous blogs….except today something different happened.
Muster is always a bit of a necessary evil. The vast majority of passengers have gone through this drill many, many times before and trudge bored and uninterested to their assembly station. We all reluctantly listen to the master drone on about the safety of the ship and what we should all do in the event of an emergency. Then we all don our life jackets with a distinct lack of enthusiasm and stand wondering how much longer this is going to take before we can get back to the important matters in life….like eating and drinking or watching the hapless stevedores kicking the last few pieces of luggage across the dock and onto the ship.
But one of the assembled has become quite poorly, quite suddenly and is in desperate need of medical attention. Now this is not an uncommon problem on a cruise ship, after all a fair number of our fellow travellers are well over their allotted three score and ten….but most of the previous ‘code alphas’ have at least been able to enjoy a modicum of the holiday before disaster has stuck. This poor person is off loaded into the care of the NHS whilst a thousand others who remain onboard head off for the sun, the sun that poor individual was hoping to enjoy as well.
I’m suddenly reminded that life is, and will always be, unpredictable.
I consider that my dear lady and I are really fortunate to be able to take these trips and I hope we never take these experiences, or our health, for granted.
But the incident did get folk talking, specifically about their own ailments and the medication they take to control their many problems….so I give you
 
Please Forgive Me if I Rattle
 
The tablets keep me going,
They lower this and that,
There’s a tiny one for water
And a larger one for fat.
 
Three are for my ticker,
Two to keep me sane.
A puffer eases breathing,
Sixteen capsules numb the pain.
 
There’s a daily dose of aspirin
So my platelets don’t occlude,
And a blue one gives a little lift
For when I’m in the mood.
 
There’s a yellow one for weight loss
Which results in smelly poo,
And a pretty shiny pink one…
God knows what that will do.
 
Now my kidneys barely function
And my heart beats way too strong,
It’s because I’m hypertensive
That I have to play along
With this medication buffet.
Bendroflumethiazide,
Omeprazole stops acid
With Gaviscon on the side.
 
While Metformin fixes sugar,
Quinine stops cramps at night,
A heavy dose of iron
Puts anaemia to right.
 
Beta-blockers, Statins,
Diuretics, just the start.
And a hefty swig of Lactulose
Plays a most important part.
 
Now when it comes to pain relief
I’ve tried the blooming lot,
Ibuprofen, Tramadol,
Codeine, Morphine, Pot!!
 
And I’m sure a course of HRT
Would really do me well,
It’s the only thing that’s missing
From my medication hell.
 
So forgive me if I rattle
It’s because as you may guess
It’s the drugs that keep me going,
Is it really worth it?…YES.

Up and Running (again)

solar

It has been a while since my last post here and I apologise to those who have visited my blog only to find the cupboard bare. Now it’s not that I’ve had nothing interesting to report but more a lack of internet access during our last couple of trips.
I fail to understand why some cruise companies can offer a very realistic and affordable package to get online and some can’t….but ‘hey ho’ them’s the breaks.

Earlier this year we took another chance to visit Norway, the land of the Northern Lights. But as a bonus the trip also coincided with an opportunity to witness a total lunar eclipse of the sun. Here is the piece I wrote at the time…..

