Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

At this time of year, when it’s cold and dark in Scotland, I find myself conjuring up memories of warm, sunny places.

A few years ago I spent part of the British winter in New Zealand, and I’ve been enjoying revisiting it in my mind recently.

I hope I can go back in person one of these days, see some of the many places I missed first time round, and squeeze in a return visit to the beautiful Bay of Islands, pictured below.

Thanks to everyone who’s popped in for a read of my blog over the past year, and a very Happy Christmas to you all – whether you’re spending it cosying up indoors or soaking up the summer sun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Peaceful Russell, in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. You can leave your hats, scarves and gloves at home over Christmas.

Read Full Post »

Just outside the village of Stanley in Perthshire there’s a small car park that’s often filled with vehicles sporting colourful roof rack items.

The colourful items, which are generally canoes and kayaks, are brought here by their owners and carried along a narrow pathway across the road. You could easily miss it if you didn’t know where to look (right of centre in this picture, to the left of the red car):

After a short walk on the flat you come to a long set of steps going downhill:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe reason for carrying canoes along this path is to reach the River Tay at the bottom, where there is apparently some challenging paddling to be had.

Here’s the river, looking quite benign:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On the occasion of these photographs there were no canoeists in sight, but Delightful Assistant no.2 and I enjoyed a pleasant riverside stroll, ducking underneath low-hanging trees:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd being impressed by twisting branches:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
On the other side of the river we spotted a small beach, where a lady and her dog were enjoying the sunshine:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The path we were walking along was built up a bit from the water, but there were one or two opportunities to get down to the waterside.

I opted for a route which was made of a sort of stone ladder, just visible in the next photo on the left, but more clearly shown in the picture after that, taken from down below looking up to the higher path:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Although it was lovely down by the river, we were on the shady side and I thought it would be nice to hop into a small boat and row across into the sunshine.

Some time soon, on a similarly sunny day, I’ll take the delightful assistants to the path on the other side of the river, and perhaps we can have a little seat on the beach and pretend we’re on our holidays.

It’s a bit too snowy for that today though.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Read Full Post »

Have you ever had a migraine?

According to The Migraine Trust, it’s the most common neurological ailment in the western world.

There are more people suffering from migraine than from diabetes, asthma and epilepsy combined, accounting for over 8 million people in the UK alone.

I’ve been getting migraines for the past 16 or so years. I’ve learned to live with them (and luckily don’t get them as badly or as frequently as some people do), and now think of them as part of life.

When I recently visited the Migraine Trust website after a particularly disagreeable migraine, I was very interested to find out about this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of several Travelling Migraine Diaries from The Migraine Trust.

Before, or even after, people are diagnosed with migraine it’s suggested that they keep a migraine diary, to see if there’s any pattern to their occurrence.

Inspired by that idea, and with the aim of encouraging sufferers to share their experiences, the Migraine Trust came up with the idea of a Travelling Diary.

Rather than just using one very large book, they’re sending out a number of blank books all over the UK to people who suffer from migraines, so that each sufferer can contribute their story of how migraines affect them.

I received one of the diaries in the post yesterday and wrote my piece in it this morning:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My entry in one of the Travelling Migraine Diaries.

After my mum’s added a bit about her experience of migraine, the book will be sent back to the Trust so that they can send it on to the next person on their list.

I enjoyed reading the stories of other people who had written in the diary before me, and eventually all of the stories will be available to view online. The Trust are taking photographs of the entries as they receive them and putting them on Flickr during their Diary Campaign, and you can see them here.

If you live in the UK and have ever suffered from a migraine, you might want to consider adding your bit to one of the diaries. You can do that by clicking on this link to the Migraine Trust’s sign up page.

You can also follow the Migraine Trust on Facebook and Twitter @migrainetrust.

I don’t know if humans are the only species in the animal kingdom to suffer from migraines, but I hope so. I wouldn’t like to think of other animals having to cope with migraines.

Here’s a happy horse I saw the other day wearing a natty red coat and looking comfortably headache-free:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

White horse in a red coat.

Read Full Post »

A day or two ago I came across a photo competition on Restless Jo‘s blog.