Eclipse

Even at the best of times I’m not a great fan of standing in the rain and getting soaked, worse if it’s also icy cold and blowing a gale.
I really struggle to understand as to why some of the great musical composers have glorified what is essentially a cold shower by associating the experience to being ‘happy again’ or suggesting it’s something you should do with the ‘one you love’ in order to glean the very best out of a relationship. I’m certain a nice warm bath together would achieve a much better outcome.
Either way a box of tissues should be readily available.
Anyway, here I am standing in a puddle of freezing cold water with my feet slowly going numb, my hair is saturated and a steady procession of drips are meandering down the back of my neck in search of somewhere to accumulate and make my existence even more uncomfortable….if that were even possible at this moment in time.
Now believe it or believe it not, I’m quite content to stay in this same spot for at least another hour or so despite the fact that I am a self confessed wimp and a warm, dry environment is just a few feet away.
Am I completely mad? Have I finally lost the plot?
Well no more than usual, but I do have an exceptionally good reason to be doing this. Today is Friday 20th March 2015 and I’m standing on the upper deck of the cruise ship Oriana just outside the port of Torshavn in the Faroe Islands. The time is 08.40 and the moon has just started a rare transit across the sun. At around 09.40 there is to be a total lunar eclipse.
Unfortunately the heavens are almost fully veiled by a heavy grey cloak of cloud which is determined to spoil the day for around two thousand expectant pairs of eyes. But there is hope because there are a few tantalising gaps which allow the onlookers a brief glimpse of the moons progress as it slowly engulfs it’s mightiest of companions in this small corner of the universe.
Everybody is furtively scanning the firmament….pointing and gesturing in various directions….estimating the wind speed and the subsequent movement of the swirling vapours above us.
Will we or won’t we?
Then a gap opens up and quickly the assembled don the cardboard glasses which have been issued to protect fragile eyes from the harmful light. But the combination of the dark filters and the natural foggy barrier on high renders them all but useless this time.
Now as it happens I’ve actually come fully prepared….for once….and had the foresight to bring along a couple of sheets of dark blue gel. These have been cut into several strips which I can combine any number of to get a good view of the proceedings, as well as affording the required protection.
There’s just enough time to see that the moon has managed to cover around half of the sun and then, just as quickly as it appeared, the ongoing spectacle vanishes behind another encroaching bank of cloud.
Time passes and the tension increases….as does the volume of cold water collecting in my underwear.
There’s a surge of chatter with a frantic waving of arms from a nearby group who loudly voice the suggestion that if all two thousand of us blow at once then maybe….just maybe….we can disperse the offending obstruction.
Then a bright shaft of light hits the sea half way between us and the horizon and another multitude of voices rise as one to demand the captain quickly puts the ship into warp drive to delivers us ’OVER THERE’….ah well, if only.
With just a few minutes to go a hush of reluctant disappointment descends to mute all but the insanely optimistic into silent reflection. And at that very moment I observe many of my fellow cruisers looking to the heavens whilst quietly muttering. Many a request for divine intervention was being offered to the almighty, maybe in return for the promise of abstention or a greater future commitment….and as if in appreciation of this renewed dedication there was a sudden and significant response.
With almost perfect timing the cloud cover clears enough to see that all but a thin sliver of the sun remains….and it’s bright enough to make the cardboard filters useable and necessary.
There is an audible gasp of gratitude (there will be plenty of opportunities to review any rash, spur of the moment promises made later)
The next few minutes were undoubtedly some of the most dramatic I’ve encountered (certain events aside J)
At first the thin sliver of sun which remained seemed to hang around unchanged for quite a while. Then in the last few seconds before totality there was a more noticeable movement of the moon, until the solitaire ring was displayed, a flaming diamond on a golden band. This pinpoint of light finally vanished like someone had flicked a switch.
For just a second or two everything disappeared from sight….AND THEN….there it was….the iconic sight of a total eclipse….the black disc of the moon surrounded by a corona of radiant light.
For two whole minutes the ice cold trickle down my back didn’t exist and I just didn’t care how numb my feet were anymore.
No words can truly describe the event itself but for me there was reflection.
Along with fleeting thoughts of the terror this phenomenon bought to my ancestors, there was the understanding that these eclipses have been occurring for millions of years, long before I came into existence, and they will continue to do so long after. For the attending it was special, but in the grand scheme of things it was just another day at the office for Mother Nature.

Once again I marvel at the wonders of our universe and realise that in the bigger picture I’m quite insignificant after all. But at least I got to make my mark and humanity has to acknowledge that no matter how trivial my presence is in the grand scheme….I was at least here to witness one of natures’ most amazing spectacles.

Gratuities……here’s a tip :)

30th November 2014

Another Sea Day

Photo0161

The sea has started to cut up a bit rough over the past 24 hours and those who haven’t taken to their beds yet are looking for things to keep themselves occupied and entertained. There are still a few who are lamely wandering around with their latest batch of t-shirts, bags and coats announcing where they’ve been recently….trouble is everybody else went there as well, so the game is now to prove you paid less for your goodies than anyone else did.

I feel slightly cheated because I didn’t buy anything with the name of a location on it, so I’m not allowed to play because…..well because I’m just a cheapskate (and proud of it)

Others are now scheming on how to get out of paying their gratuities to the well deserving crew members who’ve looked after us all so well (and they call me a cheapskate?) It ranges from cancelling the automatic additions to their cabin account with the intention of feigning illness on the last day and therefore avoiding any contact with the staff, to outright deviousness by claiming they’re unhappy with the service they’ve received over the past 34 days. That has wider ranging consequences that they either haven’t considered or just don’t care about.

One couple stated that as they’d seen their waiter ashore at one of the ports and he was in possession of the latest iphone, was wearing designer clothes and shopping for jewellery then he was obviously paid far too much and didn’t need their hard earned cash.

I am truly amazed by some of the excuses…but somehow I’m not surprised…and you wonder why I hate people!!

Yes, for us Brits, tipping is always a bit of a hot topic because it’s not a culture we’ve been used to, but come on meanies you know the situation and you should factor the cost in with the holiday. I’m so disappointed to hear you criticise the efforts of the guys and gals who work 10 to 12 hours a day/7 days a week and yet you’re too tight to reward their genuine attention to your needs…yet you’ll spend $10 on a tatty t-shirt in every port…shame on you.

Next I’ll hear some poor soul claiming that they’ve had to cancel their gratuities owing to the heavy loses they’ve suffered at the gaming tables, or that they need to be careful with the pennies because they’ve just booked another two cruises.. ….oh too late…I heard those two tales last night.

Look folks if you can’t afford it then just say so, it’s not a crime you know. But please don’t rubbish the hard working staff just to save a few bob.

TWIT.

 

 

St Lucia…rollercoaster to Mamiku

16th November 2014

St Lucia…one Piton or two?

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We have very fond memories of previous trips to this lush green island. It’s friendly people, beautiful vistas and pristine beaches could make the weariest of travellers find a new lease of life. We’ve already done the party catamaran to see the Pitons, taxi ride to Soufriere, the hot springs and an unforgettable trip to the Diamond Falls and botanical gardens.

This time we’ve opted for a trip out to Mamiku Gardens on the eastern coast overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. First up though is the taxi ride to get there and here is where the reference to the rollercoaster begins.

St Lucia’s roads are serious stuff and as the engine of the bus we’re in whines its protest up a virtually impossible slope there is a very strong smell of hot metal and we all start wonder if we’re going to make it to the top…….

Then we finally reach the brow of the hill and are greeted with the scariest view of the downward incline we’re about to negotiate and you can hear our fellow travellers praying the brakes work well…..or just work would be good.

Anyhow….after around forty five minutes of stomach churning up and down lurching we arrive at the entrance to the gardens which are perched on the side of a hill.

And what a treat awaited us…firstly we are introduced to our guide, a nice lady (and I mean a proper lady) who is not only the gardener responsible for the landscaping and layout of this place, but she’s also the owner.

P1030669Veronica Shingleton Smith is a gem and as she directs us around her creation she imparts her wealth of knowledge about the shrubs, trees and flowers she has grown gracefully old with. They are her babies and she will even tell you how many flowers each of them produced in past years…..incredible.

Add to that all the information she gives us about how the islanders use this vegetation to ward off or cure certain afflictions then suddenly we’re all very interested.

There are pungent leaves to infuse for headaches or gastric upsets. Tamarind which they juice to lower blood pressure, a leaf the men chew to ward off prostate problems and finally we arrive at the Noni tree.

P1030674Now there are many claims made about the health benefits of consuming the fruit of the Noni tree and the stories told by VSS would appear to endorse these theories. I will just say that I agree totally with this sweet lady’s statement that science will probably discover in the natural world the cure for just about everything.