The competition is sponsored by Rhino Carhire (clicking here will take you to the competition website) and features modes of transport.

In order to enter, you need to write a blog post including photographs of various modes of transport you’ve encountered. There are four categories: ROAD, AIR, RAIL and SEA and you can enter as many or as few categories as you wish, with as many photos for each category as you like.

I thought I’d struggle to find even one picture for each category, and that made me set myself the challenge.

These are not necessarily the best snaps I’ve ever taken but I quite enjoyed fishing around for one of each.

For the ROAD category, I thought of Iceland, where some of the roads are so rough and ready that not only are there no white lines or road markings of any kind, but you have to cross rivers to get from A to B.

My chum and I, who were on a field trip, had to drive across a number of rivers, and I was keen to photograph the experience.

On the occasion depicted below, I jumped out of the car and climbed over rocks till I found a place where I could cross on foot without getting too wet. My chum waited till I was ready to photograph him crossing, and then drove through the river while I snapped away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the road in Iceland

For the AIR category the only photographs I could think of that I might use were shots taken from aeroplane windows. Many of these have bits of wing in them, but I took a few while flying over the Chilean capital of Santiago which were devoid of plane parts, and this is one of them. A mixture of fog and cloud produced this smoky scene:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Flying across misty mountains into Santiago de Chile

The RAIL category was a bit trickier, because initially I was trying to remember if I had any pictures of beautiful old steam trains, but couldn’t remember taking any. I have a few views from modern train windows, but they didn’t seem quite sufficient. Then I remembered rather a nice railway viaduct in the Scottish Borders.

This is the Leaderfoot Viaduct and although no longer in use as a railway track, it has been very nicely renovated by Historic Scotland and is a charming piece of engineering history:

DSCN0867

The Leaderfoot Viaduct – an elegant way for trains to cross the River Tweed

I have quite a few pictures of boats, ships and life at sea, many of which were taken during my time working in the oil industry. I remember several rough trips in the North Sea, and thought I’d use one from such a trip for the SEA category.

This photograph was taken in the sort of weather in which, as the saying goes, you feel so seasick you worry you’re going to die, and then you worry you won’t.

During this storm I spent most of the time lying in my bunk feeling close to death, but for a brief moment I managed to leg it up to the bridge to take some pictures, before crawling back to my cabin and continuing to feel sorry for myself.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Waves crashing over the bow during stormy weather in the North Sea

In order to enter the competition I need to nominate at least 5 fellow bloggers who might like to take part.

I feel bad about doing this so close to the deadline, which is 31 October 2013, but on the up side, if you can manage to squeeze an entry in you might just win yourself £1000.

I tried to choose bloggers I thought might be interested in entering at least one of the categories, but anyone can have a go, you don’t need to have been nominated in someone else’s post (I wasn’t!).

Dutch Goes Italian

Gippsland Granny

Rigmover

Meg Travels

Scott Marshall Photography

Even if you don’t win the overall winner’s prize of £1000 there’s always a chance you could win one of the category winners’ prizes of a Sony compact camera.

Best of luck to anyone who enters!

Read Full Post »

Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of the living.” – Miriam Beard

Some places leave a lasting impression on the visitor and, for me, Iceland is one such place.

Clean fresh air, steam rising out of the ground, subtle colours in the landscape, black rock, ice and barely discernible roads are some of the things that spring to mind when I think of Iceland.

Here’s what I mean:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking down on the coastal town of Seyðisfjörður on Iceland’s east coast. My chum and I arrived by air into the capital, Reykjavik, but left on a ferry from here, bound for the Faroe Islands.

???????????

All over the country you see steam rising out of the ground, and in this case it was coming up out of a river. They get hot water for free in Iceland, thanks to all the geothermal energy, and it left my skin feeling very soft although unfortunately tainted by the stench of rotten eggs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Crater lake at Landmannalaugar. The shades of green and brown were striking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Curious textures and colours in the rocks at Landmannalaugar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Black sand, black rock, there’s a lot of it about in Iceland.

We drove right across the middle of the country, from the south-west to the north coast. This route is closed for about 9 months of the year over the autumn, winter and spring, but even when it’s open it’s not exactly obvious where the roads are:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Er…which way do we go?

We drove for miles over rough black rock, seeing very few other vehicles or signs of habitation. I found it surprisingly beautiful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a good idea to squeeze as much fuel into your tank as possible before setting off across the middle of Iceland; there are no petrol stations on this route.

We had to cross quite a few rivers, which I found both terrifying and exhilarating (I wasn’t doing the driving). The key is to avoid still water, which can be deceptively deep, and aim for the rough looking bits where there are rocks just beneath the surface.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

About to cross…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Crossing….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Phew – made it!

Although there was a lot of black rock around, some bits of the country were very green:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunny cemetery with little turf-roofed church.

Perhaps one of the things people expect when they go to Iceland is ice, particularly in the form of glaciers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Vatnajökull ice cap – the biggest in Europe, going by volume.

One thing about glaciers is that although they look nice and white when you see them at a distance, close-up they’re really quite dirty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Me on a glacier, with grubby rocks stuck inside the ice.

Another thing I wasn’t expecting about glaciers is the way they make eery creaking noises. I noticed this particularly in Norway once where I was in a hollow next to a glacier surrounded by mountains. The creaking noises, along with the sound of tumbling ice, echoed round the valley in a manner that fairly set my senses on edge.

At the foot of the Vatnajökull ice cap was the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, a blue lake of floating bergs that had calved off the glacier:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon with floating ice sculptures.

I believe many of the bergs melt in the lagoon, but I saw some drifting off under the bridge along the coast road out into the North Altlantic Ocean:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Icebergs off to the seaside for their holidays.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Iceland twice, and on both trips I was helping out as field assistant to a geology chum of mine. Amongst other rock-related activities we went to look at some columnar basalt.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I felt as if I were standing in Middle-earth looking at this scene. J R R Tolkein apparently drew inspiration for The Lord of the Rings from the Icelandic sagas, and studied Old Icelandic at university, although whether he ever visited Iceland himself I don’t know.

I hope I get the chance to go back to Iceland again, and if you’re thinking you might fancy a trip there yourself I would highly recommend it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Clouds over Iceland

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Neighbourhood Watch.

Read Full Post »

Following on from my last post, after luncheon at Duff House my delightful assistant and I tootled up to have a look at one or two of the small villages that are strung out along the Moray coast.

Our first stop was the attractively named Gardenstown, which was reached via a steep narrow road full of hairpin bends.

We parked in a quiet street just above the harbour and got out to amble through the village and gaze out to sea:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I didn’t realise at first that this smart little building at the harbour was a toilet block. We didn’t make use of the facilities but they looked very well kept from the outside.

Attached to the railing I was leaning on to take the above photos, and at various other points in the town, there were curious little signs:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For those not in the know, there is a department store chain in the UK called BHS, which stands for British Home Stores; I assume it inspired the name of this Gardenstown emporium.

The delightful assistant and I were keen to take a look, and found said shop lurking inside this green wooden building:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Inside, it had the feel of a thrift shop, being largely stocked with second-hand oddments such as handbags, puzzles, books, clothes, photo frames and ornaments.

There were also a few brand new items, some of which had presumably been made locally, and amongst them were what I can only assume were gnomes. They were unlike any gnomes I’ve ever seen before, however, and I wish I had a photograph to show you. Alas, I didn’t feel able to take pictures under the watchful eyes of the assistants, who sat silent and motionless behind an old wooden counter observing our every move (we were the only customers).

The thing that impressed me most about this peculiar little shop was the high prices. In this tiny out of the way place, haphazardly dangling from the walls and strewn about dusty shelves, everything seemed to be surprisingly expensive. I remember there were a few very small notebooks filled with cheap lined paper that I would expect to cost a maximum of 30p, but which were priced at £1 each. I don’t wish to criticise the owners of this store or to pass judgement on their efforts to run a retail business, but I find it hard to imagine them ever selling anything.

On the plus side, visiting it was certainly an experience.