We got to sample some of the tamarind juice along with a couple of very strong rum punches at the end of the tour, and I have to add that the couple of hours we were there flew by thanks to the very enjoyable company of Veronica.

Mamiku only ranks as #41 on Trip Advisor things to do in St Lucia…it should be higher….a really good half days tour.

Back in Castries and, yep you guessed it, it’s beer o’clock.

It’s a hot day, with a few tropical showers included for good measure, so some serious fluid replacement is required.

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And that was it really…not much happened but we did have a really good visit. So once again we bid goodbye to another of our favourite islands and dream of many happy returns.

 

Barbados..Far away from London and from home

14th November 2014

Oh we’re going to Barbados…in the sunny Caribbean sea

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We arrive with Bridgetown bathed in glorious sunshine, the sea a beautiful turquoise blue. This is a very busy port which usually plays host to a number of cruise ships….today is no exception with us being the fifth to arrive (and we’re the smallest)

There really is so much to do and see here that it’s difficult to know exactly where to begin. Taxis are plentiful and in general are small minibus type vehicles. Mostly the drivers prefer to sell you a half or full days tour of the island and as they may only get one chance of a fare each day then this is to be expected.

Time to negotiate a price but be specific….if you want to be by yourselves then you need to mention that, or if you only want to go to a particular place then you need to be insistent. And of course this will all be reflected in the price. If you’re not bothered what you do and are looking for the cheapest deal then be prepared to wait some time as the drivers will attempt to fill every seat in their vehicle before setting off. In our experience it’s much better to pay extra and have more control over the day’s itinerary, but more importantly it’s nicer to have the extra space inside the vehicle to enjoy the day. For around $100/120 you can get a three hour tour (short but very good)

Let’s start with our favourite….Harrisons Caves.P1010746

This is an incredible underground labyrinth of wonder and well worth the visit…..and it’s lovely and cool down there. The majority of the journey is made on a train like vehicle, but plenty of stops are made for photos, and the guides will always recommend the best views. Great couple of hours worth….and did I mention it’s lovely and cool as well?

There are a few ‘gardens’ to visit which, at the right time of year, will thrill any amateur horticulturalist with some very beautiful landscaping and stunning displays of flowers….especially orchids.

Of course just a drive around the island is a magical mystery tour in itself with stunning views both out over the Atlantic Ocean to the east or the Caribbean Sea to the west. Not to mention the turbulent history of the Caribbean, and Barbados had its fair share of the conflicts and slavery etc….A good driver can bring the whole story alive if allowed to do so (maybe another good reason to go on your own as we’ve often experienced the ‘know it all tourist’ who spoils everything by never shutting up!!!!) More often than not we always seem to end up in some off the beaten track location with a rum punch in one hand and a coconut bun in the other talking to ‘momma’….priceless hospitality.

For the more adventurous there are plenty of water sports or catamaran trips to snorkel or swim with dolphins/turtles.

Then there’s the beach…..or should I say beaches. Now I’m no great lover of sand and I’ll guarantee a small grain of the stuff will never produce a pearl in me, but I do love the beaches here. This is the place the world exists in the Caribbean, it’s where the locals meet to have fun, swim, party or just try to make a living. The water is so clear and warm you have to go for a swim, or even just a paddle.

Most places you can rent a lounger and umbrella for a few (negotiated) dollars and there’s nearly always a cold beer or three close by.

Anyway, after a wonderful day enjoying the island it’s back to Bridgetown and despite it’s somewhat shabby appearance in places, it’s a friendly town with lots of the usual stuff to see. Stop and talk to the locals, buy some of the local hand-made crafts (rather than the increasing masses of imported rubbish)

Then it’s a short walk back to the port and a few ‘Banks’ beers in the bar along with a flying fish platter…..yum.

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Barbados never disappoints and despite one or two showers today it keeps it’s excellent reputation well and truly intact.

Cheer’s Barbados.

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