Back outside the store, I was attracted by this somewhat unusual pair of bollards outside someone’s front door:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On closer inspection they reminded me of chess pieces:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I confess, their purpose wasn’t entirely clear to me but – thanks to the heads on top – I drew the conclusion that they must be for tying your horse up to.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By this time the afternoon was drawing on and I wanted to have a peek at the interesting village of Crovie, just along the coast, before we turned round and headed towards home, so we got back into the car and set off up the steep winding streets of Gardenstown to rejoin the main road.

Unfortunately, our departure coincided with the arrival of a convoy of funeral attendees coming down the hill and looking for places to park on the roadside. We were forced to sit with the handbrake pulled up as far as it would go, on a steep slope next to a sharp bend with another car right behind us, constantly attempting to pull away but being thwarted by ever more vehicles appearing round the bend.

In this country, there is an understanding (it may even be mentioned in the Highway Code, I can’t remember) that traffic coming downhill gives way to that going uphill, but there was none of that in Gardenstown. Mind you, due to hairpin bends and buildings obscuring the view, I expect the downhill drivers didn’t know that there were uphill drivers waiting round the bend, and by the time they swung into view there was no room for them to give way to anyone.

It was not the most comfortable part of our day out, but at least it was summer time and the roads were dry. I shuddered to think what it would be like on ice in the winter, and made a mental note never to relocate to Gardenstown.

A few miles along the main road we saw the sign we were looking for, next to an attractive bus shelter with a not so attractive bin in front of it. The little blue and white anchor on the signpost denotes that Crovie is on the scenic route along the Moray coast:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The single track road leading down to Crovie from the main road:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Crovie, like Gardenstown, lies by the sea at the end of a steep road with a few sharp bends in it.

We passed a sign at a car park by the roadside before the village suggesting that any non-locals might like to stop there rather than continue down, but after surviving Gardenstown I wasn’t too put off by that. We did in fact find another place to park a bit further down the road, which was possibly just as well because there wasn’t a lot of land to park on down in the village.

The cars in the distance on the left of this picture were the only ones I saw there:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The west end of Crovie village.

Looking in the other direction there didn’t seem to be enough space for cars, and according to the Undiscovered Scotland website this is in fact the case.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The east end of Crovie village: no room for cars.

It surprised me that people actually chose to live here with it being so close to the sea, although I’ve since found out that quite a few of the houses are now holiday lets occupied only in the summer. On a stormy day at high tide I imagine it could be quite invigorating to stick your head out of the window of one of these houses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For a more professional photograph of Crovie, you might like to have a look at Scott Marshall’s blog, here.

When we’d finished gawping at Crovie, we buzzed off south again and stopped in a most curious place for cream teas.

The location was a castle and apparently photography was forbidden indoors ‘for insurance reasons’ and so, despite having taken a lot of pictures before I was aware of this rule, I’ve decided not to publish them here. This is a pity, particularly as many of them were taken in the tearoom where we enjoyed truly excellent cream teas. I even went to the trouble of conducting an experiment involving a cherry scone, some raspberry jam and a large pot of whipped cream.

The ‘cream tea’ (i.e. a pot of tea served with a scone, jam and cream – traditionally clotted cream, but often whipped double cream is used instead, as it was on this occasion), is said to have originated in the English county of Devon in the 11th Century, but the county nextdoor, Cornwall, also claims the cream tea as its own. I’ve only ever had a cream tea in Cornwall, not having spent any time in Devon, but I have heard that the difference between a Devonshire cream tea and a Cornish cream tea is in the ordering of the jam and cream on the scone.

In Devon they put the cream on first (butter isn’t usually part of a cream tea, unless my delightful assistants happen to be in charge) with the jam on top, and in Cornwall it’s the other way round: jam first, then cream. Here’s an example of what I’m on about (admittedly, this is one of the forbidden pictures, but you’d never know the location from this photo), with Devon on the right and Cornwall on the left:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve observed that in Scotland people tend to follow the Cornish method, with jam first and cream on top, and I think I understand the reason for this.

Whenever I’ve tried it the other way round, with the cream on first, I’ve found it difficult to apply the jam on top of the cream in such a way as to make it look appetising. Usually what happens is the heavier jam sinks into the cream and when an attempt is made to spread the jam, it combines with the cream to create a bit of a delicious mess. Applying the jam first means you lay a good solid foundation for the lighter cream, which when spread atop the jam layer manages to hold its own without mixing in with the jam too much.

When I take a cream tea (which I fear I do far too frequently for the good of my health), I tend to use the Cornish method, simply for neatness. What is a little unfortunate is that when I tested it on the occasion pictured above, I discovered (as I had already known, deep down) that I slightly preferred the taste sensation of the Devonshire method, with the cream underneath the jam.

I say it’s unfortunate but that’s like saying that a good solid 10 hour sleep is better than a sleep of 9 hours 55 minutes, i.e. there’s not much in it and I really can’t complain about the minimal difference in the end result.

Read Full Post »

Recently, with the very slow start of spring in Scotland (when I began typing this it was pouring with rain and about 10ºC), my thoughts have been straying towards happy memories of warm sunshine.

I used to have a terrible problem with itchy feet (I refer to wanderlust, as opposed to athlete’s foot-type afflictions which I have thankfully never suffered from).

All through my 20s and early 30s, I had daily dreams about dashing off hither and thither. Every now and then my dreams translated into reality, but before long I’d be back home again cogitating where to go next. I got so used to this state of affairs that I doubted I would ever grow out of it.

Then, when I started working offshore and was miraculously paid to go abroad, I thought my itchy feet problem had been cured. When I was at work I was usually on a boat bobbing about at sea, which satisfied my need for adventure, and when I wasn’t at work I was relaxing at home and perfectly happy not to be popping off anywhere else.

However, it’s now about 18 months since I more or less decided to stop working offshore, and just lately I’ve been aware of an irritation in the soles of my feet. It’s very slight, barely perceptible most of the time, but it’s on the edge of my consciousness.

And so, to the point of this post, which is to relive sunny days of travels past.

Mallorca (aka Majorca) is one of the places I have some sunny pictures of and I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the small Spanish island twice, first with my friend Sheila, and then with my dear mama.

On both visits I stayed in the lovely seaside resort of Puerto Pollensa:

Pier at Puerto Pollensa

Me at the end of the pier looking into the lovely, clear (and surprisingly cold) water at Puerto Pollensa

Lorna at Port de Pollensa

Finding shade is my usual habit when faced with glorious sunshine, even when I’ve gone somewhere deliberately to soak up the rays.

I stayed in the same hotel both times, too; it was pleasantly situated close to the beach with a quiet road and some hills at the back.

View from Mum's room

As always, food was of the utmost importance, and I ate well in Mallorca. The salads were particularly welcome in the hot weather.

A big tomato salad

My delightful assistant with a massive plate of tomato and mozzarella salad with olives

Even in the heat, however, one doesn’t want to forego the option of sweet treats.

Mum's chocolate cake at Sispins

My delightful assistant’s highly understandable choice of chocolate cake for pudding

I couldn’t get enough of the hot chocolate that was on offer at a cafe near the hotel; it was thick, silky and intensely chocolatey:

The chocolate was so thick!

If I was able to leave it for long enough (extremely difficult), a little skin formed on top, which pleased me more than I can say.

Just look at the way it coated this little biscuit:

Thick chocolate coating a biscuit at Gran Cafe in Port de Pollensa

This chocolate was so good that a version of it appears in my novel. I wanted to let my main character experience it, because I know how much she likes her little treats.

In addition to delicious food there were some beautiful buildings, particularly in the old town of Pollensa, a short bus journey inland from the port.

Interesting architecture at Pollensa

Lovely wooden shutters in Pollensa old town

Attractive house in Pollensa

A hot slog up a long flight of steps in the old town was worth it for the view from the top.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Only 365 steps till you reach the top…

View from hilltop at Pollensa

Why isn’t there a tearoom up here?

There were houses all the way up the sides of the steps, many of which had nicely tiled roofs and flourishing pot plants:

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the things that makes Puerto Pollensa such an attractive spot is the line of pine trees bowing out over the water:

Mum looking out to sea at Port de Pollensa

My delightful assistant alone with her thoughts, gazing out over the blue sea.

In Scotland, evenings on which one can stroll outside without a jacket or cardigan are few and far between. In fact, even on the warmest of summer evenings in this fair country I can’t imagine ever leaving the house to go for a walk without a sleeved covering of some sort.

Balmy summer evenings are one of the things we Brits prize when holidaying abroad in warmer climes.

Port de Pollensa sunset_2

As the sun sets over Puerto Pollensa the warmth of the air is sufficient to allow pleasant cardigan-less wandering along the beach. A treat for all the Brits on their hols.

As I finish this post,  I am delighted to report that not only is the sun shining but the forecast for the weekend isn’t too bad at all.

Perhaps this is indeed the proper start of spring, from which we will move seamlessly into summer.

If this jolly weather keeps up, I can possibly even shelve any thoughts of absconding and content myself with the delights of living in this lovely country.

Read Full Post »

In my final Twinings free tea tasting review, I present the delightfully named Ceylon Orange Pekoe:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The term ‘orange pekoe’ refers not to the flavour or colour of the tea, but to the grading of the tea leaves used.

I attempted to digest the Wikipedia article about this but it made my head hurt. If you want further information you could have a go at reading the article yourself, but the essential point would appear to be that ‘orange pekoe’ denotes a high quality large leaf tea.

It has been suggested that the ‘orange’ in the name might come from a connection with the Dutch House of Orange, who were partial to a spot of high quality tea. As for the word ‘pekoe’ there appears to be some confusion about this, but it may refer to a certain bit of the tea leaf bud.

To tea pedants this lack of certainty may appear unsatisfactory but, to my mind, orange pekoe’s enigmatic origins only add to its allure.

The Twinings Orange Pekoe I was sent contained the sort of tea I expect to find when tea shopping outside the UK: a box of individually wrapped sachets:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I assume that the difference in packaging for tea consumed within the UK and that destined for overseas markets is related to the amount of tea drunk in a certain country. Wrapping each teabag up individually perhaps makes sense if you only use one teabag very occasionally, but I should imagine that if tea was routinely packaged like this in the UK, there would be a national outcry.

I certainly found that when I went to make a pot of Twinings Ceylon Orange Pekoe, using four teabags, I felt frustrated by the amount of effort involved in unpackaging each paper wrapper and then having to deal with the associated strings and tags that came with each one.  I ripped off the tags, but I would have been better advised to snip off the strings too because when I went to stir the teabags around in the teapot, the strings got all wrapped round the spoon and made me not a little irate.

To be fair to Twinings, they do state on their website that this orange pekoe is made for international markets, so perhaps they don’t sell much of it in the UK. The box certainly had travel aspirations, with information in more than a dozen languages.

The important thing about this tea was of course not the packaging or the name, but the taste of the stuff.

It seemed to me to be the sort of tea one might like to drink with a slice of cake (right at the moment I can’t think of any other sort of tea, but I suppose there may be such a thing), and so I made a Victoria sponge to scoff with it:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I had a bit of an accident when pouring the icing sugar out of the packet, and since I’d dropped a load of sugary snow on one bit of the cake I thought I’d better make it look even by smothering the rest of it too:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I tend to expect with Ceylon, the tea was a light sort of brew, but it had a good strong colour (one might almost say orangey), and a smooth drinkable quality. The delightful assistants described the tea as ‘mellow’ and that word certainly seemed to me to fit the bill.

It was surprisingly flavourful, and we all agreed that it was the perfect partner for a sweet treat:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To the great delight of the assistants, a bit of cream was added to mark the occasion.

N.B. The amount of cream featured in this picture is shown for example only, and is not an accurate representation of quantities consumed:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Read Full Post »

As mentioned in my last post, the delightful assistant and I took ourselves to a new tearoom in Callander the other day. (New to me, that is, although the delightful assistant was sure she’d been there before.)

I’m not sure why, but I had been anticipating something quite refined, possibly with starched white linen tablecloths.

The reality was quite different, with mismatched old chairs and something of a studenty feel about it.

It took me a few minutes to readjust my thinking, but when I had, I settled in very nicely.

This tearoom is part of a larger Mhor family, incluing Mhor Fish (a fish and chip shop in Callander) and Mhor Hotel (a luxury boutique hotel).

In 2007 the Lewis family, who own and run the Mhor businesses, took over the Scotch Oven bakery, which had been supplying bakery items to the good people of Callander for over 100 years.

In its current guise, the bakery offers artisan breads as well as traditional Scottish bakery goods. All of the bread is handmade using locally milled flour, and I was very much looking forward to sampling it.

Given the cold weather I opted for the Soup of the Day, which was chilli, sweet potato and honey, and came dished up with chunks of locally made bread.

The delightful assisant decided to have her bread toasted, with poached eggs on top:

Before our meals came, cutlery was delivered to the table, along with some upmarket butterpats.

I got two of these for my bread, and the delightful assistant was cock-a-hoop to get no less than three for her toast.

With my first mouthful of chilli soup, steam came out of my ears and I began to breathe fire. ‘Tingled’ hardly covers it, but that was what the roof of my mouth did, and I was very glad I’d ordered a glass of tap water. I quickly slooshed some of the water down to dowse the flames, and stuffed bread in to dampen the raging inferno.

At that point I really thought I wouldn’t get through more than perhaps 3 or 4 spoonfuls of soup, but as I slowly persevered, stuffing in bread and throwing back water, I gradually became adjusted to the heat and did, in fact, manage to finish the whole lot.

As a culinary experience it was somewhat alarming at first, but it most certainly warmed me up, and the bread was absolutely top notch.

To get to the tearoom you have to go through the bakery. We did this quickly on our way in, but on our way out we lingered and observed the wares. There were pies aplenty:

There were also cakes and puddingy things. A pear tartlet (bottom right, below) was selected as a souvenir for delightful assistant no.2:

Last but not least, the bakery had some fine looking loaves on display in the window. I was tempted, but resisted.

Nicely warmed up and filled by our luncheon, we took a stroll along Callander’s main street, calling in at the rather splendidly housed tourist information centre:

We passed some interesting buildings, including this one with its name painted onto the wall:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We were bound for a place I had specifically wanted to visit:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This little place has quite a reputation amongst bibliophiles. It’s a well stocked and very reasonably priced second hand bookshop whose owners not only sell, but also bind, books.

I’m sure the sign in the window is applicable to a fair number of Callander’s visitors:

Inside, I was delighted to find a copy of a book I had been considering buying full price at £9.99 recently. I got it at Kings for the bargain price of one shiny new pound:

Read Full Post »

By a sort of happy accident several years ago, I ended up in the Falkland Islands.

I’ve recently been revisiting the place in my mind, because it features in a book I’m writing, and although I unfortunately don’t have all the photos I took back then, I do still have a few and I thought I’d stick them on here in a post.

The Jhelum at Stanley

The wreck of the Jhelum in Stanley Harbour, the Falkland Islands, with geese in the foreground

In 2006 I was feeling a bit bored and needing some excitement, so I left my job, gave up my flat in Edinburgh and popped off to South America with the vague intention of learning Spanish.

En route, due to missing a connection in New York, I was put up in a New Jersey hotel for the night. This was the view from my bedroom window:

Hotel room view

The next day (or possibly the day after, it was a long journey and I got very confused about time zones) I landed at my destination: Buenos Aires in Argentina.

This next picture is a bit out of focus and not representative of the city as a whole, but it was the view from my hotel window and its depressing appearance pretty much summed up my mood at the time (I should say that the hotel itself was quite nice, but looking out at this didn’t exactly inspire me). It was quite a contrast from New Jersey:

Buenos Aires hotel room view

What with one thing and another (not just the view), I was rather miserable in Buenos Aires and didn’t seem to be able to shake it off. I got so down in the dumps that after a few days I walked into a travel agency and booked a flight to the Falkland Islands.

Due to the political shenanigans between Argentina and the Falklands, you can’t travel directly from one to the other. Although the Falklands are just off the Argentinian coast, I had to hop across the border into Chile and get to the Falklands from there instead.

I flew first to Chile’s capital, Santiago, and then on to Punta Arenas in the south, from where I could catch a flight to the Falklands. I enjoyed flying over the Andes:

Flying over the Andes Mountains

My mum is always saying I land on my feet, but what she doesn’t add is that I get there by way of inelegantly slithering over icy patches and slipping on endless banana skins.

I like to think of myself as quite well organised, but the truth is that I am never as well organised as I should be. On this occasion I was completely unprepared for what lay ahead.

I arrived in Punta Arenas in the dark, early evening I think it was, and only then discovered that there was no airport hotel. My flight to the Falklands was not until the following morning, and Punta Arenas airport was being locked up for the night. The small adventure I had as a result of that has provided me with a bit of the story I’m now writing.

I was also unprepared for my arrival in the Falklands. I had mistakenly assumed that since it was a British protectorate I could just turn up, waltz in and be welcomed with open arms.

Thanks purely to some kind Falkland Islanders who were on their way home after a holiday and took pity on me, I was smuggled into the country and deposited at a Bed & Breakfast in Stanley. (This is what my mum means by me landing on my feet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I’ve lost a couple of years off my life as a result of the stress at the time.)

The B&B was run by a kindly lady who wasn’t expecting winter visitors, and certainly not those who turned up unannounced (you’re supposed to have proof of accommodation booked in advance before you can even be let into the islands). She looked after me wonderfully well and gave me a lovely big room in her house. My windows were at the top left, looking out in both directions:

Stanley B&B

Once I had settled in and got over the strain of the journey, being in Stanley was balm to the soul.

The weather was wintery, with bitingly cold winds and occasional snow flurries, but the sun shone and I had a jolly time ambling along Stanley’s quiet streets:

Windswept street in Stanley

One of Stanley’s long windswept streets sloping down to the sea

The landscape outside the town reminded me very much of Scotland’s western isles, low-lying moorland with occasional houses dotted about. It made me feel at home.

Falklands moorland

Despite being located off the southern tip of Argentina, the Falkland Islands felt very British. There were Union flags all over the place in Stanley, and traditional English pubs (sadly, without real ale on tap).

Like many people the world over, Falkland Islanders take a pride in their gardens, but I think Stanley is the only place where I’ve seen penguins standing like sentries round a well-clipped plant (up near the back of this garden):

Stanley garden

It’s also the only place I’ve ever seen Falkland steamer ducks, which is not too surprising since I believe the Falklands is the only place you find them. Like the other steamer ducks found in South America, these chaps can’t fly.

Falkland steamer ducks

The birds I encountered around Stanley all seemed quite tame, including these beautiful Dolphin Gulls and the many geese that were in attendance.

Dolphin Gulls in Stanley

The Falkland Islands are famed for their penguin colonies, but unfortunately I didn’t see any of these delightful inhabitants. I did, however, see the world’s most southerly cathedral with its whalebone arch nextdoor:

Stanley Cathedral and whalebone arch

I only spent a week in Stanley, and I had a bad cold for much of my visit, but those 7 days stick in my mind as a vivid and exceptionally positive experience.

On my way out of the Falklands I used the facilities in the airport and was amused by this wartime poster next to the sink. Wartime is within living memory of most Falkland Islanders, after the invasion of Argentinian forces in 1982.

 Wartime poster in Stanley airport

After leaving the Falklands, I made my way back to Santiago in Chile, where the smog was sitting heavily over the city, as I believe is quite common in the winter:

Santiago in the smog

I lodged in a hostel for a while, walking around Santiago during the day and trying to work up enthusaism for settling down and immersing myself into Chilean life, but my heart wasn’t in it. I did like Santiago though, and it would be nice to see it in the summer time.

I was a little sorry to leave after a short stay, but I had blown most of my funds on the Falklands trip and work was hard to come by with my poor Spanish, particularly in the winter time.

On my way home, the misty mountains around Santiago looked enchanting from the air:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the story I’m writing, my main character visits the Falkland Islands in winter too, but unlike me she makes her return journey to the UK by sea, during the course of which she has some adventures.

If I were to go to the Falklands again, I would like to jump aboard a cargo ship to get there, and I would especially like to go on one like this (below). It’s a new Japanese design using giant sails to harness wind power when the conditions allow:

cargo-ship-with-sails

image courtesy of the University of Tokyo

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,670 other followers

%d bloggers like this: